Friday, September 30, 2011

1000 years

As a protestant you do a lot of thinking about the millennium. The period of 1000 years that is mentioned in Rev 20. There are many theories. What occurs to me in looking at church history is there is a 1000 year period where Satan did seem somewhat bound. That is roughly from the year 300 to the year 1300. Around 300 we have Christianity becoming legal and a long period of persecution ending. We see Christianity spread. We see many great thinkers deepen our understanding of the faith. Sure there are heresies that need to be dealt with but that is simply a symptom of serious theological reflection. Sure development is slow and many things go wrong but the church is basically on the rise. From Pope Leo the Great to Pope Gregory the Great to Charlemagne to Thomas Aquinas we can see good things happening. The kingdom of God is slowly unfolding.

Then we hit the 14th century. Why think Satan has suddenly become unleashed? For one thing you have the black death. Just the name sounds a little like Satan doesn't it? So many people dying. This included the best of the priests and bishops. The ones that were in close contract with the poor and sick were the ones to die. That left the church in the hands of those clergy who didn't really respond to the suffering of the people. In other words those who were not very Christ-like.

Then you have the attacks on the papacy. We have a series of weak popes who get involved in political games and lose. They lose in very publicly humiliating ways. You have the whole Avignon fiasco where the bishop of Rome moves out of Rome to try and please a secular king. You have the suppressing of the Templar order. The pope refusing to defend the falsely accused and instead punishing the innocent again because the french king wants it. It is especially difficult for English and German Catholics because the french king is their enemy. So how are they supposed to react to the spectacle of a pope humiliating himself to curry favor with their enemy? Still about 2 centuries before the reformation but seeds are being sown.

It gets worse. We see the college of cardinals meet behind the pope's back and elect an anti-pope. We had anti-popes before but never one that had the support of so many high ranking churchman. Then you have corruption. Sexual scandal and financial scandal. Intellectually you have William of Ockham, John Huss and John Wycliffe were sowing seed for the reformation in other ways. You get the feeling that the church is being attacked like never before.

The point is that after 1000 years we have a huge attack on the church on many fronts. It was like God was sheltering her until she grew strong enough to survive this kind of intense evil. Since then one could view most of history as sin becoming full grown. Attacking the church grows into leaving the church. Leaving the church allows a slow decay of the faith. Eventually you look around and discover you don't believe at all anymore.

But where sin abounds so grace abounds all the more. We see revivals. But the last 700 years does seem like a constant uphill battle. Certainly in my lifetime the church has been seen as losing ground. Somehow it never really gets lost though. Still from the Borgia popes to the reformation to the enlightenment to the sexual revolution the church always feels like she is under attack. For 1000 years you didn't need much faith to believe the gates of hell would not prevail. The church just looked so strong. For the last 700 it has more challenging. Rather than saying the church must be of God because it is so strong we end up arguing that the church must be of God because she seems so weak and yet never dies.


  1. Very interesting. That's something I've never heard nor considered. What makes it even more interesting is that this period would be considered just the opposite by most Protestants. For the umpteenth time I'm presently in a discussion where it is asserted, basically, that things went downhill after Constantine invented a new Christianity, adopted paganism and so on and so forth. You know the drill.

  2. Yes Brian, I can see how that period is incomprehensible to those who don't understand the Catholic faith. The brightest people took religion so seriously. Secularists don't get that. Protestants don't get how they could be so biblical and yet so Catholic. So protestants and secularists have an understanding that they will never talk about this period in any detail. Just sneer at it as that Catholic period.