This is the third part of a 13-episode German documentary mini-series, covering the history of Christianity from it’s beginnings to the modern-day. Although it’s a German production, the narration is in English. It was filmed at many different holy and historic sites. In this episode, the locations used are mostly throughout Rome, which gives a good frame of reference for those of us who haven’t been able to visit this part of the world.
Separate Ways shows how politics and religion became intertwined early on. It even gives a brief synopsis of the earliest conflicts between Islamics and Christians which seems to show the roots of our current conflict go back thirteen centuries. The split in the early Church which would ultimately result in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church is also touched on as the religious world seems to keep fracturing.
Separate Ways picks up history when the Teutonic Tribes invade Rome. The known world seemed in turmoil as the Roman Empire fell. It was only the Bishop in Rome who managed to hold the Church together. It was Pope Leo I who managed to keep Attila the Hun from invading Rome. The Teutonic Tribes did not embrace the divinity of Christ and did not see him as God’s equal but as a human being. A preserved page from a Gothic translation of the Bible is shown, which supports this vision of Christ.
Constantinople became the center of Christianity and home to the Emperor. The Church became more politicized and involved in governing. The preeminence of the Pope above all other believers became a bone of contention which hasn’t been resolved throughout Christianity to this day. There was also the use of imagery in the Roman Catholic Church which the Emperor also rejected, adhering to the thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images… verse from the Bible.
The emergence of Islam in the seventh century is also touched on as it entered into competition with Christianity. Christ is revered by Islamics, but as a prophet; a forerunner to Mohamed. Intolerance was sprung right from the beginning as a bloody conflict was begun. Islam penetrated through the Balkans, Africa, and Spain before being stopped by the Franks. It was through these battles that the French kingdom rose up and eventually under Charlemange with its close ties to the Roman Catholic Church.
To illustrate the history, there are many aids used including reenactments during the narration. The narration is clear and with a certain amount of inflection in the narrative but without being overly dramatic. Also used to illustrate what’s going on are maps, which are handy in grasping the actual geography and distances involved, rather than just abstract locations. Buildings are shown that were constructed at the time and which many of the players during this time in history inhabited. There are statues, paintings, and mosaics used to illustrate the ongoing story. The history of the art is presented as well as the backstory of some of the artists and their works as this is all that remains to illustrate what was happening at the time.
I found it hard to follow some of the names during the story. It seems to be a complicated time of great politics in the Church as the Pope and the Emperor competed to see who the supreme ruler of the people would be. I did find the fact that almost immediately upon the rise of Islam there seemed to be conflicts with Christianity as they embarked on their Jihads with “non-believers”. I knew of the Crusades from history, but not of the early Jihads on the part of Islamics.
The main problem is all of this is an overview. There is so much more depth to the historical happenings which are only touched on here. Any one of these subjects could easily fill a 40-minute documentary, never mind all being squeezed together into one 40-minute episode of this series. As much as I would like to know more, I look upon it the same way I look at many movies which portray history even when they are inaccurate: it might spark enough interest in people to seek out further information.
The theology touched on here really centers on what has separated Christians from each other – and from the rest of the world – throughout the centuries. Most of the facts are presented straightforwardly; not everyone accepts the preeminence of the Pope and it has caused conflicts throughout history. The points are not debated as to what is right or wrong but just presented as historical facts as to what has happened.
This is a good series to view to get an idea of how religion has become intertwined with politics throughout the centuries and the realization that our modern wars really are built on conflicts that began 1300 years ago. I thought the reenactments were well done to the history they illustrated and the artwork and architecture used were pertinent. It’s well worth viewing this series, especially for Christians, many of whom don’t know much of the history of the religion except for Biblical stories. Non-Christians who are interested in this history would probably also find it interesting without feeling like they are being preached to.
” Book List
Previous episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode II: Shackles of Power
Next episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode IV: The Cross and the Sword