Christianity in the 3rd century

Funerary stele of Licinia Amias on marble. One of the most ancient Christian inscriptions found, it is from the early 3rd-century Vatican necropolis area, Rome.
Upper tier: dedication to the Dis Manibus and Christian motto in Greek letters ΙΧΘΥϹ ΖΩΝΤΩΝ: Ikhthus zōntōn, "fish of the living"; middle tier: depiction of fish and an anchor; lower tier: Latin inscription "LICINIAE FAMIATI BE / NE MERENTI VIXIT".

Christianity in the 3rd century was largely the time of the Ante-Nicene Fathers who wrote after the Apostolic Fathers of the 1st and 2nd centuries but before the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (ante-nicene meaning before Nicaea).

Beliefs and practices[edit]

A folio from P46, an early 3rd-century collection of Pauline epistles.

Monasticism[edit]

Institutional Christian monasticism seems to have begun in the deserts in 3rd century Egypt as a kind of living martyrdom. Anthony the Great (251-356)—perhaps the best-known monk—and Pachomius (c. 292–348) were early monastic innovators in Egypt, although Paul the Hermit (c.226/7-c.341) is the first Christian historically known to have been living as a monk. There is historical evidence that individuals were living the life later known as monasticism before the legalization of Christianity.

Anthony the Great was the first to specifically leave the world and live in the desert as a monk.[1] Anthony lived as a hermit in the desert and gradually gained followers who lived as hermits nearby but not in actual community with him. One such, Paul the Hermit, lived in absolute solitude not very far from Anthony and was looked upon even by Anthony as a perfect monk. This type of monasticism is called eremitical or "hermit-like."

As monasticism spread in the East from the hermits living in the deserts of Egypt to Palestine, Syria, and on up into Asia Minor and beyond, the sayings (apophthegmata) and acts (praxeis) of the Desert Fathers came to be recorded and circulated, first among their fellow monastics and then among the laity as well.

Early iconography[edit]

Christ Jesus,[2] the Good Shepherd, 3rd century.

Christian art emerged only relatively late. According to art historian André Grabar, the first known Christian images emerge from about AD 200,[3] though there is some literary evidence that small domestic images were used earlier. Although many Hellenised Jews seem, as at the Dura-Europos synagogue, to have had images of religious figures, the traditional Mosaic prohibition of "graven images" no doubt retained some effect. This early rejection of images, although never proclaimed by theologians, and the necessity to hide Christian practice in order to avoid persecution, leaves few archaeological records regarding Early Christianity and its evolution.[4] The oldest Christian paintings are from the Roman Catacombs, dated to about 200, and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 3rd century.[4]

Diversity and proto-orthodoxy[edit]

Variant Christianities arose in the 2nd and 3rd century. The first ecumenical council, which was convoked by Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325, rejected Arianism. After 325, the councils formulated the orthodox dogmas.

Develoment of the Biblical canon[edit]

The Biblical canon began with the officially accepted books of the Koine Greek Old Testament. The Septuagint or seventy is accepted as the foundation of the Christian faith along with the Gospels, Book of Revelation and Letters of the Apostles (including Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Hebrews) of the New Testament.

By the early 200's, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, II Peter, II John and III John, and Revelation,[5] referred to as the Antilegomena.

Early orthodox writings – Church Fathers[edit]

Since the end of the 4th century, the title "Fathers of the Church" has been used to refer to a more or less clearly defined group of ecclesiastical writers who are appealed to as authorities on doctrinal matters. They are the early and influential theologians and writers in the early Christian Church, who had strong influence on the development of proto-orthodoxy. They produced two sorts of works: theological and "apologetic", the latter being works aimed at defending the faith by using reason to refute arguments against the veracity of Christianity.[6]

Greek Fathers[edit]

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

Clement of Alexandria[edit]

Clement of Alexandria (150 — 215) was the first member of the Church of Alexandria to be more than a name, and one of its most distinguished teachers. He united Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and developed a Christian Platonism.[7] Like Origen, he arose from Catechetical School of Alexandria and was well-versed in pagan literature.[7]

Origen of Alexandria[edit]

Origen (184 – 253) was an early Christian scholar and theologian. According to tradition, he was an Egyptian[8] who taught in Alexandria, reviving the Catechetical School where Clement had taught. The patriarch of Alexandria at first supported Origen but later expelled him for being ordained without the patriarch's permission. He relocated to Caesarea Maritima and died there[9] after being tortured during a persecution.

Using his knowledge of Hebrew, he produced a corrected Septuagint.[7] He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible.[7] In Peri Archon (First Principles), he articulated the first philosophical exposition of Christian doctrine.[7] He interpreted scripture allegorically and showed himself to be a Stoic, a Neo-Pythagorean, and a Platonic.[7] Like Plotinus, he wrote that the soul passes through successive stages before incarnation as a human and after death, eventually reaching God.[7] He imagined even demons being reunited with God. For Origen, God was not Yahweh but the First Principle, and Christ, the Logos, was subordinate to him.[7] His views of a hierarchical structure in the Trinity, the temporality of matter, "the fabulous preexistence of souls," and "the monstrous restoration which follows from it" were declared anathema in the 6th century.[10][11]

Hippolytus of Rome[edit]

Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235 AD) was one of the most prolific writers of early Christianity. Hippolytus was born during the second half of the 2nd century, probably in Rome. Photius describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus so styled himself. However, this assertion is doubtful.[12] He came into conflict with the Popes of his time and for some time headed a separate group. For that reason he is sometimes considered the first Antipope. However he died in 235 or 236 reconciled to the Church and as a martyr.

Latin Fathers[edit]

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

Tertullian[edit]

Tertullian (155 — 240), who was converted to Christianity before 197, was a prolific writer of apologetic, theological, controversial and ascetic works.[13] He was the son of a Roman centurion.

Tertullian denounced Christian doctrines he considered heretical, but it has been claimed that later in life he converted to Montanism, a heretical sect that appealed to his rigorism.[13] He wrote three books in Greek and was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, thus sometimes known as the "Father of the Latin Church".[14] He was evidently a lawyer in Rome.[15] He is said to have introduced the Latin term "trinitas" with regard to the Divine (Trinity) to the Christian vocabulary[16] (but Theophilus of Antioch already wrote of "the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom", which is similar but not identical to the Trinitarian wording),[17] and also probably the formula "three Persons, one Substance" as the Latin "tres Personae, una Substantia" (from the Koine Greek "treis Hypostases, Homoousios"), and also the terms "vetus testamentum" (Old Testament) and "novum testamentum" (New Testament).

In his Apologeticus, he was the first Latin author who qualified Christianity as the "vera religio" and systematically relegated the classical Roman Empire religion and other accepted cults to the position of mere "superstitions".

Cyprian of Carthage[edit]

Cyprian (200–258) was bishop of Carthage and an important early Christian writer. He was probably born at the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received an excellent classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249 and eventually died a martyr at Carthage.

Persecutions and legalization[edit]

There was no empire-wide persecution of Christians until the reign of Decius in the third century.[web 1] As the Roman Empire experienced the Crisis of the Third Century, the emperor Decius enacted measures intended to restore stability and unity, including a requirement that Roman citizens affirm their loyalty through religious ceremonies pertaining to Imperial cult. In 212, universal citizenship had been granted to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire, and with the edict of Decius enforcing religious conformity in 250, Christian citizens faced an intractable conflict: any citizen who refused to participate in the empire-wide supplicatio was subject to the death penalty.[18] Although lasting only a year,[19] the Decian persecution was a severe departure from previous imperial policy that Christians were not to be sought out and prosecuted as inherently disloyal.[20] Even under Decius, orthodox Christians were subject to arrest only for their refusal to participate in Roman civic religion, and were not prohibited from assembling for worship. Gnostics seem not to have been persecuted.[21]

Christianity flourished during the four decades known as the "Little Peace of the Church", beginning with the reign of Gallienus (253–268), who issued the first official edict of tolerance regarding Christianity.[22] The era of coexistence ended when Diocletian launched the final and "Great" Persecution in 303.

The Edict of Serdica was issued in 311 by the Roman emperor Galerius, officially ending the Diocletianic persecution of Christianity in the East. With the passage in 313 AD of the Edict of Milan, in which the Roman Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius legalised the Christian religion, persecution of Christians by the Roman state ceased.[web 2]

Timeline[edit]

3rd century Timeline


See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Paul of Thebes had gone into the desert before Anthony; however, he went not for the purpose of pursuing God but to escape persecution.
  2. ^ "The figure (…) is an allegory of Christ as the shepherd" André Grabar, "Christian iconography, a study of its origins", ISBN 0-691-01830-8
  3. ^ Andre Grabar, p.7
  4. ^ a b Grabar, p.7
  5. ^ Noll, pp.36-37
  6. ^ Norman, The Roman Catholic Church an Illustrated History (2007), pp. 27–28
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Will Durant. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972, ISBN 1-56731-014-1
  8. ^ George Sarton (1936). "The Unity and Diversity of the Mediterranean World", Osiris 2, p. 406-463 [430].
  9. ^ About Caesarea
  10. ^ The Anathemas Against Origen, by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Schaff, Philip, "The Seven Ecumenical Councils", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol. 14. Edinburgh: T&T Clark)
  11. ^ The Anathematisms of the Emperor Justinian Against Origen (Schaff, op. cit.)
  12. ^ Cross, F. L., ed., "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" (Oxford University Press 2005)
  13. ^ a b Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, article Tertullian
  14. ^ [1] Vincent of Lerins in 434AD, Commonitorium, 17, describes Tertullian as 'first of us among the Latins' (Quasten IV, p.549)
  15. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Tertullian
  16. ^ A History of Christian Thought, Paul Tillich, Touchstone Books, 1972. ISBN 0-671-21426-8 (p. 43)
  17. ^ To Autolycus, Book 2, chapter XV
  18. ^ Allen Brent, Cyprian and Roman Carthage (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 193ff. et passim; G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, edited by Michael Whitby and Joseph Streeter (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 59.
  19. ^ Ste. Croix, Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, p. 107.
  20. ^ Ste. Croix, Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, p. 40.
  21. ^ Ste. Croix, Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, pp. 139–140
  22. ^ Françoise Monfrin, entry on "Milan," p. 986, and Charles Pietri, entry on "Persecutions," p. 1156, in The Papacy: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philippe Levillain (Routlege, 2002, originally published in French 1994), vol. 2; Kevin Butcher, Roman Syria and the Near East (Getty Publications, 2003), p. 378.
  23. ^ Latourette, 1941, vol. I, 145
  24. ^ Herbermann, p. 282
  25. ^ Neill, p. 31
  26. ^ Herbermann, p. 481
  27. ^ Latourette, 1941, vol. I, p. 89
  28. ^ Walsh, Martin de Porres. The Ancient Black Christians, Julian Richardson Associates, 1969, p. 5
  29. ^ Barrett, p. 24

References[edit]

  • Noll, Mark A., Turning Points, Baker Academic, 1997

Web-sources

  1. ^ Martin, D. 2010. "The "Afterlife" of the New Testament and Postmodern Interpretation Archived 2016-06-08 at the Wayback Machine (lecture transcript Archived 2016-08-12 at the Wayback Machine). Yale University.
  2. ^ "Persecution in the Early Church". Religion Facts. Retrieved 2014-03-26.

Further reading[edit]

  • Edwards, Mark (2009). Catholicity and Heresy in the Early Church. Ashgate.
  • Esler, Philip F. The Early Christian World. Routledge (2004). ISBN 0-415-33312-1.
  • Fletcher, Richard. The Conversion of Europe. From Paganism to Christianity 371-1386 AD. University of California Press (1997).
  • MacMullen, Ramsay. Christianizing the Roman Empire, AD 100-400. Yale University Press (1986). ISBN 0-300-03642-6
  • von Padberg, Lutz E. Die Christianisierung Europas im Mittelalter. Reclam (2008).
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition, Volume One: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0-226-65371-4.
  • Russell, James C. The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. Oxford University Press (1994). ISBN 0-19-510466-8.
  • Trombley, Frank R. Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370-529. Brill (1995). ISBN 90-04-09691-4
  • White, L. Michael. From Jesus to Christianity. HarperCollins (2004). ISBN 0-06-052655-6.

External links[edit]

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