Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why, in 1870, the Vatican Council issued the decree ‘pastor aeternus’ which, among other areas, affirmed papal infallibility. It meant effectively that the Pope could not err in his teachings, an assertion with its roots in the early Church when the bishop of Rome advanced to being the first among equals, then overall head of the Christian Church in the West. The idea that the Pope could not err had been a double-edged sword from the Middle Ages, though; while it apparently conveyed great power, it also meant a Pope was constrained by whatever a predecessor had said. If a later Pope were to contradict an earlier Pope, then one of them must be wrong, and how could that be…if both were infallible?
Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham
Professor in Medieval History at the University of Reading
Departmental Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Oxford
Producer: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
The Thirty Years War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war in Europe which begain in 1618 and continued on such a scale and with such devastation that its like was not seen for another three hundred years. It pitched Catholics against Protestants, Lutherans against Calvinists and Catholics against Catholics across the Holy Roman Empire, drawing in their neighbours and it lasted for thirty gruelling years, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Many more civilians died than soldiers, and famine was so great that even cannibalism was excused. This topic was chosen from several hundred suggested by listeners this autumn.
The image above is a detail from a painting of The Battle of White Mountain on 7-8 November 1620, by Pieter Snayers (1592-1667)
Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford
Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College
Associate Professor in History at Durham University
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield
Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of the German theologian, born in Breslau/Wroclaw in 1906 and killed in the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9th April 1945. Bonhoeffer developed ideas about the role of the Church in the secular world, in particular Germany after the Nazis took power in 1933 and demanded the Churches' support. He strongly opposed anti-Semitism and, with a role in the Military Intelligence Department, took part in the resistance, plotting to kill Hitler and meeting with contacts in the Allies. Bonhoeffer's ideas on Christian ethics and the relationship between Christianity and humanism spread more widely from the 1960s with the discovery of unpublished works, including those written in prison as he awaited execution.
Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge
Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the University of Winchester and Lecturer in Ethics at Regent’s Park College at the University of Oxford
Marischal Chair of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul.
Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway
Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter
Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester
Producer: Simon Tillotson.