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Christianity: the first five centuries

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Part 2 of 3

In the previous article, we looked at some key characteristics that made up the secular world of the first five centuries AD. In this next instalment of our 3 part article about Christianity in the first five centuries, we look at what is termed the Ante-Nicene period (before 325 AD).

Ante-Nicene period (before 325 AD)

The Apostolic Age ended with the death of John at Ephesus 95-100 AD (Terry et al.1988:166).

At this time the church in size was not a superpower by any means, rather it consisted of what could be nothing more than 100 congregations situated within urban areas, and probably mostly Greek-speaking (Terry et al. 1988:167).

In the second century, we find that Christianity is advancing as you would expect along the Roman Empire and its favourable conditions, reaching many places such as Mesopotamia, Arabia, and even as far as Britain.

It was during the second century that Egypt and North Africa come to be strongholds of the faith.

We find no record of the size of the Roman church during this time, that is until a letter written by Bishop Cornelius of Rome, in AD 251 conveys “that there were 46 presbyters; 7 deacons; 7 subdeacons; 42 clerks; 52 exorcists, readers, and janitors; and 1,500 widows and needy in the church”, these prompting scholars to estimate church membership in the region of approximately thirty thousand at the time.

In the third century, the expansion of the church remained mainly within an urban context, that is until the latter part of the third century the expansion moves to predominantly within a rural setting. During a time of economic downturn, the rural people began to weigh their beliefs in light of their circumstances, prompting many turns from the old gods and believe in Jesus Christ. In the context of the Ante-Nicene period, this was to be the time where the greatest growth would be experienced. Notable moments during the latter stages of this period were the Edict of Persecution issued in AD 303, the Edict of Toleration in AD 311, and the Edict of Milan in AD 313 (Terry et al. 1988:169-170).

In the final segment of this 3 part article about the first five centuries of Christianity, we will be looking at the Post-Nicene period (after 325 AD). We will see how during this period things began to change for the Christian faith, as well as the implications of these changes.

End part 2

Works Cited

Terry JM, Smith EC and Anderson J 1988. Missiology: an introduction to the foundations, history, and strategies of world missions. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Written by Dwain Donovan Stewart