Dacian Roman Christianity First to Sixth Centuries

In the territory between the Danube and the Black Sea (the future Scythia Minor province), the new teaching of Jesus Christ was propagated by St Andrew. This was mentioned by Hippolytus of Rome (d. 236), by Origen of Alexandria (d. 254), by the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, and by several later Byzantine writers. Some local place names and folklore traditions attest to the statements of these writers regarding St Andrew's preaching. According to recent findings, St Philip might have preached in the same territory. This is suggested by the existence of a fourth-century Gothic calendar and by the assertions of a Benedictine monk, Walafridus Strabo, who lived in a monastery in the Alps, in the ninth century.

Undoubtedly, these apostles did not only preach the Gospel and baptize Geto-Dacians and Greeks in the Greek fortresses at the Black Sea (Tomis, Callatis, Histria), but they also ordained bishops or priests among those who had converted to Christianity. In turn, these ordained others, in order to ensure the 'uninterrupted succession' of priesthood in the territories they had evangelized. However, St Andrew and St Paul should be considered 'apostles of the Dacian-Romans', the forefathers of Romanians. Similarly, Romanian Christianity should be considered of 'apostolic origin'.

In the Dacian territories north of the Danube (a Roman province after 106), the new Christian teaching was preached by missionary priests who had arrived from the south of the Danube (where St Paul preached), as well as by certain lay missionaries (colonists, traders, slaves, all of whom had shared the Christian belief before their arrival in Dacia).

As a result of massive colonization, Dacia was inhabited by people from all over the Roman world (ex toto orbe romano, says Eutropius). Thus a new population was born, initially called Dacian-Roman, then Romanian. A new, neo-Latin language (Romanian) was engendered, derived from the popular Latin that was spoken in Dacia at the time.

Several arguments support the idea that many Dacian-Romans were converted to Christianity before Emperor Constantine the Great issued the famous Tolerance Edict in 313. Firstly, linguists have noted that many basic Romanian words with religious meaning have been used since the third or fourth centuries. Part of these words were taken over from the popular Latin spoken by the Dacian-Romans, and were 'Christianized' and given a new meaning, whereas others were created in this vast geographical space by Christian believers. They are completely independent of their synonyms in the other neo-Latin languages. Moreover, both in the prayer 'Our Father', and in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith (325 and 381), over 90 per cent of the words are of Latin origin.

Another argument in favour of the antiquity of Romanian Christianity is represented by over one hundred early Christian archaeological items that were discovered north of the Danube. According to archaeologists, they date back to the second to fourth centuries, and their number is even higher in the former province Scythia Minor. After 2 71-5, when the Romans abandoned Dacia and the Roman army and administration were withdrawn to south of the Danube, certain public edifices were transformed into Christian cult sites. This occurred at Slaveni and Sucidava (in Oltenia), at Porolissum (nowadays Moigrad), probably at Morisena (nowadays Cenad, in Banat). According to some researchers, even the present-day church in Densus (near the former Roman capital Sarmizegetusa, nowadays in the Hunedoara county), which has a different architectural plan, might have initially been a funeral monument for a general in Emperor Trajan's army.

In Scythia Minor, the existence of Dacian-Roman and Romanian Christianity is attested by the large number of Christians who became martyrs, in about 300, during Diocletian's persecution (284-305). Most of them remained anonymous, but some names exist in the so-called 'martyrdom acts' (the first written documents on the Romanian territory) of the priest Epictet, his disciple, Astion of Halmyris, and later, of the soldier Emilian of Durostavna/Durostorum. We should also mention four martyrs

(Zoticos, Atalos, Kamasis and Philippos), whose relics were discovered, in 19 71, in a former basilica at Niculitel, Tulcea. Many other Dacian-Romans (bishops, priests, deacons, soldiers, state officials, peasants and women) were martyred in several Roman fortresses in provinces north or south of the Danube (Pannonia Inferior, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior, Dacia Ripensis and Dacia Mediterranea).

The strength of Christianity in Scythia Minor after 313 is proven by an impressive number of early Christian objects (rush-lights, crosses) and by over a hundred funeral inscriptions. Moreover, 35 basilicas (of the fourth to sixth centuries) were discovered in the main fortress towns of the province (Tomis, Tropaeum Trajani, Histria, Callatis, Axiopolis and Dynogetia). The fact that bishops and priests are mentioned as martyrs in Scythia Minor strongly suggests the existence of a clerical hierarchy from a very early period. The martyrdom acts mention bishops Evangelicus, Efrem and Tit. Historical evidence points to their existence in the province metropolis, Tomis (present-day Constanta). Some high clerics were also involved in the theological controversies debated at the first four Ecumenical Councils. In the fourth century, Mark participated in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), Betranion defended the Orthodox faith against Arianism (369), and Gerontius participated in the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (381). Theotimos I was referred to, by the church historian Sozomen, as being of Scythian origin, therefore not a Dacian-Roman; in his book De viris illustribus, the western writer Jerome mentioned the fact that Theotimos I had written certain theological books. They have been lost, but John of Damascus cited them in the eighth century.

There is evidence of eminent Christians in subsequent centuries: fifth-century documents mention Bishop Timothy, who participated in the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, in 431; John, regarded by his contemporaries as the best theologian of his time, who translated works from Greek into the Latin; Alexander and Theotimos II. Sixth-century documents refer to Bishop Paternus, who was involved in controversies caused by the so-called 'Scythian monks' in his bishopric. A massive gilded silver disc that belonged to him is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Valen-tinianus, a reputed theologian who corresponded with Pope Vigilius (d. 555) on the issues advanced at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 553 is also mentioned.

By the end of the fifth century, fourteen other bishoprics had been established in the main fortress towns in Scythia Minor, which had already become a 'metropolitan province'. The Bishop of Tomis held the office of metropolitan (episcopus metropolitanus). After the territorial and administrative reform made by Emperor Diocletian, the Illyri-cum region became a prefectura, encompassing a series of provinces with a predominantly Dacian-Roman population. As part of it, there were approximately forty bishoprics, fifteen of which were situated on the Danube (Pannonia Inferior, Moesia Superior, Dacia Ripensis, Dacia Mediterranea and Moesia Inferior). All of them, including the ones in Scythia Minor, were subordinated to the Bishop of Constantinople, which became a patriarchal see by a decision of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451. The Dacian-Roman Church was therefore connected to Rome by language and to Constantinople by faith and organization.

The first monastic settlements in Scythia Minor date back to the fourth century. The names of some reputed monks in the Christian world of the time are linked to these settlements. John Cassian (360-435), 'of Scythian origin', as his biographer Gennadius of Marseilles introduced him, was ordained deacon by John Chrysostom in Constantinople and priest in Rome. He founded two monasteries near Marseilles in the south of France. He also wrote some remarkable works in Latin, including the famous Conferences and Institutes.

Another Dacian-Roman theologian, Dionysius Exiguus (460-545), was born in Scythia Minor, but spent the largest part of his life in Rome, where he worked in the papal chancellor's office. He translated into Latin several works on theology, lives of the saints and canon law. He is especially renowned as the initiator of the current chronological system (the 'Christian era', whereby the counting of years began with the birth of Jesus Christ, albeit with an error of four or five years). Several other theologians were born in Scythia Minor: John Maxentius, the author of short theological works, and Peter the Deacon, who translated works from Greek into Latin. We cannot overlook Bishop Nicetas of Remesiana from Dacia Mediterranea, whom Bishop Paulinus of Nola in Italy presented as Dacian-Roman. He was one of the most important, widely travelled, Latin-speaking missionaries, as well as the author of dogmatic and liturgical works that have been preserved and published several times. Documents mention only one Dacian-Roman bishop, Theofilus ('of Gothia'), who participated in the Council of Nicaea (325). His name is explained by the fact that, at the time, the Goths had invaded the territory north of the Danube. In 341 he became Bishop in Constantinople, and known as Ulfilas. After he preached to the Goths for about twelve years, he had to flee to south of the Danube, and later he became an Arian. He translated the Bible into the Gothic language.

So, in Romanian territory the conversion to Christianity was not accomplished at a certain date, by the order of a political leader, as happened in neighbouring territories. After the arrival of St Paul and St Andrew, Christianization became a more definite process and lasted for several centuries, being the direct result of the contact between the native Geto-Dacian population and the Roman colonists who shared in the new faith. Romanization and Christianization were parallel processes, engendering a new people, the Romanian one, who may rightfully be called, along with the Greeks, the earliest Christian people in south-east Europe.

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