Funerary stele of Licinia Amias on marble, in the National Roman Museum. One of the earliest Christian inscriptions found, it comes from the early 3rd century Vatican necropolis area in Rome. It contains the text ΙΧΘΥϹ ΖΩΝΤΩΝ ("fish of the living"), a predecessor of the Ichthys symbol.
Funerary stele of Licinia Amias on marble, in the National Roman Museum. One of the earliest Christian inscriptions found, it comes from the early 3rd century Vatican necropolis area in Rome. It contains the text ΙΧΘΥϹ ΖΩΝΤΩΝ ("fish of the living"), a predecessor of the Ichthys symbol.

The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion, Christian countries, and the Christians with their various denominations, from the 1st century to the present. Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea.[1] His followers believe that, according to the Gospels, he was the Son of God and that he died for the forgiveness of sins and was raised from the dead and exalted by God, and will return soon at the inception of God's kingdom.[1]

The earliest followers of Jesus were apocalyptic Jewish Christians.[1] Christianity remained a Jewish sect for centuries, diverging gradually from Judaism over doctrinal, social and historical differences.[2] Christianity spread as a grassroots movement that became established by the third century.[3][4][5][6] Sociological studies indicate critical mass was achieved in the hundred years between 150 and 250 which saw Christianity move from fewer than 50,000 adherents to over a million.[7] In 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan expressing tolerance for all religions thereby legalizing Christian worship.[8] Under Constantine and his sons, certain pagan rites, including animal sacrifice and divination, began being deprived of their previous position in Roman civilization.[9][10] Other pagan practices were tolerated, and Constantine did not stop the established state support of the traditional religious institutions, nor did society substantially change its predominantly pagan nature under his rule.[11]

Constantine's policies were largely continued by his sons though not universally or continuously.[12] Historian Peter Brown has written that, "it would be profoundly misleading" to claim that the cultural and social changes that took place in Late Antiquity reflected "in any way" that the empire had become "Christianized".[13] Brown asserts "it is impossible to speak of a Christian empire as existing before Justinian 1" in the sixth century. [14]

Various Christological debates about the human and divine nature of Jesus consumed the Christian Church for three centuries, and seven ecumenical councils were called to resolve these debates.[15] Arianism was condemned at the First Council of Nicea (325), which supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed.[15]

In the Early Middle Ages, missionary activities spread Christianity towards the west and the north among Germanic peoples;[16] towards the east among Armenians, Georgians, and Slavic peoples;[17] in the Middle East among Syrians and Egyptians;[18] in Eastern Africa among the Ethiopians;[19] and further into Central Asia, China, and India.[20] Christianity played a prominent role in the development of Western civilization, particularly in Europe from late antiquity and the Middle Ages.[21][22]

During the High Middle Ages, Eastern and Western Christianity grew apart, leading to the East–West Schism of 1054. Growing criticism of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical structure and its corruption in the Late Middle Ages (from the 14th to 15th centuries) led to the Protestant Reformation and its related reform movements, which concluded with the European wars of religion. Since the Renaissance era, with the European colonization of the Americas and other continents that was both supported and opposed by the Christian churches,[23][24][25][26][27] Christianity has expanded throughout the world.[28] Today, there are more than two billion Christians worldwide[29] and Christianity has become the world's largest religion.[30] Within the last century, as the influence of Christianity has progressively waned in the Western world, Christianity continues to be the predominant religion in Europe (including Russia) and the Americas, and has rapidly grown in Asia as well as in the Global South and Third World countries, most notably in Latin America, China, South Korea, and much of Sub-Saharan Africa.[31][32][33][34]


Jewish–Hellenistic background

Main articles: Historical background of the New Testament and Bible

Further information: Hellenistic Judaism, Second Temple Judaism, and Second Temple Period

Christianity originated in 1st-century Judea from a sect of apocalyptic Jewish Christians within Second Temple Judaism.[1][35][36][37][38] The basic tenets of the Jewish religion during this era were ethical monotheism and the Torah, or the Mosaic Law.[39] In this period, the Second Temple of Jerusalem was still central to Judaism, but synagogues were also established as institutions for prayer and the reading of Jewish sacred texts.[40] The Hebrew Bible developed during the Second Temple Period, as the Jews decided which religious texts were of divine origin; the Masoretic Text, compiled by the Jewish scribes and scholars of the Early Middle Ages, comprises the Hebrew and Aramaic 24 books that they considered authoritative.[41]

The Septuagint, or the LXX, is a translation of the Hebrew scriptures, and some related texts, into Koine Greek, begun in Alexandria in the late third century BCE completed by 132 BCE.[42] The Septuagint was influential in early Christianity as it was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible primarily used by the 1st-century Christian authors.[40]

Probably commissioned by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, King of Egypt, the Septuagint also included some newer books such as the Books of the Maccabees and the Wisdom of Sirach from among the "apocryphal" books, (books whose authenticity is doubted). The inclusion of these texts, and the claim of some mistranslations, contributed to the Septuagint being seen as a "careless" translation and its eventual rejection as a valid Jewish scriptural text.[43][44].[42][45][46] The rabbis also wanted to distinguish their tradition from the newly emerging tradition of Christianity.[note 1] Finally, the rabbis claimed a divine authority for the Hebrew language, in contrast to Aramaic or Greek, even though these languages were the lingua franca of Jews during this period, (and Aramaic would eventually be given the status of a sacred language comparable to Hebrew).

Dutch–Israeli biblical scholar and linguist Emanuel Tov, professor of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains that the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch differ significantly from the medieval Masoretic Text.[41] While the earlier view dismissed the Septuagint as the problem, content from the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, scrolls discovered at Wadi Murabba'at, Nahal Hever, and those discovered at Masada, which are 1000–1300 years older than the Leningrad text (which is dated to 1008 CE and forms the basis of the Masoretic text) have created new problems.[47] The scrolls have confirmed much of the Masoretic text, but they have also differed from it, and many of those differences agree with the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Greek Old Testament instead.[43]

The contemporary Old Testament of the Protestant Bible and the Hebrew Bible are based exclusively on the Masoretic text.[48] However, all the main non-Protestant (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox) Christian denominations accept as canonical the Deuterocanonical books, which were excluded from the modern Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Bible.[49]

The Roman province of Judea in the 1st century AD
The Roman province of Judea in the 1st century AD

The religious, social, and political climate of 1st-century Roman Judea and its neighbouring provinces was extremely diverse and constantly characterized by socio-political turmoil,[1][50][51] with numerous Judaic movements that were both religious and political.[52] The ancient Roman–Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described the four most prominent sects within Second Temple Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and an unnamed "fourth philosophy",[53] which modern historians recognize to be the Zealots and Sicarii.[54] The 1st century BC and 1st century AD had numerous charismatic religious leaders contributing to what would become the Mishnah of Rabbinic Judaism, including the Jewish sages Yohanan ben Zakkai and Hanina ben Dosa. Jewish messianism, and the Jewish Messiah concept, has its roots in the apocalyptic literature produced between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century BC,[55] promising a future "anointed" leader (messiah or king) from the Davidic line to resurrect the Israelite Kingdom of God, in place of the foreign rulers of the time.[1]

Ministry of Jesus

Main articles: Chronology of Jesus, Historical Jesus, Historicity of Jesus, Life of Jesus in the New Testament, Ministry of Jesus, and Quest for the historical Jesus

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 the Pauline epistles. Virtually all scholars of antiquity accept that Jesus was a historical figure.[56] Toward the end of the Twentieth century, multiple scholars traced elements of Christianity to currents in first-century Judaism and discarded nineteenth-century views that Jesus was based on previous pagan deities.[57] Mentions of Jesus in extra-biblical texts exist and are supported as genuine by the majority of historians.[58] Differences between the content of the Jewish Messianic prophecies and the life of Jesus undermine the idea that Jesus was invented as a Jewish Midrash or Peshar.[59]: 344–351 

An approximate chronology of Jesus can be estimated from non-Christian sources, and confirmed by correlating them with New Testament accounts.[60][61] Jesus was most likely born between 7 and 2 BC and died 30–36 AD.[60][62] The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist can be dated approximately from Josephus' references (Antiquities 18.5.2) to a date before AD 28–35.[63][64][65][66]

Amy-Jill Levine says "there is a consensus of sorts on the basic outline of Jesus' life. Most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John, debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God’s will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26–36 CE)."[67]

According to the Gospels, Jesus is the Son of God, who was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem.[1] His followers believed that he was raised from the dead and exalted by God, heralding the coming Kingdom of God.[1]

Early Christianity (c. 31/33–324)

Main article: History of early Christianity

Early Christianity is generally reckoned by church historians to begin with the ministry of Jesus (c. 27–30) and end with the First Council of Nicaea (325). It is typically divided into two periods: the Apostolic Age (c. 30–100, when the first apostles were still alive) and the Ante-Nicene Period (c. 100–325).[68]

Apostolic Age

Main article: Christianity in the 1st century

The Eastern Mediterranean region in the time of Paul the Apostle
The Eastern Mediterranean region in the time of Paul the Apostle

The Apostolic Age is named after the Apostles and their missionary activities. It holds special significance in Christian tradition as the age of the direct apostles of Jesus. A primary source for the Apostolic Age is the Acts of the Apostles, but its historical accuracy has been debated and its coverage is partial, focusing especially from Acts 15[69] onwards on the ministry of Paul, and ending around 62 AD with Paul preaching in Rome under house arrest.

The earliest followers of Jesus were a sect of apocalyptic Jewish Christians within Second Temple Judaism.[1][70][71][72][73] While there is evidence supporting the presence of Gentiles even in the earliest Christian communities (Acts 10), most early Christians, such as the Ebionites, were still actively Jewish.[70] The early Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James the Just, brother of Jesus, was singularly influential.[74][75] According to Acts 9,[76] they described themselves as "disciples of the Lord" and [followers] "of the Way", and according to Acts 11,[77] a settled community of disciples at Antioch were the first to be called "Christians".

Some of the early Christian communities attracted God-fearers, i.e. Greco-Roman sympathizers which made an allegiance to Judaism but refused to convert and therefore retained their Gentile (non-Jewish) status, who already visited Jewish synagogues.[78][79] The inclusion of Gentiles posed a problem, as they could not fully observe the Halakha. Saul of Tarsus, commonly known as Paul the Apostle, persecuted the early Jewish Christians, then converted and started his mission among the Gentiles.[78] The main concern of Paul's letters is the inclusion of Gentiles into God's New Covenant, sending the message that faith in Christ is sufficient for salvation.[78][80][81]

This is one of several reasons Christianity gradually grew apart from Judaism during the first three centuries of the Christian Era, along with other issues such as that the majority of Jews did not see Jesus as Messiah, Christianity did not support the Jews in their rebellion against Rome, and Christianity blamed Judaism's rejection of Jesus as the reason for the Temple's destruction.[78][2] The fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis cite a tradition that, before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 the Jerusalem Christians had been warned to flee to the mountains in the north (Mark 13:14), but instead they went to Pella in the East in the region of the Decapolis across the Jordan River, although the historicity of Christians in this location is also heavily debated.[82]

Christ Jesus,[83] the Good Shepherd, 3rd century
Christ Jesus,[83] the Good Shepherd, 3rd century

The Gospels and New Testament epistles contain remnants of orality in early creeds and hymns, as well as accounts of the Passion, the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances.[84] Early Christianity spread to pockets of believers among Aramaic-speaking peoples along the Mediterranean coast and also to the inland parts of the Roman Empire and beyond, into the Parthian Empire and the later Sasanian Empire, including Mesopotamia, which was dominated at different times and to varying extent by these empires.[85]

Ante-Nicene period

Main article: Christianity in the ante-Nicene period

St. Lawrence (martyred 258) before Emperor Valerianus by Fra Angelico
St. Lawrence (martyred 258) before Emperor Valerianus by Fra Angelico

The ante-Nicene period (literally meaning "before Nicaea") was the period following the Apostolic Age down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. During this period, Christianity was mostly seen as odd, but also as disruptive, and by some, as a threat to "Romanness".[86] Christians criticized fundamental beliefs of Roman society, and refused to participate in rituals, festivals and the imperial cult.[86][87][88] They were a target for suspicion and rumor, including rumors that they were politically subversive and practiced black magic, incest and cannibalism.[89][90] Christianity was mostly tolerated, but also persecuted though persecution tended to be localized actions by mobs and governors until Christianity reached a critical juncture in the mid-third century.[91]

Beginning with less than 1000 people, by the year 100, Christianity had grown to perhaps one hundred small household churches consisting of an average of around seventy (12–200) members each.[92] It achieved critical mass in the hundred years between 150 to 250 when it moved from fewer than 50,000 adherents to over a million.[7] This provided enough adopters for it to be self-sustaining and create further growth.[7][93]

Rodney Stark estimates that Christians made up around 1.9% of the Roman population in 250.[94] That year, Decius made it a capital offence to refuse to make sacrifices to Roman Gods. The majority of scholars see Decius' decree as a requirement applied to all the inhabitants of the Empire, but they also see it as possible he intended it as an anti-Christian measure. Demanding that a 'suspected' Christian participate in a sacrifice had been a standard way of determining whether someone was truly a Christian since Pliny the Younger. As J. B. Rives has written, "An emperor who required universal sacrifice in the mid- third century A.D. could hardly be oblivious of its implications for Christians, while the fact that Decius himself presided over the trial of a Christian recalcitrant early on in the edict's implementation suggests a particular interest in them".[95] Still, Decius did not outlaw Christian worship and may not have targeted Christians specifically.[96] Valerian pursued similar policies later that decade. These were followed by a 40-year period of tolerance known as the "little peace of the Church". Scholars generally agree there was a significant rise in the absolute number of Christians in the third century.[97] Stark, building on earlier estimates by theologian Robert M. Grant and historian Ramsay MacMullen, estimates that Christians made up around ten percent of the Roman population by 300.[94] The last and most severe official persecution, the Diocletianic Persecution, took place in 303–311.[88]

By the beginning of the Nicene period, the Christian faith had spread throughout Western Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, and to North Africa and the East. A more formal Church structure grew out of the early communities, and various Christian doctrines developed.

Developing church structure

In the post-Apostolic church a hierarchy of clergy gradually emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations took on the form of episkopoi (overseers, the origin of the terms bishop and episcopal) and presbyters (elders; the origin of the term priest) and then deacons (servants). But this emerged slowly and at different times in different locations. Clement, a 1st-century bishop of Rome, refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church in his epistle to Corinthians as bishops and presbyters interchangeably. The New Testament writers also use the terms overseer and elders interchangeably and as synonyms.[98]

As the church grew, it organized itself following the pattern of the Empire. Originally, the term known in the Roman East as a diœcesis (Gr.) was used in Roman law to designate a territory dependent upon a city for administration. Diocletian then used the term to name the twelve geographical provinces of the empire, setting over each a vicarius (a vicar) under the authority of the praetorian prefect.[99] The territory administered by a bishop was the same as those juridical territories, and came to be known within the church by its ordinary civil term: diocese. The bishop's actual physical location within his diocese was his "seat", or "see".[100]

A study by Edwin A. Judge, social scientist, shows that a fully organized church system existed before Constantine and the Council of Nicea.[4]

Variant Christianities

Main articles: Proto-orthodox Christianity, Diversity in early Christianity, and Early Christian heresies

Walter Bauer wrote, (in his seminal work Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, a classic in its field first published in 1934), that Christianity of the second and third centuries was highly diverse; that its heretical forms were early, widespread, and strong; and that orthodoxy came later when the Roman church enforced conformity to its views.[101] Contemporary support for Bauer's Thesis includes the well known author Bart Ehrman, and in popular American culture, the Bauer-Ehrman thesis is the prevailing paradigm.[102][103][104] However, as Paul Hartog writes, this continues to be a "live" topic amongst scholars.[105]

Scholars agree there was a variety of belief in the second and third centuries, and that orthodoxy did not precede heresy in every region. Arian missionaries were the first to enter some German tribes and Eastern European regions.[106] However, unambiguous evidence in Ephesus and western Asia Minor has demonstrated that heresy in these regions was neither early nor strong, that it was preceded by orthodoxy, and that orthodoxy was numerically larger.[107] Another problem is that in the early centuries, there was no powerful, united, Roman church capable of enforcing its will.[108][109]

Post-Bauer scholarship, discoveries and insights have found diversity but also unity and normativity.[110] The earliest writers shared 'core beliefs' on doctrine, ethos, fellowship and community.[111] Doctrinal tenets included monotheism, Jesus as Christ and Lord, and the Gospel as a message concerning salvation.[112] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger advocate that "the earliest normative Christianity centered on Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin. This ...serves as a benchmark..."[112] Early devotion to Jesus is reflected in the alteration of traditional Jewish theology and in the theological continuity of early writers.[108]

Patristic scholar Alain Le Boulluec credits Justin Martyr with inventing the notion of heresy in mid‐second‐century Rome.[113] However, Robert Royalty, in his 2013 monograph The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, states plainly that "there was such a thing as 'heresy' in ancient Jewish and Christian discourse before it was called 'heresy'" by the Christians (Royalty, 2013, 4).[114]

Development of the biblical canon

Main articles: Development of the Christian biblical canon and Development of the New Testament canon

A folio from Papyrus 46, an early-3rd-century collection of Pauline epistles.
A folio from Papyrus 46, an early-3rd-century collection of Pauline epistles.

The letters of the Apostle Paul sent to the early Christian communities in Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor were circulating in collected form by the end of the 1st century.[115] By the early 3rd century, there existed a set of early Christian writings similar to the current New Testament,[116] though there were still disputes over the canonicity of texts such as the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the First and Second Epistle of Peter, the First Epistle of John, and the Book of Revelation.[117][118] By the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the Latin Church concerning the canonical texts included in the New Testament canon,[119] and by the 5th century the Eastern Churches, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon.[120]

Proto-Orthodox writings

Main article: Ante-Nicene Fathers

As Christianity spread throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire and beyond its borders, it acquired certain members from high-ranking social classes and well-educated circles of the Hellenistic world; they sometimes became bishops. They produced two sorts of works, theological and apologetic, the latter being works aimed at defending the Christian faith by using reason, philosophy, and sacred scriptures to refute arguments against the veracity of Christianity. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and the study of their lives and writings is called "patristics". Notable early Church Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen.

Early Christian art

Main article: Early Christian art and architecture

Further information: History of Christian art and Religious images in Christian theology

Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early Roman catacombs, 4th century.
Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early Roman catacombs, 4th century.

Early Christian art and architecture emerged about 200 AD.[121] The oldest known Christian paintings are from the Roman catacombs, dated to about 200, and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 3rd century.[122] The early rejection of images, and the necessity to hide Christian practice from persecution, left behind few written records, but art in the catacombs beneath Rome reveals some aspects of early Christianity and its evolution.[122][123]

Reinterpreting Jewish and pagan symbolism, Christianity infused the symbols with its own interpretation.[124] It gave visual expression to their conviction that the human soul can be delivered from death to an everlasting life.[124][123] Judith Anne Testa writes that the difference is that "The Jewish faith puts little emphasis on immortality, and pagan beliefs about the afterlife were vague, uncertain, and sometimes dismal".[125]

Noah catacomb (orans)
Noah catacomb (orans)

While many new subjects appear for the first time in the Christian catacombs – i.e. the Good Shepherd, Baptism, and the Eucharistic meal – the Orant figures (women praying with upraised hands) probably came directly from pagan art.[126][127]: 125 

Jewish and pagan use of sheep and goats, birds in a tree or vine, or eating fruit, especially grapes, seven steps leading up to a tomb, a pair of peacocks, the Robe of sanctity, the reading of scrolls, are all found in pagan art and adapted in Christian art to express the hope of immortality in Christian terms.[128]

Pagan sarcophagi had long carried images of shells, and portraits of the dead often had shells over the head of the dead, while some put a shell over a grave. Christians and Jews adapted the convention, identifying it with another symbol – the halo.[123] For the Christians who made the catacombs, these symbols were necessary to convey their message that could otherwise not be done openly.[129]

Late antiquity (325–476)

Map of the Roman empire with distribution of Christian congregations displayed for each century
Map of the Roman empire with distribution of Christian congregations displayed for each century

Main article: Christianity in late antiquity

See also: Christianity in the 4th century and Christianity in the 5th century

Influence of Constantine

Main article: Constantine the Great and Christianity

Further information: Historiography of Christianization of the Roman Empire and Religious policies of Constantine the Great

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.
Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Constantine I became the Roman Empire's first Christian emperor, but how much Christianity he adopted at this point is difficult to discern.[130] Brown calls Constantine's conversion a "very Roman conversion."[131] "He had risen to power in a series of deathly civil wars, destroyed the system of divided empire, believed the Christian God had brought him victory, and therefore regarded that god as the proper recipient of religio".[131] Constantine was over 40, had most likely been a traditional polytheist, and according to Brown, was a savvy and ruthless politician when he declared himself a Christian.[132]

Although he was not baptized until shortly before his death, he pursued policies that were favorable to Christianity. He supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges previously available only to pagan priests (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to some high offices, and returned confiscated property.[133] Constantine played an active role in the leadership of the Church. 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, the first ecumenical council.[134] Imperial favor was an important factor in the success of the church over the next century.[135][136]

Contemporary scholars are in general agreement that Constantine did not support the suppression of paganism by force.[137][138] [139][140][note 2] He never engaged in a purge,[161] there were no pagan martyrs during his reign.[160][162] Pagans remained in important positions at his court.[137] Constantine ruled for 31 years and never outlawed paganism.[160][163]

However, Constantine wrote laws that threatened and menaced pagans who continued to practice sacrifice.[9][10] There is no evidence of any of the horrific punishments ever being enacted.[164] There is no record of anyone being executed for violating religious laws before Tiberius II Constantine at the end of the sixth century (574–582).[165] Still, classicist Scott Bradbury notes that the complete disappearance of public sacrifice by the mid-fourth century "in many towns and cities must be attributed to the atmosphere created by imperial and episcopal hostility".[166] Other pagan practices were tolerated. Constantine did not stop the established state support of the traditional religious institutions, nor did society substantially change its pagan nature under his rule.[11]

According to Stark, the rate of Christianity's growth under its first Christian emperor in the 4th century did not alter (more than normal regional fluctuations) from its rate of growth in the first three centuries. However, since Stark describes an exponential growth curve, he adds that this "probably was a period of 'miraculous seeming' growth in terms of absolute numbers".[167] Constantine's policies were largely continued by his sons though not universally or continuously.[12] By the middle of the fourth century, it is likely that Christians comprised somewhere around half of the empire's population.[94]

Over the century after Constantine, his nephew Julian became the only non-Christian emperor. Under the influence of his adviser Mardonius, Julian renounced Christianity and embraced a Neoplatonic and mystical form of Greco-Roman Paganism.[168] He campaigned against corruption, instituted several reforms and rebuilding projects, but is best known for attempting to revive Greco-Roman Paganism in the Roman Empire. He began by reopening the temples his predecessor Constantius had closed,[169] modifying them to resemble episcopal structures, by advocating public charity (previously unknown in the Greco-Roman religion), and by personally practicing sacrifice. There was little public support, and Julian's short reign ended when he was wounded in the Battle of Samarra and died days later during the expedition against the Sasanian Empire (363).[170]

Still, paganism had not completely ended, though it had been gradually declining in popularity since the second century BC.[171][172] Paganism persisted despite the absence of the ritual of sacrifice, writes Brown, because polytheists were accustomed to offering prayers to the gods in many ways and places that did not include sacrifice. Pollution was only associated with sacrifice, and the ban on sacrifice had fixed boundaries and limits.[173] Paganism thus remained widespread into the early fifth century continuing in parts of the empire into the seventh and beyond.[174]

Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysites and the first ecumenical councils

Main articles: Arianism, Arian controversy, Nestorian schism, and Monophysitism

Further information: Diversity in early Christian theology, Germanic Christianity, and Gothic Christianity

Imagined portrait of Arius; detail of a Cretan School icon, c. 1591, depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Imagined portrait of Arius; detail of a Cretan School icon, c. 1591, depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
The ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistery, built in Ravenna by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great.
The ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistery, built in Ravenna by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great.

During the fifth century, the Eastern church produced multiple doctrinal controversies that attempted to define how, and when, the Christ became both human and divine.[175] These were often dubbed heresies by their opponents, and during this age, the first ecumenical councils were convened to deal with them.

One of the earliest and most popular of the nontrinitarian Christological doctrines was Arianism. It spread throughout most of the Roman Empire from the 4th century onwards.[176][177] It was founded by the Christian presbyter Arius from Alexandria, Egypt. Arius upheld the traditional belief in Christ's Divinity, but argued that Jesus was God's first divine creation, therefore, Christ is not co-eternal with Him but is instead subordinate to God the Father.[176][177] The First Council of Nicaea (325) and the First Council of Constantinople (381) resulted in a condemnation of Arian teachings as heresy and produced the Nicene Creed. Arianism was eventually eliminated by orthodox opposition and empirical law, though it remained popular for some time.[176][177]

Following the death of the archbishop of Constantinople Sisinnius, the monk Nestorius became his successor on 10 April 428.[178] Nestorius took measures opposing heresy and influenced the emperor Theodosius II (408– 450) to issue anti-heretical legislation. This alienated the monks in his diocese.[178] Those monks brought to Nestorius a disagreement they were having with another group over the use of the title ‘Mother of God' for Mary.[179] Nestorius' response produced a view of Jesus as having had two distinct natures, one fully divine and one fully human. On the Byzantine side, Christ had only one nature with both qualities, while Monophysitism claimed Jesus had one divine nature, not a truly human one.[180][181] Thereafter, the question became heavily and bitterly debated.[180]

The Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth ecumenical councils are generally considered the most important, and all are characterized by Nestorianism vs. Monophysitism.[182] The West came down firmly on the side of stressing the humanity of Christ and the reality of His moral choices. To preserve His Divine nature, the unity of His person was described in a looser way than in Eastern theology. It was primarily this difference which was at the heart of the Nestorian controversy.[183]

The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches.[184] By the end of the 5th century, the Persian Church had become independent of the Roman Church eventually evolving into the modern Church of the East.[185] Though efforts were made at reconciliation in the next few centuries, the schism remained permanent, resulting in what is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy. Most Christians in Asia belonged to branches of the Nestorian church from the end of the fifth century into the thirteenth century.[186]

The Church of the East during the Middle Ages
The Church of the East during the Middle Ages

Christianity as Roman state religion

Main article: State church of the Roman Empire

Further information: Christianity and paganism, Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire, Theodosius I, and Religious policies of Constantius II

An Eastern Roman mosaic showing a basilica with towers, mounted with Christian crosses, 5th century, Louvre
An Eastern Roman mosaic showing a basilica with towers, mounted with Christian crosses, 5th century, Louvre

In the centuries following his death, Theodosius I (347–395) gained a reputation as the emperor who established Nicene Christianity as the official religion of the empire. Theodosius' predecessors had been semi-Arians, while Theodosius was orthodox, so the orthodox Christian literary tradition gave Theodosius credit for the "triumph" of Christianity.[187][188][189][note 3] Nearly all sources on Theodosius are ecclesiastical histories that are highly colored and carefully curated for public reading.[196][14]

This is problematic according to historian Peter Brown, as "it is impossible to speak of a Christian empire as existing before Justinian in the sixth century".[14] Public culture of this period can only be described as Christian in the narrowest sense, and Brown adds that "it would be profoundly misleading" to claim that the cultural and social changes that took place in Late Antiquity reflected "in any way" a process of Christianization of the overall Empire.[14]

Some previous scholars interpreted the Edict of Thessalonica (380) as establishing Christianity as the state religion.[197] However, most twenty-first century scholars see the Edict as addressed to Christians in the Eastern Empire, not Jews or pagans, with the purpose of opposing Arianism.[198][note 4]

Theodosius I's empire
Theodosius I's empire

The law of 8 November 392 has also been described as a universal ban on paganism that would, in effect, have made Christianity the official religion of the empire without actually saying so.[203][204] The law was addressed only to Rufinus in the East, it makes no mention of Christianity, and it focuses only on practices of private domestic sacrifice: the lares, the penates and the genius.[205][206][note 5] Sozomen, the Constantinopolitan lawyer, wrote a history of the church around 443 where he evaluates the law of 8 November 392 as having had only minor significance at the time it was issued.[212]

Although Theodosius wrote multiple laws against heresy and sacrifice from the beginning of his reign till its end, sources do not support the view that Theodosius created an environment of intolerance and persecution of pagans.[198][213][214][note 6] In his 2020 biography of Theodosius, Mark Hebblewhite concludes that Theodosius never saw himself, or advertised himself, as a destroyer of the old cults.[224][225]

Christianity in the Roman Africa province

Main article: Christianity in the Roman Africa province

Charles-André van Loo's 18th-century Augustine arguing with Donatists.
Charles-André van Loo's 18th-century Augustine arguing with Donatists.

Informal primacy was exercised by the Archdiocese of Carthage, a metropolitan archdiocese also known as "Church of Carthage". The Church of Carthage thus was to the Early African church what the Church of Rome was to the Catholic Church in Italy.[226] Famous figures include Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicitas, and their Companions (died c. 203), Tertullian (c. 155–240), Cyprian (c. 200–258), Caecilianus (floruit 311), Saint Aurelius (died 429), Augustine of Hippo (died 430), and Eugenius of Carthage (died 505). Tertullian and Cyprian are both considered Latin Church Fathers of the Latin Church. Tertullian, a theologian of part Berber descent, was instrumental in the development of trinitarian theology, and was the first to apply Latin language extensively in his theological writings. As such, Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity"[227][228] and "the founder of Western theology."[229] Carthage remained an important center of Christianity, hosting several councils of Carthage.

Donatism was a Christian sect leading to a schism in the Church, in the region of the Church of Carthage, from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. Donatism had its roots in the long-established Christian community of the Roman province Africa Proconsularis (present-day Tunisia, Morocco, the northeast of Algeria, and the western coast of Libya), in the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. Named after the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus, Donatism flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries.[230]


Main article: Christian monasticism

Further information: Ascetical theology, Mendicants, Christian mysticism, and Degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism

Monasticism is a form of asceticism whereby one renounces worldly pursuits and goes off alone as a hermit or joins a tightly organized community. It began early in the Christian Church as a family of similar traditions, modelled upon Scriptural examples and ideals, and with roots in certain strands of Judaism. John the Baptist is seen as an archetypical monk, and monasticism was inspired by the organisation of the Apostolic community as recorded in Acts 2:42–47.[231]

Notable Christian authors of Late Antiquity such as Origen, St Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine of Hippo, interpreted meanings of the Biblical texts within a highly asceticized religious environment.[232] Scriptural examples of asceticism could be found in the lives of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles, and Paul the Apostle.[232] The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed ascetic practices of the ancient Jewish sect of Essenes who took vows of abstinence to prepare for a holy war. An emphasis on an ascetic religious life was evident in both early Christian writings (see: Philokalia) and practices (see: Hesychasm). Other Christian practitioners of asceticism include saints such as Paul the Hermit, Simeon Stylites, David of Wales, John of Damascus, and Francis of Assisi.[232]

Coptic icon of St. Anthony the Great, father of Christian monasticism and early anchorite. The Coptic inscription reads Ⲡⲓⲛⲓϣϯ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲁⲛⲧⲱⲛⲓ ('the Great Father Anthony').
Coptic icon of St. Anthony the Great, father of Christian monasticism and early anchorite. The Coptic inscription reads Ⲡⲓⲛⲓϣϯ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲁⲛⲧⲱⲛⲓ ('the Great Father Anthony').

The deserts of the Middle East were at one time inhabited by thousands of male and female Christian ascetics, hermits and anchorites,[233] including St. Anthony the Great (otherwise known as St. Anthony of the Desert), St. Mary of Egypt, and St. Simeon Stylites, collectively known as the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers. In 963 an association of monasteries called Lavra was formed on Mount Athos, in Eastern Orthodox tradition.[234] This became the most important center of orthodox Christian ascetic groups in the centuries that followed.[234] In the modern era, Mount Athos and Meteora have remained a significant center.[235]

Eremitic monks, or hermits, live in solitude, whereas cenobitics 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 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. Women were especially attracted to the movement.[236] Central figures in the development of monasticism were Basil the Great in the East and, in the West, Benedict, who created the Rule of Saint Benedict, which would become the most common rule throughout the Middle Ages and the starting point for other monastic rules.[237]

Early Middle Ages (476–842)

Main article: Christianity in the Middle Ages

See also: Christianity in the 6th century, Christianity in the 7th century, and Christianity in the 8th century

Further information: Syriac Christianity and Church of the East

A mosaic of Justinian I in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

The transition into the Early Middle Ages was a process that differed based on geographic location. The fall of Rome had left a power vacuum that was eventually filled by Byzantium, Islam and the early medieval West.[238]

The West

In the West there was an immediate decline in the standard of living and a return to agrarian culture and barter. Rural areas rose as power centers while urban areas declined.[239] "What little security there was in this world was provided by the Christian church" says historians Matthews and Platt.[239]

Maintaining only nominal allegiance to the emperor, the western church was forced to negotiate with the "barbarian rulers" of the former Roman provinces: the Visigoths in Spain, the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Franks in France and western Germany, the Angles and Saxons in England, the Vandals in North Africa and the Burgundians in Southern France. Life was being redefined by these different people in different geographies in ways that would impact the course of Western civilization from this time forward.[239]

Western missionary expansion

Main articles: Christianization and Christianization of Europe

Further information: Celtic Christianity and Germanic Christianity

The stepwise loss of Western Roman Empire dominance, replaced with foederati and Germanic kingdoms, coincided with early missionary efforts into areas no longer controlled by the collapsing empire.[240]

Earliest references to the conversion of the Germanic peoples are in the writings of Irenaeus (130–202 ), Origen (185–253), and Tertullian (Adv. Jud. VII) (155–220).[241] Tacitus is also an important early source describing the nature of German religion and their understanding of the function of a king, as facilitating their wholesale conversion with entire tribes converting following the king's conversion.[242][243] In 341, Romanian born Ulfila (Wulfilas, 311–383) spread Arian Christianity among the Goths, firmly establishing the faith. This kept them culturally and religiously distinct from Chalcedonian Christians.[176][177][244]

Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.
Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.

Pope Celestine I (422–430) sent Palladius to be the first bishop to the Irish in 431, and in 432, St Patrick began his mission there.[245] Relying largely on recent archaeological developments, Lorcan Harney has reported to the Royal Academy that the missionaries and traders who came to Ireland in the fifth to sixth centuries were not backed by any military force.[245]

Recent archaeology indicates Christianity had become an established minority faith in some parts of Britain by the fourth century. It was largely mainstream, and in certain areas, was continuous.[246] Irish missionaries led by Saint Columba, went to Iona (from 563), and converted many Picts.[247] The court of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, and the Gregorian mission who landed in 596 sent by Pope Gregory I and led by Augustine of Canterbury, did the same for the Kingdom of Kent.[248]

The Franks first appear in the historical record in the 3rd century as a confederation of Germanic tribes living on the east bank of the lower Rhine River. The largely Christian Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Gaul (modern France and Belgium) were overrun by the Franks in the early 5th century. They were persecuted until the Frankish King Clovis I converted from Paganism to Roman Catholicism in 496.[249] Clovis I became the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler.[250]

The Carolingian kings sent out many missionaries, especially to the Saxons whose resistance to their rule was fierce.[251] In 782 Saxons broke yet another treaty with Charlemagne, attacking the Franks when the king was away, dealing the Frankish troops heavy losses.[249][252] In response, the Frankish King returned, defeated them, and "enacted a variety of draconian measures" beginning with the massacre at Verden.[253] He ordered the decapitation of 4500 Saxon prisoners offering them baptism as an alternative to death.[254] These events were followed by the severe legislation of the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae in 785 which prescribes death to those that are disloyal to the king, harm Christian churches or its ministers, or practice pagan burial rites.[255] His harsh methods raised objections from his friends Alcuin and Paulinus of Aquileia.[256] Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in 797.[257]

In 416, the Germanic Visigoths crossed into Hispania as Roman allies.[258] They converted to Arian Christianity shortly before 429.[259] A shift in Christianization took place in 612 when the Visigothic King Sisebut came to the throne.[260] The Roman emperor Heraclius had surrendered his Spanish holdings, but had also received a prophecy that he passed on to Sisebut saying the empire would be destroyed by a circumcised people.[260] Lacking awareness of Islam, he interpreted this to mean the Jews were a threat. Heraclius is said to have called upon Sisebut to banish all Jews who would not submit to baptism. Sisebut then declared the obligatory conversion of all Jews in Spain, contradicting Pope Gregory who had reiterated the traditional ban against forced conversion of the Jews in 591.[261] Bouchier says 90,000 Hebrews were baptized while others fled to France or North Africa.[262] Scholars refer to this as a "seismic moment" for missions and for Christianity itself.[263]

Justinian I and the East

The Eastern Roman Empire, with its heartland in Greece and Asia Minor, became the Byzantine Empire after the fall of the Roman West.[264] With its autocratic government, stable farm economy, Greek heritage and Orthodox Christianity, the Byzantine Empire lasted until 1453 and the Fall of Constantinople.[175]

The extent of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian's uncle Justin I is shown in the darker color. The lighter color shows the conquests of his successor, Justinian I also known as Justinian the Great
The extent of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian's uncle Justin I is shown in the darker color. The lighter color shows the conquests of his successor, Justinian I also known as Justinian the Great

During Byzantium's first major historical period, from 476 to 641, its borders reached its furthest limits under the Emperor Justinian I.[265] In an attempt to reunite the empire, Justinian went to Rome to liberate it from barbarians leading to a guerrilla war that lasted nearly 20 years.[266] After fighting ended, Justinian used a Pragmatic Sanction to assert control over Italy.[267]

The Sanction effectively removed the supports that had allowed the Roman Senate to retain power.[268] Thereafter, the political and social influence of the Senate's aristocratic members disappeared, and by 630, the Senate ceased to exist. Its building was converted into a church.[268] Bishops stepped into civic leadership in the Senator's places.[268] The position and influence of the pope rose.[269]

Before the eighth century, the Pope, as the 'Bishop of Rome,' had not had special influence over other bishops outside Rome and had not yet manifested as the central ecclesiastical power.[270] From the late seventh to the middle of the eighth century, eleven of the thirteen men who held the position of Roman Pope were the sons of families from the East. Before they could be installed, these Popes had to be approved by the head of State, the Byzantine emperor.[271] This is called the Byzantine papacy, and along with losses to Islam, and changes within Christianity itself, it helped put an end to Ancient Christianity in the West.[272][273] This helped transform Christianity into its eclectic medieval forms.[274][275][276]

Since eastern emperors saw the church as an arm of the government, and kept much of that power for themselves, the eastern Patriarch never had the power the Pope eventually acquired.[175] Many other differences between East and West existed as well, including whether Pope or Patriarch should lead the church, whether that should be done in Latin or Greek, whether priests must remain celibate and other points of doctrine, causing conflict between the two.[175]

The Rise of Islam

The rise of Islam from 600–1517 unleashed a series of military campaigns that conquered Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia by 650, adding North Africa and most of Spain by 740.[277] Only the Franks and Constantinople were able to withstand this medieval juggernaut. Islam was the colossus of the Middle Ages. Historians Matthew and Platt wrote that, "At its height, the Arab Empire stretched from the Indus River and the borders of China in the East, to the Atlantic in the West, and from the Taurus mountains in the North to the Sahara in the South".[277] This vast empire was an autocratically ruled theocracy dependent on the back-breaking labor of an army of peasants.[277]

Rashidun Caliphate

Since they are considered "People of the Book" in the Islamic religion, Christians under Muslim rule were subjected to the status of dhimmi (along with Jews, Samaritans, Gnostics, Mandeans, and Zoroastrians), which was inferior to the status of Muslims.[278][279] Christians and other religious minorities thus faced religious discrimination and persecution in that they were banned from proselytising (for Christians, it was forbidden to evangelize or spread Christianity) in the lands invaded by the Arab Muslims on pain of death, they were banned from bearing arms, undertaking certain professions, and were obligated to dress differently in order to distinguish themselves from Arabs.[278] Under the Islamic law (sharīʿa), Non-Muslims were obligated to pay the jizya and kharaj taxes,[278][279] together with periodic heavy ransom levied upon Christian communities by Muslim rulers in order to fund military campaigns, all of which contributed a significant proportion of income to the Islamic states while conversely reducing many Christians to poverty, and these financial and social hardships forced many Christians to convert to Islam.[278] Christians unable to pay these taxes were forced to surrender their children to the Muslim rulers as payment who would sell them as slaves to Muslim households where they were forced to convert to Islam.[278]

According to the tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Muslim conquest of the Levant was a relief for Christians oppressed by the Western Roman Empire.[279] Michael the Syrian, patriarch of Antioch, wrote later that the Christian God had "raised from the south the children of Ishmael to deliver us by them from the hands of the Romans".[279] Various Christian communities in the regions of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Armenia resented either towards the governance of the Western Roman Empire or that of the Byzantine Empire, and therefore preferred to live under more favourable economic and political conditions as dhimmi under the Muslim rulers.[279] However, modern historians also recognize that the Christian populations living in the lands invaded by the Arab Muslim armies between the 7th and 10th centuries AD suffered religious persecution, religious violence, and martyrdom multiple times at the hands of Arab Muslim officials and rulers;[279][280][281][282] many were executed under the Islamic death penalty for defending their Christian faith through dramatic acts of resistance such as refusing to convert to Islam, repudiation of the Islamic religion and subsequent reconversion to Christianity, and blasphemy towards Muslim beliefs.[280][281][282]

Umayyad Caliphate

Roderick is venerated as one of the Martyrs of Córdoba
Roderick is venerated as one of the Martyrs of Córdoba

According to the Ḥanafī school of Islamic law (sharīʿa), the testimony of a Non-Muslim (such as a Christian or a Jew) was not considered valid against the testimony of a Muslim in legal or civil matters. Historically, in Islamic culture and traditional Islamic law Muslim women have been forbidden from marrying Christian or Jewish men, whereas Muslim men have been permitted to marry Christian or Jewish women[283][284] (see: Interfaith marriage in Islam). Christians under Islamic rule had the right to convert to Islam or any other religion, while conversely a murtad, or an apostate from Islam, faced severe penalties or even hadd, which could include the Islamic death penalty.[280][281][282]

In general, Christians subject to Islamic rule were allowed to practice their religion with some notable limitations stemming from the apocryphal Pact of Umar. This treaty, supposedly enacted in 717 AD, forbade Christians from publicly displaying the cross on church buildings, from summoning congregants to prayer with a bell, from re-building or repairing churches and monasteries after they had been destroyed or damaged, and imposed other restrictions relating to occupations, clothing, and weapons.[285] The Umayyad Caliphate persecuted many Berber Christians in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, who slowly converted to Islam.[286]

In Umayyad al-Andalus (the Iberian Peninsula), the Mālikī school of Islamic law was the most prevalent.[281] The martyrdoms of forty-eight Christian martyrs that took place in the Emirate of Córdoba between 850 and 859 AD[287] are recorded in the hagiographical treatise written by the Iberian Christian and Latinist scholar Eulogius of Córdoba.[280][281][282] The Martyrs of Córdoba were executed under the rule of Abd al-Rahman II and Muhammad I, and Eulogius' hagiography describes in detail the executions of the martyrs for capital violations of Islamic law, including apostasy and blasphemy.[280][281][282]

Abbasid Caliphate

Eastern Christian scientists and scholars of the medieval Islamic world (particularly Jacobite and Nestorian Christians) contributed to the Arab Islamic civilization during the reign of the Umayyad and the Abbasid, by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards, to Arabic.[288][289][290] They also excelled in philosophy, science, theology, and medicine.[291][292][293] And the personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynast

The Abbasid Caliphate was less tolerant of Christianity than had been the Umayyad caliphs.[279] Nonetheless, Christian officials continued to be employed in the government, and the Christians of the Church of the East were often tasked with the translation of Ancient Greek philosophy and Greek mathematics.[279] The writings of al-Jahiz attacked Christians for being too prosperous, and indicates they were able to ignore even those restrictions placed on them by the state.[279] In the late 9th century, the patriarch of Jerusalem, Theodosius, wrote to his colleague the patriarch of Constantinople Ignatios that "they are just and do us no wrong nor show us any violence".[279]

Elias of Heliopolis, having moved to Damascus from Heliopolis (Ba'albek), was accused of apostasy from Christianity after attending a party held by a Muslim Arab, and was forced to flee Damascus for his hometown, returning eight years later, where he was recognized and imprisoned by the "eparch", probably the jurist al-Layth ibn Sa'd.[294]: 34  After refusing to convert to Islam under torture, he was brought before the Damascene emir and relative of the caliph al-Mahdi (r. 775–785), Muhammad ibn-Ibrahim, who promised good treatment if Elias would convert.[294]: 34  On his repeated refusal, Elias was tortured and beheaded and his body burnt, cut up, and thrown into the river Chrysorrhoes (the Barada) in 779 AD.[294]: 34 

Raid on the Monastery of Zobe and the death of hegumenos Michael and his 36 brothers, depicted in the Menologion of Basil II.
Raid on the Monastery of Zobe and the death of hegumenos Michael and his 36 brothers, depicted in the Menologion of Basil II.

According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople, the hegumenos Michael of Zobe and thirty-six of his monks at the Monastery of Zobe near Sebasteia (Sivas) were killed by a raid on the community.[294]: 70  The perpetrator was the "emir of the Hagarenes", "Alim", probably Ali ibn-Sulayman, an Abbasid governor who raided Roman territory in 785 AD.[294]: 70  Bacchus the Younger was beheaded in Jerusalem in 786–787 AD. Bacchus was Palestinian, whose family, having been Christian, had been converted to Islam by their father.[294]: 29–30  Bacchus however, remained crypto-Christian and undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, upon which he was baptized and entered the monastery of Mar Saba.[294]: 29–30  Reunion with his family prompted their reconversion to Christianity and Bacchus's trial and execution for apostasy under the governing emir Harthama ibn A'yan.[294]: 29–30 

After the 838 Sack of Amorium, the hometown of the emperor Theophilos (r. 829–842) and his Amorian dynasty, the caliph al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842) took more than forty Roman prisoners.[294]: 41–42  These were taken to the capital, Samarra, where after seven years of theological debates and repeated refusals to convert to Islam, they were put to death in March 845 under the caliph al-Wathiq (r. 842–847).[294]: 41–42  Within a generation they were venerated as the 42 Martyrs of Amorium. According to their hagiographer Euodius, probably writing within a generation of the events, the defeat at Amorium was to be blamed on Theophilos and his iconoclasm.[294]: 41–42  According to some later hagiographies, including one by one of several Middle Byzantine writers known as Michael the Synkellos, among the forty-two were Kallistos, the doux of the Koloneian thema, and the heroic martyr Theodore Karteros.[294]: 41–42 

During the 10th-century phase of the Arab–Byzantine wars, the victories of the Romans over the Arabs resulted in mob attacks on Christians, who were believed to sympathize with the Roman state.[279] According to Bar Hebraeus, the catholicus of the Church of the East, Abraham III (r. 906–937), wrote to the grand vizier that "we Nestorians are the friends of the Arabs and pray for their victories".[279] The attitude of the Nestorians "who have no other king but the Arabs", he contrasted with the Greek Orthodox Church, whose emperors he said "had never cease to make war against the Arabs.[279] Between 923 and 924 AD, several Orthodox churches were destroyed in mob violence in Ramla, Ashkelon, Caesarea Maritima, and Damascus.[279] In each instance, according to the Arab Melkite Christian chronicler Eutychius of Alexandria, the caliph al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) contributed to the rebuilding of ecclesiastical property.[279]

"Hospitality of Abraham", icon by Andrei Rublev; the three angels represent the Godhead according to Trinitarian Christians.
"Hospitality of Abraham", icon by Andrei Rublev; the three angels represent the Godhead according to Trinitarian Christians.

Byzantium to 1000

Main article: Byzantine Iconoclasm

In terms of prosperity and cultural life, the Byzantine Empire of this period forms one of the high points of Christian history and Christian civilization,[295] and Constantinople remained the leading city of the Christian world in size, wealth, and culture.[296] There was a renewed interest in classical Greek philosophy, as well as an increase in literary output in vernacular Greek.[297] Byzantine art and literature held a preeminent place in Europe, and the cultural impact of Byzantine art on the West during this period was enormous and of long-lasting significance.[298]

Following a series of heavy military reverses against the Muslims, Iconoclasm emerged within the provinces of the Byzantine Empire in the early 8th century. In the 720s, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian banned the pictorial representation of Christ, saints, and biblical scenes. In the Latin West, Pope Gregory III held two synods at Rome and condemned Leo's actions. The Byzantine Iconoclast Council, held at Hieria in 754 AD, ruled that holy portraits were heretical.[299] The iconoclastic movement destroyed much of the Christian Church's early artistic history. The iconoclastic movement was later defined as heretical in 787 AD under the Second Council of Nicaea (the seventh ecumenical council) but had a brief resurgence between 815 and 842 AD.

High Middle Ages (800–1299)

Main article: Medieval history of Christianity § High Middle Ages (800–1300)

See also: Christianity in the 9th century, Christianity in the 10th century, Christianity in the 11th century, Christianity in the 12th century, and Christianity in the 13th century

Carolingian Renaissance

Main articles: Carolingian Renaissance and Carolingian church

Further information: Donation of Pepin and Frankish Papacy

Western Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, Kievan Rus', and the Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages (year 1000)

The Carolingian Renaissance was a period of intellectual and cultural revival of literature, arts, and scriptural studies during the late 8th and 9th centuries under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty, mostly during the reigns of the Frankish kings Charlemagne, founder and first Emperor of the Carolingian Empire, and his son, Louis the Pious. 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.

Growing tensions between East and West

Main article: Christianity in the Middle Ages

Further information: Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy

Tensions in Christian unity started to become evident in the 4th century. Two basic problems were involved: the nature of the primacy of the bishop of Rome and the theological implications of adding a clause to the Nicene Creed, known as the filioque clause. These doctrinal issues were first openly discussed in Photius's patriarchate. 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.[300]

Another issue developed into a major irritant to Eastern Christendom, the gradual introduction into the Nicene Creed in the West of the Filioque clause – meaning "and the Son" – as in "the Holy Spirit ... proceeds from the Father and the Son", where the original Creed, sanctioned by the councils and still used today by the Eastern Orthodox, simply states "the Holy Spirit, ... proceeds from the Father." The Eastern Church argued that the phrase had been added unilaterally and therefore illegitimately, since the East had never been consulted.[301] In addition to this ecclesiological issue, the Eastern Church also considered the Filioque clause unacceptable on dogmatic grounds.[302]

Photian schism

Main article: Photian schism

In the 9th century, a controversy arose between Eastern (Byzantine, Greek 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 Photios 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. Photios 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. Photios 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 of its claims.

East–West Schism (1054)

Main article: East–West Schism

The East–West Schism, also known as the "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 regarding the Filioque, but intensified from cultural, geographical, geopolitical, and linguistic differences.

Monastic reform

Further information: Cluniac Reforms, English Benedictine Reform, and Gregorian Reform

The spread of Cistercians from their original sites in Western-Central Europe during the Middle Ages
The spread of Cistercians from their original sites in Western-Central Europe during the Middle Ages

From the 6th century onward, most of the monasteries in the Catholic West belonged to the Benedictine Order. Owing to the stricter adherence to a reformed Benedictine rule, the Abbey of Cluny became the acknowledged leading centre of Western monasticism from the later 10th century. 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. The Cluniac spirit was a revitalising influence on the Norman Church, at its height from the second half of the 10th century through the early 12th century.

The next wave of monastic reform came with the Cistercian movement. The first Cistercian abbey was founded in 1098, at Cîteaux Abbey. The keynote of Cistercian life was a return to a literal observance of the Benedictine rule, rejecting the developments of the Benedictines. The most striking feature in the reform was the return to manual labour, and especially to field-work. Inspired by Bernard of Clairvaux, the primary builder of the Cistercians, they became the main force of technological advancement and diffusion in medieval Europe. By the end of the 12th century, the Cistercian houses numbered 500, 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 live under a monastic rule with traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience but they emphasise preaching, missionary activity, and education, in a secluded monastery. Beginning in the 12th century, the Franciscan Order was instituted by the followers of Francis of Assisi, and thereafter the Dominican Order was begun by St. Dominic.

Rise of universities

Modern western universities have their origins directly in the Medieval Church.[303][304][305][306][307] They began as cathedral schools, and all students were considered clerics.[308] 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 Bologna (1088), the University of Oxford (1096), and the University of Paris (c. 1150).[309][310][311]

Investiture controversy

Main article: Investiture controversy

Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor at the gate of Canossa Castle in 1077, during the Investiture controversy.
Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor at the gate of Canossa Castle in 1077, during the Investiture controversy.

The Investiture controversy, otherwise referred to as the "Lay Investiture controversy", was the most significant conflict between secular and religious powers that took place 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 Holy Roman Empire and the ambitions of the European nobility. Bishoprics being merely lifetime appointments, a king could better control their powers and revenues than those of hereditary noblemen. Even better, he could leave the post vacant and collect the revenues, theoretically in trust for the new bishop, or give a bishopric to pay a helpful noble. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to end lay investiture to end this and other abuses, to reform the episcopate and provide better pastoral care. Pope Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae, which declared that the pope alone could appoint bishops. Henry IV's rejection of the decree led to his excommunication and a ducal revolt. Eventually, Henry IV received absolution after a dramatic public penance, though the Great Saxon Revolt and conflict of investiture continued.

A similar controversy occurred in England between King Henry I and St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, over investiture and 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. 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, both ecclesiastical and lay authorities invested bishops with the staff and the ring, respectively.


Main article: Crusades

The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Crusader states with their strongholds in the Holy Land at their height, between the First and the Second Crusade (1135)
The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Crusader states with their strongholds in the Holy Land at their height, between the First and the Second Crusade (1135)

Generally, the Crusades (1095–1291) refer to the European Christian campaigns in the Holy Land sponsored by the Papacy against Muslims in order to reconquer the region of Palestine.[312][313][314] There were other Crusader expeditions against the Islamic forces in the Mediterranean, primarily in Southern Spain, Southern Italy, and the islands of Cyprus, Malta, and Sicily.[313] The Papacy also sponsored numerous Crusades against the Pagan peoples of Northeastern Europe in order to subjugate and forcibly convert them to Christianity,[312] against its political enemies in Western Europe, and against heretical or schismatic religious minorities within European Christendom.[315]

The Holy Land had been part of the Roman Empire, and thus subsequently of the Byzantine Empire, until the Arab Muslim invasions of the 7th and 8th 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 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.[316]

The First Crusade captured Antioch in 1099 and then Jerusalem. The Second Crusade occurred in 1145 when Edessa was taken by Islamic forces. Jerusalem was held until 1187 and the Third Crusade, after 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 the Venetians. When the crusaders arrived in Constantinople, they sacked the city and other parts of Asia Minor and established the Latin Empire of Constantinople in Greece and Asia Minor. Five numbered crusades to the Holy Land, culminating in the siege of Acre of 1219, essentially ending the Western presence in the Holy Land.[317]

Jerusalem was held by the crusaders for nearly a century, while other strongholds in the Near East remained in Christian possession much longer. The crusades in the Holy Land ultimately failed to establish permanent Christian kingdoms. Islamic expansion into Europe remained a threat for centuries, culminating in the campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. Crusades in Iberia (the Reconquista), southern Italy, and Sicily eventually lead to the demise of Islamic power in Europe. The Albigensian Crusade targeted the heretical Cathars of southern France; in combination with the Inquisition set up in its aftermath, it succeeded in exterminating them. The Wendish Crusade succeeded in subjugating and forcibly converting the pagan Slavs of modern eastern Germany. The Livonian Crusade, carried out by the Teutonic Knights and other orders of warrior-monks, similarly conquered and forcibly converted the pagan Balts of Livonia and Old Prussia. However, the pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania successfully resisted the Knights and converted only voluntarily in the 14th century.[318]

Medieval Inquisition

Main articles: Albigensian Crusade, Buda heresy, and Proto-Protestantism

Further information: Hussite Crusades, Massacre of Mérindol, and Savoyard–Waldensian wars

The Medieval Inquisition was a series of inquisitions (Roman Catholic ecclesiastical bodies charged with suppressing Christian movements that they regarded as heretical) from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s–1240s). It was established in response to the Christian movements within Europe considered apostate or heretical to Western Catholicism, in particular the Bogomils,[319] Cathars (or Albigensians),[320] Waldensians,[321] Beguines and Beghards,[322] Lollards,[323] Hussites,[324] and European Jews,[325] which were respectively disseminated in the Bulgarian Empire,[319] Southern France,[320] Northern Italy,[321] the Flanders and Rhineland,[322] England,[323] the Lands of the Bohemian Crown,[324] and the territories united under the Crown of Aragon.[325] These were the first inquisition movements of many that would follow in European Christendom.

Spread of Christianity

Main articles: Christianization, Christianization of Europe, and Spread of Christianity

Further information: Christianity and other religions

Early evangelization of Scandinavia was carried out by the Christianized Anglo-Saxons throughout their missions in the Scandinavian Peninsula; the most notable of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries was Ansgar, Archbishop of Bremen, nicknamed "Apostle of the North".[326] Ansgar, a native of Amiens, was sent with a group of monks to Jutland, Denmark around the year 820, at the time of the pro-Christian King Harald Klak.[326] 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 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 AD 1000.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius monument on Mt. Radhošť
Christianization of Kievan Rus', the first unified federation of Slavic tribes
Christianization of Kievan Rus', the first unified federation of Slavic tribes
Christianization of Moravia under the rule of Rastislav

The Christianization of the Slavs was initiated by one of Byzantium's most learned churchmen—the patriarch Photios I of Constantinople. The Byzantine Emperor Michael III chose Cyril and Methodius in response to a request from King Rastislav 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.[327] As the translations prepared by them were copied by speakers of other dialects, the hybrid literary language Old Church Slavonic was created, which later evolved into Church Slavonic and is the common liturgical language still used by the Russian Orthodox Church and other Slavic Orthodox Christians. Methodius went on to convert the Serbs.[328]

Bulgaria was a Pagan country since its establishment in 681 until 864, when Boris I converted to Christianity. The reasons for that decision were complex; the most important factors were that Bulgaria was situated between two powerful Christian empires, Byzantium and East Francia; Christian doctrine particularly favoured the position of the monarch as God's representative on Earth, while Boris also saw it as a way to overcome the differences between Bulgars and Slavs.[329][330] Bulgaria was officially recognized as a patriarchate by Constantinople in 927, Serbia in 1346, and Russia in 1589. All of these nations had been converted long before these dates.

Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance (1300–1520)

Main article: Medieval history of Christianity § Late Middle Ages (1300–1499)

See also: Christianity in the 14th century, Christianity in the 15th century, and Renaissance

Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism

Main articles: Avignon Papacy and Western Schism

The Avignon Papacy, sometimes referred to as the Babylonian Captivity, was a period from 1309 to 1378 during which seven popes resided in Avignon, in modern-day France.[331] In 1309, Pope Clement V moved to Avignon in southern France. Confusion and political animosity waxed, as the prestige and influence of Rome waned without a resident pontiff. Troubles reached their peak in 1378 when Gregory XI died while visiting Rome. A papal conclave met in Rome and elected Urban VI, an Italian. Urban soon alienated the French cardinals, and they held a second conclave electing Robert of Geneva to succeed Gregory XI, beginning the Western Schism.

Criticism of the Catholic Church's abuses and corruption

Further information: Bohemian Reformation, English Reformation, and Proto-Protestantism

Jan Hus defending his theses at the Council of Constance (1415), painting by the Czech artist Václav Brožík
Jan Hus defending his theses at the Council of Constance (1415), painting by the Czech artist Václav Brožík

John Wycliffe, an English scholastic philosopher and Christian theologian best known for denouncing the abuses and corruption of the Catholic Church, was a precursor of the Protestant Reformation.[332] He emphasized the supremacy of the Bible and called for a direct relationship between God and the human person, without interference by priests and bishops.[332] The Lollards, a Proto-Protestant Christian movement that followed the teachings of Wycliffe, played a role in the English Reformation.[332][333][334] Jan Hus, a Czech Christian theologian based in Prague, was influenced by Wycliffe and spoke out against the abuses and corruption he saw in the Catholic Church.[324] His followers became known as the Hussites, a Proto-Protestant Christian movement that followed the teachings of Jan Hus, who became the best known representative of the Bohemian Reformation.[324][332] He was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation,[324][332] and his legacy has become a powerful symbol of Czech culture in Bohemia.[335] Both Wycliffe and Hus were accused of heresy and subsequently condemned to the death penalty for their outspoken views about the Catholic Church.[323][324][332]

Renaissance and the Catholic Church

Michelangelo's Pietà (1498–99) in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Michelangelo's Pietà (1498–99) in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

See also: Italian Renaissance

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 commissioned such artists as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Bramante, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Donatello, and Leonardo 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.

Fall of Constantinople

Further information: Christianity in the Ottoman Empire, Persecution of Christians § Ottoman Empire, and History of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the Ottoman Empire

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Eastern Christians fleeing Constantinople, and the Greek manuscripts they carried with them, is one of the factors that prompted the literary renaissance in the West at about this time.[336] The Ottoman government followed Islamic law when dealing with the conquered Christian population. Christians were officially tolerated as people of the Book. As such, the Church's canonical and hierarchical organisation were not significantly disrupted, and 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. However, these rights and privileges, including freedom of worship and religious organisation, were often established in principle but seldom corresponded to reality. Christians were viewed as second-class citizens, and the legal protections they depended upon were subject to the whims of the sultan and the sublime porte.[337][338] The Hagia Sophia and the Parthenon, which had been Christian churches for nearly a millennium, were converted into mosques. Violent persecutions of Christians were common and reached their climax in the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides.

Early modern period (c. 1500–c. 1750)

See also: Early modern period, Christianity in the modern era, Christianity in the 16th century, Christianity in the 17th century, and Christianity in the 18th century

Colonization and Christianization of the Americas

Main articles: Catholic Church and the Age of Discovery, Christianity in the 16th century, Christianization, European colonization of the Americas, Forced conversion § Christianity, and Spread of Christianity

Further information: Cultural genocide, Ethnocide, Forced assimilation, and Religious persecution

2American Discovery Viewed by Native Americans (Thomas Hart Benton, 1922). European discovery and colonization had disastrous effects on the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and their societies.[26][27][339][340]
2American Discovery Viewed by Native Americans (Thomas Hart Benton, 1922). European discovery and colonization had disastrous effects on the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and their societies.[26][27][339][340]

Beginning with the first wave of European colonization, the religious discrimination, persecution, and violence toward the Indigenous peoples' native religions was systematically perpetrated by the European Christian colonists and settlers from the 15th–16th centuries onwards.[24][25][26][27][339][340]

During the Age of Discovery and the following centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires were the most active in attempting to convert the Indigenous peoples of the Americas to the Christian religion.[24][25] Pope Alexander VI issued the Inter caetera bull in May 1493 that confirmed the lands claimed by the Kingdom of Spain, and mandated in exchange that the Indigenous peoples be converted to Catholic Christianity. During Columbus's second voyage, Benedictine friars accompanied him, along with twelve other priests. With the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, evangelization of the dense Indigenous populations was undertaken in what was called the "spiritual conquest".[341] Several mendicant orders were involved in the early campaign to convert the Indigenous peoples. Franciscans and Dominicans learned Indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl, Mixtec, and Zapotec.[342] One of the first schools for Indigenous peoples in Mexico was founded by Pedro de Gante in 1523. The friars aimed at converting Indigenous leaders, with the hope and expectation that their communities would follow suit.[343] In densely populated regions, friars mobilized Indigenous communities to build churches, making the religious change visible; these churches and chapels were often in the same places as old temples, often using the same stones. "Native peoples exhibited a range of responses, from outright hostility to active embrace of the new religion."[344] In central and southern Mexico where there was an existing Indigenous tradition of creating written texts, the friars taught Indigenous scribes to write their own languages in Latin letters. There is significant body of texts in Indigenous languages created by and for Indigenous peoples in their own communities for their own purposes. In frontier areas where there were no settled Indigenous populations, friars and Jesuits often created missions, bringing together dispersed Indigenous populations in communities supervised by the friars in order to more easily preach the gospel and ensure their adherence to the faith. These missions were established throughout the Spanish colonies which extended from the southwestern portions of current-day United States through Mexico and to Argentina and Chile.

As slavery was prohibited between Christians and could only be imposed upon non-Christian prisoners of war and/or men already sold as slaves, the debate on Christianization was particularly acute during the early 16th century, when Spanish conquerors and settlers sought to mobilize Indigenous labor. Later, two Dominican friars, Bartolomé de Las Casas and the philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, held the Valladolid debate, with the former arguing that Native Americans were endowed with souls like all other human beings, while the latter argued to the contrary to justify their enslavement. In 1537, the papal bull Sublimis Deus definitively recognized that Native Americans possessed souls, thus prohibiting their enslavement, without putting an end to the debate. Some claimed that a native who had rebelled and then been captured could be enslaved nonetheless.

When the first Franciscans arrived in Mexico in 1524, they burned the sacred places dedicated to the Indigenous peoples' native religions.[345] However, in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, burning the temple of a conquered group was standard practice, shown in Indigenous manuscripts, such as Codex Mendoza. Conquered Indigenous groups expected to take on the gods of their new overlords, adding them to the existing pantheon. They likely were unaware that their conversion to Christianity entailed the complete and irrevocable renunciation of their ancestral religious beliefs and practices. In 1539, Mexican bishop Juan de Zumárraga oversaw the trial and execution of the Indigenous nobleman Carlos of Texcoco for apostasy from Christianity.[346] Following that, the Catholic Church removed Indigenous converts from the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, since it had a chilling effect on evangelization. In creating a protected group of Christians, Indigenous men no longer could aspire to be ordained Christian priests.[347]

Throughout the Americas, the Jesuits were active in attempting to convert the Indigenous peoples to Christianity. They had considerable success on the frontiers in New France,[348] Portuguese Brazil, and Antonio de Vieira, S.J;[349] and in Paraguay, almost an autonomous state within a state.[350]

Protestant Reformation

Main articles: Christianity in the 16th century, Reformation, Protestantism, and History of Protestantism

Martin Luther initiated the Reformation with his Ninety-five Theses in 1517.

In the early 16th century, attempts were made by the Christian theologians Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, along with many others, to reform the Catholic Church. They considered the roots of corruption within the Catholic Church and its ecclesiastical structure to be doctrinal, rather than simply a matter of depravity, moral weakness, or lack of ecclesiastical discipline, and thus advocated for God's autonomy in redemption, and against voluntaristic notions that salvation could be earned by people. The Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Luther in 1517, although there was no schism until the 1521 Diet of Worms. The edicts of the Diet condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas.[351]

The word Protestant is derived from the Latin protestatio, meaning declaration, which refers to the letter of protestation by Lutheran princes against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which reaffirmed the edict of the Diet of Worms ordering the seizure of all property owned by persons guilty of advocating Lutheranism.[352] The term "Protestant" was not originally used by Reformation era leaders; instead, they called themselves "evangelical", emphasising the "return to the true gospel (Greek: euangelion)".[353]

Early protest was against corruptions such as simony, the holding of multiple church offices by one person at the same time, episcopal vacancies, and the sale of indulgences. The Protestant position also included the Five solae (sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria), the priesthood of all believers, Law and Gospel, and the two kingdoms doctrine. The three most important traditions to emerge directly from the Reformation were the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican traditions, though the latter group identifies as both "Reformed" and "Catholic", and some subgroups reject the classification as "Protestant".

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, which saw itself as a Protestant church navigating a middle way between Lutheranism and Reformed Christianity, but leaning more towards the latter.[354] Consequently, England experienced periods of reform and also Counter-Reformation. Monarchs such as Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Archbishops of Canterbury such as Thomas Cranmer and William Laud, pushed the Church of England in different directions over the course of only a few generations. What emerged was the Elizabethan Religious Settlement and a state church that considered itself both "Reformed" and "Catholic" but not "Roman", and other unofficial more radical movements, such as the Puritans. In terms of politics, the English Reformation included heresy trials, the exiling of Roman Catholic populations to Spain and other Roman Catholic lands, and censorship and prohibition of books.[355]

According to the Merton Thesis, there was a positive correlation between the rise of English Puritanism and German Pietism on the one hand, and early experimental science on the other.[356][357][358]

Radical Reformation

Main article: Radical Reformation

The Radical Reformation represented a response to corruption both in the Catholic Church and in the expanding Magisterial Protestant movement led by Martin Luther and many others. Beginning in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century, the Radical Reformation gave birth to many radical Protestant groups throughout Europe. The term covers radical reformers like Thomas Müntzer and Andreas Karlstadt, the Zwickau prophets, and Anabaptist Christians, most notably the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, the Bruderhof Communities, and Schwarzenau Brethren.


Main article: Counter-Reformation

See also: Council of Trent

The Counter-Reformation was the response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation. In terms of meetings and documents, it consisted of the Confutatio Augustana, the Council of Trent, the Roman Catechism, and the Defensio Tridentinæ fidei. In terms of politics, the Counter-Reformation included heresy trials, the exiling of Protestant populations from Catholic lands, the seizure of children from their Protestant parents for institutionalized Catholic upbringing, a series of wars, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the list of prohibited books), and the Spanish Inquisition.

Although Protestant Christians were excommunicated in an attempt to reduce their influence within the Catholic Church, at the same time they were persecuted during the Counter-Reformation, prompting some to live as crypto-Protestants (also termed Nicodemites), against the urging of John Calvin who urged them to live their faith openly.[359] Crypto-Protestants were documented as late as the 19th century in Latin America.[360]

The Council in Santa Maria Maggiore church; Museo Diocesiano Tridentino, Trento
The Council in Santa Maria Maggiore church; Museo Diocesiano Tridentino, Trento

The Council of Trent (1545–1563) initiated by Pope Paul III addressed issues of certain ecclesiastical corruptions such as simony, absenteeism, nepotism, the holding of multiple church offices by one person, and other abuses. It also reasserted traditional practices and 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. 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 set an example by visiting the remotest parishes and instilling high standards.

Catholic Reformation

Main article: Catholic Reformation

Simultaneous to the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Reformation consisted of improvements in art and culture, anti-corruption measures, the founding of the Jesuits, the establishment of seminaries, a reassertion of traditional doctrines and the emergence of new religious orders aimed at both moral reform and new missionary activity. Also part of this was the development of new yet orthodox forms of spirituality, such as that of the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.

The papacy of St. Pius V was known not only for its focus on halting heresy and worldly abuses within the Church, but also for its focus on improving popular piety in a determined effort to stem the appeal of Protestantism. Pius began his pontificate by giving large alms to the poor, charity, and hospitals, and the pontiff was known for consoling the poor and sick as well as supporting missionaries. These activities coincided with a rediscovery of the ancient Christian catacombs in Rome. As Diarmaid MacCulloch states, "Just as these ancient martyrs were revealed once more, Catholics were beginning to be martyred afresh, both in mission fields overseas and in the struggle to win back Protestant northern Europe: the catacombs proved to be an inspiration for many to action and to heroism."[361]

Catholic missions were carried to new places beginning with the new Age of Discovery, and the Roman Catholic Church established missions in the Americas.

Trial of Galileo

Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th-century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury
Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th-century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury

The Galileo affair, in which Galileo Galilei came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church over his support of heliocentrism, 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 his theological and philosophical positions culminated in his trial and sentencing in 1633, on a grave suspicion of heresy.

Puritans in North America

Main article: Puritan migration to New England (1620–40)

Further information: History of the Puritans in North America

The colonization with the most impact in the New World was that of Protestant English Puritans in North America. Unlike the Spanish or French, the English colonists made surprisingly little effort to evangelize the native peoples.[362] 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.

Late modern period (c. 1750–c. 1945)

See also: Late modern period, Christianity in the 18th century, Christianity in the 19th century, and Christianity in the 20th century

Christian revivalism

Christian 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.

Great Awakenings

Main articles: First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and Third Great Awakening

Philipp Spener, the founder of Pietism
Philipp Spener, the founder of Pietism

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.[363] 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 instill in them a deep sense of personal salvation as experienced in revival meetings. It also sparked the beginnings of groups such as the Mormons, the Restoration Movement 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.


Main articles: Restorationism and Restoration Movement

Restorationism refers to the belief that a purer form of Christianity should be restored using the early church as a model.[364]: 635 [365]: 217  In many cases, restorationist groups believed that contemporary Christianity, in all of its forms, had deviated from the true, original Christianity, which they then attempted to "reconstruct", often using the Book of Acts as a "guidebook" of sorts. Usually, Restorationists do not describe themselves as "reforming" a Christian church which has continuously existed since the time of Jesus, instead, they describe themselves as restoring the Church that they believe was lost at some point in the history of Christianity. "Restorationism" is frequently used to describe the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

The term "restorationist" is also used to describe movements such as Adventism, a movement which originated in the 1830s in the United States during the Second Great Awakening when Baptist preacher William Miller first publicly shared his belief that the Second Coming would occur at some point between 1843 and 1844, and the Jehovah's Witness movement, founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. The term can also be used to describe the Latter Day Saint movement, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Community of Christ and numerous other Latter Day Saint denominations. Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, believe that Joseph Smith was chosen to restore the original organization which was established by Jesus, now "in its fullness", rather than reform the church.[366][367]

Eastern Orthodoxy

Further information: Religion in the Soviet Union

Churches of the Moscow Kremlin, as seen from the Balchug
Churches of the Moscow Kremlin, as seen from the Balchug

The Russian Orthodox Church held a privileged position in the Russian Empire, expressed in the motto of the late empire from 1833: Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Populism. Nevertheless, the Church reform of Peter I in the early 18th century had placed the Orthodox authorities under the control of the tsar. An ober-procurator appointed by the tsar ran the committee which governed the Church between 1721 and 1918: the Most Holy Synod. The Church became involved in the various campaigns of russification,[368] and was accused of involvement in Russian antisemitism,[369] despite the lack of an official position on Judaism as such.[370]

The Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries saw the Church, like the tsarist state, as an enemy of the people. Criticism of atheism was strictly forbidden and sometimes lead to imprisonment.[371][372][373] Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers included torture, being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals, as well as execution.[374][375]

Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on the orders of Joseph Stalin, 5 December 1931, consistent with the doctrine of state atheism in the USSR[376]
Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on the orders of Joseph Stalin, 5 December 1931, consistent with the doctrine of state atheism in the USSR[376]

In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.[377] This included people like the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna who was at this point a monastic. Executed along with her were: Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich Romanov; the Princes Ioann Konstantinvich, 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.

Trends in Christian theology

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 century and early 20th century 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, the principle of sola scriptura, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

Under Communism and Nazism

Pope Pius XI

Main articles: Confessing Church, Kirchenkampf, Persecution of Christians in Nazi Germany, Persecution of Christians in the Eastern Bloc, and Persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union

Further information: Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, German Christians (movement), Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany, Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, and Positive Christianity

Under the state atheism of countries in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Christians of many denominations experienced persecution, with many churches and monasteries being destroyed, as well as clergy being executed.[378][379][380]

The position of Christians affected by Nazism is highly complex.[381] Pope Pius XI declared – Mit brennender Sorge – that Fascist governments had hidden "pagan intentions" and expressed the irreconcilability of the Catholic position and totalitarian fascist state worship, which placed the nation above God, fundamental human rights, and dignity. His declaration that "Spiritually, [Christians] are all Semites" prompted the Nazis to give him the title "Chief Rabbi of the Christian World".[382]

Catholic priests were executed in concentration camps alongside Jews; for example, 2,600 Catholic priests were imprisoned in Dachau, and 2,000 of them were executed (cf. Priesterblock). A further 2,700 Polish priests were executed (a quarter of all Polish priests), and 5,350 Polish nuns were either displaced, imprisoned, or executed.[383] Many Catholic laymen and clergy played notable roles in sheltering Jews during the Holocaust, including Pope Pius XII. The head rabbi of Rome became a Catholic in 1945 and, in honour of the actions the pope undertook to save Jewish lives, he took the name Eugenio (the pope's first name).[384] A former Israeli consul in Italy claimed: "The Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all the other churches, religious institutions, and rescue organisations put together."[385]

The relationship between Nazism and Protestantism, especially the German Lutheran Church, was complex. Though many[386] Protestant church leaders in Germany supported the Nazis' growing anti-Jewish activities, some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran pastor) of the Confessing Church, a movement within Protestantism that strongly opposed Nazism, were strongly opposed to the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer was later found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and executed.

Contemporary Christianity

Main article: History of Christianity of the Late Modern era

See also: Christianity in the 20th century and Christianity in the 21st century

Second Vatican Council

Main article: Second Vatican Council

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, interpreting dogma in terms of its scriptural roots, 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.


Main article: Ecumenism

Patriarch Kirill
Pope Francis

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, 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 Orientalium Dignitas. On 7 December 1965, a Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of 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 fulfill 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 fulfills 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". 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 bring forgiveness and eternal life, and that Jesus died and rose again bodily.

Evangelical movement, Pentecostalism, and Charismatic Christianity

Main articles: Charismatic Christianity, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism

Further information: Christian right and Political influence of Evangelicalism in Latin America

In reaction to these developments, Christian fundamentalism emerged as a socio-political-religious movement in rejection of what many Christians perceived as radical influences of philosophical humanism that were affecting the Christian religion, according to them. Especially targeting critical approaches to the interpretation of the Bible, and trying to blockade the inroads made into their churches by secular scientific assumptions, fundamentalist Christians began to appear in various Christian denominations as numerous independent movements of resistance to the developments that they regarded as a drift away from historical Christianity. Over time, the Evangelical movement has divided into two main wings, with the label Fundamentalist following one branch, while the term Evangelical has become the preferred banner of the more moderate side. Although both strands of Evangelicalism primarily originated in the English-speaking world, the majority of Evangelicals today live elsewhere in the world.

World Christianity

Main article: World Christianity

Laying on of hands during a service in a neo-charismatic church in Ghana
Laying on of hands during a service in a neo-charismatic church in Ghana

World Christianity, otherwise known as "global Christianity", has been defined both as a term that attempts to convey the global nature of the Christian religion[31][34][389] and an academic field of study that encompasses analysis of the histories, practices, and discourses of Christianity as a world religion and its various forms as they are found on the six continents.[390] However, the term often focuses on "non-Western Christianity" which "comprises (usually the exotic) instances of Christian faith in 'the global South', in Asia, Africa, and Latin America".[391] It also includes Indigenous or diasporic forms of Christianity in the Caribbean,[388] South America,[388] Western Europe,[392] and North America.[392]

See also

Christian history BC C1 C2 C3 C4 C5 C6 C7 C8 C9 C10 C11 C12 C13 C14 C15 C16 C17 C18 C19 C20 C21


  1. ^ "Two things, however, rendered the Septuagint unwelcome in the long run to the Jews. Its divergence from the accepted text (afterward called the Masoretic) was too evident; ... This distrust was accentuated by the fact that it had been adopted as Sacred Scripture by the new faith [Christianity] [...] In course of time it came to be the canonical Greek Bible [...] It became part of the Bible of the Christian Church."
  2. ^ In Eusebius' church history, there is a bold claim of a Constantinian campaign against the temples, however, there are discrepancies in the evidence.[141] Temple destruction is attested to in 43 cases in the written sources, but only four have been confirmed by archaeological evidence.[142]
    Trombley and MacMullen explain that discrepancies between literary sources and archaeological evidence exist because it is common for details in the literary sources to be ambiguous and unclear.[143] : 166–168, 335–336  For example, Malalas claimed Constantine destroyed all the temples, then he said Theodisius destroyed them all, then he said Constantine converted them all to churches.[144][145]
    At the sacred oak and spring at Mamre, a site venerated and occupied by Jews, Christians, and pagans alike, the literature says Constantine ordered the burning of the idols, the destruction of the altar, and erection of a church on the spot of the temple.[146] The archaeology of the site shows that Constantine's church, along with its attendant buildings, only occupied a peripheral sector of the precinct, leaving the rest unhindered.[147]
    During his long reign, Constantine destroyed a few temples, plundered more, and generally neglected the rest.[138] Constantine was vigorous in reclaiming confiscated properties whenever these issues were brought to his attention, and he used reclamation to justify the destruction of some pagan temples such as Aphrodite's temple in Jerusalem.[148][149] Using the vocabulary of reclamation, Constantine acquired several more sites of Christian significance in the Holy Land.
    A number of elements coincided to end the temples, but none of them were strictly religious.[150] Earthquakes caused much of the destruction of this era.[151] Civil conflict and external invasions also destroyed many temples and shrines.[152]
    Economics was also a factor in temple destruction.[150][153][154] The Roman economy of the third and fourth centuries struggled, and traditional polytheism was expensive and dependent upon donations from the state and private elites.[155] Roger S. Bagnall reports that imperial financial support declined markedly after Augustus.[156] Lower budgets meant the physical decline of urban structures of all types.
    This progressive decay was accompanied by an increased trade in salvaged building materials, as the practice of recycling became common in Late Antiquity.[157] Economic struggles meant that necessity drove much of the destruction and conversion of pagan religious monuments.[150][153][154] In many instances, such as in Tripolitania, this happened before Constantine the Great became emperor.[158]
    Constantine "confiscated temple funds to help finance his own building projects", and he confiscated temple hoards of gold and silver to establish a stable currency; on a few occasions, he confiscated temple land;[159] he refused to personally support pagan beliefs and practices while also speaking out against them.[11] He forbade pagan sacrifices and closed temples that continued to offer them;[160] he wrote laws that favored Christianity;[136][133] he personally endowed Christians with gifts of money, land and government positions.[135][137] Yet Constantine never stopped the established state support of the traditional religious institutions.[11]
  3. ^ For example, the withdrawal of state funding to pagan cults was Gratian rather than Theodosius; nor did Theodosius end the Vestal virgins, who continued to 415, nor is it likely he ended the ancient Olympic Games.[190][191][192] (Sofie Remijsen says there are several reasons to conclude the Olympic games ended during Theodosius the second's reign.[193]) There is no evidence of desire on the part of the emperor to institute a systematic destruction of temples anywhere in the Theodosian Code, and no evidence in the archaeological record that extensive temple destruction took place.[194][195]
  4. ^ German ancient historian Karl Leo Noethlichs [de] writes that the Edict of Thessalonica did not declare Christianity to be the official religion of the empire, and it gave no advantage to Christians over other faiths.[199] The Edict applied only to Christians, since only Christians could be heretics. Within that group, it was addressed to Arians, since it is opposition to the Nicene religion of Pontiff Damasus and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, which is specifically referenced.[200]
    It declared those Christians who refused the Nicene faith to be infames, and prohibited them from using Christian churches. For example: "After his arrival in Constantinople, Theodosius offered to confirm the Arian bishop Demophilus in his see, if he would accept the Nicene Creed. After Demophilus refused the offer, the emperor immediately directed him to surrender all his churches to the Catholics."[201]
    Hungarian legal scholar Pál Sáry says it is clear from mandates issued in the years after 380 that Theodosius had made no requirement in the Edict for pagans or Jews to convert to Christianity: "In 393, the emperor was gravely disturbed that the Jewish assemblies had been forbidden in certain places. For this reason, he stated with emphasis that the sect of the Jews was forbidden by no law."[202]
  5. ^ The lares is the god who takes care of the home, write archaeologists Konstantinos Bilias and Francesca Grigolo.[207] The genius was fixed on a person, usually the head of the household.[208] The penates were the divinities who provided and guarded the food and possessions of the household.[205] Sacrifice had largely ended by the time of Julian (361–363), a generation before the law of November 392 was issued, but these private, domestic, sometimes daily, sacrifices were thought to have "slipped out from under public control".[209][210][211]
  6. ^ During the reign of Theodosius, pagans were continuously appointed to prominent positions, and pagan aristocrats remained in high offices.[202] During his first official tour of Italy (389–391), the emperor won over the influential pagan lobby in the Roman Senate by appointing its foremost members to important administrative posts.[215] Theodosius also nominated the last pair of pagan consuls in Roman history (Tatianus and Symmachus) in 391.[216] Theodosius allowed pagan practices – that did not involve sacrifice – to be performed publicly and temples to remain open.[217][218][219]

    He also voiced his support for the preservation of temple buildings, but failed to prevent damaging several holy sites in the eastern provinces which most scholars believe was sponsored by Cynegius, Theodosius' praetorian prefect.[219][220][221] Some scholars have held Theodosius responsible for his prefect's behavior. Following Cynegius' death in 388, Theodosius replaced him with a moderate pagan who subsequently moved to protect the temples.[222][189][223]


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  2. ^ a b Wylen 1995, pp. 190–193.
  3. ^ Hopkins 1998, p. 192.
  4. ^ a b Judge 2010, p. 4.
  5. ^ Trombley 1985, pp. 327–331.
  6. ^ Humfress 2013, pp. 3, 76, 83–88, 91.
  7. ^ a b c HARNETT 2017, pp. 200, 217.
  8. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 75–87.
  9. ^ a b Kahlos 2019, p. 35.
  10. ^ a b Boyd 2005, p. 21.
  11. ^ a b c d Boyd 2005, p. 16.
  12. ^ a b Boyd 2005, pp. 21–22.
  13. ^ Brown 1998, p. 652.
  14. ^ a b c d Brown 1998, pp. 652–653.
  15. ^ a b Wilken 2013, pp. 88–98.
  16. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 257–268, 269–278.
  17. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 229–237, 344–354.
  18. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 205–213, 222–228.
  19. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 214–221.
  20. ^ Wilken 2013, pp. 238–245.
  21. ^ Cambridge University Historical Series, An Essay on Western Civilization in Its Economic Aspects, p. 40: Hebraism, like Hellenism, has been an all-important factor in the development of Western Civilization; Judaism, as the precursor of Christianity, has indirectly had had much to do with shaping the ideals and morality of western nations since the christian era.
  22. ^ Caltron J.H Hayas, Christianity and Western Civilization (1953), Stanford University Press, p. 2: "That certain distinctive features of our Western civilization—the civilization of western Europe and of America—have been shaped chiefly by Judaeo – Graeco – Christianity, Catholic and Protestant."
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  51. ^ Schwartz 2009, p. 49Though we know of more radical Jewish organizations in the first century—the Christians are the best-known example—the three main sects are evidence not simply of Judaism's diversity but also of the power of its ideological mainstream.
  52. ^ Schwartz 2009, p. 91Though Josephus speaks of three (and in one polemical passage of four) sects, it seems certain that there were many more sectarian groups in first-century Palestine.
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Printed sources

Ricciotti, Giuseppe (1999). Julian the Apostate. Tan Books. ISBN 9780895556325.


Further reading