and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries
by Adolph (von) Harnack
translated and edited by James Moffatt
Second, enlarged and revised English edition;
London: Williams and
Norgate / New York: G.P.
Putnam's Sons, 1908 (from the 2nd German edition)..
Theological Translation Library, volumes 19-20
From the German, Die Mission
und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten
(1902, revised 1906, 1915, and finally 1924)
Book 4, chapter 3, 1-2 (AK)
THE EXTENSION OF CHRISTIANITY DOWN TO 325 A.D.
I shall keep strictly within the limits indicated by the title,
place which cannot actually be verified until after 325 A.D. Owing to
fortuitous character of the traditions at our disposal, it is
many, indeed very many, places at which it is impossible to prove that
Christian community existed previous to the council of Nicea, may
have contained such a community, and even a bishopric. But no one can
any certainty what such places were. Besides, although unquestionably
of Constantine was not an era, so far as regards the East, during which
large number of new bishoprics were created -- since in not a few
network of the ecclesiastical hierarchy appears to have been already
fast and firm that what was required was not the addition of new meshes
actually, in several cases, the removal of one or two\1/ -- despite all
is certain that a large number of new Christian communities did
that time. In the West a very large number of bishoprics, as well as of
churches, were founded during the fourth century, and the
Christianizing of not
a few provinces now commenced upon a large scale (cp. Sulp. Severus,
ii. 33: "Hoc temporum tractu mirum est quantum invaluerit religio
Christiana" = during this period the Christian religion increased at an
\1/ I should hold it proven, with regard to
provinces of Asia
Minor, that the
network there was firm and fast by the time
of Constantine. There were about four hundred local
the end of the fourth century, so that if we can prove, despite the
and fortuitous nature of the sources, close upon one hundred and fifty
period before 325 A. D., it is highly probable that the majority of
hundred were in existence by that time. This calculation is
the fact that during the fourth century Asia Minor yields evidence of the chor-episcopate being
vigorously repressed and
dissolved, but rarely of new bishoprics being founded.
As for the extent to
Christianity spread throughout the various provinces, while the
exhibit all that really can be established on this point, no evidence
upon the number of the individual churches (or bishoprics) would make
possible to draw up any accurate outline of the general situation; our
information is better regarding some provinces, inferior in quantity as
others, and first-rate as regards none. Had I drawn the limit at 381
even at 343 A.D., a much more complete conspectus could be furnished.
that case we would have had to abandon our self-imposed task of
far Christianity had spread by the time that Constantine
granted it toleration and special privileges. \1/ the purpose of
localities where Christian communities can be shown to have existed
A.D., I shall begin by printing two lists of the places where there
Christian communities before Trajan (or Commodus). \2/
One of the most important aids to this task is the list of signatures
council of Nicaa in 325 A.D., an excellent critical edition of which
recently appeared (Patrum Nicrenorum nomina latine, grcece, coplice,
arahice, armeniace, by H. Gelzer, Hilgenfeld, and O. Cuntz; Leipzig,
also C.H. Turner's edition based on independent
researches, Eal. occidentalis ntonumenta inris anliyuissimi. Cauorutnt
eonciliortan Gisecorunt inte,pretationes Latio,e, Oxford, 1899). For a critical estimate of the list
bearings upon the metropolitan parish, cp. Lubeck's Reichseinteilung and Iircltliche
(1901). The Nicene list is to be compared also with the documents
the rise of the Arian controversy (cp. Schwartz, Zur Gesch. des
v., vi., 1905). Schwartz (pp. 265 f,) has translated into Greek the
excerpt from the <g> rl zos </g> of Alexander (Pitra, Anal.
iv. 196 f.). The following are the provinces on the list: Egypt, Thebais, Libya, Pentapolis <g> 6vw Tu,rm </g>, Palestine, Arabia, Achaia, Thrace, the Hellespont, Asia, Caria, Lycia, Lydia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Galatia, Pisidia, Pontus Polemoniacus, Cappadocia, and Armenia. Schwartz is perhaps right in regarding the
additional provinces of Mesopotamia, Augustoeuphratesia, Clicia, Isauria, and Phoenicia as interpolations. Another even more
of evidence which he adduces (pp. 271 f.) is the record (which he has
discovered) of an Antiochene synod of 324 A.D., containing a number of
names, which may for the most part be identified by aid of the Nicene
Seven, however, representing seven bishoprics, unfortunately remain
unexplained. The number of bishops in attendance at Nicea (which,
Eusebius, our best witness, Vit. Const., iii. 8, exceeded two hundred
fifty) gives no clue to the spread of the episcopate, let alone the
religion, for extremely few bishops were present from Europe and North
and a large number even from the East failed to put in an appearance
Antiochene list agrees remarkably with the Nicene so far; but even this
no sure clue to the number of bishops in the respective provinces.) The
assertion made by the Eastern sources that over two thousand clergy
present, is credible, but immaterial. One is strongly tempted to bring
extant signatures of the synod of Sardica, which prove the existence of
hitherto unattested. But as it is certain that several bishoprics were
in the twenty years between Nicaa and Sardica, we must regretfully put
Sardica list aside. Cumont's remark upon the Christian inscriptions of
East is unfortunately to the point: "Je ne sais s'il existe une
de testes epigraphiques, qui soil plus mal connue aujourd'hui que les
inscriptions chrtiennes de 1'empire d'Orient" (Les Inscr. Chret. De
mineure, Rome, 1895, p. 5). For learned classifications
Christian cemeteries, cp. Nik. Muller's article (1901) s.v. in Protest.
Real-Enc. x. pp. 794-877, and C. M. Kaufmann's Ilandbuch d. christl. Archaologie (1905), pp.
74-107 ("Topographic d. altchristl. enkmaler "). For the
topographical materials, cp. also Lubeck (op. cit.), and Bruders,
der Kirche in den zweiten ersten Jahrhund. (1904).
I content myself with a mere enumeration, as the subsequent section,
according to provinces, gives a sketch of the spread and increase of
Christianity in the respective provinces. In this chapter I have not
of course, into the special details of the history of Christianity
the provinces, a task for which we need the combined labors of
archeologists, and architects, while every large province requires a
scholars to itself, such as Africa has found among the French savants. This
for years, no doubt, a pious hope. Yet even investigations conducted by
individuals have already done splendid service for the history of
and local churches in antiquity. Beside de Rossi stand Le Blant and
Duchesne, Wilpert, Nik. Mitller, etc. The modest pages which follow,
I almost hesitate to publish, will serve their purpose if they sketch
general contour accurately in the main.
Places in which Christian communities or Christians can be traced as
the first century (previous to Trajan).\1/
- Antioch in Syria (Acts xi., etc.).
- Tyre (Acts xxi.).
- Sidon (Acts xxvii.).
- Pella \8/ (Ens., H. E., III. v.; for
other Palestinian localities where even at an early period Jewish Christians resided, see under
III. i., Palestine).
viii; also Samaritan villages, ver. 25).
- Lydda (Acts ix.).
- Joppa (Acts ix.).
- Saron, i.e., localities in this plain
- (Acts ix.), Caesarea-Palest. (Acts x.).
- Laodicea. (Paul's ep.).
- Hierapolis in Phrygia (Paul's ep.).
- Pergamum (Apoc. John).
- Sardis (Apoc. John).
- Magnesia on the Maeander (Ignat.).
- Tralles in Caria (Ignat.).
- Thyatira in Lydia
(Acts xvi, xx.; 2 Cor. ii. 12).
- Philippi in Macedonia (Acts xvi;
(Acts xvii; Paul's epp. ).
- Berea in Macedonia (Acts xvii.; Paul's
- [Illyria (Rom. xv. 19). \9/
- Dalmatia (2 Tim. iv. 10). \10/
- Rome (Acts xxvii. f; Paul's epp; Apoc..John.). \11/
(Acts xxviii.). \12/
- Arabia. \2/
- Tarsus (Acts ix., xi., xv.).
- Syria (several churches, Acts xv)
- Cilicia (Acts xv)
- Paphos in Cyprus (Acts xiii.).
- Perga in Pannphylia (Acts
- Antioch in Pisidia (Acts xiv.).
- Iconiuwn (Acts
- Lystra (Acts
- Derbe (Acts xiv.).
in Galatia (Gal.; I
Pet. i. 1).
in Cappadocia (I
- A number
in Bithynia and Pontus (1 Pet. i. I; Pliny's cp. to
- Ephesus (Acts, Apoc., Paul's epp.) \4/
- [Nicopolis in Epirus
(Titus iii. 12).] \5/
(Acts xvii; Paul's ep.).
(Acts xviii; Paul's epp.).
- Cenchreae, near Corinth
(no direct evidence, but the fact is certainly to be inferred from
later allusions). \7/
Cp. on Map I.-Note how not only Acts but also Paul at an earlier period
together the Christians of individual provinces, showing that several
or Christian groups must have already existed in each of the following
provinces : Judaea, Samaria, Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, Asia, \Macedonia,
Here Paul labored after his conversion (Gal. i. r7), we do not know for
long; the "three years" of Gal. i. 18 include his residence at Damascus as well as his stay in Arabia.
Holsten's view is that Paul in Arabia was simply reflecting on the relation of the
to the Old Testament, but the inevitable inference to be drawn from
Gal, i. 16
is that Paul had already preached to pagans in Arabia.
Still, this is not quite certain. Luke, at any rate, does not hold that
Gentile mission had now begun (Acts ix. 19-29, xi. 20 f.). It is likely
Paul was referring primarily to Arabia when he spoke (Rom. xv. I9) of his preaching
<g>IEpouoraXi1g cal ,chc w-for KuKXa, </g> in spite of all
excellent Antiochcne expositors urge, can hardly mean " in a circle as
as Illyria." Jerusalem he neither could nor would
his starting-point; but as he really never labored there in the role of
missionary, he adds <g> Ev KiKXw, </g> which may quite well
Arabia, whose boundaries (viewed from a geographical elevation)
Jerusalem and which included Jews among its population.
Ramsay (Church in the Roman Empire, 1893, pp. 211, 235) shows the
of Amisus having contained Christians at this period.
Acts xix. 10; Paul labored here for two years, g> d0-T6 ,raVTas'roes
KaTOuKouvTas T7fv 'Ao'iav ἀKOU"aac Tὸv Xs'yov TOO
Kupfov, 'Iov5afous TE Kal "EXXgvas. " </g> It May therefore be
regarded as practically certain that the great cities which lay on the
important roads connecting those seven leading cities [i.e., of the
with one another had all `heard the word,' and that most of them were
of churches whirl these seven letters were written " (Ramsay on " The
Seven Churches of Asia," Expositor, vol. ix. p. 22).
This is not quite certain; <g> oxoi&avov EXOECv rpds ye El's
Nped,rOXiv' ἐK(ῖ -yapKEKpi!a srapaXElga(ra1.
early note appended to the epistle to Titus runs <g> Eyp'Qq
Noco,rdxEws 'u s MaKESovfas. </g>
It is disputed whether Paul carried out his design (Rom. xv. 24, 28) of
missionary work in Spain. To judge from Clem. Rom. v. and the
fragment, I think it probable that he did. See also Acta Petri
(Vercell. ), vi.
We should have to include Gaul here, if <g> raAAtav </g>
(Sinait., C. minuscc.
and Latt. ) were the true reading in 2 Tim. iv. 10, or if <g>
</g> were European Gaul (so Euseb., Epiph., Theod., and
the reading is uncertain. Cp, Lightfoot's edition of Galatians (5th
Some well-known scholars, like Pearson and Vitringa, would take "Babylon" (in 1 Pet. v.) as the Egyptian town of that
name. But, in spite of the tradition that Mark labored in Egypt (he is mentioned with Babylon in I Peter), this hypothesis is quite
Grand-nephews of Jesus (grandchildren of his brother Judas), whom
wanted to punish (according to the tale of Hegesippus), lived in Palestine as peasants. Relatives of Jesus presided
of the Palestinian churches (for Mesopotamia, see below).
We do not know when Paul reached Illyria; probably it was during a visit to Macedonia, or during his long residence at Corinth. It is not even certain that he visited Illyria at all, for the passage admits of being read
in such a way as to mean
that he reached the borders of Illyria by his presence in Macedonia. Besides, <g> 'IXXupucdv, </g>
points out (St
492 f., Germ. Ed (I., p. 417), is a very general
Titus went to Dalmatia on his own initiative, against Paul's
wishes. It is
not said whether his errand was connected with the gospel; the previous
allusion to Demas, in fact, practically excludes this.
Babylon (i Pet. v. 13) is probably Rome.
The trace of Christianity said to have been found at Pompeii on a mutilated and illegible inscription
is to be left out of account. "The reading is quite uncertain. Even if
the word ' Christian ' actually did occur, it would simply prove that
Christians were known to people at Pompeii, not that there were Christians in the
This is the opinion of Mau, who also notices (Pompeii in Leben und
p. 15) the inscription, first deciphered by himself in 1885, which is
upon a wall in a small house (ix. 1, 26) "Sodoma Gomora" (cp. Bull.
dell Instit, 1885, p. 97). "Only a Jew or a Christian could have
this; it sounds like a prophecy of the end." Is this the stern judgment
a Jew or a Christian on the city? Or did some Jew or Christian write it
the shower of ashes had begun to rain ruin on the city (cp. Herrlich's
statement of his interpretation in Berliner philol. Wochensclzrift,
1151 f.)? Or are we to think of Matt. x. 15 in this connection (so
Zeits. f neatest. Wiss., 1904, pp. 167 f.)? The existence of Christians
at Pompeii cannot therefore be maintained. But, on the
hand, it is deferring too much to Tertullian to infer from Apol. xl.
were no Christians in Campania and Etruria previous to 73 A.D.
affirm this, but simply because it suits his convenience; he can hardly
had any information on the subject, for Africa possessed no knowledge
Christians in these provinces in Tertullian's day. -A terra-cotta lamp
recently been dug up at Pompeii
with the "Christ" monogram. Sogliano's account of it has been
reproduced in many journals. But Labanca (Il Giornale d' Italia, 14th
1905) and others have justly expressed their skepticism on the
discovery. In my
judgment, it simply corroborates the old suspicion that this monogram
pagan origin. -It is impossible to prove that there were Christians at
period in the towns mentioned in Acts (Ashdod in Philistia, Seleucia,
Attalia in Pamphylia, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Assus, Malta, Mitylene, Miletus, etc.) which have been omitted from the
Domitilla was banished to the island of Pontia (or Pandataria ?).-I ignore, as uncertain,
place-names which occur only in apocryphal Acts, together with all
provinces and countries described
there and nowhere else as
districts in which missions are said
to have existed as early as the apostolic age.
reign, then, Christianity had spread as far as the shores of the Tyrrhenian
sea, perhaps even as far as Spain
itself. Its headquarters lay in Antioch,
on the western and north-western shores of Asia Minor,
and at Rome, where, as in Bithynia,
it had already attracted the attention of the authorities. "Cognitiones
Christianis," judicial proceedings against Christians, were afoot in
metropolis; Nero, Domitian, and Trajan had taken action with reference
new movement. Apropos of Rome in Nero's reign, Tacitus speaks of a
ingens," while Pliny employs still stronger terms in reference to
Bithynia, and Ignatius (ad Ephes. iii.) describes the Christian bishops
Karcc -ru -repara optaecvref, </g> "settled on the outskirts of
earth." Decades ago the new religion had also penetrated the imperial
and even the Flavian house itself.
Christian communities can be traced before 180 A.D. (i.e., before the
under I., the following have to be added:
number of churches in the environs of Syrian Antioch (Ignat., ad Philad., 10), whose names are unknown, though one thinks of Seleucia in particular (cp, Acta
a number of churches
in the environs of Smyrna (Irenaeus, in Eus, H.E., v. 20.
and many Asiatic churches (ibid., v.24).
Africanus, Bardesanes, etc.).
Churches in Mesopotamia or on the Tigris (see below, under III.).
Ardabau = <g> Kap3a/3a ?] iv r3) Kara ra v cbpuylav Mucrica, </g> (Anti-Montanist, in Eus., H.E., v, 16; see Ramsay's Phrygia, p. ,573. Only known to us as
the birthplace of Montanus).
Apamea in Phrygia (Eus., v. 16).
a village in Phrygia (Eus., v. 16).
Caesarea in Cappadocia (Alexander the local bishop, Clem. Alex.).
Melitene (where the local legion, the "Thundering," contained a large number of Christians, as is proved by the miracle of the rain, narrated by Eus. v.
7, in the reign of M. Aurelius).
Philomelium in Pisidia (Mart.
in Mysia (probably, acc to the Acta Onesiphori).
Nicomedia (Dionys. Cor., in Eus., H.E. , iv. 23).
Otrus in Phrygia (anti-Montanist, in Eus., H.E., v. 16). \3/
in Phrygia (probably, acc. to the inscriptions of Abercisu).
Pepuza in Phrygia (Apollonius, in Eus., H.E., v. 18).
Tymion (=Dumanli?) in Phrygia (ibid.).
Same in Cephallenia (Clem. Alex.,
Strom, III. ii. 5).
A number of churches in Egypt (cp. Iren, i. 10, the activity of
Basilides and Valentinus there, and retrospective inferences: details
Naples (catacombs of St. Gennaro).
Churches in Greater Greece. \4/
Syracuse (catacombs, but not absolutely
= Kap3a/3a ?]
r3) Kara ra
in Eus., H.E.,
Ramsay's Phrygia, p. ,573.
known to us as the
(Eus., v. 16).
a village in Phrygia
Ancyra in Galatia \6/
(Eus., vi. 16).
(Hippol., in Epiph., flier.,x1ii.
in Eus., iv.
Ens., v. 19).
(Dionys. Cor., in
Gortyna in Crete (ibid.).\9/
(epistle of local church in Eus. V. 1
v. 1 f.)
Carthage (certain inferences
Maduara in Numidia
Scilium (Scili) \10/ in North Africa
Churches in Gaul
(among the Celts; Iren.). \11/
Churches in Germany
Churches in Spain (Iren).
\1/ Cp. below, on Map I.
\2/ The proximity of Derbe
and Lystra, as well as the remarks of Eusebius (H E., vi. 19), make it
probable that a Christian community existed here before 180 A. D.
Ramsay(St Paul the Traveler, etc., third
ed., 1897, pp. vii. f.): ''Christianity spread with marvelous rapidity
end of the first and in the second century in the parts of Phrygia that
along the road from Pisidian Antioch to Ephesus, and in the
Iconium, whereas it did not become powerful in those parts of Phrygia
adjoined North Galatia till the fourth century."
\4/ In greater Greece, Clement of
Alexandria (c. 16o?)
met a Christian teacher from Syria and another from Egypt (Strom., I, i. ii). Hence there must have
Christians in one or two of the coast towns of Lower Italy, otherwise no
would have stayed there.
Though this church is not mentioned till afterwards (Alexander in Eus.,
vi. 19), our information about it, together with the size of the town,
its position as above. Cp. also the remarks of Dionysius in Eus„ H.E.,
\6/ Myrra in Lycia perhaps had a Christian community (cp. Acta
<g> 'H EKKAr7oia f1 1rapoLKovea"Aµaorpty 2µa 'rays Sara novrov
[EK,CA77oiats]. </g> Thus Dionysius proves that several Pontic
were in existence by 170 A.D.
\8/ Byzantium, too, had probably a church of its own (cp.
vii. 35 ; perhaps one should also refer to Tert., ad Scap., iii.).
<g> 7 'H EKKAr7oia i aapoucou"oa Popruvav `2'µa rays Aotaays Kara
Kpi7r?7v aapobaats </g> - evidently there were a number of
churches in Crete
by this time. It is highly probable also that Christian churches
existed in Cyrenaica before 180 A.D. (cp. below, under "Cyrenaica "). <g> Kvpii[nrl]
in the Acta
Syria, but the context is
in too bad a state to permit of any inferences being
drawn from it.
\10/ It is extremely
Uthina, Lambese, Hadrumetum, and Thysdrus should also be
included, since Tertullian (de
Monog. xii., ad Scap. iii.-iv.) implies that there
were churches there. Cirta, too, would
have to be added to their
\11/ Renan (Marc. Aurele, p. 452) declares: " Le Bretagne avait sans doute deja
A. o. ] vu des missionnaires
de Jesus." But his evidence, the Quartodeciman
controversy, is quite insufficient. " Sans doute " has a " possible," like itself. " Il est possible que
eglises de Bretagne aient dil leer origine
iu des Phrygiens, a des Asiates,
qui fonderent les eglises de Lyon, de
Vienne." "Possible”! Why
not? One needs to be a
Breton to lay any stress
on such an abstract possibility.
\12/ So that perhaps Cologne (possibly Mainz also?) had a church.
there were Christians in all the Roman provinces, and in fact beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. And already
the majority of these Christians comprised a great federation, which assumed a
consolidated shape and polity about the year 180.
A list of places where Christian communities can be shown to
have existed previous to 325 A.D. (the council of Nicaea); together
with some brief account
of the spread of Christianity
throughout the various provinces.