Cruising through 1,000 Years of Christianity

Article excerpt

In the search for the meaning of humankind's purpose on earth, documentaries have investigated the first Christian millennium, considered the history of Jesus and other biblical figures, and explored the early Christian church.

Now, a fascinating new documentary called "Christianity: The Second Millennium" (A&E, Dec. 17 and 18, 8-10 p.m.) cruises through the second thousand years since Jesus' time in an all-too-brief four hours.

So eventful was the past 1,000 years of Christendom that only the most politically and socially influential movements can be described in the film.

From the "reforms" of Pope Gregory VII (which included insistence on the celibacy of priests) to the Inquisition to the Protestant Reformation to liberation theology, it's been a busy millennium.

Many important movements and breakout theological visions were left out entirely because of time constraints. And it's a shame that almost all of the great female religious figures were excluded. True, most political and religious structures are predominantly male, but women have had a powerful influence, as so much new scholarship details.

Subject for a future film, perhaps?

Still, the ambitious two-part series includes plenty of information to assimilate. The significant changes in theology take a back seat to the sweep of historical movements here - but there's enough of theological evolution to encourage viewers to seek out more information.

In a recent interview with series director Bram Roos, he explained the thinking behind his absorbing new effort.

"A couple of years ago we did the rise of Christianity, the first 1,000 years," says Mr. Roos, whose production company, FilmRoos Inc., has made dozens of documentaries about the Bible and other religious topics.

"That project was generated internally at A&E. After doing the first film, we felt very strongly we should complete it and do the second thousand years - and A&E OK'd it."

Among his films are a 50-hour series called "Mysteries of the Bible," and history stories for A&E including "Ancient Mysteries," with Leonard Nimoy.

"We have a general interest in historical programming, but we're particularly interested in historical programming about the human journey," Roos says. "That is our underlying reason for making films about religion - it is mankind's search for meaning and transcendence.. …