The germanization of early medieval Christianity

James C Russell, Fordham University


The study of the history of Christianity has long recognized that the encounter of Christianity with a new ethno-cultural group tends to be followed by a period of religious and cultural transformation, often referred to as "Christianization." This process of Christianization, as it has occurred during contemporary missionary efforts, has been studied from sociological, anthropological, and social psychological perspectives, as well as from the perspective of the history of religions. However, these perspectives have only recently begun to be applied to the historical development of Christianity in the early medieval period. This inquiry seeks to apply insights from the behavioral sciences and from the history of religions to the pivotal religio-cultural transformation which occurred as a result of the encounter of Christianity with the Germanic peoples. It is proposed herein that Christianization efforts among the Germanic peoples resulted in a substantial Germanization of Christianity. The fundamental distinction which became apparent from this approach was that the Germanic world-view was essentially folk-centered and "world-accepting," while the Early Christian world-view was essentially soteriological and "world-rejecting." Equally significant, and probably related to this distinction, is the observation that the social structure of the Germanic peoples at the time of their encounter with Christianity reflected a high level of group solidarity, while the urban social environment in which Early Christianity developed was one in which anomie prevailed. It has been emphasized that a primary appeal of the Early Christian Church lay in her fulfillment of the need for socialization, her resolution of social status inconsistencies, as well as her promise of eternal salvation. This Classical model of Christianization in which a religious community fulfilled the socio-religious aspirations of a predominantly anomic population would be dysfunctional if applied to a predominantly rural, warrior, pastoral-agricultural society with a high level of group solidarity. For Christianity to be accepted by such a population, it was necessary that it be presented in a primarily "votive-heroic" fashion which would appeal to Germanic military, agricultural, and personal concerns. An unintended result of implementing such a policy of accommodation was the Germanization of early medieval Christianity.

Subject Area

Religious history|Middle Ages|Sociology|Social psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Russell, James C, "The germanization of early medieval Christianity" (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9105787.