Beginning today, Maundy Thursday, over 2 billion people around the world will begin commemorating and celebrating the Passion of Jesus Christ. As a religious figure, Jesus is known as establishing Christianity. While historians may debate the historical accuracy of the life of Jesus as presented in the Bible, few argue over the significance of Christianity in Western Civilization. Christianity has had and continues to have a preeminent role in the religious, political, and economic lives of those who live in the West.
During the first century, a new religion began that would eventually become the official religion of the Roman Empire and spread throughout the Western world. Jesus Christ was a Jewish carpenter born and raised in Roman-controlled Bethlehem and Nazareth in the ancient Near East. His followers, called Christians, taught that Jesus was the son of God, that he was a savior to all people, and that all people are called to turn from their selfish ways, ask God for forgiveness, and treat each other with love. Three centuries after the death of Christ, Christians compiled this message in the Bible, their holy book. The Bible, in Romans 1:19, 2:14-15 (English Standard Version), states:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…When gentiles [non-Christians] who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness…
Christians believe that all people were created in the image of God, and that all people share the same nature. According to Christians, people know what is good or bad because God gave a conscience to all people. This law of nature exists outside of man’s creation. Christians believed this idea over the centuries, and it found expression in the Declaration of Independence, when Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” by their Creator.
The development of Christianity within the Roman Empire had ramifications not only for the empire, but for all of Western Civilization. The leader of the Roman Empire, the emperor, led the official Roman religion, which was pagan. The emperor took the title of Pontifex Maximus, meaning leader of the official pagan religion of Rome. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity in A.D. 380, however, the emperors ceased being head of the religion. This fell to the bishop of Rome, who was called the Pope, forming a separation between the leader of the political world (the emperor) and the religious world (the Pope). Whereas the emperor formerly held ultimate authority in both the political and religious worlds, he was now limited by the Christian Church.
Governments in Western Civilization have expressed the understanding that the political world should be governed by someone different than the leader of the religious world. In North America, this idea can be seen in the constitutions of the English colonies, and in the United States Constitution, notably in the First Amendment. Americans may worship freely in any religion they choose, and they do not have to belong to a particular religious group. This concept of church and state having separate leaders had its beginnings with the Roman Empire.
President Calvin Coolidge, on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that the individual “is endowed with inalienable rights which no majority, however great, and no power of the Government, however broad, can ever be justified in violating. The principle of equality is recognized. It follows inevitably from belief in the brotherhood of man through the fatherhood of God.” The belief that an individual has rights over the power of government is one of the great ideas of Western Civilization.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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