Early Church History: Men and Movements


c95 AD Gospel of John completed; Clement’s letter to the Corinthians written 

100 Last books of NT (probably 2 Peter, 1 John) written. Patristic period begins  

110 Letters & Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch 

144 Marcion is excommunicated by the Church of Rome 

151 1st Apology of Justin written. Justin later martyred ca. 165 

155 Martyrdom of Polycarp; approximate beginning of Montanism 

185 Irenaeus writes Against Heresies; Clement takes over the catechetical school at Alexandria to be followed 20 years later by Origen 

200 c.Sabellius teaches that Father & Son are the same person(modalism)

 206 Tertullian, the first theologian to write in Latin, becomes a Montanist 

250 Origen suffers imprisonment & torture in the persecution of Decius  

292 Emperor Diocletian divides Roman Empire into East and West. 

303 Great persecution of Diocletian begins lasting in the West till 306 and in the east till 313. 

313 Constantine legalizes Christianity & all religions in the Edict ofMilan 

325 Council of Nicea              Marcion Marcion (c 84160 CE), born to the bishop of Sinope, was condemned a heretic and excommunicated in July of 144. In his teachings, he opposed the Jewish scriptures to new Christian teachings going so far as to claim that the God of the Hebrew scriptures was an evil, creator God and could not therefore be the same God as the father of Jesus Christ. In addition, he proclaimed a docetic view of Christ, claiming that Jesus could not be human, for the evil creator God created flesh. The role of Jesus, in fact, was to liberate Christians from the power of the creator God. He thought that only Paul understood the true teachings of Jesus Christ and accordingly formed the first canonical list of Christian scriptures. It consisted of the ten letters of Paul and the Gospel of Luke, which Marcion believed to have been written by Paul. Thus, Marcion did contribute positively to the history of Christianity by providing the idea of a New Testament canon and forcing the orthodox church to establish its own list of texts. Marcion succeeded in building his own church which survived in the East until the fifth century Monarchianism Monarchianism, a belief originating in the second century, emphasized the unity of the Godhead or the oneness of divine rule. This belief denied the Trinity and was a reaction to suggestions of divine plurality made by Gnostics and others. Mainly two varieties existed. Modalist Monarchianism, the most common form, proposed that the Father, Son, and Spirit were just modes of the same being. This form is also known as Sabellianism (after a Roman cleric, Sabellius), and Patripassianism, meaning the Father suffers. The second type, Adoptionist or Dynamic Monarchianism, stated that Jesus was not always God; he was a human until being “adopted” or filled to a unique degree by the Spirit of God. Monarchianism in one form or another caused problems for the Church mostly in the third century although it emerged at later times. Its appearance marks beginning of theological tension between East and West. Tertullian Tertullian (c 155 – c 225 CE) of North Africa (probably Carthage) was a Christian apologist and writer, one of the first to write extensively in Latin. Around 195, he converted to Christianity from Paganism. Later he joined the Montanists, a strict, puritan sect, and thereby passed outside of the orthodox Church. He was well-educated and admired by Jerome and Cyprian. Known as the greatest theologian of the West until Augustine, he is described as brilliant, sarcastic, and intolerant. Skeptical of the value of Greek philosophy in articulating Christian truths, Tertullian asked “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” His treatises, thirty-one of which still exist, are arranged according to Apologetic, Disciplinary and Controversial texts. His Apology is dedicated to proving the social injustice directed against Christians, and his Against Praxeas was written to refute Modal Monarchianism. Tertullian was the first to use the term Trinitas (trinity) to describe the Godhead. In so doing, he paved the way for the development of orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrines Montanism Montanism was an apocalyptic and prophetic movement within Christianity that started around the late second century. Called the “Phrygian heresy” it was named after its first prophet Montanus, who was accompanied by prophetesses, Priscilla and Maximimilla. Montanists followed a very strict discipline, which sometimes included seeking martyrdom. They believed that they were under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Although they treasured the Gospel of John, Montanism tended to undermine traditional authorities such as Holy Scripture and the office of the bishop. Because of this, a controversy broke out, and a series of synods was held. The movement spread far beyond Asia Minor, reaching Rome where Bishop Eleutherus excommunicated the Montanists. Tertullian became one of its most famous converts around 207208. Most of the Montanist writings have been destroyed. Gnosticism Gnosticism is a modern scholarly term used to categorize a number of loosely connected groups whose common beliefs included dualism and salvation through revealed spiritual knowledge. These various schools, often considered pseudo-philosophical, flourished in II-V Centuries, and each is associated with a particular teacher, such as Valentinus or Basilides. Some schools are thought to have their origin in Jewish mysticism and to predate Christianity. Legends say gnostics followed the teaching of Dositheus, instructor of Simon Magus. Others, who consider the schools an outgrowth of Christianity, consider Deacon Nicholas, one of the original seven deacons, to have founded the discourse of gnosticism. Still others think gnostic thought originated in neo-Platonic philosophy. Whatever its roots, gnosticism is more an approach than a coherent system of beliefs. Gnostics, the term the Fathers use, believed in a Creator God, a God who is absolutely other than man. This spiritual being is so far above matter that it could not have created this world. Gnostics were dualists who posited that Satan (the God of the Old Testament) or the Platonic demiurge emanated from the Creator God and fell away in some manner. This lesser god created and ruled the fallen, evil, material world. Man is a creation of this lesser god, but he still retains a fragment of the divinity that the lesser received from the greater. The few who become aware of this fragment know they have a connection to the divine; they alone can be saved. These are the spiritual, the highest of the created. They become spiritual through revelation of hidden knowledge from a teacher, who had a revelation from God, or through extreme asceticism which conquers the body. Valentinus taught that ritual marriage of the soul to its counterpart would lead to salvation. Jesus was, according to Gnostic teaching, a spiritual: He did not, could not, assume a human body; he was an emissary of the Creator God (not the Son of God) and had a semblance of a physical body. This Christology is thought to have influenced Docetic Christology. Gnostics believed that the soul, which is separate from the spirit, was created by the lesser god and was ruled by lesser powers. Although some Gnostic schools rose as schools of thought within Christianity, the differences caused the two groups to split from each other. Christians, in Gnostic terms, are merely psychics who were too tied to the material world. Christians rejected Gnostic teachings because Gnostics reject the Scripture as a source of revelation and reject it as a form of public knowledge. Gnostics say that Christ did not become a man; Christ can teach the way to salvation but is not the way to salvation. Some Gnostics rejected all Christian sacraments as material; some saw Christian sacraments as pale imitations of the true spiritual sacraments. Christianity teaches that salvation comes through a relationship between God and man; gnostics taught that salvation comes through special knowledge granted only to a few, through knowledge that must be kept from the wider community. Christian preaching and teaching, in contrast, is public. Below the psychics in the gnostic hierarchy are the material beings, people with no inkling of their divine origin and who live only according to the body. Until the 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, gnosticism was known largely though Patristic attacks and the various groups, such as the Manichees and the Cathars, which were influenced by the various gnostic teachings.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons St. Irenaeus (c 130202 CE) was the most important theologian of the second century. In his youth, Irenaeus knew Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. Pothinus, first Bishop of Lyons, asked Irenaeus to become a presbyter at the Church of Lyons. During peace missions to Rome, Irenaeus strongly opposed Gnosticism and urged Victor I to maintain peace with Asia Minor concerning a controversy over the correct date of Easter. Pothinus was martyred under the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius in 177 while Irenaeus was away in Rome. Upon Irenaeus’ return, he was appointed Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus’ best known writings are Against Heresies and Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. In these works, he refuted Gnosticism and defended the belief that the Old Testament God and the New Testament God are one in the same, using the notions of recapitulation and apostolic tradition as proof. Irenaeus was the first person to develop an Old Testament and New Testament that worked together. He was also the first person to cite reasons for admitting or rejecting books into the canon. Irenaeus died in Lyon around 202. Origen Origen (c 185253 CE) was born in Alexandria to a Christian family. (His father, Leonidas, was martyred in 202 during the persecution of Septimius Severus). At 18, Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, because of his brilliance and because the school had fallen into disarray during the persecution. In 212, he journeyed to Rome where he met the theologian, Hippolytus. Later, he was preaching as a layman in Caesarea, Palestine, much to the dismay of Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria. Partly with the intent of dealing with Demetrius’ objections, Origen was ordained to the priesthood in Caesarea sometime around 230. But this only infuriated Demetrius all the more, who argued that only one’s own bishop could perform an ordination. Demetrius deposed and excommunicated Origen in 230 and 231. Origen then moved to Caesarea, where he opened a school patterned on the one at Alexandria. He suffered greatly during the persecution of Decius (249251), and died in Tyre soon thereafter. A Platonist at heart, in spite of his claimed skepticism concerning philosophy, Origen is the first systematic theologian, the most important extant statement of this being his work, On First Principles.  Arianism Arianism, a Trinitarian doctrine promoted by Arius (c 250336 CE), denied the divinity of Christ and focused on the dissimilarity between the Father and Son. The Son was created and, hence, had a beginning unlike the eternal Father who always existed. Arians believed the Son was subordinate to the Father; he earned his rank from participation in grace or adoption by God. Around 320, Arius’s beliefs were questioned by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Later, Arius was excommunicated by the entire Egyptian episcopate. Athanasius, successor to Bishop Alexander, also protested against Arianism. Despite these setbacks, Arius gained support from Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia during his travels to Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. The Arian controversy led to a serious division between the East and West. The Emperor Constantine succeeded in suppressing Arianism for a brief time by summoning the Council of Nicaea I (325). After Constantine, the popularity of Arianism rose again because of support from emperors Constantius II (337361) and Valens (364378). After Valen’s death, the threat of Arianism subsided with Theodosius, who summoned a council in Constantinople (381) that sealed the faith of Nicaea for all the Church.  Constantine I Constantine (c 285337 CE) was born to Constantius I and Helena. At his father’s death in 306, he joined a tetrarchy with Licinius, Maxentius and Maximin Daia in imperial rule. In 312, Constantine had a vision that caused him to heed the God of Christianity and put the “Chi-Rho” symbol on the shields of his soldiers. As it would happen, he then defeated Maxentius, making Constantine disposed to accepting Christinity. The same year, Licinius defeated Maximin Daia, leaving Constantine emperor in the West and Licinius in the East. In 313, they agreed to end the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan. Later, in 324, Constantine became sole emperor after he defeated Licinius. From 324-330, Constantine reconstructed Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople and designating it as a Christian city. Constantine built several churches and became involved in ecclesiastical politics, going so far as to convene an “ecumenical” council at Nicea in 325, the first world-wide council in Church history. Constantine was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia in 337, just before he died.  Athanasius Athanasius (c 290373 CE), regarded by many as the most important theologian of the fourth century, began his clerical career in 325 when he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. During the same year, he accompanied Alexander to the Council of Nicaea as his secretary and deacon. In 328, he was named the successor of Alexander, remaining bishop of Alexandria until his death in 373. However, of his 45 years of reign, Athanasius spent 15 years and 10 months in exile, because of his unpopular Nicene position in the Arian climate of the fourth-century Eastern empire. Most of Athanasius’ time in exile was spent with other Egyptian monks or in Rome. While in exile, he wrote several works, many of which stress the significance of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and how acts of God are seen through the faith of the Church and in the sacraments. Athanasius is widely regarded as the great defender of the faith of Nicaea against Arianism.  The Nicene Creed The Nicene Creed concisely sums up the beliefs and theology of the Christian Church in a manner that can be used as a statement of faith, even today. Originally written to take a stand against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325, it underwent subsequent revision at later councils. Nicaea was primarily concerned with the relationship between Jesus Christ and God, the Father. Where Arius advocated a subordinationist position, the council choose the word homoousios (meaning, “having the same being as”) to characterize this relationship; Jesus Christ is “one in being with” the Father. Later, at the Council of Constantinople (381), the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Godhead came into question; there, the claim that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father was added. In 451, at the Council of Chalcedon, the ammended Nicene Creed was once again accepted as the true statement of the Christian faith. The final revision of the creed was made at the Council of Toledo (589) when the term filioque (meaning “and the Son”) was officially added to the previous claim from Constantinople that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. This alteration was made following an unofficial custom in the West (handed down to us from Augustine) of using the filioque clause in the creed. The Council of Toledo also declared that the Nicene Creed (as we know it today) should be professed by Christians.  

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2 Responses to Early Church History: Men and Movements

  1. Pingback: Early Church History: Introducing the Module « Ken Baker

  2. micahdlm says:

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