This is the fourth part of a 13-episode German documentary mini-series, covering the history of Christianity from its 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.
The Cross and the Sword picks up in the Middle Ages – the “Dark Ages” – when Pope and Emperor made war on each other when the Crusades met with bloody failure and the Popes excommunicated each other. Yet there was the concept of divine order which arose. Grand cathedrals were built as architects were challenged to design “heaven on Earth”. It was also a way to demonstrate regional standings. The bigger and grander the cathedral, the higher a bishop’s status.
The intertwining of government and religion is shown as the Bishop in Lorraine who controlled the prices, taxes, and law. When he demanded more money to build his cathedral, the citizens rose up and beat him to death.
Monasteries flourished that were the polar opposites of the grand Cathedrals and the politicking of the Church during that time. They also encouraged the belief that the “right” belief could do miracles and there were the beginnings of great pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela, where it was believed that St. James the Elder was interred by his disciples. It was later overrun by Muslim troops who had ruled the Iberian peninsula for three centuries.
In 1075 Pope Gregory attempted to settle the question once and for all of who the supreme ruler on Earth was. He decried that the Pope was and that he even had the power to appoint the Emperor. This caused a rift as King Henry IV of Germany rejected this. The Pope reacted by revoking the King’s dominion over Germany and Italy. Each side tells a different tale of how the standoff was resolved, but eventually, Henry was once again received into the Church.
The confrontations between Christians and Muslims also continue throughout this episode. Muslims and Christians both do battle and work together on the Iberian peninsula. The libraries they collaborated on later were burned when the Roman Catholic Church reclaimed the peninsula. Jerusalem was also the scene of blood baths as the Crusades were launched to reclaim Christian Holy Lands.
The Cross and the Sword shows some of the cathedrals built during the time, both the ones that are still whole and the ones in which only ruins remain. Sketches and paintings are also used. Perhaps the most useful tool in making the viewer relate to the time period are the re-enactments which are well done to the backdrop of the narration. In particular, during The Cross and the Sword, I liked the reenactment of what happened to King Henry of Germany. The battle scenes during the Crusades are less inspiring as there are nowhere near enough people on the set to give a proper impression of what it must have been like.
The Cathedrals shown are also very dramatic as their architecture rises above the cities and villages. The amount of work that went into initially building them is stunning as the video shows what must go into keeping them in good shape in our current time period when there are explosives and heavy equipment to do the work which was once done by human hands.
It’s somewhat astounding to realize that one thousand years ago the Middle East was the center of almost as much strife as there is there now. Three religions vied for domination: Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim, although there were no nuclear weapons or oil to antagonize the already tense situation.
This is a time that shows some of the more heinous acts committed by people in the name of Christianity. It might not be something that some people like hearing, but the facts speak for themselves. This is about historical facts regarding Christianity, not faith. It also seems that political leaders played people’s faith to get what they wanted (higher taxes for grander structures) which I see as being somewhat similar to what goes on today.
I felt that The Cross and the Sword showed something I’d come to realize in the years of searching for my own answers about my religion: that our humanity – both our successes and our failures – have shaped what we know as Christianity today. There are many things it seems we accept as a hardcore belief that seems to be more the result of one human person’s interpretation, prejudices, or political agenda.
Any one of these subjects could be the subject of a much longer documentary. The fact that all of this is only briefly touched on during The Cross and the Sword. It becomes apparent that the series is just touching on the place Christianity has had in the history of the world, hopefully encouraging the viewer to delve into points that interest them more on their own. There’s a Book List included on the DVD to help with that. The length of the DVD – just about 40 minutes – would make it good for Bible Classes, allowing for discussion afterward.
I highly recommend this series to get an overview of the place of Christianity in history. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s something people should know about and possibly learn from.
Previous episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode III: Separate Ways
Next episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode V: Saints and Demons