Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch reveals the origins of Christianity and explores what it means to be a Christian.
Part 1: The First Christianity
Diarmaid MacCulloch goes in search of Christianity’s forgotten origins. He overturns the familiar story that it all began when the apostle Paul took Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome, showing that its origins lie further east, and that at one point it was poised to triumph in Asia. The headquarters of Christianity may well have been Baghdad not Rome, in which case western Christianity would have been very different.
Part 2: Catholicism – The Unpredictable Rise of Rome
Diarmaid MacCulloch explores the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. Over one billion Christians look to Rome, but how did a small Jewish sect from the backwoods of 1st century Palestine, which preached humility and the virtue of poverty, become the established religion of western Europe? MacCulloch tells how confession was invented by monks in a remote island off the coast of Ireland, and how the Crusades gave Britain the university system.
Part 3: Orthodoxy – From Empire to Empire
Diarmaid MacCulloch explores Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which flourishes in the Balkans and Russia but has had to fight for its survival. After its glory days in the Roman Empire, it stood in the path of Muslim expansion, suffered betrayal by crusading Catholics, was seized by the Russian tsars and faced near-extinction under communism. MacCulloch visits a collection of icons in the Sinai desert, a relic of the iconoclastic crisis in Istanbul and Ivan the Terrible’s cathedral in Moscow.
Part 4: Reformation – The Individual before God
Diarmaid MacCulloch makes sense of the Reformation, revealing how a faith based on obedience and authority gave birth to one based on individual conscience. He shows how Martin Luther wrote hymns to teach people the message of the Bible, and how a tasty sausage became the rallying cry for Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli to tear down statues of saints, allow married clergy and deny that communion bread and wine were the body and blood of Christ.
Part 5: Protestantism – The Evangelical Explosion
Diarmaid MacCulloch traces the growth of an exuberant expression of faith that has spread across the globe – Evangelical Protestantism. Today associated with conservative politics, it is easily forgotten that the Evangelical explosion has been driven by a concern for social justice and the claim that one could stand in a direct emotional relationship with God. MacCulloch shows how it allowed the Protestant faith to burst away from its homeland in Europe to America, Africa and, recently, Asia.
Part 6: God in the Dock
Diarmaid MacCulloch examines a distinctive feature about Western Christianity – scepticism, the tendency to doubt. He challenges the simplistic notion that faith in Christianity has ebbed away before the advance of science, reason and progress, and shows instead how the tide of faith perversely flows back in. Despite the damage inflicted to its moral credibility by the two great wars of the 20th century, it is during crisis that the Church has rediscovered deep and enduring truths about itself.