Topic 10 Early Church History

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Topic 10
Early Church History (100-500 AD)
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
II. The Christian Empire (313-500)
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
A. Separation from Judaism
1. Christianity began as sect of Judaism.
2. Jerusalem Conference (49): Gentiles included without
being required to convert to Judaism.
3. Fall of Jerusalem (70) – growing tensions between
Jews and Christians.
4. Jewish “Academy of Jamnia” (c. 90) –
a. Reorganized Judaism along Pharisaic lines.
b. Composed a “Benediction against the Heretics” which
excluded Christians from synagogues.
c. Sealed break between Judaism and Christianity.
5. Harsh language about Jews in late NT writings reflects
tensions of this period (Matthew; John).
6. Christianity has much in common with Judaism:
a.
b.
c.
d.
OT Scripture
Worship style
Baptism
Same God
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
B. Heresy vs. Orthodoxy
1. Ebionites
a. Jewish Christian sect which practiced circumcision and
observed Jewish law.
b. Regarded Jesus as human prophet, not divine.
2. Gnosticism
a.
b.
c.
d.
Most important heresy of 2nd-3rd centuries.
Rooted in dualism of Matter (evil) vs. Spirit (good).
Human being: divine spirit entombed in evil body.
Salvation by secret knowledge (gnosis) – enlightens,
liberates, enables spirit to escape from body and material world.
e. Ethics: either asceticism or libertinism.
f. Docetism: Christ is purely divine, not a real human being;
only seemed to have a real body; didn’t really suffer, die;
calls into question both incarnation and atonement.
g. 1, 2, 3 John confront Gnostic heresy of libertine type.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
B. Heresy vs. Orthodoxy – cont.
3. Marcionism
a. Believed there were two different gods:


b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
God of OT – creation; law; punishment.
Father of Jesus – love; forgiveness; grace.
Rejected OT as non-Christian; left him without a Bible.
Created NT canon: Luke and 10 letters of Paul.
Ascetic rules like some Gnostics: forbade marriage and wine.
Excommunicated in 144. Started his own Marcionite church.
Pastorals (1 & 2 Tim., Tit.) confront a teaching similar to
Marcion’s (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 5:23; 6:20; 2 Tim. 3:16).
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
B. Heresy vs. Orthodoxy – cont.
4. Safeguards of orthodoxy
a. Canon (scripture)
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


“Canon” = reed g measuring stick g collection of
authoritative writings by which right doctrine is measured.
OT – inherited from Judaism (LXX version).
NT – developed over several centuries (see notes on
Topic 1).
200 – many lists beginning to resemble ours.
367 – Bishop Athanasius produced earliest list including
exactly our 27 books.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
4. Safeguards of orthodoxy – cont.
b. Creeds
1)
2)
3)
Short statements of core beliefs used for teaching doctrine.
Often revised to clarify theology and exclude heresy.
“Apostles’ Creed” (textbook, p. 150).
c. Episcopal structure (rule by bishops)
1) Hierarchical structure emerged:
Bishop (episkopos) = “overseer.”
Presbyters = “elders” (priests).
Deacons = “servants.”
2) This structure is already emerging in Pastorals (1 Tim. 3:1-13;
5:17-19; Tit. 1:5-8). It is clearly developed in Ignatius’ letters.
3) Bishop had authority over churches in/around a city.
4) Authority was based on claim of “apostolic succession”:
Apostles appointed first bishops, conferred authority on them; those
bishops appointed next generation, and so on in an unbroken chain.
5) Bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and
Alexandria gained special prominence.
6) Bishop of Rome became the “Pope” – head of Western Church.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
C. Roman Persecution
1. Early NT (before 64) – benign neglect
a. Numerically small.
b. Sect of Judaism (legal).
2. Late NT period – growing tensions
a. Growth; separation from Judaism; peculiar practices.
b. Refusal to worship emperor and Roman gods.
c. Suspected of disloyalty; got blamed for misfortune.
3. Beginnings of persecution
a. Nero (54-68) – first emperor to persecute the church



Fire in Rome (64) – Nero shifted blame to Christians.
Persecution of Christians in Rome (64-65)
Traditions that Peter and Paul were executed by Nero.
b. Domitian (81-96)



Demanded divine honors; pressure to worship emperor.
Persecution of Christians in Asia Minor.
Revelation of John (c. 95): urges faithful endurance; assures of
God’s victory.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
3. Beginnings of persecution – cont.
c.
Trajan (98-117)




Letters between Trajan and Pliny clarify policy.
Not seeking Christians out.
If accused, given chance to renounce Christianity; prove loyalty
by offering incense to emperor and Roman gods; otherwise,
punished.
1 Peter written during time of persecution – which one?
d. Typical Roman policy (100-313)



Illegal; suspected.
Not systematically hunted down.
Sporadic waves of persecution.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
4. Christian response: martyrs and apologists
a. Martyrs
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

Those willing to witness to the faith by dying for it.
Became heroes of Christianity.
Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 110).



Taken to Rome to be placed in arena.
Wrote 7 letters to churches on the way.
Begged Romans not to intervene.
b. Apologists

Writers who defended Christianity against charges:
atheism, cannibalism, immorality, etc.

Justin Martyr (d. 165) – defended attacks from Jews and
pagans.
I. The Ancient Church (100-313)
5. Later persecutions
a. Septimius Severus (c. 200) – decreed death penalty
for converting to exclusivist religion (Judaism and
Christianity).
b. Decius (c. 250) – ordered everyone to sacrifice to
Roman gods and receive a certificate.
c. Diocletian (284-305)


Most severe period of Roman persecution.
Christians were expelled from army; buildings seized;
scriptures destroyed; lost legal rights; many tortured and
executed.
Tertullian (d. 222): “The blood of the martyrs
is the seed of the Church.”
II. The Christian Empire (313-476)
A. Constantine (306-337)
1. Battle of Milvian Bridge (312)
a. “By this sign you will conquer.”
b. Attributed victory to Christian god.
2. Edict of Milan (313)
a. Ended persecution.
b. Legalized Christianity.
3. Imperial “establishment” of Christianity
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
g.
h.
i.
j.
Christianity becomes the favored religion.
Church becomes powerful and wealthy.
Large church buildings are built.
Clergy acquire civil authority.
Worship becomes more formalized.
Sunday becomes a public holiday.
Basilica of St. John Lateran
Christian symbols appear on coins.
Emperor begins to meddle in church affairs.
Constantinople (ancient Byzantium) becomes new capital.
By end of 4th cent., Christianity was official state religion.
II. The Christian Empire (313-476)
B.
Christian reactions to establishment
1.
Accommodation/welcome
a.
b.
2.
Caution/resistance
a.
b.
C.
Most welcomed the changes.
Eusebius wrote church history glorifying Constantine and the
establishment of Christianity as the religion of the empire.
Many thought church was becoming too worldly.
Gave boost to monastic movement.
Rise of monasticism
1.
2.
Not brand new but received major boost.
Types of monasticism:
a.
b.
3.
Eremitical
 Lone hermits (monk = “living alone”).
 Anthony of Egypt (3rd cent.).
Cenobitic (communal)
 Monks or nuns living communally in a monastery.
 Pachomius established 1st monastery c. 320.
 Monastic rules featured vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience.
Influence: Most learning/books during middle ages were preserved
in monasteries.
II. The Christian Empire (313-476)
D. Theological controversies
1. Arianism
a. Arius: Christ not fully divine; not coeternal with God the Father.
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Created as “firstborn of all creation.”
“There was a time when he was not.”
Heteroousios – Christ is of a “different substance” than Father.
b. Athanasius: Christ is coeternal with the Father.


c.
Homoousios – Christ is of “same substance” as the Father.
Wanted full divinity of Christ.
Constantine summoned church council to resolve dispute.
2. Council of Nicaea (325)
a. First of 7 “ecumenical councils” (worldwide; all bishops
invited).
b. Three main parties:



c.
Arius: heteroousios (“different substance”).
Athanasius: homoouios (“same substance”).
Compromise: homoiousios (“similar substance”).
Ruled in favor of Athanasius and full divinity of Christ.
II. The Christian Empire (313-476)
D. Theological development – cont.
3. Nicene Creed
a. More detailed than Apostles’ Creed.
b. Incorporates anti-Arian language:
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

Christ is “true God from true God.”
Christ is “begotten, not made.”
Christ is “of the same substance with the Father.”
4. Further controversies
a. Council of Constantinople (381)


Revised Nicene Creed.
Clarified equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
b. Council of Chalcedon (451)
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
Jesus was “truly God and truly human.”
Two natures in one person.
II. The Christian Empire (313-476)
E. Important theologians
1. Augustine (354-430)
a. Most influential theologian since Paul.
b. Doctrines of grace, original sin, and predestination.
c. Confessions – autobiography; classic of Christian
devotional literature.
d. City of God – defense of Christianity during decline
of empire.
2. Jerome (345-419)
a. Translated Latin Vulgate.
b. Followed the more inclusive OT canon of the
Septuagint (Greek version).
c. Official Bible of Western church.
Byzantine Empire
Constantinople
(ancient Byzantium)
The Nicene Creed
WE BELIEVE in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of
all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of
the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten,
not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy
Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was
buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he
ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will
have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the
Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and
glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the
forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of
the world to come.
Amen.

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