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A Very Brief History of Theology

A one-page overview of theological history for students of Theology Paper B8 at the University of Cambridge.  This is simply to put key theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher and Barth) into some kind of context.  

[CLASSICAL] ANTIQUITY (pre 5th Century AD)


The era leading up to the Barbarian victories over Rome:  Key thinkers from this era were Plato and Aristotle (philosophers prior to this era were known as the Pre-Socratics), along with the Church Fathers (the study of whom is called Patristics).  Successive empires Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek climaxed in the Roman era.  Augustus (63BC-14AD), was hailed as Son of God, Saviour of the world, whose coming (parousia) was heralded as good news (euangellion).  The citizens (if not the slaves) of the empire experienced stability, peace and justice.  In the 4th Century, Emperor Constantine (c272-337AD) favoured Christianity, and in the 5th Century the Empire began to crumble.  AUGUSTINE writes at the end of this period.


MEDIEVAL (5th-15th Century)


Europe splits largely into two parts: the Greek Speaking, Byzantine East, and the Latin Speaking, Catholic West.  The East was largely overrun by the rise and spread of Islam, which reached as far as Spain before being repelled in modern-day France.  Plato remained a dominant force in the West during the early part of this period, Aristotle was more favoured in the East by various Muslim Scholars.  In the West, this is the great Era of Christendom – where church and state are interlocked in political power struggles.  In the 12th Century, works of Aristotle were translated into Latin and had enormous influence on thinkers like AQUINAS, who lived during this period.  It is towards the end of this period that the Italian ‘Renaissance’ (a cultural movement) took place amongst wealthy and privileged members of the Aristocracy.  It includes such figures as Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, but its significance is ambiguous…


REFORMATION (16th Century)


Throughout the era of Christendom, the Church had enjoyed enormous privilege and power, but political currents in the fifteenth century saw the pope’s authority diminished.  A surge in nationalism, relativized the international power of the church – and in Germany, the power of the secular princes backed LUTHER’s revolutionary activities.  As the unity of the church disintegrated, ‘religious’ wars swept across Europe.  


THE MODERN ERA (17th-20th Century)


Sick of religious wars, religion slowly became privatised out of the public sphere.  Modernity is the era that saw ‘man as the measure of all things’, the sovereignty of the human self.  The philosophy of Descartes rose to prominence, in which everything is doubted apart from the fact that I am thinking. This freed humanity from the shackles of the church, into the ENLIGHTENMENT (18th Century).  Breakthroughs in science, under Newton, Galileo etc, paved the way towards an increasingly secular view of the world and belief in progress (see esp Hegel).  Emphasis falls upon the human being as the observer of the world – and empirical science thus flourishes.  In this context, SCHLEIERMACHER argued that the world itself bears lots of pointers to the reality of God.


POST-MODERNITY (late 20th Century- present)


If Modernity was concerned with the sovereignty of the self, Post-modernity is the attempt to dethrone the human self, by placing it in the context of community (Fish) or deconstructing human power games (Derrida).  Graham Ward argues that BARTH (though writing throughout 20th Century) is to be understood as doing this theologically:  In Christianity, humanity discovers itself by carrying the cross, i.e., dethroning itself more comprehensively than any postmodern strategy can achieve.