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Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 2

December 20, 2006

Part Two of a series.

(Read Part One here).

How then should Christendom be described at the moment of its full flower in the twelfth century? According as we look at it from the viewpoint of heaven or of earth, it has two definitions, each complementary of the other. In a broad sense, Christendom is the whole body of mankind redeemed by Christ, aspiring to His kingdom; in a narrower sense, it is the Christian society living on earth and engaged in temporal activities which have their fulfillment in Almighty God. Christendom, then, is a people, a race born of Christ, nourished upon Him, quenching its thirst with His Blood. It is a ‘nation,’ a community, confined by no geographical framework; a community whose members feel at home. It is a society, populus Christianus, where all social and professional inequalities should be resolved in a single harmony. It is, in fact, a fatherland, for whom each member must be ready to sacrifice his life. The religious Orders were its international brigades. Palestine, as Etienne Gilson has so aptly remarked, ‘was to be the Alsace-Lorraine of Christendom.’ ‘Christendom’ is not to be identified with any particular territory; Christians are fully aware that our Lord’s message is addressed to all alike, that Christendom is virtually world wide, and that the term cannot be used exclusively of Europe, or even of the East or West. Nevertheless, human frailty is such that only part of the earth has seen the good grain flourish, that part which is at a given moment Christian and which must therefore be strengthened and defended. The frontiers of Christendom are defined by baptism: wherever there are baptized Christians, there is Christendom. Differences arising from schism and heresy could never prevail against this deep-rooted feeling. Even the insults which Byzantium was to hurl against the Holy See would not deter the popes from assisting the Greeks against the Turks. The remotest communities of heretical Christians, buried in the heart of Asia, were looked upon as brothers by the sons of Christendom; and St. Louis himself dispatched ambassadors to the Mongol Nestorians.

Such, then, was the concept which gave to the baptized their sense of fundamental unity, an ideal which had never ceased to haunt the Western mind since the Roman Empire collapsed. Charlemange and Otto, each in turn, had relied upon it for the fulfillment of their grandiose designs; but with the eleventh century there began a noticeable change. The Holy Roman and Germanic Empire could no longer serve as the framework of these ambitions; there were important areas to which its authority did not extend, nor was it possible to perpetuate the fiction that West and East were parts of a single whole. But if the empire was no longer one, Christendom was so beyond a doubt; and in place of a world subject to imperial rule there was substituted a new idea – the commonwealth of Christian peoples with the Church as its governor.

Excerpted from Cathedral and Crusade by Henri Daniel-Rops, Image Books, 1957

Related Posts:
Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 1
Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 3

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From → Books, On Christendom

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