History of Christianity During the 17th Century
For the past 20 years, I have worked as a Critical Care Registered Nurse; which means that I take care of people who would normally die without interventional care. Most who are critically ill recover, but some do not, therefore I witness a great deal of suffering and death. This is one of the reason that I am compelled to share the gospel in a lost and dying world.
In this week’s study in History of Christianity we read about the 17th Century. One of the things that stunned me most was the death rates and the reason for it during the 17th Century. In Europe, the infant mortality rate was 30-35%, 50% of the population died by the age of thirteen, and average life expectancy was twenty-three to twenty-six. England had it much better, average life expectancy was thirty to thirty-five.1 The great majority of my patients are seventy years-plus; they have reached the end of a full life and are in critical condition because of infection, organ failure or injury, all of which is related to age. None of them are there because of war, famine, or plague, which was the 17th Century norm.
During the 17th Century western Christianity was divided among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed. Catholic theology was defined by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Reformed theology was defined at the Synod of Dort, which repudiated the Remonstrance treatise put forth by Jan Uytenbogaert and Simon Episcopius who were supporters of the deceased theologian Jacob Arminius. The Synod of Dort ruled that Arminius’s teachings were heretical and rejected the Remonstrance with five counter responses known by the mnemonic TULIP. Lutheran Germany fell into infighting after Luther’s death. German Pietism arose through Philipp Jakob Spener as a reaction to dead orthodoxy. The theology of the Pious centered on: conversion, the centrality of scripture, sanctification, and church renewal (the priesthood of all believers). In England, a Puritan movement was occurring. Some within the Puritans sought to reform the Church of England, while others sought separation. The Puritans can loosely be defined as those who relate to the theological tenets put forth by the Westminster Assembly.2
Keeping the Puritan movement in mind, authority played a large part in the History of Christianity during the 17th Century. The people were in a web of hierarchical relations and always subject to superior powers. People were divided into three estates: clergy, nobility and the people, but a monarch enjoyed the privilege of supreme authority over the three estates. There was much revolt during the 17th Century, which lead to the dismal life expectancies. The Roman Catholics accused Calvinist of having such a revolutionary spirit, particularly with the Huguenots in France. There was even infighting among Roman Catholics between Jesuits (Trent Catholics) and Jansenist (Augustinian Catholics). Most in Christendom held that the Bible was the inspired written revelation of God; however Roman Catholics held to a duel authority of tradition and Scripture. Scripture to Roman Catholicism means the Latin Vulgate. Protestants held that Scripture alone held the authority of God on earth. Protestants held that the true Scriptures are the Hebrew and Greek text, but believed that they should be translated into the vernacular for all people to read.3 The 17th Century is an interesting and active period in History of Christianity and forms a great deal of the beliefs and practice of the Church today.
1John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. The rise and growth of the Church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013) 285-286.
2 Ibid, 253-284.