Early centers of Christianity

Early Christianity (generally considered the time period from its origin to the First Council of Nicaea in 325) spread from the Eastern Mediterranean throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Originally, this progression was closely connected to already established Jewish centers in the Holy Land and the Jewish diaspora. The first followers of Christianity were Jews or proselytes, commonly referred to as Jewish Christians and God-fearers.

The Apostolic sees claim to have been founded by one or more of the apostles of Jesus, who are said to have dispersed from Jerusalem sometime after the crucifixion of Jesus, c. 26–36, perhaps following the Great Commission. Early Christians gathered in small private homes,[1] known as house churches, but a city's whole Christian community would also be called a church – the Greek noun ἐκκλησία literally means assembly, gathering, or congregation[2][3] but is translated as church in most English translations of the New Testament.

Many of these Early Christians were merchants and others who had practical reasons for traveling to northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and other places.[4][5][6] Over 40 such communities were established by the year 100,[5][6] many in Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, such as the Seven churches of Asia. By the end of the first century, Christianity had already spread to Rome and major cities in Armenia, Greece and Syria, serving as foundations for the expansive spread of Christianity, eventually throughout the world.

Eastern Roman Empire

Jerusalem

The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. Bargil Pixner[7] claims the original Church of the Apostles is located under the current structure.
A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre based on a German documentary. The church is claimed to be at the site of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus.

Jerusalem was the first center of the church, according to the Book of Acts, and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: the location of "the first Christian church".[8] The apostles lived and taught there for some time after Pentecost.[9] Jesus' brother James was a leader in the church, and his other kinsmen likely held leadership positions in the surrounding area after the destruction of the city until its rebuilding as Aelia Capitolina, c. 130, when all Jews were banished from the city.[9] In about 50, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the "pillars of the church":[10] James, Peter, and John. Later called the Council of Jerusalem, this meeting, among other things, confirmed the legitimacy of the mission of Barnabas and Paul to the gentiles, and the gentile converts' freedom from most Mosaic law, especially circumcision, which was repulsive to the Hellenic mind.[11] Thus, the Acts 15:19–21) may be a major act of differentiation of the Church from its Jewish roots[12], though the decree may simply parallel Jewish Noahide Law and thus be a commonality rather than a differential. In roughly the same time period Rabbinic Judaism made their circumcision requirement of Jewish boys even stricter.[13]

When Peter left Jerusalem after Herod Agrippa I tried to kill him, James appears as the principal authority.[14] Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215) called him Bishop of Jerusalem.[14] A second-century church historian, Hegesippus, wrote that the Sanhedrin martyred him in 62.[14]

In 66, the Jews revolted against Rome.[9] Rome besieged Jerusalem for four years, and the city fell in 70.[9] The city was destroyed, including the Temple, and the population was mostly killed or removed.[9] According to a tradition recorded by Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis, the Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (see: Flight to Pella).;[15][16] According to Epiphanius of Salamis,[17] the Cenacle survived at least to Hadrian's visit in 130. A scattered population survived.[9] The Sanhedrin relocated to Jamnia.[18] Prophecies of the Second Temple's destruction are found in the synoptics,[19] specifically in the Olivet Discourse.

In the 2nd century, Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina,[20] erecting statues of Jupiter and himself on the site of the former Jewish Temple, the Temple Mount. Bar Cochba led an unsuccessful revolt as a Messiah, but Christians refused to acknowledge him as such. When Bar Cochba was defeated, Hadrian barred Jews from the city, except for the day of Tisha B'Av, thus the subsequent Jerusalem bishops were gentiles ("uncircumcised") for the first time.[21]

The general significance of Jerusalem to Christians entered a period of decline during the Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, but resumed again with the pilgrimage of Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) to the Holy Land c. 326–28. According to the church historian Socrates of Constantinople,[22] Helena (with the assistance of Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem) claimed to have found the cross of Christ, after removing a Temple to Venus (attributed to Hadrian) that had been built over the site. (For that reason she is seen as the patron saint of Archaeologists.) Jerusalem had received special recognition in Canon VII of Nicaea in 325.[23] The traditional founding date for the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre (which guards the Christian Holy places in the Holy Land) is 313 which corresponds with the date of the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Jerusalem was later named as one of the Pentarchy, but this was never accepted by the church of Rome.[24][25] See also East–West Schism#Prospects for reconciliation.

Antioch

The Church of St Peter near Antakya, Turkey, said to be the spot where Saint Peter first preached the Gospel in Roman Antioch.

Antioch, a major center of Hellenistic Greece, and the third-most important city of the Roman Empire,[26] then part of Syria Province, today a ruin near Antakya, Turkey, was where Christians were first so-called[27] and also the location of the Incident at Antioch. It was the site of an early church, traditionally said to be founded by Peter who is considered the first bishop. The Gospel of Matthew and the Apostolic Constitutions may have been written there. The church father Ignatius of Antioch was its third bishop. The School of Antioch, founded in 270, was one of two major centers of early church learning. The Curetonian Gospels and the Syriac Sinaiticus are two early (pre-Peshitta) New Testament text types associated with Syriac Christianity. It was one of the three whose bishops were recognized at the First Council of Nicaea (325) as exercising jurisdiction over the adjoining territories.[28]

Alexandria

Alexandria, in the Nile delta, was established by Alexander the Great. Its famous libraries were a center of Hellenistic learning. The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament began there and the Alexandrian text-type is recognized by scholars as one of the earliest New Testament types. It had a significant Jewish population, of which Philo of Alexandria is probably its most known author.[29] It produced superior scripture and notable church fathers, such as Clement, Origen, and Athanasius,[30] also noteworthy were the nearby Desert Fathers. By the end of the era, Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were accorded authority over nearby metropolitans. The Council of Nicaea in canon VI affirmed Alexandria's traditional authority over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis (North Africa) (the Diocese of Egypt) and probably granted Alexandria the right to declare a universal date for the observance of Easter,[31] see also Easter controversy. Some postulate, however, that Alexandria was not only a center of Christianity, but was also a center for Christian-based Gnostic sects. see also Gnosticism.

Asia Minor

Map of Western Anatolia showing the "Seven Churches of Asia" and the Greek island of Patmos.

The tradition of John the Apostle was strong in Anatolia (the near-east, part of modern Turkey, the western part was called the Roman province of Asia). The authorship of the Johannine works traditionally and plausibly occurred in Ephesus, c. 90-110, although some scholars argue for an origin in Syria.[32] According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was from Tarsus (in south-central Anatolia) and his missionary journeys were primarily in Anatolia. The Book of Revelation, believed to be authored by John of Patmos (a Greek island about 30 miles off the Anatolian coast), mentions Seven churches of Asia. The 1:1–2) is addressed to Anatolian regions. On the southeast shore of the Black Sea, Pontus was a Greek colony mentioned three times in the New Testament. Inhabitants of Pontus were some of the very first converts to Christianity. Pliny, governor in 110, in his letters, addressed Christians in Pontus. Of the extant letters of Ignatius of Antioch considered authentic, five of seven are to Anatolian cities, the sixth is to Polycarp. Smyrna was home to Polycarp, the bishop who reportedly knew the Apostle John personally, and probably also to his student Irenaeus. Papias of Hierapolis is also believed to have been a student of John the Apostle. In the 2nd century, Anatolia was home to Quartodecimanism, Montanism, Marcion of Sinope, and Melito of Sardis who recorded an early Christian Biblical canon. After the Crisis of the Third Century, Nicomedia became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 286. The Synod of Ancyra was held in 314. In 325 the emperor Constantine convoked the first Christian ecumenical council in Nicaea and in 330 moved the capital of the reunified empire to Byzantium (also an early Christian center and just across the Bosphorus from Anatolia, later called Constantinople), referred to as the Byzantine Empire, which lasted till 1453.[33] The First seven Ecumenical Councils were held either in Western Anatolia or across the Bosphorus in Constantinople.

Caesarea

Remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct in Caesarea Maritima.

Caesarea, on the seacoast just northwest of Jerusalem, at first Caesarea Maritima, then after 133 Caesarea Palaestina, was built by Herod the Great, c. 25–13 BC, and was the capital of Iudaea Province (6–132) and later Palaestina Prima. It was there that Peter baptized the centurion Cornelius, considered the first gentile convert. Paul sought refuge there, once staying at the house of Philip the Evangelist, and later being imprisoned there for two years (estimated to be 57–59). The Apostolic Constitutions (7.46) state that the first Bishop of Caesarea was Zacchaeus the Publican but the Catholic Encyclopedia claims that: "...there is no record of any bishops of Caesarea until the second century. At the end of this century a council was held there to regulate the celebration of Easter."[34] According to another Catholic Encyclopedia article,[35] after Hadrian's siege of Jerusalem (c.133), Caesarea became the metropolitan see with the bishop of Jerusalem as one of its "suffragans" (subordinates). Origen (d.254) compiled his Hexapla there and it held a famous library and theological school, St. Pamphilus (d.309) was a noted scholar-priest. St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker (d.270), St. Basil the Great (d.379), and St. Jerome (d.420) visited and studied at the library which was later destroyed, probably by the Persians in 614 or the Saracens around 637.[36] The first major church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, was a bishop, c. 314–339. F. J. A. Hort and Adolf von Harnack have argued that the Nicene Creed originated in Caesarea. The Caesarean text-type is recognized by many textual scholars as one of the earliest New Testament types.

Cyprus

St Paul's Pillar in Paphos

Paphos was the capital of the island of Cyprus during the Roman years and seat of a Roman commander. In 45 AD, the apostles Paul and Acts 13:4–13. According to Acts, the apostles were persecuted by the Romans but eventually succeeded in convincing the Roman commander Sergius Paulus to renounce his old religion in favour of Christianity. Barnabas is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church.[37]

Damascus

The Chapel of Saint Paul, said to be Bab Kisan where St. Paul escaped from Old Damascus

Damascus is the capital of Syria and claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was converted on the 26:1–24), he is described as being led by those he was traveling with, blinded by the light, to Damascus where his sight was restored by a disciple called Ananias (who, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, is thought to have been the first Bishop of Damascus) then he was baptized.

Greece

Thessaloniki, the major northern Greek city where it is believed Christianity was founded by Paul, thus an Apostolic See, and the surrounding regions of Macedonia, Western and Eastern Thrace, and Epirus, which also extend into the neighboring Balkan states of Albania and Bulgaria, were early centers of Christianity. Of note are Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians and to Philippi, which is often considered the first contact of Christianity with Europe.[38] The Apostolic Father Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippians, c.125.

Nicopolis was a city in the Roman province of Titus 3:12) and it is possible that even then it numbered some Christians among its population; Origen (c. 185–254) sojourned there for a while (Eusebius, Church History VI.16)."

Ancient Corinth, today a ruin near modern Corinth in southern Greece, was an early center of Christianity. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "St. Paul preached successfully at Corinth, where he lived in the house of Acts 18:1), where Silas and Timothy soon joined him. After his departure he was replaced by Apollo, who had been sent from Ephesus by Priscilla. The Apostle visited Corinth at least once more. He wrote to the Corinthians in 57 from Ephesus, and then from Macedonia in the same year, or in 58. The famous letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthian church (about 96) exhibits the earliest evidence concerning the ecclesiastical primacy of the Roman Church. Besides St. Apollo, Lequien (II, 155) mentions forty-three bishops: among them, St. Sosthenes (?), the disciple of St. Paul, St. Dionysius; Paul, brother of St. Peter ..."[39]

Athens, the capital and largest city in Greece, was visited by Paul. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: Paul "came to Athens from Berœa of Macedonia, coming probably by water and landing in the Peiræevs, the harbour of Athens. This was about the year 53. Having arrived at Athens, he at once sent for Silas and Timotheos who had remained behind in Berœa. While awaiting the coming of these he tarried in Athens, viewing the idolatrous city, and frequenting the synagogue; for there were already Jews in Athens. ... It seems that a Christian community was rapidly formed, although for a considerable time it did not possess a numerous membership. The commoner tradition names the Areopagite as the first head and bishop of the Christian Athenians. Another tradition, however, gives this honour to Hierotheos the Thesmothete. The successors of the first bishop were not all Athenians by lineage. They are catalogued as Narkissos, Publius, and Quadratus. Narkissos is stated to have come from Palestine, and Publius from Malta. In some lists Narkissos is omitted. Quadratus is revered for having contributed to early Christian literature by writing an apology, which he addressed to the Emperor Hadrian. This was on the occasion of Hadrian's visit to Athens. Another Athenian who defended Christianity in writing at a somewhat later time was Aristeides. His apology was directed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Athenagoras also wrote an apology. In the second century there must have been a considerable community of Christians in Athens, for Hygeinos, Bishop of Rome, is said to have written a letter to the community in the year 139."

Gortyn on Crete, was allied with Rome and was thus made capital of Roman Creta et Cyrenaica. St. Titus is believed to have been the first bishop. The city was sacked by the pirate Abu Hafs in 828.

Libya

Cyrene and the surrounding region of Cyrenaica or the North African "Pentapolis", south of the Mediterranean from Greece, the northeastern part of modern Libya, was a Greek colony in North Africa later converted to a Roman province. In addition to Greeks and Romans, there was also a significant Jewish population, at least up to the Mark 15:21, 13:1. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "Lequien mentions six bishops of Cyrene, and according to Byzantine legend the first was St. Lucius (Acts 13:1); St. Theodorus suffered martyrdom under Diocletian;" (284–305).