Church history is a field of study that concerns history of Christianity, its origins and evolution.
At the beginning of Christianity, the faithful followed a master, a little along the lines of Pharisaic schools, the memory was transmitted by the invocation of an apostle to the origin of any regional church (Pierre to Westerners, Marc to the Copts of Egypt, Thomas to Christians of India and some Syriac churches).
Initially, the organization of local communities was primarily focused on the old presbyters or elders. The Epistle to the Ephesians enumerated four ministries: apostles, pastors, deacons, and teachers. Different functions appeared very quickly, including deacons, at the service of charity, and the bishops (overseers), although the outlines of the various functions are difficult to trace precisely.
The episcopate found itself in Asia Minor in the late first or early second century, as evidenced by Ignatius of Antioch claiming communities submission to the bishop “who takes the place of God himself” and superseded gradually by the collegial model. The bishop was an elected head of a hierarchical community included the presbyters who were then similar to the priests and deacons.
The Early Church is a concept that appeared in 2 stages:
- in the period before the Cathar movement, a series of movements advocating for the poverty of the Church (Roman Catholic at the time), preach poverty referring to example by the Early Church. At the same time appeared the idea that Jesus was born in a poor environment.
- the further elaboration of the concept was that of Luther, who claimed that his reform was a return to the Early Church.
In fact, the Early Church did not exist historically: at most, we can speak of conciliar churches (plural, as opposed to the Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, and other movements qualified by the councils as “heretics,” once the sentence had been pronounced). There was no “Church” in the contemporary sense of the term before institutionalization initialized by Constantin. Christianity consisted primarily of local communities considered more or less heretical in Judaism, starting from the Yabneh. When they were organized, there was no “Church,” but a local assembly around its ancient presbyters and its episcopes.
These were schools of thought imitating the Greek schools of philosophy whose proper name was “aeresis” (see etymology of “heresy”).
The idea of the unity of the Early Church, with “heresies” that would come after, was unique to the Catholic centralism. Walter Bauer says that heresies are historically the source of Christianity. However, the thesis of Walter Bauer is opposed by some researchers.
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