11: Nicene Christianity

Receives submission of the Saxons
Germany, 700s

Key Terms

  • Arianism
  • Constantine the Great
  • The Council of Nicea
  • 325: the Nicene Creed
  • Heresy
  • Charlemagne
  • The Great Schism
  • Roman Catholic
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • 393: Synod of Hippo
  • City of God
  • Vulgate Bible
  • Illuminated Manuscripts
  • Natural Theology

Nicene Creed, 325

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and on the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 

And in the Holy Ghost.

Profile of Pre-Reformation Christianity
(300s - 1500s)

  • Major populations: Ireland, England, Byzantine Empire,
     Western Europe (except Spain/Iberia), Middle East
  • 300s: Augustine describes Christian monks “entering religion”
  • Place of Worship: Church, Cathedral, Basilica
    • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (pic)
    • St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (9m clip)
    • St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow (pic)
    • Westminster Abbey, London (8m clip)

  • Do They Proselytize? Yes: the Great Commission
  • Dogmatic? Yes, as of the Council of Nicea in 325
  • Theistic? Yes

  • Totems: the chi-rho (XP), the cross, the Eucharist
  • Taboos: Culture of “Pagans,” “Mohammadans,” and Jews


I. 50-325 CE: From Many Christianities to One Church

XPISTOS | Christ

  • A. Before Nicaea: Many Christian Paths
    • Variety of ways to understand the Christ
  • B. 312: Constantine, Under this Sign, You shall Conquer
    • Less than 1% of the Roman Empire is Christian
    • Population concentrated in a few major cities
    • Most Romans knew the Christians met in secret, didn’t honor Roman gods
    • Roman power typically ignored early Christians as a ritualized folkway
    • This changed in 312 when Constantine, who was vying for power in Rome,
      had a vision of the chi rho (XP) — the first two letters in XPISTOS (Christ)
    • Paints this symbol on his soldiers’ shields. Surprise victory for Constantine.
    • He issued the Edict of Milan in 313 proclaiming official tolerance for Christians
    • Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople

  • C. 325: The Council of Nicaea
    • Constantine called for the major bishops of Christianity to create one orthodoxy
    • They wrote the Nicene Creed, the foundational statement of faith (4m clip)
    • Western Christianity falls under one catholic (universal) Church

II. Imperial Christianity & the Byzantine Empire

  • A. 380: The Edict of Thessalonica
    • Emperor Theodosius struggled to control the empire
    • He enacted the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Nicene Christianity
      the “right practice” (orthodoxy) and made all other forms illegal heresies
      • Heresy (Greek: Other Choices): was generally a capital offense

  • B. 381: The First Council of Constantinople
    • Established Constantinople as the New Rome
    • Creedal amendment: Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”
    • Creedal amendment: Added “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church
      • One: The Church is one body and one spirit
      • Holy: (Old English) The Church is set apart from the world
      • Catholic: (Latin) The Church is universal, for everyone
      • Apostolic: (Greek) The Church derives its authority from the Apostles

  • C. 527: Justinian begins the Medieval period of Europe
    • Revised Roman law code
    • Commissioned the construction of the Hagia Sophia (pic)
    • Closed Plato’s Academy: ends Ancient Western Philosophy

Early Christian History

  • 33-36 | Crucifixion of Jesus
  • 48 | Council of Jerusalem
    • first called Christians”
  • 64 | Death of Peter, Paul, & James
  • 70 | Destruction of Jewish Temple
  • 70-110s | Gospels written
  • 110s | Earliest Roman ref to Jesus
  • 132-136 | Bar Kochba Revolt
  • 250 | 50,000+ Christians exist
  • 304 | Armenia: 1st XP state
  • 312 | Constantine sees the XP
  • 313 | Edict of Milan
    • Rome tolerates Christianity
  • 325 | Council of Nicaea
    • Christian Dogma fixed
    • Western Christianity begins
  • 330 | Ethiopia converts to XP
  • 380 | Edict of Thessalonica
    • all Romans are Christians
    • Jews are outlaws in Europe
  • 393 | Synod of Hippo
    • New Testament decided on
  • 397 | Council of Carthage
    • Book of Revelation added
  • 426 | Augustines City of God
  • 435 | Bible trans. into Latin
  • 500 | Jewish Talmud canonized
  • 527 | Christian Emperor Justinian
    • closes Platos Academy
    • The Dark Ages begin
  • 610 | The Prophet Muhammad 
    • first vision of Angel Gabriel

III. 800-1100: The Birth of “Europe”

  • A. Charlemagne in 800: A New Western Empire
  • B. 1054: The Great Schism – Christianity Forever Rips in Two
    • Controversy within the church
    • The bishop of Rome excommunicates the bishop of Constantinople, who then excommunicates him
    • Splits Christianity into two halves, called The Great Schism of 1054 (map)
      • The bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, presides over Roman Catholic Christianity in the West
      • The remaining bishops share power over Orthodox Christianity in the East

  • C. 1054-1099: The Power of the Medieval Church
    • Orthodox Church converts Bulgarians, Serbs, and Russians
    • Catholic Church converts Northern Europe
    • Catholic Christianity becomes embedded in the culture
      • Case Study: The Institution of Marriage
        • 1059: The Pope declares marriages of consanguinity or affinity to the seventh degree to be a sin
          • Bishop can grant dispensation for a fee (ie. royal marriage outside of the Church is a sin)
        • 1184: Marriage is named one of the seven sacraments of Christianity


I. The Canonization of the New Testament

  • A. The Church Fathers and the Bible
  • B. 393: the Synod of Hippo
    • Following the Council of Nicaea in 325, an official canon was established
    • The complete Old and New Testament were chosen, with the exception of Revelation

  • C. 397: Revelation and the Council of Carthage
    • Revelation added at the Council of Carthage
    • Ongoing controversy

II. 400s: Roman Catholic Texts

Augustine’s  City of God

The Heavenly City outshines Rome beyond comparison.
There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity;
instead of life, eternity.

Augustine, City of God (426)


Book of Kells
Christ Enthroned
Ireland, 800s

  • A. 400s: St. Augustine of Hippo
    • Neither Paul nor Jesus left instructions on how to lead a Christian city
    • Augustine’s On True Religion
      • Jesus completed Plato’s philosophical project (cf. John 1)
      • Christian monks are said to “enter religion”
      • “Religion” (Latin) is an obligatory set of sacred Christian practices
    • Augustine’s City of God
      • The Roman Empire can be modeled on the Kingdom of God
      • Explains the doctrines of Original Sin, Free Will, and Just War
      • Augustine: World history is a great battle between God and the Devil
        • God uses imperial armies to remove evil; build the Kingdom of God.
        • This is how Charlemagne and the Crusaders justified
          violence against non–Christians

  • B. 435: St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible (Vulgata: Common)
    • Jerome determines which copies of the scriptures be used (no originals)
    • Pope commands Jerome to collect all Greek manuscripts to write a single, authoritative Latin translation
    • Completed in 435 and is the best form of the Christian Bible for 1000 years
  • C. The Word of God in the Medieval period
    • Books are equal parts artistic and textual content
    • When copying the Vulgate Bible, monks created Illuminated Manuscripts
      written on parchment using calligraphy and illustrations
  • D. 1200s: St. Thomas Aquinas
    • While Europe languished in the “Dark Ages” of the Medieval period,
      the Islamicate world was enjoying its Golden Age (700s-1500s)
    • Thomas Aquinas studies the works of Averroes, the great (Islamic) Aristotelean thinker
    • St. Aquinas unites Christian faith with Philosophical reason -> natural theology
      • Aquinas: The Christian view of God can be apprehended through reason and observation
      • Aquinas is the beginning of the end of Medieval Europe
        • 527: the Medieval period begins with the Catholic emperor Justinian
        • 1637: the Medieval period ends with the Catholic mathematician Descartes


I. Roman Catholics & Europe

  • A. Christianity as State Ideology
    • 304 | Armenia
    • 327 | Georgia (Iberia, near Russia)
    • 330 | Ethiopia
    • 380 | Roman Empire, centered in Constantinople
      • Christianity is religion: a universal, public, and obligatory institution for all Romans
      • Emperor Theodosius outlaws any other form of ritual in the empire. Roman = Christian!
        • Eg. Pagans, Jews, Gnostics, Arian Christians, etc. are outlaws

  • B. Forced Conversions of Europeans
    • 400s: Roman pagans, Jews, and heretical Christians
    • 500s: Frankish tribes converted under Clovis
    • 700s: Germanic tribes converted under Charlemagne
    • 800s: Failed attempts to convert Vikings
    • 1100s: Jews, Muslims, and heretical Christians in the Crusades

  • C. Rising Power of the Bishop of Rome (Pope)
    • 590: Bishop of Rome sends directives to monasteries throughout Europe
    • 800: Bishop of Rome crowns Charlemagne as the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
      • French & German royalty have religious authority
      • The Bishop of Rome has armies at his disposal
    • 1054: Bishop of Rome declares that all other archbishops answer to him, the Pope
    • 1059: Pope declares that only cardinals (not kings) can vote for bishops
    • 1095: Pope declares that God wills Christians take the Holy Land
    • 1184: Pope declares there are Seven Sacraments all Christians must perform,
      presided over by the Church (which answers to the Pope)

II. Catholic Christianity & Islam

  • Christians in Arabia since Paul the Apostle
  • Christian philosophers active in Arabia, alongside Arab “pagans”
  • 600s: Muhammad active in Arabia
  • 700s: Islamicate civilization spreads across Middle East, North Africa, and Spain
  • 800s: Christian-Islamic Political Situation (map)
    • Charlemagne’s Empire (Western Christians, Rome)  Abbasid Caliphate (Middle Eastern Muslims)
    • Byzantine Empire (Eastern Christians, Constantinople)  Ummayad Caliphate (Spanish Muslims)
  • 1100s-1200s: The Crusades (11m clip)
    • 1095: The Crusades begin once the Pope has consolidated his power throughout Europe
      • Pope Urban II wants to unite Christendom under a common enemy: Islam
    • 1st Crusade (successful): Pope instructs Catholics to help Orthodox Christians (who don’t see him as Pope) in Jerusalem
      • Crusades first pitched as a “pilgrimage” to Jerusalem that might involve killing
      • Kill 1000s of civilians at Al-Aqsa mosque; Jerusalem controlled for 88 years by Christian colonial powers
    • 2nd Crusade (terrible): Crusaders never get through (Orthodox Christian) Turkey
    • 3rd Crusade (the one with Saladin): Saladin of Egypt fights Richard “the Lionheart.” Retakes Jerusalem. (3m clip)
    • 4th Crusade (the crazy one): Skipping Turkey, a new Crusader fleet of ships built in Venice.
      • Crusaders pay for boats by taking another Christian city for Venice. Crusaders and Venitians are excommunicated.
      • Orthodox leader offers to pay Crusaders if they help him become emperor of Constantinople
      • The Catholic Crusaders fight on behalf of the Orthodox emperor in Constantinople. But he's killed before he can pay.
      • Catholic Crusaders then take over Constantinople, the largest Christian city in the world. Never reach the Holy Land.
      • After the 4th Crusade, all pretense of “pilgrimage” dropped. Any enemy of Catholicism was fair game.
    • Another 5 Crusades took place, but no major military advancements were made by Catholic Christians
    • 1291: The Crusades end when Acre is regained by the Muslims
  • 1400s: Christians lose Turkey (Constantinople). Muslims lose Spain and Sicily to the Reconquista.
    • Medieval Europeans view Muslims as Muhammad-worshipping enemies of Christian peace
    • Medieval Muslims view Christians as invading barbarians bent on world domination


I. Joining the Modern Catholic Church (cf. RCIA)

  • Modern conversion to Catholic Christianity is generally a year long process (fall to spring)
    • Baptism (if not baptized as a baby): symbolizes joining the Christian Church
    • Confirmation: Accept Catholic Catechism and Papal leadership
    • First Communion: Bread and wine consumed. They are the body and blood of Christ.
  • Catholic Christians partake in the Seven Sacraments
    • Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Penance, Anointing the Sick, Holy Orders, & Marriage
    • Catholics also promise to raise children Catholic

II. General Guidelines for visiting a Catholic Church

  • Q. How should I be dressed?
    • Dress business casual to casual, well-covered. Legs should be covered below the knee.
  • Q. What are the totems used in the service?
    • Statues of Jesus, Mary, and usually one saint particularly venerated by that church
    • Baptistery: a font of water used to baptize infants and converts
    • Confessional: a small booth in which priests hear the confession of sins
    • Holy water font: a font of water used to dip fingers then make the sign of the cross
    • Bread and Wine: transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, consumed in his memory
    • Candles: represent Christ as the light of the world
    • Missal: a Catholic prayerbook
  • Q. Will contributions to the church be collected?
    • Yes. An offering plate will be passed around, but guests are not expected to give.
    • $5 is considered polite.
  • Q. How should I behave in a Catholic service?
    • Do not touch statues. If you are not Catholic, do not partake of the bread and wine.
    • Remain silent and seated unless standing or singing with congregants
  • Q. What are the death and mourning customs of Catholic Christians?
    • In the first few days, there will be a “wake” in which immediate family is greeted by family and friends
      • The body of the deceased may be at the wake. The casket will generally be open.
    • Calls and visits to the home of the bereaved are welcome
      • It is also traditional to bring food to the bereaved
    • A Catholic funeral may be delayed as much as a week to accommodate traveling mourners
    • Black is the official color of Catholic (and generally all “Christian”) funerals
    • A Catholic funeral is generally an open casket service. Guests are expected to view the body.
    • The mourning period for Catholics is generally one week