Anglican Essentials: Going Deeper–Introduction to the early Christians

Maps and Timeline for Early Christianity

The Roman Empire at its height extended from the Fertile Cresent of Mesopotamia to the north of Britain and encompasses the entirety of the Mediterranean Basin. In the 2nd Century Christians were a sporadically persecuted minority dispersed throughout the Empire. The “logic of the Empire was, as Augustine wa later to write, was the “libido dominandi,” the “lust to dominate.: Although many people groups were brutally subjugated by the Romans, they were allowed considerable freedom after coming under Roman power to live according to their own local customs and religion, as long as they recognized the authority and divinity of Caesar. Christians were often persecuted for refusing to offer token worship of Caesar.

By the 4th Century the Empire had split into Western and Eastern sections. The first Christian Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity in 313, and by 400 the Empire was becoming increasingly Christian. Constantine established his capital city in Byzantium in 330, renaming it Constantinople. While Alaric the Goth sacked Rome in 410 and the Western Empire continued its disintegration into warring kingdoms, the Eastern Empire persisted for a thousand years until Constantinople finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Timeline of early Christianity, through the first 7 Ecumenical Councils, the first being the council of Nicea in 325 and the last being 2nd Nicea in 787; the Council of Carthage in 397 was not one of the 7, but did finally establish the canonical books of the New Testament. The “early Church Fathers” in the 2nd and early 3rd Centuries still experienced persecution by the Romans and defended the faith against the prevailing Roman paganism. The “middle Church Fathers” in the 4th and 5th Centuries came to articulate the orthodox understanding of the relation between the human and divine in Christ and the nature of God as a Trinity of Persons. Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus were key figures in later controversies. Thomas Aquinas came much later, but put together a brilliant synthesis of the classical tradition in theology and philosophy. The work of Aquinas is being rediscovered and appreciated even today by many Catholic and Protestant thinkers. We will be studying Aquinas in the last two classes of this series.

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