The Birth of Christianity

Christianity originated in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea after the crucifixion of Jesus, a man who declared to be the son of God.

Christus Pantocrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, 1130

Image source: http://scribol.com

According to the Gospels, Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God, and was crucified at c.30–33 AD. 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.

Who was Jesus of Nazareth?

Virgin of the Lilies, Bouguereau, 1899

To better understand the birth of Christianity we must consider Jesus’ life and death, since its history is focused on the life, death and resurrection of one person, Jesus Christ, the son of God.

 

The traditional story of Jesus tells of his birth in a stable in Bethlehem in the Holy Land, to a young virgin called Mary who had become pregnant with the son of God through the action of the Holy Spirit. After the story of his birth, little is known about Jesus until he began his ministry at the age of about 30. He then spent three years teaching, healing and working miracles, he taught in parables, and he had twelve disciples whom he called to follow him and help him in his work. Jesus stated publicly that he spoke with the authority of God,this claim angered the religious authorities in Palestine and they handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities as a revolutionary, so he was tried for heresy, condemned and put to death by means of crucifixion. On the Sunday following his execution, some of his women followers discovered that the tomb into which his body had been placed was empty. Jesus then appeared to them, alive, as the Jesus they had known prior to his death. His followers realised that God had raised Jesus from the dead, according to the Gospel accounts, he was taken up into heaven.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_(art)

Saint Paul, founder of the first church

The Apostle Paul, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1657

Image  source: https://www.flickr.com/

Most Jews rejected the notion of Jesus as their messiah. In the years that followed Jesus’ death, the Romans treated the early Christians as a small, Jewish sect. This all changed with Paul of Tarsus. Paul began to spread Christianity ideas more to non-Jews. Many of the poor, destitute people in the region took solace in the notions of a loving god and a life after death. The Romans persecuted these Christians who rejected Roman polytheism. But Paul traveled far and wide, and his successors did a remarkable job reaching converts. After almost four centuries of existing on the margins, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 395 C.E.

Apostolistic Age

The last supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1495

Image source: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_Cena_(Leonardo)

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 15:36 onwards on the ministry of Paul, and ending around 62 AD with Paul preaching in Rome under house arrest.

Ante-Nicene Period

The council of Nicaea

The Ante-Nicene Period (literally meaning “before Nicaea”) of the history of early Christianity was the period following the Apostolic Age down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. 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. By the beginning of the Nicene period, the Christian faith had spread throughout Western Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, and to North Africa and the East. Several trends emerged simultaneously. 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.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea

Early Christian art

Early Christian art survives from dates near the origins of Christianity. The oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 2nd century. The largest groups of Early Christian paintings come from the tombs in the Catacombs of Rome, and show the evolution of the depiction of Jesus, a process not complete until the 6th century, since when the conventional appearance of Jesus in art has remained remarkably consistent.

Ivory Plaque with Pilate Washing His Hands, Rome, 420 c.

Image source: https://earlychurchhistory.org/

Until the adoption of Christianity by Constantine Christian art derived its style and much of its iconography from popular Roman art, but from this point grand Christian buildings built under imperial patronage brought a need for Christian versions of Roman elite and official art, of which mosaics in churches in Rome are the most prominent surviving examples. Christian art was caught up in, but did not originate, the shift in style from the classical tradition inherited from Ancient Greek art to a less realist and otherworldly hieratic style, the start of gothic art.

The early church

From the first to the early fourth centuries most Christian communities worshipped in private homes, often secretly. Some Roman churches, such as the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, are built directly over the houses where early Christians worshipped. Other early Roman churches are built on the sites of Christian martyrdom or at the entrance to catacombs where Christians were buried.

Old St. Peters Basilica plan

Christian architecture was made to correspond to civic and imperial forms, and so the Basilica, a large rectangular meeting hall became general in east and west, as the model for churches, with a nave and aisles and sometimes galleries and clerestories. While civic basilicas had apses at either end, the Christian basilica usually had a single apse where the bishop and presbyters sat in a dais behind the altar. While pagan basilicas had as their focus a statue of the emperor, Christian basilicas focused on the Eucharist as the symbol of the eternal, loving and forgiving God.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_architecture#


Info sources: https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/                                                              http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4h.asp                                                                                 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christianity#Apostolic_Age         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_art                                                                 https://en.wikisource.org/