Church History: 300-400
In the year 312, the Emperor Constantine had a vision of those words accompanied by a shining cross in the sky before a battle…and was thus converted to Christianity and Christianity was converted from a persecuted sect to the faith of the realm.
With the Edict of Milan in 313, properties confiscated from Christians were returned, religious restrictions lifted, and the Gospel was given an open road.
Ironically, the formerly persecuted became persecutors as pagans and other faiths became the targets of the new people in power.
This was the first melding of church and state…a situation that has both vexed and blessed the church in the ensuing centuries.
Without the burden of persecution, this was the time when the church began to formalize and institutionalize both doctrine and liturgy.
Constantine liked to look sharp and wanted his clergy to do likewise…thus, we see the first vestments worn by clergy.
The humble simplicity of the earlier church gives way here to complexity in both doctrine and decoration.
With formalization and institutionalization comes power…and thus began the rise of ecclesiastical and bishopric authority. The division between clergy and laity began here.
Constantine called the bishops of the realm together in council in order to deal with the Arian heresy which declared that Jesus was a lesser being to God, a created being, not the eternal second person of the Trinity.
This heresy was condemned by the council, but continues to this day in the theology of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This council also laid the foundation for the historic Christian understanding of the Trinity.
The result of it all was the formulation of the Nicene Creed, which is still a statement of Christian orthodoxy.
This council addressed issues concerning the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed…but more importantly drew the first division between Eastern and Western Christianity. The bishop of Constantinople was given “honour ” only after the bishop of Rome. Thus, two streams of Christianity with two capitals emerge…Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East.
The growth of what we know as Roman Catholicism began to flower in this century. The prominence of the bishop of Rome and the papacy grow exponentially here. Monasteries began to develop and celibacy for bishops is expected. In that monastic system Jerome translates the Bible into Latin and the Vulgate becomes the official text of the Roman Catholic church. The building of St. Peters begins in 323.
The New Testament as we know it is recognized as Holy Scripture by the end of this century.
Names you should know
John Chrysostom: The greatest preacher of the churches early centuries. His sermons and exegesis were not only beloved by those who heard him, but by Luther and Calvin centuries later. He can still be read with great profit. Here is a giant…
Eusebius: The first church historian
St. Ninian: The founder of Celtic Christianity
Ambrose: An influential bishop and thinker who introduced hymn singing to the church.
Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa : The Cappadocian Fathers…very important theologians and mystics.
We will deal with Augustine next week…some giants need their own space.
What’s still missing…
Rapture theology, Protestants, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, etc…the church is either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic. It is largely amillennial.