The Church in the Empire

I’ve already talked about the Christian faith in the world of the Shine Cycle, but aside from my brief discussion of the ecumenical Council of Capitol I haven’t explained how the Church as an organization fits in. Today—the day after what is arguably the Church’s birthday in our world—is an eminently suitable occasion to rectify that omission.

As I said in my earlier post, the Christian faith has always been nearly universal in the Empire, so the Church in one form or another has as well. Its form, however, always varied significantly, as the original settlers came from many different times and places in our world’s history, and their traditions continued and mixed.

However, except for memories passed down from those first settlers and references in our world’s histories (which are available but not widely studied), “denominations” were all but unknown until the arrival of the Chosen. (For most of the first inhabitants, it would have been such a great relief to find other Christians were to be their neighbors in a “brave new world” that doctrinal and practical differences would be dealt with as they came up, and after the communities had been established.)

By the turn of the century, most places had developed forms of worship and of church government that resembled nothing so much as “the early church” in the period following the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople; local congregations were led by local leaders selected from among them, and overseen by bishops similarly selected, who were themselves additionally answerable to their peers in other areas. (A few local councils of bishops had been convened at one time or another for the few grave issues of doctrine or church discipline that arose; this provided the local precedent for the Council of Capitol.)

After the arrival of the Chosen, the notion of “denominations” spread, and even some existing (native) churches took steps to come into formal communion with one Earth denomination or another. But the Council of Capitol forestalled denominational conflict and largely harmonized liturgy and practice across the Empire. To the modern Imperial citizen, “denominations” are as much about style, “approach,” and emphasis as anything else.

The Church is a strong constant throughout the Empire; as an organization utterly independent of any government, it serves as a check against corruption and tyranny, and as a moderating influence against the worst tendencies of people in the political, economic, and social systems. But because it doesn’t have its own hierarchy with leaders who are as much political and temporal as spiritual (as it did in our world’s history), the “corrupting agents” are rarely drawn to the Church, and more easily removed.

Some branches of the Church in our world have sometimes instructed their parishioners to accept their teachings as such on nothing more than that authority without question. Not so the Church in the Empire; its members (universally literate and trained in at least basic reasoning) are encouraged to work through any issues and come to the truth themselves—faith is understood as a reasoned, reasonable, well-grounded trust that God will do as he promises, as he has always done. The Church, in fact, provides most of the formal—what we would call “traditional”—schools (but more on “education in the Empire” later).

Any comments or questions?

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