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Regular version of the site

History of Western Christianity

Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Delivered at:
Department of Humanities (Faculty of Computer Science, Economics, and Social Sciences)
Course type:
Elective course
4 year, 1 module

Course Syllabus


The discipline «History of Western Christianity» is realized with help of online-course “A Journey through Western Christianity: from Persecuted Faith to Global Religion (200 - 1650)”. About the online-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” (https://www.coursera.org/learn/western-christianity-200-1650).
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • 1 – 3: The first three blocks embrace the early Christianity: genesis of Christian dogmatics in the epoch of the first Universal Councils (1), and the study of Christianity in late Roman North Africa (2), followed by the outline of early monasticism in the West.
  • Blocks 4 – 7 are devoted to the history of Western Christianity in the epoch of “The High Middle Ages”: the history of the Crusades and the conflict between papacy and emperors (4); blocks 5 and 7 deal with the key principles of medieval Christian culture in the West in intellectual and spiritual spheres; and the block 4 is devoted to one of the most problematic variants of medieval religious culture – to Christian, Muslim and Jewish Spain.
  • And the blocks 8 – 11 are connected to the transformations of the Western Christianity in the early Modernity: we will study all the aspects of Luther’s reformation (8) and the non-Lutheran variants of reformation movements of the 16th century (9); will discuss the various forms of transformation of Catholicism (10), including the most impressive, the Jesuits (11).
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • A student orients he/she-self in basic dogmatic statements of Christianity (Christology, ecclesiology, Triadology), understands the variety of conceptual approaches to the phenomena of the Early Church
  • A student owns conceptual framework of Alexandrian and North African Early Christianity; understands the basic principals of St. Augustine’s theology and philosophy
  • A student owns the basic concepts of the early medieval monasticism
  • A student knows the main events and understands the main processes in history of the Western Christianity in X-XIV centuries
  • A student understands the key events and concepts connected with intellectuality and spirituality of the West European “High Middle Ages”
  • A student knows the main facts, events and problems of cross-religious communication in medieval Spain
  • Student understands the key phenomena of medieval Western Christian spirituality
  • Student understands the key principles of the Luther’s theology and knows the main events of early Reformation
  • Student orients in manifoldness of non-Lutheran reformation movements of XVI century
  • Student understands the main tendencies of Catholicism changing in XVI century
  • Student knows the key figures and events of early Jesuits; understands the significance of Jesuit mission for “globalization” of the Western Christianity
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Section 1. Early Church: from persecution to Empire
    - The Great Church: 180 - 313; - The Conversion of Constantine and The Creed of Nicaea; - The Arian-Nicene Controversy; - Debates on the Nature of Christ; - The Rise of the Church of Rome
  • Section 2. Augustine of Hippo and the North African Church
    - Alexandria and the Alexandrian Church; - North African Christianity; - Martyrdom and Persecution; - Augustine: Life and Teaching; - Islamic Invasion of North Africa
  • Monastic Lives: from the Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity
    - Desert Monasticism and Life of St. Anthony; - Saint Catherine; - Saint Benedict and his Rule; - Irish Monasticism and Book of Kells; - Venerable Bede, Saint Cuthbert, and Northumbria; - Alcuin and the Carolingian Renaissance.
  • Section 4. Reformers and Crusaders: 950-1350
    - Bernard of Clairvaux; - The Great Schism; - Crusades and the Capture of Jerusalem (1244); - Christian Attacks on Jews; - Innocent III; - Henry IV and Gregory VII; - Cathar Heresy.
  • Section 5. Concepts of Learning and Light in Intellectual History, Spirituality and Art of the Middle Ages
    - Mendicant Orders; - Saint Clare of Assisi; - Rise of Universities; - Abelard & Heloise; - Thomas Aquinas and his Summa Theologicae; - Cathedrals and Theology of Light; - Mysticism.
  • Section 6. Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain
    - Jews and Muslims in Iberia; - The Alhambra of Granada; - Maimonides and Averroes; - A Christian/Muslim Debate (12th century); - Muslim and Christian Piety in the 13th Century; - Inquisition and Expulsion.
  • Section 7. Medieval Devotion
    - Sacraments; - Saints & Relics; - Pilgrimages; - Rome and the Papacy; - Heresy and Dissent.
  • Section 8. Luther’s Reformation
    - Context: The Early Modern World; - Young Luther; - Break with Rome and 95 Theses; - Luther’s Theology; - Luther and the Jews; - Reformation Church, Luther’s original German Mass and Protestant print propaganda.
  • Section 9. Fragmenting Reformation
    - Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster; - Zwingli and his reforming principles; - John Calvin and Calvinism; - English Reformation.
  • Section 10. Catholic Refom and Counter-Remormation of 16th century
    - Erasmus and his Legacy; - Pre-Trent Catholic Reform and The Council of Trent; - Catholic Bibles; - Teresa of Avila & Spanish Mysticism; - El Greco and other works from leading Catholic Baroque artists
  • Section 11. Jesuits and Mission
    - Ignatius of Loyola and The Founding of the Jesuits; - Francis Xavier in Japan; - Mateo Ricci & China; - Jesuits in Brasil
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking the independent work: report on a given topic
  • non-blocking Work on seminars
  • non-blocking Oral exam
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (1 module)
    0.4 * Oral exam + 0.3 * the independent work: report on a given topic + 0.3 * Work on seminars
  • Interim assessment (3 module)


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Ana Paula Tavares Magalhães. (2015). The medieval university and the ethos of knowledge: Franciscan friars, patristic tradition, and scholastic ‘instruments.’ https://doi.org/10.4025/actascieduc.v37i3.24397
  • Madden, T. F. (2016). The Fourth Crusade: Event, Aftermath, and Perceptions : Papers From the Sixth Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, Istanbul, Turkey, 25-29 August 2004. Routledge.
  • NOVIKOFF, A. (2015). Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma. Medieval Encounters, 21, 7–36.
  • Steven Vanderputten. (2020). Medieval Monasticisms : Forms and Experiences of the Monastic Life in the Latin West. De Gruyter Oldenbourg.
  • Swanson, R. N. (2015). The Routledge History of Medieval Christianity : 1050-1500. Routledge.

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Brewer, K. (n.d.). Singing the crusades: French and Occitan lyric responses to the crusading movements, 1137-1336 [Book Review]. Parergon, 37(1), 278.
  • Brian Edwards. (2016). Ignatius of Loyola : The Life of a Saint. ATF Press.
  • Ford, C. M. (2018). “He Who Consoles Us Should Console You”: The Spirituality of the Word in Select Letters of Augustine of Hippo. Evangelical Quarterly, 89(3), 240–257.
  • John M. G. Barclay. (2019). Early Christianity, Mission, and the Survival of the Poor in the Graeco-Roman World. https://doi.org/10.18261/issn.1893-0271-2019-04-04
  • Mentzer, R. A., Spierling, K. E., Boer, E. A. de, & Holder, R. W. (2018). Emancipating Calvin : Culture and Confessional Identity in Francophone Reformed Communities: Essays in Honor of Raymond A. Mentzer, Jr. Brill.
  • Mihai Androne. (2020). Martin Luther : Father of the Reformation and Educational Reformer (Vol. 1st ed. 2020). Springer.
  • MINNICH, N. H. (2020). The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700). Catholic Historical Review, 106(3), 492.
  • Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa. (2015). Medicine, Religion and Gender in Medieval Culture. Boydell & Brewer.