Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

 

The six-part BBC TV series A History of Christianity is an original and authoritative work presented by one of the world’s leading historians, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church and Fellow at St Cross College, Oxford, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Whitbread Award winner. His Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 won the 2004 National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

Brimming with new insights, this series will reveal the true origins of Christianity, explore the sheer diversity of its churches, help viewers understand the essence of the different denominations, and explain how and why it’s become the biggest religion in the world.

Most Christian histories start with St Paul’s mission to Rome, but in the first episode on the Oriental Churches, MacCulloch argues that’s a mistake because the first Christianity stayed much closer to its middle-eastern roots. But for an accident of history – namely, the rise of Islam – the headquarters of Christianity might well have been Baghdad rather than Rome.

In later episodes, he explores how a small Jewish sect of the poor and the dispossessed, which preached love and humility, became the Catholic Church - a religion of riches, war and empire, inspiring awe and fear in equal measure. He also tells the remarkable story of the Orthodox Church which now flourishes in Greece and Russia – after surviving attacks by Catholic Crusaders, Muslim armies, Russian tyrants and Soviet Communists.

In the fourth and fifth episodes MacCulloch explains the emergence of the Protestant Reformation and the part played by Evangelical Churches in exporting Christianity to all four corners of the earth.

In the final episode, MacCulloch takes a closer look at Western Christianity in the Modern Period. Its distinctive feature is scepticism and a tendency to doubt, which has transformed both Western culture and Christian faith. Where did that change come from? Equally importantly, where does Christianity go next?

MacCulloch will also delve deep into what it means to be a Christian - what makes a Catholic different from an Orthodox, a Protestant or a Pentecostalist? Diarmaid MacCulloch’s series is an engaging, stimulating and credible guide to understanding why the world we live in today is the way it is – he’ll throw a surprising new light on the so-called clash of civilisations, explain why Europe seems to have given up on Christianity, and show how the religion’s centre of gravity – once in Jerusalem, then Rome and later Spain – is now in sub-Saharan Africa, in Timbuktu.

First broadcast: Thursday 12 Nov 2009 on BBC FOUR