David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
Catholic Europe Background
If all the stories from the Bible take place in the Middle East, why do so few Christians live in that region compared with Europe, North America, and South America?
The answer is that Europe adopted Christianity on a large scale beginning about 1700 years ago and then later spread it to their colonies in the Americas, while in the Middle East there was no moment where a large number of people converted to Christianity. In fact, the Pope, who is the head of the Catholic Church, is located in Vatican City in central Italy, which has been the center of the Catholic Christian faith for 2,000 years.
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- 0:04 Catholic Europe Background
- 0:41 Starting Christianity
- 1:45 The Inquisition
- 2:17 The Protestant Reformation
- 3:35 Lesson Summary
Christianity didn't become popular overnight. During the Roman Empire, Christians were punished because they refused to worship the Roman emperor as a god. It wasn't until the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed he had a vision of Jesus Christ and won a battle with the Christian cross on his army's flags that it became the official religion. Because the Roman Empire covered most of Europe, Constantine's conversion, or religious change, to Christianity meant that Europe and the religion would be together for the rest of history.
However, the Roman Empire split into two regions, East and West, and each had their own religious leadership. The Eastern Empire adopted Orthodox Christianity, while the Western Empire adopted Catholic Christianity. While both Orthodox Christians and Catholics believe in Jesus Christ, they have different beliefs about how he lived and how to worship him. However, Orthodox Christians and Catholics have had a peaceful coexistence, unlike Catholics and other Christian groups.
Christianity in Europe experienced a number of challenges, including the belief that there were people who worked with the devil to defeat the faith. In response, the Church came down harshly on people believed to be enemies, witches, or magicians. This is called the Inquisition, which means a trial to determine if someone was of the true faith. The Inquisition tortured and killed many people, believing them to be evil. While it was most powerful in Spain, the Inquisition also functioned in other countries.
The Protestant Reformation
One of the greatest shakeups of European Christianity took place about 500 years ago. A priest named Martin Luther felt that the Catholic Church had become corrupt and no longer represented the teachings of Jesus Christ, specifically about the sale of indulgences, which were essentially bribes given to priests to get the person paying into heaven faster. Martin Luther famously nailed a letter he wrote to the door of a church in Germany. The letter had 95 criticisms about the Catholic Church.
The Church didn't take too kindly to this criticism from Martin Luther and kicked him out, but Luther founded his own church instead, called Lutheranism. This event is remembered as the Protestant Reformation. Soon after, entire nations began to leave the Catholic Church. King Henry the VIII created the Church of England after disagreements with the Pope in Rome.
While Christianity has been present in Europe for 2,000 years, in the last 100 years it's started to decline. Today, only about 50% of Europeans say that they believe in God. In some places like Sweden, the number has fallen as low as 20%. Some countries even report closing churches because they do not have enough followers.
Christianity became popular across Europe due to the conversion, or religious change, of the Emperor Constantine, creating Catholic Christianity and the Pope, who is the leader of the Catholic Church in the west, and Orthodox Christianity in the east. Five hundred years ago, a priest named Martin Luther declared the Catholic Church to be corrupt and created a new branch of Christianity in the Protestant Reformation. Today, however, Christianity in Europe has declined.
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History of Christianity in Europe: Lesson for Kids
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