Early Church

1.      Persecution of early Christians

a.       Roman public life – imbued with polytheistic beliefs (theatre, art, public worship).  Christian  contempt for Roman religion, indifference to Roman society.  ‘Haters of humanity,’ indifferent to the divine sources of peace and blessings of life. Atheists.

b.      Sporadic persecutions during the 2nd century.  3rd century, Rome under attack, unstable leadership (rapid succession, assassinations), unstable economy > efforts to revitalize Roman Empire, forced acknowledgment of Roman Gods, systematic persecution of Christians

                                                   i.      Decius, Valerian (257-260), Diocletian (303-)

                                                 ii.      Christian response: martyrdom, Jesus as prototypical martyr; renounce Xy

c.       Conversion of Constantine (312). Battle with Maxentius over the Eastern Empire, vision of a cross in the heavens, bearing the words in hoc signo vinces (“You will conquer in  this sign”). Place the cross on his shields, won the battle.

                                                   i.      313 Edict of Milan, ended persecution, restored the church, freedom of worship to Christians.  Appointed Xn tutors to his children, advisors for himself.

                                                 ii.      Xy becomes most favored religion of the Empire

                                                iii.      Questions emerge: how do we work out the relationship between the church and the empire.

1.      Should the church be an arm of the state, bishops serving as governmental ministers?

2.       Should the state be an arm of the church, subordinate to the bishops?

3.      Are state and church co-equal, with different spheres of authority, working co-operatively?

                                               iv.      390: riot in Thessalonica, imperial troops killed.  In anger, Theodosius orders that local citizens be convened and executed.  Changes his mind but too late, 7000 people slaughtered.  Bishop Ambrose of Milan insists Theo make public confession and repentance before allowed back in church.  Theo did so, and for the first time Roman emperor does public penance for his deeds in office.

                                                 v.      The emperor must be viewed as being in favor with God

2.      Early Christian Asceticism

a.       ascetic” from Greek ascesis, meaning “exercise, training”.

b.      Training for the kingdom of God, warring against the passions and desires that kept them from a single-minded devotion to God.

c.       Virginity, vowed celibacy thought a superior way of life, voluntary poverty

3.      Christian monasticism

a.       Desert Fathers: After Xy’s rise in power and wealth, some fled to desert is search of more heroic acts of piety.

                                                   i.      A reaction against the new wealth and power which was thought o compromise Xy to the world, and against increasingly hierarchical church.  Anticlerical

                                                 ii.      Attempts to recapture spirit of primitive Xy, a way of following Christ

                                                iii.      Solitude, poverty, prayer

                                               iv.      Example: Antony of Egypt.  Life of Antony by Athanasius

b.      Groups of monks, communities, organized in the desert and elsewhere

                                                   i.      Questions of the purpose, organization, and governance of communal, monastic life

                                                 ii.      Rule of St. Benedict (late 5th century): instructions on moderate ascetic practice, common prayer, private devotion, manual labor – all as a means to spiritual growth.