Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chapter 2: They were Legitimized and Codified (AD 300-999)

The Legitimacy and codification period, from AD 300 to 999 was a time for Christianity to continue its global proliferation, while codifying its doctrines and legitimizing its place in religion and politics. Of all of the four historical periods in Christendom this may have been the most important—it was a “make or break” era for Christianity.

This period of Christianity was defined by seven major categories of events:  the continuation of persecution and evangelization, increased heresies, doctrinal codification, hierarchy and politics, validation, and the seeds of corruption. The dynamics of these events firmly established Christianity into the mainstream of society and gave it both the spiritual and political influence it needed to spread the gospel.

Evangelization during this period was accomplished primarily in two ways:  word of mouth (preaching and proclamation) and the establishment of physical structures for the purposes of Christian worship and teaching. Between AD 330 and 360 monasteries were built in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Greece—Christianity was becoming a global religion.

If battling external forces wasn’t enough, internal fighting among Christians in the form of perceived heretical movements became fierce. Arianism, Dontanism, Apollinarianism, and other heresies rose during this period splintering Christianity and threatening ecclesiastical authority. Heresy didn’t always mean incorrect doctrine it meant that which was contrary to the central Christian Church at the time.

During the early days of this period an unlikely ally to Christianity emerged in the Emperor Constantine who convoked the Council of Nicaea in 325 in hopes of gaining theological consensus while consolidating his political influence. From this council emerged the Nicene Creed, the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity. Further doctrinal codification of the Church came in the form of establishing written scripture. At the Synod at Carthage in AD 397 the 27 books of the New Testament were ratified and by AD 400 both the Old and New Testaments came together in the form of the Vulgate. The journey of the Bible however did not end there.      

The growth of the Christian Church required the double-edged sword of hierarchical and structural creation to manage its many affairs. Political legitimacy of the Church was critical during this period and by the end of the forth century Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. With political legitimacy came the unintended consequences of Church and State integration which meant the state influenced the Church and vice versa—a dynamic that would impact the Church and sow the seeds of corruption it would battle for centuries. 

Christianity by AD 999 was thriving spiritually and politically. No longer having to worry about external forces trying to eliminate its existence, Christianity could now focus on codifying its doctrines, establishing its canon, and building an enduring organization capable of taking the gospel to the four corners of the earth. Despite its stunning progress the seeds of corruption sown during this period would challenge the Christian Church in the centuries that followed leading to a series of unexpected events.        

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