A History of Christianity (2009–…): Season 1, Episode 2 - Catholicism: The Unpredictable Rise of Rome - full transcript

Eighty years ago, my mother was a little
girl in the Staffordshire Potteries.

One day she was out walking
with my grandfather,

devout pillar of
his local Anglican parish church,

when they passed a church that
she thought she'd like to look into

because it was Roman Catholic
and she had a girl's curiosity about it.

Her father made it quite clear
that he would be highly displeased

if she even went inside
a Roman Catholic church to look round.

For him, Rome was an alien world,

liable to pollute
the English way of life.

That seems a world away now.

And my grandfather isn't around
to stop me exploring.

So my second journey into Christianity
takes me into the history of the church

which calls itself Catholic.

Its headquarters is the Vatican in Rome,

an independent sovereign state
with influence all over the world.

Over one billion Christians
look to Rome.

That's more than half of all Christians
on the planet.

But there's a huge paradox here.

How did a small Jewish sect
from first century Palestine,

which preached humility
and the virtue of poverty,

become the established religion
of Western Europe,

powerful, wealthy,

and expecting unfailing obedience
from the faithful?

It's a story of what can be achieved
when you have friends in high places.

Ripped By mstoll

The centre of the Western
Latin Church is the city of Rome.

And the spiritual head of that church
is the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

And that's very odd
when you think about it

because Rome is the centre of the empire
which killed Christ.

And the empire went on killing
members of the church

for another 300 years on and off.

So what happened
to give Rome a Christian destiny?

The obvious focus for
the newly emerging church was Jerusalem.

It's where Jesus was crucified.

But in 70 A.D. The Romans
destroyed the city.

Christianity gradually spread
south and east.

But one missionary, the Apostle Paul,
looked in a different direction,

to Asia Minor, now modern Turkey,
and Greece.

His letters in the New Testament
trace his journey

through the trading routes
of the empire whose capital was Rome.

And eventually, as a prisoner
of the emperor, Paul came to Rome.

It's said that he was met by his friends
here on the Appian Way,

just outside the city, that he then
spent years under house arrest

before the Roman authorities killed him.

With the perversity
of history,

Rome's brutality would put the city
centre stage for Christianity.

Like Jerusalem, Rome could now claim
a piece of the Christian story.

From very early on,
Christians were drawn here

to the underground catacombs
of San Sebastiano

where Paul's body was hidden
from the authorities.

But they were also drawn
to another martyr's grave.

Simon Peter, one o f
the 12 original disciples of Jesus.

Peter and Paul are equally venerated in
these graffiti from the third century.

At that stage, there was no hint
that one of them would become

the sole spiritual leader of the church,

nor that the Roman Empire
would become Christian,

or Rome the centre o f
a worldwide Christian church.

So what on Earth,
or what in Heaven, happened?

This is the first glimpse that
many early Christians had of Rome.

It's the port of Ostia,
about 12 miles southwest of the city.

The first Christians in the west
were Greek speakers,

travelling merchants or slaves
who sailed here

from trading ports
all round the Mediterranean.

These Christians met together in secret
to share an idea

which has seized millions
across 2,000 years.

Eternal salvation is open to anyone

who believes in Jesus Christ
as the Son of God.

And at the heart of their new faith
was a ritual symbolising selfless love,

sharing a meal.

The Christian people went on
breaking bread

and drinking wine in thanksgiving
for Jesus Christ,

and they probably did so here,
in this family home,

and the clue to that is in the mosaic.

It's got fish in it and fish are
a secret Christian symbol

because the first letters
in Greek for fish

are the same as the first letters
in Greek for Jesus Christ.

Christianity began creeping in
from the fringes of Roman society.

Church buildings started
openly appearing.

This is just one of at least two
in the port of Ostia.

By the year 251 the church in Rome
had on its books 46 priests,

seven deacons and 52 exorcists,
readers and doorkeepers.

If you were a traditional-minded Roman,
you'd notice all this.

You'd notice crosses
appearing on floors and walls,

and you wouldn't like it.

The gods would be offended.

Stories spread that Christians actually
drank blood during their ceremonies.

Well, after all,
that's what they said they did.

But the rumours grew.

Christian love feasts were
said to be incestuous orgies.

And although Christians
were a non-violent sect,

their refusal to sacrifice
to the emperor looked like treason.

Christians became scapegoats for a whole
heap of new threats to the Roman Empire.

Economic crisis,

social breakdown,

civil war.

It culminated in a savage attack
on Christians, right across the empire.

In the Great Persecution
at the end of the third century

church buildings were destroyed,

and all Christians were required
to sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Some of those who refused are said
to have been slaughtered

here in the theatre at Ostia.

It had never been this bad.

The Roman Empire was now
gleefully killing Christians,

just as it had killed Christ
two and a half centuries before.

You'd have been mad to think
that Rome could be

the centre of worldwide Christianity.

But Christian fortunes were
about to change dramatically.

One emperor did a reverse turn
which took Christianity

from a religion of the poor
and dispossessed

into a religion of
the rich and powerful

In the early fourth century,
the Roman Empire was torn apart

by rival claims to the imperial throne.

During the struggle for power,
one general and ruthless politician

made a decision which changed
the course of Christian history.

Because of that, Christians have
called him Constantine the Great

He made the decision
to become a Christian.

For reasons which lie buried
forever in his mind,

he became convinced
that the Christian God

had helped him hack his way to power.

This was the God whose followers were
still being persecuted by his rivals

and that might have had
something to do with it.

When Constantine had secured
supreme power

in all Roman territories
in the east and west

he set about making
the empire Christian.

To secure the eastern half, he moved
his capital to a small Greek city

overlooking the Bosphorus which
he named after himself, Constantinople.

But he had plans for Rome, too.

Rooting out Rome's pagan past

and remodelling Christianity
into a state religion.

Constantine was a generous benefactor
of this church,

St Martin on the Mount.

It's rather off the tourist map.

But in here there's
something very special,

a glimpse of the true scale

of Constantine's vision
for a Christian Rome,

a new Jerusalem
with churches to outshine

the ancient imperial buildings
of the Roman past.

And here it is.

A church which became one of
the most famous in Christian history,

the Basilica of St Peter.

And it's one of the few decent views of
what old St Peter's looked like inside.

In a word, huge.

Today St Peter's Basilica is

the centrepiece of
the whole Catholic Church.

And if there's one thing that the modern
papacy really pushes at the faithful,

it's that Rome knows best.

The centre is what matters.

The crucial steps towards
centralised power were taken

30 years after Constantine's death,
during the time of Pope Damasus I,

when the bishop of Rome was established

as bishop in unbroken succession
from St Peter.

Well, I'll stick my neck out
and say that I don't believe

that Peter was bishop of Rome.

And you'd be hard put to find anyone
before the time of Pope Damasus

who made that claim.

But as successor of Peter, the bishop
of Rome became the holy father,

pope of all Christians in the west.

Now Damasus set out to give Christianity

the glory which
an imperial religion demanded.

He brought the good news,
not to the poor and the downtrodden

to whom Jesus had preached,

but to the Roman nobility.

There's a monumental room just above
the catacombs of San Sebastiano

which shows precisely how.

Well, this chamber may not be much
to look at now

but it's something very precious
because it's a building

actually commissioned
by Bishop Damasus himself,

and what it is, is a luxury mausoleum
for the aristocratic members

of his congregation in Rome.

Pope Damasus also personally
composed Latin inscriptions

glorifying the suffering
of the Christian martyrs.

There's rather more elegance
than evidence in what he wrote.

This is actually
one of Damasus' inscriptions.

It's about a very obscure saint
called Eutychius.

"Eutychius the Martyr showed that
he could conquer the evil commands

"of the tyrant
and the ways of the world."

But what's nice about it as well
is the lettering.

It's the best, most expensive
imperial lettering you could get,

like on an imperial Roman inscription.

It's a symbol that the church
is no longer the church

of a few Greek-speaking traders.

It's the church of all Roman society
at all levels.

To round off his claim that the
Western church was the legitimate heir

to the original church of Jerusalem,

Damasus commissioned a new translation
of the Bible in fine classical Latin.

The man he chose for the job was
his secretary, a scholar called Jerome.

Jerome's work was so thorough
and impressive

that it's been the approved Latin
translation of the Bible ever since.

It was called the Vulgate from the
Latin for "generally known" or "common",

and that's a very significant word.

While the eastern half of the emperor's
church went on speaking Greek

the western church was now committed

not just to worship,
but to think in Latin.

The Catholic Church was
no longer an upstart.

It had friends in high places.

Now a religion fit for gentlemen.

But I don't want to leave the impression

that the Catholic story is
just about power politics.

If you're in any sense
a Western Christian,

you live with one legacy in particular
from this period,

even if you fight against it,

the idea that Adam and Eve have left us
totally corrupted by sin.

That was the conclusion of Augustine,
Bishop of Hippo in North Africa,

the father of Western theology.

As a young man Augustine
lived the life of a playboy.

He was also a scholar with
a brilliant career ahead of him.

But it all turned sour.

Then in a garden in Milan came a moment

when he began to see
a purpose in his life.

He heard a child chanting,
"Toglie e legge."

"Take up and read."

Augustine opened Paul's Epistle
to the Romans at random.

Paul confronted him with his own sin

and told him that the only way
to salvation was through purity of life.

Augustine became obsessed
with the source of sin

in Adam and Eve's disobedience to God

and his answer bequeathed
the Western Latin Church an idea

which not every Christian
has found in the Bible, original sin.

Augustine came to believe
that all humans inherit sin

from the sin of Adam and Eve,

and that sexual desire is an appetite
of the baser physical body,

rather than the soul,
and that the sexual act

is the way that sin is transmitted
from one generation to the next.

It means that you and I are
so corrupted by sin

there's nothing we can do
to save ourselves from Hell.

Only God can do that by his grace.

And there is no reason why he shouldn't
make completely random decisions

as to who to send to Heaven
and who to leave in Hell.

We have no say in the matter
because we're nothing but corruption.

That idea of predestination still
hangs around Western Christianity,

Catholic and Protestant,

as does Augustine's dark view of sex.

And maybe the modern West
is so obsessed with good sex

as the symbol of a fulfilled life,

precisely because the Western Latin
Church has been so long obsessed

with bad sex as the root of human sin.

The Christian church's humble beginnings
were now a distant memory.

A golden age seemed to beckon.

But this turned out to be a mirage.

In the fifth century barbarian invaders
overran the western half of the empire.

And in 410 they took Rome itself.

At that moment, the Latin Church
could easily have crumbled

and become a footnote
in European history.

To see what happened I've come
to north Italy and the city of Ravenna.

The centuries while the church
stood alone after the fall of Rome

are often called the Dark Ages,
as if civilised life collapsed.

Actually that's not true.

The church was not about to die with
the empire, but it was at a crossroads.

A choice of routes lay ahead.

This is the Church of San Vitale.

It marks one possible future,

to look east to Byzantium,

the surviving half of the Roman Empire
and one half of the imperial church.

San Vitale was built by
an emperor of the East, Justinian,

whose ambition was to win back the whole
territory of the old Roman Empire.

Ravenna was one of his conquests,

the Church of San Vitale
one of his legacies.

Eventually his branch of imperial
Christianity would become Orthodoxy,

and flourish in the Balkans and Russia.

But there was another option for
the Western Church, even more radical

It could choose to do some sort of deal
with the new barbarian rulers.

With the invading Franks in Gaul,
Visigoths in Spain,

Vandals in the African provinces,
Ostrogoths in north Italy.

Contrary to the image of barbarians,
these people were not savages.

Most of them were already Christians,
j ust not Catholic Christians.

I've come to the Church o f
Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, also in Ravenna.

It was built for Theodoric,
King of the Ostrogoths.

The trouble was,
in the eyes of the Catholic Church,

everything about his Christianity
was heretical.

He was a follower of Arius, who believed
that Jesus Christ was not fully eternal

and divine in the way
that God the Father was.

Now what's so precious
about this place is that

it's not just an Arian Church building.

We've got Arian pictures, mosaics.

We've got the life of Christ, miracles,

we've got the miraculous draught
of fishes, for instance.

But on this wall, what's so great is
that he's a young Christ.

He's got no beard.

When we go round to this side,
later scenes in the life of Christ,

like his betrayal
in the Garden of Gethsemane,

he's got a beard!

So, the Arian Christ,

like us, he grows older.

He's human.

Faced with the choice of an alliance
with the east or with the Arians,

what would the Latin Church do?

Its decision forever shaped
Western Christendom.

It decided to go it alone
and look to the Pope to guide it

And in the end, it was the Latin Church
which survived intact,

and it was Arian Christianity
which was wiped from the record.

Well, we've got an intriguing case
of Catholics censoring mosaics here.

Because this is a picture of a palace,
it's helpfully labelled "palatium".

And it's the palace of
the Arian King Theodoric.

But he's missing!

He would be where that great area
of gold mosaic is, but he's gone.

And either side of him
would be his courtiers.

But instead of the courtiers,
you've got these rather boring curtains.

But they haven't done it very well,

because, you see, they've left hands
on the columns.

Hand, hand, fingers!

There, they've gone.
They just don't exist any more.

So how did the Latin Church survive
on its own?

Well, the decisions made by
that wily politician Pope Damasus

began to pay off.

The church still had
influential friends.

The Latin Church survived because
of a great choice made by people

clinging to shreds of imperial power,
the Roman aristocracy.

Once they'd ruled the empire.

Now they decided to rule the church.

Roman noblemen became bishops
to preserve the world they loved.

And when the empire collapsed, the
church stepped into the power vacuum.

The Western Church
had survived.

It had adapted.

Four hundred years earlier Christianity
was against the establishment

Now, it was the establishment

Not surprisingly, the bishops of Rome
were in an expansive mood.

Rome would play a new role,

as the capital of
a Western Christian empire of the mind,

greater than any empire
created by the Roman army.

The church no longer had
the backing of imperial might,

but it had one institution
which was a Christian powerhouse

for just such a mission.

The monastery.

I'm in central France,
just outside Poitiers,

and this is Ligug? Avbey,

probably the very first monastery
in Western Christianity.

It was founded in 360 A.D.

By one of the earliest monks
in the West, St Martin of Tours.

Many miracle stories quickly
grew up around Martin,

and even at the time, one or two people
who'd known him found some of them

rather hard to take.

This chapel here commemorates
one of the best known ones of them,

which is that he actually raised
a young man from the dead.

Now whatever the truth
of these stories,

what really mattered about Martin
was that he had power.

St Martin exploited his charisma
to the full,

using an approach to Catholic expansion

that would be the model for Catholic
conversion for the next 800 years.

First convert kings and queens,
the rest will follow.

Monks prayed for the salvation
of royalty and noblemen,

but they also gave all society

something which it desperately needed,
a sense of order, design, harmony.

Monasteries became beacons of order,

thanks to a rule attributed
to a monk called Benedict.

And the community of Ligug? Avbey
live under that rule today.

- Homemade.
- Well, yes...

- Oh, no, take two.
- Monastery made.

Oh, well, no, one will be enough.
One will be enough.

Oh, it's so light. It's delicious.

Of the monastic vows of poverty,
chastity and obedience,

I think obedience is the most difficult
for modern individualists to understand,

especially that bit of
the Benedictine rule

which allows the abbot
to beat his monks.

But the aim was to strike a balance

between the spiritual development
of the individual monk

and the peace and well-being
of the community,

and you have to remember
that this was a terrifyingly lawless age

and people longed for the lost security
of the Roman Empire.

Hundreds of Benedictine
monasteries were founded.

They were a vision of God's
imperial court in heaven.

Between the fifth
and the ninth centuries

the midwife of Catholicism in Europe
was not imperial might,

it was the monastery.

Now the Arian people had brought

their own Christianity westwards, too,
as far as Spain.

But Rome would outflank them.

The pope sent a mission
reaching beyond the Arians,

to the former Roman colony of Britannia.

In 597 a party of 40 Roman monks
and priests landed in Kent

They had been sent by Pope Gregory I,

himself a monk and one o f
those Roman aristocrats

who had taken over the church.

It's said that his mother, Silvia,

sent his monastery daily meals
on a silver dish.

Gregory couldn't have been less
like an upper-class twit

playing at being a monk.

He was the first pope to take
an initiative in mission

to the boundaries of the lost empire.

It was led by a monk from
his own monastery in Rome,

a priest called Augustine.

Augustine's often been celebrated as the
man who brought Christianity to England.

Actually, it wasn't quite like that.

Britannia already had some Christians
from its days as a Roman province.

In fact, Augustine and his 40 monks
were offered a church in Canterbury.

This church.

They were welcomed here because
the King of Kent's wife was a Christian.

And there she is in the stained glass,
Queen Bertha.

This church building dates right back
to the Roman occupation.

It's probably the most continuously
used parish church in England,

dedicated to Martin, St Martin of Tours.

But the reality was
that for two centuries,

Britannia had been ruled
by non-Christians,

Anglo-Sax on warriors
from mainland Europe.

Augustine's mission was
to win back Britannia,

convert the Anglo-Sax ons
and make Canterbury his Rome.

For that he needed a much bigger centre
of operations to match his ambition.

This is all that remains
of St Augustine's abbey.

Look, I know this doesn't look
very exciting to the uninitiated,

but this is really special.

This is a reused Roman pillar
in a seventh century church

which Augustine may have seen

and certainly someone
who knew Augustine saw.

This is quite unique.

In the mere eight years
of life left to him,

Augustine laid a solid foundation
for an Anglo-Sax on Church

which was quite exceptional in Europe
in its devotion to Rome.

His seat of power, Canterbury Cathedral,
was given the dedication Christ Church

because it was then the dedication
of the pope's cathedral in Rome.

It was the pope who appointed Augustine
the first archbishop of Canterbury.

And in fact, Pope Gregory gave Augustine
a special liturgical garment,

the pallium, and this was a symbol

that the power of the archbishops
of Canterbury came from Rome.

It's easy to forget that
the English Church was

under Roman obedience for 900 years,
far longer than it's been Protestant

Eventually, the Church of England turned
its back on the Church of Rome

in the 16th century Reformation.

But it forgot one little thing.

Bizarrely, the coat of arms o f
the archbishop of Canterbury

still incorporates the Y-shape
of the pallium.

It's a little piece of heraldry which
the Protestant Reformation in England

either failed to notice
or decided to ignore.

When Augustine died, there were around
a dozen monasteries in England.

A century later,
there were at least 200.

But these distant isles made
their own special contribution.

They gave shape to one of
the distinctive practices

of the Catholic Church,


I've come as far west in Europe as
you can get to where monks lived a life

as intense and austere
as anything in church history.

I'm heading for Skellig Michael,
off the Kerry coast in Ireland.

These monks were not Anglo-Saxon,
but Celtic Christians.

They came to settle out here
in the Atlantic Ocean,

as far back as the sixth century.

It's easy to see them as isolated
from the church in Rome.

But for them, the sea was not a barrier,

but a series of pathways
to their neighbours and beyond.

They shared books with other monks
right across the Mediterranean,

and Latin was the language
of their liturgy and their literature.

These are man-made steps,
600 of them designed by the monks

to take me up to the monastery.

Well, I have to confess that I started
up these stairs cheerfully enough

but vertigo has taken over
and I simply can't go on.

So I will never see the monastery
on Skellig Michael.

I cannot understand
why the monks lived here.

It feels like the edge of the world.

It seems absurd to me that,
living here,

Irish monks could have
an upbeat view of human nature.

But they did.

Such a contrast with the pessimism
of Augustine of Hippo.

And out of this optimism came
a new practice designed to cope

with that sense of guilt and
falling short that Christians call sin.

They came up with tariff books,
guide books to dealing with sin.

The principle is you can find out
or decide what sort of penalty, penance

deals with what sort of sin,
and you can list them,

and there they are
for priests to deal with.

Who wouldn't jump at the chance
of having a forgiveness-of-sin tariff?

And this is the beginning of
individual confession to a priest.

It's a very powerful thing to do,
to offer someone forgiveness.

Confessions remain very precious
for Catholics,

but it's also been an enormous source
of conflict and anger

in the Western Church.

That's because forgiveness
is very personal.

So is a priest getting in the way or
is he helping you reach out to God?

That idea doesn't sit very well
with Augustine of Hippo's views

about total human corruption.

And aren't you rather manipulating God

by setting up measurements
for forgiveness?

The clash between those two thoughts

went on lurking
in the life of Latin Christians.

In the 16th century Reformation
it was the central issue

to split the Western Church.

It's an impressive witness to the energy
of Ce ltic Christians that this remote

corner of Europe had such a profound
influence on the whole church.

Western Latin Catholicism had not faded
during the so-called Dark Ages.

It had survived, and more than that,

it had spread its Christian message
to a world beyond Rome.

But it was still vulnerable.

With the emperor gone, it was at
the mercy of kings and noblemen

who were often little better
than bandits.

And a new religious rival had risen
in the East.


At the end of the eighth century, with
Islam relentlessly pressing westward,

Pope Leo III turned
the clock back 400 years

and made Western Christianity
an imperial power once more.

Just like Constantine I,
the new emperor, Charles,

would be nicknamed "the Great",

The ancient spa town of Aachen
in southwest Germany

was once home to Charlemagne,

the most powerful man
in eighth century Western Europe,

but also,
a man with a fetish for history.

Charlemagne loved to wallow
in the hot pools of Aachen,

pretending to be a Roman at the baths.

But he was actually descended
from barbarians, the Franks.

They were one of the peoples
who'd swept into Western Europe

and smashed the central structures
of the Roman Empire.

But the Franks were different
from the other barbarians.

They'd taken up Catholic,
rather than Arian, Christianity.

Charlemagne's empire
extended from beyond the Pyrenees

into the heart of modern Germany.

But his ambition was to reunite
the old Roman Empire, west and east,

a Christian Roman Empire.

His first priority was to become
the protector and defender

of the Catholic Church.

In return, Pope Leo III crowned him
as emperor of the west

on Christmas Day, 800,
in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Charlemagne's successors called
themselves Holy Roman emperors.

And many of them were crowned
on this throne,

in Charlemagne's cathedral in Aachen.

No pope before had crowned monarchs.

Did this now mean that the church
was mightier than the empire?

For the next few centuries,
popes and emperors quarreled

about who best
represented Christian Rome

and which side had supreme authority
over the other.

There never was a clear answer.

But at least emperor and pope
shared a vision,

an imperial Western Latin Church.

And that gave Latin Christianity
a new self-assurance.

Two hundred years later, in 1054,
the West would finally split

from the church in Constantinople

creating distinct Catholic
and Orthodox churches.

Far from damaging
the Western Latin Church,

the split became the platform
for an ambitious new pope,

Gregory VII,
to revolutionise the church.

So much has happened
to the Roman Catholic Church

in the centuries since then,

but it's still indebted to Gregory's
reforms a thousand years ago.

The big theme of Catholicism
has come to be the centre.

Central control is now what matters,

and what marks it out
from other denominations.

What Gregory now wanted to do
was to micro-manage

the fate of every soul in Europe.

And to drive through this change,
the papacy first targeted the clergy.

Gregory made a change
which was to redefine

the popular image
of the Catholic cleric.

Before that, most clergy who were
not monks would expect to marry.

But Gregory started a campaign to make
all clergy automatically celibate.

That's because he wanted the best,

the most disciplined
and the most loyal clergy possible.

With its foot soldiers in place,
the church now had a presence

in every village and town, every parish,

doing its best to control
every aspect of people's lives.

What emerged was a single Western
Latin Catholic society

unified by the Latin language

and underpinned by
a complex religious bureaucracy.

It reflected the lost Roman Empire,
it outshone the Roman Empire.

And what was it all for?

Nothing less than making
all society holy.

But far and away
the most centralising step

was taken by the pope himself

when he told the world what he thought
he was or what he'd like to be,

a universal monarch reigning over
all the rulers of the Earth.

But this was not just
a greedy church grabbing power.

It was also intended to offer
something to the faithful.

Not just any old something, salvation.

For a thousand years, the Christian
picture of the afterlife had been stark.

After death,
you either went to Heaven or Hell

But now the Latin Church picked up
an old idea from early centuries.

Purgatory, a place for purging,

where the souls of the dead
burned in fire.

The difference from Hell was
that Purgatory wasn't forever.

And Purgatory had only one exit,
up to Heaven.

It was tailor-made for those
who in this life feel ordinary,

not very good, not very bad,

but certainly not good enough
to go straight to Heaven.

It was a very comforting doctrine.

Crucially, it gave people a sense
that while still on this Earth

they could do something
about their salvation.

They could pray
or they could do good works

to shorten their time in Purgatory.

The whole system became an industry
in the Western Church,

the Purgatory industry,

a vast factory of prayer
and ceremonial observance.

It was one of the most successful ideas
in the whole of Christian history.

It satisfied millions of people
for centuries on end.

By the end of the 11th century, the
Catholic Church was European society's

single most important institution,

the best-organised monarchy in Europe.

It promised a structure to people's
life on Earth and salvation in death.

That's more than the old Roman emperors
could ever have offered.

But the reality was that half o f
the world's professing Christians

were now subject
to a different religion.

Islam controlled the whole
of North Africa,

Spain, Sicily and much of western Asia.

It even occupied the original
holy city, Jerusalem.

And so, in 1095,
in a great blaze of publicity,

the Catholic Church mounted
an ambitious military campaign,

the First Crusade.

There'd been a time
when Christian leaders

had tried to stop Christians
from becoming soldiers.

Now atrocities were committed
in the name of the God of love.

For the first time, the notion
of holy war entered Christianity.

The Crusades are an embarrassment
for Christianity.

In seeking to recapture the Holy Land,
they caused misery and destruction.

It was idealism,

but it was also Christian love
turned to violence and arrogance.

But I'm here in London,
at the Temple Church,

to show that the Crusades left
a more complex legacy.

Some say this is modelled on the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

But I think that's to hide
an awkward truth.

It's a copy of one of the most famous
Muslim buildings in the world.

It was built by the Knights Templar,

an order of soldier monks founded
during the Crusades,

to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land.

They'd seized the Temple Mount
in Jerusalem

and made it their headquarters,
hence the name Templars.

All over Europe,
they built these circular churches

to look like what they thought
was the Jerusalem temple.

It's a good thing they didn't realise
that it was actually a Muslim building,

the Dome of the Rock
on the Temple Mount.

This was the Templars'
English HQ.

Burial here in the round church
was almost as good

as being buried in Jerusalem.

These knights are portrayed
in their early 30s,

the age at which Christ died

and the age at which the dead
will rise on his return.

Men like these flocked
to join the enterprise.

The Crusades became yet another
means of purging sin, like purgatory,

but this time through action
in this life.

And that led to a further
new Western Catholic idea.

The Crusades were sold to noblemen
and humble folk alike

as another way of winning salvation.

Whatever sins someone committed on
crusade were more than cancelled out,

simply by being on crusade.

And this was the first specimen of
something which became big business

in Western Europe alongside Purgatory,
the indulgence.

An indulgence granted you
time off from Purgatory.

Later, they became as routine as the
modern lottery ticket for a good cause.

In the end, you simply bought them.

Even now the idea of crusade
has its defenders.

But I have to say
that I find the crusading era

one of the darkest chapters
in the history of Catholicism.

There was at least one positive

and hugely important outcome
of the Crusades,

a legacy that's still with us now.

I wouldn't be a professor without it,
so it must be good.

Thanks to the Crusades,
Islam gave us universities.

And my employer, Oxford University,
was one of the first.

Academic robes,
professorial chairs, lectures,

the qualification of a degree itself
are not Western ideas.

They are all copied in remarkable detail

from medieval Islamic schools
of higher education,

and all to cope with
the flow of new information

pouring in from the Middle East.

And it was only really
the death of Edward VI

which stopped Melanchthon coming.

He seems quietly to have pocketed
the travel expenses

and not sent them back,
but he was very wise because...

In many ways,
the Crusades mark a watershed

in the history of the Latin Church.

In a thousand years, the small
persecuted Jewish sect had risen

to a peak of unprecedented
and, frankly, unexpected power.

Certainly no one could have expected
the Roman papacy.

But what was much more predictable

was rebellion against the concept
of papal monarchy.

Dissent would now cast
a long shadow over the church.

It led to more innovations,

some of which are difficult
for modern Christians to comprehend,

or even to forgive.

At a great council of the church
in 1215,

Pope Innocent III tried to secure
the loyalty of the faithful

by spelling out what it meant
to be a Catholic.

Confession and communion
at least once a year.

The council also told people
what to believe about the mass.

Bread and wine miraculously become
the body and blood of Christ.

And they helpfully recommended
a way in which philosophers

could explain this miracle,

That's a big word for ideas taken
not from the Bible,

but from Aristotle,
who lived long before Jesus Christ.

Failure to accept that the mass was
a miracle could land you into trouble.

And there were plenty of
other forms of religious energy

which unnerved the pope,

like the Cathars who rejected
the mass altogether.

Of course, churchmen didn't mind
religious fervour in itself.

It was when it got out of their control
that they got worried.

And then they were quick
to label it heresy and punish it.

Pope Innocent III created
structures to deal with heresy,


The English didn't actually use them,

but this medieval courtroom in the
University Church of St Mary in Oxford

gives you a sense o f
what it must have felt like

to be in front of the inquisition.

It's still the official courtroom o f
the Anglican diocese of Oxford.

It's difficult for modern Westerners
to understand the mind of an inquisitor.

But we need to remember
that they were clergy,

and they saw what
they were doing as an aspect

of the pastoral role of a priest
to make society better.

But there is a fine line in any system
between idealism and sadism.

Inquisitions were no worse
than most medieval courts.

Torture might be used
to extract confessions.

Those on trial had no right
to defence counsel.

Penalties ranged from wearing
a cross of penitence

to pilgrimage,

to imprisonment,

to death by burning at the stake.

That's one way of dealing with heresy,
smash heretics and punish them.

The other way is to reinvent the church.

To rediscover core ideas,
like poverty, humility, compassion,

the sort of things
which Jesus Christ preached.

During the 12th century, new religious
movements and maverick holy men

attacked the wealth
and power of the church.

Instead of handing all of them
over to the inquisitions,

Pope Innocent took a huge risk.

He brought them into the fold.

His hope was to regain something
which the Western Church had forgotten.

The most famous of these holy men
was called Francis.

It's difficult not
to have heard of Francis,

and it's easy to be sentimental
about him,

the loveable saint
immortalised in stories

retold to generations of children.

He talked to the animals.

Actually, you might think he was mad.

He chucked away his wealth,

he proclaimed the Christian message
to birds in a graveyard

and he threw the church into turmoil

by saying that Christ was
a down-and-out with no possessions.

He might have been burnt as a heretic,
as many others were.

But luckily for him, alongside his
almost pathological non-conformity,

Francis was deeply loyal to the church.

It was in a church, this church, where
Francis heard his first call to action.

He wanted people to see the
ordinariness, the humanity of Christ,

so that they could love
and worship him better as God.

And that made the Catholic Church
more human and approachable, too.

It was Francis who invented the idea
of a Christmas crib in church.

The first time, he brought along
a real ox and a real ass.

He wanted to remind us of the humble
origins of the Christian faith,

God becoming human
not in a palace, but in a stable.

This was a new, more personal,
emotional view of Christ,

with a mother, Mary,
who suffered like any mother

when her son died horribly
and before his time.

So the Catholic Church accepted Francis.

It welcomed the new movements
of friars who lived his message.

But it actually did nothing
to shed its own wealth and power.

It's just as well Francis never saw
this grand and expensive church

built over the humble chapel
where his mission had begun.

By the end of the 13th century,
the Western Latin Church had created

nearly all the structures which
shaped it up to the Reformation era.

Monks, nuns and friars sent up
their prayers to heaven

in an ever-spreading array
of religious houses.

Thousands of parish churches made up
a giant honeycomb of dioceses

and archdioceses across Europe.

And millions of Catholics owed
their unfailing allegiance

to the pope in Rome.

There would be setbacks for sure,
but by the 15th century,

the papacy emerged largely unscathed,
powerful, wealthy and confident

So much so, it invested its energies
in rebuilding Constantine's St Peter's

to make it the grandest building
in Christendom.

But in the 120 years it took
for a succession of popes

and architects to complete,
the world had changed.

By the time the new basilica
was dedicated in 1626,

Christianity had been convulsed
by a new movement of revolt

which had almost swept the papacy away.

In every age of Christian history,

even when the church has been
vigorous and self-confident,

there have been restless individuals
liable to claim that it could do better.

It was that sort of questioning
and re-examination of Christian origins

which led to
the 16th century Reformation.

The Reformation has proved
the greatest fault-line yet

in Western Latin Christianity.

But first, we need to visit
that earlier and greater fault-line,

when the Latin and Greek halves
of the Roman Empire

went their separate ways.

Ripped By mstoll