Earlier this week I completed and uploaded Episode Four in The War on Christianity series. Episode Four is Part 1 of 2 in Three Case Studies, an account of the decline of Christianity in regions of the world where it had once been the dominant religion. To keep the episodes under 25 minutes, Episode Four is focused on two regions only, the Holy Land (Middle East to the secular world) and North Africa. Next week I will upload Episode Five, which carries the story into the decline of Christianity in Asia Minor.
Watch the Video of Episode Four Listen to the Podcast of Episode Four
Because the story traces the Church over 19 centuries, in Episode Four, and later in Episode Five, I have used the Pivotal Events device to explain only the most critical moments in the Church’s transition from majority to minority status, with applicable and, I hope, interesting illustrations from the religious art of both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions. The fate of Christianity in both areas is intricately and inseparably intertwined with the rise and decline of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of a new religion, Islam, in the 7th C. A.D. The first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, and his mother, St. Helen, played major parts in the story. He for his bold decisions and her for her patronage of the Church in the Holy Land. The illustration is statue of Constantine the Great, bearing the legend “by this sign conquer,” in front of York Minister, England, where Constantine declared himself emperor in 306 A.D. The interconnection with the fate of the Byzantine Empire comes back into focus in Episode Five, with my account of the decline of Christianity in Asia Minor (now generally known as Anatolia, part of eastern Turkey), between the 11th C. and the present day.
Even though Christianity lost its influence over civil government in the Holy Land and North Africa in the spread of Islam in the 7th C., culminating in absolute control over North Africa by the time of the Ummayad Moslem conquest of Algeria in 698 A.D., Christians were allowed to practice their religion, albeit under stringent controls, between the end of the 7th C. and the 14th C. In fact, they remained the majority religion in Egypt all the way to the 14th C. The final decline to under 10% of the population of Egypt is owed to the rise of a political side of Islam after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 A.D.
Silent testimony to the absolute decline of Christianity in North Africa is the early 20th C. photograph of the remains of the Basilica of St. Cyprian of Carthage, built in the 6th C. under the patronage of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who also sponsored the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai and commissioned the monastery’s Christ Pantokrator icon, the oldest known icon of Jesus Christ. In the 4th C., the height of Christian influence in Algeria and the rest of North Africa, there were said to be over 160 Christian churches near Carthage. Today, there are only a handful in the whole country and the former Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Louis, built by France in the late 1880s A.D., is now a “cultural center,” featuring live performances where devout Catholics once prayed. Will Christianity become a quaint reminder of cultural history in Europe at the end of the 21st C., like the remains of the Basilica of St. Cyprian of Carthage were in the early 20th C.?
Next week, I will upload Episode Five, completing the Three Case Studies, and also bring you news of a new development in the AIC Bookstore publications, just in time for Christmas.
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Glory be to God for all things! Amen!