Tuesday, July 20, 2010

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? A Brief Historical Survey

Session 1: A Brief Historical Surve
(By, Dr. Sherman,sfo,  Permanent Deacon, Director of the Institute Pastoral Centre, Melaka Johor Diocese)

► Inasmuch as we would like to think that Christianity exists in unity today, it does not.

 Patristic Period : schism in the Eastern Church

 Medieval Period : schism between East and West

 Reformation Period : schism in the Western Church

 Modern Period : efforts towards reconciliation and mutual understanding

A simplified chart of historical branches within the Christian belief system

1. Split in the Eastern Church (Patristic Period)

► The Church, East and West, held councils to resolve issues when less formal dialogue failed to produce a consensus.

 1st Nicaea (325) 5th Constantinople (553)

2nd Constantinople (381) 6th Constantinople (680)

3rd Ephesus (431) 7th Nicaea (787)

4th Chalcedon (451)

► A major split took place at the 4th Council (451).

► The Council of Chalcedon held that Jesus has two natures - one divine and one human. But the council did not also confess that the two natures are inseparable and united. To some leaders of the Orthodox Church, this was tantamount to accepting a heresy.

► The Oriental Orthodox churches were therefore often called Monophysite churches.

► In recent times, members of the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches have come to a common understanding.

► Oriental Orthodoxy is a dominant religion in Armenia (94%), the ethnically Armenian breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (95%), and in Ethiopia (51%, the total Christian population being 62%), especially in two regions in Ethiopia: Amhara (82%) and Tigray (96%), as well as the chartered city of Addis Ababa (82%), and is also important in Oromia Region (41%). It is also one of two dominant religions in Eritrea (50%). Whereas it is a minority in Egypt (15%), Sudan (3-5% out of the 15% of total Christians), and Syria (2-3% out of the 10% of total Christians). Also in Kerala, India (8% out of the 23% of Christians). In total number of members, the Ethiopian church is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is second among all Orthodox Churches among Eastern and Oriental Churches (exceeded in number only by the Russian Orthodox Church).

2. Split between Eastern and Western Churches (Medieval Period)

► The patristic period centred on the Mediterranean world and on seats of power such as Rome and Constantinople.

► But as Rome fell and Islam was spreading widely, the centres of Christianity shifted from the Mediterranean world to Western Europe.

► By the 11th century, stability had settled upon the region and three major power groupings had emerged to replace the former Roman Empire:

i) Byzantium

ii) Western Europe

iii) The Caliphate

► As relations between the Eastern Church and the Western Church became increasingly strained, a final break took place in 1054. Some reasons for the strain:

i) Disagreement over the filioque clause in the Nicene creed

ii) Political rivalry

3. Split in the Western Church (Reformation Period)

► A new period of Western Christian theology began in the 16th century. The most significant development was the Protestant Reformation (1522).

► The Reformation was complex. Its agenda went beyond reforming the doctrine of the Church. It addressed social, political, and economic issues. It began with Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and a biblical theologian.

► In response to the Reformation, the Catholic Church did some housekeeping. The Pope of the day (Paul III) convened the Council of Trent (1545) in order to clarify and defend Catholic thought and practice against the evangelical opponents.

► Strangely, a number of beliefs that Protestant Christians hold today are rather divergent from Luther’s position.

► The number of Protestant denominations in existent today is difficult to calculate, but it has been estimated that there are over 40,000 of them all around the world.

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