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A History of Christianity: Prof MacCulloch

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  • Message 1. 

    Posted by Religion_Host (U1716878) on Monday, 9th November 2009

    On Friday 13th November, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch will be available on this message board to answer your questions about the BBC Four programme 'A History of Christianity'.

    He'll be answering questions between 9 and 11am and from 4 til 6pm on that day.

    If you would like to submit questions about the programme in advance you are welcome to do so on this thread.

    You can find out more about the programme and catch up with latest episode here:


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    This posting has been hidden during moderation because it broke the House Rules in some way.

  • Message 3

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    Posted by LairigGhru (U14051689) on Wednesday, 11th November 2009

    I enjoyed your programme last week, thank you.

    As you described the various gatherings down the ages - for example the one in which the Trinity was adopted as the basis of Christianity - I wondered over and over again why we assume that those individuals always made correct decisions that are worthy of being followed everlastingly.

    Is it rather like Roman Catholicism today, when the Pope is sometimes regarded as infallible?

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  • Message 4

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    Posted by Eamonn_Shute (U2059767) on Wednesday, 11th November 2009

    Why did the first programme skip over how Christianity, which was originally just a Jewish sect, broke away from Judaism and became a new religion?

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  • Message 5

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    Posted by The Eagle (U1723019) on Thursday, 12th November 2009

    Much is made of 'splits' in Christianity where people hold different viewpoints on aspects of the faith:- from its interaction with society as a whole, what constitutes sin, how to worship, and interpretation of Biblical texts to the nature of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I would like to know please what you think is the common core that has held people together as Christians over the last 2000 years and what we should hold fast to as we take the faith into the future.


    The Eagle

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  • Message 6

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    Posted by Diarmaid_MacCulloch (U14190179) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Hello Lom7ond. You ask a very pertinent question. Historians would ask whether there can be a correct answer to a theological problem. Where they can help is to provide as well-sourced answers as possible to matters of historical truth about the past, but history is only one aspect of theology. There will be those who will see the Church's answers as guided by the Holy Spirit, but there is no objective way of authenticating that in historical terms; how could there be? Which Church? The answer in the end is going to be decided by the moral stance taken up by the observer.

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    Posted by bruikngibi (U14213734) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Thanks Prof MacCulloch for your program.

    It was exceptional brainwork. However, there is a better organ. The heart. It can live without the brain, it alone can trully and deeply know and more importantly, it can hold 'faith'. Your program shone by the lack of faith. If faith had been applied to words of the scriptures: "... bind, unbind, forgive, retain and it will be reflected in Heaven... I give you the key to Heaven... I shall be with you to end of time...",

    Therefore: If there was no Purgatory, one will be made. if no notion of indulgence was, it shall become. No transubstantiation, it will be. Did the Catholic church become violent, so was Abraham and everyone after him, even Jesus. I liked your expression "... well excuse me!!!..." at what Gregory II said about the successors of St Peter becoming Saints by the merits of St Peter. However, as he said, so it is. The guy and his successors have the key to Heaven. That make them infallible too! This, infallibility, without removing their human nature mean that they could open the gates of Heaven out of wisdom, foolishness or sheer oops, it will be opened; and when they shut it it will be shut.

    The round church with the dome was inherited just like the general one was (imperial court houses taken over by the church and adapted). The timings of the events and the people from Christ to the church going it alone after the division of the Roman empire, down to Gregory II, through St Francis ... are all down to "... I will be with you. Yes! Till the end of time...". Obvious!!!

    Please I recommend you do find out about Marino Restrepo(youtube, google), before you speak to him. A lot will become clearer.

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  • Message 8

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    Posted by morton58 (U14213736) on Friday, 13th November 2009

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  • Message 9

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    Posted by a Truster (U14145321) on Friday, 13th November 2009


    When you stand before Him will the Lord say, ''welcome good and trustworthy servant'' or ''depart from me I knew you not''?

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  • Message 10

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    Posted by wigginhall (U13785634) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Prof. MacCulloch

    Many thanks for your series. One thing that struck me, watching the second episode, is the great disparity between the original message of Jesus, which seems to offer hope to the hopeless, and maybe shows an image of God in terms of ruin and humiliation, and the later enormous power and wealth of the Church.

    I was just looking at a brief biog of Cardinal Wolsey, which seems to highlight this later power.

    I have heard many explanations of this - that the power of the Church is necessary to help its ministry, that humans are inevitably corruptible, and so on, I just wondered if you had any other take on it.

    But then again, here perhaps are some of the seeds of the Reformation! And of course, the Catholic Church has contained many individuals who did minister to the poor and wretched, and individuals like Francis, whom you highlighted.

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    Posted by blank (U5763852) on Friday, 13th November 2009


    fascinating series.

    I an particularly interested in Christian mysticism and meditation. It seem that traditions and practices have existed in the past but have been largely lost to Western churches.

    What are your feelings on this?

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  • Message 12

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    Posted by Diarmaid_MacCulloch (U14190179) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    A fair question, Eamonn! We had only six hours at our disposal (which is still a huge and generous investment from the BBC) and we made some very hard choices about what we should put in and leave out. We decided to make the star of the show the Church rather than talk about Jesus and the first origins of Christianity in Palestine. I deal with those at length in the book from which the series sprang, to the extent that I called the book 'A history of Christianity: the first three thousand years'. The first thousand of those three are the Jewish and Greek roots of the Christian faith, back to the time of Homer and King David. Lobby for another series from the Beeb and I will do my best to satisfy your question.

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  • Message 13

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    Posted by Diarmaid_MacCulloch (U14190179) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Thanks, Wigginhall. You're right to point out this paradox. Christianity embraces all human life, and an inescapable part of that life is the search for power and the wish to control it. It brings its own power from the claims of Jesus Christ, and they almost inevitably get tangled up in the other pursuits of power which human beings indulge in. The Church has always tried to balance power and weakness, and has often got the balance fearfully wrong. Poor Cardinal Wolsey, whom you mention, was all too conscious at the last that all his power and wealth had brought him low. I don't think that the Church will ever get this right. That shouldn't stop it trying. That's what a Christian doctrine of sin says.

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  • Message 14

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    Posted by Diarmaid_MacCulloch (U14190179) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Friendly Neighbourhood H: yes, the Western Church was not inclined to be friendly to mysticism in its early centuries. If I were being mischievous I would say that that is because from the fourth century onwards its bishops tended to be the sort of people who would have previously been civil servants in the Roman Imperial bureaucracy. Mysticism and monasticism had a difficult time in the western Church when they arrived from the East in the fourth century, and long remained controversial. In the ninth century, Westerners got very excited by their discovery of a text from the East called 'The Celestial Hierarchy' by a writer calling himself Dionysius the Areopagite. It has been at the heart of western and eastern mysticism ever since. But they might have been less enthusiastic if they had known that the writer was technically a heretic, a Miaphysite. That illustrates just uncomfortably mysticism has fitted into the Church. Not necessarily a bad thing.

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  • Message 15

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    Posted by Diarmaid_MacCulloch (U14190179) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    I guess, a Truster, that only the Lord will know the answer to that one.

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  • Message 16

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    Posted by blank (U5763852) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Prof. MacCulloch ,

    An interesting question that has arisen on these boards from time to time is that of the Gnostics. It seems they shared a lot of beliefs and texts with the Christians and indeed, it doesn't seem completely clear where the separation occurred. I guess this is slightly outside the scope of your current TV series - but I suspect you have views on the subject?

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  • Message 17

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    Posted by a Truster (U14145321) on Friday, 13th November 2009


    Historically it is proven that the recipients of grace have the assurance of trust. Hebrews 11 has a list of them.

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  • Message 18

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    Posted by Squiddly Diddly (U4365170) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Dear Professor

    If my memory serves me correctly, in your magnum opus on the Reformation, you indicated that you were an agnostic or a lapsed Anglican.

    Is this stil the case?

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  • Message 19

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    Posted by wigginhall (U13785634) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    A supplementary question to FNH's, on the Nag Hammadi texts. Do you think they represent something very minor in the overall history of Christianity, or something more significant?

    One thing that I find intriguing is the way they have been taken up today by what you could call New Age Christians or New Age non-Christians. How odd that history should revolve in this way, but perhaps it's not odd, since the same ideas do seem to recycle in human history.

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  • Message 20

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    Posted by horsethorn (U1620054) on Friday, 13th November 2009

    Hello Professor

    As a pagan, I am finding it a fascinating series, and it's a shame that it's not longer. Perhaps a second series next year?

    I was, however, disappointed that you showed Constantine as being exclusively christian - from what I've read he still continued to dedicate pagan temples, and actually followed Sol Invictus rather than christianity alone?

    I also notice you made no mention of the (forged) Donation of Constantine when talking about how the catholic church arrogated the right to crown emperors.

    What has been the most enjoyable part of making the series, for you?

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