Christianity and the West: Rise and Decline

“This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Culturally the West was tied together in Rome, first in the sense of the Roman Empire and second in the sense of Christendom. Rome connected the Hellenic Civilization to the Christian Frankish Empire and the Byzantine Empire. With the decline of the Roman Empire and the Expansion of Islam, Christianity formed the cross ethnic bond which allowed the cultural heritage to pass north.

From the First century on, various forms of Christianity developed in the Greco-Roman Civilization. By late Antiquity, the Christian influence was pervasive. After the second century AD, the Roman Empire began to falter. Internal and external problems led to an Imperial crisis and Christianity both developed and was actively developed as a unifying force. Whether looking at this from a secular or religious perspective, the church fostered social cohesion. Much like Islam, it was able to do this, in part, because of its theological nature. As James Rives and Judith Herrin respectively point out:

The Looseness and variety of traditional religion, which allowed for the effective integration of the various regional traditions within the empire, was replaced by the exclusivity of Christianity. Whereas the Greco-Roman tradition could accommodate new traditions, deities, and customs almost indefinitely, Christianity could not: non-Christians must convert or remain in error. Similarly the diversity of practice and belief that had characterized traditional religion was replaced by insistence on homogeneity: all Christians were expected to adhere to the same traditions. (208)

Roman kingdoms of the West began to give away to medieval ones. In particular, the rise of feudalism distinguished Western Europe from two other successors of Ancient Rome: Byzantium and the Caliphate…As the Ancient world collapsed, faith rather than imperial rule became the feature that identified the universe…Religion had fused the political, social, cultural into self-contained systems, separated by their different faiths.

In part, due to the character of the Church and to other influences, the West managed to develop at a remarkable rate. To some extent, this development contributed to the fragmentation of Christiandom and the rise of Modern Europe, which was characterized by unprecedented intellectual and technological advances. These advances contributed to a rapid increase in Western affluence, and in turn, the very undermining of the religion in the West.

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