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Early Christianity. Why the Appeal of Christianity?. Little spiritual aspect to Roman state religion: cult of the Emperor Resemblance to existing mystery religions: dying and reborn or resurrected god Cult of Isis Mysteries of Dionysus/Bacchus Cult of Mithras. Cult of Isis.

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Why the appeal of christianity
Why the Appeal of Christianity?

  • Little spiritual aspect to Roman state religion: cult of the Emperor

  • Resemblance to existing mystery religions: dying and reborn or resurrected god

    • Cult of Isis

    • Mysteries of Dionysus/Bacchus

    • Cult of Mithras

Cult of isis
Cult of Isis

  • Egyptian origin

  • Promise of immortality

  • Strong ethical code

  • Celebrated by Apuleius in The Golden Ass, 2nd c. ce

Mysteries of dionysus bacchus
Mysteries of Dionysus/Bacchus

  • Greek origins

  • Promise of immortality -- as the grapevine regenerates each year, so will the soul

  • Bacchanalia, secret rites of initiation into the mysteries, sometimes degenerated into drunken orgies

Mithraism similarities to christianity
Mithraism: Similarities to Christianity

  • Mithras referred to as “the Light of the World;” Sol invictus by Romans

  • Mediator between Heaven and Earth

  • Birth celebrated on December 25;

  • Celibate god who valued self-control, renunciation and ascetism in followers

  • Belief in heaven, hell and day of judgement

  • Ritualistic baptism (in blood) as purification

  • Strong ethical code

Mithraism differences with christianity
Mithraism: Differences with Christianity

  • Worship limited to men,initiated into mysteries

  • Mithraism became a military religion in Rome: emphasized victory, strength, security in next world, and absolute loyalty to authority and fellow soldiers

  • Promotion through ranks of ritual initiations corresponded to heavenly journey of soul

  • Strong astrological influences

  • Animal sacrifice: bulls and birds

Christianity s appeal
Christianity’s Appeal

  • Promise of eternal life

  • Strong ethical code

  • Message of Peace

  • Offered salvation to all believers -- gave hope to slaves and women

  • Martyrdom of early Christians

  • Evangelicalism


“...and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Jesus, Acts 1:8

Three major early Christian movements:

  • Nazorene

  • Pauline

  • Gnostic


  • Jewish Christians: first followers in Jerusalem, led by James and Peter

  • Advocated preservation of Jewish rituals

  • Peter founded church in Rome

Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of

St. Peter, Chiesa di Santa Maria

del Popolo, Rome


  • Saul’s conversion  Paul

    • Greek Jew

    • Roman citizen

    • Classically educated

  • Gentiles: Establishment of Churches throughout the Mediterranean world: Epistles

    • Corinth

    • Ephesus

    • Galatia

    • Phillipi

    • Thessalonica


St. Paul


  • Redemption achieved through gnosis: knowledge. One attains salvation by learning secret knowledge of one’s spiritual essence: the creative experience of revelation, a rushing progression of understanding, and not a static creed

  • Sexually egalitarian

    • Many Gnostic texts written by women

    • Importance of Mary Magdalene – second only to Jesus

    • Male and female images used to represent Supreme God

Carlo Dolci, Magdalene

Early christianity

Nag Hammadi texts with Gnostic Gospels discovered in 1945"In the name of the Father unknown to all, in the Truth, Mother of All, in the One who came down upon Jesus, in the union, redemption and communion of powers."

  • 4th c. papyrus manuscripts discovered in Egypt – written in Coptic – the language of the Egyptian Christian Church

  • 45 titles including the Gnostic Gospels and writings attributed to Jesus’s followers including:

    • The Gospel of Thomas

    • The Gospel of Phillip

    • The Gospel of Mary

    • The Gospel of Truth

    • The Gospel of the Egyptians

    • The Apocalypses of Paul, James, and Peter

The Nag Hammadi Library

Christian canon
Christian Canon

  • Adoption of Jewish Bible as Old Testament

  • Many early Gospels

  • 367: Canonization of New Testament:

    • Gospels, 70-100 ce:

      • Synoptic Gospels: Matthew (Jewish audience), Mark (Gentile/Roman audience), Luke (Greek audience)

      • John (integrates Platonic philosophy and mysticism)

    • Acts of the Apostles (attributed to Luke)

    • 21 Epistles: 14 ascribed to Paul: Emphasis on Christ’s Incarnation and Atonement

    • Revelation, c. 75-95 ce

  • Patristic Writings: early Church fathers

393 405 vulgate bible latin translation by st jerome
393-405: Vulgate Bible Latin Translation by St. Jerome

Dürer, St Jerome in the Wilderness

Constantine ca 280 337

In Hoc Signo Vinces

Constantineca. 280-337

  • First Christian Roman Emperor

  • 313: Constantine issued Edict of Milan: toleration of Christians

  • 325: Convened Council of Nicaea: Nicene Creed

  • Christianity incorporated pre-existing pagan customs and motifs

  • 330: capital of Empire moved to Constantinople

Holy roman empire
Holy Roman Empire

  • 361-363: Emperor Julian the Apostate tries to reinstate paganism, but mostly allows religious liberty to the Christians

  • 375-383: Emperor Gratian confiscates temples, abolishes privileges for pagan priests, etc.

  • 379-395: Emperor Theodosius I prohibits pagan religious observances

  • 402: Emperor Honorius moved capital of Western Empire to Ravenna

  • 410: Rome sacked by Visigoths

  • 455: Rome sacked by Vandals

Christian iconography
Christian Iconography

Chi RhoChristogram

Ihs :abbreviated name of Jesus in greek (Iasous)

Alpha and Omega

Icthys: Fish

Acrostic for Jesus Christ

Son of God Saviour

Anchor/CrossHebrews 6:19, ‘Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.’

Dovethe soul that reached divine peace

The good shepherd and agnus dei lamb of god
TheGoodShepherdand Agnus Dei(lamb of God)

A marble statue of the Good Shepherdfound in al-Mina - Gaza

Catacomb Fresco

Roman catholic church
Roman Catholic Church

  • Incorporation of Roman Law and Hierarchy

    • Pope

    • Cardinals

    • Bishops

    • Priests

  • Latin as the language of the Church

  • Bishop of Rome appointed as first Pope: Pope Leo 440-461

St augustine 354 430
St. Augustine354-430

  • Bishop of Hippo (Northern Africa)

  • Countered Arian, Pelagian and Donatist heresies

  • Confessions -- first spiritual autobiography

  • City of God-- response to fall of Rome

  • Synthesized Christian doctrine with classical philosophy

    • Neo-Platonism

    • Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover

Claudio Coello: The Triumph of St. Augustine

Byzantine empire
Byzantine Empire

  • 435: Theodosius II commanded that pagan temples be destroyed or turned into churches

  • 527-567: Emperor Justinian prohibited paganism upon pain of death.

  • 529: Justinian abolished the 900 year-old School at Athens

  • 532: Justinian and Theodora saved Constantinople and ordered the construction of the Hagia Sophia

Early christianity

Isidoros and Anthemios Vitale

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Schism roman catholic and eastern orthodox

Latin Vitale as Church Language

Church governed by local bishops headed by elected Pope

Mandatory celibacy for priests

Iconography: Reverence for sacred images and relics

Greek as Church Language

Church governed by Patriarch appointed by Emperor

Clergy allowed to marry

Iconoclastic controversy

Schism:Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox