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THE PRIMITIVE

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 584 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THE PRIMITIVE PERIOD There can be little doubt that the Christian Church derived its missionary impulse from the teaching of its founder. Even though we may .feel some hesitancy, in the light of modern criticism, about accepting as authentic the specific injunctions ascribed to Jesus by Matthew (ch. xxviii. 19) and Luke (ch. xxiv. 47; Acts i. 8), it must be admitted that the teaching of Jesus, in the emphasis which it laid on the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, was bound sooner or later to break away from the trammels of Judaism, and assert itself in the form of Christian missions. The triumph of this " universalistic " element in the teaching of Christ is vividly portrayed in the Acts of the apostles. At the beginning of the Acts the Christian Church is a little Jewish sect; long before the end is reached it has become a world-conquering spiritual force. The transformation was due in its initial stages to broad-minded men like Stephen, Philip and Barnabas who were the first pioneers of missionary work. Their efforts, however, were soon completely eclipsed by the magnificent achievements of the apostle Paul, who evangelized large part of Asia Minor and the most important cities of Greece. The success which attended the work of the great apostle to the Gentiles stamped Christianity as a missionary religion for ever. From this point onwards Christianity pushed its way into all the great centres of population. We know very little about the missionaries of the first three centuries. We suddenly find province after province christianized though there is nothing to show how and by whom the work was done. The case of Bithynia is an excellent illustration of this. When Pliny wrote his famous letter to Trajan (A.D. 112), Christianity had taken such a firm hold of the province that its influence had penetrated into remote country districts, pagan festivals were almost entirely neglected, and animals for sacrifice could scarcely find purchasers. Yet the history of the conversion of Bithynia is absolutely buried in oblivion. By the time of Constantine, Christianity had practically covered the whole empire. Harnack has tabulated the results which our scanty data allow us to reach in his Expansion of Christianity. He divides the countries which had been evangelized by the close of the 3rd century into four groups: (1) Those countries in which Christianity numbered nearly one-half of the population and represented the standard religion of the people, viz. most of what we now call Asia Minor, that portion of Thrace which lay over against Bithynia, Armenia, the city of Edessa. (2) Those districts in which Christianity formed a very material portion of the population, influencing the leading classes and being able to hold its own with other religions, viz. Antioch and Coele-Syria, Cyprus, Alexandria together with Egypt and the Thebais, Rome and the lower parts of Italy, together with certain parts of middle Italy, Proconsular Africa and Numidia, Spain, the maritime parts of Greece, the southern coasts of Gaul. 584 (3) Those districts in which Christianity was sparsely scattered, viz. Palestine, Phoenicia, Arabia, certain parts of Mesopotamia, the interior districts of Greece, the provinces on the north of Greece, the northern districts of middle Italy, the provinces of Mauretania and Tripolis. (4) Those districts in which Christianity was extremely weak or where it was hardly found at all : the districts to the north and north-west of the Black Sea, the western section of upper Italy, middle and upper Gaul, Belgica, Germany, Rhaetia, the towns of ancient Philistia. It is not possible to obtain even an approximate estimate of the numbers of the Christians at the time of Constantine. Friedlander, for instance, does not think that they exceeded by much Gibbon's estimate for the reign of Decius, viz. one-twentieth of the population. La Bastie and Burckhardt put the ratio at one-twelfth, Matter at a fifth and Staudlin even at a half (see Harnack ii. 453). After the end of the 3rd century missionary enterprise was mainly concentrated on the outlying borders of the empire. . In the 4th and 5th centuries may be mentioned Gregory the Illuminator, the " apostle of Armenia (about 300), Ulfilas, the " apostle of the Goths," about 325; Frumentius,' a bishop of Abyssinia, about 327; Nino, the Armenian girl who was the means of converting the kingdom of Iberia (now Georgia), about 330; 2 Chrysostom, who founded at Constantinople in A.D. 404 an institution in which Goths might be trained to preach the Gospel to their own people;$ Martin of Tours, who evangelized the central districts of Gaul; Valentinus, the " apostle of Noricum," about 440; Honoratus, who from his monastic home in the islet of Lerins, about 410, sent missionaries among the masses of heathendom in the neighbourhood of Arles, Lyons, Troyes, Metz and Nice; and St Patrick, who converted Ireland into " the isle of saints " (died either in 463 or 495).
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