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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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The word “Church” (in German, Kirche; Dutch, kerke)
probably derives from the Greek κυριακόν, meaning
“belonging to the Lord” or “the Lord's house.” It is
likely that the term was first acquired by Germanic
invaders of the Roman Empire before their conversion
to Christianity; for otherwise it would seem that they
would, on their conversion, have adopted from their
Christian teachers some form of the word ἐκκλησία
(Latin, ecclesia), which was in current use for the
“Church.” It has been suggested that the heathen
Germanic peoples got their term from the Christian
buildings (“belonging to the Lord”) which, as invaders,
they pillaged and destroyed.

The word ἐκκλησία, which was first used by the
primitive Greek-speaking Christians, meant in secular
speech an assembly, primarily of citizens in a self-
governing city (the Acts of the Apostles, 19:39, in its
original Greek text preserves an instance of this mean-
ing in so describing the assembly of the citizens of
Ephesus). But for the early Christians ἐκκλησία already
had a sacred significance, since it was used in the
Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew
Scriptures, dating from the second century B.C., which
the early Christians used) for the assembly or congre-
gation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word kāhāl, which
the Septuagint rendered as ἐκκλησία, meant, however,
more than a physical gathering or assemblage: it signi-
fied the nation of Israel as the Elect People of its god
Yahweh, and it implied a covenant relationship with
Yahweh that marked Israel off from all the other na-
tions or “Gentiles.” Another word used in the Septua-
gint which had an equivalent meaning to ἐκκλησία
was συναγωγή (“synagogue”), which translated the
Hebrew term 'ēdhāh; but “synagogue” came increas-
ingly to be applied to local congregations of Jews
formally gathered for worship. As the Book of the
Revelation to John shows (2:8, 9; 3:7, 9), already by
the end of the first century, Christians were employing
the word ekklēsia for their own body (i.e., the Church),
in counterdistinction to synagōgē for Jews or Judaism.


However, the emergence of the idea of the Christian
ekklēsia or Church, as a distinct and different entity
from Judaism, was a more complicated process than
appears in the New Testament writings. For example,
in the Gospel of Matthew (16:18; 18:17) Jesus is repre-
sented as both declaring his intention to “build my
Church (ekklēsian)” and implying that the Church was
already in existence in his lifetime. But it is the general
opinion of New Testament scholars that these two
passages reflect the anachronistic belief of the Christian
community for which the Matthean Gospel was written
about A.D. 80-85, i.e., some fifty years after the death
of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles (1:8, 2:1ff.) presents
a different suggestion, namely, that the Church was
miraculously founded fifty days after the Crucifixion.

Recent research into Christian origins has shown,
however, that the idea of the Christian Church as a
distinctive body, divinely authorized and with a
worldwide mission, emerged only after the Roman
destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Since this date is
climacteric in the evolution of Christianity, it is im-
portant to appreciate the transformation that was con-
sequently wrought in the movement that had stemmed
from the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in
Judaea some forty years earlier.

So far as it is possible to reconstruct the beginnings
of Christianity, as a historical phenomenon, from the
extant evidence, it would seem that Jesus inaugurated
a Messianic movement aimed at preparing Israel for
the coming of the Kingdom of God. This apocalyptic
program involved a reformation of the sacerdotal aris-
tocracy that controlled the cultus of the Temple at
Jerusalem, and it implied the end of the Roman su-
zerainty over Israel. In other words, the movement as
conceived by Jesus was concerned essentially with the
apocalyptic destiny of Israel. Jesus was recognized as
the Messiah of Israel by his followers, and it is probable
that he made this claim himself. He was executed by
the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for sedition
against the Roman government in Judaea, which fact
should have terminated his movement. But the subse-
quent belief of certain of his chief disciples, that God
had raised him from the dead and that he would shortly
return to earth, with supernatural power, to complete
his Messianic role of “restoring the kingdom to Israel”
(Acts of the Apostles, 1:6, Revised Standard Version),
revived the movement. Jerusalem, instead of Galilee,
then became the center of the movement, the aim of
which was adjusted to persuade the Jews to accept
Jesus as the Messiah redivivus and prepare for his
second coming. The movement continued to be essen-
tially Jewish in practice and outlook. The Jerusalem
Christians, organized as a community by pooling their
economic resources, worshipped regularly in the Tem
ple and zealously practiced the ritual Law. Their two
distinctive customs were the baptism of converts, as
an initiatory rite of purificatory significance, and a
common meal, commemorative of the Last Supper of
Jesus. They were distinguished from their fellow Jews
only by their recognition of Jesus as the Messiah of
Israel; and this faith had the effect of making them
more zealous for the Mosaic Law (Acts 21:20). They
clearly never contemplated their faith in Jesus as con-
stituting a new religion, distinct from Judaism. The
Qumrân community, known to us through the Dead
Sea Scrolls, affords an interesting contemporary paral-
lel. The peculiar beliefs of these “Covenanters” caused
them to live in the inhospitable desert by the Dead
Sea, and, like the Jewish Christians, they were critical
of the Jewish authorities who ran the Temple; but they,
too, remained within the fold of Judaism, hoping for
a reformed and purified Israel.

There is some obscurity, doubtless due to apologeti-
cal reasons, in the New Testament documents about
the organization of the Christian community at Jeru-
salem. It would seem that for a short while Peter, the
chief disciple of Jesus, was recognized as the leader
or spokesman of the community; but he was soon
replaced by James, the brother of Jesus. This fact is
significant, for it, too, attests to the essentially Jewish
nature of the Christian movement at this stage, James
being the next male successor to the founder. On the
execution of James by the high priest Ananus in 62,
the succession went to Symeon, a cousin of Jesus
(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, xi). The position
of James, according to the Epistle to the Galatians
2:12 and Acts 15:13, 19, appears to have been monar-
chical; he seems to have been assisted by elders ( pres-
), but they evidently had a subordinate role (Acts
21:18). The movement remained strongly centralized
in Jerusalem, and the community there, which com-
prised the original apostles of Jesus presided over by
James, constituted the unchallenged source of authority
and discipline. Thus, emissaries from Jerusalem were
sent to order the affairs of new communities at Samaria
and Antioch (Acts 8:14ff., 15:22ff., Galatians 2:12-13),
financial contributions were required from the daugh-
ter communities (Galatians 2:10; Epistle to the Ro-
mans 15:25-26; II Epistle to the Corinthians 9:1ff.),
and the Apostle Paul had to report back to Jerusalem
on his missionary work in various places in the Greco-
Roman world, “lest somehow I should be running or
had run in vain” (Galatians 2:2; Acts 21:17-19).

The evidence indicates, accordingly, that, at this
initial stage, the Christian movement, although con-
scious of itself as a distinct community of believers in
the Messiahship of Jesus and organized as such, saw
its mission strictly in terms of the destiny of Israel.


A reminiscence of this limitation of outlook is pre-
served in a saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of
Matthew 15:24: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of
the house of Israel.” Consequently, when certain Gen-
tiles, resident in Judaea, desired to join the movement,
according to the Acts of the Apostles 10:1-11:17, Peter
was only persuaded to accept them for baptism after
a special revelation from God, and even then he en-
countered the criticism of some of his fellow Christians.
In the narrative of the Acts, this incident is followed
by an account of how certain Jewish Christians, who
were not natives of Palestine but of the Diaspora of
Cyprus and Cyrene, “preached the Lord Jesus” to
Greeks living in Antioch, the capital of Syria, with
considerable success (Acts 11:19-21). This action con-
stituted a notable departure from what had hitherto
been the aim and outlook of Christianity, and it is
unfortunate that the text of the Acts at this point is
essentially obscure. It is, for example, difficult to un-
derstand what is meant by preaching “the Lord Jesus”
to non-Jews. In Greek the word “Lord” (kyrios) had
a wide range of meaning, and it is crucial to know
in what sense at Antioch Jesus was thus presented as
Kyrios. It is, however, significant that such a term is
used instead of “Messiah.” For it indicates an acknowl-
edgment that Jesus could not be presented to Gentiles
as the Messiah of Israel such as he was conceived as
being by his original Jewish disciples, and such as he
probably claimed himself to be. Such a presentation
to Gentiles, if it were indeed understood by them,
would have been essentially offensive unless they were
prepared themselves to become Jews. This step meant,
for male Gentiles, being ritually circumcised as well
as observing the Mosaic Law. It was a condition that
was, indeed, demanded by a significant body of Jewish
Christians. The sequel is obscure, owing to the conflict
of interests in the relevant documents: it seems that
some kind of compromise was arranged, but it is obvi-
ous from Paul's Epistles that the circumcision of Gen-
tile converts remained a disputed issue.

But whatever was the form in which Christianity
was first presented to the Gentiles, the real and effec-
tive change from the original Jewish form of Christi-
anity was due to Paul of Tarsus. In his Galatian Epistle
(1:11-17), Paul claims that his gospel or version of
Christianity was directly mediated to him by God for
propagation among the Gentiles; and he vigorously
asserts that he was wholly independent of the Jerusalem
Christians at this critical juncture in his career. Ac-
cording to Paul, there were two versions of Christi-
anity: one for the Jews, which he calls the “gospel to
the circumcised,” and that with which he was divinely
entrusted, namely, the “gospel to the uncircumcised”
(Galatians 2:7). The general content of this latter “gos
pel” can be pieced together from Paul's writings, al-
though he gives no systematic presentation of it.

Paul, who was a Hellenistic Jew and not an original
disciple of Jesus, conceived of Christianity as a univer-
sal salvation-religion, and not as a form of Judaism that
identified Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. He presents
Jesus as a preexistent divine being, whom God sent
into the world in human form to rescue mankind from
their state of spiritual perdition. This state of perdition
he refers to under various images, e.g., as enslavement
to daemonic forces, associated with the planets, who
ruled this lower world (I Corinthians 2:6-8; Galatians
4:3-10; Colossians 2:13-15, 20), as deliverance from
the wrath of God (Romans 1:18ff.). But what is espe-
cially important in the present context is that, as the
basic presupposition of his soteriology, Paul envisaged
the whole of mankind, both Jew and Gentile, as being
in this fatal state of perdition and as needing a common
savior, who is Jesus. The death of Jesus, at the hands
of the Romans, Paul lifted completely out of its histori-
cal setting, ascribing it to the daemonic powers that
ruled the lower universe (I Corinthians 2:8). Hence in
Paul's “gospel,” Jesus is presented as the divine savior
of mankind, who saves by his death and resurrection;
on this evaluation, the Jesus presented by the Jerusalem
Christians as the Messiah of Israel was a subsidiary,
if not an irrelevant, equation.

In turn, Paul's conception of the Church is corre-
spondingly universalist in scope and vocation. Thus he
writes in his Epistle to the Galatians (3:27-28), pic-
turing initiation into the Church as mystical incorpo-
ration into Christ: “For as many of you as were bap-
tized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither
Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there
is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ
Jesus.” Although he saw Christianity in this universalist
context, Paul still remained by feeling and upbringing
a Jew, and he keenly felt the problem inherent in the
fact that the majority of the Jews continued to reject
Jesus. How was this rejection to be reconciled with
the long-cherished belief in Israel's Election as the
People of God? The solution that Paul found was
destined to have a profound effect upon the later
conception of the Church. Invoking the prophetic idea
of a “Godly Remnant” of the nation that constituted
the “True Israel,” whatever the apostasy of the rest,
Paul identified this True Israel with the Jews and
Gentiles who had accepted Christianity (Romans
9:22f.). In other words, the Church was the true heir
to the promises, recorded in the Hebrew scriptures,
which God had made to the Hebrew patriarchs. The
full implications of this identification were not worked
out by Paul, but they remained for later Christian
theologians to draw. Paul's outlook, so far as the future


of the Church was concerned, was limited by the
current eschatological expectations of the original
Jewish disciples of Jesus. He believed that Christ might
suddenly return at any moment, “then we who are
alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with
them [i.e., the resurrected dead], in the clouds to meet
the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with
the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17). Consequently, al-
though he speaks exaltingly of the Church, as an insti-
tution he sees it as having but a brief duration in this
world, as indeed he regarded the world itself as fast
approaching its end. Together with this universalist and
transcendental conception of the Church (ekklēsia),
Paul also spoke of local communities of Christians, for
example, at Corinth and in Galatia and Judaea (I
Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2, 22) as churches ( ek-
), and he even refers to the church (ekklēsia) in
the house of two distinguished Christians, Aquila and
Prisca (I Corinthians 16:19).

Paul's version of Christianity, however, was not
accepted by the members of the Mother Church of
Jerusalem. They quickly saw that Paul's teaching,
namely that the whole of mankind, both Jews and
Gentiles, were in a common state of perdition and alike
needed a savior, negated the unique spiritual status of
Judaism, which was the basic tenet of their religious
faith. And this teaching not only conflicted with their
own version of Christianity; it endangered also their
position and prospects with their fellow Jews in Judaea.
Indeed, reports came back to Judaea that Paul was
undermining the foundations of Judaism by teaching
the Diaspora Jews not to circumcise their children. The
reports were a distortion of Paul's actual teaching; but
they gravely compromised and endangered the position
of the Jerusalem Christians with their compatriots.
Consequently, the leaders of the Mother Church of
Jerusalem repudiated Paul as an accredited apostle and
teacher of the faith. This they were easily able to do,
since Paul had not been an original apostle of Jesus
and an eyewitness of his life; to implement this repudi-
ation, they sent out emissaries to inform Paul's converts
and to present the Jerusalem gospel as the authentic
form of the faith. Paul was in a fundamentally weak
position; for, whereas he had to recognize the authority
of the Jerusalem leaders as the original apostles of Jesus,
he could only base his own authority upon his private
conviction that he had been divinely commissioned to
preach his version of Christianity to the Gentiles. His
position became increasingly untenable, and he finally
went to Jerusalem to try to effect some modus vivendi
with James and the other leaders. They compelled him
to give proof of his Jewish orthodoxy in the Temple.
The sequel was disastrous for Paul: set upon by a Jewish
mob in the Temple, he was rescued by the Roman
garrison from the nearby Antonia fortress; rather than
have his case tried in Judaea, he then invoked his rights
as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome. He was sent
there, but then disappears from history without record
of his ultimate fate, except in later legend (Acts
21:17-28:30). However, from a farewell speech attrib-
uted to him in Acts 20:17-38, and from other evidence,
it is patent that his reputation suffered eclipse for a
time, and that his version of Christianity would doubt-
less have disappeared but for political events in Judaea.

Proper appreciation of the environment of primitive
Jewish Christianity, by which it was profoundly in-
fluenced and its fate decided, has been achieved only
in the last two decades. This has been due chiefly to
the acquisition of a better understanding of the essen-
tially religious character of Zealotism, the patriotic
“resistance” movement against the Roman government
of Judaea, especially through the excavation of the
Zealot fortress of Masada. Also there has been a more
critical evaluation of the evidence of the Jewish his-
torian Josephus, and circumstantial evidence from the
Dead Sea Scrolls and the excavation of the Cove-
nanters' settlement at Qumrân. This evidence, in turn,
has placed the trial and execution of Jesus of Nazareth
by the Romans in a new context; it has helped to
explain the execution of his brother James, the head
of the Jerusalem Church, in the year 62, and it has
made intelligible the complete disappearance of that
Church after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Ro-
mans in A.D. 70. This destruction came as the disastrous
climax of the Jewish revolt against Rome which began
in the year 66. In this revolt, which was religiously
inspired and led by the Zealots, the Jerusalem Chris-
tians must surely have joined and perished in the final
overthrow of their nation. This new interpretation of
the nature and fate of the original Christian movement
is a subject for continuing specialist research and de-
bate, since the assessment of the relevant evidence is
a difficult and complicated task; but what, in the con-
text of the present article, is beyond dispute is the fact
that after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the
Mother Church of Christianity ceased to exist and a
completely new situation succeeded. Thus, whereas
before A.D. 70 the Christian movement was directed
and controlled by the Jerusalem community, which
constituted the unique source of authority in faith and
discipline, after that date Christian life is organized
and directed from churches in a number of Gentile
cities, namely, Rome, Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria.

This transformation of the Christian organizational
situation was reflected in a new conception of the
Church and its vocation. Christianity ceased to be a
Jewish Messianic movement, aimed at preparing the
Jewish people for the second coming of Jesus as the


Messiah to “restore the kingdom to Israel”—a move-
ment to which was attached, awkwardly and illogi-
cally, a body of Gentile converts largely through the
activity of Paul. Instead, Paul's idea of Christianity as
a universal salvation-religion was rehabilitated in con-
sequence of the obliteration of the original Jewish form
of the faith. It was rehabilitated, however, in a modified
and amended form, owing to a variety of causes, the
chief of which was the disappointment of the primitive
apocalyptic hope that the Second Advent of Christ was

While Christians believed that the world was shortly
coming to a catastrophic end, the Church corre-
spondingly was seen as having a limited existence here.
To Paul it was the community of those reborn in Christ
by baptism to a new transcendental life (Romans 6:2ff.),
who would shortly be caught up to meet the returning
Christ in the sky (I Thessalonians 4:17). The upheavals
occasioned by the Jewish revolt in 66, the Roman civil
war consequent on the death of the Emperor Nero in
68, and finally the signal destruction of Jerusalem and
the burning of the Temple, greatly excited the eschato-
logical expectations of the Christians, as is seen, for
example, in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of
Mark. But, as the years continued to pass after A.D.
70 and Christ did not return, a new orientation of
outlook, which profoundly affected the evaluation of
the Church, gradually began to emerge. Instead of
being the temporary community of Christ's redeemed
in a world on the brink of destruction, the Church was
now seen to have an enduring role in a world that
strangely continued to endure. Consequently, it came
to be evaluated as a divinely instituted society, en-
trusted with a twofold long-term mission. Since Chris-
tians, after their baptism, had to continue to live in
the midst of a pagan world that both tempted them
from their allegiance to Christ and persecuted them
for their loyalty to him, they needed spiritual help and
guidance. Accordingly, the Church gradually devel-
oped a sacramental system through which such help
was given. Baptism, which Paul had already made into
a rite of spiritual rebirth in Christ, and the Lord's
Supper (in time to be known as the Eucharist or Mass),
became the two great sacraments, to which five other
so-called Lesser Sacraments were gradually added. This
developing sacramental system went together with a
gradual evolution of a hierarchy of ministers endowed
with specific spiritual powers and authority. The three
major orders of this hierarchy, in ascending order, were
those of deacon, priest, and bishop. The bishop came
to be regarded as having a plenitude of spiritual power
as a successor of the Apostles of Christ, and gradually
a doctrine of Apostolic Succession emerged. According
to this doctrine, it was believed that the spiritual au
thority and power which Christ had originally given
to his Apostles was passed on through a ritual laying-on
of hands, in a service of ordination to the particular
office concerned. With this sacramental system, and
the hierarchy that managed it, there went also a system
of discipline. Approved forms of faith, practice, and
conduct were laid down as consistent with orthodoxy,
and deviation from these standards had to be confessed
and atoned for by a prescribed form of penance. In
cases of heinous transgression and refusal to submit to
correction, a Christian could be officially excommuni-
cated from the Church and denied its sacraments and

To give spiritual guidance and help to the faithful,
the Church was regarded as having also a teaching role.
But the teaching of the faith also meant the defining
of the faith. Since Jesus had given to his disciples no
written systematic exposition of his doctrine, from the
beginning Christian doctrine consisted of the inter-
pretation put by those disciples upon what they re-
membered and understood of his life and teaching, and
the significance of his death. As was noted above, the
evidence of Paul's writings shows that within some
twenty years of the death of Jesus two different versions
of Christianity were current within the Church: the
“gospel” of the Jerusalem Christians and that of Paul.
The evolution of Christian doctrine after A.D. 70 was
a gradual process, whereby a kind of synthesis between
Paul's concept of the divine savior and the tradition
about the historical Jesus, which was first achieved in
the Gospel of Mark, was assimilated and interpreted
by Christian thinkers educated in the concepts and
terminology of Greek philosophy. Out of much conflict
of opinion, sometimes involving bitter controversy, the
great dogmas of the Church, such as those of the Trinity
and the Nature of Christ, gradually emerged. They
were ultimately defined and proclaimed at councils of
bishops, of which those held at Nicaea (325) and Chal-
cedon (451) are the most notable. These dogmas were
held to constitute the orthodox Catholic faith, and,
after the Church won the patronage of the Roman
Emperor Constantine (288-337), acceptance of these
dogmas was enforced by imperial power. Those who
dissented were excommunicated from the Church as
heretics, and were often punished by civil penalties.
The ideal of Catholicity, as characterizing the faith
and practice of the Church, was laid down by Vincent
of Lérins (died ante 450), in his Commonitorium (II.3)
as quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credi-
tum est
(“what has been believed everywhere, always,
and by all”)—a formula, incidentally, that described
an ideal rather than historical reality.

The Church was regarded, from the beginning, as
being divinely commissioned to preach the Gospel of


Christ to all nations, and it has continued down the
centuries faithful to this charge. The obligation is a
logical corollary of Christian soteriology: that Christ
was incarnated, died, and was resurrected to save man-
kind from a state of perdition from which its members
could not save themselves. The logic of this doctrine
was absolute, and it was uncompromisingly stated by
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430): nulla salus extra
(“no salvation outside the Church”; De bap-
IV:17). The Church, accordingly, was regarded
as the only divinely instituted means for saving the
fallen human race from eternal damnation. All other
religions and philosophies were rejected as either in-
adequate, as in the case of Judaism, or as inventions
of demons as were the cults of the Greco-Roman world,
or as a pernicious heresy as was Islam. In order not
to condemn the Old Testament saints, such as Abraham,
to this fate, it was believed that, before his resurrection,
Christ had descended into Hades to rescue those godly
Hebrews who had lived before his coming. The fate
of pious pagans, such as Socrates and Plato, also puz-
zled some Christians; a solution was found by inventing
the idea of limbo, a special compartment of Hades
where they dwelt without torment, but also without
hope of salvation.

In consequence of their need to defend the Church
against pagan attack, early Christian thinkers gradually
formulated a philosophy of history to explain the
Church's place in the scheme of divine providence.
They were particularly embarrassed by pagan taunts
about the newness of Christianity, compared with the
ancient cults of the Greco-Roman world. They sought,
therefore, to show that the Christian Church had its
roots in a remote antiquity. Paul had prepared the way
for this by identifying those Jews and Gentiles who
accepted Jesus as the True Israel, as was noted above.
This identification meant, in practical effect, that the
Church considered itself entitled to take over the Jew-
ish Scriptures (in their Septuagint form), as its own
inheritance, and to interpret them according to its own
views. In process of time (by the fourth century) the
Church produced its own sacred scriptures, which were
embodied in the corpus known as the New Testament,
in theological distinction from the inherited Jewish
scriptures which were designated the Old Testament.
The idea implied in this nomenclature was that God
had originally made a covenant or testament with
Israel, which was superseded by the new covenant or
testament made by Christ through his own sacrifice
on the Cross. This conception of there being two stages
in the unfolding of divine providence for the salvation
of mankind found expression also in chronology. From
525 the custom arose of reckoning time from the Birth
of Christ as anni Domini, “years of the Lord”; and,
although the practice of designating the period pre-
ceding that event as “Before Christ” (B.C.) did not start
until the eighteenth century, the idea of a Praeparatio
was prevalent from the first century as
Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 4:4 and the Epistle to
the Hebrews 1:1-2 attest.

The development of the Church during the first
millennium of its existence was closely related to the
fortunes of the Roman Empire, into which it was born
and within which its formative years were spent. From
the reign of Constantine I, the Roman Empire, from
being its persecutor, became the Church's supreme
patron and protector. But the moving of the imperial
capital by Constantine from Rome to Constantinople,
and the subsequent division of the Empire into eastern
and western parts, followed in time by the collapse
of the Western Empire centered on Rome, had pro-
found repercussions for the Church. The bishop of
Rome, who had long enjoyed a unique status by virtue
of his location in the metropolis of the Empire, in-
herited much of the prestige of Rome after the last
Western Emperor was deposed in 476. On the ruins
of the Western Empire the new states of Europe were
gradually established, and, on conversion to Christi-
anity, they naturally looked to Rome and its Pope as
the ordained center and head of the Christian world.
In the Eastern Empire, which survived until the cap-
ture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453,
a very different situation prevailed. The Patriarch of
Constantinople remained subservient to the Emperor,
who had a quasi-sacred character. The political sepa-
ration of East and West soon involved a cultural and
religious separation, which was finally consummated
in the schism of 1054, when the authorities of each
Church excommunicated one another. Although in
agreement on the fundamental doctrines of Christi-
anity, the Eastern (or Orthodox) Church has continued
to be different from the Western Church in ethos and
character. It is essentially a mystical hierurgical insti-
tution concerned with the salvation and divinization
of man. Owing to the fact that those lands in which
the Eastern Church was established fell victim to the
onslaught of Islam, it suffered much loss and persecu-
tion, and for centuries was isolated from the progres-
sive culture of the West. The Church of Russia, which
became the most influential of the national Orthodox
Churches after the fall of Constantinople, suffered a
great diminution of power and influence from the
Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

It was in the Papal-controlled Church of Western
Europe that Christianity achieved, in the Middle Ages,
its greatest power and influence. That achievement
finds its classic expression in the Gothic cathedral, the
Summa theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the


Divina commedia of Dante. The Church was conceived
as being tripartite in its constitution, until the Second
Coming of Christ. The visible Church Militant here
on earth comprised the body of the faithful, striving
to live the Christian life amid the perils and tempta-
tions of this world. Beyond this world was an invisible
Church, which had two divisions: the Church Expect-
ant, containing the souls of the faithful departed under-
going purification in purgatory, and the Church Tri-
umphant of the saints, who enjoyed already the Beatific
Vision of God. This situation would continue until a
final apportioning of destiny was made at the Last
Judgment, consequent on the Second Coming of Christ.

The Church Militant, as organized in this world, was
regarded as Christendom; and in theory it reflected the
feudal structure of medieval society, with Christ pre-
siding as King. The idea stemmed from Saint Augus-
tine's great work De civitate Dei (“The City of God”),
in which he virtually identified the Church as the
Kingdom of God on earth. In the medieval conception
of Christendom, Christ's authority was delegated to
two representatives on earth: the Pope and the Em-
peror of the Holy Roman Empire. This latter office
was created in 800, when Pope Leo III crowned
Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, as “Emperor of
the Romans.” Theoretically the Pope was the Spiritual
Head, and the Emperor the Secular Head of Christen-
dom. The history of medieval Europe, however, was
much concerned with the subsequent struggle for su-
preme power between Pope and Emperor. A notable
manifestation of the idea of Christendom was the Cru-
sade of Christian armies against the Islamic powers for
the recovery of the sacred places of the Holy Land;
in reality the Crusades epitomized both the idealism
and the moral defects of medieval Christendom.

The monolithic structure of the medieval Church
was shattered by the Protestant Reformation of the
sixteenth century. The movement drew its strength
from various sources: abuses of Papal government and
ecclesiastical practice, new nationalist aspirations, new
modes of thought generated by the Renaissance. Prot-
estantism was essentially a centrifugal force, and, de-
spite the efforts made at consolidation and control by
the major Protestant authorities (Lutheran, Calvinist,
Presbyterian, and Anglican), subdivision into small
independent sects continued in all lands where Protes-
tant Christianity became established. Most of these
churches and sects have, each, their own peculiar con-
ception of what the Church should be.

Since World War II most Christian bodies, including
the Roman Catholic Church, have shown an active
desire for the reunion of the Church in some form.
Many conferences have been held and much mutual
good will expressed. Although cooperation in good
works and some ecumenical participation in worship
have been achieved, it remains to be seen whether the
major denominations will be able to overcome their
basic doctrinal differences and reestablish a truly united
Christian Church.


There is a vast literature on the nature and mission of
the Church, and on its history. Much of this is from the
point of view of the allegiance of each writer. The following
books may be reasonably regarded as objective studies, and
give extensive bibliographies. Standard reference works
include: Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. J. Hast-
ings, 12 vols. (Edinburgh and New York, 1910), Vol. III,
article “Church” by J. Oman; The Oxford Dictionary of the
Christian Church,
ed. F. J. Cross (London and New York,
1958), many relevant articles; Religion in Geschichte und
3rd ed. (Tübingen, 1959), III, 1296-1339; Real-
lexikon für Antike und Christentum,
ed. T. Klauser (Stutt-
gart, 1959), IV, article “Ekklesia”; Dictionary of the Bible,
rev. ed. J. Hastings (London and New York, 1963), article
“Church”; Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S. G. F.
Brandon (London and New York, 1970), many relevant

Among books, the following are especially pertinent: G.
Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (London, 1968). S. G. F.
Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church,
2nd ed. (Naperville, Ill., 1957); idem, Jesus and the Zealots
(New York, 1967-68); idem, History, Time and Deity (New
York, 1965). A. G. Dickens, Reformation and Society (New
York, 1966). A. A. T. Ehrhardt, Politische Metaphysik von
Solon bis Augustin,
Band II (Tübingen, 1959); idem, The
Apostolic Succession
(London, 1953). M. Goguel, The Birth
of Christianity
(New York, 1953); idem, The Primitive
(New York, 1964). A. Harnack, History of Dogma,
7 vols. (reprint, New York, 1961). F. Heer, Aufgang Europas
(Vienna and Zürich, 1949). N. D. Kelley, Early Christian
(London and New York, 1950). S. Runciman, A
History of the Crusades,
3 vols. (New York, 1954). N. Zernov,
Eastern Christendom (New York, 1961).


[See also Christianity in History; Church, Modernism in
the Christian;
God; Heresy; Hierarchy; Prophecy; Reforma-
tion; Religion, Origins of; Ritual in;
Sin and Salvation.]