About this Course
This course follows the extraordinary development of Western Christianity from its early persecution under the Roman Empire in the third century to its global expansion with the Jesuits of the early modern world. We explore the dynamic and diverse character of a religion with an enormous cast characters. We will meet men and women who tell stories of faith as well as of violence, suppression, and division. Along the way, we encounter Perpetua and her martyrdom in Carthage; the struggles of Augustine the bishop in North Africa; the zeal of Celtic monks and missionaries; the viciousness of the Crusades; the visions of Brigit of Sweden; and the fracturing of Christianity by Martin Luther’s protest. We hear the voices of great theologians as well as of those branded heretics by the Church, a powerful reminder that the growth of Christianity is a story with many narratives of competing visions of reform and ideals, powerful critiques of corruption and venality, and exclusion of the vanquished. The troubled history of Christian engagement with Jews and Muslims is found in pogroms and expulsions, but also in the astonishing ways in which the culture of the West was transformed by Jewish and Islamic learning. We shall explore the stunning beauty of the Book of Kells, exquisitely prepared by monks as the Vikings terrorized the coast of England. We will experience the blue light of the windows of Chartres, and ponder the opening questions of Thomas Aquinas’ great Summa. We will read from the Gutenberg Bible of the fifteenth century, which heralded the revolution brought by the printing press. We will travel from Calvin’s Geneva to Elizabeth’s England to Trent, where a Catholic Council met to inaugurate a modern, missionary Catholic church. We will walk through the great Escorial of Philip II of Spain, hear the poetry of John of the Cross, and follow the Jesuits to Brazil and China. Christianity in the West was forged in the fires of conflict and tumult, and it brought forth both creativity and violence. It echoed with calls for God’s world to be transformed, it inspired the most sublime art and architecture, yet it also revealed the power of the union of cross and sword to destroy. The course is a journey through the formation of the West as one strand of Christianity, as one chapter in a global story. It is a journey that has shaped our world.

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.
Beginner Level

Beginner Level


Approx. 30 hours to complete

Suggested: 5 hours/week
Comment Dots


Subtitles: English

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.
Beginner Level

Beginner Level


Approx. 30 hours to complete

Suggested: 5 hours/week
Comment Dots


Subtitles: English

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course


1 hour to complete

Welcome to A Journey through Western Christianity: from Persecuted Faith to Global Religion (200 - 1650)

Learn what this course is about, who's teaching it, and other ways you can explore this topic. Meet and greet your peers as well!...
1 video (Total 2 min), 4 readings
Video1 videos
Reading4 readings
Course Description5m
Precourse Survey10m
Meet Your Instructional Team5m
Bonus course resources10m
2 hours to complete

Introduction: From Persecution to Empire

“From Persecution to Empire,” explores the interaction between the second-century Christian Church and the Roman Empire in which it existed. After the faith’s birth in Palestine, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire with a rapidity that alarmed many Roman rulers. Persecution of Christians became common, and the experience of persecution shaped the Church. In 313 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine ended persecution and Christianity transformed once more to become a pillar of Roman society....
6 videos (Total 57 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz
Video6 videos
Diversity in the Year 200: Dura Europos (c. 240), with Dr. Lisa Brody [Yale University Art Gallery]10m
The Conversion of Constantine8m
The Arian-Nicene Controversy11m
The Nature of Christ8m
The Rise of Rome8m
Reading3 readings
The Creed of Nicaea15m
Conversion of Constantine20m
Yale University Art Gallery—Dura-Europos: Excavating Antiquity10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
From Persecution to Empire20m


3 hours to complete

Augustine and the North African Church

“Augustine and the North African Church,” studies two areas of early and vibrant Christian growth: Egypt and North Africa. These areas responded to intense Roman persecution by developing a theology of martyrdom. Indeed, both areas became bastions of early Christian theological thinking, with the North African Church producing the most important Christian theologian ever: Augustine of Hippo....
6 videos (Total 69 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz
Video6 videos
North African Christianity15m
Martyrdom and Persecution14m
The Martyrdom of Perpetua (with Max & Nazanin)5m
Islamic Invasion of North Africa7m
Reading4 readings
Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas30m
Augustine on Donatists40m
A timeline of the Great Persecution10m
See the Coptic necropolis el Bagawat (Egypt), one of the earliest Christian cemeteries10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Augustine and North African Church20m


4 hours to complete

Monastic Lives: Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity

“Monastic Lives: Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity,” examines the origins of monasticism in Christianity. After the end of Roman persecution, some Christians chose to isolate themselves in the desert and deny themselves food, sleep, and material comforts. Why? And how did this movement develop into medieval monasticism? This module will explain the early roots and influence of monks and nuns in Christianity....
7 videos (Total 80 min), 5 readings, 1 quiz
Video7 videos
Saint Catherine’s (with Max)4m
Saint Benedict10m
Irish Monasticism15m
The Viking Age (with Nazanin)5m
Venerable Bede, Saint Cuthbert, and Northumbria14m
Alcuin and the Carolingian Renaissance15m
Reading5 readings
Life of St. Anthony10m
Benedict Rule10m
Explore the Gutenberg Bible and its history10m
Browse the Book of Kells medieval manuscript10m
View the Lindisfarne Gospels' early medieval illuminations10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Monastic Lives, Desert Fathers to Celtic Christianity20m


4 hours to complete

Reformers and Crusaders

“Reformers and Crusaders,” focuses on Christianity during the dawn of the medieval period. Here we ask: How did Christianity respond to the new feudal world of medieval Europe? Popes, monks, and knights became essential features of the Christian faith during this period, roughly 950 – 1350 AD....
8 videos (Total 68 min), 6 readings, 1 quiz
Video8 videos
Christian Reform12m
Bernard of Clairvaux (with Max)6m
Divided Christianity6m
Innocent III10m
Cathar Heresy (with Nazanin)6m
Reading6 readings
Fulcher of Chartres, Speech of Urban II10m
The Capture of Jerusalem (1244)10m
Christian Attacks on Jews30m
Henry IV's letter to Gregory VII10m
The Romance of the Rose10m
Hagia Sophia's Christian mosaics10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Reformers and Crusaders20m


5 hours to complete

Learning and Light

“Learning and Light,” examines two medieval Christian ideas that emerged at the same time and from the same impulse. The first is the scholastic educational initiative that dominated Christian theology and resulted in the founding of universities. The second is the beautiful, light-focused Gothic architectural style embodied in Europe’s great cathedrals. These two movements remain the quintessential features of medieval Christianity. Scholasticism and cathedrals emerged not only at the same time but also from the same source: a Christian conception of the unity of all things....
7 videos (Total 82 min), 7 readings, 1 quiz
Video7 videos
Saint Clare of Assisi (with Nazanin)4m
Rise of Universities11m
Abelard & Heloise (with Max)6m
Thomas Aquinas13m
Cathedrals and Theology of Light12m
Reading7 readings
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae40m
Meister Eckhart, “The Attractive Power of God”30m
Julian of Norwich10m
The stained glass windows of Chartres10m
The Flowers of Saint Francis10m
Peter Lombard’s The Sentences10m
Aquinas’s hymn, Pange Lingua10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Learning and Light20m


4 hours to complete

Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain

“Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain,” explores medieval Spain, a place in time with enormous importance for the history of Christianity. From the eighth through the fifteenth century, Spanish society included Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and Spain became the cultural capital of all three religions. Exploring medieval Spain, we will see how Christianity competed and cooperated with the non-Christian world. The central question explored in this module is: How should we remember the cultural interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in medieval Spain...
6 videos (Total 54 min), 11 readings, 1 quiz
Video6 videos
The Alhambra of Granada (with Nazanin)3m
Maimonides and Averroes11m
Inquisition and Expulsion16m
Christians, Jews, and Muslims: Discussion5m
Reading11 readings
Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, Introductory Letter15m
A Christian/Muslim Debate (12th century)40m
Muslim and Christian Piety in the 13th Century40m
Gregory X: Letter on Jews, (1271-76) - Against the Blood Libel20m
The Murdered Chorister10m
Chant from the Mozarabic tradition10m
David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence10m
Arabic's influence on the Spanish language10m
The works of Averroes10m
Images of the Alhambra10m
Documents related to the Spanish Inquisition10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Three Religions: Christians, Jews & Muslims in Medieval Spain20m


5 hours to complete

Medieval Devotion

“Medieval Devotion,” moves away from the universities and cathedrals of Europe and investigates the lives of ordinary Christians trying to maintain their spiritual lives in an era almost 1000 years ago. The Church developed and popularized many devotional practices in this era, a number of which remain a part of Christianity today. Sacraments, saints, relics, pilgrimages, and the papacy are examined in this module, as all experienced an enormous growth in importance during the medieval era. Many of these features of Christianity became controversial, with Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century rejecting some of these devotional and ecclesiological features....
9 videos (Total 87 min), 8 readings, 1 quiz
Video9 videos
Saints & Relics10m
Joan of Arc (with Nazanin)5m
Rome and the Papacy7m
Avignon Papacy (with Max)5m
Heresy and Dissent9m
Reading8 readings
Seven Sacraments40m
Tales of Relics45m
Tales of the Devil45m
Art of Dying, (Ars Moriendi)10m
Requiem Mass for the Dead10m
Relics, and what they meant for medieval Christians10m
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales10m
Book of Hours10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Medieval Devotion20m


4 hours to complete

Luther's Reformation

“Luther’s Reformation,” is the first of several modules to discuss the Reformation, and it does so by examining the life of the Reformation’s most iconic figure, Martin Luther. More than any other person, Luther was responsible for the seismic shifts in sixteenth-century Christianity that left the Western Church permanently fractured. Why did Luther launch his Reformation? What were his initial aspirations, and how did these change? Through the biography of Luther we will learn about the controversies that led to the Reformation and the early impact of this religious movement....
9 videos (Total 86 min), 5 readings, 1 quiz
Video9 videos
Young Luther12m
Break with Rome16m
Katharina von Bora (Nazanin)3m
Opponents & Opposition15m
Luther and the Jews (Max)3m
Reformation Church17m
Reading5 readings
Martin Luther, “Freedom of a Christian”0m
Luther’s 95 Theses10m
A Mighty Fortress10m
Protestant print propaganda10m
Luther’s original German Mass10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Luther's Reformation20m


4 hours to complete

Fragmenting Reformation

“Fragmenting Reformation,” we will explore the Reformation further. After Luther set Europe ablaze, other reformers and rulers sought to impose their views onto Christianity. Soon—and as Catholics had feared—multiple forms of Protestantism emerged. Sixteenth-century Christians disagreed over what constituted proper ecclesiology, theology, and ritual practices, and soon the European religious landscape divided into different camps all insisting on different visions of Christianity. John Calvin became one of the most influential thinkers and organizers in this period, but even lesser known figures exerted enormous influence as Western Christendom experienced its most serious crisis. ...
8 videos (Total 93 min), 7 readings, 1 quiz
Video8 videos
Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (Max)4m
John Calvin: Life20m
English Reformation15m
Foxe's Book of Martyrs (with Nazanin)3m
Fragmenting Reformation: Discussion3m
Reading7 readings
Hans Schlaffer, A Brief Introduction for the Leading of Truly Christian Life45m
Preface to the Psalter - John Calvin20m
England, Thirty-Nine Articles5m
The Martyrs' Mirror10m
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs10m
Huldrych Zwingli’s reforming principles10m
Professor Gordon’s books on Calvin and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Fragmenting Reformation20m


4 hours to complete

Catholic Reform

In “Catholic Reform,” we will see how Catholicism transformed itself during the sixteenth century, an era usually characterized by the Protestant Reformation. In response to the Protestant challenge, Catholicism began to reform key aspects of its practices, yet Catholic leaders resolutely defended their theology against Luther’s and Calvin’s attacks. And Catholicism also experienced transformations that had begun long before Luther launched his reforming campaign in 1517. A debate still exists amongst historians regarding the origins of Catholicism’s sixteenth-century reforms. Were these changes purely a response to the Protestant challenge? Or did Catholicism begin its early modern reforms long before Luther was ever born. This module explores these questions, along with the vibrant Catholic culture that emerged during the era of the Reformation....
7 videos (Total 86 min), 7 readings, 1 quiz
Video7 videos
Pre-Trent Catholic Reform13m
The Council of Trent18m
Catholic vs. Counter Reformation (Max and Nazanin)3m
Catholic Bibles16m
Teresa of Avila & Spanish Mysticism14m
El Escorial (Nazanin)4m
Reading7 readings
The Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (1547)0m
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle: Preface20m
Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum10m
The Complutensian Polyglot Bible10m
El Greco and other works from leading Catholic Baroque artists10m
Peruse the poetry of Saint John of the Cross10m
Carlos Eire’s Reformations10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Catholic Reform20m


4 hours to complete

Jesuits and Missions

Our final module, “Jesuits and Mission,” we will see how, at the same time that Western Christianity fractured and reinvented itself due to the Reformation, the faith also followed Europe’s colonial paths and spread across the world. Catholic religious orders (including the newly founded Jesuit order) led the expansion of Christianity into non-European lands. Jesuits and other missionaries sought to inject Christianity into the societies they encountered, and to do so the Jesuits adapted to local cultural practices and added subtle features to Catholicism. For the first time, Christianity became a global religion....
6 videos (Total 47 min), 9 readings, 1 quiz
Video6 videos
Ignatius of Loyola (Nazanin)3m
Francis Xavier10m
Mateo Ricci & China11m
Closing words from Bruce, Nazanin, and Max0m
Reading9 readings
Francis Xavier to Ignatius Loyola on Missions20m
Francis Xavier, Letter from Japan, 155220m
Memorial for Matteo Ricci0m
Japanese depiction of the arrival of the Portuguese10m
A timeline of the colonization of Brazil10m
Moxos Ensemble10m
An early modern Jesuit’s account of the martyrdom of his fellow missionaries10m
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,10m
Post Course Survey10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Jesuits and Missions20m

Top Reviews

By ESMar 23rd 2018

A great journey! Lots of information and bonus material! I'm very thankful for the course. It might be that the professor's speech is sometimes a bit difficult to follow, but it's a minor drawback

By RRMar 12th 2018

This is a really good course. While the readings were occasionally overwhelming (and dull), the content was generally interesting. I found the main lecturer to be particularly engaging.



Bruce Gordon

Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History

About Yale University

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