Early Christian Growth, Disagreements, and Heresies

By the second century the church had given up hopes of Christ’s imminent return. Nevertheless, for some time they continued to live exemplary lives. By that time, the day of worship was moved from the Jewish Sabbath to the first day of the week, Sunday. At that time, there were only three Christian sacrament: baptism, communion, and holy orders. The Roman Christians began to bury their dead in catacombs in which the corpses were stacked in crypts along the sides. By the end of the second century, the form of the Christian mass was established. By then, Christian art included the image of the Dove, representing the release of the soul upon death, the Phoenix, arising from the ashen remains of the body following death, the palm branch of celebration, the olive branch of peace, and the fish which represented the Greek words, “Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior.” Christian music arose from Greek pagan music, but, on the whole, it maintained the high moral values of the church.

Greek Christians, drawing upon the Greek habit of disputation, became rife with heresies. The signs of the final times had to be reinterpreted as the years passed. Gnosticism predated Christianity, but as Christianity adopted other mystery religions, it also adapted the self knowledge of Gnosticism to its own purposes. The first notable heretic, Marcion, in the mid – second century took inspiration from the Gnostics. He taught that the mercurial Yahweh could not be the father of Christ. He challenged the notion that a good God would not have condemned and kind because of Adam’s disobedience. He taught a purely spiritual resurrection and a strict asceticism. He chose Luke’s gospel and the Letters of Paul to constitute his New Testament. The established church authorities rejected his ideas as heretical and excommunicated him.

In the mid-second century, Montanus, condemned the increasing worldliness of the church and the increasing power of the bishops. He sought the return to a simple Christian faith, and recognition of the religious service of both priests and the laity. He taught the imminent establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in the New Jerusalem in which all things would be shared and nothing hoarded. His was a spirit-filled ministry. Today we might call it Pentecostal that at that time it bore some resemblance to the rights of Dionysus. Montanism was banned by the church as a heresy. It bore some similarity to Gnosticism in that it elevated the spiritual life over the physical life. However, whereas Gnosticism sought to gain triumph over this life through knowledge, Montanism sought triumph through ecstasy. In about 190 A.D., when Christians were being persecuted by Roman authorities in Asia minor, many Montanus offered themselves for martyrdom.

One of the early Church fathers, Origenes Adamantius (Origin), lived in the early part of the third century. His father was put to death for his Christian faith. In Origin, one finds a curious mixture of literal interpretation of the Bible (in which he took Matthew 19:12 literally and had himself emasculated) and metaphor (in which he challenged the , as nonsensical literal interpretation of days of creation and the notion of the tree of life, which would necessarily imply immortality). Because he was emasculated, his Bishop, Demetrius of Alexandria, refused to ordain him as a priest. Demetrius and was ordained by the bishops of Palestine. He moved to Caesarea where he wrote his defense of Christianity, Contra Celsum. In it, he knowledge that there were inprobable difficulties in Christian doctrine, but he asserted that paganism had even greater difficulties. Moreover, the Christian faith offered a nobler way of life. By the time that Origin was 65 years of age, the Christian persecution by the Roman Emperor, Desius, laid Origin out on a rack in an iron collar, weighted by heavy chain for many days. He survived that with the untimely death of Desius, but lived only a few more years. Will Durant writes at page 615, “With him Christianity ceased to be only a comforting faith; it became a full fledged philosophy, buttressed with Scripture but proudly resting on reason.”

Through the second century many gospels, letters of the apostles, and apocalyptic literature were circulated. There developed different lines of authority in the West, at Rome, and in the East at Byzantium. As one might expect, with different authorities, different writings concerning Jesus, the apostles and the early church would also differ. The book of Revelation was rejected by the Eastern church, but found authoritative by the Western church. The book of Hebrews and the letters of James were rejected by the Western church, but accepted by the Eastern church. When The Eastern and Western churches determine the authoritative books of their own New Testament. Various synods and church conferences were convened for those purposes. Even when the West had determined the books that it considered authoritative, certain of the popes flip-flopped on some letters attributed to Paul, which ought to have called into question the notion of Papal infallibility. Not only was there a conflict between Eastern and Western Christian churches, but each had their own rogue congregations to bring under its control. Throughout the second century, the Roman church grew both in wealth and an ecumenical power. Will Durant says of that at page 618:

As Judeism had given Christianity ethics, and Greece had given it theology, so now Rome gave it organization; all of these, with a dozen absorbed and revival faiths, entered into the Christian synthesis. It was not merely that the church took over some religious customs and forms, common in pre-Christian Rome – the stole and other vestments of pagan priests, the use of incense and holy water in purifications, the burning of candles and an everlasting light before the altar, the worship of the saints, the architecture of the basilica, the law of Rome as a basis for canon law, the title of Pontifex Maximus for the Supreme Pontiff, and, in the fourth century, the Latin language as the noble and enduring vehicle of Catholic ritual.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s