Christianity has a very long history. It is one of the three main world religions along with Buddhism and Islam. Nearly one-third of the world’s population is considered Christians.
Joseph R. Farinaccio once said, “The history of religion is filled with countless movements involving believers who either desired to correct older views or establish new ones” (p.12). Christianity arose on the territory of the Roman Empire. It should be noted that the researchers did not reach consensus on the location of the Christianity’s conception. Some of the scholars believed that it emerged in Palestine, which was the part of the Roman Empire at that time, while other researchers suggest that it happened in the Jewish Diaspora in Greece. There is a variety of thoughts about Christianity, but all the researchers agree that the influence of Christianity on past and today is great. The current paper seeks to analyze the history of the development of Christianity and its impact on the world civilization in past and present.
Christianity appeared relatively late, unlike the other religious systems that have developed in the process of the formation of ancient centers of civilization in the Middle East. It appeared in the developed society that had sharp economic, social and political contradictions. The new religion claimed to wide attention and spread, but, undoubtedly, appearing in such circumstances, this religion should totally respond to the requests of the time and offer significant ways and means of resolving contradictions in a tearing and smoothing society.
The emergence of Christianity depends not only on the historical conditions, but it had a ground ideological basis. Judaism was the core source of ideas of Christianity. The new religion critically rethought the Judaist idea of monotheism. Encyclopedia Britannica relates that the Christianity has consistently rejected polytheism and atheism (n.p.). What is more, ancient philosophical tradition, especially Seneca’s thoughts, influenced the formation of the Christian worldview.
The most contentious issue in the study of Christianity is the question of the historicity of Jesus Christ. This issue can be divided into the mythological and historical areas. Mythological direction claims that the science has no reliable data about Jesus as a historical figure. The supporters of this views state that the gospel stories were written many years after the events described and they have no real historical basis. Historical trend asserts that Jesus Christ was a real person, a preacher of a new religion, as evidenced by a number of sources. Supporting this idea, William J. Schell states that “It is He who fills all things” (p. 38).
The way of the formation of the new religion was not easy. The basic idea of Christianity is the idea of sin and salvation of a man. It influenced the Christendom all over the world and united them. People are sinners before God, and that is what makes them equal: the Greeks and the Jews, Romans and barbarians, slaves and free people, rich and poor – all are sinners and all are the “servants of God”. The person can escape only if he/she realizes that he/she is sinful; if a person directs his/her thoughts toward the remission of sins, if he/she believes in the great divine savior, who was sent by God to Earth and took the sins of men upon himself.
In the past, Christianity had a great impact on people because it was declared as a religion of the oppressed lower classes, the religion for the disadvantaged and needy people. However, this doctrine did not call to fight and that is why it cannot be considered as revolutionary in nature. On the contrary, Christianity was an alternative to various kinds of revolts and wars, which rocked the powerful Roman Empire at the beginning of the era. Such a “peaceful” alternative was quite acceptable and even beneficial for powerful people. After realizing this, they took the Christian doctrine as the dominant ideological doctrine.
The first Christian communities borrowed asceticism, self-denial, piety and other features from its predecessors. Furthermore, it added the ceremonial rituals of communion, and included a solemn act of baptism as a symbol of faith. These communities were headed by charismatic leaders – preachers, who usually listened to their “inner voice”. Undoubtedly, all these charismatic leaders were guided by their understanding of the foundations of the new religion. However, it should be noted that they had a great influence on the poor and outcast people.
Christianity was the core of European culture and it ensured the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages. For a long time, in the historical-cultural urological literature, Middle Ages were considered as the “Dark Ages”. Indeed, the cultural history of Western European society was not so clear but one thing is certain – the cultural life of medieval Europe in this period was largely determined by Christianity, which became the state religion of Rome. At this time, the ecumenical church councils adopted a number of key provisions of the Christian faith – the creed. These provisions were declared as binding upon all the Christians.
The Christian worldview is the idea of creation, so any nature is perceived as a manifestation of divine wisdom, the symbolic expression of a relation of God to man. In addition, the Ten Commandments that save man from his sins are also the foundation of Christianity. It should be said that even nowadays all Christendom lives in accordance with Ten Commandments. According to Christian beliefs, love for neighbor, humility, and compassion, can help a person to find God. This is the truth that unites the people all over the globe even nowadays. The church stated its influence by proclaiming the truth – the man is prone to sin and cannot be saved without the help of the church. The impact of the church on the feudal society was enormous, although it was not the same in different countries.
In Byzantium, the Christian church depended substantially on the imperial power. Byzantine emperors played an important role in the life of Church itself: even the right of church councils belonged to the emperor. He determined the composition of the participants. In the West, on the contrary, the church took a special position. Roman bishops, calling themselves popes, appropriated important political functions. As Oliver revile stated, “The function of religion is to affirm political cohesion” (p.14). In 1054, there was a split between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches, which has been associated with both the spiritual and the political collisions.
In XII-XIII centuries, the influence of the Catholic Church and the papacy significantly expanded on the society. The most powerful pope of this period was Innocent III. He established a pervasive control over the power of the church and society. The administrative and fiscal unit should be streamlined for the execution of his decisions. Innocent III tried to turn all the sovereigns of Europe into the vassals of the Holy See.
The Roman Catholic Church served as an arbitrator in the disputes between states and was the largest financial center in the world. Also, it engaged in trade and general economic activity, such as selling indulgences – certificates for absolution, for the already committed and future sins.
In the past, the doctrine of the Church was the starting point of all the thoughts and all the sciences (law, science, philosophy, logic). Everything was in accordance with Christianity. The clergy was the only educated class, and the church defined educational policies for a long period.
In V-IX centuries, all the schools in Western Europe were in the hands of the church.
The Crusades were also the key element of the Christianity’s impact into the world. It was a military colonization movement of Western feudal lords which took the form of religious wars under the banner of the liberation of Christian holy sites in Palestine from the power of the Muslims or the conversion of the heathen or heretics to Catholicism.
The results of the Crusades are ambiguous. The Catholic Church significantly expanded its area of influence, consolidated land ownership, and created a new structure in the form of military order. At the same time the confrontation of East and West intensified. Moreover, jihad as an aggressive response reaction to the Western world by the eastern states, intensified as well.
Nowadays, for some people religion is indeed a “tool” for spiritual growth, while for others it is just a mean of manipulation. Christianity plays a great role in the development of world’s civilization, as well as in the life of every particular person. Oliver is right saying that “Christianity embodies all the moral instincts of our race, such as our concepts of personal self-respect, integrity and personal honor” (p.11).
In conclusion, it should be pointed out that Christianity absorbed a considerable legacy of previous religions and teachings of Judaism and Mithraism with its system of rites and cults, as well as the idea of dying and rising deity from ancient Eastern religions. Later, with its formation, Christianity was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy, especially by the teachings of the Stoics (Seneca) and others. However, the essence of the new religion cannot be reduced to the sum of the borrowed eclectic elements. The originality and strength of the new religion was in the basis of the complex process of religious-cultural synthesis of all these elements. That is why Christianity has a great impact on people all over the globe.