Expansion of Early Christianity and the Papacy

Updated on November 1, 2018
Maria Dorland profile image

MariaInes is a freelancer and artist who writes about social matters from different perspectives.

The church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a few steps away from the Muristan. The church contains, according to traditions dating back at least to the fourth century.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a few steps away from the Muristan. The church contains, according to traditions dating back at least to the fourth century. | Source

Early days

After Jesus' death, Christianity spread over the world. How this phenomenon started will be covered in this short essay. The advancement of Christianity to most countries in the world occurred mostly through missionary work or family settlement within new frontiers at the time of European colonialism.

Taking highlights from Kruger et al. (2008), the following points are relevant to the topic in reference: Jesus started his ministry together with twelve disciples chosen by himself. His ministry consisted of spreading the news about the Kingdom of God as he was believed to be the Messiah by many. His miracles and interpretation of the law and the prophets made him unpopular among the Pharisees and Sadducees, to the point that he was crucified as a criminal in Jerusalem during Passover. Jesus had many that converted to follow him but also those who were curious and wanted to prosecute him. All this activity took place in the areas of Judea, Samaria, and Perea as indicated by Blake (2016).

Fifty days after his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit of God purportedly filled the early Christians. “This event provided them with the motivation and strength to go out into the world and proclaim the salvation they had found in him” (Kruger et al., 2008). It was only after this event that Christians spread to Jerusalem and the previously mentioned locations. As stated by Kruger et al. (2008), followers of Jesus were found all around the Mediterranean countries and even possibly India. As part of this movement, Paul, a former prosecutor of the Christians, experienced the calling of God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, shaping early Christian theology.

This early church was prosecuted by both “Jewish religious and Roman political powers” (Kruger et al., 2008) and many died defending their beliefs. This changed once the Roman Empire proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the state around 383 CE under the rule of Emperor Constantine (Kruger et al., 2008). The Roman Empire extension is depicted in Figure 1. “Early Christianity made its strongest advances in the larger cities of the Roman Empire among artisans and tradesman, spreading into Asia, Europe, and Africa.” (Nortjé-Meyer,2016).

Figure 1
Figure 1 | Source

As described by Kruger et al (2008) the Roman Empire was destroyed five centuries after Jesus' death and the middle ages set in until more or less the 16th Century. The church became the protector of European civilization, which was built upon the ruins of the Roman Empire as a Christian civilization.

Christianity kept spreading once the Europeans started their expansion beyond Europe, going to remote places even unknown to them such as America. They also expanded to Asia and Africa. “This expansion was partly because of exploration by travelers and scientists, partly by military conquest, partly by mass migrations of Europeans to other continents, partly by commerce” (Kruger et al., however, 2008). It is paradoxical that the link between Christianity and the colonization period is one of the major menaces to Christian. However, that is why “over the last decades Christianity globally has done its utmost to undo the alliance with European colonialism” (Kruger at al, 2008).


The Roman Empire proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the state around 383 CE under the rule of Emperor Constantine (Kruger et al., 2008) making it possible for early Christianity to expand through Europe, Asia and Africa (Nortjé-Meyer, 2016). Rome was the western capital of the Roman Empire and in parallel, the Bishop of Rome gained a lot of authority over the whole of Europe achieving a “mighty, highly efficient organization” (Kruger et al., 2008).

The Roman Empire grew in power and extension, but also in corruption and lack of control of its enormous system as indicated by Wasson (2016) who also states that the causes of the collapse of the western part of the empire were many, including the advance of people from the north and east called ‘barbarians’ by the Romans: “Continual warfare meant trade was disrupted; invading armies caused crops to be laid to waste, poor technology made for low food production, the city [Rome] was overcrowded, unemployment was high, and lastly, there were always the epidemics.”

When Rome finally fell in the hands of the so-called barbarians, the established church and the pope were spared as many of them were Christian themselves as indicated by Kruger et al. (2008). Kruger also notes that the strength of the Roman church made it possible to declare it as the main church in western Europe. The same authors indicate that the chief argument used to declare the supremacy of the Roman church was based on the leadership of Peter who spread the message of the gospel within Rome. The Bishop of Rome was declared Peter’s successor as well and this title was undisputed until the times of the Protestant Reformation.

The established church embodied the “traditional Roman sense of law, order, and efficient administration” which was the foundation of the European Civilization that emerged after the collapse of Rome around the 5th century (Kruger et al., 2008). However, with time, and due to the power that converted the Pope, not only to God’s representative on Earth but also into a political player, the church deviated from its religious principles. This was exposed in the 16th Century by Martin Luther who in a journey to Rome confirmed “what he thought- that the church with its pomp had fallen deeply into sin” (Kruger et al, 2008). Although Luther had to leave the Roman Catholic Church, the Counter-Reformation, a movement against the Protestant Reformation, prompted a revision that led to radical changes in that church. However, it maintained that they had the only authority to interpret the Bible, maintained the seven sacraments and that good works are as important as faith to be saved as agreed in the Council of Trent in 1545 (Kruger et al, 2008).

Ignatius of Loyola was an important instrument for the revival of the Catholic Church in the times of the reformation. He developed loyalty to the papacy system and founded the Jesuit order, a group that was bound to strict obedience to their superiors and that spread Catholicism around the world as they were missionaries at heart. (Kruger et al.pope, 2008). Popemaintains his position in the Roman Catholic Church as head of the church and is highly influential in the Catholic countries and to a certain degree into the wider Christian world of today.

Thw St. Peter's Basilica is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.
Thw St. Peter's Basilica is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. | Source

Reference list

Blake, W. “The Decapolis” http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/decpolis.htm. 22 April 2016

Curtis, K. “whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles” article accessed on the 22 April 2016 from www.christianity.com

Donald L. Wasson. “Fall of the Roman Empire,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 16, 2015. http://www.ancient.eu /article/835/.

Kruger J.S, Lubbe GJA, Steyn HC (2008). The human search for meaning, a multireligion introduction to the religions of humankind. Pretoria. Van Schaick Publishers.

Nortje-Meyer, L (2016). The historical development of Christianity and its impact on society. Study guide. Department of Religion, University of Johannesburg.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)