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Period Iii The Critical Period

The interval between the close of the post-apostolic age and the end of
the second century, or from about 140 to 200, may be called the Critical
Period of Ancient Christianity. In this period there grew up conceptions
of Christianity which were felt by the Church, as a whole, to be
fundamentally opposed to its essential spirit and to constitute a serious
menace to the Christian faith as it had been commonly received. These
conceptions, which grew up both alongside of, and within the Church, have
been grouped under the term Gnosticism, a generic term including many
widely divergent types of teaching and various interpretations of
Christian doctrine in the light of Oriental speculation. There were also
reactionary and reformatory movements which were generally felt to be out
of harmony with the development upon which Christian thought and life had
already entered; such were Montanism and Marcionism. To overcome these
tendencies and movements the Christian churches in the various parts of
the Roman Empire were forced, on the one hand, to develop more completely
such ecclesiastical institutions as would defend what was commonly
regarded as the received faith, and, on the other hand, to pass from a
condition in which the various Christian communities existed in isolated
autonomy to some form of organization whereby the spiritual unity of the
Church might become visible and better able to strengthen the several
members of that Church in dealing with theological and administrative
problems. The Church, accordingly, acquired in the Critical Period the
fundamental form of its creed, as an authoritative expression of belief;
the episcopate, as a universally recognized essential of Church
organization and a defence of tradition; and its canon of Holy Scripture,
at least in fundamentals, as the authoritative primitive witness to the
essential teachings of the Church. It also laid the foundations of the
conciliar system, and the bonds of corporate unity between the scattered
communities of the Church were defined and recognized. At the same time,
the Church developed in its conflict with heathenism an apologetic
literature, and in its conflict with heresy a polemical literature, in
which are to be found the beginnings of its theology or scientific
statement of Christian truth. Of this theology two lines of development
are to be traced: one a utilization of Greek philosophy which arose from
the Logos doctrine of the Apologists, and the other a realistic doctrine
of redemption which grew out of the Asia Minor type of Christian teaching,
traces of which are to be found in Ignatius of Antioch.

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