June 12th, 2010

never there

A History of Christianity; Joanna Lumley's Nile

TV night was still Wednesday night, but I ended up not having enough time on Thursday morning to write it up, in between fighting with the printer & watering the garden before we left for the day. We started the evening with the first part of A History of Christianity, which is presented by Diarmaid MacCulloch - who wrote a book about the Reformation that I read a few years ago. The series is about the history of the Church, rather than the religion itself. This first programme covered the early Church & primarily focussed on the eastern Church. So we started with a bit of a look at Jerusalem & all the various churches represented within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, then moved on to the history. He touched on how the Christians left Jerusalem before it fell in 70AD, but this congregation didn't all move west towards Rome as one might expect from Western-centric histories of the church, but east towards Syria & beyond. The "big break" for Christianity in becoming a major religion was becoming the state religion of Rome, and in some ways the needs of Empire shaped the Church doctrines - so the Council of Nicea set out a creed (that's still used today in church services - umm, I betray my biases here, I know it's used in high church C of E services anyway) of what Christians should believe, partly as a way of unifying the divisions that were beginning to arise in the Church & thus the State. Later there was another council (which I forget the name of) concerning what the truth of Christ's dual nature was - the Nestorians believed Christ held both human and divine nature but they were like oil and water, unmixed. The followers of Cyril still held to the two natures but believed they were mixed like water & wine. The council settled on a compromise which was biased towards the Nestorian view - the two natures were not mixed (Nestorian) but were indivisible (a nod to Cyril) - but Nestor himself was not allowed to come back from exile. So neither side was entirely happy, but stability and unity of the Church (and thus State) were regained. The followers of Cyril broke from this established church, and this then is the origins of the Eastern Church. (I think, it's hard to summarise this as it was all stuff I didn't know before (well, except the Nicene creed) and it's now a few days since I saw the programme).

So the rest of the programme looked at the development of the Eastern Church - one thing that was drawn out several times was the as it was no longer affiliated with a state it concentrated more on a less secularly powerful set of teachings. Monasticism & hermits as a concept started over in the east, and there is a feeling that one should suffer & live simply in this life in order to deserve the glory of the next (which is easier to hold on to if your bishops and priests are not as powerful in a secular sense as they were in the Roman Empire). He showed us some congregations of Christians across Syria & Turkey, and even a church (now a buddhist temple) in the middle of China - Eastern Christianity spread much further east than we "expect" from the history of the church as portrayed in the West. One of the main strands of the programme was that Eastern Christianity existed more in a dialogue with the other cultures and religions it found itself living alongside and inside. And that this was because it was not in a position of power - whilst Christians weren't forcibly converted in the major Muslim cities they were second class citizens in another culture that valued learning. And China clearly had ancient traditions of their own. So there was no feeling of "converting the barbarian" here, Christianity couldn't come in as a conquering state imposing itself on the people.

An interesting programme & about a subject I'm interested in (so I'm looking forward to watching the rest of this too) - but I don't think I've done it justice writing it up! As well as all the interesting info it was also full of academics geeking out about things they were interested in which was fun to watch :)

And we finished the evening with the last part of Joanna Lumley's Nile - she went from Lake Albert (flying over the Sudd as there was potentially trouble in that region) to the very longest source of the Nile. Great scenery - including footage of a herd of hippos in a lake. And some crocodiles (she finally got to see some!). And she got to go and look at a White Rhino mother & cub, which was also nifty - tho she's braver than I as it also looked quite scary. The Victorian source was in Lake Victoria, but a 2006 expedition found the longest tributary leading into the lake and the start of that is now designated the source. The trek up to it looked intimidating, mostly straight uphill through a lot of plant life, but finally she got there.