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History of Early Christianity

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Faryn Borella

on 11 December 2012

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Transcript of History of Early Christianity

From Diversity to Orthodoxy The History of Early Christianity It all starts with this guy! Explaining Christian Growth and Success Who was Jesus? 2nd-4th c. CE Emerging Christian Groups and their Relations with the Surrounding Community 4th-5th c. Controversies and the Move toward Orthodoxy 4th c.-on Christian Devotion and Emerging Institutional Structures Why did Christian numbers grow exponentially in the 4th century? Or, more importantly, how has Jesus been articulated and utilized throughout history by different groups, and how has that led to different understandings of Christianity historically and our current understanding of Christianity today? Jesus Movements The Revolutionary Movement The Rabbinic Movement The Apocalyptic Movement Gnosticism The Pauline Movement Jesus is viewed as a political and military leader who will liberate his followers from socio-political oppression. Salvation is seen as something to be achieved presently--in this world. Salvation is release from socio-political oppression. Jesus is seen as fully human, but granted the spirit of God through baptism. Jesus is seen as a rabbi and interpreter of Jewish law. The purpose of Jewish law is to teach you how to get you into right-standing with God through daily thanksgiving and reverence, so Jesus interprets Jewish law in order to provide people with an understanding of how they might get into right-standing. Salvation is seen as something you can achieve in the present through the means of the law and the covenant. Jesus is only important in his role as an interpreter-- as a human granted divine wisdom--but his death and resurrection mean little to members of this movement. Jesus is seen as a heavenly David, who is sent down to save humanity. God temporarily acquiesced the cosmos to the cosmic force of evil. Thus, if you are suffering, that means that you are on the side of good. Salvation is seen as something achieved in the future, after the apocalyptic battle, where God raises the dead and judges all of humanity. This will inaugurate a new age where the righteous are blessed. In this age, the good cannot be separated from God. In his death and resurrection, Jesus overcame death and thus defeated Satan. Stemming from Platonism, Gnostics believe that there is an immaterial, perfect realm made up of The One and the All. The One and the All has a first thought, which is the True Son (Christ.) The One and the All then continues to have emanations. One emanation, Sophia reproduced alone without the One and the All, and by doing so created an imperfect being. This being is cast out and becomes the demiurge, the creator the material heavens and the earth. Thus, the God described in the Hebrew Bible is actually this demiurge who either is ignorant and believes that it is the one true God or is evil and is fooling people into thinking that it is the one true God. Jesus's role is that of divine liberator from confusion--a bringer of knowledge directly from the One and All about the true state of the universe. He acts as the message of light (gnosis) in darkness. Jesus, by living an entirely righteous life, was able to overcome the law of sin and overcome death, defeating the cosmic force of evil. Paul is an apocalypticist in that he believes the judgement is coming soon, and therefore that people must get in rightstanding with God. However, humans are incapable of getting into rightstanding with God because they are inhabited by the law of sin. When you are baptized, the cosmic force of evil is kicked out of you, and you are able to participate in Jesus's triumph over death. It is only through Jesus's triumph, though, that human beings gained the ability to overcome death themselves. Whether Jesus was human or divine is unimportant. All that is important is that he lived a sinless life and deathless death, and it is through faith/absolute trust in God that human beings can achieve this same feat. Jesus's is referred to as the Messiah, King, and the son of David, for he is seen, like David, as a liberator and leader of the Jews on this earth. 1st c. CE Continuity/Discontinuity with Judaism Christian Apologia Persecution and Martyrdom Asceticism and Sexual Renunciation In early Jesus movements, followers were striving to create continuity with the Jewish God and scriptures while also articulating change. In the Epistle of Barnabas, Barnabas articulates the idea that the Jews have always understood the scriptures literally, whereas the Christians are the elect and can understand the deeper message behind the stories of scripture. In Antithesis, Marcion proposed the idea that there is a Creator God and a Supreme God, and the Jews all along have been worshiping the imperfect Creator God when they should be worshiping the perfect Supreme God. He is excommunicated for this degree of discontinuity with the Jewish community, demonstrating one of the first articulations that views can be heretical and outside of the acceptable, orthodox view. Therefore, discontinuity with Judaism was acceptable up to a point in this time period. Christian apologies are "reasoned defenses" to Pagan accusations, in which they appeal to reason, using traditional Greco-Roman philosophical methods. This is meant to change opinions of Christians from the top-down as well as provide a script for Christians from the bottom-up. Christians were accused of being atheists, to which they responded that they were worshiping the true God and that the idols the Pagans were worshiping were actually demons. Pagans accused Christians of being morally depraved in that they were cannibalistic and hyper-sexual, drawing upon what they'd heard of communion and the kiss of peace. To this, Christians responded with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, in which he says that not only do Christians not sin, but they cannot even think about sin. Persecution happened mostly locally in the 1st-3rd c. There was no systematic campaign against Christians, nor was the treatment of different Christian communities similar across the entire region. Some were highly persecuted, while others, for the most part, were left alone. In the mid-3rd century, persecutions became empire-wide, systematic and widespread. In the beginning of the 4th c., Emperor Diocletian issued a series of edicts that progressively made life for the Christians more and more difficult and forced many to apostatize. "Martyr" means to witness. In martyrdom, you are witnessing God, reaching God sooner, building virtue and spiritual power and participating in Christ's victory over death. In martyrdom, Christians are co-opting the virtuous death of the gladiators and thus undermining the system. Martyrdom accounts act as scripts for future martyrs as to how to die virtuously and act as narrative apologies directed at Pagans. Paul is an apocalypticist, and in First Corinthians 7, in reference to marriage, he tells everyone to remain as they are, for the end is coming. If you are virginal and unmarried, remain that way. If you are married, remain that way. But even in your married state, attempt to avoid sex. However, Paul's apocalypticism gets decontextualized in the future as Christians use First Corinthians 7 to argue for complete renunciation of sexuality. Gregory, in the 4th and 5th c., goes further than Paul and says that marriage is the source of all anxiety, grief, sorrow and evil in the world, and states that if you remain virginal, you will be perfect like God--you will become immortal. By remaining virginal, you are returning to the perfect state of humankind from before the Fall, as well as reaching the perfect state of the future in which you are united with God. People acted as ascetics in a variety of different ways. Some upper-class women lived as house ascetics, which actually allowed them a lot more power than traditional gender roles. Some people lived as solitary ascetics in the desert. And some people lived in monastic communities in the suburbs outside the city. Summary In the 2nd, 3rd and beginning of the 4th c., Christians began to truly identify themselves as separate and distinct from both the Jewish and Pagan communities. They attempted to demonstrate a continuity with the Jewish community while claiming that they were more spiritually enlightened. They attempted, through logic and reason, but also through bold acts, such as martyrdom, to not only defend themselves against Pagan accusations, but to prove themselves spiritually superior. They also began to develop beliefs on sexuality and renunciation that marked themselves as distinct from other religious communities, practicing extreme asceticism and chastity. Summary In the 1st c., there was really no unity within the Christian community, nor even really a "Christian" identification as such. There were a variety of different Jesus movements that all believed and practiced different things. The only common thread among all of these movements is that they saw Jesus as a prominent figure. But their views of Jesus weren't even the same. Some movements, such as the Revolutionary Movement and the Rabbinic movement, saw Jesus as a human being who had been granted some sort of divine power or wisdom. The Apocalypticists and Gnostics, however, saw Jesus as a divine figure whose resurrection allowed him to defeat the cosmic force of evil. And for Paul, it was unimportant whether Jesus was human or divine. All that mattered was that he lived a sinless life and deathless death. Therefore, as you can see, there was much diversity within 1st c. "Christianity," with each movement so distinct that it is hard to even say that they were part of the same phenomenon. Trinitarian Debates Canonization Christological Debates Augustine Historical Chronology In the 4th. c, Christian communities begin sending heresiological letters back and forth, either accusing another community of practicing Christianity incorrectly or trying to get other Christian communities to agree with their views. At this point, though, there is no centralized authority dictating what Christianity should or should not be. In 313, Constantine issues the Edict of Milan, lifting restrictions on Christians and allowing them to co-exist peacefully with Pagans. Constantine also supports massive building campaigns of Christian churches (in order that he might leave a legacy), sets aside money in the treasury for Christian charities, orders 50 copies of Christian scripture (prompting canonization), and calls together the first ecumenical council (The Council of Nicaea.) Theodosius II is really the one who Christianizes the empire in the early 5th c., making Christianity the official religion of the Empire and combining ecclesial with imperial law in the Theodosian Code. Arius and Alexander get into a debate over the ouisos (nature) of the three components of the trinity, and whether the Father and the Son are of the same ouisos. Both agree that the Father is unbegotten and the Son is the only begotten, creator of all things. Arius believes that the Father and the Son are distinct, separate entities, for the Father is perfection and perfection is indivisible. Therefore, the Father and the Son are very similar in nature but the Son is not co-eternal, co-unbegotten, or co-unbegun. He is just slightly lower than the Father. The Son acts as an intermediary or a bridge between mortality and immortality through which souls can pass. Alexander believes that the Father is the only unbegotten and unbegun, but the Son, although begotten, is also perfect and indivisible from the Father. He is made of the exact same substance and is just the impression or imprint of the Father. The Son must be fully divine in order to effect human salvation by living a completely justified life and overcoming death. The Council of Nicaea (325) takes some of Arius's ideas, but ultimately reaches Alexander's conclusion: that the Father and the Son are of the same substance. In the mid-4th century, regional and ecumenical councils began meeting to ratify scripture, both to try to decide what should be included in the canon and the order of that which is included in the canon, for order marks importance. However, the canon remains unfinalized until the Protestant Reformation. In the 1st-3rd c., each community had its own collection of texts, and which texts you had played a huge role in what kind of Christianity you practiced. People first began thinking about canonization in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as texts began to be collected for pedagogical purposes, while also persecution forced Christians to think about which texts were most important to them. Criteria for inclusion in the canon include authorship/discipleship, it's date, how widely accepted or popular it is among certain churches, and most importantly, whether it fits what you view as "orthodox" theology. In the 5th c., Nestorius declares that we shouldn't call Mary theotokos (mother of God) but rather Christotokos (mother of Christ), for the Father cannot be enwombed or birthed. This brings about a debate over how Christ's humanity and divinity relate. Nestorius believes that Christ is of both of human and divine nature, but that these two natures are distinct from one another, for if they are not, then they lose the qualities by which they are defined. If divine nature is diminished, it no longer has the power to save, and if human nature is compromised, it is no longer the same as all other human natures and thus cannot save humanity. Cyril believes that the two natures unite, resulting in one nature in one person. Only with real union can the divine nature transform human nature and thus save humanity. But this means that every experience experienced by the human side is also experienced by the divine side, which means that the divine is birthed, the divine suffers, and the divine dies. This means that Mary did indeed birth God (theotokos.) In the Council Chalcedon it is decided that 1) Christ is fully divine and fully human and that divinity is not effected by contact with humanity, 2) that it is a real union between natures in one son 3)and that this joint nature is without change, without division, and without separation. In 413, Pelagius, appalled by the moral laxity and lavishness of Christians in Rome and the use of Paul to justify their actions, declares that humans are the good creation of a good God and have the ability to do good, to choose good, and to be perfect. This means that human beings have free will to follow God's law. Augustine responds to Pelagius by saying that human beings were created perfect in the image of God, but the fall tainted their nature, making humans unable to be good. It is only through Jesus's sinless life and deathless death that human beings were once again made able to be good, and thus it is only through Christ that human beings can do good and be saved. Augustine argues that the fall occurred even before Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. It happened when Adam and Eve became prideful and turned towards themselves and away from God. Their punishment, therefore, is that they are disgusted with themselves. Therefore, it is the very fall away from God that causes human beings to turn back toward God. Original sin is the compromised nature that has been passed down to each and every human through the act of sex. Jesus was able to live a sinless life because he was not conceived in this way. Summary With Augustine's Edict of Milan in the 4th c., Christians were finally able to co-exist in the empire peacefully. Although this was by no means the Christianization of the Empire, it allowed for Christians to begin to come together and form centralized, authoritative institutions. With the onset of ecumenical councils, theological debates emerged and were settled by those in positions of ecclesial and imperial power. With Theodosius II in the 5th c., ecclesial and imperial power merged, allowing the emperor to take a large role in settling matters of ecclesiology and theology, such as in the Christological debates. It also allowed for figures such as Augustine to emerge and for authoritative, "orthodox" versions of Christianity to form and become widely accepted Conversion and Catechism Sacred Time and Sacred Space Pilgrimage and Relics In Augustine's Confessions, he provides a script for conversion by detailing both his own conversion and the conversion of those who came before him. By drawing his conversion from the lineage of their conversions, he is able to demonstrate how one's experience of conversion is deeply shaped by the stories of others, and thus how the conversion of the readers should be deeply shaped by his own conversion. Augustine also understands conversion as just the beginning. In conversion, you are turning back to God, and therefore turning back to your uncompromised nature before the fall. However, conversion is not enough. One must also have been baptized and go through the catechumenate before one can claim to have returned to the created condition. Catechism means to instruct. It is through catechism that the Christian is formed or shaped. This process of catechism takes around three years, and, beginning in the 4th c., it is only once one completes this process that one is fully converted and can partake in the full liturgy and service. As Christianity becomes more institutionalized, life becomes cyclical. The year becomes marked by particular moments in which certain points of Christian history are recalled. In this way, plot points are chosen as important and become fixed. Also different points of the week become marked as more sacred than others. The eucharist, originally just a communal meal modeled after the gatherings of pagan trade unions as a commemoration or re-enactment of the last supper, became imbued with deeper meaning in the 4th and 5th century. People began to believe that the eucharist is the body and blood of Christ that it transforms your humanity into divinity as you eat it. Therefore, it becomes a part of the weekly ritual cycle on the holiest of days, Sunday. Aesthetics and the space in which one worships becomes very important. For one, decoration is a means of instruction for those who cannot read. Additionally, the beauty of the space is meant to elevate the soul beyond the mundane in order for one to meditate on God, rendering beauty divine. Helena, the mother of Constantine, is really the first pilgrim when she says that she wants to "follow the footsteps of Jesus." Before this, areas were important solely due to the nature of the religious community living there. From here on out, the Holy Land gets invented and imbued with meaning like never before. These places are understood to have an extra dose of the holy spirit. Pilgrimages become highly structured in a very short amount of time, with institutions popping up around what become popular pilgrimage sites. Priests at local churches host travelers, run rituals, give blessings and act as tour guides. But also, through pilgrimages, certain sites become more important and thus the events tied to those sites become more important. Relics, remains from a holy site or of a holy person, also become imbued with meaning. This means that you don't necessarily need to travel to the site, because these objects are also filled with that extra dose of holy spirit. Summary As Christianity is centralized, what it means to be Christian changes. Now that Christianity has a larger contingency behind it, the focus turns to streamlining and orthodoxizing the religion rather than mass conversion. Joining the Christian faith is no longer a matter of following the movement of a charismatic leader, but is a highly structured process that is long, difficult and increasingly similar across different territories. Also, the way and place in which one worships also becomes highly structured, with a calendar being imposed from the top-down. Places also become imbued with more meaning either through building campaigns that prioritize the aesthetic or a refocusing of attention on holy sites at which important historical events took place. Overall, though, a Christian's understanding of oneself is much more standard and homogenous than it was just a few centuries earlier. Although diversity still exists, things are increasingly becoming more centralized and similar. Top-Down Model Bottom-Up Model Middle-Out Model It's all arithmetic! Constantine converted to Christianity, and thus imposed Christianity upon the people from the top-down. It was due to Constantine that we see a large proliferation of Christian conversions in the early 4th century. Criticism: There is much evidence to suggest that Constantine was not a true Christian, nor did he seem to understand Christianity fully. Therefore, it is more likely that Constantine's support of Christianity was an effect rather than a cause of the mass proliferation of Christianity. He certainly lent support to Christianity, but it is likely that it was not his actions that led to mass conversion. Summary: Christianity was a grassroots movement of mostly marginalized peoples and lower classes until they made up such a critical mass of the population that it was beneficial for the aristocracy and the Emperor to convert. Christianity is a religion that valorizes suffering, so it was obviously attractive to the large portion of the population that was suffering. It also provided for the suffering through creating formalized systems of social welfare. These systems attracted so many people to the religion that it almost inevitably took over. Summary: It was the conversion of the aristocracy that really caused Christianity to proliferate. The role of the aristocracy in Greco-Roman society was to provide funding and resources for the community in exchange for political support and prestige. Yet as the empire grew, there was a larger aristocracy fighting for the same number of positions. Christianity provided a new set of offices (bishoprics) that aristocrats could occupy in order to gain the support of the masses, so many aristocrats decided to convert in order to fill those offices. In turn, there was a trickle-down effect to the masses, for the aristocracy was providing them with social services, so many decided to convert. This also trickled up to the Emperor, as the aristocrats are friends with the Emperor, and he is obliged to fulfill favors in order to keep the aristocracy on his side. Therefore, it becomes favorable for the Emperor to convert as well. There is no need to understand the specific historical conditions surrounding the mass conversion to Christianity in the 4th. century because it's all simply a matter of numbers. There is a general, universal social theory that can be used to explain this conversion, and the numbers from this are the same as from any other conversion. It is simply because there is exponential growth that it appears as if Christianity proliferated in the 4th. century. Religions do not fulfill a need for people. Instead, it has to do with your attachments with other people. If your religious affiliation is deviant from the affiliation of those around you and you think you have something to lose from being deviant, then you will convert. Gager's Theory Summary: The external and internal conflict that Christian communities faced led to a strengthening of community and greater group cohesion and unity. External conflict causes a group to realize what makes it distinct from its opponents, but in doing so makes the group realize its own virtues, as demonstrated by the apologies. This fosters a pride of one's own group along with a simultaneous denigration of your opponents. Internal conflict, as seen in many of the theological debates discussed, focuses and hones beliefs and practices for it forces one to discover one's own views by discovering views that one disagrees with. This rejecting of views as heretical clarifies orthodoxy and helps to build centralized power within the religion. So what actually happened? How did Christianity grow from a fringe movement made up of many diverse groups to a highly structured, organized, nearly empire-wide religion? All one can do is theorize, but I think by taking aspects of many of these models, one could develop a pretty interesting theory. To me, it appears as if Christianity began as a movement made up of mostly lower class and marginalized peoples who saw in Christianity an explanation of and justification for their suffering. Due to the effective spreading of Jesus's message through important figures, such as Paul, Christianity gained a lot of converts. The persecution enacted by the Roman Empire helped the disparate Christian communities to come together in solidarity behind a common enemy, which in turn convinced many in the ruling class of that common enemy to convert to Christianity. This conversion by the aristocracy helped, in turn, to gain more converts from all social classes, both upper, middle, and lower, which eventually led to the conversion of the Emperor and then, later, the Christianization of the Empire.
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