Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 1

Introduction to early church history 1 
 Jean Paul
The study of church history allows us to see that the forms and structures of the modern church have continuity with the early traditions and developments.

Early history has largely been ignored as late as 150 years ago - the protestant churches were interested only in scripture regarding anything else as having contaminated true religion, the catholic church was interested only in the Medieval period - which was regarded as a golden period of intellectual re-awakening (particularly the 12th and 13th centuries).

The early church seemed remote to Christians and its study was left to scholars of the ancient world who were largely uninterested in religion.

In the 2nd half of the 19th century a fictitious, romantic, view of the early church was developed.  This view still colours our view of the early church today, a couple of examples:

1) The catacombs were not used as places of refuge but only as burial grounds.
2)  Not everyone buried there was a martyr - in fact over 80% of the graves date from after the peace of Constantine.

Too many of our current ideas are coloured by these romantic pictures and we need to open our minds.

The course is presented in terms of the enculturation of Christianity as it moves from Israel to the west with its Greek and Roman culture.  The history is taught from documents - written and non-written (statues, pictures, etc) and through connections to events to give causality.

Background of the early church

This section looks at the development of the church from the initial impulse forward given to it by Jesus and his disciples - in terms of the inner life (although there’s not  much documentation on this) and in the development of institutions.  Both were influenced by the social, economic, political, cultural, philosophical and religious realities of the day, like the Lord the Church is of mixed ancestry with some dubious influences. 

In early Christian times Judea and Galilee were influenced by two empires - in the West the Roman (largely Greek culture) and Persian in the East .  The area was fought over by both empires.  The were large Jewish populations in both empires (the Diaspora) - most of the Jewish population was outside Israel.  There were Jewish academies in Babylon and  1/3 of the population of Alexandria was Jewish, in Rome at the time the Apostles arrived there were 11 active Synagogues - today there’s 1.  Jewish cultures in two empires were different - influencing the different versions of the Talmud (discussions and  decisions to do with Jewish Law).

How did this situation come about:

722 BC - the Northern Kingdom was invaded by Assyria - the ruling classes were exiled and the kingdom was never re-established.

587 BC - the Southern kingdom (mainly Judea) was invaded by Babylon and again the ruling classes were exiled.  
The Babylonian empire itself was over-run by the Persians and Cyrus allowed the population to return to the Southern kingdom from 537 BC - the return was gradual and the rebuilding of Jerusalem was slow (not like the impression from the Old Testament accounts).

In both kingdoms the lower classes never  left - it was mainly the ruling classes that were taken into exile.

The area of the Southern kingdom was largely populated by the Jewish people - but in the Northern Kingdom the Assyrian empire lasted longer so the occupiers were able to populate some areas with Assyrians, additionally there were groups of Samaritans (who regarded themselves as Jewish - although the general Jewish population did not agree).  This let to prejudice against the Northern areas by the pious Jews of Jerusalem and the South - as the Galilean population was mixed, even the accent was a bit strange - hence Peter being identified as Galilean in the Passion accounts.

In 333BC Alexander the Great conquered the whole area - as an aside he tried to create a cultural amalgam across his empire by marrying a Persian (he gets his soldiers to do the same) to make sure that there were many mixed families - this was in 324BC.

In 323BC Alexander dies and the empire is ruled by his generals (called the Diadoche) - leading to numerous wars of succession.

The Judea/Galilee area was originally ruled by the Ptolomies - based in Egypt with a highly cultured society - including the great library of Alexandria.

In around 200BC the Ptolomies lose control of the area to the Seleucids (a group based at Antioch in Syria from 312BC until the arrival of the Romans in 64BC).

This change of occupier led to problems: the Ptolomies were tolerant of other cultures and beliefs so the Jewish people were allowed to continue their practices in peace.  However the Seleucids were intolerant - their rule was despotic and the king was seen as divine (Ptolomies believed this happened after the king’s death).  This intolerance of Judaism ultimatley led to revolt:

Antiochus III - was largely concerned with conquest and left the Jewish people alone

Antiochus IV who took the surname Epiphanes (which has the same root as Epiphany - his meaning was that he was the manifestation of God, ie Zeus) was very different, and problems started around 175BC.

The Jewish ruling classes were jockeying for power - one party bribed Antiochus to depose the high priest, Onias III - he was sent into exile and eventually murdered.

Antiochus installs a new high priest Jason - who is very much under Greek influence.  He re-organises Jerusalem under Greek lines.  However he also builds a gymnasium which is run under Greek influence, also exercisers were naked (not acceptable to Jews).  As they were naked and therefore shown to be circumcised and different to non-Jews some youths tried to replace their foreskin (seen as a threat to the Jewish religion).

Antiochus is bribed to remove Jason and replaces him with Menelaus however, unlike Jason, he wasn‘t from the high priestly family and therefore had no right to be named high priest.

Jason escapes after his deposition and, as Antiochus is distracted by fighting the Ptolomies, he leads a revolt.  Antiochus returns and suppresses the revolt and starts to suppress Judaism (with Menelaus‘ help).  He plunders the temple and builds an alter to Zeus outside the Holy of Holies with a statue of Zeus, the population were forced to make sacrifices to Zeus using pigs (the ultimate insult to a Jew).

All practices of the Jewish religion are suppressed under pain of death by Antiochus IV.

A revolt begins in 168BC lead by a Levite, Mattatheus - in dies in around 165BC.

He is succeeded by Judas Maccabeus - who led the Maccabean revolt for independence.

Antiochus IV dies in 164BC - and is succeeded by Antiochus V, who was 8 years old, the power and strength of the Seleucids disintegrates due to in-fighting amongst those ruling on his behalf.

The area was then basically independent up to the coming of the Romans in 63BC, with Judas Maccabeus ruling from 165 to 161BC.

He is replaced by Jonathon, who founded the Hosmonean dynasty, he names himself as high priest as well as ruler.  Jonathan didn’t come from the high priestly family and this led to some of the population leaving to found communities at places such as Quram.

The Hosmaoneans create a semi-independent state - that pays a little tax to Antioch - so independent that they were able to lead a military campaign and forcibly converts to Judaism the peoples of Idumaea.

Pompey conquered the area for Rome and Herod, who was Idumaean, was installed as ruler - to give himself legitimacy he marries the last of the Hosmonean princesses, and ultimately he conquers Jerusalem in July 37BC.

The origins of Christianity are at the edge of two empires in a semi-independent state ruled by Herod.

This turbulent history leads to a number of factions amongst the Jewish people

1) The group at Quram - also known as the Essenes

2)  Sadducees, named after Zadok the priest although most are no longer descended from him, these were the religious establishment and support the political establishment.

3)  Pharisees - whose name is derived from a word meaning to separate, they strictly observed both the written law and oral tradition and were very learned in the law - modern day Judaism is derived from them

4)  Zealots - zealous for the independence that was lost to the Romans.

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