Christians are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who believe him to be the Christ, or Messiah, sent from God for the salvation of his people. Springing from Judaism, Christianity follows the teachings and example of Jesus and views Him as the fulfillment not only of the promise of God's deliverer from the Old Testament of the Bible, but also as the establishment of the new covenant between God and those who would seek after Him.
Jesus did not refute the teachings of Jewish scripture but sought to bring into a sharper focus those tenets set forth in the covenant between God and the Jews. Jesus brought the concept that God's people were not only those of the Jewish race but included all those-regardless of social or economic standing - who sought reconciliation and fellowship with God as well as all those who would respond to his seeking after them. Christians, although differing with each other in many aspects of theology and doctrine, believe that Jesus' death on the cross as an atonement for sins, His resurrection from the dead, and His giving of the Holy Spirit are foundational to the faith.
The earliest followers of Jesus were Messianic Jews but by 70 AD non-Jews, or Gentiles, were increasingly among the followers of "the Way" and in Antioch by the end of the first century were referred to as "Christians." In a world filled with systems of philosophy and religion, and in a time of intellectual activity, such as was the beginning of the Christian era, it could not be expected that Christianity would long be able to hold aloof from other systems, neither imparting its own elements to them, nor absorbing foreign elements. Christianity drew its converts from two grand sources, Judaism and_ paganism. It would have been strange, indeed, if Jewish and pagan types of Christianity, mutually antagonistic, had not arisen, and if each had not made a distinct impression on the more catholic type that resulted from the conflicts of the second and third centuries.
Even among the New Testament writers different shades of opinion, different ways of conceiving divine truth, depending on the attitude of each writer toward Judaism and toward heathen culture, found place. Here, however, the diversity is comparatively superficial and easily harmonizes with what is central in Christianity. But uninspired men of the same tendencies and feelings might have been expected to go to extremes, either in making Judaism the chief thing and Christianity a mere appendage, or in rejecting Judaism absolutely and substituting heathen philosophical conceptions therefor.
There are those who dream of the early centuries of the Church as of a golden age, when, if Christians had more to endure through outward fightings, they were less embarrassed by inward fears. Such persons picture to themselves the presence of Christ as being then more visible and tangible, and the unity of His Church as more apparent and undeniable. But these are pure imaginings. Those early days were full of perplexities and troubles; schisms and heresies were on every side. The early centuries of Christianity witnessed diverse interpretations of beliefs, which resulted in the formation of different groups within the faith. Of the orthodox churches, there are two groups: (1) the Assyrian Church, which has not been in communion with other Eastern Churches since the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD; (2) the Armenian, the Abyssinian, the Coptic, and the Syrian (Jacobite) Churches, which are in communion with each other, but with none of the other Eastern Churches since the Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD.
Few indeed were the districts in the orbis terrarum, which did not then, as in the Ante-Nicene era, present a number of creeds and communions from which to select. In Egypt, in the earlier part of the fourth century, the Meletian schism numbered one-third as many Bishops as were contained in the whole Patriarchate. These were the followers of the Meletius condemned at the Council of Nice -- a totally different person from St. Meletius of Antioch. In Africa, towards the end of the same century, the Donatists had 400 Bishops, the Catholics 4G6. Priscillianism was spread over Spain, and its author honoured as a martyr. At Eome and in Italy were found Manichees, Marcionites, and Origenists. Eome was moreover the seat of a Novatian, a Donatist, and a Luciferian bishop, in addition to the true Roman pontiff. The Luciferians were sprinkled over Christendom, from Spain to Palestine, and from Treves to Lybia. When St. Gregory Nazianzen began to preach at Constantinople, the Arians were in possession of its hundred churches, and they had the populace in their favour. The Novatians, too, abounded there, and the Sabbatians had a church, where they prayed at the tomb of their founder.
Apollinarians, Eunomians, and Semi-Arians, were there in great numbers. In the neighboring provinces, popular feeling was with the Semi-Arian Bishops, who had possession of the coast of the Hellespont and Bithynia; and were found in Phrygia, Isauria, and the neighbouring parts of Asia Minor. Phrygia was the head-quarters of the Montanists, and was overrun by the Messalians, who had advanced thus far from Mesopotamia, spreading through Syria, Lycaonia, Pamphylia, and Cappadocia in their way. In the lesser Armenia the same heretics had penetrated into the monasteries. Phrygia too, and Paphlagonia, were the seat of the Novatians, who besides were in force at Nicaea and Nicomedia, were found in Alexandria, Africa, and Spain, and had a bishop even in Scythia. The whole tract of country from the Hellespont to Cilicia had nearly lapsed into Eunomianism, and the tract from Cilicia as far as Phoenicia to Apollinarianism.
The disorders of the Church of Antioch are well known: an Arian succession, two orthodox claimants, and a bishop of the Apolliuarians. Palestine abounded in Origenists, if at that time they may properly be called a sect; Palestine, Egypt, and Arabia were overrun with Marcionites; Osrhoene was occupied by the followers of Bardesanes and Harmonius, whose hymns so nearly took the place of national tunes that St. Ephrein found no better way of resisting the heresy than setting them to fresh words.
These sects were of very various character. Learning, eloquence, and talent were the characteristics of the Apollinarians, Manichees, and Pelagians; Tichonius the Donatist was distinguished in biblical interpretation; the Semi-Arian and Apollinarian leaders were men of grave and correct behaviour; the Novatians had sided with the orthodox during the Arian persecution; the Montanists and Messalians addressed themselves to an almost heathen population ; the atrocious fanaticism of the Priscillianists, the fury of the Arian women of Alexandria and Constantinople, and the savage cruelty of the Circumcellions, can hardly be exaggerated. They had their orders of clergy, bishops, priests, and deacons; their readers and ministers; their, celebrants and altars; their hymns and litanies. They preached to the crowds in public, and their meetinghouses bore the semblance of churches. They had their sacristies and cemeteries; their farms; their professors and doctors; their schools. Miracles were ascribed to the Arian Theophilus, to the Luciferian Gregory of Elvira, to a Macedonian in Cyzicus, and to the Donatists in Africa.
Rite, Language, and Religion must always be distinguished. A rite is a certain uniform arrangement of formulae and ceremonies used for the Holy Eucharist, the Canonical Hours, the administration of other sacraments and sacramentals. These offices, as far as we know, have never been performed in the same way throughout Christendom. There apparently there always have been different rites, equally legitimate, used in different places both by Catholics and other Christians.
Obviously each rite was originally composed in some language. But rite is not language; the various rites canuot be classified according to their languages. There are many different rites In the sama language; on the other hand the same rite, remaining the same in every detail, is constantly translated. Thus, in the West, the Roman and Galilean Uses are both written in Latin, but they are completely different rites. The Roman Rite was used in Dalmatia in an Old Slavonic version (written in Glagolitic letters), occasionally in Greek in Italy; but in any language it is always the Roman Rite. In the East this want of correspondence between rite and language is still more remarkable. Except those of the Armenians, Nestorians, and Abyssinians, all Eastern liturgies were originally written in Greek. Even the exceptions are only modified derivations from Greek originals.
The Roman Rite is used throughout the Roman patriarchate, by the clergy subject to the pope as their patriarch, and only by them; the Alexandrine Rite belongs to Egypt - where the patriarch of Alexandria has jurisdiction; that of Antioch to Syria; that of Constantinople to the Byzantine territory. The National Nestorian (East Syrian) and Armenian patriarchates had their own rites. Such was the principle for many centuries everywhere.
There are, besides the Orthodox Church, other Eastern Churches, which are not in communion with her. To the Orthodox Christian an Armenian, a Copt, a Jacobite is just as much a heretic and a schismatic as a Latin or a Protestant. Though no other Eastern Church can be compared to the Orthodox for size, nevertheless at least some of them (that of the Armenians, for instance) are large and important bodies. The situation of these other separated Eastern Churchesis not difficult to grasp. All spring from the two great heresies of the 5th century, Nestorianism, condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and its extreme opposite, Monophysism, condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. These two heresies account for all the other separated Eastern Churches, besides the Orthodox.
Arianism was for a long time the religion of various barbarous races (the Goths, for instance), but it died out many centuries ago. There is now no Arian Church. The Pelagian heresy never formed an organized Church. Manichaeism made communities which afterwards disappeared. It is one side of a very great movement that produced all manner of curious sects in East and West till far into the Middle Ages - Bogomils, Paulicians, Albigensians, Bonshommes, and so on. All these too practically disappeared, though in the West (Bohemia) the last remnant of this movement may have had something to do with the beginning of the Reformation. In the East, the Paulicians and Bogomils had a rather important history. But they too disappeared. Monotheletism formed a Church which long returned to the Catholic faith, and is now the one example of an entirely Uniate body, having no schismatical counterpart.
So all existing separated Eastern Churches, other than the Orthodox, are either Nestorian or Monophysite. Theologically, these groups are diametrically opposed to each other; they are poles apart. Nestorianism divides Christ into two persons, Monophysism confuses him into one nature. So far the situation is simple. Now enters another factor of enormous importance, at any rate to Catholics. At various times certain members, sometimes bishops and Patriarchs, of these three main classes of Eastern Churches (Orthodox, Nestorians, Monophysites) have repented cf their state of schism from the Roman See and have come back to reunion. These are the Uniates.
With the development of the cult of the Virgin Mary the gap between Protestants and Roman Catholics was wider than that between Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. Many excellent writings by Protestants in recent years attest to their loyalty to the Virgin Mary, their appreciation of her role as depicted in the New Testament. They fear, however, that the popular attention increasingly devoted to Mary in many areas will tend to withdraw attention from Jesus Christ, and that the devotion and veneration now paid to Mary may develop into real worship, and into her exaltation, therefore, both in practice and in theory, to a fully divine role. There are many Catholics who, while not criticizing the doctrines laid down, feel that the emphasis, especially the popular emphasis, on Mariology, the cult of the Virgin, is tending already to distract the minds of believers from the superior and more essential role of her divine Son.
It is one thing for Catholics themselves to go as far as their mind and their conscience lead them in their religious practices with regard to the Virgin Mary. It is quite another thing if they insist that all Christians must accept their full doctrine and practice in order to achieve adequate manifestation of Christian unity.
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