What Is Christianity? A Review of the Essentials Prof. Felix Just, S.J.
Introduction: • Christianity is a major world religion, • A“Western” religion (w/ Judaism & Islam) • The largest world religion today (ca. 2 billion) • It is based on belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the “Christ” ( “Messiah”) & the “Son of God.” • Like most other major world religions, Christianity has several core aspects: • I) History & Development • II) Core Beliefs & Practices • III) Structures & Regulations What Is Christianity?
I-A: History • Historical Background:Abraham, Israelites, Hebrews, Jews, OT • Historical Foundation:Jesus of Nazareth (crucified ca. AD 30)& his first disciples/apostles • Historical Development:Tradition preserved/adapted 2000 years (interplay of both old & new, ancient & modern) What Is Christianity?
I-B: Branches & Subdivisions • Major Christian Branches:(Eastern) Orthodox, (Roman) Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Restorationist, etc. • Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants:O: by nation & language: Greek, Russian…A: by nations: esp. former British coloniesP: by leaders/theologies: Lutheran, Reformed… • Groups within Catholicism:religious orders & societies (monastic, mendicant, apostolic, etc.), lay groups What Is Christianity?
I-C: Demographics • Number of Christians World-wide:~ 2 billion in 2000; ~ 33% of world population • Subdivisions:1 bill. Catholics; 500 mill. Protestant/Anglican; 250 mill. Orthodox; 250 mill. Other • % of Populations:48% Africa; 85% N. America; 93% S. America; 9% Asia; 76% Europe; 85% Oceania What Is Christianity?
II-A: Foundational Texts • TheBible:official collection of books, in two parts: both Old Testament & New Testament • The Creeds:short professions of faith, defined by first two Ecumenical Councils: Nicea & Constantinople • Other Writings:writings of Church leaders throughouthistory,esp. founders of orders & denominations What Is Christianity?
II-B: Core Theological Beliefs (Dogmas & Doctrines) • One God in Three Persons (Trinity): Father / Almighty / CreatorSon / Jesus / Christ / Savior / LordHoly Spirit / Giver of Life / Paraclete • World & Humans:created by God, in God’s image, with free will; originally good, but corrupted by sin/death; • Church, Salvation, Eschatology:community of believers; body of Christ; resurrection of the body; eternal life What Is Christianity?
II-C: Core Ethical Teachings(Commandments & Precepts) • Foundational Principles:do good & avoid evil; love God, others, self;develop an “informed conscience” • Sexual Morality:dual purpose of sex; consistent ethic of life; human relationships; central role of family • Social Ethics:dignity of each person; common good; care of the poor/needy; work, participation, property What Is Christianity?
II-D: Religious Practices • Calendar, Feasts, & Festivals:Advent & Christmas; Lent & Easter; saints’ days; local & universal festivals • Public / Communal Worship:official liturgies, rites, rituals, Sacraments, esp. Baptism & Eucharist; Sunday worship • Private / Individual Spirituality:prayer, devotions, pilgrimages, asceticism,retreats, pious/spiritual practices, etc. What Is Christianity?
III-A: Church Organization • Churches & Denominations:historical divisions: always! esp. 1054, 1517but also reunifications & mergers • Structures with each Church:indiv. parishes/congregations, local dioceses, national conferences, international associations • Leaders within each Church:bishops (incl. Pope, cardinals), priests, deacons, lay ministers; pastors, elders, etc. What Is Christianity?
III-B: Internal Regulations • Membership:Who can join? What is the process? (evangelization; catechesis; initiation) • Leadership:How are leaders chosen? Who is eligible? • Discipline:What are members’ & leaders’ obligations?Sanctions and punishments? (Canon Law) What Is Christianity?
III-C: External Relations • Ecumenical Relations:dialogues between Christian denominations;bilateral & international groups (WCC) • Inter-religious Relations:dialogues with other major world religions;esp. with Judaism & Islam (historically close) • Church/State Relations:cooperation or tensions with political, social, economic, and other secular institutions? What Is Christianity?
REVIEW • History & Development • Historical Foundations & Development • Branches, Divisions, Demographics • Core Beliefs & Practices • Foundational Texts: Bible, Creeds, etc. • Central Teachings: Theological & Ethical • Common Practices: Liturgical & Spiritual • Structures & Regulations • Organization, Leadership, Membership • Internal Rules; External Relations What Is Christianity?
Final Exam: Essay Questions • What are the core beliefs and practices of Christianity? (What is common to all Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Xns?) • What are some of the most important differences in theology and praxis between Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Xns? • What was (and still is) the impact of the Second Vatican Council on Christianity (both the Catholic Church and others)? • Describe the typical processes of Christian Initiation (Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist)? Differences for Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants? Differences for infants vs. adults in Catholicism? • Describe the wide variety of Christian "vocations" (how God "calls" Xns to live; religious & lay; historical differences; etc.) • What are "Scripture" and "Tradition"? How are they related in Catholic theology? …in other branches of Christianity? What Is Christianity?
Final Exam: Practical Tips • I encourage you to study together with your regular group or with other students. • Bring several pens, one small Blue Book, your Bible, and your one page of notes. • The Exam will take most students about two hours; some a little more or less. • Study Well & Good Luck! What Is Christianity?