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Exploring the Roots of Christian Spirituality in Europe: From the Byzantine to the Reformation Era

May 28, 2023 | 0 comments

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May 28, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

The European Era

Between the 7th and 14th centuries, Christianity was losing its grounds in Africa and Asian continents but being spread in northern Europe. During this period, Western Europe recovered from the destruction of Rome. The different spiritualties developed during these centuries have been significant in the world in the generations that followed.


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Greek East separated from Latin West between 7th and 14th century. The Eastern Church near the Mediterranean, after the split, was Islamic and did not support Christianity. In 1453, the Byzantine rule fell to Muslim and the cathedrals Haggia Sofia become a mosque (Holt Ch. 4). Since then, the city was named Istanbul. During that time, missionaries took new faith in Ukraine and Russia and Christianity, associated with Caesars after the fall of Constantinople. The eastern region focused on death as human enemy and resurrection as the victory of God. The early Eastern Christianity was based on various theologies such as the councils and holy tradition. Therefore, the Jesus prayer becomes prominent, with its roots on the scripture. Moreover, there was a use of Icons such as paintings of the Virgin Mary. The eastern Christianity was further characterized by hesychasm, where solitude symbolizes the presence of the kingdom of God.

On the other hand, the west developed new forms of religious orders. Precisely, it focused on sin as the enemy of humans and the cross as the solution to sin. A spiritual teacher like Anselm of Canterbury, who wrote the prayers and meditation so that others could use it to pray, influenced the monastic tradition of the western. Additionally, Bernard of Clairvaux focused on the teachings on love mostly the relationship of self and God. Christian theology and spirituality have its origins in the 19th century, where many dramatic events such as the development of monasticism through the founding of mendicant took place. Other developments included the building of churches and the rosary, and people who gave their lives to Christ during those periods were called mystics.

Protestant and Catholic Reform

In the 16th century, the greater disorder was experienced in Christianity compared to the previous centuries (Holt Ch. 5). Precisely, North America was divided into west and east, hence the need for reforms by Catholics. This resulted in the separation of Rome Catholic Church, which did not support reforms. That religious turmoil, prompted people like Martin Luther to lead a reformation. However, unlike other reformers, Luther did not abandon the Catholic heritage. Rather he advocated for the vernacular hymn singing and Bible. Ulrich Zwingli’s rule led to the reformed branch of Protestants. Contrary to Luther, Zwingli rejected the Catholic tradition, and he died in a battle against the Catholic army.

John Calvin was another advocate of reformation, who emphasized spiritual disciplines. Further, there were people, known as Anabaptists, who never believed on Catholics, Lutheran, or reformed churches. Anabaptists were persecuted or drowned in the western regions. The reason is that they were feared since their teachings had a political, economic, and social impact; which threatened rulers. On the other hand, the Anglicans were influenced by the reformation in Geneva but they were not Catholics. These Anglicans conflicted with the Roman Catholics and the reformed Protestants, which led to the production of many martyrs. Consequently, many Christians were leaving the Catholic with frustration. The Council of Trent attempted to change the church by defining the Catholic as a distinct religion from Protestantism.

Mother Teresa is among the reformers of Spain who followed the rule of early Carmelites. She has become a great influence on people’s life about good spiritual direction. John of the cross contrary to Teresa reflects a life of drama. He was arrested after accepting the responsibility of spreading the reform movement among the monks. Here in prison, he learned how to compose poetry and his spiritual theology is being used across the world up to now.

Work Cited

Holt, Bradley P. *Thirsty for God: A brief history of Christian spirituality*. Fortress Press, 2017, Ch. 4-5.

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