SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY
Early Christians Worship in
the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus It is widely believed that Christianity spread the way it did because it was regarded as a minority religion of such little importance than it didn’t seem worth the effort to reign in, regulate or persecute. In response to accusations that their religion was second rate, Christians responded that it was a fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures.
Basing his conclusions on history, studies of modern cults and modern sociological studies, Rodney Stark of the University of Washington, argued persuasively in his book: “The Rise of Christianity” that Christianity went from being a fringe sect in the Roman Empire to dominate religion of Western Civilization through the efforts women and the educated classes in the same way that religion the Unification Church of Rev. Moon attracts followers today.
Stark argued that Constantine did not introduce Christianity to Rome but rather reacted to rapid growth of Christianity within the empire. Stark believed that Christianity grew in the Roman Empire at a rate of 40 percent a decade, growing from around 1,000 (0.0017 percent of the population) in A.D. 40 to nearly 34 million (56.5 percent of the population) in A.D. 350, when it reached "a critical mass” of at least 10 percent of the Roman Empire.
Stark said conversions did not take place with rallies in marketplace but rather quietly through relatives and friend. Basing this claim on the fact that Mormon missionaries convert only one of 1,000 by cold house calls but covert one of every two people they meet through friends and relatives, wrote "conversion tends to proceed along social networks formed by interpersonal relations.” He said that by not requiring “converts to observe the [Jewish] law, they created a religion free of ethnicity.”
Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ;
Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ;
Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ;
Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org
Book: “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark (Princeton, 1996).
Early Spread of Christianity
After the destruction of the Jewish temple, Jews and some Christians were driven out of Jerusalem. Christianity spread outside of Israel throughout the Roman Empire. Early Christian communities were set up in Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, Carthage and Alexandria. By the end of the A.D. 2nd century, the faith had spread to Egypt, North Africa and Gaul. As the religion spread many of the converts were Jewish merchants, artisans and scholars that had settled in the major cities of the Roman Empire.
Roman-era Christian Funerary inscription As the new sect attracted more Gentiles leaders decided they no longer had to convert to the Jewish religion; they only had to abandon all forms of idolatry. After the destruction of the Temple it became more politically advantageous for Christianity to distance itself from its Jewish roots to escape the persecution experienced by the Jews. The Gospels were written during this period, which explains why the Jews sometimes get bad rap in the New Testament.
As Christianity became distanced from its Jewish roots it began to incorporate elements of other cultures and ways of thinking. It was especially influenced by Greek philosophy and Roman concepts of organization. Christianity also influenced other institutions. Roman paganism was influenced by Christianity and Christian hermits.
By the end of the A.D. 1st century there were Christians throughout Asia Minor. Biblical papyri and parchment codices found in Egypt provide evidence of the deep penetration of Christianity by the early 2nd century.
At the beginning of the A.D. 2nd century, it is estimated that there still were only around 10,000 Christians in the entire world. By A.D. 150, there were Christian communities throughout the Roman Empire and in places as far away as Arabia, Persia and India. By A.D. 250 missionaries had carried Christianity up the Rhine and Danube and to Britain.
Wandering Charismatics Soon After Jesus’s Death
Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “One of the earliest indications that we have of the Jesus movement is what we tend to call "wandering charismatics," traveling preachers and prophets, who go on saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand, continuing the legacy of Jesus' own preaching, apparently. They travel around with no money and no extra clothes. So, they are supposed to perform miracles and heal the sick for free but they apparently begged for food. This is a different picture of the earliest form of the Jesus movement than what we've come to expect from the pages of the New Testament and yet, it's within the tradition, itself. We hear even in Paul's day that he encounters people who come from Judea, with a different kind of gospel message, and it looks like these are the same kind of wandering charismatics that we hear of, in the earlier stages of the movement, after Jesus' death. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“The Jesus movement is a sect. How do sects behave? One of the things they have to do is, they have to distance themselves from their dominant cultural environment. A sect always arises within a community with whom it shares a basic set of beliefs and yet, it needs to find some mechanism for differentiating itself. So, sectarian groups are always in tension with their environment. That tension is manifested in a variety of ways - controversies over belief and practice; different ideas of purity and piety. But, another manifestation of that tension is the tendency to want to spread the message out, to hit the road and convince others that the truth is real.
Cooperation by the Early Christian Community
According to the BBC: “Despite all the potential problems they faced, somehow the Jesus movement managed to pull together in the same direction. They were sent off, probably in small groups, to preach and to perform, on a smaller scale, many of the miraculous things Jesus did. They healed people of physical and psychological illness, perhaps utilising the reputation of their remarkable leader to gain the acceptance and belief of converts. [Source: BBC, June 21, 2011 |::|]
“They suffered great hardships and dangers in a region controlled by Roman authorities, who had a nasty habit of brutally snuffing out political rebellions and messianic movements. They would have left the comfort of their family homes to hit the road, often sleeping rough and relying on the hospitality of locals for food and shelter. Travelling from village to village in Galilee and beyond to Jerusalem, they may have encountered bandits on solitary mountain tracks. |::|
“It was a difficult existence. There must have been arguments, jealousies and in-fighting along the way but the disciples were held together by the power of their charismatic and determined leader. They may not have always understood what his message was and their faith may have wavered at times but all of them, apart from the tragic case of Judas, stuck with him until his death. |::|
“After Jesus' crucifixion the disciples were left rudderless and disorientated but his appearance to them and the intensely motivating events of Pentecost rallied their spirits. From this point they found the strength to push forward with keeping Jesus' message alive carrying Christianity through the Near East and beyond. They may have started out as a modest group of everyday fisherman, local officials and artisans, but they went on to become the driving force, keeping alive a small religious movement which flowered into a world religion. |::|
Diversity in Early Christian Communities
Professor Helmut Koester told PBS: “Christianity did not start out as a unified movement. We have to remember that the disciples were probably dispersed at a very early time.... That is, at a time where there was no fixed formulation what the set of Christian beliefs should be. What Christian rituals should be. What they should think about Jesus or what they should tell about Jesus. The sources that we have tell us that Christianity started as a very diverse movement, as the founding of churches... moved into very different cultural and language contexts.... [Source: Helmut Koester, John H. Morison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“Paul's conversion as an apostle to the gentiles may date as early as three years after Jesus' death. No later than the year 35, but probably already 32 or 33.... He was in Damascus when he was called, according to his own witness. So we have, already, within two years or three or five years, of Jesus' death probably Greek speaking communities outside of Palestine, very early in Antioch, but we have also the founding of communities in Samaria.... We have apparently more isolated Christian communities founded very early in Galilee. Paul's mission carried Christianity all the way over Asia Minor, present Turkey into Macedonia, into Greece, within 20 years. And at the end of that period, Paul already knows that there's a Christian community in Rome which he has not founded.
“With this explosive spread of Christian churches, not a very slow moderate growth, getting a few new members every few years, but an explosive spread of this movement, it cannot be expected that everywhere, everybody was doing and believing the same thing, singing the same hymns and reading the same scriptures and telling the same story. So we have a beginning with great diversity, and the slow process, particularly in the second century, to establish a greater unity among the very diverse churches. Already a process in Paul's churches themselves, because that's why Paul writes letters, because he wants to make sure that these newly converted Christians in Ephesus and Philippi and Thessaloniki and in Corinth have some unanimity in their beliefs. And his work is made even more difficult because once he had left Corinth, some people came to Corinth and told them, "Really Paul has not told you enough of the deep wisdom of the words of Jesus. Those you have to contemplate in order to learn the wisdom that comes from Jesus," and Paul has to write back and say, "Now, I taught you nothing but Christ crucified, not Christ wisdom." So you get a conflict of different traditions also at a very early stage.
Regional Diversity of Early Christianity
Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “We tend to think of the success of Christianity in the second and third centuries just on the eve on really when it becomes the prominent religion in the Roman Empire as if it were just one form of religiosity, when in fact the opposite is true. Christianity was extremely diverse during this period, and we probably ought to think of it as a kind of regional diversity; that is, the Christianity of Rome was different than Christianity in North Africa in certain ways, and that was different from what we find in Egypt, and that different from what we find in Syria or back in Palestine. We have, in effect, different brands of Christianity living often side by side, even in the same city. So, it's a great deal of diversity. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“At one point in Rome,... Justin Martyr has his Christian school in one part of the city, and the gnostic teacher Valentinus is in another school in Rome, and another so-called heretic by the name of Marcion is also in Rome just down the street somewhere. All of these along side of the official papal tradition that developed as part of St. Peter's See in Rome, all there together. So, even within one city, we can have great diversity.
“Now, what's significant about this diversity is the fact that each form of Christian tradition tended to tell the story of Jesus in different ways. The image of Jesus for Justin Martyr is rather different than that that we see for Valentinus or Marcion or others as well. And this is especially true even in other parts of the empire. This is where we start to see a kind of proliferation of gospels ... all over the empire, and by the third and early fourth century [more] than you can actually count, and certainly more than you can easily read within a bible.
Women and the Spread of Christianity
Stark suggests that women played a major role in the spread of Christianity because Christian doctrine "promoted liberating social relations between the sexes and within the family" given them higher status than in Roman and Jewish society.
Christianity outlawed infanticide and abortion, gruesome practices common in the Roman Empire that produced a disproportionally large male population. Women also benefitted from Christianity's sanction of marriage and opposition to divorce.
Roman men held marriage in low regard and when they married produced few children. This kept the population of the Romans relatively low while the population of Christians grew. The Church encouraged women to marry pagan husbands, even Senators. This allowed Christianity to penetrate the aristocracy through conversion of spouses and children. The ban on abortion and female infanticide allowed more Christian women to give birth to Christian children.
By the 2nd century as the “orthodox church” was consolidating itself women were increasingly being looked upon with scorn and shunted aside as beings associated with sin, namely sex.
Spread of Christianity from Cities to the Countryside
Christianity began as an urban religion and spread slowly to countryside. In many cases the process involved wealthy landowners, who often were converted through contacts in cities, and then encouraged their rural tenant farmers to accept the faith. Early Christian churches and communities also set up social services for the poor and disenfranchised and their message of a compassionate God was better received than the scripted devotion expected to be expressed towards Roman gods.
Stark also said that many of the new converts were Jews dispersed from their homeland who felt a conflict by their traditional laws and their new surroundings. He argued that once influential leaders decided it was okay to break Jewish law less devout Jews found the transition to Christianity easy.
Christians drawn from the lower classes, began to associate in monasteries first in Egypt, then in the East and later the West. Popular devotion to saints and particularly the Virgin Mary spread.
Early Monks and Monasteries
Ascetic sects also arose in early days of Christianity. They made vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and headed to the deserts of Egypt to seek solitude and communion with God. Some lived for years in caves on nothing but bread and water. The most famous of these hermits was Paul of Thebes who reportedly lived for 112 years in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The word “hermit” is derived from the Greek word “cremeites” , meaning “desert dweller.”
The “desert fathers.” who lived hermetic lives in caves of Egypt in the early centuries of Christianity laid the ground work for monks and nuns with their vows of celibacy and poverty. Modern studies of self-inflicted suffering in religious observances suggests there are two main purposes: 1) to gain mastery over some perceived weakness or fault, such as lust and desire; and 2) induce a trance-like state that is believed to bring one closer to the divine.
Saint Anthony is credited with launching the greatest monastic movement in religious history. A healer, sufferer, pioneer of monasticism in Christianity, he promulgated celibacy and asceticism and spent most of his life praying and fasting in the desert, where it was said he was tempted many times by the devil, who often appeared dressed as a woman. There is now an Anonite order of monks.
St. Anthony was born in Egypt in 251. Following the admonitions of Matthew, he sold all of his possession, gave his money to the poor so the at he could find the treasure of heaven. He fled to the deserts of Egypt, where he took up an austere life. Others followed his example and a monastic colony arose around his cave in the mountains. Since the Middle Age St. Anthony has been acknowledged as the patron saint of domestic animals. The day of the saint is celebrated with bonfires in communities across Spain.
Pachomius founded first true monastery on Tabenna, an island in Nile, in A.D. 340. The difference between the monks here and their predecessors is that the monks associated with one another and performed daily chores and work in the fields in addition to praying, reading the scriptures and meditating.
From Egypt monasticism spread to Syria and Asia Minor. Around 360, St. Basil established a great monastery near Neo-Caesarea , in Pontus. St. Basil (358-64) composed monastic rule and is regarded as founder of the Christian monastic movement. He established the creed that a monk must not only live for himself but must also help his fellow man. He discouraged extreme asterism and established schools, hospitals, hospices and orphanages in conjunction with his monasteries.
From Egypt and Asia Minor monasticism spread to Italy and then parts of the European continent and Britain and Ireland
Early Christian communities gathered in a private homes and huts to sing hymns, listen to readings of the scriptures, conduct all night prayer sessions and commemorate events like the Last Supper. There was often a lot of noise and animals walking around. Early congregations had an urban and plebeian character.
The building of churches was largely forbidden until Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire. The first churches were rather plain. They were built of heavy stones, had few windows and consequently were very dark. The were no columns or friezes like Greek and Roman temples, the main object it seems was to create a space large enough for worship.
In the early Christian era, churches were usually small rooms with an altar on the east side. Because they were sometimes attacked, towers were often added to act as look out points and defensive positions.
The earliest known example of a church was built in the late A.D. 3rd century at the Jordanian port town of Aila (now called Al Aqabah). The building was 85 feet long, 52 feet wide and 13 feet high. It had a central nave, two side aisles, a chancel with an altar table and rectangular apse. It was destroyed by a 4th century earthquake. Until it was found the oldest known churches were in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, dated to around A.D. 325.
In November 2005, archaeologists claimed they had found the “oldest church” in the Holy Land. Dated to the A.D. 3rd or 4th century, it was unearthed in Megiddo (biblical Armageddon) inside a high security prison where Hamas and Israeli Jihad prisoners are kept by Israelis. Prisoners from other Israeli prisons helped excavate the site. The church features a large floor mosaic with the name Jesus Christ written in ancient Greek.
The ancient church building in Megiddo measures 10 meters by five meters and was dated through jugs of wine and cooking pots found at the site and is thought to pre-date the Byzantine period because no distinctive Byzantine crosses were found. The mosaic has been dated to the late 3rd century. The site was discovered b workers preparing to build a new wing for the prison.
Early Christians Use Hebrew Scriptures
Professor Helmut Koester told PBS: “We have in the four gospels of the New Testament, passion narratives, narratives of Jesus' suffering and death. Outside of the New Testament canon, we have only one more extensive narrative of Jesus' suffering and death, and that has appeared in the Gospel of Peter. Now it was known in ancient times that there was such a thing as the Gospel of Peter. Eusebius of Caesarea, the earliest church historian at the beginning of the 4th century, tells about the fact that there was a Gospel of Peter which was used by some communities in Syria.But no one really knew what was in this gospel until at the end of the last century papyrus was discovered, which was a small amulet that a soldier had been wearing around his neck and which was given into the tomb of this soldier, and when it was opened up it turned out to be a text that told the story of the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus. But it is told in such a way that one can assume that it was not dependent upon the canonical gospels that we have. But that at least part of this gospel goes back to the same story, but draws from the oral tradition of the telling of that story, or from some older gospel as somescholars believe that is preserved here. What is interesting in this Gospel of Peter is that it shows in some instances more clearly the direct dependence of the passion narrative upon the prophecy and psalms and suffering servant stories of the Hebrew Bible, and therefore gives us an insight in the development of the passion narrative.... [Source: Helmut Koester, John H. Morison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
Trevi Clitumno, a Roman Temple
turned into a church “I don't think that [in the period following Jesus' death] the disciples now were trying to look for the right stories in the Hebrew Scriptures [to explain his suffering and death.] But rather that these texts from the Hebrew Bible were already a part of their regular reading of texts, were already a part of their worship service. We know that in the Jewish synagogue scriptural text would be read and would be interpreted. So the disciples of Jesus must have lived in those texts and must have brought an understanding of the explanation of suffering on earth with them that was already part of their worship life, of their discussions of their meditations at the time. So it's not like someone who tries to go back now and says, "let's find the right text or scripture that would fit." But it's rather that out of the deep involvement in a religious tradition that was anchored in the worship life of Jewish communities, these stories about Jesus arise that now use the same words, the same language, the same images, in order to describe Jesus' suffering.
“[For example], the question of the suffering servant is very closely connected with Isaiah 53. And Isaiah 53, in most Christian churches, is usually the text from the Old Testament that is read at Good Friday as a prefiguration of the death of Jesus. Who the suffering servant was has been the subject of debate among Old Testament scholars. Is it the prophet himself who depicts himself as the suffering servant? Or, which is perhaps the most likely solution, that ultimately the suffering servant is Moses. And it tells a different aspect of the story of Moses, not Moses as the leader who leads the people out of exodus, but Moses as the one who dies eventually and who is not able to see the Holy Land, and Moses about whom the book of Deuteronomy says, his tomb could not even be found....
“This story has very deeply influenced the Jewish tradition before the early Christian period with respect to the understanding of the suffering of the righteous person. How can it be understood that the righteous in this world have to suffer? And the answer to this was found in the story of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. And that is the story to which the Christians apparently went very early at this stage, to find an understanding of what the suffering and death of Jesus meant and signified.
Early Missionary Movements in the Christian Church
Christian catacombs in Rome
with Christ the teacher Carl A. Volz wrote: “The mission of the Church was accomplished by means of its very existence and by that of holiness which it possessed, rather than by means of programs, agencies, or professional missionaries. As you take the following missionary "tour" of various geographical regions, take note of who the missionaries were. It's a very mixed group: famous leaders and humble believers who will remain forever anonymous; bishops, theologians, and holy men; merchants, travellers, and adventurers; prisoners of war. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]
“After the conversion of Constantine we see more planned missionary campaigns, but new factors complicate our appreciation of these endeavors: imperially-sponsored missionary activity often combined evangelistic and political ends, and we also witness a new readiness to resort to violence in the cause of the True Faith. /~\
“Remember that in A.D. 380 the augusti Theodosius I and Gratian issued an edict declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, and forbidding the practice of other religions. In the decades that followed, many pagan cult centers were destroyed, and there were occasional outrages such as the murder of Hypatia, the neo-Platonist philosopher, by a Christian mob in Alexandria in 415.) Within the Christian Empire many conversions were merely a matter of convenience or the quest for upward social mobility.” /~\
Early Missionary Activity Within the Roman Empire
Carl A. Volz wrote: “Most of the early expansion of Christianity within the Roman Empire in the post-apostolic period is due to believers who will remain forever anonymous: Jewish Christians who shared their faith in the Jewish communities of the diaspora, Gentile Christians who shared their faith with colleagues, friends, and family members. In class we discussed the witness of Christian communities and their works of charity (described in the works of the Apologists); the witness of the martyrs (we mentioned the example of St. Perpetua and her companions in Carthage in A.D. 203), and later, the witness of holy men and women (we took as example St. Simeon the Stylite, who prayed atop a pillar for about forty years until his death in A.D. 459). [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]
“Figures of special interest for the spread of the faith within the boundaries of the Roman Empire include St. Gregory Thaumatourgos ("the Wonder-Worker"), a student of Origen who, from 243 until his death in 272, ably confronted paganism in Pontus and Cappadocia. A similar figure from the next century is St. Martin of Tours, who from his consecration as Bishop of Tours in 372 until his death a quarter-century later challenged and rooted out paganism in northern Gaul. In the following century we can point to Apa Shenute of Atripe (ca. 350-466) who, during an exceptionally long life, cooperated with several patriarchs of Alexandria to consolidate the Church and overthrow the remnants of paganism in Egypt. /~\
Early Missionary Activity on the Periphery of the Roman Empire
Carl A. Volz wrote: “St. Gregory "the Illuminator" is remembered as the apostle of the Armenians. Himself an Armenian nobleman, he converted to Christianity in Cappodocia shortly after St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker had been active there, and returned to Armenia where he converted much of the nobility to Christianity. With the conversion of King Tiridates II (d. 330) to Christianity, Armenia became a Christian kingdom. Iberia (today the Republic of Georgia) became a Christian kingdom shortly after afterwards. According to tradition, the apostle of the Georgians was a young Christian woman named Nino who was taken captive durintg a raid, but who then converted the Georgian royal family to the Christian faith. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]
“Christianity appears to have spread to Mesopotamia already in the first century. According to apocryphal tradition, the apostles sent Addai (or Thaddaeus, one of the 70 of Luke 10:1) to Edessa (the capital of the buffer state of Osrhoene; today the town of Urfa in Turkey) in response to a request for healing sent by King Abgar V ("the Black") to Jesus Christ himself! It seems likely that Edessa, like Arbela (today Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan), the capital of Adiabene, were evangelized by Jewish Christians scattered by the suppression of the Jewish revolt of A.D. 67-70. Christianity thrived in Mesopotamia, and spread to the East: to Persia and beyond. /~\
“At the southernmost edge of the Roman Empire lay the kingdoms of Nubia (between Aswan in Egypt and Khartoum in the Sudan). In about the year 543 the (Chalcedonian!) emperor Justinian decided to send a mission to these kingdoms. This, however, was at the height of the controversies between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. The empress Theodora, Justinian's non-Chalcedonian wife, sent a rival, non-Chalcedonian delegation! Theodora's delegation arrived first, and the result was the establishment of non-Chalcedonian Christian Nubian kingdoms. Nubian Christianity thrived for more than seven centuries (!) before political weakness and the influx of new peoples led to the Islamicization of the region. /~\
“Returning to the north, the earliest preachers of Christianity to the Goths probably included Christian clergy who had been taken prisoner in raids on Roman territory. Later, Ulfilas was ordained (Arian!) bishop of the Goths in 341. One of his chief tools of evangelism was his Gothic translation of the Bible. It was at the end of the next century (496) that Clovis, king of the Salian Franks, was baptized as a Catholic, with the result that the Franks became the first Catholic kingdom among the Germanic peoples. /~\
“A century later we note the missionary efforts of Pope Gregory I ("the Great"), first in Italy, but then in sending Augustine ("of Canterbury") to Anglo-Saxon England. While this led to Latin Christianity gaining a foothold in the south of England, the main missionary work in the British Isles was carried out by Celtic monks. The first great missionary to the Irish had been Patrick, who first arrived in Ireland as a captive in ca. 405. Over time, the Irish church developed a unique eastern Mediterranean "flavor", but also a missionary fervor which may be indicated by a few famous names: Samson (ca. 490-560), Columba (521-97) and Aidan (d. 651) (known for their work in the British Isles), and Columbanus (ca. 550-615) and his followers (who established monasteries across northern Europe -- Gaul, Switzerland, and even Lombardy). Building on this work, in the seventh century Anglo-Saxon monks (Wilfrid, Willibrord, Wynfrith =Boniface) undertook missionary work in much of what is now Germany and Holland. The Saxons were subdued and converted in a series of campaigns by Charlemagne, whose evangelistic methods may be summarized as "convert or die". /~\
Early Missionary Activity in India, China and Africa
Carl A. Volz wrote: “According to much-repeated tradition, St. Thomas carried the Christian faith to India. Eusebius reports that Pantaenus (d. ca. 200), the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria (d. ca. 200), had preached the faith in India, where St. Bartholomew had preceded him. In any event, Christianity spread to India at a very early date; perhaps Roman traders had a role. The church in India was strengthened in the fourth century by the arrival of refugees from the great persecution of Christians in Persia (340-401; this was a persecution far worse than anything experienced in the Roman Empire). Some of these refugees may have ended up in Arabia; at the beginning of the fifth century we hear of Nestorian bishops in Qatar and Bahrain. At about the same time, Christianity was spread at the other (southeast) end of Arabia, that is, in the Kingdom of the Himyarites (= Yemen) by a Yemeni merchant named Hayyan who had been converted by Persian Nestorian Christians. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]
“The church in Ethiopia was founded in the fourth century as a result of personal misfortune. Frumentius and Aedesius were Alexandrian Christians who were shipwrecked in the Red Sea and picked up and enslaved by the Ethiopians. Both, however, rose quickly in the Ethiopians' service, Frumentius becoming an advisor to the king and tutor to prince Ezana, who, when he became king, converted to Christianity. Frumentius appealed to Athanasius of Alexandria for help, and was himself consecrated bishop by Athanasius, beginning a close relationship between the Ethiopian and the Coptic churches that has lasted until very recent times. By sometime late in the fourth century, Christianity had become the official religion of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum. /~\
“Our knowledge of the spread of Christianity in central Asia is sketchy, but what we do know points to the extraordinary missionary efforts of the Nestorian Church to the east, along the famous "Silk Road". According to a monument erected in 781 in Chang'an, the capital of the T'ang dynasty of China, a Persian Nestorian monk named Alopen arrived and made an excellent impression on the emperor T'ai-tsung in the year 635. The emperor passed an edict of universal toleration, and the first Christian church was built in the Chinese capital in 638. /~\
Pact of Umar: 7th Century Muslim Document Granting Rights to “People of the Book”
This is a report of the agreement made by the Caliph Umar with conquered Christians. Similar toleration was permitted to other "people of the book". After the rapid expansion of the Muslim dominion in the 7th century, Muslims leaders were required to work out a way of dealing with Non-Muslims, who remained in the majority in many areas for centuries. The solution was to develop the notion of the "dhimma", or "protected person". The Dhimmi were required to pay an extra tax, but usually they were unmolested. This compares well with the treatment meted out to non-Christians in Christian Europe. The Pact of Umar is supposed to have been the peace accord offered by the Caliph Umar to the Christians of Syria, a "pact" which formed the patter of later interaction. [Source: Al-Turtushi, Siraj al-Muluk, pp. 229-230, hand out at an Islamic History Class at the University of Edinburgh in 1979, source of translation not given, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]
The The Pact of Umar reads: “We heard from 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ghanam [died 78/697] as follows: When Umar ibn al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him, accorded a peace to the Christians of Syria, we wrote to him as follows: In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate. This is a letter to the servant of God Umar [ibn al-Khattab], Commander of the Faithful, from the Christians of such-and-such a city. When you came against us, we asked you for safe-conduct (aman) for ourselves, our descendants, our property, and the people of our community, and we undertook the following obligations toward you:
“We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, Churches, convents, or monks' cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.
We shall keep our gates wide open for passersby and travelers. We shall give board and lodging to all Muslims who pass our way for three days.
We shall not give shelter in our churches or in our dwellings to any spy, nor bide him from the Muslims.
We shall not teach the Qur'an to our children.
We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it.
We shall show respect toward the Muslims, and we shall rise from our seats when they wish to sit.
“We shall not seek to resemble the Muslims by imitating any of their garments, the qalansuwa, the turban, footwear, or the parting of the hair. We shall not speak as they do, nor shall we adopt their kunyas.
We shall not mount on saddles, nor shall we gird swords nor bear any kind of arms nor carry them on our- persons.
We shall not engrave Arabic inscriptions on our seals.
We shall not sell fermented drinks. Aw We shall clip the fronts of our heads.
We shall always dress in the same way wherever we may be, and we shall bind the zunar round our waists
“We shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead. We shall not show lights on any of the roads of the Muslims or in their markets. We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims.
We shall not take slaves who have beenallotted to Muslims.
We shall not build houses overtopping the houses of the Muslims. (When I brought the letter to Umar, may God be pleased with him, he added, "We shall not strike a Muslim.")
“We accept these conditions for ourselves and for the people of our community, and in return we receive safe-conduct.
If we in any way violate these undertakings for which we ourselves stand surety, we forfeit our covenant [dhimma], and we become liable to the penalties for contumacy and sedition.
Umar ibn al-Khittab replied: Sign what they ask, but add two clauses and impose them in addition to those which they have undertaken. They are: "They shall not buy anyone made prisoner by the Muslims," and "Whoever strikes a Muslim with deliberate intent shall forfeit the protection of this pact."”
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “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); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018