Ages of Christendom

In 13 History on 2011/10/21 at 11:11 PM

The Ages of Christendom

In his lecture, the “Six Ages of Christendom” Christopher Dawson delineates the distinctive marks that characterize each stage during which it predominated.  One noted characteristic that all have in common is that one problem has been resolved, another arises.  The life of the Church like that of humans, is a form of constant warfare on many fronts.

Characterizing the Apostolic Age was the reality that “the new born Church was faced almost at once with a change of a more revolutionary character than she ever had to meet subsequently – that is to say- the extension of the apostolate from a Jewish to a Gentile environment and the incorporation in the new society of the great body of new converts drawn from the anonymous mass society of the great cosmopolitan centers of the Mediterranean world from Antioch to Rome itself.”

Having successfully integrated itself into the “dominant urban Roman-Hellenistic culture” the Church created a new Christian literature, both Greek and Latin.  It laid the foundations of a new Christian art, and above all, it created a new society which existed alongside of the established order of society and to some extent replaced it.  There is perhaps no other example of a similar development of which we possess such a full historical record, and apart from its religious significance, it is also of great sociological interest, since the primitive Church was not a mere sectarian cult-organization but a real society with a strong sense of citizenship and a highly developed hierarchical order.”

The second age of Christendom is clearly recognized as beginning with the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the impact on the Byzantine Empire and the factor of the  alliance between Church and State.  From this time until the Muslim tsunami, this period, known as the Age of the Fathers, had “an internal unity and coherence….as the classical age of Christian thought and the fountainhead of theological wisdom.  The Fathers were not systematic theologians in the same sense as St. Thomas Aquinas and the great theologians of later periods.  But they formed the mind of the Church and determined the norms of theological thought that were followed by the theologians of the Christian world in later centuries.  In this way, the three great Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Gregory of Nyssa remain the classical exponents of Eastern Orthodox theology, while St. John Chrysostom was the classical exponent of Scripture, while in the West St. Augustine was the seminal and creative mind which molded the theological thought of the West, while St. Jerome laid the foundations of the Western tradition of Biblical and historical scholarship.”

This article is limited to considering the first two ages of Christendom.  The quotations are made with permission from an authorized copy of the Christopher Dawson manuscript, the original of which is held by the Department of Special Collections, O’Shanghnessy-Frey Library, University of St. Thomas.

See also: Dawson/Recommended Reading List in this same category (Book Corner) 


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