History of the Christian Church: Part One

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.T.S.

Jose Ottega y Gasset once said, “Each generation stands on the shoulders of its predecessors” (1). This applies even to promulgation of church doctrine, establishment of proper church administration, and systematic theological studies. Today’s Christian church must rest firmly on the theology of its patristic fathers. From its onset, Christianity has impacted culture and society; however, culture and society have impacted Christianity as well. Culture is known to push back with force, often in an oppressive and violent manner. Today’s militant atheists are intent on eradicating Christianity from public discourse, and often file lawsuits to that end.

The early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. Gonzalez writes, “All of their lives they had been Jews and they still were” (2). Their main difference with the rest of Judaism was that they were convinced the Messiah had come, whereas other Jews continued to await His advent. Jewish leaders considered Christianity a heretical sect within Judaism. Christians were “…going from town to town tempting good Jews to become heretics” (3). Nationalistic and patriotic sentiment was aroused by the fear that these new heretics could once more bring the wrath of God upon them. As we will discover in this series, Jews routinely looked for someone else to blame for their woes. This resulted in protracted generations of exile from God.

From its very beginning, the Christian message was grafted onto human history. Through generation after generation, Christians have taught that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of God, and He is salvation for all who believe in His sacrificial death on the cross. Much history, lineage, and geography is presented throughout the Synoptic Gospels. Identity and lifestyle were especially important to the largely Jewish audience for whom the Gospel of Matthew was initially written. It attests to considerable hostility toward synagogues (6:2-18; 10:17-18), and utter rejection of Jewish leaders, especially Pharisees (12:14; 15:12-14; 21:45-46; 23). Matthew describes doctrinal infighting, the sacking of Jerusalem (AD 70), and destruction of the Temple. He notes how the early church would question God’s faithfulness (as they waited on Him), and he references apologetic debates.

John’s gospel is instrumental in establishing significant events discussed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John rightly commences with in the beginning, which refers to the first chapter of Genesis. Paul said, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4. NRSV). John describes his experience when he baptized Jesus. The distinctiveness of John’s writing style is easily recognizable: Jesus’ teaching moved beyond parables that are featured in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; instead, Jesus taught in much longer speeches. The “I am” sayings we see in the Gospel of John are not found in the other three Gospels. Further, John spends much time on the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).

The Jewish Diaspora (the scattering of Jews far and wide), had a critical impact on the history of Christianity. Gonzalez writes, “…for it was one of the main avenues through which the new faith expanded throughout the Roman Empire” (4). In addition, the Diaspora played a large role in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Diaspora has also been used to characterize the flourishing Jewish community that lived in Alexandria shortly before the rise of Christianity. Trade flourished during the early centuries of the Christian church. This factor brought the story of redemption to new regions; but through traveling traders, slaves, and others, more than through missionaries or preachers. With this wide dispersal, syncretism crept into the Christian church, beginning with Constantine (AD 280-337) and others like him who practiced pagan rites while also attending Christian services.

Constantine’s dubious claim of conversion to Christianity notwithstanding, he provided the church with his “legal blessing,” while continuing to embrace paganism. Jews and Christians stood firm in their faith, which garnered the reputation of unbending fanatics. When the early Christians refused to light incense to the Roman gods, or to the emperor, they did so as a testament to their faith in Christ alone. Because Christians throughout the Roman Empire stayed home rather than participate in “societal” activities and street fairs which typically involved in festivals honoring the gods, Roman authorities condemned Christians as disloyal and seditious. This is one of the many reasons that Christians were persecuted, tortured, and executed by Roman authorities.

Other key factors impacted the early Christian church during the first three centuries. For example, as soon as the Christian message started reaching the Gentiles, it came under attack from individuals who wanted to alter or nullify it. Gnosticism began to infiltrate the Christian church: a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin, which believed the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis). It would take the church nearly 100 years to rid itself of Gnosticism. These developments led to emergence of early Christian apologists, such as Justin the Martyr and Augustine of Hippo. Apologetics has survived into the twenty-first century. The church responded specifically to heresy and accusations by establishing canon, creed, and apostolic succession. At times, it was necessary to convene a synod to decide issues of doctrine and administration.

Christianity was established as an official religion at the Edict of Milan in AD 313. This was an important step in securing the civil rights of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. For nearly 300 years, Christianity was functionally illegal in the Roman Empire, often subjecting Christians to persecution. This proclamation protected full rights for Christian citizens of the Empire, restoring their property, releasing them from prisons, and effectively banning government persecution of their faith. It also declared a general state of religious tolerance, allowing for the expression of virtually any spiritual belief. Unfortunately, the bad came with the good in the form of heresies, such as Donatism: the belief that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. This led to schism in the Church of Carthage from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Arianism – the ideology that Jesus was merely human and not divine – arose practically overnight. The Roman Empire banned Arianism in 379. Shortly thereafter, the church instituted the death penalty for heresy.

In AD 425, Augustine of Hippo proclaimed salvation through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christus). This was an apologetic answer to the claim of Pelagius that salvation could be earned by good works. Augustine wrestled, however, with the origin of evil. He ultimately settled on evil being “…a looking away from God and turning one’s gaze to the inferior realm.” It was believed that a single being, of infinite goodness, was the source of all things. He said evil is real, but it is not a real or created “thing.” Rather, Augustine taught the concept that evil is a direction away from the goodness of the One. I am familiar with the suggestion that we are either walking toward or walking away from Christ. Walk is discussed throughout the New Testament. The 4th Ecumenical Council (AD 451) reestablished the two natures of Jesus (human and divine). The birth of monasticism furthered the teachings of the Church and led to the promulgation of the Gospel.

Christianity’s next great challenge was Islam. Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims in AD 636. Alexandria, Egypt and Spain were next to fall to the Muslims. Persecution of Christians by Muslims began AD 717 under Caliph Umar II. Many of the newer Christian churches were destroyed. In AD 850 Caliph Mutawakkil forced Christians to wear yellow patches. (This is a sad but accurate foreshadowing of Nazis forcing Jews to wear Star of David arm bands during the reign of Adolf Hitler.) When Vladimir of Kiev adopted Christianity in AD 988, this halted the advance of Islam in Eastern Europe. Thankfully, Charles “The Hammer” Martel defeated the Muslim invasion of France in AD 732. It was the caliph’s intention to conquer Europe in the name of Muhammad.

Trouble with Islam continued. In AD 1009 Caliph Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Seljuk Turks drove Christian priests out of Jerusalem in AD 1091. In May 1291, the world entered a new era. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the world left an era behind, because this was the month that saw the end of Crusader power in the Middle East. The decisive event was the Siege of Acre, which culminated in the bloody defeat of the Knights Templar and their Crusader brethren. Acre was their last major stronghold – after this, it was only a matter of time before the Christian presence in the Holy Land was extinguished.

Please join me next time when I discuss the historical importance of monasticism in the early Christian church. As always, please consider replying to these posts to help foster dialog.

Footnotes
(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010), xiii.
(2) Gonzalez, Ibid., 27.
(3) Ibid., 42.
(4) Ibid., 18.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Significance of the Reformation and Colonial Expansion

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

In his book, History of Christianity, Vol. 1,  Justo L. Gonzalez writes, “Living as we do, only five centuries after both the Reformation and the colonial expansion of Iberia, it may be too early to decide which of the two will eventually have greater significance to the course of Christianity” (489). He provides his own cautious opinion a few sentences later, but I want to know what you think. Which would you say has exerted the “greater significance to the course of Christianity” to date: The Reformation or colonial expansion?

In this final discussion prompt for Church History Part 1, we were asked to address the theological benefits of the Reformation versus the evangelical benefits of colonial expansion. Which of these two has contributed the most to the course of Christianity? Initially, it seems like an easy matter to determine. Martin Luther almost single-handedly reeled in an out-of-control papacy, helping to preserve the true tenet of Christianity: salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. No man has the power to grant forgiveness of sins or to direct any amount of penance that will satisfy the wages of sin. But what of the evangelical benefits of colonialism?

Clearly, by the time of Martin Luther’s proposed changes, the church needed profound reformation. In fact, many longed for it. Gonzalez notes that many priests and monastics who wished to be faithful to their calling were finding this to be exceedingly difficult given the many lax practices beginning to plague the church. The Reformation helped bring Christianity back to its intended soteriology by challenging papal forgiveness, penance, indulgences, and promotion of purgatory. Gonzalez said this “Resulted in major divisions that exist to this day.” Luther didn’t plan to start a new church. He merely addressed in his 95 Theses numerous issues that needed to be changed within the Catholic Church, focusing on only the Word of God as the starting point and final authority. Luther formed objections to transubstantiation during communion, baptism prior to conversion, and the selling of indulgences. He essentially took on ecclesial meritocracy and attempted to tear apart the bond of church and state. The benefits of the Reformation were not limited to religion: Protestantism has given us open-ended and undisciplined argument, fostering new ideas in everyday life, reviving traditional doctrine, and questioning improper church orthodoxies.

Regarding evangelism, Christ gave us an emphatic directive in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (NRSV). He said, “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’ And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mark 16:15, 20). Gonzalez believes colonialism in Iberia “…resulted in the largest expansion of Christianity in both number of followers and geographic reach since its very inception.” 1 Unfortunately, the goal of some Protestant leaders in colonizing the Iberian Peninsula seemed to be domination of local culture and ideology through a hegemony of leadership, rooted in Christian theology. Christian colonists came up against Islam and Judaism in Iberia, no doubt with a lingering memory of persecution under the religious and political leaders of both faiths. There was a sort-of balancing act between Protestantism and local beliefs regarding ancient gods. This tended to push toward syncretism. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic for the gospel, but the approach must be of Christ and based on “God inside.” I believe motivation for such expansion must be sharing and teaching; not cajoling and oppressing. The latter is akin to radical Protestantism, whose spirituality is affective or “emotional” at best, and which at worst causes compliance out of fear. This leads to pseudo-pietism. Many colonists who left England wanted to escape the tyranny of a state religion that was trampling on their beliefs. Historians believe these “conquering” Protestants were looking for the opportunity to make their faith the dominant religion. Accordingly, many were rather intolerant of other beliefs, especially those inexorably linked to local culture.

As I noted above, you would think it’s easy to compare notes on the Reformation and Christianity’s colonialism and decide which of these activities afforded the most benefits to the faith as a global religion. The church is commanded to go forth into every nation, spreading the Good News—teaching and baptizing, making disciples of Christ for further proliferation of the gospel. Colonialism always brings with it explorers, travelers, merchants, and missionaries. As interaction and commerce increased between nations, so did spreading of the gospel. Even those nations who did not become predominately Christian were impacted by trade practices, monetary systems, politics, and culture imported by Protestants. Increased travel and trade no doubt led to heightened concerns over security and sovereignty, creating the need for a larger military.

I believe it is the Reformation that had the greatest positive impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas. With the advent of the Dominicans and other monastic groups, piety was on the rise. Gonzalez writes, “Soon there were other similar movements, or ancient orders that now followed the example of the Franciscans and Dominicans… their main objective was preaching, teaching, and study.”  World-renowned universities (such as Paris, Oxford) benefited from Dominicans teaching as professors. Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Alexander of Hales, the Friars Minor, and the Franciscans established footholds in all major universities. Additionally, at just the right moment—when the papacy seemed most out of control and operating outside the scope of accepted Christian doctrine—Martin Luther and others successfully challenged ill-advised dogma and heresy in the church.  Evangelism remains one of Christianity’s most sacred and clearly established responsibilities, but without first recognizing and correcting questionable practices and heretical beliefs the result would be similar to a framer making even a minor mistake in the angle of the footer when framing a room—this would cause the foundation wall to be out of square several inches over its expanse. Protestant Reformation corrected serious misalignments concerning salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, papal authority, deep-rooted meritocracy, and other troublesome practices in the Catholic Church that had to be brought into order with Scripture and proper church doctrine. Failure to address these matters would have caused a slow-but-steady drift away from the core doctrines of Christianity. It is for these reasons I put more emphasis on Reformation than colonialism.

A response from David, one of my classmates:

I guess there may be two points of clarification. First, whether or not some form of reformation was inevitable given the age of reason. I’m claiming that reformation was inevitable given the sort of anthropological and philosophical changes that happened ithe post medieval world. I’m not sure what a splintering of Catholicism would have looked like if it weren’t a cohesive movement, but I can imagine that all of the ideals that you listed as central principles of the reformation would have manifest. 

The second area that needs clarification is to what extent Colonialism may have sped up the processes of democratization, language unification, and globalization. A few quick examples. I was at a conference six weeks ago where donations were being made to translate smaller books into French for African Seminary students in Francophone countries. I know believers in South America that use Spanish worship songs written in Mexico. I know student groups in Germany and Finland that sing worship songs in English seamlessly. It’s possible that the movement towards primary languages (English, German, French, Swahili, Russian, Mandarin, etc.) may act as one of the fastest causes for globalization. Colonization also placed an undue emphasis on manifest destiny and exploration (although they have quite a mixed history concerning civil rights) that have probably sped up the process of uniting the church through time. 

I guess my final question is to what extent Christians see value and long-lasting impact within the history of the reformation. I certainly see its incredible impact upon Christendom in reforming both the Catholic Church and birthing hundreds of new movements, but I lament the average Christian who couldn’t put together a meaningful set of thoughts about its practical and ecclesial impacts upon the church. It seems that as people turn to reading, discussion, and a better understanding of this time period and history of the church, that their faith is invigorated and strengthened. It is up to us to continue this process! I know that I’ve been blessed by the course material and a deeper dive into the history of the church!

My rebuttal:

David,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this week’s discussion. I concluded in my initial discussion post that the Protestant Reformation impacted Christianity more than colonialism. D.F. Wright says the Reformation cannot be separated from its historical context—political, socioeconomic, and intellectual—however, he believes the movement was “fundamentally religious in motivation.” 1 You mentioned Christianity’s waning hegemony in the West as the basis for identifying colonialism as the greater growth factor. Given the fact that hegemony is more akin to politico-military dominance, and because we can see the negative impact secularism and non-religious affiliation has had in Europe and America over the past few decades, I do not think colonialism packs enough of a punch to provide consistent and lasting results. Arguably, globalization has been a close cousin of colonialism, thereby giving “legs” to the gospel message. After all, colonialism is inextricably accompanied by travelers, tradesmen, merchants, scholars, and missionaries. But the mere “invasion” of Christianity into a nation-state does not guarantee a majority of believers, nor does it prevent a slow drifting away from the gospel as the result of syncretism, secularism, pluralism, or any number of isms. 

The Protestant Reformation provided tools for addressing the proliferation of papal abuses (theological and societal) connected with meritocracy, penance, indulgences, false foundations for papal authority and pedigree, a perverted priesthood, and the usurping of Christ’s intercessory/mediation ministry (1 Tim. 2:5). I am not nearly as concerned with a weakening of Christianity’s hegemony as I am watering down of the gospel itself. Historically, all major theistic religions have attempted to wield sociopolitical control. Islam, for example, is best described as a theocracy. As Wright notes, the Reformation was meant to help restore the proper “face” of Christianity by fighting for independence from papal authority and hierarchical succession. The Body of Christ must be grounded in election and calling rather than consecution or papal appointment. Although colonialism provides opportunity for spreading the gospel, such global initiatives are no substitute for the Great Commission. Responsibility for evangelism truly rests with the community of believers. Frankly, this is the only means by which we can control the message. To accomplish this end, we have to spread the gospel in strict accordance with Christian doctrine. Given how far off course the gospel had been pushed, the Reformation was necessary to correct egregious abuses and misconceptions. Without this realignment, evangelism (whether or not it was tethered to globalization) would have been unable to rightly deliver the Word of Truth.

Even 500 years hence, the Reformation continues to impact both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther changed the course of Western history for the better. I find it key that Luther had to first grapple with Romans 1:17 and come to see how it is through faith alone in Christ alone that he/we put on the righteousness of God. Luther put himself through a harrowing ordeal before coming to understand that we are of Israel not because we are of the seed of Abraham; it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise (Rom. 9:8). The Reformation yielded a theology that is theocentric. Lines had become blurred regarding the Eucharist, church hierarchy, the papacy, which led to confusion and schism. Even so, reformers did not completely agree on every issue. Luther believed in “consubstantiation.” Calvin gave too much credence to the Mosaic Law (calling it a necessary “guide” to live by as a believer), and Luther believed the Law was merely intended to show us our sins and the need for a savior.

The above notwithstanding, I also do not believe colonialism (or any version or degree thereof) can have a “lasting impression.” Much of my reading in the past has involved the history of urbanization, development of the city over time, geopolitical theories and influences, and the remarkable lack of stability in many markets and economies in history. The first five centuries of Christianity show a rather unpredictable “atmosphere” for religious beliefs given the wide scope of persecution—state-wide at times, regional or local at other times; active prosecution and persecution under some emperors versus “incidental” sanctions under others. Consider the many changes we’ve seen in Israel since it became a nation-state in 1948. Look at how democratic (or progressive) socialism is fighting to make a comeback in this year’s presidential election. (We first saw progressivism under Woodrow Wilson). Sometimes a mere change in political philosophy can wipe out decades of progress.

Finally, I must mention the likely ecumenical era we’ll see in the “final days” as the false prophet and the Antichrist attempt to push for globalization and one world religion. For what it’s worth, I see the Reformation as having a lasting impact on Christianity, and systematic theology as the means by which the community of believers can preserve doctrinal truths in the face of colonialism and globalization. What I mean is this: We cannot assure a pure gospel message simply because colonialism has led to a proliferation of believers. We have to stay the course. I believe the Reformation has aided in the fine-tuning and preservation of Christianity even 500 years later.

 


1 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: Harper One, 2010), 489.

2 Gonzalez, 489.


 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Constantine and the Church

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Engage the perennial question: Was Constantine good or bad for the church of Jesus Christ? In making your case, note (and cite from Gonzalez, and other sources, if you would like) the ways in which Constantine affected the church’s doctrine and practice. Answer these questions as parts of your overarching answer:

  • Which effects were good, and which were bad?
  • What have been the long-term results—good and bad— of those effective changes?

Just when I thought I was already having enough fun studying theology, we were given another fascinating assignment. Beginning with the conversion of Constantine, Christianity began to move from persecution to dominance. In AD 392, the emperor Theodosius I outlawed pagan worship—Christianity effectively became the “official” religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine said, “The eternal, holy and unfathomable goodness of God does not allow us to wander in darkness, but shows us the way of salvation… This I have seen in others as well as myself” (in Gonzalez, 2010, 131). At first blush, this statement rings like a true profession of faith in the One True God, but is it? We’re asked to consider whether Constantine was good or bad for Christianity. In part, this must include consideration of whether the above statement equates to public profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ. It is interesting to note that Constantine did not refer to Christ as the only god. Accordingly, the veritas of Constantine’s confession has been the subject of many discussions. Some believed it was merely a shrewd political maneuver. Constantine referred to the Christian God as “the greatest god,” the summa deus (Stephenson, 2009,169), yet he adorned the city with pagan statues from around the empire. Ravi Zacharias (2007, 10) said some scholars believe Constantine wanted to assert control over his “chosen religion” to the benefit of his empire and so insisted on the convening of a group of men to determine the content of the Bible (Council of Nicaea, AD 325). However, this was not the purpose of the Council.

Gonzalez believes it is important to determine the impact Constantine’s conversion and rule had on the Church. He states, “The truth is probably that Constantine was a sincere believer in the power of Christ” (139). He failed to place himself under the instruction of church leaders, yet he felt authorized to intervene in ecclesiastical matters. Gonzalez said Constantine considered himself “bishop of bishops” (138). Christian leaders thought that although inclined to become a believer, Constantine was not “one of the faithful” (139). Constantine was a sincere man, but he held a meager grasp of the Christian faith. For example, he thought the Christian God and the god “Unconquered Sun” were compatible. In his mind, there was room for serving other gods. He frequently took part in numerous pagan ceremonies without a thought that he was betraying the Christian God. Regardless of whether his conversion was genuine, Constantine’s beliefs and practices had a definite impact on Christianity.

Bad Effects

Paganism was still considered the “official” religion of the empire. As head of the empire, Constantine took the title of Supreme Pontiff or High Priest of that belief system. Gonzalez notes, “[A]lmost to his dying day, Constantine continued functioning as the High Priest of paganism” (141). His influence caused a drop in catechism prior to baptism. Because the ancient gods were still a part of everyday life, Constantine’s desire to “serve two masters” perpetuated pagan worship in the empire. Gonzalez states despite having done much to the detriment of paganism, Constantine “became one of the pagan gods… the Eastern church considers him a saint, thus resulting in a saint who is also a pagan god” (141). Spiritual ambiguity caused persistent violence against pagans by Christians, resulting in their rejection of Christianity. Power and prestige among church leaders caused increased arrogance and corruption in the church. Gonzalez notes that Lucius “bought” his position as bishop of Alexandria—a practice eventually known as simony. Moreover, as bishops were permitted increasing judicial powers, bribery became an issue. Perhaps this was a secular foreshadowing of priests selling “indulgences” for sins in the Catholic Church.

The laity began to see conversion as less critical or dramatic. Syncretism and superstition were on the increase as a result of merging Christianity and paganism. Many believers were buried with both Christian and pagan artifacts and symbols. Constantine’s conversion led to imperial impact on Christian worship. Incense, which was initially used to venerate emperors, began to be used in Christian services. We can see the influence of this today in Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Orthodox Christian, and some Lutheran services. Ministers started wearing fancy or luxurious garments when officiating, and the church started calling ministers “priests” as in paganism. Kneeling seems to have originated with bowing before the emperor.

Ancient artifacts and bodies of martyrs were dug up, relocated, or venerated—perhaps a form of idolatry? As church membership grew exponentially, limitation on time and space led to many “new converts” not being baptized. Additionally, pre-baptismal instruction was shortened or eliminated. This is something the early church would have deemed unacceptable. Churches, worship services, and other aspects grew complex in contrast to a simpler and humbler time. An “official theology” developed, likely as a means for paying homage to Constantine for outlawing persecution of the faithful. Many believed Constantine was “chosen” by God to facilitate the merging of church and empire. This was something Christ vehemently discouraged (No doubt the congregations became inundated with “so-called” Christians. Gonzalez notes an exodus from “the imperial church” which many believed had become sinful and apostate.

Good Effects

The conversion of Constantine had several positive effects on the Christian church. Prior to this, Christians lived under the unpredictable threat of persecution. Stephenson notes that Constantine may not have been a Christian at this point (AD 312), but he began showing sympathy and concern for its followers (169). Accordingly, he forbade persecution of the Christian faith. Constantine also wanted to end factionalism within the community of Christian believers (Stephenson, 169). Under Constantine, Lactantius wrote an early apologetic titled On the Deaths of the Persecutors wherein he stated that monotheism was Rome’s “original religion, and the idea of many gods was introduced in error.” Monotheism was said to be superior to polytheism, and Christianity was expressed as the only means through which wisdom was attainable (Stephenson, 170). It is interesting to note the likely origin for celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25. Sol Invictus (the personification of the Sun) was worshiped as the “greatest god” that was acceptable to all (177). Initially, December 25 was the “Day of the Sun.” According to Stephenson, on December 25, 323 Constantine declared the date as the dies natalis of Christ and exempted all Christians from having to participate in the veneration of Sol (178).

Constantine used imperial edicts to establish privileges for churches and their leadership. For example, churches were allowed tax exempt status for properties and their ministers. Further, members and others were permitted the legal right to pass property on to the church. We see this practice in operation today, allowing some denominations to amass a vast amount of assets. According to Church and State, the Roman Catholic Church is likely the wealthiest non-business entity in the world, with assets ranging from $10 billion to $15 billion and an operation budget of approximately $170 billion in the United States alone (Network for Church Monitoring, 2020). Of course, whenever accumulation of wealth become more important than seeking God’s kingdom and storing up treasures in heaven, such developments can be detrimental for Christianity

IN CONCLUSION, clearly Constantine’s conversion to Christianity is in question. First, although he made a public profession of faith, he did not undergo water baptism until on his deathbed in 337. Moreover, many of his attitudes and actions seemed to belie true dedication to Christ. He continued to participate in pagan ceremonies at times and functioned as its high priest. Constantine’s serving two masters caused the prolonging of pagan worship. Negative effects included ongoing violence against pagans by Christians, ecclesiastical and judicial corruption, early practices that mimic the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church, syncretism, a lack of catechism teachings before water baptism, and at least a temporary diluting of Christianity. Constantine did, however, outlaw persecution of Christians, helped to cause a slow increase in observing monotheism over polytheism, and establishment of December 25 as Christmas Day.

I am impressed by the impact of Christian ecclesiastical history on grasping the many nuances of the Christian faith.

References

Church and State (London, England: Network for Church Monitoring), 2020.

Gonzalez, J.L., The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperOne), 2010.

Stephenson, P. Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor (New York, NY: The Overlook Press), 2010.

Zacharias, R., Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith we Defend (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2007.