The Influence of Christianity on Western Civilization is a research paper I wrote in 2007 for my Western Civilization I class. The following is an excerpt. You can read the entire thing for free by downloading one of the following:
The Influence of Christianity on Western Civilization
The positive influence of Christianity is far reaching especially in the rich history and culture of Western Civilization despite a long-standing ignorance or adamant denial of its contributions. The Bible itself is responsible for much of the language, literature, and fine arts we enjoy today as its artists and composers were heavily influenced by its writings. Paul Maier, in writing the forward to the book How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt, says this about the profound impact Christianity has had on the development of Western Civilization:
“No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement—whatever—has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done. Its shortcomings, clearly conceded by this author, are nevertheless heavily outweighed by its benefits to all mankind” (Schmidt 9).
Contrary to the history texts treatment of the subject, Christian influence on values, beliefs, and practices in Western culture are abundant and well ingrained into the flourishing society of today (Schmidt 12). In the Old Testament book of Hosea, the writer states: “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” a statement that can well be applied to those today who are forgetful of the past (The Reformation Study Bible, Hosea 4.6a).
Schmidt writes regarding liberty and justice as seen by today’s culture
“The liberty and justice that are enjoyed by humans in Western societies and in some non-Western countries are increasingly seen as the products of a benevolent, secular government that is the provider of all things. There seems to be no awareness that the liberties and rights that are currently operative in free societies of the West are to a great degree the result of Christianity’s influence (248). History is replete with examples of individuals who acted as a law unto themselves “often curtailing, even obliterating the natural rights and freedoms of the country’s citizens (249). Christianity’s influence, however, set into motion the belief that man is accountable to God and that the law is the same regardless of status. More than one thousand years before the birth of Christ the biblical requirement given by Moses comprised an essential component of the principle that “no man is above the law.”
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19.15)
Thus the accuser, regardless of position in society, could not arbitrarily incarcerate or execute the accused and was himself subject to the law. The New Testament also mandated two or more witnesses in ecclesiastical matters regarding an erring Christian in Matthew 18:15-17 (Schmidt 249). The criminal and justice systems of many free countries today employ this Judeo-Christian requirement of having witnesses testify and in British and American jurisprudence, witnesses are part of “due process of law,’ a legal concept first appearing under King Edward III in the fourteenth century (Schmidt 249). One startling example of the concept that no man is above the law is seen in the conflict between the Christian emperor Theodosius the Great and St. Ambrose. It happened in 300 A.D. when some in Thessalonica rioted and aroused the anger of the emperor who overreacted by slaughtering approximately seven thousand people, most of whom were innocent. Bishop Ambrose asked the emperor to repent and when Theodosius refused, the bishop excommunicated him. After a month Theodosius prostrated himself and repented in Ambrose’s cathedral. Often mistaken as a struggle for power between church and state, the evidence in which Ambrose’s letter to the emperor cited sole concern for the emperor’s spiritual welfare conclude this as being the first instance of applying the principle that no one is above the law (Schmidt 250).
The Magna Carta served as a courageous precedent some five hundred years later to the American patriots in the creation of the unique government of the United States. The charter, signed in 1215 at Runnymede by King John granted a number of rights never held before this historic occasion including that “(1) justice could no longer be sold or denied to freeman who was under authority of barons; (2) no taxes could be levied without representation; (3) no one would be imprisoned without a trial; and (4) property could not be taken from the owner without just compensation (Schmidt 251). The Magna Carta had important Christian ties as demonstrated by its preamble that began, “John, by the grace of God…,” and stated that the charter was formulated out of “reverence for God and for the salvation of our soul and those of all our ancestors and heirs, for the honour of God and the exaltation of Holy Church and the reform of our realm, on the advice of our reverend [church] fathers” (Schmidt 251). This document also followed the precedent established in 325 at the Council of Nicaea in which Christian bishops wrote and adopted a formal code of fundamental beliefs to which all Christians were expected to adhere. The Magna Carta displayed what its formulators as Christians expected of the king and his subjects regarding civic liberties (Schmidt 251).
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