This is the eighth part of a 13-part German documentary mini-series covering the history of Christianity from its beginnings to the modern-day. Although the series is 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 Europe, which gives a good frame of reference for those of us who haven’t been able to visit this part of the world.
By far I found Heaven and Hell to be the most disjointed of all the episodes I’ve viewed so far. This can be largely proscribed to the fact that Christianity had split drastically at this time. At the end of the 16th century, Roman Catholics and Protestants were almost at war. This was the beginning of the Baroque Era and changed the style of art as well as motivating people to change the way they thought and discover themselves more. Both churches believed they were living “true” Christianity, in accordance with the message of the early Christians.
The German Empire was fractured. France and Spain were the most powerful nations of the era. England’s star was rising as it became a maritime power alongside the other two powerful nations in Europe. England split away from Rome due to Henry VIII’s marital issues and the Church of England was formed. The Hapsburgs of Spain ruled with an unprecedented strength in the land. Philip II died still trying to hold back the incursion of differing ideas into the Spanish empire.
France struggled to stay united while Catherine de Medici battled the Protestant Hugueots and eventually drove Protestantism from France for the time being. They fled to the Netherlands where they flourished. In Germany, an internal war lasted 30 years and killed one-third of the population. Later on in France, Louis XIV lived a lavish lifestyle as he ruled from the principle that no one except for God was higher than the King.
St. Peter’s church was finally consecrated at the beginning of this century. It was symbolic of Roman Catholic power at the time. As the money continued to flow into the papal coffers, they build buildings that were lavish and impressive, as if it could triumph over other ideas simply by building larger and more intimidating buildings and facilities.
A council was convened at Trent to attempt to heal the breach between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, only the Protestants weren’t interested. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church formed a plan to counteract the Protestant movement on an ideological level.
The biography of the man who would be known as St. Ignatius of Loyola is presented as someone who would defend Rome against all attacks, both military and ideological, with knowledge and spiritual training. He founded the Society of Jesus, now known as the Jesuits. Nostradamus is also talked about briefly for his prophecies. Science advanced as more planets were discovered, and the study of mathematics and geometry grew. The microscope was invented.
The Protestant northern part of Europe began to flourish economically as the sea trade industry took off. The style of churches here changed too as music became a more focal point of the worship experience, much from the hands of Johann Sebastian Bach. Religious fringe groups at the beginning of the 17th century began immigrating to the “new land”, what would later be known as “America”. They saw this as a religious pilgrimage. During this time, the Catholic saints arose among the rural believers. Each saint had a problem he could solve and they were worshiped and adored like Gods by the people.
A lot of time was spent on the artwork of the period, including the architecture. The style of crafting many of the unique pieces seen throughout the church in the era is shown as artists used gold leaves to create an illusion of golden statues as well as stucco in the place of marble to restore and create more intricate scenes.
This is the first episode I had problems with as there seemed to be so much material to cover in so many places that it was hard to follow. All of this material is squeezed into just 40 minutes of video time. It’s a terrific length for Bible classes to use to study the history of Christianity in the world, but more than any other episode, the lack of depth to what is being brought up is noticeable. A Book List is the only bonus material and it is very helpful in providing a way to research these topics further. However, I found it hard to follow thoughtfully which was one of the things I really enjoyed about the earlier episodes of this series.
The re-enactments are just as good as they have been in the past, and they are filmed in the actual locations which gave me a great sense of what it must have been like as these events unfolded. The cameras are also brought into places such as a museum housing old microscopes and the like when the DVD talks about the advancement of the sciences. It’s a place I would never think of visiting even if I were traveling to the area, but it’s fascinating to see in the context of the times.
I also like the demonstrations of how artifacts were restored, such as the gold leaf and stucco from the baroque period present in many of the church buildings. It’s these touches that really keep me liking the series, despite some of the problems.
Overall, I do think it’s worth watching, especially if you didn’t get to study European history in depth during your school days. It’s amazing to see how much Christianity and the various monarchies were tied together in Europe, and it’s no wonder how come many of them have wound up more secularized today than we are in the West when you consider all the blood that was shed.
Heaven and Hell doesn’t deal directly with theology in saying what one religion believes is right or wrong, just historical facts about what happened and when. For this reason, it’s versatile to just about any denomination in just understanding how it came to be where it is today. I do recommend the series, although this seems to be one of the weaker pieces so far.
Previous episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode VII
Next episode in the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode IX: God and the Burdened