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Running head: THE IDENTITY OF CHRISTIANITY GIVEN BY EARLY ART

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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

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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 human’s 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 God’s 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

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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 Rome’s downfall” (Fiero, 2011, p.

203). Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans (De Civitate Dei contra Paganos), which was

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written in the early 5 th 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

arch’s

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

Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans in particular.

However, some Augustine’s 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

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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.

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References

Britannica Encyclopaedia of World religions. (eds.). (2006). London: Encyclopædia 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.