II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 4. The Roman Empire, 14–284 C.E. > g. The Rise of Christianity
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
g. The Rise of Christianity
 
The principal characteristic of early Christianity was its plurality. A wide variety of divergent and competing doctrines—gnostic, libertine, observant—were practiced, all claiming the authority of Jesus Christ. The “orthodox” church—it was only after the Roman government had given its support to one sect that the terms “orthodox” and “heretical” became official—eventually accepted four Gospels—Mark (c. 64–70), Matthew (c. 80–90), Luke (c. 70–90), and John (c. 95–115)—the book of Acts, fifteen Pauline letters (only six are certainly by Paul), and a few other works as canonical. Other, “heretical” texts were burned. The success of the form of Christianity that would eventually prevail was a function of its superior organization. Paul had formed his communities (c. 48–60) with overseers (bishops), and ministers (deacons), and had stressed obedience. In the writings of the Apostolic Fathers—the martyred bishops Clement of Rome (d. 96), Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98–117), and Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155)—we find churches organized around the three-fold ministry of bishops, presbyters (councils of elders), and deacons; these writings also put the same emphasis on discipline and authority. By the mid-second century, this disciplined Christian sect began to attract educated converts—Justin Martyr (d. 160?), Athenagoras (fl. 176–177), Irenaeus (fl. 177), Tertullian (c. 160–240), and Minucius Felix (fl. 200–240), and the bishops Theophilus of Antioch (d. 180), Melito of Sardis (fl. 175), Clement of Alexandria (fl. 190–203), and Origen (c. 185–254)—who wrote Apologies defending the Christian faith against calumnies and official persecutions. In Rome, Christians were executed under Nero, Domitian, and Marcus Aurelius; in the provinces persecutions of Christians were equally sporadic. Whether Christianity was illegal per se or whether Christians were persecuted for alleged criminal behavior is problematic. Well-organized Christian communities provided its members with benefits both social—burial; care for orphans, the sick, and the poor—and psychological—institutional identity and protections from demons. Their successes in urban centers around the Empire left these Christian churches poised to assume more important social roles when the civic institutions of the Roman Empire were shaken by the crisis of the 3rd century.  1
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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