Christianity, now 2000 years old was originally intended to be a modification to Judaism (The religion of the Jews going back more than 2500 years). The founder, Jesus, a man born a Jew in modern day Israel, thought the Jewish religion was flawed and needed bringing up to date.  He had many religious and moral points to make which made him very unpopular with both the Jews and the Romans of the day, which included:

  • The Jewish faith was only available to those born a Jew.  Hence was a divisive religion. 
  • A religious faith should be open to all.
  • The Jewish faith did not concentrate sufficiently on the poor.  That is attention needed to be directed to those in need.  Also it is easier to be a good poor man than a good rich man.
  • The Jewish view of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was barbaric. Jesus preached a very tough alternative, “turn the other cheek”.  Clearly a suggestion that a discussion might avert a war.

Jesus also preached forgiveness.   This has been interpreted by the Roman Church as forgiveness through confession.  That is if you confess to a priest, God will not hold your sin against you when its your time to die and go to paradise (Heaven).  The priest is not in any circumstances obliged to tell the police even in the case of murder.  (Roman Catholics only)

Jesus as with many other prophets did not write down his own set of instructions and left it instead to others.  In the case of Jesus his immediate followers provided a record of what Jesus taught but written from memory more than 50 years after his death in the form of easy to read and astonishing stories.  The main contributors were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John plus the prolific letter writer and evangelist, the gentile (or non Jew) Paul.  
The three most important written instructions for Christians are:  

  1. The Bible, Old Testament. The first five books of which are also followed by Jews.  
  2. Bible, New Testament, where the words written by Matthew and Mark etc are recorded. 
  3. The Crede, written by Roman Christians about 1700 years ago in the monasteries around Istanbul (Turkey), then Constantinople, the then capital of the Eastern Roman empire of Byzantium.

As with some other religions the interpretation of the written words must be by ordinary mortals who are prone to disagree particularly as their first language is not necessarily the language of the original scribe. In addition the interpretations need to be continuously brought up to date for example as required by science (example birth control and genetic engineering) and social customs (example the role of women).  Therein lie further problems which have regularly created splits (schisms) in the church and new cults or denominations. 

The Bible and the Fundemental Rules of Christianity

The most important parts of the Bible for Christians are:

The Ten Commandments are shared between the Jews and the Christians. These rules for life were thought by Moses to be given to him by God on Mount Sinai in the now Egyptian Sinai desert when he (Moses) was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt en route to the “Promised Land” which is present day Israel plus the Palestinian West Bank. (About 2500 years ago).  
They are:  (Bible, Exodus Ch. 20)

  • Honour your father and mother
  • Don’t kill other humans
  • Do not commit adultery
  • Do not envy or long to own your neighbours house, or wife, nor anything that belongs to your neighbour
  • Do not tell lies about your neighbour
  • Do not steal
  • Work for six days a week
  • On the seventh rest but this is also Gods day.
  • Do not mention God’s name without reverence.
  • Do not make models or icons about God or Heaven.

Jesus added to these some 500 years later on another desert mountain in what is now called the Sermon on the Mount as follows: 
(Ref.: Bible New Testament, Matthew chapters 5/6/7)

  • Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth
  • Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God
  • Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy
  • Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted

At the same time Jesus took the opportunity to strengthen the rules of the Ten Commandments for example he said:

  • Remember what the old timers said about adultery, as far as I’m concerned you have committed adultery if you so much as think about sleeping with another man’s wife.
  • It was also said by the old timers, “If you divorce your wife give her a certificate (Testimonial letter)”. I say if you divorce your wife for anything other than unchastity (refusing to have sex with you) makes her an adulteress and who ever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
  • Remember also the words “Thou shalt not kill.”  “I say to you every one who is angry, even with his friend, shall be liable for punishment.”  

What Jesus left out.
The Ten Commandments were ten out of more than one hundred given to Moses by God some 500 years before Jesus gave “his Sermon on the Mount.”  Here are a few examples of some Jesus left out: 
(See Exodus chapter 20/1/2/3 for the complete list.)

  • If a man has sex with a maiden (virgin) he must marry her. (Ch. 22 v.16)
  • If her father refuses, he shall give the virgin’s father a suitable present (dowry) and then marry her. (Ch 22 v. 17)
  • If a man has sex with an animal he must be put to death  (Ch 22 v.19)
  • If a man takes an additional wife she must in no way be treated worse than the first. (Ch 21 v 10)
  • If a man kills another man he must be put to death.  (Ch 21 v 12)
  • If a man hits his Father or his Mother he must be put to death

Secondly - Prayer
At the same time Jesus told his followers that it was important that they should pray regularly. He also advised that private prayer (e.g. at home) would be more valuable than public prayer (e.g. in the street). The basic prayer he gave at this time was. (Freely translated)

Our Father who is in heaven,
Glorious is your name,
Your kingdom will come,
Your rules will be obeyed,
On this Earth as they are in Heaven.
Please give us this day the food we need.
Please also forgive us our sins,
As we have been told to forgive those who sin against us.
Please also lead us away from temptation and evil.
Thank you God,
For ever and ever 

The Spread of Christianity to the Romans and by the Romans

2000 years ago

The next phase of the story of Christianity is the conversion of some Romans from their pagan faiths to Christianity.  The man responsible around AD 50 was the non Jewish travelling evangelist, the Pharisee Paul. The Romans like the Greeks before them were wealthy enough to have time on their hands to think. Indeed Roman scholars took many of the thoughts of the Greek philosophers (Inc. Socrates and Aristotle) to fine tune the stories and teachings of Jesus.

The message of the early Christians was so strong that inspite of Roman resistance and in many places local persecution, within 100 years there were centres of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, even in the far outposts of Roman Britain. A good example though a little later is from present day St Albans (20 miles north of London England): a priest was fleeing a lynching mob and was hidden by an early local Christian in the then Roman town of Verulamium. When confronted by the mob (AD 304) saying “have you seen a priest?” said he was the priest and was immediately killed.  St Alban as he is now known was the first known English martyr.  A huge abbey marks the spot where the murder took place
The breakthrough came with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in AD 312 who set about making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Things moved quickly.  Constantine changed the name of the eastern capital of the Roman Empire from Byzantium to Constantinople (After himself) and set up important religious colleges in the attractive local countryside. One by the lake called Nicaea. (Now in Turkey and called Iznik some 100 miles south east of Istanbul).  From this college, the Roman Christian religious clerics produced a written document (in 325 AD) stating what Christians should believe. (It is now called the Nicaean Creed. The Latin for “I believe” is “Credo”).  It is still used today as follows:
“I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made.

Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from Heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified by Pontius Pilot, He suffered and was buried, And on the third day he rose again according to the scriptures, And ascended into Heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.  And he will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord giver of life, Who proceedeth from the father and the Son, Who with the father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spake by the prophets. And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  And I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. Amen

This creed lasted with very little competition for over 1000 years that is until the Reformation   (circa AD 1500).  However in the hundred or so years before it was agreed, the Christian church welcomed debate and intellectual speculation.  The opposite would be the case as the Roman Popes fostered theological conformity. Particularly and not surprisingly, in the 2nd century there was much debate about the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being one and the same thing.)

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Some call him the father of the Christian church.  Born in Thagaste close to the North African Roman town of Carthage (modern day Tunisia) he took a Christian wife and was finally converted to Christianity by the Roman Bishop of Milan St Ambrose.  As Bishop of Hippo (300 miles west of Carthage in present day Algeria) he wrote the most influential books on Christianity for more than 800 years.  Of particular interest and importance to the English was his influence on the Roman Britain St Patrick who became the patron saint of Ireland who travelled to Hippo to learn from him.

Christianity comes to England


1500 years ago

The next milestone in the development of the Roman Christian church came in 590AD though the powerful dogma of Pope Gregory 1st    More than anybody he was responsible for removing any government control over the Church. (He had to come to an agreement with the ruling race in northern Italy at the time, the Lombards of Milan, one of the Germanic tribes who assisted in the fall of the Roman Empire)
Pope Gregory sponsored his emissary Augustine to fully convert England, then ruled by the Saxons, to Christianity. This was the first organised plan to spread Christianity to England.  Around the same time Irish missionaries (Columba 521-597) who had been converted to Christianity by the Irish St Patrick movement, landed on the west coast of Scotland.  Both movements survived the vicious pagan Viking invasions into both England and Ireland between 800 and 1000 AD.  The writings of the Venerable Bede (written around 700AD in a monastery in Jarrow in Northumberland founded by the St Patrick movement) are a testimonial to this.(e.g. his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”).

Three other major events took place in Europe to fully establish the Christian Church across Europe.
The Roman Byzantium Empire centred in Constantinople was not over run by the Germanic tribes as befell Rome
Pope Leo 3rd in about 800 came to a deal with the effective Emperor of Europe, Charlemagne, and crowned him Emperor of the Western Church or Holy Roman Emperor. (Charlemagne was of German stock whose court was in Aachen/Aix-la-Chapelle in the west of Germany.)  On Charlemagne’s death the crown passed to the German Kings. The best remembered of course being the Habsburgs whose court was in Vienna Austria and then perhaps Charles 5th  from Burgundy now in France who also became king of Spain and Naples in Italy  The succession of the Holy Roman Empire remained solid until 1800 when it collapsed under Napoleon.
Perhaps the most holy, respected and useful activities of the Christian church were their monasteries which were centres for dedicated religious people to live, work and pray, generally eight times a day.  They became the best brains of their day and most importantly did good works in their neighbourhood. This took the form of creating books for reading before printing was invented, teaching, the only real source of education at the time, and such things as helping local farmers with capital projects they could not afford like draining the land.  The men and women who lived in monasteries took vows to spend their lives doing good works in the name of God.  Marriage was disallowed for monks and nuns.  The first simple monasteries were set up in Ireland by St Patrick where one of their key jobs was to make copies, by hand of course, of all the vital Christian books being rapidly destroyed by the Saxons and Vikings in England.  The official founder of the movement was the Italian St Benedict who was not a priest but set up 12 monasteries manned by 12 monks each. Around 525 AD he and a few monks established a centre in Monte Cassino and set out the rules for monastic life which have not changed much to this day.  A number of universities owe their origins to monasteries notably Paris 1100 and Oxford 1249.  The Pope’s emissary St Augustine founded the Benedictine monastery at Canterbury in 597 AD.

Power Struggles between Church and King




1000 years ago

There were three main authorities “governing” England over the next 500 years:

  • The King
  • His Barons (eventually became a parliament after Magna Carta)
  • And the Church

A power struggle waxed and waned between the three.  The Church under the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury organised the daily life of the people. A massive church building programme gave each village a parish church. A monastery to help with major capital projects was never far away.

A good example of the power struggle between an English King and Roman Church is illustrated in the story of King Henry 2nd (1154-1189) and his friend and  Archbishop Thomas Becket. Henry was one of the best kings England ever had and at the time was the best King in Europe.  He ruled the whole of the British Isles including Ireland and more of France than the contemporary French King. Henry was noted for his efforts to improve justice for everybody, equally, regardless of power or rank. 

To put things in perspective, it was customary at this time for justice to be metered out by the baron’s men in the most barbaric ways.  The suspect was proven guilty or innocent by immersing a bandaged hand into boiling water for some minutes. The man was innocent if when the bandages were taken off he had no blisters!  Some men were exempt from this, most notably the Bishops. Their judgement was based on a test of eating bread at the trial. His peers were asked to pray to the angel Gabriel and ask him to make the priest choke if guilty. Not too many were found guilty!  Henry wanted two things. The same rules for everybody and the judges to report to the King.

Things were brought to a head when a bishop was tried in the old way for murder. The King complained to his friend and Archbishop Becket.  Becket maintained the church was exempt and not only this, the final adjudicator for a churchman was the Pope in Rome.  The friendship between the two men evaporated and Becket fled to northern France. The King very much missed Becket who he had made his political right hand man (Chancellor) as well as Archbishop. 

Finally Becket returned to Canterbury Cathedral but the arguments between these two highly intelligent men with different views persisted. By chance Henry was overheard by four Knights to say (perhaps in jest) “Why am I surrounded by such a load of dumb heads none of whom have the guts to rid me of this pestilent priest.”  The Knights immediately travelled to Canterbury and killed Becket in his cathedral (1170).   Of course the King was devastated but the story illustrated a political and religious structure designed without a single line of authority and hence the time bomb set to explode some 300 years later. (See the Reformation) 

A little earlier, immediately after the turn of the millennium (and coincidentally?) just 40 years after the breakaway from Rome by the Church in Constantinople, 1054, see below)  Pope Urban 2nd  in Rome answered a call for help from Constantinople(1095) for military action against the Muslims who were threatening their territory. The Pope thus called upon the kings across Europe to wage a holy war against the Muslims mainly to recapture the Christian (and Jewish) holy city of Jerusalem (Indeed the Muslims moved into Jerusalem very soon after the start of their movement. Circa 700 AD)  .  These crusades lasted on and off almost 500 years and in general were an expensive failure from a Christian point of view. The English Norman King, Richard the Lion Heart who inherited the throne from Henry 2nd in 1189 spent most of his ten year reign, not looking after his extensive empire in England and France but swanning about at the Popes behest in middle eastern crusades (holy wars).  He had some success in the sense he retook Jerusalem, and also had the sense to talk to the great Muslim ruler of Egypt and Syria, the Turk Saladin. to get permanent access for Christian pilgrims into Jerusalem.

The formation of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church
The Eastern Christian church in Constantinople split (1054) with the rest of the Church headquartered in Rome and formed the Orthodox Church.  The dispute was both theological and political. After all Constantinople was the headquarters of the only remaining part of the proud old Roman Empire and they were unhappy about the dogmatic (theological) authority from Rome. They froze the rules preached by the church up to the Nicean Creed. They also permitted the inclusion of elaborate Icons and perhaps most importantly claimed the authority of the Apostolic succession hence claimed they were the only true church.
View the History of Orthodox Christianinty

The Muslim Arabs spread their faith across the whole of North Africa and up into Southern and Eastern (Aragon) Spain. This created not only huge problems for the Christians in the North of Spain but also the rest of Europe. For some 500 years the Muslim Arabs and the Muslim Ottomans controlled the European sources and trade routes for Gold and Spices.  Gold, required to make currency was running out in Europe.  The Arabs had plenty, mined in North Africa at Gao close to Timbuktu in present day Mali.  Spices (mainly pepper which the Romans thought was almost as valuable as Gold) came from Java, in present day Indonesia and came to Europe via the Arab trading port in Egypt of Alexandria. The Christian/Muslim wars lasted some 700 years were ended finally by the English at the height of their Naval and imperial powers of 200 years ago.

Christians, in this period also suffered the self inflicted economic constraint as the Roman controlled Christian Church did not allow the setting up of financial institutions like banks as part of Christian religious laws.  The Jewish faith permitted money lending (Usury). William the Conqueror (a Christian) asked the Jews in France to come to England with him to ensure this service was available in his new domain. England had to wait 500 years until Elizabeth 1st ruled as a Protestant Queen and money lending by Protestant Christians were allowed.

The Start of a Religious Revolution

750 years ago
The Christian Church is seen to become too powerful and too dogmatic

From 1000 years ago, with the economic and cultural stability brought to England by the Normans both Church and state flourished. The Church ran life at grass routes level which included the collection of religious taxes from the people. Probably more happily given than the state taxes collected by the Barons. Much of the Church money would have had to go to Rome. However the local Bishops seemed to be doing rather well perhaps some even living the high life. This caused resentment amongst the people most who lived just above starvation level if the harvest was poor.  

One of the first to complain was Oxford University philosopher John Wycliffe (1329-1384).  However being a University Don his complaint was mainly about theological issues. He wanted the church to get back to basics that the bible taught  rather than the interpretation authorised by the Popes. A particular point was the doctrine of “Transubstantiation”. That is the Roman Christian doctrine states that during Mass in Church, when the priest offers wine and bread as a symbol for Jesus’ blood and body that they actually turn into the blood and body of Jesus.  Wycliffe was kicked out of Oxford and labelled a heretic. His Fundamentalist thinking was carried forward by the Lollards. 
The main issues were, Transubstantiation. 
The rule that the Church in Rome could effectively interpret the Bible as it wished. Wycliffe thought individuals should interpret the bible as they wished.
He also attacked the hierarchy of the church. That is the power of Bishops etc.
All these points were adopted by the English Protestants 150 years later.
What Wycliffe complained about was mirrored across Europe by other independent but like minded observers.
Also during this period the English Kings had to balance their control  of the country with the power of the Church of Rome sometimes providing different rules.

500 years ago
The Renaissance and the Reformation in the Christian Church
Three events elevated Europe from a medieval society to what we have now, as represented by freedom of thought, speech and writing and a respect of our fellow human beings or Human Rights.  These movements started in Italy and spread rapidly through Europe then west to America with the European explorers and eventually, with the English to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. (The areas dominated by the Islamic Ottomans were closed to Europeans and hence closed to Renaissance  thinking.) 
The three events were:

  • The Cultural Renaissance
  • Science
  • The Religious Reformation

Without the first two the Reformation would not have happened.
Renaissance is a French word that means Re-birth.  The Roman Christian church had ruled for 1000 years across the whole of Europe. The message was very appealing. If you follow the rules laid down by the Pope in Rome, when you die you will go to paradise (heaven). A very powerful promise when the length of life was so short.  Of course the rules included the payment of religious taxes, mainly in the form of farm and property taxes as the Church owned so much land via both the Monasteries and the Church Parishes. The Church was the only source of education and scholarship. Indeed generally the only people who could read in the land were either the clergy or those few trained by the clergy.  The penalty for arguing with the church (Heresy) was death.

The catalyst for this revolutionary thinking  or re-birth was the fall of the headquarters of the Eastern Christian church in Constantinople to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453 after some 250 years of military conflict.  Whereas the German Vandals who sacked Rome some 1000 years earlier left nothing, this time many of the scholars and theologians in  Constantinople who fled made it to northern Italy. They brought with them their ancient books describing not only the teachings of the Eastern Church but also the almost 2000 years of thoughts and art from the Greeks and Romans which had been lost to the western world.  A freedom of thought, science and art was reborn.

The Reformation

The ideas of the early “reformers” were to change the “bad” or earthly habits that the Church of Rome had in their opinion fallen into. (Similar in a way to how Jesus had set out to Reform the “corrupt” Jewish Church). As with Jesus the early reformers were risking death by confronting the establishment.  Without the fall of Constantinople it might never have happened. The first reformer is said to have been the German Monk, Martin Luther when in 1517 he nailed up his 95  complaints against the Church in Rome on the door of the castle church at Wittenburg.  Following many trips to Rome, he failed to reform the church, and was immediately condemned to death by the Pope but with the support of some German princes he survived and formed the Protestant movement.  He was followed in Switzerland by Zwingli (1520) and in France(actually Geneva in Switzerland) by the more extreme fundamentalist,  Frenchman John Calvin.  All these men  of course were preceded by 150 years by Oxford English scholar John Wycliffe who had exactly the same ideas and complaints. Wycliffe and the Lollards did not have the weight of the Renaissance behind them.  Also by the Italian Friar, Savonarola who was burnt at the stake in Florence in 1498.
Eventual country converts to the new Protestant thinking were:

  • England  1552 after various blood baths.
  • Scotland with the help of charismatic evangelist John Knox who preached the more fundamental views of Calvin to establish the Presbyterian Church in 1592.
  • In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland the less brutal views of Luther were adopted earlier starting in 1527.
  • In the Netherlands, then ruled by the Spanish under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, the north part converted to Lutheranism which in 1568 sparked a series of European wars culminating in the 30 years war(1638-1668) between the new European Protestants and the traditional Roman Catholics.

England seperates from the Roman Catholic Church and there follows a blood bath
In England the story went as follows:
Henry 8th with the support of Thomas Cromwell, (not to be confused with Oliver C) destroys Roman Papal authority in England. (1529-36) Note there was no theological change. Henry divorces Catholic Catherine of Aragon and marries his already pregnant second wife Anne Boleyn. Divorce not permitted under Roman Catholicism. Henry no longer has to pay taxes to the Pope and can keep the money for himself.

Henry kills Thomas Cromwell because he arranges a marriage to an ugly woman poor Anne of Cleves(from Catholic Flanders in northern France) and appoints Protestant convert Thomas Cramner as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bible is translated into English for the first time and is distributed more widely thanks to the first printing presses in England which were housed in the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) to enable the King to keep control.

Henry 8th dies and his only surviving son Edward 6th is appointed King at the age of 10. Edward is advised by his uncle and more importantly Thomas Cramner.  Edward is persuaded to convert to the ideas of Luther and became the first Protestant King.  John Knox  who later converted Scotland to the more fundamental Protestantism of Calvin works as chaplain to Edward 6th under Cramner.
Edward dies at the age of 14 in 1553 and is succeeded by Mary the daughter of Henry 8th and his first wife the Catholic Catherine from the Spanish Royal family. Not surprisingly Mary took England back to the Catholic faith under control from Rome.  

Mary kills Thomas Cramner and in all about 300 newly converted Protestants by the then normal punishment for heretics by burning alive at the stake! She was nicknamed Bloody Mary.  Mary marries King Philip, of Spain as the most powerful Catholic ally in the world. (Head of the Holy Roman Empire) but Philip leaves her.

When Mary dies in 1558 of cancer she is succeeded by a charismatic single minded and very intelligent Elizabeth the daughter of Henry 8th second wife the English girl Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth saw it was her duty to return England back to the new Protestant faith.  Elizabeth was as ruthless as her elder sister Mary.

Elizabeth died after a reign of 35 years, no husband, no simple Protestant succession. James the 6th King of Scotland won the English throne in 1603 by virtue of his great grand mother being the daughter of Henry 7th . (And unified England , Scotland and Ireland). It was only in 1592 that Scotland had been converted to Calvinist Protestantism by John Knox.  Powerful Catholic Englishman Robert Catesby visited James in Scotland when it was known he was to become King of England and thought he had persuaded him to take England back to the Roman Church.  He was mistaken, shaken and horrified and vowed revenge.  He hired a staunch Catholic freedom fighter (terrorist!) who had become an expert in explosives as a Religious mercenary in Europe. His name is now well known, Guy Fawkes.  

A team of 12 set about blowing up King James and all his ministers at the next state opening of Parliament when they would all be under one roof in the Palace of Westminster now the Houses of Parliament.  With all the Gun Powder in place in the cellar, the 12 took on a 13th to fund them for a few more weeks. He betrayed them and Fawkes, Catesby and their band were captured on the, you’ve guessed it, 5th November 1603. (All children in England remember this day with an annual firework party.) The Church of England has remained independent of the Papal rules from Rome ever since.

250 years ago
For 100 years after Protestant King James 1st (1603-1625) the English were fearful of the chaos which might occur if any King changed the faith of the country. James ruled over a not very Protestant Church of England, a residual but illegal Catholic following and a noisy group of Calvinist fundamentalists called the Puritans.  The English Kings were trying to rule in Calvinist Presbyterian Scotland and an Ireland who refused to change from their sincere Roman Catholic beliefs.  Not an obvious recipe for a quiet life for either King, the church or parliament.

1642 The English civil war. Religious background
Charles the 1st tried to rule without parliament, indeed he did not call his ministers together for 17 years!  Eventually he needed money to finance an army to quell various Catholic riots in England and particularly also Ireland. The Scots were also a problem as they refused to adopt the English Prayer Book. (All Calvinist religions ban any formal approach to prayer as is laid down in a Prayer Book and a heavy hierarchy including Bishops )  Parliament refused the money as his ministers were frightened of what would happen to them if the King had a powerful army at his disposal. The King needed to be stopped and the way to do it was for the ministers to form their own army. Hence the Civil War. 

Oliver Cromwell lead the Parliamentarians who were nicknamed “Round Heads” after the appearance of their metal helmets and their ultra short hair.  The Kings army were nicknamed Cavaliers and retained the fashionable long hair of the time. Cromwell organised his army very well and spent time teaching them the art of battle and indeed formed a formidable fighting force. They won.

Cromwell did not become King but “Lord Protector” and quickly set about quelling the religious riots in England, Ireland and Scotland.  He earned a reputation for being particularly brutal fully supported by his ”Model Army”. His excuse for wholesale human genocide was to cleanse his territories of religious dissidents for once and all. In both England and Ireland he was particularly hard on Catholics who he murdered in the name of God. Worse, in Ireland he kicked out any suspect landowners and replaced them with “good” Protestants from England. This mass ethnic cleansing was “successful” in six Irish counties. (Act of Settlement 1652).  In Scotland he was reluctant to fight as Puritans and Presbyterians were both Calvinists, but the Scots refused to negotiate.  So in went Cromwell and his Model Army. They won there too.

However the Protestant succession could not be guaranteed.

  • James 1st 1603-1625 had only just been converted from being a Catholic when he became King. Surprisingly he ruled as a Protestant (Anglo Catholic) and not a Scottish Presbyterian Calvinist. He hated the English Calvinist Puritans to such an extent that many fled to America in 1620 (The story of the May Flower and the origin of Thanks Giving day in the US)
  • Charles 1st 1625-1649 had left all religious matters to his Archbishop Laud a ruthless Protestant Cromwell 1651-1658 was a ruthless Calvinist Puritan but preached religious tolerance! This is supported by the fact that he re-allowed Jews back in the country after an absence of some 400 years.
  • Charles 2nd 1660-1685 although he had been in exile in Catholic France and was married to Catherine of Braganza a Catholic from Portugal, when offered the English throne he ruled as a Protestant.  Parliament was very much ruling the country and were very nervous of the threat of the Puritans to the extent of passing the following Laws (Clarendon Codes):-
    • All Clergymen and people in local government must take (Protestant) Anglican communion. 
    • Those not attending Anglican Sunday worship would be punished. 
    • Puritan and any other non conformist meetings (including Catholic) to be limited to a maximum of five people.
Charles on his death bed “converted” to the Catholic faith which would rather indicate he had been a Catholic all along only admitting to it to improve his chances of getting to heaven by receiving the last rites from a Catholic priest.
Charles had no children by his Catholic Portuguese wife but having many mistresses he had 14 illegitimate sons and daughters.
  • James 2nd 1685-1688 was the younger son of Charles 1st who during the reign of Charles 2nd had shown great leadership in charge of a huge expansion of the English Navy but was a Catholic. He promised parliament he would supress any desire to bring England back to Catholicism but no, from 1688 he tried to introduce a “Declaration of Indulgence” that was a cancelling of all laws against Catholics and the other banned religions.  Parliament’s response to this alarming change of heart was to send a message to the husband of James’ daughter Mary, the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, and asked if he would like to send an army to England and claim the throne for himself.  (Mary had refused to accept the crown unless also offered to her husband).  When William arrived in London James fled to Catholic France and Parliament had the Protestant king they wanted.  This was not the end of the matter however. James went to Ireland with an army of French mercenaries where he knew he could gather more loyal Catholics to form a huge army to get his throne back.  Their first job was to eliminate any Protestant support in the north of Ireland. They lay siege to the town of Derry (or Londonderry) where the Irish Protestants had fled, confronted by such a formidable army. The new English King, William of Orange came to the rescue, the siege was lifted and James and his Catholic army regrouped south by the river Boyne. Protestant William routed the Catholic army of James who fled back to France. This victorious battle of the Boyne is celebrated by the Irish Protestants (Ulster Orange Men) annually to this day.  On the death of William his wife’s Protestant sister Anne inherited the throne
  • Queen Anne 1702-1714 married Prince George of Denmark and they had 17 children but they all died!  Hence a protestant successor had to be found once more.
  • George 1st 1714-1727 was the best they could find, a German King (King of Hanover one of the states of the Holy Roman Empire) and great grandson of James 1st. German George spoke no English (he communicated with his Parliamentary ministers when he had to in French). Initially he surrounded himself with German advisers but latterly appointed a chief English Minister, Robert Walpole. England has had a chief minister or Prime Minister ever since. George had very little to do with running the country setting the example for all future Kings and Queens thus eliminating the problems brought about by the religion of the Monarch. 

The Enlightenment

The so called Enlightenment occurred during the same period described above i.e. about 250 years ago. As the name suggests thinking people became “enlightened” at this time by the first real forays into science, a renewed interest in philosophy, human rights and freedom of speech.  Up to this time any criticism of the Church or the King could be a reason for execution. Science brought about ideas which were contrary to the stories in the bible and the teachings of the Church. Frenchman Voltaire’s words summed it up: “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”(Circa 1750) The official end of the Enlightenment was the French Revolution (1790; people versus the King) but in religious terms the end was some 50 years later with the publication of “The origins of Man” (Englishman Darwin in 1859 and 1871). Darwin postulated the theory of development of animals and humans by natural selection or survival of the fittest. This flew right in the face of the “Creation” in the bible and made Christians wonder what other parts of the teachings of the bible and the church should be treated with a pinch of salt.  Church teachers to this day are struggling to come to terms with the findings of modern science. The difference in the last few years (perhaps 25) is that Voltaire’s wish for a free and open debate is now possible in England and to a lesser extent most countries in the western Christian world.

The main contributors to this revolution for freedom of speech and the arguments to debate were:

  • Rene Descartes 1596-1650 Frenchman.  Worked mainly in Scandinavia as it was too dangerous for him in France.  Noted for:
    • Theology  Roman Catholic
    • Mathematics, Geometry
    • Philosophy, There are two things in the world, mind and matter.  Quote “I think therefor I am”.
  • John Lock 1632-1704 Englishman. Philosopher and writer. Noted for
    • Human rights
    • Kings have no “divine” right to rule.
    • Human ideas come from experiences, Humans are born with a blank mind.
  • Blain Pascal, Frenchman, Physicist and Philosopher. Noted for:
    • Mathematics
    • Fluid mechanics
    • Mechanical Calculators
    • Theology
  • Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1727 Englishman and Jew. Professor at Cambridge. Probably the most famous and influential of this period. Noted for:
    • Understanding gravitation. Looking at apples falling off trees to the earth and seeing this is the same force as causes the moon to orbit the earth. Hence completing the maths started by the Italian priest Galileo who was nearly burnt at the stake some 200 years earlier by proving to the Pope that the Earth orbited the sun rather than the other way round as expounded by the church.  The Popes took some 500 years to admit the church was wrong.
    • Mathematics, invented calculus.
    • Optics, discovered that white light (sun light) is made up from 7 primary colours.
    • Calculated the age of the earth as 3500 BC. (Some way out as we know now but he used the biblical texts)
  • Francois Voltaire, 1694-1778 Life long campaign against injustice and intolerance. Spent time imprisoned in the famous Paris jail, the Bastille. Released and fled to England. He ended his life in Switzerland.  Noted:
    • Philosopher and moralist.
    • Scientist
    • Writer, campaigning for human rights in Religion and Politics.

A few years later we had the Darwin family. Grandfather Erasmus Darwin 1731-1802 Medical science, and his most famous Grand son;

  • Charles Darwin 1809-1882. Charles postulations were so revolutionary that at first he dare not publish them.  Following a study of animals he proposed that the “Creation” in the Bible was wrong and that animals were not created as we see them now by God but that they evolved into what they are now through a process of “natural selection” or survival of the fittest. Most noted for:
    • Medicine
    • Biology
    • Religion

After Darwin the attitude of most Protestant Christians was never the same again. The majority felt that many doctrines needed to be continuously updated to take into account the advances in Science, particularly Medical Science. But at the same time the basic teachings of Jesus were still valid for example: “Thou shalt not kill” and “Do unto others as you would they would do unto you”.  Roman Catholics who need to have the nod from the Pope before their religion can embrace a change generally take many years longer to permit new ways. Good examples in Medical science are: Abortion (of an unborn child, understandably the most controversial) , Contraception and the genetic creation of human organs for saving the life of fellow men.

Still 250 years ago

An explosion in the varieties of Christian expression
Indeed going back 500 years to the reformation, there were many reformers each producing a different version of the Protestant faith.  The earlier reformers were of course Englishman Wycliffe followed, Luther and Calvin both active more than 500 years ago. In England the Church theology adopted, mainly under the guide lines of Archbishop Thomas Cramner, are not strictly Protestant. The Church of England is best described as Anglo Catholic. If it were Protestant the religious hierarchy would be much flatter and Bishops would not exist on the basis that humans in such a powerful position can corrupt the Church.  The Church of England retains a similar hierarchy to the Catholic Church but the head of the Church is not the Pope but the King or Queen of England.  The other main difference is that changes can be made much more easily in the C of E as the effective leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury who is much closer to the needs of his flock than can ever be possible when the head of a church is remote and speaking for a large number of different countries.  Thus true followers of Luther and Calvin could not follow the path of the C of E and a huge variety of Protestant Churches have been formed, mainly in England, as follows:  (In date order)

    • 1530 Lutheranism. Followers of Luther of course, the original and now the biggest Protestant Church worldwide. (80m followers) The official church of the Scandinavian countries and much of Germany also strong in the US. The Church was reluctantly accepted by the Holy Roman Empire following meetings in Augsburg in south west Germany in 1530 Charles 5th present and 1555 Ferdinand 1st present.  Lutheranism as such has churches in England but other Protestant churches are much larger.
    • 1560 Presbyterian, Started in Scotland by John Knox who was a Calvinist. Hence Presbyterians have no Bishops or prayer book and no religious Icons like pictures of Jesus and no Alter in Church. Became the official church of Scotland in 1696. Also many Presbyterians in the North of Ireland.
    • 1570 Puritans, started in England in the reign of Elizabeth 1st by those who thought the C of E was too Catholic both in management i.e. the retention of Bishops, and in “Popish” rituals like wedding rings, taking one’s hat off in church and the retention of Icons.  These English Puritans expected James from Presbyterian Scotland to become a Puritan but he persecuted them instead. Many then fled to America to form a new colony. (The Mayflower/Thanksgiving story)
    • 1640 Quakers originally the Society of Friends. Some of the Puritans who remained in England formed a new sect under George Fox.  They were noted for a distinctive dress (very simple), hard work, pacifism and Puritan worship.  They were also persecuted and in 1682 in the reign of Charles 2nd under their leader William Penn they followed their friends the Puritans to America. (King Charles 2nd gave the area in America now called Pennsylvania to Penn as a Quaker sanctuary)
    • 1750 Methodists. Followers of John Wesley. Again a back to basics Protestant Church which split from the C of E in 1790.  Now the largest Protestant faith in the USA. Simple theology; repentance, faith, love. The Wesley family wrote many hymns regularly sung in English churches to this day.
    • 1872 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Founder American Charles Russell. Not a Christian religion but followers see Jesus as their sole prophet/leader (but not the son of God) and hence will not take orders from secular leaders. Always pacifists. Originally called Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.  One of the most active door to door evangelist movements in England.
    • 1879 The church of Christian Scientists opened in Boston USA for followers of American Mary Baker Eddy. 1821-1910.  Mary was a sickly child but was much improved by the faith healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby.  Devotees shun any modern medicine and rely solely on prayer and meditation for cures. There have been many cases of Christian Scientists dying unnecessarily having refused medical treatment in hospitals. A very popular movement in England in the early 1900s.
    • 1950 New Age is one of the latest religions initially created by English girl Alice Bayley when living in the USA. The movement gathered momentum following six events:
      • The Beatles interest in Indian religions particularly Hindu and their enthusiastic following of Transcendental Meditation as taught to them by the Hindu guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
      • The American musical “Hair”
      • The Vietnam War.
      • The assassination of President Kennedy.
      • The 1960s sex revolution
      • The conversion and preaching and the books of film star Shirley MacLaine
    • Followers believe in reincarnation, are quite often anti western culture and look for a new “truth” and way of life.


In summary we can compare the beliefs of the Secular Humanist with those of Christianity. The idea of humanism did not start yesterday but 700 years ago as science began to demonstrate that all the teachings in the bible could not be taken as gospel. During the Renaissance the movement gathered a pace but early humanists still believed there was a God. Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) perhaps the most influential humanist thinker of the Renaissance period was invited to England by Henry 7th and influenced Henry 8th. The movement further gathered strength during the Enlightenment and has retained a strong following ever since.

Comparing modern Humanists with Christianity we have:

All Christians believe there is a God.(Bible Genesis Ch. 1) Humanists are atheists that is they say there is non God.
Christians believe that humans, following the sins of Adam and Eve are born evil and need to repent to God by following the teachings of Jesus before they can be considered good.(Genesis Ch. 3) Humanists believe all humans are born good and it is up to individuals whether they choose good or evil.
Humanists believe man discovers truth and wisdom through logical thought Christians believe all truth is Gods truth and all discoveries are only part of what God has created.(Acts of the Apostles Ch. 17 v. 24-28)
Humanists believe morals are developed by human experience and debate which can include the teachings of Jesus or any other secular or religious moralist.   Christians believe that morals and ethics must be based on Gods written word (Bible Exodus Ch. 21) and the teachings of Jesus (Bible Saint John Ch. 1)  

Christianity in England Today

All Christian faiths are now free to worship and there are many more Roman Catholics than might be expected in a Protestant country. This is mainly due to a million Catholics coming to England at the time of the Irish potato famine 150 years ago.  The Queen is still head of the Church of England which is clearly a problem in a country which has so many other accepted faiths. This is sure to be debated in depth over the next few years. Church attendance is very low at below 5% of the population and the Christian churches have no visible recruiting programmes. The emphasis is how to live side by side with followers of other faiths.