Resilience of the Church, from Martyrs to Monks

Frank Cash - Rome

Frank Cash - Rome

The first century Christians began as a group of individuals who continued to hold on to their Jewish roots, but recognized Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This would soon cause division as they would begin to pray and worship as a distinct group, and abandon the traditions of their strict, Jewish contemporaries. Dialogue among the groups would ensue as Christians expressed their desire to follow Jesus and defend His actions and teachings. As many came to witness to the Good News, numerous conversions took place and the faith began to spread throughout the Roman Empire and into the surrounding communities.

The early Christians were committed to living for Christ in word and deed, and anxiously awaited His Second Coming, which many expected to occur during their lifetime. However, it soon became apparent that this would not be the case. Fortunately, this had coincided with the missionary ideals of the faith proclaimed at their baptism. It was essential now that others be brought to an awareness of Christ’s message of salvation.

Apostolic Evangelization

Peter and Paul, as well as the other Apostles, traveled extensively in witnessing to the message of Christ. As time went on, many non-Jews began to join her ranks. The Christian Church was welcoming to all people, everywhere, and Peter, Paul, and others brought in numerous converts.

Christianity was a faith comprised of searching and analyzing; going deeper into the mystery of Christ, the Son of God. On account of this, Christians had to instill within their fellow brothers and sisters a strong sense of understanding of what this all meant. Christianity was unlike anything they had ever encountered before. Many demonstrated a shared reluctance, especially in the face of others who were questioning their motives. Eventually, this helped inaugurate a need for apologists.

Many aspects of the faith appealed to the community, such as monotheism and Greek philosophy. These had long existed prior to Christ’s birth and were utilized and assimilated into the faith as a means to explain both the “oneness” of God, and His “workings” within the world.  In addition, elements such as the Decalogue, originated with the Hebrew people, were also found to be essential.

Christianity was also historical. This provided both a starting point, and an end. All of these attributes offered a sense of consistency and continuity that would eventually allow the Church to defend herself against heresies, which would spread rampantly throughout the empire. Fortunately, they would be condemned by many great ambassadors for Christ, through the use of faith and reason.

With Greater Success, Opposition

The Church was succeeding by leaps and bounds. However, those in authority were plotting to destroy her. Ironically, this would turn out to be a time when many would courageously enter the Church.

Witnessing the brutal treatment of Christians was not enough to deter those eager to become followers of Christ. They desired to know more about this man from Nazareth, and why He was worth dying for. Furthermore, the ideas of eternal life and salvation captivated them. The passion and zeal of the first century Christians was truly awe-inspiring and neither would waver in the face of these odious conditions.

Many martyrs were praised and honored for their steadfast fidelity to Christ and His Church. (These demonstrations must continue to inspire us in our Catholic identity today, as the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. once remarked, as the future of the Church in America may depend on it.)

These martyrs were as vital to the sustainability of the Christian Church as was found in the apologists. Each rose to defend and protect the integrity of the faith from attack and oppression. Some operated in both arenas, as did Justin Martyr. Others such as Origen, Irenaeus, Clement, and Ignatius, contributed by their writings on the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Liturgy and sacraments (especially the Eucharist), and the role of the bishop of Rome. These proved invaluable in answering the critics of the Church, and would eventually be joined by those of St. Augustine and countless others. Such moments would result in major turning points throughout the history of the Church.

Monastic Appeal

The Church was becoming more vocal than some had been accustomed to, on account of her ability to weather many storms. However, there were still those who wanted a simple, pious life of prayer and contemplation. The monastic life sought to revive this aspect of the Church and would inspire her throughout the coming ages, on up to today. This served as a means towards overcoming theological disputes and moral controversies. What began as a form of escape from the oversaturation of people and politics would become a beacon of light and hope for troubled times that lied ahead.

The Church began small, but quickly gained momentum, and eventually earned prominence within the Roman Empire. This did not come without difficulty or struggle. The Christian Church was established by Jesus Christ, and left to the Apostles to strengthen her on earth.  Many of her beliefs and teachings were validated through the use of faith and reason, and were highlighted by philosophical truth. This was essential in responding to heresies.

As a people, Christians went through a series of tyrannical events, but were eventually accepted.  This created opportunities for the faith to flourish and allowed her teachings and doctrine to become more refined and understood. Finally, the role and authority of the papacy was validated.  Yet, the most significant contribution would still come from those who had fled to the outskirts in order to keep the faith intact during times of confrontation. These communities helped build a way of life steeped in tradition and united to her founder.

In all aspects of the faith, monasticism contributed in many ways never before imagined; especially in those concerning morality and doctrine.  Monks had the ability to soften the bitterness of human frailty, which often caused separation, while instilling an essence of integrity and purpose. They have maintained and reinforced the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Catholic Church. The Church is never ending in her ability to utilize the gifts each member possesses for the greater glory of her founder, Jesus Christ. We are truly blessed to be a part of it.

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