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Christianity in the 4th century

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

Christianity in the 4th century was dominated in its early stage by Constantine the Great and the First Council of Nicaea of 325, which was the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787), and in its late stage by the Edict of Thessalonica of 380, which made Nicene Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire.

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  • ✪ Constantine, Christianity and the division of Church and State Lecture 4


we now move into the fourth century--the 300s--want to do in this lecture is spend most of the time talking about the rise of Constantine who was an emperor he's extremely important to early Christianity because he's the first Christian Emperor that we have now I mentioned in the last lecture about the great persecution by Emperor Diocletian so Diocletian set up the Tetrarchy and if you remember that was where you got the Emperor at the top and then just below him you've got sort of a vice president called a caesar and Diocletian was one of the rare Emperors that decided to retire in 305 and he let the Tetrarchy take over now in 306 you've got Constantius and I'd mentioned him in the last lecture he was the father of Constantine so in the Tetrarchy Constantine was not a cesar for Constantius so Diocletian tried to keep those two separate you tried to keep the Son Constantine away from his father Constantius but eventually Constantine talked Diocletian into letting him go to England which is where Constantius was now Constantine went to Constantius and the two ended up fighting with some of the Barbarian groups that were in Great Britain during this time or Britain and what happened is Constantius died now what should have happened is the Caesar severus should have become emperor because that's where the Tetrarchy worked but the troops really like Constantine and what they ended up doing is declaring him Emperor what you end up having our two emperors in the western part of the Roman Empire now these are a few images of a statue and these are the only part that still that we still have you can see the head on your left a large foot and then the hand and what the hand is probably doing is pointing up to heaven we think it probably stood about 35 feet tall so you've got severus who wants to be the Emperor you've got Constantine has declared Emperor you also have Mzxentius who was a son of Maximian and he wanted to become emperor as well so you got three people all wanting to become emperor. severus died in battle and then you got Maxentius and Constantine going to do battle over who is going to be sole emperor the west so according to a story we get to a couple versions of this Constantine looked up saw in the sky a vision of the cross and he heard the sound the voice of Jesus saying with this sign you will conquer and the sign that we're talking about here that I'm talking about here is this called the Chi which is like an X and this which looks like a "p" but is it a rho--an "r" so forget these symbols the Alpha Omega right now we're just talking about on this symbol which is called Chi Rho and so he put this symbol on the standards of the flags of his troops and went to battle thinking that if you did when he would always allegiance to this christian god this battle happened at the Milvian bridge which is in Italy I in Rome and it was Constantine vs Maxentius now as you might imagine Constantine won this particular battle Maxentius ended up drowning as far as we know in the Tiber River now you've got Constantine as the sole emperor in the West but you still have an emperor in the east and that is Galerius and if you remember from the last lecture on the great persecution it was Diocletian and Galerius who are causing the persecution Galerius stops this in 311 he cancels the great persecution and part of the reason for this at least according to a person named Lactantius he wrote a book called on the death that the persecutors in section 33 what he says is Galerius was brought down by probably cancer and what he ends up doing is to he asks the Christian God for for help even though he's been persecuting for quite awhile so the end up doing is cancelling the great persecution and what I'd like you to do is to stop the video and then read through this particular section and then this slide you've got on the deaths of the prosecutors chapter 34 and so what he does is he bestows clemency on the Christian so they can now assemble they can now openly pray to their God but what he wants though is for the Christian God to pray for his own welfare that's our that's the Royal "our" and pray for the public and pray for their own safety so he cancels the great persecution mostly because he wants the Christian God to help him get over whatever illness it was but he ended up dying and you have a man named Licinius who becomes the emperor in the East I'll talk about Licinius in just a bit what you're looking at here is a photo that I took in Rome and this is the arch of Constantine and where I'm taking the photo is I'm standing with my back to the Roman Colosseum so you come to the forum and you can see a little bit to the form back here and you wrap around most people end up going to coliseum not even realizing what they're looking at here with this triumphal arch which is made for Constantine but this is made after he was made Emperor here's just another version of it from the other side ok so Constantine I he's got a really interesting history we're not sure when he became christian so it's believed that he sort of had his conversion during this big battle with Maxentius but we're not quite sure because he does issue coins after he becomes Emperor and as you can see from these two coins this is actually one side and then they flipped the coin over you've got Constantine here and you got him portrayed as Apollo here and then on the second coin it's the same thing this is the front side this is the back side you can see here that Constantine is portrayed as Apollo or this is actually an image of Apollo so you wouldn't expect a Christian Emperor to have to make coins that that are really glorifying the Roman deities but Constantine certainly did now later on you've got this particular coin this is an image of Constantine and on the backside you've got this hand coming down and most people believe this is the hand of the Christian God coming down and you can see konstantin here and he's lifting his hand up to reach to reach God so at some point he becomes more serious in terms of being a Christian now we know in 313 he he met with Emperor Licinius in the east and both of them really put an end to the great persecution and we think that they issued something called the Edict of Milan and this was in 313 if you want to stop the video you can certainly read a small bit of its of slightly longer text and this but essentially what it does is it gives Christians and others the right to worship openly so this is really the first time that Christianity was able to be an open religion in the Roman Empire now Licinius and Constantine really didn't like each other they they fought early on between 313 325 and it was really a stalemate again and 325 they come together to fight and Constantine defeated Licinius and what that means is Constantine becomes the sole emperor both the east and the West the Tetrarchy that started with Diocletian was totally done Constantine had three sons actually for he ended up killing one but the 3 are for our purposes are Constantius the second Constantine the second and Constans so it really easy to remember those remind me up George Foreman naming all of his sons George so here you've got Constantius, Constantine and Constans who are the sons of Constantine one thing I want to spend the rest of this lecture on to the talking about these four measures that Constantine put into place to really promote Christianity and make sure that you know and understand these four for your exam so I'm i'll briefly mention here and then we'll talk about the specifics so he created a massive massive building program for christian churches what he ended up doing is giving tax relief to churches and bishops and this is very similar to what we do today I don't know if you know this but religious buildings and those running are not taxed he essentially elevated the priest in the bishop in equal terms with civil law he also enacted policies against pagans are heretics and I'll take a show you a few of that--there really should be five here but it's 4 plus the fact that he created a brand new city called Constantinople and you can see here obviously is named after himself this ople comes from the greek word polis know that looks terrible writing here but that means city like metropolis the mother city Constantinople is the city of Constantine he built that as a Christian city ok in terms of building churches so he built many churches throughout Italy and his mother Helen also went to the homeland in built tmore churches this is one example called st. John Lateran now what you're looking at is not the church that Constantine built so in the 1500s the Catholic Church in one of the Pope's or a few of the Pope's ended up tearing down a lot of the old churches they were built by Constantine and then build these modern ones but beneath the foundations are constantinian this is another very famous Church this is st. Peter's Basilica as it looked like during the time of Constantine so here you've got some archaeology of the original shape of the church would probably look like and just before it was torn down the monks one end and drew drew what it looks like so that's pretty nice because the modern church today does not look like what it did before and again if you ever go to Rome what you can do is take an archaeological tour under the modern st. Peter's to see some of these symbols the remains of the old church another church had are built with st. Sebastian and this is in Rome there's a very famous catacomb under this church and again the front of this church was not not built by Constantine it was torn down in the 1500s and then rebuild but again if you go through the tour you can look at the archaeologic archaeology from the time of Constantine ok so in terms of his cat tax relief what I've given you here and you should probably stop the video to look through this because I won't be going through all of them is that you've got as a set of laws called Theodosian codes these were put together by an emperor named Theodosius the second who rose from 400 to 450 and what he did was he ordered that all the Roman law be put together in a book and but at that time it had been done before he also something called the Sirmondian constitutions these are longer versions or uncondensed vs of theodosius codes if you look up either one of these it you'll get the same information. The Theodosian codes are just a little shorter so in 313 he made all priests exempt from compulsory public services now usually what happens is that wealthy people would be put on City Council's automatically and they would help run their own cities so he took the priests out of that in 321 the law change that when people die they can leave their state to the church and not the state of Rome so what this end up ends up doing is putting a lot of wealth into account the church at the same time taking wealth away from the Roman of the Roman Empire and then you can look at a few of these other things in 330 the lower parts of the hierarchy were not allowed to sit on the municipal councils and then in 343 under his son Constantius the second this is after the death of Constantine clergy didn't have to pay taxes any any businesses they started those are also tax-free in terms of elevating the bishop to civil law this started a little bit earlier than what i have here but on May 5th 333 we've got a law that said the legal decisions of the other bishops are unchangeable know what this means is say you're a pagan and you're having some difficulties with your Christian neighbor say, over a boundary you could go into the civil law courts and anytime just before the Civil log judge made his decree the Christian could raise his hand and stop the court proceedings and those would then be moved into the Christian Bishop and so would be taken out a civil law put into a christian church and a Christian bishop and the bishop would act as the judge and his judgment could not be changed so that's what i mean by the elevation of the bishop or priest in terms of law another thing that I i didn't put in terms of the four things that end up changing but you do see this what I've called the Christianization of the Empire overtime so in 321 Sunday's were declared days of rest after most people not not farmers and if you want to look this up you can it's Justinian Code 3.12.3 and then in 321 the same year you've got a law said courts cannot meet on Sundays unless they're freeing slaves and this is the Theodosian code 2. 8.1 okay in terms of anti pagan policies there's quite a bit of debate in the scholarship about whether Constantine actually did some of these things but if you what you stop stop the video and then read through some of this and what you'll be reading is part of eusebius' life of Constantine if you look this up its chapter 3 section 54 and what you're reading here is Eusebius says that Constantine made a law that a lot of Christians to go in and essentially strip a pagan temple so they can take everything out of the temple everything that was movable all the well and take it out and Christians would not get in trouble for this and then again hopefully you've read through this you understand what what exactly is going on in terms of what Eusebius is saying during the time Constantine what's really interesting though is Constantine sort of just like what I told you about with his conversion to Christianity we're not quite sure when that happened in 320 what he said is that if any public building got struck by lightning these these people called soothsayers or fortune-teller should be consulted and let them figure out what what happened and why public building would be hit by lightning because that was a really bad sign this is found in Theodosius code 16 . 10.1 however what you do find is that probably Constantine and certainly his sons Constantius the second made a law that said pagan priests could not sacrifice and the sacrifice of the killing of animals and blood and looking at the organs for fortune-telling this is a big part of pagan religion or Roman religion and that was stopped by now these people and of course as I mentioned last the end up doing is building Constantinople so you've got Rome here now rome by the time of Constantine was not as important as it was before and certainly as you go along into the later 300s Rome just becomes sort of a figurehead for the roman empire constantine ends up building Constantinople right on this tip of Europe and it was a great place to build a city because it could be protected it's got water on three sides and Constantine ended up building a wall and forth and then later Emperor's built larger and larger walls to protect how to protect the city but this was a city designed to be Christian where Constantine ago he set up a Roman Senate made up of Christians and later when you read texts written by people living in constant noble they call themselves Roman so you have to be a little careful about reading these later text because they could say the Romans even though they're not from the city of Rome.


Christian persecutions

Major communions of
the 4th-5th centuries
Communion Primary centers
Roman Empire and
western Europe
Rome, Alexandria,
Church of the East Syria, Sasanian 
(Persia) Empire
Oriental Orthodox or
Armenia, Syria,
Donatist Church North Africa[3]
Gothic Arian Church Gothic tribes[4]

With Christianity the dominant faith in some urban centers, Christians accounted for approximately 10% of the Roman population by 300, according to some estimates.[5] Roman Emperor Diocletian launched the bloodiest campaign against Christians that the empire had witnessed. The persecution ended in 311 with the death of Diocletian. The persecution ultimately had not turned the tide on the growth of the religion.[6] Christians had already organized to the point of establishing hierarchies of bishops. In 301 the Kingdom of Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity. The Romans followed suit in 380.

Roman Empire

Under Galerius

In April 311, Galerius, who had previously been one of the leading figures in the persecutions, issued an edict permitting the practice of the Christian religion under his rule.[7] From 313 to 380, Christianity enjoyed the status of being a legal religion within the Roman Empire. It had not become the sole authorized state religion, although it gradually gained prominence and stature within Roman society. After halting the persecutions of the Christians, Galerius reigned for another 2 years. He was then succeeded by an emperor with distinctively pro Christian leanings, Constantine the Great.

Constantine I

Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a dramatic event in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine claimed the emperorship in the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words "ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ" ("by this, conquer!", often rendered in the Latin "in hoc signo vinces"); Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Ro), and thereafter they were victorious.[8][9] How much Christianity Constantine adopted at this point is difficult to discern; most influential people in the empire, especially high military officials, were still pagan, and Constantine's rule exhibited at least a willingness to appease these factions.[8]

Roman legalization

The accession of Constantine was a turning point for the Christian Church. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to high ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the reign of Diocletian.[10] In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan reaffirming the tolerance of Christians and returning previously confiscated property to the churches.

Under the influence of Constantine I, the Christian movement gradually underwent its major transformation from a previously underground and even criminal movement into an officially sanctioned religion of 'first rank' within the Roman Empire. Constantine I chose to take a lead role in much of this transformation. In 316 he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. More significantly, in 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea, effectively the first Ecumenical Council (the Council of Jerusalem was the first recorded Christian council but rarely is it considered ecumenical), to deal mostly with the Arian controversy, but which also issued the Nicene Creed, which among other things professed a belief in One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the start of Christendom.

Constantine began to utilize Christian symbols early in his reign but still encouraged traditional Roman religious practices including sun worship. Between 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Byzantium on the Bosphorus (it came to be named for him: Constantinople)–the city employed overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls (unlike "old" Rome), and had no pagan temples.[11] In 330 he established Constantinople as the new capital of the Roman Empire. The city would gradually come to be seen as the center of the Christian world.[12]

The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian emperor in the Church. Emperors considered themselves responsible to God for the spiritual health of their subjects, and thus they had a duty to maintain orthodoxy.[13] The emperor did not decide doctrine – that was the responsibility of the bishops – rather his role was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity.[14] The emperor ensured that God was properly worshiped in his empire; what proper worship consisted of was the responsibility of the church. This precedent would continue until certain emperors of the 5th and 6th centuries sought to alter doctrine by imperial edict without recourse to councils, though even after this Constantine's precedent generally remained the norm.[15]

Constantius II

Constantine's sons banned pagan State religious sacrifices in 341 but did not close the temples. Although all State temples in all cities were ordered shut in 356, there is evidence that traditional sacrifices continued. When Gratian declined the position and title of Pontifex Maximus, his act effectively brought an end to the state religion because of the position's authority and ties within the administration. This ended state official practices but not the private religious practices, and consequently the temples remained open.

There was not a total unity of Christianity however, and Constantius II was an Arian who kept Arian bishops at his court and installed them in various sees, expelling the orthodox bishops.

Julian the Apostate

Constantius's successor, Julian, known in the Christian world as Julian the Apostate, was a philosopher who upon becoming emperor renounced Christianity and embraced a Neo-platonic and mystical form of paganism shocking the Christian establishment. While not actually outlawing Christianity, he became intent on re-establishing the prestige of the old pagan beliefs and practices. He modified these practices to resemble Christian traditions such as the episcopal structure and public charity (hitherto unknown in Roman paganism). Julian eliminated most of the privileges and prestige previously afforded to the Christian Church. His reforms attempted to create a form of religious heterogeneity by, among other things, reopening pagan temples, accepting Christian bishops previously exiled as heretics, promoting Judaism, and returning Church lands to their original owners. However, Julian's short reign ended when he died while campaigning in the East. Christianity came to dominance during the reign of Julian's successors, Jovian, Valentinian I, and Valens (the last Eastern Arian Christian emperor).

Nicaea Christianity becomes the state religion of the Roman Empire

Over the course of the 4th century the Christian body became consumed by debates surrounding orthodoxy, i.e. which religious doctrines are the correct ones. By the early 4th century a group in North Africa, later called Donatists, who believed in a very rigid interpretation of Christianity that excluded many who had abandoned the faith during the Diocletian persecutions, created a crisis in the western Empire.[16] A Church synod, or council, was called in Rome in 313 followed by another in Arles in 314. The latter was presided over by Constantine while he was still a junior emperor. The councils ruled that the Donatist faith was heresy, and when the Donatists refused to recant, Constantine launched the first campaign of persecution by Christians against Christians. This was only the beginning of imperial involvement in the Christian theology.

Christian scholars within the empire were increasingly embroiled in debates regarding Christology. Opinions were widespread ranging from the belief that Jesus was entirely mortal to the belief that he was an Incarnation of God that had taken human form. The most persistent debate was that between the homoousian view (the Father and the Son are one and the same, eternal) and the Arian view (the Father and the Son are separate, but both divine). This controversy led to Constantine's calling a council meeting at Nicaea in 325.[17]

Christological debates raged throughout the 4th century with emperors becoming ever more involved with the Church and the Church becoming ever more divided.[18] The Council of Nicaea in 325 supported the Athanasian view. The Council of Rimini in 359 supported the Arian view. The Council of Constantinople in 360 supported a compromise that allowed for both views. The Council of Constantinople in 381 re-asserted the Athanasian view and rejected the Arian view. Emperor Constantine was of divided opinions, but he largely backed the Athanasian faction (though he was baptized on his death bed by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia). His successor Constantius II supported a Semi-Arian position. Emperor Julian favored a return the traditional Roman/Greek religion, but this trend was quickly quashed by his successor Jovian, a supporter of the Athanasian faction.

In 380 Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which established Christianity as the official state religion, specifically the faith established by the Council of Nicaea in 325:[19] Theodosius called the Council of Constantinople in 381 to further refine the definition of orthodoxy. In 391 Theodosius closed all of the pagan (non-Christian and non-Jewish) temples and formally forbade pagan worship. These adhering state churches can be seen as effectively a department of the Roman state. All other Christian sects were explicitly declared heretical and illegal. In 385, came the first capital punishment of a heretic was carried out on Priscillian of Ávila.[20][21]

Ecumenical Councils of the 4th century

The First Council of Nicaea (325) and the First Council of Constantinople (381) were a part of what would later be called the first seven Ecumenical Councils, which span 400 years of church history.

First Council of Nicaea

Emperor Constantine presents a representation of the city of Constantinople as tribute to an enthroned Mary and baby Jesus in this church mosaic. St Sophia, c. 1000.
Emperor Constantine presents a representation of the city of Constantinople as tribute to an enthroned Mary and baby Jesus in this church mosaic. St Sophia, c. 1000.

The First Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea in Bithynia (in present-day Turkey), convoked by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325, was the first ecumenical[22] conference of bishops of the Catholic Church (Catholic as in 'universal', not just Roman) and most significantly resulted in the first declaration of a uniform Christian doctrine.

The purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements in the Church of Alexandria over the nature of Jesus in relationship to the Father; in particular, whether Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father or merely of similar substance. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius took the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arian controversy comes, took the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250–318 attendees, all but 2 voted against Arius). Another result of the council was an agreement on the date of the Christian Passover (Pascha in Greek; Easter in modern English), the most important feast of the ecclesiastical calendar. The council decided in favour of celebrating the resurrection on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, independently of the Bible's Hebrew Calendar, and authorized the Bishop of Alexandria (presumably using the Alexandrian calendar) to announce annually the exact date to his fellow bishops.

The council was historically significant because it was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.[23] With the creation of the Nicene Creed, a precedent was established for subsequent general councils to create a statement of belief and canons which were intended to become guidelines for doctrinal orthodoxy and a source of unity for the whole of Christendom – a momentous event in the history of the Church and subsequent history of Europe.

The council was opposed by the Arians, and Constantine tried to reconcile Arius with the Church. Even when Arius died in 336, one year before the death of Constantine, the controversy continued, with various separate groups espousing Arian sympathies in one way or another.[24] In 359, a double council of Eastern and Western bishops affirmed a formula stating that the Father and the Son were similar in accord with the scriptures, the crowning victory for Arianism.[24] The opponents of Arianism rallied, but in the First Council of Constantinople in 381 marked the final victory of Nicene orthodoxy within the empire, though Arianism had by then spread to the Germanic tribes, among whom it gradually disappeared after the conversion of the Franks to Catholicism in 496.[24]

Icon depicting Emperor Constantine, center, accompanied by the Church Fathers of the 325 First Council of Nicaea, holding the Nicene Creed in its 381 form.
Icon depicting Emperor Constantine, center, accompanied by the Church Fathers of the 325 First Council of Nicaea, holding the Nicene Creed in its 381 form.

First Council of Constantinople

Early manuscript illustration of Council of Constantinople
Early manuscript illustration of Council of Constantinople

The First Council of Constantinople approved the current form of the Nicene Creed as it is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox churches. The creed, originally written in Greek, was subsequently translated in other languages. The form used by the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, has several additions to the original text.[25] This fuller creed may have existed before the council and probably originated from the baptismal creed of Constantinople.[26] Later, the Catholic Church in the west, added two additional Latin phrases ("Deum de Deo" and "Filioque"). The exact time, and origin, of these additions is disputed. However, they were formally accepted only in 1014.

The council also condemned Apollinarism,[27] the teaching that there was no human mind or soul in Christ.[28] It also granted Constantinople honorary precedence over all churches save Rome.[27] The council did not include Western bishops or Roman legates, but it was accepted as ecumenical in the West.[27]

Church Fathers

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

The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, or Fathers of the Church are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The term is used of writers and teachers of the Church, not necessarily saints. Teachers particularly are also known as doctors of the Church, although Athanasius called them men of little intellect.[29]

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers

Late Antique Christianity produced a great many renowned Church Fathers who wrote volumes of theological texts, including Augustine of Hippo, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others. Some, such as John Chrysostom and Athanasius, suffered exile, persecution, or martyrdom from heretical Byzantine emperors. Many of their writings are translated into English in the compilations of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

Influential texts and writers between 325 and c.500 include:

Greek Fathers

Those who wrote in Greek are called the Greek (Church) Fathers.

Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria was a theologian, Pope of Alexandria, and a noted Egyptian leader of the 4th century. He is best remembered for his role in the conflict with Arianism. At the First Council of Nicaea, Athanasius argued against the Arian doctrine that Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father.[30]

John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. After his death (or, according to some sources, during his life) he was given the Greek surname chrysostomos, meaning "golden mouthed", rendered in English as Chrysostom.[31][32]

Chrysostom is known within Christianity chiefly as a preacher, theologian, and liturgist, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Outside the Christian tradition Chrysostom is noted for eight of his sermons which played a considerable part in the history of Christian antisemitism and were extensively used by the Nazis in their ideological campaign against the Jews.[33][34]

Latin Fathers

Those fathers who wrote in Latin are called the Latin (Church) Fathers.

Ambrose of Milan

Ambrose of Milan[35] was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He is counted as one of the four original doctors of the Church.


Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers were early monastics living in the Egyptian desert; although they did not write as much, their influence was also great. Among them are St. Anthony the Great and St. Pachomius. A great number of their usually short sayings is collected in the Apophthegmata Patrum ("Sayings of the Desert Fathers").

Early Christian monasticism

The first efforts to create a proto-monastery were by Saint Macarius, who established individual groups of cells such as those at Kellia (founded in 328.) The intention was to bring together individual ascetics who, although pious, did not have the physical ability or skills to live a solitary existence in the desert . At Tabenna around 323, Saint Pachomius chose to mould his disciples into a more organized community in which the monks lived in individual huts or rooms (cellula in Latin) but worked, ate, and worshipped in shared space. Guidelines for daily life were created, and separate monasteries were created for men and women. This method of monastic organization is called cenobitic or "community-based." All the principal monastic orders are cenobitic in nature. In Catholic theology, this community-based living is considered superior because of the obedience practiced and the accountability offered. The head of a monastery came to be known by the word for "Father;" – in Syriac, Abba; in English, "Abbot."

Pachomius was called in to help organize others, and by one count by the time he died in 346 there were thought to be 3,000 such communities dotting Egypt, especially the Thebaid. Within the span of the next generation this number increased to 7,000. From there monasticism quickly spread out first to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually the rest of the Roman Empire.

Eastern monasticism

Analavos worn by Eastern Orthodox Schema-Monks.
Analavos worn by Eastern Orthodox Schema-Monks.

Orthodox monasticism does not have religious orders as in the West,[36] so there are no formal monastic rules; rather, each monk and nun is encouraged to read all of the Holy Fathers and emulate their virtues. There is also no division between the "active" and "contemplative" life. Orthodox monastic life embraces both active and contemplative aspects.

Icon Depicting Souls Ascent to Heaven after Death
Icon Depicting Souls Ascent to Heaven after Death


The earliest phases of monasticism in Western Europe involved figures like Martin of Tours, who after serving in the Roman legions converted to Christianity and established a hermitage near Milan, then moved on to Poitiers where he gathered a community around his hermitage. He was called to become Bishop of Tours in 372, where he established a monastery at Marmoutiers on the opposite bank of the Loire River, a few miles upstream from the city. His monastery was laid out as a colony of hermits rather than as a single integrated community.

John Cassian began his monastic career at a monastery in Palestine and Egypt around 385 to study monastic practice there. In Egypt he had been attracted to the isolated life of hermits, which he considered the highest form of monasticism, yet the monasteries he founded were all organized monastic communities. About 410 he established two monasteries near Marseilles, one for men, one for women. In time these attracted a total of 5,000 monks and nuns. Most significant for the future development of monasticism were Cassian's Institutes, which provided a guide for monastic life and his Conferences, a collection of spiritual reflections.

Honoratus of Marseilles was a wealthy Gallo-Roman aristocrat, who after a pilgrimage to Egypt, founded the Monastery of Lérins, on an island lying off the modern city of Cannes. The monastery combined a community with isolated hermitages where older, spiritually-proven monks could live in isolation.

One Roman reaction to monasticism was expressed in the description of Lérins by Rutilius Namatianus, who served as prefect of Rome in 414:

A filthy island filled by men who flee the light.
Monks they call themselves, using a Greek name.
Because they will to live alone, unseen by man.
Fortune's gifts they fear, dreading their harm:
Mad folly of a demented brain,
That cannot suffer good, for fear of ill.

Lérins became, in time, a center of monastic culture and learning, and many later monks and bishops would pass through Lérins in the early stages of their career. Honoratus was called to be Bishop of Arles and was succeeded in that post by another monk from Lérins. Lérins was aristocratic in character, as was its founder, and was closely tied to urban bishoprics.

Defining scripture

A page from Codex Sinaiticus, א, showing text from Esther. Written c. 330-360, it is one of the earliest and most important Biblical manuscript. Now at the British Library and other locations, the manuscript was discovered at Saint Catherine's Monastery, in 1844.
A page from Codex Sinaiticus, א, showing text from Esther. Written c. 330-360, it is one of the earliest and most important Biblical manuscript. Now at the British Library and other locations, the manuscript was discovered at Saint Catherine's Monastery, in 1844.

In 331, Constantine I commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Christian Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.[37]

In order to form a New Testament canon of uniquely Christian works, proto-orthodox Christians went through a process that was complete in the West by the beginning of the fifth century.[38] Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in his Easter letter of 367,[39] which was approved at the Quinisext Council, listed the same twenty-seven New Testament books as found in the Canon of Trent. The first council that accepted the present canon of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa in 393; the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Council of Carthage (397) and Council of Carthage (419).[40]


After legalisation in 313, the Church inside the Roman Empire adopted the same organisational boundaries as the empire: geographical provinces, called dioceses, corresponding to imperial governmental territorial division. The bishops, who were located in major urban centres as per pre-legalisation tradition, thus oversaw each diocese as Metropolitan bishops. The bishop's location was his "seat", or "see." The prestige of important Christian centers depended in part on their apostolic founders, from whom the bishops were therefore the spiritual successors according to the doctrine of Apostolic succession.

Constantine erected a new capital at Byzantium, a strategically placed city on the Bosporus. He renamed his new capital Nova Roma ("New Rome"), but the city would become known as Constantinople. The Second Ecumenical Council, held at the new capital in 381, elevated the see of Constantinople to a position ahead of the other chief metropolitan sees, except that of Rome.[41] Mentioning in particular the provinces of Asia, Pontus and Thrace, it decreed that the synod of each province should manage the ecclesiastical affairs of that province alone, except for the privileges already recognized for Alexandria and Antioch.[42]

Tensions between the East and the West

The divisions in Christian unity which led to the East–West Schism started to become evident as early as the 4th century. Although 1054 is the date usually given for the beginning of the Great Schism, there is, in fact, no specific date on which the schism occurred.

The events leading to schism were not exclusively theological in nature. Cultural, political, and linguistic differences were often mixed with the theological. Unlike the Coptics or Armenians who broke from the Church in the 5th century and established ethnic churches at the cost of their universality and catholicity, the eastern and western parts of the Church remained loyal to the faith and authority of the seven ecumenical councils. They were united, by virtue of their common faith and tradition, in one Church.

The Stone of the Anointing, believed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. It is the 13th Station of the Cross.
The Stone of the Anointing, believed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. It is the 13th Station of the Cross.

The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the ecclesiastics of the Orthodox church are based in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre constructed in 335 AD.

Disunion in the Roman Empire further contributed to disunion in the Church. Emperor Diocletian divided the administration of the eastern and western portions of the empire in the early 4th century, though subsequent leaders (including Constantine) aspired to and sometimes gained control of both regions. Theodosius I, who established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, died in 395 and was the last emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire; following his death, the division into western and eastern halves, each under its own emperor, became permanent. By the end of the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire had been overrun by the Germanic tribes, while the Eastern Roman Empire (known also as the Byzantine Empire) continued to thrive. Thus, the political unity of the Roman Empire was the first to fall.

In the West, the collapse of civil government left the Church practically in charge in many areas, and bishops took to administering secular cities and domains.[30] When royal and imperial rule reestablished itself, it had to contend with power wielded independently by the Church. In the East, however, imperial and, later, Islamic rule dominated the Eastern bishops of Byzantium.[30] Whereas the Orthodox regions that were predominantly Slavic experienced period foreign dominance as well as period without infrastructure (see the Tatars and Russia).


In the 4th century when the Roman emperors were trying to control the Church, theological questions were running rampant throughout the Roman Empire.[43] The influence of Greek speculative thought on Christian thinking led to all sorts of divergent and conflicting opinions.[44] Christ's commandment to love others as He loved seemed to have been lost in the intellectual abstractions of the time. Theology was also used as a weapon against opponent bishops, since being branded a heretic was the only sure way for a bishop to be removed by other bishops.[citation needed]

After Constantine built Constantinople, the centre of the empire was recognised to have shifted to the eastern Mediterranean. Rome lost the Senate to Constantinople and lost its status and gravitas as imperial capital. The bishops of Rome sent letters which, though largely ineffectual, provided historical precedents which were used by later supporters of papal primacy. These letters were known as 'decretals' from at least the time of Siricius (384–399) to Leo I provided general guidelines to follow which later would become incorporated into canon law.[45]

Spread of Christianity

9th century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13)
9th century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13)

In the 4th century, the early process of Christianization of the various Germanic peoples was partly facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire amongst European pagans. Until the decline of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes who had migrated there (with the exceptions of the Saxons, Franks, and Lombards) had converted to Christianity.[46] Many of them, notably the Goths and Vandals, adopted Arianism instead of the Trinitarian beliefs that came to dominate the Roman Imperial Church.[46] The gradual rise of Germanic Christianity was voluntary, particularly amongst groups associated with the Roman Empire.

Wulfila or Ulfilas was the son or grandson of Christian captives from Sadagolthina in Cappadocia. In 337 or 341, Wulfila became the first bishop of the (Christian) Goths. By 348, one of the pagan Gothic kings began persecuting the Christian Goths, and Wulfila and many other Christian Goths fled to Moesia Secunda (in modern Bulgaria) in the Roman Empire.[47][48] Other Christians, including Wereka, Batwin, and Saba, died in later persecutions.

Between 348 and 383, Wulfila translated the Bible into the Gothic language.[48][49] Thus some Arian Christians in the west used the vernacular languages, in this case including Gothic and Latin, for services, as did Christians in the eastern Roman provinces, while most Christians in the western provinces used Latin.

Christianity outside the Roman Empire

2nd to 5th century simplified migrations. See also map of the world in 820 CE.
2nd to 5th century simplified migrations. See also map of the world in 820 CE.

The Armenian, Georgian and Ethiopian chuches are the only instances of imposition of Christianity by sovereign rulers predating the council of Nicaea. Conversions happened among the Grecian-Roman-Celtic populations over centuries, mostly among its urban population and only spread to rural populations in much later centuries. Consequently, while the initial converts were found among the Jewish populations, the development of the Orthodox Church as an aspect of State society occurred through the co-option of State Religion into the ethos of Christianity, and only then was conversion of the large rural population accomplished.

The Germanic migrations of the 5th century were triggered by the destruction of the Gothic kingdoms by the Huns in 372–375.

Great persecution

The great persecution fell upon the Christians in Persia about 340. Though the religious motives were never unrelated, the primary cause of the persecution was political. When Rome became Christian, its old enemy turned anti-Christian. For the first three centuries[clarification needed] after Christ it was in the West that Christians were persecuted. The Parthians were too religiously tolerant to persecute, and their less tolerant Sassanian successors on the throne were too busy fighting Rome, so Persian emperors were inclined to regard them as friends of Persia.

It was about 315 that an ill-advised letter from Christian Emperor Constantine to his Persian counterpart Shapur II probably triggered the beginnings of an ominous change in the Persian attitude toward Christians. Constantine believed he was writing to help his fellow believers in Persia but succeeded only in exposing them. He wrote to the young shah:

"I rejoice to hear that the fairest provinces of Persia are adorned with...Christians...Since you are so powerful and pious, I commend them to your care, and leave them in your protection[1]".

It was enough to make any Persian ruler conditioned by 300 years of war with Rome suspicious of the emergence of a fifth column. Any lingering doubts must have been dispelled when about twenty years later when Constantine began to gather his forces for war in the East. Eusebius records that Roman bishops were prepared to accompany their emperor to "battle with him and for him by prayers to God whom all victory proceeds".[2] And across the border in Persian territory the forthright Persian preacher Aphrahat recklessly predicted on the basis of his reading of Old testament prophecy that Rome would defeat Persia.[3]

When the persecutions began shortly thereafter, the first accusation brought against the Christians was that they were aiding the Roman enemy. The shah Shapur II's response was to order a double taxation on Christians and to hold the bishop responsible for collecting it. He knew they were poor and that the bishop would be hard-pressed to find the money. Bishop Simon refused to be intimidated. He branded the tax as unjust and declared, "I am no tax collector but a shepherd of the Lord's flock."

A second decree ordered the destruction of churches and the execution of clergy who refused to participate in the national worship of the sun. Bishop Simon was seized and brought before the shah and was offered gifts to make a token obeisance to the sun, and when he refused, they cunningly tempted him with the promise that if he alone would apostatize his people would not be harmed, but that if he refused he would be condemning not just the church leaders but all Christians to destruction. At that, the Christians rose up and refused to accept such a deliverance as shameful. In 344, Simon was led outside the city of Susa along with a large number of Christian clergy. Five bishops and one hundred priests were beheaded before his eyes, and lastly he was put to death.[4]

Sometime before the death of Shapur II in 379, the intensity of the persecution slackened. Tradition calls it a forty-year persecution, lasting from 339–379 and ending only with Shapur's death. When at last the years of suffering ended around 401, the historian Sozomen, who lived nearby, wrote that the multitude of martyrs had been "beyond enumeration".[5] One estimate is that as many as 190,000 Persian Christians died in the terror.

Conditioning factors of missionary expansion

Several important factors help to explain the extensive growth in the Church of the East during the first twelve hundred years of the Christian era. Geographically, and possibly even numerically, the expansion of this church outstripped that of the church in the West in the early centuries. The outstanding key to understanding this expansion is the active participation of the laymen – the involvement of a large percentage of the church's believers in missionary evangelism.[6]

Persecution strengthened and spread the Christian movement in the East. A great influx of Christian refugees from the Roman persecutions of the first two centuries gave vigour to the Mesopotamian church. The persecutions in Persia caused refugees to escape as far as Arabia, India, and other Central Asian countries.

Christianity penetrated Arabia from numerous points on its periphery. Northeastern Arabia flourished from the end of the 3rd to the end of the 6th and was apparently evangelized by Christians from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the 4th century. The kingdom of Ghassan on the northwest frontier was also a sphere of missionary activity. In fact, by 500 many churches were also in existence along the Arabian shore of the Persian Gulf and in Oman, all connected with the Church of the East in the Persian Empire. Arabian bishops were found among those in attendance at important church councils in Mesopotamia.

Central Asia

The agents of missionary expansion in central Asia and the Far East were not only monks and clergy trained in the mesopotamian monastic schools, but also in many cases Christian merchants and artisans, often with considerable biblical training. They frequently found employment among people less advanced in education, serving in government offices and as teachers and secretaries and more advanced medical care. They also helped to solve the problem of illiteracy by inventing simplified alphabets based on the Syriac language.

Persecution often thrust Christians forth into new and unevangelized lands to find refuge. The dissemination of the gospel by largely Syriac-using people had its advantages, but it was also a hindrance to indigenizing the church in the new areas. Because Syriac never became dominant, competition from ethnic religions was an issue. For these reasons of political vicissitude, in later centuries Christianity suffered an almost total eclipse in Asia until the modern period. The golden age of early missions in central Asia extended from the end of the fourth to the latter part of the 9th century.

Christianity had an early and extensive dissemination throughout the vast territory north of Persia and west and East of the Oxus River. Cities like Merv, Herat and Samarkand had bishops and later became metropolitanates. Christians were found among the Hephthalite Huns from the 5th century, and the Mesopotamian patriarch assigned two bishops (John of Resh-aina and Thomas the Tanner) to both peoples, with the result that many were baptized. They also devised and taught a written language for the Huns and with the help of an Armenian bishop, taught also agricultural methods and skills.


4th century Timeline

See also


  1. ^ O'Leary (2000), pp. 131–137.
  2. ^ Price (2005), pp. 52–55.
  3. ^ Dwyer (1998), pp. 109–111.
  4. ^ Anderson (2010), p. 604.
    Amory (), pp. 259–262.
  5. ^ Hopkins(1998), p. 191
  6. ^ Irvin (2002), p. 161.
  7. ^ Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum ("On the Deaths of the Persecutors") ch.34–35
  8. ^ a b Gerberding, p.55
  9. ^ cf. Eusebius, Life of Constantine
  10. ^ Gerberding, pp.55–56
  11. ^ Gerberding, p. 56
  12. ^ Payton (2007), p.29
  13. ^ Richards, pp.14–15
  14. ^ Richards, p. 15
  15. ^ Richards, p.16
  16. ^ Irvin (2002), p. 164, ch. 15.
  17. ^ Carroll (1987), p. 11.
  18. ^ Irvin (2002), p. 164, ch. 16.
  19. ^ Bettenson (1967), p. 22.
  20. ^ Halsall, Paul (June 1997). "Theodosian Code XVI.i.2". Medieval Sourcebook: Banning of Other Religions. Fordham University. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
  21. ^ "Lecture 27: Heretics, Heresies and the Church". 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-24. Review of Church policies towards heresy, including capital punishment.
  22. ^ Ecumenical, from Koine Greek oikoumenikos, literally meaning worldwide but generally assumed to be limited to the Roman Empire as in Augustus' claim to be ruler of the oikoumene (world); the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are Eusebius' Life of Constantine 3.6 around 338 "σύνοδον οἰκουμενικὴν συνεκρότει" (he convoked an Ecumenical council), Athanasius' Ad Afros Epistola Synodica in 369, and the Letter in 382 to Pope Damasus I and the Latin bishops from the First Council of Constantinople.
  23. ^ Kieckhefer, Richard (1989), "Papacy", Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ISBN 0-684-18275-0
  24. ^ a b c Cross, FL, ed. (2005), "Arianism", The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press.
  25. ^ Armenian Church Library: Nicene Creed
  26. ^ "Nicene Creed." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  27. ^ a b c "Constantinople, First Council of." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  28. ^ "Apollinarius." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  29. ^ Athanasius, On the Incarnation 47
  30. ^ a b c Will Durant. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972, ISBN 1-56731-014-1
  31. ^ Pope Vigilius, Constitution of Pope Vigilius, 553
  32. ^ "St John Chrysostom" in the Catholic Encyclopedia, available online; retrieved March 20, 2007.
  33. ^ Walter Laqueur, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times To The Present Day, (Oxford University Press: 2006), p.48. ISBN 0-19-530429-2. 48
  34. ^ Yohanan (Hans) Lewy, "John Chrysostom" in Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0), Ed. Cecil Roth (Keter Publishing House: 1997). ISBN 965-07-0665-8.
  35. ^ Known in Latin and Low Franconian as Ambrosius, in Italian as Ambrogio and in Lombard as Ambroeus.
  36. ^ One may hear Orthodox monks referred to as "Basilian Monks", but this is really an inappropriate application of western categories to Orthodoxy.
  37. ^ McDonald & Sanders, The Canon Debate, pp.414–415
  38. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Canon of the New Testament" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  39. ^ Easter letter of 367
  40. ^ McDonald & Sanders' The Canon Debate, Appendix D-2, note 19: "Revelation was added later in 419 at the subsequent synod of Carthage." "Two books of Esdras" is ambiguous, it could be 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as in the Septuagint or Ezra and Nehemiah as in the Vulgate.
  41. ^ Second Ecumenical Council, Canon III
  42. ^ Second Ecumenical Council, Canon II
  43. ^ John Binns, An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2002, pp 162–164
  44. ^ John Binns, An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2002, p68
  45. ^ Schimmelpfennig, p. 47
  46. ^ a b Padberg 1998, 26
  47. ^ Auxentius of Durostorum, Letter of Auxentius, quoted in Heather and Matthews, Goths in the Fourth Century, pp. 141–142.
  48. ^ a b Philostorgius via Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 2, chapter 5.
  49. ^ Auxentius of Durostorum, Letter of Auxentius, quoted in Heather and Matthews, Goths in the Fourth Century, p. 140.
  50. ^ Barrett, David B., Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, and Peter F. Crossing. World Christian Trends, AD 30–AD 2200, William Carey Library Publishers, 2001, p. 115
  51. ^ Kane, p. 33
  52. ^ Eusebius. "The Church History Of Eusebius". Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
  53. ^ Fortescue, Adrian. The Eastern Churches Trilogy, Gorgias Press LLC, 2001, p. 17
  54. ^ The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, pages 414–415
  55. ^ a b c Barrett, p. 24
  56. ^ Korolevsky, Cyril. Living Languages in Catholic Worship: An Historical Inquiry, Longmans, Green, 1957, p. 14
  57. ^ Anderson, 149
  58. ^ Neill, p. 48
  59. ^ Latourette, 1941, vol. I, p. 257
  60. ^ The Seventh Arian (or Second Sirmium) Confession Sirmium (357)
  61. ^ Herbermann, 268
  62. ^ Theodosian Code XVI.1.2 Medieval Sourcebook: Banning of Other Religions by Paul Halsall, June 1997, Fordham University, retrieved September 25, 2006
  63. ^ Walker, pp. 117–118
  64. ^ Latourette, 1953, p. 97
  65. ^ Latourette, 1941, vol. I, p. 199


  • Gerberding, R. and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)
  • Richards, Jeffrey. The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages 476–752 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979)

Further reading

  • R. T. Meyer, St. Athanasius: The Life of Anthony, ACW 10 (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press 1950)
  • Chitty, D. J. The Desert a City (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1966)
  • MacMullen, Ramsay, Christianizing the Roman Empire, AD 100–400 Yale University Press (paperback, 1986 ISBN 0-300-03642-6 )
  • Trombley, Frank R., 1995. Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370–529 (in series Religions in the Graeco-Roman World) (Brill) ISBN 90-04-09691-4
  • Fletcher, Richard, The Conversion of Europe. From Paganism to Christianity 371–1386 AD. London 1997.
  • Esler, Philip F. The Early Christian World. Routledge (2004). ISBN 0-415-33312-1.
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0-226-65371-4.
  • Schatz, Klaus (1996). Papal Primacy. Liturgical Press. ISBN 0-8146-5522-X.
  • Schimmelpfennig, Bernhard (1992). The Papacy. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-07515-2.

External links

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