Christianity is a monotheistic religion, which assumes professing one God. Most of the denominations share, however, the doctrine of the Trinity and preach that the God exists in three persons of the Holy Trinity - as the God Father, God's Son and the Holy Ghost. Christians of many denominations (especially the Catholics and the Orthodox) worship also Maria - the mother of Jesus as the God's Mother, the saints and the angels.
Old Christian paintings found in Roman ruins.
Christianity originates from Judaism and this fact had fundamental significance. Judaism shaped Christianity for a long time. The first followers of Jesus Christ originated from this background. It was also the source of the basic Christian ideas - through Christianity the myths and ideas of Judaism obtained a more universal character. The opinion claiming that the history has its own intrinsic sense and the course of events is influenced by the disposition of Providence, in which the God reveals its Will to the Chosen Nation, was the essence of the matter.
In the Covenant, which God made with its folk, we can find guidelines of correct behaviour, which consists of submitting to His Laws. Breaching of these Laws resulted in punishment, which the whole Chosen Nation experienced. This drama was the inspiration for Jewish historical writings, in which the Jewish living in the Empire found a model, which gave sense to their lives.
Judaism had a lot to offer to the world, in which the traditional cults have already outlived their times. The ways of being religious independently from the temples and priests, and above all the promise of salvation, were so attractive that Judaism acquired followers. The Proselytes were getting the possibility to identify with the Chosen Nation and its great historical tradition, being the inspiration for the Jewish historical writings, the achievements of which can probably only be compared with those of the Greek scientific historiography.
The fundamental contribution of Judaism into the Christian mentality comprises the consciousness of individuality of the folk, whose eyes were directed at the supernatural matters. The Christians are said to have introduced this thought as a result of comparing themselves to the ferment in the cake functioning for the benefit of the salvation of the world. These ideas were deeply rooted in Jewish historical experience and in a significant, though as a matter of fact simple, detail that the Jewish nation managed to survive in spite of all the calamities, which had happened to it.
Great Jewish communities, distinct not only due to their quantity, but also owing to their obstinate aspiration to preserve individuality, were a considerable factor in the politics of Roman provinces' governors. Although proselytism was a frequent phenomenon, to which even the Romans themselves gave in, at the same time the first signs of hostility of the society towards the Jews appeared comparatively early. Anti-Jewish manifestations provoked the suspiciousness of the authorities and, at least in Rome, leaded to scattering of Jewish communities in the face of danger.
In this atmosphere full of tension, when thousands of Jews anticipated the incoming of the Messiah, Jesus came to the world. This event took place about the year 6 BC.
The proceedings from the life of Jesus have then been put in writing in the Gospels after his death. The Gospels themselves do not constitute a reliable source of information; however, one should not approach them with too much scepticism either. Undoubtedly, they have been written down in order to demonstrate the supernatural character of Jesus Christ and to prove that he is the Messiah long foreseen by the prophets. Their partial character does not deny the credibility of the information contained within them. It is, however, worth admitting that it is difficult to find a confirmation of the facts described in the Gospels in other historical sources.
The things we know about the religious practices recommended by Jesus, do not exceed the generally accepted norms of Judaism - the participation in church services and personal prayers. In this very specific sense, Jesus lived and died as a Jew. On the other hand, his moral teachings concentrated on the matters of penance and liberation from the sins, which were available not only for the Jews, but also for all the other human beings.
The teachings of Jesus contained also an idea of retribution for ones' actions, but apart from this, there were also more radical opinions in it. The fundamental significance had the adherence to the directives of the Law. Jesus preached also about the need of penance and fixing evil deeds, and even self-sacrifice. The main rule of behaviour was to become love.
Jesus emphatically rejected the role of a political leader. Many people expected, however, a Messiah, who would be the political leader. Others sought for a guide, who would lead them to fight with the ruling clerical order, which could carry a potential threat for current public order, even if it was barely about purification and a form of religion.
In Jerusalem, where Jesus went to spread his teachings, he got accused of profanity and a governor, who didn’t find him guilty at all, acted against the law to avoid troubles, which are not difficult to find in an turbulent town. Jesus was not a citizen of the Roman Empire, so he got sentenced to the highest punishment – flagellation and crucifixion. A tablet, which was attached to the crucifix, with a sign ‘Jesus from Nazareth, Jewish King’ confirmed the political character of the execution.
The meaning of the inscription was emphasized by the fact that it has been prepared in three languages – Latin, Greek and Hebrew. This event took place in the year 33 AD, although there was also a hypothesis that it could have been the year 29 or 30 AD.
Jesus attracted not only the people who were dissatisfied with existing political situation, but also the Jews who felt that the Law ceased to be a sufficient guide, and those not Jews, who, having converted into Judaism, became citizens of Israel of the second category and wanted to be sure that they would not be rejected on the day of the Last Judgement.
Jesus did not turn down the poor and people from the edge of the society, where great fortunes contrasted with a complete lack of mercy for the poor, either. Such ideas and invocations finally were to bring surprisingly good results. Although they attracted people to Jesus, it could seem that they had died with him.
When he died, his disciples were one of at least a few Jewish sects. They believed, however, that something absolutely unusual had happened. They believed that Jesus had raised from the dead, that they had seen him, and finally, that he had granted them and all the other people saved by the baptism liberation from death and successive existence after the Last Judgement. The organization of this message and the presentation of it to the civilised world took place during the next half of century after the death of Jesus.
The faith animating the disciples of Jesus caused that they stayed and preached in Jerusalem, where Jews from all of the Near East arrived to make pilgrimages and which therefore became a centre of the new science.
Two disciples of Jesus - Peter and James the Great - became the leaders of the drove of followers anticipating the return of the Messiah and preparing for this event through penance and the service in the Temple. Those first followers of Jesus remained Jewish, distinguished only by the rite of baptism. Despite this fact, the rest of the Jews perceived them as a threat. Their contacts with Greek speaking Jews from outside of Judea undermined the authority of the priests.
During the first period of activity, Christianity settled all over the Roman Empire, in the first place there, where existed Jewish communities. The ‘churches’, which got created at that time, were completely autonomous from administrative point of view, although the community of Jerusalem took precedence over them for obvious reasons.
The only bond between the Churches represented the commonly accepted rite of baptism, the evidence of joining the new Israel, and the Eucharist, the repetition of the rite, which was given by Jesus during the Last Supper, consumed among his disciples the day before his death. The leaders of local Churches wielded the reign in autonomous communities. However, the extent of the power was quite narrow and in practice it came down to taking decisions of local importance. All Christians anticipated an early reappearance of Jesus Christ. The prime of the community of Jerusalem came to the end when the city was captured and destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD. The believers became spread and Christianity in Judea lost a lot from its vitality. At the beginning of the 2nd century much more numerous and important were the communities out of the borders of Palestine; the beginnings of the ecclesial hierarchy, consisting of bishops, presbyters and deacons, appeared in them. Their sacramental functions were at that time very modest – basically they took care of managing the communities.
Outside of Judea, engulfed by disorders due to independence reasons, in the other areas of the Empire Jews enjoyed a relative tranquillity. The Christians were doing worse, although the authorities hardly perceived any difference between them and the followers of Judaism. From the point of view of the Romans their religion was only a new variety of Jewish monotheism.
The first persecutors of the Christians were the Jews themselves. The first persecutions of the Christian community in Jerusalem were taken up by the Jewish king, Herod Agrippa. However, no matter what were the reasons of the persecutions, it was for a long time the last sign of interest of the Roman authorities on the Christianity. Their suspiciousness shattered due to the indifference of the Christians to Jewish uprisings.
The Roman administration took interest in the Christians again at the beginning of the 2nd century. The reason for this was an obvious lack of respect for the official religion, because of refusing to make offerings on the altars of the emperors and the deities of the national religion. This was the difference between the situation of the Christians and the Jews. These last ones were not required to make offerings; they had their own traditional cult, which was treated with respect by the Romans. The Christians, on the other hand, were treated as people of a different, new cult.
In spite of this, the Rome adopted an assumption that although the Christian religion was not legally confirmed, massive persecutions towards its followers should not be undertaken. However, when the law was being broken, then the punishing of the offences, which were revealed and proved in front of the court, was the duty of the authorities. Such were the reasons of many acts of martyrdom, as the Christians rejected the proposals of making the offerings or renouncing their God, made in a good will by Roman office workers. No systematic actions were made, however, to exterminate the new sect.
The reality was that the hostility of the authorities had far smaller significance than the hostility of other co-citizens. There is increasingly more evidence of the assaults on the Christians in the 2nd century. The Christians were sometimes treated as scapegoats and sometimes the persecutions aimed at relieving the tensions threatening the public order.
The masses easily considered the Christians guilty of the offences, which brought with themselves the anger of the gods and were the reason of hunger, floods, epidemics or other catastrophes. In those times, people did not look for rational explanations of the natural disasters. The Christians were accused of practising black magic, incest or even cannibalism. Secret meeting of the Christians during the nights brought distrust. Another reason was the fear, that the control wielded by the Christian communities over the believers threatens the common norms regulating the interpersonal relationships between the parents and children, the married couple, the lords and the slaves.
The persecutions were one of the dangers, which the Church had to face. A much more serious one was a risk of bringing Christianity to a rank of one more exotic cult, a lot of which existed in the vast territory of the Empire, and immersing in magical practices.
All over the Near East one can encounter religions of mysteries, the essence of which consists of the initiation into the world of occult knowledge and honouring one particular deity. As a rule, they gave the followers a possibility to identify themselves with the deity in a symbolic ritual of death and resurrection, which is to assure the immortality of the soul. Though their suggestive rituals, these cults offered to the people the desired peace and freedom from the earthly preoccupations, which assured their great popularity.
The intellectual attitude of the believers of Jesus Christ increased the attractiveness of Christianity and facilitated the use of the vast possibilities provided by the common framework of the Roman civilisation. The teachers of the new faith travelled through the entire Empire, spoke and conduct correspondence in Greek, which allowed them to reach a wide range of people, who, as a consequence, could reinforce the group of the followers of Christianity.