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History of Christianity

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A ecclesiastical historian specifically studies the history of Christianity, also known as ecclesiastical history. Church history is the interpreted record of the origin, process, and impact of Christianity on human society.[1] Church history studies the remarkable history of the growth of Christianity as a movement, in numbers and influence. Today the institution founded by Jesus Christ is the largest and most influential religion in the world, despite multiple efforts to stop its spread.

A historical, philosophical and scientific study of the growth and development of this movement must examine the claims that its Founder made and the evidence that bears out those claims. They include a declaration that the church would never die and that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide its growth and development in order to save mankind from its sin.

Within the historical method an ecclesiastical historian must study the tension between the free will of man and the possibility of supernatural intervention in any event. That God is an external causal agent acting in nature producing miracles throughout history cannot be analyzed by the scientific method. But when examination of historicity takes place through the historical method recognition of supernatural intervention is common for the ecclesiastical historian and should be seen as what sustained the church on the path that it has followed. [2][3]

But, the apologist could continue, this is not the entire picture. In addition to the probabilities supplied by historical and other inductive arguments, there is also the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Who, as J. Oliver Buswell notes, provides "far more" than probabilities, as He convicts, regenerates, and energizes persons.[29] The work of the Holy Spirit might come in the form of moving beyond the lack of "absolute certainty in terms of historical method," closing the gap and bringing "absolute certainty."[30] Or it might be more a case of taking the historical facts and applying a personal faith decision.[31] Thus, on the Christian understanding, historiography as a discipline can only yield some level of probability, since this is simply its limits. But believers need not rely on this basis alone. Of course, Bahnsen is certainly correct that the New Testament speaks of events such as Jesus' resurrection as having occurred, not as probably having occurred.[32] But, then again, the New Testament also tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts believers of their salvation, thereby witnessing to the truth of the Gospel message.[33] So there is certainly more to the story than history alone![34][4]

Intertestamental period

Main Article: Intertestamental period

The intertestamental period is a span of time between the closing of the Old Testament by its last book Malachi (5th Century BC) and the opening of the New Testament book of Matthew (1st Century AD). It is sometimes referred to as, "the silent years."[5]

Church Development from 30 AD to 500 AD

The first five centuries of Christianity are very important when establishing an exegesis of what the church means and the effects of its early development had on the ability to further establish and define itself. The church as a whole and individuals within during the first five centuries suffered physical, emotional and spiritual attacks the likes of which can be described as a holocaust against Christianity. The church withstands and thrives, later attaining great influence and even leadership of the very empire it was born under only 500 years later implies an incredible mechanism of change that was inherent in the original message by Christ that is being preached.

It can then be objectively seen within history of the lives of Christ's followers despite all efforts against them, the beliefs they held regarding His life, death and resurrection were indeed not only factual truths but life-changing beliefs for individuals and not mere figments of imagination or lies.

Early Christianity

Main Article: Early Christianity

Early Christianity is the period of the Christian religion starting after the death and resurrection of Jesus around 30 AD to the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. While that is the agreed upon infancy of Christianity scholars of this time period widen their scope further in order to fully appreciate the historical causes and effects in relation to the birth, persecution and rise of early Christianity. For instance, Everett Ferguson[6] sets his sights to the fifth century BC and carries through to the fourth century AD. Incorporating a range of topics such as political history, society, culture, religions and philosophies.

Early Christian writings

Main Article: Early Christian writing

Early Christian writings are religious works written by early Christians, some of which were later canonized as the New Testament of today. They comprise the original documents that outline the governing principles, practices, and the history of the Christian Church. The Biblical canon contains what are considered the most significant of the early Christian writings. Of the same period, beyond the canon, are the works of the Apostolic Fathers as the Didache or doctrine of the twelve apostles, the epistles of St. Clement, the letters of St. Ignatius Martyr, Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Letter of Barnabas, speaking to Diognetus, Papias and the Shepherd of Hermas.[7]

The First Century

After Christ's death and resurrection c. 30-40 AD, Christianity took root within the Roman Empire despite a daunting 357 martyrs a year. Nearly two generations after the resurrection new Christian leaders succeed Christ's contemporary apostles and the Gospel is reverberating outward towards the edges of the Roman empire. The church was having trouble understanding its purpose in the world as a faith for all to attain and for all to be saved through Christ. The thought and feeling that the Lord will soon return was a prevalent belief and all were eagerly awaiting the moment. [8]

Peter, whose original name was Simon and according to the Catholic Church, the first Pope, was a contemporary eyewitness and disciple of Jesus Christ. Born in Bethsaida as the son of Jonah (also called Johannes or John) (John 1:42,44 ), he worked for his Savior in Judea and in Rome near the end of his life which led up to his martyrdom for His sake.

Circa 70-100 AD is the time period when the Bible or Scriptural Canon of 46[note 1] Old Testament and 27 New Testament books was completed. These writings although not commonly found during this time as a total book or canon are beginning to be circulated and read in secret by what are known as Christians or followers of Christ described in Acts 11:26 , Acts 26:28 and 1_Peter 4:16 .

The Second Century

Christianity was starting to become established as a viable faith that is attracting those who truly seek it. The number of Christians being martyred for their faith reached nearly 80,000 since Christ. Heretical attacks against theological principles based in scripture were developing into a framework coupled with physical attacks to bring Christianity to its knees. The attacks evolved in the first century from the physical upon the believers, to a deeper spiritual attack in the second century that is stirring individuals within the church to define themselves as integral parts through non-violent defense of it.

Apologists and theologians begin to stand up for the defense of and definition of scripture in this century as a direct result of such attacks.[9] Churches still are not legal and neither are any public forums that express views held in regard to Christ by the early church. Near the end of the second century and the beginning of the third the church is gaining much strength in Asia Minor, near modern day Turkey and North Africa. [10]

Main Article: Gnosticism

Gnosticism was a belief analogous to the modern New Age movement. According to the church fathers one of its founders was Simon Magus,[11] mentioned in the book of acts (Acts 8:9-24 ). It made claims of special knowledge and through that knowledge the attainment of salvation. Indeed, thought and practice of such was happening even before Christ was born. However during the second century it made significant gains within the Roman empire.[12]


Marcionism was a belief personified in Marcion who was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus on the southern coast of the Black Sea.[13] Marcion was born around 110 AD from wealthy parents. He is synonymous with the attempt to reduce the canonical books of scripture, specifically within the New Testament while completely getting rid of the Old Testament.[14]

Marcion was not a gnostic but essentially agreed with gnosticism that the Old Testament God was evil and vengeful while the New Testament God was different and thus not evil but good.


Montanism was a type of charismatic movement that got carried away with prophecies, special revelations and the like. Montanus, considered the founder began to prophesy in the village of Ardabau in Phrygia. [15] He was, According to hostile accounts, before his conversion, a mutilated priest of Cybele, with no special talents nor culture, but burning with fanatical zeal.[16]

The Third Century

Within the first decade of the third century (200-300 AD) the Roman emperor Septimius Severus was persecuting Christians severely by enforcing already established policies of the Roman government. Roman authorities were not allowed to look for Christians to execute, but if a person identified or accused someone of being Christian, they then were allowed to take action. This action was usually a choice given to the Christian; either curse and deny Christ and make an offering to Roman gods or be executed. After Septimius' tyrannical rule ended about 211 AD, hostility started to show signs of relenting and churches began to be built bringing with it some legal breathing room.

North Africa was becoming a major and vital part of Christendom with Carthage and Alexandria being major theological hubs. The church was thriving with at least a million Christians in Egypt. The peace that Christians were starting to enjoy soon came to an end in 250 AD when the emperor Decius unleashes an empire-wide persecution.[17] He accomplished this by declaring that everybody must offer a pagan sacrifice and show certificate of proof. This in turn brought up questions within the church regarding how to deal with those who turned away and now want acceptance again. [18]

Persecutions were at a record high of 1,540 a year totaling 410,000 since Christ. The role of bishop continued in significance. [19] Also, Anthony the Great, an Egyptian Christian monk, treked into the desert becoming a hermit and allowed himself to be spiritually disciplined. This movement or family of traditions is called monasticism, literally meaning, "dwelling alone," and was established during the early church as a protest against the increasing worldliness of the church. [20][21]

The Fourth Century

This century of church development was similar to our current in that historic changes were taking place that affected the church's relationship with society and politics albeit the two extremes. A melding of the two began to percolate even though persecution was still rampant.

In 305 AD, near the end of Diocletian's reign as emperor, he instituted what many historians feel was an attempt to completely exterminate the church. It failed, and the root causes of Diocletian's policy remained unclear. [22] John Chrysostom (347 to 407 AD) was born in Antioch, Syria and died after becoming a very prominent apologist for the Gospel and being known as an eloquent speaker of such.

Licinius was denying Constantine's rights and privileges to govern. Constantine was accepted as Caesar by his troops and Galerius (the eastern emperor) in 306 AD after Constantine's father and emperor of the Western Roman empire Flavius Valerius Constantius dies. Constantine's father, Flavius Constantius served in the court of Diocletian who was Roman Emperor from 284 to 305 AD. The acceptance of Constantine as Caesar is the first to put a crack in Diocletian's scheme for a tetrarchy, an empire ruled by four. Essentially Diocletian created a system in which there were two senior emperors, one for the Eastern block and one for the Western block of the Roman empire. These in turn would have a junior emperor respectively.

On June 5, 313 AD the same year Licinius (Roman Emperor from 308 to 324) married Constantine's half-sister Flavia Julia Constantia, he initiated what is known as the Edict of Milan. It granted toleration for Christians and other religions within the empire and also restored all church property. Churches began to flourish and Christians felt as if they could breathe a sigh of relief. Trends changed and it was starting to be considered opportune in politics and society in general to become Christian.

In 314 Licinius was at an uneasy peace with Constantine after he was defeated in the Battle of Cibalae. He continues to project a hostile position through building up his army and however good of a gesture the edict was it is clearly a ruse used to control the time he could use to essentially turn his back on it just 7 years later in 320 AD. Licinius breaks his commitment and initiates a small-scale but violent persecution of the church in the east.[23] That in turn makes Adrianople, or what is essentially the land of the modern day city Edirne in Thrace; the western most part of Turkey break into a place of civil war and unrest led by Constantine in the Summer of 324 AD. This will ultimately lead to the defeat of Licinius.

Four years after Licinius' persecution, the Battle of the Hellespont by Crispus, Constantine’s eldest son and Caesar compelled Licinius to withdraw to Bythinia where his last stand was made and the Battle of Chrysopolis was carried out. In the end Constantine came to eastern Europe as a liberator, wanting to establish peace and stability to pagans and Christians alike. [24]

After being defeated time and time again in battle and realizing that further resistance is futile, Licinius surrenders and Constantine spared his life. His co-emperor Sextus Martinianus was killed however. The Roman senate with concurrence of Constantine a year later had Licinius killed because of his potential threat of conspiring with the barbarians to raise up troops. After the death of Licinius in 325 AD Constantine became sole ruler of the Roman empire.

Toward the end of Constantine's life in 337 AD, a Persian enemy was forming in the lands of modern day Iran. Shapur II[25] was the ninth King of the Sassanid Empire or what is also called the second Persian Empire which lasted from 226 to 651 AD. He broke a 40 year peace agreement that was brokered by Narseh and Emperor Diocletian. [26] Before Constantine could react to a blatant act of war he was struck with an illness that claimed his life in May of 337. [27]

Under Constantine the Great's rule, the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was convened with 318 bishops in attendance and became one voice condemning the Arian heresy which challenges Christ's claim of direct Son-ship of God (homoousios) as well as His human lineage. (Saint Nicholas attended this Council and, by one account, confronted Arius directly, expressing his contempt for Arius' arguments with a slap across the face.) The result is the Nicene Creed which most churches follow to this very day. Some fifty years later the First Council of Constantinople convened during the year of 381 AD under Pope Damasus I and the Emperor Theodosius I; it was attended by 150 bishops. Its goal was focused against the followers of Macedonius, who disputed the Divinity of the Holy Spirit.

The fourth century also saw the role of missionaries being vital to the expansive nature of the Gospel of Christ. Through missions it was taken to even further edges of the known world, past the Roman empire and through Ufilias to the Goths, an east Germanic tribe that settled in modern day Poland around the turn of the third century AD.

In 386 Saint Augustine, although raised as a Christian by his mother Monica, returned to Christianity from Manichaeism and became one of the most important Christian theologians in church history. Persecutions flourished at the turn of the century due to empire-wide incitements but also because emperors who truly respected Christianity are no longer ruling. Within 400 years of its inception the church grows despite massive persecution, and became the foundation of an empire that once carried out persecution against it without mercy. In the end however persecutions smashed previous records and by 400 AD were at about 5,000 a year with a total of 1.5 million being martyred for their faith.[22]

The Fifth Century

Despite missionary efforts the Goths were increasingly becoming a threat to the Roman empire. August of 410 AD marked the first time Rome fell to the hands of an enemy in 800 years when the Goths or Visigoths, led by Alaric I, sacked the city. The role of emperor began to decline while the role of bishop within the church and Roman society increased during the close of the fifth century.

The need for Christ to be defined and the Word of God to be defended by the church was very great on account of attempts to tear it down through theological alternatives. The First Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 AD and 200 bishops attended. It addressed the personal unity of Christ, declared Mary the Mother of God (theotokos), effectively going against Nestorius who was Bishop of Constantinople and founder of Nestorianism a Christological heresy. Nestorius later died in 451 AD which was the same year that the Council of Chalcedon was held. One-hundred and fifty bishops were in attendance under Pope Leo the Great that again defined the two natures of Christ which are Divine and human existing together without confusion.

The Roman Empire (west and east) by 476

Saint Patrick (390-460) was a huge force for the the missionary effort of the church. Patrick was Romano-Briton who, at the age of 16, was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. It was at this time he learned the native Gaelic language and the customs of the Druids, as his master was a Druidic high priest. When he was 22, he escaped to Gaul (modern France) where he became a Christian priest.

Now in his thirties, Patrick was made a Bishop by Pope Celestine I in 432 and, together with a small band of followers, traveled to Ireland to commence the conversion. He thus became one of the first Christian missionaries to bring the Gospel to Ireland, being preceded by St. Palladius (431 AD). Patrick is credited with establishing 300 churches in Ireland and of having converted the population to Christianity as well as bringing written word to Ireland through the promotion of the study of legal texts and the Bible, and with it an avid enthusiastic love for books that later reverberated back into Britain and then Europe, where waves of tribes from the east had devastated libraries and monasteries. However scribes who were loyal to the preservation of knowledge saved many Greek and Latin writings which we still have today. Charlemagne and other French rulers used their students to establish the centers of learning that became the universities of today.

Leaders of the more eastern parts of Europe were being converted to Christianity and in 481 AD the Frankish King Clovis inherited his father's kingdom and utilized it to unify the Franks. Five years later King Clovis defeated the Roman general Syagrius. Syagrius ruled the lands of northern Gaul which consists of modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. By 496, just before he was baptized and converted to Christianity, Clovis defeated the alliance of Germanic tribes called Alemanni. After Clovis was baptized he later finished his expansion by taking control of Aquitaine, the last province of France, from Alaric II of the Visigoths. This paved the way for Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire.[28]

The church calendar, starting at the Christian year, was established and begins to take hold as the standard among the Roman empire.

Five-hundred years had passed and the rate at which Christians were being killed for their faith in Christ was astounding with 5,500 a year and a total of 2.5 million. Amongst this the sriptures already being established and circulated for centuries were then available in 13 languages. [29]

Church Development from 500 to 1000 AD

Christianity Branches.png

This can easily be characterized as the most complex time of Christian history. The Middle Ages as it is called started at the Western Roman Empires fall, dating around 476 and lasting until 1350 AD. It is the second of three ages of European history, which are: Classical Civilization, the Middle ages and Modern Civilization. [30] The Church prospered and gained much acceptance but it was also fractured with theological differences at the core, the result leading to the creation of denominations in Christianity. However hurtful some ecclesiastical historians claim this was for the continued unification of the church, doctrinal theological consistency to a great extent still exist today regarding salvation.

The religion of Islam founded by Muhammad began to be practiced during the middle of the seventh century (600 to 700 AD) and begin to infiltrate and desecrate core centers of the established Christian and Jewish religious communities. This effectively caused massive upheavals of Christian populations from the Middle East, migrating North into Europe and specifically Western Europe.[31] Islam, through its history of violent expansion and attempts of such, moved the ruling Byzantine empire towards a call to arms in defense initiating what is called the Crusades.

The Sixth Century

Saint Benedict can be seen as one of the most important Christian monks in this century as well as in the entire history of Christianity. He is also known as Benedict of Nursia and was responsible for establishing a Christian monastery in Monte Cassino.[32] He is best-known however for his writings released in 529 AD entitled the, Rule of Saint Benedict. [33] It contains precepts written to inspire moral action in an individual. It is to be used as guiding instruction for a Christian monk living life under an abbot that the community has chosen as their spiritual adviser. In words more personal to the author, as the Benedictine Confederation's motto states: pax ("peace") and the traditional, ora et labora ("pray and work").

Barbarians increased migration into western and other eastern Roman empire territories effectively changing the sociopolitical landscape. The Roman armies also begin to fight themselves and civil war is raging throughout the empire and is draining resources rapidly. Barbarians being labeled so if they did not speak Greek were not limited to the Goths but include the Persians, Phoenicians and Scythians. The Germanic and Slavic peoples were essentially tribal at this time and their migration lasted until the early Middle Ages, heavily influencing the current population of modern Europe. [34]

The Cardinals elected the first Pope of German ancestry: Pope Boniface II.[31]

Dionysus Exiguus (d. ca. 550) fixed the Anno Domini epoch. By all accounts, however, his first "year of our Lord" fell about three to eight years too late.[31]

The Western Roman Empire fell around 476 AD and now in its entirety; the mighty Roman empire began to fall. [35]

Due to responses from among the Church towards heresies of the sixth century (500-600 AD) the Fifth Ecumenical Council (dubbed Second Council of Constantinople) was held in 553 AD amassing 165 bishops under Pope Vigilius and Emperor Justinian I. [36]

The Seventh Century

Isidore, bishop of Seville, labored mightily to advance the cause of Christ in Spain.[37]

Muhammad (c. 570-629) began the political-religious movement called Islam, raises an army, and rides forth "conquering and to conquer." (Revelation 6:1-2 (KJV)) In 638, Muslim armies capture Jerusalem.

The Pantheon in Rome was rededicated as the St. Maria Rotunda in 609. Pope Boniface IV declared All Saints' Day.

Emperor Constans II issued the Typos (Greek "manner") that limits Christian teachings to those defined in the first five ecumenical councils. When Pope Martin I refuses to sign, he is banished to Crimea, where he dies.

England adopts the Catholic faith at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

Two Anglo-Saxon bishops, Kilian and Wilibrord, conduct their grand mission among the Franks.

First use of organs and church bells.

Establishment of Anglo-Saxon monasteries.

The Eighth Century

Muslim or "Moorish" conquest of Spain.[38] But in Battle of Tours, Charles Martel stops the Muslims from conquering France.

Division of the eastern and western Churches begins with controversy over veneration of images.

Pope Leo III becomes head of the western Church and establishes the Papal States in southern Italy.

Charlemagne becomes sole King of the Franks.

First schools of church music at Paris, Cologne, Soissin, and Metz.

The Ninth Century

Charlemagne becomes the first Holy Roman Emperor.[39]

First and highly controversial publication about the Eucharist, by Radbertus.

John Scotus Erigena lays the foundations of scholasticism.

Rift between eastern and western Churches grows wider.

Anskar (801-865), "Apostle of the North," brings Christianity to Scandinavia.

Cyril and Methodius invent the Cyrillic alphabet for Slavic peoples.

King Alfred the Great orders translation of religious writings into the language of the common people in England.

The Tenth Century

Christianity continued to spread to the east in Europe.[40]

Reigns of Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia ("Good King Wenceslaus") and Prince Vladimir I of Kiev, the man who, more than any other, introduced Christianity to Russia.

Emperor Otto the Great reestablishes the Holy Roman Empire, but among Germans only.

Papacy descends into moral turpitude.

First canonizations of saints.

Approach of the Year 1000 causes people to anticipate the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20 ).

Church Development from 1000 to 1500 AD

Includes the Crusades, the final division of the eastern and western Churches, early efforts to reform the church, the Inquisition, and continued warfare between Christianity and Islam.

The Eleventh Century

Muslims sack the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009. This event provokes Pope Urban II to proclaim the First Crusade in 1095. The first Crusaders reconquer Jerusalem in 1099.[41]

The eastern and western Churches divide officially in 1054, a division that continues to the present. In addition, a new series of popes increases papal authority.

Pope Gregory VII establishes custom of priestly celibacy. New monastic orders begin.

Conquest of England by the Normans in 1066; first Archbishops of Canterbury begin reforming the English church. The second Archbishop, Anselm, writes Why did God Become a Man?

Development of music includes polyphonic singing, replacing the Gregorian chant.

The Twelfth Century

Crusaders capture Acre in 1104, only to lose it again in 1191, along with Jerusalem in 1187. Second Crusade begins in 1147 and ends in failure.[42]

Monasticism is still the chief reforming influence. St. Bernard establishes his famous monastery at Clairvaux.

Doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary spreads.

Pope Alexander III establishes rules for canonization.

The Becket Incident in England (1170): Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, martyred.

In 1173 the Waldensian movement begins in Lyons with Peter Waldo. They condemned tithes, believed in only two sacraments (Baptism and the Eucharist), held that layman could absolve from sin, but that a sinful priest could not, rejected indulgences, fasts and all the ceremonies of the Church, made no distinction between mortal and venial sins, claimed the veneration of icons to be idolatry, and condemned all oaths to be unlawful. They soon fell into error an were condemned as heretics by numerous synods and councils, but especially by the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179.

Gothic architecture begins with the construction of Notre Dame de Paris.

The Thirteenth Century

Crusades continue, including the Third and Fourth Crusades, the Children's Crusade, and the capture of Constantinople by the Europeans.[43]

Papal power at its zenith, with Pope Innocent III asserting his authority to intervene in civil affairs.

Establishment of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders.[44]

Saint Thomas Aquinas publishes his Summa Theologica, a summary of Scholastic Theology.

Fourth Lateran Council.

The Inquisition begins.

The Fourteenth Century

Pope Boniface VIII issues the infamous papal bull Unam Sanctum which lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Church, the necessity of belonging to it for the attainment of eternal salvation, the position of the Pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the Pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation.[45]

The Avignon Papacy, also referred to as the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Papacy, with the pope residing in Avignon, France, and under the influence of the French monarch.

Hundred Years' War begins between England and France.

The Western Schism, during which three separate papal claimants struggled for supreme authority over the church. Catherine of Siena tries to end the rift.

Dante's Divine Comedy.

John Wycliffe begins his own movement to encourage Christians to look to the Bible alone for truth.

The Black Death (the plague, Yersinia pestis) kills one-quarter of the population of Europe.

The Fifteenth Century

Council of Constance convened to try to heal the Western Schism. This same council attempts to quash John Wycliffe's ideas.[46]

Hundred Years' War ends. Campaign and martyrdom of Joan of Arc.

The Renaissance. When the Turks capture Constantinople in 1453, many scholars flee westward and begin a resurgence of learning in the West.

Development of movable-type printing by Johann Gutenberg. First printing of the Bible.

The Spanish Inquisition.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain finally expel the Moors at Andalusia (1492).

Christopher Columbus sets sail (1492) across the Atlantic Ocean and, without knowing it, discovers the New World.

Establishment of the Vatican Library.

Flourishing of art and science in Florence, Italy, with the careers of men like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Church Development from 1500 to 2000 AD

This era includes the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the rise of atheism as an organized political movement.

The Sixteenth Century

The Reformation in Europe and in England.[47]

Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church house door in Wittenberg 1517.

William Tyndale attempts to publish an English New Testament and is eventually tracked down and martyred.

John Calvin establishes his own movement in Geneva, Switzerland.

King Henry VIII of England orders a break with the Pope and later destroys the English monasteries, charging (perhaps with some justice) that they have degenerated into centers of corruption. Founding of the Anglican Communion.

Reign of Queen Mary I ("Bloody Mary") in England. Eight hundred Bible scholars flee to Geneva and help create the Geneva Bible, which will see almost annual editions until 1640.

John Knox advances the Reformation in Scotland.

Council of Trent (1543-1563) begins the Counter-Reformation. Founding of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

The Seventeenth Century

I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use. (Galileo Galilei)
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. ("General Scholium," in Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Isaac Newton. 1687)

In 1650 the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, (1581 - 1656) published a monumental history of the world (The Annals of the World) from creation to 70 AD, and for this used the recorded genealogies and ages in scripture to derive what is commonly known as the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar. This calculated a date for Creation from the Bible at 4004 BC. The calendar was widely accepted for nearly two centuries.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

In 1696, William Whiston published A New Theory of the Earth, in which he proposed an account of the creation of the world. He grounded his argument in the following three Postulata:

  1. The obvious or literal sense of scripture is the true and real one, where no evidence can be given to the contrary.
  2. That which is clearly accountable in a natural way, is not, without reason to be ascribed to a miraculous power.
  3. What ancient tradition asserts of the constitution of nature, or of the origin and primitive states of the world, is to be allowed for true, where ‘tis fully agreeable to scripture, reason, and philosophy.

Whiston was the first to propose that the global flood was caused by the water in the tail of a comet.

The Eighteenth Century

The English divine William Derham (26 November 1657 - 5 April 1735) published his Artificial Clockmaker in 1696 and Physico-Theology in 1713. These books were teleological arguments for the being and attributes of God, and were used by Paley nearly a century later.

The Watchmaker analogy was put by Bernard Nieuwentyt (1730) and referred to several times by Paley. A charge of wholesale plagiarism from this book was brought against Paley in the Athenaeum for 1848, but the famous illustration of the watch was not peculiar to Nieuwentyt, and had been appropriated by many others before Paley.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707 - 1778) established a system of classification of species by similarity. At the time, the system of classification was seen as the plan of organization used by God in his creation. Later, the theory of evolution applied it as groundwork for the idea of common descent.

The Nineteenth Century

In 1802 William Paley (1743 - 1805), published Natural Theology in response to naturalists such as Hume, refining the ancient teleological argument (or argument from design) to argue for the existence of God. He argued that life was so intricately designed and interconnected as to be analogous to a watch. Just as when one finds a watch, one reasonably infers that it was designed and constructed by an intelligent being, although one has never seen the designer, when one observes the complexity and intricacy of life, one may reasonably infer that it was designed and constructed by God, although one has never seen God.

In 1859 Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. In 1871 he published his two-volume The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Many Christian thinkers had expressed concerns about the implications of evolution, especially in the English-speaking world.[48]

The Twentieth Century

George McCready Price (1870 - 1963) was important in establishing flood geology, and many of his ideas that a young earth could be deduced from science would be taken up later.

After the First World War (1914 - 1918), the teaching of evolution and creation in public education grew as a public controversy. (see Public education). Many texts began to teach the theory of evolution as scientific fact. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims came to believe that in teaching evolution as fact, the State was unconstitutionally infringing on their right to the free exercise of religion, as it effectively taught their children that the Bible (and the Qu'ran) had been proven false.

For example, William Jennings Bryan (1860 - 1925) "became convinced that the teaching of Evolution as a fact instead of a theory caused the students to lose faith in the Bible, first, in the story of creation, and later in other doctrines, which underlie the Christian religion."

During the First World War, horrors committed by Germans, who were citizens of one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the World, caused Bryan to state "The same science that manufactured poisonous gases to suffocate soldiers is preaching that man has a brute ancestry and eliminating the miraculous and the supernatural from the Bible."

A popular book from 1917 by Vernon L. Kellogg entitled Headquarters Nights, reported through first hand evidence German officers discussing Darwinism leading to the declaration of war.

H. L. Mencken, whose nationally published coverage of the Scopes Trial referred to the town's creationist inhabitants as "yokels" and "morons", referred to assisting counsel for the prosecution as a "buffoon" and his speeches as "theologic bilge," while referring to the defence as "eloquent" and "magnificent."

In 1922, William Jennings Bryan published In His Image[49] in which he argued that Darwinism was both irrational and immoral. On the former point, he pointed to examples such as the eye, which he argued could not be explained by Darwinian evolution. On the latter point, he argued that Darwinism advocated the policy of "scientific breeding" or eugenics, by which the strong were to weed out the weak, a belief which directly contradicts the Christian doctrine of charity to the helpless.

In 1924, Clarence Darrow defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb on the charge of kidnapping and killing Bobby Franks; his defense included an argument that "this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor".

In 1925, G. K. Chesterton published The Everlasting Man[50] in which he developed and articulated many creationist ideas and criticisms of the philosophical underpinnings and perceived logical flaws of evolution.

He also wrote, in St. Thomas Aquinas, "It is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything."

The Scopes Trial of 1925 is perhaps the most famous court case of its kind. The Butler Act had prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools in Tennessee. The schoolteacher John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and fined, although the case was later dismissed on a technicality.

In 1929 a book by one of George McCready Price's former students, Harold W. Clark described Price's catastrophism as "creationism" in Back to Creationism. Previously anti-evolutionists had described themselves as being "Christian fundamentalists" "Anti-evolution" or "Anti-false science". The term creationism had previously referred to the creation of souls for each new person, as opposed to traducianism, where souls were said to have been inherited from one's parents.

In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement, the world's first creationist organisation, began in England.

In 1933, a group of atheists seeking to develop a "new religion" to replace previous, deity-based religions, composed the Humanist Manifesto,[51] which outlined a fifteen-point belief system, the first two points of which provided that "Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created" and "Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process." This document exacerbated the ideological tone of the discussion in many circles, as many creationists came to see evolution as a doctrine of the "religion" of atheism.

Christian Zionism

Until the Reformation, the prevailing doctrine in the Church concerning the Jews was that God had finished with national Israel and that the Jews were in no less error than were any other non-Christians. But the Reformation brought an interest in the original Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible. This in turn provoked a reconsideration of the idea that some Jews would persist to the end of history and return someday to their native Israel, from which Emperor Hadrian of Rome had exiled them all in 135.

The first evidence for what would later be called Christian Zionism is from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Reformers did not believe in a restoration of Israel, but rather that all the Jews would be converted en masse at the end of history. Yet the diminution of the authority of Rome, and the re-emphasis on the primacy of Scripture, led directly to the belief that at some future time the Jews would repopulate the Land of Israel.

This idea of "restorationism" would gain strength in the British colonies that would become the United States of America and would gain greater strength in the nineteenth century. The most famous promulgator of restorationism was John Nelson Darby. His "dispensationalism" would lend Christian Zionism its greatest strength, though Darby himself was not part of that movement. Yet the belief that "God is through with Israel forever" persisted[52] until at least the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Balfour Declaration toward the end of the First World War accelerated the immigration of Jews into what was then called Palestine. This migration was curtailed shortly before the Second World War, but after that war was ended, the Allied powers supported renewed migration of Jews to the land, despite Arab opposition. The highest point of Christian Zionism was the recognition of Israel as a sovereign entity by Harry S. Truman, President of the United States.

Today the place of Israel in Bible prophecy, and especially eschatology, remains in sharp dispute. Some Bible commentators still believe that "God is through with national Israel." But the objection to the notion of an end-times role for Israel might actually reflect the fear that continued Western support for Israel could provoke a war far more devastating than the Second World War.[53]


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