The Youth of Western Europe: Historical Background to a Lost Faith
This is the second part of a series that is focusing on the youth of western Europe. The series is subtitled Ignorant Heirs of a Reformation and focuses on the youth of France.
HISTORICAL Known for its rich history and culture, France has long been a leader and influencer of world affairs. For the purpose of this paper, only the history since the Middle Ages will be considered. In the last 1000 years, however, France has been the epicenter of religious strife, political upheaval, invasion, occupation, torture, and political struggle.
It has been a culture with a long history of religious ambiguity, corruption and deep tension. It was in Avignon, France in the 1200s that a dual papal battle began, with one Pope located in Avignon and the other located in Rome. After the errant leadership of Pope Boniface VIII, the French king Phillip IV manipulated the church and had the capital of the Catholic Church moved to Avignon in 1305. So began a long “captivity of the church” as the French king used his influence over the pope during a particularly weak and corrupt era n church history to enrich his kingdom and fund his ongoing war with England. Pope John XXII, installed by Phillip’s influence, devoted his whole tenure as pontiff to enriching the papal treasury (and subsequently, Phillip’s war coffins). It wasn’t until 1415 that a single Pope was finally elected by the illustrious and imposing Council of Constance — Pope Martin V.
By this time, however, incredible damage had been done to the cause of Christ through a multitude of Crusades, religious infighting and greed among the church’s leaders. A generation of Reformers arose to debate the church’s error, defend the Gospel, and describe the true meaning of church to an apathetic culture. Ironically, the same Council of Constance that created the end of the papal battle (in 1415, there were actually three men who were called as Pope!), also named John Wycliffe a heretic and ordered him burned.
In the next 400-500 years, Europe was the site of such great spiritual earthquakes, with the likes of John & Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, and John Calvin - that many considered Europe entirely Christianized. The discovery of the American continent and its emergence as a world power suddenly shifted attention away from France, allowing some of the religious “dust” to settle. It settled thick. Generation after generation would remember the fallacies and sheer outrage of acts of the “church.” Even with the spirit of reform in the air, to many outsiders, it just looked like a reorganization.
In the 20th century, Catholicism reigned in France, but it was nominal at best. France was embattled by Germany, invaded, and occupied in the early part of the century. It never seemed to recover its sense of national identity. Once a staunch ally of the United States and its old rival, England, in the last 30 years, France has leaned steadily leftward politically. Recently, France became the subject of debate among American political conservatives as it refused to endorse or help in the war on terror in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, upon closer examination, a people once known for their arrogance now considers Americans to be supremely arrogant as anti-U.S. attitudes continued to grow, particularly among the young people of France.
Because of the well-publicized faith of U.S. President George W. Bush, many of the young people in France identify America’s “arrogance” with its religion and have turned their back on the faith of their fathers — which in most instances never had a chance to establish itself either.