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History of Christianity in Europe

QUESTION: What is the history of Christianity in Europe?


The history of Christianity in Europe begins with Paul. He was in Rome, Italy and wrote his epistles from there while in prison. Christian tradition states that Peter was in Rome for a short time and was crucified during the Neronian persecution of Christians. After A.D. 70, Rome became one of the chief centers of Christian development.

Christianity in Europe at this time was missionary in spirit. Christians looked upon themselves as a new race, the true Israel, and possessing a heavenly citizenship reaching down to earth. To become a Christian, a person had to believe in the truth of the Christian message, commit to live the Christian lifestyle, and repent.

After that, a person could belong to the church through baptism. Services occurred on Sundays and on other days as well. There were two types of meetings: one was a meeting where reading the Scriptures, preaching, song, and prayer took place. The other was a common evening meal followed by the Lord's Supper (communion). The common meal had disappeared by the time Justin Martyr wrote his Apology in Rome (153).

The communion occurred at the conclusion of the assembly of preaching. Before the close of the first century, liturgical forms were beginning to take shape. Christians in Rome were wealthy and very influential in redeeming prisoners and sending financial aid to Christians distant from themselves.

The church in Rome became prominent as a source of true Apostolic teaching, passed on from the apostles to the succeeding bishops. Because of the Gnostic crisis in the church, a creed developed. By the time of Hippolytus, the creed involved three questions posed to the baptismal candidate that gradually became the Apostles Creed. The present shape developed by about 400, but its final phrasing did not occur until the eighth century. By the time of Justin (153), the Gospels and the Old Testament prophets were a part of the church services in Rome. The canon of Scripture came from Rome.

Because of the apostles' association (especially that of Peter and Paul) with the church at Rome and its generosity and steadfastness in the face of persecution, it gained a place of leadership and prominence. The Roman practice of celebrating Easter with a vigil and the Lord's Supper held on Sunday became common practice about 200, but not before Victor, bishop of Rome (189-198) had excommunicated those who disagreed with this practice.

Around the late 200's there was a time of peace and rapid growth of Christianity. By 300 Christianity was found in all parts of the Roman Empire, including central Italy, southern Gaul and Spain. Around 313, Constantine, a Christian and the Roman emperor, proclaimed freedom of conscience for the people, made Christianity on a full legal equality with any religion in Rome, and ordered all church property restored that had been confiscated during the most recent time of persecution. The next step for Constantine was to make Christianity the state religion of Rome.

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