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History 4: Christendom

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  1. 1. Orientation
    12 Steps
  2. 2. Eternity in Operation: The Roman Principate and the New Testament Church
    11 Steps
  3. 3. Imperium sine Fine: The Successions of Rome, Judea, and the Apostolic Church
    11 Steps
  4. 4. The World That Died in the Night: Christianity, the Church Fathers, and the Transformation of Culture
    11 Steps
  5. 5. A Creed and Still a Gospel: Constantine, Nicea and Athanasius
    11 Steps
  6. 6. Centripetal & Centrifugal Forces: The Barbarians, the Church and the Fall of Rome
    11 Steps
  7. 7. Only the Lover Sings: Augustine of Hippo
    11 Steps
  8. 8. The Long Defeat: Byzantium
    11 Steps
  9. 9. There is No God But Allah: Islam
    11 Steps
  10. 10. How the Celts Saved Civilization: Christianity in Ireland and Britain
    11 Steps
  11. 11. The Holy Roman Empire: Benedict & Monasticism, Gregory the Great & Worship, Charlemagne & Education
    11 Steps
  12. 12. The Ballad of the White Horse: The Norse and Alfred the Great
    11 Steps
  13. 13. Medieval Covenants: Feudalism and the Norman Conquest
    12 Steps
  14. 14. Deus Vult: The First Crusade
    13 Steps
  15. 15. Outremer: Crusader Kingdoms and Later Crusades
    12 Steps
  16. 16. The Music of the Spheres: Medieval Art, Towns, Cathedrals and Monks
    11 Steps
  17. 17. Wonder & Delight: Medieval Education, the Scholastics and Dante
    12 Steps
  18. 18. Just Rule and a Braveheart: Plantagenets, Common Law and the Scots
    11 Steps
  19. 19. The Fracturing of Christendom I: Invasions, Wars and Plagues
    11 Steps
  20. 20. The Fracturing of Christendom II: The End of the Middle Ages
    12 Steps
  21. 21. Man the Measure I: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  22. 22. Man the Measure II: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  23. 23. The Morning Stars of the Reformation: Wycliffe to Erasmus
    11 Steps
  24. 24. Justification by Faith: The Great Reformation
    11 Steps
  25. 25. Towards a Proper End: Reformations and Counter-Reformations
    11 Steps
  26. 26. Lex Rex: The English Civil War and the Scots
    12 Steps
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The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.

– Well, welcome to the fourth lesson, which I’ve titled “The World That Died in the Night.” I’ll explain that title in just a moment. In terms of our topic, our topic is really upon how Christianity transformed culture. We’re gonna be talking about how it affected basic cultural issues, but also talking about select church fathers from what they call the Antonicene Age, meaning literally before the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

As for that title, “The World That Died in the Night,” that of course is taken from one of my all-time favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton. It’s taken from his book, “The Everlasting Man,” to describe how the resurrection turned everything upside down, or to use one of his terms, made everything topsy-turvy, meaning that the resurrection dramatically altered.

Actually, it’s the singular event that changes the course of human history. Augustine comments on the same thing. He actually says, “Christ appeared to the men “of the decrepit, decaying world, “that while all around them was withering away, they might through him receive a new and a youthful life.” We’re talking not just about how Christianity grew and how it spread throughout the empire and beyond, we’re especially talking about how Christianity transformed culture itself. It was a natural outworking of the faith. And that leads us to our principle. For the principle for this lecture, I chose the verse from John. actually John 13, 35, where Jesus says quite clearly to his disciples, “By this, all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In other words, the disciples, or really Christians, are known for their love. They’re known by their love. That was what the early church modeled so well. In fact, Philip Schaff says it like this. He says, “The chief positive cause of the rapid spread and the ultimate triumph of Christianity is to be found in its own absolute intrinsic worth as the universal religion of salvation and the perfect teaching and example of its divine human founder.

Christianity is adapted to all classes, all conditions, and all relations among men, to all nationalities and races, to all grades of culture, to every soul that longs for redemption from sin and for holiness of life.

One of the things he points out was that Christianity was specifically attractive because of the sheer power of its story. It offered a satisfying explanation for who we are, for why we are, and where we are going. He also points out that Christianity had what he called a sanctifying effect on the heart and upon life itself. Meaning that the people of that time period could look at the Christians of the church and recognize that they lived differently, that they were known for their hope, something the Apostle Paul talks about as well.

Schaff also says that Christianity was different because it elevated the role of women. It really elevated the worth of women from where often was in the pagan world of antiquity. He says it was known for the relief it gave to the poor or to those who suffered. It was known for its harmony within itself, meaning the ability of Christian brothers and sisters to get along. He says it was known for its generosity, its charity, and in what he also calls the triumphant death of its confessors, meaning that as people were martyred for their faith, the looking, the outside world looking in, they saw that and they were amazed by it and wanted the same hope in many different cases.

Well, let’s go ahead and get into the story. Talk about some of the specifics. Today, we’re gonna talk about the spread of the Christian church. It’s worth noting a couple of contexts to help us understand the spread of Christianity in the first and second century especially. One of the context would be Pentecost itself. If you recall, it’s at Pentecost that we have Jews who came from Persia, from Mesopotamia, from Asia Minor, from Egypt, from North Africa, from Crete, from Rome, even from Arabia.

And these Jews often brought fellow proselytites or God-fearers with them, people who were attracted to the worship of the one true God. So that’s our first context. There were many people there, some 3,000 of them who became Christians. And it would make sense that many of them went back to their homelands and began telling others the same good news. The second context we also have from the Book of Acts. That’s the fact that after the martyrdom of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, you have this this famous verse The disciples were scattered, but they were preaching the Word wherever they went.

That’s why, for example, Kenneth LaTourette, another great church historian, is able to say that by the year 180 AD, Christianity, or Christians, were found in every single province of the Roman Empire, as well as Mesopotamia.

Around the year 150 AD, So 30 years before that, we have the great church father, Justin Martyr saying, “There is no people, Greek or barbarian or any other race by whatsoever appellation or manners they may be distinguished among whom prayer and thanksgivings are not offered in the name of the crucified Jesus to the father and the creator of all things.

” In other words, the way that that Justin Martyr thought and his testimony based upon 150 AD is that Christianity was already amongst every nationality, perhaps within the Roman Empire.

Now, did he know that like from actual data? I don’t really know, but his impression at least based upon the Christians he interacted with was that Christianity had reached all parts of the Roman Empire.

So you have Lauterette saying it’s in all the provinces within 30 years. And of course, it even went beyond that. Well, let’s talk about some of the specific places where it went. We’ve already mentioned, for example, Italy. We know that there were Christians in the city of Rome before either Peter or Paul ever arrived. Well, we also have interesting evidence in the city of Pompeii, which was destroyed and also preserved by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It’s there that a famous Sator Square was discovered. This is an interesting square because it has a basic phrase about somebody who essentially sows or plants, but also holds together and controls the wheels of time or destiny itself, meaning it refers to something that goes beyond the power of man.

So already it’s hinting at a god. But a satyr square, which has all kinds of interesting things going on about it, is also something that has all the letters to say pater, naster in Latin, which means our father, the first two words of a Lord’s prayer, which is why the Sator Square became associated with the early church. We also know based upon the account of Eusebius that there were a hundred different bishops within Italy by the year 250 AD. He further notes that the church just in the city of Rome at the time probably numbered 50 to 60,000 people. In other words, it had a firm root within its first two centuries there. Further north, if we go to Gaul, which is modern day France, there’s hints, first of all, that Christianity arrived there, perhaps under Crescens, one of the disciples of Paul. He mentions him in 2 Timothy 4, for example. We also know from church fathers like Irenaeus that he preached in Gaul and found a vibrant church there by the 160s, 170s AD. He even, we’re told, preached in the Celtic languages that would have been used by some of the tribes further north. We know also, for example, that by the early 4th century, the early 300s, that there were bishops in all of the major cities of Gaul.

In fact, they had their own Council of Arlais by the year 314 with leaders from Britain across the English Channel. Then we have countries like Spain, for example, or as the Romans called it Hispania. We have Paul talking in his letters about his plan to go and visit Spain. We know that there were churches there already, both Irenaeus and Tertullian mentioned them. And they also had their own council of some 19 bishops or church overseers in the city of Elvira in 306 AD. So we know that there was already well-established church there. There’s also Germany. And Germany, which at the time was divided up amongst many different tribes. The part that was controlled by the Romans, what they call the lower Rhine, so it’s west of the Rhine River, it’s parts of modern-day Germany, parts of Holland, for example. And we’re told by Irenaeus that there are already Christians there, already converts, who he says without paper and ink have salvation written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

And they most likely did not have a written language at the time or the ability to read the scriptures. But according to Irenaeus, it didn’t matter. They memorized what they heard. They pondered it and kept it inside their heart. Then of course we have Britain. We actually have have accounts, at least by Tertullian, from the late second century, there were already Christians there. And we’ll talk about the foundation of the faith in some of these countries later, but the point being that Christianity spread wide and far early on, and it wasn’t just in Europe. If you take a look at Africa, for example, you’ll first of all see Egypt. Egypt had a long history of Jews living there, not just going all the way back to the Exodus, but in more recent times with their church.

For example, Jews had settled there after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It was there in Egypt controlled by the Greeks, the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament was done. It was there that a rival temple was actually built for Jewish worship. Well, it’s also there sometime probably around the era of Acts or shortly after that Mark, one of the apostles and the writer of the gospel that bears his name, settled in Alexandria.

We know based upon some of the early accounts, and again, this goes back to the church historian Eusebius, that he was followed by a long line of known bishops.

In fact, the first bishop that came after him was a guy by the name of Ananias. We also know from many ancient sources from the second century found along the Nile, many of them written on papyrus, that the church was well established there.

In fact, they had their own council of 20 bishops in the year 235 along the Nile River Valley. It’s the beginning of the Coptic church. If we go further west in Africa, we come to places like Numidia, which has a book called “The Acts of the Martyrs” that goes back to 180 AD. We have characters like Tertullian, who himself lived most of his life in the city of Carthage, which is modern day Tunisia. He knows Christians there, he knows them to the south, he knows them in Numidia, he also notes them in Mauritania, basically Algeria. By the year 308, there were 87 bishops that gathered from just that region at the city of Carthage for yet another council. It’s also the city of Carthage that we’re told there was a massive church, something akin to an early cathedral, And some even say that the oldest Latin translation of the Bible– remember, the New Testament was written in Greek– well, the oldest Latin translation designed for the people of the Roman Empire was first actually translated and published out of the city of Carthage.

So we have a remarkable record there. Besides North Africa, we also have an incredible example throughout Asia. In terms of Judea and Syria and Asia Minor, All you have to do is look at the book of Acts for that. And of course, most of the early church history. But Christianity went further east than that. This is where we get the stories about disciples or apostles like Thomas and Bartholomew taking the gospel to India. This may have been the case. There’s various evidences for this. I actually cover in my lecture on India and antiquity. One thing we do know, for example, is that there was regular travel between Egypt and India and regular trade between those places. So the idea of traveling to India by ship from Egypt, a part of the Roman world, is very plausible for the time. There’s also things such as the Acts of Thomas, which dates back to about 200 AD, which tells us the story of him coming to India.

It would be roughly 150 years after he did so, but all the same, evidence that something actually happened there. What we do know with some certainty is that by the year 190 AD there was another Christian missionary from Alexandria in Egypt named Pantanus who when he arrived in India claimed that he found the Gospel of Matthew already in use by Christians already living there.

Then we have other interesting stories, stories that are are rarely talked about. For this, let’s take a look at the city known as Edessa. It’s a city that is now found in modern day Turkey. It’s there that in the year 196, one of the noblemen of Edessa named Bardesan said that there were Christians who met on the first day of every week to worship.

And he said, quote, “Wherever they are and whatever place they are found, the local laws cannot force them to give up the law of their Christ. It’s here in Edessa, which was actually the capital city of a kingdom named Asrotene. Edessa was a pivotal city. It stood on the Euphrates River. It was also on the Silk Road, which saw all of this trade happen between China and then Europe, as well as Egypt. It even stood on the road down to Egypt from the Silk Road. Well, it’s here that according to Eusebius, the apostle Thomas sent another apostle, a guy by the name of Thaddeus. Of course, you might recognize he’s one of the 12 disciples, but Eusebius seems to recognize him as being one of the 70 disciples. It’s possible he was one of those two or perhaps somebody altogether different. We do have common names that are used throughout antiquity. Anyway, when we find him in Edessa, We find him going by a different name, and that is the name of Adai. In other words, Thaddeus, probably translated into Adai in the Syriac language of the people of Edessa. The story goes is that he was sent there to heal a man by the name of King Abgar. He’s King Abgar V, or King Abgar the Black. One of the early legends about him, and keep in mind, this is a legend, was that Abgar had some kind of illness, some kind of lifelong illness that none of his doctors, none of his magi could cure him of, is the story goes that he wrote Jesus when Jesus was still walking on this earth, requesting healing, requesting that he come and visit him and heal him.

The story then goes, and in fact, they’re like these ancient letters that people uncovered, that Jesus wrote back to him saying, I’m not going to come, but I’ll send one of my disciples. Now that may sound like grand evidence for this exchange, But the Vatican itself, its own historical team, does not see these letters as being genuine.

Meaning that the story may or may not be true, it doesn’t really matter. What we know is that Christians actually show up there. And we do have various histories, such as the Doctrine of Adai, which tells of his arrival there, his healing of the king, his preaching of the gospel, and the fact that, quote, all the city rejoiced in his doctrine.

We’re even told that the people became Christians by persuasion and they were not forced to do so by the king. We even have somebody that he trains, another disciple, who has a very similar name. His name is Agai. Evidently, Agai, not a guy, but Agai, was the maker of silk robes. He was on the silk robe. We’re told that he carried the gospel on after him. In fact, we have curious archaeological evidence. For example, in the year 1909, a document now called the Oaths of Solomon was discovered and dated to the late first century, the same century of the gospel story and the Book of Acts.

It’s written in Syriac, but what’s most curious about it is it’s the earliest known liturgy or collection of hymns outside of say the New Testament. It has writing such as this, something that probably would have been sung. It goes like this, “Blessed therefore are the ministers of that drink,” meaning the drink of living water, “who have been entrusted with his water. “They have refreshed parched lips. “The living who were about to expire, “they have held back from death.” We also know from the same odes that Edessa didn’t just satisfy itself with Christianity there, it actually sent missionaries further east into Asia. We’re told, for example, that the missionaries, quote, “bridged rivers,” or quote, “uprooted forests and made an open way for the gospel to spread over all the surface of the earth.” We then have books like “The Doctrine of the Apostles,” another ancient document that records missionaries traveling to other parts of modern day Turkey, up into Armenia, Arabia, Persia, along the Caspian Sea, even all the way to modern day Afghanistan.

And then we have further evidence. By the year 177 AD, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, we have another Abgar. This guy’s name is Abgar VIII, who when he was visited by the Romans, who brought with them a guy named Julius Africanus, who himself was a Christian historian, he simply refers to this Abgar as quote unquote, a holy man, implying that he worshipped the one true God.

Not only that, I know there’s a lot of not only that’s in this lecture right now, but I want you to note that it’s possibly in Odessa that we have the earliest documented church building. Now it’s quite possible that we have a lot of earliest documented church buildings. There’s probably several candidates for that actual designation. But the point is this, we know in the year 201, according to the Chronicle of Edessa, that this church building was damaged by a flood that destroyed much of the city.

In other words, the church building was already in existence by 201, which would make it older than that. We also know that this area of Asia had remarkable leaders. one of those guys being named Tatian the Assyrian. He himself was from Assyria, so you think Northern Iraq, but he had traveled to Rome where he was a student of the famous church father, Justin Martyr.

After Justin Martyr was killed, Tatian taught in Rome for a while, but then decided he needed to return to his homeland in the year 172 AD, at which point he established another school at a place called Arbella, a city that is hundreds of miles from Edessa.

It’s there that he worked with a church that probably went back to the mission work of either Adai or Agai, or yet another missionary named Marai.

But the church there was probably also from the first or the second century. Well, it’s Tatian who really does that church a remarkable service because he brings with him New Testament and he confirms the books of the New Testament that are being used by the church throughout the rest of the known world.

He also created a harmony of the gospels to show these are the actual accounts of Christ as opposed to what were called the Gnostic gospels, various false gospels which we’ll talk about later. We’ll talk about why they were off. Well not only do we have Christians there, we also have Christians to the north in Asia at a place called Armenia. It’s here that some say Thaddeus first came, but many of the stories actually put the history of Christianity on a guy named Gregory the Illuminator.

His story is rather fascinating. To tell you his story, I need to start with the year 218 AD. It was in that year that a brother to the Persian or the Parthian emperor was serving as the king of Armenia. Ten years later, after the Parthians were no longer ruling Persia, that same king became an enemy of the Persians, and so they arranged to have him assassinated.

After his death, his son, a man by the name of Tiridates, fled all the way into the Roman Empire. The assassin died in all of the tumult, but his son also fled. That son who fled was Gregory the Illuminator. So his father is the assassin. Well, if you fast forward several years, Terodotus returns to Armenia, he liberates it from Persian rule, and he rules it as an independent kingdom.

Gregory also returns, serving as the king’s secretary. So the guy whose father killed the current king’s father is serving as his secretary. But Gregory, who had been converted while he was in the Roman Empire by Christians there, and decides he wants to work to create a church in Armenia.

When Tiridates finds out that Gregory’s not only a Christian but is also the son of the guy who killed his father, he throws him in a pit and leaves him there for days on end to die from lack of food and water.

I don’t really know how much time passes. What I do know based upon the story is that Tiridates became sick. As for Gregory, he somehow managed to live. He seemed to amaze everybody, the fact that he continued to live. It was seen as a miracle. And so when Tiridates falls ill and nobody can make him well, his wife recommends to him that he bring this Gregory out of the pit.

When Gregory comes out of the pit, according to the early stories, he heals Tiridates of his sickness, and then Tiridates converts to Christianity and is baptized by the son of the guy who killed his own father.

This may actually be one of the very first kingdoms to become Christian in the history of the world, if not the very first. Not only do we have that, but we also have the example of Persia. We know, for example, that by the year 225, there were 20 bishops in the territory known as Persia. We’re told in the Chronicles of Arbella that there in Persia, quote, “Churches multiplied, “monasteries increased, and on every mouth “could be heard words of glorification.” We have things like a manual for church order dated back to the early third century. We know, for example, in the year 325, the Council of Nicaea, that a guy named John the Persian, who signed the actual Nicene Creed as somebody of the churches of the whole of Persia and in the great India, we know that he’s there. We know, for example, there were monasteries along the coast of the Persian Gulf, which provided a refuge, a lodging place for travelers on their way from Persia down into India.

In fact, Persia served not just as a refuge for those travelers, but also for Christians fleeing Roman persecutions. But the church in Persia did suffer its own persecutions. It had a rival faith, the Zoroastrian faith, which worshiped essentially a type of eternal goodness that was fighting some kind of almost never ending battle against evil, and typically worship this goodness in the form of either the sun or the fire or both.

Well, we have the account of a king. His name was King Varahran II. And when he discovered that his wife was a Christian and she said, quote, “I will serve my Lord Jesus Christ “and confess God as his father, rather than worship yours.” He told her, “You must abandon your religion “in favor of mine. “Worship the sun and the fire and honor the water and I will make you the chief queen. She refused, she was stripped, she was beaten, tortured, and paraded naked through the streets before she was killed. This Persian church survived persecutions like this and probably underwent what was the greatest persecution of Christians at the time, or some historians even say in history, in the year 340 AD.

It’s in that year that an emperor of Persia named Shapir II, who ruled for 70 years, decided that he would actually condemn Christians to die.

He saw them as a distraction to what he considered the right worship. He began by putting a double tax upon them. When the Christians paid that to remain Christians, he then responded by destroying their churches. When they met wherever they could to continue the weekly worship of God, he began executing their pastors. In fact, we’re told that 105 pastors were executed outside the walls of Susa in the year 344. He then went on a systematic persecution of them, hunting down and killing Christians throughout his empire. One of the greatest theologians of the day and of that area, a man by the name of Ephraim the Syrian, who actually founded a hospital in Odessa for plague victims.

That was a unique role that Christians served. It was somebody who fled to the Roman Empire to continue his work ministering to the saints. All in all, there were 190,000 estimated Christian martyrs. According to historian Samuel Moffat, a few of these people actually gave up their faith. As for Christianity, it survived within Persia, sometimes succumbed to heresy, but there were Christians there who continued the faith for as long as possible, it seemed.

I’ll end with this quote, however, by Kenneth LaTourette, who summarizes Christianity’s spread. He says, quote, “Geographically, “Christianity has spread more widely “than any other religion in all the millenniums of mankind’s long history, although bearing the marks of its different environments. Because Christianity was already more inclusive, it took on more people than any one cultural tradition.