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The Identity of Christianity Given by Early Art An Assignment Submitted by Name of Student Name of Establishment Class XXXX, Section XXXX, Fall 2012

THE IDENTITY OF CHRISTIANITY GIVEN BY EARLY ART The Identity of Christianity Given by Early Art

Psychological, sociological, theological, and other scholarly approaches to a religion differ in its accurate definition. However, the term religion is always associated with a specific worldview and a system of particular dogmas and beliefs in god or gods. Religion is a system of communal beliefs and practices relative to superhuman beings (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006, p. 915). Dogmas are only theories, and a humans life is much more diverse than any theory. The distinctive characteristics of every religion are benevolence and love acting in the form of beliefs in God; every religion is always associated with its identity development i.e. formation of particular ethical, cultural, political, social, economic, and behavioral patterns. Identity development is a durable process; numerous factors make impacts on it. The formation of the Christian identity was influenced by the gradual decay of the Roman Empire in the West, the increasing role of Constantinople in economic activities and religious authority, and the legalization of the faith in 313 (Fiero, 2011, p. 199). Like other religions and philosophies, Christianity was and is focused on its right to be the unique and exclusively fair way to God. However, in the fourth century, Christian dogmas, church hierarchy, and liturgy provoked controversial interpretations and led to debates among church representatives, as well as believers. Therefore, early Christian artworks were full of allegory and implicit symbols due to a wide range of miraculous phenomena and events associated with Christianity. Resurrection of Jesus, his origin, mission, and status in relation to God, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity, the severity of Gods demands, the Bible concepts of sins, etc. had to be explained, promulgated, generally accepted, and defined against some heresies, unorthodox movements, and schisms. Thus, the major symbols of the early Christian church were designed by ancient theologians, scholars, philosophers, poets, and artists in order to


express their views and understanding of the faith and to promote the formation of the Christian identity. The Nicene Creed (Symbolum Nicaeum) was adopted by the first ecumenical council of the Christian church church in the Turkish city of Nicaea in 325; its contemporary version was designed in 388 and is still utilized by the Eatern Orthodox Church (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006; Fiero, 2011) though some postulates are intensively debated today (Quarles, 2004). The Nicene Creed was officially recognized as religious guidelines by the community of Christian scholars and made a great impact on formation of the Christian identity. This fundamental source of Christian teaching has become the symbol of faith today, justifying and testifying to Christianity-associated mystical phenomena and defining the objective of human existence as submission to the divine will. The Nicene Creed determined that Christ was begotten, not made, that he was therefore not creature but Creator (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006, p. 216). In addition, in the fourth century, the Nicene Creed influenced the Christians daily living, calendar, behavioral patterns, relationships and attitudes to other believers, church services, culture, and activities in other spheres. The classical Christian dogmas of the Trinity and Jesus Christ based on Scripture and the Nicene Creed were further systematized and propagated by scholars theological spokesmen such as Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory in the fourth sixth centuries, having obtained their new specific vocabulary and symbols (Fiero, 2011, p. 200). There was a resurgence of paganism then. Augustine of Hippo was an outstanding a rhetorician who, witnessing to the decline of the Roman Empire, defended his faith against recurrent pagan judges that Christianity was responsible for Romes downfall (Fiero, 2011, p. 203). Augustines City of God Against the Pagans (De Civitate Dei contra Paganos), which was


written in the early 5th century, refined and expanded Christian teaching following the tradition of Christian allegory. Depicting the two cities, Augustine represents the history of humanity as coexistence of two conflicting realities, the City of God and the Earthly City. Inhabiting the City of God, people live in conformity with the laws established by God while those who dwell in the Earthly City obey rules determined by puffing up personalities (a love of self carried) who refused divine laws. Both Cities have their envoys in the heavens: rebellious angels and those who keep fidelity to God. Cities are not associated with any concrete state, the City inhabitants differ in their internal qualities and dedication to the faith. Divine mercy and mediation are opposed to the demons (Book 10 of City of God Against the Pagans). The arch, which Noah, a righteous man, was ordered to construct, is an allegoric symbol of Christ and the church; the archs measurements personify a size of a human body, actually, the body of Christ. The conception of the visible world (matter) as an imperfect reflection of the divine order (spirit) determined the allegorical character of Christian culture (Fiero, 2011, p. 203) in general and the content of Augustines City of God Against the Pagans in particular. However, some Augustines ideas evoke contradictory perceptions. For instance, he justifies repressive measures against heretics and the compulsory conversion to Christianity; that can be perceived as violation of human rights today. Early Christian artworks including mosaics, icons, church buildings, written papers, etc. are full of symbols both visual and hidden. The first visual symbols of the faith can be recognized in signs carved upon the graves and walls of the early Christian catacombs in Rome (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006). Then, Christian symbols were cryptographic; they allowed brothers in faith to recognize each other and avoid prosecution. Therefore, they appear to be


deliberately left for secret communication. However, the implicit meaning of symbols of that reflected the beginning of the Christian identity development. In accordance with information and data provided by Fiero (2011), the most ancient Christian symbols were the sign of fish, the letters alpha and omega of the Greek alphabet, and a pastoral cross. The sarcophagus of Archbishop Theodorus of Ravenna made of marble in the sixth century contain several Christian symbols such as peacocks, a pastoral cross, the alpha and omega, and the chi and rho. Peacocks depicted on it symbolize immortality; these signs originated from Southwest Asian symbols (Fiero, 2011, p. 204). The early Christian church did not use icons in comparison with their contemporary utilization. However, mosaics promulgated Christian beliefs, testifying, thus, to the promotion of the Christian identity via artworks. A pastoral cross and the Greek letters are seen in the mosaic of Emperor Justinian and his courtiers (Fiero, 2011, p. 213). In addition, magnificent attires of depicted people allowed Christian artists to represent the richness of their palette, including gentle white and purple shades as well as bright green and orange-red tones. The faces of the four central figures are characterized by especial subtlety because they were completed of smaller cubes compared to those of other figures. Especial severity of faces expression and easily recognized deep conviction symbolize unflinching dedication to the faith. In conclusion, the symbolic content of early Christian artworks and literature allowed believers to preserve and develop their religious identity.


Britannica Encyclopaedia of World religions. (eds.). (2006). London: Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. Fiero, G. (6th ed.). (2011). The humanistic tradition: Prehistory to the early modern world. New York: McGraw-Hill. Quarles, C. L. (2004). Christian identity: the Aryan American bloodline religion. Jefferson: McFarland & Company.