Here’s the thing. You cannot have the Europe of the Holy Roman Empire without the papacy. And what goes with this is that you can’t have the Christian Europe that we associate with Christendom and not also include historical events like the Crusades and the ghettoization of Jews. The Christendom model did not improve greatly under Protestant hands. Calvin had his bout with Servetus, the Puritans (even far away from Christendom) with Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. The monotheism of Christianity and the idea that freedom of conscience applied only to rightly formed consciences (consciences that knew the truth) did not co-exist well with modern notions of freedom of religion, the press, academic freedom, or free speech.
And yet, Christians who worry about secular societies continue to laud Christendom.
. . . religious liberals often condemn Christian conservatives for supposedly clinging to Christendom by defending traditional morals in society or civil religion. Some on the Religious left deride the whole project of “Christendom” as an egregious compromise of true Christianity dating back to Constantine. For them, Christendom means centuries of theocracy, conquest, empire, slavery and hypocrisy.
Christendom indeed has included nearly all the faults alleged, but it did not invent any of them. Theocracy, conquest, empire, slavery and hypocrisy have been intrinsic to nearly all human history. What the critics forget is that Christendom also refined the social conscience and capacity for reform to challenge its own moral failures. Christendom developed human rights and legal equality, social tolerance, constitutional democracy, free enterprise, technology, modern science and medicine, new levels of arts and literature, and refined notions of charity.
This is cherry-picking of a particularly glaring kind.
Granted, the modern West owes much of its political and intellectual resources to medieval Europe. Just consult any of the books by Francis Oakley. But this kind of sweeping Christendom’s problems under the rug of “look at all we did for you” is foolhardy. It is especially so when coming from a Protestant whose ancestors bear much of the blame for upending Christendom, that unified Christian society for which so many anti-secularists long, and who are hardly part of the “we” of Christendom.
The Roman Catholic nature of Christendom becomes especially difficult for neo-Protestants when claims like this follow:
Religious liberals need to reconsider their hostility to Christendom, remembering that the original Social Gospel, with its thirst for justice, was unabashedly Christendom-centered. And religious conservatives, without reducing their passion for needed moral reforms, should be mindful of their blessings and position of unrealized strength.
This is a highly ironic rendering of the Social Gospel since those Progressive Protestants were among the most anti-Catholic Americans. They ranked Roman Catholicism as problems needing to be eliminated in Christian America, right along side socialism, atheism, and Mormonism. The Social Gospelers were do-gooders to be sure, but their “vision” of the United States did not include full acceptance of non-Protestants. (And not to be missed is that by putting the social in Social Gospel, the Social Gospelers also fudged the gospel, a point that reinforces a reading of the Reformation as a recovery of the gospel from a church that put a Christian society above the word of God.) “Letting goods and kindred go,” one of the famous lines from “A Mighty Fortress,” had as much to do with leaving behind Christendom as it did with suffering persecution for the faith.
In other words, defenders of Christendom cannot have their cake and eat it. Christendom, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was premised on the suppression (either formal or informal) of false beliefs. It was not liberal or tolerant as moderns have come to understand those terms. For defenders of Christendom to act as if a Christian society is the harbinger of modern freedoms and no threat to unbelievers or other faiths is one of the greater examples of binging and purging.