Just about everything in this lesson is wrong, for today we learn about heresies! On the one hand, we have the Gnostics, who sought to empty Christianity of its content and replace it with something more congenial to the current thinking. Marcion in particular sought to jettison the entire Old Testament, along with a good portion of the new one. On the other hand, the Montanists went too far with the gift of prophecy, and in some cases fell into the trap of wanting to jettison the New Testament in favor their own personal revelations. The two groups did not err equally, but they did err, and it was up the Church to find a solution to these problems. In the end, the Church responded by strengthening the power of the bishops, and formalizing the canon, which will be discussed in the next lesson
Consider her ways, and be wise. -Proverbs 6:6
This may be my favorite photo gallery ever. It’s ants, ants, and more ants in all manner of creative poses with all manner of props. What a great world this is, where a guy can dedicate himself to something as inconsequential as photographing tiny insects and still have it turn out awesome.
- Homilies on Leviticus, Origen
Origen distinguishes between mortal sins and regular sins. This work is of considerable length.
- On Modesty, Tertullian
Tertullian attacks what he sees as the excessive leniency of the church in Rome. Note that he was a Montanist by this time. I can’t claim this one is short either.
- Sermon 23, St. Augustine
Augustine preaches on the parable of the wheat and the tares, and uses it to explain why good Christians must tolerate the bad ones. This one is short; read it.
- Class Materials
This is perhaps the only Sunday School class ever to use images from both Portal and Street Fighter.
The following are links to the full versions of the primary sources we used in class. All of them are fairly short, so I encourage you to give them a read.
- Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans – Written on the way to his execution, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch wrote to the Roman church to ask them not to intervene on his behalf.
- Martyrdom of Polycarp – The account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, written by the members of his church.
- Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity – The prison diary of Perpetua, a 22 year-old nursing mother.
- Class Materials – Not actually a primary source, but feel free to use them in your own Church History class!
Martyrdom of James, Brother of Jesus, as part of the Jewish persecution of the Church.
And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’ And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, ‘We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Tacitus, a Roman (non-Christian) historian on Nero’s initiation of the Roman persecution of the Church:
As a consequence, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Letter between Pliny the Younger, governor of Bythnia, and the Emperor Trajan, on the proper procedures to follow when persecuting Christians:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.
- The Didache – We made use of this early Christian document in our class to gain insight into how the church used to view some of its rituals. You can read the whole thing here. Give it a try, I promise it’s not too long!
- Class materials – The slides and notes I used during the class. For when you want to teach your own.
Questions asked in class
- What did Jewish worship sound like in the first century? We can’t be sure, but here is one possibility.
- Where was the Didache composed? We don’t really know, we’re not even that clear on the date. This is a decent overview of some guesses regarding its composition. There is not much consensus, so I would take it with a grain of salt.
Justin Martyr describes a baptism and church service
The Didache gives certain prescriptions for how Christian worship should take place; one of our earliest descriptions comes from Justin Martyr’s “First Apology,” written in 155AD. Of specific interest to us are Chapters 61-67. Here is a small excerpt:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized illuminated person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.
There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
“First Apology” covers a broad range of topics; it is rather long. If lots of reading isn’t your thing, you can listen to it instead.
Due to time constraints, I had to cut the section on church governance entirely.
Ignatius’s letter to the Trallians (short!)
Your obedience to your bishop, as though he were Jesus Christ, show me plainly enough that yours is no worldly manner of life, but that of Jesus Christ Himself, who gave His life for us that faith in His death might save you from death. At the same time, however, essential as it is that you should never act independently of the bishop-as evidently you do not-you must also be no less submissive to your clergy, and regard them as apostles of Jesus Christ our Hope, in whom we shall one day be found, if our lives are lived in Him. The deacons too, who serve the mysteries of Jesus Christ, must be men universally approved in every way; since they are not mere dispensers of meat and drink, but servants of the church of God, and therefore under obligation to guard themselves against any slur of imputation as strictly as they would against fire itself.
Equally, it is for the rest of you to hold the deacons in as great respect as Jesus Christ; just as you should also look on the bishop as a type of the Father, and the clergy as the Apostolic circle forming His council; for without these three orders no church has any right to the name.
Letter of Clement to the Corinthians (medium length)
Our Apostles, too, were given to understand by our Lord Jesus Christ that the office of the bishop would give rise to intrigues. For this reason, equipped as they were with perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the men mentioned before, and afterwards laid down a rule once for all to this effect: when these men die, other approved men shall succeed to their sacred ministry. Consequently, we deem it an injustice to eject from the sacred ministry the persons who were appointed either by them, or later, with the consent of the whole Church, by other men in high repute and have ministered to the flock of Christ faultlessly, humbly, quietly and unselfishly, and have moreover, over a long period of time, earned the esteem of all. Indeed, it will be no small sin for us if we oust men who have irreproachably and piously offered the sacrifices proper to the episcopate. Happy the presbyters who have before now completed life’s journey and taken their departure in mature age and laden with fruit! They, surely, do not have to fear that anyone will dislodge them from the place built for them. Yes, we see that you removed some, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the sacred ministry on which their faultless discharge had shed luster.
The notes and slides used in the first class are contained herein. As a bonus, there is an extended version of the class notes, from before I cut everything down to fit within an hour.
Our class made heavy use of the Didache, which you can read in full here. It is not very long; give it a try!
During our opening class today on church history, one person asked if we knew what synagogue worship sounded like back in the first century. I responded that I was pretty sure this information is lost to us now.
Turns out, maybe not! There is at least one person out there who thinks they have decoded the notes used in the Psalms.
I am not remotely qualified to comment on how accurate these reconstructions may be, but I offer this link, where you can listen to them yourselves:
- After Acts
Life in the early early church
- Persecution of the Saints
How the early Christians took up their cross and followed Jesus. Learn the stories of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Perpetua.
- Dos, Don’t, and Donatists
Is the church a society of saints, or a school for sinners? How should we deal with those who lapsed?
- Montanus to the right of them, Marcion to the left of them
- Canon in front of them
How the New Testament was formed.
- Love the Lord with all thy mind
The early apologists and how they built the intellectual foundations for the faith.
- Love not the world
St. Anthony and the birth of monasticism
- By this sign, conquer!
Constantine the Great, and how Christianity went from being persecuted to ruling the empire.
- Who do you say that I am?
The Council of Niceae and the Arian controversy.
- Preachers and Politicians
The tangled webs of church and state issues.
- Saint Augustine of Hippo
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
- The Fall of Rome
It was the end of the world as they knew it.
- Now What?
Links to resources where you can delve deeper.
And there were.
And it was confusing.