'The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity' by James C. Russell

James C. Russell’s ‘Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation’ (GOEMC) is an excellent study on the evolution of Christianity from a predominantly Mediterranean religion to a northern European one. [1] The book is a “must read” for anyone studying Christianity from an identitarian perspective and it is commonly cited among elements of the metapolitical right.

Russell is a conservative historian and theologian who authored another book condemning the role of organized Christianity in the facilitation of mass immigration into the United States and other Western countries. [2] Russell published GOEMC through the Oxford University Press in 1994.


In GOEMC’s concluding chapter, Russell summarizes his work’s twelve main points. [3]

(1) Early Christianity emerged from an urban, heterogeneous, and low social capital society. German society at the time of first contact with Christianity was rural, homogenous, and high social capital.

(2) Early Christianity was “world-rejecting” and “salvation” focused. In contrast, the pre-Christian German worldview was world-accepting and socio-biological.

(3) The first Christian missionaries to Germany accommodated Christianity to the religopolitical and magicoreligous elements of the German worldview. [4]

(4) Early efforts to convert Germans to Christ resulted in the reinterpretation of Christianity through the Germanic worldview.

(5) Catholic Christianity’s political reliance on Germanic nations, like the Franks, led to the increased influence of their interpretation of Christianity over the western Church.

(6) Some Germanic nations attempted to preserve their unique ethnic identity and independence by adhering to Arianism rather than subjecting themselves to the outside power of Church hierarchy.

(7) The “Christianization” of the Germans was very shallow until at least the reign of Charlemagne (768-814) because there was no catechumanate system or qualified teachers to finish instruction. The Church prioritized baptism over teaching because they thought the apocalypse was near. The German worldview was too strong to allow full Christianization.

(8) Early missionaries to the Germans were as successful as they could have been. If they had not accommodated Christianity to the German worldview they probably would not have found any success.

(9) The initial accommodation of Christianity to the German worldview laid the foundation for later indoctrination of Christian worldview and ethics.

(10) Christian missionaries misrepresented the extent of disparity between the Germanic and Christian worldview when initially accommodating Christianity to a fresh German audience.

(11) Early Christian accommodation left Germans with the impression Jesus was one among many magicoreligous gods to include in their pantheon. New German converts did not possess doctrinal or ethical concerns.

(12) Contributing factors to Christianity’s German spread included: the association of Christianity with Frankish political aims, an imagined causal association of Christianity with Roman grandeur, and a coincidental similarity between German myths and Christian beliefs, rituals, and symbols.

This essay affirms almost all of Russell’s main points with the notable exception of (10). This essay will argue the German worldview, as manifested in early medieval Germanized Christianity, was not radically different than the worldview of Mediterranean Christianity or the Semitic Israelites of the Old Testament Biblical scriptures. It will also argue against Russell’s underlying assumption that pre-medieval Mediterranean patristic Christianity represented the only “authentic” form of Christianity. These critiques will be expounded in a later section.

This essay will summarize GOEMC’s two parts. After each summery it will highlight minor ideas this author found interesting or useful. Following this, the critique section of the essay will outline this author’s criticism of the book as outlined in the above paragraph.

Part I Summery

Part one of GOEMC is entitled “Toward a Model of Religious Transformation” and deals with defining what constitutes a religion’s transformation into something new.

In chapter one, “Transformations of Christianity,” Russell claims religious transformation occurs every time Christianization is attempted among a new ethnic people. Sometimes this transformation leads to syncretism and the creation of a new religion.
“When Christian essentials are minimalized, and indigenous cultural and religious customs readily incorporated, the likelihood of religious syncretism increases. Christian missionaries are thus compelled to take a path between the twin opposing dangers of cultural alienation and religious syncretism.” [5]
Russell appears to believe Germanized Christianity was not authentic Christianity, and that it represented a religious synthesis possessing little continuity with the earlier Christian worldview. He illustrates this by a comparison with twenty-first century sub-Saharan Africa where Christianity has become a blend of half pagan traditions. He uses the differences between Japan and South Korea to demonstrate how his “authentic Christianity” cannot thrive alongside strong homogenous ethnic religions like that of the Japanese, but can spread in a deracinated occupied society like South Korea. This illustrates the difference between a young viral ethnic people like the Germans and the low social capital society of the late Roman Empire. Noticing these differences, the early missionaries to the Germans adapted Christianity to the concerns of a close nit people fundamentally different than those of the classical Mediterranean world.

Russell uses chapter two, “Conversion, Christianization, and Germanization,” to attempt a definition of the word “conversion,” and explain the problems surrounding the conversion of whole ethnic populations to Christianity following the conversion of their kings. Is it possible to speak of a whole society simultaneously being converted? To what extend were the German people legitimately converted when baptized? Did the Germans understand what conversion meant before they became Christians (or, at least, nominal ones)? What is authentic Christianity as opposed to a synthesized variation?

Russell raises important questions. He begins an answer by accepting an objective definition of authentic Christianity at the earliest form of the religion (i.e. the first century Church). He summarizes the view he later accepts:
“Many attempts have been made throughout history to distill the ‘essence of Christianity.’ Christianity may be defined according to a rigorist, historicist paradigm in which the religiosity of a particular era, individual, or council is considered to epitomize ‘true Christianity.’ One form of the historicist approach is the ‘oldest is best’ assertion: the older a belief or custom may be shown to be, the greater its proximity to an immutable core or essence of Christian dogma or tradition.” [6]
Using this standard, Russell concludes that the Germans were not Christianized in the ninth century and speculates they may not have been fully Christianized until Martin Luther’s Reformation. Russell claims “true Christianity” is “the belief in individual redemption through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.” [7] According to Russell, the failure to actually Christianize the Germans eventually led to the creation of a synthetic religion properly understood as an exclusively European Catholic German Christianity.

Among the innovations Germanized Christianity introduced, according to Russell, include: a decline in Christ’s role as mediator, an increase in private masses devoted to Mary and the saints, the multiplication of signs of the cross during Mass, the development of silent prayer with folded hands (inspired by German lordship ceremonies), the theatrical dramatization and allegorical interpretation of Bible stories, the weekly liturgical cycle, Christmas and Easter festival cycles, the increased hierarchical stratification of Church authority, the introduction of kneeling boundaries in the Mass, the reduction of emphasis on salvation and the hereafter (eschatology), and the reportrayal of Christ as a victorious warlord. [8]

Chapter three, “Sociohistorical Aspects of Religious Transformations,” outlines Russell’s ideas of what religious transformation looks like. He discusses the differences between the original Greek and Roman religious ideas and the later “proto-Christian” universalist mystery cults. He discusses the development of ethnic “folk religions” into universal cosmopolitan religions and what happens when the two religious types encounter one another.
“Consider the categorization of religions into two types based upon fundamental structural differences. These two types may be described as ‘folk,’ ‘ethnic,’ or ‘natural,’ and ‘universal,’ ‘revealed,’ ‘prophetic,’ or ‘historical’ religions. Indo-European religions may be placed in the category of folk religions, whereas… the category of universal religions will comprise Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the mystery cults of Isis, Sarapis, Mithras, Eleusis, and Dionysus.” [9]
Russell suggests several differences between these types of religion. Folk religions are specific to an ethnic group and not meant to expand beyond it. Universalist religions have developed the idea of doctrine and dogma. Universalist religions are often connected to ethical codes whereas folk religions normally are not.

Russell suggests one of the primary ways in which these two types of religions differ is in their relationship to the present world. He identifies folk religions as “world-accepting,” meaning they focus on the present life. Universalist religions, however, are “world-rejecting” in that their focus is on something beyond the present world. Russell’s characterization of Christianity as “world-rejecting” has come to dominate the way many identitarian and alt-right thinkers view Christianity. Russell speculates that world-rejecting universalist religions arise out of globalization, ethnic diversity, and the breakdown of traditional social structures: “the prolonged existence of anomic social conditions in a folk-religious society predisposes that society to religious movement with predominate world rejecting tendencies.” [10] He argues the Roman Empire represented this kind of society which led to the development of universalist religions like Christianity and the mystery cults.

Chapter four, “Sociopsychological Aspects of Religious Transformation,” documents the differing psychological environments of the low social capital urban societies of the Roman Empire and the high social capital societies of the German ethnic kingdoms.

Russell shows how the disintegration of homogenous traditional society led to isolation among the population and contributed to Christianity’s rise as an alternative society and replacement kin group: “high levels of social disorganization and ethnic heterogeneity in Greco-Roman cities contributed toward their high levels of Christianization.” [11] Russell quotes specialist Peter Brown to strengthen his point: “The Church was an artificial kin group. Its members were expected to project onto the new community a fair measure of the sense of solidarity, of the loyalties, and of the obligations that had previously been directed to the physical family” [12] In an age of anxiety and collapsing forms of traditional stability, the Church was a new global support network that could substitute for absent or ineffectual traditional families. This role as alternative family was strengthened during times of famine and plague when Christians often sacrificed their lives caring for brothers and sisters in Christ. This greatly impressed the pagans and attracted more converts.

German society, however, was high social capital and did not suffer from the same problems Greco-Romana did. The traditional kin groups were strong in Germany, and the society was united and homogenous. Christianity had a tougher time establishing itself in this environment because there was little social need or sense of anxiety among the German people. [13]

Part II Summery

Chapter five, “Germanic Religiosity and Social Structure,” is the first chapter in section II. The chapter covers many of the points Russell made earlier in the book about the nature of German society. The important unique idea introduced in this chapter is the alleged distinction between Indo-European socio-religious concepts and those of Semitic/Mediterranean society. In suggesting this distinction, Russell draws upon earlier hypotheses: “Dumezil’s comparative model of Indo-European societies posits the existence of a fundamental similarity in the ideological and sometimes the social structure among the ancient peoples of India, Persia, Greece, Rome, and pre-Christian northern Europe.” [14] Throughout the chapter, Russell gives various examples of ways in which this Indo-European worldview markedly differs from that of authentic Christianity.

Chapter six, “Germanization and Christianization: 376-678,” documents the first years of German contact with Christianity. Russell divides this experience into two major categories. First, the Arian Germans who used the non-hierarchical Arian version of Christianity to protect their ethnic autonomy from the Catholic Church’s intrusion. Second, the Frank’s acceptance of Catholicism as a way to protect their interests, legitimize their monarchy, and maintain contact with the remnants of Roman power. Both Arian and Catholic Germans used Christianity to advance their social and political interests, and both experiences reshaped Christianity into something the German people could understand and utilize. In the beginning, the Christianization of the Germans mostly involved the outward conversion of social norms (holidays, cult worship, ceremonies, and language). As time advanced, Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries began instilling a deeper personal faith into the people.

Chapter seven (the final chapter), “Germanization and Christianization: 678-754,” argues the Christianity that emerged after 754 was a substantially Germanized one and explains the factors leading this development. Much of the chapter deals with the accommodation process taken by missionaries to win over German converts. One example is the conversion of pagan cult centers into new churches. Russell describes the type of religion Christianity became among the German:
“the Germanic impact on early medieval Christian liturgical developments as described by Josef A. Jungmann and others, such as the greater physical and spiritual distance between the celebrants and a less participatory faithful, the increased focus of attention on sacred objects such as shrines and relics, which were accompanied by processions and feasts when they were transferred, and the generally magicoreligious character of the relationship between the Germanic peoples and Christ and his saints. According to this ‘magicoreligious character’ it was expected that Christ and his saints would intervene in the affairs of individuals and groups in direct response to specific prayers and rituals.” [15]
The early missionaries relied on several forces to convince the Germans to Christianize: “the Anglo-Saxon missionary campaign among the Germanic people relied upon papal endorsement as well as local political support, and upon dramatic acts of confrontation with pagan icons as well as preaching.” [16] Political coercion was regarded as essential to enforce the outward form of Christian orthodoxy and stamp out paganism. These methods, however, did little to train the Germans with scriptural knowledge or instill a Christian worldview. The missionaries also employed linguistic and ethical manipulation in an attempt to influence German minds.

While the missionaries had as much success as they could hope for given the circumstances, Russell concludes the Germans were not truly Christianized by the end of the eighth century, and that what emerged out of the early middle ages was a German Christianity distinctly different from the religion as it existed in the classical Roman world. [17]

Points of Interest

The following paragraphs include information provided with GOEMC that this author found interesting and important.

Russell argues that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries organized Christianity has taken steps to de-Germanize the religion. Russell sees many modern theological developments, like the encouragement of mass immigration and reduced emphasis on Christianity’s European elements, as an attempt to strip the religion of its Germanized ethnic character. He uses the Catholic Church as an example: “Primarily to advance the perception of universality, the post-Vatican II Church has sought to shed its predominantly Western, European image.” [18] He cites the Church’s elimination of Latin during the Mass and its increased obsession with social justice issues associated with non-European ethnic groups.

Russell’s perspective on social capital, the effects of diversity, and in-group verses out-group distinctions make him accessible and insightful to alt-right and identitarian readers. Russell shows courage throughout the book by talking about diversity as a cause of social disintegration and the genetic character or personality of different ethnic groups.
“Recent scientific research has affirmed a genetic component to many individual personality traits such as traditionalism, alienation, and aggressiveness. Genetic factors are now claimed to account for approximately 50 percent of the individual differences in religious attitudes, values, and interests. If combined with the notion of group personality or “syntality,” these findings may contribute toward the development of a genetic approach to societal religious identity.” [19]
Russell’s affirmation of ethnic personality tracks well with Old Testament ideas about a people’s nature being inherited from its founder (Jacob and Esau being an example).

Throughout the book, Russell makes several comparisons with sub-Saharan Africa. He argues modern African Christianity is not authentic Christianity but a synthesis of paganism with Christian images and language. He quotes a Ugandan priest: “There has been a failure to integrate Africa’s traditional religions in Christianity and Christian values.” [20]

Among the factors Russell connects to the rise of Christianity is the concept of status inconsistency. He argues people who experience high levels of status in one social measure but low status by other measures register higher levels of stress and anxiety and tend to agitate for social reform and bolster counter cultural projects. He claims status inconsistent people played a significant role in advancing Christianity. His observation reminds moderns of the status inconsistency that plagues the twenty-first century West. Many individuals, whether internet sensations, heavily degreed Millennials, or church leaders often experience situations in which they have achieved a high level of success or respectability among some people but little or no respect amongst the broader population. Many young people with PHDs can not find a career outside the service sector. Many respected Christians would be fired from their job and economically ostracized if the public knew about their views of homosexuality. The modern world has created a situation in which a person’s identity changes dramatically the moment they step outside church or log into a specific website.

Russell’s position is that the late Roman Empire is a close social parallel to the modern twenty-first century West. He argues the level of instability, cosmopolitanism, globalism, diversity, and social capital loss of the Roman Empire might be the closest historical parallel modern Western society has. According to Russell, the Mediterranean world began this trend of decay as a result of Alexander the Great’s attempt to create a universal civilization from the disparate ethnic groups he united within his massive empire. His effort was continued by the Romans.
“One may theoretically trace its [status inconsistency & cognitive dissonance] impetus to the social destabilization of the entire Mediterranean region by the Peloponnesian Wars and the conquests of Alexander the Great…. The process of demographic heterogenization and religious syncretism initiated by Alexander did not end with the Roman conquest of Greece in 197 BC.” [21]
The construction of Alexander’s global society produced the stress and anxiety necessary for new religious expression like Christianity to emerge. Russell quotes an expert: “Old and traditional cultures appear to produce less stress and disease than newer, more radical societies.” [22] A radical new society like the globalized Roman Empire produced incredible levels of stress.
“‘Anomie is the touchstone of Roman history from Augustus onward.’ Despite ‘a rising level of material comfort, and times of relative tranquility like the 2nd century AD…, beneath the splendor of imperial Rome was that profound malaise common to aging nations,’ as Jacob Burckhardt said,’ and ‘by the third century AD anomie had become manifest everywhere; chaos and misery reigned through the empire.’” [23]
The parallels with twenty-first century American society should be obvious. Rising diversity and urban growth has destroyed the relative lack of stress made possible by homogenous ethnic environments and traditional family and kinship structures (consider divorce and illegitimate birth rates). Our society is devolving into social chaos. [24]

Russell develops a theory of national decline based on his observation of the Mediterranean world.
“It may be speculated that as a nation expands into a vast empire, incorporating diverse nationalities, the extent to which individual citizens identify with the state, and hence the extent to which they feel obligated to support the state, may tend to diminish, particularly if the general citizenry is not materially benefited from imperial exploits.” [25]
One of Russell’s interesting observations can be found in chapter five: “The conversion of Clovis is a great turning point. It made possible the shift from a Mediterranean-centered Christianity to one whose capital was situated by 800 at Aachen and whose spiritual centers were in England, North France (as Gaul was becoming), and Germany.” [26] This observation allows one to perceive with some certainty just how long Christianity has been a Euro-centric religion.

Russell notes that it was the monasteries that had the greatest Christianizing effect on the newly converted German populations: “it should be stressed that it was the monasteries which made Christianity and the values it conveyed penetrate slowly into the countryside.” [27] It was this Christianization that produced the medieval worldview: “if we do not keep the obsession with salvation and the fear of hell which inspired medieval men in the forefront of our minds we shall never understand their outlook on life.” [28]

Russell provides an interesting insight into the mindset of Mediterranean Christianity when he suggests that “Gregory the Great… was probably ‘the first among great Roman leaders who appreciated barbarians as human beings.’” [29]

Russell suggests German literature, the foundation of long standing culture, might have been invented as a way to teach young monks about Christian doctrine: “German literature originated as an interim learning aid for young German monks studying Christian Latin texts.” [30] Some thinkers on the metapolitical right have suggested it is possible to resurrect the pre-Christian German worldview, but if Russell is right the German soul began its literary journey fully enmeshed in Christianity. Christianity created German literature, and German culture cannot escape this aspect of its identity.


This critique will argue that the German worldview, as manifested in early medieval Germanized Christianity, was not radically different than the worldview of Mediterranean Christianity or the Semitic Israelites of the Old Testament Christian scriptures. It will also argue against Russell’s underlying assumption that pre-medieval Mediterranean patristic Christianity represented the only “authentic” Christianity.

Germanized Christianity & Early Christian Worldview

Throughout GOEMC Russell emphasizes the disparity between the German worldview and that of early Christianity. He argues this led to the German adoption of a form of Christianity that was not authentically Christian, if “authentic” is defined by the religion at its earliest form. Russell attempts to define the German worldview as distinct from the Christian one by asserting a divide between Indo-European socio-religious views and those of the Mediterranean world. This essay will argue, in contradiction to Russell, that the “Indo-European” “German” worldview, and the Christianity it eventually produced, did not markedly differ from what can be found in the Old and New Testament scriptures. Even where the differences seem stark, these remain a matter of degree rather than category.

The main differences Russell cites between Germanized Christianity and Early Mediterranean Christianity include: German magicoreligiosity, the German idea of chivalry, the German ‘commitas’ or ‘Mannurbund,’ the German Christ as a warrior lord, the early Christian concepts of salvation and sin, the German world-accepting life perspective, the German liturgy, the introduction of German holidays, individualism verses group solidarity, and German religiopolitical synthesis.

The major point of divergence between Germanized Christianity and early Mediterranean Christianity was the magicoreligous nature of the German variation: “The magicoreligous reinterpretation of Christianity may be considered the most immediate and salient effect of its Germanization.” [31] “According to this ‘magicoreligious character’ it was expected that Christ and his saints would intervene in the affairs of individuals and groups in direct response to specific prayers and rituals.” [32]

Russell spends a great deal of time discussing this difference, but admits that magicoreligous elements existed in Christianity long before German contact: “devotion to saints and their relics existed prior to the German encounter with Christianity.” [33] One example of this can be found in the New Testament’s oil anointing rituals for the ill (James 5:14). The devotion to saints and relics was established in Christianity from an early date, and cannot be connected specifically with a Germanized religion (even if it was more prevalent in Germany).

Christ told his disciples to pray repeatedly until God answered their specific prayers. The Old Testament Psalms are filled with prayers asking God to take sides in personal and political conflicts. This magicoreligous sentiment is not distinctly different from the religious belief of early Christianity, nor the body of Christian canonical scripture.

Even if Russell intends to demonstrate the Germans saw these prayers and rituals as specifically magical rather than faith related it remains to be proven this distinction is meaningful or accurate. Russell makes no concerted effort to demonstrate how the German magicoreligous concepts of prayer, ritual, and God/saint intervention differ markedly from the way in which Mediterranean Christians and Israelites viewed these things, or whether a slight difference in perspective would effect whether Germanized Christianity should be categorized as authentic.

The Christian scriptures report Elisha’s bones raised a man from the dead. [34] In the Gospels, the pool of Bethesda cured the first person who entered it after an angel stirred the water. [35] Magicoreligous perspectives can be seen in the scriptural passages related to Jesus’ cloak and the Arc of the Covenant. [36] These are clear Biblical examples of relics, holy people, and holy spots possessing magicoreligous attributes. How can this be significantly differentiated from Germanized Christianity’s worldview? At the most, it might be said Germanized Christianity emphasized magicoreligous elements more than early Mediterranean Christianity, but this would constitute a difference in degree rather than category.

Russell’s discussion of chivalry and the warrior ethos is equally misguided. He talks of how the Church converted the German warrior ethos into chivalry but claims it represented something different than the original Christian ethic. In a footnote, he quotes Mircea Eliade: “it was no little achievement of later medieval society to have Christianized this Germanic warrior-ethos into chivalry.” [37]

Russell assumes the German warrior spirit converted to chivalry was unique to Germanized Christianity and had no parallel in Mediterranean Christianity. He quotes Carl Eerdman: “for [the Germans] war as such was a form of moral action, a higher type of life than peace. All this stood at the opposite pole from Christian morality, which is based on love and readiness for peace and can discuss war only in references to aims and duties.” [38] While it is true the German obsession with war cannot be reconciled with the Christian spirit it would be wrong to assume war has no place within a Christian ethic or that chivalry represents a sharp divergence from Mediterranean Christianity. Post-Constantine Christians were among the empire’s legions and viewed warfare with pagans as an expansion of the reign of God’s civilization. The crusades were seen as defensive actions to protect the holy lands from heathen desecration. The early Church canononized Old Testament books like Joshua and Kings which glorify noble warfare. There is little reason to assume the chivalry of the high middle ages differs categorically from an early Christian concept of war as a tool to preserve peace.

Russell claims the German people caused Christianity to substantially modify “some of its core values, such as its world rejecting notion of honor, its pacifism, and its focus on posthumous salvation.” [39] Christianity was not, however, a pacifist religion by the time it encountered the German people. It was strongly tied to the worldly Roman Empire that sometimes used military force against the Germans. So great was the tie between Christianity and the Roman Empire that Augustine wrote ‘City of God’ to convince Christians that if the Empire collapsed it did not mean the failure of God’s kingdom. Mediterranean Christianity was very much entrenched in the world.

Some may argue Christianity’s relationship with the Roman Empire was too close at the time of first German contact and thus did not represent “authentic Christianity,” but it must be admitted that this evolution of Christianity into its late medieval form did not begin with its Germanization. [40] The evolution was already underway before German contact. Pacifism, specifically, if it had ever been the official position of the Church, had already been abandoned before German contact. [41]

Russell’s claim that the idea of posthumous salvation was downplayed in Germanized Christianity is an odd assertion considering a previous quote he cites from a specialist claiming the medieval mind was obsessed with hell and the afterlife. [28] A cursory familiarity with medieval art is enough to demonstrate the way in which medieval people were fixated on salvation.

The ‘comitatus’ or ‘Mannurbund’ was a crucial institution in German society before the coming of Christianity: “Members of this class of military specialists usually organized themselves into a ‘comitatus’ or ‘Mannerbund,’ ‘a band of young warriors led by a chief or king which was distinct from the other strata of society and which exhibited in battle a remarkable recklessness and esprit de corps.” [42] Russell discusses this institution throughout the book and claims it marks off Indo-European society as unique from the Mediterranean one from which Christianity emerged.

Russell appears totally unaware that the Old Testament contains an example of a ‘comitatus,’ precisely as he describes, surrounding David before his kingship. David had a group of thirty “mighty men” who constantly distinguished themselves as daring and reckless warriors in the service of their chief. In one incident, these warriors fought through enemy lines just to acquire a cup of water from a spring David expressed interest in drinking from. [43] Is Russell not familiar with the Old Testament stories? There can be little doubt the stories discuss a ‘comitatus’ very similar, if not identical, to those among the Germans, and therefore it remains difficult to place these German institutions outside the realm of a Christian worldview when they are positively represented within Christian scriptures.

Russell says Germanized Christianity converted Christ into a victorious warrior god in opposition to earlier portrayals of him. However, Christ is portrayed as a victorious warrior inside Christian scripture. Revelation 19 portrays Jesus as a victorious warrior who returns at the end of history to destroy his enemies and rule the world. The Old Testament portrays God as a war god who grants the Israelites victory in battle. If God and Christ are portrayed as warlords in the Christian scriptures how can this perspective be branded uniquely Germanic or inauthentic?

Throughout GOEMC, Russell reiterates the difference he perceives between the “world-accepting” Germanic worldview and the “world-rejecting” Christian worldview. He argues Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam are all world-rejecting religions while pagan folk cults are world-accepting. While there may be some truth to this distinction as it is expressed in the context of the literature body within which Russell researches, it remains uncertain these terms can be used with any level of accuracy by the general public. In this author’s estimation these terms are generally distorted to mean something Russell probably would not have found accurate. On the metapolitcal right, Christianity is often dismissively labeled “world-rejecting” in the same way in which an atheist insults religion as irrelevant, imaginary and dangerously delusional. Even the term “world-rejecting” suggests a belief system constructed on a negative proposition.

The ancient Aztec religion was among the most violent and dysfunctional in history, and was built on the brutal practice of human sacrifice to false gods. According to Russell’s dichotomy, however, this deranged death cult can be labeled “world-accepting.” In this author’s opinion, the world-accepting/world-rejecting dichotomy produces misrepresentative labels and offers little explanatory benefit. Russell talks about early Gnositicism as the archetype world-rejecting religion, and he admits there are different levels of world-rejection. The impression he leaves is that all religions, whether pagan, monotheistic, eastern, folk, etc., exist on a continuum regarding their level of world-rejection, and that he and his colleges have arbitrarily drawn a line somewhere in the middle and decided to create two categories. It seems reasonable to reject this oversimplification as unnecessary and confusing.

Among the most obvious problems with Russell’s religious dichotomy is the issue of real history. World-rejecting religions (as Russell categorizes them) have had a far bigger impact on humanity and history than world-accepting religions. With this in mind, it becomes difficult to find utility in Russell’s chosen vocabulary.

There are other differences Russell cites which have been dealt with peripherally in other parts of this essay. For example: holidays, religiopolitical unity, and an emphasis on group solidarity over individual interests. All of these elements are not foreign to early Christianity nor their scriptures. The New Testament discusses the celebration of holidays in numerous places and regarded them as neither wrong nor necessary, religiopolitical synthesis can be found throughout the Old Testament and in the pre-German Church’s relationship with the Roman Empire, and the book of Revelation deals with congregations of people being judged before God rather than just individuals. The Germanic kinship inheritance laws Russell cites have direct parallels in the inheritance laws of ancient Israel. The German concept of kin vengeance as justice was explicitly condoned by God in the Old Testament and critiqued with the sanctuary cities one could flee to if only guilty of manslaughter (Numbers 35:6). The Old Testament is filled with God’s judgments over corporate national identity groups and tribes.

In summery, Russell fails to discuss a single element of his Germanized Christianity which categorically differs from the beliefs of the early Christians or their scriptures. Even minor aspects of Russell’s Germanization, like the direct destruction of shrines to impress the pagans with God’s power, have direct parallels in Old Testament stories. [44] It must be concluded that Germanized Christianity and early Mediterranean Christianity were the same religion, and even that pre-Christian Germany differed very little socially, religiously, and politically from ancient Semitic Palestine.

This conclusion allows for viewing the conversion of the Germans as a possible key to understanding what it would have been like to convert the Old Testament Israelites to Christianity before they were incorporated into the globalized Hellenistic and Roman world.

Early Christianity is Not Necessarily “Authentic” Christianity

Russell’s assumption that Germanized Christianity was not authentic Christianity is based upon his idea that the earliest form of Christianity represented its most authentic form, and that any extra synthesis represents a deviation from full authenticity. This is a belief shared by many Christians; especially those associated with the American Restoration Movement of the early nineteenth century.

This idea faces serious challenges, however, even within the context of first century Christianity. Russell overlooks this when he claims the Germanization of Christianity in the early medieval period was the religion’s greatest internal shift. He ignores the alteration recorded within the New Testament from an exclusively Jewish religion to a universal religion that no longer required the Law of Moses. The inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church was certainly the largest alteration Christianity has undergone, and this alteration occurred within the first generation of Christians. If Christianity could alter in such a dramatic way while still remaining the same religion than it could certainly absorb German cultural elements without losing authenticity.

If Russell is going to argue that the earliest Christianity represents the religions most authentic form than he must conclude pure authentic Christianity is only for ethnic Jews. Obviously, this is not a sensible position.

To be fair, Russell states Christianity’s essential essence is found in the figure of Christ and salvation through Christ, but he never proves that German Christianity fails to meet this criteria. He quotes Ronald Murphy in a footnote saying that one of the founding documents of German Christianity (the ‘Heliand’) “remained faithful to the orthodox Christian teaching of the Gospel, and yet in [the author’s] contemplation of that Gospel imagined an almost unthinkably new and different form of Christianity, thereby transforming the Gospel into the traditional religious imagery and values of his people.” [44]

One example of the continual evolution of authentic Christianity is the catechumanate system Russell continually cites as being present in Mediterranean Christianity but absent in Germanized Christianity. The catechumanate process, however, was not part of the earliest version of Christianity. There was no catechumanate education process for new converts during the years when the New Testament scriptures were being written. There are numerous examples of individuals being baptized within hours of being taught the Gospel (in Acts: the eunuch, the jailor, and thousands on Pentecost). Germanized Christianity was closer to original Christianity on the issue of catechesis than patristic Christianity.

Even within the writing of the New Testament documents, Christianity was being synthesized with outside cultures and worldviews. The Gospel of John, written by one of Jesus’ apostles, contains Greek philosophical language, and the Apostle Paul advised his readers to adapt to customs and beliefs of those they were trying to convert:
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” [45]
Russell admits that even very early Christianity was saturated with synthesized elements from other cultures and institutions (including Germany’s fellow Indo-European ethnic kin):
“some elements of the earlier Indo-European Greek tradition of Hellenic rationalism were incorporated into an emerging Christian philosophy via patristic writings such as the ‘Stromata’ of Clement of Alexandria. Additionally, the legal and organizational structure of the Church was substantially derived from Roman models. To the extent that the distinction between ‘Romanitas’ and ‘Christianitas’ may have eventually become blurred to some who stood outside the empire. Both Greek and Roman influences contributed toward some degree of an Indo-Europeanization of Christianity.” [46]
There is a sense, than, in which Christianity was becoming Germanized immediately after its founding via exposure to the remainder of the Greco-Roman Indo-European worldview not destroyed by anomie and social instability.


This essay has attempted to summarize James C. Russell’s GOEMC and critique its thesis that Christianity was Germanized away from its authentic Mediterranean form when it spread into northern Europe.

The vast majority of Russell’s book is informative and accurate. Where GOEMC stumbles is in a Biblical illiteracy that hinders the ability of its author to properly compare the worldviews of early Christianity and scripture with that of the German people, as well as some vague theological assumptions about what constitutes authentic Christianity.

Germanic Christianity as it existed in early and late medieval Europe was an authentic form of Christianity with much in common with earlier forms of the religion. Certain exceptions to this general conclusion can be granted for the expected level of trouble a newly converted people group would have in altering their religious obligations; however, this trouble did not significantly or fatally alter the essence of the Christian religion as it moved into a new era of history.


[1] Russell, James C. ‘The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation.’ New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

[2] Russell, James C. ‘Breach of Faith: American Churches and the Immigration Crisis.’ Raleigh, NC: Representative Government Press, 2004.

[3] Russell, James C. ‘The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation.’ New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pg. 212-213.

[4] “Religiopolitical” – The synthesis of religion and politics. “Magicoreligious” – “of, belonging to, or having the character of a body of magical practices intended to cause a supernatural being to produce or prevent a specific result (as an increase of the crops).” (Merriam Webster Dictionary online).

[5] Ibid, 11.

[6] Ibid, 33-34.

[7] Ibid, 35.

[8] Ibid, 41-43.

[9] Ibid, 46.

[10] Ibid, 57.

[11] Ibid, 86.

[12] Ibid, 91.

[13] Modern studies show significant positive correlation between an individual’s anxiety level and the amount of ethnic diversity in which they live. A heterogeneous social environment like the urban landscapes of the Roman Empire would have contained many anxious and untrusting people searching for stability and community. “Social capital” is a term used to describe the overall level of trust and investment the average individual is willing to have in a society. Societies with high social capital are pleasant and functional. As diversity rises, social capital declines.

[14] Ibid, 107.

[15] Ibid, 191.

[16] Ibid, 197.

[17] Ibid, 14.

[18] When Russell speaks of “Germans” he is referring to all northern European ethnos.

[19] Ibid, viii.

[20] Ibid, 17.

[21] Ibid, 86-88.

[22] Ibid, 96.

[23] Ibid, 97.

[24] This social chaos is converting itself into physical chaos as African American riots continually damage American urban centers.

[25] Ibid, 128. Pope Gregory reigned from A.D. 590 to 604.

[26] Ibid, 152.

[27] Ibid, 161.

[28] Ibid, 162.

[29] Ibid, 184.

[30] Ibid, 205.

[31] Ibid, 189.

[32] Ibid, 191.

[33] Ibid, 167.

[34] 1 Kings 13:21 “And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”

[35] John 5:4 “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”

[36] Jesus’ cloak healed a woman who touched it without his permission. The Israelites believed the Arc of the Covenant gave victory if they carried it to battle, and Uzzah was struck dead for touching it.

[37] Ibid, 126.

[38] Ibid, 167.

[39] Ibid, 124.

[40] I do not mean to say that post-Constantine Christianity was not “authentic Christianity.”

[41] In the past, many Anabaptist and other pacifist Christians claimed Christianity was universally pacifist until the conversion of Constantine. Recent historical evidence has emerged to discredit this assertion. In addition, the New Testament give numerous examples of soldiers converting to Christianity, and it never objects to their careers or states Christianity and war are incompatible. The Old Testament scriptures clearly support the use of warfare (even aggressive warfare).

[42] Ibid, 117.

[43] 1 Chronicles 11:15-19 “And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate! And the three brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: but David would not drink of it, but poured it out to the Lord.”

[44] The Germans were devoted to “sacred trees, groves, springs, and stones and had an interest in prophesy and magic.” (GOEMC page 109). God constantly instructed the ancient kings to demolish pagan groves and holy trees. Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel represents a confrontation of power meant to humiliate the Baalites into accepting God’s supremacy (1 Kings 18).

[45] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

[46] Ibid, 133.