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The history of the Christian Church Essay

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Updated: May 11th, 2019


The history of the Christian Church was an eventful process that was characterized by several periods marked by particular events and personalities. This paper looks at some of those events and personalities that shaped the Church as we know it today. The paper is divided into two sections. The first section (A) is concerned with the definition of some of the important concepts in the life of the Church. Section B provides a summary of some of the important events in the Church history.

Definition of Terms

Germanic Tribes

These were Indo-European ethnolinguistic people whose origin could be traced to the northern part of Europe, and who were distinguishable by their Germanic languages. The word Germanic was coined during the classical by Roman authors to refer to certain tribal groupings considered physical and less intellectual than the Romans.

Carolingian Renaissance

This referred to the era of cultural movements during the late eighth century. It was the foremost medieval Renaissance that happened in the course of the rule of Carolingian rulers. It was marked with a rise in the amount of literature liturgical changes and architecture.


This referred to a technique of analytical thinking and defending dogma that governed the teachings in universities around Europe during the medieval period. It focused on acquisition of knowledge by deduction in resolving contradictions.

Saint Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church who created the Order of Friars Minor for men. He also set up the women’s group of the Order of Saint Clare.


These were people belonging to a grouping that originated in the medieval period. It was started by a group of single women and widows who dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and good deeds after they lost their men in battles and during the crusades.


Often referred to as the father of Humanism, Francesco Petrarch was a poet and an Aretine intellectual who existed in Italy during the Renaissance period. He rediscovered the correspondences of Cicero’s, which were credited for triggering the Renaissance during the fourteenth-century.

Marsilio Ficino

Ficino was among the most prominent humanist academics during the early Renaissance in Italy. He was also an astrologer and was the first to translate the surviving works of Plato into Latin.


Huldrych Zwingli was one of the people who spearheaded reformation in his country, Switzerland. He was the only significant reformer whose movement did not metamorphose into a church.


Anabaptists were a group of Christians who revolted against the system of baptism during the sixteenth-century Radical Reformation in Europe. They advocated for re-baptism, and disputed the credibility of the baptism that was administered to infants.

Avignon Papacy

This term was used to refer to the period in the Roman Catholic Church when the papacy was centered in Avignon, in France. Martin Luther referred to this period as the ‘Babylonian captivity of the popes.’

Black Death

This was one of the most disturbing pandemics that had ever been witnessed in human history. The plague was said to have been caused by the Yersinia bacteria and resulted in the deaths of over 100 million people.


Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch Christian who was a scholarly authority in Europe. Though he advocated for and contributed to the protestant reformation, he took a strong stance against violence and criticized Martin Luther for his radical rhetoric.

1517 C.E

This was the period that marked the beginning of protestant reforms in the history of the church when Martin Luther wrote his ’95 Theses.’ In the theses Luther attacked some practices in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1521, he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.


Also referred to as the Society of Jesus, it was a Christian grouping with an entirely male membership. The congregation was established by Ignatius Loyola upon his religious conversion after he was wounded in war.

Spiritual Exercises

These were a collection of Christian prayers, meditations, and mental practices designed by Ignatius Loyola. The exercises were distributed within one month, and were intended to bring the believer closer to Christ.

Hernan Cortez

Cortez was a Spanish explorer who headed a mission that instigated the collapse of the Aztec Empire. He was part of the initial group of Spanish colonizers who entered the Americas.

Lady of Guadalupe

This was the title bestowed upon the Virgin Mary associated with a miracle in which she appeared to one of the natives of Mexico. Currently, there is a renowned image put up in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Old Believers

This term was used in reference to a collection of Russians who rebelled against certain changes to the Orthodox liturgy. The reforms were forced on the Russian Orthodox Church by Nikon.

1492 C.E

This was the period in church history that was characterized by a mass expulsion of Jews from Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain signed a document that saw the removal of all Jews from Spain on the reason that they were not willing to convert to Christianity.


Christian Asceticism

Christianity has brought to fruition every part of the various forms of ascetic practices. Though the New Testament Gospels do not discuss asceticism, the theme highlighted therein about following in the footsteps of Christ provided a good starting point for ascetic practice within Christianity.

The chapters on asceticism traced asceticism to the first letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In this communication, Paul uses the analogy of an athlete that needs to prepare himself regularly to win a race. The chapter also depicted how self-denial, vigils and abstaining from food were practiced in early Christianity. The authors also discuss some of the early sects of Christianity such as the Encratites, in which asceticism was practiced.

In the early church, ascetics lived within communities and played their roles. Celibacy along with martyrdom characterized the lives of the first ascetics. In the late third century, monasticism, which was an ascetic practice, came from Egypt. It was also thought that bits of monasticism came from Mesopotamia. It was adopted into Christianity and was practiced in the form of cenobitism. It got prominence after Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire (Hastings 48).

The chapter indicated that particular traits of asceticism surfaced in early Methodism, Puritanism and the Oxford Movement despite the fact that ascetic practices were discarded by those who were spearheading the Protestant Reformation. Calvinism and Pietism also showed traits of asceticism. The protestant work ethics could be seen as a form of asceticism that required a rejection of pleasures obtained from material things even when legitimately obtained.

The Christian Empire

Constantine’s conversion to Christianity played a big role in transforming the Roman Empire into a Christian Empire. The chapter on the adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire highlighted some of the challenges the implementation faced including resistance from the traditional Roman cultures.

Christians also faced a hard task of transitioning from a relatively unknown religion to the mainstream religion practiced by the emperor. The chapter also highlighted some of the institutions that had to be created to meet the increased responsibilities while retaining the essence of the message carried in the Gospel.

Constantine was made the Roman Emperor in 306. His conversion took place during a battle that involved his brother-in-law who was called Maxentius.

He claimed to have had a vision in which God instructed him to imprint a holy sign, which he would carry into battle. From the chapter, it was not clear when Constantine developed a liking for Christianity. What was clear was the fact that his mother, Helena might have exposed him to Christianity during his youth. However, the emperor did not obtain baptism until towards the end of his life.

Making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire was the biggest moment in the spread of Christianity and shaped the way Christianity under the Roman Catholic Church was practiced. Constantine became the patron of the early Christian Church, and under his leadership the church became more institutionalized. Constantine also instructed the supply of Bibles to Christians living in Constantinople. That action encouraged early publication of Bibles such as the Codex Sinaiticus.


This chapter discusses the Protestant Reformation and the exodus from the Roman Catholic Church (Somervill 102). This chapter outlines the role played by Martin Luther and his ‘95 Theses’ in instigating the reform. It also looks at John Calvin and other influential figures during this period of church history such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Knox. Luther began his dissent of the Roman Catholic Church by condemning the corrupt practice of selling indulgences in exchange for absolution (Bainton 296).

The debate later grew to involve other issues such as celibacy and the authority invested in the papacy. The Protestant Reformation began at a time when many groups of people were discontented with the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Most political leaders who supported the Reformation were unhappy with the amount of political power wielded by the papacy. Merchants also supported the Reformation since they did like the taxes imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

A major motivation throughout the progression of the Protestant Reformation was humanism. Erasmus was the most esteemed among the scholars that spearheaded the Protestant Reformation. He advocated for a restoration to the original Christian sources. Erasmus published his Treatise on Free Will in 1522. A reply by Martin Luther titled ‘On the Bondage of Free Will’ indicated how divergent their fundamentals regarding church reformation were.

Though Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Bucer, and Calvin founded their quest for reform on the principles of the early church fathers, their radical views were characterized by their interpretation of the Bible. The Protestant Reformation resulted in cultural, political and social changes.

Governmental structures that had been designed taking into consideration the Roman authority had to be realigned while groups who had hitherto been used to the Roman cultures and norms transitioned to new norms that resulted from the radical reforms.

The Holy Russia Chapter

The Christian faction that formed the Russian Orthodox Church was allegedly formed by Apostle Andrew while visiting Scythia and other Greek colonies (Garrard and Garrard 181). Legend has it that Andrew put up a cross at Kiev and predicted the growth a vast Christian city. It was in that spot that the Saint Andrews cathedral was built.

The eastern parts of eastern Russia were under the control of the customs of the Roman Empire by the conclusion of the first millennium AD. The translation of the Bible into Slavonic that was done by Saint Methodius leveled the way for adoption of Christianity by the Slavs.

The Eastern Orthodox Church parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church due to doctrinal differences and issues concerning the supremacy of the papacy. The Eastern Orthodox faithful accused their Roman Catholic counterparts of diverging from the teachings of the first seven ecumenical councils.

The Russian Orthodox Church would also face its own division known as the Old Believer’s schism. Some members of the clergy and lay leaders of the church misunderstood the reforms that had been suggested by Patriarch Nikon and dissented from the mainstream church authority.

Mysticism in the History of the Church

Mystic practices of the Church generated increased yearning for God at a time when many church adherents were fed up with certain practices within the church leadership such as nepotism, corruption and selling of indulgences. Such Christians sought direct experience with God in order to avoid the doctrines they did not like in the Church.

Mysticism was also in response to the intellectual workings of scholasticism where people’s doctrines were used in almost all aspects of worship. In response, mysticism sought to encourage a direct relationship with God through prayer and meditation. Known mystics in the history of the Church included Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila (McColman 49).

The void that was left during the Avignon Papacy and the Great religious Schism that happened during the last parts of the fourteenth century was an additional reason that encouraged mysticism in the early Church. While the pope was operating from France, some Christians felt that there was no actual leadership within the church. Due to this lack of direction, many Christians took to mysticism to communicate with God directly.

The bubonic plague also played a major role in increasing mystic practices within the Church. The resultant uncertainty of life caused by the numerous deaths made people more spiritual and increased their hunger to improve their experience with God. The gender bias within the ranks of the Church also pushed some women faithful into mysticism. Christina of Markyate was one such Christian. She wanted to be a nun, but her parents disagreed with her decision and sent a man to take her virginity.

She, however, managed to convince the man her parents had sent. She went to live as a nun under the guardianship of a monk called Roger. She became a nun in St. Albins and later became an important authority on England’s national issues. Catherine of Sienna, another female mystic, nursed people all through the bubonic plague. Therefore, she championed the notion of marriage to Christ.

There were several similarities that existed between mysticism and the protestant Reformation. Like the protestant reformation that sought to do away with intermediaries in worship, mysticism sought direct relationship with deity. However, it was important to note that mysticism was not in rebellion toward Church authority.


Christianity certainly has a rich history that involves the contributions of many influential figures. The state of Christianity is still undergoing metamorphosis and more changes can be expected in the future.

Works Cited

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009. Print.

Garrard, John and Carol Garrard. Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2008. Print.

Hastings, Adrian. A World History of Christianity, United Kingdom: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Print.

McColman, Carl. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality, Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2010. Print.

Somervill, Barbara. Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation, Minneapolis: Capstone, 2006. Print.

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