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§ 11. Christianity in Europe.


"Westward the course of Empire takes its way."


This law of history is also the law of Christianity. From Jerusalem to Rome was the march of the apostolic church. Further and further West has been the progress of missions ever since.

The church of Rome was by far the most important one for all the West. According to Eusebius, it had in the middle of the third century one bishop, forty-six presbyters, seven deacons with as many sub-deacons, forty-two acolyths, fifty readers, exorcists, and door-keepers, and fifteen hundred widows and poor persons under its care. From this we might estimate the number of members at some fifty or sixty thousand, i.e. about one-twentieth of the population of the city, which cannot be accurately determined indeed, but must have exceeded one million during the reign of the Antonines.1010   is; thirty-first chapter, and Milman estimate the population of Rome at 1,200,000; Hoeck (on the basis of the Monumentum Ancyranum), Zumpt and Howson at two millions; Bunsen somewhat lower; while Dureau de la Malle tries to reduce it to half a million, on the ground that the walls of Servius Tullius occupied an area only one-fifth of that of Paris. But these walls no longer marked the limits of the city since its reconstruction after the conflagration under Nero, and the suburbs stretched to an unlimited extent into the country. Comp. vol. I. p. 359 The strength of Christianity in Rome is also confirmed by the enormous extent of the catacombs where the Christians were buried.

From Rome the church spread to all the cities of Italy. The first Roman provincial synod, of which we have information, numbered twelve bishops under the presidency of Telesphorus (142–154). In the middle of the third century (255) Cornelius of Rome held a council of sixty bishops.

The persecution of the year 177 shows the church already planted in the south of Gaul in the second century. Christianity came hither probably from the East; for the churches of Lyons and Vienne were intimately connected with those of Asia Minor, to which they sent a report of the persecution, and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna. Gregory of Tours states, that in the middle of the third century seven missionaries were sent from Rome to Gaul. One of these, Dionysius, founded the first church of Paris, died a martyr at Montmartre, and became the patron saint of France. Popular superstition afterwards confounded him with Dionysius the Areopagite, who was converted by Paul at Athens.

Spain probably became acquainted with Christianity likewise in the second century, though no clear traces of churches and bishops there meet us till the middle of the third. The council of Elvira in 306 numbered nineteen bishops. The apostle Paul once formed the plan of a missionary journey to Spain, and according to Clement of Rome he preached there, if we understand that country to be meant by "the limit of the West," to which he says that Paul carried the gospel.1111    Rom. 15:24; Clem. R. Ad Cor. c. 5 (τὸ τέρμα τῆς δύσεως)0 But there is no trace of his labors in Spain on record. The legend, in defiance of all chronology, derives Christianity in that country from James the Elder, who was executed in Jerusalem in 44, and is said to be buried at Campostella, the famous place of pilgrimage, where his bones were first discovered under Alphonse II, towards the close of the eighth century1212    See J. B. Gams (R.C.): Die Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, Regensburg, 1862-1879, 5 vols. The first vol. (422 pages) is taken up with the legendary history of the first three centuries. 75 pages are given to the discussion of Paul’s journey to Spain. Gams traces Christianity in that country to Paul and to seven disciples of the Apostles sent to Rome, namely, Torquatus, Ctesiphon, Secundus, Indaletius, Caecilius, Hesychius, and Euphrasius (according to the Roman Martyrologium, edited by Baronius, 1586).

When Irenaeus speaks of the preaching of the gospel among the Germans and other barbarians, who, "without paper and ink, have salvation written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit," he can refer only to the parts of Germany belonging to the Roman empire (Germania cisrhenana).

According to Tertullian Britain also was brought under the power of the cross towards the end of the second century. The Celtic church existed in England, Ireland, and Scotland, independently of Rome, long before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons by the Roman mission of Augustine; it continued for some time after that event and sent offshoots to Germany, France, and the Low Countries, but was ultimately at different dates incorporated with the Roman church. It took its origin probably from Gaul, and afterwards from Italy also. The legend traces it to St. Paul and other apostolic founders. The venerable Bede (†735) says, that the British king Lucius (about 167) applied to the Roman bishop Eleutherus for missionaries. At the council of Arles, in Gaul (Arelate), in 314, three British bishops, of Eboracum (York), Londinum (London), and Colonia Londinensium (i.e. either Lincoln or more probably Colchester), were present.


The conversion of the barbarians of Northern and Western Europe did not begin in earnest before the fifth and sixth centuries, and will claim our attention in the history of the Middle Ages.



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