Christianity And The Modern Age
Author: Wallbank;Taylor;Bailkey;Jewsbury;Lewis;Hackett
Date: 1992

Christianity And The Modern Age

Europe's drive to dominate the globe came from a variety of sources. The
belief in scientific superiority and the arguments of the pseudo-scientists
and racists provided some of the motivation for expansion. Another motivator
was the Christian churches, which were themselves experiencing the challenges
posed by industrialization and urbanization.

After the Reformation, Christianity endured serious intellectual,
political, and social challenges. The Scientific Revolution and the
Enlightenment ate away at the authority of the traditional church. Darwin's
theories challenged the traditional Christian view of the origins of the world
as presented in the Bible. The population increases that resulted from
urbanization forced the church to respond to different audiences facing more
difficult problems than those of an earlier, simpler age. Yet Christianity
endured and adapted.

The Missionary Thrust

During the age of imperialism, European missionaries went forth in their
centuries-old function as self-proclaimed messengers of the word of God. Once
the European states began competing for land around the globe, the churches
often complemented national policy in their religious work. Buttressed by
Social Darwinism and the notion of progress, missionaries felt justified in
altering the cultures of the peoples with whom they came in contact if that
was the price to be paid for eternal salvation.

Changes In The Catholic Church

In 1864 Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), who had become extraordinarily
reactionary after having been expelled from Rome in 1848 and in the wake of
the Italian unification movement, issued the Syllabus of Errors, a document
that attacked the critical examination of faith and doctrine. In 1870 he
called a general council of the church to proclaim the doctrine of papal
infallibility, which states that when speaking ex cathedra (from the chair)
on issues concerning religion and moral behavior, the pope cannot err.

Pius' successor, Leo XIII (1879-1903) was more flexible and less
combative and helped bring the church into the modern age. In his Rerum
novarum (Concerning new things) issued in 1891, Leo condemned Marxism and
upheld capitalism but severely criticized the evils affecting the working
classes. By pointing out some of the Christian elements of socialism, Leo
placed the church on the side of the workers who were suffering the greatest
ills resulting from industrialization. Leo worked to improve relations with
Germany, encouraged the passage of social welfare legislation, and supported
the formation of Catholic labor unions and political parties.

A New Spirit

Spiritual life in England received a powerful stimulus from the Oxford
Movement. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a core of spiritual
activists at Oxford, including the future Cardinal, John Henry Newman
(1801-1890), met to defend the church from the various secular and political
forces that were besieging it. During the 1830s the group split, some members
remaining within the Anglican church, and others - including Newman - joining
the Catholic church. During the rest of the century, the Oxford Movement
brought new life to the church in England through its missionary work,
participation in social concerns, and improvement of the intellectual level of
the faith. Similar developments occurred across the continent.


 

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