Church History: Years 200-300
How do you maintain an empire as vast and diverse as Rome?
The emperor Decius believed that by instituting a common faith you could unite the far flung borders of the kingdom.
That faith would be emperor worship.
It was a reasonable deal for most…you could worship any god you chose to as long as once a year you would offer a pinch of incense and say “Caesar is lord”.
Christians, of course could not do that…although some did.
The ones who did not suffered greatly, being subjected to various tortures to induce compliance.
The early church held these people in high regard…they were called “confessors”.
The ones who compromised, even under torture, were called “apostates”
When the persecution ended, the question of how to deal with those who had “lapsed” and now wanted re-entry into the church would be a controversy for centuries to come.
Should the church be more concerned about forgiving love…or purity?
Cyprian had said that “outside the church there was no salvation” and many put the lapsed outside the church.
Was not the denial of Christ the unforgivable sin?
Now, those who had become martyrs for the faith were given great honor within the church…special celebrations accompanied the dates of their deaths.
Soon, it came to be believed that their lives had been so exemplary that God had given them the power to use their “merit” to cover the sins of the apostates…and thus came the concept of “saints”.
While the concept was rejected at the time it later grew into the Roman Catholic doctrines of the “treasury of merit’ and” indulgences” and the Roman and Eastern Orthodox doctrines of “saints”.
Eventually, it was decided that readmission would be based on “penance”…a period of sorrow for ones sin that must be suffered before being allowed to the Lords table…and another doctrine was born.
See also; Novatian.
The Apostles Creed emerges as a statement of faith around the year 200.
Origen writes the first systematic theology of the Christian faith, notable for it’s high Christology and the introduction of an allegorical method of interpretation.
Tertullian wrote about original sin and salvation by grace, while also affirming that tradition was as valuable as Scripture. The terms “Trinity” and sacrament” are first found in his writings.
Baptism was believed to cancel all sins up to the point of being baptized…so people often waited until deaths door to be dunked.
There was still a strong belief in the soon return of Christ. The early church did not believe in “imminence” because they believed that the anti-Christ would come first.
Irenaeus quotes from at least 21 of the 27 NT books, showing a growing acceptance of what would become the canon of Scripture.
The church is ruled by bishops.
Callistus makes the first case for the preeminent place of Rome among the churches.