Highlights of Church History

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1. Christian Beginnings To the Council of Nicea (325)

The Setting For Christianity

Contribution of Greek Philosophy

Socrates’ desire to know himself before the world about him prepared the way tor Christianity and its consideration of the soul.

Plato turned Socrates’ thought into metaphysics, contrasting the world of sense and everyday experience with a true and higher world of ideas or “forms.” The secret of human destiny is to be found in the soul’s search for the good which it sees but does not possess.

Contribution of the Roman Empire

  1. Roman military policy guaranteed peace to those in the Empire;
  2. Greek koine was the common language of the Empire;
  3. Roman roads were excellent and protection for navigators allowed free transportation to Christians;
  4. Rome granted religious toleration, except when in conflict with patriotic loyalty.


(died c. 65 A.D.) Took a small Jewish cult to the gentile world His main tenet - we are set free by Christ.

Expected Second Coming of Jesus

There are eschatological indications in Paul’s writings—the age is limited, so let’s win all we can. But when it became obvious that the Kingdom as it had been expected by some did not appear, the church had to change its attitude, and learn to live in this world. It had to take responsibility in leadership of state, and became concerned with its own history.

The Apostolic Fathers

Church fathers of the age immediately succeeding the NT period, whose works have in whole or in part survived.

Clement of Rome (c.96). Probably 3rd bishop after Peter, if apostolic succession is considered. Clement defends order and submission to superiors, i.e., bishops and deacons. His letters were originally read in the early church until the NT Canon.

Ignatius (35-c.107). Bishop of Antioch, and possibly successor to Peter. He believed the life of Christ contained in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Wrote apostles, also; and in his Ep. to the Romans indicates his consuming desire for martyrdom, which came to pass.

Hermas (2nd c.). Author of “Shepherd of Hermas” which was regarded as scripture until the 4th cent. The aim of the book to show necessity of penance, and that the Trinity came into existence only after Christ was taken into heaven.

Polycarp (c.69-c.155). Defended orthodoxy; wrote his own Ep. to Philippians. Was Bishop of Smyrna. One of the early Christian martyrs, who said at his burning, “Eighty and six years have I served him yet I cannot go against my Lord and Christ.”

Irenaeus (c.130-c.200). First great Catholic theologian. Emphasized a canon of Scripture, also the episcopate. Said, “God became man that we might become like him.”

Origen (185-254). Prodigious author; most famous work, the “Hexapla,” a six-volume edition of the OT in as many versions. Using Matt. 19:12, he made himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. See reference to him in Introduction of Let There Be Light.

The Apologists

Who made a reasoned defence and recommended their faith to outsiders.

Aristides (2nd cent.). Defended the existence and eternity of God.

Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165). Searched for truth in Greek philosophy and at last embraced Christianity. His First and Second Apologies, addressed to Roman rulers, resulted in his beheading under Marcus Aurelius.

Tatian (c.l60). Christian apologist and Gnostic. Wrote the Diatessaron, famous early history of the life of Christ compiled from the four gospels, and used until the 5th cent. Vegetarian.

Tertullian (c.l60-220). African. Wrote a long list of theological works . His Trinitarian and Christological doctrines place him with Augustine as the greatest Western theologian of the patristic period.

Plotinus (205-269) and Neo-Platonism

Plotinus rejected Gnostic dualism and stated there is the One, or the Good, the first principle, absolutely simple and self-sufficient, whose intimate life is incomprehensible; that beneath it is the world of Ideas, and that on a still deeper plane is the World Soul. All are homogeneous and have a capacity for spiritual life, and this ‘union’ is reached by the unaided effort of soul unfoldment. This departs from the RC teaching that salvation is the work of Divine Grace to sinful man

Neo-Platonism had as its purpose the provision of a sound and satisfying intellectual basis for a spiritual life. Its adherents maintained that the Absolute, which ‘has its center everywhere but its circumference nowhere’ could be found by mystical experience.


Admittedly difficult to define, for Gnosticism took many forms. Characteristic is its belief in a Demiurge or ‘creator god’ and the supreme and unknowable Divine Being. They believed the function of Christ to be the emissary of the supreme God, bringing gnosis (knowledge). As a divine being He only temporarily inhabited a human being, Jesus. They stressed mystical union with the one Presence. They rejected matter and could be compared to Christian Science today.

Periods - Periods And Purposes

Nero (64). Blamed for the fire in 64 which destroyed a large part of Rome, he shifted the blame to the Christians, punishing them for it and their ’’hatred of the human race.”

Domitian (51-96). Demanded worship of himself. Persecuted Christians and Jews.

Trajan (112). Would not tolerate Christianity. Ignatius martyred under his rule.

Decius (250). Thousands put to death for refusing to offer sacrifice to him as Roman emperor.

Diocletian (303). The Great Persecution.- Demolished churches, burned books, tortured and martyred clergy. Wanted stated cult of gods and emperor worship.

There were four reasons for persecutions (1) religious—wanted old gods and sacrifices to Emperor as god; (2) economic—silver Dianas and idols sold; (3) political—church becoming powerful; (4) moral—thought Lord’s Supper too Bacchanal.

Constantine The Great (274)

Became the senior ruler of the Empire in 312. According to Eusebius, early church historian, Constantine saw labarum in sky and heard a voice saying that in this sign he would copquer. He thus became a Christian and Christianity became “respectable.” Built Constantinople. Gave imperial favor to Christianity in Edict of Milan (313) plus other religions. State cult dies. Settles Donatist Schism (313). Orders Sunday to be a public holiday (321). Summons Council of Nicea (325) to settle Arian dispute about person of Christ. Arius (250-336) had taught Christ was subordinate to God. The Council held he was of one substance with the Father, thus developing a theological doctrine that was to hold the Trinity, though unBiblical. The Nicene creed, used today, resulted. As Constantine centered the Empire at Constantinople, he unwittingly made the Roman bishops more prominent by his absence there.

Class Assignments

  1. What was the problem involved in the expected second coming of Jesus?
  2. Define the meaning of the word Gnosis.
  3. List some of the results df the early Christian persecutions.
  4. What was the significance of Constantine to Christianity?
  5. In what way was the Council of Nicea decisive?

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