This is the tenth 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. Much of Altar of Reason focuses on France and the French Revolution, so it was filmed using various places of historic and spiritual significance there.
Altar of Reason begins in the 18th century as the citizenry is rising up against the authority of the monarchies and of the church. The focus is initially on France, where the French Revolution deposed not just the king, but the church as well. Churches were actually destroyed and their stone walls were used for construction elsewhere.
At that time, the priesthood was something the poor went into as a sort of welfare agency to make sure they were taken care of. The priests had their own hierarchy with certain priests serving only the nobility while the minions were among the poor, the two never intermingling. Combined with a famine throughout the country, it was ripe for revolution. Europe attempted to combat it as the nobility drew troops from all over Europe: England, Prussia, and Austria. Soon, however, it was apparent the movement could not be stopped.
Liberty for the people brought in The Age of Reason. This changed the place of the Church in the world. Since the time of Jesus, the Church had been the determining factor in many aspects of people’s lives. People began questioning the influence the Church had. Priests who refused to swear allegiance to the Revolutionaries were hunted down and executed.
A good part of Altar of Reason is taken up showing the history of the time; the set-up for the French Revolution which has to do with Christian history and at the same time it doesn’t. This had more of a feeling of a video of history in general, rather than specific to Christianity. I’ve thought the last two videos in the series suffered from a lack of direction and this seems to be more of the same. As much as the history is fascinating and presented in an interesting way, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.
There were some really good re-enactments this time around. Although the acting is silent, the period setting, as well as the actors demonstrating the history which is being narrated, is done exceptionally well. I thoroughly enjoyed them and thought that in a short history of the French Revolution with a religious background, this DVD excelled.
One point made which stayed with me from Altar of Reason was the comparison of the symbolism of bread for the people during the Revolution, and also as a long-time symbol of Christianity. If there were more moments like this rather than feeling more like someone wanted to depict the French Revolution and then tie it into Christianity the DVD would have been better. I kept waiting for another subject to be tackled as well, but as the DVD wore on it began going into Napoleon’s reign.
What I did take away from Altar of Reason was a bit more of an understanding of why Europe is so much more secular than the U.S. However, I think that could have been done in a lot less time and left more time for Altar of Reason to discuss other subjects as well.
At just over 40 minutes, Altar of Reason is a good length for Bible classes and other studies. However, it really drifts away from the religious aspects of this series for a good portion of the time. I can’t recommend it as a study of Christianity, although it might be good to help teach a European History class about the French Revolution.
Previous episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode IX: God and the Burdened
Next episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode XI – Machines and Men