The Early Church – Chapter 3 (Pagan Christianity)

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Here we will see how the early Christian handled what has become what we call church today. I was amazed to find out they actually went to live in caves away from the false Christianity.

Pagan Christianity

Upon the death of Galerius, a struggle for Imperial power broke out. In the spring of 312 Constantine (picture) advanced across the Alps to dislodge his rival Maxentius from Italy and to capture Rome. When he confronted the militarily superior Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge just outside of Rome, he called upon the God of the Christians for help. In a dream he saw a cross in the sky and the words, “in this sign conquer”. This convinced him to advance, and looked upon his success as proof of the superiority of the Christian religion. The rise of Constantine as the result of his victory at Milvian Bridge in 312AD initiated the subsequent ‘Constantinian Revolution’.

After Constantine’s victory, Christianity moved swiftly from the seclusion of the Catacombs to the prestige of affluence. In 313AD, Emperor Constantine (picture), ruling from Byzantium (now renamed Constantinople), issued the Edict of Milan, granting Christians total freedom. From here they were allowed to again meet freely for worship and openly propagate their faith. Constantine found Christians to be peaceful by nature and thought the best way to minimize any up-rising was to make his entire empire, peacefully Christian.Accordingly, he propagated the faith and supplied priests and buildings (just as the custom had been previously for imperially favored pagan religions).Constantine also abolished death by crucifixion, the battles of gladiators, and made Sunday a public holiday. However, his alleged conversion may have been no more than a cleaver political move. Catholic historian Philip Hughes writes “In his manners, he (Constantine) remained very much the pagan of his early life. His furious tempers, the cruelty which spared not his wife neither his son, Crispus, a nephew, and a brother in-law (all who threatened his throne) are … an unpleasing witness to the imperfection of his conversion”.

Chistianisation of the Roman Empire saw the beginning of Imperial interference. For example, magnificent Church buildings arose which, until this time, was foreign to the Church. Favored bishops began to adorn themselves and reign like kings, and politics entered the fold. People still half rooted in paganism, and the politically ambitious massed to the official religion which posed a new challenge for Orthodox Christianity.

Monks rose to protest the secularization. The “called out assembly” came under a under a new threat which raised the question of whether Constantine’s Christianisation of the Empire was a good thing for Orthodox Christianity or not, despite the relaxing of persecution.

Many believers protested the changes claiming the world had invaded the vineyard. Some believers withdrew and began to serve God in caves in the wilderness, so not to be ‘spotted by the elements of the contemporary faith’. They became known as hermits.

Hermits attracted great admiration and followings, much to the displeasure of the hermits themselves. One such man, Simeon Stylites, disliked the disturbance of visitors to his cave so much that he made his home on the top of a high Roman pillar. His fellow Christians faithfully passed him food and water in a basket. It is said he lived there for 30 years secluded in prayer, and at times preached powerfully to the crowds below.

By 380AD, Imperial rewards for Christians expanded to ‘penalties for non-Christians’ when Emperor Theodosius made belief in Christianity an Imperial command.
Theodosius assumed that his own will was that of Gods. However when he demanded the slaughter of 7000 Thessalonians for killing the governor, who had jailed their triumphant homosexual charioteer, he was called to repentance by Bishop Ambrose who refused him communion until he had repented several times (the dogma of the sacrament of Communion was accepted as the divine provision of receiving grace).

This event marked the beginning of a 1500-year clash between the Church and Imperial authorities.

Persecution of true believers, in the West particularly, for the next 1300 years or so was regularly ministered by the arm of the Roman Catholic Church toward any subject who refused to recant and submit to its dogmas and beliefs. Papal figures were determined not only to enforce their rule over Imperial authorities, but over any person in contempt of its ruling dogma.

The “faith” of the empire was seen as a necessary framework for a stable and God-pleasing society. Any person or sect that threatened this was quickly dealt to, usually with the support of society itself.
However, this ethos developed to excessive measures, during the Dark Ages, when Augustine’s edict of “the use of necessary force” was enforced mercilessly. Augustine founded the heavy-handed edict against the Donatists when he wrote: “Why should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return, if the lost sons compelled others to their destruction? (The Correction of the Donatists, 22–24)

Christian believers were among those persecuted when; in 1095 Pope Urban II initiated the Crusades, which lasted for two centuries. Thousands of knights were sent to ‘serve justice’ in the name of the Roman Catholic Church whereupon they killed Muslims, Jews and Christians. They sawed open dead bodies in search for the gold that Muslims were rumored to have swallowed, ate the flesh, tortured, raped, sent children into slavery, and plundered, all with the assurance from Rome of automatic pardon for sins in the form of an “Indulgence”.

The Crusades left in their wake a legacy of extreme anti-Semitism, which blighted the Crusader Church. Unfortunately, the reproach has remained visceral in today’s Jewry psyche toward the Christian Church ever since.

After the first two Crusades the Roman Catholic Church, with the authoritative blessing of the Papacy, was determined to enforce what it insisted the people were to believe.

Just prior to the third Crusade of 1188, Pope Lucius III in 1184 initiated the idea of an Inquisition when he demanded his bishops “enquire” into the people’s beliefs. Anyone found to have heretical ideas, were immediately excommunicated and often handed over to secular authorities to be burnt by fire. Many true believers suffered a cruel death.

Soon after, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 saw Pope Innocent III provide formal provision for “State punishment of heretics”. In 1220 he took the Inquisition from the hands of the bishops and gave it to the Dominicans. 1233 saw Gregory IX affirm the Dominican role and demanded it be executed in the name of the pope. The inquisitor was subject to no law, only to that of the pope. They became judge, jury and executioner. The Dominicans became the main enforcers during the Inquisition.

In 1252 Pope Innocent IV expanded the enquiry, and created a new theology when he authorized “torture unto death to expel demons, so the heretic could die in blessedness”.
As many as 700,000 people were murdered over a 100 year period.

Look out for Chapter 4

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About Omar Carter

Hey Guys, My name is Omar and I'm just here to love through Christ teachings. View all posts by Omar Carter

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