A brief overview of the
|The first century CE:|
Paul went on a series of missionary journeys around the eastern Mediterranean in what is now Orthodox Church territory. He attracted many Gentiles (non-Jews) to his movement. Paul organized churches in many of the areas' urban centers. He and his movement were in continual theological conflict with the Jewish Christian movement centered in Jerusalem. Paul ran afoul of Roman law, was arrested, and was transported to Rome where he was held under house arrest. He was executed there about 65 CE. Paul's churches survived his death and flourished.
Christian groups typically met in the homes of individual believers, much like home churches do today. There was no central authority, no standard style of organization at the local level, no dedicated church buildings or cathedrals. The Greek words episkopos (bishop, overseer), presbuteros (elder, presbyter) and poimen (pastor, shepherd) were originally synonymous terms which referred simply to the leader of a group of believers.3 The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was their holy book; the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) had not been assembled. By the time that Jesus' original followers (now called Apostles) died, most of the Christians in the world were Gentiles following Pauline Christianity.
Another competitor to Pauline Christianity was Gnostic Christianity -- a philosophical
and religious movement with roots in pre-Christian times. Gnostics combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian,
Greek and Syrian pagan religions, as well as from astrology, Judaism and Christianity. They claimed to have secret knowledge
about God, humanity, and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware. They believed that the Yahweh
of the Hebrew Scriptures was a defective, inferior Creator-God, also known as the Demiurge. He was viewed as fundamentally
evil, jealous, rigid, lacking in compassion and prone to committing genocide. They viewed Jesus as a deity in human form, but
not a human. They tolerated different religious beliefs within and outside of Gnosticism. Some Gnostics formed separate
congregations; others joined existing Pauline Christian groups; still others were solitary practitioners.
|Second and third centuries CE: Pauline Christianity continued to spread across the known
world. It started to develop a formal theology, a set of doctrines, and an unofficial canon of writings some of which were later
to become the Christian Scriptures. Much of this development of dogma was in response to frictions between the Pauline and
Gnostic branches of the early Christian movement. The Apostolic Fathers had replaced the
original apostles by this time. They included a
number of teachers and bishops: e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Origen, Polycarp, Tertullian. A hierarchical
organizational structure called the "monarchial episcopate" developed in which the individual
congregational leaders recognized the authority of their area bishop in matters of doctrine and faith.
There was considerable friction between the Christian movement and the Roman Empire. Christians were viewed as
because they did not believe in multiple gods and goddesses. They were viewed as
irresponsible citizens because many refused to
sacrifice in the Pagan temples. Christians came under intermittent and serious oppression.
|Fourth century CE: The years of Christian persecution came to an end in 313 CE. Emperor Constantine (289-337 CE)
issued the Edict of Milan which formally established freedom and toleration for Christianity.
Unfortunately, Jews lost many rights with this edict.
There was no single individual who spoke for all of Christianity. The only way in which the Church could resolve conflicts in belief and practice was to have all of the bishops assemble at a council to debate and vote. The first such meeting was the Council of Nicea, held in Asia Minor (now Turkey) during 325 CE. Only 318 bishops out of the approximately 1,800 Christian bishops then in existence attended. Most came from the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. 2 Much of the debate at this and subsequent councils dealt with the precise nature of Jesus and his relationship to Yahweh and the Holy Spirit.
Circa 330 CE, Emperor Constantine decided to build a "New Rome" on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium (now at Istanbul, Turkey). It was called Constantinople. It became the center of the empire. 2 By this time, the church had evolved from a small, scattering of congregations to a geographically widespread church under the authority of many bishops.
Later in the fourth century, Emperor Theodosian issued a series of decrees or rescripts to "suppress all rival religions, order the closing of the temples, and impose fines, confiscation, imprisonment or death upon any who cling to the older [Pagan] religions." 3 The period of relative religious tolerance under Paganism in the Roman Empire ended as non-Christian temples were seized and converted to Christian use or destroyed. Priests and priestesses were exiled or killed. Pauline Christianity and Judaism were the only permitted religions. To follow another faith group was an offense punishable by death.
Church authority had became
concentrated in the five bishops or patriarchs located in Alexandria,
Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome. At the ecumenical council of
381, Rome was given the lead position, followed by Constantinople and then
Alexandria. Their ranking followed the secular status of the bishops'
cities in the Roman Empire. Each of the five patriarchs was totally
sovereign within his sphere of jurisdiction. 5
|Fifth Century CE: In 451 CE, the Council of Chalcedon was called to resolve still
another debate about Jesus. The East Syrian (Nestorian) church and the
Oriental Orthodox Christian Church disagreed with the council's decision
that Christ had two natures, one human and one divine. They split off from
the rest of Christianity in the first major schism from Pauline
Also during the 5th century, various Germanic tribes invaded Rome and
destroyed much of the western Roman Empire. The church centered in Rome
successfully converted the invaders to Christianity. Authority within the
church began to coalesce around the Bishop of Rome in the west and the
Patriarch of Constantinople in the east. Divisions between the two power
centers in the Christian church gradually intensified.
|Sixth century CE: Emperor Justinian called The Second
Council of Constantinople for 533 CE. He invited equal numbers
of bishops from each of the five patriarchal sees: Alexandria, Antioch,
Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome. The Bishop of Rome at the time, Pope
Vigilius, saw that many more bishops from the east than from the west
would be present; he refused to attend.|
The eastern and western branches of Christianity continued their process
of separation and alienation. This was caused by a variety of factors:
"Although the two regions belonged to the same church, they became increasingly remote from each other." 4
The formal split, called the East-West Schism or the Great Schism did not occur until 1054 CE. A delegation from Rome went to Constantinople, insisting that he recognize the Bishof of Rome as the head of all Christianity. Patriarch Cerularius refused. When the smoke cleared, the delegates of the Roman Catholic church had excommunicated the Parriarch, and the Patriarch had excommunicated the delegates.
Among the reasons cited for the schism were the practices of the Orthodox church of:
According to Wikipedia:
Although discussions are currently underway to bring the two churches closer into unity, little progress is being made.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-AUG-30
Latest update: 2010-JUN-07
Author: B.A. Robinson
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