The Restoration of Christ's Church


Hey guys! So this episode is part 3 in a little mini-series we’re doing on early Christianity. If you haven’t seen part 1 and 2, check those out. We left off in the 4th Century with Roman Emperor Constantine. Let’s jump right back in.

After Constantine’s controversial conversion to Christianity, he starts to incentivize his pagan citizens to convert. Christians are getting high-ranking government positions, the clergy is getting tax breaks, and in 330 AD he moves the capital of the Roman Empire to the newly built Christian city, Constantinople.

Constantinople was at the center of the economic world as an important trade city—the doorway to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean—and it was a key military location as it was smack-dab in the middle of the most logical land route into the Empire from the East. Constantine builds a fantastic series of defenses that would protect the city for hundreds of years. You can go on Google Earth right now and still see the ruins of the walls.

But anyway, after Constantine’s death, a lot happens. His cousin, Emperor Julian, converts to Paganism and tries to crush Christianity. It doesn’t work, he dies in 363, and he earns himself the title, Julian “the Apostate.” In 380 Julian rolls over in his grave after the Edict of Thessalonica is issued under Emperor Theodosius, which made Nicene Christianity the official Roman religion. 

But despite that, there was still a lot of turmoil within the Church concerning the Nicene Creed and Arianism which we talked about in the last episode. So, in 381 Theodosius calls together the First Council of Constantinople, which affirmed and expanded upon the Nicene Creed. Non-Nicene Christian denominations were anathematized and (often under the advisement of Ambrose the bishop of Milan) Theodosius would continue to issue edicts against Paganism into the 390s. 

Pagan temples were destroyed, sacrifices were prohibited, the Olympic Games were abolished, Christians were chiseling crosses on Pagan statues, it was a rough time for Pagans. Now, it’s important to note that the 4th century was crucial to the development of the Bible canon. It had been brought up in multiple councils and it was generally understood by the end of the century which books were legit and which were not. 

At the death of Theodosius, the Empire is split into Eastern and Western halves again—the Eastern half prospered, and the Western half…not so much. It was constantly under attack from Germanic tribes in the north, it was suffering economically, and leadership was lacking. In 410 the Visigoths sack Rome. In 455 the Vandals sack it again. Other parts of the Western Empire are being conquered, and finally, in 476 AD, Rome is captured by Germanic tribes and the Western Roman Empire is no more.

But in the midst of the fall of the West, we’ve still got ecumenical councils going on in the East. Theodosius II convened the First Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and later in 451 AD Emperor Marcian convened the Council of Chalcedon (Cal-sid-on). Both councils dealt further with questions about the nature of Jesus Christ as God, and you can read more about those councils in the description.

As we glaze over this history at 50,000 miles per hour, we also need to keep track of the bishop of Rome, because in the 5th century the title “Pope” becomes increasingly reserved to him, and eventually he’ll exercise authority over the entire Roman Catholic Church. But that didn’t happen all at once. Now, to be fair there are many Catholics who would disagree with that, which is fine, but there are also many Catholics who are perfectly fine with the idea that Papal supremacy was something that developed over time. 

After the Apostolic age, leadership of the church fell to local bishops. Some bishops were more influential than others. For example, while the Bishop of Rome had jurisdiction over certain provinces, many believe that Canon 6 of the 325 AD Nicene Creed shows that his authority over the entire church was still not yet recognized and that the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch also had jurisdiction over other parts of the church. 

But the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire marks a pivotal point in this evolution. As civil authority in Rome weakens, the Pope starts to fill in the gaps. For example Pope Leo I negotiates with invaders on multiple occasions. Attilla the Hun in 452, and the Vandals in 455, to varying success. 

So Leo’s got some civil power, but he also really pushed for religious Papal supremacy. He recognized the importance of having a central leading figure and taught, like some before him, that as the bishop of Rome, he was the heir of (and spoke for) the apostle Peter. Point being: Civil and religious authority were becoming more mixed than ever before.

Throughout the 6th Century, we see this process continue as Rome trades hands several times and the clergy is largely left to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, in the 530s Emperor Justinian I builds the great Hagia Sophia and in 553, against the wishes of the Pope, he holds the Second Council of Constantinople, which we talked about very briefly in this episode.

Christianity continues to spread throughout the ancient world in this century, and tensions are rising between the church in the East and the church in the West, which we’ll talk about more in the next episode. Check out the links and notes in the description for more info on this. Feel free to fill in some of the blanks in the comments, and have a great day! 

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