A monotheistic that originated in the Near East during the first century CE, and whose essence is the belief in Jesus Christ, is a theo­centric faith proclaiming the existence of a personal God, one in the Holy Trinity. The God of is an autonomous, indivisible, immaterial being, an absolute unity possessed of infinite life and totally distinct from the world. Each of God’s persons has only one and the same divine nature and remains in a reciprocal personal relation with the others on the basis of its origin. God the Father is the principle that originates the Son and the Holy Spirit (Filioque). As the Almighty Father, God is the creator of the entire universe, which he sustains in existence and upholds in its activities, guiding both the lives of individuals and the history of human communities (divine providence). Having elected humankind from all earthly creatures, both as spiritual crea­tures (human soul) and material beings (human body), God has granted humans immortality. He created humans in his own image and likeness, and bestowed on humans his grace and friendship (God’s children). Human disobedience against God’s decrees (original sin) is understood not as having caused God’s revenge, but as having brought about the promise of salvation already outlined in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Thus, Christianity has its source in Judaism and is consid­ered a revealed religion. This entry provides a detailed overview of the history of Christianity from its sources in Judaism and development through the Roman period, through the Middle Ages and into the modern era, an outline of Christian doctrine, and an explanation of Christianity’s understanding of, and relationship to, time.

Source of Christianity

The Hebrew Bible shows the eternal covenant between the Israelites and Yahweh (Jehovah). In its oldest confessions of faith, Israel proclaimed God to be the redeemer of the nation, the Lord of the holy history, the one who has chosen the fathers, granted them his promises, and then realized these promises. Such formulas, defined as Historical Creed, for example included in Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:20nn and 26:5b-9), were designed for public recitation in prescribed ritual practices. Through such recitation, Israelites experienced their own selves before God. It was thus acknowl­edged that the nation responded to God and ful­filled the terms of the covenant not only as a group, but also through individuals. Individuals, however, were not always correct in their responses to God’s initiatives and not always righteous toward their neighbors. In monarchic times, the faith and deeds of the kings could either secure the well-being of the nation or cause misfortune. This made the Hebrews reflect on the sinful condition of humanity and on the fact that humanity was constrained by sin, sub­ject to suffering and death. Such a reflection gave rise to thoughts about the need for redemption and led to emergence of the Messianic idea. The life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, which were directed against institutionalizing and legalizing faith, con­firm his awareness of being the Messiah awaited by the people of Israel. The Gospels show Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah acting in the name of God and fulfilling the prophecies articulated in the Hebrew Bible (in Christianity, the Old Testament).

History of Christianity

The term Christians comes from the word Christ (gr. Christos), which refers to the real historical person considered as someone anointed by God and the Son of God, according to Saint Peter’s con­fession of faith: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). The life and teach­ing of Jesus Christ was conveyed from the Pentecost onward in the form of the oral proclamation of God’s message of salvation. Later it was written down in books that were considered holy and inspired. These are known as the New Testament and are part of the Holy Scriptures. In terms of chronology, the earliest texts of the New Testament were the Letters of Saint Paul to Thessalonians, written in 50/51 CE. The first gospel was the Gospel of Saint Mark, while the writings of Saint John, comprising three letters, the Gospel, and the Revelation, are the last pieces of the New Testament in the chronological order of composition. The books of the New Testament are the confession of faith of the first Christians. They were not intended as Christ’s biography or a history of the first Church, but they nevertheless provide a reliable source for establishing many historical events. The historical existence of the founder of Christianity is also confirmed by a few non-Christian sources. His activity in Galilee and his death on the cross, which was not a major event in political terms, could not have been the center of attention for Jewish or Roman chroniclers. Josephus Flavius, a Romanized Jewish historian, includes in his work Iudaike archaiologia—Ancient History of Israel, known also as Antiquities of the Jews, reliable information about the person of Jesus Christ (“then there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if he was man at all, because he performed many outstanding things; he was a teacher of the people . . . and many people followed him. On the basis of the accusation formed by our chief men Pilate sentenced him to death on the cross but his former friends did not stop loving him, because on the third day he appeared to them alive, just as God’s prophets had foretold” (Matt.-18.3, 3). To the skeptics the text seems too positive, so they consider it to be at least partially interpolated by Christians. But even if this were the case, the interpolation itself is evidence of the historical existence of Christ. Two Roman his­torians, Tacitus (55-120 CE) and Suetonius (65-135 CE), mention Christ in connection with their accounts of other historical events. Tacitus describes the great fire in Rome (64 CE) and the fact that Emperor Nero blamed it on the Christians.

Suetonius gives an account of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius (50 CE). Both texts prove that the existence of Christ was known in Rome and that his figure was associated with the Christians.

The First Church

A lack of definitive historical documents com­plicates the study of the origins of Christianity and causes serious controversies. It is generally consid­ered that the first Christian community was formed in Jerusalem around the year 30 CE. It consisted of Jews who had embraced Jesus’ teach­ings during his life on Earth and under the influ­ence of the first catechesis of Saint Peter (the so-called primary catecheses, which include the speech given on the descent of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:14-36), which proclaimed the resurrection of crucified Jesus. Many other such communities were created by Jews living in the Diaspora and converted from Hellenism. Only some Jews inhab­ited Jerusalem and Palestine; others were dispersed all over the region. This resulted in cultural as well as political, and even religious diversification of the Jewish nation, although it shared a single cultural background and preserved the faith in one God—Jehovah. In general, Jews in the Diaspora were able to exercise religious and political auton­omy. They used the Greek language (koine), some­times even for the liturgy. Because the use of Greek led to the appropriation of other Hellenic influences, people from Jerusalem treated their Hellenizing neighbors from the Diaspora with reserve. Through its connections with Greek cul­ture, the Diaspora was more open to Christian teaching than the Judeans were. In order to facili­tate apostolic work with the rapidly growing num­bers of Christians, seven deacons were nominated (Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch), probably from the group of Hellenists. They were appointed for the purposes of religious service and works of charity (Acts 6:1-7).

The term Christianity appeared as late as 43 CE in Syrian Antiochia, where the believers in Jesus were called christianoi for the first time (Acts 11:26). The term most probably derives from pagan circles and was originally pejorative. The same word can be found in some early Christian writings, for instance in the texts of Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, or Eusebius of Caesarea. Before that, the believers in Christ called them­selves the commune, the community, or the church (Acts 5, 11), while the Jews treated them as a sect of the Nazarenes, Galileans, or Ebonites (hebr. Ebionim, the poor).

Christianity spread thanks to the missionary activities of the apostles and their associates as a result of the first persecution. This started with the bringing of the Apostles Peter and John before the Sanhedrin because the Jewish priests and the Sadducees were aggrieved at the apostles teaching to the people about the resurrection of Jesus. Their first hearing finished with threats and was soon followed by a second arrest and imprisonment from which, accord­ing to the Acts, they were delivered by an angel of God (Acts 5:17-19). Both arrests took place on the orders of the high priest and his kin, who rejected the teaching about Christ and feared social unrest in Jerusalem. The following persecution affected not only the apostles, but also the church in Jerusalem and even spread to other Christian communities in Palestine. It started in 32 CE with the charges raised by a group called the Libertines, Cyrenians and Alexandrians against deacon Stephen, whom they accused of blasphemy (Acts 7:54-60). The persecu­tions that followed his death resulted in a dispersal of Christians over Judaea, Samaria, Galilee, and beyond Palestine, reaching Damascus, Joppa, Philippia, and Antioch in Syria.

When visiting the dispersed Christian commu­nities, Peter and John attracted new believers. Their numbers grew, and new communities were formed. Deacon Philip baptized a courtier of Ethiopian Queen Candace (Acts 8:25-40). Apostle Peter baptized pagan centurion Cornelius together with his household (Acts 10:1n). However, the model in which a Christian was to be strongly linked with the Jewish culture proved incompati­ble with Christianity as a universal religion.

The dispersal of the apostles was the result of the persecution of the church in Jerusalem insti­gated by Herod Agrippa I in 43 CE. This was initiated by the king following his appointment by Emperor Claudius as the ruler of all of Palestine. In this way, Herod Agrippa tried to curry the favor of the high priest Ananias after deposing his son Teophilus. The king’s sudden death in 44 CE restored peace to the in Jerusalem. The next wave of persecution was linked with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which followed the Jewish uprising against Roman rule. Started 4 years earlier, the Jewish uprising turned into a bloody war; the Roman response left the nation in ruins. The war also caused serious damage to the church in Jerusalem, although its members left the city before the siege, seeking refuge on the east bank of the river Jordan. Most of them settled in the small town of Pella and created a local church led by Bishop Simon, a relative of Jesus.

Faced with an influx of numerous converts from paganism, some communities began to aban­don various Judaic religious traditions, such as circumcision and other Mosaic rituals. The result­ing schisms, which caused problems for the new converts, were officially conciliated by the so- called Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35).

The Missionary Journeys

The growth of Christian communities gained particular impetus thanks to the missionary jour­neys of Saint Paul. In the years 46-48 CE, he vis­ited together with Barnabas and his cousin John Mark such locations as Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. The second journey, dated 50-52 CE, took Paul to Troas, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Beroea, Athens, and Corinth. On this journey Paul was accompanied by Silvanus, and they were joined at a later point by Timothy and Luke. With the exception of Ephesus, this mis­sionary journey was intended as a visitation to the local churches as some of them were adversely influenced by groups of Judeo-Christians or the followers of Apollos, a Jew who taught the phi­losophy of Plato. Through the efforts of Paul and Barnabas, a Christian community was also founded in the capital of the empire, Rome. The activities of the other apostles after leaving Jerusalem went unrecorded until the turn of the 2nd century, and those accounts are doubtful, modeled as they often were on ancient tales of fictitious heroes. Also, it is possible that they were written by Gnostics, who tended to attribute their writings to the apostles. Nevertheless, it is possible to find out from them about the geographic reach of Christianity at the end of the apostolic period. According to these sources, Andrew (brother of Peter) continued his missionary activity in Scythia, Thrace, Epirus, Greece, and the Crimea. James the Elder did not work outside of Jerusalem; he was killed in the city and became the first martyr among the apostles. Apostle Philip (frequently confused with Philip the Deacon) was reported as working in Asia Minor and among the Parthians. Bartholomew went in all likelihood to South Arabia, erroneously identified in the sources as “India.” Thomas is mentioned as a missionary to the peoples inhabiting the regions between Syria, Persia, and India (Malabar Christians consider him as the founder of their religion). Matthew the Evangelist, son of Alphaeus, conducted a mission to Palestine and allegedly also to the Aramaic-speaking peoples; Aramaic was his mother tongue and the language in which he originally wrote his Gospel. James the Younger, son of Alphaeus, probably never left Jerusalem, where he was head of the local church. Jude Thaddeus, brother of James, preached the gospel first in Palestine and then in Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Simon, known as the Canaanite, was a missionary in the regions around the Black Sea, perhaps also in Africa and Persia. Finally, Matthias, who was elected a member of the Apostolic College after the death of Judas (Acts 1:23-26), was reported to have conducted missionary work in Ethiopia and Colchis.

Structure of Local Churches

In order to make the ministry to new communities more efficient, the apostles appointed superiors for local churches known as episkopoi (literally, “over­seers”), while smaller individual congregations were headed by the elders or presbyters (presbiteroi). James was appointed head of the community in Jerusalem, Titus in Corinth, and Timothy in Ephesus, giving rise to the church hierarchy. This fact was obliterated, however, by the still unsettled terminol­ogy, because in Paul’s descriptions of church struc­tures we find more emphasis on posts rather than on offices. It is certain that the posts of bishops and presbyters, like those of deacons, have always been connected with one local church. The Pastor (noi^h u) of Hermas—dated the last decade before the year 150—uses these terms interchangeably; Didache, known also as De doctrina apostolorium, has only one term, episkopoi; Polycarp in his Letter to Philippians mentions only presbiteroi and diakonos; while Ignatius of Antioch makes a clear distinction of three groups in a local church: episkopoi (bishops), presbiteroi (priests), and diakonos (deacons). According to him, the college of presbyters and dea­cons is subject to the bishop. Such a structure, called monarchic episcopacy, is widely mentioned after 140 CE. Apart from institutional structures, there also existed some charismatic faculties of the members of the communities. These faculties were temporary and served the completion of certain tasks, for instance the gift of prophecy or glossolalia, that is, the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-11).

The apostolic letters indicate that there occurred tensions and divisions among Christian communi­ties (1 Cor 1:10-12). In theology, it is considered that the inviolable principle of unity is founded in the deposit of faith called the symbol of faith (the doctrine that all converts belong to the Mystic Body of Christ—1 Cor 12:12-13). The institu­tional element is considered the other fundamen­tal principle (the fact that the church is subject to the College of Twelve, with Peter as its head— 1 Cor 12:28). The first Councils already showed the spiritual and honorary primacy of the Roman community and its bishop. At first, however, the bishops of Rome themselves did not claim the right to the title of pope, that is, head of the whole church. It was only in 451 that Leon I, Bishop of Rome, formulated his thesis, which stated that all Christian communities derive their authority from the Roman Church and that local bishops are the delegates of the bishop of Rome. These opinions influenced the future growth of Christianity as both a doctrinal and institutional monolith.

Persecutions of Christianity

In the first century, Christianity existed in Asia Minor, Syria, Greece, Egypt, and Italy. In the 2nd century, it spread to Gaul and North Africa. The hostility of the Roman authorities resulted in the fact that Christianity was persecuted by many emperors: Nero (54-68), Domitian (81-96), Trajan (98-117), Marcus Aurelius (161-180), Decius (249-251), and Diocletian (284-306). The first official pronouncement of the imperial authorities directed against Christianity was connected with the burning of Rome on July 16, 64. Rumors were spread that the city was burned at the emperor’s order, because he wanted to see it in flames and compose poems about it, the way Homer described the destruction of Troy. Anxious about the conse­quences, the emperor, following Tigellinus’ advice, accused the Christians of arson. Tacitus had no doubts that this was a false accusation, although he shared the opinion that the Christians deserved severe punishment for their “hatred of human­kind.” The persecution instigated on private motives could not have been designed to extermi­nate Christians in the whole empire, although some later apologists described Nero as a tyrant who aimed at the total extermination of Christians. Lactantius in the 4th century argued that the emperor’s decree (Institutum Nerinianum) did not introduce any legal act against Christians but was meant to spread the conviction among all the offi­cials that being a Christian was a crime if the emperor persecuted it in Rome. A series of further persecutions started in the times of Emperor Domitian. Like Nero before him, he instigated terror because of private motives. This weak and suspicious man lived in constant fear of being deposed, therefore he ordered the killing of Jude Thaddeus, who was a simple man but descended from the family of King David. Having learned about the prophesy about David’s offspring who would rule the world, the emperor interpreted it as a direct threat to his rule. Roman historian Dio Cassio mentions “many others” who fell victim to Domitian’s orders, although Tertullian estimates this was but a small fraction of what happened as a result of Nero’s cruelty. In the time of Domitian, the majority of losses suffered by the church occurred in the East, where the emperor’s cult was most widespread, and since Domitian assumed the title Dominus ac Deus (Lord and God), all those who refused to use this title were severely pun­ished. The persecutions ordered by Nero and Domitian confirmed the conviction of the pagans that Christians were untrustworthy and wicked people. They were often charged with the same crimes as the Jews, since, in the beginning, the for­mer were identified with the latter, but even when the difference was finally acknowledged, not only were the old charges not withdrawn, but at the turn of the first century new accusations were added. Asia Minor became the first arena of local persecutions under the next emperor, Trajan. This is confirmed by a letter from the governor of Bithynia, Plinius the Younger, to the emperor. The governor writes that the Christians are abundant in the cities and villages. Pagan citizens bring them before the judges who question them and often sentence them to death. Plinius asks the emperor how to treat the Christians because he noticed that the investigations revealed no real offenses against the law, and some denunciations were clearly motivated by a craving for revenge. The letter proves that until then there were no special regula­tions against the church except for a general rule from the time of Nero that it was forbidden to be a Christian. Marcus Aurelius, an adherent of Stoicism, claimed that the ruler should seek happi­ness in service of his subjects, but did not prevent many dangerous outbursts of pagan hatred of Christians. The persecutors wanted to make the Christians guilty of the wrath of gods, which they believed was the reason behind the misfortunes brought about by the invasion of the Parthians in the eastern and southern provinces of the empire, the disastrous floods caused by overrunning rivers, as well as the attack of the barbaric peoples on the western borders of the empire, which had been safe until then. The Christians were not always sen­tenced to death. Some were banished or forced to work in the mines and quarries. Decius, the first emperor of Illyrian origin, wanted to strengthen imperial authority after the period of military anarchy. This desire caused him to imprison many Christians in the first weeks of his rule. The edict proclaimed after 250 CE ordered all inhabitants of the empire to take part in public propitiatory sac­rifice to placate the gods and avert misfortune to the empire. Whoever refused to obey this order was cast in prison, where torture was used to break their resistance. Although the Christians were not explicitly mentioned in the edict, it was directed mainly against them. Many did not with­stand the trial, becoming apostates who were called lapsis (the fallen). Some tried to escape or buy official documents confirming that they had participated in the sacrifice. Who was imprisoned and managed to survive was called a confessor, and those who died were given the honorable name of a witness—martyr. The death of Decius in 251 on the marshes in Abrittos for a short time put an end to the persecution, though it was instigated again by Diocletian. The reason for this new out­burst of hatred after nearly 20 years of peace and tolerance is not known. Undoubtedly, some Neoplatonists, like Hirecles and Galerius, could have had some share in it; it also might have been connected with the emperor’s drive for strong and divine-like power, which gradually transformed Imperium Romanum into a totalitarian state. After Diocletian had secured the borders, strengthened his rule, and removed economic difficulties, he finally undertook the task of reviving the old Roman religion: the Christians were the main obstacle. He started his struggle against Christianity by cleansing the army, issuing in 299 an edict in which he demanded that all soldiers and officials should make sacrifice to the gods. In the next edict, in 303, he ordered the destruction of all Christian temples and the burning of the holy books.

Hostility against the Christians was apparent not only in persecutions but was also articulated in virulent writings and satires. Marcus Cornelius Fronton (c. 100-175), a Roman orator, teacher, and friend of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, delivered a public speech against the new religion, although he confused the Christians with the Gnostics and repeated commonplace accusations formed by the pagans; his speech was later disseminated in writ­ten form. Celus, a learned representative of Platonic philosophy in the 2nd century, criticized the new religion on philosophical grounds and became a serious intellectual adversary. In his anti-Christian treatise The True Word (AlhZh’Ç logog) from the year 178, which he wrote after studying the scriptures and debating with the Christians, he rejected the existence of a personal god and the doctrine about the creation of the world. His work confirmed the learned pagans in their appreciation of Greek literature and con­tempt for Christianity.

Development of Christianity

Despite adverse historical circumstances until the 4th century, Christianity spread to nearly half of the provinces of Imperium Romanum. From the 3rd century onward it reached the neighboring coun­tries: Armenia, Georgia, and Persia. In 313, Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, which officially recognized the existence of Christianity and included it among the religions tolerated by the state. After 324 he increased the privileges of Christianity, granted it almost unlim­ited missionary possibilities and freedom of building temples, making it also possible to replace apology, which was no longer necessary, with theology. The next ruler, Theodosius I the Great, issued in 380 an edict, On the Catholic Faith, in which he proclaimed that he wished all the peoples of the empire to accept the religion conveyed by Apostle Peter. In this manner, Christianity was recognized as a state religion. On the basis of this law, heresy became an offense punished by the state, and heretics had dras­tically limited civic rights. The next regulations for­bade public debates on doctrinal issues. Historians consider Theodosius the real founder of the “state Church,” which does not entail approval of every decision made by the authorities, but rather points to the public acknowledgment of strict cooperation between the church and the state. Theodosius zeal­ously supported the position of the orthodox church through his legislative initiatives, but he did not openly interfere in its policy.

Although Origen and Hippolytus describe the practices of baptizing children, in the first centuries the converts were mainly adults whose conscious­ness and knowledge was shaped either by the Mosaic religion and the Jewish culture, or polythe­ism and the Hellenic culture. The introduction of a long period of preparation before baptism, which included the explication of the symbol of faith, did not, however, remove the risk of individual interpre­tation of the Christian dogmas. The earliest occur­rences of doctrinal difficulty are recorded among the converts from Judaism, for whom the main problem was the relationship of Mosaic law with the Gospels and the relationship of Jesus to Jehovah. Different interpretations of the principles of faith led to the errors called heresies, while differences in the sphere of law, religious practices, and life of the church resulted in divisions into factions, or schisms. The first schism took place in the Jerusalem Church after the death of James the Younger when a group of Christian Jews observing rigorously all the precepts of Mosaic law refused to obey Simeon, the legiti­mate bishop, and elected their own superior, Tebutis. It is worth stressing that while schisms destroyed the original unity of the church, heresies rather stimu­lated the shaping of the Christian doctrine. As early as ancient times, Western theology was manifestly different from what was believed in Eastern theol­ogy. The West was mainly concerned with the prob­lems of soteriology, especially with regard to the objective sanctity of the church (on this ground arose Donatism, which was concerned with the legitimacy of the sacrament dispensed by a presby­ter-traitor, and Priscillianism, which preached dual­ism and extremely radical asceticism), the original state of humanity, and the results of original sin (the Pelagian heresy held that the sin of Adam was not the original sin of all people because everyone had free will and could therefore avoid sin since they could distinguish between good and evil; Pelagianism maintained that baptism removes only sins of indi­vidual people, and that children, who have no sins, do not need it for their salvation), and finally the relation of the effects of God’s grace to human freewill (the semi-Pelagian heresy, originated by John Cassian and Bishop Faustus from Riez, accord­ing to whom God’s grace helps only those who have begun to desire salvation, but does not influence the desire itself). The multicultural East was more con­cerned with Trinitarianism and . On their basis arose such heresies as Arianism (which held that the Son of God, Logos, is not coexistent with God the father, only the first and most perfect creature, but is as far removed from the being of the Father as finitude is removed from eternity), heresy against the Holy Spirit (i.e., the opinion that the Holy Spirit is a creature and differs from the angels only through a higher degree of perfection), Nestorianism (i.e., a dissenting conception of the Incarnation, according to which Logos was not born together with the body of Jesus of the Virgin Mary: the “Word” dwelt in Jesus only as another person but was connected with him), Monophysitism (a heresy that held that Jesus had only one nature, which was primarily divine with human attributes), and Monothelitism (a heresy recognizing the exis­tence of one will in Jesus). Due to lack of cultural unity, the crystallization of the dogmas of faiths resulted in the East in the creation of many national churches, such as the Nestorian Church in Persia; the Coptic Church, which accepted monophysitism, in Egypt; the Ethiopian Church; the Armenian Church; and the Jacobite Church as well as the Maronite Church, which upheld monotheletism in Syria.

The Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, Christianity spread mainly in the Mediterranean and in Western Europe. The areas of Africa and Asia Minor were then under Arabic rule, which in 711 took hold also of the Iberian Peninsula. Consequent to the Turkish expansion between the 11th and 15th centuries, Islam spread all over Asia Minor, and in Europe held sway in the Balkans. At the same time, Christianity was introduced in Spain, France, England, Germany, and Lombardy. The Gaelic and Germanic tribes, with the exception of Romania, were under the influence of Western Christianity. The conversion of the Slavonic tribes started in the 7th century and continued until the 11th century. It occurred successively in Croatia, Slovenia, Bohemia, Slovakia, Poland, and among the Polabian Slavs (i.e., the Slavs who lived along the Elbe). The areas inhabited by the Hungarians, Finns, or the peoples of the Baltic region were Christianized even later, at the turn of the 9th century. In the 8th through the 10th centuries the missions in the East reached Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, and finally Romania. The missionary obli­gation imposed on the apostles by Jesus resulted in the Christanization of such remote areas as the East Indies (5th century) and parts of China (7th- 10th centuries). It was only the persecutions, which became particularly severe in the 12th through the 15th centuries, that forced the church to reduce and then abandon altogether the Christianization of the Chinese people.

With regard to institutional dependence, Western Christianity was closely connected with the Apostolic See, especially after the missions of Saint Willibrod and Saint Boniface (org. Wynfrith). All the attempts at creating autonomous local churches in the Merovingian period failed not so much because of the unity of government that was connected with the reestablishment of the western empire by Charlemagne the Great in 800, but rather thanks to the supremacy of the empire that was made possible by the Georgian Reform. This reform consolidated the centralization of church government, with the pope as its head. Other important unifying factors included the common Latin language, canonical law, and scholastic teaching. Attempts at creating patriarchates in Arles, Aquilea, and Hamburg were unsuccessful. Eastern Christianity was completely different; despite one common Byzantine culture, church law, and liturgy, the ancient patriarchates were the agents of decentralization and finally led to factual division. An important step in this process was taken at the Second Trulan Council in 692, when the equality of Constantinople and Rome was officially recognized. From among all the general councils, only the first seven (including the Council of Nicea in 787) were officially approved by Byzantine Christianity, although the bishops from the East were still present at the three following councils: the Eighth Council of Constantinople in 869, the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, as well as the Council of Basel and Rome in 1439. The following councils were attended only by bishops of the Western church. The distance between Western and Byzantine Christianity (including the church in Georgia) was becoming more and more apparent. A combination of political, cultural, ethnographic, social, and religious events (e.g., the problem of iconoclasm in the 8th century and the Focius affair in the 9th century) led to the ultimate separation, which took place in the year 1054 and is known in history as the Great Schism. Efforts to restore unity yielded no positive results. A formula of unification was worked out at the Florentine Council (1439), but some political factors prevented it from being effective (in Russia the problem was the Tartar bondage, while Byzantium and the Balkans were troubled by the Turkish invasion, which ended with the total destruction of the Byzantine Empire). The only exception was the union with the Maronite Church, which was achieved in the 17th century and exists until present times. The Middle Ages were also marked by violent reactions against the accumulation of material goods by the church. In France and Italy the movement of apostolic poverty called Catharism appeared; in Bohemia the Hussites criticized the abuses of the church.

Modern History

The geographic discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries provided a stimulus for missionary activ­ity first in Central, then South and North America. The missions were, however, associated with Portuguese, Spanish, and French colonialism, due to which they often failed to bring the desired evan­gelical results. Having recovered from the turmoil of the Great Schism and after the period of concil- liarism, which postulated the transfer of power from the pope to the general councils, Western Christianity retained its hierarchical structure. The turning point in the history of the Western church occurred in the year 1517, which marks the begin­ning of the Reformation and Protestantism. It even­tually resulted in the formation of the Augsburg Evangelical Church in Germany, the Reformed Evangelical Church in Switzerland and France, and the Anglican Church in England. Later on, other reformed groups separated from these larger com­munities; the Baptists and Congregationalists sepa­rated from the Anglican Church in the 17th century; the same time saw the birth of the Quakers; the Methodists appeared in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army was founded in the 19th century. All the European churches had their missions in Africa, Asia, and Australia, and they became particularly intense in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The Eastern church, struggling for survival under the rule of Islam, did not undertake any major missionary activities. Only the Orthodox Church in Russia organized missions from the 16th up to the beginning of the 20th century in territory that was the former Tartaric khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Crimea; among the native inhabit­ants of the areas beyond the Urals; in Siberia, Alaska, and in the Far East. Thanks to the missions, in the 19th century Christianity reached the farthest ends of the world. The 20th century brought other evangelical works that were mainly addressed to the followers of non-Christian religions.

The centralization of the Catholic Church was strengthened by the Council of Trent (1545­1563), which emphasized the principal role of the Apostolic See, and was consolidated by Catholic reform; in effect, the history of papacy came to be identified with the history of the church. Papal control was challenged by such claims for local independence as state control in Spain (etatism), Jansenism and Gallicanism in France, episcopalism in Germany, and Josephinism in Austria. Further development of these tendencies was curbed by the First Vatican Council in 1870, which declared the dogma about the primacy of the pope and the infallibility of the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Those in disagreement with both dogmas formed the Old Catholic Church. The effect of centralization was that many former local prerogatives, for instance those that belonged to the Primate or the Metropoly, were lost. Such close unity was unknown in the Protestant churches and communities, which mostly relied on the authority of the state. The lack of juridical unity resulted, however, in the lack of agreement in doctrinal matters.

In the East, meanwhile, the Turkish conquest contributed to the growing authority of the ecu­menical patriarch in Constantinople, the central­ization of church government, and the assumption of the Greek form of liturgy and church offices. The national patriarchates in Bulgaria and Serbia, which had been established in the Middle Ages, ceased to exist while the Melkite patriarchates in the Middle East were being gradually subjected to Constantinople. The only exception was the Orthodox Church in Russia, which had received autonomy in 1448 and began to play a significant role in Orthodox Christianity. In 1589, a patri­archate was established in Moscow, but its signifi­cance decreased in the 17th century under Patriarch Nicon, and it was finally abolished in 1720 by Czar Peter I. The revival of the national conscious­ness of the Balkan peoples and the political divi­sion of the Turkish Empire in the 19th century led to the decentralization of the church and the grow­ing autonomy of the national autocefalic churches in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The continuous efforts at reestablishing unity among the Christians in the East resulted in partial unions of these churches with Rome. In effect, the particu­lar churches were divided into Catholic Unites, on the one hand, and the pre-Chalcedonian or Oriental Christians, on the other. (In Poland, the Union of Brest established the Unite Church called, since the 18th century, the Greek Catholic Church.)

The infiltration of Byzantine Christianity by Protestantism led to internal crisis. The liturgical reform undertaken in Russia at the turn of the 17th century resulted in a schism and the estab­lishment of the sect of Raskolnikovs. The pre- Chalcedonian Church, threatened by extermination or Islamization, struggled for existence. In the Protestant churches and communities, which in the Enlightenment, dominated by rationalism, went through a deep crisis up to the point of doctrinal negation of Christianity and suffered the loss of many believers who accepted deism or atheism, followed a period of revival of ortho­doxy. Widespread movement of pietism was conducive to the deepening of spiritual life and stimulated social engagement.

The split of Christianity resulted in violent reli­gious wars that seriously eroded doctrinal authority and made for the development of deistic and atheis­tic trends. The Christianity of the 18th century was frequently perceived as residual, an anachronistic legacy of the Dark Ages, and was blamed for the regress of religious life. The 19th century brought the restoration of religiosity as well as the reawak­ening of Christian philosophy and theology, which to some extent could be linked with the influence of Romantic thought. The same period witnessed also the process of growing independence of the church from the state, thanks to individuals engaged in social activity. Christian trade unions, which were established in France and quickly spread to other European countries, began to defend the working class in agreement with the Christian social doc­trine. From the pontificate of Leon XIII, who for­mulated a program of social activities of Christianity in his encyclical Rerum novarum, published in 1891, started a process of re-Christianization of society, which affirmed the employment of scientific discoveries, technological progress, and the develop­ment of modern culture in the service of humanity.

The Christian Concept of Time

In all religious systems worldwide, including Christianity, time is conceived of as the dimension where hierophany, the manifestation of the sacred, takes place. Sacred time is contrasted with secular time. The former entails the works and the mani­festation of the sacred, whereas the latter denotes the time of human actions, which are identified with history. Many tensions between sacred and secular time can be listed, the most important of which concerns the passing of time. Sacred time can be personified as a deity (e.g., Cronus or Aion) or may be referred to as the eternal.

The Christian notion of time is rooted in a linear conception, with a marked beginning and the end toward which everything is destined. The initial moment is placed in real history rather than in the mythical illud tempus. The linear conception deter­mines the logic of history, which precludes the pos­sibility of repetition. Its nature is theocentric; on its terms, time and space become antagonized also as modes of human existence. This conception can be juxtaposed with the cyclic (cosmo-centric) notion of time, according to which human actions take place only in space, not in time. In the linear notion of time, typical for monotheistic religions, God is not limited by a definite space, but instead is a lord of time, which is the sum of his acts.

The Christian notion of time no doubt refers to the Hebrew religion, in which God is shown by the prophets as the one who intervenes in human his­tory, which has become his epiphany. On the basis of the linear notion of the sacred time, Judaism developed a linear understanding of secular time; the 7 days of creation became prototypes of the 7 days of the week. Both times find their culmination in the moment of the Apocalypse. Through theo­phany, which takes place in sacred time, God reveals his acting in history. Thus historical events have become a continuum of interconnected epi­sodes, without the possibility of their cyclic repeti­tion. On the basis of the Hebrew concepts, Christianity has worked out the system of univer­salism. Christ is perceived as Kairos, that is, time of salvation. Illud tempus is treated as always acces­sible for humans desirous of mending their ways. It is possible, thanks to the figure of the Messiah (Christ), who separates the present moment from the past, identified with the result of the First Parent’s sin. The second coming of the Messiah denotes merely the closure of the present, while eternity lies beyond this point. Thus Christianity stresses the fact that we live in last times, although the second coming will take place in the unpredict­able and divine kairos, not chronos, which can be derived from experience and knowledge about the cyclicity of some events.

In the first centuries Christianity was marked by millenarianism, probably derived from Persian tradition (the best-known proponent of this idea was Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia). The millenarianists prophesized a 6,000-year his­tory (through an analogy to cosmogony) followed by a 1,000-year-reign of the just after the impris­onment of Satan. The end of time was to come at the turn of the 8th millennium, when the world would become the arena for the battle against released Satan.

The linear concept of time was strongly con­firmed by the patristic tradition (e.g., Ireneus of Lyon and Augustine of Hippo), although some cycli­cal trends were not totally absent from Christian thought. This is why Gnosis, Arianism, and Docetism were opposed by the church, because by challenging the linear conception of time they also contested the temporal and historical nature of the Incarnation. On their terms, it ceased to be a historical fact, a temporal point of reference, and the moment when the sacred entered historical time. On the other hand, up until the present day Christianity has kept the notion of the liturgical year, which is a cyclical remembrance of Christ’s biography, from his incar­nation to ascension. The Holy Mass is a peculiar form of periodicity, since it reenacts the sacrifice of Christ.

According to the Christian conception of time, human life is once given and unique. Hence the fear of wasting the indivertible. The uniqueness of earthly life endows Christian eschatology with special sig­nificance. The medieval memento mori—“Remember that Thou Shalt Die” rings until the present day the note of anxiety and urges everyone to do good in order to save one’s soul, for even the slightest delay in this matter may have fatal consequences.


Viewed against other religions, Christianity, being focused on resurrection, has an eschatological and integral character, by which is meant that it is held to be the supreme and ultimate religion and not a stage in the development of civilization, and also that it embraces the whole of earthly reality, includ­ing all people and all aspects of human existence.

The conditions for becoming a Christian (belong­ing to the church) are faith in the word of God and baptism. By observing the norms of behavior pre­scribed in the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue), interpreted in the spirit of the New Testament for­mula of the love of God and one’s neighbor, humans realize their salvation in the moral sense. Because of the universality of God’s saving will, also toward people who are non-Christians, believ­ers can achieve salvation also in non-Christian communities, even those whose activity is restricted to earthly existence, because salvation comes only through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ (anakef- alaiosis). Doctrinal truths, which belong to the deposit of faith, are preached and infallibly inter­preted by the magisterial authority of the church. In Roman Catholic Christianity, infallibility in the matters of faith and morality belongs to the pope and the bishops who are united with him; it con­cerns both the official teaching (ex cathedra) and regular teaching. In Orthodox Christianity, which has adopted the principle of concilliarism, this infallibility belongs to the bishops and all believers; in the Anglican Church it is the prerogative of the entire ecclesiastical community and it is called the ultimate criterion of the infallibility of truths defined at the council by human authority. The particular doctrinal issues have often received a new form of expression due to theological reflec­tion, influenced by different philosophical and cultural conditions. Although there exists a consid­erable agreement among different Christian groups in the matters of trinitology and anthropology, much wider dissent can be observed in the interpre­tation of the origin of humankind, the concepts of grace (charitology), and the teaching about last things (eschatology). The most significant differ­ences occur in the sphere of Christology (knowl­edge of Christ), soteriology (knowledge of Christ the Savior), knowledge of Saint Mary, eclesiology (teaching about the church), as well as sacramen- tology (teaching about the sacraments).

Because of its ability to develop outside its native cultural environment, Christianity belongs to the family of universal religions, along with Buddhism and Islam. In this group it retains the leading position, with 37% of the believers of all religions; the most numerous groups in this num­ber are Catholics (c. 1.1 billion), Protestants (570 million), Orthodox Christians and members of Oriental churches (178 million), as well as Anglicans (70 million).

Jacek Stanislaw Tomczyk

See also Angels; Apocalypse; Aquinas, Saint Thomas; Augustine of Hippo, Saint; Bible and Time; Charlemagne; Devils (Demons); Ecclesiastes, Book of; Genesis, Book of; God and Time; God as Creator; Judaism; Last Judgment; Mysticism; Nero, Emperor of Rome; Parousia; Religions and Time; Revelation, Book of; Satan and Time; Sin, Original; Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre; Time, Sacred

Further Readings

Baker, R. A., & Landers, J. M. (2005). A summary of Christian history. New York: B & H Publishing Group.

Barnett, P. (2002). Jesus & the rise of : A history of New Testament times. Madison, WI: InterVersity Press.

Bormans, M. (1990). Guidelines for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. New York: Paulist Press.

Chidester, D. (2001). Christianity: A global history. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Coogan, M. D. (2005). The Old Testament: A historical and literary introduction to the Hebrew scriptures. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Dupuis, J., & Berryman, P. (2002). Christianity and the religions: From confrontation to dialogue. New York: Orbis.

Feuerbach, L. (1898). The essence of Christianity (Great Books in Philosophy). New York: Prometheus.

Frend, W. H. C. (1986). Rise of Christianity. New York: Augsburg Fortress.

Johnson, P. (2005). History of Christianity. New York: Touchstone.

Whiston, W. (1908). The works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged. Peabody, MA: Henderickson Publishers.

Woodhead, L. (2005). Christianity: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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Chicxulub Crater

Chicxulub Crater