A Journey through Western Christianity: from Persecuted Faith to Global Religion (200 - 1650)

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A Journey through Western Christianity: from Persecuted Faith to Global Religion (200 - 1650)

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About this course: This course follows the extraordinary development of Western Christianity from its early persecution under the Roman Empire in the third century to its global expansion with the Jesuits of the early modern world. We explore the dynamic and diverse character of a religion with an enormous cast characters. We will meet men and women who tell stories of faith as well as of violence, suppression, and division. Along the way, we encounter Perpetua and her martyrdom in Carthage; the struggles of Augustine the bishop in North Africa; the zeal of Celtic monks and missionaries; the viciousness of the Crusades; the visions of Brigit of Sweden; and the fracturing of Christianity…

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When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this course: This course follows the extraordinary development of Western Christianity from its early persecution under the Roman Empire in the third century to its global expansion with the Jesuits of the early modern world. We explore the dynamic and diverse character of a religion with an enormous cast characters. We will meet men and women who tell stories of faith as well as of violence, suppression, and division. Along the way, we encounter Perpetua and her martyrdom in Carthage; the struggles of Augustine the bishop in North Africa; the zeal of Celtic monks and missionaries; the viciousness of the Crusades; the visions of Brigit of Sweden; and the fracturing of Christianity by Martin Luther’s protest. We hear the voices of great theologians as well as of those branded heretics by the Church, a powerful reminder that the growth of Christianity is a story with many narratives of competing visions of reform and ideals, powerful critiques of corruption and venality, and exclusion of the vanquished. The troubled history of Christian engagement with Jews and Muslims is found in pogroms and expulsions, but also in the astonishing ways in which the culture of the West was transformed by Jewish and Islamic learning. We shall explore the stunning beauty of the Book of Kells, exquisitely prepared by monks as the Vikings terrorized the coast of England. We will experience the blue light of the windows of Chartres, and ponder the opening questions of Thomas Aquinas’ great Summa. We will read from the Gutenberg Bible of the fifteenth century, which heralded the revolution brought by the printing press. We will travel from Calvin’s Geneva to Elizabeth’s England to Trent, where a Catholic Council met to inaugurate a modern, missionary Catholic church. We will walk through the great Escorial of Philip II of Spain, hear the poetry of John of the Cross, and follow the Jesuits to Brazil and China. Christianity in the West was forged in the fires of conflict and tumult, and it brought forth both creativity and violence. It echoed with calls for God’s world to be transformed, it inspired the most sublime art and architecture, yet it also revealed the power of the union of cross and sword to destroy. The course is a journey through the formation of the West as one strand of Christianity, as one chapter in a global story. It is a journey that has shaped our world.

Created by:  Yale University
  • Taught by:  Bruce Gordon, Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History

    Yale Divinity School
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Syllabus


WEEK 1


Welcome to A Journey through Western Christianity: from Persecuted Faith to Global Religion (200 - 1650)
Learn what this course is about, who's teaching it, and other ways you can explore this topic. Meet and greet your peers as well!


1 video, 3 readings expand


  1. Leyendo: Course Description
  2. Video: Course Introduction
  3. Leyendo: Meet Your Instructional Team
  4. Cuadro de aviso de la discusión: Introduce Yourself!
  5. Leyendo: Bonus course resources


Introduction: From Persecution to Empire



“From Persecution to Empire,” explores the interaction between the second-century Christian Church and the Roman Empire in which it existed. After the faith’s birth in Palestine, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire with a rapidity that alarmed many Roman rulers. Persecution of Christians became common, and the experience of persecution shaped the Church. In 313 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine ended persecution and Christianity transformed once more to become a pillar of Roman society.


6 videos, 3 readings expand


  1. Video: The Great Church (180 - 313)
  2. Leyendo: The Creed of Nicaea
  3. Video: Diversity in the Year 200: Dura Europos (c. 240), with Dr. Lisa Brody [Yale University Art Gallery]
  4. Video: The Conversion of Constantine
  5. Leyendo: Conversion of Constantine
  6. Video: The Arian-Nicene Controversy
  7. Video: The Nature of Christ
  8. Video: The Rise of Rome
  9. Leyendo: Yale University Art Gallery—Dura-Europos: Excavating Antiquity

Graded: From Persecution to Empire

WEEK 2


Augustine and the North African Church



“Augustine and the North African Church,” studies two areas of early and vibrant Christian growth: Egypt and North Africa. These areas responded to intense Roman persecution by developing a theology of martyrdom. Indeed, both areas became bastions of early Christian theological thinking, with the North African Church producing the most important Christian theologian ever: Augustine of Hippo.


6 videos, 4 readings expand


  1. Video: Alexandria
  2. Video: North African Christianity
  3. Video: Martyrdom and Persecution
  4. Video: The Martyrdom of Perpetua (with Max & Nazanin)
  5. Leyendo: Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
  6. Video: Augustine
  7. Leyendo: Augustine on Donatists
  8. Video: Islamic Invasion of North Africa
  9. Leyendo: A timeline of the Great Persecution
  10. Leyendo: See the Coptic necropolis el Bagawat (Egypt), one of the earliest Christian cemeteries

Graded: Augustine and North African Church

WEEK 3


Monastic Lives: Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity



“Monastic Lives: Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity,” examines the origins of monasticism in Christianity. After the end of Roman persecution, some Christians chose to isolate themselves in the desert and deny themselves food, sleep, and material comforts. Why? And how did this movement develop into medieval monasticism? This module will explain the early roots and influence of monks and nuns in Christianity.


7 videos, 5 readings expand


  1. Video: Desert Monasticism
  2. Video: Saint Catherine’s (with Max)
  3. Leyendo: Life of St. Anthony
  4. Video: Saint Benedict
  5. Leyendo: Benedict Rule
  6. Video: Irish Monasticism
  7. Video: The Viking Age (with Nazanin)
  8. Video: Venerable Bede, Saint Cuthbert, and Northumbria
  9. Video: Alcuin and the Carolingian Renaissance
  10. Leyendo: Explore the Gutenberg Bible and its history
  11. Leyendo: Browse the Book of Kells medieval manuscript
  12. Leyendo: View the Lindisfarne Gospels' early medieval illuminations

Graded: Monastic Lives, Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity

WEEK 4


Reformers and Crusaders



“Reformers and Crusaders,” focuses on Christianity during the dawn of the medieval period. Here we ask: How did Christianity respond to the new feudal world of medieval Europe? Popes, monks, and knights became essential features of the Christian faith during this period, roughly 950 – 1350 AD.


8 videos, 6 readings expand


  1. Video: The Medieval World (Yale University Art Gallery)
  2. Video: Feudalism
  3. Video: Christian Reform
  4. Video: Bernard of Clairvaux (with Max)
  5. Video: Divided Christianity
  6. Leyendo: Fulcher of Chartres, Speech of Urban II
  7. Video: Crusades
  8. Leyendo: The Capture of Jerusalem (1244)
  9. Leyendo: Christian Attacks on Jews
  10. Video: Innocent III
  11. Video: Cathar Heresy (with Nazanin)
  12. Leyendo: Henry IV's letter to Gregory VII
  13. Leyendo: The Romance of the Rose
  14. Leyendo: Hagia Sophia's Christian mosaics

Graded: Reformers and Crusaders

WEEK 5


Learning and Light



“Learning and Light,” examines two medieval Christian ideas that emerged at the same time and from the same impulse. The first is the scholastic educational initiative that dominated Christian theology and resulted in the founding of universities. The second is the beautiful, light-focused Gothic architectural style embodied in Europe’s great cathedrals. These two movements remain the quintessential features of medieval Christianity. Scholasticism and cathedrals emerged not only at the same time but also from the same source: a Christian conception of the unity of all things.


7 videos, 7 readings expand


  1. Video: Mendicant Orders
  2. Video: Saint Clare of Assisi (with Nazanin)
  3. Video: Rise of Universities
  4. Video: Abelard & Heloise (with Max)
  5. Video: Thomas Aquinas
  6. Leyendo: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae
  7. Video: Cathedrals and Theology of Light
  8. Video: Mysticism
  9. Leyendo: Meister Eckhart, “The Attractive Power of God”
  10. Leyendo: Julian of Norwich
  11. Leyendo: The stained glass windows of Chartres
  12. Leyendo: The Flowers of Saint Francis
  13. Leyendo: Peter Lombard’s The Sentences
  14. Leyendo: Aquinas’s hymn, Pange Lingua

Graded: Learning and Light

WEEK 6


Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain



“Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain,” explores medieval Spain, a place in time with enormous importance for the history of Christianity. From the eighth through the fifteenth century, Spanish society included Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and Spain became the cultural capital of all three religions. Exploring medieval Spain, we will see how Christianity competed and cooperated with the non-Christian world. The central question explored in this module is: How should we remember the cultural interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in medieval Spain


6 videos, 11 readings expand


  1. Video: Jews and Muslims in Iberia
  2. Video: Convivencia
  3. Video: The Alhambra of Granada (with Nazanin)
  4. Video: Maimonides and Averroes
  5. Leyendo: Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, Introductory Letter
  6. Video: Inquisition and Expulsion
  7. Leyendo: A Christian/Muslim Debate (12th century)
  8. Leyendo: Muslim and Christian Piety in the 13th Century
  9. Video: Christians, Jews, and Muslims: Discussion
  10. Leyendo: Gregory X: Letter on Jews, (1271-76) - Against the Blood Libel
  11. Leyendo: The Murdered Chorister
  12. Leyendo: Chant from the Mozarabic tradition
  13. Leyendo: David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence
  14. Leyendo: Arabic's influence on the Spanish language
  15. Leyendo: The works of Averroes
  16. Leyendo: Images of the Alhambra
  17. Leyendo: Documents related to the Spanish Inquisition

Graded: Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain

WEEK 7


Medieval Devotion



“Medieval Devotion,” moves away from the universities and cathedrals of Europe and investigates the lives of ordinary Christians trying to maintain their spiritual lives in an era almost 1000 years ago. The Church developed and popularized many devotional practices in this era, a number of which remain a part of Christianity today. Sacraments, saints, relics, pilgrimages, and the papacy are examined in this module, as all experienced an enormous growth in importance during the medieval era. Many of these features of Christianity became controversial, with Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century rejecting some of these devotional and ecclesiological features.


9 videos, 8 readings expand


  1. Video: The Isenheim Altar
  2. Video: Introduction
  3. Video: Sacraments
  4. Leyendo: Seven Sacraments
  5. Video: Saints & Relics
  6. Video: Joan of Arc (with Nazanin)
  7. Leyendo: Tales of Relics
  8. Video: Pilgrimages
  9. Video: Rome and the Papacy
  10. Video: Avignon Papacy (with Max)
  11. Video: Heresy and Dissent
  12. Leyendo: Tales of the Devil
  13. Leyendo: Art of Dying, (Ars Moriendi)
  14. Leyendo: Requiem Mass for the Dead
  15. Leyendo: Relics, and what they meant for medieval Christians
  16. Leyendo: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
  17. Leyendo: Book of Hours

Graded: Medieval Devotion

WEEK 8


Luther's Reformation



“Luther’s Reformation,” is the first of several modules to discuss the Reformation, and it does so by examining the life of the Reformation’s most iconic figure, Martin Luther. than any other person, Luther was responsible for the seismic shifts in sixteenth-century Christianity that left the Western Church permanently fractured. Why did Luther launch his Reformation? What were his initial aspirations, and how did these change? Through the biography of Luther we will learn about the controversies that led to the Reformation and the early impact of this religious movement.


9 videos, 5 readings expand


  1. Video: The Early Modern World (Yale University Art Gallery)
  2. Video: Young Luther
  3. Video: Break with Rome
  4. Video: Katharina von Bora (Nazanin)
  5. Video: Opponents & Opposition
  6. Video: Theology
  7. Video: Luther and the Jews (Max)
  8. Video: Reformation Church
  9. Video: Discussion
  10. Leyendo: Martin Luther, “Freedom of a Christian”
  11. Leyendo: Luther’s 95 Theses
  12. Leyendo: A Mighty Fortress
  13. Leyendo: Protestant print propaganda
  14. Leyendo: Luther’s original German Mass

Graded: Luther's Reformation

WEEK 9


Fragmenting Reformation



“Fragmenting Reformation,” we will explore the Reformation further. After Luther set Europe ablaze, other reformers and rulers sought to impose their views onto Christianity. Soon—and as Catholics had feared—multiple forms of Protestantism emerged. Sixteenth-century Christians disagreed over what constituted proper ecclesiology, theology, and ritual practices, and soon the European religious landscape divided into different camps all insisting on different visions of Christianity. John Calvin became one of the most influential thinkers and organizers in this period, but even lesser known figures exerted enormous influence as Western Christendom experienced its most serious crisis.


8 videos, 7 readings expand


  1. Video: Radical Visions
  2. Video: Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (Max)
  3. Leyendo: Hans Schlaffer, A Brief Introduction for the Leading of Truly Christian Life
  4. Video: Zwingli
  5. Video: John Calvin: Life
  6. Leyendo: Preface to the Psalter - John Calvin
  7. Video: Calvinism
  8. Video: English Reformation
  9. Video: Foxe's Book of Martyrs (with Nazanin)
  10. Leyendo: England, Thirty-Nine Articles
  11. Video: Fragmenting Reformation: Discussion
  12. Leyendo: The Martyrs' Mirror
  13. Leyendo: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
  14. Leyendo: Huldrych Zwingli’s reforming principles
  15. Leyendo: Professor Gordon’s books on Calvin and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

Graded: Fragmenting Reformation

WEEK 10


Catholic Reform



In “Catholic Reform,” we will see how Catholicism transformed itself during the sixteenth century, an era usually characterized by the Protestant Reformation. In response to the Protestant challenge, Catholicism began to reform key aspects of its practices, yet Catholic leaders resolutely defended their theology against Luther’s and Calvin’s attacks. And Catholicism also experienced transformations that had begun long before Luther launched his reforming campaign in 1517. A debate still exists amongst historians regarding the origins of Catholicism’s sixteenth-century reforms. Were these changes purely a response to the Protestant challenge? Or did Catholicism begin its early modern reforms long before Luther was ever born. This module explores these questions, along with the vibrant Catholic culture that emerged during the era of the Reformation.


7 videos, 7 readings expand


  1. Video: Erasmus and his Legacy
  2. Video: Pre-Trent Catholic Reform
  3. Video: The Council of Trent
  4. Video: Catholic vs. Counter Reformation (Max and Nazanin)
  5. Leyendo: The Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (1547)
  6. Video: Catholic Bibles
  7. Video: Teresa of Avila & Spanish Mysticism
  8. Leyendo: Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle: Preface
  9. Video: El Escorial (Nazanin)
  10. Leyendo: Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum
  11. Leyendo: The Complutensian Polyglot Bible
  12. Leyendo: El Greco and other works from leading Catholic Baroque artists
  13. Leyendo: Peruse the poetry of Saint John of the Cross
  14. Leyendo: Carlos Eire’s Reformations

Graded: Catholic Reform

WEEK 11


Jesuits and Missions



Our final module, “Jesuits and Mission,” we will see how, at the same time that Western Christianity fractured and reinvented itself due to the Reformation, the faith also followed Europe’s colonial paths and spread across the world. Catholic religious orders (including the newly founded Jesuit order) led the expansion of Christianity into non-European lands. Jesuits and other missionaries sought to inject Christianity into the societies they encountered, and to do so the Jesuits adapted to local cultural practices and added subtle features to Catholicism. For the first time, Christianity became a global religion.


6 videos, 8 readings expand


  1. Video: The Founding of the Jesuits
  2. Video: Ignatius of Loyola (Nazanin)
  3. Video: Francis Xavier
  4. Leyendo: Francis Xavier to Ignatius Loyola on Missions
  5. Leyendo: Francis Xavier, Letter from Japan, 1552
  6. Video: Mateo Ricci & China
  7. Leyendo: Memorial for Matteo Ricci
  8. Video: Brazil
  9. Leyendo: Japanese depiction of the arrival of the Portuguese
  10. Leyendo: A timeline of the colonization of Brazil
  11. Leyendo: Moxos Ensemble
  12. Leyendo: An early modern Jesuit’s account of the martyrdom of his fellow missionaries
  13. Leyendo: The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,
  14. Video: Closing words from Bruce, Nazanin, and Max

Graded: Jesuits and Missions
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