The growth and spread of christianity
Iliad and Odyssey
This is one of the ancient poems that preserved the beautiful legends during the Aegean age (around 1100 B.C.) that highlighted remarkable excavations that disclosed the remains of a widespread and flourishing civilization during those times (Webster 75).
Sparta was the undisputed leader of Continental Greece and of the Aegean during the period of 404-362 B.C., it ended the struggles for supremacy between rival cities; however, the Greek cities soon found that they exchanged the mild sway of Athens for the brutal tyranny of Sparta (Webster 110).
The Punic Wars
During the period of 264-218 B.C., the West is ruled by the kingdoms of Rome and Carthage, who at the beginning were in friendly alliance and eventually became the bitterest of foes; the three wars between them are known as the Punic Wars, which are the famous contests that ancient history records and in the end, they lead to the complete destruction of Carthage (Webster 156).
In 175 B.C. a portion of Jerusalem was constituted a city-state or “polis”, which is defined not by its physical formation but by its Greek/Hellenized citizenship and way of life; during the Hellenistic period, the Temple State and the subsequent Jerusalem State was a theocracy in which the High Priest ruled (Thomas & Jayyusi 80).
Spartacus spent some years as a paid auxiliary for the Romans who then became a gladiator and turned against the Roman Empire and was the sole military leader of the Slave War at around 73-71 B.C. possibly to end the Roman’s invasion of his homeland, Thrace (Fields 28).
Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus was born Jewish in the Roman province of Palestine during the time of Herod the Great. The term Christ came from the Greek word Xristos, which can be translated as the “anointed one” or “messiah” in Hebrew (Pollock 11). His life and teachings were the groundwork of Christian faith.
Central Beliefs of Christianity and the Creed
The belief that Jesus rose from the dead is central to Christians. As the son of God, Jesus represents the person that all Christians must strive to be like. Christians believe that he was perfect and that he came to earth to teach God’s plan. Christians believe in one all-powerful creator, God. Thus, the most important belief for Christians is that the world and everything in it is an expression of God’s power and love (Pollock 16).
From the beginning of Christianity, devotees have tried to concur on statements of beliefs, called creeds. A creed is a set of principles or opinions especially as it refers to a religious philosophy of life (Pollock 16). Creeds attempt to verbalize what cannot really be expressed in words. For instance, most Christians agree that God is three persons in one: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit, creating the Holy Trinity.
The Canon of the Holy Scriptures
The religious and moral norms of the Christians are largely determined by three different forms of authority: the legal authority, the traditional authority and the charismatic authority. The legal authority includes the canon of Holy Scripture, the writings of the church fathers and the canons of the church. These sources were and still are most important criteria for the religious and moral life of the Church (Meinardus 40).
The Organization of Early Christianity
While Christianity was conquering the world, the believers in its doctrines were grouping themselves into communities or churches. Every city had a congregation of Christian worshipers. They met in private houses, where they sang hymns, listened to readings from the Holy Scriptures and partook in a sacrificial meal in memory of the last supper of Jesus with his disciples. Certain officers called presbyters or elders were chosen to conduct the services and instruct the converts. The chief presbyter received the name of overseer or bishop. Each church had also one or more deacons, who visited the sick and relieved the wants of the poor. Every Christian community thus formed a little brotherhood of earnest men and women, united by common beliefs and common hopes (Webster 218).
Peter’s original name was Simon; he was a fisherman called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. From all accounts in the New Testament, Peter was a man of strong emotions; he is portrayed as rash, hasty, capable of anger, and often gentle, yet firm (Pollock 18). He professed love for Jesus and was capable of great loyalty. Peter is invariably mentioned first in the lists of the disciples and recognized as the spokesperson of the group (Pollock 18).
Given the information from the Gospels, it is not surprising that Peter should emerge immediately after the death of Jesus as the leader of the earliest Church. Peter dominated the community for nearly fifteen years following the Resurrection; it was he who raised his voice and preached at Pentecost, the day when the Church came into being, he served as an advocate for the apostles before the Jewish religious court in Jerusalem and he led the others in extending the Church, going first to the Samaritans, then to the Mediterranean coast where he introduced Gentiles into the Church (Pollock 18).
Paul of Tarsus
During the persecution of Christians, Christianity gained a convert who would transform it into a world faith. Saul of Tarsus (who will later be called Paul after his conversion), who had been present when Stephen was stoned in Jerusalem, volunteered to take writs to Damascus to find members of the Way, arrest them and return them in chains to Jerusalem where they would be tried. He was totally devoted to eliminating the Christian influence within Judaism. However, as he approached Damascus, he was struck blind. Seeing a great light and falling to the ground, Saul heard a voice speaking to him (Matthews 288). It was said to be the voice of Jesus asking him why he is persecuting him and the Christians, Saul was then trembling and astonished asking what he should do, the voice then instructed him to go to the city where he would be told what he should do; thus did the conversion of Saul the prosecutor of Christians to Saint Paul the Apostle took place (Pollock 20).
Three years after his conversion, Paul went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James, Jesus’ brother. At the meeting they recognized Paul as an apostle together with the founders of the Church. His letters, which were collected for general circulation, have become a standard reference for Christian teaching (Pollock 20).
Augustus meaning “Majestic” was the more familiar name of Octavian, he was no military genius to dazzle the world with his achievements; he was a cool and passionless statesman who took advantage of a memorable opportunity to remake the Roman state and later on, he became a wise and impartial ruler of the Roman Empire (Webster 187).
The conversion of Constantine is one of the most significant events in ancient history. A Roman emperor, himself a god to the subjects of Rome, became the worshiper of a crucified provincial of his empire. Constantine favored the Christians throughout his reign.
He surrounded himself with Christian bishops, freed the clergy from taxation and spent large sums in building churches. One of his laws abolished the use of the cross as an instrument of punishment. Another enactment required that magistrates, city people and artisans were to rest on Sunday; this was the first Sunday law (Webster 220-221).
The Appeal of Christianity
Christianity was able to attract many followers due to a variety of reasons. First of all, the Christian message had much to offer the Roman world. The promise of salvation, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, had immense appeal in a world full of suffering and injustice. Christianity seemed to imbue life with a meaning and purpose beyond the simple material things of everyday reality (Spielvogel 125).
Second, Christianity was not entirely unfamiliar. It could be viewed as simply another eastern mystery religion, offering immortality as the result of the sacrificial death of a savior-God. At the same time, it offered advantages that the other mystery religions lacked; Jesus had been a human figure and not a mythological one (Spielvogel 125). Moreover, Christianity had universal appeal.
Finally, Christianity fulfilled the human need to belong. Christians formed communities bound to one another in which people could express their love by helping each other and offering assistance to the poor, the sick, widows and orphans. Christianity satisfied the need to belong in a way that the huge, impersonal and remote Roman Empire could never do (Spielvogel 127).
Fields, Nic. Spartacus and the Slave War 73-71 B.C.: A Gladiator rebels against Rome. New York: Osprey Publishing, 2009.
Matthews, Warren. World Religions. California, U.S.A.: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010.
Meinardus, Otto F.A. Two thousand years of Coptic Christianity. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 2002.
Pollock, Robert. The Everything World’s Religions Book: Discover the Beliefs, Traditions and Cultures of Ancient and Modern Religions. U.S.A: F+W Publications, Inc., 2002.
Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization: A Brief History. Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011.
Thompson, Thomas L., and Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition. New York: T & T Clark International, 2003.
Webster, Henry Kitchell. Early European History. [n.p]: Forgotten Books, 2008.