The Phenomenon Of Christianity

Christians appeared on the scene during the third Semitic stage of world cultural history , and they evangelized the Roman empire. Islam, too, is a Semitic phenomenon which spread far and wide. This Semitic history of Europe has been extended down to the age of secularization. In a secularized form it has to be extended even to China, which eventually was won over to a way ofthinking that is ontolog-ically Semitic to a certain extent: i.e., Marxism. Thus only one group remains Indo-European still: India and Southeast Asia. All the other groups in the world have been "Semitized," practically speaking.

Christianity, then, a ppears wi thin the context of this vast cultural process of Semitization. Indeed it appears in the very bosom of Semitic culture. For our purposes here, I shall divide the history of Christianity into three periods and discuss them briefly in this section.

The first period is the period of the apostolic community in Palestine. There Jesus founded his Church after teaching his disciples and carrying out his work. The community grew inJerusalem and Palestine. Eventually some disciples set out for Antioch, and sister Churches were established there and at Corinth.

During this period, which lasts up to about 50 A.D., the group of disciples underwent certain key experiences that would be of great importance for the Church in the future. The disciples in Jerusalem made up what Paul called the "community of saints." Those who went to Antioch underwent a basic and pivotal experience. The Christians at An-tioch were people who came both from Judaism and paganism. This was a new experience, not shared by the Jerusalem community. Saint Paul was the prototype of the. Antiochean apostle. He was the aposde to the gentiles because Barnabas introduced him to the pastoral approach of the Antiochean community. Corinth was still another type of community .All the people there were pagan in origin, so the Judaizing tendency was not found in its midst.

At the Synod of Jerusalem James presided. But he gave the floor to Peter, who set forth the generallines that would be followed. But it was Paul who imposed his view on the group, and we enter the second main period of Church history .

The second period is the one in which Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean world. As is well known, one of the first great crises occurred when a dispute arose between two factions in the Church: the hel1enic faction and the Judaizing faction. When the synod was held in Jerusalem around 49 or 50 A.D., the maturing consciousness of the apostles brought them to the realization that Christianity could not be confined to Jewish people, that it had to be open to the hellenic world and the culture of the Mediterranean world. A new period in Church history had begun.

This period runs from 50 A.D. to 1962, covering almost two thousand years. During this period Christians evangelized the Mediterranean area, and a Christianized Mediterranean remained the fundamental base and site of Christianity for this long period of time. During this period Christians also evangelized the easternRoman empire and , the Russian area. This was an extension of the Mediterranean experience because the Greek language remained a fundamental component in the experience.

The basic experience of the Latin-speaking portion of the Roman empire also perdured until 1962. Indeed it was only in the last decade that the whole debate over the use of Latin was resolved. Up to then the culture and language traditions of the Mediterranean basin were the only ones given due consideration. We did not realize that every culture and language is sacred when it is part of the life of a consecrated Christian, whether that Christian is European, Papuan, or whatever. To be more precise, it is the consecrated Christian who gives sacredness to what he touches, speaks, and produces. Alllanguages are sacred insofar as their speakers are consecrated people.

The third period has just begun. We might call it the period of crisis engendered by Vatican II. At this point someone might well complain about such a division of Church history, asserting that there were certainly many more periods and phases. But I would still maintain that a very good case can be made for the division I have presented here. I would say that we have only just moved beyond the second period of Church history outlined above. The evangelization of the Roman world and its perimeters-including Latin America-has been going on since 50 A.D. The tacit understanding was that the Churth was meant only for Mediterranean peoples. Only with the advent of Vatican II have we come to realize pointedly that the Church was meant to be for the whole world. Only now have we begun to truly open up to the world outside the Mediterranean.

It will take more than a day to effect such openness. We will have to shed much cultural baggage in order to go out to the world at large. We are just beginning to realize, for example, that the Islamic world was never missionized. It was not interested in Latin, Greek, or the structures of the Roman and Byzantine world. Its experience was different, and it would have to be missionized from within the context of its own life. The Greco-Roman experience of the Mediterranean world did not leave much room for the evangelization of the Islamic world.

Neither were we able to truly go out and evangelize the Hindu or Chinese world. The latter is a very instructive instance. Matteo Ricci made direct contact with the Chinese emperor in the sixteenth century. The emperor was somewhat disposed towards conversion, but Rome opposed the idea of a Chinese rite. Speaking Chinese and dressed as a mandarin, Ricci arrived at the court and presented two gifts: an icon of the Virgin and a map of the world which also depicted the overall organization of the heavens. The Chinese emperor was impressed with Ricci's wisdom and explanations. Ricci, in turn, wanted to modify the Christian rituals so that they would conform to cultural beliefs and practices in China. When Ricci brought his request to Rome, he was refused. Latin, you see, was a sacred language but Chinese was not. So Ricci's great missionary exploit ended in failure.

Before I consider Christianity in Latin America, I should like to close this chapter with some remarks on Church history during the second long period described above.

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