Cover Story

Religion: Millennium in Review

Issue: "Year in Review 1999," Jan. 8, 2000

The Protestant Reformation sparked by Martin Luther in 1517, with the resulting Catholic Counter-Reformation, tops the list of the 10 most significant religious events of the second millennium, according to a survey of members of the Religion Newswriters Association. RNA members report religion full-time for the secular media.

  • Widespread distribution of the Bible and other religious literature, thanks to Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type. The Gutenberg Bible in 1455 was the first book printed with movable type.
  • The Nazi Holocaust and the founding of Israel.
  • The Great Schism of 1054 between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom. The split actually occurred at the end of the first millennium; it was formalized by anathemas and excommunications issued against each other by church heads in Rome and Constantinople.
  • The Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims, officially begun by the papacy in 1095.
  • Islam's expansion in the 12th to 15th centuries. Muslim conquerors subjugated lands and peoples in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Islam's invaders took Constantinople, ravaged by the Crusaders in 1204, in 1453. (The events in Kosovo and Chechnya this year were part of the simmering aftermath.)
  • The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), resulting in the Catholic Church reforming its liturgy and its relations with non-Christian and Christian movements worldwide. (The reforms allowed the rise of renewal efforts, including the Catholic charismatic movement (1967), and made Bible study a priority for many Catholics.)
  • America's founding emphasis on religious freedom, marked by establishment of the Pilgrims' colony in Plymouth, Mass., in 1620 and Roger Williams' Rhode Island in 1636, and culminating in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791.
  • Challenges to religion by 19th-century figures Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.
  • The 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, which gave birth to the modern Pentecostal movement, the "fastest-growing segment of Christianity" at the end of the millennium.

Religion historians interviewed by Richard Ostling of the Associated Press generally agreed with the list, but noted the Western perspective and suggested that the global expansion of Christianity belongs on the list. Notre Dame's Jay Dolan said he would have placed Columbus's voyage of 1492, introducing Christianity to the Americas, "right up there with the printing press."

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