1969: Robert D. Craig - The Rise of Christianity

R_CraigThat his peers selected Robert D. Craig to deliver the seventh annual McKay lecture, despite his having been a member of the faculty of Church College of Hawaii for a mere two years, attests not only to his esteem as an outstanding teacher but also to his reputation as an excellent scholar. Arriving in Laie in 1967 as a member History Department, Craig received his B.A. in 1962 and his M.A. in 1964 from the University of Cincinnati; earning his Ph.D. in 1966 from the University of Utah, he studied as well at universities abroad in Austria and France. Prior to commencing his higher education, he spent two years in the Army in Germany (1956-1958). Craig's specialties included both Polynesian history and culture and early Christian studies, where his gift for languages proved especially useful. He and his wife Judy are the parents of Larry, Lisa, Timothy, Catherine, and David.

It is indeed a great honor to have been asked by the Faculty Association to present this lecture to you today. I must admit that when approached by Brother Harvey concerning the talk, I sincerely believed he was joking. But when an official, written letter came a few days later, the joke became a reality. "What," I asked myself, "could I possibly present that would be keeping in the tradition of such an outstanding series of lectures and at the same time be of general interest to all of you?" It goes without saying that it cost me many sleepless nights. What in my specialization of Medieval History could possibly interest a group of Polynesians, Orientals, and Caucasians, some of which are fresh out of high school, some having their Bachelor's degrees, Master's, and even some Doctorates in every field imaginable? The list was narrowed down, thanks to some of my student colleagues, to a subject which I feel is in keeping with the tone and spirit of these devotional assemblies as well as the spirit of the David O. McKay lecture series. The subject of my lecture is an old one, one you probably have heard many times before--the history of the early Christian church. But what I shall attempt to do is to present not the orthodox view of only one Christian church emanating from Rome, but to show that the early Christian churches were never really united, but grew separately and that the power of the Church did not lie in Rome, but in the East: at Alexandria and later Constantinople.

Until the present generation, it is unfortunate that Church historians have written to justify or disprove some theory of political or ecclesiastical polity, or to glorify some dynasty, sect, party, or hero, or to vindicate some hypothesis or set of ideas or to discredit another church hoping to give greater sanction to theirs. History, I am glad to say, has greatly changed since those days. A historian today seeks for the truth wherever it may be found.

Today an army of historians and archaeologists is at work digging valuable material out of monasteries, royal archives, private libraries, caves in the mountains, catacombs, and every conceivable place of concealment. We are being rewarded daily by rich discoveries of valuable material for the writing of history.1 With these discoveries and the early Christian literature that has survived the centuries2, we have been able to restructure in many cases the traditional view of the rise of Christianity. Some of the following points are only touched lightly upon here because of lack of time. Credit for much of this new philosophy comes from my personal friend and colleague, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, who as you may recall recently discovered the papyrus scrolls once owned by the prophet Joseph Smith. Dr. Atiya is also the recognized authority in the western world on the Eastern Christian religions.3 He plans to visit Hawaii sometime this semester after a tour around the world, and I hope to persuade him to speak before you in a campus devotional.

Introduction and Background

Christianity, the largest single religion in the world today, emerged out of the Roman Empire as the most powerful modern force that claims legacy to the ancient world. It quickly absorbed the Roman heritage that had given it birth and it produced an organization and doctrine that has continued through the centuries to the present day. How was it that a little, unknown sect could envelop the cultured Roman world when it was only one among many oriental mystery cults that sprang up in the East? How could it outstrip its rivals when there were so many similarities in the religions?

For one reason, Roman toleration allowed all religions to exist within their empire. In fact, in their expansion through the world, they adopted most foreign religions and gods. To avoid any possible exclusion of any religion or god that would bring the wrath of that god down upon them, they erected in the temple in Rome a statue to the "unknown" god. The intellectual philosophies of the Hellenistic world that had given birth to the Roman Empire had a cold, intellectual appeal and did not involve the emotions of the people and for this reason had declined in importance. The salvationalist religions from the East, however, offered consolation and hope for a better life. As hardships increased and man became more distressed with the conditions of the empire, these religions came into their own.

The Isis cult from Egypt had a great appeal to the merchant class who helped to spread it throughout the empire (Scott-Moncrieff 57ff). The idea of immortality and physical resurrection appealed to the Romans and with the impressive ceremonies with the clergy, white robes, baptism of blood, prayer books and instructions, the cult of Isis spread quite rapidly throughout the East and eventually to Rome itself. It was one of the greatest competitors to early Christianity.

From Asia Minor came the salvationist religions of Cybele, Magna Mater, Mithraism, and Zoroastrianism. These cults had a great appeal to the Roman soldiers who served in the East and we find that most Roman soldiers, even those in Great Britain, were influenced by them. Judaism with its monotheistic exclusiveness was not a great threat against the Roman religions primarily because the Jews were not a proselyting group. For this reason, Julius Caesar had given the Jewish religion a legal status during his reign of emperor. Even at this there was no peace in Judaea. The various sects of Judaism such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Samaritans, and the warlike group called the Zealots, kept the Roman Governor in a turmoil.4

With such a great number of competitors, why was it that Christianity could survive in this sea of varying philosophies? For one reason, it was just this fact, that the Empire was divided on religion and philosophy. Had a unified religion been proclaimed from Rome, Christianity would have had little chance to grow and develop. The unification of the Empire and the Pax Romana (peace of Rome) that accompanied it allowed for a great ease of missionary work. Missionaries could travel from one length of the Empire to the other without any hindrance. Certainly, too, it was the nearness of Christ's life, and the zeal of his faithful companions that impressed many converts. Christian doctrines were appealing to the distressed masses who saw in Christian theology eventual salvation from the hardships of this life if it became the dominant religion in the Empire. All the pagan philosophies and theology actually became a stepping stone to Christian theology: pagan temples were made over into Christian churches, priests' rites of the salvationalist religions made the transition to the rites of the Christian Church much easier (Flick 47-48). Certainly the writings of the early saints and apostles left a written testimony to subsequent generations of the truthfulness of the divinity of Christ.5

Early Christianity

Jesus, the founder of the new faith, had left no written records. What we know of the individual comes from records from his companions who wrote some years after his departure from them. Most of them believed that the resurrected Lord planned to return almost immediately for his Second Coming. (For this reason, perhaps we can understand why Paul preached against the idea of marriage--for what reason if the Lord was coming soon?) After it became apparent that the Lord was not returning immediately, his companions felt it necessary to record their remembrance of their Master. These documents which they wrote fell into the hands of the various branches of the Church for generations until they were compiled into scripture of the Bible6. Paul's letters written to give advice and counsel to the various branches of the Church became sacredly guarded and became a written evidence to prove the authenticity of the missionaries' work.

Of all the early missionaries of the Christian Church, it was the work of Paul, a convert after the death of Jesus, that caused the spread of Christianity to most of the Roman world. Had it not been for his missionary zeal and his introduction of Platonic ideas into the framework left by Jesus, it would never have been successful in spreading to the upper classes or even to other than Jews.

At first Rome paid little attention to the religion (Origen iii.1-3). They tolerated the Christians because they were regarded as a harmless sect of the Jews. Then two things became apparent as the movement spread. The Christians under no circumstance would worship any other god and refused even the conventional emperor worship of the deified Augustus which was required of all Romans. Moreover, the meetings of the Christians were secret and they refused to divulge to those not initiated into the sect the proceedings of their gatherings. It was rumored among the Roman populace that Christians met in secret assembly and ate the bodies and drank the blood of small children.7 It was because of these two factors that Christianity was persecuted. Throughout the ages any exclusive, secret, easily isolatable group has invariably been suspect as subversive, and has suffered accordingly. The first general persecution did not come until under the reign of Nero in 65 A.D. when the burning of Rome was attributed to the Christians. Thirty years of productive missionary work had passed. It has been estimated that in the year 100 A.D. there were approximately 500,000 Christians in the Empire (Flick 54; Schaff 196), by the year 311 A.D. there were approximately 30 million (Orr 23-91).

The five traditional persecutions that were conducted by the various emperors did not halt the spread of the movement.8 In fact, it has been seen that persecution only makes a movement grow stronger. By the late third century, large numbers of Romans were openly professing the faith. Most persecutions were primarily centered in Rome where the emperor resided. Christians in France and Spain, for example, suffered little persecution even though tough measures were adopted in Rome. The Christian Church in the West and especially in Rome entered a phase of underground movement while the churches in the East never submitted to such persecutions to go into hiding. The Christians in Egypt openly faced their persecutors and practiced their religion out in the open.

ankhWhy was it that Egypt could get by with this when Rome had to take on the appearance of a subversive group? It is quite obvious in studying the Eastern churches that Egypt became the first seat of the Christian religion after Jerusalem. Egypt had been Christianized almost overnight when St. Mark visited that country in 49 A.D. (Evetts 37-50). When he returned in 62 A.D. he died a martyr and was buried in the coastal city of Alexandria--the ancient center of Hellenistic culture in the East (Cheneau 494-509). Had not even the Holy Family itself spent time in Egypt during the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod the Great? Even today the oldest copies of the New Testament have been found in Upper Egypt some 500 to 1,000 miles from the mouth of the Nile River.9 Christianity spread rapidly through Egypt primarily because the Ancient Egyptian religion appeared so similar to that of the Christian teaching (Cramer 5-7). The ankh sign of the Egyptians resembled the cross of the Christians. The Trinity of the Christians was nothing more than the trinity of Isis, Osiris and Horus. Even in ancient Egypt, every city had its own trinity of gods. The various other symbols and signs of the Christian religion, as well as the rites of baptism, confirmation, ordination, etc., appeared extremely similar to one another.

The first Christian theological school was established at Alexandria and its purpose was to formulate Christian theology. With it are associated great names in early Christian history: Pantaeus who went as far away as India to visit the converts of St. Thomas, Clement of Alexandria, the great scholar and bishop of the early church, Origen whose writings outstrip any other scholar in the history of the world (Oulton and Chadwick 56ff). Over 5,000 books have been attributed to him. He was one of the first to compile a book called the Bible which he translated into six different languages in the same book: Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Greek, etc. His system of theology became the basis of all others. Some of his works were considered by early Christians as scripture--especially to the great Church father Augustine. Heracles (230-46), the patriarch of Alexandria living during the third century, was the first individual on record to have taken the title Pope (Labanca 47-101). From then, the title became quite popular especially in the East when every priest took the title. The title in the West became a name reserved only for the Bishop of Rome. The title is still used by members of the Eastern churches.10 In 313 A.D. when Constantine wanted to have copies of the existing scriptures made to whom did he write? He sent to Alexandria for an authorized version--to the center of Christian learning and education.11

The Fourth Century

Of all the centuries of Christian history, besides that formative first century, it is the fourth that I consider the most important. It was during the fourth century that the Christian religion became a tolerated religion, then toward the end of the century emerged as the State Religion of the Empire. It was the fourth century that saw the emergence of an orthodox theology by means of a conciliar movement. The great breakthrough for the Christians came when the Emperor Constantine declared it a tolerated religion in his famous Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. Constantine the Great (313-337) was born about 274 A.D. to the Roman General Constantius and his concubine Helena who was a Christian. The marriage between the two [occurred] after Constantine's birth. At the age of 18, Constantine's father divorced his mother and became one of the rulers in the West (292 A.D.).12 In 305, Constantius was made the Augustus, the supreme ruler in the West. Constantine went with his father to Britain where his father died in York. Thereupon the army elected Constantine as Emperor. Constantine was a devotee of Mithraism in Gaul and Britain. As he was leading his army against Maxentius who also claimed the title of Augustus, Constantine relied upon the counsel of his mother and prayed to the Christian God for a victory. Immediately he and his entire army saw a bright light in the heavens and heard a voice which said: "In hoc vince" (in this conquer), CR, Greek letters Chi Rho, standing for the name of Christ (Eusebius I. ch. 28-31; Sozomen i. ch. 3; Socrates i. ch. 2; Lactantius ch. 44). This sign was placed on the shields of his followers, and the next day, they were victorious in battle. For this one act, Constantine granted freedom of worship to the Christians in the famous Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., the Magna Carta of religious liberty. It was not made the state religion.

Once Christianity was made a tolerated religion, it became an open subject everywhere--even at the market place. Christians now could openly discuss the theological tenets of the faith with fellow Christians from distant places. Lo and behold, when they started the great discussion they found that there was a schism which separated them one from another. The church in Alexandria claimed a certain doctrine, whereas the church in Antioch disclaimed ever having heard of it, while Ephesus claimed another one, and Rome claimed another. Each insisted that it had always been taught within their congregation and many quoted the founding apostle himself in this regard. This lack of unity and uniformity was clearly seen and sneered at by pagan scholars.13 The conflict became so sore and open that Constantine was drawn into the theological controversy that was splitting his empire asunder. The Ebionites desired to be Jew and Christian together, the Gnostics adopted the Zoroastrian belief that "knowledge above all was most desired" and rejected Paul's letters and the Gospels, the Manicheans believed in the dualism of Zoroastrianism, the Monarchians denied the doctrine of the trinity and in Antioch where they centered their Bishop Paul was excommunicated because he taught that God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were one god! Other groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, and Arians had many adherents throughout the Christian world. All was not well in the Empire. Constantine felt obliged to solve the problem by bringing together the leaders of the Christian world for a council to be held in the East at Nicaea near his capital at Constantinople. The center of the Empire no longer was at pagan Rome, but in the East at the beautiful new Christian city of Constantinople.

The First Ecumenical Council--Nicaea, 325 A.D.

Over 2,000 representatives of the Christian Church assembled at Nicaea in the year 325, but only 300 bishops were given voice in the proceedings.14 Of all the representatives in attendance, only six came from the Western churches. There were only two presbyters representing the aged Bishop of Rome (Mansi II. 635ff).15 Actually, this was not the first council of the Church. Councils had been held frequently both in the East and the West. One of significant importance was held in Alexandria in 318. All the bishops of the Eastern Church had met to discuss the problem of Arianism. In a series of discourses and sermons, Arius, a priest of Alexandria, declared that Christ, being the son of God, was lesser, not of the same substance, and not co-existent in eternity, but had been created by Him. Arius was excommunicated locally in 320. Despite this condemnation, the doctrines of Arius spread throughout the Eastern churches and it is estimated that a good percentage of the churches held to this belief. Arian missionaries travelled from Alexandria and Constantinople to the Germanic tribes on the opposite side of the Danube and had converted large numbers of them to this belief. The Visigoths and Ostrogoths that invaded the Western Empire in the late fourth century retained their belief in this Christian doctrine.

The Nicaean Council had been called primarily because of the widespread movement of the Arians and its main function was to solve the problem concerning the nature of Christ. The representatives poured into Nicaea and when they assembled for the Council, they were seated by rank: the Patriarch of Jerusalem recognized as the senior member, then Antioch, Ephesus, and then Alexandria each presided over by a Patriarch, the highest position in the early Church (Eusebius III. ch. 10). Hosius, the Bishop of Cordova in Spain, presided but actually Constantine was the real head and mover of the meeting. A bitter controversy raged between the followers of Arius and the followers of Athanasius who championed the doctrine of the Trinity that Christ was co-eternal, consubstantial, begotten and not created, and in all respects one with God. The Eastern churches and peoples were divided between the doctrines of Arianism and Trinitarianism. Finally the Council decided in favor of Athanasius and wrote its ideas into what has become the Nicaean Creed, the first written creed of the Church, although the one that is used today by the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican Churches does not date back to the Council at all. The date of Easter was also determined according to the Alexandrian church, but the Western churches refused to accept the dating system. The Council as it sat representing the Church was recognized as the infallible, sovereign power of the Church. Because of the rapid growth of the city of Constantinople, it was made a Bishopric and was placed directly under the city of Alexandria. The bishop of Rome (or Patriarch of Rome) was acknowledged as the only Patriarch in the West. All the Western churches were to be subject, therefore, to Rome. The law of celibacy of the clergy was discussed however, it was rejected. The Eastern clergy had always married and it was they who dominated the Council. Various other important doctrines held by some of the groups were condemned as heresies.

Actually the Council of Nicaea solved very few problems. Arian doctrines still continued to be preached throughout the East and to the German tribes in the North. Shortly thereafter the problem of division between the Eastern and Western churches can be seen. The West began holding councils without the representatives from the East. Even Constantine who proclaimed the doctrines of the Council as orthodox was later won over to Arianism and Athanasius who had championed the orthodox view was deposed and he had to flee to the Roman Patriarch Julius in 339, who called a Western Council without representatives from the East in 341 and upheld Athanasius' view. During the same time, three Arian Councils were also held and the doctrine spread throughout the West. Even Felix II, an Arian Patriarch, came to the pontifical throne in Rome in 346! It looked as if Arianism had triumphed in East and West!

The controversy was on the tips of everyone's tongue. Everywhere people openly discussed, debated, and in some cases took up arms against one another. Finally, the Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) by an imperial edict in 380 called for a council of the churches to meet at the capital of his Empire--at the beautiful city of Constantinople.

The Second Ecumenical Council--Constantinople, 381 A.D.

The second Ecumenical Council was held in 381 to discuss the position of the Holy Spirit which had now become a burning question with that of Arianism (Mansi III. 521ff). The Arians believed that the Holy Spirit was not part of the Trinity, but merely akin to the angels. The Council condemned it and repeated the condemnation of Arius. Still the matter was not solved. Many of the branches of the Church refused to accept the decisions of these two councils. They claimed that they had been taught these doctrines by the apostles themselves and who were they to go against their teachings? By consent, Constantinople, now the hub of the Empire, was elevated to the position of a Patriarchate. This act antagonized both Alexandria and Rome. Alexandria could see that until then she had dominated the position of the East, and Rome felt that there should be no other Patriarchs established in the Christian Church--it only made for further division. Seeds of division had now been sown between the three main heads of the early Church.

The Third Ecumenical Council--Ephesus, 431 A.D.

The Third Council of the Church was called at the city of Ephesus, again in the East, to discuss the now controversial problem concerning the position of Mary in the Godhead (Mansi IV. 569ff; Atiya 47ff; Badger 143; Emhardt and Lamsa 49-54). Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, declared that Mary was not the Mother of the God Christ, but merely the mother of the human nature of Christ. This doctrine was called Christotokos. The Western Churches felt that Mary was the mother of God or Theotokos. The Council was convened at Ephesus in 431, and the members did not wait for the leaders of the Christotokos party to arrive from Antioch to present their case. Before they could arrive, the Western representatives and those from the East condemned the doctrine of Christotokos as a heresy. Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, was deposed and forced into exile. He retired to Persia, [and] founded a church in India and China which exists to this date under the title of the Nestorian Church. It is no exaggeration to contend that in the early Middle Ages the Nestorian Church was the most widespread in the whole world. Their world was drowned, however, in a surging sea of Islam in the seventh century.

The conflict over the position of Mary caused violent reactions among the victors. Cyril, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria and the champion of the Theotokos philosophy, maintained that Christ was not two persons but one. The divine and human must be fused into a single nature called Monophysitism. The Patriarch of Jerusalem agreed with Cyril. Constantinople and Rome did not agree, thereupon a second council was called at Ephesus in 449, presided over by Dioscorus, the successor to Cyril in Alexandria (Mansi VI. 503ff). Representatives from Rome, Antioch, Constantinople and most of the other Christian bishoprics of both East and West in addition to the Egyptian delegation of ten bishops converged on Ephesus in response to the imperial request. The decision of the first council of Ephesus in 431 was reversed! Christotokos was declared to be the orthodox view of the Church. A protest arose at Rome. Pope Leo the Great (440-61) sent his famous Latrocinium (highway robbery) letter to the Emperor (Migne 71). Rome had seen herself ignored by the Egyptian Church when Dioscorus refused to read the Tome of Leo that the representative from Rome had brought with him. Leo I, the Patriarch of Rome, broke with Dioscorus and summoned a new council.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council--Chalcedon, 451 A.D.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council which was called for Chalcedon in 451 was the largest to date (Mansi VI. 528ff; Sellers; Grillmeier and Bacht). Six hundred and thirty bishops converged upon Chalcedon just across the Bosporus from the Roman capital of Constantinople. The Tome of Leo was read, Dioscorus was summarily condemned even without a hearing, then deposed and in 454 exiled to the island of Gangra in Paphlagonia. The orthodox view was that "Christ was one person with two natures, without confusion or conversion, the properties of each nature being complete, but united in a single person."

The Monophysites who believed in the single nature did not concede to the council's decision. The sixth canon of the Council of Nicaea had been abrogated in favor of Constantinople! That canon had insisted on the "preservation of the rights and privileges of the Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch and other provinces" (Landon 408).

In dealing with the ecumenical Movement William Worrell points out that

The See of Alexandria was the most important in the Church, as the city was the most important in the whole of the East. To the prestige of ancient Egypt and Hellenistic Alexandria were added the reputation for Christian learning and the power of leadership. . . . [I]t was here at Chalcedon that the Egyptian church lost its leadership. (17)16

The Alexandrines were used to having their way and would not be governed by the councils of the Church which at this time were controlled by Rome and Constantinople. Had she not been one of the first five patriarchates, had she not voted in favor of making Rome a Patriarchate in 325 and then Constantinople in 381? Now she had seen her two sister Patriarchs united against her. The Egyptians rejected the profession of Chalcedon as a breach of faith contrary to the spirit of the Nicaean Creed and the decisions of Ephesus. The net result of the decisions taken at Chalcedon was irreparable schism. The Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria was persecuted and exiled in Upper Egypt. The church at Constantinople appointed an orthodox Patriarch to head the church at Alexandria, but it only divided the church. The majority remained true to the Coptic Patriarch in exile. Few acknowledged the orthodox Greek Patriarch from Constantinople. Today, the Copts continue to maintain that they have never been subjects to Rome or Constantinople, but only a parallel. The terms "schismatic" and "dissident" often used by the Roman Catholic historians to describe the sister Coptic Church are repudiated by the so-called "Monophysites" as objectionable allegations. To the Coptic mind, the apostolic sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome were of equal status, and as such had all lived in perfect harmony and sustained mutual regard toward each other, even in the days when Alexandria was beyond a shadow of a doubt the pre-eminent center of Christianity (Atiya 58).

The Later Divisions

It would be too much to assume that after Alexandria had been "done in" that Constantinople and Rome would continue their mutual alliance with one another. The history of the dissension between these two powerful cities is well known. Later in the fourth century, German tribes entered into the Western Empire, sacked Rome in 410 and 455 and divided the West into a number of small petty kingdoms ruled over in many cases by Arian Christians. Constantinople and the Empire in the East continued without such invasions. The West was now lost to the East and communications between the two divisions in the Roman world was almost nil. Rome, the great bulwark against the invading tribes took the lead and gave leadership when leadership was badly needed and held together the threads of culture and learning in the West. Councils were held without regard to inviting the Eastern Churches. Eastern councils continued to be called without requesting the attendance of the West. The churches continued to grow further and further apart. The iconoclastic controversy in the eighth century simply split them further and further apart. The final division came in 1059 when the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople mutually excommunicated each other and broke the communion of the two.

Summary and Conclusion

An attempt has been made in these few pages to present a thesis and philosophy that is relatively new to orthodox Christianity. We have seen that Christianity of the early Middle Ages was far from united. In fact, there were many divisions that came to light in the first few centuries. It is obvious that one mainstream of Christianity was what became known as the Roman Catholic Church, but this is only one of the many that claimed apostolic founding. A short summary of the others might be in keeping with this paper.

1) Alexandria, the See of St. Mark, became the Egyptian or Coptic Church as we have outlined above (Worrell). Today there are approximately 12 million members of that church in Egypt. (Hardy 196).

2) The Church at Constantinople, the capital of new Rome, evolved into what is called the Greek Orthodox Church claiming also apostolic founding and is a formidable power in the East--145 million (Neale).

3) Other Christian churches not mentioned but still of some significance are the Nestorian Church which spread throughout Iraq, and India and claims today a total of 100,000 members;

4) The Jacobite Church spread from its original center at Antioch over the whole of the vast Asiatic Continent and claims to be the first church established outside Jerusalem by St. Peter himself as their founder, and was one of the centers of the church that stood by Alexandria in the contest at Chalcedon (Kidd 4360438; Adeney 500-509).17

5) Armenia was the first kingdom in history to adopt Christianity as the official religion of both the state and the church at the same time. This church, called today the Armenian Church, claims its apostolic foundation to Judas Thaddeus and Bartholomew in 60 A.D. These Christians have often been downtrodden, persecuted, and massacred almost to the point of extinction but they have re-emerged on the modern scene as a nation that commands universal respect (Arper).

6) The Christians of St. Thomas in southern India have always prided themselves on a long-standing tradition that their Christianity is apostolic, introduced into India by St. Thomas himself. Frequent reference even by the Roman church is made of them throughout the Middle Ages (Philip; Brown).

7) The Maronite Church which in recent times has become the chief bulwark of Roman Catholicism in the Middle East. Two-thirds of the Christians in Lebanon are of the Maronite faith (400,000), who trace their religion back to the monk St. Maron who died there in 433 A.D. Lebanese Christians elect their own national patriarch who assumes the title "Patriarch of Antioch and the East," which he holds to the present day (Ghabra'il).

Other minority groups could be quoted to show that during the Middle Ages and even on the eve of what we call the Great

Reformation we have not one Christian Church to tend with but a long number of important and powerful churches whose history has been varied and whose good works stand as a testimony of their greatness.

It is hoped that this very brief sketch has in some small way stimulated your interest in a most fascinating subject--that of early Christianity and especially that of the East. Probably a sequel to this paper should be one on the ecumenical movement among the churches today to solve their differences. Within the fold of Eastern and Western Christianity there is a spark of light on the horizon which must never be extinguished. Synods and councils continue to discuss their differences. Much headway has already been made. "Perhaps," as Dr. Atiya states, "the dawn is breaking and the circle may widen until all men of good faith rediscover their common father" (447).

And this is also my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


1Such as the Dead Sea Scrolls just recently discovered, the various fragments of early apostolic writings, etc. Back to Top

2Refer to Goodspeed for other literature not found in the modern New Testament.
Back to Top

3His book, History of Eastern Christianity (1968), contains a brief account of his years of research on the subject. Back to Top

4(a) [The] Pharisees [who] were rigidly orthodox and were prone to analyze the Mosaic law to death, controlled the Jews in politics.

(b) The Sadducees were skeptics who rejected oral traditions and denied resurrection, angels, etc., opposed the Pharisees, [and] had less influence with the people than the Pharisees.

(c) The Essenes, a mystic brotherhood whose purpose was to attain holiness, lived a communal life on the shores of the Dead Sea, and were forerunners of Christian monasticism.

(d) The Samaritans, half Jewish and half heathen Babylonian, rejected all scriptures but the Pentateuch, looked with favor upon the Christians, and were bitterly hated by the orthodox Jews.

(e) The Zealots, led by Judas of Galilee, a sort of nationalistic party, confidently expected the Messiah, and in their zeal did not hesitate to use the sword and dagger. Fourteen such Zealot Messiahs appeared in the first century. Back to Top

5Robert M. Grant's work, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (1963), is a recent work on the subject. An older work of value is Brooke F. Westcott's General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (1896). Also the scholarly general histories of the Church deal with the subject: Claude Fleury's Histoire Écclesiastique (1691-1774); another version by Cesare Baronius [is] Annales ecclesiastici (1738-1739). The Cambridge History of the Bible (1970), vol. 1, should soon appear, vol. II dealing with the modern period was printed in 1963 at Cambridge, and was edited by S. L. Greenslade. Back to Top

6I Clement is the first document (c. 95 A.D.) to quote any book of the New Testament as a canon of doctrine (Grant Formation 81). Irenaeus (c. 170 A.D.) questions the authenticity of some books circulated as scripture as does Origen (c. 200 A.D.) (Grant Formation 152-153, 112). See Eusebius III. iii. 25 also on this dispute. [The] first council of the church dealing with this problem was in 363 A.D. at Laodicea. By the third council of Carthage in 397, the list of twenty-seven comprising our New Testament was finalized. Back to Top

7For a detailed statement of the accusations, read the apologies of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Origen. See also Flick 97. Hence all the hatred and prejudice of the Romans for the Jews were turned against the Christians. Back to Top

8The traditional number of Christian persecutions is five: under Nero in 65 A.D., Trajan in 106 A.D., Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D., Decius in 250 A.D., and Dicoletian in 284 A.D. The Church enjoyed many seasons of rest and peace, and the number of Christians killed is relatively small. Eusebius gives a detailed account of each. Back to Top

9See Edgar J. Goodspeed's History of Early Christian Literature (1942) for a detailed summary of Early Christian literature and the fragments of lost scriptures. Back to Top

10Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) limited the use of the term in the West solely to the Bishop of Rome in the Council of Rome of 1073. Back to Top

11A copy was found in 1859 by Tischendorf at St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai. It now lies in the British Museum under the title Codex Sinaiticus. It contains various books lost until that time which do not appear in subsequent versions: Barnabas, Hermas, etc. Back to Top

12Ed. Note. I.e., Constantine was eighteen when his parents divorced. Back to Top

13Celsus declares that the Christians "were divided and split into factions, each individual desiring to have his own party" (70). [Ed. Note. The translation of Celsus which Craig uses here has not been located; however, a translation published after his lecture is included in the Works Cited.] See also the Christian scholar Origen for a similar testimony. Back to Top

14Historians disagree on the number. Eusebius gives 250, Theodoret 300, etc.
Back to Top

15The aged Bishop of Rome was unable to attend. Back to Top

16Ed. Note. For more information on the Egyptian church, see Hardy's Christian Egypt: Church and People (1952). Back to Top

17A definitive history has yet to be written. Back to Top

Sources for the Rise of the Christian Church

I. Jewish

  1. old Testament
  2. old Testament Apocrypha
  3. Josephus (37-103 A.D.). Antiquities; Jewish Wars.
  4. Philo Judaeus (20 BC-40 A.D.). Works. 4 vols.

II. Pagan Greek writers (as background material)

  1. Various classical writers.
  2. Polybius (204-122 B.C.). Histories. 2 vols.
  3. Strabo (62 B.C.-24 A.D.). Geography. 2 vols.

III. Pagan Latin Writers

  1. Livy (59 B.C.-17 A.D.). Works.
  2. Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.). Works.
  3. Lucan (39-65 A.D.). Pharasalia.
  4. Seneca (3-65 A.D.). Works.
  5. Pliny (61-115 A.D.). Works.
  6. Tacitus (54-119 A.D.). Germania; Histories; Annales; etc.
  7. Juvenal (47-130 A.D.). Works.
  8. Suetonius (75-16O A.D.). Lives of the Caesars. 2 vols.
  9. Celsus (c. 178 A.D.). Against the Christians.
  10. Porphyry (234-306 A.D.). Against the Christians.
  11. Julian the Apostate (331-363 A.D.). Against the Christians.

IV. Christian Sources--Scriptures

  1. New Testament including the Apocrypha and lost fragments

V. Christian Sources--Apostolic Fathers

  1. Clement of Rome (c. 97 A.D.). Epistle to the Church of Corinth (I Clement).
  2. Ignatius (70-115). Epistles.
  3. Barnabas (fl. 1st C.). Epistle.
  4. Polycarp (69?-156). Epistle.
  5. Papias (60-125), fragments.
  6. Hermas (d. 150?). The Shepherd.
  7. Didache.

VI. Christian Sources--Post-Apostolic Fathers

  1. Justin Martyr (100-165)
  2. Irenaeus (140-202)
  3. Hippolytus (170-235)
  4. Victor (d. 200; pope 189-200)
  5. Tertullian (150?-230)
  6. Origen (185-254)
  7. Cyprian (200?-258)
  8. Dionysius of Alexandria (190-264)
  9. Tatian (120-166)
  10. Eusebius (260?-339)

VII. General Histories--Greek Christians

  1. Hegesippus (d. 180), a Christian Jew in Asia Minor (2nd Cent.), wrote Hypomnemata, a Church history in 5 books; based on traditions; only fragments preserved.
  2. Eusebius (260?-339), "Father of Church History," wrote a history of the Church to 324 A.D.; valuable storehouse; various English translations.
  3. Socrates (380-451), a lawyer who continued Eusebius to 439 A.D.
  4. Sozomen (400-451), a lawyer, continued Eusebius to 423 A.D.
  5. Theodoret (393-457), a bishop, aimed to complete Socrates and Sozomen.
  6. Evagrius (536-594), a lawyer, continued Theodoret.

VIII. General Histories--Latin Christians

  1. Rufinus (345-410), a priest, translated Eusebius and added an inaccurate history of the Arians; preface only in English.
  2. Severus (b. 363), a Gallic priest, wrote the history of the world to 400 A.D.; good source material for Gaul.
  3. Orosius (390-418?), a Spanish priest, wrote a world history to 416; used as a textbook in the Middle Ages.
  4. Cassiodorus (485-580), a statesman and abbot, compiled a church history from Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. This is the famous "Tripartite History." It served as a textbook throughout the Middle Ages; not in English.
  5. Gregory of Tours (538?-594), a bishop, wrote a valuable history of the Frankish Church.
  6. Venerable Bede (673?-735), "Father of English Church History," wrote a history of the English Church to 731; many English translations.

IX. Recent Discoveries of Lost Books of Christian Literature

  1. Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians (no complete Greek text).
  2. The Epistle of the Apostles (no early Greek Text).
  3. Letter of the Gallican Churches (no complete text).
  4. The Revelation of Peter (no complete text).
  5. The Sibylline Books, ix, x, and xv (no complete text).
  6. The Pistis Sophia (no Greek text).
  7. The Gospel of the Egyptians (no complete text).
  8. The Gospel of the Hebrews (no complete text).
  9. The Gospel of Peter (no complete text).
  10. British Museum Gospel (no complete text).
  11. The Gospel of Thomas (no complete text).
  12. The Gospel of Truth (no Greek text).
  13. The Gospel of Philip (no Greek text).
  14. The Acts of Paul (no complete text).
  15. The Acts of John (no complete text).
  16. The Acts of Peter (no complete text).
  17. The Acts of Andrew (no complete text).

Plus others.

Works Cited

Adeney, Walter F. The Greek and Eastern Churches. Edinburgh" T & T Clark, 1908.

Arper, Leon. History of Armenian Christianity from the Beginning to Our Own Time. New York: Armenian Missionary Association of America, 1946.

Athenagoras. Apology. Trans. B. P. Pratten. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. 10 vols. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing, 1884-1896. 2: 129- 162.

Atiya, Aziz S. History of Eastern Christianity. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1928.

Badger, George P. The Nestorians and their Rituals. 2 vols. London: J. Masters, 1852. Vol 1.

Baronius, Cesare. Annales Ecclesiasti. 19 vols. Lucca: Leonardo Vanturino, 1738-1739.

Brown, Leslie W. The Indian Churches of St. Thomas: An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1956.

Cheneau, Paul. "S. Marc, Evangéliste et Apôtre de l'Égypte." Les Saintes d'Égypte. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Couvent des R. R. P. P. Franciscains, 1923. 1: 494-509.

Celsus. On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians. Trans. R. Joseph Hoffmann. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

Cramer, Maria. Das Altägystische Lebenszeichen in Christlichen- Koptischen Aegypten. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1955.

Emhardt, William and George M. Lamsa. The oldest Christian People. New York: Macmillan, 1926.

Eusebius. The Life of Constantine [excerpts]. The Essential Eusebius. Trans. Colm Luibh*id. New York: New American Library, 1966. 183-216.

Evetts, Basil T. "History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church at Alexandria." Patrologia Orientalis. 2 vols. Paris: Firmin- Didot, 1907. 1: 37-50.

Fleury, Claude. Historie Écclesiastique. 36 vols. Paris: Emery, 1691-1774.

Flick, Alexander C. The Rise of the Medieval Church and its Influence on the Civilization of Western Europe from the First to the Thirteenth Century. New York: Burt Franklin, 1909.

Ghabra'il, Mikha'il 'Abd Allah. Histoire de l'Église Syriaque Maronite d'Antioch. 2 vols. B'abda, Lebanon: bal-Matbaah al-Lubaniyah, 1900-1904.

Goodspeed, Edgar J. History of Early Christian Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1942.

Greenslade, S. L. The Cambridge History of the Bible. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1963-1970.

Grant, Robert M. The Formation of the New Testament. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

---. A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Grillmeier, Alois and Heinrich Bacht. Das Konzil von Chalcedon. 3 vols. Wurzburg: Echter-Verlaz, 1951-1954.

Hardy, Edward R. Christian Egypt: Church and People. New York: Oxford UP, 1952.

Justin Martyr. The Apologies of Justin Martyr. Ed. B. L. Gildersleeve. New York: American Book, 1904.

Kidd, Beresford J. The Churches of Eastern Christendom from A.D. 451 to the Present Time. London, Faith P, n. d.

Labanca, Baldaserie. "Del nome Papa nelechiese cristiane di oriente ed occidente." Actes du Douzieme Congress International des Orientalistes. 1899. 3 vols. Florence: Société Typographique Florentine, 1902. 3: 47-101.

Lactantius. The Deaths of Persecutors. The Minor Works. Trans. Mary Francis McDonald. Washington, D. C.: Catholic U of America P, 1965. 137-203.

Landon, Edward H. A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church. 2 vols. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1903. Vol. 1.

Mansi, G. D. Sacrorum Conciliorum, Nova et Amplissima Collectio. 1729. 59 vols. Paris: H. Walter, 1901-1927. 2, 3, 4, 6.

Migné, Jacques P. Patrologiae Latinae. 221 vols. Paris: Turnholt, 1844-1864. Vol 52.

Neale, John M. History of the Holy Eastern Church. 2 vols. London: J. Masters, 1897.

Origen. Contra Celsium. Trans. Henry Chadwick. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1965.

Orr, James. Neglected Factors in the Study of the Early Progress of Christianity. New York: Armstrong, 1899.

Oulton, John E. L. and Henry Chadwick. Alexandrian Christianity. Philadelphia: Westminster P, 1954.

Philip, E. M. Indian Church of St. Thomas Christians. Kotteyam, India: Pontifical Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, 1950.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. 7 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928. Vol 1.

Scott-Moncrieff, Philip D. Paganism and Christianity in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1913.

Sellers, Robert V. The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey. London: S. P. C. K., 1953.

Socrates. Historia ecclesiastica. Trans. A. C. Zenos. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. 14 vols. Boston: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890. 2: 1-178.

Sozomen. Historia ecclesiastica. Trans. C. D. Hartranft. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. 14 vols. Boston: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890. 2: 236-427.

Tertullian. Opera. Trans. P. Holmes and S. Thelwall. The Ante- Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. 10 vols. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing, 1886. 3: 17-717; 4: 5-166.

Westcott, Brooke F. General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament. London: Macmillan, 1896.

Worrell, William H. A Short Account of the Copts. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1945.