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The Resurgence of the Gospel, Part Four: The Reconversion of Europe

The spark took fire and spread to Florence, Italy. Another prominent Catholic leader took issue with the existing Catholic order. Girolamo Savonarola was also a Dominican friar and a prominent preacher in the city who not only took issue with his Church but also with the Florentine civic leaders as well.

The storm clouds of change was in the air. Hus, in his turn, and John Tauler, the late Medieval Mystic of the via moderna persuasion, influenced an Augustinian educator named Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Saxony, to take issue.

Then a Dutchman, also a Catholic, wrote his famous, In Praise of Folly, and started afresh in translating the Greek New Testament for everyone to read. It has been said that Erasmus “laid the egg” that Luther hatched.

Vasco da Gama lands at Calicut [Kozhikode] on May 20, 1498. Almost a hundred years earlier, the Chinese Muslim sailor Ma Huan called the city a great emporium of trade visited by merchants from throughout the world.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

All of these outbreaks in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Centuries set the stage not only for the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century but also readied the situation which set the Christian Church on edge for an emergent oceanic global mission. What it took was the advance of the Ottoman Turks into the mainland of Asia Minor and to the shoreline which faced the city of Constantinople. After a fierce battle, Constantinople fell to the Turks. The Church of Holy Wisdom suffered severe damage. The Orthodox Church’s resident Patriarch retreated a little to the west but within sight of the damaged city.

What resulted with the Turkish takeover of Constantinople and renaming it Istanbul was to cut off all access to the Red Sea and the Silk Roads to the East. This cut off all commerce with the East by way of waterway and by road. In doing so, it created the circumstances for an experimental plan that was initiated by the Portuguese prior to 1452, and imitated later by Spain and the Netherlands.

Already the Portuguese developed a type of ship with a deeper and wider draft which enabled her fishermen to harvest the waters of the northern Atlantic for cod and other fish. Also in the works was the voyage of a Portuguese shipmaster named Vasco da Gama. Sailing with him down the west coast of Africa was a Portuguese Catholic monastic. Da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and noted the sun shone on his right arm instead of his left. Sailing northeast-ward he tended toward the open area of the Arabian Sea and made landfall at Goa on the northwest coast of India. Here, he noticed with complete astonishment a remnant of Syriac speaking Christians claiming their existence to Mar Thomas who followed Jesus.

The ripple effect of da Gama’s voyage not only re-ordered Europe’s economic and political order but transformed the mission of the church along oceanic lines. Da Gama’s return voyage to Portugal created a stir throughout Europe from Genoa and Venice in the eastern Mediterranean to up and down English Channel. Borrowing Portugal shipwrights, England, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and other coastal nations fashioned a new type of ship that could handle deepwater sailing.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2019

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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