spread of Christianity
The church enters the world
After Christ had died,
returned from the dead, and been seen before hundreds of witnesses, news
of this began traveling outward from Jerusalem. Intense faith following
in its path, slowed only by Jewish and Roman persecution exacted for rejecting
the politically correct ideas of the day. The secular work A History
of the Ancient World records that by the year 200,
only a minute proportion
of the Empire's population dared or desired to be Christian; and a modern
observer may well be amazed at the calm certainty of this little group
that it held the right path, regardless of pagan ridicule and the official
disapproval by the ever more omnipotent emperor. Yet the Church had sunk
its roots across the Mediterranean world, which was still perplexed by
the willingness of this novel sect to accept martyrdom to gain eternal
Successive Roman emperors
tried to squelch the growing belief in Christ as Lord during seven different
periods of persecution. One manner in which Christians were discovered was
by their refusal to swear to the divinity of Caesar. Though an annual swearing
to Caesar was interpreted as a symbolic act of patriotism to most polytheistic
Romans, it was an act which nevertheless carried the death sentence for
a person's refusal to make.
Later, by the mid-third
century, various Roman emperors began vacillating between tolerance and
hatred for Christianity. Five intermittent periods of persecution followed.
After the death of Maxentius in the early fourth century, Constantine
finally established the legal right for Christians to exist and to worship
death penalty was removed, the news of Christ could now be more easily shared
throughout the Roman empire. To this end, biblical writings began to be
translated into the languages of different peoples. The translation by Jerome,
circa AD 400, was in the Latin language and was referred to as the Latin
Vulgate. Vulgate means "common" which signified that this
translation, rather than original Hebrew or Greek writings, was meant
for the common man who, in this particular region, spoke Latin.
The church called the Church of Rome
The most influential
church by this time, though certainly not the only one, was the Church
of Rome. (The Church of Rome is also called the Roman Catholic Church.
The term catholic, meaning universal, originally referred to the
body of believers worldwide, as first coined by Ignatius in the second century.)
The Christian church in Rome received extraordinary wealth and influence
when Emperor Constantine moved his capital out of the city and turned over
to that church his basilica and a great deal of treasures.
While the Church of
Rome had once declared Greek to be its official language, Greek culture
waned. The Church of Rome reacted to this by accommodating the predominance
of the Latin language and officially adopting it as its new official
language sometime before the year 600. Jerome's Latin Vulgate was its official
The world enters the church
The zeal with which
vast numbers of people were by now coming to faith in Christ heralded something
remarkable. A commonality of thought was taking hold throughout regions
where the Latin-translated Scripture was being circulated; largely the western
world. People of different regions and different cultures were becoming
united in a way like none before - by principles and common ideals. This
became a moral force that is said to have spelled the beginning of the end
for the age of barbarism.
worldview of an unchanging God and an orderly universe started to replace
the prior consensus that the world was unpredictable and without purpose.
This simple difference of perspectives would eventually propel Christianized
nations to unparalleled advances in almost every field of study, especially
the sciences. But it was in recognizing the public's growing allegiance
toward Christ and the power of commonly held principles that certain medieval
figures were able to exploit the new zeitgeist for less honorable purposes.
Some leaders honestly
aligned themselves with Christ and his principles. By doing so, they naturally
accrued the respect of the growing number of those who believed likewise.
Other figures found sufficient success by merely aligning themselves with
the outward act of allegiance. In modern language, to win the religious
right of ancient times, a king's flattery did not need to be genuinely directed
towards Christ above, it just had to look like that to Christians below.
For instance, certain
leaders sought public devotion and allegiance by appearing before popular
religious leaders to get divine approval for everything from trite possessions
to declarations of war. Because the Church of Rome had acquired a high profile
because of the great wealth Constantine had given it, it attracted far more
national leaders than other churches.
As kings and leaders
used approval-seeking acts to gain favor at the hand of cooperative religious
leaders, these religious leaders were now encountering and succumbing to
the new temptation to ask for and receive special favors in return. Some
within the Church of Rome desired the unification of all Christendom under
its sole leadership. Many kings desired the expansion of their empires and
riches. These desires would eventually entwine themselves into the cruel
but mutually effective exploitation of people's genuine faith in the periods
known as the Crusades and the Inquisitions.
NEXT: The decline of Latin
Catholicism vs. Protestantism