The church at the beginning of- the 2nd century (Epistle of Diogentum)

History of the Christian Church § 2. General Character of Ante-nicene Christianity

The Christians,” he says, “are not distinguished from other men by country, by language, nor by civil institutions. For they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue, nor lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is a foreign. They marry, like all others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common, but not wives. They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are killed and are made alive. They are poor and make many rich. They lack all things, and in all things abound. They are reproached, and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated, and are justified. They are cursed, and they bless. They receive scorn, and they give honor. They do good, and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens, and by the Greeks persecuted; and the cause of the enmity their enemies cannot tell. In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul, invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason, but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members, by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is inclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison; but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink; and the Christians increase, though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world; and it cannot be taken from them.”

in 200 year’s time things have begun to shift…….

Constantine bringing peace religious Freedom brought with it a new era of Christianity. No longer a persecuted sect, the church was able to expand and multiply in new ways, the church was able to organize its worship and practices, It was able to study the word and unify its doctrine, unfortunately with peace and protection came the desire in parts for power and control.

Today we will look at how this new peace in Rome changed the church:

I. The Church and state under 4 major Emperors

4 primary emperors of the 4th century;

-Constantine (306-337)

-ushered in the era of peace by making Christianity a tolerated and accepted religion within the empire. He did not make it the official religion of the empire, but did show it great favoritism

-He no longer offered pagan sacrifices

-He created a position of Church affairs adviser in his royal court

-Enacted a law in 321 granting Christians Sundays as an official day of rest

-Built the church of St. John Latern and gave the Laternani family palace to the Bishop of Rome. (One of the most famous buildings remaining in Rome. This is the official cathedral of Rome and Home to generations of Popes and councils.)

-Granted Bishops rights within the Legal structure of the empire. (they were able to settle legal disputes with the authority of the Emperor)

-Created a social network to care and provide for unwanted children (this was an effort to curb child murder)

-Ended Crucifixion as a form of punishment and ended the practice of branding slaves on their faces.

-He Built a new capital in Byzantium (Which would come to be known as Constantinople)

-This new city saw 2 great churches built and no other houses of worship were allowed within its borders

-The city was set up as a contrast to Pagan Rome, there would be no gladiatorial games held within the city, it was meant to be a city on a hill, modeling Christianity to the empire, without forcing the empire to accept Christianity.

-Constantine’s promotion of the Christian faith is tied into the historical practice within the empire of promoting the Emperors religion. He was the first though to no longer hold to the historic paganism of the empire or give false lip service to it.

-His belief that as emperor it was his duty to promote the faith also emboldened him to interfere and get involved in the church’s affairs.

2 major areas we see in Constantine’s life is in dealing with the Donatism and Arianism.

-Donatism grew out of the North African city of Carthage following the persecutions of Diocletian. The newly appointed bishop following the persecutions Caecilian was rejected by a handful of believers in the city because one of the men who ordained him had lapsed during the persecution. As such a rival Bishop Donatus challenged his authority claiming to be the only true bishop and head of the true church in Carthage. (leading to a split within the church)

-Constantine upon securing the throne ordered all possessions and lands to be returned to the churches. In Carthage the land and possessions were given to Caecilians care and oversight. After an appeal by Donatus, Constantine allowed the local church councils to decide. The vote eventually went against Donatus and his followers leading to a series of violent clashes in the city and surrounding areas.  Constantine then ordered in 316 all Donatist lands confiscated and any one belonging to their churches exiled from the empire.

-HE is the first ruler to use the power of the state to attempt to force compliance to attempt to bring peace to the church.

-Arianism. This is the second great area Constantine got involved with. (while the whole debate will be covered next week from the theology this week, we will briefly cover the political affects.) In the midst of a heated theological debate going on in the empire Constantine used the power of his office to call all Bishops to the City of Nicaea to finalize what the church believed and bring an end to the divides. At the conclusion of the Council he also ordered the banishment of any bishop who disagreed with the outcomes.

-While Christianity was not the official religion of the empire, Constantine conversion did make him the unofficial head of the church (and the emperors who would follow, appointing and dismissing bishops while also at times interfering in its theology)

-Constantinius (337-361)

-Succeeded his father and attempted to strengthen the church and state connections

-Took a much more aggressive approach against non-Christian worship. He closed all pagan temples within the empire and forbade animal sacrifices.

-Thus, leading many, especially in the east, to enter the church not out of faithful obedience to Christ, but out of convenience and status.

-The Western Empire though saw Constatinius’ reforms as a front to their heritage, especially among the historic families. For them to give up their Gods was to cease to be Roman. Their faith was directly tied to their citizenship. These same groups will alter claim the fall of the empire was punishment for it turning its back on the Gods in favor of Christianity.

-Used his office to banish bishops who disagreed with him theologically,

-Orthodox Church fathers often and openly referred to him as the Anti-Christ for his actions.

-Julian the Apostate (361-363)

-Renounced the Christian faith as a young man in favor of Neo-Platonism.

-He sought to revive pagan worship and crush Christianity

-Eliminated Christians from being able to work for the state

-Eliminated Sunday as a dedicated day of rest for Christians

-Required all institution to revive the exclusive teachings of the roman Gods and Philosophy

-Attempted to create his own version of the Christian Church around pagan theologies

-Undid all the reforms of his predecessors and wrote the book: Against the Galilean

-He died in battle on 3 years into his reign and with him died the last remnants of the Pagan empire.

-Dying words: “You have conquered, O Galilean”

-Over the next 30 years Christianity would sweep over the empire

-Theodosius the Great (379-395)

-in 380 Declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire outlawing all others, except Judaism which received continued tolerance in the empire. (though rarely was the pagan bans actually enforced)

-moved his capital to Milan in 80 where he sat under the teaching of Ambrose.

-Ambrose did not see the Emperor as Above the church, but rather that the church was the authority over the emperor.

-following the murder of the governor of Thessalonica by its citizens Theodosius ordered the city razed, he quickly dispatched riders to rescinded the order but by time the word came 7000 people were killed. Ambrose Excommunicated him from the church and barred him from returning for 8 months, and when he was allowed back, he had to make a public profession of repentance

-on a second occasion though a Group of Christians destroyed a Jewish synagogue, when Theodosius ordered the church whose members burned it to pay to have it rebuilt, Ambrose stepped in and declared that the church funds could never be used to support an false gospel. Theodosius relented and the synagogue was never rebuilt.  (One of the first examples of violence being used to purge Judaism in the empire with the support of the Bishops)

II. The Church Takes on a New Shape

-Scripture & tradition

-We covered a few weeks ago that the entirety of the OT and the majority of the NT were accepted and applied as holy scripture by the end of the 1st century and beginning of the 2nd. (only Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and Jude remained questioned)

-All matters of theology and Doctrine were determined and ascribed to the scriptures alone and the Out working of the Holy Spirit.

-However, alongside Scripture is what was known as “apostolic tradition”

-In the 4th century the church would appeal to an unwritten set of traditions based on the passed down applications of scripture or in some cases imply the working out of the faith in worship and community.

Basil Puts it like this:

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2.8: St. Basil: Letters and Select Works Chapter XXVII

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.

-The Structure of the Church Changed

-Up until the 4th century churches looked different in different parts of the empire based on size, availability of meeting spaces, persecution, bishops and culture

  1. One of the First changes was in Authority

-Up until this time we began to see a separation of bishops from presbyters, and over the next 100 years this transition would be complete creating a new hierarchal governing body more reflective of the Roman government that the teachings of scripture.

In the major city there would be a primary bishop over the other bishops this would be a Metropolitan Bishop or later Arch-bishop. He would preach at the primary church in the city, while other bishops oversaw other churches. Some of these churches though went without Bishops and separate presbyters (eventual changed to priest) would oversee these smaller congregations under the bishop’s authority.

-In the 4th century Some Arch-Bishops were given special titles due to the importance of their location: these bishops were located in the cities of: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. These men were given the title of Patriarch. By the 5th century each of these Patriarch would have defined regions in the empire and under them would sit the Arch bishops, then local bishops, followed by the Priests. The only western Patriarch was in Rome, while the other 4 remained in the East. It was this group who after the 5th century was initially believed to be the 5 men who should in agreement lead the church.

  1. The Second Change was in Worship

-One of the most obvious changes in worship was the Language shifts. Up until this point Greek was the predominate language of the empire and as well the church, but with the slow breakup of the empire came a shifting of the language, and at the same time a sifting of the language in worship. (Rome and the western Empire made Latin the primary tongue, while in the east there was Greek for the northern empire, Syriac for the Syrian Palestinian regions, and Coptic in Egypt. -over the next few centuries these divides would make a future schism easier and simpler in the midst of disagreement son theology and practice)

-4th century saw the birth of standardized liturgies to be used in all churches under their Patriarch.

-Basils liturgy is still in use in Eastern churches during lent and Advent, both were celebration added during the 4th century

-From the 1st century onward until the 4th on Easter was seen as the only religious holiday in the Christian church, but in the 4th century the church added Christmas (336ish) along with Lent and Holy week become a festival of Christian worship.

-Religious art work began to become prolific as artisans took to worshipping God through their art, and as churches were built, they were adorned with artwork depicting the narrative of Scripture

-Also new were the attachments of special elements of worship: Cyril of Jerusalem added: Special vestments for Bishops and Priest. The use of Incense, lamps, candles, and other liturgical ceremonies, including a highly ceremonial Baptism.

-Baptism’s theological significance saw a shift away from entrance into the community of faith, into the actual washing away of the guild to of sin prior to immersion. Here was believed that the Spirits work through the waters of baptism cleanse you of sin committed up to that point. Though they also taught that the desire for Baptism was as good as actual baptism when it comes to salvation, in case one did while still awaiting baptism.

The Cult of Saints

Special attention was given to the bodies of saints Martyred for the faith in the previous generation. Chapels and churches were built over the burial spots. Earthly possessions of the saints were held in High regard.

-During this time, it was also beginning to be practiced the art of asking (invocation) the saints to pray on your behalf,

James 5:16 ESV

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

how much more righteous can you get than in the presence of God having been martyred for the faith???? though many will point out that what began as mislead interpretations quickly drifted into the same lanes as praying to pagan gods.

-This cult of saints was a divided issue in the church though in many places it had popular support

-The Monastery

-The last major change in the church was the birth of Monasticism

-distraught and disgusted by the joining of the church with the empire, men (and in some cases) women rejected the “official” church and moved to remote unpopulated regions to live lives committed to the reading of scripture ad doing good works, away from the influence of the world. Referred to as Monks from the Greek word : “Monachos”-one who lives alone

3 types developed over this time period:

  1. Hermits: who lived completely alone dedicated to study and prayer
  2. Anthony of Alexandria teacher of Athanasius was the most famous (partly due to Athanasius writings and praise
  3. He was a Rich Egyptian who sold everything he had and moved to an abandoned fort near the Red Sea in Egypt for 20 years.
  4. After those 20 years he returned to society and taught the church everything he learned
  5. Cenobitic Monks: Those who lived in a community of like-minded monks
  6. Monasteries based on the idea of the Jerusalem church of Acts 2.
  7. Lived according to a dedicated schedule or rule of faith (many different leaders would write orders of monasticism)
  8. By the end of the 5th century the monastery became the primary training ground from ministry rather than the churches, and could only be created at the direction of Bishops
  9. in the generations to come it would be from the Monasteries missionaries would go to the ends of the earth with the gospel. (these were men free from any earthly entanglements and passionate about the faith.
  10. Skete’s: 12 monks who purposes lived under the tutelage of a wiser Monk for a period of time isolated from other communities.

-The Monastic movements would birth a new form of Asceticism with in the church, of which almost all recognized churchmen would fall into by the end of the 5th century.

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