Old church

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Baptism representation from the Catacomb of Calixtus in Rome

The term old church , also early church and early Christianity , denotes the first centuries of church history up to about 500; This delimitation of epochs is linked to the delimitation of the subject areas of the chairs for ancient church history and middle and modern church history . The use of the term “ church ” is to be viewed critically, since the early Christians were still a very heterogeneous movement, in which appropriate forms of organization were only established in the middle of the 1st century AD.

Time limitation

Chancel in early Christianity (around the year 250), in the imagination of the organizers of the Orientalis Museum Park
The fish , a common symbol in early Christian art

There are various proposals for limiting the historical period known as the old church . In most cases, it is understood to mean the epoch before the split of the ancient oriental churches , i.e. also before the theological divergence of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches . The theological developments, the ecumenical councils , the saints and church fathers of this time are therefore recognized in all major denominations .

The time of early Christianity , the time of the apostolic fathers , the apologists , the early Christian martyrs , the church fathers, the imperial church after the Constantinian change (see also late antiquity ) and the first four ecumenical councils up to the council of are generally counted as part of the epoch of the old church Chalcedony 451.

For the western church, the epoch of the old church is often reckoned up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire , according to some authors also up to Gregory the Great (540–604), the last church father of the West, who is also recognized in the Eastern Church.


There are various names for church history in the time of the old church, some of which overlap:

  • The early church in Jerusalem was the first Christian congregation to meet in Jerusalem after Pentecost, from around 30 to 70.
  • In the history of Christianity, early Christianity refers to the time when Christianity emerged after the death of Jesus of Nazareth around 30 or 33. Some researchers put an end to the writing of the Synoptic Gospels (around 90 AD), sometimes only with the appearance of the apologists in the middle of the 2nd century.
  • The time of the apostolic fathers denotes the time of the church fathers who probably had personal relationships with apostles or were strongly influenced by them, i.e. the church fathers of the second and third generation in the late first century and in the first half of the second century.
  • As early Christianity or early Christianity , the entire epoch of the early church is sometimes called, sometimes only the pre-Constantinian period (the time until the recognition of Christianity as religio licita by Emperor Constantine in Milan Edict of 313) and partly even the time of early Christianity.
  • The period of the sporadic, from around 100 also systematic, initially local and in later centuries also nationwide persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire began with the Neronian persecution and ended with the Milan Edict of Tolerance of 313, finally with the recognition of the Christian Church as the only state religion in 391.
  • Essential steps towards the Roman imperial church were the Edict of the Three Emperors 380, which declared the Roman-Alexandrian Trinitarian faith to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in order to end the intra-Christian disputes, and the Edict of 391, with which Theodosius I prohibited pagan cults. According to today's view of many researchers, however, it was only Justinian I who actually enforced Christianity against paganism in the middle of the sixth century in the Roman Empire. The Roman Imperial Church never had the power of the Roman Catholic Church over the state in the Middle Ages, but was always in a precarious equilibrium with the state power of the emperor, especially in the East.
  • As a time of ecumenical councils the time of the seven ecumenical councils from is the first Council of Nicea 325 to the second Council of Nicaea referred 787th
  • Patristic is the science that deals with the time of the Church Fathers from the second to the eighth centuries.
  • The time of the five ecumenical patriarchates is called the pentarchy . These patriarchates existed de facto since the first Council of Constantinople in 381 and were finally defined in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. The Pentarchy included the Patriarchate of the West , Konstantin Opel , Alexandria , Antioch and Jerusalem . The pentarchy ended with the Oriental Schism around the turn of the millennium.

Organizational developments

During the time of the old church, the development from early Christianity to the episcopal church and then to the five patriarchates : Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople and the West. Up until the beginning of the 4th century, the bishops mainly exchanged letters. After the change in Constantine, “a lively synodal activity developed”, especially since the bishops were now able to use the cursus publicus , the imperial post.

The beginnings of monasticism , the emergence of the first monasteries in Egypt, the rules of the order of St. Basil and Benedict .

Theological developments

The New Testament canon and the generally accepted creeds emerged in the time of the old Church . Theologically and philosophically, the time corresponds to patristicism . There are major conflicts of this time with Gnosis , Marcionism , with “Hellenism” ( apologists ), with regard to Christology ( Arian conflict , Nestorian conflict ) and with regard to ecclesiology ( Donatism ).

For Mack (1995) a distinction must be made between the Christ cult and the Jesus movements . The former focused on the meaning of the death and fate of Jesus, particularly the resurrection. To the extent that the focus was on the death of Jesus Christ, the focus was less on his teachings (see list of parables of Jesus , source of logia Q , Gospel of Thomas ) and on being part of a school within the Jesus movement. In early Christianity, the increasingly complex confrontation with ideas of martyrdom, resurrection and the transformation of Jesus into a divine, spiritual presence began. In Paul of Tarsus , the Christ cult was formed by God or a divine being choosing to incarnate in an ordinary person ( Rom. 3 :EU ), whose God-willed execution in the form of the crucifixion would reconcile the world with God by being with the mortal , the body accommodating divine beings at the same time eradicates human sin and thus paves the way for the personal redemption of all human beings.

Church building

See the main article on early Christian architecture



Source editions

  • Michael Fiedrowicz : Handbook of Patristic. Source texts on the theology of the Church Fathers . Herder, Freiburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-451-31293-9 .
  • Peter Guyot, Richard Klein (ed.): Early Christianity to the end of the persecution. A documentation. Vol. 1: The state. Vol. 2: Society . 3rd edition Darmstadt 2006.
  • Adolf Martin Ritter (Ed.): Old Church (= church and theological history in sources 1). Neukirchener, Neukirchen-Vluyn 11th edition 2015.

Introductions and general presentations

  • Norbert Brox : Early Christianity. Writings on historical theology . Edited by Alfons Fürst, Franz Dünzl, Ferdinand R. Prostmeier; Freiburg i. Br .: Herder, 2000.
  • Norbert Brox: Church history of antiquity . Düsseldorf: Patmos Paperbacks, 2002. 3
  • Henry Chadwick : The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great (= Oxford History of the Christian Church). Oxford University Press 2003.
  • Ernst Dassmann : Church history I - II / 2 (= Kohlhammer study books Theol. 10 - 11.2). Stuttgart 1991-1999; 2000.
  • Karl Suso Frank , Principles of the History of the Old Church . 3rd edition, Darmstadt 1993.
  • Ders .: Textbook of the history of the old church , Paderborn 2nd A. 1996, 3rd A. 2002.
  • Gunther Gottlieb : Christianity and Church in the First Three Centuries (= Heidelberg Study Booklets for Classical Studies). Heidelberg 1991.
  • Gert Haendler : From Tertullian to Ambrosius. The Church in the West from the end of the 2nd to the end of the 4th century (= church history in individual representations, 1.3). Berlin 1978.
  • Gert Haendler: The occidental church in the age of the migration of peoples (= church history in single representations, 1.5). 3rd edition, Berlin 1987.
  • David Bentley Hart : The History of Christianity: Faith, Church, Tradition. National Geographic, 2010. ISBN 978-3-86690-189-6 (Translation: Ute Mareik)
  • Susanne Hausammann : Old Church . Vol. 1 - 4. Neukirchener, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2001-2004.
  • Wolf-Dieter Hauschild : Textbook of Church and Dogma History, Volume 1, Old Church and Middle Ages , 2nd, revised. Ed., Gütersloh 2000.
  • Hans-Josef Klauck : The religious environment of early Christianity (= study books theology 9). Stuttgart 1995.
  • Christoph Markschies : Ancient Christianity. Piety, ways of life, institutions. Munich 2006.
  • Jean-Marie Mayeur, Luce Pietri, Andre Vauchez (eds.): The history of Christianity, antiquity . 3 vols., Special edition, Freiburg i. B. 2005, ISBN 3-451-29100-2 .
  • Karen Piepenbrink , Antiquity and Christianity (compact history), Darmstadt 2007.
  • Hans Georg Thümmel : The Church of the East in the 3rd and 4th centuries (= church history in individual representations, 1.4). Berlin 1988.
  • Paul Veyne : When our world became Christian . CH Beck, Munich 2008.
  • Philipp Vielhauer : History of early Christian literature. Introduction to the New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Fathers. De Gruyter textbook, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1978, ISBN 3-11-007763-9 .

Theology and history of dogma

  • Berthold Altaner , Alfred Stuiber : Patrology. Life, Writings, and Teaching of the Church Fathers . 9th edition, Freiburg 1980.
  • Otto Bardenhewer : History of the early church literature . 5 vols., 1913-1932.
  • Hans von Campenhausen : Greek church fathers . 8th edition Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1993.
  • Hans von Campenhausen: Latin church fathers . 7th edition Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a. 1995.
  • Franz Dünzl : Small history of the Trinitarian dogma in the old church . Herder, Freiburg i.Br. u. a. 2006.
  • Michael Fiedrowicz : Apology in early Christianity , Paderborn 2nd A. 2001.
  • Michael Fiedrowicz: Theology of the Church Fathers. Basics of early Christian reflection on faith. Freiburg 2007.
  • Wilhelm Geerlings (ed.): Theologians of Christian antiquity . Darmstadt 2002.
  • Hartmut Leppin : The Church Fathers and their Time . Munich 2000.
  • Bernhard Lohse : Epochs of the history of dogma (= Hamburg Theological Studies, 8); 8th edition, Münster u. Hamburg 1994.
  • Christopher Stead: Philosophy and Theology , Vol. 1: The time of the old church (= Theological Science, 14.4). Stuttgart u. a. 1990.
  • Peter Stockmeier : Faith and Religion in the Early Church . Freiburg i. B. 1973.
  • Robert L. Wilken: The Spirit of Early Christianity . Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2004. ISBN 3579054236 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Udo Schnelle : The first 100 years of Christianity. 30 - 130 AD UTB, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2nd edition, 2016, ISBN 978-3-8252-4606-8 , p. 320
  2. Pedro Barceló : The Roman Empire in the Religious Change of Late Antiquity. Emperor and bishops in conflict . Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7917-2529-1 , p. 56.
  3. Burton I. Mack: Who wrote the New Testament? The invention of the Christian myth. CH Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-44015-0 , p. 106 f.
  4. Joel Carmichael : Stand up and call out His name. Paul, awakener of Christians and prophet of the Gentiles. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-570-00056-7 , p. 59 f.