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The Birth of Christianity

Christianity began in the 1st century AD after Jesus died as a Jewish sect in Judea but quickly spread throughout the Roman empire. Despite the early persecution of Christians, it later became the state religion.

The Cross depicted in the dome of the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy. The cross is one of the most importante and spread symbols of Christianity since its birth.

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The Trinity is the belief that God is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

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The history of the Christian religion and the Christian church began with Jesus and his apostles. After becoming the state Religion of the Roman Empire it spread into Northern Europe and Russia in the Middle Ages. During the Age of Exploration, Christianity expanded throughout the world and it is currently the largest religion of the world.

Context and Origin

By 30 B.C, Rome’s empire had expanded to cover virtually all of the lands adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea, including the land occupied by the Hebrews. The Romans had little tolerance for sedition or rebellion against their government so when the Jews resisted Roman control in 26 B.C. they established direct rule over the region appointing Pontius Pilate as governor of the territory. The Jews continued opposing to the foreigner invader and refused to adore the roman emperor as their god. In this climate of tension and oppression, many Jews believed in a messiah to free them from Roman rule. For some, this messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.

Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem. 1860-1880

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The Link with Jewish Faith

Most of the first Christians were ethnically Jewish or Jewish proselytes. An early difficulty came from non-Jewish converts. Many were the questions raised. For example, if they had to “become Jewish” before becoming Christian. The decision of St. Peter, was that they did not, and the matter was further addressed with the Council of Jerusalem.

Christianity kept many practices from Jewish tradition, Christians thought the Jewish scriptures to be sacred and used mostly the Septuagint edition and translation as the Old Testament and added other texts as the New Testament. Christians professed Jesus to be the God of Israel, having taken human form and considered Jesus to be the Messiah (Christ) who had been prophesied about in the Old Testament and so was expected by the people of Israel.

An Eastern Christian icon depicting Emperor Constantine and the Fathers of the First Council of Nicaea (325) as holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

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Early Christians were subject to various persecutions. This meant even death. Early martyrs included Stephen (Acts 7:59) and James, son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2). Persecutions in larger scale by the authorities of the Roman Empire began with the year 64 when Emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome as the Roman historian Tacitus reported.

According to Church tradition, it was under Nero’s persecution that the saints Peter and Paul became martyrs in Rome.

The martyr of St. Peter in a famous painting by Italian painter Caravaggio.

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