As a political tool
How can one explain the difference between what the Christian church stands for now and the Christian churches of the medieval and post-medieval times? What happened between the ages when Christians were being martyred without fighting back and the era where Christians killed others for reasons that were highly questionable, to say the least?
Today’s Christian theologians would answer this question by saying that Christianity’s blessing ended up being its curse and vice-versa.
The answer is to be found in the major turning point for the history of Christianity which is the reign of Constantine the Great who took power over the Roman Empire after the worst wide-spread persecution of Christians. Historians debate over Constantine’s conversion -whether it was gradual, sudden or adopted from his mother during his youth- the only certain thing being that he declared himself a believer in the so-far persecuted religion after the age of 40 when he started to support the church financially and promote Christians to high offices. While of course it is difficult to assess the honesty of his conversion, history recorded that he skillfully used Christianity, which by then had spread massively, to help unite the divided Empire.
So Constantine presided over maybe the most important theological debate of Christianity’s history. Most Christian leaders rejoiced that Christians went from being slaughtered to being favored. Some bishops nevertheless did question the authority that the Emperor gave to himself in matters of religion but were quickly silenced.
And so the era began, where church and state mingled with each other, and Christianity was not a pure religion anymore, it became a tool. This lasted until the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Christians who claimed that the Church and the state should separate, as Jesus himself taught. In the New Testament writings it is evident that Jesus warned against the danger of the lack of separation between religion and state. He also clearly opposed any attempt from others to make him a political leader. Jesus’ teachings about the corruption of power were addressed to his disciples and he often stressed that not all his followers would be welcomed in his kingdom. Sadly, throughout history, many self proclaimed Christians lost track of that. Can one blame Christ? Can one blame all Christians, the Christian theology? Or rather those who believed violence is the answer? Theologians agree that even the wars between Catholics and Protestants started because of Christianity’s growth and influence.
One thing is certain nevertheless, is that the violence and oppression exhibited by the Catholic church during the Middle Ages misrepresented the core teachings and values of Christianity.
Read more about the crusades here.