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The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion , Christendom , and the Church with its various denominations , from the 1st century to the present. Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus in the 1st century Roman province of Judea.
According to the Gospels , Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God , and was crucified at c.
His followers believed that he was then raised from the dead and exalted by God, and would return soon at the inception of God's Kingdom.
The earliest followers of Jesus were apocalyptic Jewish Christians. Due to the inclusion of gentiles , the developing early Christian Church gradually grew apart from Judaism and Jewish Christianity during the first two centuries of the Christian Era. In , with the Edict of Thessalonica put forth under Theodosius I , the Roman Empire officially adopted Trinitarian Christianity as its state religion, and Christianity established itself as a predominantly gentile religion in the state church of the Roman Empire.
Christological debates about the human and divine nature of Jesus consumed the Christian Church for a couple of centuries, and seven eucumenical councils took place to resolve these debates.
Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea , which supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed. In the early Middle Ages, missionary activities spread Christianity towards the west among German peoples. Growing criticism of the Roman Catholic ecclesiological structure and its behaviour, led to the Protestant movement of the 16th century and the split of western Christianity. Since the Renaissance era , with western colonialism , Christianity has expanded throughout the world.
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There has been notable recent growth of Christianity in Iran. The religious climate of 1st century Judea was quite diverse, with numerous variations of Judaic doctrine. The ancient historian Josephus noted four prominent groups in the Judaism of the time: Pharisees , Sadducees , Essenes and Zealots. This led to further unrest, and the 1st century BC and 1st century AD saw a number of charismatic religious leaders, contributing to what would become the Mishnah of rabbinic Judaism , including Yohanan ben Zakkai and Hanina ben Dosa.
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Jewish messianism , and the Jewish messiah concept, has its roots in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd century BC to 1st century BC, promising a future "anointed" leader or messiah or king from the Davidic line to resurrect the Israelite " Kingdom of God ", in place of the foreign rulers of the time. The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical gospels , and to a lesser extent the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer who was crucified at c. His followers believed that He was raised from death and exaltated by God due to his faithfulness.
Early Christianity may be divided into two distinct phases: the apostolic period 1st century , when the first apostles were alive and led the Church, and the Ante-Nicene Period , c. The Apostolic Age is named after the Apostles and their missionary activities. It holds special significance in Christian tradition as the age of the direct apostles of Jesus.
A primary source for the Apostolic Age is the Acts of the Apostles , but its historical accuracy is questionable and its coverage is partial, focusing especially from Acts onwards on the ministry of Paul , and ending around 62 AD with Paul preaching in Rome under house arrest.
The Early Christian groups were strictly Jewish, such as the Ebionites and the early Christian community in Jerusalem , led by James, the brother of Jesus. According to Acts —2 , they described themselves as 'disciples of the Lord' and [followers] 'of the Way', and according to Acts a settled community of disciples at Antioch were the first to be called 'Christians'. Some of the early Christian communities also attracted gentile God-fearers , who already visited Jewish synagogues.
The inclusion of gentiles posed a problem, as they could not fully observe the Halakha. Saul of Tarsus , commonly known as Paul the Apostle , persecuted the early Jewish Christians, then converted and started his mission among the gentiles.
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The main concern of Paul's letters is the inclusion of gentiles into God's New Covenant , deeming faith in Christ sufficient for righteousness.
Due to this inclusion of gentiles, early Christianity changed of character, and gradually grew apart from Judaism and Jewish Christianity during the first two centuries of the Christian Era ; eventually Christianity established itself as a predominantly gentile religion in the Roman Empire. The Gospels and New Testament epistles contain early creeds and hymns , as well as accounts of the Passion , the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances.
This period of Christian history had a significant impact on the unity of doctrine across all Christendom and the spreading of Christianity to a greater area of the world.
Several trends emerged simultaneously.
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One unifying trend was an increasingly harsh rejection of Judaism , of Jewish practices , and an acceptance of what some scholars have called religious anti-semitism , however, many modern day Christian theologians reject this accusation. Classical writers mistook early congregations for burial or fraternal societies which had similar characteristics like divine worship, common meals, regular meetings, initiation, rules for conduct, and their own burial grounds.
The Ante-Nicene period saw the rise of a great number of Christian sects , cults and movements with strong unifying characteristics lacking in the apostolic period. Arianism held that Jesus had lesser status than the Father. Many groups, such as the Gnostics , held dualistic beliefs , seeing reality as having two radically opposing parts: matter, seen as evil, and spirit, seen as good.
Such views sometimes led to heresies. Most scholars agree that the Bible teaches that both the material and the spiritual worlds were created by God and were therefore both good. The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the various opinions is a matter of continuing academic debate.
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Since most Christians today subscribe to the doctrines established by the Nicene Creed , modern Christian theologians tend to regard the early debates as a unified orthodox position against a minority of heretics.
Other scholars, drawing upon distinctions between Jewish Christians , Pauline Christianity , and other groups such as Marcionites and Montanists , argue that early Christianity was always fragmented, with contemporaneous competing beliefs.
In the post-Apostolic church, bishops emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations, and a hierarchy of clergy gradually took on the form of episkopos overseers, inspectors; and the origin of the term bishop and presbyters elders ; and the origin of the term priest , and then deacons servants.
But this emerged slowly and at different times in different locations. Clement, a 1st-century bishop of Rome, refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church in his epistle to Corinthians as bishops and presbyters interchangeably. The New Testament writers also use the terms overseer and elders interchangeably and as synonyms. These men reportedly knew and studied under the apostles personally and are therefore called Apostolic Fathers.
Each Christian community also had presbyters , as was the case with Jewish communities, who were also ordained and assisted the bishop.
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As Christianity spread, especially in rural areas, the presbyters exercised more responsibilities and took distinctive shape as priests. Lastly, deacons also performed certain duties, such as tending to the poor and sick.
In the 2nd century, an episcopal structure becomes more visible, and in that century this structure was supported by teaching on apostolic succession , where a bishop becomes the spiritual successor of the previous bishop in a line tracing back to the apostles themselves.
The diversity of early Christianity can be documented from the New Testament record itself. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, and Jude all testify to intra-Church conflicts over both leadership and theology. In a response to the Gnostic teaching, Irenaeus created the first document describing what is now called apostolic succession. The Pauline epistles were circulating in collected form by the end of the 1st century AD, while Justin Martyr mentions the gospels as the "memoirs of the apostles" in the early 2nd century.
As Christianity spread, it acquired certain members from well-educated circles of the Hellenistic world; they sometimes became bishops, but not always. They produced two sorts of works: theological and " apologetic ", the latter being works aimed at defending the faith by using reason to refute arguments against the veracity of Christianity.
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These authors are known as the Church Fathers , and study of them is called patristics. Christian art only emerged relatively late, and the first known Christian images emerge from about AD,  though there is some literary evidence that small domestic images were used earlier. The oldest known Christian paintings are from the Roman Catacombs , dated to about AD , and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi , dating to the beginning of the 3rd century.
Although many Hellenised Jews seem, as at the Dura-Europos synagogue , to have had images of religious figures, the traditional Mosaic prohibition of "graven images" no doubt retained some effect, although never proclaimed by theologians. This early rejection of images, and the necessity to hide Christian practise from persecution, leaves us with few archaeological records regarding early Christianity and its evolution. According to the New Testament, Christians were subject to various persecutions from the beginning.
According to Church tradition, it was under Nero's persecution that Peter and Paul were each martyred in Rome. The Edict of Serdica was issued in by the Roman emperor Galerius , officially ending the Diocletianic persecution of Christianity in the East. Galerius , who had previously been one of the leading figures in persecution, in issued an edict which ended the persecution.
Victory allowed him to claim the emperorship of the Western Roman Empire. How much Christianity Constantine adopted at this point is difficult to discern. Roman coins minted up to eight years later still bore the images of Roman gods.
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Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas , granted privileges e. Between and , Constantine built, virtually from scratch, a new imperial capital that came to be named for him: Constantinople.
It had overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls, and had no pagan temples. Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In , he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. More significantly, in he summoned the Council of Nicaea , the first ecumenical council.
Constantine thus established a precedent for the emperor as responsible to God for the spiritual health of their subjects, and thus with a duty to maintain orthodoxy. The emperor was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity. Constantine's son's successor, his nephew Julian , under the influence of his adviser Mardonius , renounced Christianity and embraced a Neo-platonic and mystical form of paganism shocking the Christian establishment.
Julian's short reign ended when he died while campaigning in the East. Some, such as John Chrysostom and Athanasius , suffered exile, persecution, or martyrdom from Arian Byzantine Emperors. A popular doctrine of the 4th century was Arianism , the denial of the divinity of Christ, as propounded by Arius. Although this doctrine was condemned as heresy and eventually eliminated by the Roman Church it remained popular underground for some time.
In the late 4th century Ulfilas , a Roman bishop and an Arian, was appointed as the first bishop to the Goths , the Germanic peoples in much of Europe at the borders of and within the Empire.
Ulfilas spread Arian Christianity among the Goths firmly establishing the faith among many of the Germanic tribes, thus helping to keep them culturally distinct. During this age, the first ecumenical councils were convened. They were mostly concerned with Christological disputes. After its establishment, the Church adopted the same organisational boundaries as the Empire: geographical provinces, called dioceses , corresponding to imperial governmental territorial division.
The bishops, who were located in major urban centres as per pre-legalisation tradition, thus oversaw each diocese. The bishop's location was his "seat", or " see ". Among the sees, five came to hold special eminence: Rome , Constantinople , Jerusalem , Antioch , and Alexandria. The prestige of most of these sees depended in part on their apostolic founders, from whom the bishops were therefore the spiritual successors.
Though the bishop of Rome was still held to be the First among equals , Constantinople was second in precedence as the new capital of the empire. Theodosius I decreed that others not believing in the preserved "faithful tradition", such as the Trinity, were to be considered to be practitioners of illegal heresy ,  and in , this resulted in the first case of capital punishment of a heretic, namely Priscillian.
During the early 5th century the School of Edessa had taught a Christological perspective stating that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons. A particular consequence of this perspective was that Mary could not be properly called the mother of God, but could only be considered the mother of Christ.
The most widely known proponent of this viewpoint was the Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius. Since referring to Mary as the mother of God had become popular in many parts of the Church this became a divisive issue.