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On the church in power

Summary

David Bentley Hart thinks that Christianity’s greatest historical triumph was also its greatest defeat.

Summary

David Bentley Hart thinks that Christianity’s greatest historical triumph was also its greatest defeat.

Transcript

From the moment the church became a pillar of respectable society, it became also a support of the state and became deeply implicated in its violences. The contrary history that’s not told enough now, perhaps, is the degree to which – at least early on – the church resisted or moderated or modified or qualified that power. But in the end, the state has the weapons and has the forces and the church inevitably fell into line, both in the empire and in the nation-states of the modern age. 

So I mean that part of the narrative is true and deplorable. And the church, as an institution, was all too willing, late in the Middle Ages especially, to allow the secular arm to take care of its problems for it. And so in the 13th century someone like Thomas Aquinas is all too willing to defend the execution of heretics if they’re impenitent – and even if they’re penitent but too late. As far as that goes, the narrative is true, and I think it’s fair to say that the greatest historical triumph of Christianity as a cultural force, its conversion to the empire, was in many ways also its greatest defeat. Its deepest moral teachings were corrupted at a fairly early period in the long view.