From Christ to Christianity–A History of the Early Church: An Eight-Part Course with Dr. Thomas Madden

From Christ to Christianity–A History of the Early Church: An Eight-Part Course with Dr. Thomas Madden


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How did a small religious movement in a marginalized region of the Roman Empire come to dominate the western world? That is one of the questions that this series will attempt to answer. Along the way, this course will explore the unique circumstances of first-century Judaea, the challenges of the early Christian church, and the spread of the faith from city to city. Although participants will learn about the evolving beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians, the focus will rest on the lived experiences of those men and women who embraced the faith as well as those who opposed it.

By the second century, Christianity had taken its place among hundreds of religious sects thriving in the Roman Empire. The second half of this course will look at the extraordinary events and choices that caused the Roman government to single out Christianity for persecution, and then, just as dramatically, embraced Christianity as the official religion of the empire. It is one of history’s most dramatic and rapid changes, and it would have profound effects on the subsequent history of humanity. How did Christians navigate the extraordinary changes in their world and their church during the fourth and fifth centuries?

Dr. Thomas F. Madden a leading historian of the medieval and ancient worlds, will guide participants through this fascinating story, illustrating his lectures not only with maps and art but also with the human stories of this extraordinary age. Dr. Madden is an award-winning teacher and scholar, and the author of numerous books, including The Concise History of the Crusades, Venice: A New History, and Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World.

Lecture 1: The World of Jesus Christ

We’ll begin with an exploration of the unique circumstances of Roman Judaea, a region torn by religious factionalism and deep divisions regarding Judaism’s place in the Roman world. We will also examine the historical Jesus, gleaning what is possible from Scriptures and other ancient sources.

Lecture 2: The Age of the Apostles

This lecture will describe the challenges and triumphs of the first generation of Christians. We will explore the organization of the movement in Judaea, the modification of the mission after the conversion of St. Paul, and the earliest evangelization of the faith along the Roman roads and waterways to the capital itself.

Lecture 3: Fathers and Heretics: The Institutional Foundation of the Church

Most of the earliest Christians believed that Christ would return and bring about the end of all things while they lived. As that first-generation passed away, it became clear that the faith needed a more durable organization. This lecture will describe this early consolidation, from the writing of the Gospels to the establishment of episcopal and patriarchal sees.

Lecture 4: The Blood of the Martyrs: Roman Persecutions of Christianity

The ancient Romans prided themselves on their piety as well as their toleration of other faiths. Why then did they so mercilessly persecute Christianity? This lecture will examine the factors that led persecutions to expand from mob attacks to local executions, to empire-wide arrests and convictions. It will also consider not only the stories of the martyrs but also those who escaped martyrdom and the problem that they posed for the church later.

Lecture 5: The Conversion of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea

There is likely no greater reversal of fortunes in human history than that of the Christian Church in the fourth century. In just a few decades, it went from a reviled object of violent persecution to the favored religion of the state that had persecuted it. The beginning of that extraordinary change was just as extraordinary – the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine. This lecture will explore these fascinating events and the people who played a part in them.

Lecture 6: The Faith of the Roman Empire

How does a faith founded in obscurity and popular with the poor and outcasts cope with becoming the religion of the highest elite? This lecture will look at the problems that beset Christianity as it navigated the perils of its own success. These included new and powerful heresies, political pressure, and the lure of wealth. Along the way, we will see how new Christians and old worked together to accommodate a new role in a new age.

Lecture 7: The Birth of Christian Monasticism

Based on historical events and spread by urban preaching, Christianity was from its beginning a very worldly religion. How, then, did it come to embrace a withdrawal from the world in monasticism? This lecture will examine the roots of Christian monasticism in Judaism and follow it from the deserts of Egypt to the caves of Anatolia to the forests of Italy. Although monasticism represented a withdrawal from the world, the monks themselves would have a profound effect on the history of the faith.

Lecture 8: The Latin Fathers and the Fall of Rome

By the year 400 Christianity was the de facto religion of the Roman people and state. This lecture will examine the most important of the Church leaders – St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine – who helped Christians transition from the glory of Rome to the uncertainty of the Middle Ages. In the fifth century, a new age was dawning in western Europe, one that would leave behind the ancient world. The Church, however, endured, thrived, and led its people forward.

Thomas F Madden is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. As an author and historical consultant, he has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The History Channel. He is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Medieval Academy of America, and he is a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar.

 

How does it work?

This is an eight-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in the history of Early Christianity, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $280 for eight lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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