Sunday, May 5, 2013

Christian Origins: 13. Schisms

13. Schisms

In the fourth century AD, Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire. It was no longer persecuted by the state. Soon, by the end of the fourth century it was the state religion and heretic sects and pagans were converted at the pain of death. It was around these times that the winter solstice holiday or the birthday of Solar deities (Sol Invictus and others) was co-opted by Christians. Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25. Christianity never looked back and during the medieval times was a major power player in Europe.

The Ecumenical Councils

However, Christianity was hardly a monolithic faith. In the pursuit of universally accepted dogmas, many ecumenical councils were held. How Jesus the son and God the father were related was the issue at hand at the Council of Nicaea. It was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. The Nicene Creed declared that the Son was begotten, not made and was of one substance with the Father. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD declared that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, at the same time.

The Great Schism

Despite the councils and the efforts of the church, the variant and heretic sects remained and differences persisted. Though having the weight of the Roman Empire behind it helped root out some of the heresies, some did not quite die away. The Churches of the East (Greek) and the West (Latin) had a fall out and eventually split in AD 1054. The split was, at least on paper, primarily over the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the both the Father and the Son or just the Father (the Filioque controversy). It was accompanied by much politics in the background and a good dose of drama.

The Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century saw many Protestant Churches break away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of England also broke away from the Catholic Church leaving it a much smaller and weaker power broker.

In the last two centuries many many more denominations emerged; Pentecostal denominations, Jehovah's Witness, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) and many many more. According to the "World Census of Religious Activities" by the U.N, there were over 23,000 sects of Christianity by 1989. [1]

[To be continued... Next Chapter: Looking Back ]


[1] World Census of Religious Activities, U.N. Information Center, NY, 1989.
[Note: I have only seen citations of this report; haven't actually seen the report.]

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