Thursday, August 11, 2022

Important Developments in Fourth-century Christianity

Christianity: persecuted (Roman Empire, 303-312)

Under the rule of Diocletian, the Roman government starts its severest persecution of Christians (303). Across the Empire, assembly for worship is forbidden, church buildings are looted then torn down, Bibles are burned, Christian politicians, bureaucrats, and soldiers are stripped of rank and benefits and cast out, and church leaders especially are targeted for harassment, torture, and execution. Even after the voluntary retirement of Diocletian in 305, the persecution continues another seven years. Despite it all, the Church remains standing.

Christianity: legalized (Roman Empire, 313)

Constantine and Licinius, the two rulers of the Roman Empire, meet in Milan and issue a written agreement (313), the Edict of Milan, in which they grant Christianity legal status and thereby end the centuries-long persecution of Christians within the Empire.

Christianity: favored (Roman Empire, after 324)

Constantine not only sought to make Christianity legal. After he becomes sole imperial ruler (324), he favors it. Consequently, the imperial bureaucracy favors it. This gives Christians a distinct advantage in getting employed by and advancing in the bureaucracy. Verbal loyalty to Jesus Christ now aids social advancement. Wealthy citizens of the Empire soon start joining churches in large numbers to enjoy tax exemptions that come with membership.

Nicaea: First Ecumenical Council (Anatolia, 325)

Nicaea is a Hellenic city 55 miles (90 km) southeast of Constantinople on the shore of the large Lake Ascanius. There Constantine convenes the first general council of representatives of the Church. At that council, Church leaders rightly affirm that Jesus is one with God the Father, of the same substance, and equal to him. This they decide against Arius, popular priest of Alexandria, and his followers (Arians) who teach that Jesus is superior to all human beings but is still a creature of God the Father and therefore inferior to him. The widespread lack of clarity on this issue among Christians before Nicaea posed a mortal threat to the unity, vitality, and integrity of the Church. 

Constantinople (Hellas, 330)

Constantine moves the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome in Latium 850 miles (1370 km) east to Byzantium in Hellas. He renames the city Nova Roma (“New Rome”) but it is called Constantinople (“Constantine’s City”) for 1600 years until it becomes today’s Istanbul.

Constantinople: Second Ecumenical Council (Hellas, 381)

Theodosius, Roman ruler (379-395), summons Church leaders to a second general council in the new imperial capital of Constantinople. The council extends the Trinitarian direction of theology begun at Nicaea. At that first ecumenical council, church leaders affirmed the equality of God the Son with God the Father. Now they affirm the equality of God the Holy Spirit with both. They do distinguish between Son and Spirit, however, by saying the Son was begotten of the Father whereas the Spirit proceeded from him.

Christianity: sole official religion (Roman Empire, 391)

Constantine first made Christianity legal (313) and then calling oneself a Christian advantageous (after 324). Eventually Theodosius prohibits public worship of Olympian gods and makes Trinitarian Christianity the Empire’s official religion (391). With this change, we have the beginning of Christendom. Christendom is a word which combines Christianity with kingdom. With Theodosius we have the State determining that all citizens will be Christians and Trinitarian ones at that.

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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