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Religion Library: Christianity

Missions and Expansion

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Missionaries from the Western Church traveled north and west from Rome. King Clovis, depicted in the center of the three men (and being baptized on relief above the door) Source: Clovis of the Franks (a northern European tribal group) was baptized in 498 at the urging of his Christian wife Clotilde, thus solidifying the influence of the Church in western Europe. While some people groups, like the Celts and the English, converted through marriage and missionary contact, others succumbed to forced conversion. Between 772 and 804, the Frankish King Charlemagne pursued a policy of military conquest followed by the execution of all Saxons (another Germanic tribal group) who refused baptism. The Roman Church's mission to the Germans, Franks, Saxons, Celts, and English provided the foundation for Western Europe's sense of cultural unity.

Rise of the Frankish Empire

Important Differences
Eastern ChurchWestern Church
Part of Greek-speaking Byzantine EmpireRoman church speaks Latin
Bible and liturgy tend to be in indigenous languagesBible and liturgy are read in Latin
Local autonomy in church affairsLocal clergy is subject to the pope in Rome
Not involved in functioning politics and focuses instead on theological concernsHeavily involved in politics

There were important cultural differences between the eastern and western churches. The Byzantine Empire was Greek-speaking, while the Church in Rome spoke Latin. Missionaries from the Eastern Church tended to translate the Bible and the liturgy into indigenous languages. They also encouraged locals to enter the clergy and nurtured local autonomy in the running of church affairs. Missionaries from the Western Church commonly required that converts use a Latin Bible and liturgy, mandated the local clergy's hierarchical subjugation to the pope, and required the clergy to be celibate.


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