Christians. In his new capitol of Constantinople, the emperor became the
great patron of the church. Theodosius I, who became emperor 42 years
after the death of Constantine about A.D. 380, made Christianity the official
religion of the Roman Empire.
Missionaries carried the Christian faith throughout the world. Early in
the 7th century, Islam overran Syria, Persia, Egypt, Palestine, and North
Africa. The adherents of Islam crossed the Mediterranean and conquered
Spain. In A.D. 732, near Tours France, the Moslems were finally turned
back by an army led by Charles Martel. The Moslems stayed in Spain until
1492 when their last stronghold fell into the hands of the Christian mon-
archs, Ferdinand and Isabella, just before Columbus sailed for the new
world. Moslems and Christians fought bitterly around the Mediterranean
basin for a thousand years.
The 13th century has been held by many as the age of faith, a time
when the authority of the Christian church was accepted almost without
question. This was the age that produced such pious men as St. Francis of
Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Early in the 16th century, a reform of Christianity was attempted by
Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk in Saxoney, and John Calvin, a French
intellectual. This movement became known as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther declared that the Bible is the sole and sufficient source for spiritual
guidance and that people have access to God without the need of inter-
mediaries such as church, sacrament, priest, or saint. Calvin proclaimed the
doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God.
In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church
embarked on a period of correction and opposition called the Counter
Reformation. The Council of Trent met intermittently for 18 years, ended
many abuses, and formulated a doctrine that is still accepted today by
Events of Christian history from the time of the Protestant Reformation
to the present have frequently been interwoven with the history of the
national states and their state churches. In England, King Henry VIII
declared himself head of the church and severed Englands ties to the
Church of Rome. Elsewhere in Europe, the same pattern prevailed with
religion becoming an ally, and often the agent, of the state (a state church).
Following the English pattern, nine of the thirteen American colonies had a
state church. By 1776, however, there was a growing concern on the part of
some, that the pattern of state churches was a major source of much of
the political and religious unrest throughout that period.
Consequently, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law for estab-
lishing religious freedom on 16 January 1786, the Virginia Statute of
Religious Liberty. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, it is a powerful and
moving statement which argues that forced support of religioneven ones
ownis a deprivation of liberty. Jefferson characterized this struggle for
religious freedom as the severest contest in which I have ever been
engaged and regarded this statute as one of his foremost contributions to
history. Jefferson strongly felt that civil rights should not depend upon ones
religious convictions, or lack of convictions, nor should anyone be com-
pelled to profess religious beliefs.
The adoption of the first amendment to the Federal Constitution, which
was strongly influenced by, and incorporated the principle of the Virginia