An unnoticed event: AD c.33

At some time during the ten years in which Pontius Pilate is administering the small Roman province of Judaea, he reluctantly authorizes the death by crucifixion of a religious agitator in Jerusalem.

This would have gone unnoticed by historians, for there is no trace of it in official records, but for the fact that the man's followers campaign energetically in his memory. Some forty or fifty years after the event they write down, in the Gospels, their account of what happened.

They say that the crucified man was known to the authorities as Jesus of Nazareth, and that he was killed for claiming to be the King of the Jews - a political affront in Roman terms and a religious one to the Jews. But to them he is Christ, a word with the same meaning as Messiah ('anointed').

They say also that he spent the last years of his life in Galilee and Jerusalem working miracles, mainly medical in kind, and preaching that the kingdom of God will soon come - and that only those who repent of their sins and follow him (for he is himself the son of God) will enter this kingdom. (See the ministry of Jesus)

The first Christians: AD c.29-35

The followers of Jesus, soon to be known as Christians, also say that on the third day after the Crucifixion his tomb was found to be empty. He had risen from the dead, and this Resurrection and victory over the shame and apparent finality of his death is felt to be profoundly encouraging.

People hearing the story begin to join those who knew and loved Jesus. The good news of what he has promised spreads from Jerusalem to similar groups of enthusiasts in nearby cities such as Damascus and Antioch.

In the first years after the Crucifixion the apostles, led by St peter, find administering the little Christian community in Jerusalem an increasing burden. It distracts them from their tasks of prayer and preaching. It is not reasonable, they say, 'that we should leave the word of God and serve tables'.

So they arrange for the election of seven men (the same number as the elders in a Jewish synagogue), who will be responsible for all practical matters concerning the small Christian community.

The first martyr: AD c.35

The first named of the seven is Stephen. He thus becomes identified as the leader of this troublesome sect which teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, whose second coming will involve the Destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

As the focus of official Jewish hostility, Stephen is taken outside the city walls and is stoned to death. He is the first Christian martyr.

The mission to the Gentiles: 1st century AD

One of the witnesses of Stephen's violent death, bestowing on it his full approval, is a keen upholder of Jewish orthodoxy - Saul of Tarsus. More familiar now as St Paul, he becomes after a dramatic conversion the first great Christian missionary.

He introduces to Christianity one startling new element, as he travels through Turkey and Greece. The early Christians are all Jews. But Paul now begins to convert people of non-Jewish descent - known collectively as Gentiles.

Gentile converts to Christianity face one very real problem. They are joining a Jewish sect, and to be Jewish involves Circumcision - an unappealing rite of initiation for any adult male convert.

Their dilemma poses, in an oblique way, a crucial doctrinal question: is the new religion to be just for Jews or for everyone? The issue is discussed at a gathering of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem in about the year 50.

Both Peter and Paul are in favour of relaxing the requirements for Gentiles, and their arguments carry the day. It is agreed that Circumcision and the full Jewish dietary restrictions are not compulsory for Christians. A letter to this effect is sent to all Gentile Christians.

When it is read out aloud to each assembled community, the Gentiles 'rejoice for the consolation'. It is a turning point for the growing church.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul: AD c.62-64

Early Christian tradition states that both Paul and Peter meet their deaths in Rome during the 60s, becoming the two saints most associated with the city. Paul may have been executed as a result of the charges laid against him, since Luke says that he lived in Rome for two years - till about 62.

But if Peter comes to Rome and is martyred there, upside down on a cross as tradition states, it is more likely that he is a victim of the first persecution of the Christians, carried out by Nero after the Fire of Rome in 64. This traditional link between St Peter and Rome underpins the subsequent status of the Papacy.

1st - 3rd century

The spread of Christianity: 1st - 3rd century AD

It is significant that Christians are now sufficiently numerous in the capital of the empire to attract persecution. Only about forty years have passed since the reported death and resurrection of Jesus.

During that time missionaries for the new faith, among them Paul, have been carrying the message along the well-worn trading routes of the Roman empire. They repeat to each new audience the sayings and miracles of Jesus, in an oral tradition which will soon be captured in written form as the Gospels. And among the everyday bustle and traffic of the empire, this 'good news' continues to spread.

The early Christians are intensely aware of being different from others. Like the Jews, they are chosen. The fourth pope, St Clement, writes in about AD 100: 'God chose our Lord Jesus Christ, and us through him to be a special people.' They are a tight and supportive group. Indeed the charity given to poorer members is part of their appeal. An early Christian writer, Tertullian, claims that pagans often make the comment 'See how these Christians love one another'.

But most of the comments from Roman writers, heard from early in the 2nd century onwards, are decidedly hostile.

As a group inclined to secrecy, for fear of attracting hostility, the first Christians leave little physical trace of themselves. Indeed what traces they have left are mainly hidden signs. A mysterious arrangement of letters, the ROTAS square, suggests that there are already Christians in Pompeii when disaster strikes in AD 79. And the fish, in its Greek form of ichthys, is another treasured secret (see Ichthys and ROTAS).

But if the early spread of the faith is largely invisible, its success can be judged by the extensive structure of authority which the church has in place by the 3rd century.

A widespread church: 3rd century AD

By the mid-3rd century there are about 100 bishops spread throughout Italy, each in his own see. The most important see is Rome, for which precise figures survive.

In the year 251 the Church in rome has on its books the bishop (in other words the pope), 46 priests, 7 deacons, 7 subdeacons, 42 acolytes, 52 exorcists, readers and doorkeepers, and the very large number of 1500 widows and paupers being 'fed by the grace and kindness of the Lord'.

There are flourishing sees, too, in other parts of the empire. Carthage, famous already in Christian circles as the home of the writer Tertullian, now has another distinguished Christian author in a position of prominence; Cyprian, a convert in about 246 from a rich pagan family, is chosen to be bishop of Carthage in 249. He dies for his faith in 258, half a century after Carthage's most poignant pair of early martyrs - Perpetua and Felicity.

Alexandria is another important see in north Africa. It too produces an important early theologian and biblical scholar, Origen.

In Europe, Lyons is a major centre from early times. The Christians of Lyons feature in history sooner than most because they are savagely persecuted (the precise reason is not clear) in 177 by Marcus Aurelius, who orders them to be tortured to death.

Even Britain, further removed from both the Christian and imperial centres of power, is becoming organized by the middle of the 3rd century. When a Council at arles is called, in 314, three British bishops attend - one from London, another from York, and the third either from Colchester or Lincoln.

Christian murals: 3rd century AD

By the 3rd century the Christians are also leaving extensive physical evidence, not only of their presence but also of their ideas and practices. One example is in the eastern extremity of the empire, at Doura-Europos. Here there has been unearthed the earliest known house adapted for Christian worship.

The building, a simple one from the 1st century AD, is adapted for Christian use in 232. Only fragments of the murals survive, but they include such Gospel images as Christ carrying a sheep (the Good Shepherd), the paralytic taking up his bed and walking, and St Peter walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee.

More detailed evidence of Christian ritual survives in Rome's famous catacombs. These are underground burial chambers, used by members of the various communities of the capital - pagan Romans as well as Jews and Christians.

In the first half of the 3rd century the Christians decorate the walls of their tomb chambers with New Testament scenes and with depictions of the Eucharist, the ritual communal meal at the centre of the faith. Members of the Christian community are shown sitting round a table together to break bread, and to share their food and drink, much like later Christian representations of the Last Supper.

A persecuted sect: AD 64-303

Persecution has been an intermittent danger to Christians ever since Nero and the fire of Rome in 64. Later it often occurs without warning in localized areas - Lyons in 177, or Carthage in 203. But it is never a policy of state until the mid-3rd century, when the emperor Decius - attempting to restore to the crumbling Roman state something of its earlier confidence - decrees that everyone shall publicly sacrifice to the Roman gods.

This represents a major threat to the Christian communities. The edict costs them many of their best leaders (the bishops of Rome, Antioch and Jerusalem are martyred for refusing to comply), while morale is equally eroded by the example of those who cave in to this pagan demand.

A few years later the emperor Valerian intensifies this policy of persecution, outlawing any assembly of Christians for worship and executing many bishops and senior clergy. In 258 another pope is martyred; so is Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage.

But Gallienus restores religious toleration in 260. For nearly half a century the church enjoys a period of calm in which it can grow in strength and in numbers. The calm is shattered in 303.

4th century

From persecution to imperial preference: AD 303-324

The emperor Diocletian, tolerant of Christians for almost twenty years after coming to power in 284, suddenly decrees in 303 that all churches are to be destroyed, all sacred texts and precious liturgical vessels confiscated, and meetings for worship forbidden. It is the beginning of a brief period known in Christian history as the Great Persecution.

The story goes that an immediate cause is the failure of the Roman soothsayers, at a solemn ritual in the emperor's presence, to find any of the usual signs in the entrails of the sacrificed animals. They claim, in their own defence, that some Christians secretly made the sign of the cross during the ceremony - with inauspicious consequences.

More probably the reason is a belief, fuelled by Diocletian's energetically pagan co-emperor Galerius, that the traditional virtues of Rome are threatened by Christianity. The persecution escalates later in 303 with the arrest of all Christian clergy (the prisons cannot accomodate them, and many are released). In 304 all citizens of the empire are ordered to sacrifice to the Roman gods on pain of death.

The persecution is only carried out consistently in the east, where Diocletian and Galerius rule. In Spain, Gaul and Britain, ruled by Constantius, no Christian is executed. And soon, with Constantine (the son of Constantius), the pendulum swings decisively in favour of the Christians.

Battle of the Milvian Bridge: AD 312

A mysterious decision by Constantine in October 312 can be seen now as one of the great turning points of history. He is camped just north of Rome, about to do battle with his rival for control of the western empire. He decides that his men shall wear on their shields a Christian symbol - the monogram known as the Chi-Rho, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word Christ.

Constantine wins the battle of the Milvian Bridge. His rival dies fleeing back over the Tiber when a bridge of boats collapses. In Constantine's mind he has won this crucial engagement in alliance with the god of the Christians. The results are dramatic.

Formally acknowledged by the senate as the Augustus of the west, Constantine immediately takes steps to favour the persecuted Christians. He restores confiscated church property and offers public funds to churches in need. In AD 313 he arranges a meeting in Milan with Licinius, one of two claimants to the Title of augustus in the east. He persuades him to follow the same policy.

Later in that year Licinius defeats his rival in the east. He too now proclaims a policy of religious toleration, offering compensation to the Christians for the wrongs done to them.

Within a year or two of suffering severe persecution, the Christians suddenly find themselves a favoured group within the empire. They win tax concessions, and Roman basilicas are constructed for their use as churches. There are career advantages within Constantine's administration if one is a professing Christian. Conversions follow.

But Licinius is less fully committed to the cause. In 320 he reverts to a mild persecution, dismissing Christians from the army and the civil service. Constantine marches against him, in 324, and again the Christian banner is victorious. Licinius surrenders after a defeat near Byzantium. A year later he is executed on a charge of attempted rebellion.

The first churches: AD 312-337

Concrete evidence of the new status of Christianity is seen in the emergence of the first church buildings. The change is most visible in Rome, the strongest Christian community. Until now, in spite of the size of the congregation of Christians in rome, worship has been conducted discreetly in private houses. Suddenly churches become public buildings, city landmarks as prominent as the temples of the pagan cult.

Some of the churches evolve from the private houses already in use for worship; one such example is SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Rome. Others in the capital city are new and more striking foundations.

Constantine establishes three important churches in Rome. One, intended to be the city's cathedral, is sited immediately beside his own Lateran palace - already presented to the Christians as a residence for the pope. This church is St John Lateran.

The other two churches of Constantine in Rome are built in honour of the city's two martyrs, Peter and paul, on the supposed sites of their graves. One is outside the old city and is called S. Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls). The other, in the Vatican, is St Peter's. Both have since been rebuilt.

A new Rome: AD 330

Constantine, now in firm command of the entire Roman empire (the first man for a long while to be in that position), is planning another initiative as significant as his adoption of Christianity. Immediately after the defeat of Licinius he sets about rebuilding Byzantium as a Christian capital city - one in which pagan sacrifice, the central rite of imperial Rome until this time, is specifically forbidden.

The city is ready by AD 330 for a ceremony of inauguration. Byzantium acquires two new names - New Rome and Constantinople, the city of Constantine. The Roman empire, within eighteen years of Constantine's first victory, has a new religion, a new centre of gravity and a significant change of culture.

Greece has always been the main cultural influence on Rome, and Greek is the language of the inhabitants of Byzantium. With the founding of Constantinople, the older culture effectively absorbs its vigorous younger challenger. Even the name Constantinopolis is Greek (polis meaning city).

Yet Constantinople is also the new Rome, capital of the Roman empire. The Greeks of this city will long continue to describe themselves as Romans. For several centuries Constantinople represents both the end of the Roman empire and the beginning of the Byzantine empire. Meanwhile Rome gradually establishes a new identity - as the seat of the Christian pope.

Byzantium offers the Roman emperor a clear strategic advantage as a centre of operation, for it is much closer than Rome to the threatened regions of the empire.

The main problems in the past century have been defending the Balkans from invaders beyond the Danube and protecting the Middle East from the Persians. Byzantium, renewed now as Constantinople, sits firmly between these troubled regions.

Carthage and Donatus: AD 313-316

With the reckless enthusiasm of a convert, Constantine flings himself from the start into the various controversies dividing the Christian church.

The first issue, confronting him as soon as he wins power, has more to do with ecclesiastical politics than with heresy. The church in Carthage is squabbling over who shall be its bishop. A puritanical faction claims that the official nominee was a collaborator with the Roman authorities during the Persecution of ad 303. They propose in his place a cleric by the name of Donatus, and in 313 they appeal to Constantine.

Constantine asks the pope in Rome and three bishops to look into the matter. They find against Donatus, whose followers appeal against the verdict. The emperor, wishing to appear open-minded, summons more than 300 bishops to Arles to consider the case. They too find against Donatus. In 316 the Donatists appeal directly to Constantine himself. He upholds the finding and orders that Donatist priests be removed from their churches.

Persecution provides martyrs and martyrs nourish sects; the Donatists will remain a thorn in the side of the north African church for the next three centuries. But Constantine has acquired a dislike of dissent. And soon he is confronted with a far more disruptive schism in Alexandria.

Alexandria and Arius: AD 323-325

The heresy associated with the name of Arius, a priest in Alexandria, is the most significant in the history of Christianity. It concerns the mystery at the very heart of the religion - the Trinity.

The problem for the early church has been that the Gospels talk of God and of Jesus (who describes God as his Father) and, more occasionally, of the Holy Spirit. But they do not explain how they relate to one another. All three seem to be divine, and yet - as a sect of Monotheistic judaism - early Christians know for sure that they worship only one God. How can this be? The concept of the Trinity, three in one and one in three, gradually emerges as the best answer. But it begs many questions.

Only if the three are equal can they be aspects of one god. Yet if God creates Jesus, he clearly has some sort of priority. On the other hand if God does not create Jesus, he can hardly be his Father. This is the problem which concerns Arius, who asks in particular whether there was ever a time when God existed but Jesus, as yet, did not. He concludes that there was such a time ('there was when he was not'). Jesus is therefore less than fully divine.

Even so, Arius agrees that it is right to worship Jesus. This reopens the door to polytheism, and in 323 the bishop of Alexandria dismisses his troublesome priest. The dispute rapidly escalates. In 325 Constantine intervenes, summoning a council at Nicaea.

Nicaea and orthodoxy: AD 325

More than 200 bishops, mainly from the eastern parts of the empire, arrive at Nicaea for the council. They meet in Constantine's palace, and the emperor himself presides over many of the discussions. His authority is purely political; though an undoubted supporter of Christianity, he has not yet been baptized.

The alarming presence of the emperor helps the bishops to reach a conclusion more emphatic than is justified by the range of their opinions. The crack opened wide by Arius seems to be firmly closed when it is announced at Nicaea that the Father and the Son are of the same substance (homo-ousios in Greek).

The doctrine that Jesus Christ is 'of one substance with the Father' features in the Nicene Creed - the statement of belief agreed at Nicaea which eventually becomes the shared faith of nearly all Christian denominations. It specifically denies the doctrine of Arius, who, along with many of his supporters, is sent into exile from Nicaea. For good measure the council adds a resounding list of Arian ideas which are anathema.

But heresy is not so easily stamped out, particularly on such a perplexing matter. The bishops at Nicaea would be astonished to learn of the future Spread of arianism, carried improbably far and wide by Germanic tribesmen and remaining an affront to the orthodox for another three centuries.

The Nicaean bishops would also be surprised to know how assertive one of their own kind would be, in relation to a Roman emperor, before the end of the century. In 325 imperial support for Christianity is still a new and somewhat improbable privilege, not much more than ten years old. Moreover the powerful ruler who gave it, and who could equally well take it away, is among them at Nicaea. It would take a very bold bishop openly to criticize the emperor Constantine.

And it still takes a very bold bishop, sixty-five years later, to criticize the emperor Theodosius - a strong ruler who uses the power of the state to impose Christian orthodoxy, after a period of pagan revival and persistent heresy.

Christian emperor and Christian bishop: AD 379-390

Theodosius becomes the eastern emperor in AD 379 and rapidly settles the religious splits within the empire by declaring pagan worship and Christian heresies (such as Arianism) to be illegal. A law of 380 orders all citizens to subscribe to the Catholic doctrines agreed under the chairmanship of Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

A close link between church and state, with the state giving the lead, becomes a characteristic of the eastern or Byzantine empire. But Theodosius discovers, in a famous clash, that western bishops have authoritarian ideas of their own.

The cleric who sets a high standard for the western church in its relationship to the secular powers is Ambrose, bishop of Milan. In AD 390, when Theodosius is in Milan, there is a riot in Greece by supporters of a popular charioteer. A city governor is killed, and Theodosius sends orders for a brutal reprisal.

The charioteer's fans are invited into a circus for a special performance. Then the gates are locked. More than 5000 are slaughtered by troops in a massacre lasting three hours.

When news of the atrocity reaches Milan, Ambrose refuses to give communion to the emperor unless he does public penance for the crime. Theodosius at first stays away from church. But eventually he appears, bare-headed and wearing sackcloth in place of his sumptuous imperial robes. He repeats the performance on several occasions before Ambrose relents, finally giving his emperor the sacrament on Christmas Day.

In the threat of excommunication the western church discovers a powerful weapon for dealing with wayward rulers.

5th century

Blighted hopes: 5th century AD

In the time of Theodosius, at the end of the 4th century, orthodox Christians throughout the Roman empire seem to have good reason for optimism. The very existence of the vast Roman empire is seen now as the ordained precondition for the triumph of Christianity. As a writer of the time puts it, 'the Roman peace has prepared the road for the coming of Christ'.

A century later the outlook is very different. The first shock has been the sack of Rome itself in 410 by a horde of barbarians who are also Christians. Admittedly they are heretics, for the Visigoths under Alaric subscribe to Arianism. But even so! The advent of Visigoths in rome partly prompts St Augustine's most influential book, the City of God.

The City of God: AD 413-426

Augustine's great theological treatise takes as its starting point accusations levelled against Christians after the disaster of AD 410. The walls of Rome are breached in this year, for the first time in eight centuries, by barbarian hordes - the Visigoths of Alaric. How has this come to be?

Some are grumbling that it is because the old pagan gods of Rome have been set aside in favour of Christianity. Augustine's answer is unapologetic. The Sack of rome is unimportant, he argues, because it is only an earthly city. What matters is the city of God.

This profound distinction is one which he would certainly have made regardless of the events of 410, for the contrast is not a simple one between a real city on earth and an imagined city in heaven. Augustine is contrasting the combined body of true Christians, both alive and dead, on one side; and pagans and heretic Christians, alive and dead, on the other. The former, representing the city of God, are indestructible. They will live for ever with God. The rest, in the final destruction, will perish.

The two groups are implacable enemies - devils against angels up there, the evil against the good down here. The battle cannot be won in the short term. It must be accepted, in the certainty for God's people of ultimate victory.

At the heart of this theology there lurks a stark concept which Augustine does nothing to soften. God's people, the elect, are a clear group, eternally distinct from the damned. But when and how does one join the elect? God foresees all, so he must know even before the beginning of a human life whether that person is to be one of his. Does that mean there is nothing the individual can do to influence his fate?

It does indeed according to Augustine - though others, less rigorous, may argue that what God foresees could be the result of human choice. The harsh creed of predestination is bequeathed by Augustine to other like-minded Christian leaders, among them most notably Calvin.

Nestorius and Nestorians: 5th - 13th century AD

The Christian church's decision on the Arian heresy, at Nicaea in 325, brings in its wake further problems of the same kind. If Jesus is 'of one substance with the Father', he is incontrovertibly God. It follows that the Virgin Mary, though herself entirely human, gives birth to God. The phrase theotokos ('bearer of God' in Greek) is soon widely used of her.

This becomes a political issue in the 5th century when Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, says that the word theotokos should not be used. An ecclesiastical rival, Cyril the patriarch of Alexandria, seizes the opportunity to harm Constantinople by declaring its bishop a heretic.

The controversy rapidly spreads, until a council is convened at Ephesus in 431 to consider the matter. At this council Nestorius (refusing to attend in person) is outmanoeuvred by the unscrupulous Cyril, who secures his rival's removal from his post at Constantinople. Exiled to a remote spot in southern Egypt, Nestorius dies in about 451 - the year in which another council, at Chalcedon, confirms the decisions of Ephesus and specifically declares that Mary is indeed theotokos, the Mother of God.

In certain regions, particularly Syria, there is widespread support for Nestorius. Christians of this persuasion, escaping from militant orthodoxy, move east into Persia.

The Persian empire, with Zoroastrianism as its religion, is tolerant of Christianity. An existing Christian community has evolved a tradition of doctrinal independence, being cut off politically from the Byzantine empire. The Persian Christians now accept the doctrine of the Nestorians arriving among them. In effect a separate Nestorian church develops.

After the arrival of the Muslims in Persia, in the 7th century, the Nestorians are even more cut off from the Christian world to the west. But they prosper and expand, along eastern trade routes, with the result that the first Christians to reach many regions of the east are technically heretics.

Nestorian Christianity spreads from Persia to India. It reaches China, moving east (like Buddhism before it) along the Silk road. And when western travellers reach the Mongol city of Karakorum in the 13th century, they find Nestorian priests living there._x000b_ _x000b_Thereafter Nestorian influence declines, particularly when other Christian Missionaries arrive in the east. But various small Nestorian communities survive in the 20th century, some of them now linked with the Roman Catholic Church. Few Nestorians (and not even Nestorius himself) have believed the extreme version of the heresy as defined by his enemies - that the incarnate Christ was a human being somehow made special by God.

The western empire: AD c.500

By the end of the 5th century only the eastern part of the empire, from Constantinople round the Mediterranean to Alexandria, is a stable area of Christian orthodoxy. The situation in the west is very different. The pope and his entourage in Rome survive as an orthodox enclave within an Italy dominated by the Arian Ostrogoths. Spain is in the hands of Arian Visigoths. North Africa is controlled by Arian Vandals (see the Spread of Arianism).

Christians in Gaul and Britain are in an even worse predicament. They struggle to keep the faith in Roman territories encroached upon by pagan Germanic tribes, untouched even by Arian Christianity - the Franks in Gaul, the Angles and saxons in Britain.

6th - 10th century

Eastern and western Christianity: from the 6th century AD

The story of Christianity for the next 1000 years is largely shaped by the way the two halves of the Roman empire, east and west, cope with the challenges posed in about500.

The emperors, based in Constantinople, continue to assert their authority in the east. Under one of them, Justinian, that authority is even extended again into part of the west, in Italy and north Africa (though this will be more than counteracted, in the next century, by losses to Islam). But in Gaul, Spain and the British Isles, and beyond the boundaries of the empire into Germany, the only civilizing influence comes not from emperors but from leaders of the church - popes and bishops, soon followed by missionaries from the new Monastic orders.

When popes make alliances with the secular rulers of the west - as with Pepin in 753, or with Charlemagne in 772 - they do so as equal partners in a relationship of value to both sides. In anointing or crowning these kings, the popes bestow on them a new status. The position of the pope is very different from that of an eastern bishop, whose predecessors were raised to high office by emperors.

The result, long before any doctrinal split, is a clear distinction between eastern and western Christianity. The patriarch in Constantinople is part of the machinery of state of a semi-divine emperor. The pope in Rome views a secular ruler as something between a colleague and a political opponent.

Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism: 4th-13th c. AD

With hindsight it may appear that the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches go their separate ways quite early in Christian history. But at no point is there a single specific break or 'schism'.

As early as381 the bishop of Constantinople is given equal status with the bishop of Rome. Differences both of practice and of doctrine gradually evolve within the two spheres of influence.

The most evident differences in practice concern the sacraments of ordination and of the Eucharist. In the Greek Orthodox church a married man may be ordained a priest, and the congregation receives both the bread and the wine in the communion service. In Roman Catholicism only the celibate may be ordained, only the bread is given to the laity (until the 20th century).

A contentious area of doctrine has been whether the Holy Spirit derives (or 'proceeds') equally from the Father and the Son. The Western church believes so, adding the word filioque to the Nicene creed in the 6th century. The Greek Orthodox see this as a distortion of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even so, at no point does the dispute lead to a declared schism.

More harmful in the relationship between the two churches are various events which give good cause for affront. Rome is grievously offended by the Byzantine emperor Leo III, who in 726 introduces the policy of Iconoclasm and in 733 transfers southern Italy, Greece and much of the Balkans from papal jurisdiction to that of Constantinople.

Both sides clash in the 10th century in their rival efforts to convert the Slavs. In 1054 the Greeks are outraged when Rome decides to excommunicate the patriarch of Constantinople. In 1204 the Greeks are again given profound cause for resentment when the fleet of the Fourth crusade, launched by Rome, is diverted to capture and sack Constantinople.

At every stage of this prolonged quarrel the two sides continue to express the hope that reunion will be possible. If anything, it is not so much mutual antogonism which separates them as the successful spread of each faith. The missionary achievements of both eastern and western Christianity exaggerate the apparent split, as vast new territories are converted which lack any understanding of the rival culture.

Roman Catholicism is the first to go its own way, bringing northwest Europe into the fold - including eventually those most energetic of medieval marauders, the Slavs. Meanwhile the Greeks convert the Slavs in the eastern Balkans, to be followed subsequently by Russia.

Clashes in central Europe: 9th - 10th century AD

Central and eastern Europe, northwards from the Adriatic and the Aegean, is the arena in which many conflicting forces confront each other in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Germans, pressing towards the east, meet onslaughts from Slavs and Magyars moving westwards. Missionaries from Rome confront their rivals from Constantinople, competing for pagan souls with their rival brands of Christianity. The rulers of new kingdoms, emerging in this region at this period, decide which alliance and which religion to adopt. The frontiers established in these conflicts remain sensitive throughout European history.

Roman Catholic kingdoms: 9th - 10th century AD

The earliest large kingdom in central Europe is Moravia, the realm of a Slav dynasty which by the second half of the 9th century also controls Bohemia and adjacent parts of modern Poland and Hungary.

The struggle between Roman and Byzantine Christianity crystallizes here. The district is first evangelized by Roman missionaries from Bavaria, but the king of Moravia, resenting German pressure, wants his people to receive the faith in their own Slavonic tongue. He sends to Constantinople for missionaries, and receives (in 863) the brothers Cyril and Methodius. They introduce a Slavonic liturgy. It is later outlawed by German clerics, who in association with Rome impose the Latin rite on the region.

In neighbouring Hungary there are similar swings of faith, though here the Magyar royal family takes the opposite line. The Magyars, established in Hungary from about 896, overwhelm the Moravian kingdom soon after 900 and become a major threat to the Germans until defeated near the Lech river in 955.

By that time many of their chieftains are Greek Orthodox Christians. But the Hungarian king (Gezá, a great-grandson of Arpad) prefers to look westwards. In 975 he and his family are baptized in the Roman Catholic faith, initiating a lasting link between Hungary and Rome.

An even closer link with Rome is forged by Mieszko, the founder of the Polish kingdom. Deciding that his best hope of security lies in a western alliance, he adopts Roman Catholic Christianity in 966 and makes subtle use of the feudal system to win himself powerful protection.

He accepts the German emperor Otto i as his feudal lord, and shortly before his death goes one step better - placing Poland directly under the authority of the pope in Rome.

A much disputed border between Roman and Greek influence falls within the region known for much of the 20th century as Yugoslavia. Croatia, in the west, is Roman Catholic. Christian from the 7th century, it is an established duchy by 880; in 925 a Croatian ruler receives his crown directly from the pope. By contrast the ruler of Serbia, in the east, adopts the Greek Orthodox faith. In about 880 he invites disciples of Cyril and Methodius to educate his people.

This ancient division between two closely linked groups of Slavs is evident in their writing. Their shared language (called in recent times Serbo-Croatian) is written in the Roman script by the Croatians and in Cyrillic by the Serbians.

Greek Orthodox kingdoms: 9th - 10th century AD

The two great Slav kingdoms within the Greek Orthodox fold are Bulgaria and Russia. The rulers of both, according to tradition, weigh up the attractions of Rome and Constantinople. They choose the glories of the east.

The Bulgarian decision appears to be primarily political. The ruler, Boris I, is baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in 865, but for the next five years he plays Rome and Constantinople off against each other. In 870, when it is plain that Rome will not accept an independent Bulgarian patriarch, he brings his mainly pagan nation within the Byzantine fold (which allows greater independence to provincial churches).

The decision of the Russian ruler to embrace Greek Orthodoxy is presented in the traditional account as aesthetic rather than political. In about 988 the prince of Kiev, Vladimir, commissions a report which persuades him of the attractions of Byzantine Christianity.

It is a decision of profound importance for Orthodox Christianity, which in Russia finds its third great empire. Constantinople, the Christian seat of the Roman empire, becomes thought of as the second Rome. After its fall to the Turks, in 1453, Moscow is in place to take on the sacred mantle - describing itself proudly as the third Rome.

Northwest Europe: 9th - 12th century AD

During the 9th and 10th century Scandinavia sends out the last great marauding group of Europeans, the Vikings. But the same period also sees the first settled kingdoms in the region.

By 811 Denmark has a king powerful enough to make a treaty with the Franks, and in the following century a Danish king, Harald Bluetooth, becomes the first Scandinavian ruler to convert to Christianity. He is baptized in about 960. A few years later a Norwegian king, Olaf I, takes the same step - between 995 and 999. Iceland becomes Christian in about 1000.

Denmark and Norway, linked in the 11th century in the empire of Canute, are by this time unshakably Christian kingdoms. But in the forests of Sweden the twin processes - unification and the defeat of paganism - begin later and take longer.

The first ruler of any part of Sweden to be baptized is Olaf, king of Götaland in the south, in about 1010. He and his successors struggle for more than a century against pagan rulers, whose most famous and jealously defended shrine is at Uppsala. Not until Uppsala is established as an archbishopric, in 1164, can Sweden be securely classified as Christian.

Liturgical drama: 10th century AD

During the centuries of upheaval in Europe, after the collapse of the Roman empire, theatre plays no part in life. But with the approach of the first millennium, in the late 10th century, Christian churches introduce dramatic effects in the Easter liturgy to enliven the theme of resurrection.

The gospels describe Mary Magdalene and two other women visiting the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty. In about 970 the bishop of Winchester, eager to emphasize this important moment, introduces a custom which is already in use (he says) in certain French monasteries.

During the Easter morning service in Winchester three monks enact the arrival at the tomb of the three women, while another (as the angel in the story) sits beside the high altar (the holy sepulchre). The angel, intoning in Latin, asks the women whom they are seeking? Jesus of Nazareth, they chant in reply. He says Jesus is not here, he has Risen, go and tell the people. The three turn to the choir with a joyous Alleluia! resurrexit Dominus ('the Lord is Risen'), and the choir launches into the Te Deum.

From these small beginnings there develops the great tradition of medieval Christian drama. More and more scenes are enacted during church services, some quite boisterous. Herod, in particular, tends to make a lot of noise.

11th-13th century

Pilgrims and relics: 7th - 14th century AD

Pilgrims are the tourists of the Christian Middle Ages. Like tourism in modern times, pilgrimage is an important strand in the medieval economy. It needs careful nurturing. Even Rome, the centre of western Christianity, benefits from special offers to attract the tourists - such as the Plenary indulgences available, from 1300, to Roman pilgrims in a Jubilee year.

Lesser cities and towns need a compelling attraction to bring the pilgrims, and no draw can compete with that of an exceptional relic. Long a feature of other religions, such as Buddhism, holy relics become an obsession in medieval Christianity.

The most desirable relics are those connected with Jesus himself. The True cross is so valuable as to provoke warfare between the Byzantine empire and the Persians. The exquisite Sainte chapelle is built in Paris specifically to house the Crown of Thorns.

Physical remains of Christ incarnate would be irresistible, but the doctrine of the Resurrection makes any such fragment a theological impossibility. There is only one exception - the relic of the Circumcision.

The foreskin of Jesus, cut from his body during his first days on earth, is so desirable that as many as fifteen versions of it are on show to pilgrims in different medieval churches. The best-known of them is given to Charlemagne as an engagement present by the Byzantine empress Irene.

Another famous example of the Holy Foreskin can be seen by medieval pilgrims at one of the great French pilgrimage centres, Chartres - where the relics also include the Holy Tunic supposedly worn by the Virgin Mary when giving birth to Jesus.

Such relics of the Holy Family are of necessity rare. The objects more often on display are sometimes highly imaginative (pilgrims to Canterbury can see some of the clay left over after God fashioned Adam). But the normal fare is bones of the saints.

Even these can transform a town's economy. Santiago de Compostela thrives because of the bones of St James. The stature of Venice increases when it acquires the Bones of st mark (liberated, according to the story, in dramatic fashion from Alexandria). The incident of St Hugh of Lincoln and Mary Magdalene's arm indicates the desperate measures sometimes undertaken to secure a valuable relic.

The pilgrims tramping round Europe have a good time in a good cause (as Chaucer's canterbury tales vividly suggests). They pray to the saints whose relics they visit, and the saints - they hope - put in a word for them above. The particular appeal of the Virgin Mary, in addition to her feminine and maternal qualities, is that she has special influence within the family circle. The Indulgences available at each shrine provide an added inducement to set out on pilgrimage.

Medieval christendom is a society on the move, and one of increasing affluence. Ordinary men and women on pilgrimage, like knights on Crusade, indicate a community of restless energy.

Crusaders and heretics: 12th - 13th century AD

In the history of western Christianity the 12th and 13th centuries are associated most powerfully with the Crusades - on one level a prolonged holy war against the Muslim infidel, on another a campaign of acquisition by a land-hungry feudal society.

But while the rival religion of Islam draws the avenging crusaders far away into Asia, a more subtly deviant creed flourishes within Europe and within the Christian fold. It surfaces in the Greek Orthodox church among the Bogomils. The equivalent heresy in western Christianity is that of the Cathars.

Bogomils and Cathars: 10th - 13th century AD

Both Bogomils and Cathars follow a long-established line of belief based on the concept of dualism, or a struggle between two irreconcilably opposed elements. Mani, preaching in the 3rd century AD, can be seen as one of their predecessors. His opposite forces are darkness and light. Theirs are the material and the spiritual.

Bogomil, a Bulgarian priest in the 10th century AD, teaches that all material things are the work of the devil. The incarnation of Christ is therefore a contradiction in terms. The eating and drinking of the sacraments are rituals of corruption.

Such beliefs involve much self-denial (the eating of meat, the drinking of wine, the enjoyment of sex are all a surrender to the devil), but self-denial is often inspirational. The followers of Bogomil become so numerous in the Byzantine empire that their rejection of the state's cult is perceived as a serious threat. In about 1100 their leader, Basil, is burnt at the stake in Constantinople. Many of his followers are imprisoned.

Such measures fail to stamp out the heresy. It spreads westwards during the 12th century and gives new energy to a similar sect, already in existence, in northern Italy and southern France. These western heretics become known as Cathars (from the Greek katharoi, 'pure').

By the second half of the 12th century both Bogomils and Cathars have church hierarchies of their own. Bishops are appointed, councils are held. At the end of the century there are eleven Cathar bishoprics in France and northern Italy. There are also Cathar versions of the Bible in vernacular languages, with the text edited to fit the doctrine. Jesus in these gospels is not a man but an angel, whose sufferings are an illusion.

The heresy is strongest in southern France, particularly in Toulouse. (Albi is only involved to a lesser extent, yet the Albigenses becomes an alternative name for the Cathars). Inevitably the papacy takes steps against such a sect.

Early in the 13th century Innocent III sends bishops to Toulouse to preach against the Cathar heresy. But the pronouncements of these grandees of the church do little to convince the heretics. They are much more readily swayed by the certainties of their own self-denying leaders.

In 1206 a different approach is proposed by Dominic de Guzman (better known now as St dominic), a canon accompanying a Spanish bishop to Toulouse. Christian preachers, he argues, should learn from the Cathars. They must live an equivalently simple life if ordinary people are to listen to their message. It is the beginning of the Dominican system of evangelical preaching.

Dominic's approach achieves early successes. In 1207 he establishes a convent at Prouille, in which the nuns are converts from the Cathar heresy.

This convent becomes the headquarters of his mission until an act of violence puts preaching in second place. In January 1208 the pope's legate to Toulouse is assassinated.

The Albigensian crusade: AD 1208-1255

Toulouse is a centre of the Catharist heresy but its count, Raymond VI, appears to view the heretics with undue tolerance. The pope, Innocent III, sends a legate to remind the count of his duties. The legate, making little progress, excommunicates Raymond in 1207 and is murdered - it is said by the count's men - in 1208.

Innocent preaches a crusade against the heretics. The nobles of France rally with enthusiasm to the cause. Over the following decades Cathars are treated with great brutality wherever they are captured. But as with the crusades to the east, territorial greed is mixed inextricably with the passion of outraged orthodoxy.

The first leader of the crusading army is Simon de Montfort. His defeat of Raymond at Muret in 1213 is often described as the end of the crusade, but it merely transforms this particular struggle into a baronial war. In 1215 a papal council grants Simon the extensive territories previously belonging to Raymond. Raymond recovers Toulouse in 1217. Simon dies in 1218 trying to win it back.

Meanwhile there are many surviving Cathars. And Louis, heir to the French throne (as Louis VIII), has his own good reasons for campaigning into territories held by others in the south of France.

Louis, together with Simon de Montfort's son, takes Marmande in 1219 and massacres the Catharists of the town. A few years later Toulouse, under a new count (Raymond VII, son of Raymond VI), seems once again a hotbed of heresy. A new pope, Honorius III, asks the French king to lead a crusade into southern France. Louis VIII besieges and captures Avignon in 1226. By 1229 Raymond of Toulouse agrees terms which after his own lifetime will transform much of southern France into a possession of the French crown.

Territorial purposes are thus satisfactorily achieved. But the battle against heresy rumbles on intermittently for another two decades, after the Cathars withdraw to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Small communities of Cathars hold out in isolated castles. The last to fall is the stronghold of Qué ribus in 1255. But the effective end comes earlier, with a gruesome display at Montségur.

The Cathars of Montségur are besieged by a crusading army for ten months, from May 1243 to March 1244. When they finally capitulate, some 200 refuse to deny their heretical faith. They are herded within a wooden stockade below the castle walls and are burnt as a group. The sect, with its undeniably high ideals, fades from history. Its main legacy is the Inquisition.

Inquisition: AD 1233-1478

The survival of the Catharist heresy in parts of France, even after the brutality of the Albigensian crusade, persuades pope Gregory IX that specialists are required. In 1233 he writes to bishops in France saying that he is sending them some Dominican friars to help them in this necessary task of rooting out heretics.

Some of these first inquisitors have the special expertise of poachers turned gamekeeper. Robert le Bougre, the most severe of those sent to France in 1233, was drawn into the sect as a young man for love of a Cathar girl. St Peter Martyr, appointed inquisitor for northern Italy by Gregory IX (and assassinated by a Cathar in 1252), was born into a Catharist family.

The work of the Inquisition is accompanied from the start by alarming ceremonies. An inquisitor, arriving in a place where heresy is suspected, commands the local people to divulge what they know of their neighbours. The names of witnesses are concealed, so there is a strong temptation to settle scores. From 1252, by a bull of Innocent IV, suspects may be tortured to obtain confessions.

The inquisitor's announcement of the penalties imposed provides an exciting public spectacle, with the condemned on parade to hear their fate.

The inquisitor may prescribe penalties such as fasting, pilgrimage, the wearing of a yellow cross, the confiscation of property, flogging, or imprisonment for any period, including even life. But he cannot impose a death sentence, on the grounds that the church does not shed blood.

Instead, those condemned to death are handed over to the secular authorities - who know their Christian duty and are happy to comply. Death by burning at the stake, long the traditional punishment for heresy, has the added attraction of maintaining - in a very literal sense - the fiction that no blood is being shed.

The medieval Inquisition is mainly used against the Cathars in France, though the burning of both John Huss and Joan of arc follow investigations by inquisitors. The inquisitorial procedure becomes firmly established in the two centuries from Gregory IX's creation of the Inquisition in the 13th century to the deaths of Huss and Joan of arc in the 15th.

It is therefore a simple matter for pope Sixtus IV in 1478 to authorize Ferdinand and isabella to appoint inquisitors who will ensure that Spanish Jews are genuinely converting to Christianity. And it remains the tradition that Dominicans, among them Torquemada, will undertake the task. The Spanish Inquisition is an extension of what has gone before.

Scholasticism: 12th - 14th century AD

The philosophical tradition of Europe in the late Middle Ages is known as scholasticism - a term reflecting its close link with the newly founded Universities (any university lecturer has the title scholasticus).

The first Universities are created at a time when Christianity is central to all aspects of life in a way not true before or since. In these centuries Christian fervour provides the energy and funds to build the great Gothic Cathedrals; Crusaders fight their way east on an ostensibly Christian mission; Pilgrims criss-cross Europe visiting Christian relics; Christian Monasteries are at the forefront of economic activity. Scholasticism, in keeping with its time, is Christian philosophy.

The outstanding figure in the schools in the early 12th century is Abelard, who teaches logic and theology at Notre dame in Paris from about 1115. His lasting fame in popular history derives from his tragic love affair with Héloïse, which brings his career in Paris to an abrupt end in about 1118 (see Abelard and Heloise). But in his subsequent career of some twenty-five years as a monk he continues to express philosophical views which outrage many of his most distinguished contemporaries (among them, in particular, St bernard).

The controversial element in Abelard is his argument that God gave glimpses of the truth to pre-Christian philosophers, and that their work should therefore be studied with equal attention.

Aristotle is the ancient philosopher most available to Abelard, but of his works only those dealing with logic and with philosophical method (Categories and On Interpretation) have as yet reached the west. Abelard's main contribution is therefore the application of Aristotelian dialectic to Christian theology.

In the years after Abelard's death two developments of great importance affect scholasticism. The complete works of Aristotle reach western Europe, in many cases through the translators of Toledo. And the Mendicant friars, Dominicans and Franciscans, provide a channel through which members of a Christian order can devote themselves to university life.

Thomas Aquinas: 13th century AD

Of the many distinguished friars at the forefront of scholastic thought during the 13th century, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas is the most influential. He writes when Christian philosophy is profoundly challenged by the great edifice of Aristotelian thought. Aristotle appears to provide answers to important questions without the need for Christian sources.

Much of scholasticism in its most creative period is concerned with reconciling the insights of Aristotle with the revealed truths of Christianity. There is also a perceived need to weed out impurities introduced to the Aristotelian canon in its passage through Muslim hands, particularly those of Averroës.

Aquinas achieves a reconciliation between his Aristotelian and Christian sources which his contemporaries find so convincing that Aristotle acquires something of a stranglehold on late medieval thought.

In two major works Aquinas sets out the framework of the new orthodoxy. His Summa contra gentiles is intended to explain the Christian faith to Muslims. The Summa theologica is a textbook for Christian students in the universities.

In the Summa theologica Aquinas uses a teaching method known as sic et non ('yes and no') which is central to scholasticism. The lecturer (scholasticus) begins a session with a lectio in which he explains the question for discussion. The rest of the lesson is the disputatio in which arguments on either side, for and against, are expressed - leading if possible to a conclusion, as in the logical form of the Syllogism.

Scholasticism retains its appeal until the 16th century, when several themes undermine it - a revival of Interest in plato, a new approach to science which rejects Aristotle's ancient conclusions, and the natural tendency of the Reformation to distrust any philosophy endorsed by Rome.

14th - 15th century

Demands for reform: 14th century

Like the Renaissance, which slighly predates it, the Reformation has a multitude of possible starting points. The wish to rediscover a simpler and more authentic version of the Christian life is characteristic of many new movements within Christianity, one of which is the commitment to poverty of St francis. Reaction against the worldliness of the church is another recurrent theme, as in the case of Savonarola.

But John Wycliffe, in 14th century England, introduces so many strands of the Reformation - in relation to worldly prelates, the primacy of scripture and the nature of the eucharist - that he is usually identified as the main precursor of this greatest of all upheavals in Christian history.

Wycliffe's heresies: AD 1376-1395

Between 1376 and 1379 John Wycliffe, writing mainly in Oxford, takes a controversial line on a great many issues. He argues that the church has no proper role in temporal matters and that corrupt churchmen lose even the spiritual authority supposedly attached to their office. He maintains that all a Christian needs is the example of scripture, which believers should be able to read in their own languages. He denies that the consecrated bread and wine are literally transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ.

Most provocative of all, he can find no justification in scripture for the authority of the pope.

In 1377 pope Gregory XI orders Wycliffe to be imprisoned and examined, but he has powerful protectors in England (including John of Gaunt). He is placed briefly under house arrest. In 1378 Gregory XI dies and the papacy is plunged into its Great schism. Two rival popes have more pressing matters on hand than the English heretic. Wycliffe retires to spend the last few years of his life in the parish of Lutterworth, where he dies in 1384.

His ideas are spread in England by followers who become known as the Lollards (from a Dutch word for a 'mutterer'). Lollard attitudes - more strident than Wycliffe's, and expressed in a more popular manner - prefigure much that will be associated with Puritanism.

Central to the Lollard programme are two Wycliffite themes - that the main task of a priest is to preach, and that the scriptures should be accessible to everyone. He would also have approved of their scornful dismissal of Rome's pretensions. But the Twelve Conclusions, drawn up by Lollards in 1395, go considerably further - finding fault with images, pilgrimage, vestments, confession, the celibacy of priests and even the vows of chastity taken by nuns.

As a persecuted sect, the Lollards play only a small role in 15th century England. But the works of Wycliffe, carried from Oxford to Prague, ferment powerful unrest among the followers of John Huss.

The Bethlehem Chapel and John Huss: AD 1402-1414

John Huss, a teacher of philosophy in Prague university, is appointed in 1402 to a controversial position. He is put in charge of the Bethlehem chapel in Prague.

The chapel, founded about ten years previously, is associated with a radical approach to Christianity. The pulpit here is as prominent a feature as the altar. It is to be a place for sermons in the Czech language, comprehensible to ordinary people. The preachers argue for a simple Christianity, a religion of poverty and humility, very different from the worldly grandeur of the papacy.

At about the time of Huss's first involvement with the chapel, tension is heightened by the return from Oxford of his young friend Jerome of Prague. Jerome brings with him books by John Wycliffe, whose views - particularly on the unholy nature of the papacy - coincide with those of Huss.

For several heady years the reformers preach and agitate in Prague. The papacy is an easy target. Since 1378 there have been two Rival popes. From 1409 there are three. One of them even has the effrontery to sell Indulgences in Prague to finance his campaign against his opponents.

Eventually a council is called at Constance, in 1414, to resolve the issue of the three popes. As a prominent voice in the argument for ecclesiastical reform, Huss is invited to Constance to put his case.

The invitation poses evident personal danger to Huss, but he is reassured by a promise of safe conduct from the emperor Sigismund. Huss bravely sets off for the small German town which is now the scene of a glittering assembly of Christian potentates. Within weeks of his arrival he is arrested, with the emperor's tacit approval.

The Council of Constance: AD 1414-1417

The council deals with the matter of heresy more speedily than it succeeds in reducing three popes to one. The ideas of Wycliffe and Huss are discussed and rapidly condemned. Huss is burnt at the stake in July 1415. By that time Jerome of Prague has with equal courage travelled to Constance to defend his master. He too is arrested. In May 1416 he is burnt on the same patch of ground as Huss.

To ensure that there are no relics of heresy, the council has Huss's ashes scattered in the Rhine. And it orders that Wycliffe's body be dug up, burnt and consigned to an English river.

The issue of the popes comes closer to farce than tragedy. In March 1415 the Pisan pope, John XXIII, flees from Constance in disguise; he is brought back a prisoner and is deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigns voluntarily in July.

The Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, refuses to come to Constance. In spite of a personal visit in France from the emperor Sigismund, he will hear nothing of resignation. The council finally deposes him in July 1417. Denying their right to do so, he withdraws to an impregnable castle on the coast of Spain. Here he continues to act as pope, creating new cardinals and issuing decrees, until his death in 1423.

The council in Constance, having finally achieved a clean slate in July 1417, elects a new pope in November. The vote is unanimous for a cardinal who is not an ordained priest (less unusual then than it sounds now), so on almost successive days he is rushed through the necessary stages. Ordained as deacon, then as priest, consecrated as bishop and enthroned as pope, he emerges as Martin V.

The new pope makes his way gradually south to Rome, a city crumbling into ruin after a century and more of neglect. The popes of the next hundred years will not solve the corruption in the papacy, which cries out for reform. But they will dramatically improve the face of Rome.

The Hussite cause: AD 1415-1433

When news reaches Prague of Huss's death, burnt at the stake in Constance, the movement for reform is greatly strengthened. His successor as preacher in the Bethlehem chapel lists four radical principles upon which the Hussites insist.

The Four Articles of Prague demand: the freedom to preach; the wine as well as the bread to be given to the congregation in the mass; a clergy committed to poverty, together with the expropriation of church property; and the public punishment of notorious sinners, among whom prostitutes are singled out for special attention. The Hussites also differ from Rome in conducting their services in Czech rather than Latin.

These ideas spread rapidly through Bohemia, fuelled by a nationalist wave of anti-German sentiment. Germans are prosperous and influential in Bohemia. Huss was killed by a council on German soil. The man who betrayed his trust, revoking the promised safe conduct, is the German king and Holy Roman emperor Sigismund.

Sigismund is the half-brother of the Bohemian king Huss. On the death of Wenceslas, in 1419, Sigismund presses his claim to the throne of Bohemia. The kingdom erupts.

In 1420 the Hussites build a fortified town at Tabor, on a bluff above a river about 50 miles south of Prague. From here their leader, Jan Zizka, conducts a series of brilliant campaigns against the armies of Sigismund and the new pope, Albigensian crusade.

The pope proclaims, in 1420, a crusade against the Hussites. It is not the first crusade against fellow Christians who are judged to be heretics (the Wenceslas iv is two centuries earlier). But it is the first time the heresy is specifically an attack on Roman Catholic practice, arguing that the papacy betrays the example of the early Christians in two ways - in its worldliness and in its restriction of the sacrament.

Marching under their symbolic banner (which displays a communion chalice), the Hussites defeat half a dozen papal and imperial armies sent against them between 1420 and 1431. They fight with the zeal of nationalism and piety. They benefit too from a military tactic pioneered by Zizka - his so called 'war wagon fortress', using farm wagons as mobile barricades behind which an attacking force can shelter (an idea more familiar, subsequently, in the Martin v, but also used by Babur in India in 1526).

These victories eventually wring from the papacy some notable concessions to Bohemia, in terms agreed in 1433.

The Renaissance of Rome: 15th century AD

The Rome to which an undisputed pope finally returns, after the Council of constance in the early 15th century, is a shabby place of ruins and disorder. A century later this city of St Peter is the most splendid in the western world.

This change is the achievement of the Renaissance popes. The new splendour of Rome seems to many of their contemporaries more princely than papal, and the character of several popes in this spectacular period is well calculated to reinforce any such prejudice. But there are notable exceptions.

The pope who begins the transformation of Rome, in the mid-15th century, has none of the scurrilous characteristics associated with the pontiffs of half a century later. He is Nicholas V, a scholarly man who founds the Vatican library, employing hundreds of scholars and copyists to provide the basis of a great collection of manuscripts.

The familiar image of a Renaissance pope begins a little later, with the election of Sixtus IV in 1471. His patronage of the arts is evident in the Sistine chapel and the Sistine choir, both named after him. But his lavish patronage goes hand in hand with a very worldly conduct of the Vatican's affairs.

Sixtus, a Franciscan friar from a poor family in the region of Genoa, brings the papal practice of nepotism to new heights. While greatly enriching his nephews (seven of whom he makes cardinals), he also uses them as his agents in the power politics of rival Italian states. The scheming of one nephew even results in the murder of one of the Medici in the cathedral at Florence during High Mass.

Another nephew learns his trade so well with Sixtus that he easily outdoes his uncle, both in politics and patronage, when he is elected to the papacy as Julius ii.

Between the pontificate of Sixtus IV and of Julius ii comes the most notorious of the Renaissance popes, Alexander VI. He manipulates Italian politics not with the help of nephews but through his son, Cesare Borgia (see the Borgias).

Alexander's successor Julius ii is even more a man of his time. He is a pope who rides out in person to direct military campaigns, but he also commissions work from Raphael and Michelangelo. The frescoes of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel are created among the abuses which prompt the Reformation.

Devotio moderna and Erasmus: 15th - 16th century AD

During the 15th century there develops in northwest Europe a quiet devotional strain of Christianity so different from the pomp and ceremony of Rome that it seems, with hindsight, part of the complex thread evolving as the Reformation. But its practitioners would be horrified to see themselves in any such confrontational guise.

Known as devotio moderna, the movement derives from the Brethren of the Common Life - a group of both laymen and priests who share a simple life in imitation of the early Christians, devoting themselves to teaching and care of the poor.

A book written during the early 15th century - the Imitation of Christ, probably by Thomas à Kempis - becomes the extremely influential manual for Christian devotion of this kind. Without hierarchy and ritual, the emphasis in such a group is on the personal approach to Christ through the intense study of early Christian texts.

Such texts, originally in Greek, have in recent centuries been familiar only in the Latin of the Vulgate. In trying to go back to the early sources, these northern scholars share an interest with the pioneers of the Renaissance in Italy.

The education of Erasmus in the Netherlands in the 1470s is tinged with the influence of the devotio moderna. Like the brethren he can be seen as part of the trend towards the Reformation, though he strenuously avoids endorsing it.

His attitude to the materialistic papacy of the early 16th century (as seen in julius exclusus, a satirical play probably from his pen) is essentially that of the reformers. His careful edition of the Greek New Testament is in keeping both with devotio moderna and the Reformation - though one significant distinction remains. Erasmus translates the Greek in 1516 into Latin. Luther, just six years later, translates it into German.

16th century

Albert of Mainz: AD 1517

Germany provides a context in which materialism within the Roman Catholic church is offensively evident. Some of the principalities, which together make up the Holy Roman empire, are ruled by unscrupulous prelates living in the style of Renaissance princes. Foremost among them is Albert, archbishop of Mainz and one of the Seven imperial electors.

By the age of twenty-four Albert holds a bishopric and a second archbishopric in addition to Mainz. Such plurality is against canon law. But the pope, Leo X, agrees to overlook the irregularity in return for a large donation to the building costs of the new St Peter's.

Both pope and archbishop are men of the world (the pope is a Medici). Leo makes it possible for Albert to recover his costs by granting him the concession for the sale of indulgences towards the building of St Peter's. Half the money for each indulgence is go to Rome; the other half will help to pay off Albert's debts (he has borrowed the money for the original donation from the Fuggers of Augsburg).

This secret arrangement might distress the faithful if they knew of it. But more immediately shocking to some is the behaviour of the friar Johann Tetzel, whom Albert employs to sell the indulgences.

Tetzel is a showman. When preaching to gullible crowds in German towns he goes far beyond the official doctrine of Indulgences. He promises the immediate release of loved ones from the pain of Purgatory as soon as a purchase is made. He even has a catchy jingle to make the point: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from Purgatory springs.'

In October 1517 some parishioners return to Wittenberg with Indulgences which they have bought from Tetzel - Indulgences so powerful, some have been led to believe, that they could pardon a man who had raped the Virgin Mary. News of this travesty reaches the ears of a professor at the university of Wittenberg.

Luther's ninety-five theses: AD 1517

Martin Luther, a man both solemn and passionate, is an Augustinian friar teaching theology at the university recently founded in Wittenberg by Frederick the Wise, the elector of Saxony. Obsessed by his own unworthiness, he comes to the conclusion that no amount of virtue or good behaviour can be the basis of salvation (as proposed in the doctrine known as justification by works). If the Christian life is not to be meaningless, he argues, a sinner's faith must be the only merit for which God's grace might be granted.

Luther therefore becomes a passionate believer in an alternative doctrine, justification by faith, for which he finds evidence in the writings of St paul.

Nothing could be further from the concept of justification by faith than Tetzel's impudent selling of God's grace. Luther has often argued against the sale of Indulgences in his sermons. Now he takes a more public stand. He writes out ninety-five propositions about the nature of faith and contemporary church practice.

The tone of these 'theses', as they come to be known, is academic. But the underlying gist, apart from overt criticism of Indulgences, is that truth is to be sought in scripture rather than in the teaching of the church. By nailing his theses to the door of All Saints' in Wittenberg, as Luther does on 31 October 1517, he is merely proposing them as subjects for debate.

Instead of launching a debate in Wittenberg, the ninety-five theses spark off a European conflagration of unparalleled violence. The Reformation ravages western Christendom for more than a century, bringing violent intolerance and hatred which lasts in some Christian communities down to the present day. No sectarian dispute in any other religion has matched the destructive force, the brutality and the bitterness which begins in Wittenberg in 1517.

Luther is as surprised as anyone else by the eruption which now engulfs him - slowly at first but with accelerating pace after a year or two. Its violence derives from several unusual elements.

The papacy is determined to suppress this impertinence. Luther's writings are burnt in Rome in 1520; his excommunication follows in 1521. This is the predictable part. The unexpected elements are the groundswell of support in Germany, nourished by a deep resentment of papal interference; and the effect of the relatively new craft of printing.

Before Gutenberg, news of Luther's heresy would have circulated only slowly. But now copies of the ninety-five theses are all over Europe within weeks. A fierce debate develops, with pamphlets pouring from the presses - many of them from Luther's pen. Within six years, by 1523, Europe's printers produce 1300 different editions of his tracts.

In these circumstances it is impossible for the issue to be swept under the carpet. Any action taken against Luther in person is certain to provoke a crisis - though in the early years his safety depends heavily on the protection of Frederick the Wise, proud of his university and reluctant to hand over to Rome its famous theologian, however controversial.

Support for the excommunicated monk is so strong among German knights that the young emperor, Charles v, is prevailed upon to hear his case at a diet held in 1521 in Worms. Luther is given a safe conduct for his journey to and from the diet. He is no doubt aware of the value of an imperial safe conduct to John Huss a century earlier, but he accepts the challenge.

The Diet of Worms: AD 1521

Where Huss had slipped into Constance in 1414 almost alone, Luther arrives at the Diet at Worms supported by a large number of enthusiastic German knights. Nevertheless the purpose of the confrontation, from the emperor's point of view, is a demand that he should recant.

In a lengthy speech Luther explains that he will recant any of his views if they can be proved wrong by scripture or reason. Otherwise he must remain true to his conscience and to his understanding of God's word. The presses soon reduce this to the pithy statement which has been remembered ever since: Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders., 'Here I stand. I can not do otherwise.'

The emperor and the Diet declare Luther an outlaw in the Edict of Worms (using the violently intemperate language of the time). Luther leaves Worms with his safe conduct guaranteed for a few days. Once it has expired, it becomes the duty of any of the emperor's loyal subjects to seize the heretic.

Precisely that disaster seems to happen. Luther is bumping along in his wagon when armed men gallop up and drag him off. He is not seen in public for almost a year, causing many to assume that he is dead. But the armed men belong to Frederick the Wise. They take Luther to safety in one of Frederick's castles, the Wartburg, where he is given new clothes and a new identity - as Junker Georg, or plain Squire George.

Luther's stand leads, eventually, to the emergence of the first sect to break away from the Roman Catholic church and to survive the opposition of the papacy - Lutheranism, finally established by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This first Protestant faith is soon followed by others, violently disagreeing among themselves. Zwingli goes further than Luther. The Anabaptists far outstrip either. Meanwhile Henry viii devises a new English church for personal purposes.

The papacy, unable to stem the tide, calls the Council of trent and develops the Catholic Reformation - Rome's own rigorously virtuous programme of reform.

Zwingli: AD 1518-1525

The towns of Switzerland are the perfect context for the new movement of reform. Independent, free of any feudal ties, they are run by councils in which the merchants of the guilds usually have the predominant voice. The largest town is Zürich, where from 1518 there is a powerful preacher on the cathedral staff - Huldreich Zwingli.

Zwingli's first overt gesture against Catholic dogma is his eating of sausage during Lent in 1522, an event usually taken as the start of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli, experiencing little of the opposition faced by Luther in Germany, persuades Zürich to accept sweeping Protestant reforms. But, like Luther in Wittenberg, he is soon confronted by reformers more radical than himself.

Anabaptists: AD 1525

Zürich, swift in its acceptance of Zwingli's Protestant logic, is also the first city where radical reformers insist upon logic in a ritual central to the Christian faith - that of baptism (one of only two sacraments retained by Luther and Zwingli, the other being the Eucharist).

If each Christian in the reformed faith is to be personally responsible for his or her relationship with God, how can a mewling infant be offered the sacrament of baptism? In the gospels, there is only an adult baptism - that of Jesus himself. In the early years of the religion most Christians were converts, choosing the faith and receiving baptism as adults.

Arguments for adult baptism formed part of the unrest in Wittenberg during Luther's absence in 1521. Now, in 1525 in Zürich, Conrad Grebel - a young follower of Zwingli - takes a drastic step. He baptises a former Catholic priest, Georg Blaurock.

The action forms part of a wider programme, derived by Grebel from the gospels. His tenets include a free church of believers, fully detached from the state; refusal to swear an oath; and pacifism. The last two commitments, subsequently of great importance to all radical sects in this tradition, derive from Christ's sermon on the mount (Matthew, v, 33-48).

Grebel's act of baptism is a direct challenge to his former mentor, Zwingli, who is closely associated with the state - indeed he has a guaranteed majority of supporters on Zürich's city council. It can also be seen as blasphemy, since this is a rebaptism. It denies the validity of a sacrament, in the form of Georg Blaurock's original baptism as an infant.

The reaction of Zürich, under Zwingli's guidance, is swift and extreme. Anyone even attending a ceremony of this kind is to be liable to death by drowning - if they want water they shall have it. It is the start of a long ordeal of persecution for Anabaptists (from Greek for 'baptize again'). No other Christian sect has had such a high proportion of martyrs.

The Anabaptists leave Zürich and find a haven for a while in Moravia, where a tolerant nobleman is glad to recruit sober and hard-working employees for his estate. Sectarian disputes within the new sect (a splintering process inherent in radical endeavours) soon bring this respite to an end. But the appeal of the Anabaptists' brave and rational theology causes other such groups to emerge in south Germany and along the Rhine.

One or two of these degenerate into apocalyptic ravings. The 'kingdom of 1000 years', established at Münster in 1534 and violently destroyed in 1535, is the extreme example.

Most of the Anabaptist communities are ahead of their time - in being profoundly committed to personal responsibility, and willing to assert themselves against all authority for conscience's sake. From their suffering, the voice of everyday people, women as well as men, comes through with astonishing poignancy.

Direct descendants of these Anabaptist groups survive in sects such as the Mennonites, living now mainly in America and Canada. But the ideal of pacifism and the quiet inner voice of conscience have also nourished other Christian communities such as the Quakers.

Swiss reform: AD 1525-1531

Zürich is intolerant of the radical programme of the Anabaptists, but nevertheless this is the city in which the pattern of a fully reformed church is first established. The central detail, on which Zwingli goes much further than Luther, is the nature of the Eucharist.

By 1525 Zwingli has already replaced the mass (containing implications of a sacrificial ritual) with a simple service in which the altar becomes a communion table. In Zwingli's communion the bread and the wine, both of which are given to the congregation, merely symbolize Christ's body and blood. Luther maintains a more traditional view. The two men clash dramatically at Marburg, in 1529. They fail to reach agreement.

In this respect the Swiss reform differs intrinsically from the Lutheran version (or, later, the Anglican variety). It does so also on the issue of holy images. It is only the Swiss example which causes sculpture and painting to be smashed in many churches of Europe during the 16th century.

The independence of each Swiss canton has enabled Zürich to effect very rapidly its own programme of reform. But the same political freedom also makes it impossible for the whole federation to move together into reform. It soon becomes evident that the rural cantons are remaining faithful to Rome, while Basel, Bern and Schaffhausen side with Zürich.

The pope and the emperor (Clement VII and Charles V) see in this split a chance of containing the Swiss movement for reform. They encourage the rural cantons to band together in 1529 as a Christian Union. Hostilities between the Catholic and Protestant cantons break out in that year and again in 1531. On the second occasion Zwingli himself marches into battle, at Kappel, and loses his life in a decisive Catholic victory.

This disaster ends the pre-eminence of Zürich in the Swiss reformation. But Zwingli's reforms are developed, during the next decades, in a city which has close links with the Swiss federation - Geneva, where Calvin begins preaching in 1536.

Calvin's school of Christ: AD 1541-1564

John Calvin's first visit to Geneva lasts only two years, to 1538, before he is exiled by a town council alarmed at the rigour of the Christian regime which he wishes to impose on the citizens. He shelters in Strasbourg, until recalled to Geneva in 1541. The town has lapsed in his absence into turmoil and religious discord.

Calvin now sets about creating in Geneva a civic theocracy - a community in which the pastors of the church vigorously supervise moral standards. There have been laws in the medieval church regulating behaviour, often strict but not often effective. Calvin's innovation is to enforce morality in a singularly thorough and joyless manner.

The godly city is run according to the precepts of the Bible. Adultery is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10). On one occasion a young man is beheaded for striking his parents (Exodus 21:15). The pastors, or ministers, make annual visits to every home to check on morality. Taverns and dancing are banned.

On the credit side, there is a more democratic approach to church affairs. The presbyterian system, introduced by Calvin and seen as a return to early Christian principles, puts power jointly in the hands of pastors and lay elders. Neither group has any authority until elected by the congregation. But once elected, they are empowered to establish a wide-ranging structure of church government.

The example of this virtuous city brings enthusiasts and exiles to Geneva from all over Europe. One such exile is John Knox, in Geneva from 1556 to 1559 as minister to an English community escaping, like himself, from persecution under the Catholic queen Mary. He describes Calvin's city as 'the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles'.

Geneva is indeed a school of Christ. Trained pastors are sent out from here to spread the faith through Europe - often at great personal risk.

Disciples of Calvin - variously known as Huguenots, Presbyterians, Puritans or Calvinists - agitate for their own kind of reform in the Roman Catholic kingdoms of France and Scotland, in Anglican England and in the Spanish Netherlands.

In doctrine they follow the Swiss reform of Zwingli, as opposed to that of Luther. But Calvin adds one harshly rigorous element - the concept of predestination, with roots in St Paul and St Augustine. This argues that since everything is in God's hands, he must have selected in advance those who shall be saved. Thus any community includes some who are God's elect, destined for heaven, and others whose certain fate is damnation.

One other distinct element in Calvinism is an insistence that church and state must be separate. The pastors control much of Genevan life, but they are not (and must never be) the civil magistrates. This distinction gives Calvinist sects a greater independence than either Lutherans or Anglicans, both of whom operate in a close relationship with lay rulers.

Scottish Calvinists establish a church in defiance of Scotland's monarch, while the Pilgrim fathers cross the Atlantic to found their own Calvinist community. The Genevan ideals of morality, thrift and hard work make such communities well adapted to prosper, even if tending to self-righteousness and intolerance.

Council of Trent: AD 1545-1563

Pope Paul III first proposes in 1536 a council to tackle the issues raised by the Protestant reformers. He also sets up a commission of cardinals to report on abuses within the church. The cardinals find evidence of many of the failings pointed to by Luther, including inadequate training of priests, incompetence of bishops, laxity in the monastic and mendicant orders and the scandal of prelates holding multiple appointments.

It is nine years before Paul III finally assembles his council, at Trent in 1545. The delay is caused by many conflicting interests - including those of the emperor Charles V, who insists on it being held in imperial territory, and Francis I of France who fears it may somehow benefit Charles.

From an unpromising start (only 3 papal legates and 31 prelates at the first session), the council grows in stature during a period of 18 years. There are long intervals during which it is not convened. The sessions occur in 1545-47 under Paul III, in 1551-52 under Julius III and in 1562-63 under Pius IV.

By the end it proves a turning point for the Roman Catholic church, largely because the council responds differently to the two prongs of the Protestant challenge - in each case with considerable vigour.

On the question of abuses within the church, the council accepts the validity of the criticism and puts in place corrective measures - improved seminaries to educate clergy, strict rules about bishops residing in their dioceses, reforms within the monastic orders.

With these practical steps taken, the council refuses by contrast to yield an inch on doctrinal matters. The number of sacraments remains at seven, Marriage for priests is rejected, Justification by works as well as by faith is endorsed, and the efficacy of relics and Indulgences is reaffirmed - as also is the cult of the Virgin Mary and the saints.

With the ancient colourful certainties thus reinforced, and an improved priesthood entering service (including the invaluable Jesuits), the Roman Catholic church after the Council of Trent is suddenly well placed to confront the Protestant challenge.

During the period of the council, in 1562, the Spanish mystic and ascetic, Teresa of Avila, founds the first of many convents in the movement known as the Carmelite Reform. The same reforming zeal is applied to monasteries by St John of the Cross.

Saints such as Teresa of Avila (and there will be several during the 17th century) are the perfect Roman Catholic response to the Protestant reformers. They are as morally severe as any northern puritan, but there is an ecstatic quality to their religion which is distinctly southern. In its new style, the Baroque, the Roman church has the ideal medium in which to hint at religious ecstasy.

It is conventional to call this renewal of Roman Catholicism the Counter-Reformation, but the phrase is too negative. Originally a response to northern reform, the movement amounts in the end to a full-scale southern alternative. Catholic Reformation is a more accurate description.

The English Reformation: AD 1547-1662

Although Henry VIII severs the church of England from Rome in 1533, religious reform does not begin in earnest until after his death in 1547. Indeed in 1539 parliament passes, at the king's behest, an Act of Six Articles outlawing Lutheran notions such as the marriage of clergy, or any interpretation of the Eucharist differing from that of Rome.

But in the six-year reign of Henry's son, Edward VI, two successive regents of the young king (the dukes of Somerset and Northumberland) press ahead with reform in the Calvinist tradition. This is the time when English cathedrals and churches first have their sculptures and stained-glass windows smashed, and their murals defaced.

On the positive side the period produces two versions of the Prayer Book (1549 and 1552) which are largely the work of Thomas Cranmer. Though modified in some respects in later reigns, Cranmer's superb prose provides the basis of the Book of Common Prayer which becomes accepted from 1662 as the order of service of the church of England.

But the English Reformation has to pass through fire before it is tempered into its final form. In her five-year reign Edward's sister, Mary i, forcibly reimposes Roman Catholicism on England. Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake bequeath to the Anglican church two abiding characteristics - a dislike of religious fervour and a hatred of Roman Catholicism.

During the reign of Mary's sister Elizabeth, whose instinct is for reconciliation after the violent swings of the preceding years, the Calvinists in England become a minority widely referred to as Puritans (because they want to purify the church of all taints of Roman Catholicism).

Among various Puritan sects, the Presbyterians are predominant. In the English civil war - which can be seen partly as an extension of the struggles of the Reformation - the Presbyterians are the party of parliament. The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brings back the mainstream of the Anglican church; and from 1662 the mainstream insists upon conformity, even though to a broadly based central position.

The Act of Uniformity of 1662 obliges clergymen in the church of England to assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles. These central tenets of Anglican belief are based on a version drawn up by Cranmer in 1553 and modified ten years later, in Elizabeth's reign, to try and accomodate Catholics who might be willing to give up Rome (and five of the seven sacraments) and Puritans who might tolerate bishops.

Some 2000 clergy, appointed during the Commonwealth, lose their livings when they reject the Articles in the 1660s. They and their followers become the Nonconformists - a group, much discriminated against, which includes Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and later Methodists.

17th - 18th century

Protestant sectarians: 16th - 17th century AD

The Protestant Reformation, with its encouragement of a personal relationship with God, provides a fertile breeding ground for sects. The early decades see the split between Lutheran and reformed churches on the nature of the Eucharist. Anabaptists almost immediately join the fray with their revised concept of baptism.

By the 1560s the ancient controversy over the Trinity is revived. Francis Dávid, appointed bishop in Transylvania in 1564, begins preaching that only God the Father is divine. His followers soon become known as Unitarians (initially used by their opponents as a term of abuse).

Although at first much persecuted by those who are certain of the truth, the Unitarians themselves resolutely avoid doctrinal rigidity. Jesus Christ is venerated, even if not allowed full godhead. So also, in modern Unitarianism, are the deities of other religions.

The same determination to remain open to divine truth of any kind characterizes the Quakers, followers of George Fox who begins preaching in the 1650s in England. Again 'quakers' is originally a derisive term for the sect, which in Fox's time is prone to fits of ecstasy (the Society of Friends is the group's own name for itself). Quaker devotion to religious tolerance finds early expression in the foundation in 1681 of Pennsylvania.

England in the 17th century is the greatest seedbed of Protestant sects. The most prominent among them, in opposition to the Anglican church, are the Presbyterians - whose doctrine derives from Calvin and his 'school of Geneva'.

In their determination to take charge of everyone else's religious wellbeing, the Presbyterians alienate many who agree with them on doctrinal matters. The result is another sect, of great influence during the Commonwealth in England, which is variously known as the Separatists, Independents or Congregationalists.

The Separatists believe that each local congregation of Christians should be entirely in charge of its own affairs. One such congregation (including many of the Pilgrim fathers) leaves England in 1608 to enjoy the religious liberty of Holland.

From among their number there derive the Baptists. Some of the English Separatists in Amsterdam adopt the Anabaptist rite of adult baptism. A group returning to London establishes a Baptist church there in about 1612. Developments in England later in the century, and in the English colonies in America, lead eventually to the great number of Baptist churches all round the world today.

Russian Orthodoxy and the Old Believers: AD 1652-1667

The only major schism within Russian orthodoxy is created almost single-handedly by an energetic monk who is appointed patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in 1652. He is Nikita Minin, who becomes known by the single name Nikon.

From early in the Romanov dynasty there has been a reform movement within the Russian church, attempting to correct the ritual wherever it has deviated over the centuries from the Greek Orthodox example. Nikon is an enthusiastic reformer, and as a close friend of the tsar (Alexis) he has almost unlimited power to insist on changes.

Many of the errors which Nikon discovers and corrects seem trivial. Russians have been crossing themselves with two fingers where they should have used three; conversely they have been singing three alleluias where they should have sung two. But by 1655 the patriarch is going further. He sets about removing from churches and homes any icons which show the holy figures in an incorrect manner.

By 1656 there is such vocal opposition to the new measures that Nikon excommunicates all who reject his reforms. But well before this he has used simpler methods to silence his opponents.

From the start of the reforms it is clear that Nikon's chief opponent is the priest Avvakum Petrovich. In 1653 Avvakum is banished to Tobolsk in Siberia. He is subsequently sent even further east, to the Lena river. It is ten years before he is recalled to Moscow.

By then the tsar has had enough of Nikon's autocratic ways and has dismissed him. But his reforms are retained, with the result that the dissidents eventually become a separate sect known as the Old Believers (Raskolniki). They themselves later split into the Popovtsi, who establish a church hierarchy of their own, and the more radical Bezpopovtsi, who survive to this day without either priests or sacraments.

The schism becomes final when a church council of 1666-7 offers no concessions, opting instead for a policy of continuing persecution.

Avvakum is sent to imprisonment in a small fort within the Arctic Circle, near Naryan-Mar. Here he spends the last fourteen years of his life writing books. They include the first Russian autobiography, entitled simply Zhitie (Life). In a racy and colourful style, which has made his book a classic of early Russian literature, Avakkum describes the battle to defend the old rites - together with the bitter experiences of the first Russian author to suffer exile in Siberia.

Revivalism: 18th century AD

The 18th century is the most rational and complacent period in European history. Educated gentlemen of the time profess an optimistic confidence in the rightness of things (satirized by Voltaire in candide). They see a well-constructed universe as delightful evidence of God's creative talents. The contemporary strand of Christianity known as Deism makes God himself an essentially rational being.

The trend is signposted just before the new century in two English books - John Locke's The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) and John Toland's Christianity not Mysterious (1696).

The wish for a reasonable Christianity is an understandable reaction against the passionate intolerance which has characterized the 16th and 17th centuries. But reasonable faith is not necessarily the kind which most people want.

Throughout Europe and in America - and even in other religions, as in the Hasidist movement within Judaism - people in the 18th century flock to preachers who will offer them the passion and mystery of traditional religion (and even the terror, in gory depictions from the pulpit of the hellfire ahead for the wicked).

The revival of a longing for an intense personal experience of God begins in Lutheran churches in north Germany in the late 17th Germany. It is seen in England from the early 1730s, when the brothers John and Charles Wesley astonish other Oxford undergraduates by forming a Holy Club with a rigorous programme of prayer and self-improvement.

These students' methodical habits cause them to be mockingly called Methodists. They accept the name, which remains attached to their group when they launch a missionary revival within the Church of England. Eventually the Anglican church cannot contain them, and Methodism becomes - from 1784 - a separate sect.

As an itinerant preacher, travelling the length of England and often speaking in the open air, John Wesley has the ability to move his audience to a tearful state in which they commit themselves to God.

His younger colleague George Whitefield has the same power, perhaps to an even greater degree. From 1739 Whitefield takes the message to America, where it falls on fertile ground - for the colonies are already engaged in a similar movement of revivalism. Known as the Great Awakening, it has Jonathan Edwards as its leading preacher.

This passionate new development of the Protestant ideal builds on the Reformation notion of every Christian's personal relationship with God. It finds a natural home in America - the land of the individual, the place where all families have made at some time a personal commitment in the decision to cross the Atlantic. America becomes the home of revivalism - famously so in the 20th century, with world-wide campaigns undertaken by preachers such as Billy Graham.

The enthusiasm of a revivalist meeting is essentially something to be shared. Here is the root of the Christianity nowadays known as evangelical. It is linked also with the rapid growth of Protestant missions to convert the heathen.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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