Persecution of Christians in Rome dates back to AD 64 when the first persecution was witnessed and reported by Roman historian Tacitus (Dunn, James D. G., 1999, p. 33-34). The then emperor by the name Nero blamed Christianity for the great fire of Rome. Peter and Paul were martyred during this period. Over a period of two and a half centuries, Christians in Rome suffered persecution. Their non-conformity to the Imperial cult was viewed as treason and the punishment levied was execution. The greatest of all persecutors was Diocletian who between AD303 -311, under the orders of the emperor led the destruction of Christian's homes and sacred books. According to Bomgardner, 2000, p. 142, Christians were arrested, starved, burned and condemned to death by gladiators' hands to appease the spectators. Christian persecution ended in AD 311 when Galerius issued an edict of tolerance allowing those who subscribed to that religion to practice it. The damage was already done in spite of the freedom of worship being granted to Christians (Lactantius).
Constantine and the Chuch After Constantine
The transition of Christianity to a dominant religion took a shoot in the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Constantine (AD 306- 337). The purpose of his support to the religion is not clear to many historians and the argument has spurred between theologians and historians on the reason behind his support for Christianity then. The knowledge on whether he was influenced by his mother's, Helena, religion at his young age or that he influenced his mother's conversion to Christianity as claimed by Eusebius of Caesarea is still unknown (Noel Lenksi, 2006).Some critics claim that Christianity favoritism by Constantine was due to his urge to control and make those he ruled submissive to him. This was regardless of the social class one belonged to. Christianity became his political tool of controlling and expanding his rule through the roman lands and the emperor believed that religion was the best fit for his imperial cult. According to Wendy Doniger, 2006, p. 262, it was during Constantine's reign that Christianity expanded through the Roman Empire leading to the launching of the era of the State church of the Roman Empire. Historians though in doubt claim that the formal conversion of Constantine to Christianity was witnessed in AD 312 despite claims that he was baptized in his death bed by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia in AD 337 (Hans A.P,2004,p.82). The decision to cease the persecution of Christians in Rome was the turning point for early Christianity. This period was termed 'The Peace of the Church'. In AD313, Licinius and Constantine legalized Christianity through the issuance of Edict of Milan. This act made Constantine the greatest patron of Christianity and brought about orthodoxy, Christendom, ecumenical councils declared by the edict in AD 380 (Pohlsander, p.78-79).
The Church in the Later Fourth and Fifth Centuries
In the fourth and fifth centuries, development on many notions concerning Christianity developed leading to the collapse of the state church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius the 2 called two synods in Ephesus addressing the teachings of the Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius. Nestorius taught that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons thus Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. The council rejected this idea causing the break up with the Imperial church. Many Christians fled to Persia due to the persecution by the Roman Empire making it a center of Nestorianism (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, (1857), p. 89). By the end of the 5th-century worldwide Christian population was estimated at 10-11 million. In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon was held to clarify the issue and the final decision was that Christ's divine and human nature were separate but both were one entity. This view was rejected by many churches collectively known as miaphysite creating a communion of churches known today as Oriental Orthodoxy (Bussel (1910), p. 346). The Imperial church retained most of the Christian believers in spite of the churches division
By the end of the 5th century, the Church in Rome begun to encourage the use of Latin in Western provinces and published Jerome's Vulgate which was the first authorized Bible translation in Latin. At this same time, the Arian Germanic tribes established their own systems of churches and appointed their own bishops and did not interfere with those who remained loyal to the Imperial church (Anderson (2010), p.604).
The Byzantine Period and the Orthodox Tradition
People living under the early Byzantine Empire saw themselves as Romans, but the culture of the empire changed over the centuries. As it incorporated Greek and Christian culture, it transformed into a unique Byzantine culture. Additionally, the Byzantine Empire was influenced by Latin, Coptic, Armenian, and Persian cultures. Later on, it was influenced by Islamic cultures as well.
Constantinople was an extremely diverse city. Its residents were multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Taxes for foreign traders were the same as for residents, which was pretty unique at that time (Anderson, 2010). Byzantine merchants actively traded with regions in the Mediterranean as well as in the east and west, including areas around the Black Sea, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean.
The Byzantine Empire influenced many cultures, primarily due to its role in shaping Christian Orthodoxy. The modern-day Eastern Orthodox Church is the second-largest Christian church in the world. Orthodoxy is central to the history and societies of Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, and other countries. In the period following the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 and the fall of Constantinople in 1453, people migrated out of Constantinople. Among these emigrants were many Byzantine scholars and artists, including grammarians, poets, writers, musicians, astronomers, architects, artists, scribes, philosophers, scientists, politicians, and theologians.
The origin of these people from Constantinople contributed to the rise of Greek and Roman studies, which led to the development of the Renaissance in humanism and science. A central feature of Byzantine culture was Orthodox Christianity. Byzantine society was very religious, and it held certain values in high esteem, including respect for order and traditional hierarchies. The family was at the center of society, and marriage, chastity, and celibacy were celebrated and respected. Due to family significance, women were important members of the family unit, though some women joined the monastic orders. Although moral attitudes about women dictated that they should be secluded in segregated spaces and avoid being outspoken, in practice, this was not always the case. Women had their own spaces where they engaged in activities like spinning and weaving, but other locations were not sharply segregated between men and women.
Despite some restrictions, many women had a role in public life and engaged in commercial activities. Women also had the right to inherit and often had independent wealth, which was frequently in the form of a dowry.
Women were seen by the church as spiritually equal to their male counterparts, and they played roles in convents. Noblewomen also patronized monasteries. However, women could not become priests in the church or have similar high roles.
Among royalty, the empresses Theodora and Irene who were notable for their power and influence. Theodora, in particular, is known for having influenced a series of reforms that were beneficial to women ( Hans A.P,2004). She instituted policies prohibiting prostitution, creating convents, and instituting harsh punishments for rape and other forms of violence against women. The reforms also expanded divorce, child guardianship, and property ownership rights for women.
Eunuchs, men who had been castrated, were also an important part of Byzantine society. They were able to attain high positions in the Byzantine court, in part because they were regarded as trustworthy due to their inability to claim the throne and have descendants.
In addition to the elite classes at the top of society, Byzantine society had numerous social hierarchies among peasants, who were not a homogenous group. The lives of peasants differed greatly depending on whether they owned their own property or relied on private or state landowners. Over time, during the fourth to sixth centuries, the number of peasants who held small parcels of land declined, and peasants were increasingly tied to particular land parcels.
By the turn of the millennium, the Eastern Church of the Byzantine Empire and the Western Church of Rome had been gradually separating along religious fault lines for centuries.
Christendom in the West in Middle Ages
After Constantine's death, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire. The standards set by Constantine were to be considered official, and all other Christian teachings were heresy. Because Christianity had developed independently in cities throughout the Empire, there was a diversity of beliefs among the faithful. After Nicean Christianity became the official religion of the empire, people who practiced heretical beliefs often faced punishment or death. Religious life was often the only way to get an education in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. It also allowed poor people to escape a dreary life and possibly rise to power. Some Christians renounced their possessions and lived apart from the rest of society. Men lived as monks in monasteries and women as nuns in convents. A fifth-century monk now called St. Benedict established strict rules for monasteries, including when monks should eat, pray, and work. Often the younger sons of nobles or widowed women would leave the stress of the everyday life for the care and comfort they found in monasteries. Monasteries produced many well-educated men prepared to serve as administrators for uneducated kings and lords. Some Monks copied books by hand in an era before the printing press.
Reformations in Europe and Britain
The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Henry VIII challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church's ability to define Christian practice. They argued for a religious and political redistribution of power into the hands of Bible- and pamphlet-reading pastors and princes. The disruption triggered wars, persecutions and the so-called Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church's delayed but forceful response to the Protestants.
Breward, I. 1993. A History of the Australian Churches. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Carey, H.M. 2017. "Anglicanism in Australia, 1829-1910." The Oxford History of Anglicanism. Vol 3. Partisan Anglicanism and its Global Expansion, 1829-c.1914, edited by R. Strong, pp. 338-351. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chadwick, Henry. 1993 (Revd.), The Early Church. London. Penguin
Cross, F.C., and E.A. Livingstone (Eds). 2005. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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