Christianity arose within the social and spiritual dislocation
of the Roman Empire. Jesus, perceived by authorities
as a threat to public stability, was executed in about 30 CE;
his crucifixion and belief in his resurrection became a defining
symbol for a worldwide Christian religion.
Christian New Testament was written from about 50-150 CE; from
150 to 410, the church fathers defined Christian belief against
the protests of various "heretical" movements.
312, the future Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian;
by 392 Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
In 410, Rome fell and the divided Roman Empire led to the division
of the Church. Communion between these churches was broken in
863; formal separation came with the Schism of 1054.
means "true belief"; Catholic means "universal";
each church claimed unrivaled legitimacy. The Orthodox Church
is a loose federation of national churches, each under a patriarch;
the Roman Catholic Church is a single, hierarchically-structured
church with the Pope at its head. Both churches have an episcopal
structure (i.e. bishops), celebrate mass with the Last Supper,
share virtually the same canon of scriptures, and affirm declarations
of the early church councils.
Catholics reacted to Muslim conquests in the Middle East and
Asia Minor by launching the Crusades (1095-1270); soon
they turned against the Orthodox Church by sacking Constantinople
in 1204. In the centuries after Constantinople fell again to
Muslims in 1453, the center of Orthodoxy moved north to
The Roman Catholic Church also was torn apart by the Protestant
Reformation, which began in 1517. The Council of Trent
(1545-63) began the Counter Reformation.
Christians have long dreamed of a unified church; Orthodox,
Roman Catholic, and Protestant Christians in the 20th century
have looked for ways to emphasize their common beliefs. The
Second Vatican Council of 1962 has been especially influential
in laying the foundation for more positive relationships
among various Christian faiths - and with non-Christians as