|| Although we often stereotype it as an oppressive monolith, the Roman
Church of the Middle Ages was actually a "big tent" church, which
tolerated many diverse ideas and practices within the overall scheme of
orthodoxy. In that way it remained secure as the universal church of western
Europe for a thousand years. In the early 1500's, however, it foundered
on a rock of controversy and broke apart into many mutually hostile entities,
each of which claimed the monopoly of Truth."Toleration" was unthinkable.
Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Loyola, the rest of the combatants on all
sides hurled invective and denunciation on their rivals. Neighbor turned
against neighbor, and nation against nation. Hundreds of people were burned
at the stake for their beliefs; thousands died in massacres; hundreds of
thousands perished in religious wars that raged across Europe between 1520
and 1650. It was a dark and complex chapter in Europe's history; but without
it, the world we know could never have been born.