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I have blogged quite a bit recently on early Christian history, and the further I get into this material, the more interested I become in one particular period – quite a narrow period in fact, of a quarter century or so. I keep coming back to these years as the critical turning point in early Christian history, and it rarely receives the respect it demands. For all the attention paid to the era of the Council of Nicea, about 325, there is an earlier time that is at least as important, and arguably much more so. Let me make my case for the years around 200 AD – or let’s say, more broadly, between the late 180s and 215. One generation.
In terms of modern social theory, this period was when the movement changed from being an upstart sect – spontaneous, passionate, inchoate – to a fully-formed institutionalized “church,” a change symbolized by new structures and hierarchies, more formalized patterns of worship and liturgy, and the strict regulation of individual prophecy. Also transformed were notions of authority, with a shift from charismatic or prophetic credentials to an emphasis on tradition and (gradually) on bureaucracy. Newer institutions also felt a powerful impetus to centralization and standardization. This was a classic transmutation of a kind that has befallen so many other new religious movements through human history.
Easter - Wars - AD - Christians - Question
To illustrate this, let’s think about the Easter Wars then raging. In the 190s AD, Christians were passionately divided over the question of whether Easter Sunday should fall on Sunday. However nitpicking the issue might sound, the controversy actually involved very substantial issues of identity, culture and faith, issues that shaped the West’s religious tradition. Just how closely should the new Jesus movement hew to practices derived from Judaism?
Easter commemorates the Resurrection that is the central fact...
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