The contribution of Christianity to the development of Europe

Christianity played a significant role in the development of Europe and the effects are visible until today. This is what we would like to show you by giving you some examples including important characters, institutions and events.

1. Important characters


Theodoric, son of the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodomir, was born in the year 454. He was a talented military leader. After he had beaten Odoaker, a German mercenary he claimed Italy as his kingdom.

Apart from military conflicts, he also faced a number of problems concerning clerical disputes. According to the teachings of Arius, Jesus and god were not identical. However, the council of Constantinople had accepted the teachings of Athanasius, who proclaimed that Jesus was “one with the father”. Theodoric and his people believed in the teachings of Arius, but at the same time they respected the followers of Athanasius. The city of Ravenna was a unique example of a community of two different Christian confessions living together peacefully. At that time, Theodoric could fulfil his dreams of a symbiosis between the German world and the Christian community, and thereby laid the groundwork for modern Europe.

Benedict of Nursia:

Benedict was born around 480 in a city called Nursia. After having finished his studies in Rome he was fed up with the habits of this city and decided to live in asceticism.

His mystical path acts as an example for whole Europe. Being the founder of the monastery of the Benedictines and having proclaimed its rules (Regula Benedicti) he is nowadays seen as the Father of European monasticism. His rules, which demand poverty, celibacy, loyalty and obedience towards god and the once chosen monastery, together with his motto “ora et labora” are followed in the majority of European Christian communities. Some month ago the pope honoured the historical personality Benedict of Nursia by giving him the name “Patron saint of Europe”.

Charl Main:

Charl main was born in 747 as the son of Philip III. During his life he had 18 children with 4 wives. This was similar to easy-going norms.

On December the 25th 800 AD Charl Main was crowned emperor.

During his powerful reign he fulfilled some of his Christian norms:

- he brutally Christianised the Saxons

- he cultivated remaining parts of his empire

- he built many churches and monasteries

- he spread his faith

He also developed a new way of writing Latin letters in a easier way, known as Bohemian minuscule.

With the death of Charl Main on January the 28th 814 a powerful reign with several improvements for Europe ended.

2. Irish Monasticism

In 800 BC the Celts settled in Ireland, originally called Eriu. After a short period of time the Christian message has spread throughout the island (around 314).

Ireland’s most important patron is Patrick, who lived in the beginning of the 5th century. Patrick brought an early form Benediction monasticism to Ireland where continental fraternities didn’t arrive until 1200.

The oldest known rule of European monasteries was written by an Irish missionary, namely holy Columban.

The monks lead a hard live in strict asceticism and loyalty to god. This included not speaking, staying awake for several days and practising in uncomfortable positions for praying.

Further more Irish monasticism with it’s penance and “Peregrination” influenced European Christianity in a special way. Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks brought the private penance to Europe and due to this sin and penance became centre of religious live and thinking. The confessor, the “friend of the sole” played an increasingly important role for Ireland faithful inhabitants. Irish people were convinced, that it was necessary that everybody had a confessor in order to keep the salvation of the sole. They undertook long and exhausting journeys only to visit the right confessor.

Since the foundation of monasticism, living in exile, emigration and pilgrimage were the main characteristics of a monks live. It happened 4 times in history that the Irish came to Europe. What reminds us of their monks, pilgrims and scholars are their books. Irish gospels belong to the most important treasures of Europe.

3. Christian Monasticism

The idea of monastic life
Monasticism is very widespread in all kind of religions and because of their believes men and women chose special forms of life. They live an ascetic life which means that they abandon possession, power, matrimony and family and they confine their basic needs like food and drinking, sleeping, sex life, clothing and housing.

Monasticism can be found in - Hinduism

- Buddhism

- Christianity

- Islam

The origin of Christian Monasticism
Monasticism follows the model of Jesus and the advice of the gospel: ”If you want to be completely free, you should sell your possession and give the money to the poor; then you will have a treasure in the sky; then come and follow me”

But only few can take this way.

Already in the 3rd Century Egyptian Christians lived as hermits in the Thebian desert because they thought that the only way to gain salvation is to detach from the world.

During the Constantinian Age the monks protested against a flattening of the bible, by living in the desert

Wellknown Personalities
Antonius the hermit (around 251-356)

Pachomius (around287-347) set up an community with certain rules

- that made it possible for hundreds of monks to live together peacefully

- for them he was a father of a clerical point of view

- the settlements were monks lived were usually protected by walls

- prayer and work (meaning hard work) were essential for the live the monks lead

- it was necessary that monks knew how to read and write

4. Christian monasticism

Dominiskus (a Spaniard) was the founder of a fraternity of “preaching monks” who called themselves the Dominicans. They act as itinerant preachers and orientate themselves after the gospels. They try to convince their opposers with scientific facts and that’s why books that remind us of them can still be at famous universities.

There were several different groups of mendicants but they shared numerous similarities like the duty to live without any terrestrial property. They earned their living by working and receiving pittances which means they depended on the mercy and the grace of their contemporaries.

They were not bound to one specific monastery. Their main task was to preach and to set up small and simple churches and monasteries.

Later fraternities had a central organization where the higher positions were distributed by elections, which means these fraternities had a democratic management. They spread very fast and therefore had an increasing impact on the literacy of the bourgeoisie.

It was the first time in history that monasteries lead by nuns occurred.

5. Mendicants

The social background:
Mendicants come into existence in the 13th century, which is characterized by basic changes.
The rich urban bourgeoisie became an important economic and political class.
Because of this the state upgraded universities.
Because of living together very closely there were many diseases and pests, but also because of the lack of hygiene.
The church got a lot of city treasures. Another effect was that the pope and the emperor were on a constant quarrel. The crusades turned out to be a bloody disaster.

Revolutionary ideas and poverty movements developed. The Katharer and Waldenser lived in southern France and wanted to spread the ideal of poverty and world distance. They are a danger for the church and the state. Because of this background the fraternities of Dominicans and Franciscans were founded.

6. Secularization

If we talk about secularization we mean that the state disestablishes some basic rights of the church. Religious institutions like monasteries loose their rights and have to give their possessions and land away for public use. Several times they are even closed. Such processes took place during the French revolution (1789 –1794), at the time of the Italian reunification (1870) during the Russian revolution and in eastern Europe after World War II.

Secularization also includes the opening up of single states to the whole world. Its importance represents a controversial point – we differentiate between two mainstreams:

Secularization as a loss of Christian faith: i.e. the matrimony no longer seen as a sacrament, but as an some when ending treaty or harming institution; the believe that human live is created by god no longer exists, instead we represent genetically manipulated products.
The state and the society still makes use of Christian heritage, but however valuable parts are lost.

Secularization as a process, which is created by some people’s faith. Jewish and Christian values are seen as common property. The world is comprehended in a technical way by making use of scientific research. The moral meanings of the 10 commandments can be found in the today’s human rights. The obligation of every single Christian to care for the poor now adopted by secularized organizations and the social laws put up by the state.