Christianity

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Posted by r2d2 04/09/2009 @ 05:07

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Modest Successes and Missed Chances in Pope's Trip - New York Times
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By John Dillard Determining your witnessing style one of the essential components of your Christian Walk. Knowing how you best relate to others and how God can use you to share the word of God is a gift that keeps on giving, as more and more people are...
Is Hollywood anti-Christian? - New York Daily News
David Limbaugh, brother of Rush, has written a book called "How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity," arguing among other things that "this anti-Christian bias manifests itself in unflattering portrayals of Christians in Hollywood films....
ISRAEL: Atittudes toward Christians - Los Angeles Times
Fifty-two percent of Jewish Israelis have no Christian friends or acquaintances, but almost 100% of them have opinions about them. A recent poll surveyed attitudes among the adult Jewish population toward Christians, Christianity and the Christian...
Muslim Persecution of Christians - AINA
Christianity, born in the Middle East, is in danger of losing its two millenia-long presence there. If that notion sounds alarmist to Western ears, it is acknowledged by Middle Easterners as a growing likelihood. "I fear the extinction of Christianity...
Priests and Celibacy - Washington Post
We tend to think of religion as anti-sex, but that's only because we tend to think of religion in Christian terms; so strong is Christianity's hold over even the non-Christian imagination in the modern West. All the world's religions seek to confine...
THE PULPIT: New Christian glad to pick up, carry his cross - Colorado Springs Gazette
New converts to Christianity often make a lot of pledges: They'll attend church each week, help the poor, and act with love and kindness toward others. Carlos Sanchez, 38, who says he was saved eight months ago, has taken it a step further....
Jordanian hopes high for papal visit - BBC News
"What we want is for Christians to come here to perform this pilgrimage, to see this as their Mecca for Christianity, and to have this connection, direct connection, with the land, with the environment, with the history, and with the faith,...
Plea: Save Egypt's Christian Children From Forced Islamization - AINA
(AINA) -- A letter addressed to Egypt's First Lady demanded urgent intervention 'to save the Egyptian Christian children from forced Islamization', was sent by Dr. Naguib Gibraeel, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization (EUHRO)....

Christianity

Gold Christian Cross no Red.svg

Christianity (from the word Xριστός "Christ") is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament.

Adherents of Christianity, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (the part of scripture common to Christianity and Judaism). The majority of orthodox Christian theology claims that Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected to open heaven to humans. They further maintain that Jesus ascended into heaven, and most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge all humans, living and dead, and grant immortality to his followers. He is considered the model of a virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel ("good news") and hence refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as gospels.

Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion (see also Judeo-Christian). Christianity began as a Jewish sect in the eastern Mediterranean, quickly grew in size and influence over a few decades, and by the 4th century had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a (sometimes large) religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas and the rest of the world.

Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization at least since the 4th century. As of the early 21st century, Christianity has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, representing about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the world's largest religion.

In spite of important differences of interpretation and opinion, Christians share a set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith.

Creeds (from Latin credo meaning "I believe") are concise doctrinal statements or confessions, usually of religious beliefs. They began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries to become statements of faith.

The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431.

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, and that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.

Most Christians (Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike) accept the use of creeds, and subscribe to at least one of the creeds mentioned above. A minority of Protestants, notably Restorationists, a movement formed in the wake of the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century United States, oppose the use of creeds.

The central tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiáħ) meaning anointed one. The Greek translation Χριστός (Christos) is the source of the English word "Christ".

Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed by God as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.

While there have been many theological disputes over the nature of Jesus over the first centuries of Christian history, Christians generally believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, but did not sin. As fully God, he rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead," he ascended to heaven, is "seated at the right hand of the Father" and will ultimately return to fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and final establishment of the Kingdom of God.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the canonical Gospels, however infancy Gospels were popular in antiquity. In comparison, his adulthood, especially the week before his death, are well documented in the Gospels contained within the New Testament. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.

Christians consider the resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith (see 1 Corinthians 15) and the most important event in human history. Among Christian beliefs, the death and resurrection of Jesus are two core events on which much of Christian doctrine and theology is based. According to the New Testament Jesus was crucified, died a physical death, buried within a tomb, and rose from the dead three days later. The New Testament mentions several resurrection appearances of Jesus on different occasions to his twelve apostles and disciples, including "more than five hundred brethren at once," before Jesus' Ascension to heaven. Jesus' death and resurrection are commemorated by Christians in all worship services, with special emphasis during Holy Week which includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are usually considered the most important events in Christian Theology, partly because they demonstrate that Jesus has power over life and death and therefore has the authority and power to give people eternal life.

Paul of Tarsus, like Jews and Roman pagans of his time, believed that sacrifice can bring about new kinship ties, purity, and eternal life. For Paul the necessary sacrifice was the death of Jesus: Gentiles who are "Christ's" are like Israel descendants of Abraham and "heirs according to the promise". The God who raised Jesus from the dead would also give new life to the "mortal bodies" of Gentile Christians, who had become with Israel the "children of God" and were therefore no longer "in the flesh".

Modern Christian churches tend to be much more concerned with how humanity can be saved from a universal condition of sin and death than the question of how both Jews and Gentiles can be in God's family. According to both Catholic and Protestant doctrine salvation comes by Jesus' substitutionary death and resurrection. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation does not occur without faithfulness on the part of Christians; converts must live in accordance with principles of love and ordinarily must be baptized. Martin Luther taught that baptism was necessary for salvation, but modern Lutherans and other Protestants tend to teach that salvation is a gift that comes to an individual by God's grace, sometimes defined as "unmerited favor", even apart from baptism.

Christians differ in their views on the extent to which individuals' salvation is pre-ordained by God. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that individuals are completely incapable of self-redemption, but that sanctifying grace is irresistible. In contrast Arminians, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians believe that the exercise of free will is necessary to have faith in Jesus.

Trinity refers to the teaching that the one God comprises three distinct, eternally co-existing persons; the Father, the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Together, these three persons are sometimes called the Godhead, although there is no single term in use in Scripture to denote the unified Godhead. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God". They are distinct from another: the Father has no source, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though distinct, the three persons cannot be divided from one another in being or in operation.

The Trinity is an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" represents both the immanence and transcendence of God. God is believed to be infinite and God's presence may be perceived through the actions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God (see Perichoresis). The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten; the Son being begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and (in Western theology) from the Son. Regardless of this apparent difference, the three 'persons' are each eternal and omnipotent.

The word trias, from which trinity is derived, is first seen in the works of Theophilus of Antioch. He wrote of "the Trinity of God (the Father), His Word (the Son) and His Wisdom (Holy Spirit)". The term may have been in use before this time. Afterwards it appears in Tertullian. In the following century the word was in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen.

Trinitarianism denotes those Christians who believe in the concept of the Trinity. Almost all Christian denominations and Churches hold Trinitarian beliefs. Although the words "Trinity" and "Triune" do not appear in the Bible, theologians beginning in the third century developed the term and concept to facilitate comprehension of the New Testament teachings of God as Father, God as Jesus the Son, and God as the Holy Spirit. Since that time, Christian theologians have been careful to emphasize that Trinity does not imply three gods, nor that each member of the Trinity is one-third of an infinite God; Trinity is defined as one God in three Persons.

Nontrinitarianism refers to beliefs systems that reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Various nontrinitarian views, such as adoptionism or modalism, existed in early Christianity, leading to the disputes about Christology. Nontrinitarianism later appeared again in the Gnosticism of the Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in Restorationism during the 19th century.

Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts (the Old Testament and the New Testament), as authoritative. It is believed by Christians to have been written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore for many it is held to be the inerrant word of God. The books that are considered canon in the Bible vary depending upon the denomination using or defining it. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions and councils that have convened on the subject. The Bible always includes books of the Jewish scriptures, the Tanakh, and includes additional books and reorganizes them into two parts: the books of the Old Testament primarily sourced from the Tanakh (with some variations), and the 27 books of the New Testament containing books originally written primarily in Greek. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons include other books from the Septuagint which Roman Catholics call Deuterocanonical. Protestants consider these books apocryphal. Some versions of the Christian Bible have a separate Apocrypha section for the books not considered canonical by the publisher.

In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrine interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.

Roman Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual.

Some Protestant interpreters make use of typology.

Most Christians believe that human beings experience divine judgment and are rewarded either with eternal life or eternal damnation. This includes the general judgement at the Resurrection of the dead (see below) as well as the belief (held by Catholics, Orthodox and some Protestants) in a judgement particular to the individual soul upon physical death.

In Roman Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace, i.e. without any mortal sin separating them from God, but are still imperfectly purified from the effects of sin, undergo purification through the intermediate state of purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into God's presence. Those who have attained this goal are called saints (Latin sanctus, "holy").

Some churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, do not believe in a particular judgment. They hold that the soul sleeps until this time.

Christians believe that the second coming of Christ will occur at the end of time. All who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgment. Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.

Universal Reconciliation, also called Apocatastasis, is the view that all will eventually experience salvation, rejecting the concept that hell is everlasting. Such a view was held in the 3rd century by Origen but was condemned as heretical. The notion was revived after the Reformation by the Anabaptist theologian Hans Denck. Christians espousing this view are known as Universalists.

Some Christian denominations view communion as indicating those who are already united in the church, restricting participation to their members not in a state of mortal sin (closed communion). Most other churches view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all Christians or even anyone to participate (open communion). In some denominations, participation is decided by prior arrangement with a church leader.

Some groups depart from this traditional liturgical structure. A division is often made between "High" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "Low" services, but even within these two categories there is great diversity in forms of worship. Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the original Sabbath), while others do not meet on a weekly basis. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may spontaneously feel led by the Holy Spirit to action rather than follow a formal order of service, including spontaneous prayer. Quakers sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Some Evangelical services resemble concerts with rock and pop music, dancing, and use of multimedia. For groups which do not recognize a priesthood distinct from ordinary believers the services are generally lead by a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack any formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (e.g. many Churches of Christ object to the use of instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).

Worship can be varied for special events like baptisms or weddings in the service or significant feast days. In the early church Christians and those yet to complete initiation would separate for the Eucharistic part of the worship. In many churches today, adults and children will separate for all or some of the service to receive age-appropriate teaching. Such children's worship is often called Sunday school or Sabbath school (Sunday schools are often held before rather than during services).

In Christian belief and practice, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ, that mediates grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which was used to translate the Greek word for mystery. Views concerning both what rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be a sacrament vary among Christian denominations and traditions.

The most conventional functional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist, however, the majority of Christians recognize seven Sacraments or Divine Mysteries: Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation in the Orthodox tradition), and the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Reconciliation of a Penitent (confession), Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony. Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments as recognised by churches in the High church tradition - notably Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic and some Anglicans. Most other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject sacramental theology. Some Christian denominations who believe these rites do not communicate grace prefer to call them ordinances.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. This includes holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent, and other pious events such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.

The cross, which is today one of the most widely recognised symbols in the world, was used as a Christian symbol from the earliest times. Tertuallian, in his book De Corona, tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. Although the cross was known to the early Christians, the crucifix did not appear in use until the fifth century.

Among the symbols employed by the primitive Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. From monumental sources such as tombs it is known that the symbolic fish was familiar to Christians from the earliest times. The fish was depicted as a Christian symbol in the first decades of the second century. Its popularity among Christians was due principally, it would seem, to the famous acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (Ichthys), which words briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and the claim to worship of believers: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, meaning, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.

Christians from the very beginning adorned their tombs with paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the Bible and allegorical groups. The catacombs are the cradle of all Christian art. The first Christians had no prejudice against images, pictures, or statues. The idea that they must have feared the danger of idolatry among their new converts is disproved in the simplest way by the pictures even statues, that remain from the first centuries. Other major Christian symbols include the chi-rho monogram, the dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), the sacrificial lamb (symbolic of Christ's sacrifice), the vine (symbolising the necessary connectedness of the Christian with Christ) and many others. These all derive from writings found in the New Testament.

Christianity began as a Jewish sect in the eastern Mediterranean in the mid-first century. Its earliest development took place under the leadership of the Twelve Apostles, particularly Saint Peter and Paul the Apostle, followed by the early bishops, whom Christians considered the successors of the Apostles.

From the beginning, Christians were subject to persecution. This involved punishments, including death, for Christians such as Stephen and James, son of Zebedee. Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, first in the year 64, when Emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was under Nero's persecution that early Church leaders Peter and Paul of Tarsus were each martyred in Rome. Further widespread persecutions of the Church occurred under nine subsequent Roman emperors, most intensely under Decius and Diocletian. From the year 150, Christian teachers began to produce theological and apologetic works aimed at defending the faith. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and study of them is called Patristics. Notable early Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

State persecution ceased in the 4th century, when Constantine I issued an edict of toleration in 313. On 27 February 380, Emperor Theodosius I enacted a law establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. From at least the 4th century, Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization.

Constantine was also instrumental in the convocation of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which sought to address the Arian heresy and formulated the Nicene Creed, which is still used by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion, and many Protestant churches. Nicaea was the first of a series of Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils which formally defined critical elements of the theology of the Church, notably concerning Christology. The Assyrian Church of the East did not accept the third and following Ecumenical Councils, and are still separate today.

With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the west, the papacy became a political player, first visible in Pope Leo's diplomatic dealings with Huns and Vandals. The church also entered into a long period of missionary activity and expansion among the former barbarian tribes. Catholicism spread among the Germanic peoples (initially in competition with Arianism), the Celtic and Slavic peoples, the Hungarians and the Scandinavian and Baltic peoples.

Around 500, St. Benedict set out his Monastic Rule, establishing a system of regulations for the foundation and running of monasteries. Monasticism became a powerful force throughout Europe, and gave rise to many early centers of learning, most famously in Ireland, Scotland and Gaul, contributing to the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century.

From the 7th century onwards, Islam conquered the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa and much of Spain, resulting in oppression of Christianity and numerous military struggles, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista and wars against the Turks.

The Middle Ages brought about major changes within the church. Pope Gregory the Great dramatically reformed ecclesiastical structure and administration. In the early 8th century, iconoclasm became a divisive issue, when it was sponsored by the Byzantine emperors. The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787) finally pronounced in favour of icons. In the early 10th century, western monasticism was further rejuvenated through the leadership of the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny.

In the west, from the 11th century onward, older cathedral schools developed into universities (see University of Paris, University of Oxford, and University of Bologna.) Originally teaching only theology, these steadily added subjects including medicine, philosophy and law, becoming the direct ancestors of modern western institutions of learning.

Accompanying the rise of the "new towns" throughout Western Europe, mendicant orders were founded, bringing the consecrated religious life out of the monastery and into the new urban setting. The two principal mendicant movements were the Franciscans and the Dominicans founded by St. Francis and St. Dominic respectively. Both orders made significant contributions to the development of the great universities of Europe. Another new order were the Cistercians, whose large isolated monasteries spearheaded the settlement of former wilderness areas. In this period church building and ecclesiastical architecture reached new heights, culminating in the orders of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the building of the great European cathedrals.

From 1095 under the pontificate of Urban II, the Crusades were launched. These were a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, initiated in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion. The Crusades ultimately failed to stifle Islamic aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

Over a period stretching from the 7th to the 13th century, the Christian Church underwent gradual alienation, resulting in a schism dividing it into a Western, largely Latin branch, the Roman Catholic Church, and an Eastern, largely Greek, branch, the Orthodox Church. These two churches disagree on a number of administrative, liturgical, and doctrinal issues, most notably papal primacy of jurisdiction. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) attempted to reunite the churches, but in both cases the Eastern Orthodox refused to implement the decisions and the two principal churches remain in schism to the present day. However, the Roman Catholic Church has achieved union with various smaller eastern churches.

Beginning around 1184, following the crusade against the Cathar heresy, various institutions, broadly referred to as the Inquisition, were established with the aim of suppressing heresy and securing religious and doctrinal unity within Christianity through conversion and prosecution.

The 15th-century Renaissance brought about a renewed interest in ancient and classical learning. Another major schism, the Reformation, resulted in the splintering of the Western Christendom into several Christian denominations. Martin Luther in 1517 protested against the sale of indulgences and soon moved on to deny several key points of Roman Catholic doctrine. Others like Zwingli and Calvin further criticized Roman Catholic teaching and worship. These challenges developed into the movement called Protestantism, which repudiated the primacy of the pope, the role of tradition, the seven sacraments, and other doctrines and practices. The Reformation in England began in 1534, when King Henry VIII had himself declared head of the Church of England. Beginning in 1536, the monasteries throughout England, Wales and Ireland were dissolved.

Partly in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church engaged in a substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reform. The Council of Trent clarified and reasserted Roman Catholic doctrine. During the following centuries, competition between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states.

Meanwhile, the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought about a new wave of missionary activity. Partly from missionary zeal, but under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Throughout Europe, the divides caused by the Reformation led to outbreaks of religious violence and the establishment of separate state religions in Western Europe: Lutheranism in parts of Germany and in Scandinavia and Anglicanism in England in 1534. Ultimately, these differences led to the outbreak of conflicts in which religion played a key factor. The Thirty Years' War, the English Civil War, and the French Wars of Religion are prominent examples. These events intensified the Christian debate on persecution and toleration.

In the Modern Era, Christianity was confronted with various forms of skepticism and with certain modern political ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism and socialism. Events ranged from mere anti-clericalism to violent outbursts against Christianity such as the Dechristianisation during the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and general hostility of Marxist movements, especially the Russian Revolution.

Christian commitment in Europe dropped as modernity and secularism came into their own in Western Europe, while religious commitments in America have been generally high in comparison to Western Europe. The late 20th century has shown the shift of Christian adherence to the Third World and southern hemisphere in general, with western civilization no longer the chief standard bearer of Christianity.

With an estimated number of adherents that ranges between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion, split into around 34,000 separate denominations, Christianity is the world's largest religion. The Christian share of the world's population has stood at around 33 per cent for the last hundred years. This masks a major shift in the demographics of Christianity; large increases in the developing world (around 23,000 per day) have been accompanied by substantial declines in the developed world, mainly in Europe and North America (around 7,600 per day). It is still the predominant religion in Europe, the Americas, the Philippines, and Southern Africa. However it is declining in many areas including the United States, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), northern Europe (including Great Britain, Scandinavia and other places), France, Germany, the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, and parts of Asia (especially the Middle East, South Korea, Taiwan and Macau).

In most countries in the developed world, church attendance among people who continue to identify themselves as Christians has been falling over the last few decades. Some sources view this simply as part of a drift away from traditional membership institutions, while others link it to signs of a decline in belief in the importance of religion in general.

There is a diversity of doctrines and practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for theological reasons many groups reject this classification system. Christianity may be broadly represented as being divided into five main groupings: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Restorationism.

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World United Pentecostal Church Intl.

The (Roman) Catholic Church comprises those particular churches, headed by bishops, in communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as its highest authority in matters of faith, morality and Church governance. Like the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic Church through Apostolic succession traces its origins to the Christian community founded by Jesus Christ. Catholics maintain that the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" founded by Jesus subsists fully in the Roman Catholic Church, but also acknowledges other Christian churches and communities and works towards reconciliation among all Christians. The Roman Catholic faith is detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 2,782 sees are grouped into 23 particular rites, the largest being the Latin Rite, each with distinct traditions regarding the liturgy and the administering the sacraments. With more than one billion baptized members, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest church representing over half of all Christians and one sixth of the world's population.

Various smaller communities, such as the Old Catholic and Independent Catholic Churches, include the word Catholic in their title, and share much in common with Roman Catholicism but are no longer in communion with the See of Rome. The Old Catholic Church is in communion with the Anglican Communion.

Eastern Orthodoxy comprises those churches in communion with the Patriarchal Sees of the East, such as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church also traces its heritage to the foundation of Christianity through Apostolic succession and has an episcopal structure, though the autonomy of the individual, mostly national churches is emphasized. A number of conflicts with Western Christianity over questions of doctrine and authority culminated in the Great Schism. Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest single denomination in Christianity, with over 200 million adherents.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches (also called Old Oriental Churches) are those eastern churches that recognize the first three ecumenical councils—Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus—but reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon and instead espouse a Miaphysite christology.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin inaugurated what has come to be called Protestantism. Luther's primary theological heirs are known as Lutherans. Zwingli and Calvin's heirs are far broader denominationally, and are broadly referred to as the Reformed Tradition. Most Protestant traditions branch out from the Reformed tradition in some way. In addition to the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation, there is Anglicanism after the English Reformation. The Anabaptist tradition was largely ostracized by the other Protestant parties at the time, but has achieved a measure of affirmation in more recent history.

The oldest Protestant groups separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century Protestant Reformation, followed in many cases by further divisions. For example, the Methodist Church grew out of Anglican minister John Wesley's evangelical and revival movement in the Anglican Church. Several Pentecostal and non-denominational Churches, which emphasize the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, in turn grew out of the Methodist Church. Because Methodists, Pentecostals, and other evangelicals stress "accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior", which comes from John Wesley's emphasis of the New Birth, they often refer to themselves as being born-again.

Estimates of the total number of Protestants are very uncertain, partly because of the difficulty in determining which denominations should be placed in these categories, but it seems clear that Protestantism is the second largest major group of Christians after Roman Catholicism in number of followers (although the Eastern Orthodox Church is larger than any single Protestant denomination).

A special grouping are the Anglican churches descended from the Church of England and organised in the Anglican Communion.. Some Anglican churches consider themselves both Protestant and Catholic. Some Anglicans consider their church a branch of the "One Holy Catholic Church" alongside of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a concept rejected by the Roman Catholic Church and some Eastern Orthodox.

Some Christians who come out of the Protestant tradition identify themselves simply as "Christian", or "born-again Christian"; they typically distance themselves from the confessionalism and/or creedalism of other Christian communities by calling themselves "non-denominational"—often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations.

Restorationism is composed of various unrelated churches that believe they are restoring the original church of Jesus Christ and not reforming any of the churches existing at the time of their perceived restorations. They teach that the other divisions of Christianity have introduced defects into Christianity, which is known as the Great Apostasy. Some of these are historically connected to early-19th century camp meetings in the Midwest and Upstate New York. American Millennialism and Adventism, which arose from Evangelical Protestantism, produced the Jehovah's Witnesses movement (with 6.6 million members), and, as a reaction specifically to William Miller, Seventh-day Adventists. Additionally, there are the following groups: Christadelphians, Churches of Christ with 2.6 million members, Disciples of Christ with 800,000 members, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement with over 13 million members. Though Restorationists have some superficial similarities, their doctrine and practices vary significantly.

Mainstream Christianity is widely used to refer collectively to the common views of major denominations of Christianity (such as Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianity) as against the particular tenets of other sects or Christian denomination. The context is dependent on the particular issues addressed, but usually contrasts the orthodox majority view against heterodox minority views of groups like Restorationists. In the most common sense, "mainstream" refers to Nicene Christianity, or rather the traditions which continue to claim adherence to the Nicene Creed.

Most churches have long expressed ideals of being reconciled with each other, and in the 20th century Christian ecumenism advanced in two ways. One way was greater cooperation between groups, such as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of Protestants in 1910, the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the World Council of Churches founded in 1948 by Protestant and Orthodox churches, and similar national councils like the National Council of Churches in Australia which includes Roman Catholics.

The other way was institutional union with new United and uniting churches. Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches united in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada, and in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia. The Church of South India was formed in 1947 by the union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.

Steps towards reconciliation on a global level were taken in 1965 by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches mutually revoking the excommunications that marked their Great Schism in 1054; the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) working towards full communion between those churches since 1970; and the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches signing The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 to address conflicts at the root of the Protestant Reformation. In 2006, the Methodist church adopted the declaration.

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History of Christianity

     Spread of Christianity to 325 AD      Spread of Christianity to 600 AD

The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion and the Christian Church, from the ministry of Jesus and his Twelve Apostles and the Great Commission, to contemporary times and denominations. Christianity is an Abrahamic religion. It differs most significantly from the others in the claim that Jesus Christ is God the Son. The vast majority of Christians believe in a triune God consisting of three unified and distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. There have been significant theological differences among Christians regarding the divine and human natures of Jesus and the triune nature of God. These differences continue today.

In many Christian denominations "The Church" is understood theologically as the institution founded by Jesus for the salvation of humankind. This understanding is shared between Catholic and Orthodox traditions. They see in the Church a foundation of Christ, who continues to live in it, through the Holy Spirit. In the Catholic tradition, the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ. Protestant churches generally view all Christians to be the Body of Christ. Some Protestant theologians call this High Church. In contrast, Low Church denominations generally emphasise the personal relationship between a believer and Jesus Christ. Other Christians, however, would say that the Church is not an institution at all. Instead, it is the gathering of believers, individually, and ultimately in heaven where all believers from all nations and times will be gathered together; so, church history is not just about the history of institutions, but the major happenings amongst believers throughout the world, throughout time.

Christianity began in 1st century AD Jerusalem. It ultimately became the state religion of Armenia in either 301 or 314, the state religion of Ethiopia in 325, the state religion of Georgia in 337, and then the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380. During the Age of Exploration (15th to 17th cent.), Christianity expanded throughout the world, becoming the world's largest religion.

Throughout its history, the religion has weathered schisms and theological disputes that have resulted in many distinct churches. The largest branches of Christianity are the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Protestant churches.

Scholars generally agree that Jesus was born to a Jewish mother named Mary in 6-4 B.C. and that he was raised in Nazareth, Galilee and possibly lived for a short time in Egypt. Scholars further believe Jesus began his ministry around the age of thirty and that it included recruiting disciples who regarded him as a wonderworker, healer and/or the Son of Man and Son of God. He was eventually executed by crucifixion in Jerusalem circa AD 33 on orders of the Roman Governor of Iudaea Province, Pontius Pilate; and after his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb.

Christians believe that three days after his death, Jesus and his body rose from the dead and that the empty tomb story is a historical fact. Early works by Jesus's followers document a number of resurrection appearances and the resurrection of Jesus formed the basis and impetus of the Christian faith. His followers wrote that he appeared to the disciples in Galilee and Jerusalem and that Jesus was on the earth for 40 days before his Ascension to heaven and that he will return to earth again to fulfil aspects of Messianic prophecy, such as the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God.

The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels, and to a lesser extent the Acts of the Apostles and writings of Paul. Christianity's popularity is largely founded and based on one central point found in these Gospels, that Jesus died and rose from death as God's sacrifice for human sins, see also Substitutionary atonement.

Early Christianity refers to the period when the religion spread in the Greek/Roman world and beyond, from its beginnings as a 1st century Jewish sect, to the end of imperial persecution of Christians after the ascension of Constantine the Great in AD 313, to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. It may be divided into two distinct phases: the apostolic period, when the first apostles were alive and organising the Church, and the post-apostolic period, when an early episcopal structure developed, whereby bishoprics were governed by bishops (overseers).

The Apostolic Church, called by some the Primitive Church, was the community led by Jesus' apostles and his relatives. According to the Great Commission, the resurrected Jesus commanded the disciples to spread his teachings to all the world. The principal source of information for this period is the Acts of the Apostles, which gives a history of the Church from the Great Commission (1:3–11), Pentecost (2) and the establishment of the Jerusalem Church to the spread of the religion among the gentiles (10), Paul's conversion (9, 22, 26) and eventual imprisonment (house arrest: 28:30–31) in Rome in the mid-first century. However, the historical accuracy of Acts is also disputed and may conflict with accounts in the Epistles of Paul.

The first Christians were essentially all ethnically Jewish or Jewish Proselytes. In other words, Jesus preached to the Jewish people and called from them his first disciples, though the earliest documented "group" of appointed evangelisers, called the Seventy Disciples, was not specifically ethnically Jewish and the Great Commission is specifically directed at "all nations". An early difficulty arose concerning the matter of Gentile (non-Jewish) converts as to whether they had to "become Jewish" (usually referring to circumcision and adherence to dietary law, see also Judaisers) as part of becoming Christian. Circumcision was considered repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean. The decision of Peter, as evidenced by conversion of the Centurion Cornelius, was that they did not, and the matter was further addressed with the Council of Jerusalem, see also Primacy of Simon Peter. See Biblical law in Christianity for the modern debate. For the parallel in Judaism, see Noahide Law.

The doctrines of the apostles brought the Early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities. This eventually led to their expulsion from the synagogues, (see also Council of Jamnia) Acts records the martyrdom of SS. Stephen and James the Great. Thus, Christianity acquired an identity distinct from Rabbinic Judaism, see also List of events in early Christianity and Christianity and Judaism. The name "Christian" (Greek Χριστιανός) was first applied to the disciples in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 11:26.

The sources for the beliefs of the apostolic community include the Gospels and New Testament Epistles. The very earliest accounts are contained in these texts, such as early Christian creeds and hymns, as well as accounts of the Passion, the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances; often these are dated to within a decade or so of the crucifixion of Jesus, originating within the Jerusalem Church.

The earliest Christian creeds and hymns express belief in the risen Jesus, e.g., that preserved in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 quoted by Paul: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The antiquity of the creed has been located by many scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community, and no scholar dates it later than the 40s. Other relevant and very early creeds include 1 John 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:8, Romans 1:3–4, and 1 Timothy 3:16, an early creedal hymn.

Early Christianity retained some of the doctrines and practices of first-century Judaism while rejecting others. They held the Jewish scriptures to be authoritative and sacred, employing mostly the Septuagint or Targum translations, later called the Old Testament, and added other texts as the New Testament canon developed. Christianity also continued other Judaic practices: baptism, liturgical worship, including the use of incense, an altar, a set of scriptural readings adapted from synagogue practice, use of sacred music in hymns and prayer, and a religious calendar, as well as other distinctive features such as an exclusively male priesthood, and ascetic practices (fasting etc.). Circumcision was rejected as a requirement at the Council of Jerusalem. Quartodecimanism (the day of preparation for Passover) was rejected at the First Council of Nicaea and Sabbath observance was modified, see Sabbath in Christianity and Sabbath in the Bible for details.

The early Christians in first century believed Yahweh to be the Only true God, the God of Israel, and considered Jesus to be the Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament.

Alister McGrath, a proponent of palaeo-orthodoxy, claimed that many of the Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, only differing in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.

The Apostolic Church hierarchy was organised into Overseers (Bishop, Elder, Presbyter) and Servants (Deacons). Clement, a Bishop of Rome, refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church as bishops and presbyters indifferently. He writes that the bishops are to lead God's flock by virtue of the chief Shepherd - Jesus Christ.

Important bishops of the Apostolic Era include Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, who, along with Polycarp of Smyrna, reportedly knew and studied under the apostles personally and are therefore called Apostolic Fathers.

The post-apostolic period concerns the time roughly after the death of the apostles when bishops emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations, and continues during the time of persecutions until the legalisation of Christian worship with the advent of Constantine the Great. The earliest recorded use of the terms Christianity (Greek Χριστιανισμός) and Catholic (Greek καθολικός), dates to this period, attributed to Ignatius of Antioch c. 107.

From the beginning, Christians were subject to various persecutions. This involved even death for Christians such as Stephen (Acts 7:59) and James, son of Zebedee (12:2). Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, beginning with the year 64, when, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus, the Emperor Nero blamed them for that year's great Fire of Rome.

According to Church tradition, it was under Nero's persecution that SS. Peter and Paul were each martyred in Rome. Similarly, several of the New Testament writings mention persecutions and stress endurance through them. For 250 years Christians suffered from sporadic persecutions for their refusal to worship the Roman emperor, considered treasonous and punishable by execution. In spite of these at-times intense persecutions, the Christian religion continued its spread throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

By the late first and early second century, a hierarchical and episcopal structure becomes clearly visible. Post-apostolic bishops of importance are SS Polycarp of Smyrna and Irenaeus of Lyons. This structure was based on the doctrine of Apostolic Succession where, by the ritual of the laying on of hands, a bishop becomes the spiritual successor of the previous bishop in a line tracing back to the apostles themselves. Each Christian community also had presbyters, as was the case with Jewish communities, who were also ordained and assisted the bishop; as Christianity spread, especially in rural areas, the presbyters exercised more responsibilities and took distinctive shape as priests. Lastly, deacons also performed certain duties, such as tending to the poor and sick.

As Christianity spread, it acquired certain members from well-educated circles of the Hellenistic world; they sometimes became bishops but not always. They produced two sorts of works: theological and "apologetic", the latter being works aimed at defending the faith by using reason to refute arguments against the veracity of Christianity. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and study of them is called Patristics. Notable early Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, etc.

Christian art only emerged relatively late, and the first known Christian images emerge from about 200 AD, though there is some literary evidence that small domestic images were used earlier. Although many Hellenised Jews seem, as at the Dura-Europos synagogue, to have had images of religious figures, the traditional Mosaic prohibition of "graven images" no doubt retained some effect, see also Idolatry in Christianity. This early rejection of images, although never proclaimed by theologians, and the necessity to hide Christian practise from persecution, leaves us with few archaeological records regarding early Christianity and its evolution. The oldest Christian paintings are from the Roman Catacombs, dated to about 200 AD, and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 3rd century.

The New Testament itself speaks of the importance of maintaining orthodox doctrine and refuting heresies, showing the antiquity of the concern. Because of the biblical proscription against false prophets (notably the Gospels of Matthew and Mark) Christianity has always been preoccupied with the "correct", or orthodox, interpretation of the faith. Indeed one of the main roles of the bishops in the early Church was to determine the correct interpretations and refute contrarian opinions (referred to as heresy). As there were differing opinions among the bishops, defining orthodoxy would consume the Church for some time (and still does, hence, "denominations").

In his book Orthodoxy, Christian Apologist and writer G. K. Chesterton asserts that there have been substantial disagreements about faith from the time of the New Testament and Jesus. He pointed out that the Apostles all argued against changing the teachings of Christ as did the earliest church fathers including Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Polycarp (see false prophet, the antichrist, the gnostic Nicolaitanes from the Book of Revelation and Man of Sin). Jesus also refers to false prophets (Mark 13:21–23) and the "darnel" (Matthew 13:25–30, 13:36–43) of the flock and how their distortion of the Christian faith is to be rejected.

The earliest controversies were generally Christological in nature; that is, they were related to Jesus' (eternal) divinity or humanity. Docetism held that Jesus' humanity was merely an illusion, thus denying the incarnation. Arianism held that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than God the Father ( John 14:28). Trinitarianism held that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all strictly one being with three hypostases. Many groups held dualistic beliefs, maintaining that reality was composed into two radically opposing parts: matter, usually seen as evil, and spirit, seen as good. Others held that both the material and spiritual worlds were created by God and were therefore both good, and that this was represented in the unified divine and human natures of Christ.

The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the various opinions is a matter of continuing academic debate. Since most Christians today subscribe to the doctrines established by the Nicene Creed, modern Christian theologians tend to regard the early debates as a unified orthodox position (see also Proto-orthodox Christianity and Palaeo-orthodoxy) against a minority of heretics. Other scholars, drawing upon, among other things, distinctions between Jewish Christians, Pauline Christians, and other groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites, argue that early Christianity was fragmented, with contemporaneous competing orthodoxies.

The Biblical canon is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and thus constituting the Christian Bible. Though the Early Church used the Old Testament according to the canon of the Septuagint (LXX), the apostles did not otherwise leave a defined set of new scriptures; instead the New Testament developed over time.

The writings attributed to the apostles circulated amongst the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating in collected form by the end of the first century AD. Justin Martyr, in the early second century, mentions the "memoirs of the apostles", which Christians called "gospels" and which were regarded as on par with the Old Testament. A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was in place by the time of Ireanaeus, c. 160, who refers to it directly. By the early 200's, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation, see also Antilegomena. Likewise the Muratorian fragment shows that by 200 there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the New Testament, which included the four gospels. Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the second century.

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonised" (kanonizomena) in regards to them. The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed. Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above, or if not the list is at least a sixth century compilation. Likewise, Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West. In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church." Thus, from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and by the fifth century the East, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, a full dogmatic articulation of the canon was not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.

Christianity in Late Antiquity begins with the ascension of Constantine to the Emperorship of Rome in the early fourth century, and continues until the advent of the Middle Ages. The terminus of this period is variable because the transformation to the sub-Roman period was gradual and occurred at different times in different areas. It may generally be dated as lasting to the late sixth century and the re-conquests of Justinian, though a more traditional date is 476, the year that Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor, was deposed.

In April 311, Galerius, who had previously been one of the leading figures in the persecutions, issued an edict permitting the practice of the Christian religion under his rule. In 313 Constantine I and Licinius announced toleration of Christianity in the Edict of Milan. Constantine would become the first Christian emperor. By 391, under the reign of Theodosius I, Christianity had become the most popular, or state religion. Constantine I, the first emperor to embrace Christianity, was also the first emperor to openly promote the newly legalised religion.

The Emperor Constantine I was exposed to Christianity by his mother, Helena. There is scholarly controversy, however, as to whether Constantine adopted his mother's humble Christianity in his youth, or whether he adopted it gradually over the course of his life.

Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a dramatic event in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine would claim the emperorship in the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words "ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ" ("by this, conquer!", often rendered in the Latin "in hoc signo vinces"); Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Ro), and thereafter they were victorious. How much Christianity Constantine adopted at this point is difficult to discern; most influential people in the empire, especially high military officials, were still pagan, and Constantine's rule exhibited at least a willingness to appease these factions. The Roman coins minted up to eight years subsequent to the battle still bore the images of Roman gods. Nonetheless, the accession of Constantine was a turning point for the Christian Church. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to high ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian. Between 324 and 330, Constantine built, virtually from scratch, a new imperial capital at Byzantium on the Bosphorus (it came to be named for him: Constantinople)–the city employed overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls (unlike "old" Rome), and had no pagan temples. In accordance with the prevailing customs, Constantine was baptised on his deathbed.

Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In 313, he issued the Edict of Milan, legalising Christian worship. In 316, he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. More significantly, in 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea, effectively the first Ecumenical Council (unless the Council of Jerusalem is so classified), to deal mostly with the Arian controversy, but which also issued the Nicene Creed, which among other things professed a belief in One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the start of Christendom. The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian Emperor in the Church. Emperors considered themselves responsible to God for the spiritual health of their subjects, and thus they had a duty of maintain orthodoxy. The emperor did not decide doctrine — that was the responsibility of the bishops — rather his role was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity. The emperor ensured that God was properly worshiped in his empire; what proper worship consisted of was the responsibility of the church. This precedent would continue until certain emperors of the fifth and six centuries sought to alter doctrine by imperial edict without recourse to councils, though even after this Constantine's precedent generally remained the norm.

The reign of Constantine did not bring the total unity of Christianity within the Empire. His successor in the East, Constantius II, was an Arian who kept Arian bishops at his court and installed them in various sees, expelling the orthodox bishops.

Constantius's successor, Julian, known in the Christian world as Julian the Apostate, was a philosopher who upon becoming emperor renounced Christianity and embraced a Neo-platonic and mystical form of paganism shocking the Christian establishment. Intent on re-establishing the prestige of the old pagan beliefs, he modified them to resemble Christian traditions such as the episcopal structure and public charity (hitherto unknown in Roman paganism). Julian eliminated most of the privileges and prestige previously afforded to the Christian Church. His reforms attempted to create a form of religious heterogeneity by, among other things, reopening pagan temples, accepting Christian bishops previously exiled as heretics, promoting Judaism, and returning Church lands to their original owners. However, Julian's short reign ended when he died while campaigning in the East.

Christianity came to dominance during the reign of Julian's successors, Jovian, Valentinian I, and Valens (the last Eastern Arian Christian Emperor). On February 27, 380, Theodosius I issued the edict De Fide Catolica establishing "Catholic Christianity" as the exclusive official state religion, outlawed other faiths, and closed pagan temples.(Theodosian Code XVI.1.2; and Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History", VII, iv.) Additional prohibitions were passed by Theodosius I in 391 further proscribing remaining pagan practices.

After legalisation, the Church adopted the same organisational boundaries as the Empire: geographical provinces, called dioceses, corresponding to imperial governmental territorial division. The bishops, who were located in major urban centres as per pre-legalisation tradition, thus oversaw each diocese. The bishop's location was his "seat", or "see"; among the sees, five held special eminence: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. The prestige of these sees depended in part on their apostolic founders, from whom the bishops were therefore the spiritual successors, e.g., St. Mark as founder of the See of Alexandria, St. Peter of the See of Rome, etc. There were other significant elements: Jerusalem was the location of Christ's death and resurrection, the site of a first century council, etc., see also Jerusalem in Christianity. Antioch was where Jesus' followers were first labelled as Christians, it was used in a derogatory way to berate the followers of Jesus the Christ. Rome was where SS. Peter and Paul had been martyred (killed), Constantinople was the "New Rome" where Constantine had moved his capital c. 330, and, lastly, all these cities had important relics.

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and the office is the "papacy." As a bishopric, its origin is consistent with the development of an episcopal structure in the first century. The papacy, however, also carries the notion of primacy: that the See of Rome is pre-eminent amongst all other sees. The origins of this concept are historically obscure; theologically, it is based on three ancient Christian traditions: (1) that the apostle Peter was pre-eminent among the apostles, see Primacy of Simon Peter, (2) that Peter ordained his successors for the Roman See, and (3) that the bishops are the successors of the apostles (apostolic succession). As long as the Papal See also happened to be the capital of the Western Empire, the prestige of the Bishop of Rome could be taken for granted without the need of sophisticated theological argumentation beyond these points; after its shift to Milan and then Ravenna, however, more detailed arguments were developed based on Matthew 16:18–19 etc. Nonetheless, in antiquity the Petrine and Apostolic quality, as well as a "primacy of respect", concerning the Roman See went unchallenged by emperors, eastern patriarchs, and the Eastern Church alike. The Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 affirmed the primacy of Rome. Though the appellate jurisdiction of the Pope, and the position of Constantinople, would require further doctrinal clarification, by the close of Antiquity the primacy of Rome and the sophisticated theological arguments supporting it were fully developed. Just what exactly was entailed in this primacy, and its being exercised, would become a matter of controversy at certain later times.

During this era, several Ecumenical Councils were convened. These were mostly concerned with Christological disputes. The two Councils of Nicaea (325, 382) condemned Arian teachings as heresy and produced a creed (see Nicene Creed). The Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorianism and affirmed the Blessed Virgin Mary to be Theotokos ("God-bearer" or "Mother of God"). Perhaps the most significant council was the Council of Chalcedon that affirmed that Christ had two natures, fully God and fully man, distinct yet always in perfect union. This was based largely on Pope Leo the Great's Tome. Thus, it condemned Monophysitism and would be influential in refuting Monothelitism. However, not all denominations accepted all the councils, for example Nestorianism and the Assyrian Church of the East split over the Council of Ephesus of 431, Oriental Orthodoxy split over the Council of Chalcedon of 451, Pope Sergius I rejected the Quinisext Council of 692 (see also Pentarchy), and the Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869–870 and 879–880 is disputed by Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The early Church Fathers have already been mentioned above; however, Late Antique Christianity produced a great many renowned Fathers who wrote volumes of theological texts, including SS. Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others. What resulted was a golden age of literary and scholarly activity unmatched since the days of Virgil and Horace. Some of these fathers, such as John Chrysostom and Athanasius, suffered exile, persecution, or martyrdom from heretical Byzantine Emperors. Many of their writings are translated into English in the compilations of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

By the fifth century, the ecclesiastical had evolved a hierarchical "pentarchy" or system of five sees (patriarchates), with a settled order of precedence, had been established. Rome, as the ancient centre and once largest city of the empire, was understandably given the presidency or primacy of honour within the pentarchy into which Christendom was now divided; though it was and still held that the patriarch of Rome was the first among equals. Constantinople was second in precedence as the new capital of the empire.

The list below are the five Pentarchs of the original Pentarchy of the Roman Empire.

Monasticism is a form of asceticism whereby one renounces worldly pursuits (in contempu mundi) and concentrates solely on heavenly and spiritual pursuits, especially by the virtues humility, poverty, and chastity. It began early in the Church as a family of similar traditions, modeled upon Scriptural examples and ideals, and with roots in certain strands of Judaism. St. John the Baptist is seen as the archetypical monk, and monasticism was also inspired by the organisation of the Apostolic community as recorded in Acts of the Apostles.

There are two forms of monasticism: eremetic and cenobitic. Eremetic monks, or hermits, live in solitude, whereas cenobitic monks live in communities, generally in a monastery, under a rule (or code of practice) and are governed by an abbot. Originally, all Christian monks were hermits, following the example of Anthony the Great. However, the need for some form of organised spiritual guidance lead Saint Pachomius in 318 to organise his many followers in what was to become the first monastery. Soon, similar institutions were established throughout the Egyptian desert as well as the rest of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Central figures in the development of monasticism were, in the East, St. Basil the Great, and St. Benedict in the West, who created the famous Benedictine Rule, which would become the most common rule throughout the Middle Ages.

The cracks and fissures in Christian unity which led to the Great Schism started to become evident as early as the fourth century. Although 1054 is the date usually given for the beginning of the Great Schism, there is, in fact, no specific date on which the schism occurred. What really happened was a complex chain of events whose climax culminated with the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

The events leading to schism were not exclusively theological in nature. Cultural, political, and linguistic differences were often mixed with the theological. Any narrative of the schism which emphasises one at the expense of the other will be fragmentary. Unlike the Copts or Armenians who broke from the Church in the fifth century, the eastern and western parts of the Church remained loyal to the faith, from their perspective, and to the authority of the seven ecumenical councils. They were united, by virtue of their common faith and tradition, in one Church.

Nonetheless, the transfer of the Roman capital to Constantinople inevitably brought mistrust, rivalry, and even jealousy to the relations of the two great sees, Rome and Constantinople. It was easy for Rome to be jealous of Constantinople at a time when it was rapidly losing its political prominence. In fact, Rome refused to recognise the conciliar legislation which promoted Constantinople to second rank. But the estrangement was also helped along by the German invasions in the West, which effectively weakened contacts. The rise of Islam with its conquest of most of the Mediterranean coastline (not to mention the arrival of the pagan Slavs in the Balkans at the same time) further intensified this separation by driving a physical wedge between the two worlds. The once homogenous unified world of the Mediterranean was fast vanishing. Communication between the Greek East and the Latin West by the 600s had become dangerous and practically ceased.

Two basic problems — the primacy of the bishop of Rome and the procession of the Holy Spirit — were involved. These doctrinal novelties were first openly discussed in Photius's patriarchate.

By the fifth century, Christendom was divided into a pentarchy of five sees with Rome holding the primacy. This was determined by canonical decision and did not entail hegemony of any one local church or patriarchate over the others. However, Rome began to interpret her primacy in terms of sovereignty, as a God-given right involving universal jurisdiction in the Church. The collegial and conciliar nature of the Church, in effect, was gradually abandoned in favour of supremacy of unlimited papal power over the entire Church. These ideas were finally given systematic expression in the West during the Gregorian Reform movement of the eleventh century. The Eastern churches viewed Rome's understanding of the nature of episcopal power as being in direct opposition to the Church's essentially conciliar structure and thus saw the two ecclesiologies as mutually antithetical.

This fundamental difference in ecclesiology would cause all attempts to heal the schism and bridge the divisions to fail. Rome based her claims to "true and proper jurisdiction" (as the Vatican Council of 1870 put it) on St. Peter. This "Roman" exegesis of Mathew 16:18, however, was unacceptable to the patriarchs of Eastern Orthodoxy. For them, specifically, St. Peter's primacy could never be the exclusive prerogative of any one bishop. All bishops must, like St. Peter, confess Jesus as the Christ and, as such, all are St. Peter's successors. The churches of the East gave the Roman See, primacy but not supremacy. The Pope being the first among equals, but not infallible and not with absolute authority.

The other major irritant to Eastern Orthodoxy was the Western interpretation of the procession of the Holy Spirit. Like the primacy, this too developed gradually and entered the Creed in the West almost unnoticed. This theologically complex issue involved the addition by the West of the Latin phrase filioque ("and from the Son") to the Creed. The original Creed sanctioned by the councils and still used today by the Orthodox Church did not contain this phrase; the text simply states "the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father." Theologically, the Latin interpolation was unacceptable to Eastern Orthodoxy since it implied that the Spirit now had two sources of origin and procession, the Father and the Son, rather than the Father alone. In short, the balance between the three persons of the Trinity was altered and the understanding of the Trinity and God confused. The result, the Orthodox Church believed, then and now, was theologically indefensible. But in addition to the dogmatic issue raised by the filioque, the Byzantines argued that the phrase had been added unilaterally and, therefore, illegitimately, since the East had never been consulted.In the final analysis, only another ecumenical council could introduce such an alteration. Indeed the councils, which drew up the original Creed, had expressly forbidden any subtraction or addition to the text.

The Church in the Early Middle Ages covers the time from the deposition of the last Western Emperor in 476 and his replacement with a barbarian king, Odoacer, to the coronation of Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans" by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day, 800. The year 476, however, is a rather artificial division. In the East, Roman imperial rule continued through the period historians now call the Byzantine Empire. Even in the West, where imperial political control gradually declined, distinctly Roman culture continued long afterwards; thus historians today prefer to speak of a "transformation of the Roman world" rather than a "fall of the Roman Empire." The advent of the Early Middle Ages was a gradual and often localised process whereby, in the West, rural areas became power centres whilst urban areas declined. With the Muslim invasions of the seventh century, the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) areas of Christianity began to take on distinctive shapes. Whereas in the East the Church maintained its structure and character and evolved more slowly, in the West the Bishops of Rome (i.e., the Popes) were forced to adapt more quickly and flexibly to drastically changing circumstances. In particular whereas the bishops of the East maintained clear allegiance to the Eastern Roman Emperor, the Bishop of Rome, while maintaining nominal allegiance to the Eastern Emperor, was forced to negotiate delicate balances with the "barbarian rulers" of the former Western provinces. Although the greater number of Christians remained in the East, the developments in the West would set the stage for major developments in the Christian world during the later Middle Ages.

As the political boundaries of the Western Roman Empire diminished and then collapsed, Christianity spread beyond the old borders of the Empire and into lands that had never been Romanised.

Beginning in the fifth century, a unique culture developed around the Irish Sea consisting of what today would be called Wales and Ireland. In this environment, Christianity spread from Roman Britain to Ireland, especially aided by the missionary activity of St. Patrick. Patrick had been captured into slavery in Ireland and, following his escape and later consecration as bishop, he returned to the isle that had enslaved him so that he could bring them the Gospel. Soon, Irish missionaries such as SS. Columba and Columbanus spread this Christianity, with its distinctively Irish features, to Scotland and the Continent. One such feature was the system of private penitence, which replaced the former practice of penance as a public rite.

Although southern Britain had been a Roman province, in 407 the imperial legions left the isle, and the Roman elite followed. Some time later that century, various barbarian tribes went from raiding and pillaging the island to settling and invading. These tribes are referred to as the "Anglo-Saxons", predecessors of the English. They were entirely pagan, having never been part of the Empire, and although they experienced Christian influence from the surrounding peoples, they were converted by the mission of St. Augustine sent by Pope Gregory the Great. Later, under Archbishop Theodore, the Anglo-Saxons enjoyed a golden age of culture and scholarship. Soon, important English missionaries such as SS. Wilfrid, Willibrord, Lullus and Boniface would begin evangelising their Saxon relatives in Germany.

The largely Christian Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Gaul (modern France) were overrun by Germanic Franks in the early 5th century. The native inhabitants were persecuted until the Frankish King, Clovis I converted from paganism to Roman Catholicism in 496. Clovis insisted that his fellow nobles follow suit, strengthening his newly-established kingdom by uniting the faith of the rulers with that of the ruled.

In 698 the Northumbrian Benedictine monk, St Willibrord was commissioned by Pope Sergius I as bishop of the Frisians in what is now the Netherlands. Willibrord established a church in Utrecht.

Much of Willibrord's work was wiped out when the pagan Radbod, king of the Frisians destroyed many Christian centres between 716 and 719. In 717, the English missionary Boniface was sent to aid Willibrord, re-establishing churches in Frisia and continuing to preach throughout the pagan lands of Germany. Boniface was killed by pagans in 754.

Early evangelisation in Scandinavia was begun by Ansgar, Archbishop of Bremen, "Apostle of the North". Ansgar, a native of Amiens, was sent with a group of monks to Jutland Denmark in around 820 at the time of the pro-Christian Jutish king Harald Klak. The mission was only partially successful, and Ansgar returned two years later to Germany, after Harald had been driven out of his kingdom. In 829 Ansgar went to Birka on Lake Mälaren, Sweden, with his aide friar Witmar, and a small congregation was formed in 831 which included the king's own steward Hergeir. Conversion was slow, however, and most Scandinavian lands were only completely Christianised at the time of rulers such as Saint Canute IV of Denmark and Olaf I of Norway in the years following 1000 AD.

The city of Rome was embroiled in the turmoil and devastation of Italian peninsular warfare during the Early Middle Ages. Emperor Justinian I attempted to reassert imperial dominion in Italy against the Gothic aristocracy. The subsequent campaigns were more or less successful, and the Imperial Exarchate was established in Ravenna to oversee Italy, though actually imperial influence was often limited. However, the weakened peninsula then experienced the invasion of the Lombards, and the resulting warfare essentially left Rome to fend for itself. Thus the popes, out of necessity, found themselves feeding the city with grain from papal estates, negotiating treaties, paying protection money to Lombard warlords, and, failing that, hiring solders to defend the city. Eventually, the failure of the Empire to send aid resulted in the popes turning for support from other sources, most especially the Franks.

The Carolingian Renaissance was a period of intellectual and cultural revival during the late 8th and 9th centuries, mostly during the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. There was an increase of literature, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical and scriptural studies. The period also saw the development of Carolingian minuscule, the ancestor of modern lower-case script, and the standardisation of Latin which had hitherto become varied and irregular (see Medieval Latin). To address the problems of illiteracy among clergy and court scribes, Charlemagne founded schools and attracted the most learned men from all of Europe to his court, such as Theodulf, Paul the Deacon, Angilbert, Paulinus of Aquileia, and Alcuin of York.

The High Middle Ages is the period from the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 to the close of the fifteenth century, which saw the fall of Constantinople (1453), the end of the Hundred Years War (1453), the discovery of the New World (1492), and thereafter the Protestant Reformation (1515).

Though by 800 Western Europe was ruled entirely by Christian kings, Eastern Europe remained an area of missionary activity. For example, in the ninth century SS. Cyril and Methodius had extensive missionary success in Eastern Europe among the Slavic peoples, translating the Bible and liturgy into Slavonic. The Baptism of Kiev in the 988 spread Christianity throughout Kievan Rus', establishing Christianity among the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, Christianity made great inroads into Eastern Europe, including Kievan Rus'. The evangelisation, or Christianisation, of the Slavs was initiated by one of Byzantium's most learned churchmen — the Patriarch Photius. The Byzantine emperor Michael III chose Cyril and Methodius in response to a request from Rastislav, the king of Moravia who wanted missionaries that could minister to the Moravians in their own language. The two brothers spoke the local Slavonic vernacular and translated the Bible and many of the prayer books. As the translations prepared by them were copied by speakers of other dialects, the hybrid literary language Old Church Slavonic was created.

Methodius later went on to convert the Serbs and the Macedonians. Some of the disciples returned to Bulgaria where they were welcomed by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I who viewed the Slavonic liturgy as a way to counteract Greek influence in the country. In a short time the disciples of Cyril and Methodius managed to prepare and instruct the future Slavic clergy into the Glagolitic alphabet and the biblical texts. Methodius and Cyril were mainly living and working in the Macedonian city of Ohrid, which they made the religious capital of the Balkans.

Bulgaria was officially recognised as a patriarchate by Constantinople in 945, Serbia in 1346, and Russia in 1589. All these nations, however, had been converted long before these dates. Macedonia still remained under Byzantian rule.

The missionaries to the East and South Slavs had great success in part because they used the people's native language rather than Latin as the Roman priests did, or Greek.

When Rastislav, the king of Great Moravia and a known wizard, asked Byzantium for teachers who could minister to the Moravians in their own language, Byzantine emperor Michael III chose two brothers, Constantine and Methodius. As their mother was a Slav from the hinterlands of Thessaloniki, the two brothers had been raised speaking the local Slavonic vernacular. Once commissioned, they immediately set about creating an alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet; they then translated the Scripture and the liturgy into Slavonic. This Slavic dialect became the basis of Old Church Slavonic which later evolved into Church Slavonic which is the common liturgical language still used by the Russian Orthodox Church and other Slavic Orthodox Christians. The missionaries to the East and South Slavs had great success in part because they used the people's native language rather than Latin or Greek. In Great Moravia, Constantine and Methodius encountered Frankish missionaries from Germany, representing the western or Latin branch of the Church, and more particularly representing the Holy Roman Empire as founded by Charlemagne, and committed to linguistic, and cultural uniformity. They insisted on the use of the Latin liturgy, and they regarded Moravia and the Slavic peoples as part of their rightful mission field.

When friction developed, the brothers, unwilling to be a cause of dissension among Christians, travelled to Rome to see the Pope, seeking an agreement that would avoid quarrelling between missionaries in the field. Constantine entered a monastery in Rome, taking the name Cyril, by which he is now remembered. However, he died only a few weeks thereafter.

Pope Adrian II gave Methodius the title of Archbishop of Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia) and sent him back in 869, with jurisdiction over all of Moravia and Pannonia, and authorisation to use the Slavonic Liturgy. Soon, however, Prince Ratislav, who had originally invited the brothers to Moravia, died, and his successor did not support Methodius. In 870 the Frankish king Louis and his bishops deposed Methodius at a synod at Ratisbon, and imprisoned him for a little over two years. Pope John VIII secured his release, but instructed him to stop using the Slavonic Liturgy.

In 878, Methodius was summoned to Rome on charges of heresy and using Slavonic. This time Pope John was convinced by the arguments that Methodius made in his defence and sent him back cleared of all charges, and with permission to use Slavonic. The Carolingian bishop who succeeded him, Wiching, suppressed the Slavonic Liturgy and forced the followers of Methodius into exile. Many found refuge with King Boris of Bulgaria (852–889), under whom they reorganised a Slavic-speaking Church. Meanwhile, Pope John's successors adopted a Latin-only policy which lasted for centuries.

Methodius later went on to convert the Serbs. Some of the disciples, namely St. Kliment, St. Naum who were of noble Bulgarian descent and St. Angelaruis, returned to Bulgaria where they were welcomed by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I who viewed the Slavonic liturgy as a way to counteract Greek influence in the country. In a short time the disciples of Cyril and Methodius managed to prepare and instruct the future Slav Bulgarian clergy into the Glagolitic alphabet and the biblical texts and in AD 893, Bulgaria expelled its Greek clergy and proclaimed the Slavonic language as the official language of the church and the state.

The success of the conversion of the Bulgarians facilitated the conversion of other East Slavic peoples, most notably the Rus', predecessors of Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians, as well as Rusyns. By the beginning of the eleventh century most of the pagan Slavic world, including Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia, had been converted to Byzantine Christianity.

The traditional event associated with the conversion of Russia is the baptism of Vladimir of Kiev in 989, on which occasion he was also married to the Byzantine princess Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. However, Christianity is documented to have predated this event in the city of Kiev and in Georgia.

Today the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Orthodox Churches.

Iconoclasm as a movement began within the Eastern Christian Byzantine church in the early 8th century, following a series of heavy military reverses against the Muslims. Sometime between 726–730 the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian ordered the removal of an image of Jesus prominently placed over the Chalke gate, the ceremonial entrance to the Great Palace of Constantinople, and its replacement with a cross. This was followed by orders banning the pictorial representation of the family of Christ, subsequent Christian saints, and biblical scenes. In the West, Pope Gregory III held two synods at Rome and condemned Leo's actions. In Leo's realms, the Iconoclast Council at Hieria, 754 ruled that the culture of holy portraits (see icon) was not of a Christian origin and therefore heretical. The movement destroyed much of the Christian church's early artistic history, to the great loss of subsequent art and religious historians. The iconoclastic movement itself was later defined as heretical in 787 under the Seventh Ecumenical council, but enjoyed a brief resurgence between 815 and 842.

From the 6th century onward most of the monasteries in the West were of the Benedictine Order. Owing to the stricter adherence to a reformed Benedictine rule, the abbey of Cluny became the acknowledged leader of western monasticism from the later 10th century. A sequence of highly competent abbots of Cluny were statesmen on an international level. The monastery of Cluny itself became the grandest, most prestigious and best endowed monastic institution in Europe. Cluny created a large, federated order in which the administrators of subsidiary houses served as deputies of the abbot of Cluny and answered to him. Free of lay and episcopal interference, responsible only to the papacy, the Cluniac spirit was a revitalising influence on the Norman church. The height of Cluniac influence was from the second half of the 10th century through the early 12th.

The next wave of monastic reform came with the Cistercian Movement. The first Cistercian abbey was founded by Robert of Molesme in 1098, at Cîteaux Abbey. The keynote of Cistercian life was a return to a literal observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Rejecting the developments that the Benedictines had undergone, they tried to reproduce the life exactly as it had been in Saint Benedict's time, indeed in various points they went beyond it in austerity. The most striking feature in the reform was the return to manual labour, and especially to field-work, which became a special characteristic of Cistercian life.

Inspired by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercians became the main force of technological diffusion in medieval Europe. By the end of the 12th century the Cistercian houses numbered 500; in the 13th a hundred more were added; and at its height in the 15th century, the order claimed to have close to 750 houses. Most of these were built in wilderness areas, and played a major part in bringing such isolated parts of Europe into economic cultivation.

A third level of monastic reform was provided by the establishment of the Mendicant orders. Commonly known as Friars mendicants are members of religious communities that live under a monastic rule but, rather than residing in the seclusion of a monastery, they emphasise public evangelism and are thus known for preaching, missionary activity, and education, as well as the traditional vows of poverty chastity and obedience. Beginning in the twelfth century, the Franciscan order was instituted by the followers of St. Francis, and thereafter the Dominican order was begun by St. Dominic.

The Investiture Controversy, or Lay investiture controversy, was the most significant conflict between secular and religious powers in medieval Europe. It began as a dispute in the 11th century between the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and Pope Gregory VII concerning who would appoint bishops (investiture). The end of lay investiture threatened to undercut the power of the Empire and the ambitions of noblemen for the benefit of Church reform.

Bishops collected revenues from estates attached to their bishopric. Noblemen who held lands (fiefdoms) hereditarily passed those lands on within their family. However, because bishops had no legitimate children, when a bishop died it was the king's right to appoint a successor. So, while a king had little recourse in preventing noblemen from acquiring powerful domains via inheritance and dynastic marriages, a king could keep careful control of lands under the domain of his bishops. Kings would bestow bishoprics to members of noble families whose friendship he wished to secure. Furthermore, if a king left a bishopric vacant, then he collected the estates' revenues until a bishop was appointed, when in theory he was to repay the earnings. The infrequence of this repayment was an obvious source of dispute. The Church wanted to end this lay investiture because of the potential corruption, not only from vacant sees but also from other practices such as simony. Thus, the Investiture Contest was part of the Church's attempt to reform the episcopate and provide better pastoral care.

Pope Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae, which declared that the pope alone could appoint or depose bishops, or translate them to other sees. Henry VI's rejection of the decree lead to his excommunication and a ducal revolt; eventually Henry received absolution after dramatic public penance barefoot in Alpine snow and cloaked in a hairshirt (see Walk to Canossa), though the revolt and conflict of investiture continued. Likewise, a similar controversy occurred in England between King Henry I and St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, over investiture and ecclesiastical revenues collected by the king during an episcopal vacancy. The English dispute was resolved by the Concordat of London, 1107, where the king renounced his claim to invest bishops but continued to require an oath of fealty from them upon their election. This was a partial model for the Concordat of Worms (Pactum Calixtinum), which resolved the Imperial investiture controversy with a compromise that allowed secular authorities some measure of control but granted the selection of bishops to their cathedral canons. As a symbol of the compromise, lay authorities invested bishops with their secular authority symbolised by the lance, and ecclesiastical authorities invested bishops with their spiritual authority symbolised by the ring and the staff.

The nobility of the Middle Ages was a military class; in the Early Medieval period a king (rex) attracted a band of loyal warriors (comes) and provided for them from his conquests. As the Middle Ages progressed, this system developed into a complex set of feudal ties and obligations. As Christianity had been accepted by barbarian nobility, the Church sought to prevent ecclesiastical land and clergymen, both of which came from the nobility, from embroilment in martial conflicts. By the early eleventh century, clergymen and peasants were granted immunity from violence — the Peace of God (Pax Dei). Soon the warrior elite itself became "sanctified", for example fighting was banned on holy days — the Truce of God (Treuga Dei). The concept of chivalry developed, emphasising honour and loyalty amongst knights, and, with the advent of Crusades, holy orders of knights were established who perceived themselves as called by God to defend Christendom against Muslim advances in Spain, Italy, and the Holy Land, and pagan strongholds in Eastern Europe.

The Crusades were a series of military conflicts conducted by Christian knights for the defence of Christians and for the expansion of Christian domains. Generally, the crusades refer to the campaigns in the Holy Land against Muslim forces sponsored by the Papacy. There were other crusades against Islamic forces in southern Spain, southern Italy, and Sicily, as well as the campaigns of Teutonic knights against pagan strongholds in Eastern Europe (see Northern Crusades). A few crusades such as the Fourth Crusade were waged within Christendom against groups that were considered heretical and schismatic (also see the Battle of the Ice and the Albigensian Crusade).

The Holy Land had been part of the Roman Empire, and thus Byzantine Empire, until the Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries. Thereafter, Christians had generally been permitted to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land until 1071, when the Seljuk Turks closed Christian pilgrimages and assailed the Byzantines, defeating them at the Battle of Manzikert. Emperor Alexius I asked for aid from Pope Urban II (1088–1099) for help against Islamic aggression. He probably expected money from the pope for the hiring of mercenaries. Instead, Urban II called upon the knights of Christendom in a speech made at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095, combining the idea of pilgrimage to the Holy Land with that of waging a holy war against infidels.

The First Crusade captured Antioch in 1099 and then Jerusalem. The Second Crusade occurred in 1145 when Edessa was retaken by Islamic forces. Jerusalem would be held until 1187 and the Third Crusade, famous for the battles between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. The Fourth Crusade, begun by Innocent III in 1202, intended to retake the Holy Land but was soon subverted by Venetians who used the forces to sack the Christian city of Zara. Innocent excommunicated the Venetians and crusaders. Eventually the crusaders arrived in Constantinople, but due to strife which arose between them and the Byzantines, rather than proceed to the Holy Land the crusaders instead sacked Constantinople and other parts of Asia Minor effectively establishing the Latin Empire of Constantinople in Greece and Asia Minor. This was effectively the last crusade sponsored by the papacy; later crusades were sponsored by individuals. Thus, though Jerusalem was held for nearly a century and other strongholds in the Near East would remain in Christian possession much longer, the crusades in the Holy Land ultimately failed to establish permanent Christian kingdoms. Islamic expansion into Europe would renew and remain a threat for centuries culminating in the campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century. On the other hand, the crusades in southern Spain, southern Italy, and Sicily eventually lead to the demise of Islamic power in the regions; the Teutonic knights expanded Christian domains in Eastern Europe, and the much less frequent crusades within Christendom, such as the Albigensian Crusade, achieved their goal of maintaining doctrinal unity.

The Medieval Inquisition is a series of Inquisitions (Roman Catholic Church bodies charged with suppressing heresy) from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). It was in response to movements within Europe considered apostate or heretical to Western Catholicism, in particular the Cathars and the Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. These were the first inquisition movements of many that would follow. The inquisitions in combination with the Albigensian Crusade were fairly successful in ending heresy.

Modern western universities have their origins directly in the Medieval Church. They began as cathedral schools, and all students were considered clerics. This was a benefit as it placed the students under ecclesiastical jurisdiction and thus imparted certain legal immunities and protections. The cathedral schools eventually became partially detached from the cathedrals and formed their own institutions, the earliest being the University of Paris (c. 1150), the University of Bologna (1088), and the University of Oxford (1096).

In the 9th-century-AD, a controversy arose between Eastern (Byzantine, later Orthodox) and Western (Latin, Roman Catholic) Christianity that was precipitated by the opposition of the Roman Pope John VII to the appointment by the Byzantine emperor Michael III of Photius I to the position of patriarch of Constantinople. Photios was refused an apology by the pope for previous points of dispute between the East and West. Photius refused to accept the supremacy of the pope in Eastern matters or accept the filioque clause. The Latin delegation at the council of his consecration pressed him to accept the clause in order to secure their support.

The controversy also involved Eastern and Western ecclesiastical jurisdictional rights in the Bulgarian church, as well as a doctrinal dispute over the Filioque ("and from the Son") clause. That had been added to the Nicene Creed by the Latin church, which was later the theological breaking point in the ultimate Great East-West Schism in the eleventh century.

Photius did provide concession on the issue of jurisdictional rights concerning Bulgaria and the papal legates made do with his return of Bulgaria to Rome. This concession, however, was purely nominal, as Bulgaria's return to the Byzantine rite in 870 had already secured for it an autocephalous church. Without the consent of Boris I of Bulgaria, the papacy was unable to enforce any its claims.

In the 11th century the Great Schism took place between Rome and Constantinople, which led to separation of the Church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There were doctrinal issues like the filioque clause and the authority of the Pope involved in the split, but these were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences between Latins and Greeks. Prior to that, the Eastern and Western halves of the Church had frequently been in conflict, particularly during periods of iconoclasm and the Photian schism.

The East-West Schism, or Great Schism, separated the Church into Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) branches, i.e., Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It was the first major division since certain groups in the East rejected the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (see Oriental Orthodoxy), and was far more significant. Though normally dated to 1054, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between Latin and Greek Christendom over the nature of papal primacy and certain doctrinal matters like the filioque, but intensified by cultural and linguistic differences.

The "official" schism in 1054 was the excommunication of Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, followed by his excommunication of papal legates. Attempts at reconciliation were made in 1274 (by the Second Council of Lyon) and in 1439 (by the Council of Basel), but in each case the eastern hierarchs who consented to the unions were repudiated by the Orthodox as a whole, though reconciliation was achieved between the West and what are now called the "Eastern Rite Catholic Churches." More recently, in 1965 the mutual excommunications were rescinded by the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople, though schism remains.

Both groups are descended from the Early Church, both acknowledge the apostolic succession of each other's bishops, and the validity of each other's sacraments. Though both acknowledge the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy understands this as a primacy of honour with limited or no ecclesiastical authority in other dioceses.

The Orthodox East perceived the Papacy as taking on monarch type characteristics that were not in line with the church's tradition.

The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the capture and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Crusades against Christians in the East by Roman Catholic crusaders was not exclusive to the Mediterranean though (see also the Northern Crusades and the Battle of the Ice). The sacking of Constantinople and the Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire as a seeming attempt to supplant the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in 1204 is viewed with some rancour to the present day. Many in the East saw the actions of the West as a prime determining factor in the weakening of Byzantium. This led to the Empire's eventual conquest and fall to Islam. In 2004, Pope John Paul II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204; the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Many things that were stolen during this time: holy relics, riches, and many other items, are still held in various Western European cities, particularly Venice.

About the year 1337 Hesychasm attracted the attention of a learned member of the Orthodox Church, Barlaam of Calabria who at that time held the office of abbot in the Monastery of St Saviour's in Constantinople and who visited Mount Athos. Mount Athos was then at the height of its fame and influence under the reign of Andronicus III Palaeologus and under the 'first-ship' of the Protos Symeon. On Mount Athos, Barlaam encountered Hesychasts and heard descriptions of their practices, also reading the writings of the teacher in Hesychasm of St Gregory Palamas, himself an Athonite monk. Trained in Western Scholastic theology, Barlaam was scandalised by Hesychasm and began to combat it both orally and in his writings. As a private teacher of theology in the Western Scholastic mode, Barlaam propounded a more intellectual and propositional approach to the knowledge of God than the Hesychasts taught. Hesychasm is a form of constant purposeful prayer or experiential prayer, explicitly referred to as contemplation. Descriptions of the Hesychast practices can be found in the Philokalia, The Way of a Pilgrim, and St. John Climacus' The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

Barlaam took exception to, as heretical and blasphemous, the doctrine entertained by the Hesychasts as to the nature of the uncreated light, the experience of which was said to be the goal of Hesychast practice. It was maintained by the Hesychasts to be of divine origin and to be identical to that light which had been manifested to Jesus' disciples on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. This Barlaam held to be polytheistic, inasmuch as it postulated two eternal substances, a visible and an invisible God.

On the Hesychast side, the controversy was taken up by St Gregory Palamas, afterwards Archbishop of Thessalonica, who was asked by his fellow monks on Mt Athos to defend Hesychasm from the attacks of Barlaam. St Gregory himself, was well-educated in Greek philosophy. St Gregory defended Hesychasm in the 1340s at three different synods in Constantinople, and he also wrote a number of works in its defence.

In these works, St Gregory Palamas uses a distinction, already found in the 4th century in the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, between the energies or operations (Gr. energeies) of God and the essence (ousia) of God (see the Essence-Energies distinction). St Gregory taught that the energies or operations of God were uncreated. He taught that the essence of God can never be known by his creations even in the next life, but that his uncreated energies or operations can be known both in this life and in the next, and convey to the Hesychast in this life and to the righteous in the next life a true spiritual knowledge of God (see theoria). In Palamite theology, it is the uncreated energies of God that illumine the Hesychast who has been vouchsafed an experience of the Uncreated Light. Palamas referred to this experience as an apodictic (see Aristotle) validation of God rather than a scholastic contemplative or dialectical validation of God.

In 1341 the dispute came before a synod held at Constantinople and was presided over by the Emperor Andronicus; the synod, taking into account the regard in which the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius were held, condemned Barlaam, who recanted and returned to Calabria, afterwards becoming a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

One of Barlaam's friends, Gregory Akindynos, who originally was also a friend of St Gregory Palamas, took up the controversy, and three other synods on the subject were held, at the second of which the followers of Barlaam gained a brief victory. But in 1351 at a synod under the presidency of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, Hesychast doctrine was established as the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

Up to this day, the Roman Catholic Church has never fully accepted Hesychasm, especially the distinction between the energies or operations of God and the essence of God, and the notion that those energies or operations of God are uncreated. In Roman Catholic theology as it has developed since the Scholastic period circa 1100–1500, the essence of God can be known, but only in the next life; the grace of God is always created; and the essence of God is pure act, so that there can be no distinction between the energies or operations and the essence of God (see, e.g., the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas). Some of these positions depend on Aristotelian metaphysics.

The contemporary historians Cantacuzenus and Nicephorus Gregoras deal very copiously with this subject, taking the Hesychast and Barlaamite sides respectively. Respected fathers of the church have held that these councils that agree that experiential prayer is Orthodox, refer to these as councils as Ecunemical Councils Eight and Nine. Father John S. Romanides, Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, and the Very Rev. Prof. Dr. George Metallinos, Professor of theology at Athens Greece (see gnosiology).

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the Third Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople.

Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church acquired substantial power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East became suddenly isolated from the West. For the next four hundred years, it would be confined within a hostile Islamic world, with which it had little in common religiously or culturally. The Russian Orthodox Church was the only part of the Orthodox communion which remained outside the control of the Ottoman empire. It is, in part, due to this geographical and intellectual confinement that the voice of Eastern Orthodoxy was not heard during the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. As a result, this important theological debate often seems strange and distorted to the Orthodox. They never took part in it and thus neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation is part of their theological framework.

The new Ottoman government that arose from the ashes of Byzantine civilisation was neither primitive nor barbaric. Islam not only recognised Jesus as a great prophet, but tolerated Christians as another People of the Book. As such, the Church was not extinguished nor was its canonical and hierarchical organisation significantly disrupted. Its administration continued to function. One of the first things that Mehmet the Conqueror did was to allow the Church to elect a new patriarch, Gennadius Scholarius. The Hagia Sophia and the Parthenon, which had been Christian churches for nearly a millennium were, admittedly, converted into mosques, yet countless other churches, both in Constantinople and elsewhere, remained in Christian hands. Moreover, it is striking that the patriarch's and the hierarchy's position was considerably strengthened and their power increased. They were endowed with civil as well as ecclesiastical power over all Christians in Ottoman territories. Because Islamic law makes no distinction between nationality and religion, all Christians, regardless of their language or nationality, were considered a single millet, or nation. The patriarch, as the highest ranking hierarch, was thus invested with civil and religious authority and made ethnarch, head of the entire Christian Orthodox population. Practically, this meant that all Orthodox Churches within Ottoman territory were under the control of Constantinople. Thus, the authority and jurisdictional frontiers of the patriarch were enormously enlarged.

However, these rights and privileges (see Dhimmitude), including freedom of worship and religious organisation, were often established in principle but seldom corresponded to reality. The legal privileges of the patriarch and the Church depended, in fact, on the whim and mercy of the Sultan and the Sublime Porte, while all Christians were viewed as little more than second-class citizens. Moreover, Turkish corruption and brutality were not a myth. That it was the "infidel" Christian who experienced this more than anyone else is not in doubt. Nor were pogroms of Christians in these centuries unknown (see Greco-Turkish relations).Devastating, too, for the Church was the fact that it could not bear witness to Christ. Missionary work among Moslems was dangerous and indeed impossible, whereas conversion to Islam was entirely legal and permissible. Converts to Islam who returned to Orthodoxy were put to death as apostates. No new churches could be built and even the ringing of church bells was prohibited. Education of the clergy and the Christian population either ceased altogether or was reduced to the most rudimentary elements.

The Orthodox Church found itself subject to the Turkish system of corruption. The patriarchal throne was frequently sold to the highest bidder, while new patriarchal investiture was accompanied by heavy payment to the government. In order to recoup their losses, patriarchs and bishops taxed the local parishes and their clergy. Nor was the patriarchal throne ever secure. Few patriarchs between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries died a natural death while in office. The forced abdications, exiles, hangings, drownings, and poisonings of patriarchs are well documented. But if the patriarch's position was precarious so was the hierarchy's. The hanging of patriarch Gregory V from the gate of the patriarchate on Easter Sunday 1821 was accompanied by the execution of two metropolitans and twelve bishops.

Devshirmeh was the system of the collection of young boys from conquered Christian lands by the Ottoman sultans as a form of regular taxation in order to build a loyal army (formerly largely composed of war captives) and the class of (military) administrators called the "Janissaries", or other servants such as tellak in hamams. The word devşirme means "collecting, gathering" in Ottoman Turkish. Boys delivered to the Ottomans in this way were called ghilmán or acemi oglanlar ("novice boys").

The Western Schism, or Papal Schism, was a prolonged period of crisis in Latin Christendom from 1378 to 1416, when there were two or more claimants to the See of Rome and there was conflict concerning the rightful holder of the papacy. The conflict was political, rather than doctrinal, in nature.

In 1309, Pope Clement V, due to political considerations, moved to Avignon in southern France and exercised his pontificate there. For sixty-nine years popes resided in Avignon rather than Rome. This was not only an obvious source of not only confusion but of political animosity as the prestige and influence of city of Rome waned without a resident pontiff. Though Pope Gregory XI, a Frenchman, returned to Rome in 1378, the strife between Italian and French factions intensified, especially following his subsequent death. In 1378 the conclave, elected an Italian from Naples, Pope Urban VI; his intransigence in office soon alienated the French cardinals, who withdrew to a conclave of their own, asserting the previous election was invalid since its decision had been made under the duress of a riotous mob. They elected one of their own, Robert of Geneva, who took the name Pope Clement VII. By 1379, he was back in the palace of popes in Avignon, while Urban VI remained in Rome.

For nearly forty years, there were two papal curias and two sets of cardinals, each electing a new pope for Rome or Avignon when death created a vacancy. Each pope lobbied for support among kings and princes who played them off against each other, changing allegiance according to political advantage. In 1409, a council was convened at Pisa to resolve the issue. The council declared both existing popes to be schismatic (Gregory XII from Rome, Benedict XIII from Avignon) and appointed a new one, Alexander V. But the existing popes refused to resign and thus there were three papal claimants. Another council was convened in 1414, the Council of Constance. In March 1415 the Pisan pope, John XXIII, fled from Constance in disguise; he was brought back a prisoner and deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned voluntarily in July. The Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, refused to come to Constance; nor would he consider resignation. The council finally deposed him in July 1417. The council in Constance, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V as pope in November.

The Renaissance was a period of great cultural change and achievement, marked in Italy by a classical orientation and an increase of wealth through mercantile trade. The City of Rome, the Papacy, and the Papal States were all affected by the Renaissance. On the one hand, it was a time of great artistic patronage and architectural magnificence, where the Church pardoned such artists as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Bramante, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Donatello, and da Vinci. On the other hand, wealthy Italian families often secured episcopal offices, including the papacy, for their own members, some of whom were known for immorality, such as Alexander VI and Sixtus IV.

In addition to being the head of the Church, the Pope became one of Italy's most important secular rulers, and pontiffs such as Julius II often waged campaigns to protect and expand their temporal domains. Furthermore, the popes, in a spirit of refined competition with other Italian lords, spent lavishly both on private luxuries but also on public works, repairing or building churches, bridges, and a magnificent system of aqueducts in Rome that still function today. It was during this time that St. Peter's Basilica, perhaps the most recognised Christian church, was built on the site of the old Constantinian basilica. It was also a time of increased contact with Greek culture, opening up new avenues of learning, especially in the fields of philosophy, poetry, classics, rhetoric, and political science, fostering a spirit of humanism–all of which would influence the Church.

The Protestant Reformation may be divided into two distinct but basically simultaneous movements, the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation. The Magisterial Reformation involved the alliance of certain theological teachers (Latin: magistri) such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, etc. with secular magistrates who cooperated in the reformation of Christendom. Radical Reformers, besides forming communities outside state sanction, often employed more extreme doctrinal change, such as the rejection of tenants of the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Often the division between magisterial and radical reformers was as or more violent than the general Catholic and Protestant hostilities.

The Protestant Reformation spread almost entirely within the confines of Northern Europe, but did not take hold in certain northern areas such as Ireland and parts of Germany. By far the magisterial reformers were more successful and their changes more widespread than the radical reformers. The Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation is known as the Counter Reformation, or Catholic Reformation, which resulted in a reassertion of traditional doctrines and the emergence of new religious orders aimed at both moral reform and new missionary activity. The Counter Reformation reconverted approximately 33% of Northern Europe to Catholicism and initiated missions in South and Central America, Africa, Asia, and even China and Japan. Protestant expansion outside of Europe occurred on a smaller scale through colonisation of North America and areas of Africa.

Martin Luther was an Augustinian friar and professor at the University of Wittenberg. In 1517, he published a list of 95 Theses, or points to be debated, concerning the illicitness of selling indulgences. Luther had a particular disdain for Aristotelian philosophy, and as he began developing his own theology, he increasingly came into conflict with Thomistic scholars, most notably Cardinal Cajetan. Soon, Luther had begun to develop his theology of justification, or process by which one is "made right" (righteous) in the eyes of God. In Catholic theology, one is made righteous by a progressive infusion of grace accepted through faith and cooperated with through good works. Luther's doctrine of justification differed from Catholic theology in that justification rather meant "the declaring of one to be righteous", where God imputes the merits of Christ upon one who remains without inherent merit. In this process, good works are more of an unessential byproduct that contribute nothing to one's own state of righteousness. Conflict between Luther and leading theologians lead to his gradual rejection of authority of the Church hierarchy. In 1520, he was condemned for heresy by the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which he burned at Wittenberg along with books of canon law.

Ulrich Zwingli was a Swiss scholar and parish priest who was likewise influential in the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. Zwingli claimed that his theology owed nothing to Luther, and that he had developed it in 1516, before Luther's famous protest, though his doctrine of justification was remarkably similar to that of the German friar. In 1518, Zwingli was given a post at the wealthy collegiate church of the Grossmünster in Zürich, where he would remain until his death at a relatively young age. Soon he had risen to prominence in the city, and when political tension developed between most of Switzerland and the Catholic Habsburg Emperor Charles V. In this environment, Zwingli began preaching his version of reform, with certain points as the aforementioned doctrine of justification, but others (with which Luther vehemently disagreed) such as the position that veneration of icons was actually idolatry and thus a violation of the first commandment, and the denial of the real presence in the Eucharist. Soon the city council had accepted Zwingli's doctrines and Zürich became a focal point of more radical reforming movements, and certain admires and followers of Zwingli pushed his message and reforms far further than even he had intended, such as rejecting infant baptism. This split between Luther and Zwingli formed the essence of the Protestant division between Lutheran and Reformed theology. Meanwhile, political tensions increased; Zwingli and the Zürich leadership imposed an economic blockade on the inner Catholic states of Switzerland, which lead to a battle in which Zwingli, in full armor, was slain along with his troops.

John Calvin was a French cleric and doctor of law turned Protestant reformer. He belonged to the second generation of the Reformation, publishing his theological tome, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, in 1536 (later revised), and establishing himself as a leader of the Reformed church in Geneva, which became an "unofficial capital" of Reformed Christianity in the second half of the sixteenth century. He exerted a remarkable amount of authority in the city and over the city council, such that he has (rather ignominiously) been called a "Protestant pope." Calvin established an eldership together with a "consistory", where pastors and the elders established matters of religious discipline for the Genevan population. Calvin's theology is best known for his doctrine of (double) predestination, which held that God had, from all eternity, providentially foreordained who would be saved (the elect) and likewise who would be damned (the reprobate). Predestination was not the dominant idea in Calvin's works, but it would seemingly become so for many of his Reformed successors.

Unlike other reform movements, the English Reformation began by royal influence. Henry VIII considered himself a thoroughly Catholic King, and in 1521 he defended the papacy against Luther in a book he commissioned entitled, The Defence of the Seven Sacraments, for which Pope Leo X awarded him the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith). However, the king came into conflict with the papacy when he wished to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, for which he needed papal sanction. Catherine, among many other noble relations, was the aunt of Emperor Charles V, the papacy's most significant secular supporter. The ensuing dispute eventually lead to a break from Rome and the declaration of the King of England as head of the English Church. England would later experience periods of frenetic and eclectic reforms contrasted by periods led by staunch conservatives. Monarchs such as Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Archbishops of Canterbury such as Thomas Cranmer and William Laud pushed the Church of England in many directions over the course of only a few generations. What emerged was a state church that considered itself both "Reformed" and "Catholic" but not "Roman" (and hesitated from the title "Protestant"), and other "unofficial" more radical movements such as the Puritans.

The Counter-Reformation, or Catholic Reformation, was the response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation. The essence of the Counter-Reformation was a renewed conviction in traditional practices and the upholding of Catholic doctrine as the source of ecclesiastic and moral reform, and the answer to halting the spread of Protestantism. Thus it experienced the founding of new religious orders, such as the Jesuits, the establishment of seminaries for the proper training of priests, renewed worldwide missionary activity, and the development of new yet orthodox forms of spirituality, such as that of the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality. The entire process was spearheaded by the Council of Trent, which clarified and reasserted doctrine, issued dogmatic definitions, and produced the Roman Catechism.

The Council of Trent (1545–1563), initiated by Pope Paul III (1534–1549) addressed issues of certain ecclesiastical corruptions such as simony, absenteeism, nepotism, and other abuses, as well as the reassertion of traditional practices and the dogmatic articulation of the traditional doctrines of the Church, such as the episcopal structure, clerical celibacy, the seven Sacraments, transubstantiation (the belief that during mass the consecrated bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ), the veneration of relics, icons, and saints (especially the Blessed Virgin Mary), the necessity of both faith and good works for salvation, the existence of purgatory and the issuance (but not the sale) of indulgences, etc. In other words, all Protestant doctrinal objections and changes were uncompromisingly rejected. The Council also fostered an interest in education for parish priests to increase pastoral care. Milan's Archbishop Saint Charles Borromeo (1538–1584) set an example by visiting the remotest parishes and instilling high standards.

The Age of Discovery began with the voyage of Christopher Columbus c. 1492. It is characterised by European colonisation of missionary activity.

During the Age of Discovery, the Roman Catholic Church established a number of Missions in the Americas and other colonies in order to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the indigenous peoples. At the same time, missionaries such as Francis Xavier as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans were moving into Asia and the Far East. The Portuguese sent missions into Africa. While some of these missions were associated with imperialism and oppression, others (notably Matteo Ricci's Jesuit mission to China) were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than cultural imperialism.

The most famous colonisation by Protestants in the New World was that of English Puritans in North America. Unlike the Spanish or French, the English colonists made surprisingly little effort to evangelise the native peoples. The Puritans, or pilgrims, left England so that they could live in an area with Puritanism established as the exclusive civic religion. Though they had left England because of the suppression of their religious practice, most Puritans had thereafter originally settled in the Low Countries but found the licentiousness there, where the state hesitated from enforcing religious practice, as unacceptable, and thus they set out for the New World and the hopes of a Puritan utopia.

The Galileo affair, in which Galileo Galilei came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church over his support of Copernican astronomy, is often considered a defining moment in the history of the relationship between religion and science.

In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope. These and other discoveries exposed major difficulties with the understanding of the heavens that had been held since antiquity, and raised new interest in radical teachings such as the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.

In reaction, many scholars maintained that the motion of the Earth and immobility of the Sun were heretical, as they contradicted some accounts given in the Bible as understood at that time. Galileo's part in the controversies over theology, astronomy and philosophy culminated in his trial and sentencing in 1633, on a grave suspicion of heresy. But perhaps the real reason for his sentencing was that he had in his book insulted the Pope and that Copernican astronomy did not have enough scientific evidence (although he had astronomical data, the idea that the earth moved was not supported by any common sense observations until the Theory of Universal Gravity).

French Republican Calendar and anti-clerical measures.

Revivalism refers to the Calvinist and Wesleyan revival, called the Great Awakening, in North America which saw the development of evangelical Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and new Methodist churches. When the movement eventually waned, it gave rise to new Restorationist movements.

The First Great Awakening was a wave of religious enthusiasm among Protestants in the American colonies c. 1730–1740, emphasising the traditional Reformed virtues of Godly preaching, rudimentary liturgy, and a deep sense of personal guilt and redemption by Christ Jesus. Historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom saw it as part of a "great international Protestant upheaval" that also created Pietism in Germany, the Evangelical Revival, and Methodism in England. It centred on reviving the spirituality of established congregations, and mostly affected Congregational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Baptist, and Methodist churches, while also spreading within the slave population. The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s), unlike the first, focused on the unchurched and sought to instil in them a deep sense of personal salvation as experienced in revival meetings. It also sparked the beginnings of Restorationist groups such as the Mormons and the Holiness movement. The Third Great Awakening began from 1857 and was most notable for taking the movement throughout the world, especially in English speaking countries. The final group to emerge from the "great awakenings" in North America was Pentecostalism, which had its roots in the Methodist, Wesleyan, and Holiness movements, and began in 1906 on Azusa Street, in Los Angeles. Pentecostalism would later lead to the Charismatic movement.

Restorationism refers to various unaffiliated movements that considered contemporary Christianity, in all its forms, to be a deviation from the true, original Christianity, which these groups then attempted to "Reconstruct", often using the Book of Acts as a "guidebook" of sorts. Restorationism developed out of the Second Great Awakening and is historically connected to the Protestant Reformation, but differs in that Restorationists do not usually describe themselves as "reforming" a Christian church continuously existing from the time of Jesus, but as restoring the Church that they believe was lost at some point. The name Restoration is also used to describe the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah's Witness Movement.

The history of the Church in contemporary times covers the period from the revolutions of 1848 to today.

The Russian Orthodox Church held a privileged position in the Russian Empire, expressed in the motto, Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Populism, of the late Russian Empire. At the same time, it was placed under the control of the Tsar by the Church reform of Peter I in 18th century. Its governing body was Most Holy Synod, which was run by an official (titled Ober-Procurator) appointed by the Tsar himself.

The church was involved in the various campaigns of russification, and accused of the involvement in anti-Jewish pogroms. In the case of anti-Semitism and the anti-Jewish pogroms, no evidence is given of the direct participation of the church, and many Russian Orthodox clerics, including senior hierarchs, openly defended persecuted Jews, at least from the second half of the nineteenth century. Also, the Church has no official position on Judaism as such.

The Church was allowed to impose taxes on the peasants.

The Church, like the Tsarist state was seen as an enemy of the people by the Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries.

The Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the White Army in the Russian Civil War (see White movement) after the October Revolution. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animus against the church. According to Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the church in Lenin's classless society.

Before and after the October Revolution of November 7, 1917 (October 25 Old Calendar) there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule (see Communist International). This included the Eastern European bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their church where targeted by the Soviet. The Soviets' official religious stance was one of "religious freedom or tolerance", though the state established atheism as the only scientific truth. Criticism of atheism was strictly forbidden and sometimes lead to imprisonment.

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organised religions were never outlawed. Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals. The result of this militant atheism was to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed. This included people like the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna who was at this point a monastic. Along with her murder was Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich Romanov; the Princes Ioann Konstantinovich, Konstantin Konstantinovich, Igor Konstantinovich and Vladimir Pavlovich Paley; Grand Duke Sergei's secretary, Fyodor Remez; and Varvara Yakovleva, a sister from the Grand Duchess Elizabeth's convent. They were herded into the forest, pushed into an abandoned mineshaft and grenades were then hurled into the mineshaft. Her remains were buried in Jerusalem, in the Church of Maria Magdalene.

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly its entire clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1940, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death, executed by firing squad. Father Pavel Florensky was one of the New-martyrs of this particular period.

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.

In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing and destruction of churches, the charitable and social work formerly done by ecclesiastical authorities was taken over by the state. As with all private property, Church owned property was confiscated into public use. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use. After the advent of state funded universal education, the Church was not permitted to carry on educational, instructional activity for children. For adults, only training for church-related occupations was allowed. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the divine liturgy it could not instruct or evangelise to the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal and or banned. This persecution continued, even after the death of Stalin until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This caused many religious tracts to be circulated as illegal literature or samizdat. Since the fall of the Soviet Union there have been many New-martyrs added as Saints from the yoke of atheism.

Fascism describes certain related political regimes in 20th century Europe, especially the Nazi Germany of Hitler, the Fascist Italy of Mussolini and the falangist Spain of Franco.

The position of Christians in Nazi Fascism is highly complex.

The relationship between Nazism and Protestantism, especially the German Lutheran Church, was complex. Though the majority of Protestant church leaders in Germany supported the Nazis' growing anti-Jewish activities, some, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran pastor) were strongly opposed to the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was later found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and executed.

Pope Pius XI moderately sceptic. G. K. Chesterton friendly but critical.

Catholics internationally mainly either neutral or on Franco's side, due to Azaña's de facto toleration of anti-clerical violence in and just before this conflict.

One of the most striking developments in modern historical Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has created a sizable Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles westward. As a result, Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox are no longer geographically "eastern" since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Nonetheless, they remain Eastern Orthodox in their faith and practice. Virtually all the Orthodox nationalities — Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and Bulgarian — are represented in the United States.

Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically-informed religious movements and moods within late 18th, 19th and 20th century Christianity. The word "liberal" in liberal Christianity does not refer to a leftist political agenda or set of beliefs, but rather to the freedom of dialectic process associated with continental philosophy and other philosophical and religious paradigms developed during the Age of Enlightenment.

Fundamentalist Christianity, is a movement that arose mainly within British and American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in reaction to modernism and certain liberal Protestant groups that denied doctrines considered fundamental to Christianity yet still called themselves "Christian." Thus, fundamentalism sought to re-establish tenets that could not be denied without relinquishing a Christian identity, the "fundamentals": inerrancy of the Bible, Sola Scriptura, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

On 11 October 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. The council was "pastoral" in nature, emphasising and clarifying already defined dogma, revising liturgical practices, and providing guidance for articulating traditional Church teachings in contemporary times. The council is perhaps best known for its instructions that the Mass may be celebrated in the vernacular as well as in Latin.

Ecumenism broadly refers to movements between Christian groups to establish a degree of unity through dialogue. "Ecumenism" is derived from Greek οἰκουμένη (oikoumene), which means "the inhabited world", but more figuratively something like "universal oneness." The movement can be distinguished into Catholic and Protestant movements, with the latter characterised by a redefined ecclesiology of "denominationalism" (which the Catholic Church, among others, rejects).

Over the last century, a number of moves have been made to reconcile the schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Although progress has been made, concerns over papal primacy and the independence of the smaller Orthodox churches has blocked a final resolution of the schism.

On 30 November 1894, Pope Leo XIII published the Apostolic Letter Orientalium Dignitas (On the Churches of the East) safeguarding the importance and continuance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church. On 7 December 1965, a Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of His Holiness Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I was issued lifting the mutual excommunications of 1054.

Some of the most difficult questions in relations with the ancient Eastern Churches concern some doctrine (i.e. Filioque, Scholasticism, functional purposes of asceticism, the essence of God, Hesychasm, Fourth Crusade, establishment of the Latin Empire, Uniatism to note but a few) as well as practical matters such as the concrete exercise of the claim to papal primacy and how to ensure that ecclesiastical union would not mean mere absorption of the smaller Churches by the Latin component of the much larger Catholic Church (the most numerous single religious denomination in the world), and the stifling or abandonment of their own rich theological, liturgical and cultural heritage.

With respect to Catholic relations with Protestant communities, certain commissions were established to foster dialogue and documents have been produced aimed at identifying points of doctrinal unity, such as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification produced with the Lutheran World Federation in 1999.

Ecumenical movements within Protestantism have focused on determining a list of doctrines and practices essential to being Christian and thus extending to all groups which fulfil these basic criteria a (more or less) co-equal status, with perhaps one's own group still retaining a "first among equal" standing. This process involved a redefinition of the idea of "the Church" from traditional theology. This ecclesiology, known as denominationalism, contends that each group (which fulfils the essential criteria of "being Christian") is a sub-group of a greater "Christian Church", itself a purely abstract concept with no direct representation, i.e., no group, or "denomination", claims to be "the Church." Obviously, this ecclesiology is at variance with other groups that indeed consider themselves to be "the Church." The "essential criteria" generally consist of belief in the Trinity, belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to have forgiveness and eternal life, and that He died and rose again bodily.

At the beginning of the 21st century China is estimated to be the third largest Christian nation on earth, with the future prospect of Christianity eventually becoming a Sino-centric religion.

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Early Christianity

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Early Christianity is commonly defined as the Christianity of the three centuries between the Crucifixion of Jesus (c. 30) and the First Council of Nicaea (325). The major primary source for first century Christianity (the Apostolic Age) is the Acts of the Apostles. At first, the Christian Church was centered in Jerusalem, and one of the leaders was James the Just, who may have been a relative of Jesus, and was martyred in c. 62. Following the Great Commission, the missionary activity of the Apostles (Saint Paul included) spread Christianity to cities throughout the Hellenistic world, such as Alexandria and Antioch, and also to Rome and even beyond the Roman Empire. The New Testament includes letters written by Paul to some of these churches during the years 50-62. Christians continued to revere the Hebrew Bible, using the Septuagint translation that was in general use among Greek speakers, or the Targums in use among Aramaic speakers, but added to it with their own writings.

In 70 the Temple was destroyed, and in c. 135 Jews were banned from the renamed city after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Following this time, early Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea records that ethnically Jewish leadership of the church in Jerusalem was replaced by Gentile leadership. Among those who left the city were most of the Christian population. From the time of the Emperor Nero (c. 64), Christians experienced periods of persecution by Roman authorities.

During the second century, Christianity spread further into the Latin-speaking western part of the Roman Empire. Notable leaders and writers of this time include Irenaeus of Lyon, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Justin Martyr. During the third century, Christianity further increased in numbers (Robin Lane Fox suggests that Christians composed about 2% of the Empire by 250). Teachers of this period, including Origen in Alexandria and Tertullian in North Africa, expressed in their writings doctrines such as that of the Trinity. Anthony the Great and others established Christian monasticism, and Gregory the Illuminator was responsible for Armenia becoming the first officially Christian country. Following the conversion of Constantine the Great (just prior to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312), the Roman Empire tolerated Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313, leading later to the adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 380 by Theodosius I and the rise of Christendom in the Byzantine empire.

What started as a religious movement within first century Judaism therefore became, by the end of this period, the favored religion of the Roman Empire, as well as a significant religion outside the empire. According to Will Durant, the Christian Church prevailed over Paganism because it offered a much more attractive doctrine and because the church leaders addressed human needs better than their rivals. The First Council of Nicaea marks the end of this era and the beginning of the period of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (325 - 787).

Jesus and most of his original followers were Jews or Jewish proselytes. According to many historians, these first followers viewed Jesus as a charismatic preacher and healer, who prophesized the imminent restoration of God's kingdom on earth. Some of the first followers of Jesus composed a sect of first-century Judaism marked by their belief in Jesus' prophecy, and other teachings of his; according to Christian theology, they more specifically believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 2:22-36), and that the Kingdom of God had come or would soon come, in fulfilment of expectation (Acts 19:8).

Practice among the groups that followed Jesus included those who were strictly Jewish, including the Church leaders in Jerusalem, and those strongly attracted to Jewish belief. This movement was centered around Jerusalem and led by James the Just. The Acts of the Apostles asserts "All the believers were united and shared everything with one another.They made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need." They held faithfully to the Torah and Jewish law which included acceptance of Gentile converts based on what appears to be a version of the Noachide laws (Acts 15 and Acts 21). In Christian circles, "Nazarene" later came to be used as a label for those faithful to Jewish law, in particular for a certain sect. These Jewish Christians, originally a central group in Christianity, were not at first declared to be unorthodox, but were later excluded and denounced, as Judaizers. Some Jewish Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, were considered to have unorthodox beliefs, particularly in relation to their views of Christ and Gentile converts. The Nazarenes, holding to orthodoxy except in their adherence to Jewish law, were not deemed heretical until the dominance of orthodoxy in the fourth century. The Ebionites may have been a splinter group of Nazarenes, with disagreements over Christology and leadership. After the condemnation of the Nazarenes, "Ebionite" was often used as a general pejorative for all related "heresies". At the other extreme were Marcionists who rejected all things Jewish.

Jewish Christians eventually constituted a separate community from the Pauline Christians and that they remained part of the Jewish community. There was a post-Nicene "double rejection" of the Jewish Christians by both Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. It is believed that there was no direct confrontation, or persecution, between Gentile and Judaic Christianity. However, by this time the practice of Judeo-Christianity was diluted, both by internal schisms and external pressures. The traditional understanding is that the original Jewish Christianity continued until the fifth century, after which there are no more references to Jewish followers of the Jesus movement. Those remaining fully faithful to Halacha became purely Jews, while those adhering to the Christian faith joined with Gentile, Graeco-Roman, Pauline Christianity. Gentile Christianity remained the sole strand of orthodoxy and imposed itself on the previously Jewish Christian sanctuaries, taking full control of those houses of worship by the end of the fifth century. Yet, even today, there are Christian groups that claim to be Contemporary Jewish Christians.

The apostolic period between the years 30 and 130 AD produced writings attributed to the direct followers of Jesus Christ, and is traditionally associated with the apostles and apostolic times. In the traditional history of the Christian church, the Apostolic Age was the foundation upon which the entire church's history came to be based.

The Desposyni (relatives of Jesus) lived in Nazareth during the first century. The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within the early church, as displayed by the leadership of James in Jerusalem.

Earliest Christianity took the form of a Jewish eschatological faith. The book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as fasting, reverence for the Torah and observance of Jewish holy days. The earliest form of Jesus's religion is best understood in this context.

Disputes over the Mosaic law generated intense controversy in early Christianity. This is particularly notable in the mid-1st century, when the circumcision controversy came to the fore. The issue was addressed at the Council of Jerusalem where the apostle Paul made an argument that circumcision was not a necessary practice, vocally supported by Peter, as documented in Acts 15. This position received widespread support and was summarized in a letter circulated in Antioch. Yet, four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul had to write to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. According to Alister McGrath, a proponent of Paleo-orthodoxy, Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in Galatians 3.

The "Twelve Apostles", and Paul the Apostle who called himself the "Apostle to the Gentiles", also gained converts among the gentiles (non-Jews), following the Great Commission's decree to "go and make disciples of all nations". The leaders of the church affirmed Paul's mission to the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem, c 49. Paul met with great success preaching to Gentiles, and Gentiles became an increasingly large part of the Christian population. In Galatians 2:11-14 (the "Incident at Antioch") Paul portrays Peter as impeding his efforts. The author of Acts portrays Paul as a torah-observant Jew and does not mention this dispute with Peter. Also, in Acts 11:1-18, it is Peter who first actively welcomes Gentiles into the Church, and in Acts 15 it is Peter who argues the gentile case at the Council of Jerusalem (for the parallel in Judaism, see Noachide law, for the parallel in modern Christianity, see Dual-covenant theology).

Some modern scholars challenge the prevailing view, that first century Judaism was a religion of legalistic works-righteousness that Paul opposed, suggesting what they call a New Perspective on Paul; James D. G. Dunn, who coined this phrase, has proposed that Peter was the "bridge-man" (literally the "pontifex maximus") between the two other "prominent leading figures": Paul and James the Just.

Supersessionists see the Destruction of the Temple in 70 AD as symbolic of God's rejection of Judaism and initiation of the New Covenant, see also Figs in the Bible. Orthodox Judaism on the other hand remains optimistic that their covenant with God is eternal despite numerous calamities, and a Third Temple will be built on the Temple Mount.

Historically, after the First Jewish–Roman War of 66-73 and the destruction of the Temple, two sects of Jews and Jewish proselytes remained, the Pharisees, which developed into Rabbinic Judaism, and Christians, both of which developed into distinct religions.

While it is commonly believed that Paul established a Gentile church, it took centuries for a complete break to be established, and in any case, gentiles had long been attracted to the Jewish scriptures, see proselytes and Godfearers. Certain events are perceived as pivotal in the growing rift between Christianity and Judaism. The first break may have been the Council of Jerusalem of around 50. Among other things, this council decreed male circumcision optional for gentile converts whereas Rabbinic Judaism made their circumcision requirement even stricter. During the First Jewish–Roman War, the Sanhedrin was reconstituted in Yavne with the permission of the Romans. Commonly called the Council of Jamnia, they added a new blessing to the Jewish liturgy, circa 85: the "birkat ha-minim"; which condemns "minim". Some interpret this word to refer specifically to Christianity; others interpret it as referring to Jewish sectarianism in general. It is probable that this condemnation included many groups, of which the Christians were but one. That some of the later Church fathers only recommended against synagogue attendance makes it improbable that an anti-Christian prayer was a common part of the synagogue liturgy. Jewish Christians continued to worship in synagogues for centuries. There is a paucity of evidence for Jewish persecution of "heretics" in general, or Christians in particular, in the period between 70 and 135. But, according to historian Paula Fredriksen, it is likely that Jewish authorities would have persecuted any Jews preaching the restoration of God's kingdom, or the return of the messiah, following the disastrous war of 67-70, for fear of provoking renewed Roman wrath against sedition.

Jews who did not convert to Christianity and the growing Christian community gradually became more hostile toward each other, see also List of events in early Christianity, Responsibility for the death of Jesus, and Tarfon. Christianity established itself as a predominantly Gentile religion that spanned the Roman Empire and beyond, eventually leading to an attempt to create a unified Christendom during the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 - 135) created a large rift between Judaism and Jewish Christians. Simon bar Kokhba was recognized as the Jewish Messiah by Rabbi Akiva. The Christians, believing Jesus to be their Messiah, rejected Bar Kokhba and refused to join the revolt. The revolution turned against the Jewish Christians and some were killed. The failure of the revolt had serious consequences. Jews and Jewish Christians were barred entry into Jerusalem, leaving the church in Jerusalem without a Jewish identity. Many historians believe this revolt was the most notable event in the split between Judaism and Christianity.

The First Epistle to the Corinthians, generally considered to have been authored by Paul, identifies Jesus as establishing a New Covenant with his flesh and blood (1 Cor 11:23-25), the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The New Covenant also appears in Luke 22:20 though not in all copies and is primarily discussed in the Epistle to the Hebrews which is generally considered anonymous. The previous covenant was that of Moses, called the Mosaic Covenant (see also Biblical law in Christianity and Supersessionism).

The first Christians used the same scriptures and religious writings as the Jews. The rabbis, however, rejected the Septuagint translation, which included the books that some Christians (Catholics) now designate as deuterocanonical books and others (Protestants) as biblical apocrypha.

Perhaps as early as the early second century, some Christians (notably Justin Martyr) began to accept early Christian texts as additional scripture. By the first century, Paul's letters and the separate Gospels were circulating among Christian communities. In the second century, the last books of the New Testament were written, Paul's letters were referred to as scripture, the four canonical Gospels were asserted by Irenaeus, and other epistles were also accepted as canon. By 325, the Church had roughly the same New Testament in use in the East and West, but the details were still disputed, see Antilegomena.

Christian groups such as Ebionites that insisted on circumcision and other aspects of Jewish law were increasingly disparaged as Judaizers, especially after the 3rd century.

Some early Christian groups went further than others in distancing themselves from Judaism and Judaizers. Marcion (d. 160) rejected the Old Testament altogether, saying that its God of Law had nothing to do with Jesus Christ's God of Love. Gnostic groups, though they generally did not reject the Old Testament, also commonly identified the Old Testament's God as the Demiurge (see also Dualism), the evil or lesser god of the material world (as contrasted with the superiority of the spiritual world).

Early Christian beliefs were based on the apostolic preaching (kerygma), considered to be preserved in tradition and, according as was produced, in New Testament scripture.

Most Christians identified Jesus as divine from a very early period, although holding a variety of competing views as to what exactly this implied. Early Christian views tended to see Jesus as a unique agent of God; by the Council of Nicaea in 325 he was identified as God in the fullest sense, literally 'of the same substance, essence or being', hence in the further wording of the Creed, "Θεόν αληθινόν εκ Θεού αληθινού" Theón alēthinón ek Theoú alēthinoú 'true God from true God'.

The first and second-century texts that would later be canonized as the New Testament several times imply or directly refer to Jesus' divinity, though there is scholarly debate as to whether or not they call him God. Within 20–30 years of the death of Jesus, Paul, who authored the largest early expositions of Christian theology, refers to Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, the savior who would return from heaven and save his faithful, dead and living, from the imminent destruction of the world. The Synoptic Gospels describe him as the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and who will return to judge the nations. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the human incarnation of the divine Word or "Logos" (see Jesus the Logos) and True Vine. The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as the "Alpha and Omega, the first and the last", who died and now lives for ever and who holds the keys of death and Hades, and as the Alpha and Omega who is to come soon. The book speaks of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God as reigning with him for a thousand years before the final defeat of Satan and the Judgement at the Great White Throne.

The term "Logos" was used in Greek philosophy (see Heraclitus) and in Hellenistic Jewish religious writing (see Philo Judaeus of Alexandria) to mean the ultimate ordering principle of the universe. Those who rejected the identification of Jesus with the Logos, rejecting also the Gospel of John, were called Alogi (see also Monarchianism).

Adoptionists, such as the Ebionites, considered him as at first an ordinary man, born to Joseph and Mary, who later became the Son of God at his baptism, his transfiguration, or his resurrection.

The Trinity is a post-New Testament doctrine. However, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are associated in various New Testament passages. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 possibly reflects the baptismal practice at Matthew's time. Baptism has been in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost since the end of the first century. Acts 2:38 speaks of baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ", which some interpret as another method of baptism, while others do not, since "in the name of" is used elsewhere in Acts to mean not a form of words but "by the authority of", "for the sake of". Aside from this verse, Matthew does not equate Jesus with God nor does he specify inequality either, though he indicates a special relationship between them. One of the elements virtually universal among diverse early Christians was the understanding that Jesus the Son was uniquely united with God the Father.

According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Trinity was revealed to the disciples by revelation and in religious visions called theoria during the Theophany and the Transfiguration of Jesus called the Tabor Light or uncreated light.

The close of the early Christian era is defined as the First Council of Nicea, which gave the trinity its dogmatic form. But the term trinity (coined by Tertullian) and concepts related to the trinity existed earlier in the church. The phrase "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" became common, especially at baptism. Another trinitarian formula, "Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit," was common even before the Arian controversy. However, this earlier formula does not express the co-equality of the three persons.

The Council used the Greek term homoousios (literally "of the same substance, essence or being") to express its view of the relation of the Son to the Father. However, it also appears in the early Christian era as used by Origen, Paul of Samosata, and Alexander of Alexandria though not without controversy, see for example Synods of Antioch. Various Christian writings refer to Jesus as a man and as God, but it was this Council that gave official sanction to the common Trinity formulation using this term.

The Apostles believed that Jesus would soon return to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The general term for this set of beliefs is parousia (or Second Coming).

Early Christians followed the Pharisaic precedent of believing in a physical resurrection of the dead. They believed that the saved received various divine rewards corresponding to their holiness. While all the saved would gain eternal life in Christ, not all of the saved would live in heaven.

Apologists defended the resurrection of the dead against pagan philosophers, who considered the soul worthy of perfection but not the body. Origen, however, who attempted to synthesise Platonism and Christianity, appears to have supported the idea of an ethereal rather than corporeal resurrection.

The ancient Jewish picture was of the sky as a firmament, a dome covering the earth. But the prevailing picture in early Christian times was that of the earth as a sphere with one or more other spheres, containing the stars, rotating around it. They sometimes described the souls of the dead waiting underground for the general resurrection. They described gehenna (roughly, hell) as a subterranean fire, see also Lake of Fire. In some Hellenic traditions, influential in the Alexandrian church, souls escaped the material world of the earth and returned to the spirit realm above.

The Greek word "Hades", which, like the Hebrew word "sheol", is generally used of the abode where the dead are reckoned to be, appears several times in the New Testament. In the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the dead rich man "in Hades" (16:23), speaks of being "tormented in this flame" (16:24), and is said to be separated by a "great gulf" from Abraham (16:26), in whose bosom Lazarus is said to be placed (16:22). The word "Hades" was used in Acts 2:27-31 (as in the Septuagint) to translate the word "sheol" of the Hebrew text of the Psalm there quoted.

Early Church Fathers who wrote in Greek, such as Hippolytus of Rome in his book on Hades, continued to use the term "Hades". Early Christian writers in Latin also used either the Greek word "Hades" itself or employed as its equivalent the Latin word "infernus", the Roman word for the underworld, as Jerome did in his translation of the New Testament.

Early Christians understood angels to be active in supporting the church and Satan to be actively opposed to it. Hippolytus, for example, recounts angels physically scourging the first antipope to force him to repent. Christian writers commonly saw Satan (or Beelzebub, see Mark 3) as the author of heresies. In John 8:44, Satan, rather than Abraham, is named as the father of those Jews who rejected Jesus. See also Rejection of Jesus.

The word "angel" is derived from Greek ἄγγελος, the basic meaning of which is "messenger". Visitations from the "angel of the LORD" in the Old Testament are taken by many to be pre-Incarnation manifestations of Christ. Accordingly, Justin Martyr spoke of Christ as "King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son born, and first made subject to suffering, then returning to heaven, and again coming with glory, and He is preached as having the everlasting kingdom". He interpreted as Christ the Angel who spoke with Abraham in Genesis 18, and argued for the divinity of Christ.

Traditionally, orthodoxy and heresy have been viewed in relation to the "orthodoxy" as an authentic lineage of tradition. Other forms of Christianity were viewed as deviant streams of thought and therefore "heterodox", or heretical. This view was dominant until the publication of Walter Bauer's Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum ("Orthodoxy and heresy in ancient Christianity") in 1934. Bauer endeavored to rethink early Christianity historically, independent from the views of the church. He stated that the early church was very diverse and included many "heretical" groups that had an equal claim to apostolic tradition. Bauer interpreted the struggle between the orthodox and heterodox to be the "mainstream" Roman church struggling to attain dominance. He presented Edessa and Egypt as places where the "orthodoxy" of Rome had little influence during the second century. As he saw it, the theological thought of the Orient at the time would later be labeled "heresy". The response by modern scholars has been mixed. Some scholars clearly support Bauer's conclusions and others express concerns about his possible bias. More moderate responses have become prominent and Bauer's theory is generally accepted. However, modern scholars have critiqued and updated Bauer's model.

Perhaps one of the most important discussions among scholars of early Christianity in the past century is to what extent it is appropriate to speak of "orthodoxy" and "heresy". Higher criticism drastically altered the previous perception that heresy was a very rare exception to the orthodoxy. Bauer was particularly influential in the reconsideration of the historical model. During the 1970s, increasing focus on the effect of social, political and economic circumstances on the formation of early Christianity occurred as Bauer's work found a wider audience. Some scholars argue against the increasing focus on heresies. A movement away from presuming the correctness or dominance of the orthodoxy is seen as understandable, in light of modern approaches. However, they feel that instead of an even and neutral approach to historical analysis that the heterodox sects are given an assumption of superiority over the orthodox movement. The current debate is vigorous and broad. While it is difficult to summarize all current views, general statements may be made, remembering that such broad strokes will have exceptions in specific cases.

One conception about Jesus that was found among second and third-century Christians was that which Adolf von Harnack called "Adoption Christology": Jesus was regarded as "the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion". This stream in early Greek theology regarded Christ as a man gifted with divine powers. First represented by the Ebionites, it was later developed by the Monarchians, such as Theodotus of Byzantium and Paul of Samosata. It conflicted with the tradition, as in the Gospel of John, that Jesus is the eternal Logos.

Arianism was the principal heresy which denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ, and is so called after its author Arius. It has been called the most challenging heresy in the history of the Church.

Arius, born probably in Libya between c. 260 and 280, was ordained a priest in Alexandria in 312-313. Under Bishop Alexander (313-326), probably in about 319, he came forward as a champion of subordinationist teaching about the person of Christ.

Arius appears to have held that the Son of God was not eternal but created by the Father as an instrument for creating the world and therefore not God by nature, different from other creatures in being the one direct creation of God. The controversy quickly spread, with Arius seeking support from other disciples of his teacher Lucian of Antioch, notably Eusebius of Nicomedia, while a synod under Alexander excommunicated Arius. Because of the agitation aroused by the dispute, Emperor Constantine I sent Hosius of Córdoba to Alexandria to attempt a settlement; but the mission failed. Accordingly, in 325, Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea, which, largely through the influence of Athanasius of Alexandria, then a deacon, but destined to be Alexander's successor, defined the Catholic faith in the coeternity and coequality of the Father and the Son, using the famous term "homoousios" to express the oneness of their being, while Arius and some bishops who supported him, including Eusebius, were banished.

This council marks the end of the early Christian period.

The Ebionites ("poor ones") were a sect of Jewish Christians who flourished in the early centuries of Christianity, especially east of the Jordan. They emphasized the binding character of the Mosaic Law and believed Jesus was the human son of Joseph and Mary. They seem to have been ascetics, and are said to have rejected Paul's epistles and to have used only one Gospel.

Early in the common era, several distinct religious sects, some of them Christian, adhered to an array of beliefs that would later be termed Gnostic. The most successful Christian Gnostic was the priest Valentinus (c. 100 - c. 160), who founded a Gnostic church in Rome and developed an elaborate cosmology. Gnostics considered the material world to be a prison created by a fallen or evil spirit, the god of the material world (called the demiurge). Gnostics identified the God of the Hebrew Bible as this demiurge. Secret knowledge (gnosis) was said to liberate one's soul to return to the true God in the realm of light. Valentinus and other Christian gnostics identified Jesus as the Savior, a spirit sent from the true God into the material world to liberate the souls trapped there.

While there appear to be Gnostic elements in some early Christian writing, Irenaeus and others condemned Gnosticism as a heresy, rejecting its dualistic cosmology and vilification of the material world and the creator of that world. Gnostics thought the God of the Old Testament was not the true God. It was considered to be the demiurge and either fallen, as taught by Valentinus (c. 100 - c. 160) or evil, as taught by the Sethians and Ophites.

The Gospel of John, according to Stephen L Harris, both includes Gnostic elements and refutes Gnostic beliefs, presenting a dualistic universe of light and dark, spirit and matter, good and evil, much like the Gnostic accounts, but instead of escaping the material world, Jesus bridges the spiritual and physical worlds. Raymond E. Brown wrote that even though gnostics interpreted John to support their doctrines, the author didn't intend that. The epistles were written (whether by the author of the Gospel or someone in his circle) to argue against gnostic doctrines.

The Gospel of Thomas has some Gnostic elements but lacks the full Gnostic cosmology. The scene in John in which "doubting Thomas" ascertains that the resurrected Jesus is physical refutes the Gnostic idea that Jesus returned to spirit form after death. The written gospel draws on an earlier oral tradition associated with Thomas. Some scholars argue that the Gospel of John was meant to oppose the beliefs of that community.

Some believe that there were at least three distinct divisions within the Christian movement of the 1st century: the Jewish Christians (led by the Apostle James the Just, with Jesus's disciples, and their followers), Pauline Christians (followers of Paul of Tarsus) and Gnostic Christians. Others believe that Gnostic Christianity was a later development, some time around the middle or late second century, around the time of Valentinus. Gnosticism was in turn made up of many smaller groups, some of which did not claim any connection to Jesus Christ. In Mandaeist Gnosticism, Mandaeans maintain that Jesus was a mšiha kdaba or "false messiah" who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John the Baptist. The word k(a)daba, however, derives from two roots in Mandaic: the first root, meaning "to lie," is the one traditionally ascribed to Jesus; the second, meaning "to write," might provide a second meaning, that of "book;" hence some Mandaeans, motivated perhaps by an ecumenical spirit, maintain that Jesus was not a "lying Messiah" but a "Book Messiah", the "book" in question presumably being the Christian Gospels. This however seems to be a folk etymology without support in the Mandaean texts. A modern view has argued that Marcionism is mistakenly reckoned among the Gnostics, and really represents a fourth interpretation of the significance of Jesus. Gnostics freely exchanged concepts and texts. It is considered likely that Valentinius was influenced by previous concepts such as Sophia, as much as he influenced others.

In 144, the Church in Rome expelled Marcion of Sinope. He thereupon set up his own separate ecclesiastical organization, later called Marcionism. Like the Gnostics, he promoted dualism. Unlike the Gnostics, however, he founded his beliefs not on secret knowledge (gnosis) but on the vast difference between what he saw as the "evil" deity of the Old Testament and the God of love of the New, on which he expounded in his Antithesis. Consequently, Marcionists were vehemently anti-Judaism in their beliefs. They rejected The Hebrew Gospel (see also Gospel of the Hebrews) and all the other Gospels with the exception of a short version of the Gospel of Luke, often called the Gospel of Marcion.

From the perspectives of Tertullian and Epiphanius (when the four gospels had largely canonical status, perhaps in reaction to the challenge created by Marcion), it appeared that Marcion rejected the non-Lukan gospels, however, in Marcion's time, it may be that the only gospel he was familiar with from Pontus was the gospel that would later be called Luke. It is also possible that Marcion's gospel was actually modified by his critics to become the gospel we know today as Luke, rather than the story from his critics that he changed a canonical gospel to get his version. For example: compare Luke 5:39 to 5:36-38; did Marcion delete 5:39 from his Gospel or was it added later to counteract a Marcionist interpretation of 5:36-38? See also New Wine into Old Wineskins. One must keep in mind that we only know of Marcion through his critics and they considered him a major threat to the form of Christianity that they knew. John Knox (the modern writer, not to be confused with John Knox the Protestant Reformer) in Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (ISBN 0-404-16183-9) was the first to propose that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts.

Marcion argued that Christianity should be solely based on Christian Love. He went so far as to say that Jesus’ mission was to overthrow Demiurge -- the fickle, cruel, despotic God of the Old Testament -- and replace Him with the Supreme God of Love whom Jesus came to reveal. Marcion was labeled a gnostic by Irenaeus. Irenaeus' labeled Marcion this because of Marcion expressing this core gnostic belief, that the creator God of the Jews and the Old Testament was the demiurge. This position, he said, was supported by the ten Epistles of Paul that Marcion also accepted. His writing had a profound effect upon the development of Christianity and the canon.

About 156, Montanus launched a ministry of prophecy, criticizing Christians as increasingly worldly and bishops as increasingly autocratic. Traveling in his native Anatolia, he and two women preached a return to primitive Christian simplicity, prophecy, celibacy, and asceticism. Tertullian, having grown puritanical with age, embraced Montanism as a more outright application of Christ's teaching. Montanus's followers revered him as the Paraclete that Christ had promised, and he led his sect out into a field to meet the New Jerusalem. His sect spread across the Roman Empire, survived persecution, and relished martyrdom. The Church banned them as a heresy, and in the 6th century Justinian ordered the sect's extinction.

The sect's ecstasy, speaking in tongues, and other details are similar to those found in Pentecostalism.

Early Christians wrote many religious works, some of which were later canonized as the New Testament of today.

Christian testimony was entirely oral for roughly twenty years after Jesus' death. Christians passed along Jesus' teachings, proclaimed his resurrection, and prophesied his imminent return. Apostles established churches and oral traditions in various places, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Caesarea, and Ephesus. These traditions gradually developed distinct characteristics.

When those who had heard Jesus' actual words began to die, Christians started recording the sayings in writing. The hypothetical Q document, a collection of Jesus' sayings, is perhaps the first such record (c 50).

At about the same time, Paul of Tarsus also began writing (or dictating) letters ("epistles") to various churches that would later be considered scripture. Some scholars think Paul articulated the first Christian theology: namely that all people inherit Adam's guilt (see Original Sin) and can only be saved from death by the atoning death of the Son of God, Jesus' crucifixion.

The gospel of Mark was written during c. 65-70, possibly motivated by the First Jewish-Roman War. The gospel of Matthew was written c. 80-85 to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was the expected Messiah (Christ) and a greater Moses. The gospel of Luke, together with Acts (see Luke-Acts) was c. 85-90, considered the most literate and artistic of the gospels. Finally, the gospel of John was written, portraying Jesus as the incarnation of the divine Word, who primarily taught about himself as a savior. All four gospels originally circulated anonymously, and they were attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John in the 2nd century. Various authors wrote further epistles and the Apocalypse of John.

Epistles by other hands than Paul's circulated in the early church. Many of them, including one written as late as c 150, were eventually included in the New Testament canon. Many later epistles concern issues of church leadership, discipline, and disputes.

Several apocalypses circulated in the early church, and one of them, the Revelation of John, was later included in the New Testament.

Debates about scripture were underway in the mid-second century, concurrent with a drastic increase of new scriptures, both Jewish and Christian. Debates regarding practice and belief gradually became reliant on the use of scripture. Similarly, in the third century a shift away from direct revelation as a source of authority occurred. "Scripture" still had a broad meaning and usually referred to the Septuagint. Beyond the Torah (the Law) and some of the earliest prophetic works (the Prophets), there was no universal agreement to a canon, but it was not debated much at first. By the mid-second century, tensions arose with the growing rift between Christianity and Judaism, leading eventually to the determination of a Jewish canon by the emerging rabbinic movement, though, even as of today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set, see Development of the Jewish Bible canon for details. Some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty.

Regardless, throughout the Jewish diaspora newer writings were still collected and the fluid Septuagint collection was the primary source of scripture for Christians. Many works under the names of known Apostles, such as the Gospel of Thomas, were accorded scriptural status in at least some Christian circles. Apostolic writings, such as I Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas, were considered scripture even within the orthodoxy through the fifth century. A problem for scholars is that there is a lack of direct evidence on when Christians began accepting their own scriptures alongside the Septuagint. Well into the second century Christians held onto a strong preference for oral tradition as clearly demonstrated by writers of the time, such as Papias.

The acceptance of the Septuagint was generally uncontested (even the Peshitta appears to be influenced). Later Jerome would express his preference for adhering strictly to the Jewish canon, but his view held little currency even in his own day. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that substantial numbers of Christians began to reject those books of the Septuagint which are not found in the Jewish canon, referring to them as Biblical apocrypha. In addition, some New Testament books were also disputed, see Antilegomena.

From an early date the title "Father" was applied to bishops as witnesses to the Christian tradition. Only later, from the end of the fourth century, was it used in a more restricted sense of a more or less clearly defined group of ecclesiasical authors of the past whose authority on doctrinal matters carried special weight. According to the commonly accepted teaching, the Fathers of the Church are those ancient writers, whether bishops or not, who were characterized by orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life and the approval of the Church. Sometimes Tertullian, Origen and a few others of not unimpeachable orthodoxy are now classified as Fathers of the Church.

The earliest Christian writings (other than those collected in the New Testament) are a group of letters credited to the Apostolic Fathers. These include the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistles of Clement, as well as the Didache. Taken as a whole, the collection is notable for its literary simplicity, religious zeal and lack of Hellenistic philosophy or rhetoric. Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch (died 98 to 117) advocated the authority of the apostolic episcopacy (bishops).

Post-apostolic fathers defined and defended Christian doctrine. The Apologists became prominent in the second century. This includes such notable figures as Justin Martyr (d. 165), Tatian (d. c. 185), and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-211/216). They debated with prevalent philosophers of their day, defending and arguing for Christianity. They focused mainly on monotheism and their harshest words were used for ancient mythologies. Fathers such as Irenaeus advocated the role of the apostolic succession of bishops in preserving apostolic teaching.

The church fathers themselves were conscious of being a part of an ongoing tradition, and frequently appealed to earlier writers to defend their opinions. As the centuries passed, the result was a growing body of religious literature which was customarily used for devotional purposes and theological argumentation. It is these church fathers who form our most important sources for understanding the development of early Christianity, and their importance to their immediate successors explains their ongoing importance today. At the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers frequently appealed to the church fathers in defense of their propositions, though they also showed a willingness to disagree with them. By contrast, the Restorationists later viewed the church fathers as entirely suspect, and appealed in support of their views either to supposed new revelations or else to the New Testament directly without reference to later Christianity.

The term Rule of Faith is used to describe outline statements of Christian belief that circulated in the second-century Church and were designed to make clear the essential contents of Christian faith, guide the understanding of scripture, and distinguish orthodox belief from heresy. While, unlike the creeds, which were later, they varied in wording, their identical essential content was held to have descended unchanged from the Apostles.

Originally, candidates for baptism accepted a short formula of belief, which varied in detail from one place to another. "By the fourth century these formulas had become more uniform and were everywhere tripartite in structure, following Matthew 28:19".

The early Christian era ends with Emperor Constantine convening the Council of Nicaea, where the original version of the Nicene Creed was formulated.

From the writings of early Christians, historians have tried to piece together an understanding of various early Christian practices including worship services, customs and observances. Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr (100 - 165) described these practices.

Rituals that would later be defined as sacraments existed in the early church.

Early Christian beliefs regarding baptism were variable. In the most usual form of early Christian baptism, the candidate stood in water and water was poured over the upper body. In other words, it was immersion, not submersion. Tertullian describes the rite as a triple immersion, preceded by a fast or vigil, a confession of sins, and renouncing the devil, and as followed by anointing, the imposition of hands, and a symbolic meal of milk and honey, the whole of the rite being normally presided over by the bishop, with Easter and Pentecost as the proper seasons for baptism in the early Christian period, though in case of necessity baptism might be administered at any time and by any male Christian. The theology of baptism attained precision in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

The third century evidence is clearer, with both Origen and Cyprian advocating the practice. Tertullian refers to the practice (and that sponsors would speak on behalf of the children), but argues against it, on the grounds that baptism should be postponed until after marriage.

Interpretation of the baptismal practices of the early church is important to groups such as Baptists and Anabaptists, who believe that infant baptism was a later development.

Early Christians, as part of the Lord's supper, consecrated bread and wine which became the Body and Blood of Christ through the miracle of transubstantiation. Where pagans would sacrifice animals for religious reasons, Christians would perform the Eucharist, or unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.

The early church featured two or three levels of clergy, overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters, sometimes interchangeable with bishops), and deacons (assistants). By the year 200, only bishops had the authority to ordain priests.

After baptism, the officiating Apostle or priest would lay hands on the subject's head to introduce the Holy Spirit into the believer.

By the third century, a system of public penance served as a "second baptism": the sinner, either voluntarily or under threat of excommunication, would undergo penance for a period whose length depended on the gravity of the sin, and which involved a rigorous course of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, during which the penitent was excluded from the Eucharist.

The first worship services were liturgical gatherings, which followed essentially a "Christianized" synagogue liturgical framework, and met in sections of homes quartered off especially for worship. Christians considered each other to be brothers and sisters, each contributing their respective gifts to the community. Gatherings featured hymns, prescribed prayers, and readings, especially from the scriptures (Old Testament). The first thirty to sixty years would not have known the writings of the new covenant as they had not yet been written, Christ's teachings being transmitted through the liturgy, its hymns and prayers and through oral Tradition. Eventually, once they had become known, Paul's epistles and later the gospels and other texts were read during the initial liturgical services. The Lord's Supper comprised a communal meal with prayers in memory of Jesus. Services were known as agape feasts or love feasts.

Second century sources, such as the Didache, specify that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are for the baptized only. In his First Apology, a letter of defense written to Roman emperor, Antonius Pius, 161-180, Justin described a newly baptized member of the community sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which was restricted to the baptized.

Despite Ignatius' rejection of Judaizing (see above), Christianity continued many of the patterns of Judaism, adapting to Christian use synagogue liturgical worship, prayer, use of Sacred Scripture, a priesthood, a religious calendar commemorating on certain days each year certain events and/or beliefs, use of music in worship, giving material support to the religious leadership, and practices such as fasting and almsgiving and baptism.

Christians adopted as their Bible the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures known as the Septuagint and later also canonized the books of the New Testament. There are however many phrases which appear to be quotations and other statements of fact, in the early church fathers, which cannot be found in the Bible as we know it. For example in Clement's First Letter he states that Paul "reached the limits of the West", and also appears to quote a variant form of Ezek 33.

At worship, early Christians greeted each other with a holy kiss. Church leaders restricted the practice to keep the worshipers from taking pleasure in it, such as specifying that the lips be closed.

Many practices which later became characteristic of Christian worship had not yet developed. Singing was generally without instrumentation and was normally in unison. Many Christians had lost their lives rather than offer a mere pinch of incense to the emperor as to a god, and so the use of incense was strongly frowned upon even in Christian worship. These practices and others, such as the use of elaborate vestments and grand buildings, became popular only once the Peace of the Church changed the political situation and the growing prosperity of worshippers made them possible.

Christians proclaimed a God of love who enjoined them to share a higher love with one another. Some interpreted the Old Testament as revealing primarily a God of justice, whereas the New Testament, particularly the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, revealed a more loving God. Parallels are found in Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism. Paul of Tarsus is represented in Acts 17:22-33 as equating the Unknown God of the Greeks as revealed in the Christian God. Early Christian communities welcomed everyone, including slaves and women, who were generally shunned in Greco-Roman culture, but there were other exceptions, such as Epicurianism.

Christian groups were first organized loosely. In Paul's time, there were no precisely delineated functions for bishops, elders, and deacons. A Church hierarchy, however, seems to have developed by the early second century (see Pastoral Epistles, c 90 - 140). These structures were certainly formalized well before the end of the Early Christian period, which concluded with the legalization of Christianity in 313 and the holding of the First Council of Nicea in 325.

Some first-century Christian writings include reference to overseers ("bishops") and deacons, though these may have been informal leadership roles rather than formal positions. The Didache (dated by most scholars to the early second century),) speaks of "appointing for yourself bishops and deacons" and also speaks about teachers and prophets and false prophets. Bishops were defined as spiritual authorities over geographical areas.

By the end of the early Christian period, the church of the Roman Empire had hundreds of bishops, some of them (those of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and, it seems, the chief bishops of other provinces) holding some form of jurisdiction over others.

Jerusalem was an important church center up to 135, for example see the Council of Jerusalem and the section on Jerusalem below, and it became significant again in the post-Nicene era. Some believe Rome was recognized as the first city of the church, Alexandria second, and then Antioch, see also Papal supremacy, however this belief was also one of the primary causes of the Great Schism and is still disputed today by the Orthodox and Protestants. When the city of Constantinople was founded (330), this too became an important Christian centre within the empire, since the emperor resided there and made it his New Rome. Constantinople (Byzantium) is generally associated with the Byzantine Empire.

Christian monasticism started in Egypt. The first monks were hermits (eremetic monks). By the end of the early Christian era, Saint Pachomius was organizing his followers into a community and founding the tradition of monasticism in community (cenobitic monks).

The land in which Christianity began and through which it spread had been both Hellenized (after Alexander the Great) and Romanized (with the rise of the Roman Empire). Early church writings were in Greek, even those originating in Rome, as Greek was the international language, lingua franca, of the day (similar to English in the early 21st century) and was widely spoken even in Rome.

Languages often presume features of the culture of their native speakers. For instance, the concept represented by the Greek word psyche, that of the soul, was often understood as immaterial in Greek writers, who also discussed whether the soul was immortal or not. The writers of the New Testament, like the Jewish translators of the Old Testament (Septuagint), used this word to render the Hebrew nephesh. Christianity and some forms of Judaism believe in bodily resurrection. Judaism later rejected the Septuagint because of its divergence from what had become the accepted Hebrew text and also because of the use of the Septuagint by Christians. Parallels to this exist in Christian history, where Greek, Latin or 16th century English are felt to be "proper" expressions of the scriptures, or of liturgy.

In early Christianity, Koine Greek, the most widely spoken language in the Roman empire of the time, the language also in which Alexandrian Jews such as Philo wrote their works, was naturally the language most used in Christian writings. (Other less widely used languages were not excluded: Latin, for instance, was used by writers such as Tertullian and Marcus Minucius Felix and Syriac by Syriac Christianity.) Regarding issues like polytheism, Christianity stood with Judaism against the background pagan culture, being staunchly monotheistic. Early Christianity thus found itself, like Judaism before it, in conflict with the prevailing Greco-Roman culture, where polytheistic theology was not simply an abstraction, but influenced social customs at many levels. Banquets in honour of gods were a common occurrence, legal codes and international diplomacy depended on gods as witnesses and the ultimate court of appeal on justice. Christians were considered atheists, because they refused to honour the pagan gods. In some cases, public opinion was against Christianity as antisocial (refusing to eat at pagan banquets) and immoral (unaccountable to the moral ethos couched in polytheistic terms). Tacitus recorded some of his impressions in 109: "a class hated for their abominations", "a most mischievous superstition", guilty of "hatred against mankind". Christians were also accused of "cannibalism" (perhaps a reference to the Eucharist) and "incest" (perhaps a reference to the biblical prohibition of marriage outside the faith).

Christians were persecuted on an irregular basis in Rome. In his On the Life of the Caesars Suetonius (ca. 69/75 - after 130) wrote of the Emperor Claudius that, "since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." The similarity between the name "Chrestus" and "Christus" (Latin for "Christ") and the tradition witnessed to in the Jewish Encyclopedia that Claudius took this action because of dissensions "regarding the advent of the Messiah" have led to the supposition that this is a reference to the presence of Christians among the Jews in Rome. The common Greek name of Chrestus may have been that of a Jewish agitator in Rome rather than a reference to Christ.Claudius's measure is dated to 49, and Acts 18:1-3 relates that, when Paul of Tarsus arrived in Corinth, probably in the following year, a Jewish Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquila, had arrived there shortly before (προσφάτως) as a result of Claudius's expulsion of "all Jews" from Rome, a phrase that suggests that the Emperor's action was directed against Jews in general, and not against the Christian Jews in particular.

In the year 64, the Christians (or Chrestians), specified by this name in the account written later by the Roman historian Tacitus (died c. 117), were blamed by Nero as a scapegoat for the Great Fire of Rome in that year. He probably chose them as a new and secretive cult, mistrusted by the people: Tacitus called Christianity a "deadly superstition"; but he also noted that Nero's persecution of the Christians was so harsh that the inhabitants of Rome resented its cruelty.

Christians also suffered persecutions under the reigns of Domitian and Trajan. Persecutions continued intermittently through the second century. Even during periods between organized persecutions, Christians were still sporadically subject to trial and condemnation. After the late second century relative calm held in Rome. The reign of the Severi emperors is particularly noted as not only tolerant of the various religions in Rome, but actively interested in them. Alexander Severus is said to have had a shrine in his palace with an icon of Christ. The persecutions peaked with the Diocletian Persecution of 303-312.

Martyrdom was considered equivalent to baptism, a "baptism of blood." Martyrs were held to be especially inspired by the holy spirit, and their utterances were treasured. From the end of the 2nd century, the anniversary of a martyr's death as a kept as a feast at the tomb, and churches were sometimes built at these sites. Martyrs were venerated as intercessors, and their relics were sought after.

During persecutions, Christians who capitulated, some to the point of apostasy, and were termed "lapsi" (Latin: fallen). and sacrificed to Caesar. Under the Decian persecution, Christians who obtained false documents asserting that they had sacrificed to the pagan idols were termed libellatici. While this practice was condemned by church authorities, libellatici were treated better than those who had actually sacrificed ("sacrificati"). In Africa during the persecution under Diocletian, Christians who surrendered Scriptures to the authorities were termed traditors. The Novantianist and Donatist schisms arose when the schismatics insisted on being less generous in allowing lapsi back into the Church.

In response to persecution, Christianity castigated the Roman Empire, depicting Rome itself as Babylon (the ancient city depicted in the Bible as morally corrupt). In the second century, Christians responded to persecution by teaching that all those who had had a chance to accept Christ but hadn't would be punished forever. All those who had come before Christ were said to suffer the same fate (sometimes excepting Socrates).

Early Christianity spread from city to city in the Hellenized Roman Empire and beyond.

Jerusalem had been King David's capital for his United Monarchy (c 1000 BC) of the Promised Land, and the site of the Israelites First Temple, erected by King Solomon. It was also the capital of the Maccabean Kingdom (164 BC - 63 BC) and site of the Second Temple. Jesus and his followers had traveled there from Galilee, c. 33 AD, at which time the city was under Roman occupation as part of Iudaea province (6 AD - 132 AD). There he was crucified, and there he had reportedly risen and then ascended to heaven with a prophecy to return.

Jerusalem was the first center of the church, according to the Book of Acts. The apostles lived and taught there for some time after Pentecost. Jesus' brother James was a leader in the church, and his other kinsman likely held leadership positions in the surrounding area. Circa 50, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the "pillars of the church": James, Peter, and John. Later called the Council of Jerusalem, this meeting, among other things, confirmed the legitimacy of the mission of Barnabas and Paul to the gentiles, and the gentile converts' freedom from most Jewish law, especially circumcision, which was repulsive to the Hellenic mind. Thus, the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21) may be the first act of differentiation of the Church from its Jewish roots, see also List of events in early Christianity.

When Peter left Jerusalem after Herod Agrippa I tried to kill him, James appears as the principal authority. Church writers would later label him the church's bishop. A second-century church historian, Hegesippus, wrote that the Sanhedrin martyred him in 62.

In 66, the Jews revolted against Rome. Rome besieged Jerusalem for four years, and the city fell in 70. The city was destroyed, including the Temple but not the Temple Mount, and the population was mostly killed or removed. A scattered population survived. The Sanhedrin relocated to Jamnia. Prophecies of the Temple's destruction are found in the synoptics.

In the second century, Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, erecting statues of Jupiter and himself on the site of the former Jewish Temple, the Temple Mount. Bar Cochba led an unsuccessful revolt as a Messiah, but Christians refused to acknowledge him as such. When Bar Cochba was defeated, Hadrian barred Jews from the city, except for Tisha B'Av, thus the subsequent Jerusalem bishops were gentiles (literally "uncircumcised") for the first time.

Antioch, the third-most important city of the Roman Empire, then part of Syria province, today Antakya, Turkey, was where Christians were first so-called. It was the site of an early church, traditionally said to be founded by Peter. The Gospel of Matthew may have been written there. The church father Ignatius of Antioch was its third bishop. The School of Antioch, founded in 270, was one of two major centers of early church learning. It was one of the three whose bishops were recognized at the First Council of Nicaea (325) as exercising jurisdiction over the adjoining territories.

Established by Alexander the Great, Alexandria and its famous libraries were a center of Hellenistic learning. The Septuagint translation began there. It had a significant Jewish population, of which Philo of Alexandria is probably its most known author. It produced superior scripture and notable church fathers, such as Clement, Origen, and Athanasius. By the end of the era, Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were accorded authority over nearby metropolitans. The Council of Nicaea affirmed Alexandria's traditional authority over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis (North Africa) (canon VI) and probably granted Alexandria the right to declare a universal date for the observance of Easter, see also Easter controversy.

Pope Victor I (189-198) was the first Latin ecclesiastical writer, but it seems that he wrote nothing but his encyclicals, which would naturally have been issued in both Latin and Greek.

The earlier Roman bishops were all Greek-speaking, the most notable of them being Pope Clement I (c. 88-97), author of an Epistle to the Church in Corinth; Pope Telesphorus (c. 126-136), probably the only martyr among them; Pope Pius I (c. 141-154), said by the Muratorian fragment to be the brother of the author of the Shepherd of Hermas; and Pope Anicetus (c. 155-160), who received Saint Polycarp and discussed with him the dating of Easter.

During the second century, Christians and semi-Christians of diverse views congregated in Rome, and in the following century there were schisms connected with Hippolytus of Rome and Novatian.

The Roman church survived various persecutions, and many clergy were martyred. When Rome burned in 64, Nero blamed the Christians and persecuted them. In the "Massacre of 258", under Valerian, the emperor killed a great many Christian clergy, including Pope Sixtus II and Antipope Novatian and Cyprian of Carthage. Persecutions, of which that which broke out under Diocletian in 303 was particularly severe, finally ended in Rome, and the West in general, with the accession of Maxentius in 306.

Caesarea, at first Caesarea Maritima, then after 133 Caesarea Palaestina, was founded by Herod the Great and was the capital of Iudaea province and later Palaestina Prima. It was there that Peter baptized the centurion Cornelius, considered the first gentile convert. Paul often visited and was imprisoned there for two years. Origen compiled his Hexapla there and it held a famous library and theological school, St. Pamphilus was a noted scholar-priest. St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, St. Basil the Great, and St. Jerome visited and studied at the library which was later destroyed, probably by the Persians in 614 or the Saracens around 637. The first major church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, was a bishop. F. J. A. Hort and Adolf von Harnack have argued that the Nicene Creed originated in Caesarea.

Carthage gave the early church the Latin fathers Tertullian and Cyprian. The deserts of Egypt were home to ascetic fathers, such as Pachomius and Antony. Carthage fell to Islam in 698.

The tradition of John the Apostle was strong in Anatolia (also called Asia, the near-east, modern Turkey). The gospel of John was likely written in Ephesus. According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was from Tarsus and his missionary journeys were primarily in this region. The Book of Revelation mentions Seven churches of Asia. The First Epistle of Peter (1:1-2) is addressed to Anatolian cities. Of the extant letters of Ignatius of Antioch considered authentic (see Ignatius of Antioch#Letters), five of seven are to Anatolian cities. Smyrna was home to Polycarp, the bishop who reportedly knew the Apostle John personally, and probably to Irenaeus. In the 2nd century, Anatolia was home to Quartodecimanism and Montanus. In 325, Constantine convoked the first Christian ecumenical council in Nicaea and in 330 he moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople, also called the Byzantine Empire, which lasted till 1435.

According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus. In the three accounts (Acts 9:1-20, 22:1-22, 26:1-24), he is described as being led by those he was traveling with, blinded by the light, to Damascus where his sight was restored by a disciple called Ananias then he was baptized.

Paphos was the capital of the island of Cyprus during the Roman years and seat of a Roman commander. In 45 A.D, apostles Paul and Barnabas came to Cyprus and reached Paphos preaching the Word of Christ, see also Acts 13:4-13. The apostles were pursecuted by the Romans but eventually succeded to convince the Roman commander Sergius Paulus into renouncing his old religion in favour of Christianity. Cyprus became the first state entity to become officially Christian. 5 years later, Barnabas returned in the Chypriot town of Salamis, where he became bishop and oversaw the spread of Christianity to the island.

Christianity in Georgia (ancient Iberia) extends back to the 4th century, if not earlier. The Iberian king, Mirian III, converted to Christianity, probably in 334.

The missionary Addai, who evangelized Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) about the middle of the second century, and became the first bishop of Edessa, was succeeded by Aggai, then by Palut, who was ordained about 200 by Serapion of Antioch. Thence came to us in the second century the famous Peshitta, or Syriac translation of the Old Testament; also Tatian's Diatessaron, which was compiled about 172 and in common use until St. Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa (412-435), forbade its use. This arrangement of the four canonical gospels as a continuous narrative, whose original language may have been Syriac, Greek, or even Latin, circulated widely in Syriac-speaking Churches.

Among the illustrious disciples of the School of Edessa, Bardesanes (154 - 222), a schoolfellow of Abgar IX, deserves special mention for his role in creating Christian religious poetry, and whose teaching was continued by his son Harmonius and his disciples.

The Didascalia Apostolorum, originally written in Greek in the first half of the third century, was likely composed by a Jewish convert in northern Syria.

A Christian council was held at Edessa as early as 197. In 201 the city was devastated by a great flood, and the Christian church was destroyed.. In 232 the relics of the Apostle St. Thomas were brought from India, on which occasion his Syriac Acts were written. Under Roman domination many martyrs suffered at Edessa: Sts. Scharbîl and Barsamya, under Decius; Sts. Gûrja, Schâmôna, Habib, and others under Diocletian. In the meanwhile Christian priests from Edessa had evangelized Eastern Mesopotamia and Persia, and established the first Churches in the kingdom of the Sassanids. Atillâtiâ, Bishop of Edessa, assisted at the First Council of Nicaea (325).

When Constantine converted to Christianity, the Persian Empire, suspecting a new "enemy within," became violently anti-Christian. Within a few years, Shapur II (309-379) inaugurated a twenty-year long persecution of the church with the murder of Mar Shimun, the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, five bishops and 100 priests on Good Friday, 344, after the Patriarch refused to collect a double tax from the Christians to help the Persian war effort against Rome. See also Christianity in Iran.

According to records written in the Ge'ez language, see also Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the region today known as Ethiopia converted to Judaism during the time of the biblical Queen of Sheba and Solomon. According to the fourth century western historian Rufinius, it was Frumentius who brought Christianity to Ethiopia (the city of Axum) and served as its first bishop, probably shortly after 325.

In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine (306-337) converted to Christianity and legalized it, showing it personal favour (see Constantine I and Christianity for details). He convened at Nicaea the first of the ecumenical councils, at which the church dogmatically defined the divinity of Christ. In 331 he commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Christian Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constantine's son and successor Constans (337-350). Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles. In fact, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the second century, nearly two centuries before Constantine, on the occasion of the inauguration of his "New Rome" in 330,provided this gift of copies of the Bible for the churches in the city.

Of the next six ecumenical councils, the First Council of Constantinople further defined the Trinity and the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary as the Mother of God. They anathematized various groups, and declared heretical some early Christian writings, such as when the Second Council of Constantinople condemned certain tenets of Origen.

In modern times, several Christian denominations intentionally follow what they believe to be early Christian practices, such as believer's baptism, Sabbath in Christianity, Passover (Christian holiday), and Signs and Wonders, in place of established Christian traditions. These Restorationist sects consider themselves to be restoring the authentic practices of the early Christian era, before what they call the "Great Apostasy." See also Caesaropapism, Paleo-orthodoxy, and Pentacostalism.

Since the 19th century, historians have learned much more about the early Christian community. Major texts, such as the Didache (in second-millennium copies) and the Gospel of Thomas (in two manuscripts dated as early as about 200 and 340), have been rediscovered in the last 200 years.

In 19th century America, a movement known as Restorationism arose, which claimed to restore the practices and doctrines of primitive Christianity. Most of these individual movements sought to teach what they believed was a more pure understanding of the New Testament. Some movements claimed an actual restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. Restorationists claimed no genesis from Nicene Christianity (Christianity as formulated at the First Council of Nicaea). They hold that Christian usages and beliefs not mentioned in the New Testament are later introductions at variance with the practice and belief of the Apostolic Age, which they claim to restore. For some, the Great Apostasy was in effect in the second century, when Christians had already adopted Sunday as a day of worship; for others, it began even earlier (see Hyperdispensationalism).

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Christianity in China

The Lord's Prayer in Classical Chinese.

Christianity in China is a growing minority religion that comprises Protestants (called 基督教 Jī dū jiào, or Christ Religion), Catholics (天主教 Tian zhu jiao, or Lord of Heaven Religion), and a small number of Orthodox Christians. Although its lineage in China is not as ancient as beliefs such as Confucianism, Taoism, or Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity has existed in China since at least the seventh century and has gained influence over the past 200 years. The growth of the faith has been particularly significant since the loosening of restrictions on religion by the People's Republic since the 1970s. Religious practices are still often tightly controlled by government authorities. Chinese over age 18 in the PRC are permitted to be involved with officially sanctioned Christian meetings through the "China Christian Council", "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" or the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association". Many Chinese Christians also meet in "unregistered" house church meetings. Reports of sporadic persecution against such Christians in Mainland China have caused concern among outside observers.

Christianity existed in China during several different historical periods.

Christianity was introduced to China perhaps as early as the third century. Its introduction by missionaries of the Assyrian Church of the East in the third to the fifth centuries, is considered by some to be the first entry of the Christian religion into China. Manicheanism, a now extinct religion that also treated Jesus as a figure of devotion was present in China from as early as the third century.

During the Tang dynasty, missionaries from the Assyrian Church of the East, (formerly referred to in western Europe as 'Nestorians'), came to China along the silk roads. Assyrian Christianity flourished for centuries in China until the Tang dynasty adopted anti-religious measures in 845. Christianity also reached the periphery of China as far as Mongolia, Tibet and Korea in the first millenium.

Christianity flourished again in China during the Yuan or Mongol dynasty (1271-1368), when Franciscan missionaries, commissioned by the Roman Pope, arrived in 1294. The Assyrian Church also substantially reappeared at this time with the Mongols. During this period the Chinese language employed the same name for both branches of the Christian faith. Organized Christianity failed to survive the end of the Yuan dynasty in China.

Another wave of missionaries came at the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when Jesuits arrived in Beijing (Peking) via Guangzhou (Canton). The most famous was Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an Italian mathematician who came to China in 1588 and lived in Beijing in 1600. Ricci was welcomed at the imperial court and introduced recent Western learning into China. The Jesuits followed a policy of accommodation to the traditional Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but this doctrine and the Chinese Rites were eventually condemned by the Pope. Roman Catholic missions struggled in obscurity for decades afterwards.

Christianity began to take root in a significant way in the Chinese Empire during the Qing Dynasty, and although it has remained a minority religion in China, it has had significant recent historical impact. Further waves of missionaries came to China in the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty (1644-1911) as a result of contact with foreign powers. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced in 1715 and Protestants began entering China in 1807. The pace of missionary activity increased considerably after the First Opium War in 1842. Christian missionaries and their schools, under the protection of the Western powers, went on to play a major role in the Westernization of China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Taiping Rebellion was led by a heterodox convert to Christianity, and the Boxer Rebellion was in part a reaction against Christianity in China. Christians in China established the first modern clinics and hospitals, and provided the first modern training for nurses. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants founded numerous educational institutions in China from the primary to the university level. Some of the most prominent Chinese universities began as religious-founded institutions. Missionaries worked to abolish practices such as foot binding , and the unjust treatment of maidservants, as well as launching charitable work and distributing food to the poor. They also opposed the opium trade and brought treatment to many who were addicted. Some of the early leaders of the Chinese Republic, such as Sun Yat-sen were converts to Christianity and were influenced by its teachings.

The subject of China's Christian population is controversial. The government of the People's Republic of China census enumerated 4 million Roman Catholics and 10 million ‎Protestants. However, independent estimates have ranged from 40 million, to 100 million, to 130 million Christians. According to China Aid, State Administration for Religious Affairs Director Ye Xiaowen reported to audiences at Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that the number of Christians in China had risen to 130 million by the end of 2006, including 20 million. This has now been repudiated by reespected sources Catholics.

Recent studies have suggested that there are roughly 54 million Christians in China, of which 39 million are Protestants and 14 million are Roman Catholics as the most common and reliable figure among others.

According to the latest surveys done by China Partner and East China Normal University in Shanghai, there are now 39-41 million Protestant Christians in China. These include Christians in registered and unregistered churches. All other numbers previously mentioned were rough estimates that never have been substantiated. The survey was done with 7.400 individuals in 2007-08 by China Partner in all 31 provinces, municipalies and autonomous regions. Another survey done with 4.500 individuals by East China Normal University in Shanghai reveals up to 40 million.

There are various terms used for God in the Chinese language, the most prevalent being Shangdi (上帝, literally, "Sovereign King Above"), used commonly by Protestants and also by non-Christians, and Tianzhu (天主, literally, Lord of Heaven), which is most commonly favored by Catholics.

Christian tradition suggests that St. Thomas, known as "the Apostle of India" or possibly St. Bartholomew were the first to spread the Christian gospel in China. Third century Christian writer Arnobius mentions in a text a people known as the "Seres" as being among the groups (he enumerates also the Persians and Medes) which had been evangelized at that time. While there is evidence that Christianity existed in Mesopotamia and Persia by the early fourth century, there is no documentation that it had entered China.

The form of Christianity formerly called Nestorianism in western Europe, but now known correctly as the Assyrian Church of the East, commenced its wide spread across the continent of Asia well before the Church's autonomy from the Churches of the Roman Empire ten years prior to the Council of Ephesus in 431.

The 13th century saw communications between the Papacy and the Mongols, in attempts to form a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims in the Holy Land. The Christian Chinese Mongol, Rabban Bar Sauma, born in Beijing, visited the courts of Europe in 1287-1288, and gave a report on Christianity among the Mongols.

In 1289, Franciscan friars from Europe initiated mission work in China. For about a century they worked in parallel with the Nestorian Christians. The Franciscan mission collapsed in 1368, as the Ming Dynasty set out to abolish Christianity (Nestorian and Catholic) in China.

The first Jesuit attempt to reach China was made in 1552 by Francis Xavier, but he died the same year on the Chinese island of Shangchuan, without having reached the mainland. In 1582, Jesuits once again initiated mission work in China, introducing Western science, mathematics, and astronomy. One of these missionaries was Matteo Ricci.

In the early 18th century, the Chinese Rites controversy, a dispute within the Roman Catholic Church, arose over whether Chinese folk religion rituals and offerings to their ancestors constituted idolatry. The Pope ultimately ruled against tolerating the continuation of these practices among Chinese Roman Catholic converts. Prior to this, the Jesuits had enjoyed considerable influence at court, but with the issuing of the papal bull, the emperor circulated edicts banning Christianity.

140 years of missionary seed-sowing began with Robert Morrison, regarded among Protestants as being the first Christian missionary to China arrived in Macao on 4 September 1807. Morrison produced a Chinese translation of the Bible. He also compiled a Chinese dictionary for the use of Westerners. The Bible translation took twelve years and the compilation of the dictionary, sixteen years.

During the 1840s, Western missionaries spread Christianity rapidly through the coastal cities that were open to foreign trade; the bloody Taiping Rebellion was connected in its origins to the influence of some missionaries on the leader Hong Xiuquan, who has since been hailed as a heretic by most Christian groups, but as a proto-communist peasant militant by the Chinese Communist Party. The Taiping Rebellion was a large-scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing Government. It was conducted from 1850 to 1864 by an army and civil administration led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan. He established the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" with the capital Nanjing and attained control of significant parts of southern China, at its height ruling over about 30 million people. The theocratic and militaristic regime instituted several social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, suppression of private trade, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by a form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The Taiping rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing army aided by French and British forces. With an estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million due to warfare and resulting starvation, this civil war ranks among history's deadliest conflicts. Mao Zedong viewed the Taiping as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.

By the early 1860s the Taiping movement was almost extinct, Protestant missions at the time were confined to five coastal cities. By the end of the century, however, the picture had vastly changed. Scores of new missionary societies had been organized, and several thousand missionaries were working in all parts of China. This transformation can be traced to the Unequal Treaties which forced the Chinese government to admit Western missionaries into the interior of the country, the excitement caused by the 1859 Awakening in Britain and the example of J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905). By 1865 when the China Inland Mission began, there were already thirty different Protestant groups at work in China, however the diversity of denominations represented did not equate to more missionaries on the field. In the seven provinces in which Protestant missionaries had already been working, there were an estimated 204 million people with only 91 workers, while there were eleven other provinces in inland China with a population estimated at 197 million, for whom absolutely nothing had been attempted. Besides the London Missionary Society, and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, there were missionaries affiliated with Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Wesleyans. Most missionaries came from England, the United States, Sweden, France, Germany, Switzerland, or Holland.

In addition to the publication and distribution of Christian literature and Bibles (see:Chinese Bible Translations), the Protestant Christian missionary movement in China furthered the dispersion of knowledge with other printed works of history and science. As the missionaries went to work among the Chinese, they established and developed schools and introduced the latest techniques in medicine (see:Medical missions in China). The mission schools were viewed with some suspicion by the traditional Chinese teachers, but they differed from the norm by offering a basic education to poor Chinese, both boys and girls, who had no hope of learning at a school before the days of the Chinese Republic .

In 1854, Hudson Taylor arrived in China. Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote that "Hudson Taylor was, ...one of the greatest missionaries of all time, and ... one of the four or five most influential foreigners who came to China in the nineteenth century for any purpose...". The China Inland Mission was the largest mission agency in China and it is estimated that Taylor was responsible for more people being converted to Christianity than at any other time since Paul the Apostle brought Christian teaching to Europe. Out of the 8,500 Protestant missionaries that were at one time at work in China, 1000 of them were from the CIM. It was Dixon Edward Hoste, the successor to Hudson Taylor, who originally expressed the self-governing principles of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, at the time he was articulating the goal of the China Inland Mission to establish an indigenous Chinese church that was free from foreign control.

British and American denominations, such as the British Methodist Church, continued to send missionaries until they were prevented from doing so following the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Protestant missionaries played an extremely important role in introducing knowledge of China to the United States and the United States to China. The book The Small Woman and film Inn of the Sixth Happiness tell the story of one such missionary, Gladys Aylward.

The opening of the twentieth century was a period of transition for both the church and the nation. China moved from Qing dynastic rule to a warlord-dominated republic to a united front of the Guomindang and Chinese Communist party in league against warlords and imperialism. Christianity enjoyed unprecedented popularity for two decades. Variety within the Protestant community increased; conservative, evangelical societies strengthened their presence; the social gospel approach gained momentum, and Chinese formed their own faith sects and autonomous churches.

Reaction to the failures of nineteenth century reform movements and to international humiliation subsequent to the Boxer Uprising helped create a readiness for change in China. Many Chinese assumed that to modernize, China would have to import and adapt from the West. Since missionaries contended that Western progress derived from its Christian heritage, Christianity gained new favor. The missionaries, their writings and Christian schools were accessible sources of information; parochial schools filled to overflowing. Church membership expanded and Christian movements like the YMCA and YWCA became popular. The Manchurian revival swept through the churches of present day Liaoning Province during the ministry of Canadian missionary, Jonathan Goforth. It was the first such revival to gain nationwide publicity in China as well as international repute.

The number of Protestant missionaries had surpassed 8,000 by 1925 and in the process, the nature of the community had altered. Estimates for the Chinese Protestant community ranged around 500,000.

There were also growing numbers of conservative evangelicals. Some came from traditional denomination, but others worked independently with minimal support, and many were sponsored by fundamentalist and faith groups like the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Christian Missionary Alliance, and the Assemblies of God. Pentecostal, charismatic and Millenarian preachers brought a new zeal to the drive to evangelize the world.

Parochial schools also nurtured a corps of Christian leaders who acquired influential positions in education, diplomatic service and other government bureaus, medicine, business, the Christian church and Christian movements. In the Christian community, individuals like Yu Rizhang (David Yui 1882 - 1936), Zhao Zichen (趙紫宸, 1888-1979), Xu Baoqian (徐寶謙, 1892-1944), and Liu Tingfang (Timothy Liu/劉廷芳, 1890-1947) stand out. Most were characterized with liberal theology, commitment to social reform, deep Chinese patriotism, and acquaintance with Western learning. Many of these leaders held popular revival meetings in Christian schools throughout China and, along with conservative churchmen like Cheng Jingyi (1881-1939), sparked the drive for greater Chinese autonomy and leadership in the church.

They became Chinese spokesmen in the National Christian Council, a liaison committee for Protestant churches, and the Church of Christ in China (CCC), established in 1927 to work toward independence. Even so, progress toward autonomy proved to be slow, for Western mission boards were reluctant to relinquish the power of the pocket book, which gave them a decisive voice in most matters of importance.

Adding to the diversity and also to the conservative trend was the proliferation of completely autonomous Chinese Christian churches and communities, a new phenomenon in Chinese Protestantism. Noteworthy was the China Christian Independent Church (Zhōngguó Yēsūjiào Zìlìhuì), a federation which by 1920 had over 100 member churches, drawn mostly from the Chinese urban class. In contrast was the True Jesus Church (Zhēn Yēsū Jiàohuì), founded in 1917; Pentecostal, millenarian and exclusivist, it was concentrated in the central interior provinces.

Sometimes independence derived not so much from a desire to indigenize Christianity as from the nature of leadership. Wang Mingdao (1900-1991) and Song Shangjie (John Sung, 1901-1944) were zealous, confident of possessing the truth, and critical of what they perceived as lukewarm formalism in the Protestant establishments. They drew on the revivalism and mysticism of Western “faith sects” and the Pentecostalism of the True Jesus Church. During the 1920s and 1930s both Wang and Song worked as independent itinerant preachers, holding highly successful and emotional meetings in established churches and other venues. Their message was simple: “today’s evil world demands repentance; otherwise hell is our destiny”. To this doomsday prophecy, Song added faith healing. Their premillennial eschatology attracted tens of thousands of followers set adrift in an environment of political chaos, civil war, and personal hardship.

In the aftermath of World War I, many Westerners experienced a crisis of confidence. How could western nations, which had just emerged from one of the most destructive war of modern times, justify preaching morality to others? Volunteers, financial and intellectual support began a steady decline. The 1929 depression soon compounded the economic troubles. Yet the difficulties accelerated indigenization.

Since many Chinese Christian leaders were internationalists and pacifists, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 presented a dilemma. Most abandoned their pacifism, and many joined the National Salvation Movement. After the December 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor , Japan shortly invaded much of China and the Pacific region, with the evacuation or internment of most Westerners. As a result of being separated due to World War II, Christian churches and organizations had their first experience with autonomy from the Western-guided structures of the missionary church organizations. Once again Chinese were left to carry on and once again the Chinese Protestant church moved toward independence, union, or Chinese control. Some scholars suggest this helped lay the foundation for the independent denominations and churches of the post-war period and the eventual development of the Three-Self Church and the CCPA. After the end of the war, the Chinese Civil War began in earnest, which had an effect on the rebuilding and development of the churches after the close of Japanese occupation.

The chaos that was China during the 1930s and 1940s spawned religious movements that emphasized direct spiritual experience and an eschatology offering hope and comfort beyond this cruel world. In opposition to the "Y" and the Student Christian Movement, conservatives organized the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in 1945; for them, Social Gospel theology was not simply impotent; it had lost sight of the centrality of a personal relationship with the divine. The Jesus Family (Yēsū Jiātíng), founded about 1927, expanded in rural north and central China. Communitarian, pentecostal, and millenarian, its family communities lived, worked and held property jointly; worship often included speaking in tongues and revelations from the Holy Spirit.

The salvationist promise of Wang Mingdao, John Sung, and Ji Zhiwen (Andrew Gih/計志文, 1901-1985) continued to attract throngs of followers, many of them already Christians. Ni Tuosheng (Watchman Nee, 1903-1972), founder of the Church Assembly Hall (nicknamed as "Little Flock"), drew adherents with its assurances of a glorious New Jeruslaem in the next life for those who experienced rebirth and adhered to a strict morality. By 1945, the local churches claimed a membership of over 70,000, spread into some 700 assemblies. The independent churches altogether accounted for well over 200,000 Protestants.

The People's Republic of China was established in October 1949 by the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong. Under Communist ideology, religion was discouraged by the state and Christians endured widespread persecution by authorities over the next three decades.

Between 1949 and 1952, all foreign missionaries left the country in what was described by Phyllis Thompson of the China Inland Mission as a "reluctant exodus", leaving the indigenous churches to do their own administration, support, and propagation of the faith. The Chinese Protestant church entered the communist era having made significant progress toward self-support and self-government. Though Chinese rulers had traditionally sought to regulate organized religion and the CCP would continue the practice, Chinese Christians had gained experience in the art of accommodation in order to protect its members.

From 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution, the expression of religious life in China was effectively banned, including even the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The growth of the Chinese house church movement during this period was a result of all Chinese Christian worship being driven underground for fear of persecution. To counter this growing trend of "unregistered meetings", in 1979 the government officially restored the TSPM after thirteen years of non-existence, and in 1980 the CCC was formed.

In 1993 there were 7 million members of the TSPM with 11 million affiliated, as opposed to an estimated 18 million and 47 million "unregistered" Protestant Christians respectively. According to a survey done by China Partner (Founder Werner Burklin), there are now between 39-41 million Protestant Christians in China. The survey was done with 7.400 individuals in 2007-08 in all 31 provinces, municipalites and autonomous regions except Tibet. Another survey done with 4.500 individuals by the East China Normal University in Shanghai came to the same result.

Persecution of Christians in China has been sporadic. The most severe times were during the Cultural Revolution. Believers were arrested and imprisoned and sometimes tortured for their faith. Bibles were destroyed, churches and homes were looted, and Christians were subjected to humiliation. Several thousand Christians were known to have been imprisoned between 1983-1993. In 1992 the government began a campaign to shut down all of the unregistered meetings. However, government implementation of restrictions since then has varied widely between regions of China and in many areas there is greater religious liberty.

Independent churches and a variety of evangelical sects have broadened the appeal of Protestantism, especially in rural China. Although outside observers thought that the Cultural Revolution had ended Christianity in China, Christianity in all its variety had taken root and possessed the strength and techniques to survive decades of hostility and persecution.

Since loosening of restrictions on religion after the 1970s, Christianity has grown significantly within the People's Republic. It is still, however, tightly controlled by government authorities. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council (Protestant) and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which has disavowed the Pope and is considered schismatic by other Roman Catholics, have affiliations with government and must follow the regulations imposed upon them.

Many Christians choose however to meet independently of these organizations, typically in house churches. These fellowships are not officially registered and are sometimes seen as illegal entities and are often persecuted heavily. For this reason some meetings take place underground, coining the term "underground church". These Christians have been persecuted throughout the 20th century, especially during the Cultural Revolution, and there remains some official harassment in the form of arrests and interrogations of Chinese Christians. At the same time, there has been increasing tolerance of house churches since the late 1970s.

Some informal groups have emerged in the 1970s that seem to have been wholly new in origin, or perhaps to have sprouted from earlier seeds but grown into distinctly new movements. One of the best documented of these groups was founded by Peter Xu, an independent evangelist who began preaching in Henan in 1968. his organization, variously called the Born-again Sect (重生派), the Total Scope Church (全范围教会), or the Criers, is accused by some as being heretical. It is distinguished by a strong emphasis on a definitive experience of conversion, usually during an intensive three-day "life meeting", and by an emphasis (some say a requirement) on a confession of sins with tears. Xu has claimed that his organization consists of over 3500 congregations and has sent evangelists to more than twenty of China's provinces. These numbers cannot be independently verified, but it is evident that there are several other organized networks claiming a similarly large number of adherents, and many other groups of smaller scope.

There are a small number of adherents of Russian Orthodoxy in northern China, predominantly in Harbin. The first mission was undertaken by Russians in the 17th century. Orthodox Christianity is also practiced by the small Russian ethnic minority in China. The Church operates relatively freely in Hong Kong (where the Ecumenical Patriarch has sent a metropolitan, Bishop Nikitas and the Russian Orthodox parish of St Peter and St Paul resumed its operation) and Taiwan (where archimandrite Jonah George Mourtos leads a mission church).

It is not known exactly how many Chinese consider themselves Christian. Estimates of Christians in China are difficult to obtain because of the numbers of Christians unwilling to reveal their beliefs, the hostility of the national government towards some Christian sects, and difficulties in obtaining accurate statistics on house churches.

In 2000, the People's Republic of China government census enumerated 4 million Chinese Catholics and 10 million ‎Protestants. The Chinese government once stated that only 1% (13 million) of the population is Christian while the Chinese Embassy states that 10 Million (0.75%) are Christian. The official figure in 2002, which consists of members from Official Protestant churches, is about 15 million, while some estimates on members of Chinese house churches vary from 50 million to 100 million.

The CIA World Factbook indictates that about 3% to 4% of all the population in China are Christians. Independent estimates have ranged from 40 million, to 100 million. In 2007, evangelical bloggers falsely claimed that Ye Xiaowen reported the number of 130 million through Xinhua News Agency. The claim was finally denied.

In October 2007 two surveys were conducted to estimate the number of Christians in China. One poll was held by Protestant missionary Werner Burklin, the other one by Liu Zhongyu from East China Normal University in Shanghai. The surveys were conducted independently and during different periods, but they reached the same results. According to these studies, there are roughly 54 million Christians in China, of which 39 million are Protestants and 14 million are Catholics as the most common and reliable figure among others.

Kiven Choy stated, in a Chinese weekly newspaper in Hong Kong, that the correct number of Protestants in China should be at around 20 million, while Time Magazine recently reported 65 million.

There are 4 million members of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and an estimated 12 million members of the underground Roman Catholic Church in China as of 2006.

A relatively large proportion of Christians are concentrated in Hebei province, in particular Catholics. Many internationally-reported arrests of Catholic leaders have occurred in that province. Hebei is also home to the town of Donglu, site of an alleged Marian apparition and pilgrimage center.

Christianity has been in Hong Kong since 1841. Of about 660,000 Christians in Hong Kong, most of them are Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Roman Catholic missionaries were the first to arrive in Macau.

Protestants record that Tsae A-Ko was the first known Chinese Protestant Christian. He was baptized by Robert Morrison at Macau about 1814.

Tibet, once a theocratic Buddhist state, has largely resisted Christian influences. At the beginning of the 21st century there are very few Tibetan Christians, although recent historical research indicates the presence of some form of Christianity in as early as the sixth and seventh centuries in Tibet, a period when the White Huns had extensive links with the Tibetans.

The first European traveler who appears to have visited Lhasa is the Franciscan Odoric of Pordenone in the first half of the fourteenth century. He was followed by the Jesuits in 1624. These Roman Catholic missionaries to Tibet were the first scholars of Tibetan culture.

In the years 1630 and 1742, Tibetan Christian communities were suppressed by the lamas of the Gelugpa Sect, whose chief lama was the Dalai Lama. Jesuit priests were made prisoners in 1630, or attacked before they reached Tsaparang. Between 1850 and 1880 eleven fathers of the Paris Foreign Mission Society were murdered in Tibet, or killed or injured during their journeys to other missionary outposts in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. In 1881 Father Brieux was reported to have been murdered on his way to Lhasa. Qing officials later discovered that the murder cases were covertly supported and even orchestrated by local lamaseries and their patrons, the native chieftains. In 1904, Qing official Feng Quan sought to curtail the influence of the Gelugpa Sect and ordered the protection of Western missionaries and their churches. Indignation over Feng Quan and the Christian presence escalated to a climax in March 1905, when thousands of the Batang lamas revolted, killing Feng, his entourage, local Manchu and Han Chinese officials, and the local French Catholic priests. The revolt soon spread to other cities in eastern Tibet, such as Chamdo, Litang and Nyarong, and at one point almost spilled over into neighboring Sichuan Province. The missionary stations and churches in these areas were burned and destroyed by the angry Gelugpa monks and local chieftains. Dozens of local Westerners, including at least four priests, were killed or fatally wounded. The scale of the rebellion was so tremendous that only when panicked Qing authorities hurriedly sent 2,000 troops from Sichuan to pacify the mobs did the revolt gradually came to an end. The lamasery authorities and local native chieftains' hostility towards the Western missionaries in Tibet lingered through the last throes of the Manchu dynasty and into the Republican period.

In 1877 the British Protestant missionary James Cameron of the China Inland Mission walked from Chongqing to Batang Town, Sichuan, bringing the Gospel to the Tibetan people.

In 1993 it was reported that there were a few congregations of Tibetan Christians now living in India.

Predominantly Muslim, very few Uygur are known to be Christian. In 1904 George Hunter with the CIM opened the first mission station in Xinjiang. By the 1930s there existed some churches among this people, but because of violent persecution the churches were destroyed and the believers were scattered.

Though the Hui people live in nearly every part of China, they make up about 30% of the population of Ningxia. They are almost entirely Muslim and very few are Christian.

Rapid church growth is reported to have taken place among the Zhuang people in the early 1990s. Though still predominantly Buddhist and animistic, the region of Guangxi was first visited in 1877 by Protestant missionary Edward Fishe of the CIM. He died the same year.

In large, international cities such as Beijing , foreign visitors have established Christian church communities which meet in public establishments such as hotels. These churches and fellowships, however, are typically restricted only to holders of non-Chinese passports.

American evangelist Billy Graham visited in China in 1988 with his wife, Ruth, and it was a homecoming for her since she had been born in China to missionary parents, L. Nelson Bell and his wife, Virginia.

Since the 1980s, American officials visiting China have on multiple occasions visited Chinese churches, including President George W. Bush, who attended one of Beijing's five officially-recognized Protestant churches during a November 2005 Asia tour, and the Kuanjie Protestant Church in 2008. During an official visit to Beijing for the Beijing Olympic Games, Australian Prime Minister of Kevin Rudd with his wife Therese attended the Northern Cathedral, Beijing, for Sunday services in August 2008.. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended Palm Sunday services in Beijing in 2005.

During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, three American Christian protesters were deported from China after a demonstration at Tiananmen Square, and eight Dutch Christians were stopped after attempting to sing in chorus. Pope Benedict XVI urged China to be open to Christianity, and said that he hoped the Olympic Games would offer an example of coexistence among people from different countries.

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Source : Wikipedia