Christianity has been a constantly evolving religion since its inception. It has been full of new ideas and thoughts that have molded modern Christianity into what it has become today. These thinkers have created themes and moods that have been picked up on and modified for 2000 years. In this paper, I will discuss seven of these important thinkers and their impact on Christian thought through the ages. I will also discuss how and in what ways has Christianity been both an influence on and a consequence of the social and intellectual history of the West.

Origen (185 - 254) is the most important theologian prior to Augustine. Much to his fame, he had the misfortune of doing a great deal of scholarship prior to Nicea. Doctrine passed down at Nicaea went against Origen. His works are condemned as heretical, but not him. His works are studied through the medieval period up to Aquinas. Origen was one of the most controversial scholars of his time, saying that even the devil could be saved.(1) Origen began his theological career at age eighteen when he assumed control of the catechetical school of Alexandria. He first began to raise the ire of the church bureaucracy while in Egypt, where he preached as a layman.(2) The bishop there was trying to get church control of the area and was not too happy that Origen was "spiritualizing biblical interpretation."(3) Origen responded to those who took the Bible literally by saying that the Bible was an allegory. This was a new system of Biblical theology, where the word of the Bible was inspected for hidden meanings, and metaphors. Before then, most theologians took the Bible literally. Origen said in First Principles that it was possible to get explanations for every aspect of the world.(4) The Bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea welcomed his interpretations, and he spent his last 18 years there.

Origen felt that it was important to have an accurate Biblical text because it would help him with his discussions with Jewish and Gnostic scholars. (5) To this end, he created the Hexapla. This book consisted of an outline of six books of the Old Testament in Hebrew, then from Hebrew to Greek, and then four other Greek translations of four other important texts. In this same text were also commentaries where he explained parts of the Bible in 3 ways, literal, moral and allegorical. In his lifetime, he produced 2,000 works. Most of these were commentaries on the Bible. One of his other important works is called On First Principles. In this book, he was defending the principle of exegesis. He uses Scripture both as example and explanation. (6) Origen's First Principles was a summary of everything that the apostles taught. He talks about the soul, free will, the creation of the universe and other important topics.(7) He also admitted though, that nothing was said about how the sun and the moon were created. Origen said that the world did not begin as an accident, but as God's way of getting back lost souls. God would do this by education and training.(8) Souls got lost by letting their love for God lapse. These souls began as astral bodies, whom God gave free will. A whole hierarchy developed as the souls developed. The world, then, was an intermediate place where the trial and judgement took place.

Origen believed that God manifested himself in three ways: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is a concept today known as the Trinity. He also believed that the Father and the Son were coequals, because he thought that to be a Father, one must have a Son. He believed also that the Son did not just temporarily exist; he just manifested himself from the Father. In these ways, he solves the Number and Duration problems that existed at that time. These two problems were two of the things that were addressed at Nicea. The number problem was important because it addressed the problem: was Jesus a manifestation of God, or a separate entity from God? The Duration problem described how in a linear time model, did the son always exist? If there is a father, there must be a time where the son was not, as the son must come after the father. There are two answers to that. The first answer given is that God made Jesus, the second is that Jesus is part of God, who is eternal. Origen does not believe in reincarnation, but he did philosophize about souls existing before birth. He also said that it was the love of God that would provide salvation. (9). This is close to the predestination concept for Luther and Calvin.

Ambrose told Origen to write the Contra Celsus, a response to Celsus' attack on Christianity. (Triumphant, 85) Origen liked to use philosophy, geometry, physics, astronomy and the words of the prophets to bring his students to God. Origen also wrote a paper on the defense of martyrdom, the Exhortation to Martyrdom, where he said to be baptized in blood was more important than to be baptized in water. He argued that you could be baptized and sin again, but if you are martyred, you cannot sin again.(10) This gives many people incentive later to die in the Crusades when the church tells them if they die in battle, all their sins will be forgiven.

Origen's teachings become the basis for many future Christian thinkers, especially for another Christian thinker known as Augustine. Augustine (354 - 430) was born in Tagaste, in northern Africa. He had a pagan father Patricius and a Christian mother by the name of Monica, who exhorted him constantly to become a Christian. He has a mistress by 17 and a son by 18. He was a lecturer, a very good one, which helped him in his future theological career. His mother wanted him to convert to Christianity, but he choose a life of hedonism. Augustine was seduced by the rhetoric of Ambrose, according to Augustine.(11) He met with Ambrose in Milan, where Ambrose had been the governor and was now the bishop. Ambrose was a big fan of Origen. Origen tells Augustine not to take the Bible literally, but to use it allegorically. <(12) Augustine became ashamed of all the hedonistic things he had done, and went to a garden to sort it all out. He heard a voice telling him to read the Scriptures. He opened the book to a random page, a common divination process known as bibliomancy, and happened across a passage from Romans 13:13ff that says "let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify his desires." Augustine wrote his book Confessions about his sinful life and his relationship with his mother Monica. It also talks about how he wrestled with his sinfulness and turned to Christianity. It also talks about his efforts to avoid the sexual impulse.

He had been following Manicheeism up to the time that he listened to Ambrose. He had been a Manichee for about nine years at this point, although not a very serious one. (13) He liked Manicheeism because it said to take nothing on faith.(14) Manicheeism taught that the body was evil, and was a prison that the soul was put in by an evil demiurge. Augustine could not understand how there could be evil in a place that a good God created. To explain this, he developed the concept of original sin.(15) The Nicene Creed does not mention it, although other authors of and before the time developed the concept. Augustine was the first to bring it into standard Christian thought. Augustine thought that evil was a lack of knowledge.(16) He believed that the first evil act was a rejection of God's will and an approval of the will of the individual person. He saw himself in this description, especially his earlier years, where he followed his own will and not the will of God. (17) He wrote City of God. This was a social model that took into account all his beliefs, especially where the will of the human struggles with the city of God.

Augustine says we are all damned anyway, but God chooses to save a few, and decides to pour his grace down on certain ones. Augustine believes in salvation through grace. God decides who is saved, but we aren't going to know. You'll see it in how their life goes. Pelagius said that there are no sinful people, just sinful acts. He was excommunicated for this. This same concept of predestination and visible signs was picked up on by Luther, and helped to found capitalism and secularization in the West.

The Donatists at this time were complaining that any priest who fell rendered his future actions invalid. The Donatists were saying that some priests who have been ordained gave some holy books to the persecutors of the Christians, and wanted those priests' ordinations declared invalid. Augustine strongly disagreed with the Donatists. Augustine said it only mattered that the fundamental nature of the religion is intact, and because the sacraments do not belong to the priest to give, but to Christ himself, therefore the sacraments are still pure. The Donatists were causing a problem at this time, and the state was in a quandary as to what to do with them. Augustine says that the state has the right to come in and control the Donatists. If the intentions are pure, there is a right to use force. This is the Just War theory. Augustine said that the church could use force because the state did, and since the church's problems were greater, the church had the prerogative to use force. He used as one of his arguments for this a phrase from Luke 14:23 saying "compel them to come in." (18)

Augustine lived to see the sack of Rome. The Romans said this sack happened because they let the Christians in and did not perform the sacrifices. Attila the Hun also came in, as did the Goths. The Pope could have raised an army to stop the Huns and the Goths, but refused to sell the gold in the treasury to get mercenaries to fight the war. Augustine started to answer the people who are complaining about Rome. Augustin said that it was not the Christians' fault, and wrote 22 apologetic books with arguments as to why the Christians did not do this. Augustin said everyone deserves their nation. Christians should tolerate imperfect governments and obey those governments.

Augustine helped to shape the social history of the West in that his just war theory was carried out by many church fathers and theologians. They would use this theory for the next 400 or so years to justify the killings of millions of people. Hitler himself would even base his killings on some of this theory, saying that he was only finishing what the churches started with their wars of religion.

Thomas Aquinas ( 1224-1274) helped shape the medieval doctrines of the Church. Aquinas came from a noble household in Italy.(19) His mother came from an aristocratic Neapolitan family and his father was a baron under Frederick II. He had 3 brothers and 5 sisters. In 1231 he was sent to a Benedictine monastery to learn. He used to annoy his teachers by asking "What is God?"(20) At that time, the tradition of the monasteries was to have biblical commentary and ask questions. This is much like rabbinic teaching. In 1239, Aquinas went to the University of Naples. This was a unique university at the time in that it was independent of the church. During this time, he became exposed to the writings of Aristotle. In 1242, he joined the Dominicans. The study of Aristotle to the full extent of his teachings was forbidden until 1252. Around this period, Aquinas decided that he was going to merge Aristotle with Christian philosophy.

When they discuss his dialectic today, they call it Thomist. He brings up 5 arguments for God's existence. These 5 arguments are as follows:(21)

  1. Since the world moves, and there is cause and effect, there has be someone doing the moving and the changing.
  2. There also has to be a first cause.
  3. There has to be something non-changing or nothing in the world would exist.
  4. Since we decide things are good, better, and best, the best thing must be God.
  5. Last, since all ends have a means, the means must be God.

Aristotelian logic says one can defend God through reason and one can define reason through faith. He also asks what is real, and what is truth, and how are faith and reason related. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas also says that reason can lead to faith. This has been a debate through many traditions. The Scholastic answers to these arguments is that reason can lead to faith. Scholastics defended the faith through reason rather than through authorities.

Aquinas says that one cannot argue with a person who makes a faith claim. This is a good policy that should be followed even today; however, the Christian church argued with and killed anyone with a different faith claim for many more years. To a believer, the beliefs are truer than true, so Aquinas sees no point in arguing. For Aquinas, faith and reason were not mutually exclusive. Reason deals with natural knowledge through sense, perception and intellection. Faith deals with revealed knowledge through feeling and will.(22)

Aquinas's ideas are still used today. He says existence and essence are one in God. Things exist; so it is truer of God to say that he exists than he does not exist. He sees philosophy like religion without God. Aquinas sees God as the "First Cause." He is the cause of everything else, and is present everywhere. He is the ground of being. However, Aquinas does not say that God is responsible for sin.

Aquinas says that even though humans are less than perfect, one can develop oneself into either habitual virtues or habitual vices. This is very similar to what Pelagius says. There is no predestination in Aquinas' theories; in fact, he is trying to get away from predestination. He does say that one has a will and that one can choose to do or not to do these things. Aquinas says that the church is the vehicle of grace and the means to grace are the sacraments. The Seven Sacraments are Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, and Extreme Unction. Why seven sacraments? There are seven virtues and seven vices. The seven virtues are truth, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope, and love. The seven vices are pride, sloth, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony and lechery. Grace is a force from God. It makes one light and pleasing to God. Aquinas stresses that grace makes you do good things and meritorious works. One can earn more meritorious grace than one needs. The church gives the excess back through indulgences. Aquinas was a Dominican monk, and according to Aquinas, the best way to get merit is to be a monk. Like Augustine, Aquinas agrees with the just war theory.

Aquinas believed that the scriptures were divinely inspired by God. However, he believed that with all the heresy going around, it was necessary to supplement the scriptures. This is how the councils, creeds, and the Pope became necessary. It is the Pope's job to be the final authority and decide the final definition of faith. (23)

From all Aquinas' work, there were two books created. The first was called Summary of the True Catholic Faith Against the Gentiles. This was meant as a handbook for missionaries. The second was the Summa Theologica. This was a synthesis of all of his theories. This book was not finished at his death, and had to be finished by another person, Reginald of Piperno.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) posted his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. At a superficial level, Luther's work was influenced by a religious practice known as indulgences. Luther saw this practice as an example of excesses of the church. Indulgences were a check written on the excess grace and good works of the church. At the time, the church believed that one could store grace and give it to others. This theory was from Aquinas, who believed that grace brought one closer to God and that one could get excess grace.

Luther believed that the church had strayed from the Bible. This is a common statement of most of the philosophers in Christianity. Luther feels that the church was organized in a way that prohibited lay people from participating in religious life. In the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the priests are intermediaries between God and man. At the time, it was forbidden to translate the Bible into a vernacular language. This kept the peasantry from getting the text and ministering to the laity. Luther was very concerned about where the laity fit in and why the Bible could not be translated into a language that the common man might understand. Luther felt that the church prevented full participation in religious life unless one were a priest. What Luther wanted was a priesthood of all believers instead of a select clergy. In the time of Paul, everyone participated in the religious services, and that is what Luther wanted. In a famous assertion, he promised to take back all he had said if they could prove him wrong by the Scripture. He never took it back.

Luther preferred faith and visible signs over the reason and knowledge of the Scholastics. (24) Luther believed that they only two real authorities should be the Bible and one's conscience. He said that one's conscience was necessary to interpret the Bible correctly. Luther believed that only faith would save, as God would give forgiveness in faith, not in good works done throughout life. He believed one should do good works to say thanks to God instead of to save oneself from Hell.

Unlike Aquinas, Luther believed the Pope was unnecessary. He believed that the Bible itself was the only source for information, and the Pope and the whole church hierarchy was completely unnecessary. He was furious at the practice of indulgence, and believed that it circumvented God's authority. (25) This is why he started to write the 95 Theses. The 95 Theses were a listing of everything that he saw as being wrong with the church. He nailed the theses to the Wittenberg door because it had many relics of the church that the church said would heal and forgive, again, circumventing God.

The church was furious with Luther for criticizing its choice of funding. The only reason that Luther did not get killed was that he had the protection of the German princes. The princes liked the idea that they did not have to give money up to Rome. It also gave the princes more power and took it away from the church. The Pope tried multiple ways to silence Luther, but none of them worked.

With previous theologians, being a monk or an ascetic was the most important and sacred thing one could do. Luther said that every profession is sacred, and that no one is more important than another, because everyone contributes to the good of the community. Luther's two sacraments were Baptism and Communion. He said these were the only ones that Christ did. The others were created by the church, so they were invalid.

The Lutherans were also an innovative religion as they were the first to ordain women. They ordained Barbara Andrews in 1870.(26) This set a precedent for the ordination of women in other religions as well.

John Calvin (1509 - 1564) was a lawyer. Calvin took Luther and his principles of the Reformation and used them for a system of government in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin uses the principle of representative democracy to run Geneva. Geneva became very prosperous from this venture. Calvin was a very strict ruler. If one didn't show up for church, they came over to find out why. He also killed people for falling asleep in church. However, he did sanction private economic enterprise, which made this branch of Calvinism very successful.

Calvin said that God saves through grace alone. Like Augustine, he believes that all humans are sinful and deserve to burn. However, God selects a few people, who he calls the elect, and saves them. Election even comes before faith.(27) The main question for Calvin and his followers was how to tell if one was elect. Calvin said that one could tell through visible signs. Visible signs meant that an elect person would be more financially successful if he were elect. However, he admitted, there was no way to truly know, so everyone had to hear the word of God.

What began in 1517 kept going. The Amish, Mennonites, Anglican, Baptists, and other religions all got their start here. In 1648, the Thirty Years' War ended. The Thirty Years' War was fought over religion, and when it was over, people believed that it was not worth it to fight over religion. This, as well as Luther and Calvin's principles, ended the domination of religion in Europe. Christianity was no longer the center of life in Europe. Secularization took the place of religion. There was more of an emphasis placed on economics and education. It was the economic institution that was the driving force. Calvinism's principle of visible signs was instrumental in this as well, because the need to be successful drove people to go into business to make money.

After Calvin came the period of the Enlightenment. Philosophers of this time were saying that religion was not important. Also, with the Industrial Revolution, religion went to the wayside as the pursuit of money became important. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 - 1834) believed that feeling, rather than the dogma of the church, was the basis of religion. He believed that religion was one of the most important things that humans could study. Schleiermacher was a hospital chaplain in Berlin and later became a professor at the University. Schleiermacher wrote his books responding to those from the Enlightenment period who thought that religion was a waste of time. The first book that he wrote was On Religion, Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. The book was to dispute those who thought that religion should have been put away as if it were something old and outdated. The next book he wrote was called The Christian Faith. In this book, he developed his beliefs and dogma. In this, he postulated that there was a dependence on a higher power. He called this the God-Conciousness.

Schleiermacher was arguing for religion in a time when people were just getting out from under the terror of enforced religion. Schleiermacher argues that religion is not a philosophy, nor an abstract thought, nor a science, nor an adherence to dogma. He said that it is a sense and taste for the infinite. He made a point that was antithetical. He said that belief and action are secondary. He said to transcend religion. One does not need an organized structure to do that. This was a compromise to those who were still wary of organized religion.

Schleiermacher said that knowledge of the soul and knowledge of God are inseparable. Human blessedness means strengthening the God consciousness. Sin is the obscuring of the consciousness. He said that through one's experience of the finite, one begins to depend on the infinite ground of all things. Human blessedness comes through the God consciousness. Jesus was unique in the strength of his God consciousness. He believed that sin was allowing oneself to break one's relationship with God. He also said that a church was a group of people working to build the God consciousness in each other. He agreed with the election theory of Calvin, but did not see it as necessary to ignore a part of the country. (28) This allowed more people to come into the religion.

Each of these theologians influenced the next with their ideas and philosophies; like a pyramid, each theologian built upon each other in some way to develop their philosophies. In some cases, this was built on agreement and in other instances, complete distaste.

Works Cited

Manschrek, Clyde; A History of Christianity in the world, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1985

Ferguson, Everett. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1990

Evans, G.R. The Medieval Theologians. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001

Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995 (12/5/2001)

Hinson, Glenn. The Church Triumphant, Macon, Georgia: Mercer Press, 1995

Class Notes for History of Christianity Class, Fall 2001 Semester, University of South Florida.

(1) Clyde L.Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the world,( Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall Inc, 1985) 49

(2) Ibid


(3) Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity,( New York, Garland Publishing, Inc, 1990) 667

(4) Johnson, 59

(5)Manshreck, 49

(6)Ferguson, 668

(7)Glenn Hinson, The Church Triumphant, (Macon, Georgia, Mercer Press, 1995), 137

(8) Manschrek, 50

(9) Ferguson, 668

(10) Hinson, 155

(11) Ferguson, 121

(12) G.R. Evans, The Medieval Theologians (Oxford, England, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001), 4

(13) Ferguson, 121

(14) Evans, 4

(15) Ferguson, 122

(16) Ferguson, 122

(17) Ferguson, 123

(18) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity,;(New York, Simon and Schuster, 1995), 121

(19) Evans, 201

(20) Ibid

(21) Manschrek, 156

(22) Manschrek, 136

(23) Manschrek, 139

(24) Manschrek, 166

(25) Manschrek, 169


(27) Manschrek, 189

(28) Johnson, 375

Linked and reformatted by Lord Brawl and mirv, 22/03/03