Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (2001)

TV Mini-Series  -  Documentary | History
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This is both parts of a two-series set produced by the A&E network which explores the history of Christianity and its impact on the world from the year 0 to 2000. Part 1 (the first four ... See full summary »

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This is both parts of a two-series set produced by the A&E network which explores the history of Christianity and its impact on the world from the year 0 to 2000. Part 1 (the first four episodes) looks at the time from the Roman Empire until the East/West split in 1054. Part 2 accounts the history of the Western world's most influential religion from around the year 1000, the time of the East/West schism and the Crusades, through the Reformation up to contemporary times. Written by Anonymous

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30 October 2001 (USA)  »

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A well-done documentary on church history
16 October 2005 | by (Bloomington, Indiana) – See all my reviews

The series 'Christianity: The First Thousand Years', narrated by Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee, was originally entitled 'The Rise of Christianity'. From the outset, the narrator states the purpose of this series as not being a look at the Bible or theological and spiritual ideas, but rather a history of the church, of Christendom and the whole institution of Christianity. Because this was done in four, fifty-minute episodes (roughly 250 years per segment), the history has had to be more selective than history ordinarily is. The documentary navigates a good and interesting course between major figures, events and ideas and interesting trivia and elements of the Christian experience.

Given the audio-visual nature of the documentary, there are lots of pictures of artwork, architecture, archaeological/historical sites, and re-creations of events; there is also a good deal of music as a background - in the first thousand years, the primary music of the church was plainsong and chant, so that is most frequently used here (besides the orchestrated theme and background music that turns up regularly).

One of the limitations of the audio-visual medium of documentaries is that deep theological issues cannot be examined in detail - one hopes that one of the benefits of a series like this is to spur interest in reading the actual works of the people being discussed. For example, a few excerpts from Augustine's 'Confessions' are used in that segment, but there is so much to Augustine that it is impossible even in a full documentary focussing exclusively on him to give more than a passing acquaintance with his work to the viewers. This is true for all major theological thinkers, from any era.

Another area of interest is in the historical development of Europe overall, during the first thousand years, and the spread of the church as the Europeans spread throughout the world, during the second thousand years. Again, the purpose of the documentary being to explore the history of the church, one should not expect a full historical development even of the areas directly touched upon - still, this documentary does a good job at setting the overall context in political, social, military, economic and intellectual terms.

This is a history produced in broad strokes - the overall aspects and trends of Christian history come through in good form, even if the details are not as fully developed as an historian might care to have. We have used these videos in church history classes at my seminary as a supplement to the primary texts and history surveys that students read

  • this really does help bring history to life.

The scholars represented on this video come from a very diverse background - the Roman Catholic and Orthodox members of the scholar team on this documentary may be surprised to find themselves classified and dismissed as 'Jesus Seminar types' (particularly people like Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Kalistos Ware); interestingly, this is not a documentary about the Bible, either what it says or how it was made - in this regard, that might be one of the gaps of this particular documentary series (how the Bible was made gets relatively little space in this video). On the other hand, A&E have another series, 'Who Wrote the Bible', which involves scholars, theologians and religious leaders who were involved in the production (and again, a diverse bunch - Jerry Falwell would not qualify as a 'Jesus Seminar' type either).

This is a great series.

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