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Christianity:  the 200's

Overview: What happened in this century?


The Big Picture: The Quiet Century
The Third Century can be considered the “Quiet Century” of Christianity because persecutions were usually not widespread and internal matters began to dominate. Two main stages of developing the Christian movement were over--the Apostolic Age, the Church Fathers--and a third stage, the Apologists, is coming to a close. Christianity no longer has to defend itself as a viable movement, or even be concerned if it will last. It has spread throughout the Roman Empire and grown to an extent that it can be considered a free-standing institution which can weather any attack. As a measure of that, the emperor Decius, in 303, declared that all churches be destroyed. So, by the late 200s, Christianity had become so prominent that it had buildings in many cities. Thus, the “Silent Century” witnessed what would be its greatest contribution to early Christianity: its growth in numbers.
c.200 Tertullian wrote On Baptism in which he mentions infant baptism. He wrote against it, yet the fact that he mentions it proves that by this year infant baptism, or pedobaptism, was widely practiced. To read a quote from his book, click here.
c.200 also Tertullian wrote "On Modesty" in which he used the word “Trinity” to describe the Godhead. This is the first time that the word "Trinity" was used to describe God in a Christian sense.
  • More details: To learn more about the development of the word "Trinity," click here.
203 A young Christian girl, Perpetua, is martyred after being allowed to give birth. To read of her martyrdom, go here.
c.220 Development of the Clergy: Tertullian refers to the Bishop of Rome as the “bishop of bishops” in his Concerning Modesty. To learn more about the development of the Canon, Creed, and Clergy, go to “The Big Picture” after the year 117.
c.230 The first church building (that has been discovered so far) dates from this period. To find out more, go here.
240 Sextus Julius Africanus died in this year. He was one of the first people to predict a specific time for the return of Jesus. He wrote History of the World which claimed that Jesus would return 6000 years after Creation. He claimed that Jesus was born in year 5500 (after the Creation) and would return around the year 500.
250 Persecution by the Emperor Decius. He believed the weakness of the Roman defenses was connected to the refusal of Christians and others not to sacrifice to gods. All individuals who sacrificed were required to obtain certificates signed by an official. Over forty of these certificates have been found. To read part of one, go here. Many Christians either sacrificed and received certificates or purchased certificates without sacrificing. This caused a future problem when the church had to decide how, or if, to accept these “apostate” (or heretical) Christians back into the churches.
250 also Paul of Thebes, the first known desert hermit/monk, fled to the desert and remained there for the rest of his life. Antony (see below) was more widely known.
250 also Bishop of Rome/Pope Fabian was martyred during the Decian Persecution; his office would remain empty for a year because the church in Rome was in such disarray due to the persecution.
250 also Origen's list of suggested NT books. Go here to see his list.
251 Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which contained this definition of the Church: “He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his mother.” In one of his letters (Epistle LXXII, 21) he stated, “There is no salvation out[side] of the Church.”

The Big Picture: The Understanding of One Church
The view of Christianity from sometime in the First or Second Century to the split between Catholics and Orthodox in 1054 was that of one Church which comprised all Christians. Or, to put it another way, if you were not part of the Church, you were not a Christian. Cyprian's definition of the Church above (year 251) encapsulated the idea of all Christians under one banner. So by the mid 200s, the idea of one common Christian faith, i.e. the Church, gained prominence. Therefore, by the mid-200s church leaders can make decisions which cut across Christianity about what to do with those who bowed under persecutions, and in 325 a Council of church leaders can be called, the Council of Nicaea, which defined what one has to believe in order to be a Christian.
251 also Cyprian wrote On the Lapsed concerning those Christians who had sacrificed to the Emperor. He believed that God would forgive them after repentance. To read a portion, click here. Not everyone agreed with Cyprian: Novatian led a group of Christians who believed that the lapsed should not be allowed to rejoin churches so easily. He was chosen as pope (and is considered an antipope by the Catholic Church) by three bishops who shared this idea. While he was orthodox in his other Christian beliefs, he was excommunicated due to his schismatic actions. The church body which he formed (consisting a number of churches) continued for several centuries.
257-8 Persecution by the Emperor Valerian. He forbid Christians to assemble and arrested many bishops.
258 Cyprian was arrested on September 13, and was taken to a public place and was beheaded in front of a large crowd (in present-day Tunisia in north Africa).
260 The Emperor Gallienus revoked the persecutions imposed by Valerian. Christians would, for the most part, not be persecuted again until 303.
c.285 Antony (also Anthony) moved to the desert of Egypt in this year. He is the first widely known desert hermit. His example of desert isolation produced multitudes of imitators. His type of monasticism is known as “eremitic monasticism”. His fame occurred primarily because Athanasius, a extremely popular church leader of the next century, wrote his biography.
300 Eusebius' list of suggested NT books. Go here to see his list.

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