World History: Journey Across Time
The Rise of Christianity
The Romans took control of Judah and turned it into a Roman province called Judaea. Many Jews hoped that a messiah would help them win back their freedom from the Romans. Jesus of Nazareth preached of God's love and forgiveness. Roman authorities thought Jesus was a political rebel, and they crucified him. Jesus' life and his disciples' report of his resurrection led to a new religion called Christianity. The religion attracted many followers because it gave meaning to people's lives, appealed to their emotions, and promised happiness after death. The religion also gave people the chance to be a part of a caring group and provided women with new roles. The Roman government persecuted Christians. People who were willing to die rather than give up their religion became martyrs.
Eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Early Christians set up a church organization ruled by a hierarchy. Under this organization, church leaders became known as the clergy, and the regular church members became known as the laity. As the church grew, the bishop of Rome was given the title of pope.
Church and government worked closely together in the Byzantine Empire. The people believed their emperor represented Jesus on Earth, and they believed that God wanted them to preserve and spread Christianity. Arguments arose over the use of icons and how the church should be run. A power struggle between the pope in the West and the patriarch of Constantinople in the East caused the two leaders to excommunicate each other, causing a schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church that still exists.
Monks and nuns played important roles in the spread of Christianity. They established monasteries and convents and served as missionaries, teaching their religion to nonbelievers. As Christianity continued to spread, Christians founded new communities and spread their faith to various parts of Europe.