This volume in the Cambridge History of Christianity presents the 'Golden Age' of patristic Christianity. After episodes of persecution by the Roman government, Christianity emerged as a licit religion enjoying imperial patronage and eventually became the favoured religion of the empire. The articles in this volume discuss the rapid transformation of Christianity during late antiquity, giving specific consideration to artistic, social, literary, philosophical, political, inter-religious and cultural aspects. The volume moves away from simple dichotomies and reductive schematizations (e.g., 'heresy v. orthodoxy') toward an inclusive description of the diverse practices and theories that made up Christianity at this time. Whilst proportional attention is given to the emergence of the Great Church within the Roman Empire, other topics are treated as well - such as the development of Christian communities outside the empire.
'The twenty-nine essays in total paint a rich canvas of late antique Christianity in its many facets and illustrate the equally lively and varied engagement of current scholarship with this fascinating period … The contributors, editors and the Press must be congratulated for a volume to which the scholarly community will come back for many years as a standard reference tool.'
Source: Journal of Ecclesiastical History
'… elegant and learned essay … sweeping and evocative narrative … The volume more than justifies the historiographical assumption of contingent and variable early medieval "Christianities" rather an unchanging and immutable "Christianity" …impressive study of conversion … rewarding …splendid … a good and critical survey … excellent … sophisticated and thought-provoking … at once capture[s] the divinity, artfulness, and physical sensuality of texts … outstanding, expertly and eloquently examining how cults and their saints were capable of "endless reinvention" … All in all, Early Medieval Christianities, c.600-c.1100 is a worthy volume about Christians and their various "Christianities".'
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The story of Western Christianities from Constantine to the close of the sixth century is one of both expansion and the formation of diverse Christianities. The themes that were in evidence across the Christian West throughout the period under consideration: political transformation and the formation of competing orthodoxies, the Christianisation of Western aristocracies, and the interplay between political and ecclesiastical structures. This chapter discusses the endorsement of bishops of the Nicene orthodoxy, the adherences of Roman Christianities by the provinces of Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa, to Nicene orthodoxy. As schisms within the churches of the Nicene tradition broke out after Chalcedon, the emperors and bishops of Constantinople faced the consequences. In the autumn of 482, Emperor Zeno addressed a letter to the Alexandrian church that proposed a compromise formula drafted by Acacius of Constantinople. Pope Vigilius had an aristocratic background and exemplified the trend towards the aristocratisation of the papacy.
This chapter discusses the development of Christianity among the Germanic, Gothic, Celtic, Frankish and Anglian communities. Christianity began to spread in the Germanic world during the latter part of the third century among the Goths. Early Gothic Christianity consisted not of Christianised Goths but of Gothicised Christians. Instances of persecution among the Goths are exceptional events in the history of Germanic Christianisation due to the fact that early Gothic Christianity did not originate among the ruling classes. Christianity reached Roman Britain during the third century at the latest. In the course of the sixth century the Celtic churches were taken over by coenobitic monasticism. The conversions of Clovis, king of the Franks in the last years of the sixth century, came to assume fundamental significance for the further development of Christianities in the West. Pope Gregory the Great planned and launched a long-distance mission to Anglo-Saxon England, a novel enterprise without precedent in the history of late antique Christianities.
The movement of large numbers of Christians from one place to another, as immigrants, pilgrims, monks, bishops and theologians, connected numerous local forms of Christianity across the Greek-speaking world. Churches and monasteries were built in urban and rural locations, to provide fixed points for the daily lives of Greek Christians. Of the numerous councils held circa 300-600, most were strictly regional or local. The majority were never recognised as ecumenical, though some could be regarded as trial runs in which significant positions and terms were aired. What should be remembered about the five councils in this era that eventually came to be recognised as ecumenical (Nicaea in 325; Constantinople in 381; Ephesus in 431; Chalcedon in 451; Constantinople in 553) is, first, that they were directly under the influence of emperors who wanted their wishes fulfilled. Second, the Christian leaders who attended these councils often wrangled at least as much over the ranking of their sees as over theological issues.
There are similarities in the fragmentary stories of the development of Christianity in Asia and Eastern Africa during the fourth to sixth centuries. As it had from the beginning, it followed the trade routes as merchants and missionaries took with them their faith. There was a Christian presence in Edessa (ancient and modern Urfa) from the earliest days of Christianity. This chapter first discusses three primary theories of the development of Christianity in this region: the Thomas traditions; the Abgar-Addai traditions; and Jewish origins. Next, it explores the evidence of Christianity in northern Mesopotamia during the second, third and fourth centuries. The diffusion of Christianity throughout Persia was caused by various factors including adaptation of Christian ideas within existing communities (which may be related to trade patterns). The chapter focuses on the major geographical, political or ethnic factors under which Christianity developed in Adiabene, Armenia, Georgia, India, Egypt (Coptic Christians), Nubia, Ethiopia, South Arabia, Soqotra, Central Asia and China.
This chapter reviews some of the ways in which Jews and Christians interacted under the Christianised Roman empire, as well as under the Sassanid empire, where both were religious minorities. Jews and Christians were competing in a direct and sometimes violent clash, while both communities claiming the same inheritance. The koinos bios of both in late antiquity is highly significant for a richer understanding of the cultural dynamics between them. Significant Jewish communities existed throughout the Christian Roman empire, whether East or West. Christian attitudes toward Jews, both public and private, apparently varied in different areas. Christian scriptures were translated into various languages, in and outside the empire. Such a web of communities went against the grain of a civic religion that could provide a unification principle for the empire. The chapter also discusses the Jewish-Christian interaction in a Christian empire, and also the developments in Palestine, where both communities lived in towns and villages.
To understand the Christianisation of Egypt as well as the conflicts with native religion that this process entailed, we need to make some tentative distinction between the Christianity of texts and the Christianities assembled locally in villages. If the ancient gods and their shrines were often demonised, the new Christian worldview also depended upon familiar notions of harmful and beneficial power, ritual efficacy, and communication with divine beings. The author calls this inevitable process of mediating new ideologies within traditional schemes of ritual power syncretism, but only to the extent that it involves indigenous local agency and a genuine engagement with the authority of the new worldview, and not in the older sense of pagan survival or native misunderstanding. A growing intolerance among Christian leaders for Egyptian temple cults from the late fourth century probably arose with a revival of martyrological lore. The secret corridors and austere priestly rites once romanticised in Hellenistic literature now became the loci of sorcery.
Significant communities of Jews and Christians populated the cities and their territories in Asia Minor amid the great pagan Greek majority. Christianity's institutional expansion is reflected in the fact that, in 325, the representatives of some 150 episcopal sees in Asia Minor attended the Council of Nicaea. This posed a serious ideological challenge to the pagan temple cults of Asia Minor. The co-operation between the Tetrarchs and city councillors provoked Christian attacks on Greek temples. This was a response to the destruction of churches, beginning with the Christian basilica lying opposite the imperial palace in Nicomedia. The formalities of Christianisation, in terms of baptising the population of Asia Minor, were completed by the late sixth century, but the full acculturation of villages to the standards of the Mediterranean cities was a longer process that was still incomplete in some villages even in the early twentieth century.
The spread of Christianity in Italy, as elsewhere throughout the empire, was greatly aided by the imperial support it received from the time of the emperor Constantine's conversion. The conversion of Italy's elites is one significant marker of religious change; once the elite, in Rome especially, but also throughout Italy, had converted, the empire could be proclaimed Christian. This chapter focuses on three separate social elites in three different but important cities in Italy: the senatorial aristocracy in Rome; the municipal provincial elite in Aquileia; and the imperial bureaucratic upper class in Milan. The elite of each city adopted Christianity over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries, but the paths they took and the Christianity they embraced differed. The conversion of Italy's elites was a gradual process of change within which the encouragements of emperors and bishops were mediated by specific elite institutions, ideas and behaviours. This involved a gradual turning away of pagans from pagan institutions.
The diffusion of Christianity in North Africa involved complex interaction on several fronts, first among the pagans and the Christians, and then within the church itself as schisms occurred. The Christianisation of North Africa was followed by a progressive acquisition of power (both religious and secular/ economic) by the clergy. This chapter synthesises the main phases of this process, focusing on the role of the clergy, its transformation over the centuries, and the impact of Christianisation on society and economy. The combative posture of the Catholic Church against pagans is striking. Even as pagans become decreasingly visible in the history of Roman North Africa, Christians who are self-consciously not in communion with Rome come to fill their place as the other. In 439, the Vandals, who were Germanic Arians, entered Carthage. The Vandal kings showed varying attitudes towards the Catholic Church in North Africa; persecution and tolerance followed one another, sometimes within the same reign.
When one speaks of Christian-pagan intellectual debate, it is about an intellectual debate between pagans and Christians on religious matters that late antique Christians had with anyone and everyone who was neither Christian nor Jewish. Despite this internal heterogeneity of paganism, late antique Christian-pagan intellectual debate possessed considerable uniformity. For it was always conducted with reference to the framework of the Platonic philosophical thought of the day. The debate began in the first Christian centuries when intellectual pagans objected that specific fundamental aspects of Christianity could not be coherently understood in terms of this Platonic framework, and that Christianity therefore had to be rejected as alogon. Christians responded to polemical pagan objections to Christianity through the composition of apologiae, in which they defended themselves from the pagan criticisms of Christianity and mounted anti-pagan counter-objections of their own. This apologetical tradition reached its climax with Eusebius of Caesarea's mammoth Praeparatio and Demonstratio evangelica in the first half of the fourth century.
The religion of Mani arose from a Judaeo-Christian milieu in southern Mesopotamia in the third century, which was a time of both cultural and religious syncretism. Central to Mani's self identity as the leader of a universal religion was his self-declared title of 'Apostle of Jesus Christ' and in Western Manichaean sources he was sometimes identified as the personification of the Paraclete. Mani was a prodigious author who was anxious that his teaching should survive him, and the sect came to revere a canon of his writings. The titles of most of the canonical works were known to the fathers, with the result that citations from them have survived in polemical as well as Manichaean texts. One of the earliest notices of the missionary endeavours of Manichaeism in the Roman East is a pastoral letter from a Christian leader warning the faithful against followers of the madness (a pun on Mani's name in Greek) of Mani.
Heresiology was the combative theological genre for asserting true Christian doctrine. Rhetorical techniques such as labeling, and literary genres such as intellectual catalogues can be examined in historical context to reveal not only social or religious attempts at expulsion, but also theological negotiation with contemporary cultural problems of multiplicity and difference in Roman society. The increasing classification of error reflected the dynamism of the theological tradition as well as the general codification of Roman life and thought during the later empire. Like many products of late antiquity, heresiology was a hybrid of various local cultural and religious traditions that had been placed in dialogue by the unified Roman empire. The development of handbooks of heresies or the diptychs of holy ancestors were the expansion and public codification of early individual polemical techniques. The demonisation and exaggeration of the teaching of Pelagius theology was part of a means of excluding not only actual teaching, but theological possibilities, from orthodoxy.
The culture of late antiquity was a curious blend of classical pagan forms and newly developed Christian ones. This chapter deals solely with aspects of late antique literary culture, and investigates the degree to which the rise of Christianity impacted traditional Greco-Roman literary forms. It provides an introduction to the six most outstanding proponents of literary genres: Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. The most interesting aspect of the Christian appropriation of pagan genres involves how they adapted these forms to suit new audiences and new themes. The chapter examines the continuities with existing genres, and the innovations and subversions introduced by Christian authors. After dealing briefly with the genre of florilegia, the chapter examines the effect of the eastern expansion of Christian culture on the Syriac, Armenian and Coptic communities, which were somewhat freer from the constraints of the Hellenistic heritage.
Constantine, the first Christian emperor respected churchmen and bishops. The patronage of Constantine and subsequent emperors during late antiquity changed bishops and their roles in unforeseen ways. Earlier the number of bishops was few; now almost every city in the empire had a bishop, and classical cities survived as episcopal sees. As the bishops and many of their lesser clerics were recruited primarily from the class of local notables, the ecclesiastical hierarchy weaned men away from service as municipal magistrates. The consolidation of this new hierarchy resulted in an emphasis on new attitudes about clerical service, such as rivalry and ambition, which seemed at odds with Christian ideals. During the late antiquity period, Christianity became not just the leading religion in the old Roman world. When its bishops sanctioned or appropriated more and more nominally secular activities, Christian spirituality became the dominant worldview.
The first council that could boast an imperial mandate was convened at Arles in 314, after Constantine had been asked to review the acquittal of Caecilian by a synod of Italian and Gallic bishops under Miltiades of Rome. At Ancyra penalties commensurate with the fault were enjoined on those who had lapsed under persecution; the chief concern of a council held in Neocaesarea was to provide for the expulsion and restoration of those who committed heinous sins in a time of peace. The principal aim of many Western councils was the preservation of unity through order. Pope Innocent, in his own codicil to a synod which appeased a Gallic schism, urged that Rome should be the sole arbiter of disputes that could not be resolved within one province. In 402, at the Synod of the Oak held near Chalcedon in Asia Minor, John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, was arraigned by Theophilus of Alexandria and thirty-six of his confederates.
For more than five centuries, Christian communities lived without a comprehensive body of written law. Thus, in the early church, canon law as a system of norms that governed the church or a large number of Christian communities, was not present. Early Christian texts share several characteristics. Their authority derived from their apostolic origins, not from ecclesiastical institutions. Although church fathers, especially John Chrysostom, did justify conciliar assemblies on the basis of Acts 15, modern scholars have concluded that the assembly described in Acts 15 at Jerusalem cannot be described as a council or synod. During the course of the fourth century, two sources of authoritative norms emerged in the Christian church: the writings of the fathers of the church and the letters of bishops, particularly the bishops of Rome. John Scholasticus' Synagoge of 50 titles is the first important collection of canon law in the East. All later Greek canonical collections were based on it.
In Caesaropapism there are two distinct entities, a secular state and a spiritual church, each with its own defined sphere of authority. The problem arises when the secular ruler, Caesar, asserts authority over the church, acting thus like a pope. Eusebius was a bishop and Agapetus a deacon. Both represented an institution, the Christian church, with an identity akin to that of the Roman senate. The judgment of emperors, the decision as to whether they were to be remembered as heavenly icons or wild beasts, now lay with the clergy. Moreover, Christianity's unique development in the first centuries of its existence had left this institution with a capacity for acting and behaving independently such as senators had not known since the closing days of the republic. The suppression of traditional religions in the new Christian empire is the point at which the church, society and power, intersect.
The first major instance of a debate on conceptualising the Christian experience of God as Trinity took place in the third century. The church of the fourth century inherited a tradition of Trinitarian discourse that was pervasively embedded in its worship and proclamation, even if it was lacking in conceptual definition. Origen was the greatest and most influential theologian of the third century, whose teaching cast a large shadow on the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century. The Cappadocian synthesis is best seen as a response to the anti-Nicene developments that began in the 350s, spearheaded by Aetius and Eunomius. Augustines's influence on the subsequent Western tradition of Trinitarian reflection is difficult to overestimate. His characterisations of the Trinitarian image in humanity in terms of a procession of the intellect and a procession of love are taken over by Aquinas. Controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries are referred to as Christological controversies, instead of Trinitarian controversies.
The death of Jesus Christ demonstrated God's salvation; his resurrection proclaimed him alive. As the Christian community moved from the Old Testament, the word of God, to the Christian Bible, different Christologies were connected. Still, in constantly changing contexts, diverse Christological confessions came up within a wider understanding of the apostolic kerygma. Apollinarius confessed that the incarnate Logos is the subject of all Christological statements, and therefore also of all the antitheses that separate God and creatures. Athanasius' anti-Arian exegesis excludes any Christology that confesses two separate subjects and, confesses a duality of them. When Nestorius, after his appointment as patriarch of Constantinople in 428, triggered the dispute about the Marian title mother of God, he entered the fray with homilies in which he called upon the Antiochene Christology familiar to him. Cyril of Alexandria intervened with the journalistic means available at that time. His attitude was heavily biased against Nestorius.
Baptism and the events surrounding it provide important evidence for how early Christians dealt with sin as well as how they conceived of salvation. By the time of the Constantinian settlement, abundant resources were already available to Christians for the purposes of discussing sin and salvation in terms of baptism. Origen had long since remarked that 'those who have been regenerated through divine baptism are established in paradise, that is, in the church, to do the spiritual deeds that are within'. One major function of the Eastern Christians was to ensure that the deeply personal encounter with God through baptism became more than deeply personal, became in fact the point at which the Christian entered a new, sacramental, community. Thanks to the renewal brought about by baptism, this new community was characterised as a return to paradise in that the waters of baptism washed away all sins, collective and private, that had previously separated God's creatures from God.
Linked to the paucity of written sources by lay Christians, there remains the challenge of locating lay Christians in an age better known for its ascetics. Place, particularly home, church and saint's tomb, can serve as a framework for examining lay devotion. With reference to these places, this chapter investigates what practices and dispositions constituted lay devotion. It also considers how places were more than a backdrop for practices, but even moulded those practices. Built space can reveal many features of piety, such as the typical size of a gathering, how bodies moved through space, and what perceptions shaped devotions in that space. Church leaders like Athanasius of Alexandria and Caesarius of Arles recommended that Christians dedicate the forty days prior to Easter to adopting an ascetic regime of prayers, vigils, sexual abstinence, fasting, devotional reading, charity and hospitality.
This chapter shows that many acts of veneration shown to saints after their death had their origin in the connections of the faithful to living holy men. The Christian notion of personal sanctity can be understood from its cultural context. The idea that certain individuals held an elevated status among humans because of their connection to the divine was common in ancient culture. In pre-Constantinian times, individual Christians proved their faith through martyrdom, and Christian communities derived their group identity from witnessing the death of their martyrs. The cult of a saint was prepared long before that person's death. The chapter illustrates the interplay between discipleship, the production and dissemination of texts, and patronage in creating a cult by presenting three examples from different regions of the later Roman empire: Martin of Tours in Gaul, Felix of Nola in Italy and Symeon the Stylite in Syria. Central to the cult of saints are their relics.
Any attempt to imagine and describe pastoral care in the early church encounters a great many obstacles. This chapter first deals with three paradigms of the pastoral ideal as it was articulated in the fourth century. Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, and Cicero Ambrose agree that the character of the pastor is a crucial prerequisite for his work. Next, the chapter deals with the way people experienced care from holy people and monastics, and from resorting to the shrines of martyrs and the holy places. In broad terms there is continuity with the paradigms of pastoral care articulated by Nazianzen, Chrysostom and Ambrose. At the same time, Gregory no longer draws explicitly upon Platonism or Stoicism, and late antiquity has begun to fade. From a pastoral perspective the implementation of moral discipline attached first of all to catechetical preparation for baptism. As a consequence of the Constantinian revolution the church tended to tighten discipline at this level.
The ancient period witnessed the remarkable transformation of Christianity from a persecuted minority sect into the dominant political and cultural force in the Mediterranean world. One aspect of this development was the formation of a set of discourses and practices regarding sexual, marital and familial life. If imperial legislation showed only modest influence from Christian teaching, the efforts of ecclesiastical authorities were more ambitious. Through preaching and the imposition of penitential discipline, the bishops of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries scrutinised and attempted to regulate the sexual lives of their congregations with rigorous precision. Over time, the sexual lives of married Christians were circumscribed by numerous prescriptions. Only in the fourth century do we see the beginnings of specifically Christian liturgical practices for marriage, initially within the context of ceremonies in the family home. As marriage rituals in antiquity were notably boisterous affairs, clergy were hesitant at first to participate.