c. 2000 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) The complex history of Christianity, which was born as a small and obscure movement but has become the world’s dominant faith, is explored in an upcoming TV series.
“Christianity: The Second Millennium” does an admirable job of compressing the last 1,000 years of Christian history into four concise and often jam-packed hours. The series will air Dec. 17 and 18 on cable network A&E, with encore presentations of part one on Dec. 18 and part two on Dec. 24.
Bram Roos, the executive producer and co-writer for the two-part program, said the sheer volume of material required a selective approach.
“It became a question of focusing on key issues and key personalities in the evolution of Christianity,” said Roos, “and in communicating those most effectively we chose to do that through the telling of stories.”
Part one, for example, explores the showdown between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV, whose struggle for supremacy illustrates long-running battles between church and state.
This battle would loom large in Christianity’s second millennium, at least until America’s founders created a radical new solution that granted its citizens unprecedented religious freedoms _ a development covered in part two of the series, which is a sequel to A&E’s look at Christianity’s first millennium, which drew an estimated 2 million viewers when it aired in November 1998.
The new series opens with a 15-minute whirlwind tour of the faith’s first 1,000 years. And even though the pace slows somewhat during the remaining programs, the emphasis is on historical highlights presented in a rapid-fire approach.
“Christianity: The Second Millennium” examines both Christianity’s shining accomplishments and its darkest moments.
In night one, for example, saints like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola are covered alongside the Crusades and the Inquisition. And in night two, viewers see that worldwide missionary efforts have often been inextricably linked with colonialism and slavery. Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez, for example, is described as “a sincere Christian who was also a thief and a murderer.”
“There are issues that are troubling to a lot of people,” said Roos, “but the fact that they’re troubling should not outweigh the tremendous good that the faith and various members of the clergy do on a daily basis.”
Throughout, experts like Karen Armstrong, Martin Marty and John Dominic Crossan explain Christianity’s remarkable resilience in responding to groundbreaking ideological movements like modernism, sweeping social changes like the industrial revolution, and a whole series of technological innovations like the printing press and the mass media.
“Christianity has struggled to survive in the face of constant threats and challenges,” said series narrator Dorian Harewood, an actor and recording artist, “and miraculously, it has triumphed.”
One can fault the series for skipping key events, the most glaring of which is the Great Schism of 1054, which severed the Western and Eastern branches of the faith.
But the show succeeds in examining key developments like the Reformation, which is described as inspiring “a rainbow of Christianities that would blanket the Earth.”
The show also has a decidedly Western slant that ignores developments in Asia and Africa. But Roos, who earlier produced 50 installments of the series “Mysteries of the Bible” for A&E, said the show merely reflects the fact that the West has been in the driver’s seat for much of the first 2,000 years of church history.
“That approach was dictated by the events that really dictated the evolution of the faith,” he said.
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“Christianity: The Second Millennium” will undoubtedly whet some people’s appetite for more insight about Christianity’s birth and development, and for them, a new book by acclaimed historian David Chidester is a timely arrival.
“Christianity: A Global History” (HarperSanFrancisco) is a sprawling, 558-page survey by an American-born South African scholar who has twice won the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in Religious Studies.
Chidester says he attempted to balance historical depth and accuracy with the challenge of writing a book that would be “interesting, entertaining and fun.”
He succeeds admirably on both counts, providing those of us who now witness the unfolding of Christianity’s third millennium with a fascinating account of first 2,000 years.
DEA END RABEY