Thursday, April 26, 2012

Christianity and the Roman Empire - Part I

A complex subject for sure – but interesting. We see one of the great cultures of antiquity in its death throes and, simultaneously, one of the world's great religions becoming established inside it. As interesting as the subject matter is, however, we find the study of early Christianity fraught with problems, including a lack of original sources, bias on the part of Christians for their cause, bias against them by their enemies, and changes within the church's perception of itself and its mission.
In the beginning nothing was written down because the life of Jesus was viewed as an apocalyptic event by his followers. The travels of Paul began the real history when he wrote to the congregations he had established throughout the near east. Also critical during this early period was the debate between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians as church struggled to define itself.
For this post, as the introduction to Christianity in the time of the empire, I created a reference frame for further discussions. That reference frame is in the form of a chronology — a set of milestones in early Christian history related to the Roman emperor in power at the time of the event. This timeline is not exhaustive because there is no way to provide a complete picture in such a small space. It is intended only to provide a sense of the forces at work during the time when the Christian church was becoming established.