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History of Christianity

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a photo of the Licinia Amias on marble, in the National Roman Museum from the early 3rd century Vatican necropolis area in Rome containing the text ("fish of the living"), a predecessor of the Ichthys symbol
Funerary stele of Licinia Amias on marble, in the National Roman Museum. One of the earliest Christian inscriptions found, it comes from the early 3rd century Vatican necropolis area in Rome. It contains the text ΙΧΘΥϹ ΖΩΝΤΩΝ ("fish of the living"), a predecessor of the Ichthys symbol.

The history of Christianity follows the Christian religion as it developed from its earliest beliefs and practices in the first-century, spread geographically in the Roman Empire and beyond, and became a global religion in the twenty-first century.

Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who was crucified and died c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea. Afterwards, his followers, a set of apocalyptic Jews, proclaimed him risen from the dead. Christianity began as a Jewish sect and remained so for centuries in some locations, diverging gradually from Judaism over doctrinal, social and historical differences. In spite of persecution in the Roman Empire, the faith spread as a grassroots movement that became established by the third-century both in and outside the empire. New Testament texts were written and church government was loosely organized in its first centuries, though the biblical canon did not become official until 382.

The Roman Emperor Constantine I became the first Christian emperor in 313. He issued the Edict of Milan expressing tolerance for all religions thereby legalizing Christian worship. He did not make Christianity the state religion, but did provide crucial support. Constantine called the first of seven ecumenical councils needed to resolve disagreements over defining Jesus' divinity. Eastern and Western Christianity were already diverging by the fourth-century. Byzantium was more prosperous than the west, and what became Eastern Orthodoxy was more influential, organized and united with the state than Christianity in the west into the Middle Ages. During the High Middle Ages, Eastern and Western Christianity had grown far enough apart that differences led to the East–West Schism of 1054. Temporary reunion was not achieved until the year before the fall of Constantinople. Both Islam and western crusading negatively impacted Eastern Christianity, and the conquering of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the institutional church as established under Constantine, though it survived in altered form.

In the Early Middle Ages, missionary activities spread Christianity west and north. Monks and nuns played a prominent role in establishing Christendom which influenced every aspect of medieval life. From the ninth-century into the twelfth, politicization and Christianization went hand-in-hand developing East Central Europe and Russia. Various catastrophic circumstances, combined with a growing criticism of the Catholic Church church in the 1300–1500s, led to the Protestant Reformation and its related reform movements. Reform and its Catholic counterpart, the counter-reformation, were followed by the European wars of religion, the development of modern concepts of tolerance, and the Age of Enlightenment. Christianity also influenced the New World through its connection to colonialism, its part in the American Revolution, the dissolution of slavery in the west, and the long-term impact of Protestant missions.

In the twenty-first century, traditional Christianity has declined in the West, while new forms have developed and expanded throughout the world. Today, there are more than two billion Christians worldwide and Christianity has become the world's largest, and most widespread religion.[1][2] Within the last century, the centre of growth has shifted from West to East and from the North to the Global South.[3][4][5][6]

Origins to 312


Little is fully known of Christianity in its first 150 years; sources are few.[7] This and other complications have limited scholars to probable rather than provable conclusions, based largely on the biblical book of Acts, whose historicity is debated as much as it is accepted.[8][9]

According to the Gospels, Christianity began with the itinerant preaching and teaching of a deeply pious young Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth.[10] Virtually all scholars of antiquity accept that Jesus was a historical figure.[11][12] His followers came to believe Jesus was the Son of God, the Christ, a title in Greek for the Hebrew term mashiach (Messiah) meaning “the anointed one.” Jesus was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem, and after his death and burial, his disciples proclaimed they had seen him alive and raised from the dead. Thereafter he was said to be exalted by God.[13][10] These became founding doctrines of Christianity.[14]

It was amongst a small group of Second Temple Jews, looking for an "anointed" leader (messiah or king) from the ancestral line of King David, that Christianity first formed in relative obscurity.[15][13] Peter became the leader of the twelve disciples that Jesus had trained.[16] Tradition, and some evidence, supports Peter as the organizer and founder of the Church in Rome which already existed by 57 AD when Paul arrived there.[17] Paul was a persecutor of the church who later became a follower.[18] The Jerusalem church, led by James the Just, brother of Jesus, described themselves as "disciples of the Lord" and followers "of the Way".[19][20] According to Acts 9[21] and 11,[22] the disciples at Antioch were the first to be called "Christians".[23]

While there is evidence in the New Testament (Acts 10) suggesting the presence of Gentile Christians from the start, most early Christians were actively Jewish.[24] Jewish Christianity was foundational and remained influential in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor into the second and third centuries.[25][26] Judaism and Christianity diverged over disagreements about Jewish law, Jewish insurrections against Rome which Christians did not support, and the development of Rabbinic Judaism by the Pharisees, the sect which had rejected Jesus while he was alive.[27]

St. Erasmus flogged in the presence of Emperor Diocletian. Byzantine artwork, from the crypt of the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata in Rome.

Geographically, Christianity began in Jerusalem in first-century Judea, a province of the Roman Empire. The religious, social, and political climate of the area was diverse and often characterized by turmoil.[13][28] Romans of this era feared civil disorder, giving their highest regard to peace, harmony and order.[29] Piety equalled loyalty to family, class, city and emperor. This was demonstrated through the practices and rituals of the old religious ways.[30]

Christianity was largely tolerated, but some also saw it as a threat to "Romanness" which produced localized persecution by mobs and governors.[31][32] The first reference to persecution by a Roman Emperor is under Nero, probably in 64 AD, in the city of Rome. Scholars conjecture that the Apostles Peter and Paul were killed then.[33] In 250, the emperor Decius made it a capital offence to refuse to make sacrifices to Roman gods, resulting in widespread persecution of Christians.[34][35] Valerian pursued similar policies later that decade. The last and most severe official persecution, the Diocletianic Persecution, took place in 303–311.[36]

Mission in primitive Christianity

map of Paul's missionary journeys
The Oxford and Cambridge Acts of the Apostles – Paul the Apostle's missionary journeys

Driven by a universalist logic, Christianity has been, from its beginnings, a missionary faith with global aspirations, leading it to become a part of the history of a great many civilizations.[37][38] Missionary consciousness in the early church was rooted in the belief that followers of Jesus were divinely required to "go forth" and "go tell" in order to "make disciples" of all nations.[39] This process began with the twelve Apostles, and the Apostle Paul.[40]

Early geographical spread


Beginning with less than 1000 people, by the year 100, Christianity had grown to perhaps one hundred small household churches consisting of an average of around seventy members each.[41] It achieved critical mass in the hundred years between 150 and 250 when it moved from fewer than 50,000 adherents to over a million. This provided enough adopters for its growth rate to be self-sustaining.[42][43]

Moving first into the Jewish diaspora communities beyond Jerusalem,[44][45][46] Christianity's development followed the trade routes as it was spread by merchants and soldiers.[47][48] The migration of populations played a significant part in the spread of Christianity.[49]

In Asia Minor, (Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Pergamum), conflicts over the nature of Christ's divinity first appear in the second-century and were resolved by referencing apostolic teaching.[50]

Egyptian Christianity probably began in the first-century in Alexandria.[51] As it spread, Coptic Christianity, which survives into the modern era, developed.[52][53] Egyptian Christians produced religious literature more abundantly than any other region during the second and third centuries making the church in Alexandria as influential as the church in Rome.[54]

Christianity in Antioch is mentioned in Paul's epistles written before AD 60, and scholars generally see Antioch as a primary centre of early Christianity.[55] It has been argued that Antioch, an early centre of apostolic authority, is the most likely location for the writing of the gospel of Matthew and the Didache in the first-century.[56]

a digital map showing where congregations were in the first three centuries
Map of the Roman empire with distribution of Christian congregations of the first three centuries displayed for each century[57]

Early Christianity was also present in Gaul, however, most of what is known comes from a letter, most likely written by Irenaeus, which theologically interprets the detailed suffering and martyrdom of Christians from Vienne and Lyons during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.[58] There is no other evidence of Christianity in Gaul, beyond one inscription on a gravestone, until the beginning of the fourth-century.[59]

The origins of Christianity in North Africa are unknown, but most scholars connect it to the Jewish communities of Carthage.[60] Christians were persecuted in Africa intermittently from 180 until 305.[61] Persecution under Emperors Decius and Valerian created long-lasting problems for the African church.[62]

It is likely the Christian message arrived in the city of Rome very early, though it is unknown how or by whom.[63] The city was a melting pot of ideas, and the Church in Rome was "subject to repeated internal upheavals ..."[64][65]

Christianity spread in its Arian form in the Germanic world during the latter part of the third-century, beginning among the Goths. It did not originate with the ruling classes.[66] They mixed aspects of their native culture into their Christianity.[67]

Christianity probably reached Roman Britain by the third-century at the latest.[66] From the earliest days of Christianity, there was a Christian presence in Edessa (modern Turkey). It developed in Adiabene, Armenia, Georgia, Persia (modern Iran), Ethiopia, India, Nubia, South Arabia, Soqotra, Central Asia and China. By the sixth-century, there is evidence of Christian communities in Sri Lanka and Tibet.[47][68]

Early beliefs and practices

photo of very old and slightly damaged representation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the catacombs, made around 300 AD
One of the oldest representations of Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the catacombs of Rome, made around 300 AD

Early Christianity's teachings on morality have been cited as a major factor in its growth. In contrast to traditional Roman social stratification, early Christian communities were highly inclusive being open to men and women, rich and poor, slave and free.[69][70] In groups formed by Paul the Apostle, the role of women was greater than in other religious movements.[71][72]

Intellectual egalitarianism made philosophy and ethics available to ordinary people whom Roman culture deemed incapable of ethical reflection.[73][74] Christian conceptions of free will and personal responsibility impacted Roman understanding of sexual morality as determined by social and political status, power, and social reproduction.[75][76][77]

Christians distributed bread to the hungry, nurtured the sick, and showed the poor great generosity.[78][79] They approached death and burial differently, redefining family by gathering those not blood-related into a common burial space, using the same memorials, and expanding the audience to include the Christian community.[80][81]

Christians had no sacrificial cult, and this set them apart from Judaism and the rest of the pagan world.[82] Christianity in its first 300 years was highly exclusive.[83] Believing was the crucial and defining characteristic that set a "high boundary" that strongly excluded non-believers.[83] This has been cited as a crucial factor in maintaining Christian independence in the syncretizing Roman religious culture.[84]



For Christianity's first five centuries, there was no canon law to govern the church.[85] Early Christian texts derived their authority from their apostolic origins and not from church institutions.[86] On this basis, the teachers, leaders and philosophers of early Christianity wrote from the first-century to the close of the eighth using the term "heresy" to define theological error, ensure correct belief and establish Christian identity.[87][88] [note 1]

Walter Bauer has put forth a thesis that heretical forms of Christianity were brought into line by a powerful, united, Roman church forcing its will on others. However, William Vinzent has written that unity and universal power did not yet exist in the church in the city of Rome in these early centuries.[64][65]

Church hierarchy


The Church as an institution began its formation quickly and with some flexibility in these early centuries before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325.[91] Christian writings from the first-century mention bishops (or episkopoi), as overseers and presbyters as elders or priests, with deacons as 'servants', sometimes using the terms interchangeably.[92] Gerd Theissen puts forth the view that institutionalization began very early when itinerant preaching first transformed into resident leadership.[93]

photo of an old page of writing from Papyrus 46 in a third-century collection of Paul's Epistles
A folio from Papyrus 46, an early-3rd-century collection of Pauline epistles

New Testament


First-century Christian writings in Koine Greek, including Gospels containing accounts of Jesus' ministry, letters of Paul, and letters attributed to other early Christian leaders, had considerable authority even in the formative period.[94][95] When discussion began about creating a Biblical canon to separate books seen as authoritative from those that were not, there were disputes over whether or not to include some of them.[96][97] A list of accepted books was established by the Council of Rome in 382, followed by those of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397.[98] For Christians, these became the "New Testament", and the Hebrew Scriptures became the "Old Testament".[99]

Spanning two millennia, the Bible has become one of the most influential works ever written, having contributed to the formation of Western law, art, literature, literacy and education.[100][101]

Late Antiquity to Early Middle Ages (313–600)


In Late Antiquity, Christianity's "systems of authority, patterns of belief, and control of funds and property" turned the existing network of diverse Christian communities into an organization that mirrored the structure of the Roman Empire.[102][103][82] Often referred to as the "golden age" of patristic Christianity, Christians of this era compiled many of Christianity's greatest works as they transformed and defined its art, culture, literature, philosophy and politics, its internal and external relationships, and its theology; at the same time, competing orthodoxies were formed, and Western aristocracies were Christianized. The biblical canon and its interpretation, the creeds, and the roles of bishops, councils, and monasticism became standard aspects of Christianity after this age.[104]

Influence of Constantine

a painting by Fra Angelico with Emperor Valerian seated on throne and St. Lawrence who was martyred in 258 standing under arrest before him
St. Lawrence (martyred 258) standing before Emperor Valerianus

Constantine the Great became emperor in the West, declared himself a Christian, and in 313, just two years after Diocletian's persecution, issued the Edict of Milan expressing tolerance for all religions.[105] The Edict of Milan was a pluralist policy, and throughout the Roman Empire of the fourth to sixth centuries, people shifted between a variety of religious groups in a kind of "religious marketplace".[106] Constantine did not make Christianity the official state religion.[107] Law, literature, rituals, and institutions, indicate that converting the empire to Christianity was a complex, long-term, slow-paced, and uneven process with no single moment or event to mark when the Roman state might have chosen Christianity as its state religion.[108][109][note 2]

a retouched photo of a statue of Constantine
Constantine the Great in Oria (Retouched)

Constantine took important steps to support and protect Christianity.[107] He gave bishops judicial power and established equal footing for Christian clergy by granting them the same immunities polytheistic priests had long enjoyed.[115] By intervening in church disputes, he initiated a precedent for ecclesiastical councils.[113][116]

Constantine personally endowed some Christians with gifts of money, land and government positions.[117][118] He devoted imperial and public funds to building multiple churches, endowed his churches with wealth and lands, and provided revenue for their clergy and upkeep.[119] By the late fourth-century, there were churches in essentially all Roman cities.[120]

Relations with polytheists


Christians of the fourth-century believed Constantine's conversion was evidence the Christian God had conquered the polytheist gods in Heaven.[121][122][123] This "triumph of Christianity" became the primary Christian narrative in writings of the late antique age in spite of the fact that Christians represented only ten to fifteen percent of the population in 313. As a minority, triumph did not generally involve an increase in violence aimed at the polytheistic majority.[124][125]

Constantine's policy toward non-Christians was "toleration with limits", so in general, conflict between these groups was more rhetorical than actual – with a few exceptions.[126][118][note 3] Constantine was vigorous in reclaiming church properties that had previously been confiscated by the government, and he used reclamation to justify the destruction of some Greco-Roman temples such as Aphrodite's temple in Jerusalem.[139][140][141][note 4]

Constantine wrote the first laws against sacrifice using language that Peter Brown describes as "uniformly vehement" with "frequently horrifying" penalties, evidencing the intent of "terrorizing" the populace into accepting its removal.[146] Sacrifice, a central rite of virtually all religious groups in the pre-Christian Mediterranean, largely disappeared before the end of the fourth-century, though polytheism itself continued.[147][148][149]

Relations with the Jews


Significant Jewish communities existed throughout the Christian Roman empire.[150] Jews and Christians were both religious minorities, claiming the same inheritance, competing in a direct and sometimes violent clash.[150] In the fourth-century, Augustine of Hippo argued against the persecution of the Jewish people, and a relative peace existed between Jews and Christians until the thirteenth-century.[151][152] Although anti-Semitic violence erupted occasionally, attacks on Jews by mobs, local leaders and lower-level clergy were carried out without the support of church leaders who generally accepted Augustine's teachings.[153][154]

Sometime before the fifth-century, the theology of supersessionism emerged, claiming that Christianity had displaced Judaism as God's chosen people.[155] Supersessionism was never official or universally held, but replacement theology has been part of Christian thought through much of history.[156][157] Many attribute the emergence of antisemitism to this doctrine, while others make a distinction between supersessionism and modern anti-Semitism.[158][159]

Relations with heretics


Fourth century Christianity was dominated by its many conflicts defining and dealing with heresy and orthodoxy.[160][161] In the fourth century, the writings of the church fathers and the letters of bishops emerged as sources of authority on orthodoxy and identity, in addition to apostolic authority, and they were often used to identify and condemn heretics in a highly combative manner.[86]

image of Augustine and donatists debating
Augustine and donatists
this is a photo of an old eastern icon depicting the Emperor Constantine in the centre and a few bishops holding the Nicene Creed in front of them
Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381

The first major disagreement was between Arianism and traditional orthodox trinitarianism over whether Jesus' divinity and the Father's divinity are equal.[162] The First Council of Nicaea (in modern Turkey), called by Constantine in (325), and the First Council of Constantinople called by Theodosius I in 381, produced an affirmation of orthodoxy in the form of the Nicene Creed.[163][164]

Additional and ongoing theological controversies[note 5] led the Armenian, Assyrian, and Egyptian churches to withdraw from Nicaean Catholicism, and instead, combine into what is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy, one of three major branches of Eastern Christianity, along with the Church of the East in Persia and Eastern Orthodoxy in Byzantium.[169][170][171]

Manichaeism rose in southern Mesopotamia in the third century and expanded as a form of Christianity from the fourth to sixth centuries in almost all parts of the Roman empire, especially Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa and Italy.[172] Leo the Great (440–61) was the only pope to openly oppose the sect, but the severe persecution instigated by emperor Justinian I marked their end.[161]

Relation of Church and State


Roman Empire in late antiquity saw the state as a religious institution with no separation between "secular" and "religious". Monarchy was thought to be the only viable form of government; the chief duty of all ancient monarchs was to gain heavenly favor.[173] However, after the restrictions on Christianity were removed, emperor and bishop began to share responsibility for maintaining relations with the divine.[174] This caused a shift in power dynamics, since "who speaks for God" was a practical not a theoretical problem in the worldview of Late Antiquity.[174]

Constantine, calling himself "the apostles' equal" and "bishop for external affairs," (and his successors), attempted to fit the Church into their political program.[175][note 6] The church of Late Antiquity resisted, making a case for a sphere of religious authority separate from state authority.[178] It forms the first clearly articulated limitation on the scope of a ruler’s power, by distinguishing the power of the church from that of the empire, and arguing for the priority of one over the other.[179]

Intersection with the state also boosted the church's authority and wealth. Therefore, for the next 800 years, the western church struggled between recognition of the State as willed by God, and defense of the church's autonomy and spiritual superiority to the world.[180][181]

For many centuries the Eastern church demonstrated more ability to work its way through power issues between church and state (than did its Western counterparts) by proclaiming a unanimity of church and state.[182][183]

Regional developments (300–600)


North Africa


During the reign of Constantine, Donatism, a Christian sect, developed in North Africa. They refused - sometimes violently - to accept back into the Church those Catholics who had recanted their faith under persecution. After many appeals, the empire responded with force, and in 408 in his Letter 93, Augustine defended the government's action.[62][184] Augustine's authority on coercion was undisputed for over a millennium in Western Christianity, and according to Peter Brown, "it provided the theological foundation for the justification of medieval persecution".[185]

In Rome


The patriarchs in the East frequently looked to the Pope, the bishop of Rome, to resolve disagreements for them, thereby establishing what would become important features of papal power and influence.[104]

During the fourth and fifth centuries, various Germanic peoples in the West sacked Rome, invaded Britain, France, and Spain, seized land, and disrupted economies. For these and other reasons, the Western Roman Empire began to split into separate kingdoms.[186][187]

In France


In Late Antiquity, King Clovis I, who first united the Franks, converted to Catholicism.[188][189]

In Ireland


Though dates and details are disputed by a minority, archaeology supports the conversion of the Irish as beginning in the early fifth-century, among the common people, through missionary activity, and without coercion.[190]

In Britain


Archaeology indicates Christianity had become an established minority faith in some parts of Britain in the second-century. Irish missionaries went to Iona (from 563) and converted many Picts.[191][192] Pope Gregory the Great sent the Gregorian mission to Anglo-Saxon England which landed in 596, and converted the Kingdom of Kent and the court of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria.[66][193]

line drawing of Basil of Ceasarea
Saint Basil the Great. Line engraving.

In Caesarea


Monastics developed an unprecedented health care system.[note 7] It allowed the sick to be cared for in a special building at the monastery by those dedicated to their care. This gave the sick benefits which destigmatized illness, transformed health care in Antiquity, and led to the founding of the first public hospital by Basil the Great in Caesarea in 369, which became a model for hospitals thereafter.[197]

In the Eastern Empire


Eastern and Western Christianity became more and more distinct. The western church spoke Latin, while the East spoke and wrote in at least five other languages. Theological differences became more pronounced.[198][181][199] The manner in which western and eastern churches related to the State differed. In the Roman west, the church condemned Roman culture as sinful, kept itself as separate as possible, and struggled to resist State control. This is in pointed contrast with Eastern Christianity which acclaimed harmony with Greek culture, and whose emperors and Patriarchs upheld unanimity between church and state throughout the Byzantine empire's existence.[200][198][181][199]

In the sixth century, Byzantine emperor Justinian I (527–565) attempted to unite church authority through pentarchy. In this model, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Pope of Rome would share government of the Christian church. The Pope opposed pentarchy, advocating instead for the papal supremacy of Rome.[201]

In Asia


There is no consensus on the origins of Christianity beyond Byzantium in Asia or East Africa. Though it is scattered throughout these areas by the fourth-century, there is little documentation and no complete record.[202] Asian and African Christians did not have access to structures of power, and their institutions developed without state support.[203] Practising the Christian faith in these regions sometimes brought opposition and persecution. Asian Christianity never developed the social, intellectual and political power of Byzantium or the Latin West.[47]

In the fourth-century, Asia Minor, Armenia and Georgia forged their national identities by adopting Christianity as their state religion, as did Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 314, King Urnayr of Caucasian Albania adopted Christianity as the state religion.[204][205][206][207][53] In an environment where the religious group was without cultural or political power, the merging of church and state is thought to represent ethnic identity.[208]

Early Middle Ages (600–1000)


Christianity in the 600s was well established around the Mediterranean, and beyond, in multiple Christian communities that differed by locale yet remained connected.[209][210] These centuries stand alone in the history of Christianity as a period without major controversy over orthodoxy.[211] However, religion in these Christian communities was not a uniform pious version of Christianity. The church, before the end of the tenth-century and the beginning of the eleventh, left room for common folk with folk beliefs who held an inherent faith without complete doctrinal understanding.[212][213][214]

The Early Middle Ages had diverse elements, but the concept of Christendom was also pervasive and unifying. Medieval writers and ordinary folk used the term to identify themselves, their religious culture, and even their civilization. Membership in Christendom began with baptism at birth. Participants were required to have a rudimentary knowledge of the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. From peasant to pope, all were required to rest on Sunday and feast days, attend mass, fast at specified times, take communion at Easter, pay various fees, tithes and alms for the needy, and receive last rites at death. These were overseen and enforced by the king and his lords and bishops.[215]

From the ninth to the eleventh-century, Christendom encompassed a loose federation of churches across the European continent under the spiritual headship of the Pope.[216] However, the Pope had no clearly established authority over those churches, and he gave little general direction.[216][217] Churches were dependent upon lay rulers, and those rulers - not the Pope - determined who received the ecclesiastical jobs on their lands.[199][218][219]



In 600, there was great diversity in monastic life in both East and West, however the basic characteristics of monastic spirituality - asceticism, the goal of spiritual perfection, a life of wandering or physical toil, radical poverty, preaching, and prayer - had become established. Monasteries became more and more organized from 600 to 1100.[220] The formation of these organized bodies of believers gradually carved out social spaces with authority separate from political and familial authority, thereby revolutionizing social history.[221]

Medieval monasteries provided orphanages, hostels (inns) for travelers, distributed food during famine, and regularly provided food to the poor.[222][223][224] They supported literacy, ran schools, and copied and preserved ancient texts in their scriptoria and libraries. They practiced classical craft and artistic skills, while maintaining an intellectual and spiritual culture that developed and taught new skills and technologies.[225][226][227][228][229][230] In the early sixth century, Benedict of Nursia wrote the Rule of Saint Benedict which would become the most common monastic rule, the starting point for others, and would impact politics and law throughout the Middle Ages.[231][232][233]

Medical practice was highly important, and medieval monasteries are best known for their contributions to medical care and establishing public hospitals and hospices.[234] For the majority of the faithful in the early Middle Ages of both East and West, the saint was first and foremost the monk.[235]

Papal supremacy


By the time Pope Gregory I succeeded to the papacy in 590, the claim of Rome's supremacy over the rest of the church as stemming from Peter himself was well established in the Roman church's self perception.[236] Gregory held that papal supremacy concerned doctrine and discipline within the church, but large sections of both the Western and Eastern church remained unconvinced they should be submissive to the Roman See.[237]

Political organization of the papacy evolved between the fourth and tenth centuries. The growing presence and involvement of the aristocracy in the papal bureaucracy, an increase in papal land-holdings in the second half of the sixth into seventh-century, and changes in their administration that brought an increase in wealth, gradually shifted popes from being beneficiaries of patronage to becoming patrons themselves.[238] The papacy in the eighth and ninth centuries exercised power like that of an aristocrat. Monarchy was for kings, and no pope of this period aspired to be one.[239] Papal supremacy still concerned the assertion of doctrinal supremacy over the western church.[240][note 8]

William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, and other powerful lay founders of monasteries, placed their institutions under the protection of the papacy in the tenth-century thereby facilitating a rise in papal power.[244]

Regional developments (600–1100)


In Spain


What scholars have referred to as an earthshaking moment in Christian history took place in 612 when the Visigothic King Sisebut declared the obligatory conversion of all Jews in Spain, overriding Pope Gregory who had reiterated the traditional ban against forced conversion of the Jews in 591.[245]

Andalusi Christians,[246] from the Iberian Peninsula lived under Muslim rule from 711 to 1492.[247] The martyrdoms of forty-eight Christians who held to and defended their Christian faith took place in Córdoba between 850 and 859.[248][249][247][250] Executed under Abd al-Rahman II and Muhammad I, the record shows the executions were for capital violations of Islamic law, including apostasy and blasphemy.[249][247][250]

In France


Charlemagne began the Carolingian Renaissance in France of the 800s. Sometimes called a Christian renaissance and the first medieval renaissance, it was a period of intellectual and cultural revival of literature, arts, and scriptural studies, a renovation of law and the courts, and the promotion of literacy.[251][252][253]

In Italy


Gregorian Reform (1050–1080) established new canon law that included laws requiring the consent of both parties for marriage, a minimum age for marriage, and laws making it a sacrament.[254][255] This made the union a binding contract, which meant abandonment was prosecutable with dissolution of marriage overseen by Church authorities.[256] Although the Church abandoned tradition to allow women the same rights as men to dissolve a marriage, in practice men were granted dissolutions more frequently than women.[257][258] Throughout Europe of the Middle Ages, abbesses and female superiors of monastic houses were powerful figures whose influence could rival that of male bishops and abbots.[259][260]

In Eastern Europe

image of a monument depicting Saints Cyril and Methodius
St. Cyril and St. Methodius monument on Mt. Radhošť

Conversion of the Slavs dates to the time of Eastern Orthodox missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Basil I (r. 867–886).[261][262] Serbia can be seen as a "Christian nation" by 870.[263] Bulgarians, Alanians (modern Iran), Russians and Armenians came under the auspices of the Byzantine Patriarch by the early eleventh-century.[264][265] These rulers preferred Byzantine Christianity because it strongly supported their right to the throne, saw the ruler’s law making and enforcement as divinely inspired, and gained them the respect, authority and obedience needed to establish their nascent states.[266]

Cyril and Methodius translated the Gospels into the Old Church Slavonic language, developing the first Slavic alphabet, and with their disciples, the Cyrillic script.[267][268] It became the first literary language of the Slavs and, eventually, the educational foundation for all Slavic nations.[267] The adoption of Eastern Christianity and the use of vernacular Slavic language influenced the direction of the spiritual, religious, and cultural development of the entire region through the rest of the millennium.[269] [note 9]

In Byzantium

chart showing decline of area of Byzantine empire
Area of the Byzantine Empire

After the age of Justinian, the Byzantine Empire shrank geographically until 1453 due to invasion by the Persian Empire, the rise of Islam, and the establishment of an Arab Empire to Byzantium's east.[278][279] This led to increasing dissonance between the Eastern and Western churches.[280]

In the 720s, the Emperor Leo III the Isaurian banned the pictorial representation of Christ, saints, and biblical scenes, destroying much early art history. The West condemned Leo's iconoclasm.[281] By the tenth and early eleventh centuries, Byzantine culture began to recover and Orthodoxy was again manifested in the realms of art, scholarship, monastic revival and missionary expansion.[282][283]

Many cultural, geographical, geopolitical, and linguistic differences between East and West existed for centuries. There were disagreements over whether the Eastern Patriarch could claim a universal jurisdiction in the East to match Rome’s jurisdiction in the West. There were differences in ritual such as the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist, and differences in points of doctrine such as the Filioque Clause and Nestorianism. There was a general lack of charity and respect on both sides. Eventually, this produced the East–West Schism, also known as the "Great Schism" of 1054, which separated the Church into Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.[284][285][286]

In Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Armenia

map showing Church of the East in the Middle Ages
The Church of the East during the Middle Ages

Towards the end of the sixth-century, two main kinds of Christian communities had formed in Syria, Egypt, Persia, and Armenia: urban churches which upheld the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), and Nestorian churches which came from the desert monasteries.[287][note 10] Conquest, conflict, and persecution exercised a lasting influence on the churches in these regions.[296] Under Islamic rule, persecution of non-Muslims was particularly devastating in cities where Chalcedonian churches were located. The monastic background of the Nestorians made their churches more remote, so they often escaped direct attention. In the following centuries, it was the Nestorian churches who were best able to survive and cultivate new traditions.[297]

image of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia was the religious and spiritual centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. The Hagia Sophia and the Parthenon were converted into mosques. Violent persecutions of Christians were common and reached their climax in the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides.[298][299]

High Middle Ages (1000–1300)


The High Middle Ages is no longer seen as a unified pious "golden age" of Christendom. Instead, scholars see Latin Christendom as composed of a variety of Christian ideals and societies that overlapped and competed with each other, as well as inherited folklore, and the new secular intellectualism of the university elites, across a wide spectrum of belief.[300]

The church of the High Middle Ages became a more imposing institution with a more formal theology.[290][301] Purgatory became an official doctrine, and in 1215, confession became a required practice for all.[302][303] At the local level, "The western church becomes more of a church of the town,” instead of the city, as the parish church emerges. It became one of the fundamental institutions of medieval Europe.[304][305]

More than any other single characteristic, the papacy of this period can be characterized by its focus on canon law. Popes from 1159 to 1303 were predominantly lawyers not theologians.[306] Church law became a complex system of laws in which earlier principles of equity and universality were largely overlooked and left out.[307] The clergy and the laity both became "more literate, more worldly, and more self-assertive" and they "do not always agree with the decisions made by the hierarchy".[305]

New monks, new understanding

this is an image of a map showing the original sites of the Cistercians in Central Europe
The spread of Cistercians from their original sites in Western-Central Europe during the Middle Ages

At the beginning of the eleventh-century, there was substantial growth in heretical movements, sexual laxity amongst the clergy, and nobles overstepping into the affairs of the church. Religious leaders spoke out, and an age of religious reform began.[308][213] The Abbey of Cluny, first established in 910, became the leading centre of reform in Western monasticism into the early twelfth-century. The Cistercian movement, a second wave of reform after 1098, also became a primary force of technological advancement and its spread in medieval Europe.[309][310]

Beginning in the twelfth-century, the pastoral Franciscan Order was instituted by the followers of Francis of Assisi. Later, the Dominican Order was begun by St. Dominic. Called Mendicant orders because they lived by begging, they represented a significant change in understanding a monk's calling to prayer and contemplation. Instead, they saw their vocation as a charge to go out and actively reform the world.[311][312]



Christianization of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) occurred in two stages.[313] In the first stage, missionaries arrived on their own without secular support in the ninth-century.[314] Next, a secular ruler would take charge of Christianization in their territory. This stage ended once a defined and organized ecclesiastical network was established.[315] By 1350, Scandinavia was an integral part of Western Christendom.[316]

Scholasticism, Renaissance and modern science


Between 1150 and 1200, intrepid monks travelled to formerly Muslim locations in Sicily and Spain.[317] Fleeing Muslims had abandoned their libraries, and among the treasure trove of books, the searchers found the works of Aristotle, Euclid and more. Reconciling Christian theology and Aristotle created High Scholasticism (a departure from Augustinian thinking which had dominated the church for centuries), the works of Thomas Aquinas, and the Renaissance of the 12th century.[252][253]

image of clerks using geometry to study astronomy
Clerks studying astronomy and geometry. Early 15th-century painting, France.

This Renaissance included revival of the scientific study of natural phenomena within the church.[318] Historians of science credit this with the beginnings of what led to modern science and the scientific revolution in the West.[319][320][321][322]

In the centuries following, the development of many new technological innovations produced economic growth. Between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, the church built cathedrals using Gothic architecture which developed innovations such as flying buttresses. These innovations impacted building techniques and the construction of medieval castles.[323][324]

Education and universities

re-creation of a fifteenth-century mystery play
A 19th-century depiction of a Passion play

A widespread literate religious culture was slow to develop in Medieval Christianity, though vague notions of its mysteries were common.[325] The means and methods of teaching a mostly illiterate populace included mystery plays (which had developed out of the mass), wall paintings, vernacular sermons and treatises, and saints' lives in epic form.[326] Rituals, art, literature, and cosmology were shaped by Christian norms but also contained some pre-Christian elements.[327] Christian motifs could function in non-Christian ways, while practices of non-Christian origin became endowed with Christian meaning.[328] In the synthesis of old and new, influence cut both ways, but the cultural dynamic lay with Christianization.[329]

Cathedral schools gradually spread literacy eventually leading to the first institutions of higher education since the sixth-century. From the 1100's, western universities were formed into self-governing corporations chartered by popes and kings.[330][331][332] Bologna, Oxford and Paris were among the earliest (c. 1150).[333] Divided into faculties which specialized in law, medicine, theology or liberal arts, each held quodlibeta (free-for-all) theological debates amongst faculty and students and awarded degrees.[334][335]

The Church in Confrontation


With the state

image of painting of Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, at the gate of Canossa Castle in 1077
1882 depiction of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at the gate of Canossa Castle during the Investiture controversy

Since the sixth-century, a symbiotic relationship had existed between ecclesiastical institutions and civil governments with nobles determining who received the leadership positions of bishop and abbot on their land.[199][218][217] Under Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), the Roman Catholic Church determined to end this in order to better separate church from state, which would help reform the church and provide better pastoral care.[336]

This led to the Investiture controversy which began in the Holy Roman Empire in 1078. Specifically, the dispute was between the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and Pope Gregory VII, over who had the right to determine who received those positions. Bishoprics were lifetime appointments, so a king could better control their powers and revenues than those of hereditary noblemen. Even better, he could leave the post vacant and collect the revenues himself, theoretically in trust for the new bishop, or give a bishopric to compensate a helpful noble. Ending lay investiture would reduce the power of the Holy Roman Emperor and the European nobility.[337]

This controversy was therefore, more generally, a conflict between king and pope over control of the church and its revenues.[338][339][340][341] The Church had been committed to the doctrine of Rome's papal supremacy since the fourth-century, and through this conflict, that concept took a political turn. Gregory recorded a series of statements asserting that spiritual truth, as defined by the Roman Pope, must be every Christian's guide, therefore, the two powers of church and state could not be equal; one must be over the other; the church must be supreme and must no longer be treated as a servant to the state.[241][242][243] Disobedience to the Pope became equated with heresy.[342]

The Dictatus Papae declared the pope alone could appoint bishops in 1075.[336] Henry IV rejected the decree, leading to his excommunication, which contributed to a ducal revolt, that led to a civil war: the Great Saxon Revolt. Eventually, Henry received absolution. The conflict of investiture lasted five decades with a disputed outcome.[343][344][345] A similar controversy occurred in England.[346]

With Islam

image of Map Crusader states 1135
The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Crusader states with their strongholds in the Holy Land at their height, between the First and the Second Crusade (1135)

After 1071, when the Seljuk Turks closed access for Christian pilgrimages and defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert, the Emperor Alexius I asked for aid from Pope Urban II. Urban responded at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095 with an appeal to European Christians to "go to the aid of their brethren in the Holy Land". The crusades began with the First Crusade capturing Antioch in 1099, then Jerusalem, establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem.[347][348][349][note 11]

Urban's crusade message had tremendous appeal, and there was much popular enthusiasm supporting it. It was new and novel and tapped into powerful aspects of folk religion. Voluntary poverty and its renunciation of self-will, along with a longing for the genuine "apostolic life," flourished in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries connecting pilgrimage, charity, remission of sins, and a willingness to fight.[353][354]

Crusading gave ordinary Christians a tangible means of expressing brotherhood with the East and promoted the sense of a "joined-up Christendom". It had spiritual merit for those who went as a direct result of the "dangers, the time, the cost, and the sheer physical and mental effort" that crusading took. Being a part of crusading also carried a sense of historical responsibility.[355]

Crusading involved the church in certain paradoxes: Gregorian reform was grounded in distancing spirituality from the secular and the political, while crusade made the church dependent upon financing from aristocrats and kings for the most political of all activities: war.[356]

Crusades led to the development of national identities in European nations, increased division with the East, and produced cultural change.[357][358][note 12] Hotly debated by historians, the single most important contribution of the crusades to Christian history was, possibly, the invention of the indulgence.[359]

In Mesopotamia and Egypt

Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the Christian churches in Egypt, Syria and Iraq became subject to fervently Muslim militaristic regimes.[366] By the end of the eleventh-century, Christianity was in full retreat in Mesopotamia and inner Iran. Some Christian communities further to the east continued to exist.[289]

Christians were dhimma. This cultural status guaranteed Christians rights of protection, but discriminated against them through legal inferiority.[367] Various Christian communities adopted different strategies for preserving their identity while accommodating their rulers.[366] Some withdrew from interaction, others converted, while some sought outside help.[366] As a whole, Christianity in these regions declined demographically, culturally and socially.[368]

With heretics


Pope Innocent III and the king of France, Philip Augustus, joined in 1209 in a military campaign that was promulgated as necessary for eliminating the Albigensian heresy also known as Catharism.[369][370] Once begun, the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) quickly took a political turn.[371] The king's army seized and occupied strategic lands of nobles who had not supported the heretics, but had been in the good graces of the Church. Throughout the campaign, Innocent vacillated, sometimes taking the side favouring crusade, then siding against it and calling for its end.[372] It did not end until 1229. The campaign no longer had crusade status. The entire region was brought under the rule of the French king, thereby creating southern France. Catharism continued for another hundred years (until 1350).[373][374]

In Inquisition


Moral misbehavior and heresy, by the folk and clerics, were prosecuted by inquisitorial courts that were composed of both church and civil authorities.[375][376][377] Jointly referred to as the Medieval Inquisition, this includes the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230) and the Papal Inquisition (1230s–1240s), though these courts had no actual joint leadership or organization. Created as needed, they were not permanent institutions but were limited to specific times and places.[378][379][380] The Medieval Inquisition brought somewhere between 8,000 and 40,000 people to interrogation and sentence.[378] Death sentences were a relatively rare occurrence.[381] The penalty imposed most often by Medieval Inquisitorial courts was an act of penance which could include public confession.[382]

The Fourth Lateran Council allowed inquisitors to search out moral and religious "crimes" even when there was no accuser, and in theory, this granted them extraordinary powers.[383] In practice, without local secular support, their task became so overwhelmingly difficult that inquisitors themselves became endangered. In the worst cases, some inquisitors were murdered. Inquisitors did not possess absolute power, nor were they universally supported.[384] Riots and public opposition formed against Dominicans as the Medieval Inquisition became stridently contested both in and outside the Church.[378][385][386] The universities of Oxford and Prague became particular sites of controversy as they produced some of the church's greatest inquisitorial experts as well as some of its most bitter foes.[301]

With pagans

map of Baltic tribes 1200
Baltic Tribes c 1200

When the Second Crusade was called after Edessa fell, the nobles in Eastern Europe refused to go.[387] The Balts, the last major polytheistic population in Europe, had been raiding surrounding countries for several centuries, and subduing them was what mattered most to the Eastern-European nobles.[388] (These rulers saw crusade as a tool for territorial expansion, alliance building, and the empowerment of their own church and state.[389]) In 1147, Eugenius' Divina dispensatione gave eastern nobility indulgences for the first of the Baltic wars (1147–1316).[387][390][391] The Northern Crusades followed intermittently, with and without papal support, from 1147 to 1316.[392][393][394] Priests and clerics developed a pragmatic acceptance of the forced conversions perpetrated by the nobles, despite the continued theological emphasis on voluntary conversion.[395]

With the East

map of Byzantium showing Latin Empire after 1204
Latin Empire after 1204

For most of its existence, the Byzantine Empire was the largest and most prosperous polity of the Christian world.[265] Its wealth and safety were seen, even by distant outsiders, as resulting directly from the religious devotion of its inhabitants.[283] The eleventh-century was a period of relative peace and prosperity until April of 1204, when western crusaders in the Fourth Crusade stormed, captured, and looted the capitol, Constantinople.[396][397] It was a severe blow.[398] Byzantine territories were divided among the Crusaders establishing the Latin Empire and the Latin takeover of the Eastern church.[399][400] By 1261, the Byzantines had recaptured a much weakened and poorer Constantinople.[401][402]

With the Jews


A turning point in Jewish-Christian relations took place in June 1239 when the Talmud was put "on trial", by Gregory IX (1237–1241) in a French court, over contents that mocked the central figures of Christianity.[403][404] This resulted in Talmudic Judaism being seen as so different from the Bible that old obligations to leave the Jews alone no longer applied.[405] As townfolk gained a measure of political power around 1300, they became one of Jewry's greatest enemies charging Jews with blood libel, deicide, ritual murder, poisoning wells and causing the plague, and various other crimes.[406][407]

Jews had often acted as financial agents for the lords providing them loans with interest while being exempt from taxes and other financial laws themselves. This attracted jealousy and resentment.[408] Emicho of Leiningen massacred Jews in Germany in search of supplies, loot, and protection money. The York massacre of 1190 also appears to have had its origins in a conspiracy by local leaders to liquidate their debts along with their creditors.[409] In 1283, the Archbishop of Canterbury spearheaded a petition demanding restitution of usury and urging the Jewish expulsion in 1290.[410][411]

map of Europe from 1100 to 1600 showing where and when Jews were expelled and exciled
Expulsions of Jews in Europe from 1100 to 1600

The medieval Catholic church never advocated the full expulsion of all the Jews from Christendom, nor did the Church ever repudiate Augustine's doctrine of Jewish witness, but new canon law from the Third and Fourth Lateran councils supported discrimination as secular rulers repeatedly confiscated Jewish property and evicted Jews from their lands.[412][413][414] Although subordinate to religious, economic and social themes, racist concepts also reinforced hostility.[415]

Late Middle Ages (1300–1500)


By the fourteenth-century, papal power had stopped increasing while kings had substantively gained and consolidated power for themselves.[416][417] In Europe of the Late Middle Ages, people experienced plague, famine and war.[418] There was social unrest, urban riots, peasant revolts and renegade feudal armies.[419][416] The many great calamities of the "long fourteenth-century" led folk to believe the end of the world was imminent.[420] This sentiment ran throughout society and became intertwined with anticlerical and anti-papal sentiments.[421][note 13] Attitudes and behaviours against the clergy identify the period from around 1100 to 1349 as an era of “anticlerical revolution".[423][note 14]

Multiple strands of criticism of the clergy between 1100 and 1520 were voiced by clerics themselves. Such criticism condemned abuses and sought a more spiritual, less worldly, clergy.[425] However, there is a constancy of complaints in the historical record that indicates most attempts at reform in this period failed.[426][427]

Tensions and conflict spread.[428] The combination of catastrophic events, both within the church and those beyond its control, undermined the moral authority and constitutional legitimacy of the church opening it to local fights of authority and control. Diarmaid MacCulloch adds that, "Even before Luther, challenges were being posed by some of the best minds in Europe".[429][430][431]

Western Church and society

image of Michelangelo's famous sculpture the Pieta. Mary is seated looking at the body of her son draped across her lap.
Michelangelo's Pietà (1498–99) in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

During the European Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Church became a leading patron of art and architecture and commissioned and supported many artists such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Bramante, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Donatello, and Leonardo da Vinci.[432] Catholic monks developed the first forms of Western musical notation leading to the development of classical music and its derivatives, up to and including modern music.[433] Scholars of the Renaissance created textual criticism revealing the Donation of Constantine as a forgery.[434]


image of Portrait by Giuseppe Franchi of Pope John XXII (1316–1334) who was referred to as "the banker of Avignon".[435]
Portrait of Pope John XXII (1316–1334) (by Giuseppe Franchi) who was referred to as "the banker of Avignon"

In 1309, Pope Clement V moved to Avignon in southern France in search of relief from Rome's factional politics. Seven popes resided there in the Avignon Papacy, but the move away from the "seat of Peter" caused great indignation and cost popes prestige and power.[431][436]

Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377.[437][438][420] After Gregory's death, the papal conclave met in 1378, in Rome, and elected an Italian Urban VI to succeed Gregory. The French cardinals did not approve, so they held a second conclave electing Robert of Geneva instead, giving the church two legitimately elected popes. This began the Western Schism.[439][440]

For thirty years the Church had two popes, then in 1409, the Pisan council called for the resignation of both popes, electing a third to replace them. Both Popes refused to resign, leaving the Church with three popes. Five years later, Sigismund the Holy Roman Emperor (1368-1437) pressed Pope John XXIII to call the Council of Constance (1414–1418) and depose all three popes. In 1417, the council elected Pope Martin V in their place.[440][441]

image of painting by the Czech artist Václav Brožík of the Council of Constance with Jan Hus standing before them to defend himself
Jan Hus defending his theses at the Council of Constance (1415), by the Czech artist Václav Brožík

John Wycliffe (1320–1384), an English scholastic philosopher and theologian, attended the Council of Constance and urged the Church to give up its property (which produced much of the Church's wealth), and to once again embrace poverty and simplicity, to stop being subservient to the state and its politics, and to deny papal authority.[442][443] He was accused of heresy, convicted and sentenced to death, but died before implementation. The Lollards followed his teachings, played a role in the English Reformation, and were persecuted for heresy after Wycliffe's death.[443][444]

Jan Hus (1369–1415), a Czech based in Prague, was influenced by Wycliffe and spoke out against the abuses and corruption he saw in the Catholic Church there.[445] He was also accused of heresy and condemned to death.[444][445][443] After his death, Hus became a powerful symbol of Czech nationalism and the impetus for the Bohemian (aka the Czech) Reformation.[446][447][445][443]

During the Late Middle Ages, groups of laymen and non-ordained secular clerics sought a more sincere spiritual life.[448] A vernacular religious culture for the laity arose.[354] The new devotion worked toward the ideal of a pious society of ordinary non-ordained people.[449] Inside and outside the church, women were central to these movements.[354]

The Jewish people


Between 1478 and 1542, the Roman, Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions were transformed into permanently established State controlled bureaucracies. These modern inquisitions were political institutions with a much broader reach than previous inquisitions.[450][451][452] The Spanish inquisition was authorized by the Pope in 1478 in answer to Ferdinand and Isabella's fears that Jewish converts (known as Conversos or Marranos) were spying and conspiring with Muslims to sabotage the new state.[453][454] Of those condemned by the Inquisition of Valencia before 1530, ninety-two percent were Jews.[455][note 15] In October 1483, a papal bull conceded control of the Spanish Inquisition to the Spanish crown.[459][458] It became the first national, unified and centralized institution of the nascent Spanish state.[460]

Anti-Judaism had become part of the Inquisition in Portugal before the end of the fifteenth-century, and forced conversion led many Jewish converts to India where they suffered as targets of the Goa Inquisition.[461]

Frankfurt's Jews flourished between 1453 and 1613 despite harsh discrimination. They were restricted to one street, subject to strict rules if they wished to leave this territory and forced to wear a yellow patch as a sign of their identity. Within the community they maintained some self-governance. They had their own laws, leaders and a Rabbinical school that functioned as a religious and cultural centre.[413]

Byzantium and the Fall of Constantinople


In 1439, a reunion agreement between the Eastern and Western church was made. However, there was popular resistance in the East, so it wasn't until 1452 that the decree of union was officially published in Constantinople. It was overthrown the very next year by the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.[462][463][note 16]

The conquest of 1453 destroyed the Orthodox Church as an institution of the Christian empire inaugurated by Constantine, sealing off Greek-speaking Orthodoxy from the West for almost a century and a half.[465][466] However, even as political fortunes declined, the spiritual and cultural influence of the Eastern church, Constantinople, and Mount Athos the monastic peninsula continued for Orthodox nations.[466]

Islamic law did not recognize the Patriarch as a "juristic person", nor did it acknowledge the Orthodox Church as an institution, but it identified the Orthodox Church with the Greek community, and concern for stability allowed it to exist.[467][468] The monastery at Mt. Athos prospered from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.[469] Ottomans were tolerant, and wealthy Byzantines who entered monastic life there were allowed to keep some control over their property until 1568.[469]

Compulsory resettlement returned many Greek Orthodox to Constantinople.[470] Leaders of the church were recognized by the Islamic state as administrative agents charged with supervising its Christian subjects and collecting their taxes.[471] The compulsory taxes, higher and higher payments to the sultan in hopes of receiving his appointment to the Patriarchate, and other financial gifts, corrupted the process and impoverished Christians.[472][468] Conversion became an attractive solution.[473][note 17] By the time of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520 – 1566), the patriarchate had become a part of the Ottoman system, and continued to have great influence in the Orthodox world.[474][468]


Russian painting by Lebedev depicting first mass baptisms of Kievan Rus
The Baptism of Kievans, by Klavdiy Lebedev
St.Sophia's cathedral
Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv

The event associated with the conversion of the Rus' has traditionally been the baptism of Vladimir of Kiev in 989. However, aristocrats had been making attempts to unify since the mid-ninth-century, and contacts with Christian countries had led the ruling class to conclude that Christianity would aid in this process.[475] From the 950s up to the 980s, polytheism declined and many social and economic changes fostered the spread of the new religious ideology.[269]

The Rus' dukes maintained control of the church which was financially dependent upon them.[476][note 18] This new Christian religious structure was imposed upon the socio-political and economic fabric of the land by the authority of the state's rulers.[478] While monasticism was the dominant form of piety, Christianity permeated daily life for both peasants and elites who identified themselves accordingly, while keeping pre-Christian practices as part of their religion.[479]

In a defining moment in 1380, a coalition of Russian polities headed by the Grand Prince Dmitrii of Moscow faced the army of the Golden Horde on Kulikovo Field near the Don River, there defeating the Mongols. This began the fusing of state power and religious mission that eventually transformed the Kievan Rus into the Russian state (1547).[480]

Ivan III of Muscovy adopted the style of the ancient Byzantine imperial court a generation after Constantinople fell to the Turks.[481] This gained Ivan support among the late fifteenth and early sixteenth-century Rus elite who saw themselves as the New Israel and Moscow as the new Jerusalem.[482] Jeremias II (1536 - 1595) was the first Eastern patriarch to visit north-eastern Europe. Ending his visit in Moscow, he founded the Orthodox patriarchate of Russia.[483][468]



The sixteenth-century success of Christianity in Japan was followed by one of the greatest persecutions in Christian history. Sixteenth-century missions to China were undertaken primarily by the Jesuits.[290][484]

Reformation and Early modern (1500–1750)


Powerful and pervasive ecclesiastical reform developed from medieval critiques of the church, but the institutional unity of the church was shattered.[485] Church critics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had challenged papal authority. Kings and councils asserted their own power, while vernacular gospels created similar challenges amongst the laity. The new mendicant friars, university elite and bureaucratic clerics were central to developing early modern concepts of power, authority and orthodoxy.[486][487]

Reformation and response (1517–1700)

image of Martin Luther
image of a page listing Luther's 95 theses.
In 1517, Martin Luther initiated the Reformation with his Ninety-five Theses.

Though there was no actual schism until 1521, the Protestant Reformation (1517–1648) has been described (since the nineteenth-century) as beginning when Martin Luther, a Catholic monk advocating church reform, nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517.[488]

Luther's theses challenged the church's selling of indulgences, the authority of the Pope, and various teachings of the late medieval Catholic church. This act of defiance and its social, moral, and theological criticisms brought Western Christianity to a new understanding of salvation, tradition, the individual, and personal experience in relationship with God.[489] Edicts handed down by the Diet of Worms condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas.[490][491]

Three important traditions to emerge directly from the Reformation were the Lutheran, Reformed, and the Anglican traditions.[492] At the same time, a collection of loosely related groups that included Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Evangelical Rationalists, began the Radical Reformation in Germany and Switzerland.[493] Beginning in 1519, Huldrych Zwingli spread these teachings in Switzerland leading to the Swiss Reformation.[494]



The Roman Catholic Church soon struck back, launching its own Catholic Reformation beginning with Pope Paul III (1534–1549), the first in a series of 10 reforming popes from 1534 to 1605.[495] A list of books detrimental to faith or morals was established, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which included the works of Luther, Calvin and other Protestants along with writings condemned as obscene.[496]

picture of first page of the list of forbidden books in Latin from its first publication
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum listed books forbidden by the Catholic Church.

New monastic orders arose including the Jesuits.[497] Resembling a military company in its hierarchy, discipline, and obedience, their vow of loyalty to the Pope set them apart from other monastic orders, leading them to be called "the shock troops of the papacy". Jesuits soon became the Church's chief weapon against Protestantism.[497] The Council of Trent (1545–1563) denied each Protestant claim, and laid the foundation of Roman Catholic policies up to the twenty-first century.[498]

Monastic reform also led to the development of new, yet orthodox forms of spirituality, such as that of the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.[499] The Counter-Reformation also created the Uniate church which used Eastern liturgy but recognized Rome.[500]

Religious War


Reforming zeal and Catholic denial spread through much of Europe and became entangled with local politics. The quarreling royal houses, already involved in dynastic disagreements, became polarized into the two religious camps.[501]

Wars ranging from international wars to internal conflicts, began in the Holy Roman Empire with the minor Knights' War in 1522, then intensified in the First Schmalkaldic War (1546–1547) and the Second Schmalkaldic War (1552–1555).[502][503] In 1562, France became the centre of religious wars.[504] The involvement of foreign powers made the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) the largest and most disastrous.[505]

The causes of these wars were mixed. Many scholars see them as fought to obtain security and freedom for differing religious confessions, however, most have interpreted these wars as struggles for political independence that coincided with the break up of medieval empires into the modern nation states.[506][504][note 19]

Modern concepts of tolerance


Debate on whether peace required allowing only one faith and punishing heretics, or if ancient opinions defending leniency should be revived, occupied every version of the Christian faith.[376] Since the 1400's, radical Protestants had steadfastly sought toleration for heresy, blasphemy, Catholicism, non-Christian religions, and even atheism.[511] Anglicans and other Christian moderates also wrote and argued for toleration.[512] In the 1690s, following debates that started in the 1640s, a non-Christian third group also advocated for religious toleration.[513][514] It became necessary to rethink on a political level, all of the State's reasons for persecution.[376]

Over the next two and a half centuries, many treaties and political declarations of tolerance followed, until concepts of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of thought became established in most western countries.[515][516][517]



Colonialism opened the door for Christian missionaries who soon followed.[518][519][note 20] Although most missionaries avoided politics, they also generally identified themselves with the indigenous people amongst whom they worked and lived.[524] On the one hand, vocal missionaries challenged colonial oppression and defended human rights, even opposing their own governments in matters of social justice for 500 years.[524] On the other hand, there are an equal number of examples of missionaries cooperating with colonial governments.[525]

Witch trials (c. 1450–1750)


Until the 1300s, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church was that witches did not exist.[526] While historians have been unable to pinpoint a single cause of what became known as the "witch frenzy", scholars have noted that, without changing church doctrine, a new but common stream of thought developed at every level of society that witches were both real and malevolent.[527] Records show the belief in magic had remained so widespread among the rural people, it has convinced some historians that Christianization had not been as successful as previously supposed.[528] The main pressure to prosecute witches came from the common people, and trials were mostly civil trials.[529][530] There is broad agreement that approximately 100,000 people were prosecuted, of which 80% were women, and that 40,000 to 50,000 people were executed between 1561 and 1670.[531][527]

The Enlightenment


The era of absolutist states followed the breakdown of Christian universalism.[532] Abuses inherent in political absolutism, practiced by kings who were supported by Catholicism, gave rise to a virulent anti-clerical, anti-Catholic, and anti-Christian sentiment that emerged in the 1680s.[533] Critique of Christianity began among the more extreme Protestant reformers who were enraged by fear, tyranny and persecution.[534][535] Twenty-first century scholars tend to see the relationship between Christianity and the Enlightenment as complex with many regional and national variations.[536][537]

Revolution and modernity (1750–1945)


The enlightenment had shifted the paradigm, and after 1750, secularization at every level of European society can be observed.[538] Various ground-breaking discoveries led to the Scientific revolution (1600–1750) and an upsurge in skepticism. Virtually everything in western culture was subjected to systematic doubt including religious beliefs.[539] Biblical criticism emerged using scientific historical and literary criteria, and human reason, to understand the Bible.[540] This new approach made study of the Bible secularized and scholarly, and more democratic, as scholars began writing in their native languages making their works available to a larger public.[541]

Church, state and society


During the Age of Revolution, the cultural centre of Christianity shifted to the New World.[542][543][544] The American Revolution and its aftermath included legal assurances of religious freedom and a general turn to religious plurality in the new country.[545]

In the decades following the American revolution, France also experienced revolution, and by 1794, radical revolutionaries attempted to violently ‘de-Christianize’ France for the next twenty years. When Napoleon came to power, he acknowledged Catholicism as the majority view and tried to make it dependent upon the state.[546]

The French Revolution resulted in Eastern Orthodox church leaders rejecting Enlightenment ideas as too dangerous to embrace.[468]

Revolution broke the power of the Old World aristocracy, offered hope to the disenfranchised, and enabled the middle class to reap the economic benefits of the Industrial Revolution.[547] Scholars have since identified a positive correlation between the rise of Protestantism and human capital formation,[548] the Protestant work ethic,[549] economic development,[550] and the development of the state system.[551] Max Weber says Protestantism contributed to the development of banking across Northern Europe and gave birth to Capitalism.[552][note 21]

Awakenings (1730s–1850s)

a collection of images of church leaders of the awakenings
Great revivalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Religious revival, known as the First Great Awakening, swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s.[note 22] Beginning among the Presbyterians, revival quickly spread to Congregationalists (Puritans) and Baptists, creating American Evangelicalism and Wesleyan Methodism.[557] Verbal battles over the movement and its dramatic style raged at both the congregational and denominational levels. This caused the division of American Protestantism into political 'Parties', for the first time, which eventually led to critical support for the American Revolution.[558]

In places like Connecticut and Massachusetts, where one denomination received state funding, churches now began to lobby local legislatures to end that inequity by applying the Reformation principle separating church and state.[559] Theological pluralism became the new norm.[560]

The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s) extolled moral reform as the Christian alternative to armed revolution. These reformers established nation-wide societies, separate from any church, to begin social movements concerning abolition, women's rights, temperance and literacy.[561] Developing nation-wide organizations was pioneering, and many businesses adopted the practice leading to the consolidations and mergers that reshaped the American economy of the nineteenth-century.[562]

example of an anti-slavery tract concerning the separation of black families
American anti-slavery tract, 1853

The second awakening produced the Latter Day Saint movement, the Restoration Movement and the Holiness movement. The Third Great Awakening began from 1857 and was most notable for taking awakening throughout the world, especially in English speaking countries.[563] Restorationists were prevalent in America. They have not described themselves as a reform movement but have, instead, described themselves as restoring the Church to its original form as found in the book of Acts. Restorationism gave rise to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, Adventism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses.[564][565]

this is a restored photo of Sojourner Truth who escaped slavery and became an abolitionist
Born into slavery, Sojourner Truth escaped and became an advocate for abolitionism, racial equality, women's rights, and alcohol temperance. Pictured c. 1870

Western Slavery


For over 300 years, many Christians in Europe and North America participated in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade which had begun in the sixteenth century.[566] Moral objections had arisen immediately but had small impact.[567] By the eighteenth-century, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), followed by Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists, began to campaign, write, and spread pamphlets against the trade and slavery itself.[568] In the years after the American Revolution, black congregations led by black preachers provided an institutional base for keeping abolitionism alive.[569] By the early nineteenth-century, American Protestants had organized the first anti-slavery societies.[570] Christian reformers in both England and America, African Americans themselves, and the new American republic eventually produced the "gradual but comprehensive abolition of slavery" in the West.[571]

Protestant Missions (1800s–1945)


Protestant missionaries had a significant role in shaping multiple nations, cultures and societies.[38][572] Their first job was to get to know the indigenous people and work with them to translate the Bible into their local language. Approximately 90% were completed. The process also generated a written grammar, a lexicon of native traditions, and a dictionary of the local language. These were used to teach in missionary schools resulting in the spread of literacy.[573][574][575]

On the one hand, the political legacies of colonialism include political instability, violence and ethnic exclusion, which is also linked to civil strife and civil war.[576] On the other hand, Lamin Sanneh writes that native cultures in Africa responded to Protestant missions with "movements of indigenization and cultural liberation" generating beneficial long-term effects on human capital, political participation, and democratization.[577][573][578]

Boarding schools


Beginning in 1819, the federal Indian boarding school system ran 221 schools located geographically in the U.S. for the purpose of education, reculturalization and assimilation. Funded by the federal government before there was a federal public school system (1869), 100 schools were run for the government by Catholics, 30 by Quakers, others by Protestants of varying denominations including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. The rest were run by the government itself. The majority of native children did not attend boarding school. Of those that did, many did so in response to requests sent by native families to the Federal government, while many others were forcibly taken from their homes. For indigenous populations in Canada and the US, the history of boarding schools shows a continuum of experiences ranging from happiness and refuge to suffering, forced assimilation, and abuse. Over time, missionaries came to respect the virtues of native culture, and spoke against national policies.[579][580][581]



Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term for religious movements within late 18th, 19th and 20th-century Christianity. According to theologian Theo Hobson, liberal Christianity has two traditions. Before the Enlightenment of the eighteenth-century, liberalism was synonymous with Christian Idealism in that it imagined a liberal State with political and cultural liberty.[582]

The second tradition derived from seventeenth-century rationalism's efforts to wean Christianity from its "irrational cultic" roots.[583] Lacking any grounding in Christian "practice, ritual, sacramentalism, church and worship", liberal Christianity lost touch with the fundamental necessity of faith and ritual in maintaining Christianity.[584] This led to liberalism's decline and the birth of fundamentalism.[585]

Fundamentalist Christianity is a movement that arose (mainly within British and American Protestantism) in the late 19th century and early 20th century in reaction to modernism.[586] Before 1919, fundamentalism was loosely organized and undisciplined.[587] In 1925, fundamentalists participated in the Scopes trial, and by 1930, the movement appeared to be dying.[588] Then in the 1930s, Neo-orthodoxy, a theology against liberalism combined with a reevaluation of Reformation teachings, began uniting moderates of both sides.[589] In the 1940s, "new-evangelicalism" established itself as separate from fundamentalism.[590] Today, fundamentalism is less about doctrine than political activism.[591]

Christianity and Nazism

image of Pope Pius XI seated on a throne
Pope Pius XI

Pope Pius XI declared in Mit brennender Sorge (English: "With rising anxiety") that fascist governments had hidden "pagan intentions" and expressed the irreconcilability of the Catholic position with totalitarian fascist state worship which placed the nation above God, fundamental human rights, and dignity.[592]

In Poland, Catholic priests were arrested and Polish priests and nuns were executed en masse.[593]

Most leaders and members of the largest Protestant church in Germany, the German Evangelical Church, which had a long tradition of nationalism and support of the state, supported the Nazis when they came to power.[594] A smaller contingent, about a third of German Protestants, formed the Confessing Church which opposed Nazism.[note 23]

Nazis interfered in The Confessing Church's affairs, harassed its members, executed mass arrests and targeted well known pastors like Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[596][597][note 24] Bonhoeffer, a pacifist, was arrested, found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and executed.[599]

Russian Orthodoxy


The Russian Orthodox Church held a privileged position in the Russian Empire, expressed in the motto of the late empire from 1833: Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Populism. Nevertheless, the Church reform of Peter I in the early 18th century had placed the Orthodox authorities under the control of the tsar. An ober-procurator appointed by the tsar ran the committee which governed the Church between 1721 and 1918: the Most Holy Synod. The Church became involved in the various campaigns of russification and contributed to antisemitism.[600][601]

image of "Cathedral of Christ the Savior" in Moscow turning to dust as it collapses on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1931.[602]
Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on the orders of Joseph Stalin, 5 December 1931, consistent with the doctrine of state atheism in the USSR

The Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries saw the Church, like the tsarist state, as an enemy of the people. Criticism of atheism was strictly forbidden and sometimes led to imprisonment.[603][604] Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers included torture, being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals, and execution.[605][606]

Historian Scott Kenworthy describes the persecution of the Russian Orthodox church under communism as "unparalleled by any in Christian history".[607] In the first five years after the October Revolution, one journalist reported that 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.[608] Others report that 8,000 people were killed in 1922.[609] The League of Militant Atheists adopted a five year plan in 1932 "aimed at the total eradication of religion by 1937".[610][note 25]

Despite oppression and martyrdom under hostile rule, the Orthodox churches of the twentieth-century continued to contribute to theology, spirituality, liturgy, music, and art. Kenworthy adds that "Important movements within the church have been the revival of a Eucharistic ecclesiology, of traditional iconography, of monastic life and spiritual traditions such as Hesychasm, and the rediscovery of the Greek Church Fathers".[614]

Christianity since 1945


Beginning in the late twentieth-century, the traditional church has been declining in the West.[615][note 26] According to a Pew report, "As recently as the early 1990s, about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christians. But today, about two-thirds of adults are Christians".[618] The Old Order Amish have become the fastest growing sect in the U.S.[617]

New forms


New forms of religion which embrace the sacred as a deeper understanding of the self have begun.[615][619] This spirituality is private and individualistic, and differs radically from Christian tradition, dogma and ritual.[620][621] Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity emphasize inward experience.[622][623] In 2000, approximately one quarter of all Christians worldwide were part of Pentecostalism and its associated movements.[624] By 2025, Pentecostals are expected to constitute one-third of the nearly three billion Christians worldwide making it the fastest growing religious movement in global Christianity.[625]

The Social Gospel and liberation theology made the "kingdom ideals" from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount their goal. They redefined social justice by focusing on the community's sins, rather than the individual's, seeking to expose institutionalized sin and redeem the institutions of society.[626][627][628]

Originating in America in 1966, Black theology developed a combined social gospel and liberation theology that mixes Christianity with questions of civil rights, aspects of the Black Power movement, and responses to black Muslims claiming Christianity was a "White man's" religion.[629] Spreading to the United Kingdom, then parts of Africa, confronting apartheid in South Africa, Black theology explains Christianity as liberation for this life not just the next.[629] The historian of race and religion, Paul Harvey, says that, in 1960s America, "The religious power of the civil rights movement transformed the American conception of race."[630] Then the social power of the religious right responded in the 1970s by recasting evangelical concepts in political terms that included racial separation.[630] In the twenty-first century, the Prosperity Gospel promotes racial reconciliation and has become a powerful force in American religious life.[631]

image of modern-day African service in Ghana with laying on of hands
Laying on of hands during a service in a neo-charismatic church in Ghana

The Prosperity gospel is a flexible adaptation of the ‘Neo-Pentecostalism’ that began in the twentieth-century's last decades.[632] It has become a trans-national movement.[633] Prosperity ideas have diffused in countries such as Brazil and other parts of South America, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and other parts of West Africa, China, India, South Korea, and the Philippines.[634] It has suffered from accusations of financial fraud and sex scandals around the world, but it is critiqued most heavily by Christian evangelicals who question its theology. It is a shift from the Reformation view of biblical authority to the authority of charisma.[635]

Feminist theology began in 1960.[636] In the last years of the twentieth-century, the re-examination of old religious texts through diversity, otherness, and difference developed womanist theology of African-American women, the "mujerista" theology of Hispanic women, and insights from Asian feminist theology.[637]

Post-colonial decolonization after 1945


After World War II, Christian missionaries played a transformative role for many colonial societies moving them toward independence through the development of decolonization.[638][639] In the mid to late 1990s, postcolonial theology emerged globally from multiple sources.[640] It analyzes structures of power and ideology in order to recover what colonialism erased or suppressed in indigenous cultures.[641]



The missionary movement of the twenty-first century has transformed into a multi-cultural, multi-faceted global network of NGO's, short term amateur volunteers, and traditional long-term bi-lingual, bi-cultural professionals who focus on evangelism and local development and not on 'civilizing' native people.[642][643]

Second Vatican Council (1962–1965)

image of Pope Francis in 2015
Pope Francis

On 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. The council is perhaps best known for its instructions that the Mass may be celebrated in the vernacular as well as in Latin.[644]

Ecumenism (1964)


On 21 November 1964, the Second Vatican Council published Unitatis Redintegratio, stating that Roman Catholic ecumenical goals are to establish full communion amongst all the various Christian churches.[645][646] Amongst Evangelicals, there is no agreed upon definition, strategy or goal.[647] Different theologies on the nature of the Church have produced some hostility toward the formalism of the World Council of Churches.[648][649] In the twenty-first century, sentiment is widespread that ecumenism has stalled.[650]

Christianity in the Global South and East


By the twentieth-century, the nineteenth-century revolutions that established the Serbian, Greek, Romanian, and Bulgarian nations had changed Orthodoxy from a universal church into a series of national churches that became subordinate to nationalism and the state.[468] Coptic Christianity went from survival as a small minority church to revival in the twentieth-century.[607]

Africa (19th–21st centuries)

Map of Protestant Christianity in 1938
Countries by percentage of Protestants, 1938
map of worldwide Christianity in 2011
Christian distribution globally based on PEW research in 2011[651]

Western missionaries began the "largest, most diverse and most vigorous movement of cultural renewal in [the] history" of Africa writes historian Lammin Sanneh.[652][653] In 1900 under colonial rule there were just under 9 million Christians in Africa. By 1960, and the end of colonialism there were about 60 million. By 2005, African Christians had increased to 393 million, about half of the continent's total population at that time.[574] Population in Africa has continued to grow with the percentage of Christians remaining at about half in 2022.[651] This expansion has been labeled a "fourth great age of Christian expansion".[654]

Examples include Simon Kimbangu's movement, the Kimbanguist church, which had a radical reputation in its early days in the Congo, was suppressed for forty years, and has now become the largest independent church in Africa with upwards of 3 million members.[655] In 2019, 65% of Melillans in Northern Africa across from Spain identified themselves as Roman Catholic.[656] In the early twenty-first century, Kenya has the largest yearly meeting of Quakers outside the United States. In Uganda, more Anglicans attend church than do so in England. Ahafo, Ghana is recognized as more vigorously Christian than any place in the United Kingdom.[657] There is revival in East Africa, and vigorous women's movements called Rukwadzano in Zimbabwe and Manyano in South Africa. The Apostles of John Maranke, which began in Rhodesia, now have branches in seven countries.[658]



Christianity is growing rapidly in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.[659][660] A rapid expansion of charismatic Christianity began in the 1980s, leading Asia to rival Latin America in the population of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.[661][662]

Increasing numbers of young people in China are becoming Christians. Council on Foreign Relations data shows a 10% yearly growth in Chinese Christian populations since 1979.[663][664]



Anti-Christian persecution has become a consistent human rights concern.[665] In 2013, 17 Middle Eastern Muslim majority states reported 28 of the 29 types of religious discrimination against 45 of the 47 religious minorities, including Christianity.[666] Other countries with anti-Christian persecution include but not limited to China,[667][668] India[669][670][671] and Israel.[672][673]

See also

Christian history
BC C1 C2 C3 C4 C5 C6 C7 C8 C9 C10
C11 C12 C13 C14 C15 C16 C17 C18 C19 C20 C21


  1. ^ Justin's (circa 100-165) Syntagma against all the Heresies is the earliest known heresy catalogue. It included non-messianic Jewish opponents (Judaizers).[89] Both Gnostic and Marcionite heresies appeared in Egypt in the second-century.[90]
  2. ^ Substantial growth in the third and fourth centuries made Christianity the Empire's majority religion by the mid-fourth-century. All Roman emperors after Constantine, except Julian, were Christian. Christian emperors wanted the empire to become a Christian empire, and they used empirical law to make it easier to be Christian and harder to be pagan.[110]
    Many previous scholars have seen such laws as implying the establishment of Christianity as the state religion forcing the conversion of non-believers. However, twenty-first century scholarship has brought this older view into question.[103]
    Constantine wrote laws against sacrifice and magic, and laws that favoured Christianity, but he did not advocate or practice the coercion of pagans.[111][112][113] No legislation forcing the conversion of pagans existed until the reign of the Eastern Emperor Justinian I in A.D. 529.[114] The one form of coercion Constantine did practice was toward those he called wolves in sheep's clothing: Christian heretics.[111]
  3. ^ Eusebius credited Constantine with extensive temple destruction, however, sources conflict. The ancient chronicler Malalas claimed Constantine destroyed all the temples; then he said Theodisius destroyed them all; then he said Constantine converted them all to churches.[127][128] Temple destruction is attested to in 43 written sources, but only 4 are confirmed by archaeology.[129]
    For example, at the sacred oak and spring at Mamre, the literature says Constantine ordered the burning of the idols, the destruction of the altar, and erection of a church on the spot of the temple.[130] The archaeology of the site shows that Constantine's church, along with its attendant buildings, occupied a peripheral sector of the precinct leaving the rest unhindered.[131]
    Emperor Theodosius' prefect Maternus Cynegius is believed to have commissioned the destruction of temples in the territory around Constantinople.[132] According to Peter Brown, this inspired Theophilus of Alexandria to stage a procession in 392 ridiculing statues of pagan gods, which turned into a riot which destroyed the Serapium in Alexandria, Egypt. Twentieth-century scholars have traditionally seen this as evidence of a tide of violent Christian iconoclasm that continued throughout the 390s and into the 400s.[133]
    However, twenty-first century archaeological evidence for the violent destruction of temples in the fourth to the sixth centuries is limited to a handful of sites.[128] The Serapeum was the only Graeco-Roman temple destroyed by violence in this period leaving Roman temples in Egypt "among the best preserved in the ancient world".[134][135]
    A number of non-religious elements coincided to end the temples.[136] Earthquakes caused destruction.[137] Civil conflict and external invasions also destroyed many temples and shrines.[138]
  4. ^ For the most part, temples were neglected rather than destroyed.[139][140][141] Neglect led to progressive decay that was accompanied by an increased trade in salvaged building materials, as the practice of recycling became common in Late Antiquity.[142] Economic struggles meant that necessity drove much of the destruction and conversion of pagan religious monuments.[136][143][144] In many instances, such as in Tripolitania, this happened before Constantine became emperor.[145]
  5. ^ The Third (431), Fourth (451), Fifth (583) and Sixth ecumenical councils (680–681) were attempts to explain Jesus' human and divine natures as either one (or two) separate (or unified) natures.[165] The category of ‘schism’ developed as a middle ground, so as not to exclude all who disagreed as ‘heretic’.[166] Schisms within the churches of the Nicene tradition broke out after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 wrote the Chalcedonian Definition that two separate natures of Christ form one ontological entity.[167][168]
  6. ^ Bishop Ambrose launched counter-attacks against imperial tyranny.[176] Pope Gelasius I (492-496) formulated the principle of "two powers", and as the papacy developed, it grew into a force against state control.[177]
  7. ^ Christian monasticism had emerged in the third-century, and by the fifth-century, it had become a dominant force in all areas of late antique culture. During the sixth century, it flourished nearly everywhere Christianity existed.[194][195][196]
  8. ^ Radical change in the political standing of the pope took place between 1046 and 1122 through the investiture controversy.[241][242][243][240]
  9. ^ In the last two decades of the 9th century, missionaries Clement and Naum, disciples of the brothers Cyril and Methodius, arrived in Romania spreading Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet.[270] By the 10th century, the Bulgarian Tsars imposed the Bulgarian church model and its Slavic language without opposition.[271] This ecclesiastical and political tradition continued until the 19th century.[272]
    The dynastic interests of the Piasts produced the establishment of both church and state in Poland.[273] The "Baptism of Poland" in 966, refers to the baptism of Mieszko I, the first ruler, which was followed by the building of churches and the establishment of an ecclesiastical hierarchy.[273]
    St. Stephen, the first Hungarian king, suppressed rebellion, organized the Hungarian State around strong royal authority, established the church by inviting missionaries and suppressing paganism, and by making laws such as one which required people to attend church every Sunday.[274][275][276]

    Conversion of the Croats was completed by the time of Duke Trpimir's death in 864. In 879, under duke Branimir, Croatia received papal recognition as a state from Pope John VIII.[277]

  10. ^ Intense missionary activity between the fifth and eighth centuries led to eastern Iran, Arabia, central Asia, China, and the coasts of India and Indonesia adopting Nestorian Christianity. Syrian Nestorians had settled in the Persian Empire which spread over modern Iraq, Iran, and parts of Central Asia.[288][289] A vibrant Asian Christianity with nineteen metropolitans (and eighty-five bishops), centred on Seleucia (just south of Baghdad), flourished in the eighth century.[290][291] The rural areas of Upper Egypt were all Nestorian. Coptic missionaries spread the faith up the Nile to Nubia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.[292] From the early 600s, a series of Arab military campaigns conquered Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia.[293][294] By 635, upper-class Christian refugees had moved further east to China at Hsian-fu.[295]
  11. ^ Defining crusade has become a contentious issue among scholars, however, most contemporary scholars focus on the presence of three elements for a war to be categorized as a crusade: 1) papal authorization and indulgence; 2) taking vows and wearing crosses; and 3) the presence of reactionary justifications that argued for redress for harm done, the liberation of Christians, and/or Christian territory.[350] Crusades were responses to some kind of perceived threat against the church.[351][352]
  12. ^ Modern style preaching began through the call for crusade.[352] Affective piety emerged, (empathy with the human Christ and his suffering), producing compassion toward others. The opening of the Holy Land helped spread veneration of the Virgin Mary.[359][360][361] Christian mysticism increased and spread.[362] New monastic military orders such as the Military Order of the Teutonic Knights developed.[363] The cult of chivalry evolved between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries and became a true cultural force that influenced art, literature and philosophy.[364][365]
  13. ^ Some claimed the clergy did little to help the suffering, although the high mortality rate amongst clerics indicates many continued to care for the sick.[422] Other medieval folk claimed it was the "corrupted" and "vice-ridden" clergy that had caused the many calamities that people believed were punishments from God.[422]
  14. ^ Scholars have generally referred to "anticlericalism" even though the term is considered biased, and there is a lack of consensus on its elements and form in pre-Reformation Europe.[424]
  15. ^ Early inquisitors proved overly severe, and the Pope attempted to shut it down. Ferdinand is said to have threatened the Pope to prevent that.[456][457][458]
  16. ^ The flight of Eastern Christians from Constantinople, and the manuscripts they carried with them, were important factors in generating literary renaissance in the West.[464]
  17. ^ The oldest Ottoman document lists 57 bishoprics in Constantinople of 1483. By 1525, bishoprics had decreased to fifty, and only forty are recorded from 1641–1651.[474][468]
  18. ^ The prince appointed the clergy to positions in government service, satisfied their material needs, determined who would fill the higher ecclesiastical positions, and directed the synods of bishops in the Kievan metropolitanate.[477]
  19. ^ Theorists such as John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson argue that these religious wars were varieties of the Just war tradition for liberty and freedom.[507] William T. Cavanaugh points out that many historians argue these ‘‘wars of religion’’ were not primarily religious, but were more about state-building, nationalism, and economics.[508] If they had been motivated most deeply by religion, Catholics and Protestants would fight each other, whereas Catholics often formed alliances with Protestants to fight other Catholics and vice versa. Historian Barbara Diefendorf argues that religious motives were always mixed with other motives, but the simple fact of Catholics fighting Catholics and Protestants fighting Protestants is not sufficient to prove the absence of religious motives.[509] According to Marxist theorist Henry Heller, there was "a rising tide of commoner hostility to noble oppression and growing perception of collusion between Protestant and Catholic nobles".[510]
  20. ^ Following the geographic discoveries of the 1400s and 1500s, increasing population and inflation led the emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, and France, the Dutch Republic, and England to explore, conquer, colonize and exploit the newly discovered territories and their indigenous peoples.[520] Different state actors created colonies that varied widely.[521] Some colonies had institutions that allowed native populations to reap some benefits. Others became extractive colonies with predatory rule that produced an autocracy with a dismal record.[522] Beginning with the Portuguese, economics and trade, not conquest, reintroduced slavery to Europe and the Americas.[523]
  21. ^ In opposition to Weber, historians such as Fernand Braudel and Hugh Trevor-Roper assert that capitalism developed in pre-Reformation Catholic communities. Joseph Schumpeter, an economist of the twentieth-century, has referred to the Scholastics as "they who come nearer than does any other group to having been the 'founders' of scientific economics".[553]
  22. ^ It had roots in German Pietism and British Evangelicalism, and was a response to the extreme rationalism of biblical criticism, the anti-Christian tenets of the Enlightenment and its threat of assimilation by the modern state.[554][555][556]
  23. ^ In a study of sermon content, William Skiles says "Confessing Church pastors opposed the Nazi regime on three fronts... first, they expressed harsh criticism of Nazi persecution of Christians and the German churches; second, they condemned National Socialism as a false ideology that worships false gods; and third, they challenged Nazi anti-Semitic ideology by supporting Jews as the chosen people of God and Judaism as a historic foundation of Christianity".[595]
  24. ^ By October 1944, 45% of all pastors and 98% of non-ordained vicars and candidates had been drafted into military service; 117 German pastors of Jewish descent served at this time, and yet at least 43% fled Nazi Germany because it became impossible for them to continue in their ministries.[598]
  25. ^ Soviet authorities used "persecution, arrests and trials, imprisonment in psychiatric hospitals, house raids and searches, confiscations of Bibles and New Testaments and other Christian literature, disruption of worship services by the militia and KGB, slander campaigns against Christians in magazines and newspapers, on TV and radio" to eradicate religion.[611] The Russian Orthodox Church suffered unprecedented persecution.[612] From 1927 on, the League of Militant Atheists published anti-religious literature in large quantities. During the 1930s, violence was used. Bishops, priests, and lay believers were arrested, shot and sent to labour camps. Churches were closed, destroyed, converted to other uses.[613]
  26. ^ Characterized by Roman Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism, a church functions within society, engaging it directly through preaching, teaching ministries and service programs like local food banks. Theologically, churches seek to embrace secular method and rationality while refusing the secular worldview.[616] Christian sects, such as the Amish and Mennonites, traditionally withdraw from, and minimize interaction with, society at large.[617]


  1. ^ Pew Research 2011.
  2. ^ Britannica 2022: "It has become the largest of the world's religions and, geographically, the most widely diffused of all faiths."
  3. ^ Jenkins 2011, pp. 101–133.
  4. ^ Freston 2008, pp. 109–133.
  5. ^ Robbins 2004, pp. 117–143.
  6. ^ Robert 2000, pp. 50–58.
  7. ^ Hengel 2003, pp. 1, 5, 20.
  8. ^ Hengel 2003, pp. 5, 10–12.
  9. ^ Phillips 2006, p. 385.
  10. ^ a b Young 2006, p. 1.
  11. ^ Law 2011, p. 129.
  12. ^ Köstenberger, Kellum & Quarles 2009, p. 114.
  13. ^ a b c Wilken 2013, pp. 6–16.
  14. ^ Young 2006, p. 34.
  15. ^ Hanson 2003, pp. 524–533.
  16. ^ Sullivan 2001, pp. 20, 21.
  17. ^ Edmundson 2008, pp. 14, 44, 47.
  18. ^ Sullivan 2001, p. 21.
  19. ^ Esler 1994, p. 50.
  20. ^ Wilken 2013, p. 18.
  21. ^ Acts 9:1–2
  22. ^ Acts 11:26
  23. ^ Taylor 1994, p. 75.
  24. ^ Ehrman 2005, pp. 95–112.
  25. ^ Wylen 1995, pp. 190–193.
  26. ^ Marcus 2006, pp. 96–99, 101.
  27. ^ Marcus 2006, pp. 87–88, 99–100.
  28. ^ Schwartz 2009, p. 49.
  29. ^ Rankin 2016, p. 2.
  30. ^ Rankin 2016, p. 3.
  31. ^ Schott 2008, p. 2.
  32. ^ Moss 2012, p. 129.
  33. ^ Cropp 2007, p. 21.
  34. ^ Rives 1999, p. 141.
  35. ^ Croix 2006, pp. 139–140.
  36. ^ Gaddis 2005, pp. 30–31.
  37. ^ Casiday & Norris 2007, p. 4.
  38. ^ a b Robert 2009, p. 1.
  39. ^ Robert 2009, pp. 11–12.
  40. ^ Neely 2020, p. 4.
  41. ^ Hopkins 1998, p. 202.
  42. ^ Harnett 2017, pp. 200, 217.
  43. ^ Hopkins 1998, pp. 192–193.
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