The Early Church Rome
The Early Church

First capital of the Roman Empire, center of early western Christianity, eventually the primatial see of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Colosseum at Rome,
late 1st century A.D.

Christianity in Rome seems to have emerged from the community of Greek-speaking Jews in the city. The Christian congregation in the imperial capital appears to have been well established by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Christians of the city in the late 50s. Paul visited Rome between 59 and 61, and tradition holds that both Paul and Peter were martyred in the city. 1 Peter along with certain of Paulís letters and perhaps other books of the New Testament were written in Rome. The Emperor Nero sponsored the first official persecutions of Christians in Rome in 64. The theological traditions of the early Christian community in Rome reflect classical Roman interests in law and polity. Early theological traditions in the city reflect both these traditional Roman interests and the Jewish antecedents of the first community in Rome. As these traditions developed, they emphasized moral rigor and a concern for an ordered polity under the rule of bishops. Clement of Rome and Shepherd of Hermas illustrate these early traditions. The episcopal see of Rome eventually claimed primacy over the whole of the Christian church. By the sixth century the bishops of Rome claimed the title of "Pope," and by the eighth were increasingly successful in asserting their primacy over the West without the support of the Roman emperors resident in the East. Disputes over claims to primacy on the part of the bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople were one cause of division between the eastern and western churches. Rome was sacked by Arian Goths in 410 and again by Vandals in 455. Although the Roman Empire itself collapsed in 476, ushering in the middle ages in the West, the city of Rome continued to be an important center of Christianity in the West and later became the capital of the independent Papal States. The tiny and independent Vatican State, located within the modern city of Rome, remains the seat of the popes to the present.



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