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The Early Christian Church

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The development of Christian church is a long history that developed from the pre-renaissance, renaissance to present. Recorded history indicates that the earliest known Christian churches were started in private houses and domestic or commercial warehouses in Europe in the third century. These houses were redesigned to fit the needs of worshipers, as the Roman Empire encouraged members of the public to become church members in order to get full benefits of the empire. With the enhanced peace in Constantine, church buildings became public monuments, with the dominant one being the Basilica type.  Also, as indicated in many historical books that capture the events that took place during the pre-renaissance and Renaissance periods, there were special treaties that defined how people were supposed to relate. Of particular importance is the relationship between men and women, as defined by the church doctrines. The common passages that defined marriage and family life emphasized on the need to make it more divine than anything else. The kind of life the early Christians meant when they talked about church, Jesus Christ, and God is reflected in today’s Christianity practice, and has an enormous influence in the Christianity teaching. It is therefore critical to analyze the historical relationship and how it shapes Christianity as a whole.

To understand rough idea of early Christianity, there is need to understand the many facts about the life of Romans and how they understood the biblical teachings. The Edict of Milan of 313 entrenched the legality of religion following the numerous changes that had occurred in the Roman society and the church as an institution. It is during this period that the church was accepted by the imperial family, with other powerful and wealthy Romans following suit as the rise in patronage took effect (King 48). What followed were the splendid new cult buildings, some beautiful basilicas meant to host liturgical celebrations, and baptisteries to carry out the initiation rites for the converts. At the same period church buildings, referred to as Chapels, were constructed. Between the fourth and seventh century saw the rise of cult like following of the saints and the subsequent proliferation of memorial chapels over the martyrs’ graves. Other things that came up were like the funerary structures where Christians were buried, alongside saints and martyrs. However, it is noted that other types of chapels emerged, far more different from the ones designed on the cult of the dead. Domestic chapels for private devotions also came up, that were used by the laity and the clergies. At the same time Sacristies were also constructed within or along the congregational churches. These sacristies were sanctified and served the needs of the sacred mysteries that dominated early church.

During the pre-Renaissance, regions in Italy, particularly North and Central Italy formed an integral part of the late Antiquity, where the remaining chapels revealed a lot of information about the trend of the church architecture and intentions. Also, there were smaller chapels for smaller communities, which focused on the devotion of only local congregations. The word ‘chapel’ originated from an attempt to define the worship areas in terms of size. For instance, the 20th Century definition of chapel as commonly used is that building which is too small for full worship- or a place setup within a church building to aid private prayers. However, these perceptive definitions do not mirror the actual definition of the word ‘Chapel’ as was used in the Late Antiquity.

The origin of the weekly gathering

The gatherings by early Christians began nearly twenty years after the death of Jesus Christ (Alikin 96). These periodic gatherings took the form of voluntary associations, mysterious cult approach, and religious societies the Roman Empire. These gatherings were designed to take place once a week on Sundays, with the rotational meetings in private places. These meetings involved things such as dining together as followers of particular saint, communal feats for the gods that the community decided to venerate. This approach held the community together and as time went by, they focused on the need to live like Jesus Christ lived, with the voluntary washing of feet of different members of the community members deemed lower in status (Morris 159). This practice is still practiced today, with the privileged members of the society encouraged to share with the poor.  

The veneration of Martyrs and Saints

When the persecution of Christians ended in 313 following the passing of the Edict of Milan, there was an explosion of more interest by the members of the church to follow the sacrifices the Martyrs made. This kind of following turned into what could easily be referred to as cult worship. There was the common honouring of Saints at their graveyards as well as their places of martyrdom. According toMacCulloch (77) the idea of building mausoleums over the tombs was not unique to Christians but had originated from the Pagan Rome. From this effect, earlier generations of Christians practiced veneration of martyrs’ graves, in order to invoke memories of the past heroes. For instance, St. Peter’s tomb was constantly remembered and graves were clustered around it, suggesting the Christians belief in his martyrdom. To date, the graves are still found to be clustered around the tomb of St. Peter, who many Christians belief was one of the greatest martyrs of all times. The cult of important Christians who had died, the martyrs had spread so widely, and openly venerated as the heroes to date by the Christian community around the world.

In the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries, shrines of the martyrs were confined to the cemeteries outside the city walls, as per the dictates of the Roman burial laws that had been enacted by the Roman Empire (King 188). For instance, memorial chapels were concentrated within the basilicas cemetery during the Constantine era.   These events increased the desire to behave like the martyrs, who Christians believe are the epitome of those who lived the ordained Christian lifestyle.

Emergence of more church leaders and relationship with state

As the early generation of apostles fizzled, new generations of leaders emerged. The leaders, commonly referred to as bishops, were authoritative and were tasked with the responsibility of setting up standards for the rest of Christian community. They were also tasked to oversee the training as well as confirming of new converts, as well as expel those they believed disobeyed Christian teachings. The same lot of leaders managed the church resources, organized communal support activities such as helping orphans and widows, the sick, and the old. In addition, the bishops promoted the cult worshiping of the martyrs and saints, where processions of the citizenry during crisis were organized. The power of the bishops extended across many territories, with several congregations that were referred to as diocese. It must be noted that these diocese are still used by the Catholic Church to date.

In the early centuries of the church, the bishops and arch bishops were extremely powerful personalities. For instance, some presided over the persecution of those who held different beliefs from those of established church, and were also the founders of the concept of trinity that is in existence to the present day Christian world. The organized institution of church was becoming stronger everyday due to the entrenched powers of the leaders and their roles in state matters. For example, in the east, the emperors were not just powerful but were directly involved with ecclesiastical policy issues (Ahlstrom 279). Ecclesiastical and non-church personalities associated in a mutual way. In this relationship, the emperor boosted his clergy in ways such as state protection and some of the administrative roles. The clergy also supported the emperor in marshalling the congregation towards supporting of the state policies. The west, however, experienced a different form of clergy powers. The Roman state power was under threat as the Germanic kings with their full authorities ended up not as strong as expected due to inability to control the vast areas they claimed. Moreover, they only adhered to the anti-Trinitarian heresy, which was not popular with the masses. In this region, bishops often exercised powers that was lacking from the established government. These critically defined the roots and origin of the independent clergy, and the strong church following that defined the history of church.

Conclusion

The development of Christian following can be traced back to informal gatherings that were entrenched by the increased involvement of every member of the communities in the activities of the church. Some of the factors that endeared the community members to the church doctrines were related to the increased involvement of the state and church ministers in matters that affected the masses. The church leaders did not only minister in churches but also managed several other communal resources. In collaboration with the state, the church was able to support state, and vice versa, in the management of various affairs. 

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