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Inside the Conversion Tactics of the Early Christian Church

Inside the Conversion Tactics of the Early Christian Church


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The triumph of Christianity over the pagan religions of ancient Rome led to the greatest historical transformation the West has ever seen: a transformation that was not only religious, but also social, political and cultural. Just in terms of “high culture,” Western art, music, literature and philosophy would have been incalculably different had the masses continued to worship the gods of the Roman pantheon instead of the one God of Jesus—if paganism, rather than Christianity, had inspired their imaginations and guided their thoughts. The Middle Ages, the Renaissance and modernity as we know them would also have been unimaginably different.

But how did it happen? According to our earliest records, the first “Christians” to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus were 11 male disciples and a handful of women—say 20 people altogether. These were lower-class, uneducated day laborers from a remote corner of the Roman Empire. And yet, within three centuries, the Christian church could count some 3 million adherents. By the end of the 4th century, it was the official religion of Rome, numbering 30 million followers—or half the Empire.

A century after that, there were very few pagans left.

Christians today might claim that their faith triumphed over the other Roman religions because it was (and is) true, right and good. That may be so. But one still needs to consider the historical contingencies that led to the Christian conquest, and in particular the brilliant strategy the Christian evangelistic campaign used in winning converts. These are five aspects of that strategy:

The Christian Church Created a Need

Strangely enough, Christianity did not succeed in taking over the ancient world simply by addressing deeply sensed needs of its target audience, the pagan adherents of traditional polytheistic religions. On the contrary, it actually created a need that almost no one knew they had.

Everyone in the ancient world, except for Jews, was “pagan”—that is, they believed in many gods. These gods—whether the state gods of Rome, the local municipal gods, the family gods, the gods of forests, mountains, streams and meadows—were active in the world, involved with humans on every level. They ensured that crops would grow and livestock would reproduce; they brought rain and protected against storms; they warded off disease and restored the sick to health; they maintained social stability; and provided military victories for the troops.

The gods would do such things in exchange for proper worship, which at all times and everywhere involved saying the right prayers and performing the appropriate sacrifices. If the gods were not worshiped in these ways—if they were ignored—they could bring disastrous retribution: drought, epidemic, economic collapse, military defeat and so on.

But the key point is that the gods were principally active—for good or ill—in the present life, to worshippers in the here and now. Almost no one in the Roman world practiced religion in order to escape eternal punishment or receive an eternal reward—that is, until the Christians came along.

Unlike pagans, Christians claimed there was only one God and that he should be worshiped not by sacrifice but by proper belief. Anyone who didn’t believe the right things would be considered a transgressor before God. And, most significant of all, rewards and punishments would be dispensed not only in this life, but in the life to come: either eternal bliss in heaven or everlasting torment in the fires of hell. Religion had never promoted such an idea before. Christians created a need for salvation that no one knew they had. They then argued that they alone could meet the need. And they succeeded massively.

It ‘Proved’ Its Superiority

Everyone in the ancient world knew that divinity was all about power. Humans cannot control whether it rains or an epidemic destroys the community or a natural disasters hits; but the gods can. They can provide for humans what mere mortals cannot do for themselves. This stood at the root of all ancient religion. And it became the chief selling point of the Christian message. Christians declared that their God was more powerful than any other god—in fact, more powerful than all the supposed other gods combined. God alone was God, and he alone could provide what people need.

The power struggle between the Christian and pagan gods is on full display in a wide range of ancient texts. Consider the apocryphal book called the Acts of John, an account of the missionary escapades of Jesus’ disciple John the Son of Zebedee. At one point in the narrative, John visits the city of Ephesus and its renowned temple to the goddess Athena. Entering the sacred site, John ascends a platform and issues a challenge to a large crowd of pagans: They are to pray to their divine protectoress to strike him dead. If she fails to respond, he in turn will ask his God to kill all of them. The crowd is terrified—they have already seen John raise people from the dead, and they know his God means business. When they refuse to take the challenge, John curses the divinity of the place, and suddenly the altar of Artemis splits into pieces, the idols break apart and the roof caves in, killing the goddess’s chief priest on the spot. The crowd makes the expected response: “There is only one God, that of John…now we have converted, since we have seen your miraculous deeds.”

Although obviously legendary, the tale conveys an important truth. Miraculous powers were the Christians’ evangelistic calling card, their compelling proof. Jesus himself, the son of God, had performedone miracle after the other. He was born of a virgin; he fulfilled prophecies spoken centuries earlier by ancient seers; he healed the sick; he cast out demons; he raised the dead. And if all that wasn’t enough, at the end of his life he himself rose from the grave and ascended to heaven to dwell with God forevermore. His disciples also did miracles—amazing miracles—all recorded for posterity in writings widely available. And the miracles continued to the present day. People became convinced by these stories. Not en masse, but one person at a time.

It Worked from the Ground Up

Christianity did not initially succeed by taking its message to the great and the powerful, the mighty Roman elite. It succeeded at first as a grassroots movement. The original followers of Jesus told those close to them what they believed: that the great miracle worker Jesus had been raised from the dead, and that his wonders continued to be performed among those who believed in him. They convinced others. Not most of those they talked with, but some. And as it turns out, small but steady growth from the ground up is all it took.

One might think that if Christianity went from some 20 people in the year of Jesus’ death, say 30 CE, to something like 3 million people 300 years later, there must have been massive evangelistic rallies, converting thousands at a time, each and every day. That wasn’t the case at all. If you chart the necessary rate of growth along an exponential curve, the Christian movement needed to increase at a rate of around 3 percent annually. That is to say, if there are 100 Christians this year, there need to be only three conversions by the year’s end. If that happens year after year after year, the numbers eventually pile up. Later in the history of the movement, when there are 100,000 Christians, the same annual growth rate will yield 3,000 converts; when there are 1 million Christians, 30,000 converts. In one year.

The key was to reach people one at a time. It grows from the bottom up, not the top down. The top will eventually convert. But you start below, at the base, where most people actually live.

It Cannibalized the Competition

Christianity succeeded in large measure because it required potential converts to make a decision that was exclusive and final. If they chose to join the church, they had to abandon all previous religious commitments and associations. For the Christian faith, it was all or nothing, so as it fed its own growth, it devoured the competition.

That may seem unusual by contemporary standards, since in today’s world we normally understand that someone who becomes Baptist cannot remain Buddhist; a Muslim is not a Mormon. But we ourselves accept exclusive religions precisely because the early Christians convinced the world that this is how it ought to be. Personal religion is one thing or another, not both—or several—at once.

The pagan religions didn’t operate like that at all. Since pagans all worshiped many gods, there was no sense that any one God demanded exclusive attention. Quite the opposite. Within pagan circles, if you chose to worship a new god—say, Apollo—that didn’t mean you gave up the worship of another, such as Zeus. No, you worshiped both—along with Hermes, Athena, Ares, your city gods, your family gods and whichever others you chose, whenever you chose.

Christians, though, maintained there was only one God, and if you followed him, you had to abandon the others.

In the long run, this meant that every adherent Christians gained was completely lost to paganism. No other religion demanded such exclusivity. For that reason, as Christianity grew, it destroyed all competition in its wake. And it went on like that for millennia, as Christians forged into new territories, toppling Celtic gods, Norse gods and many others.

It Found a Powerful Sponsor

Even though early Christianity was a grassroots movement, throughout its first three centuries it recognized fully the importance of converting influential supporters. At the beginning, this simply meant converting an adult male who was head of his household—the paterfamilias. In the Roman world, the paterfamilias chose the family’s religion. If you converted him, you got his wife, children and slaves in the package. Even if it was a small family—a husband, wife and two children—the conversion of one person meant the conversion of four. That multiplier effect went a long way toward achieving the needed 3 percent annual growth rate.

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of The Triumph of Christianity and the author or editor of more than 30 books, including the New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus and How Jesus Became God. Ehrman is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity. Connect with him on Twitter @BartEhrman and Facebook.com/AuthorBartEhrman.

History Reads features the work of prominent authors and historians.


The Early Christianization of Armenia

The Christianization of Armenia began with the work of Syrian apostles from the 1st century CE and was boosted in the early 4th century CE by such figures as Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who converted the Armenian king and spread the gospel message. A more complex process than legendary accounts portray, Armenia's adoption of Christianity was, nevertheless, a momentous chapter in the country's history, as the historian R. G. Hovannisian here explains:

The conversion of Armenia to Christianity was probably the most crucial step in its history. It turned Armenia sharply away from its Iranian past and stamped it for centuries with an intrinsic character as clear to the native population as to those outside its borders, who identified Armenia almost at once as the first state to adopt Christianity. (81)

The Legend: Saint Gregory the Illuminator

The credit for establishing Christianity as the official religion of ancient Armenia is traditionally given to Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Enlightener (previously known as Grigor Lusavorich, c. 239 - c. 330 CE). Gregory is credited with converting king Tiridates the Great (r. c. 298 to c. 330 CE) to the new religion, formally establishing the Armenian Church, and spreading Christianity throughout his country. For these achievements, Saint Gregory has become the patron saint of Armenia.

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Gregory was born in Cappadocia and raised as a Christian, attending there a Greek Christian school. On returning to Armenia, Gregory gained a position as a palace functionary at the court of the Armenian king at Vagharshapat. There he made a stance against the pagan religion of the period and refused to participate in its rites. The reigning monarch was Tiridates the Great, and he had the troublesome Gregory imprisoned, tortured, and thrown into the terrible Khor Virap prison at Artashat. Known as the “pit of oblivion”, nobody ever returned from Khor Virap.

After a 13-year ordeal down in the pit, Gregory was given a miraculous lifeline by, of all people, Tiridates' sister Khosrovidukht. She had had a vision that Gregory was the only person who could save the king from his terrible illness (lycanthropy). Accordingly, Gregory was freed from Khor Virap, and naturally, besides trying to cure the king, he made his best efforts to convert him to Christianity. Tradition (and the Armenian Apostolic Church) records that Tiridates was indeed cured and converted to his new faith in 301 CE by Saint Gregory.

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Gregory was then made the first bishop (katholikos) in Armenia's history c. 314 CE, and he set about formally establishing the Christian Church. To get the ball rolling, Tiridates gave Saint Gregory up to 15 provinces worth of territory to establish the Armenian Church. The old pagan temples were torn down, and the whole nation was obliged to embrace the new faith. Churches and monasteries sprang up everywhere, and the Armenian aristocracy quickly followed the royal family's example with many noble families converting to Christianity.

Saint Gregory, then, had state backing to spread the Gospel message, and it was a work continued by his descendants who inherited the role of first bishop of Armenia. Gregory used two powerful tools to spread the word: education and military power. Schools were established in which children of the existing pagan priestly class were prepared for the Christian priesthood. Meanwhile, military units were dispatched to destroy pagan temple sites and confiscate their vast riches, which were then used to fund Christian building projects. Naturally, many temple sites, along with several rich and semi-independent feudal principalities, resisted the new policy and these were put to the sword. Pagan traditions were never fully eradicated but they certainly became weakened by the removal of the temples and their economic resources. Still, many anti-Christian and pro-Persian aristocratic families persisted in resisting at least into the next century. Gregory, meanwhile, oversaw mass baptisms in the Euphrates River bishops were then appointed from the noble clans (nakharars) and lower priests from the class of knights (azats) to guide the ever-growing flock of faithful.

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The History: A Gradual Adoption

That is the legend of how Armenia became a Christian state. Modern historians, though, prefer a more organic process of acceptance and conversion occurring in different places at different times. They also prefer the more secure date of around 314 CE of Armenian's official adoption of Christianity. This followed the Roman emperor Constantine I's Edict of Milan in 313 CE which legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire of which Armenia was a province. It seems probable that Christianity actually entered Armenia by two separate but more or less contemporary routes, thus explaining the conflicting accounts in ancient historical records.

Saint Gregory represented the transmission via Greek culture in the capital while in the provinces a greater influence came from Syria, especially via the Armenian communities in the cities of Mtsbin and Edessa in Mesopotamia. Edessa, in particular, following the work of the two apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, was a major centre of the faith. With a large Armenian population and the religion having there been established for over two centuries, it is probable that returning emigrants brought Christianity back with them. Indeed, both of the aforementioned apostles travelled to Armenia, as did many Assyrian priests such as Bardatsan (Bardaisan) of Edessa, and there set up schools which taught and preached the new faith. Another route into Armenia of Christian ideas was via the border regions of Bitlis (Baghesh) and Mush (Taron) to the west of Lake Van. Thus, the spread of the religion was much slower and more haphazard than in the traditional account.

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Historians also suggest that Tiridates the Great may well have adopted Christianity for more practical reasons than a change of faith based on his miraculous recovery of health. The end of the ancient pagan religion was a fine excuse to confiscate the old temple treasuries which were jealously guarded by a hereditary class of priests. The religion was also a useful point of distinction between Armenia and Sasanid Persia, who had been trying to spread Zoroastrianism in the country. Christianity, therefore, became a means to resist Iranian cultural imperialism.

At the same time, Rome, the other regional power seeking to control Armenia, saw the value in permitting the spread of Christianity as a means to maintain Armenia's independence from Persia. Finally, a monotheistic religion with the monarch as God's representative on earth might well instil greater loyalties from his nobles and people in general. As it turned out, the Armenian Church became an independent institution with noble families providing its key figures and monasteries able to achieve self-sufficiency through their own landed estates.

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Two Christianities

As we have seen Christianity entered Armenia and spread outwards via two principal routes, from the southern provinces northwards and from the capital outwards. To further complicate matters, there were also two variants of the faith, as here explained by the historian S. Payaslian:

The southern Armenian form of Christianity was oriented more toward the masses, espoused more democratic ecclesiastical principles and communal philosophy, and was therefore less amenable to rigid institutional hierarchy…but it was the western, Greco-Roman form of Christianity, which entered Armenia by way of Cappadocia, that superseded the southern church and established its ecclesiastical hegemony in Armenia. (35)

Saint Gregory, was, of course, an exponent of the western form of the faith.

SOCIAL CHANGES

For ordinary people, besides the obvious replacement of traditional gods and pagan temples, there were also social changes which directly affected them. One notable area was marriage as the Christian church formalised the institution and made it necessary for the couple to legalise their union through the swearing of vows which adhered to the Christian doctrine. Even the choice of partner was more limited as partners now had to come from outside one's family with the exception that a widow might marry her brother-in-law. Polygamy, which had not been uncommon, was also prohibited. Other traditional rituals which were now forbidden included lamentations for the dead and mourning dances during which mourners often cut their faces and arms. The Church brought benefits as well as restrictions, though, setting up hospitals, hostels, orphanages, and leprosaria for the poor and sick.

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Mesrop Mashtots & the Armenian Alphabet

By the early 5th century CE Christianity in Armenia was given a great boost by the invention of the Armenian alphabet by the scholar-clergyman Mesrop Mashtots (360/370 - c. 440 CE). Mashtots, with full state and church backing, created a new script with the primary purpose of allowing the common people to read the Bible and other Christian texts in their own spoken language, which at that time had no written form. The ultimate consequence of this approach to spreading the gospel through language is here summarised by S. Payaslian:

The following years witnessed enormous efforts by learned religious leaders and scholars to translate Greek and Syriac Christian texts into Armenian and to strengthen the new national culture through Armenianization. The church gradually gained control over Armenian culture, literature and education and, with the support of the state, instituted a Christian hegemonic, “totalising discourse”. Armenian culture, identity, and history came to be viewed nearly exclusively through the prism of Christian theology. (40)

This article was made possible with generous support from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research and the Knights of Vartan Fund for Armenian Studies.


A Look at the Early Church

Have you ever noticed that the Bible gives us no clue as to what Jesus looked like? All our paintings of Jesus are merely the artist's idea of how he might have looked. The first representation of Christ on record is actually a derisive graffiti on the wall of a house on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It pictured the body of a man being crucified but with the head of an ass. The inscription reads: "Alexamenos worships his god."

From the time of Nero (64 A.D.) until the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.), whereby Christianity was made legal, the Christian faith was officially regarded as a religio prava, an evil or depraved religion.

Christianity's Jewish Roots
Christianity began as a movement within Judaism. Much of the earliest proclamation of the Gospel took place in the synagogues. The Christians did not side with the Jews in their revolt against Rome beginning in 66 A.D., and by the end of the first century the church had largely separated from the synagogue.

When a "church" wasn't a building
These early believers did not have church buildings to meet in. They met mostly in homes. The first church buildings did not start to appear until the early 200s.

Debate but not denominations
The early church did not have denominations as we think of them today. But that does not mean they had no serious disagreements within the ranks. They did. And they did not find this surprising. They felt they were dealing with matters of ultimate truth and error - matters to be taken with the utmost seriousness even when it meant dissension.

Torn by dogs, nailed to crosses.
The early Christians were the targets of repeated persecutions - some of unspeakable cruelty. For example, the emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the great fire that destroyed 10 of the 14 city wards at Rome in 64 A.D., a fire that Nero apparently had ordered himself. The historian Tacitus, not a Christian, said that Nero had the believers "torn by dogs, nailed to crosses, . . . even used as human torches to illumine his gardens at night."

But Christians were not under persecution everywhere and all the time. The persecutions were sporadic, with peaceful intervals in between. They varied in their intensity and were mostly localized.

Just Get your Certificate!
There were two all-out empire-wide persecutions intended to utterly destroy the church. The first, under the emperor Decius, began in December, 249. Everyone in the empire had to get a certificate from a government officer verifying that he or she had offered a sacrifice to the gods - an act that most Christians in good conscience could not do.

The second, called "The Great Persecution," began on February 23, 303, under Emperor Diocletian. Galerius, the empire's second-in-command, was behind this persecution policy and continued it after Diocletian's death. For eight long years, official decrees ordered Christians out of public office, scriptures confiscated, church buildings destroyed, leaders arrested, and pagan sacrifices required. All the reliable methods of torture were mercilessly employed - wild beasts, burning, stabbing, crucifixion, the rack. But they were all to no avail. The penetration of the faith across the empire was so pervasive that the church could not be intimidated nor destroyed. In 311, the same Galerius, shortly before his death, weak and diseased, issued an "edict of toleration." This included the statement that it was the duty of Christians "to pray to their god for our good estate."

Baptism
The Christian writer Hippolytus, writing about 200 A.D., describes baptism at Rome. Candidates took off their clothing, were baptized three times after renouncing Satan and affirming the basic teachings of the faith, and put on new clothes. Then they joined the rest of the church in the Lord's Supper.

Baptism was not entered into lightly. First one went through an extensive period of preparation as a "catechumen." This lasted as long as three years, involving close scrutiny of the catechumen's behavior. The church would only admit those who proved to be sincere in seeking a totally new life within the Christian community.

Slave makes good!
Christians drew members into their fellowship from every rank and race, an affront to proper, class-conscious Romans. A former slave who had worked the mines actually became the bishop of Rome -- Callistus in 217.

"Send me your letters and gifts"
Misusing the Gospel for financial gain is by no means the invention of 20th-century religious hucksters. One of the earliest Christian documents after the New Testament, The Didache, a kind of manual on church practice, warns about traveling preachers who come and ask for money. The satirist Lucian in the second century ridiculed Christians for being so easily taken in by charlatans, often giving them money. Lucian recorded the notorious case of the philosopher Peregrinus, who attracted a devoted following among Christians (and a lot of money)before he was found out. The showman instincts of Peregrinus reached their climax when he died by publicly cremating himself at the close of the Olympic games in 165.

Three fourths non-white
Researcher David Barrett reports that by the year 300, or nine generations after Christ, the world was 10.4% Christian with 66.4% of believers Non-whites. The scriptures had been translated into ten languages. More than 410,000, representing one in every 200 believers from the time of Christ, had given their lives as martyrs for the faith.


Inside the Conversion Tactics of the Early Christian Church - HISTORY

SECTION 13
Early Christianity and the Church


People, Places, Events and Terms To Know:

Gospel of Mary
Arius
Arianism
Athanasius
Council of Nicaea
Nicene Creed
Sacraments
Bishop(s)
See
Papa
Apostolic Succession
Patriarch


I. Introduction: Jesus and History

Hard archaeology is quite marginal to the continuing power of the biblical tradition . . . Archaeology's most important role in the exploration of the emergence of Christianity is not as a fact-checker but as a context-giver—helping us understand what was happening all over ancient Judea during the lifetimes of Jesus and his followers. (Neil Asher Silberman, Archaeology, 2005)

At the very heart of Christianity lies the life of Jesus Christ, which from nearly every perspective imaginable involves complications of some sort. Believers can choose to focus on Christ's human suffering or divine transcendence, theologians are left to debate the specific details of his resurrection and, without any contemporary portraits to go by, artists have little or no guidance in depicting him. Most problematical of all, an array of accounts now known as the Gospels ascribed to various disciples connected with him, present different and sometimes incompatible recollections of his teachings. But of all those struggling to situate him in some kind of framework, historians perhaps face the most intimidating challenge of all, trying to figure out what-really-happened in the wake of Jesus' life.

Indeed, the first century CE presents an excellent example of the difficulties encountered in dealing with the various types of histories. As "remembered history," for instance, the four canonical gospels are said to be contemporaneous accounts of Jesus' life and ministry, the recollections of four of his apostles (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). But careful analysis of these texts suggests otherwise, since from a historian's perspective they seem to be responding to issues and events relating to life in the Holy Lands decades after Jesus' death. Moreover, given their different and sometimes conflicting accounts of his life, we have no choice but to conclude that some of them must contain some degree of "invented history." Worse yet, discoveries in the sands of Egypt have "recovered" evidence of diverse approaches to Christianity, especially in the very early stages of its evolution. These so-called Gnostic gospels paint a very different picture of Christ from the one which orthodox Christians in the day envisioned, and following in their wake, most Christians today do also.

With all this, savvy historians tend to steer a wide course around Jesus himself. Particularly given the yawning vacuum of external sources for primordial Christianity, scholars cannot speak—certainly not with any sense of comfort—about the original stimulus producing this religion. That is, no contemporary Jewish or Roman account constitutes primary, external evidence of the actual events of Jesus' life. The closest we come is a brief mention by the Roman historian Tacitus recounting Nero's cruelty to a sect called Christianos, in the eyes of most Romans at the time a pathetic mob of doom-speakers. To Tacitus, that is, the emperor's savage recrimination against this demented, benighted cult was unwarranted and only served to prove that Nero was a savage and deranged bully, not that Tacitus felt anyone should sympathize with Christians. His point seems to be that civilized people should be ashamed to stand by and watch a sadist butcher morons.

Likewise, the Jewish historian and general Josephus also notes the existence of early Christians, but he was active several decades after Jesus' life and thus cannot serve as an eyewitness to the central events lying at the heart of Christianity. Also, he writes in the aftermath of the Roman holocaust which destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE and inaugurated the infamous diaspora, the Romans' general eviction of the Jews from the Holy Lands. Like Tacitus, then, Josephus' primary attention seems to rest not on Christianity itself but the plight and political crises facing his own people in his day.

The language of the New Testament only further complicates the situation, since it's all but certain that the gospels and epistles and other works which make up its canon of twenty-seven books are, at best, translations of what Jesus actually said. Instead of Greek, the language of the New Testament, Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic, a Semitic tongue used commonly throughout the Holy Lands in his day. And because he was born a Jew and most Jewish boys at the time were trained in Hebrew, he almost certainly could speak that language, too, or at least read it. But Greek? It's a fair question to ask if Jesus even knew Greek, and yet that is the language in which his words are recorded.

Whether or not he did, one thing is clear, the reason the authors of the Gospels chose to write their accounts of Jesus' life in Greek. As the international language of science, philosophy and commerce, both intellectual and economic, the Greek tongue would in those days have reached a much wider audience than Aramaic or Hebrew. The result is that the gospels seem unlikely to represent the actual words spoken by Christ—surely, however, they're close to what he actually said—still, as anyone who communicates in a second language can attest, translations are never exact.

So if the New Testament does not transmit Christ's words literally—which is not the same thing as saying it's not the "Word of God"—the situation encompasses a hopeless conundrum for those intent on deciphering what-really-happened-in-the-past. On the other hand, believers and theologians who have freedom to traffic in mysteries or miracles may find easy and ready solutions to this problem—or difficult ones, but solutions all the same—by calling on resources historians do not find on their menu of executable options. So, without external sources to contradict, corroborate or give dimension to the testimony of its authors, the gospels of the New Testament do not admit history as such, which exempts the life of Christ itself from the direct scrutiny of historical investigation. And perhaps, in the end, that's not a bad thing for historians. It's always good not to attract the attention of anyone's Inquisition.

Little makes the desperation of this situation more apparent than the thorny issue of the year in which Jesus was born. The year we call "1 CE (or AD)" is almost certainly not the date of his birth—ironically then, Jesus was most likely born several years "before Christ," by perhaps as much as a decade—moreover, his birth story as related in the gospels is highly problematical, at least from a historian's perspective. For one thing, Romans in the day wouldn't have ordered a census so that they could tax "all the world," as the Gospel of Luke claims, because with the resources they had at the time it would have been utterly infeasible.

Neither would they have made those they were assessing return to their ancestral cities—that was a Jewish custom, not a Roman one—nor does the historical record support the proposition that, out of fear of Herod's wrath and subsequent proclamation to kill all male infants in his realm, Jesus' family fled from Judea to Egypt, a story related in the second chapter of Matthew. To top it all off, Herod died in 4 BCE which means his notorious Slaughter of the Innocents can't have affected the infant Jesus if he were born in 1 CE. All in all, the life of Jesus, especially his early days, is a narrative so fraught with bias and so frail in corroborating data that it's best left for specialists in religion to explore.


II. Early Christianity and History

"If you have all this evidence and proof positive that God exists, you don't need faith. I think he kind of designed it so that we'd never be able to prove his existence. And I think that's really cool." (Mary Schweitzer, paleontologist and self-described "complete and total Christian," 2006)

This means that the historical study of Christianity begins not with Christ but with his most important early follower, Paul. Originally Saul of Tarsus—Tarsus is a city on the southern coast of Asia Minor—Saint Paul (ca. 3-67 CE) was the greatest of Christ's interpreters in the wake of his crucifixion. Often called the "second founder of the Christian church," he was a Jew who had Roman citizenship and initially oppressed Christians until he experienced an intense vision of Christ and converted to Christianity. Though never having met Jesus in person, at least not in a conventional sense, Paul became the most visible of the apostles after Christ's execution since he was the best educated and uniquely positioned to bridge the Jewish and Roman worlds, opening the new religion up to a much larger audience.

More important from a historian's standpoint, Paul is an individual with clear connections to things attested in non-biblical sources outside of the Holy Lands. Addressed to budding communities of Christians in cities around the Roman world, Paul's letters are, as far as we know, the earliest Christian documents extant, predating by a decade or more the gospels themselves, at least in the form we have them. In Paul's writings are also found for the first time several features of Christian life central in later worship, for instance, the rituals of communion and mass, the doctrine of redemption through Christ's suffering and a growing sense of separation between Christians and Jews. Over time, the last developed into a schism, then open contempt and finally outright insurgency, forging a long-standing tradition of animosity between these religious sects.

In leaning toward the wider pagan world, Paul set a precedent for incorporating aspects of Roman and Greek culture into the burgeoning cult, "christianizing" several useful and admirable aspects of ancient life. In particular, from the Greek philosophical system called Stoicism he adopted notions such as the assumption that all people are fundamentally equal, that slavery is an abomination and that war does less good in the world than peace. Greek literature also clearly informed his upbringing, as is visible in the high quality of lyric expression he produces at times:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we look through a mirror darkly, but later we will see him face to face. Now I understand only partly then I will understand fully, just as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope and love live on, three things but the greatest of them is love.

While there's no external corroboration of the tradition that Paul died a martyr in the Roman arena, this apostle stands out from the others as a visionary, organizer and motivator who gave the religion he adopted a definite form, molding inspired teaching into a working belief system. Among his many titles, Saint Paul should also be proclaimed Christianity's "Darius," its shopkeeper.

As it grew and prospered, Christianity came more and more into the public eye, and that ultimately brought its membership into conflict with Roman authority. In particular, the predilection of early believers in Christ to proclaim that the end of the world was imminent smacked to the Romans of insurrection, the sort of cabal that promoted general despair and hysteria and late payment of taxes. From the early Empire's perspective, doom-cults like Christianos did not contribute to Roman life the way good religions were expected to.

B. Rome and the Early Christians

Moreover, the Romans saw the Christians as a subset of Jews who had already been granted special privileges because of their unusual religion and, in return, delivered little more than a ragged promise of peaceful cooperation. Because of their non-conformist monotheistic notions, they had also received a general exemption from emperor-worship (see Chapter 12), which in the minds of many Romans amounted to tax-dodging. Worse still, this mercy imported the potential for setting other sects off which might decide to petition for the same sort of licence. Thus, into an already noxious environment, Christianity was pumping only more poison.

But persecution was not the way Romans as a rule preferred to handle their civic and social responsibilities. To the contrary, open acceptance of new ideas was their default position, whenever feasible. From any polytheist's perspective, after all, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with having a few more gods—the more the holier, in fact—ironically, then, the Christians' insistence on exclusivity branded them atheists in the eyes of many Romans, because not letting people worship freely seemed selfish and pointless, by the standards of the day. A Pantheon, a space consecrated to "all gods," is the type of temple the Romans and their coalition partners encouraged everyone to embrace.

So, because the Christians riled the already irritable Jewish element in Roman society and furthermore claimed their god was returning at any moment to end all time—which implied that serving the state or doing any work at all was pointless—the Romans felt they had to come down hard on these gloomy rebels who were so inexplicably ungrateful for the government's largesse. And so they did, several times in history, though never harder, it should be noted, than they did on the Jews themselves or, for that matter, other barbarian groups whom they slaughtered mercilessly and displaced in droves, always in the name of protecting Rome and the greater good. But that's mostly because there were much larger numbers of barbarians and even Jews compared to Christians, at least in the first few centuries of the modern age.

Later pro-Christian historians played up these random persecutions as some sort of organized devilry on the Romans' part. The fact is, decades often passed between assaults on Christian groups and, while it's true that several emperors did, in fact, go after Christians per se, most weren't persecuting them for their religion but their wealth. Especially in the great economic depression of the third century CE when it was becoming harder and harder for the Roman government to pay its armies and keep at bay the hordes of foreigners pounding on the gates of the frontier, emperors sought reasons to confiscate wealth anywhere they could and, because Christians lived in a tax-shelter of sorts, exempted from having to participate in certain forms of revenue collection, some of them had become quite well-off.

Many more used their religious convictions to beg off serving in the army. If the emperors of Rome were wrong to attack Christians as such—and there's no question they were wrong!—it's not hard to see why they did. They feared for the Roman state's survival and, as history ultimately proved, they were right about that, at least.

Nevertheless, late third-century Rome finally found the savior it so desperately needed, not a divine one but a hard-nosed, working-class emperor named Diocletian. This no-nonsense general who had risen to pre-eminence out of the lowest caste of Roman society looked with suspicion upon those who appealed to ideology as a means of escaping any form of public service. When he fell seriously ill toward the end of his life in 304 CE, Diocletian commanded everyone in the Empire, including Christian authorities, to sacrifice to the emperor's health.

Some Christians obeyed even though the Church was against it, others didn't, some died and that was the last systematic Roman assault on Christians in the West. In the East, on the other hand, it took a few more years, until 311 CE and the death of the Emperor Galerius who was a fierce opponent of Christianity. Then, general persecutions ended once and for all. Within the century, Rome would not only learn to tolerate this new belief-system but come to embrace it exclusively.


III. Constantine and the Triumph of Christianity

In the generation after Diocletian, Constantine (ca. 285-337 CE) came to power. He was the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity—that much at least is clear, even if little else about Constantine is—but as a man he's a historical enigma, and a great deal of conflicting information surrounds this imperial paradox, the primordial "Christian general."

Constantine was born the illegitimate son of a Roman ruler but was later made his father's heir. As a child he grew up in the Roman West, yet he later preferred the Hellenized East and, in fact, moved the center of Roman government there, where he built a grand new capital named after himself, Constantinople ("Constantine's city"). Furthermore, during his tumultuous rise to power he fomented civil war on the pretext of re-uniting Rome and, even after he'd embraced Christianity, he continued to worship the sun the way many pagans did. Without doubt, one of history's most important transitional figures, this conundrum of a man seems to have been constantly in the process of transformation himself.

What matters to the issue at hand here is that he converted to some sort of Christianity at some point during his life. The story goes that he'd had a vision of the cross before one of the crucial battles in the civil wars that brought him to power, and on that cross was written in hoc signo vince, "With this ensign, conquer!" So, according to later legend, he'd appended it to his royal insignia and thus Christianity had at last won itself a winning emperor. But close examination of the historical evidence from the day muddies the waters considerably, suggesting this is an invented history since it's confirmed only long after the fact and then by sources with a direct interest in promoting the emperor's allegiance to Christian belief. The truth is, Constantine was only finally baptized on his deathbed, and his biography hardly constitutes a model of the good Christian life.

Whatever the what-really-happened, this emperor's adoption of Christianity stopped once and for all the persecution of Christians in the West. If, in issuing the Edict of Milan in 313, Constantine did not go so far as to declare Rome a Christian state, he did enforce a policy of official neutrality in Christian affairs. Under his regime, Christians were free at last to speak as themselves in public without fear of reprisal or torture and, more important, to worship as they wished. It was surely his hope that the Edict of Milan and a general posture of tolerance would help restore order within the government and the state. Just the opposite happened.

By sanctioning Christianity, Constantine quickly learned that he had made himself an important figure in the Church and, like any influential "board member," he was now obliged to give his advice on matters of consequence which, as it turned out, were all there seemed to be in this religion. The Christian Church in his day was, in fact, boiling over with controversy, and Constantine—much to his surprise and, no doubt, dismay—found himself having to render judgment about complex theological issues. If anyone ever in history was poorly prepared or ill-equipped to debate the nature of the Trinity, it was this lucky bastard.


IV. Early Christian Controversies

The evidence is unclear about Constantine's motivations for adopting the Christian religion. Part of him must have believed in it, part of him must have believed it would help bind together a fractured society, and part of him surely hoped that from it would rise a new brand of soldier pledged to follow the Emperor's cross-encrusted signum into victory. If so, his conversion turned out to offer the mere mirage of peace and order, for not only did his investment in Christianity embroil Roman government in doctoral-dissertation-level religious disputes, but it seriously alienated the many who refused to join the Church, those traditional pagans who still constituted the majority of Romans, the conservatives of their day.

What's particularly compelling in all this is that, while the city of Rome and its urban counterparts across the late classical world were splintering into gangs and cults and various interest groups, life and religion in the countryside, where the vast majority of people under Roman sway lived throughout antiquity, changed remarkably little as far as we can tell. There, the worship of local gods and spirits persisted, even as countless armies marched by and revolutions revolved. Well past Roman times and into the Middle Ages, these so-called pagan beliefs carried on. Indeed, Charlemagne's Christ as late as the eighth century met more than one Thor on the battlefield of gods. It's important, then, to note that most of the phenomena we think of as Roman, including Christianity, were features of life in municipal Rome, the life which urban, not rural Romans knew.

Furthermore, to many Christians in the day, especially Church administrators, there were "heathens" inside their ranks, too. Because much acrimonious debate surrounded the formation of the hierarchy which ultimately came to govern the early Church, this antagonism tended to center around what constituted being a "good upstanding Christian." That gave rise to terms like orthodoxy (literally in Greek, "straight opinion," meaning those views sanctioned by the officials of the Church) as opposed to heresy (literally, "choice," implying the freedom to follow a doctrine of one's own desire). Fascinating, isn't it, that even back then "choice" was a word around which the winds of controversy swirled?

One of the earliest and most prominent of the heretical groups denounced by Church officials was a class of believers called the Gnostics. In evidence as early as the second century CE, they represented not so much an organized sect as a motley collection of alternative Christians whose views on the nature of Jesus and the lessons of his ministry differed broadly, sometimes directly contradicting each other as much as the Church. To many of the bishops and saints who held the reins of the burgeoning Christian community at that time, these factions represented a real—if not the real—enemy.

Because of the diversity it embraced, it's impossible to sum up Gnostic theology quickly or simply. Nor does it help that the Church's condemnation did not allow a single Gnostic scripture to survive intact from antiquity. But in 1945, a fortuitous find of ancient texts later called the Nag Hammadi library—Nag Hammadi (or Naj ‘Hammadi) is the site in southern Egypt where these texts were discovered—increased enormously our awareness of the wide range of religious views early Christians embraced. This cache of fifty-two scriptures included several works by Gnostic authors whose "gospels" were later censured and censored by the Church. Before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi trove, most of these writings had survived only in tattered fragments, several completely lost.

But with their resurrection came a whole new insight into the complexity of Christianity's early years and growth as a religion. As Elaine Pagels says (p. xxxv) in her eye-opening boo k, The Gnostic Gospels, a work which has made the world of nascent Christianity accessible to many non-historians today:

Yet even the fifty-two writings discovered at Nag Hammadi offer only a glimpse of the complexity of the early Christian movement. We now begin to see that what we call Christianity—and what we identify as Christian tradition—actually represents only a small selection of specific sources, chosen from among dozens of others. . . . Now, for the first time, we have the opportunity to find out about the earliest Christian heresy for the first time, the heretics can speak for themselves.

To give just a brief glimpse of the scope of this "heresy," most Gnostics write about Jesus in less literal terms than orthodox scriptures. To them, the real world was evil, incapable of either containing or deriving from a true divinity. Thus, Jesus wasn't really among us, but just seemed to be. Gnostics subscribed to the notion that those who met this god in real life saw him only with the crude instruments of sensation humans possess—eyes and ears—and these crude tools of perception had misled them grossly. What they had really encountered was merely a specter of Jesus' actual presence, a shadow of his true luminous godhead.

This meant Jesus' suffering on the cross was not the point of his life and ministry. To many Gnostics, he was far too removed from the material world to feel human pain. In this context, wearing a crucifix makes little sense waving it around in battle even less. Nor does baptism. One Gnostic author remarks on how people "go down into the water and come up without having received anything"—that is, they just get wet—and with this, martyrdom cannot carry special meaning, either. "Anyone can do these things," sighs another Gnostic author.

But the heart of the controversy between the Gnostics and the Church centered around the value of bishops and priests, and whether there was any need for clergy at all. To many non-orthodox Christians, such things were "waterless canals," without any definitive basis in what Jesus was verified to have said. Instead, wholesome Christians must find their own way to heaven by exploring their personal feelings, not participating in empty rituals bearing no clear sanction from Christ. Or, in the words of the Gnostic teacher Theodotus, "each person recognizes the Lord in his own way, not all alike." Again, Pagels explicates (p. xxxvi):

[I]nvestigation of the newly discovered gnostic sources . . . suggests that these religious debates—questions of the nature of God, or of Christ—simultaneously bear social and political implications that are crucial to the development of Christianity as an institutional religion. In simplest terms, ideas which bear implications contrary to that development come to be labeled as "heresy" ideas which implicitly support it become "orthodox."

What Gnostics saw as the model for a better way to heaven were Jesus' miracles which to them hinted at his supernatural essence. They preached also that the knowledge of self was the knowledge of God, saying "When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the sons of the living Father." And, because gender is clearly not relevant to matters of spirit like these, some Gnostics spoke of men and women having equal footing before God and, thus, of sharing fully in the responsibilities of a Christian life. Referring to Mary Magdalene as one of Christ's disciples, the Gnostic Gospel of Mary envisions her as the foremost of the apostles and calls her the "woman who knew the All." Others went so far as to speak of "God the Mother."

All in all, it was a very different take on Christian thinking than that endorsed by the Church politic. Indeed, to more than one theological expert in the last century, the discovery of the Gnostic scriptures has proven nothing less than shocking, especially in how profoundly at odds the Gnostics were with what later evolved into the standard view. More confusing yet was that so complex and radically diverse a system of thought existed so early in the Christian tradition, and that was nowhere near the end of radical thinking in the first few centuries of the religion's evolution.

In the later stages of the Roman Empire, neither pagans nor Gnostics proved the fiercest foe the early Church would face. Because in principle Gnostics refused to act collectively, they made an easy target for the clergy's growing intolerance toward internal diversity. This type of factionalism could be rooted out and isolated, silenced or eradicated with relative ease because its adherents had no overarching bureaucracy sheltering them from general onslaught. Even if the process took centuries, it was not all that difficult, certainly compared to the other challenges that lay ahead. Little did Christian officials suspect a far more dangerous foe was lurking within their very own ranks, a well-organized body of questioners who were prepared to attack the orthodox vision of Christ.

The basic issue underlying this festering controversy stemmed from Jesus himself, who in the day represented a new type of divinity, both man and god at the same time. While in Greek religion Dionysus was also depicted as having a two-fold nature—likewise, both mortal and divine—once Dionysus had assumed immortal status, he no longer suffered in human ways. Jesus, of course, was quite different. As recorded in the four gospels accepted by the orthodox Church, his story gave rise to serious questions about the exact nature of his divinity, issues which kept cropping up because they were inherent in the narratives of his life, in particular, how a being could be both a deity and a non-deity at once.

That, in turn, led directly to another complication built into Christianity, the relationship between God and Jesus. If Jesus is God's Son, to many that means he should be taken as subordinate to his father—good sons obey their fathers, don't they?—the logical response is, then, to worship the Father principally, the Son secondarily, which is in effect to return Christianity to its Jewish roots. If, instead, you make the choice to see Jesus as God incarnate, then you're left with the enigma that God is his own Son.

This perplexing conundrum fueled many a lively debate among the first few centuries of Christians, especially after their religion had assumed world prominence in the days following Constantine. Much as earnest deliberation can be a helpful and healthy exercise for a growing and evolving system like early Christianity, it can also make some aspects of organizing a working religion hard to manage, such as spreading the good word. That is, when priests have a hard time explaining easily the nature and function of a deity—even something as simple as where he came from or who his parents are, or parent is—it can impede the process of recruiting converts, especially among the hordes of unschooled barbarians filtering through and around late Rome.

The result was a faction of churchmen led by a dynamic and well-educated priest named Arius (ca. 250-336 CE), who championed a more remedial version of Christ than the mystical, enigmatic vision offered by the orthodox Church. Seeing Jesus as a divine being and the offspring of God but not a god exactly like God—in other words, a very high-level, celestial messenger sent to earth—this heresy later called Arianism endorsed the position that, if Jesus is the Son of God, then he cannot be allowed to assume precedence over his Father in heaven or on earth. In essence, Arius' conclusion was that the orthodox interpretation of the Trinity made no sense, at least not in terms of power-sharing rather, logic dictated the Father had to be primary and central, and thus should be respected as such.

It was a difficult position to counter in the arena of argument and reason. Common sense dictates that sons should submit to their fathers, and common decency demands respect for elders. But Church officials could not admit such a proposition without conceding Jesus' inferiority to God, so they had little choice but to step into the fray and attempt to squelch this controversy. Leading the opponents of Arianism was none other than Arius' own superior Athanasius—his boss, so to speak—the patriarch of Alexandria and a formidable power-broker in the Church. Also a savvy administrator, Athanasius made no real attempt to counter the arguments of his trouble-making underling but, instead, insisted that Jesus was ultimately unknowable and the Trinity a mystical union. In simple terms, he told Arius to shut up.

But an issue that divisive does not die down so easily, and like so many other theological questions circulating in the day, Arianism, too, ultimately landed in Constantine's lap. Like any powerful, under-educated politician confronted with a real brain-teaser of this sort, the emperor called together his advisors, in this case, Christian clergy from all across the Empire to a synod, the famous Council of Nicaea (near Constantinople) in 325 CE. After some vigorous debate, the bishops ended up backing Athanasius and forged the famous Nicene Creed in which adherents and converts to Christianity were sworn to uphold the orthodox perception of Christ as "begotten not made" by God and "(who) was made flesh, was made man, suffered and rose again on the third day . . ."

The credo did not stop there either. It continued on to an outright denial of the major tenets underlying Arianism and Gnosticism, in fact, any version of Christianity which challenged the Church's authority, forcing its membership to denounce these heresies publicly:

But those who say that there was once when he was not and before he was begotten he was not and he was made of things that were not or maintain that the Son of God is of a different essence or substance or created or subject to moral change or alteration—the Catholic and Apostolic Church condemn them to damnation.

This constitutes the wholesale deprecation of all heresies which were at that time raising their voices in opposition to the policies and existence of not only the orthodox vision of Christ but also an organized Church government.

But even such extreme measures did not forestall the growth of Arianism. Later synods reversed the decision of the Council of Nicaea and confirmed Arian views, which only exacerbated divisions within the Christian world. More important, Arian proponents played well the advantages inherent in their vision of Christ, especially outside the Empire in areas where Church bureaucrats who lived for the most part in Roman metropolises had as yet little influence. The Arian Christians' simpler conception of Jesus as subordinate to and discrete from God allowed them to win many converts, especially among those unfamiliar with the complex theological history underlying Christian orthodox doctrine. In particular, the Arian monk Ulfilas was able to attract many Germanic barbarian groups to his side, the Goths especially who became avid non-orthodox Christians.

The result was that Church officials hardened their position on not only dissension within their ranks but also the interpretation of scripture and what to them constituted acceptable texts. The Gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary and Philip, along with many other accounts of Jesus' life in wide circulation by that time, were branded heretical and stricken from the canon of the New Testament. Soon thereafter, clerical officials ordered the destruction of all copies of these texts, and it was probably amidst this censorship that some unknown Gnostic supporter buried those scriptures which were discovered many centuries later at Nag Hammadi. If so, just as with Akhetaten, a systematic attempt to erase history has provided us with our best access to what-really-happened-in-the-past.

C. The Growth of Church Government

Among the administrators of the Church, the internal unrest precipitated by these heresies only intensified interest in formalizing holy services and offices of all sorts. Doctrine and ritual came to center around what is now known as the seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, marriage, ordination and final unction. Church leadership fell into the hands of bishops, each of whom oversaw a see, a religious "province" of sorts, in which, as it turned out, not all bishops were equal. Those situated in the great urban centers of the Empire became archbishops ("head-bishops") whose opinion carried more weight because of the large populations they represented. In particular, the Bishop of Rome stood out among his peers and hence came to be called the papa ("Father"). From this evolved the papacy and the office of Pope.

The justification advanced to lend credence to this bureaucracy sheds light on the psychological machinery of the early Church, all the more because the reasoning used is likely to rest on invented history. The bishoprics and sees of the Roman West grew up in places unassociated with Jesus himself, places it could not even be imagined he ever went in person. Thus, in order to ground their communities in Christ himself somehow, the bishops had no choice but to build bridges to the apostles of Jesus, but that was difficult, too. There was no clear or credible testimony about the lives of Jesus' apostles after his crucifixion—where did they go? what do they do? how did they die?—so amidst this yawning vacuum of data, the story arose that they had spread out across the Empire, seeding Christian cells and founding the sees which evolved later. In origin, this unconfirmed history probably served truth less than the western bishops' need to tie their authority directly to Jesus himself.

Through this elaborate reconstruction of the past—the transference of power from Jesus to the apostles and then to the bishops came to be called the apostolic succession—Church bureaucrats linked their authority to the seminal voices and events of the New Testament. But this path to empowerment, be it revisionist or not, also proved no smooth or easy road. Besides the continuing resistance of heretics who sought to undercut and discredit leaders like the Pope, the bishops themselves vied for real control of an increasingly wealthy and influential institution. In particular, the patriarch of Constantinople, who led a large and well-organized community of Christians in the great capital city of the eastern half of the Empire, was reluctant to take his marching orders from an occidental bishop inhabiting faraway Rome.

Later, as the western end of the Empire began to fall apart, it made even less sense to Rome's eastern denizens to continue obeying some purported papa. By the early Middle Ages (ca. 600 CE), the Roman popes had become corrupt and ineffectual—often they were also the uneducated and illiterate kin of corrupt barbarians, the progeny of those whose fathers had sacked and pillaged the holy seat—or so they seemed to Asian eyes. Eventually, the growing sense of estrangement between Church officials in Rome and Constantinople led to the division of Christianity into Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox factions. This, in turn, opened the door to military conflicts like the Crusades (see Chapter 15).

Thus, the early Church's efforts to promote unity within the Christian world by imposing standard doctrine and firm governance only ended up fracturing it incurably in the long run. The irony and futility of orthodoxy-through-force would, no doubt, not be lost on the Gnostics. Indeed, is that sound we hear from deep beneath the sands of Nag Hammadi the lamentation of an extinguished sect, or is it laughter and echoes of "I told you so"?


V. Conclusion: What Early Christianity Teaches

God the Mother, Mary Magdalene the Apostle, a Jesus who never actually suffered on the cross—it all seems unimaginably foreign to the modern view of Christianity. Even to suggest these sorts of things in most corners of the Christian world today would be to open the door for widespread recrimination and scorn or, worse yet, entice someone to author a best-seller like The Da Vinci Code. And yet ideas of this sort were not only advanced in Christianity's first centuries but also attracted many adherents and enjoyed considerable popularity, at least to judge from the vitriol with which their orthodox adversaries attacked the "heretics" who promulgated these notions.

To see such a wide range of beliefs attested so near the navitity of Christ's religion may seem odd to many today, not just on theological grounds but because, in general, we're taught to expect increasing differentiation as things expand over time. The widely used, so-called "Darwinian" model of evolution which is built around notions like survival-of-the-fittest and natural selection presumes that growth will be accompanied by rising variation—often presented as graphs that look like upside-down Christmas trees—in other words, we're trained to look for greater complexity over time as things evolve. While that may be the way things work in paleontology, it's not the pattern of change which the historical study of Christianity presents.

Indeed, the great open frontier of the Christian religion in its earliest phase has left behind a record of more creative and pioneering visions of Christ's message and divinity than all later ages combined. And as time passed, orthodox forces antagonistic to any ideology at odds with institutionized Christianity obliterated those conceptions of Jesus which ran against the growing mainstream. And once Christ came to be defined in certain ways, and on that perspective of his life and teaching depended a powerful and influential social institution like the Church, it was all but impossible to recast his image without changing what he stood for and, of more immediate consequence, what stood for him.

And that makes tracking down a historical Christ a very difficult endeavor, not so much because the what-really-happened of his life has been obscured in a void of verifiable data—it has been, but that's not the point!—but because it ended up mattering so much to so many people across such a long stretch of time. All in all, Jesus has proven an ideal target for invented history, which is not to say any particular narrative about him rests on lies, only that he is the sort of figure around which exaggeration and myth tend to accrue. In other words, as we see so often in history, when people care very much about something, the truth of history isn't likely to be what they serve first, or at all.

But it seems safe to say at least this much: out of so many possibilities, one perspective on Christ won out, the literal view of his life and resurrection. Yet we now know this was neither the only nor the most "historical" take on his life story. Rather, it met the needs of an institution in ascendancy and was the version of the truth most feasible for a world needing comfort and stability amidst turmoil and savage upheaval. And if this was the first time Christian orthodoxy was to go to war with heresy, it would certainly not be the last.

In later ages, others followed the trail mapped out by the Gnostics and their heretical brethren and re-ignited the debate over what constituted a Christ and a God. I don't mean Protestants at the time of the Reformation (the early 1500's CE)—though they certainly fit the mold—but nearly a millennium before them, another group began asking questions which challenged the central tenets of orthodoxy and through innovative insight and revelation structured a religion that was both revolutionary and at the same time rooted deeply in the theological traditions of the Near East. From this was created a new type of believer who would take the controversies of Christianity to different and unexpected heights. More important, their novel responses to classical Christian paradoxes like the nature of the Trinity and the role of an institutional Church would find expression in a different world, in a different language, in Arabic in fact. They were, of course, the Moslems.


Hidden Africans Of The Bible And Early Church

How seldom are we made aware of the special promises that God has given to African people! Psalm 68:31 declares that “Cush shall reach out its arms to God!” (The early Church loved this promise, for they considered Cush to be a metaphor for the gentile Bride of Christ.) The Psalms predicted that one day people would recognize the spirituality of the Cushites, and declare that they had been born anew in Zion (87:3-6). Isaiah foretold that God would bring forth a remnant from Cush (11:11), and a redeemed people bearing gifts to Zion (18:1-8). Zephaniah proclaimed that from beyond the rivers of Cush, God’s people should bring offerings (3:10). Amos expresses God’s concern for Cush: “‘Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?’ says the Lord” (9:7).

Biblical scholars are aware that “Cush” sometimes refers to all of Africa, sometimes to all of Africa except Egypt, and sometimes to ancient Nubia, stretching from modern Aswan in the north to Khartoum in the south. Today most of this area lies in the Sudan. But how is the general reader to understand that Cush and Cushite (used 57 times in the Hebrew Bible) are in fact a designation for an African nation and people? Some versions of the Bible translate “Cush” as “Ethiopia,” but this does not ordinarily designate the modern country of that name. David Adamo has suggested that the best translation is simply “Africa.”

All of us have a right to know and applaud the important biblical role played by Africans. People of African descent may claim the deep roots of their ancestors in the Bible.

Africa In The Old Testament

We read in Genesis that one of the rivers of Eden ran around the whole land of Cush, and another encircled the land of Havilah that yielded gold and onyx and bdellium (2:10-13). These products were found in antiquity principally in the area now known as the Sudan. If the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are located in Babylonia, then there is good reason to believe some of Eden lay in Africa. We are now told that the oldest human remains may also be traced to Africa.

Hagar, the Egyptian concubine of Abraham, may well have derived her ancestry from south of Egypt, and she alone of all the Bible characters gives God a name (Gen 16:13). Like Abraham, she meets God in the form of an angel and is given a promise that her progeny shall become a great nation (Gen 21:18).

Moses’ Cushite wife aroused the bitter jealousy of his sister Miriam. (Num 12:11-16). Amusingly, Miriam, who resents her black sister-in-law, becomes white with leprosy until she mends her ways. If this Cushite wife was Zipporah, then the Moses’ father-in-law is Jethro the priest, who instituted the judicial, administrative and sacrificial patterns of Israel (Ex 18:1-27). He and his family had received the exiled Moses during Moses’ forty years as a shepherd in Sinai.

Zipporah had understood the importance of circumcision and performed the ritual on their sons (Ex 18:1-27). Even if the Cushite wife refers to a second spouse, then Moses also looks to his new father-in-law for guidance and direction (Num 10:29-32 Jdg 1:16).

When the Israelites settle the land of Canaan, there were Africans among them. Some may have left Egypt along with the Israelites at the time of the Exodus others came with military invaders (1 Kg 14:25-28 2 Chr 12:2-3 14:9-15 cf. 16:8). Apparently an Ethiopian colony was created at Gerar as a buffer between Egypt and Judah. Thus, the Ethiopians became permanent residents in Palestine, remaining there until time of Hezekiah (715-685 BCE).

Accordingly we read, “They journeyed to the entrance of Gedor, to the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks, where they found rich, good pasture, and the land was very broad, quiet, and peaceful for the former inhabitants there belonged to Ham” (1 Chr 4:39-40). Further, a group of Philistines and Arabs were said to be settled “near the Ethiopians” (2 Chr 21:16).

Persons of African descent appear to have taken an active role in Israel’s social and political life. The bride in Song of Solomon is “black and beautiful” (Song 1:5). A Cushite who possessed tact, discretion, and a high position in the royal court appeared as a trusted courtier sent to tell David news of Absalom’s death (2 Sam 18:19-32).

Africans continued to enjoy royal favor, as Solomon married an Egyptian princess (1 Kg 9:16, 24 2 Chr 8:11) and received the Queen of Sheba (1 Kg 10:1-13 2 Chr 9:1-2). This influential queen ruled dark-skinned peoples on both sides of the Red Sea, and she may well have initially come to Solomon to negotiate a trade treaty with his growing maritime power. Though she tested him with hard questions, in the end she told him all that was in her heart. It appears that in this black woman Solomon found a kindred spirit with whom he could discourse freely.

Whether or not that relationship was sexual, there is evidence that other alliances did indeed produce children. Zephaniah, a descendant of Hezekiah, is called the son of Cushi and brings special prophecies about Cush (Zeph 1:1 3:10). Jehudi, the courtier sent to bear Jeremiah’s message from Baruch to King Zedekiah, appears to have had a Cushite ancestor (Jer 36:14). Faithfully, Baruch stands before the king, reading the words of God, while the king slashes the scroll and casts it in the fire (Jer 36: 21, 23).

Ebed-Melek, a confidential advisor of the king, is identified as a Cushite four times (Jer 38:7, 10, 12 39:16). Believing that Jeremiah was bringing God’s authentic voice to Judah, Ebed-Melek risked his life to rescue the prophet from the cistern and secure for him a hearing with the king. Jeremiah commends the courtier’s faith (39:15-18) and proclaims to him a special covenant of God’s protection.

When Cushite pharaohs ruled over Egypt, they contracted military alliances with both Israel and Judah, especially during the time of the Twenty-fifth or Cushite Dynasty. Sabacho (716-701 BC, called So in 2 Kings 17:4) contracted an alliance against Assyria with Hoshea, king of Israel, while Tirhakah (690-664) came to the aid of Hezekiah when Jerusalem was beseiged (2 Kg 19:9 Is 37:9). Mortuary figurines of Tirhakah clearly reveal his African features, and his enormous statue still towers above the great temple complex at Karnak.

Africa In The New Testament

The kingdom of Cush continues to play a role in the New Testament, where we read of the conversion of Candace’s Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:26-39). Candace was the royal title of the Queen Mother of Nubia, a powerful African nation located principally in what is now Sudan. Greek was spoken in the court, so the chamberlain would have had no problem reading a Septuagint version of the prophet Isaiah and Philip, a Greek-speaking Jew, would easily have communicated the Gospel to him.

It was Candace who wielded the real political and military power from her capitol city in Meroe while her son served as a religious figurehead. The royal mother made gifts to deities on behalf of the kingdom and may have sent her chamberlain with a gift to Jerusalem. The arts of civilization flourished at a high level throughout her realm, and twice her forces engaged the Roman army in battle.

Further to the north lay Cyrene, capital city of the Roman province Cyrenaica. The city was famous for three schools of philosophy and for native sons who excelled in medicine, mathematics, rhetoric and literature. Perhaps the most illustrious of these was the astronomer Eratosthenes, who in approximately 200 BC computed the circumference of the earth with remarkable accuracy. No less brilliant was the Hellenistic poet Callimachus, who became the director of the library at Alexandria and acquired an astonishing reputation for the versatility of his aptitudes. Athletes from Cyrene excelled in Olympic competition, especially in horse chariot racing.

Ships carried corn, oil and wool from the fertile fields of Cyrene, as well as a contraceptive known as sylphium, much sought after in Rome. Cyrene maintained a monopoly on the herb until it became extinct through overharvesting approximately AD 200.

The citizens of Cyrene roamed far and wide throughout the Mediterannean world as merchants, athletes, philosophers, orators, mercenaries and entertainers. The Jewish community of the city had a deep interest in Judaism and produced an important literature including a five-book history of the Maccabees by Jason the Cyrenian (2 Maccabees 2:43). There were close ties with Jerusalem. Simon of Cyrene may have been impressed to carry the cross of Jesus when he came as a devout Jew to pay a Passover visit to Jerusalem. Apparently he became a believer, and his sons were known to the Christian community (Mk 15:21 cf. Rom 16:13).

Although an African synagogue, that of the Cyreneans and Alexandrians, first objected to the preaching of Stephen (Acts 6:9), other natives of Cyrene became early adherents of Christianity and carried the good news to Cyprus (Acts 11:19-26). From there Cyrenians and Cyprians travelled on to Antioch and innovated a Gospel approach to non-Jewish Greeks. This revolutionary action drew the attention of the Jerusalem Council, and Barnabas was dispatched to assess this new development. Convinced of the authenticity of the mission, Barnabas strategized with the leaders and went to Tarsus to seek out Paul. Implementation of the Africans’ dream would require the involvement of a multinational and multicultural task force. As the church at Antioch prayed, searched the Scriptures and strategized for a full year, a core of leaders developed. Of the five who are named, two are African: Lucius of Cyrene, and Simon called the Black (Acts 13:1-2). Here again, translations fail to inform us that “Niger” is Latin for “Black.” This may well be none other than Simon of Cyrene.

The missionary agency was in large part initiated, strategized, promoted and directed by Africans. The story of Acts tells us that Paul and Barnabas were promptly sent to Cyprus, home of some members of the Antiochene community (Acts 13:4-12), but archaeological evidence tells us of the arrival of the Gospel in Cyrene. By the end of the first century AD, there were Christian burials inside the Jewish cemetery at Cyrene.

Africans In The Early Church

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) was a Christian philosopher with a keen desire to win pagan intellectuals to Christ. He directed a catechetical school at Alexandria and wrote important exhortations to the heathen as well as to Christians, calling them to a more perfect life in Christ. Another African, Origen (185-254), became the director of a catechetical school at age 18. His was the finest mind the church would produce in 300 years. Origen was highly successful in debating Jews, pagans, and Gnostics, and is in fact credited with destroying Gnosticism. This important biblical scholar, theologian, exegete, and pioneer in biblical criticism produced the Hexapla, comparing six versions of the Bible. He profoundly influenced the theological thought of the succeeding centuries.

Tertullian (160-225) was a pagan lawyer who converted to Christianity. He authored apologetic, theological, and controversial works, and was the first theologian to write in Latin. It was he who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity, and coined nearly a thousand new words to explain Christian truths.

Athanasius (296-373), was Bishop of Alexandria and a major theologian and writer. He was the chief upholder of the doctrine that Christ was both man and God, and was the principle opponent of the Arian doctrine that Jesus was man rather than God. Even as a very young deacon, he was influential at the Council of Nicea. Opponents referred to him as the “black dwarf.” He was repeatedly exiled and persecuted, but his principles ultimately prevailed at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Cyril, who died in 444, was also Bishop of Alexandria. He brilliantly represented and systematized the teachings of Athanasius and other Alexandrians. He was a vigorous opponent of heresy.

Perpetua and Felicitas were two martyrs who died in the Carthage arena in 202. Their story was widely used in winning others to Christ.

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, died a martyr in 258. He possessed a profound knowledge of Scriptures, wrote important theological works, fought heresy, and insisted on the unity of the Church.

Lactantius (c. AD 317) is best known for his Institutes, described as the “most comprehensive apology which Christianity created before the end of the time of persecution.” The major theme of the Institutes is justice. Lactantius insisted that God had given humanity a way of life open to all people regardless of race, education, sex, color or creed.

St. Maurice of Aganum (born about 287) was a Roman general who refused to kill Christians during the slave revolt in Gaul. He declared to the emperor Maximian:

We cannot obey you without denying God, the Creator of all things, our Master as well as yours, whether you acknowledge it or not.

He was slaughtered by imperial decree along with his regiment for his defense of slaves.

G. Marius Victorinus (280-363) was a neoplatonist professor of rhetoric with a brilliant record as philosopher and scholar. Educated in Africa but taught in Rome, he wrote theological and devotional works that were to lead to the conversion of Augustine.

Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, was one of the Doctors of the Church. A profoundly influential theologian, he dealt with three heresies: Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. Augustine had remarkable insights into the human heart and soul. His most famous work is Confessions, written to describe his conversion and win others to Christ by detailing the philosophical basis for Christianity. Monica (331-387) was Augustine’s prayerful and powerful mother.

Zeno of Verona served as bishop of Verona from 362 to 375. Over one hundred of his tractates survive as well as a collection of sermons.

Optatus of Melevis served as a Bishop in North Africa. He worked to reconcile Christians during the Donatist Schism, and was influential in the East and West as well as in Africa. He died before 400 AD.

By 480 Victor of Vita served as Bishop in the province of Byzacena. He described the survival of the Church during an invasion of vandals. He perceived that the persecution was not only religious but also political.

Bishop Vigilius of Thapsus participated in a religious synod between the Arians and the Orthodox in 484. He produced important theological and ecclesiastical works.

Fulgentius of Ruspe (467-533) was a Roman civil servant who resigned his post to enter the priesthood. In 507 he was elected bishop of Ruspe. Later driven out of Africa by the Vandals, he was instrumental in popularizing Augustine’s work.

Three early popes were African. Pope Victor I (AD 189-199) popularized Latin as the common language of the church, thereby making Christianity more democratic and accessible to ordinary people. Pope Melchaides (311-314, sometimes known as Meltiades) was persecuted prior to his reign as pope. He was considered one of the African Christian martyrs. Pope Gelasius I (A.D. 492-496) worked to settle conflicts in church and believed that “both civil and sacred powers are of divine origin, and independent, each in its own sphere.”

Let us thank God for the important role played by Africans in the Bible and early Church. Let us share the Good News that Christ died to redeem people of all races and nationalities. Let us proclaim that God’s love knows no boundaries. And let us affirm the amazing diversity of God’s creation!


Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he commanded the disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In the first few centuries of the Church, this was conducted in a manner following the example of Jesus. He was baptized in the Jordan river by St. John the Baptist and as a result, Christians preferred baptism in places with readily available flowing water.

The Didache, an anonymous Christian treatise that dates between the years 65 and 80, gives specific instructions as to where baptism should take place.

This early instruction explains that baptism could be administered through full immersion in a river or other “living water,” or it could be done by simply pouring water three times over the head. Both forms were valid and used depending on the situation. Fasting, as can be seen in the quote above, was also a vital part of the preparation for baptism and included both the “baptizer” (i.e. the priest or deacon) and the one to be “baptized.”

An ancient text from the 3rd century called the Apostolic Tradition, commonly attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, explains how the rite of baptism was also surrounded by many other ceremonies. Below is a brief guide to the major parts of baptism in the early Church (Note: This does not include every minute detail, but only the basics.)

Baptism was (and still is in the Catholic Church), preceded by several minor “exorcisms,” where priest or bishop prayed prayers over the catechumen about to be baptized, freeing them from any attachment to sin.



Read more:
These powerful exorcisms are performed in parishes every year

All-Night Vigil

According to the Apostolic Tradition, “They shall spend all that night in vigil, listening to reading and instruction.” Baptism was a major life-change for these early converts and the Church wanted to ensure that they were well prepared.

Profession of Faith and Renouncement of Sin

Before baptism could be administered, the catechumens had to profess their faith in front of the priest/bishop and renounce their former way of life. The Catholic Encyclopediaexplains how this renunciation and profession was practiced.

Anointing with oil

Those to be baptized were anointed with oil before and after baptism. The first oil was an “oil of exorcism” and the second oil after baptism symbolized their anointing into the three-fold mission as “priest, prophet and king.” The current formula for anointing the newly baptized explains this symbolism, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Stripping off the old, to put on the new

The Apostolic Tradition explains how those to be baptized must “remove their clothing,” and go into the water “naked.” Scholars debate the extent to which baptisms were “naked” and whether or not it meant simply the outer garments, or all clothes. In either case it spiritually represented a particular “death” to the old self and a firm departure from sin. It was a physical reminder that they were to be born a new person in baptism and had to cast off their old ways, discarding their old clothes in order to put on the new life in Christ.

Immediately after baptism the newly baptized would put on a white garment, which represented the cleansing of their sins and the purity of their soul, born anew in the font of baptism.

The current rite of baptism in the Catholic Church illustrates this symbolism.

In many ways the Catholic Church has faithfully maintained the early practices of baptism, seen most fully in the Rite of Christian Imitation for Adults, but can also be glimpsed in a condensed form in the baptism of infants.

Baptism is a beautiful sacrament, one which marks the soul of a Christian for all eternity.



Read more:
The biblical reason why Catholics baptize infants



Read more:
Do You Know the Date of Your Baptism?

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St. Paul's Conversion

Saul of Tarsus, more commonly known as St. Paul, was a zealous and intelligent rabbi who persecuted early Christians. Then one day, on the road to Damascus, Paul experienced a conversion to Christ when. His experience of the risen Christ led him to see that the Gospel transcended cultural limits, leading him to be an influential figure in the evangelization of Jew and Gentile alike.

Read more about St. Paul's conversion, his writings, and his theological insights here .


The Witness of Christian Compassion

Ancient societies and religion were not known for their care for the sick and dying. Christians who often risked their lives to care even for non-Christians represented a radical difference in the values taught by the Bible than anything else known at that time.

It was common in ancient societies, including Rome, which saw the inception and rise of Christianity, to abandon the sick and dying. Roman religion did not teach followers to care for the helpless.

Destitute families lacking any resources to help sometimes even abandoned the chronically ill to die. In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were routinely left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left to die of exposure. If a father decided that the family couldn’t afford to feed another child, that child would be abandoned on the steps of a temple or in the public square. Almost without exception defective newborns were exposed in this way. (Christian History magazine)

In ancient Greek religion, the god Asclepius was sought for healing, but there was no ethic of caring for the sick and dying that this god encouraged.

Against this backdrop, Christianity was a distinct contrast. The Bible teaches the intrinsic value of every human being, and this is what motivated early Christians to begin caring for their ailing. Church leaders followed the biblical admonition to visit the sick. Congregations and communities set up formal practices for care. And as this became common among Christians, they were challenged to care for non-Christians, as well.

In the third century AD, an epidemic swept across Northern Africa, Italy, and the western empire. As many as 5000 people a day were dying in Rome. The sick were abandoned in the streets and the dead left unburied. In Carthage, the Christians were blamed for the disease, and the emperor ordered Christians to sacrifice to their gods to end it. Carthage’s bishop, Cyprian, encouraged Christians to care for the sick and dying. They buried the dead and risked getting sick by taking in the sick. This was repeated other times in the early centuries of the church during epidemics. Christians introduced a new concern and standard of care for sick people.

Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity, argues that some of the marked growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to care and compassion Christians showed for the sick. He tracks increased conversion rates during three plagues: the Antonine plague (2nd c.), the Cyprian plague (3rd c.), and the Justinian plague (6th c.). Christians demonstrated their love for God and biblical values, and they offered a very attractive witness.

Their example has been followed through the history of the Christian church. Catholic orders were devoted to care. Mennonites in Holland and Quakers in England formed societies to improve health care. Modern medical missionaries carry on in this mission today.

Today, we take for granted the responsibility to care for the sick regardless of religious convictions. It was Christians practicing what the Bible taught them that began caring for those in need.


Events 26-50

800
Charlemagne crowned emperor by the pope on Christmas. He advances the church, education, and culture.

863
Cyril and Methodius, Greek brothers, evangelize the Serbs. Cyril develops the Cyrillic alphabet which remains the basis for the Slavonic used in the liturgy of the Russian church.

909
A monastery is established at Cluny and becomes a center for reform. By the mid-12th century, there were over 1,000 Clunaic houses.

988
Conversion of Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, who, after examining several religions, chooses Orthodoxy to unify and guide the Russian people.

1054
The East-West Schism. Brewing for centuries, rupture finally comes to a head with the fissure that has lasted to this day.

1093
Anselm becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. A devoted monk and outstanding theologian, his Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?), explored the atonement.

1095
Pope Urban II launches the First Crusade. The crowd wildly shouts "God wills it!" There would be several crusades over the next centuries with many tragic results.

1115
Bernard founds the monastery at Clairvaux. He and the monastery become a major center of spiritual and political influence.

about 1150
Universities of Paris and Oxford are founded and become incubators for renaissance and reformation and precursors for modern educational patterns.

1173
Peter Waldo founds the Waldensians, a reform movement emphasizing poverty, preaching and the Bible. He and his followers are eventually condemned as heretics and the Waldensians suffer great persecution for centuries.

1206
Francis of Assisi renounces wealth and goes on to lead a band of poor friars preaching the simple life.

1215
The Fourth Lateran Council deals with heresy, reaffirms Roman Catholic doctrines and strengthens the authority of the popes.

1273
Thomas Aquinas completes work on Summa Theoligica, the theological masterpiece of the Middle Ages.

1321
Dante completes The Divine Comedy, the greatest work of Christian literature to emerge from the Middle Ages.

1378
Catherine of Siena goes to Rome to help heal the "Great Papal Schism" which had resulted in multiple popes. Partly through her influence, the papacy moves back to Rome from Avignon.

about 1380
Wycliffe is exiled from Oxford but oversees a translation of the Bible into English. He is later hailed as the "Morning star of the Reformation."

1415
John Hus, who teaches Wycliffe's ideas in Bohemia, is condemned and burned at the stake by the Council of Constance.

1456
Johann Gutenberg produces the first printed Bible, and his press becomes a means for dissemination new ideas, catalyzing changes in politics and theology.

1478
The Spanish Inquisition is established under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to oppose "heresy."

1498
Savonarola, the fiery Dominican reformer of Florence, in Italy, is executed.

1512
Michelangelo completes his notable artwork on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome.

1517
Martin Luther posts his ninety-five theses, a simple invitation for scholarly debate that inadvertently becomes a "hinge of history."

1523
Zwingli leads the Swiss reformation from his base as head pastor in Zurich.

1525
The Anabaptist movement begins. This "radical reformation" insists on baptism of adult believers and the almost unheard of notion of separation of church and state.

1534
Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy makes the king, not the pope, head of the Church of England.


Watch the video: Παλαιοχριστιανική βασιλική Αγίου Δημητρίου,Υψηλομέτωπο! (September 2022).

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