During the third and fourth centuries, the Roman Empire underwent huge change and turmoil. Rome’s influence declined, and in 325 AD, the city of Byzantium (Constantinople) became the new imperial capital.

As the Church in Constantinople grew in status, its bishops challenged the Bishop of Rome’s claim to St Peter’s authority as Head of the Church. In 1054, the split (schism) between the Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome was acknowledged publicly. Christians from both Churches are still working hard to heal the rift today.

Between the seventh and fourteenth centuries, most of Western Europe’s people were influenced by Christian ideas and practices. The monasteries and universities flourished as places of prayer, learning and scientific knowledge.

By the tenth century, however, Islam was spreading its influence. Islamic forces overran the Holy Land and threatened Christian Europe. Appeals were made to Christian princes and kings to return the Holy Land to Christian rule and oppose Islamic expansion. This led to the launch of the First Crusade in 1095. This was the first of nine crusades which took place over the next two hundred years.

Saints Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Spain, founders of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders, were born in the twelfth century. The Franciscan and Dominican friars and sisters challenged Church members to discard the pursuit of worldly wealth and embrace Jesus who is holy, poor, loving and faithful to God.

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were a time of political and religious ferment. The courts dispensed criminal justice, and the Inquisitors investigated allegations of religious heresy. Both the kingdom-states and the Church used their own legal processes to address political and religious dissent. Sadly, there were cases when officers of the Inquisition acted unjustly against those accused of promoting heresy.