Penteost: The Birth of the Church by Ue0G6WA

VIEWS: 0 PAGES: 21

									LESSON 1
Pentecost: The Birth of the Church
In the upper room on the eve of Pentecost, the Apostles must have been praying their
hearts out! Though tense, confused and fearful for their very lives, they followed Jesus’
instructions and waited prayerfully (Acts 1:12). They experienced the coming of the Holy
Spirit who transformed them into witnesses and prophets. They were filled with the
courage to confess their faith in Jesus.

SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:1-13

        Seven weeks after the Passover is the Jewish Feast of weeks which is known as
Pentecost, meaning the fiftieth day after the Passover. This was actually the Jewish
harvest festival, one of the annual feasts in Israel. The Feast of the Pentecost is a
Christian adaptation of the fiftieth day feast celebrating Moses’ reception of the Law on
Mt. Sinai. As Moses ascended and returned with the gift of the law, Jesus ascended and
sent the gift of the Spirit.

       Perhaps one question a reader of Acts 2:1-13 will ask: “What new Spirit of God
has come on Pentecost? Was not the Spirit present at the creation of the world? What
about the prophets of the Old testament like Jeremiah and Israel who claimed that they
were possessed by the Spirit of God?” What about the spirit who led Jesus to the
wilderness? What is new about the Pentecost experience of the Spirit?

        The gift of the Spirit in Pentecost inaugurates the era of the Church’s mission, the
new epoch of salvation history. Luke presents the Holy Spirit as the decisive driving
force in the proclamation of the message of the Resurrection. It was not a strange new
Spirit at Pentecost but the same Spirit present as the vivifying power of God in creation
and through the ages, and was now present as the Spirit of the Risen Christ in the Church
in a way fuller that it ever was before.

        The Pentecost Spirit is the prime mover of the mission of the Church to the whole
world, that every division of mankind be overcome, the division that began at Babel.
Thus, the lasting meaning and significance of the Pentecost experience is the healing of
Babel’s division and the inauguration of a truly universal preaching that will transcend
every boundary of nationality and speech. Speaking in “other” tongues is the immediate
sensible effort of the Pentecost experience which marks the inauguration of the mission
to the entire world to overcome every division of humankind.

       The Pentecost Spirit of God is the source of the strength to endure persecution. He
remains to be the force in the missionary efforts to spread the Gospel and He forms the
followers of Jesus into enthusiastic bearers of salvation as the new People of God.

       With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, the apostles were emboldened to
proclaim the message of salvation as they were more fully converted to faith in Christ.
Peter preached on the day of Pentecost; so powerful was his witness and proclamation
that many accepted the faith and were baptized. The Pentecost event brought the Church
at the threshold of her universal mission

       The Church proclaims that with the sending of the Holy Spirit, the apostolic
church was born. As the sacrament of salvation, the Church is the principal agent of
evangelization; she continues to bring the work of Christ to perfection.

CHURCH TEACHING

Catholic Faith Catechism, 1063
        The first great living work of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life is the Church, The
word “church” means “That which pertains to the Lord” Therefore the best way to
introduce the Church’s nature and mission is o focus on Christ. “Christ is the light of all
nations, and it is by proclaiming his gospel to every creature that the light of Christ
which shines out visibly from the Church may be brought to all men” (LG,1). For the
Church is none other than that community of men and women “who united in Christ, and
that guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers,
of a message of salvation intended for all men”

        The power behind the birth of the Church is the Holy Spirit, He who is the bond
of love of the father and Son. Thus, the Church was born of the very love of God
Himself. The Holy Spirit, who leads us to a deep faith in Christ, empowers us to be the
bearers of the message of salvation to the world, the message that is centered on Christ,
the Light of all nations. The Church is the community of men and women, united in
Christ, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.


SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
  A) The birth of the Church is the great work of the Spirit. The Power and presence of
     the Pentecostal Spirit inaugurates the era of the Church mission to the world
     which seeks to overcome every division of humankind.
  B) The Pentecostal Spirit empowers us to be witnesses and bearers of the message of
     salvation in Christ, the light of the world. The Spirit is the force of the missionary
     work of the church.
  C) The Church, born of the love of God, is the community of men and women united
     in Christ through the power of the Spirit, called to a common mission of being
     bearers of salvation to one another and to the world.
LESSON 2
THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY AND THE SPREAD OF
THE CHURCH

SCRIPTURE
     Acts 2:42-47

       The brief descriptive account of the first Christians in Acts 2:42-47 describes the
primary characteristics of the early Church which were inspired by the Word of Christ
and work of the Holy Spirit. The account gives a deep insight into the nature of the early
Church and her life patterns.

        Vs. 42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and communal life”
(vs. 42) indicates that the members of the early church gathered around the apostles to
listen to their teaching and to remember what the Lord had said through their
proclamations.
        In the beginning, the Mother Church at Jerusalem still participated in the Jewish
worship in the temple. “They went to the temple area together everyday and prayed.”
(Acts 2:46) The first Christians lived with the traditional Jewish forms of piety but a new
dimension of worship was added, which was the celebration of the Eucharist. Christian
hymns developed later, the earliest of them were the Magnificat and the Benedictus while
the Lord’s Prayer was a typical petition prayer in the synagogue.
        To become a Christian was to become a member of the faith community, sharing
a common life. “Those who believed shared all things in common” (Acts 2:44). They
expressed their faith in loving service for one another- a faith manifested in concrete
deeds of love and justice. “They would sell their property and goods, dividing everything
on the basis of each one’s needs. (Acts 2:45)
        “While in their homes they broke bread and took their meals in common” (Acts
2:46). The communal practice of the breaking of the bread was a celebration of love
centered in the sharing of the body and blood of Christ. It was a communion, a
“koinonia” which means fellowship in Christ, He who bound them in faith, hope and
love.

CHURCH TEACHING

Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), 105
      The community of disciples does not exist only for itself or its members. It exists
      for the world. It is sent on mission to proclaim the good news of Christ and to be
      the instrument of his grace. It exists in order to evangelize, i.e. to proclaim the
      good news, to build up the church, and to serve the kingdom by permeating the
      world with gospel values so that finally all creation may be united in Christ as
      head.

        The vision of PCP II of the Church as the community of disciples expresses the
reality of the early Church in its growth and spread among different people and nations.
        The Acts of the Apostles describes the progress of the gospels “from Jerusalem
into the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). These accounts are filled with the
overpowering missionary spirit of the early Church. In the spread of the Church from
Jerusalem to Rome, we distinguish three periods.

   1. The Jewish-Christian period with Jerusalem as its center
   2. The period of transition from Jewish to Gentile Christianity with Antioch as its
      center
   3. The period of St. Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles.

1. The Early Community at Jerusalem

        As described in Acts 2:42-47, the Church at the beginning lived with the
traditional Jewish forms of worship and still regarded itself as the fulfillment of
Jerusalem. But almost immediately, a parting of ways was necessary because the
Christian vision and the practice of the Church brought the Christians into conflict with
the Jews. The Christian baptism, prayer and worship centered on Christ as Lord, the
celebration of the Eucharist, and the practice of Christian love went as far as the
surrender of private property in view of “sharing all things in common” called forth the
suspicious rejection and hostility of the Jews. At the center of the conflict is the belief in
Christ, which led to the first outbreak of persecution in the stoning of Stephen. The
Christians were accused by the Jews as deserters and traitors. The conflict deepened and
the line of separation between the Jews and Christians was finally drawn, bringing tragic
consequences on both sides. With the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, the special
pre-eminence of the early Church in Jerusalem was at an end.

2. The Community at Antioch

        This was the first Gentile Christian community, since it consisted primarily of
non-Jews. It was a religious community which was distinctively Christian and its
members were regarded as Christians (Acts 11:26). Not much is known about the inner
structure of the community and about the extent of its responsibility for the spread of the
faith to numerous communities. It would be Paul in the years that succeeded, who would
bring Christianity out of the Jewish-Palestinian soil into the world beginning from
Antioch, the center of Greek-Roman culture of Hellenism.

3. St Paul’s Missionary Journeys to the Gentiles

        A new life was to begin for Saul of Tarsus from a ferocious persecutor of the
Christians to a great missionary apostle to the Gentiles.
        It was told that on the road to Damascus, Saul had an experience which
completely changed his entire life. He encountered the Risen Lord who made Himself
known to him; “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). This encounter with
Jesus turned Paul into a zealous missionary of the Gospel. The dramatic story of Paul’s
conversion is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles 9:1-19.
        After his conversion, he withdrew into the Arabian Desert for three years in order
to prepare himself for his apostolic calling. Paul together with Barnabas began his first
missionary journey which took him to Cyprus and Asia Minor. He departed from
Antioch, headed to Cyprus and passed through the island from salamis to Paphos. From
there they went to Perga, where John mark deserted them and returned to Jerusalem.
They proceeded to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. After evangelizing the
area and meeting resistance from the Jews in every town’s synagogue, they retraced their
routes and went back to Antioch in Syria which had now become the center of missionary
work to the Gentiles. It was here that the followers of Christ first called themselves
“Christians”. (Acts 11:26)
        At the end of the first missionary journey of Paul, when most of the followers
were Gentile Christians, the converts from Judea and those who were faithful to the
Jewish law insisted on the practice of circumcision as necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1-
3). This led to the dispute between them and Paul and Barnabas. The Church in Antioch
sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and the elders about the status
of the Gentile converts.
        The first Council of the Church took place in Jerusalem in the year 49. This was
considered the seed for later general or ecumenical councils in the Church to solve
problems confronting the Church. After long and stormy sessions, at the close of the
Council, Peter argued in favor of freedom for the Gentiles, appealing to experience that
the Gentiles who are uncircumcised also possessed the same Spirit. He concluded: “Our
belief is rather that we are saved by the favor of the Lord Jesus and so are they” (Acts
15:11)
        It was James, who pronounced the final verdict: “It is my judgment, therefore,
that we ought not to cause God’s gentile converts any difficulties. We should merely
write to them to abstain from anything contaminated by idols, from illicit sexual union,
from the meat of strangled animals and from eating blood” (Acts 15:19-20). The
Council’s decision of the Church was significant for it broke al barriers to the universality
of the Church. It was a great turning point in the history of the Church and of the world.
        Paul, accompanied by Silas started his second missionary journey. After revisiting
the churches he founded in Asia Minor like Galatia, Derbe and Lystra,
Paul took Timothy as his companion. They went on to Troas where he received a vision
(Acts 16:9-10). The first Christian community that Paul founded in Europe was the
community in Philippi in Macedonia. Then they moved on to Thessalonica and
evangelized there. They went to Berola down to Athens where he preached to pagan
philosophers about Jesus, who rose from the dead. Paul proceeded to Corinth where he
stayed for 18 months and converted many Jews and Greeks. Then he sailed to Ephesus
going to Jerusalem to visit the Church. From there, he returned to Antioch.
        In his third missionary journey, Paul traveled overland from Antioch to Northern
Galatia and Phrygia to Ephesus. Paul spent two years and a half in Ephesus and then he
moved to Macedonia to visit other communities that he founded during second
missionary journey. From there he went to Thessalonica and then to Corinth. During
these years, he wrote his magnificent letters to Corinthians, Romans, Galatians and
others. He was also looking toward Rome and the West (Spain). “The oldest tradition of
the Roman community has always traced its origins to Paul. The fact of his Roman
martyrdom, which unanimous tradition traces to the earliest time, has to be regarded as
historically assured.”
        The significance of Paul in Christianity is great. He detached Christianity from its
Jewish-Palestinian exclusivism. He assigned leaders to every community he had founded.
His letters to the communities formed the oldest written sources of information about our
faith and the early Christian Church. These letters were preserved in the New Testament
and considered “canonical”, inspired by God.
        The rapid spread of the Gospel among the Pagans and through the Roman Empire
was largely due to the efforts of the apostles and missionaries but there were also other
factors that contributed to the expansion of Christianity in the Roman world.
        First of all, there was internal peace and order in the whole Roman Empire that
lasted for about two centuries. Such was the condition of Pax Romana achieved by
Augustus when he became the emperor of Rome. The Romans completely dominated the
Mediterranean world. The frontiers and the borders of conquered provinces were policed
by the Roman armies to maintain peace and order throughout the empire. This was
favorable to the spread of the faith. Travel and trade facilitated cultural and religious
exchange.
        Secondly, the construction of roads and highways for fast communication systems
in the empire made possible more extensive travel among the missionaries of the Church
and thirdly, the growing spiritual hunger amidst the moral decadence and the crass
idolatry of the times explained the openness to and acceptance of the lofty message of the
Christian Gospel.
        To sum up, the remarkable expansion of Christians in the first century owed much
to the general political, social and cultural trends. “But the main reason for Christianity’s
success was the fact that it provided the best answers to the basic religious questions of
the tortured soul: inculcating worship of the one God, Creator of all, in opposition to the
crass idolatry of the times. By its preaching of Jesus, the divine Savior, risen and about to
return for judgment, it brought assurance of liberation from sin, eternal resurrection, and
a motive to lead a life if faith, holiness, self-control, love, brotherhood.” (Thomas
Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, p.38)

SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
  A. The characteristics of the early church in Jerusalem exemplify the true nature and
     reality of the Church as founded by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  B. As the Church expanded from Jerusalem to the Roman Empire, the fundamental
     belief in Christ and the demands of this belief on the life and practice of the early
     Christians separated them inevitably from the Jewish life and worship.
  C. Paul’s missionary journey to the Gentiles led to the Church shedding her
     exclusive Jewish character. The Council of Jerusalem was a turning point in the
     Church’s becoming the Church of all humanity.
  D. The governance of the Roman state and empire proved to be providential for the
     spread of the Christian faith and gospel.
  E. The lofty message of the Christian gospel lifted the tortured soul “from the moral
     corruption and crass idolatry of the times.
LESSON 3
THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
MY POWER IS MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS
         In 1940, a persecution in North-eastern Thailand severely threatened the Catholic
Church. Two women religious, Sr. Agnes Phila and Sr. Lucia Khambang together with
Mr. Philip Siphong, a catechist were serving the Catholics of Songkohon. Annoyed by
reports that Mr. Siphong was encouraging terrified Catholics to stay strong in their faith,
the police decided to get rid of him. On December 16, the police sent Philip a document,
falsely claiming that he had been summoned by the sheriff. Fearlessly, the catechist
announced to the people that he was ready to die for the faith. He was shot to death, the
first of Songkohon’s seven martyrs.
         The two sisters, Sr. Agnes, Sr. Lucia and four others were mercilessly shot to
death by the policemen when they too, bravely proclaimed their fidelity to their faith.
         On October 22, 1989, John Paul II proclaimed the seven martyrs as servants of
God worthy of the title blessed.
         The officer responsible for the killings was converted to the faith at his death bed.
His Catholic wife treasured the note Sr. Agnes sent in an effort to evangelize the man
who ordered her death.
                  _____________________________________________

Christ’s words to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Prove true once
again in this touching story of seven heroic martyrs of Thailand. In their human
powerlessness, the Holy Spirit empowered them. 2 Cor. 12:19, 10). The seven blessed
martyrs faced death fearlessly to be witnesses to their faith.

SCRIPTURE:
Romans 8:35-39

       We read in Romans 8:35-39 the beautiful hymn of the love of God made
manifested in Christ. This letter must have been addressed to the Christians in Rome who
were exhorted to remain firm in their faith in the Risen Lord and to withstand suffering
and persecution for His sake.

        The following are explanations of some specific verses to inspire and encourage
us to be authentic Disciples of Christ.

vs. 35 No force and none of the dangers and afflictions of life can make a true Christian
forget the love of Christ revealed clearly and fully in His death and resurrection.

vs. 36 Paul quotes Ps. 44:23, a cry of lamentation of Israel bemoaning the injustice and
humiliation inflicted on her. Recalling her fidelity to Yahweh, for whose sake she was
maligned and persecuted, she sought His aid and deliverance. The Psalm is cited to show
that tribulations are mysterious signs of God’s love rather than the absence of His love.

vs. 37 We come to possess a conquering might in and through the love of God in Christ.
vs. 38 Paul cites the obstacles to the love of God. They are spirits of different ranks:
angels, principalities and powers. Good or evil, they will not succeed in separating
Christians from the love of Christ and neither would death nor life.

vs. 39 Neither height nor depth—These are ancient terms which determine the power
and influence of astrological forces. Not these forces nor any other creature can
overpower the love of Christ, the unshakable foundation of all Christian hope and love.



CHURCH TEACHING
    Dogmatic Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Lumen Gentium), 8

        The Church, like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid persecutions
of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord
until He comes. By the power of the Risen Lord, she is given strength to overcome
patiently and lovingly the afflictions and hardships which assail her from within and
without, and to show forth in the world the mystery of the Lord in a faithful though
shadowed way, until at the last it will be revealed in total splendor.

         Faithful to the commandment of Christ to preach the Gospel to the ends of the
earth, the Church continues the task of evangelization, bringing Christ and His Gospel to
those who have not known Him and to continually preach conversion to all men for the
salvation of the world. In her effort to fulfill the mission entrusted to her by her founder,
the Church withstands the great suffering and persecution in the hands of those who
reject the message of the gospel.
         The Church is the living sign of Christ’s presence in the world. By her
relationship with Christ, she is the instrument of the saving union with God. In the midst
of trials and difficulties in carrying out the mission entrusted to her, the Church is
strengthened by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, she endures through
all the ages until salvation may be realized in its fullest splendor in Christ at the end of
time.
         We present a brief history of the persecution of he Church in the early ages.

   1. The Moral Degeneration of the Roman Empire
              During the first centuries of the Christian era, the infant Church was
      subjected to hostile pressures by the Roman civil authority. The threat of severe
      persecution always existed and actual persecution occurred during most of this
      period.
              When Christianity was preached in Rome, many of its inhabitants were
      converted to the New Faith. In the second century, the New Faith spread like
      wildfire throughout the Roman provinces. The Christian ideal of purity, love and
      supernatural faith confronted the moral degeneration of pagan Rome. Why was
      Christianity acceptable and appealing to the Romans? In Paul’s letter to the
        Romans (Rom. 1:18-32) he described the moral corruption which plagued the
        Roman society.
        …..
        …..
                Such was the sad state of the Roman Empire when Christianity was
preached and proclaimed by the apostles. The lofty message of Christianity was attractive
and appealing to the inhabitants of Rome. The following truths of the Faith opened them
to the dignity and splendor of the Christian faith.

           a) The fundamental worth and dignity of the person
                      There was a worldwide fellowship among believers and
              egalitarianism was practiced, based on the belief that all persons are equal
              in their intrinsic worth and are entitled to equal access to the rights and
              privileges of society.
                      The dignity of women was exalted. They gained status in society
              as wives and mothers. The glorious status of the Blessed Virgin Mary as
              the Mother of God and the first disciple of Christ elevated the dignity of
              women.

           b) The spirit of Christian compassion for the poor, the sick, and the
              abandoned. Christian charity was an impressive force in the care of the
              afflicted.

           c) The thirst for power and wealth was confronted by the Christian’s respect
              for the rights of others to the goods of the earth and by the belief in the
              everlasting treasures of the next life.

   2. The Basis of Christian Persecution
            In the beginning, Rome was tolerant and allowed many religions to
            flourish but later on, it declared war against Christianity when it realized
            that its aim to unite all people in the God of their faith posed a threat to its
            power and rule. This complete change in the attitude of the Roman
            authority was the reason for the persecution of the Christians. Also, some
            of the Christian beliefs and practices were in conflict with the worldview
            of pagan Rome.

   a) The Christians separated themselves from the rest of society. They were believed
      to engage in some form of cannibalism in their Eucharistic rites which were
      celebrated in secret.
   b) Public spectacles of bloody games like the gladiatorial contests were condemned
      by Christians as inhuman.
   c) Natural disasters and catastrophes were attributed to the refusal of the Christians
      to participate in the worship of the gods.
   d) The Christians showed disloyalty to the state by not paying the imposed temple
      tax.
   In the Emperor cult, religion and patriotism were closely associated. Any kind of
   deviation was considered detrimental to the unity of the state. Thus, refusal to
   participate meant that a person was not loyal and obedient to the state and must be
   punished.

   3. The Course of Persecutions
            The Christian persecutions were carried out in three distinct stages or
            periods.

FIRST PERIOD:           The first great persecution by Nero (54-60 A.D.) was limited to the
city devoid of any lawful foundation at all. He blamed the Christians for the six days of
fire that destroyed the city of Rome. An account of Tacitus, the greatest Roman historian
(53-117 A.D.) narrated that it was rumored that Nero himself instigated the fire to gain
the glory of rebuilding the city. The Christians were persecuted and turned to living
torches in the garden of Nero. Among the victims were Peter and Paul. The various
measures of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) were also the murderous acts of a tyrant. According
to oldest tradition, the apostle John was exiled to Patmos (during the reign of Domitian)
where he wrote the Apocalypse.

SECOND PERIOD: The persecutions started from 100 A.D. to 250 A.D. Christianity
continued to be an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. Informers were hired to report to
the authorities those engaged in Church worship and practice. Many were forced to deny
and abandon their faith. Trajan (98-117 A.D.) issued a decree stating that simply to be a
Christian is punishable by death. The implementation of the decree was left in the hands
of the governors of the Roman provinces. The famous martyr of this period is Ignatius of
Antioch.
         When Emperor Hadrian succeeded the throne (117-138 A.D.), he issued a decree
that governors should not follow the desires of the mob and Christians who were accused
of a crime must be judged according to the nature of their crimes. This decree gave some
relief to the suffering Christians. When Antoninus Pius (138-161A.D.) became the
emperor of Rome, Christians were accused of being atheists for not worshipping the
emperor. They were executed singly or in groups.
         During the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.), the Christians faced another
tyrant emperor. He decreed the legalization of persecution. Among those persecuted were
Justin the philosopher, Polycarp of Smyrna and the martyrs of Lyon.
         Septimus Severus (193-211 A.D.) ordered the cruel persecution of the Christians.
Tertullian wrote that Christians were fed to the lions wherever there was disaster of
famine.
         In 244-249 there was peace in the empire when the emperor in the name of Philip
the Arabian ascended to the throne. But it lasted only for a few years. His reign provided
the lull before the last and most severe of the persecutions.

THIRD PERIOD:         This was the last course of the persecution of the Christians.
Decius, who became the emperor of Rome from 249-251 A.D., saw Christianity as a
terrible poison. He ordered that all Christians must make a public act of homage to the
Roman gods. A great number of Christians abandoned their faith but many also suffered
persecution in its defense. Decius passed a law which required the return of all citizens to
the worship of the state religion. His goal was to eradicate completely Christianity so the
traditional Roman state worship be firmly imposed on all citizens.
        When Emperor Valerian ascended to the throne, a methodical persecution of the
Christians was conducted. In 257 A.D., he decreed that all bishops, presbyters and
deacons were to offer sacrifice to the gods. Whoever was caught conducting services or
secret meetings in the cemeteries or catacombs was punished by death. In another edict in
258 A.D., he ordered the immediate arrest and execution of all clerics who refused to
offer sacrifice to the gods. The Christian senators and members of the nobility were
demoted and if they refused to make sacrifices to the gods, their estates were confiscated
and if still they refused, they were executed. The Christians were tortured and sent to
hard labor or were executed.
        Famous martyrs of this period were Cyprian of Carthage and Pope Sixtus II of
Rome. Emperor Valerian died in 284 A.D. and he was succeeded by Emperor Diocletian.
        The last persecution of the Christians and the bloodiest were conducted by
Emperor Diocletian throughout the Roman Empire. He started a radical reorganization of
the Roman Empire in his reign from 284-305 A.D. He divided the Roman Empire into a
tetrachy.
        In 303 A.D., he decreed that all Christian churches be destroyed and bibles
burned. All meetings of the Christians were banned and the immediate arrest and
execution of all priest and deacons were ordered. In 304 A.D., he passed a general order
that all Christians must sacrifice to the gods. The bloody executions of Christians were
made into spectacles for the crowds. Their eyes and tongues were gouged out, their feet
sawed and many were thrown to wild beasts to entertain the mob; others were starved to
death or thrown into dungeons. This happened during the time of Galerius, Diocletian’s
successor and Maximinus Daia, the new Caesar. The persecution of the Christians only
came to end when Galerius admitted the futility of his campaign against them. He
realized that the persecutions only made the Christians more firm in their faith and
attracted more pagans to become Christians.
    Stricken by a series illness, Galerius in 313 A.D. issued an Edict of Tolerance
granting Christianity the right to exist. But a reversal of the edict occurred when Galerius
died and Maximinus Daia once again demanded Christian blood. But suddenly he
ordered persecutions to cease. This was so because the pressure to stop had been put on
Maximinus by the new conqueror of Italy and Africa, who was now the sole master of the
Western world. In early 313 A.D. Constantine, who attributed his victory to the help of
the Christian god, issued the Edict of Milan which established a policy of complete
religious tolerance. Christians were even allowed to get back their properties.

   4. The Church During and After the Period of Persecutions

    With the advent of persecutions, martyrdom for Church was the driving force that
urged people to face death fearlessly. It was seen as a total self-giving to Christ. A strong
theology of suffering developed in Christian writings, extolling martyrdom as the ideal of
Christian discipleship.
    Liturgy developed as well, as the creed of the Church. Central to the Christian
worship was the Eucharist, which the Christians celebrated at the catacombs.
Wednesdays and Fridays were days of fasting while Easter was the central feast day
celebrated on the Sunday after the Passover. The sacrament of Baptism was celebrated
with a complete immersion into the waters, which symbolized a complete washing away
of the old life. Public repentance was required of the penitents.
    The veneration of the saints developed. Christians celebrated the feast of the martyrs
by celebrating the Eucharist at the catacombs where the martyrs were buried. They were
prayed to for intercessions for divine aid and deliverance.
    Another important thing that developed in the life of the Church during the
persecution was the use of arts and symbols. Christian signs and symbols were carved on
the walls of the tombs of the martyrs.
    The persecution of the Church by the Romans lasted for more than three hundred
years though there were times when the Church experienced peace when the emperors in
power were friendly to or tolerant of the Christians. During the age of tribulation, the
splendor of Christian discipleship in martyrdom was made possible by the immense and
intense power of the Holy Spirit in individual Christians and in the suffering Church as a
whole.


SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
  A. The Love of God in Christ is the unshakable foundation of all Christian
     discipleship, the ultimate realization of which is martyrdom.
  B. The lofty teachings and practice of the Christian faith confronted the moral
     decadence and crass idolatry of the society of Rome.
  C. The persecutions of the Church brought to full light the power and splendor of the
     message of the Gospel which no force or power can destroy.
  D. With the blood of the martyrs, the Church has been enlivened and emboldened to
     continue to preach the message of salvation to all men and women.
  E. The Church during and after the period of persecution continued to grow in the
     spirit of Christ in its life of worship and in its Christian practice.
LESSON 4
UNITY AND DIVISION WITHIN THE CHURCH

        When the Church flourished and opened its door to all peoples of different races,
cultures, and languages, dissension from within also started as early as 49 A.D.

EXPOSITION:

   A. SCRIPTURE
      Acts 15: 7:12

          The background of the Council of Jerusalem was the Antiochean Dissension.
Jerusalem was the center of Christianity. Under the leadership of Peter and the apostles,
the Church acted as living witnesses of the Lord. They celebrated the Eucharist besides
their observance of the Jewish piety. Communal living was the mark of being a disciple
of Christ.
          The internal structure of the community was determined by the leadership of the
12 apostles. Later with the increasingly growing number of converts, a new structure
evolved to suit the needs of the community. The growth in the number of Christians led
to the expansion of the organization, to the founding of new positions and the division of
labor—a process that caused some friction in the Church. “Now in these days when the
disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews
because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 5:1). Because of
this, the apostles appointed deacons to take care of the poor and the widows. Thus, a new
hierarchical order of authority in the Church was established. The authoritative leaders of
the Church were the apostles-bishop, the priest and the deacons.
          The martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon of the Hellenist Christians, marked the
dawn of the spread of the Church outside of Palestine, as all those who did not conform
with the Jewish law regarding the daily temple worship were expelled out of Jerusalem.
The Hellenist Christians took refuge in the scattered Jewish communities in the
Mediterranean coast. Wherever they traveled, they preached the Gospel. It was in
Antioch that they found a home to practice their faith in Jesus. They were first called
Christians there. The Church in Antioch took a radical step by preaching the Gospel to
the gentiles and dared to baptize them. The Gospel message was well accepted and the
Gentile Christian community spread rapidly in the pagan world. Antioch became the
center of missionary work for the Gentiles and the second center of Christianity.
          The Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentile converts should strictly be made to
observe and adopt the religious traditions of Judaism. They must be circumcised before
they are accepted into the Christian community. There was undoubtedly the fear that if
the Gentile-Christians were not made to observe the Jewish law, the Church would lose
its Jewish character. The Church was plunged into its first great controversy which shook
it to its roots. The bottom-line question of the controversy was whether the Church was to
be exclusively Jewish or be a Church for all humanity.
          The person who contributed much to the solution of this controversy was Paul. He
saw that the very essence of the gospel was at stake in the controversy. He argued that if
the new converts were required to observe the strict Jewish law regarding circumcision,
then it would be tantamount to saying that faith in the risen Lord was not sufficient for
salvation. Observance of the Jewish law was also necessary. The controversy was
resolved at the Council of Jerusalem when the apostles and the elders arrived at the
verdict that the Gentile converts are new members of the Church with full participation
and privilege as members freed from the yoke or burden of the Jewish law. The case of
the Antiochean dissension would have momentous consequences for the spread of the
Church and the history of the world.

SCRIPTURE: Acts 15:7-12

Vs. 7 This has a reference to the conversion of Cornelius and his baptism by Peter
which manifests God’s design of salvation for Gentiles. Peter was used by God as His
instrument to spread the message of salvation to the Gentiles.

Vs. 8 The Lucan universalist view of the Church is stressed. All barriers and
discriminations have been removed. The Church is for all of humanity, for the Spirit is
present in the hearts of all.

Vs. 9 Christ had removed the law’s distinction between clean and unclean people. In the
Council of Jerusalem, it was an important issue whether a pagan was saved only by
believing in Jesus or whether he must first be justified by his obedience to the Jewish
Law. Peter proclaimed that the same faith in Christ had saved both Jewish and Gentile
Christians. Faith knows no distinction.

Vs. 10 Peter supported Paul’s refusal to impose the Mosaic Law on the Gentile
Christians for God. God had bestowed the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household
without the preconditions of observance of the Mosaic Law. Peter appealed for the
freedom of the Gentiles from the “yoke” or burden imposed by the Torah. There should
be no imposition on the converts that could be a burden to them.

Vs. 11 Peter formulated the fundamental message of the gospel: all of humanity is called
to the saving faith.

Vs. 12 The whole assembly fell silent. Peter’s words brought the discussion to a close
and the controversy was settled.

CHURCH TEACHING
Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium), 8

       This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the
       Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops
       in union with that successor, although many elements of sanctification and of
       truth can be found outside of her visible structure. These elements, however, as
       gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism
       toward catholic unity.
         History tells us that during the first century of the existence of the Church, there
was already evidence of Christian unity. The Second Vatican Council took up a very
delicate point of the relationship of the Catholic Church as it presently exists- that is,
governed by the Roman Pontiff and by the bishops in communion with him with the
Church of Christ.
         Vatican II declares that the Church of Christ survives in the world today in its
institutional fullness in the Catholic Church, although elements of the Church of Christ
are present in other Churches and ecclesial communities. This means that all the
institutional means of saving grace are present in the Roman Catholic Church:
proclamation of Scripture and Church Teaching, the magisterial authority of the Pope and
bishops who constitute the center of unity and leadership of the church, and the fullness
of the seven sacraments. These institutional elements which may be found but not in the
same fullness in other Churches, far from shattering the unity of the Mystical Body of
Christ, are dynamic realities which tend to bring about an ever greater measure of unity
among all who believe in Christ and are baptized in Him.
         Those who do not know Christ though no fault of their own but who earnestly
seek to do all that God requires of them as dictated by their conscience are not excluded
from the Christ’s saving grace. Those separated Christian brethren who have been
baptized in Christ are in fellowship with the Catholic Church even if the fellowship may
be incomplete. They also have the inward gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the
life of grace and he means of Christ’s salvific works in the world. The Catholic Christians
must strive to enter into dialogue, engage in cooperative action and participate in
corporate prayer with their separated Christian brethren that all may be more fully bound
in Christ, the only and true source of unity.
         In the light of Lumen Gentium, 8, we trace the history of the unity and division
within the Church in the long history of the work of unifying grace against all forces of
disunity, separation and alienation. It is not within the scope of the lesson to cover the
whole history of unity and division in the Church. We will only study three other
illustrative examples besides the Antiochean dissension treated earlier.

   1. Constantine and the Christian Church
       For almost three centuries, the Christians were persecuted by the Roman civil
   authorities. But in the beginning of the third century a complete reversal occurred. A
   new emperor in the West favored Christianity.
       In 312 A.D. Constantine fought a gallant battle with Maxentius over throne of
   Rome. In the fateful battle of Milvian Bridge near Rome, Constantine emerged
   victorious. He attributed this victory to the Christian God whom he turned to for help.
   It was said that on the night before the battle, Constantine had a vision. He was told to
   put the sign of Christ—the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek- on the soldiers’
   shields. He had the Chi-Rho sign mounted on his standard. Eusebius in his Life of
   Constantine gave a more sensational account. Constantine and his whole army saw a
   luminous cross appear in the afternoon sky with the message, “in thee conquer.”
       In 313 A.D., together with his ally in the East, Licinius, Constantine issued the
   Edict of Milan which put an end to the persecutions of the Christians and accorded
   Christianity full equality with the religions in the empire.
      Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was a historical event of the most
  decisive nature for it ushered a new era or epoch not only for the Roman state but also
  for the Church. In the beginning of his rule, he regarded the pagan religions with
  tolerance. But gradually he began to reveal his true convictions; he imposed
  restrictions on pagan practices and openly favored Christianity. He publicly displayed
  the Christian symbols and lavished the Church with his generous donations and the
  erections of basilicas and churches. He granted the Christian clergy special privileges
  as a distinct social class. They were exempted from military service and forced labor.
  The Roman law was modified in terms of Christian values. Sexual offenses such as
  adultery concubinage and prostitution were punished severely. On the other hand, a
  more humane attitude was shown toward slaves, children, orphans and widows.
  Sunday, the day when Christians assembled, was made a public holiday, a day of rest.
      Constantine increasingly saw the interests of the state in view of those of
  Christianity. He intervened in Church affairs and used the power of his office to
  ensure unity in the Church. H for instance summoned some 220 or so bishops
  together in the first general or ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325 A.D. to settle the
  Arian controversy regarding God the Son’s relation to the Father.
      Under Constantine, the coalition of the Church and state paved the road to the
  union of Church and state in the Medieval Ages. Whether this coalition was right or
  wrong, it proved to be one of the turning points in the history of the Church and of the
  world. The Church would never be the same again, for better and for worse.

  2. Religious Controversies: Dogma and Council
             The new freedom granted to the Church by the Edict of Milan did not
     firmly establish and consolidate the unity of the Church. Freed from the external
     forces that endangered their lives, the Christians had time to think and reflect on
     the meaning and interpretation of the truths of the faith. The age of external peace
     became for the Church a time of grave religious dissent and divisions.
             At the center of the religious controversies stood the Mystery of the
     Incarnation. Was Jesus a mere human being? Is he really the Son of God made
     man? How was the union of true man and true God in Jesus the Christ to be
     understood? These questions received contradictory answers, giving rise to the
     controversies which shook the foundations of unity in the Church.
             Ecumenical councils were convened to settle the controversies. In the
     fourth and fifth centuries, the following general or ecumenical councils were
     convened.

TIME                        PLACE                  MAIN THEME
325                         Nicaea                 The divinity of Christ (identity
                                                   of divine essence between God the
                                                   Father and God the Son) as opposed
                                                   to the teaching of Arius.

381                         Constantinople         The divining of the Holy Spirit as
                                                   opposed to the teaching of
                                                   Macedonius
431                           Ephesus                he divine motherhood of Mary as
                                                     opposed to the teaching of Nestorius

451                           Chalcedon              Two natures (divine and human)
                                                     in one (divine) person of Christ.




        The controversies caused a crisis belief. He Councils sought the universal and
normative understanding of the truths of the faith, hoping to find security for the
Christian belief.

    3. Luther Splits Christendom
    The Church had grown rich and powerful but it was plagued with internal dissensions
and contradictions. The abuses of the papacy had reduced and diminished its prestige and
its moral and spiritual authority. Large sections of Christendom held fast to the distorted
truths of the faith with an extreme focus on the externals: pilgrimage of all kinds, a
superstitious cult of relics of the saints, a semi-magical and materialistic view of the
efficacy of the mass- all giving the impression that heaven was something one could buy
like anything else. The most blatant example was the cult of indulgence. Pope Clement
VI in 1343 officially sanctioned the view that temporal punishment due to sin may be
cancelled by drawing from the treasury of merits left by Christ and the saints. One
obtains a share in these merits by means of a Church indulgence usually granted by the
Pope in exchange for donations. The abuses incurred regarding indulgence reduced it into
a quasi-automatic and easy means of salvation, which diminished the need for personal
repentance. This was particularly exemplified in the preaching of Johann, Tetzel: “Drop a
few coins in the box,” he shouted to the gaping crowd, “you can rescue the souls of your
friends or relatives from the flame of purgatory.” The excesses and abuses committed
relative to the Church practice of granting indulgences aroused the anger of Luther and
triggered his revolt against the Church.
    Joseph Lortz writes: “Luther’s psychic development into a reformer was, at its crucial
points, the overthrowing of a Catholicism that was in reality not Catholic. Had it not been
for those distortions, the schism would never have come about, and had it not been for the
hostility and bitterness they endangered, the distance separating Catholic and Lutherans
would have never become so broad and so permanent.”
    The protests and assaults of Luther and other reformers damaged the Roman Church
but it also began her age of renewal. An interior and spiritual renewal occurred within the
Catholic Church during the sixteenth century and made it once again a vital center of
moral-spiritual energy in the world. The seeds of spiritual and interior reform were
already present prior the Lutheran revolt but there is no doubt that the Lutheran
Reformation intensified the movement of the Church renewal.
SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
  A. The Antiochean Dissension and the Council of Jerusalem inaugurated a new era
     in the history of the Church, fulfilling the universalist character of the Church.
     Peter and Paul played key roles in moving the Church towards the future.
  B. The Catholic Church possesses the institutional means of saving grace in their
     fullness which brings about greater and fuller unity in Christ. These institutional
     elements may be found, but only partially, in other churches.
  C. The conversion of Constantine to Christianity, the religious controversies and
     Luther’s revolt are key events in the Church which show the tension of unity and
     division which shaped the Church of the future.
LESSON 5
THE CHURCH MOVES OUT TO THE WHOLE WORLD

SCRIPTURE
Mt. 28:16-20

        We read in the Gospel according to Matthew (28:16-20) the Great
Commissioning of the apostles. It contains a general command to go forth and make
disciples of all nations.
The eleven disciples made their way to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had
summoned them. Those who had entertained doubts fell in homage. Jesus came forward
and addressed them in these words:

“Full authority has been given to me both in heaven an on earth; go therefore, make
disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I
am with you always until the end of the world.”

       We read the account of Jesus’ great missionary commissioning of His apostles to
carry on His teaching ministry and to become His witnesses to all men. A definite
command was given to them to proclaim the universal will of God to save all peoples and
nations. They were to gather all men into one community, united in one faith in Christ.

Vs. 16 eleven disciples- With the early death of Judas, there were only eleven of the
disciples left. They were called by Jesus to go the mountain which perhaps lies in the
same geographical order as the mountain of temptation (4:8), the mountain of the sermon
(5:1) and the mountain of the transfiguration (17:1)

Vs. 17 The faith of some disciples in the resurrection of Jesus was tainted with doubt.
But at the sight of Jesus, they fell on their knees in worship.

Vs. 18-20       The farewell words of Jesus may be divided into three parts which refer
respectively to the past, present and future task of the Church.

Vs. 18 Full authority was bestowed on Jesus, the authority which is at the origin of the
founding of the Church.

Vs. 19 This stresses the universal character of the apostolic mission. The work of the
apostles is to teach and baptize in the name of God that all people and all nations may be
made one in His Name.

Vs. 20 The object of the teaching is “all that I have commanded you.” What is
commanded is a way of life centered in Christ. The final word is an assurance of the
living presence of Christ in the Church. Jesus had committed Himself totally to the
Church.
CHURCH TEACHING
Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes), 5
       The mission of the Church is fulfilled by that activity which makes her fully
       present to all men and nations. She undertakes this activity in obedience to
       Christ’s command and in response to the grace and love of the Holy Spirit. Thus,
       by example of her life and preaching, by the sacraments and other means of
       grace, she can lead them to the faith, the freedom and the peace of Christ. Thus,
       there lies open before them a free and trustworthy road to full participation in the
       mystery of Christ.
       This mission is a continuing one. In the course of history, it unfolds the mission of
       Christ himself, who was sent to preach the gospel to the poor. Hence, prompted
       by the Holy Spirit, the Church must walk the same road which Christ walked: a
       road of poverty, obedience, of service and self-sacrifice.

        The Church signifies the presence of Christ in the world, for to her was entrusted
the task of continuing the mission that the Father had given Him.
        After his resurrection, He sent His apostles into the whole world just as He had
been sent by the Father. He commanded them to make disciples of all nations.
        Jesus founded the Church as a sign of salvation to all men. His command to
preach the gospel to the world is based on the divine universal plan of salvation. This
command is fulfilled by the Church by the example of her life and preaching, by her
sacraments and other means of salvation by which Christ’s saving love is made a reality
to all men and nations. The Church as the sign of Christ in the world is called to live as
Christ did, - a life of poverty, obedience and service.

The Missionary Outreach of the Church
        The middle of the fifteenth century was the beginning of the great geographical
discoveries which opened the Church to a new world-wide mission and a complete
realization of its role as an institution of redemption and continued incarnation of Christ
in the world. The Gospel was brought to America and Asia.
        The greater part of the early missions in Latin America was carried out by the
mendicant orders, (who begged alms to support themselves) particularly the Franciscans
and the Dominicans. They were joined by the Jesuits later. The Jesuits were the pioneers
in establishing schools and mission Churches. The missionaries were men of remarkable
religious piety and great zeal, who planted the seeds of faith in the hearts of the new
converts.
        The greatest missionary in Asia was Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He was known
as the Apostle to the East. He preached the Gospel in India, Malacca, Japan and
Malaysia. His dream of bringing Christianity to China was aborted by his untimely death
just outside its gate.
        The man who was to open the great mission land in China was a Jesuit missionary
named Mateo Ricci. He learned the Chinese language, religions, philosophies and
customs. He was one among the people, adapting their ways and preaching the faith in
the spirit and language of their culture. At the time of his death, there were about two
thousand Christians in China.
        The great missionary expansion of the 16th and 17th centuries was followed by the
age of spiritual decline when the work of the great pioneers, like Xavier, Ricci and others
in Asia, was almost completely undone. Future missionary work had to be built on the
runs of a glorious missionary past.
        The spiritual revival of the Catholic Church during the nineteenth century
rekindled the missionary spirit and zeal, and ushered in a whole new period of mission.
Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) was considered to be the spirit of this new missionary
epoch of great importance. Here was the remarkable revival of religious orders of men
and women, a great many of them dedicated to missionary work. They included the
rejuvenated orders such as the Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans. Numerous Protestant
missionary societies also emerged. The missionary work of both the catholic and
Protestant churches opened a new epoch in Christian history when Christianity went out
to China, Japan, Korea, India, Africa, etc.

								
To top