The mess of Christianity

A simplified chart of historical developments ...

A simplified chart of historical developments of major groups within Christianity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Washington Post has a Forum called On Faith; and while I very much enjoy reading the different discussions and articles found there, there is one thing that annoys me whenever I visit the page: When you scroll down past the “headlines” there is a list of articles categorized by different religions – or at least that’s what it looks like. In fact, one of the categories is called Christianity and one other category is called Catholicism. There is no category for Orthodox, Protestantism or any other subgroup of Christianity. Maybe it is my roots but the implication that a Catholic is not a Christian (and there are people out there who do think that is true) is something I find troubling. So I am dedicating this first blog post to an overview of the different groupings within Christianity. Of course, there are so many that it would be impossible to mention them all and I am going to restrain myself and only mention the big ones.

Christianity starts with different small churches around the Mediterranean that slowly converge into a more unified community. It was never a completely unified homogenous group; throughout the first 1000 years of Christian faith, there were multiple so-called heresies and a lot councils were called to make sure everyone believed the same things. These squabbles were about a lot of different details, and in 1054 the differences between the East and the West had grown so immense (the differences mostly being political by the way) that the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son or just from the Father caused thirst first major break, or schism, and the Christian community was divided into the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Catholic Church. However, over the next 500 years the Catholic Church managed to stay fairly uniform, mainly through violent repression of dissenters such as the Albigensians or the Lollards until it got too much and Lutheranism, Calvinism and Anglicanism broke off almost at the same time (and influencing each other a lot) Then over the last 500 years things just got worse and worse, smaller and smaller fractions broke into even smaller fractions and today there is a massive amount of independent Christian communities; especially in the United States. In my home country Germany, most people are still either Catholic or Lutheran (or none at all) and in my chosen home country England, the Church of England, with the advantage of being the state church, dominates.

I guess the Catholic Church manages to make more headlines than any of the others simply because of its size (it is bigger because it never broke into many factions not because there are more Catholics. although worldwide there are). So maybe it is understandable that the Washington Post decided to give it its own category but couldn’t they have come up with a different name for “Christianity” at least?



Filed under History

2 responses to “The mess of Christianity

  1. Of course the time line given only looks at “western” Christianity, and doesn’t look at what happened outside the boarders of the Roman Empire. I’m only discovering this now but it puts another perspective on things.

    • So true! My mother went to Ethiopia for a holiday a few years ago and came back raving about their really old Christian tradition; beautiful churches and books.

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