1. Christianity is a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who was born in Palestine, also called Judea, about 2000 years ago. At that time Palestine was ruled by the Romans. Jesus was a Jew, and his first followers, called apostles, were also Jews.
2. The holy books of the Jews prophesied that God would send a saviour (Messiah) to the Jewish people. Jesus affirmed that he was the promised Messiah, and that he would be put to death, but would rise again after three days. His death would pay for the sins of humanity, and those who believed and followed his teachings would attain salvation and eternal life. He gained many followers, but the Jewish leaders felt threatened by his teachings and convinced the Roman authorities to put him to death by crucifixion. His apostles declared that he came back to life, and appeared to them after three days. Then, about 50 days after the Crucifixion, the apostles reported that the Holy Spirit entered them, enabling them to preach Jesus’ teachings, and also giving them the gift of speaking other languages. This event is called Pentecost, and is considered as the founding of the Christian faith. Many believed the apostles, and were initiated into the new faith.
3. The first Christians were persecuted for their beliefs. One such persecutor was Saul of Tarsus, a Jew and a Roman citizen. On his way to Damascus, he had a vision, after which he became a Christian, and changed his name to Paul. He travelled all over the Roman Empire, spreading the teachings of Christ. He sent the newly converted Christians letters to help them understand and practise these teachings. This was the beginning of the spread of Christianity. Paul’s letters are called epistles, and are a part of the New Testament.
4. Christians were treated with hostility from the Jewish authorities, and as their numbers grew, the Romans also started persecuting them. One reason for this was their refusal to honour the religious customs of the Romans. In 312 CE, the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian, and encouraged Christian leaders to unite. In 325 CE, Constantine organised the Council at Nicea, in which Church authorities codified basic Christian beliefs.
Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople, in the East. After he died, one of his sons ruled over the eastern empire, while the other son ruled over the West. The churches also grew more distant from each other. The most powerful Christian leader in the West was called the pope, and the corresponding figure in the East was called the patriarch.
5. The Romans spread Christianity all over Europe. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity became the unifying factor in Europe. Accordingly, the pope became a very powerful figure. The Western church had a lot of political influence. This did not happen in the Eastern church, which concentrated more on theological matters. The spread of Islam weakened the power of both branches.
6. During the Middle Ages, Muslims took control of Palestine. Christian pilgrims found it difficult to visit Palestine, which they called the Holy Land. In 1095, the Byzantine Emperor requested the ruling pope, Urban II, for help in fighting the Muslims and to regain Palestine. This led to the Crusades, which were Christian military expeditions. There were eight major crusades between 1096 and 1270, and most of the crusaders came from Western Europe. The Holy Land was re-captured for some time, but the Christians could not hold on to it.
7. During the 1500s, a growing number of Christians criticised the Pope and certain practices of the Church. This movement, called the Reformation, was led by Martin Luther. Luther declared that believers should follow the Bible, rather than church doctrine. Many Christians followed his teachings, and were called Protestants, as opposed to followers of the Pope, who were called Roman Catholics. The teachings of John Calvin found many adherents in Europe, and other preachers formed Christian groups such as the Baptists and the Quakers. In England, King Henry VIII broke away from the Pope in 1534, and founded the Church of England. Between 1545 and 1563, the Council of Trent was convened by the Roman Catholics to re-invigorate Catholic worship. This was known as the Counter-Reformation Movement.
8. During the Counter Reformation, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuit order. The Jesuits succeeded in restoring faith in Catholicism in many parts of Europe. They were also responsible for spreading the faith in many parts of the world, following European colonial expansion. Colonisation brought large numbers of Christian missionaries in its wake. By the early 20th century, Christianity had spread to every corner of the world.
9. Christians today make up the largest religious group, having about 2 billion followers worldwide. The Holy Bible is still the world’s best- selling book, and has been translated into every major language. Biblical references are an established part of English literature.
10. Christianity has influenced Western civilisation in the spheres of art, music, architecture, culture, ethics, politics, education and social practices. There are many Christian influences in Asia, Africa and South America as well. Modern scholars have changed the practice of historical record keeping from Before Christ to Before Common Era and Anno Domini to Common Era, but the Year of Our Lord as the central point of reference is universally accepted.