Essay: High Degree of Misinformation

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[. . .] Discuss the changes.

Prior to taking this course, in many ways I considered Christianity to be a static religion. I had not given thought to the notion that Christianity changed rapidly in the first few centuries of its practice. I noticed several critical changes in the practice of Christianity in the first century AD and its later practice. The first change was the idea of a Christ centered church with Jesus as the only leader. The second change was the idea of a church with multiple elders to focusing power on a single leader. The third change was the idea that church leadership should remain local to the shifting of power to leaders located away from the church's physical area. The fourth change was a focus on forceful evangelism. All of these changes helped lead not only to the creation of the position of Pope, but also to a concentration of power in the Pope. The Crusades are a great example of how this religious power and authority gave the Pope actual power over people and allowed Popes to command vast armies of people in a series of wars known as the Crusades.

In the first century, it was very clear that the leadership of the church resided solely in Jesus the Christ. Human leaders of the church were responsible for sharing Jesus' teachings and messages with emerging Christians, but they were not seen as holding any real type of leadership responsibilities in the church. Instead, though dead, Jesus remained the leader of the early church. This underwent a dramatic change in the first few centuries of the religion. Jesus transformed from the actual leader of the church to a deity who was worshipped. This left a power vacuum in the church. This vacuum was filled by earthly leaders assuming greater power and responsibility over the church. However, these leaders necessarily engaged in doctrinal conflicts with one another, which could not be resolved in a system where each earthly leader could claim the same relationship with Christ and authority in the religion as other similarly-situated religious leaders. Eventually, this led to the development of Super Bishops and then the Pope, so that earthly leaders began to claim special relationships to Jesus and special roles as leaders of the Church, in direct conflict with early church policies.

The second change was the idea of a church with multiple elders to focusing power on a single leader. The leadership of the early church was focused on the notion of servant leadership and had two types of early leaders: apostles and prophets. The apostles were a group of men who had been selected by Jesus as the early caretakers, but not leaders, or his emerging church. However, the apostles were differentiated from later elders in the church because of their direct relationship with Christ. They were believed to act with divine authority, an idea that would be expanded upon in later centuries to give support to the notion that the Pope acted with divine authority. These early apostles used their divine commission to spread Jesus' teachings, and, unlike their contemporary earthly secular leaders, they did not concentrate any efforts on demonstrating wealth or ensuring their own immortality though monument or similar buildings. As the Church developed in the later centuries, this emphasis changed. Local churches became more greatly associated with the individuals in power, and, when those individuals had influence over larger groups of people, they were able to exercise that power in ways that were somewhat self-serving and could result in earthly power for the individual. Slowly, rather than local churches led by multiple leaders, churches were led by individuals who, like the apostles, often claimed to have some type of divine commission, though they had no direct commission from God. This led to the development of Super Bishops, who were known as papas, and eventually to the role of the Pope. Even many modern day Catholics view the Pope as the elder in their own small churches, despite having representatives of the church in actual leadership positions.

The third change was the idea that church leadership should remain local to the shifting of power to leaders located away from the church's physical area. Initially, churches were encouraged to be local and autonomous. While autonomy may have allowed for local perversion of Christian ideals, it also discouraged the spread of heretical ideas from church to church. Between the Apostolic Age and the Council of Chalcedon, church polity began to change. Local leaders began to cede control of the local churches to a single elder in each area. Eventually, these bishops gained control over multiple congregations. What this meant is that local churches were no longer autonomous. Even more importantly, it meant that control over a local church was no longer local. Though these geographic areas may have initially seemed small, the reality of travel during that time period meant that even relatively close geographic areas could have had very different needs at different points in time. Autonomous rule allowed church leaders to react and respond to individual, local needs. Moving power outside of the local area meant that it could not be as responsive to the local population. Eventually, the power was vested in the Pope. The popes were initially the super bishop in the area of Rome. However, because Rome was the most powerful city in Christendom during that time period, the super bishop of Rome eventually came to be the leader of all the churches during that time period. In 445, the Roman Emperor Valentinian III established Rome's super-bishop as the Pope of the Christian Church.

Perhaps the most significant change in Christianity from the first century was the role of Christians as victims and persecutors. Early Christians faced a tremendous amount of persecution because of their religious choices. They were the targets of intentional violence aimed at them because of their religion. Despite that, early Christians remained peaceful even when faced with persecution. Unlike the people who came against them and different from the Jewish people for whom Christ was the Messiah, early Christianity was a religious movement that was largely divided from secular overtones. However, as Christianity gained popularity, what it meant to be Christian became less religious and more secular. This allowed for the development of a more forceful form of evangelism. Over time, Christians changed from those being persecuted for their religious beliefs to those persecuting others for their religious beliefs. It became tolerable in the Christian church to use violence against non-Christians. Moreover, this use of violence was seen as somehow divinely-sanctioned because of the call to evangelize among non-Christians. Increasingly, those who had not been reborn were seen as sinners because of a conflation of the idea of original sin with the notion of baptism and rebirth. As sinners, they were considered less valuable than Christians. In many ways, this notion of non-Christians as somehow being lesser than humans contributed to the idea that it was permissible to convert them to Christianity through any means necessary.

The use of military-like power by a Pope did not begin in offensive action. Instead, Leo I, the first Pontiff established by Roman Emperor Valentinian III, was challenged by an offensive action by Attila the Hun, who was poised to attack Rome. Leo I used gold to bribe Attila and prevented the attack of Rome. This was the first time that the Pope acted as a military leader and paved the way for the Pope to become a military leader in offensive actions. Moreover, despite the adoption of the Two Swords doctrine, which was aimed at limiting the secular power of the Popes, religious leaders continued to amass a great deal of secular power.

The combination of a tremendous power concentration in the Pope and the idea that people were to be converted at any cost led to the Inquisition. Pope Innocent III created a special court to judge those accused of heresy. However, heresy had a self-serving definition. Early heretics were those who opposed established Christian doctrine, but under Innocent III, the idea of heresy was expanded to include those who opposed the Pope. Dominican friars were eventually appointed to serve as prosecutors, judges, and juries on charges of heresy. Moreover, their methods were very similar to the persecution methods used against early Christians in the first century; they offered rewards to people who reported heretics, used secret trials, and used torture. Heretics faced harsh punishment, including a mandatory death penalty for a person accused of heresy two times.

This church-led violence was not limited to Christians, but extended to the Crusades, a series of Holy Wars that would have been unimaginable to first century Christians. Around the 7th century, the related ideas of pilgrimages and relics became popular among Christians. When Christians began traveling to Israel, they were subjected to persecution by the Seljuk Turks. Pope Urban II responded to this with a series… [END OF PREVIEW]

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