Middle East is accredited as the birthplace of Judaism, Islam and Christianity as world religions. Before the introduction of Christianity, Judaism had already taken root. Several centuries thereafter, Mohammad founded Islam to counter the spread of Christianity. By this time, Christianity had found new base in Europe where it was recognized as the official religion. Soon after the resurrection of Jesus, His apostles embarked on spreading Christianity in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas initially to the Jews and later on to other people. The church was on a rapid growth until Jewish leaders checked this trend. The Jewish leaders had begun persecuting Christians in fear for their religion. When they could not contain it any longer, several of them fled to surrounding countries like Judea and Samaria. Contrary to the Jewish expectations, this scatter lead to the expansion of the early church. They founded new churches in cities that they visited. Wherever the Christians went, they spread the gospel. Migrations of people in the early years of 350 AD to 900 AD in a great deal helped spread the early church. As Christians fled from one place to the other, they introduced Christianity in those areas and installed churches. In the same way, churches in Syria and other places were found. (Paetow 1959).
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In 610 AD, Muhammad, a native of Mecca, Saudi Arabia founded Islam claiming Allah had revealed to him to preach this new religion. Initially, he proclaimed this secretly but when he was to gain courage three years later, he went public thereby conquering followers gradually. However, they also faced persecutions thereby hindering the spread of the religion especially outside of Mecca unlike the Christians. Mohammad was compelled to flee to Medina where he convinced many converts who became his militant followers. That is when Islam began to spread. Unlike Christianity, Islam spread mainly in villages and rural areas. Other differences between these two religions laid on their methods of operation.
While Christians believed in peaceful sermons by missionaries, preaching and leading Godly lives, Muslims believed in use of force to win converts. By the sword, people chose either to convert, pay a special tax or die. Christianity became the official religion of Roman Empire as Islam dominated Middle East, Northern Africa and North Paris. As Christians were convinced that God loves all people and invites them to have a personal relationship with him, Muslims believe ‘Allah loveth not those who reject Faith’. To strengthen their efforts in the spread of the gospel, Christians were organized in structures where the Pope was seen as the person with highest authority. (Paetow, 1959).
The first pope is considered to have been ordained by Jesus himself; when He told Simon Peter to feed His flock. The papacy henceforth was in charge of popularizing the religion by spreading it far and wide and winning more converts. The early papacy first had to convince people that Jesus had designated Peter to be His representative on earth and that the leader of the church ministry had passed on this to Bishops of Rome. They fought for maintenance of papal supremacy. They also opened up the Western empire to papacy by turning their attention to German people, stopping the Lombard adventure, converting invaders from the Arian Christianity to Catholic Christianity. The authority of the central Italy had to be maintained. (Lambert, 2002).
The papacy introduced moral and institutional reforms at the council of Reims, thereby initiating the Gregorian reforms. Finally the papacy also had an election decree, which organized the cardinals into a papal advisory body, laying the foundation for the creation of the Sacred College of Cardinals.
The conversion of Empire Constantine to Christianity was on of the milestones in the spread of the Christian faith. He ensured that the initially feared religion was legitimized in Rome, declared it the religion of the empire and had to be protected. This attracted a great multitude people to the religion. This meant that the rule of Caesar was under guarded by the rule of God. For the first time in Rome, there was no difference between civil and religious leadership. Christians were guaranteed religious freedom throughout the empire, contrary to the persecutions they had been facing. It was no longer illegal to proclaim the Christian faith. This fuelled the expansion of Christianity, taking advantage of state backing and organization. What followed were conversions for the sake of attaining the social convenience associated with Christianity. Rome’s importance in political affairs lessened but enhanced its authority in religious matters.
Another important landmark in the development of the church was the Gregorian reformation movement. Gregory VII, born in 1046 was a pope from 1073 till his death in 1085. He realized the problem with the then used Julian calendar; consequently he introduced a new style of dating, known up to date as The Gregorian Calendar. This is the system of numbering the years from the traditional date of the birth of Jesus (Anno Domini). Primarily, this calendar helped in accurate computing of the Christian Easter, which had always been faced by recurrent errors. The motivation here was to celebrate Easter at the time Catholic Church thought the Fifth Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. This calendar ensured that important Christian dates would regularly be observed. (Lambert, 2002).
However, the early church experienced a major drawback during the pagan Roman Empire. This was he duration in which the separation between the church and the state ceased to exist. Constantine the Emperor had managed to conquer other emperors. The Roman Empire therefore stretched from Britain and the Atlantic Coast of Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula in the West to Eastern Anaolia, the Syrian dessert and Egypt in the East. This empire was said to be the most cosmopolitan state the western world had ever seen.
What ensued was unlimited freedom of choice in gods and/or religion. The Roman Empire having covered a vast area was unable regulate the religious choice of the people from diverse origins. Paganism was the order of the day and religions decayed day by day. There was a strong blend of belief in the old deities of the Greek and Roman pathogeons. In this kind of a scenario Christianity had to triumph. With the backing of the Empire and proclamation of salvation, it won more converts. Salvation in this state implied a miraculous healing of the people.
In Europe, Pepin’s and Charlemagne’s reigns were significant in the development of the relationship between the church and the state. During Pepin reign, there was developed a new relationship between the Holy See and the Frankish kingdom to counteract the spread of Islam. Papacy turned it’s eyes to the only Western kingdom that was able to check the advance of Islam. During the Carolingian reign in France, Pope Stephen III gave kingly appointment to Pepin and his two sons. They had the powers to participate in the affairs of the Roman government and to over see the states of the church. The church therefore did benefit from support from the state.
Similarly, Charlemagne assisted in shaping medieval Christianity. Pope Leo IV crowned him the Emperor. The western Empire had been dormant for three centuries. A new Christian Latin Germanic Empire was founded. Charlemagne’s principal mission was to protect the church and the Roman See.
Of more development to the European church were the raids by the Vikings on the Frankish Kingdoms and the British Isles, which lead to increased contact with Christianity. To experience more peaceful relations with the Christians, the Vikings had to covert to Christianity. Christians were not supposed to trade with pagans, therefore for transactions, one had to convert totally or at least indicate some willingness to join Christianity. Through intermarriages as well the Vikings converted bit by bit until their children were wholesomely Christians. There was a peaceful co-existence between Vikings and Christans, which encouraged more conversions.
Louis, P. Guide to the study of Medieval History.
Millwood: New York, 1959.
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Lambert, M. Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from Gregorian to the Reformation.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.