Sunday, 10 October 2010

Dark Ages? What Dark Ages?

The third programme in the series Christianity: A History is, in my opinion, the weakest so far. Robert Beckford, a Briton of Jamaican heritage, is responsible for this episode which follows the fortunes of the church in Britain following the collapse of the Roman Empire. We are introduced to a gaggle of forgotten luminaries - "the hugely important" St. Alban, Ireland's St. Kevin, St. Cuthbert and others. The cameras take us to such exotic locations as Harrow, Sutton Hoo and...

Ggnn, mmpfff... oops, sorry, briefly nodded off there...

It was mildly interesting to recap on the spat between the Celtic church, with its stronghold in Ireland, and the Roman church, introduced by St. Augustine of Canterbury. The major contention, other than the authority of Rome, was the correct date of Easter.

If you were to believe Beckford, the eighth century church in England was multicultural and inclusive, embodying diversity and pluralism: a veritable "golden age."

Yeah, right! All history may be reconstruction, but this version seems to consist of a great deal of projection - today's concerns superimposed onto the past.

In fact Beckford seems to make no distinction between Christianity and Christendom. Was any of this actually 'Christianity' in any meaningful sense? Opinions will obviously vary. Christendom, yes; Christianity, well...

It probably helps to be an cloistered Anglophile to appreciate such wonders as the conversion of Ethelbert. Oh, and prospective viewers should also be warned that the éminence grise of Anglican bishop N. T. Wright briefly rises from the lowest pits to provide a talking head (a mercifully brief cameo) toward the end of the film.

But if the Beckford contribution is a weak link, the next programme in the series more than makes up for it. The subject, incredibly relevant given the ongoing travail in the Middle East, is the Crusades.

1 comment:

  1. "Was any of this actually 'Christianity' in any meaningful sense?"

    Like it or lump it, unfortunately, all of that is ONLY what professing Christianity is: a two-thousand year history of disagreement on which is the more effective form of crowd control. Nothing more, nothing less.