Theology & Worldview

The Church: Tensions and Evangelism

While the Church articulated Her doctrine, practice, and spiritual tradition, there were those who disagreed. Nestorianism, the belief Jesus Christ is two distinct beings – the Logos being one, and the man Jesus the other – became the next heresy which attempted to invade the Church. In the fifth century, the Council of Ephesus officially rejected the doctrine. Twenty years later, the Council of Chalcedon articulated the Christology of the Church; that Christ had a human nature and divine, yet he was only one being. The Oriental Christians, mostly Coptic, took this as a concession to Nestorianism, and the two groups eventually broke communion. Today, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox Churches are working towards restoring unity. However, most efforts are disturbed by the constant terrorist threat to the Oriental Orthodox Church.

As these issues were debated by the Church hierarchy, evangelists brought the gospel to the ends of Europe. Saint Patrick evangelized to the natives of Ireland, quite successfully. The Irish countryside became rich with Churches and Monasteries. So rich, actually, that it became a favorite for Vikings to ransack in the ninth century. Little is known about St. Patrick’s life other than highly elaborated tales, yet one thing remains clear: his passions for the Church lead to a rich Irish-Christian tradition that lives even to this day. England, Scotland, Normandy, and Spain were evangelized also, and an equally rich Christian tradition sprouted.

Meanwhile, evangelism in the East was continued. Tradition maintains that Saint Andrew the Apostle evangelized modern-day Russia, “land of the man-eaters,” and predicted a future of rich religious activity around Kiev. In the tenth century, Prince Vladimir I, a man known to have an obsession for overindulgence, decided it was time to become religious. He sent delegates to many religious institutions, including the famed “Hagia Sophia” cathedral. His delegates returned with the awestruck remark, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Vladimir was sold, became a Christian, and set out to convert his country. Although being immoral before conversion, Vladimir became very pious after his conversion, so much so that he is now venerated as a Saint in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran communions.

Back in the West, a debate started to boil. Who was the Pope and what power did he hold? For the Greeks, the Pope was simply another Patriarch; he held a position of honor, but never did he have universal authority. For Latins, the Pope was the successor of St. Peter and thus held authority over the Church Universal. The Greek position maintained that at no time in Church history did the Pope exercise control over the Church, and furthermore, no biblical passage gives Peter complete authority either. The Latins countered with the charge that Peter was given “keys to bind and loose” and the Church was built “upon this rock” (‘rock’ being a reference to Peter), thus Peter’s successor should hold the same power. However, to the Greeks, these passages hardly gave insinuated the doctrine of Papal Supremacy. The debate raged for many years and helped cause a major rift between Eastern and Western Christians. Although no actual Schism existed yet, the Eastern Christians and Western Christians distanced themselves from each other, much like the Oriental Christians from the rest of Christendom.

(Image: Saints Cyril and Methodius)

4 Comments

  1. Great job Brady, very well done.

  2. Thank you!

  3. Interesting article, Brady. Good job explaining different aspects of the church during this period of history!