(Dr. Richard Abels, Dept of History, USNA)
Augustus establishes the
"Principate", transforming the
37-4 BCE: Reign of Herod the Great (rebuilds the
c. 4 BCE: birth of Joshua/Jesus "the Christ"
c. 30: crucifixion of Jesus in
c. 35-c.49: Paul's conversion on the
c.49-64: the missionary voyages and
c. 60-100: the writing of the gospels.
64: first Roman persecution of the Christians: The Christians are
used by Nero as scapegoats for the, great fire that almost destroyed the city
c. 67: Paul's death in
66-70: the Jewish Revolt against
73: Rabbis establish center for Jewish study at Yavneh on the
73-c. 200: Rabbinic period in which the Mishnah, rabbinic commentary on Torah, takes form
90-100: Rabbi Gamaliel II excludes Christians and other sectarians from the synagogues.
c. 90-150: Jewish Bible takes its
canonical form (tanakh: Torah (five books of Moses, the
"Law"), Nevi'im (the Prophets), Kethuvim (Writings: e.g. Kings,
Chronicles, Song of Songs, Proverbs)
The Jewish milieu for early Christianity: In the 1st century
Anti-Roman movements sprang up, notably the ZEALOTS, who looked forward to
the coming of the MESSIAH, the 'anointed one,' a 'son of the House of
David' whom God would raise up to be the king of a restored Davidic kingdom.
(The idea of a Messiah arose after the destruction of the
Judaism in the time of Jesus was riven with disputes. The two main groups were the PHARISEES and the SADDUCEES. The former tended to be anti-Roman (the Zealots were a radical fringe element of the Pharisees), and strict in their observance of both the MOSAIC LAW (Torah) and the oral TRADITION that explained the law. They believed in an afterlife with rewards and punishments, angels, and demons. They tended to be urban and attracted members of the middle and lower classes. The Sadducees rejected the oral tradition and claimed that only the Mosaic laws were obligatory. Politically they supported Roman rule and the status quo. The Sadducees appealed to a higher economic stratum than did the Pharisees. Theologically, they denied resurrection and angels as innovations without foundation in Scripture.
There was also a third group, the ESSENES, who were less numerous
than the Pharisees or Sadducees, but were very important in the shaping of
Christianity. The Essenes were ascetics who rejected physical pleasure as an
evil and praised continence and self-denial as a virtue. They emphasized the
SHARING OF PROPERTY, BODILY AND SPIRITUAL PURITY, CELIBACY, AND
MYSTICISM. They also had entry tests, various degrees of perfection--full
fellowship was achieved only after a 3 year probation,
and vows of secrecy. They lived apart in communities on the west shore of the
Christianity splintered off from Judaism. Jesus and his
apostles were all Jewish, and even Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was an
orthodox Jew trained by the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:1-11)..
(In fact, the term "Christian" was probably first coined in
The Acts of the Apostles describes (but in careful terms) a Christian Church riven by a fundamental disagreement over the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The older and more established Church, centered on
One is the notion of the dietary laws, the eating
restrictions that would have obtained for eating certain kinds of food if one
was an observant Jew. Also with whom one could eat, and so we see some
indication during Paul's time in
The upshot was that Paul received the approval of the
leaders of the
Despite his opposition to the "Judaizing Christians," Paul's background as a Pharisee informed virtually all his theology. He apparently saw himself as a prophet, much like Isaiah. His explanation of the Hebrew Law, while subverting the Jewish conception of the Covenant, nonetheless is rooted in the sort of logic and discussion that was to form the basis for rabbinical Judaism and the Talmud. As Professor White observes,
Paul's notion that it was possible for gentiles to enter the
congregation of God without some of the rules of Judaism interestingly enough
seems to be a conviction on his part that comes from his own interpretation of
the Jewish scriptures. In fact he gets it mostly from the prophet Isaiah.
Paul's message of the conversion of gentiles seems to be predicated on the Isaiah
language of what will happen when the kingdom comes when the Messiah has
arrived and there will be a light to the nations, "a light to the
gentiles." And in that sense Paul views the messianic
age having arrived with Jesus as being a window of opportunity for bringing in
the gentiles into the elect status alongside the people of
The Romans only gradually came to distinguish between the
Jews and the Christians. Although the Romans considered the former to be a
peculiar and troublesome people with an odd and barbarous cult, they recognized
the Hebrew religion as 'legitimate' and tolerated its practice, even excusing
the Jews from participation in the imperial cult (the Jews showed their loyalty
to the emperor by making sacrifices to Yahweh on his behalf). Christianity was
one of the few religions that the Romans persecuted. Until the trial of
96: emperor Nerva removes Jewish tax (tax owed by Jews to
98-117: emperor Trajan, greatest expansion of
117-138: emperor Hadrian, economic prosperity and able provincial administration.
115-117: Jewish revolt against Trajan (115-117) while he was attempting to
conquer Mesopotamia, involving the Jews of Egypt, Cyrenaica (in modern
132-135: Bar Khochba (claimed to be the messiah) rebellion in Judea, supported by rabbi Akiba, greatest Jewish sage of his time; opposed by Christians; destruction of Jerusalem in 135 followed by expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem.
161-180: emperor Marcus Aurelius, "the philosopher on the throne" (Stoic: Meditations)
c. 170: Celsus writes polemic against Christians
c. 190: Irenaeus establishes the canonicity of the four gospels.
Developments in Christianity:
Analysis: Christianity continues its mission underground, attempting to secure a unified faith, fighting various heterodox strands, i.e., the earliest "heresies." The structure of the second-century Church in the East was based on autonomous urban communities led by bishop-presbyters assisted by deacons. Bishops begin to appear in southern
During the second century, to be Christian was a capital offense. The Roman
authorities regarded Christianity as an anti-social and atheistic superstition
and an illegal association. Their attitude toward the Christians is perhaps
best exemplified by the Emperor Trajan's response to a query from Pliny,
governor of Bithynia (in Asia Minor) in 111, whether the name of Christian is a
sufficient cause for capital punishment: "These people must not be
hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is
proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is
a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods,
he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentence however suspect his past
conduct may be." On popular level, Christians were obtaining a bad
reputation among their neighbors, partly because of secrecy surrounding rites
of sect. Rumors were then circulating about 'wicked' Christian practices. We
know from anti-Christian polemics and the responses of Christian Apologists
(i.e., defenders of the faith against critics) that Christians were accused of
eating infants during the mass, of incest, 'free-love', disrespect to paternal
authority, refusal to fulfill their civic responsibilities, pacificism, and
atheism. Although there was little official persecution of Christians, popular
resentment ran high and there were many instances of popular attacks against
c. 170: Celsus, a Greek Platonist philosopher, wrote the True Doctrine--the first full-length attack on Christianity. Celsus ridiculed the Christians as uneducated, illiterate, credulous, and low-class (cobblers, laundry-workers, wool-workers, and yokels), pacifists and bad citizens. Celsus also makes the philosophical argument that Christians are impious because they deny the existence of a single supreme god by making Jesus the equal of god. (By this time the educated Roman elite believed in one supreme being who created all things and was the source of all reality. They also, however, accepted the existence of many other gods under this supreme deity.)
IDEAL OF MARTYRDOM: Persecution during this period is sporadic and local
(e.g., violent attacks on Christians of Lyons in 177). Much of the violence
against Christians is by local mobs. Powerful Christian ideal of martyrdom
(spiritual athletes) is shaped during this period. (The idea of martydom comes
from the Jews of the Hellenistic Era.)
A period of economic, military, and constitutional crisis for the
235-284: the era of the "barracks emperors", twenty-six 'legitimate' emperors and about 50 pretenders in 49 years.
250: the first general, official, and thorough persecution of Christians
c.280: Neo-Platonist Porphyry wrote Against the Christians
Developments in Christianity:
This century also saw `the flourishing `of a Christian theological school at
Developments in Judaism:
This century witnessed the compilation of the "Oral Torah," the Mishnah, around 200 by Rabbi Simon Nasi, the Prince or the Patriarch. The 'Palestinian' and 'Babylonian' Talmuds, commentary on the Mishnah, took form between ca. 220 and 468. The former was edited ca. 400 and the latter (which is today the main Talmud) between ca. 400 and 600. Modern "rabbinic" Judaism, as opposed to the ancient Hebrew religion, takes shape.
This century witnessed the break-through for Christianity. At its beginning Christians formed probably a little less than 10% of the population of the empire (about 5 million out of 60 million). By the end of the century there were about 30 million Christians.
284-305: the emperor Diocletian manages to end the 3rd-century `crisis by a thorough reform and reorganization of the empire (e.g., he divides the administration of the empire among two Augusti and two Caesars). Under Diocletian the development towards absolute monarchy becomes complete. Due to financial and military pressure, Diocletian institutes stringent social reforms that transform a number of professions and offices into hereditary castes.
c. 300: great neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry writes Philosophy from Oracles in opposition to Christianity. Porphyry argues that Jesus was a good and pious Jew, but that his disciples perverted his teachings and falsely elevated him to the position of a god. Porphyry attacked the credibility of Christianity through a thorough critique of Scripture. Considered by early Christian authors as the most dangerous attack upon the religion.
303: the beginning of the last and greatest persecution of Christians.
311: the emperor Galerius ends the persecution with an edict of toleration.
312: after a period of civil war
330: Constantine, now sole emperor, founds Constantinople to replace
Developments in Christian theology:
Since Christianity was now a legal religion (indeed, the religion of the emperor), it became necessary for Christians to resolve the doctrinal disputes riddling their religion (ORTHODOXY DISTINGUISHED FROM HERESY). The idea of a 'CATHOLIC' (one, all embracing) Christian Church is promoted. This is accomplished through general and public assemblies of the clergy. The most important of these are presided over by the emperor. These are known as the first four ecumenical councils:
325: Council of
381: Council of
431: Council of
451: Council of
Developments in Christian Church:
Part of the process of creating a catholic Christian Church involves the increasing definition of Church structure and hierarchy. THE CHURCH'S ORGANIZATION NOW MIMICS THAT OF ROMAN CIVIL ADMIN: URBAN AND HIERARCHICAL (terms such as 'vicar' and 'diocese' come from R. admin). All bishops are NOT equal. System based on METROPOLITAN BISHOPS who were superior to bishops of lesser cities. Bishops of
During this period the canon of the New Testament is also
established. The most important individuals in this process are Eusebius,
bishop of Caesarea (early-4th century), Athanasius, bishop of
c. 340: Ulfila, translates the Bible into Gothic and converts Visigoths--to Arian Christianity!
361-3: the emperor Julian (the "Apostate") attempts to revive paganism. Issues an edict granting full toleration to all religions, including the Christian heresies.
380: EmperorTheodosius the Great issues a constitution recommending all his subjects to adopt the orthodox Christian faith. Threatens to punish heretics.
390: St. Ambrose of
391/2: Theodosius bans the celebration of pagan cults. (If a man were to
burn incense even to his domestic gods in his own home, his farm or house was
to be confiscated.) Paganism is not outlawed, but pagan worship
is. Christianity becomes in fact, if not in name, the imperial religion.
Christian writers, notably St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, begin to redefine the civic obligations of Christians to permit them to participate more fully in the political (and military) life of the newly Christianized empire.
The Age of the HOLY MAN & Rise of MONASTICISM: ST. ANTHONY, c.
251-356, Egyptian hermit, desert father; PACHOMIUS, c. 320, founder of COMMUNAL
MONASTICISM; ST. MARTIN OF TOURS (335-397), brought monastic ideal to GAUL.)
The Holy Man, like the martyr, was a spiritual athlete; unlike the martyr, however,
his POWER came from the manner of his life (HEROIC ASCETISM--COMBAT AGAINST THE
TEMPTATIONS OF THE FLESH) rather than his death. In East, Holy Men are seen as
spiritual patrons and are integrated into village communities; in West, where
Holy Men are rarer, they become part of a Christian
cultural elite, separated from the masses. RAMPAGING MONKS in East also play
role of storm-troopers of the faith, burning temples and synagogues, destroying
pagan altars, and even killing prominent pagans.
Beginning in the last quarter of the 4th century, Germanic tribes increased their pressure on the Roman borders. In 376 about 200,000 Goths, running from the Huns, are permitted to cross the
407: Imperial decree orders that pagan altars be destroyed and pagan temples turned over to public use
410: sack of
413-425: Augustine composes the City of
430: Augustine dies in his episcopal see of Hippo (in northern
451: Aetius, commander of the Roman forces in the West, defeats Attila the Hun at Chalons. Aetius's forces were largely made up of German federates.
Developments in Christianity:
In East, esp. in
The most important Latin Church Father was AUGUSTINE (354-430).
Augustine was born in northern Africa near ancient
Augustine came to Christianity late in life. (He describes his miraculous conversion, which is related as a born again experience, in his magnificent autobiography The Confessions.) He was passionately interested in the idea of good and evil, and sought answers in Manicheeism (heresy that posited two gods: a god of light and goodness and a god of darkness and evil; the first created spirit, the second, matter) and NEO-PLATONISM. Augustine 'baptized' Plato, relating Christianity to Plato's distinction between the less real world of matter and the ultimate reality of the world of mind and spirit. (For Plato's Form of the Good, read 'the Christian God'.) His theology was largely defined by his personal 'born-again' experience and feelings of sin and unworthiness. He promoted the ideas of God's omnipotence, salvation through faith and grace, and predestination. He also tried to reconcile God's omnipotence with the existence of evil, by DENYING THE ULTIMATE REALITY OF EVIL: everything that exists is good in so far as it exists. To act 'evilly,' then, is to mistake a lesser good (e.g., material wealth) for a greater good (e.g., true happiness). Augustine, like Plato, posited a "great chain of being" that culminated in a transcendental (non-physcial), perfect, and unchanging realm and Being. But this Being was God, not the Good, and one reached it by faith and revelation, not by reason.
In the CITY OF
Since the Christian 'pilgrim' makes use of the earthly peace of this life, he must participate in the civic life of the world. He will llive in this world and participate in it, but he will not belong to it. Augustine derives from this an argument for the participation of the Christian in secular affairs. Out of love of neighbor, the Christian will assume the burdens of civic duty as emperors, judges, soldiers, etc., but will always act only out of duty and love, never out of a desire of glory or pride. He will always act, moreover, according to the precepts of Christianitiy, striving to act in a manner pleasing to God, not out of a desire to oblige God to grant him salvation--God's Elect already have that as a free gift--but simply out of love and duty to God.
This leads him to the idea of the CHRISTIAN JUST WAR, war that a
Christian may wage without damaging his soul. (Just war = war fought under
authority of a legitimate prince either in self defense or for the recovery of
stolen property; such a war must be limited, so that the means are in
proportion with the ends. The Christian soldier may wage war, but he must also
love his enemy while hating his sin.) Augustine combined Cicero's
conception of war justified by the Stoic's Natural Law with the Christian
ideas of the love of God and neighbor. For Augustine, a Christian is obliged by
love of neighbor to participate in the civic life of the earthly city. This
includes maintaining peace and human justice (which is the reason that God
established political authority over man, see Paul, Romans,
13:1-6). From his reading of the Old Testament, Augustine knew that God had
ordered the Israelites to wage righteous war. He also knew that God used war to
punish sins and wickedness. Eve wicked men, such as
Assyrians, fulfilled God's providence. But Augustine wnet further and, drawing
It follows from Augustine's doctrine of obedience to authority, that only wars waged by legitimate princes are authorized by God. All just wars, then, are fought by authority of princes for defense of the fatherland, its citizens, and it property, and only soldiers are permitted to fight wars. Princes alone are answerable to God for the justice of wars, and they will be judged according to their desire and purpose for engaging in war. "Peace should be the object of your desire," and wars are just if they are "waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may deliver men from the necessity and presever them in peace. ...war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. .. Let necessity, therefore, and not your will, slay the enemy who fights against you" (from Augustine's "Letter to Count Boniface").
For Augustine the real evil of war is not the deaths caused by it. All men are mortal and will die in any case. Nor does war harm the eternal wellbeing of God or even hurt his saints; for the trail of their patience, and chastening of their spirit, ... they are benefitted rather than injured." The real revils in war "are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, lust of power, and such like; and it generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God, good men undertake wars." The soldier's obedience to God is fulfilled through his obedience to the prince, since "his position akes obedience a duty." Only if an order clearly contravenes divine authority may a soldier disobey it. The Christian soldier's responsibility is not to judge the justice of the conflict but to fight with a Christian spirit, out of love of both his neighbor and the wrong-doer, punishing the sin with benevolent severity. Malice, not militia (military service), is what endangers the spriitual well-being of a Christian.