Christianity in the World

1 CE Life of Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom Christians consider to be the Messiah (or christos in Greek), was born in Palestine in present-day Israel, probably some time in the year 4 or 5 BCE. The events Christians relate of his death by crucifixion and his resurrection would thus be dated to about the year 30 of the Common Era.

50-60 CE Paul’ s Letters to Churches

Paul, a Jewish tentmaker, was dramatically converted to the way of Jesus in about 30 CE. He preached not only to Jews in synagogues, but also to non-Jews or Gentiles. He nurtured small communities of Christians throughout the Mediterranean world. His letters to these churches constitute the earliest Christian literature and became part of the New Testament.

70-100 CE Gospels Emerge from Early Communities

The word “gospel” translates the Greek term used by Mark: euangelion, meaning “good news.” The writers of the Gospels were “evangelists” telling the story of the good news of Jesus Christ. There were several early Gospels, including the four that came to be part of the New Testament canon.

150-200 CE Initial Formation of the New Testament Canon

The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with the letters of Paul and other writings such as the Book of Acts, came to be regarded as having special authority for the early church. These writings were described as a “canon of truth” and were also referred to collectively as the “New Testament.” The process of collecting and defining the New Testament involved much controversy, as some writings were deemed heretical and excluded from the canon.

306-337 CE Constantine’ s Reign over the Roman Empire

The conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 313 marked the end of nearly three centuries of persecution and martyrdom of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan in 313 granted toleration to all religions, including Christianity, within the Roman Empire. In 330 Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople.

325 CE Council of Nicaea

The First Ecumenical Council, called by the Emperor Constantine, was held in the city of Nicaea. 318 bishops and more than 200 priests attended the council, where they formulated the Nicene Creed. This Creed, still considered the most universal creed of the church, affirms the oneness of the Holy Trinity and the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

300s CE Beginnings of Monasticism

St. Anthony (Anthony the Great) and the “desert fathers” of Egypt are considered the first monastics to withdraw from the world for an intentional life of solitude, asceticism and prayer. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony (362) became widely read in both Greek and Latin.

354- 430 CE Saint Augustine of Hippo

Augustine was a North African theologian and bishop, whose writings on the nature of God and God’ s relation to humankind have remained central to Christians from his own time until today. Augustine’s City of God made a clear distinction between the spiritual realm of Christianity and the affairs of the secular world. His Confessions, in which he describes his conversion to Christianity, was the first work of Christian autobiography.

432 CE St. Patrick in Ireland

Patrick, a Christian Briton, was captured and enslaved by Irish tribes while still a youth. After escaping to Britain for a monastic education, he returned to Ireland, where he sowed the seeds for the spread of Christianity on the island.

529 CE Saint Benedict

Benedict, an Italian cleric known as the “father of Western monasticism,” founded the abbey at Monte Cassino. His “Rule of St. Benedict,” a book of precepts, articulated the foundations of monastic life for the Benedictine order.

597 CE Augustine of Canterbury

Saint Augustine of Canterbury, the founder of the Christian church in England, arrived in Britain where he was consecrated as a bishop, making his headquarters in Canterbury.

726- 843 CE Iconoclastic Controversy

In 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III issued a proclamation against the use of religious icons, sparking a controversy which contributed to the eventual split between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches.

800 CE Charlemagne Crowned Holy Roman Emperor

After a thirty-year campaign to conquer and Christianize Europe, Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III. This act marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. For nearly 1,000 years, the political development of Western Europe was inextricably entwined with the Catholic papacy.

987 CE Christianity in Russia

St. Vladimir of Kiev, known as the “Apostle of Russia,” was brought up a pagan and in 980 captured power in Kiev. In 987, he converted to Christianity and was energetic in propagating Christianity both in Kiev and throughout Russia.

1054 CE Split of the Eastern and Western Church

The widening estrangement of the Eastern Church based in Constantinople and the Western Church based in Rome reached unbridgeable proportions and resulted in mutual excommunications of the two sides’ leaders. This split destroyed the original unity of Christianity and resulted in two major streams: Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic.

1095 CE First Crusade

The crusades were launched to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the control of Muslims. “God wills it!” said Pope Urban II to the Council at Clermont. The crusades, sponsored and led by various figures, continued until the 9th Crusade, which ended in 1272.

1200s CE New Monastic Orders

Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians were among the new orders that began to flourish in this century, emphasizing poverty, celibacy, and obedience.

1225- 1274 CE Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas was a Dominican friar who incorporated Aristotelian logic into Christian theology. His teachings later became the official theology of the Roman Church.

1231 CE Inquisition Begins in Spain

The Inquisition, a church-organized tribunal, began to examine, try, and punish persons accused of heresy, including large numbers of Muslims and Jews. The Spanish Inquisition, which soon was transplanted to Spain’s overseas colonies, was distinct from the earlier Roman Inquisition.

1300s CE Mystics and the Inner Life

In this century Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) and Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) emphasized the inner life, the mystic love of God, and devotional union with God.

1400s CE Missionary Work and European Colonization Begins

European nations, such as England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, began to colonize distant lands, frequently citing the necessity of converting the native inhabitants of these foreign countries to Christianity as a justification for their expansion. This missionary movement would eventually result in the growth of Christian churches in the Americas, Africa, and, to a lesser extent, Asia.

1454 CE Gutenberg Bible

Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, invented moveable type and printed his famous Forty-two Line Bible in three volumes. The increased availability of the Christian scriptures led to wider knowledge of the Bible’s contents by persons outside of the clergy. This new accessibility of the scriptures contributed significantly to the forces that prompted the Protestant Reformation.

1517 CE Martin Luther’s Rebellion

In this year, Luther posted his famous ninety-five theses on the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. He challenged the Roman Catholic Church on many of its teachings and practices, thus launching the first wave of a movement that would become the Protestant Reformation.

1522 CE Zwingli, Reformed Church in Switzerland

Ulrich Zwingli, the famed Swiss reformer, wrote his Sixty-seven Conclusions, which argued against papal authority, the veneration of saints, fasting, transubstantiation of bread and wine, and other doctrines adhered to by the Roman Catholic Church. This document was used by the civil authorities in Zurich in a disputation that successfully overthrew the authority of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in their city.

1527 CE Anabaptist Confession

A more radical group of reformers declared their faith in a set of principles called the Schleitheim Confession: that baptism is not for infants, but for believing adults; that the fellowship of believers should keep its distance from the state; that Christian faith rejects military service, the use of violence, and the swearing of oaths.

1534 CE The English Reformation

The Act of Supremacy declared that the British sovereign, King Henry VIII, is “the only Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England,” thus denying the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope over the Church in England. Under Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, the Puritan movement would challenge the Church of England as insufficiently reformed on Protestant lines.

1536 CE John Calvin’ s Institutes

The French reformer Calvin, one of the most influential religious leaders of the Reformation, published his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin was called to bring the Reformation to Geneva, where he instituted biblically-based worship and a close coordination of church and state.

1540 CE The Society of Jesus Begins

The Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, was formed in France by Ignatius Loyola and six others committed to poverty, celibacy, the internal reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, and preaching the gospel throughout the world. In 1540, the organization was sanctioned by the church. Among the prominent early Jesuits were Francis Xavier who traveled as a missionary to both India and Japan and Matteo Ricci who went to China.

1545-1563 CE Council of Trent

In three sessions, this council of the Roman Catholic Church produced a series of doctrinal and institutional responses to the Protestant Reformation, while rejecting the doctrinal teachings of the latter movement. The renewal launched by the Council of Trent, the Catholic Reformation, has sometimes been called the “Counter-Reformation.”

1560s CE Presbyterianism in Scotland

Church reformer John Knox applied the Presbyterian system of church governance that he had observed in Calvin’s congregations in Geneva to churches under his influence in Scotland.

1567 CE Congregationalism in England

The first Congregational church was established with the conviction that the local congregation should have authority over its own affairs, independent of all central ecclesiastical control. In 1609, Congregationalists, also known as Puritans, fled England to the Netherlands and then, beginning in 1620, to New England, where they organized new churches based on what they considered to be biblical principles.

1652 CE Society of Friends, Quakers

George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends, a group dedicated to the worship of God based on the teaching that an “inner light” dwelt within each individual. The group received the popular name “Quakers” because of the tendency of some of its members to tremble during moments of religious fervor.

1700s CE The Enlightenment in Europe

The Enlightenment was a broad-based intellectual movement that spread from Continental Europe and Britain to the Americas, where it influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States. It stressed reason, empirical observation, and universal truth over revelation and traditional authority.

1784 CE John Wesley’s Methodism

Wesley, a priest of the Church of England, organized with his brother, Charles, a Pietist movement emphasizing a disciplined Christian life as a supplement to Anglican worship. His followers in the United States established an independent Methodist denomination in 1784, as did English Methodists after Wesley’s death.

1844 CE Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Begins

Founded by Englishman George Williams, the YMCA aimed to provide a Christian environment for the physical, mental, and religious development of working-class young men. The movement became international, as did the YWCA, founded in 1855.

1851 CE Woman Ordained as Clergy

In the United States, Antoinette Brown Blackwell became the first woman officially ordained a minister in a Protestant denomination (Congregationalist). Although some modern scholars now maintain that women had served as clergy in the early church, in modern times this ordination was a clear “first.”

1859 CE Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species

The work of Darwin on the evolution of species posed new questions about the interpretation of the Bible. The controversy Darwin’s work created still reverberates in the late twentieth century in the United States with the controversy over whether “creationism,” biblical teachings about the creation of the world, must be mentioned along with teachings about evolution in public school science classes.

1893 CE World’s Parliament of Religions

Held in Chicago as part of the World’ s Columbian Exposition, the Parliament signaled the emerging awareness of religious pluralism in the United States. The meeting included religious leaders from around the world, many of whom spoke eloquently for their own traditions and denounced the Christian missionary movements in their countries. Although some conservative Christian leaders refused to attend the Parliament, it nevertheless marked a turning point in Christianity’s stance toward those of differing faiths.

1906 CE Pentecostalism

The Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, which began in April 1906 under the leadership of African-American minister William J. Seymour, was a significant event at the beginning of Pentecostalism, which would become a major force in Christianity in the U.S. and the world.

1910 CE World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh

This Assembly’s 1200 delegates were stirred by a commitment to enable the whole world to hear the gospel as chairman John R. Mott called for “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” This ecumenical effort led to the formation of the International Missionary Council in 1921.

1919 CE Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans

Barth, a Swiss Calvinist, influenced generations of European and American Christians with his “neo-Orthodox” Christian theology. Barth rejected liberal Protestantism’s emphasis on divine immanence, and instead emphasized that God can only be encountered by humans through his Word. His impact in Europe and the United States reflected widespread disillusion with early hopes in earthly progress towards the Kingdom of God brought about by the destruction of World War I.

1920s CE African Independent Churches

Among the many energetic new African churches that began to break away from historic mission churches are the Church of Simon Kimbangu, sometimes called the Kimbanguist church, in what was then the Belgian Congo and the Aladura, or Praying Church of the Lord, in West Nigeria.

1934 CE Barmen Declaration

A group of German Christians who called themselves the Confessing Church formed to speak out against the contamination and co-optation of the German church by Hitler. In 1934 at Barmen, the Confessing Church declared itself the only legitimate German Evangelical Church and condemned the state church for having betrayed the gospel in its alliance with Hitler.

1948 CE World Council of Churches

The WCC was formed in Amsterdam in 1948. It eventually brought together both Protestant and Orthodox churches worldwide in what would become an unprecedented new ecumenical movement of cooperation and consultation. Based in Geneva, the WCC now includes more than 300 churches from over 100 countries.

1957 CE Christian Conference of Asia

The Christian Conference of Asia, formed in Indonesia, was the first effort to bring together Christian leaders from the churches of South Asia and East Asia.

1962-1965 CE Second Vatican Council

This historic council of Roman Catholic renewal was called by Pope John XXIII to “open the windows” of the Church to the world. Meeting over the course of three years, the Council formulated major statements on the nature of the Church, its role in the modern world, its relation to other Christian churches, and its relation to non-Christian religions.

1974 CE Lausanne Covenant

The International Congress on World Evangelization gathered more than 2500 evangelicals from around the world to “frame a Biblical declaration on evangelism.” This covenant became a major milestone in the emergence of a twentieth-century evangelical consensus.

1976 CE Episcopal Church ordains Women

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood. Over the next twenty years, all major branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion (including the Church of England in 1994) affirmed the validity of women’ s ordination. The Episcopal Church was the last of America’s “mainline” denominations to admit women to the ministry.

1978 CE Pope John Paul II

Elected Pope in October of 1978, John Paul II became the most widely traveled Pope in history. After ten years, he had traveled to over seventy countries on six continents, providing a visible presence for the Catholic Church worldwide. His papacy was characterized by a return to traditional and papal authority.

1984 CE Desmond Tutu awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had long been active in working against apartheid. He was General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches from 1978 to 1984 before becoming bishop of Johannesburg and then archbishop of Cape Town.

1990 CE Religious Freedom in Soviet Union

In the new era of openness that preceded the breakup of the USSR, a “freedom of conscience” law was adopted. For the first time in many decades, it allowed both freedom of worship and religious education. Russian Orthodox churches began to be restored and to reopen at a rapid rate.

1993 CE Parliament of the World’ s Religions

While Christians had been the primary organizers of the 1893 Parliament in Chicago, they were involved in planning the 1993 centennial as part of a group of “host committees” from fourteen different faith traditions in Chicago.

1995 CE Pentecostalism

The phenomenon of soaring pentecostal spirituality worldwide was documented by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox in the publication of his book Fire from Heaven.

1995 CE Communications Revolution

The internet came into its own, with thousands of Christian websites. Billy Graham’ s fifty year ministry reached a climax with his “Global Mission.” From Puerto Rico, Graham broadcast to 30 satellites and to receivers in 185 countries, where his message was translated into 116 languages.

2002 CE Roman Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal

Beginning with investigative journalism published in the Boston Globe, the Roman Catholic Church in North America, Australia, and several European countries including Ireland becomes involved in scandal involving the sexual abuse of young people by clergy, leading to the bankruptcy of several dioceses, the resignation of bishops, and the prosecution of priests.

2002 CE Rowan Williams Heads Church of England amidst Controversy over Homosexuality

Welsh theologian Rowan Williams is elected Archbishop of Canterbury. His attempt to hold together the Worldwide Anglican Community, the unity of which was threatened by controversies over gay ordination, through an Anglican Covenant, was unsuccessful. He resigns in 2012.

2013 CE Papacy Changes

Pope Benedict XVI, first German pope in modern times, becomes first pope since 1415 to resign office while alive. He is succeeded by Francis I (Jorge Mario Bergoglio), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, first Latin American and Jesuit to hold the office.