I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion - Freedom of Public Display of Religion and Traditions

We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chapter 9: Early Christianity - Organizing a New Religion

Fall and Rebirth of Rome  
One thousand years before the birth of Christ, Rome, the city that became the capital of the known world, conquest was established and men and intellect had maintained it. It was founded by survivors of Troy and begun with the adaptation of Greek culture, to include the concept of a republic and a senate.
Four hundred years after Christ’s birth, once again a great change had occurred and the greatest civilization in the world came to an end; but out of the ashes arose the beginning of another and the Christians who had struggled for so long to exist became the founders of the new Rome. The once persecuted people called Christians became the founding principle of the new Rome under the leadership of bishops and cardinals who had been ordained by the Apostles of Christ, all under the prime leadership of the Papal authority. The Church converted the barbarians who were instrumental in the fall of the Roman Empire; but unlike its previous society, superstition and the papal power would replace science, educational thought and republican senatorial government, which had been weakened by emperors and military coups. [I]

In the first century Judaic Christianity, as it is referred to by historians and scholars, the early Christians had been relying on the Septuagint (Greek) or Targum (Aramaic, Jesus’ spoken language) translations. As the need to establish canon of Christianity, letters of Paul and the Gospels were included as scripture that became known as the New Testament. Paul’s letters became important text, especially among Roman Christians and its theology became centered upon Christ rather than Mosaic Law. Christianity kept with Ten Commandments, Biblical law; but turned away from Judaic traditions that Jesus of Nazareth had recognized. Jesus had told his disciples that they must go out into the world and spread the Word, the first gentile convert being Cornelius the Centurion, ironically a Roman soldier who represented that portion of Roman culture that had put Jesus to death. Christianity departed from orthodox Hebrew religion and did away with animal sacrifice, replacing it with other forms of worship of God and the ritual of the Eucharist; eventually defying the messenger of God’s word and Christians praying through Christ as the mediator. and the
The founders of the Church began to develop Christian theology that lay the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, replacing Passover tradition with symbolism ritual of the personification of Christ’s body and blood (Eucharist). As Christianity grew there became a need to organize and choose leaders and elders of the Church which would become the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the first organized Christian church in the history of Christianity. All of this culminated after Constantine allied with Christianity in the 4th Century by the Edict of Milan. Christianity soon became more popular than paganism and Rome became, along with the fall of its empire, the seat and power of the Church. The First Council of Nicaea marked the beginning of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787) and the beginning of the end of paganism in Rome and Europe. During the establishment of organized Christianity, its influence spread across the Middle East and North Africa, once sites of glorious civilizations like Egypt and Anatolia [Turkey]; which later was conquered by Islam.
As mentioned, disciples of Jesus, after his crucifixion, Christianity was founded in Jerusalem, which was Judea, a satellite state of Rome; but after the disciples spread out the primary objective was Rome. The Christian Apostles (Twelve) missionary objective was issued after Jesus the Christ’s resurrection, along with Paul of Tarsus and others spread Christianity to Alexandria, Antioch and beyond the Roman Empire. The term Christian was first applied to its religious members in Antioch, according to Acts 11:26. Letters were written by Paul to churches, which were at first merely a place of meeting for Christian believers, in Thessalonica and Corinth between 50 and 62 AD. Before the end of the 1st Century the Seven Churches of Asia had been established. Early Christians continued the Jewish reverence of the Jewish Scriptures. The leader of the Jerusalem church was James the Just [II] until his martyred death around 62 AD. 
Early Christian Church Founders
After the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, early Christian Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea recorded that Jewish leadership of the church in Jerusalem was replaced by Gentile Christian leadership. [III] Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome in 49, but according to Tacitus, Emperor Nero allowed the Christians to return, but used them as scapegoats in the Great Fire of Rome event in 64. That marked the beginning of Christian persecution by Roman authorities. Suffragan bishops were appointed by the Metropolitan bishops of the capital of Caesarea. [IV] As Christianity spread further in the 2nd Century, proto-orthodox Christian leaders and writers emerged such as Irenaeus of Lyon, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome and Justin Martyr. [V] Marcion, Valentinius, and Montanus. Heretics or not, the Christian membership composed 2% in the Roman Empire by 250. [Robin Lane Fox] During this period heretics were declared by the early church leadership such as
Great teachers emerged within the early church, like Origen (Alexandria) and Tertullian (North Africa) and Gregory the Illuminator helped Armenia to become the first official Christian state. By then the favored Roman Empire’s religion was Christianity. If it wasn’t for early Christian writers like Justin Martyr (100-165) we have little understanding of early Christian worship, customs and observances. The First Council of Nicaea marked the end of Christian founding and the beginning of the organized church, the first being the Roman Catholic Church. (Baptism)
Early Christian baptismal practices began during Christ’s lifetime, but became more frequent after his death, inspired by apostles such as Paul, who described baptism being part of a burial ceremony in Romans 6:3&4 and Colossians 2:12. [VI] Early baptism was performed by submersion, but that changed as time went on within the church and instead used the sprinkling of water for baptismal rituals. [VII] Tertullian described the baptismal as a triple immersion, preceded by a fast, a confession of sins, and renouncing of the devil, and followed by anointing and a symbolic meal of milk and honey. The rite was presided over by the bishop, as with Easter and Pentecost seasonal celebrations during the early Christian period. In the 3rd Century, Origen [VIII] and Cyprian encouraged the baptismal of children; [IX] while Tertullian preferred to postpone the rite until marriage. The rite and its history is important to Christian groups like Baptists and Anabaptists, believing that infant baptism was a later development. 

A ceremonial ritual in commemoration of the Lord’s Supper (Passover) and Christ’s Death/Resurrection is called the Eucharist in which bread and wine were consecrated as the body and blood of Christ. As time went on, the Eucharist became a central activity or act of Christian worship in the Roman Catholic Church. In the early period, the celebration was performed by a bishop or episcopos, and according to Ignatius, a celebration of the sacrament by anyone other than a bishop who had to be duly appointed. Justin Martyr wrote in the 2nd Century:
Not as common as bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation. [X]
The Christians had originally been converted Jews, but as the religion grew, so did the population of Gentiles. The difference most directly being that the Christians replaced sacrificing sheep for the Eucharist and thus further removing themselves from pagan animal sacrifice for religious purposes.

By the 3rd Century, a system of public penance and absolution was developed by the priesthood to reconcile the faithful after committing grave sins; the sinner, who either volunteered or under the threat of excommunication, would undergo penance for a period depending upon the gravity of the sin. Penance involved rigorous sessions of praying, fasting, and alms-giving. A person who was undergoing penance was excluded from participating in the Eucharist. After the penance was completed, the priest declared absolution and the person was once again allowed to partake of the Eucharist in public Christian worship.

The first worship services for early Christians were merely gatherings, during the persecution period, in secret, but as time went on the Christianized synagogue liturgical system was developed making it more of a formal public gathering. At first sections of homes were reserved for gatherings to worship. Christians considered each other as family, brothers and sisters, each contributing to the community. Gatherings featured hymns, prayers, and readings from scripture that would become canonized New Testament books. The first 30-50 years, the Christians would not be aware of the writings of the New Covenant because it had not yet been written, so Christ’s teachings were transmitted through the liturgy in the form of prayers and hymns and oral tradition.  Once Paul’s epistles and other gospels became utilized and known they were read during liturgical services. Agape Feasts (love feasts) were originally part of the Eucharistic celebration, a fallback from pagan events, became a part of the church ritual until abuses became evident that was mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.
As mentioned previously, Christians adopted the Greek translated Bible of the Jewish Scriptures known as the Septuagint and later canonized as the books of the New Testament. At worship it was custom for Christians to greet each other with a kiss. Church leaders placed some restrictions on the practice to keep worshipers from taking advantage of it for pleasure, for example, specifying that the lips be closed. Singing was performed without instrumentation as a group. The use of incense was associated with pagan worship, so incense was not used during worship; however this changed as time went on.

Divinity of Christ
Even in the early period of Christianity, the concept of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was identified with divinity. Early Christians viewed Jesus as a unique messenger of God and by the Council of Nicaea in 325, Jesus was identified as God in human form; which was a mirror of pagan religious beliefs. [XI] Today, as then, it was a heated argument until the Church became powerful enough to declare those against church doctrine to be heretics and they, and their writings, were excommunicated – their texts being destroyed. The 1st and 2nd century texts that later were canonized refer to Jesus as a divinity; but they still do not out rightly call him God; despite praying to Jesus instead of God as though some mediation is required.
About 15-20 years after the death of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth, Paul, who was the author of much of the Christian sacred texts, refers to Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, the savior/Messiah, who would return from heaven and save the faithful, dead and living, from the destruction of the world by the evil ones. [XII]
The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last who is to come soon, [XIII] who died and now lives forever and who holds the keys of death and Hades. [XIV] The Epistles to the Hebrews describes Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant. [XV]

Taken from various passages in the New Testament, the Church established the idea of the Trinity after the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 reflecting baptismal practice; the concept of Father, Son and Holy Spirit towards the end of the 1st Century. [XVI] Acts2:38 in the name of Jesus Christ, which is interpreted as another method of baptism, but some do not. mentions baptism
According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Trinity was revealed to the disciples by revelation and in religious visions called theoria during the Theophany and the Transfiguration of Jesus called the Tabor Light (uncreated light). The First Council of Nicaea after theological discussion and decision, gave the concept of the trinity its dogmatic form approved by the Holy Church. The phrase, Father, Son and Holy Spirit [Ghost] became common, especially at baptism.

Religious Writing
Early Christian writers wrote many religious works, but for 20 years after Jesus’ death Christian testimony had been entirely oral. When those who had been present for Jesus’ sermons had died, Apostles began to establish churches and putting the oral traditions into writing in such places as Jerusalem, Antioch, Caesarea and Ephesus. The first records of the collection of Jesus’ sayings were written down as Q texts circa 50 AD.
The Pauline epistles, written by Paul of Tarsus (or dictated) [XVII] were a collection of letters [epistles] that was an articulation of the first Christian theology and the concept of Original Sin, inherited from Adam and Eve.

Fathers of the Church
Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused if they do not add to that reading of the Fathers? The most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nicaea. But who could not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? with St. Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, and above all, the man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus? John Wesley

The following is a listing of volumes written by the early Church fathers:
       St. Pachomius Library
       Epistle of Barnabas (AD 130)
       The Shepherd of Hermas (AD 150)
       Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (AD 130)
       Writings of Ignatius to: Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, Polycarp. [Note: Some writings of Ignatius discovered were forgeries]
       Writings of Tertullian: The Apparel of Women (197), To the Martyrs (197), Spectacles (197), Prayer (200), Patience (203).
       Athanasius: On the Incarnation.
       Writings of Augustine: Confessions (translated by A.C. Outler), Confessions (translated by E.B. Pusey), Dialectica (translated by J. Marchand), Augustine on the Internet with James O’Donnell, Papers by James J. O’Donnell on Augustine.

[I] The Age of Faith by Will Durant; pp. 3-21.
[III]  Historia Ecclesiae, Book IV, Chapters 5-6 by Eusebius of Caesarea.
[IV] Jerusalem  71-1099; Catholic Encyclopedia.
[VI] The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions by John Bowker; Oxford University Press, 1997. 
[VII] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; Oxford University Press, 2005. (immersion article).
[VIII] Commentary on Romans 5:9; Homilies on Leviticus 8: 3-11; Homily on Luke 14: 5.
[IX] In the case of children it is preferable to delay immersible baptism. For why is it necessary … that the sponsors should be thrust into danger? … For no less cause must be unwedded also be deferred – in whom the ground of temptation is prepared, alike in such as never were wedded by means of their maturity, and in the widowed by means of their freedom – until they either marry, or else be more fully strengthened for continence? On Baptism 18.
[X] First Apology by Justin Martyr; 65.
[XI] Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry Hurtado; Eerdmans, 2005; page 204.
[XVI] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; Oxford University Press by F. L. Cross; 2005; Baptism article.
[XVII] It is thought that he dictated to a scribe, only occasionally writing himself, such as Galatians 6:11; Romans 16:22; Colossians 4:18, et cetera. Joseph Barber Lightfoot wrote in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians:  
At this point the Apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 3: 17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting to prevent forgeries … In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it in large and bold characters, his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul
Also read: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians by Martin Luther.

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