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Church History Overview: Class 1: Introduction and History to Constantine the Great


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Title: Church History Overview: Class 1: Introduction and History to Constantine the Great

Church History Overview Class 1 Introduction
and History to Constantine the Great
  • Ann T. Orlando
  • IAP 2005

  • Purpose Provide a basic introduction to Catholic
    Church History in 4 one-hour lectures
  • Church periods for this class
  • Wk1 Beginning to Constantine the Great (in the
    beginning to 312)
  • Wk2 Constantine to Charlemagne (312 to 900)
  • Wk 3 Medieval Europe (900 to 1500)
  • Wk 4 Reformation and JPII (1500 to 2000)
  • NB I am teaching a semester long class in Church
    History at St. John Seminary. Feel free to go to
    my website for this class at http//

Overview of Week 1 Lecture
  • Background to the beginning of Church history in
    three strands
  • Story of people Israel (Old Testament)
  • Secular history
  • Philosophical history
  • New Testament as historical document missionary
    activities first council
  • Second Century
  • Complete break with Judaism
  • What is canon of Scripture
  • Relations with Empire
  • Who has authority in Church
  • Third Century
  • Imperial Chaos and Empire-wide martyrdoms
  • Impact of neo-Platonism
  • Development of Christianity in North Africa

In the beginning
  • The Bible tells the theological story of the
    Church and Gods revelation to the Church
  • Adam, Eve, the Fall and God establishes a people
    with a special relationship to Him dateless,
    timeless Genesis
  • Moses c. 1250 BCE (BC) Exodus through Deuteronomy
  • David c. 1000 BCE Samuel, Kings, Chronicles
  • Destruction of 1st Temple 586 Babylonian
    Captivity by Nebuchadnezzar Isaiah, Jeremiah,
  • Return and rebuilding of Temple (Second Temple)
    539 BCE by Persian King Cyrus Ezra, Nehemiah
  • Israel between two great Greek powers 330 BCE to
    160 BCE Maccabees appeal to Rome for help
    Daniel writes about whore of Babylon, but really
    is referring to Seleucids
  • Palestine a client of Rome 160 BCE to 4 BCE
    (death of Herod the Great)
  • Jesus Christ 1 to 33 CE (AD)
  • Palestine revolts destruction of Second Temple
    in 70 CE occupied by Rome until 600 CE and
    Moslem conquests
  • New Testament written 50 and 90 CE
  • Rome as whore of Babylon in Revelation

Secular History Background
  • Alexander the Great
  • Son of Philip of Macedonia Student of Aristotle
  • Conquers the world by age of 33
  • Founds Alexandria, center of learning for next
    600 years
  • Dies in 323 BC leaving his generals in charge of
    various parts of his conquests
  • Hellenistic (Greek) Empires 323 31 BCE
  • Macedonians Greece, Sicily, southern Italy
  • Seleucids Asia Minor, Syria and Mesopotamia
  • Ptolemies Egypt and Cyrene
  • As a result of this extended period of Greek
    rule, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean
    was Greek from the 4th C BC until the 5th C AD in
    the West and the 15th C in the East
  • Israel between two major competing Empires
    Seleucid and Ptolemy
  • Rome
  • Traditional founding date of 753 BCE
  • Started as a Republic ruled by Senate
  • Punic Wars, conquers and destroys Carthage 202
  • Maccabees ask Rome for help against Seleucids 160
  • Julius Caesar conquers Gaul 80 BCE
  • Augustus defeats Anthony and Cleopatra (last
    Ptolemy ruler of Egypt) at Actium in 31 BCE
    Roman Empire established
  • Roman Empire existed in some form between 31 BC
    and 1453 AD

Philosophical (Greek) Background
  • Athenian Philosophy Before Alexander
  • Socrates and Plato Platonism (and indirectly
    skepticism) Academy
  • Aristotle Platos student, founder of Lyceum and
  • Hellenistic Philosophy
  • Epicurus, fought in Alexanders army opposed to
    Plato, founder of Epicureanism the Garden
  • Zeno opposed to Epicurus, founder of Stoicism
    the Stoa
  • Neo-Platonism centered in Alexandria 250 CE
  • Catholic Christianity has always used
    contemporary philosophical methods as the
    language of theology and as an aid to interpret
    the Bible philosophy as the handmaid of
    theology. Example Virtue

Roman Society
  • Do not judge ancients by modern standards
  • Roman religion was a public, civic obligation
  • NOT a way to have a personal relationship with
  • mystery religions became very popular in 1st
    through 3rd Century Roman Society (Cults of
    Mithra Isis and Osiris Dionysius)
  • Anyone who did not offer sacrifice for the good
    of the state was considered an atheist
  • Roman Emperor increasingly was a soldier who was
    adopted by current Emperor (Augustus). Cult of
    Roman Emperor as god in his lifetime was started
    by Nero
  • Roman household was composed of patron (father)
    and clients (wife, children, slaves, business
    associates dependent upon him)
  • Father had complete control of clients
  • Adoption was very common
  • Owning property was far more prestigious than
  • Excellent road and mail system throughout the
  • Note that the most Latin (least Greek) part of
    the Empire was North Africa

History of Church in New Testament
  • Pauls Letters are the oldest Christian documents
    we have. However, Paul was not writing a general
    history, he was responding to specific problems
    in specific communities (except for Romans)
  • Paul and Peter martyred in 64 AD by Nero
  • Gospel of Luke and Acts of Apostles
  • written in an ancient historical style Luke
    gives an ordered account of Jesus and the early
  • Council of Jerusalem in which Pauls position
    that Gentiles do not need to convert to Judaism
    is affirmed (Acts 15)
  • Story of how the Church was spread by Pauls
    missionary activity
  • Revelation (most scholars believe) is based on
    persecution of Christians in Asia Minor during
    Domitians reign Rome as whore of Babylon
  • Note Johns Gospel is most philosophical Jesus
    as Logos

What Happened to Judaism in this Period
  • Before and during Jesus life there were many
    types of Judaism
  • Pharisees upholders of the Law (Torah)
  • Sadducees from aristocracy and high priests, did
    not believe in resurrection of dead closely
    associated with Temple
  • Essenes disgusted with impurities in Temple
    left for desert
  • Zealots terrorists against Roman occupation
  • Diaspora Jews not living in Palestine but
    scattered around Mediterranean Greek Jews
    (Hellenists in Acts of Apostles)
  • Jews in Mesopotamia who did not return after the
    exile in 6th C BC
  • During the First War with Rome 66-73 AD, the
    Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots were destroyed
  • In 117 AD the Emperor Trajan destroyed the
    Hellenistic Jewish community in Alexandria after
    this the Greek Jews seemingly either converted to
    Christianity or rabbinic Judaism
  • The Pharisees were the group out of which
    rabbinic Judaism grew in the 2cd and 3rd C CE.
    They reestablished contact with the Mesopotamian
    Jews and their theology rejected use of Greek
    philosophy and parts of the OT written in Greek,
    not Hebrew
  • Hellenistic Jewish theology was taken over,
    preserved and used by early Christian
    theologians, especially in Alexandria

Second Century ChristianityKey Issues
  • What constitutes Scripture?
  • Multiple gospels (some rather bazaar) were used
    by Gnostics
  • Status of OT some (Marcian) wanted to reject all
    of OT and most of NT
  • What is role of philosophy is Christianity?
  • How to interpret the Scriptures
  • Philosophical understanding of Trinity
  • Relationship with Empire
  • How to deal with sporadic (but very real)
  • Can a Christian also be a good citizen?
  • Internal Church authority
  • Who decides and teaches what is orthodox

Second Century Issues Resolution
  • Scripture
  • Based upon the Greek OT the Septuagint which
    includes the deutero- canonical works and the 27
    Books of the NT
  • St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, was among the
    first to reject other books of Scripture and to
    support these
  • Philosophy
  • Early Orthodox theologians used Stoicism
  • Multiple levels of meaning of Scripture
  • Jesus, although God, had a real body that
  • Justin Martyr developed the idea of Jesus as
  • Relation to Empire
  • Christians tried to be good citizens and
    encouraged praying for welfare of Emperor
  • Christians tried to explain themselves to
    intellectuals of their day in apologies (Justin
    Martyr, Tertullian)
  • Viewed with suspicion by pagan neighbors because
    they were a new religion (superstition) period
    of sporadic persecution
  • Authority in Church
  • What the Church prays the Church believes
  • Development of structure of bishops assisted by
    deacons and presbyters (elders)
  • St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred. c110 in Rome
  • Apostolic succession of bishops (but NOT special
    secret knowledge)

Third Century Issues
  • Empire-wide Persecutions
  • Instability in third century empire led to
    increased persecutions
  • Waves of persecutions led some to apostasy then
    want to return to the Church
  • How best to remember the martyrs
  • Development of liturgy
  • Organized, standardized prayers for Eucharist
  • Organized approach to catechumens
  • How to include new philosophical methods

Third Century Resolutions
  • Donatist Controversy
  • Donatist, especially strong in North Africa, did
    not allow those who had apostatized to return to
    Church the Church of the pure Ministers had
    to be especially pure
  • Orthodox church allowed lay and ministers to
    return to church with appropriate public penance
  • Beginning of hermits in desert who wanted to
    escape civilization to lead a pure life
  • Certainly Eucharist before third Century (Pauls
    Letters, Gospels, Didache) but specific practice
    developed in third century St. Hippolytus
  • Rites for ordination of bishops
  • Rites for instruction of catechumens and baptism
    at Easter Vigil
  • New philosophical developments neo-Platonism
  • Origen and how to think about Jesus and Trinity
  • Augustine and how to think about evil
  • Guided Christian theological developments until
    13th C in West

Whats Next Week?
  • Constantine the Great
  • The Christianity goes from being persecuted to
    being the official religion of the Empire
  • Model for Church-State relations for next 1000
  • Defining beliefs more carefully
  • Councils of Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon
  • Great theologians East and West
  • Fall of Rome (in the West)
  • The Church as the social and educational backbone
    of Europe
  • Rise of Islam
  • Charlemagne
  • Breakup of Charlemagnes Empire
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