Christ in Hagia Sophia Christianity has been called the single most influence in all history as measured in its religion and spiritual impact and its affect on world events. It no accident that were record history as before Christ (B.C.) and after Christ (A.D., Anno Domini “Year of Our Lord”).
Christianity grew out of Judaism. See Judaism.
The basic doctrines of Christianity are 1) the Incarnation, which states that God was present in Jesus throughout his life but did not interfere with his being and human being (according to Corinthians 5: 19, “God was in Christ reconciling himself.”); 2) Christology, which says that Christ was a person in which the human and divine were always present; 3) the Trinity, which holds that God reveals himself through the Father (God), Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost; and 4) Atonement, the belief that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who has faith in God.
Sins are generally regarded as breaking the commandments. Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust. The possibility of grace and redemption being available for to all sinners was the essence of Jesus's teachings. The Christian version of Confucius's Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is : "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets."
Christian doctrines have traditionally been defined by Creeds, fundamental beliefs accepted by all Christians or all members of a particularly sect, that are thus distinguished from speculations and views that are still a matter of debate. Creeds are usually expressed in succinct formulae. Some were inherited from Judaism and other were agreed upon at the ecumenical councils.
Baptism of Christ
by Piero della Francesca One of the things that makes Christianity different from other religions is the emphasis on free will and the conversion process. Many saints had deeply moving conversion experiences or visions, In Varieties of Religious Experience . William James wrote: “A genuine first-hand religious experience...is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses: the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine proves contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if then still proves contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy, and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry: the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets on their turn.” See St. Paul, St. Augustine, St Francis.
Whether the Bible should be taken literally or not remains a contentious issue. The great 5th century Christian theologian St. Augustine is among those who argue that Genesis was not intended to be taken literally.
Websites and Resources: Britannica on Christianity britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/115240/Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Historical Jesus Theories http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Britannica britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/303091/Jesus-Christ ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ;
The modern concept of salvation is something that developed over time. The original notion professed by Paul was intended to free man from rigid Jewish laws, saying all that was necessary to receive the grace of God was having a willingness to follows his “Way." This was taken to mean that salvation was achieved by living a Christian life, performing good deeds and conducting oneself in a moral way.
Later salvation came to mean the reward that one received after deciding to devote oneself to Christ. The key scripture here from John): Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in men. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you...that where I am, there ye may be also.” The idea here was that salvation occurs first and moral conduct will follow as a natural consequence.
Christ Appears by Rossakiewicz Christians regard Resurrection as a fate that awaits all Christian faithful. They believe that the crucified Jesus was resurrected by God, and that by submitting to death, Jesus destroyed death’s power and made eternal life available to everyone, unlike other religions which said immortality was something that was available only to Gods. Consequently, death became a phase that people passed through rather than something that was feared.
Christianity introduced “eternal life,” something that clearly appealed to new converts. Instead of worshiping the spirit of a dead hero, Christians worship a living Christ that was resurrected in the flesh and ascended to heaven as a living person. The burial rite and safekeeping of the tomb for early Christians was important because it was believed the soul would rise to heaven just as Jesus's had done during resurrection.
Paul wrote in Corinthians: “If Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is empty.” This seems say in part that one reason the Resurrection is important is that Jesus said he would rise from the dead. If he didn’t he would have been branded a liar and his credibilty on other issues would be questioned.
No other Biblical figures rose from the dead. The prophets Elijah and Enoch ascended to heaven (presumably while alive) but Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David and Solomon all died. After the Maccabean revolt in 167 B.C. is when the concept of resurrection surfaced among the Jews. The belief in the Resurrection is what is believed to have been what motivated early Christians to keep their faith against the persecution of the Romans.
The idea of a resurrection was somewhat new. In other religions such as Hinduism and Greek paganism, the soul and the body were viewed as distinct and the afterlife was seen in terms of separation of the soul and body rather than resurrection of the dead.
Explanations for the Resurrection of Jesus
The evidence for Christ's resurrection are the empty tomb and the appearances to the disciples. Some scholars claim that Jesus's may have been stolen in the night by his disciples. They also suggest that appearance to the disciples were actually dreams, visions or hallucinations brought on in part over guilt for abandoning Jesus.
Resurrection by Rembrandt No bones were found in the tomb. Paul went to great lengths to list specific, living witnesses to answer those who doubted the veracity of the accounts. Scholars then went back to the Old Testament and Jesus’s own saying and found prophecies for the events that took place. Arguably the least convincing argument for the resurrection made the Gospels was the reaction of the apostle to the reborn Christ. Some didn’t even realize they talking to Christ until he identified himself.
Some have suggested the sheer implausibility of the story is perhaps the primary reason it should be believed: no one it has been argued could make up such a story and convince people it is true unless it really took place. There was no precedent for the events that unfolded. According to Jewish beliefs the Messiah who was supposed to usher in the New Kingdom was supposed to warrior ready to fight battles against evil not a dead man who went benignly to his death and awoke from the dead.
There are also some imaginative explanations. Australian author and historian Barbara Thiering believes he was crucified near the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. He was buried in a cave and only appeared to be dead after taking a poison similar that used in zombie rituals in Haiti that allow people to awake from the dead.
Many have doubts about the story. Some scholars believe that Mark made up the empty tomb episode. Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens that listened to Paul said “the Resurrection was too much out of a reach for them.” The 2nd century Greek philosopher and Christian critic Celsus called the Resurrection a “cock-and bull story.”
Redemption, Atonement and the Meaning of Death of Jesus
Atonement and redemption represent the belief that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who has faith in God. It holds that Jesus died for the sins of humanity so the faithful, people who accepted Jesus into their hearts, could ascend to heaven and have eternal life, despite their sins. The Apostle Paul wrote: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us...We are now justified by his blood.”
Atonement essentially means that Jesus accepted the pain of death to show, through his Resurrection, that God and his love are not defeated by death. His sacrifice was a kind of compensation for all the sins that have ever been committed by humankind, allowing sinners—which is more or less everyone—to achieve salvation and have a relationship with God. According to I John 3:16: “This is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Lament the Dead Christ by Rembrandt The word Atonement essentially means oneness with god (“at-one-ment”) and describes the desire by humans to have a relationship with God and achieve this by reaching a sinless state often by suffering or offering penitence. According to John, Jesus was aware of his atonement when he said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Redemption describes the process—through Christ’s death—that atonement can be achieved by absolving oneself of one’s sins. Both concepts have their roots in Jewish sacrifices. According to Hebrews in the New Testament, Jesus killed “not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.”
Some believe that Jesus’s death took place the way it did because the burden of human sin was so great that humanity could never possibly pay it back and only God, through Jesus, could do so through the pain of the Crucifixion. Others have argued it was a “divine bait-and-switch scheme” to fool the devil, by getting devil was focus his energy on trying to tempt Jesus and in the process dropped his guard, allowing all of humanity the opportunity to find salvation.
Theology according to historian Daniel Boorstein was "a Western creation nurtured in Hellenist Alexandria" and was "both a producer and a by-product of Christianity." Whereas the myth of the Gods and philosophy were separated under the Greeks. They were united in theology as Moses was made into a philosopher as well religious leader.
Philo of Alexandria (late first century B.C. to first century A.D.) is considered the father of theology. A rich Jewish nobleman, who was regarded a quite a fun-loving guy, he was one of the first to scrutinize Jewish-Christian doctrine using Platonic philosophical reasoning.
Another influential thinker was Origen (185?-254), an Alexandrian Greek who castrated himself to ensure his purity and became head of the leading Christ theological academy at the age of 18. He is credited with giving Christianity some analytical credibility by incorporating elements of Greek philosophy but was unsuccessful making it hold up to the scrutiny of history.
Violence, Suffering and the Crucifixion
Flagellation by Caravaggio Morbidity and violence are a central themes of Christianity as well as peace and compassion—especially among Catholics—at least as representations of some famous paintings and images of Christ and Mel Gibson’s film The Passion . These are tied to the violent nature of Jesus’s death.
The Passion as a source of lurid iconography blossomed in Europe the 1300s, when much of the continent suffered through the Great Plague, Mogul invasions and other ills. Paintings and sculptures of a suffering Christ appeared in great numbers; cults grew about relics associated with the crucifixion; and people came to believe that meditating on it could help redeem the human race.
Christianity was one of the first religions to make suffering a virtue rather something that was pathetic. Christ’s suffering on the cross was something to be admired rather than pitied. There was a prevailing view in medieval times that no matter how much people suffered, Christ suffered even more. One mystic reported that Christ came to her in a vison and told her, “I was beaten on the body 6,666 times; beaten on the head 110 times; pricks of thorns in the head, 110..mortal thorns in the head, 3...the drops of blood that I lost were 28,430.”
Violent depictions of Christ returned un the 16th and 17th centuries during the Counter-Reformation when Catholic painters in Italy and Spain used graphic images of violence to stir up the masses to fight the upstart Protestants. Images of suffering Christ remain particularly common today in Latin American churches.
Proselytizing and Missionaries
an early Christian missionary Christianity has traditionally been a proselytizing religion spread around the world by missionaries. This is based at least partly on the belief that the message of salvation was offered to everyone and this “Good News” (the meaning of “Gospels”) should be spread by everyone who has experienced it. Missionaries respond to the plea in Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” They also follow the example of St. Paul and St, Francis.
Nearly all branches of Christianity have utilized missionaries in one form or another. These days most mainstream Protestant and Catholic missionary groups stick to operating social programs and helping the poor. Generally the groups that most actively proselytize are evangelicals. Many of the Evangelical get day jobs as engineers, English teachers and nurses and evangelize in their spare time.
Christian missionaries have helped bring education and medical care to remote parts of the world, helped preserve some culture that might have been swallowed up economic forces and assimilation and brought written languages to places that didn’t have one.
For a long time most missionaries were active in Latin America, where the battle for primacy was fought between evangelicals and Catholics, with the more adventurous going to Africa and the Communist world. In the last few decades there has been more of an emphases on reaching “unreached people groups” that include tribes in remote areas and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists who have never been exposed to Christianity.
Modern technology, wealth, globalization and an endless supply of enthusiastic missionaries willing to travel to the ends of the earth and find those who have not heard the word have helped spread Christianity at an unprecedented rate. There is a wealth of material available on the Internet as well as was “Godcasting” sites for iPods.
Christianity, Individuality and Democracy
Saint Patrick, another
early Christian missionary Early Christianity stressed equality and democracy. Jesus denounced anyone who attempted to usurp the moral authority of God. Catholics introduced a Roman-like hierarchy. Some Protestant denominations tried to revive the early egalitarian, democratic model.
Modern democracy is a secularized version of the Christian doctrine of universal human equality. The notions of individual rights, the rule of law and prosperity based on economic freedom also have their roots in Christian thought.
Jesus individualized the relationship between humans and God. Within Christian thinking, each individual forms a personal relation with God based on their own personal faith (this contrasts with Judaism where an individual relationship with God is based on covenants made between God of people like Abraham, Moses and David). Christ often did his work one person at a time.
The adoption of a particular set of beliefs or doctrines has often been made more for political reasons than religious ones as was the case when Constantine converted the Roman Empire and Catholic or Protestant were pressured and killed in the Reformation and Counter-reformation.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Symbols of Catholicism by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011