Expansion of Early Christianity and the Papacy
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).
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.
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.