The early church originated in Roman Judea in the first century AD, founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who is believed by Christians to be the Son of God and Christ the Messiah. It is usually thought of as beginning with Jesus' Apostles. According to scripture Jesus commanded them to spread his teachings to all the world.
Springing out of Second Temple Judaism, from Christianity's earliest days, Christians accepted non-Jews (Gentiles) without requiring them to fully adopt Jewish customs (such as circumcision). The parallels in the Jewish faith are the Proselytes, Godfearers, and Noahide Law, see also Biblical law in Christianity. Some think that conflict with Jewish religious authorities quickly led to the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogues in Jerusalem (see also Council of Jamnia and List of events in early Christianity).
The Church gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, gaining major establishments in cities such as Jerusalem, Antioch, and Edessa. It also became a widely persecuted religion. It was condemned by the Jewish authorities as a heresy (see also Rejection of Jesus). The Roman authorities persecuted it because, like Judaism, its monotheistic teachings were fundamentally foreign to the polytheistic traditions of the ancient world and a challenge to the imperial cult. The Church grew rapidly until finally legalized and then promoted by Emperors Constantine and Theodosius I in the fourth century as the state church of the Roman Empire.
Already in the 2nd century, Christians denounced teachings that they saw as heresies, especially Gnosticism but also Montanism. Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of that century and Irenaeus at the end saw union with the bishops as the test of correct Christian faith. After legalization of the Church in the 4th century, the debate between Arianism and Trinitarianism, with the emperors favouring now one side now the other, was a major controversy. On February 27, 380, the Roman Empire officially adopted the Trinitarian version of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire. Prior to this date, Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) had personally favored Arian or Semi-Arian forms of Christianity, but Valens' successor Theodosius I supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed from the 1st Council of Nicea.
On this date, Theodosius I decreed that only the followers of Trinitarian Christianity were entitled to be referred to as Catholic Christians, while all others were to be considered to be heretics, which was considered illegal. In 385, this new legal situation resulted, in the first case of many to come, in the capital punishment of a heretic, namely Priscillian, condemned to death, with several of his followers, by a civil tribunal for the crime of magic. In the centuries of state-sponsored Christianity that followed, pagans and "heretical" Christians were routinely persecuted by the Empire and the many kingdoms and countries that later occupied the place of the Empire, but some Germanic tribes remained Arian well into the Middle Ages (see also Christendom).
The Church within the Roman Empire was organized under metropolitan sees, with five rising to particular prominence and forming the basis for the Pentarchy proposed by Justinian I. Of these five, one was in the West (Rome) and the rest in the East (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria). Even after the split of the Roman Empire the Church remained a relatively united institution (apart from Oriental Orthodoxy and some other groups which separated from the rest of the Church earlier). The Church came to be a central and defining institution of the Empire, especially in the East or Byzantine Empire, where Constantinople came to be seen as the center of the Christian world, owing in great part to its economic and political power.
Once the Western Empire fell to Germanic incursions in the 5th century, the (Roman) Church became for centuries the primary link to Roman civilization for medieval Western Europe and an important channel of influence in the West for the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, emperors. While, in the West, the so-called orthodox Church competed against the Arian Christian and pagan faiths of the Germanic rulers and spread outside what had been the Empire to Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and the western Slavs, in the East Christianity spread to the Slavs in what is now Russia, south-central and eastern Europe. The reign of Charlemagne in Western Europe is particularly noted for bringing the last major Western Arian tribes into communion with Rome, in part through conquest and forced conversion.
Starting in the 7th century the Islamic Caliphates rose and gradually began to conquer larger and larger areas of the Christian world. Excepting North Africa and most of Spain, northern and western Europe escaped largely unscathed by Islamic expansion, in great part because richer Constantinople and its empire acted as a magnet for the onslaught. The challenge presented by the Muslims would help to solidify the religious identity of eastern Christians even as it gradually weakened the Eastern Empire. Even in the Muslim World, the Church survived (e.g., the modern Copts, Maronites, and others) albeit at times with great difficulty.
Although there had long been frictions between the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Western Pope) and the eastern patriarchs within the Byzantine Empire, Rome's changing allegiance from Constantinople to the Frankish king Charlemagne set the Church on a course towards separation. The political and theological divisions would grow until Rome and the East excommunicated each other in the 11th century, ultimately leading to the division of the Church into the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (Eastern Orthodox) Churches. In 1448, not long before the Byzantine Empire collapsed, the Russian Church gained independence from the Patriarch of Constantinople.
As a result of the redevelopment of Western Europe, and the gradual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Arabs and Turks (helped by warfare against Eastern Christians), the final Fall of Constantinople in 1453 resulted in Eastern scholars fleeing the Moslem hordes bringing ancient manuscripts to the West, which was a factor in the beginning of the period of the Western Renaissance there. Rome was seen by the Western Church as Christianity's heartland. Some Eastern churches even broke with Eastern Orthodoxy and entered into communion with Rome (the "Uniate" Eastern Catholic Churches). The changes brought on by the Renaissance eventually led to the Protestant Reformation during which the Protestant Lutheran and the Reformed followers of Calvin, Hus, Zwingli, Melancthon, Knox, and others split from the Roman Catholic Church. At this time, a series of non-theological disputes also led to the English Reformation which led to the independence of the Anglican Communion. Then during the Age of Exploration and the Age of Imperialism, Western Europe spread the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant and Reformed Churches around the world, especially in the Americas. These developments in turn have led to Christianity being the largest religion in the world today.
Read more about this topic: Christian Church
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