Church History Lesson 3


The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.



With the passing of time, many of the Arabs had forsaken the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to embrace many gods. In this idolatrous country of Arabia, there was born in the city of Mecca a boy named Mahomet, who came to be known as Mohammed.

At the age of 25, Mohammed was employed by Kajijah, a rich widow. He carried on her husband’s business and prospered. He also married Kajijah, who was fourteen years older than himself.

Being a merchant, Mohammed moved often with his caravan of camels, traveling the traditional trade routes of the Middle East. His journeys brought Mohammed into contact with both Jews and Christians. After considering their claims and customs, he rejected both as the basis for religious truth. In his fortieth year, Mohammed temporally retired from society to meditate in a mountain cave near Mecca called the Cave of Hira. He returned to his friends and family to announce that he had received a revelation from an angel which said to him, “Mohammed, of a truth thou art the prophet of God; fear not, I am his angel, Gabriel.”

Later, the teachings of the prophet were collected and written in a sacred book called the Koran, meaning literally ‘Rehearsal’ or ‘Readings.’ Many of Mohammed’s sayings had first been recorded on bones or palm leaves. While the prophet could neither read or write Arabic, Mohammed claimed that the various sections of the Koran came down to him from heaven during a period of twenty-three years.

The Koran teaches that God used prophets to bring reformation to men. Such prophets included Jesus and Moses, but Mohammed himself was the greatest of them all and is to be followed above all others (cp. John 16:23; Acts 10:43). Because of this, Mohammedans deny that Jesus is the Son of God (cp. John 5:19-23). They also deny His deity (cp. John 5:17-18) and His resurrection from the dead (cp. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). They hold the atoning death of Christ in contempt, while embracing a system of salvation by good works (cp. Eph. 2:8-9). The main tenets of the Islamic faith are five in number.

  1. Confession is made that there is no other God but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet.
  2. Five times each day, prayer is offered with the supplicant facing Mecca.
  3. Alms are to be given.
  4. Fasting is to take place during the period of Ramadan. The fast is to last from sunrise to sunset each day.
  5. A pilgrimage to Mecca must be made at least once in a person’s lifetime.

Mohammed formed his faithful followers into a killing war machine, and then went forth to conquer by the sword. In 630 Mohammed returned to Mecca in military triumph and destroyed the 360 idols of the city. Overwhelmed by his success, the inhabitants of Mecca shouted, “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” This encouraged many others to embrace Islamwhich means “Obedience” or “Surrender”.

Though Mohammed died at the age of 63, his tremendous influence lived on. He taught his followers not to argue or discuss the different religions, but to kill with the sword all who refused obedience to the law of the Koran. Those who died in this spiritual battle were promised to receive a glorious reward in paradise. While prayer leads half-way to God, and fasting leads to the gates of heaven, and alms-giving opens the door, it is only Jihad (waging holy war) that gives actual entrance into heaven.

During the next 100 years, the leaders who succeeded him were known as Caliphs. Four of them founded the Mohammedan or Moslem Empire. His fol­lowers, large hosts of fierce horse­men, swept out of the hot deserts of Arabia, conquered Persia, pene­trated into India, overran the im­perial province of Asia Minor, twice laid siege, although in vain, to Constantinople itself, and took away from the Eastern Empire the provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. They went on, crossed the straits of Gibraltar, and in the years 711 to 718 conquered Spain.

Neither did the Arabs stop in Spain. They crossed the Pyrenees, and penetrated into the center of what for four hundred years had been the Roman province of Gaul, but had now for some two hun­dred years belonged to the Franks.

Historic places that once housed believers of the Lord were conquered, such as Jerusalem–the cradle of the Church. Other places which went into the dominion of the Islamic sphere of influence included Bethlehem, where Jerome once lived and had given the Church his Latin translation of the Bible. Antioch in Syria was no longer Christian, the place that Paul used as the gateway to bring Christianity into the Roman empire. Alexandria in Egypt went to the Arabs, which had been the home of Clement, and of Origen the great scholar of the East, and of Athanasius, the champion of the deity of Christ against Arianism. Carthage and Hippo in North Africa now belonged to the Muslims, where men like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine had taught. Seville in Spain fell as well, where Isidore, the leader of the Church of Spain, had labored to impart the knowledge of the cultured Greeks and Romans of the ancient world to the German barbarian tribes of the Middle Ages. All these places and more were officially lost to Christianity.


The leader of the Franks was Charles Martel. He sent out a call for every man able to bear arms in all the Frankish lands to come to his aid.

A great Christian army under the command of Charles met the countless Mohammedan hosts on the plain of Tours in the year 732. The Frankish victory at Tours, along with subsequent campaigns in 736 and 739, effectively stopped the advance of Muslim forces from Iberia allowing the further development of the Christian states in Western Europe.


Pepin was the son of Charles Martel.  By reviving an Old Testament practice recorded of the Davidic monarchy (1 Samuel 16:13), Pepin symbolically placed the State beneath the authority of the Pope. The precedent was set to believe that the pope had the right to give kingdoms and to take them away. The State had become subservient to the Church.


Following the death of Pepin the Short in 768, his two sons succeeded him, Carloman and Charles. When Carloman died in 771, Charles was free to rule alone. On December 25 of A.D. 800, while kneeling in St. Peter’s Church in Rome, Charles was crowned King of the Franks by Pope Leo III, and became known as Emperor Charlemagne, which means Charles the Great. Charlemagne (742-814) brought three important factors to his reign as emperor: law and order, civilization, and Christianity.








Feudalism was a hierarchical system based on the holdings of lands. The system began when the kings of various kingdoms divided there territory among leading warriors, provided they granted military aid upon request. Using this pattern, each of the subsequent princes divided his estate among lesser nobles, who in turn granted sections of land to still lesser tenants called vassals, who then contracted with fiefs. Initially, grants of land were for one lifetime, but eventually the grants became hereditary and therefore more permanent.

The Church became part of this system when pious people left land to churches or monasteries. In this way bishops, archbishops, abbots [heads of monasteries], and popes became landowners. Unfortunately, the emperors looked upon the popes as their vassals. Each part of the system was designed to render mutual aid to the other. One result of feudalism was the decentralization of power and the loss of nationalism.

The development of feudalism had a direct bearing on the stability of the Church. As one nobleman in Italy won a strategic victory, he would put the man of his choosing on the papal seat in Rome.



An Italian noble family made Benedict IX pope in 1033. He was only twelve years old. His behavior caused him to be driven from Rome in 1045, and was replaced by Sylvester III as pope. Later Benedict returned to Rome to resume his papacy, but ended up selling it to a man known as Gregory VI. Due to protests, Benedict decided to to stay as pope, and as a result all three men claimed to be pope.

Henry III of Germany deposed all three, appointed Clement II and passes legislation against simony as well as giving the power of the election of pope to the cardinals.



In 1054 the church was forever divided. The  controversy revolved around the growing practice of the West using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. Pope Leo IX, sent a messenger to Constantinople that to lay a decree of excommunication upon the Western patriarch. The western church in turn excommunicated all the churches that supported Rome.The Western (Latin) branch of Christianity has since become known as the Catholic Church, while the Eastern (Greek) branch became known as the Orthodox Church.















In 1073 Gregory VII (Hildebrand) became pope. Anxious to bind up the wounds that had separated the Church in 1054, Gregory also wanted to liberate his fellow Christians from the oppression of the Mohammedan Turks. The opportunity to do something came when the Emperor Alexius I, who ruled the Eastern Church, appealed to the pope in Rome for help. The promise was made that if help from the West came, an end would be put to the schism. Gregory was ready to provide assistance. He believed that a threefold objective could be reached all at once:

  • the Eastern Church could be saved from the Mohammedans;
  • the Eastern and Western Churches could be reunited;
  • and the universal rule of the papacy could be re-established.

Gregory envisioned himself raising an army of Christian soldiers of God and, with himself leading the way, marching to free the captives of the Church for Christ. The first Crusade got under way in the year 1096. Most historians count eight Crusades and a tragic and pathetic children’s Crusade. With intervals they continued over a period of two hundred years. Some successes were scored, but they were only temporary. In the end the Crusades were total fail­ures from the point of view of the purpose for which they were un­dertaken. For two hundred years the crusaders shed rivers of blood all in vain.

By the middle of the 1200s the Crusades were over. The Turks would remain in ultimate control of Palestine, until Jerusalem was turned over to the British General Allenby on December 8, 1917, during World War I. While the Crusades may initially have been based upon good motives, no one seemed to be asking if such adventures were the will of God.


THE PAPAL SCHISM (1378 – 1417)

The Great Schism resulted when there was a division in the college of cardinals and two popes were elected, one at Rome and one at Avignon. When the Council of Pisa tried to resolve the controversy in 1409, the result was the election of a third pope! Each one of these men anathematized and excommunicated one another, so that the Church as a whole was confused and disgusted. Reform parties grew rapidly in the midst of this chaos. At last, in 1417, the Council of Constance managed to elect Martin V as pope, an Italian cardinal. The other three competing popes, weary with the social and political instability, gave Martin their support so that once more the Church in the West had one spiritual leader. The Great Schism was healed. But the wounds which were inflicted on the papacy were to prove to have far reaching repercussions.

In the latter part of the Middle Ages there arose many individuals who criticized the doctrine and government of the Roman Church. The two who were by far the most important are John Wycliffe and John Huss. Huss was eventually excommunicated and executed.



Following the Crusades, trade and commerce developed and many towns sprang up in Europe. A class of people interested in learning and culture sprang up, and capitalists who had great wealth sponsored men of learning and revived the ancient documents of Greek and Roman culture. The G reek language became a new subject of interest, writing of elegant Latin was widely sought, publication of ancient writings was popular. The Renaissance movement of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries opened new educational opportunities and reawakened European interest in the classical era.

The invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 1400s significantly aided the rapid distribution of Bibles and other ancient texts. Scholars, clergy, and laypeople now had access to unprecedented educational opportunities. After reading ancient writings, many people became aware of differences between the ancient church and the Roman Catholic Church of their day.

The word renaissance means “rebirth” and carries with it both a secular and religious meaning. It denotes an intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual awakening. The Renaissance arrived in force–first in Italy with the power of a revolution. Its guiding principle was the need for a philosophy of secular humanism as opposed to a religious revival. This new emphasis was on the recognition of human and worldly values.

Man, not God and not the Church, would decide what was right and what was wrong. From these philosophical tenets came several more distinctive of the Renaissance revolution.

  1. The ideal of liberty was exalted.
  2. There was a high degree of individualism both in thought and in the conduct of one’s private life.
  3. There was a more free exercise of criticism in regard to accepted ideas and existing institutions.
  4. There was the development of the spirit of experimentation and exploration.
  5. Creativity was stimulated.
  6. Sensuous beauty was loved for its own sake and the pleasures it produced.
  7. There was a more realistic attitude toward human and natural phenomena, so that the miraculous was constantly doubted. Scientific investigation was honored.
  8. The Christian moral code of conduct (which was considered oppressive and unattainable) would be modified or discarded for a new set of rules.
  9. The ideal of versatility was considered more admirable than specialization in one field of endeavor. Ideally, the Renaissance man was well rounded in his knowledge, culture, and tastes.

The Church lost prestige and control over the masses and especially over the intellectuals, even where its authority was not challenged. It was during this period that the renaissance popes built the Vatican.


Next week: Reform is coming!