Science Thursday: The History of Christianity

Happy Science Thursday! Already I’m deviating into the more obscure definition of science, and I have NO SHAME! Also, before you say anything, this is a history post, not a religion post, and in no way expresses the opinion of myself or others on this or any other religion unless explicitly stated. I will likely do similar posts for other religions because (opinion!) I find their histories and practices very interesting. Christianity is going first because I already had a general timeline. The Boy and I watch Elizabeth: the Golden Age a couple of months ago and it sparked a conversation between us about the time difference between the conflict between Romans and Christians and the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. But that story has some opinions in it so we’re skipping it. I’m also skipping most of the history of Jesus because (opinion!) I think most texts depicting his life are biased, and I’m trying really hard to avoid bias here.

So here are the basics: Jesus was born, he lived as a prophet who taught love and forgiveness, some thought he was a prophesied savior of humanity, and he was crucified in Jerusalem in 33 AD (or CE, if that’s what you’re familiar with). Christianity, by definition, is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Contrary to popular belief, one does not need to believe in the divinity of Christ to be a Christian, though many sects of Christianity hold this belief.

Because Jesus was Jewish, Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism, but there was a split sometime between 33 AD and 135 AD. If you ask different people you’ll get different answers. (opinions!) Some believe that the split happened when Christ was crucified, because people either believed he was the savior or they rejected him, and if they rejected him, they were responsible for his death, which wasn’t very nice (joking aside, killing someone because you don’t like what they have to say is wrong). Others assert that when the Christians gathered to decide which Jewish laws they would and would not follow, and the Jewish people to said “that’s too different a flavor from what we got going on.” There’s even a theory that the split happened because the Romans put a tax on the Jewish people in 70 AD.  I like the last one best because the idea of 1st century tax evasion makes me giggle.

Though Julius and Augustus Caesar were totally cool about giving Jews (and thus eventually Christians) practice to worship, life was far from gravy. In the early days (30ish AD onward ) there was conflict between Christians and Jews because Christians were cutting out parts of traditional Jewish law, and some people weren’t cool with Jesus’ supposed divinity because there’s only supposed to be one God, and just all kinds of rubbing each other the wrong way.

Christians didn’t get along well with the Romans either, because those in positions of political power felt that Christianity undermined their authority. Conscientious objection wasn’t a thing yet, and the emperor expected to be obeyed no matter what Jesus said. So the Christian people became the first hipsters and went underground. Churches were usually secret catacombs with religious symbols painted on the ceilings, and secret tombs were carved into the walls. Romans practiced cremation in their burial rites, but Christians expected Jesus to come back and resurrect the dead, and it’s kind of hard to be resurrected when you’re dust.

So for the next few centuries, Christians faced a lot of horrible persecution from all sides, until Constantine I said “Let there be tolerance!” This meant that Christians could spend less time figuring out how to stay alive and more time getting organized. Maybe over a nice brunch or fancy dinner. In 325 AD, a group of Christian bishops got together in Nicaea to make the rules. Rule 1: You must never wash the pants. Rule 2: You must never double cuff the pants. It’s tacky. Rule 3: You must never say the word “phat” while…wait. That’s not right.

What the bishops actually did was agree on specific dates for holidays (“It doesn’t sound right that Jesus died on a Monday. Can we move that to Friday?”) and they quantified Jesus’ divinity. A man by the name of Arius argued that Jesus couldn’t have the same power as God because God created him. Others argued that the Father was the Father and the Son was the Son but was made as a continuation of God and thus equal. So they beat Arius up and took his lunch money and that was that.

(This is not me saying that nothing happened between the 4th and 11th centuries. There’s an incredibly interesting transformation of Jesus from humble shepherd to King of Kings, but the details of that transformation are a bit to subtle for the tone of this post. Maybe we can cover that another day)

Skip ahead to the 11th century. Christians have started arguing with each other again (did they every really stop?) Deep rifts were caused by disagreements over things such as the origin of the Holy Spirit, how much power the Pope had, and what kind of bread was used at communion. This rift eventually became a full-blown break, and the Catholic and Orthodox churches were born. (opinion!) Based on the geographic concentrations of members of these two churches, I think that geographically cultural practices had a role to play.

Onto the 16th century. Christians splitting up some more. Now we have the Orthodox church, the Catholic church, and…the Protestant church. Catholic priest Martin Luther didn’t have a dream, but he did believe that eternal salvation came not from good deeds but from devout love and devotion to God and Jesus Christ. The Pope wasn’t too happy about this, so Luther was kicked out, and he went to start his own church.

After Martin Luther came Henry VIII, pot-bellied monarch and jerkface extraordinaire. After 21 years of marriage without a solid heir, Henry VIII created his own religion so he could divorce his wife and marry someone else. (opinion!) Of all of the reasons to create your own religion, that has to be one of the stupidest. He changed a country because he was thirsty. Ridiculous.

This, of course, created all kinds of issues. Henry VII’s daughter by his first wife, Mary, was a devout Catholic. His daughter by his second wife, Elizabeth, was Protestant. Since Henry VIII discarded both wives, there was a crazy fight over the throne, and a person’s religion was synonymous with their political sympathies. It wasn’t until Elizabeth finally got to the crown in 1533 that things started to cool down. And even then, her cousin (also Mary) still refused to bow out gracefully. I mean Mary was basically like that one chick on that one reality show. You know the one.

From there Christianity continued to split into different denominations, delightfully pictured below.

Thanks, Wikipedia

These are just the branches of Protestantism, and it is by no means an exhaustive infographic. As Europeans began to migrate and bring Christianity across the oceans, it began mixing with other cultures and branching off. Here’s a cute little factoid for you: in Christopher Columbus‘ time, all non Christian peoples were referred to as being people of God, or In Dios. So when Columbus met the natives on his little adventure, he wasn’t incorrect when he referred to them as Indians. It doesn’t make him any less of a terrible person, but he’s not quite the bumbling idiot most people think him to be.

There’s just one last factoid I want to leave you with before I close, regarding the Jesus Fish. The myth is that when two people would meet, one would draw a line in the dirt, and if the other drew a second line to make a fish, the two people would know they were int he company of a fellow Chrisitian. The Greek word for fish is Ichthys, spelled thusly:

It's all Greek to me

It’s all Greek to me

A small variation of the spelling creates an acronym for the sentence Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr, or Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.


The first “Jesus Fish,” was a symbol that represented all of the letters in the acronym. Drumroll please……

It’s a wheel!!! (opinion!) That’s just so cool to me. It’s okay if you’re not quite as fascinated. I hope you enjoyed Science Thursday anyway. If you’d like me to to more world religions, let me know! I had fun learning. And if there are any other science-y things you think I should write about, shoot me an e-mail and let me know, and I’ll take your suggestion!


One thought on “Science Thursday: The History of Christianity

  1. Pingback: Poetry Tuesday: IX | Sweet yet Unrefined

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