Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Christianity is the name applied to that religion which professes allegiance to Christ as its head. The origin of the name involves a question not altogether free from doubt. The word "Christianity" is not found in the Bible, and "Christian" only occurs three times (Acts xi. 26; xxvi. 28; 1 Peter iv. 16). It does not appear in the first of these passages whether the name was given in scorn by adversaries of the Church, or adopted by the believers themselves, but probability is in favour of the first view. The Antiochenes were noted for their habit of bestowing nicknames, and this was probably an instance of it. In the second passage there was contempt implied in Agrippa's words, and in the third St. Peter again implies that the world continued this contempt. Obviously the word meant persons who looked upon Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Anointed One of God, whom prophets had foretold.

As the faith grew and was admitted as an existing fact, the name became its recognised name among believers. And the main features of the history of that first ingathering is recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles. These features are, first, the conversions made among the Jews (Acts ii. vii), and in the neighbouring countries, and afterwards the great missionary work done among the heathens, mainly by St. Paul. And this brings us to the first great controversy which arose within the borders of Christianity, that between "the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision;" in other words, between those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Christ and the heathens who did the like. The Judaisers, as they were called, were those Jewish converts who were willing to recognise the heathen believers, but insisted that they must submit to the Jewish ordinances. This was the great controversy of St. Paul's life. The Epistle to the Galatians is throughout a passionate vindication of Gentile liberty against Jewish bondage, as he called the Judaising doctrine; there is much of it, too, in the Epistle to the Romans, and many references to it in his other writings.

Before the New Testament had closed a fresh subject of controversy had arisen, out of the relations of Christianity to the philosophies of the heathen world. The origin of matter and the origin of evil were subjects which had absorbed the attention of many a thinker in the ancient world, and have gone on doing so to this day. These were two questions which interlaced each other, and the answers which were given brought about the heresies which arose in the Church concerning the Incarnation of our Lord. "Matter is essentially evil," said one teacher, "therefore Christ cannot have had a material body. It was a seeming body, an appearance, not a flesh and blood reality." Those who taught thus were known as the Docetae (Gk. dokesis, seeming). To this another class of speculators answered, "Jesus had a real body of flesh and blood, and it was sinful, because material; the Divine Christ came into union with this body, and remained until the crucifixion; then the material died altogether, and the divine part took its place." Against these errors, modified and multiplied to an extent which amazes us by their endless variation, the Apostle St. John, in the later years of his life, raised his voice. His Gospel is a vindication of the doctrine of the Incarnation of God, and his Epistles are indignant warnings that the denial of that doctrine is Antichrist.

All this time Christianity had been moulding itself into visible shape. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, ordained by Christ Himself, were the distinguishing symbols of the Church from the very beginning, and the Acts give the plainest indications that there was a recognised ministry, though details concerning it are few. We have more in the pastoral Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus.

After the close of the New Testament the literature of Christianity became for a time scanty; the continuous stream being taken up. about the beginning of the second century. The first Christian fathers, so far as they have come down to us, all wrote in Greek. The earliest Latin father was Tertullian. Between the close of the New Testament and his days came first what are known as the "Apostolic Fathers," Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hernias, Clement of Rome. The writings of these fathers are of varying degrees of value, that value turning mainly upon two subjects - (1) the evidence furnished that the New Testament as now received was so received then, and (2) the light thrown upon ecclesiastical order and discipline. Thus, great stress is laid by Episcopalians on the fact that the three orders of ministry are recognised by Ignatius, but the opponents of this form of Christianity dispute the genuineness of his writings.

The persecutions to which the Church was subjected in the New Testament were mostly Jewish, the exception being where personal gain was involved, as at Ephesus and Philippi. But as the Church spread, heathenism became alarmed. For Christianity was not satisfied to hold its own opinions and let others hold theirs, it put forth a claim to universal obedience. Consequently the laws against "secret assemblies" and "non-licensed religions" were revived, and for the first three centuries persecution was carried on against Christianity, now fierce and active, now slumbering. The chief persecuting emperors were Nero, Marcus Aurelius, Decius, Diocletian. But nothing could hinder the progress of the Church, and the conversion of Constantine in the beginning of the fourth century was followed by the establishment of Christianity as the national faith of the Roman Empire.

There had been controversies and heresies all through the period of persecution, but they had been confined to particular localities. The establishment of the faith through the empire was almost immediately followed by the most serious doctrinal conflict which the Church ever went through. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, objected to some statements of his bishop, and committed himself to a doctrine, which denied the Godhead of Christ. Hot controversy followed, and made its way all over the empire. Constantine, following imperial instincts, summoned a great council at Nicaea in 325, at which Arius was condemned, mainly through the eloquence and clearness of statement of Athanasius, a young deacon of Alexandria. But though Arius was condemned, his doctrine found enthusiastic supporters, and this among the imperial family; and the consequence was serious and lasting. Not only was the Church almost torn asunder with the controversy, but the Teutonic nations, who were now gathering on the northern frontiers of the empire, soon to break in upon it, conquer it, and break it up into fresh kingdoms, were converted from heathenism to Arianism, mainly by the energy of Ulfilas, a learned and self-devoted bishop of that faith. The Arianising of the Goths at once set them in fierce antagonism with the clergy, who remained true to the decisions of the Nicene Council, and who showed by their action that they preferred heathenism to Arian heresy. We have here the main cause of the falling to pieces of the first Gothic kingdoms which were set up in Italy, Gaul, and Spain. Thus it was the orthodox clergy who invited Clovis, the heathen Frank, to invade and overthrow the Visigothic kingdom of Gaul; he came, and soon after was baptised into the Catholic faith by St. Remy. Somewhat later a similar invitation was given as regarded Spain.

But we must go back a little. The Arian controversy was followed or accompanied by others springing out of it. Thus a second great council was held at Constantinople in 381, which asserted Christ's perfect, manhood, both in body and soul, which Apollinaris, in his zeal against, Arius, had denied. The third council, that of Ephesus, A.D. 431, declared that Christ, perfect God and perfect man, was yet One Person; and that of Chalcedon in 451, that in the One Person the two natures are distinct. These are the first four general councils.

The eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, though they had been entirely subdued to it, had never become fused in it as Gaul and Spain had been. In the latter countries the Latin language had largely entered into the common speech of the people, and Roman law prevailed. But in Greece the native language held its ground, and in the oriental countries the civilisation as well as language never became displaced. All this had its effect on Christianity. The Greeks held to their metaphysical subtleties whilst the Latins showed their attachment to sharp and clear definition. The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds were the product of Eastern Christianity, the Athanasian of Western. The difference of view was to end in a serious conflict. The Nicene Creed, which had received some additions at the Council of Constantinople, declared that the "Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father." In the 7th century the Western Church added the words "and the Son" (filioque), and the addition was strenuously resisted by the Greeks. Here was the beginning of a divergence, which, followed by the denial on the part of the Greeks of certain claims of the Bishop of Rome, produced in the eleventh century the division between the East, and West which remains to this day.

But before this disruption another terrible calamity had fallen on Christendom. Dissensions about the use of images and other subjects had much injured Christian feeling and unity in the East, when Mohammed suddenly appeared in the 7th century and declared that he was a prophet divinely commissioned to declare the Unity of God, and to enforce it by his authority upon the nations. At the head of fierce armies of followers he rushed over Arabia and the adjacent countries, and succeeded in establishing his faith within them. From that time until now Mohammedanism has been the religion of all the Asiatic countries which had been under the Roman rule, and it has also run along North Africa, and even established itself in Eastern Europe, in the ancient city of Constantine. No such bitter foe has Christianity had.

Other causes had co-operated to the injury which the Church was destined to suffer. The downfall of the Roman Empire was a necessity arising out of its luxury and corruption, and the establishment of the rule of a fresh race was bringing new life to that which was ready to die. But such revolutions mean terrible misery and bloodshed to those in whose time they are brought about, and so for many years Europe was desolated by horrible wars. Missionary effort was checked, though there are always sparks of light visible among the darkness. The names of Augustine, and Columba, and Boniface, all belong to these days.

The great changes which passed over the nations gave an impetus to one institution, not discernible at all in the first days, but which was now overshadowing Christendom. Whilst Rome was changing its rulers again and again, its bishop was held in respect by all in succession, as representing the faith which all held in common. The hierarchy of the Church held their own, when nothing did besides. So long as the emperors held undisputed rule, the bishops of Rome remained obscure; but when the imperial power came to nought, the people looked to the bishop as their Pope, or father; and Pope Leo the Great was the most important person in Italy. This was the origin of the Papal power. And as religion suffered under war and tumult, so also did learning. Literature, both religious and secular, all but died, and so we come to what are commonly known as the dark ages. They may be fixed as lasting from the 7th to the end of the 10th century. By that time the nations of the new Europe had roughly hewn out their fresh kingdoms, they were becoming consolidated, and there was a yearning after dynastic settlement. High above all, so far as Christianity was concerned, stood the Pope of Rome. Charles the Great of Germany had restored what was called "the Roman Empire," differentiating it from the old by calling it "the Holy," and visibly showing this by being crowned by the Pope at Rome. But his empire, though it preserved its title till the year 1806, was, in a very few years after his death, dismembered. Italy was lopped off it, and France became independent. Then the Roman Pope stood confessed as the representative of unchanging power. The great name connected with the claim of the Pope to be the representative of God on earth is that of Gregory VII. (Hildebrand), who was Pontiff from 1073 to 1085. From that time for many years the Popes were the arbiters of kingdoms. Innocent III. (1198-1216) put forth more extravagant claims than Hildebrand. And the time of this ecclesiastical supremacy was marked by a revival, not indeed of literature in its modern secular sense, but of ecclesiastical learning and of speculation in theology and metaphysics. It was the age of the schoolmen and of monasticism. The latter institution, begun in the 4th century, was now spread over Europe, and the monasteries, though we admit the abuses and evils which were undoubtedly connected with them, had been mighty civilisers. To take only Great Britain, the beautiful ruins of Beaulieu, of Waverley, of Fountains and Tintern remain as memorials of the great Cistercian movement which led men to go into spots where was barrenness and swamp, and to cultivate and drain these, to breed cattle and sheep, to plant gardens and sow corn, and withal to work in the cloister with such assiduity, that, humanly speaking, we must admit that the knowledge and the copies of the Scriptures would have perished but for them.

With Innocent III. the Papal power culminated. Even higher pretensions than his were put forward by some of his successors, but they were not recognised. From his time the tide receded. The causes for this were manifold and complicated. The consolidation of the European kingdoms, the abandonment of the Crusades, the weakening of feudalism - all these things meant for a while the increase of monarchical power, and this in its turn meant enmity to the power of the Popes. The work so largely carried on by the monks, though at first it appeared to favour the ecclesiastical system, in the end undermined it by encouraging a system of inquiry into historical and scientific facts. In Great Britain no name stands higher as a pioneer of the study of natural laws than that of Roger Bacon. More deadly than both these causes was the shameless ambition, greed, and corruption of so many of the Popes. The fullest illustration of the first of these causes may be seen in the history of France. Philip IV. not only defied and humbled Pope Boniface VIII., but he was able to force the Popes to leave Rome and take up their residence at Avignon for 70 years, where they became altogether subservient to the French power. When at length they returned to Italy, the struggle which immediately arose between the French Cardinals and the Italians resulted in the great Papal schism, in which popes and anti-popes went on for years reviling and excommunicating each other. By the time this schism was healed the public opinion of Europe was largely alienated from the Papal system. The revival of learning in the end of the 15th century furnished another element, in the upheaval which was now imminent, and under the preaching of Luther the storm burst. There had been preliminary signs of it, such as the preaching of Wiclif in England and of Huss in Bohemia. But when Luther publicly burnt the Pope's bull excommunicating him, thousands declared their adherence to him, and the great Reformation began, the assertion of the liberty of the human conscience and of the personal responsibility of each soul to God.

This great movement, therefore, marks one of the most important epochs in the history of Christianity, its separation into many sepeerate communions, all nevertheless united in professing allegiance to Christ as their head. The points of divergence between them it would be an endless task to enumerate; but we may venture to assert that all who profess and call themselves Christians regard Christ as their leader and example. The Unitarians, though denying the Deity of Christ, are very emphatic in insisting on the Divine nature of His life, and in proclaiming Him as the supreme example. With the exception of this body, no professing Christians, probably, would hesitate to express their adherence to the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and these, therefore, may be taken as the general symbols of our common Christianity. The opponents of Christianity may be broadly divided into two classes, Agnostics (q.v.) and Materialists (q.v.). Of these the most numerous and probably the most formidable are the Agnostics.

The great division in the 16th century, resulting in the establishment of the Protestant communions, was followed by a reaction, mainly seen on the Continent, but not without important influence on England. This reaction was largely due to Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. That body, with other kindred bodies, made a new departure in the way of missionary enterprise, a work which had almost died out in the Middle Ages, but which not only the outburst of religious zeal, but the marvellous geographical discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries, stimulated to a great degree. It was not until the 18th century that Protestant zeal made its grand and wonderfully successful effort, headed among Englishmen by Carey and Marshman, and taken up with a zeal begotten by admiration of their labours and thankfulness at their success. That zeal still glows, and the missionary work of the 19th century is a prominent feature of the religious aspect of the time, and in spite of drawbacks the results are promising that the time is hastening on when the world itself will be converted to Christianity.