This is the eleventh 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. Machines and Men is the first episode of this series which actually has some historical movie footage to use to illustrate their point. Although the well-made reenactments which have been a highlight of this series are still present, the film clips used from late in this era help to illustrate the disparity present even as the world changed and the Church wasn’t sure how to deal with these changes.
As the world changed in the 18th and 19th centuries, the question became if Christianity could change with it. There was a new class of people in the industrial workers, which became the middle class.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Roman Catholic church was faced with upheaval across many of the areas they had once dominated unconditionally. Monasteries and churches were dissolved. Napoleon created a different world in France where he was the Emperor and at one time took the Pope into custody.
As the middle class rose up around the world and demanded participation in government, it marginalized the need for the church which had, until that time, legitimized the nobility as being there by the Grace of God. Per capita income was increased and massive poverty was reduced as factories and other industrial centers rose up.
The leaders of the industrial age were, in some ways, no different than the nobility had been before them in the way they treated their workers. Nowhere was this more exemplified than in the mining industry where the average age of mortality was 19 and where children were regularly used to push the carts in the tunnels.
Christianity was still present, as hymns were sung and prayers were said prior to the work day. What meaning it had in this day and age was the question as slums rose in the cities. During this era, Christian-based organizations such as the Journeymen’s Society and the Salvation Army were formed. Missionary Societies were also formed to spread the message of Christianity throughout the world.
However, for the most part, the working poor were ignored by the Church. The severity of the owners toward the workers when they attempted to stand up for themselves was met with indifference in the Church for quite some time. By the time some of those within the Church began to recognize the need to stand up for many of the workers who were destitute and dying while the owners were reaping the rewards of their work, it was an uphill battle. The Pope was against “liberal” encroachments in the name of workers’ rights.
The divisions which took place over many of the issues within the Roman Catholic Church nearly led to another split, and eventually, through a variety of coercive means, the Dogma of Papal Infallibility was ratified in 1870.
Machines and Men is a strong episode, reminiscent of what the series was at the beginning. Although there are quite a few places where it seems to go off on tangents having nothing to do with Christianity, it manages to wrap itself back to where it should be. This is even when more recent events are brought in, such as comparing what the various Vatican Councils must have been like using more modern footage.
The reenactments are as good as they were. I liked the allusion to the Pope and Bismark playing chess from an old political cartoon from the 19th century. It’s a good demonstration of how in bed politics and the Church had been, while at the same time illustrating how it was changing and becoming give-and-take between those ruling the people in the form of a government and those ruling from a position of religion.
Finally, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is broached at the very end of the episode. It gives a sense of bridging to the next era where hopefully Darwin’s effect on the church is explored more deeply since it seems like such a bone of contention even today. Modern footage of Lourdes is used in an attempt to show the bridging between modern technology and religious traditions.
What’s missing is a real sense of what was going on outside of Europe during this time. There are some mentions of the Western World, but the focus in Machines and Men is definitely on Europe. I also wish there was more time to devote to some of the subjects as it really begs for more depth. However, with the time constraints of being just about 45 minutes long – the perfect time for a church study group – it’s easy to understand why it only scratches the surface of most topics. There’s a Book List on the DVD to help with looking further into topics of interest brought up in the episode.
I liked this episode of the series the best in a while. Even with so much material to cover, it manages to give brief looks into the historical times in a cohesive manner. I could definitely see where the changing face of Christianity fit into the changing times, sometimes smoothly, and sometimes not so smoothly.
Previous episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode X – Altar of Reason
Next episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode XII – Gates of Hell