During the fourth century AD, the world church held four cities as major episcopal Sees --- Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. As the church became secular, the glory of the Saviour was lost, and with the rise of Constantinople, the four big cities took precedence.
Antioch in Syria became the missionary centre for the apostle Paul, and when returning from his travels, he encouraged believers with his experiences. Prophets also came from Jerusalem to exhort the people. It was here the believers were first called Christians.
What was the city of Antioch like?
Antioch in Syria was founded in 301BC by Seleucus I Nicator, a former general of Alexander the Great. It was the capital of the Seleucid kingdom until 64BC when it was annexed by Rome and made the capital of the Roman province of Syria.
Antioch lies in a beautiful valley at the mouth of the Orontes River, 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the Syrian border. It used to be known as Antioch by the Orontes to distinguish it from Antioch in Pisidia.
It soon became an important terminus for trade, situated at the crossroads of trade routes south to Palestine and Egypt, east to Persia, and west to the Asia Minor peninsula. Its economy thrived because of its strategic position. 1
Antioch had a population of over 500,000, including a Jewish colony of 70,000.
It became the third largest city of the Roman Empire in size and importance, and was the Empire’s eastern border from Persian attack. During the fourth century, Antioch was the centre of Greek life and culture. 2
It was called “Antioch the Great, Queen of the East.” Josephus ranked it as the third greatest city of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. 3 The Romans called it “beautiful Antioch”.
The two main streets ran at right angles to each other. They were lined with marble colonnades and adorned with temples, palaces and statues. 4
The suburb of Daphne, five miles to the south, was a favourite pleasure resort and residential area for the upper class. Pleasure seekers enjoyed magnificent temples, theatres, a forum and public baths. Water was stored in aqueducts and was so abundant that almost every home had a fountain.
Very few remains are visible in Antioch today. Most lie buried beneath thick flood deposits from the Orontes River. Archaeologists have unearthed a number of large mosaic floors from both private houses and public buildings.
Antioch was the “flourishing home of a learned, devoted Christianity, clinging closely to the early simplicity of the gospel, and refusing to adopt the unscriptural teachings and customs of heathenism that were gaining ground in some professed Christian bodies.” 5
Over time, certain bishops of Antioch became influential in theology and ecclesiastic politics.
During the third century AD, a Christian scholar by the name of Lucian, discerned that there were two movements taking shape in Christendom, one accepting the doctrines of heathenism, the other based on the Word of God.
Enthusiastic for the truth, Lucian began a school for Biblical studies in Antioch, a place of learning that would follow closely the true text of the Scriptures. Two of his students were Arius the Libyan and Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Lucian was noted for his scholarship and ascetic piety. He had an enduring influence on Biblical textual study and is known for his critical revision of the Septuagint text and the Greek New Testament. He based his revision on the original Hebrew, emphasising the need for textual accuracy.
Lucian’s Bible was the oldest Greek New Testament in existence. It was used by the Greek fathers and replaced all others. It became the basis of the textus receptus, the text upon which the King James Bible was translated.
In his witness to the heathen, Lucian testified of the darkness that covered the cross at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. He appealed to them, “Search your writings and you shall find that, in Pilate’s time, when Christ suffered, the sun was suddenly withdrawn and a darkness followed.” 6
This darkness extended even to Rome. It was not an eclipse although many thought it was. “There was the largest and most famous eclipse that had ever occurred. The day was so turned into night at the 6th hour (midday) that the stars were seen.” 7
When darkness descended upon the cross, there was an earthquake in Bithynia. It destroyed many houses in the city of Nicaea. Was God speaking to the world at that moment?
We do not know very much about the beliefs of Lucian, but we know He believed the Son was a distinct being in the image of the Father, and that He came to this earth and took a human body. Scholars could not fault his scholarship, but there were differences in his
in his understanding of the Son of God.
Wilkinson asked, “What must have stirred the mind of Lucian… (by) the philosophical speculations offered to sustain the theological viewpoint held by the bishop of Rome concerning the Godhead?” 8
No record has been found that Lucian was a participant in this controversy, and no charge of factionalism (taking sides in religious arguments) was brought against him. He died thirteen years before the Council of Nicaea.
Lucian gained respect and popularity among Byzantine writers, but not for his beliefs.
It was the quality of his writing that attracted the scholars.
Lucian was martyred in AD312 at the hands of the Roman Emperor Maximinus. 9
Alexandria was originally a small port town of Rhakotis on the coast of the Mediterranean, but in 331BC it was turned into a great sea port by Alexander the Great. Alexander put the work into the hands of Cleomenes, while he moved on to conquer Tyre and Phoenicia.
The expansion of the city took place under the rule of Alexander’s general Ptolemy and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. 10 After Alexander’s death Ptolemy brought his body back to Alexandria where it was entombed.
Alexandria once had a famous lighthouse, on the island of Pharos in the harbour. It became one of the seven wonders of the world.
Consisting of a three-tiered stone tower, said to be over 120 metres high, and with a spiral ramp leading up to the platform where fires burnt at night. These were reflected out to sea by metal mirrors. Above the fires was a huge statue of either Alexander or Ptolemy as the sun god Helios. 11
The city became the largest in the known world. Its design was noted by historian Strabo, who recorded, “The city has magnificent public precincts and royal palaces which cover a fourth or even a third of the entire area.” 12
The historian Mangasarian wrote, “Serving as the port of Europe, it attracted the lucrative trade of India and Arabia. Its markets were enriched with the gorgeous silks and fabrics from the bazaars of the Orient. Wealth brought leisure, and it in turn, the arts.” 13
The most beautiful edifice in Alexandria was the temple of Serapis. Historians claim it was “one of the grandest monuments of pagan civilization, second only to the temple of Jupiter in Rome, and the inimitable Parthenon in Athens.” 14
The temple was built on an artificial hill, to which ascended one hundred steps. It was not only one building, but a vast body of buildings, all grouped about a central building of much larger proportion. The temple had graceful pillars of huge magnitude.
Alexandria was the home of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.
In 31BC Octavian became Consul, and in BC27 he was awarded the name ‘Augustus’ (meaning sacred or revered), and thereafter is referred to as Caesar Augustus. The following year he conducted a census of the Roman population. This included Judea, although not as yet annexed to Rome. The census forced Mary and Joseph to return to their hometown of Bethlehem to be counted. 15
In 12BC Augustus Caesar became Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion. He died in 14AD and Tiberius became Caesar.
The harbour of Alexandria has changed over the years due to severe earthquakes. Much is now under water. Archaeological divers have discovered many magnificent artefacts that would have been part of Cleopatra’s palace. The treasures are taken out and copied, then returned to the water where they remain.
Alexandria had a magnificent library, begun by Ptolemy I Soter and completed by Ptolemy II. The latter ruler sent letters all over the Empire asking for contributions of books for the library.
According to historians Oakes and Gahlin, “There was room for up to 70,000 papyrus scrolls. Most of the items were bought, but other means were sometimes used. In order to procure coveted works, all ships entering the harbour were searched. Every book found was taken to the Library where it was decided whether to give it back or confiscate it and replace it with a copy.” 17
No one knows how many books the library actually housed, although the History Channel said there were 500,000 books. The historian and scholar Mangasarian wrote that they were “more precious than beaten gold.” 18
According to tradition, the Greek Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) was translated by seventy Jewish elders in Alexandria and completed in AD132.
Alexandria attracted all schools of thought -- scholars, scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, artists, historians, doctors. They studied at the university in connection with the library.
Doctors were attracted to the medical wing of the university because they were permitted to cut and operate on the human body. In Greece this was forbidden, but in Egypt, it was acceptable.
Mathematicians studied at the university, such as Archimedes, who was later himself studied by the students. Euclid taught geometry at the university. Heron, the greatest engineer and mathematician of his day was born in Alexandria.
Many scholars were invited to the University for research, not only to study, but also to share their knowledge. There were many large halls and meeting rooms for classes and public lectures. Beautiful gardens surrounded the buildings.
Alexandria also had an Ecclesiastical College. It began as a school of pagan philosophy called the Eclectic, with students calling themselves ‘eclectics’. They professed to be in search of truth alone and would adopt any tenet from anywhere that seemed to them to be truth. They held Plato to be above all others, so were also given the name Platonists.
“This philosophy was adopted by such of the learned at Alexandria as wished to be accounted Christians, and yet retain the name, the garb, and the rank of philosophers… These men were persuaded that true philosophy, the great and most salutary gift of God, lay in scattered fragments among all the sects of philosophers; and therefore, it was the duty of every wise man, and especially of a Christian teacher, to collect those fragments from all quarters, and to use them for the defence of religion and the confutation of impiety.” 19
One of the first of these ‘philosophers’ was Ammonius Saccas, who believed truth was known by all sects, but they stated differently. It was the task of the philosopher to find a way to state the truth so that all could understand it. These were called the New Platonists.
Presenting truth, “was to be accomplished by a system of allegorizing and mystification”, which meant anyone could see whatever they wanted to see in any writing. 20
One of the earliest of the philosophers who claimed to be a Christian at the Alexandrian Catechist School was Clement. He perceived that if Christianity was to be more than a religion for the uneducated it must come to terms with Greek philosophy and Greek science. He encouraged Christians to study philosophy, saying “Simple-minded Christians must no longer fear philosophy…” 21
Clement of Alexandria believed there were two meanings to Scripture, one visible, the other hidden. Like the shell of a nut is discarded, so the obvious meaning has no use. 22
When speaking of Christ’s miracle of changing the water to wine he said, Christ “gave life to the watery element of the meaning of the law, filling with his blood the doer of it who is of Adam, that is, the whole world; supplying piety with drink from the vine of truth, the mixture of the old law and of the new word, in order to the fulfilment of the predestined time.” 23
Did you understand that?
Clement was a teacher of Origen who went even further than his teacher. (Ammonius also taught him) Origen was much in demand as a preacher, a circumstance that provoked the disapproval of Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, who was anxious to control this free lay teacher.
Origen said, “The Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written.” 24
Instead of one hidden meaning in Scripture, Origen added four additional meanings. The hidden has within it two meanings: one moral and the other mystical. The mystical has within it two other meanings: the allegorical and the anagogical. It was also possible that the mystical had other meanings, from three to six. 25
This became the norm as a method of Alexandrian study. Lucian’s historical-grammatical method of study began in Antioch as a reaction to the allegorical method of study in Alexandria. 26
Alexandria became the seat of Gnosticism, a powerful movement that rejected the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. Lucian took his stand against this ‘no-law’ theory and taught the binding obligation of the Ten Commandments. He was called a “Judaizer” by Cardinal Newman, because he kept the 4th commandment. 27
Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin made trips to the school to interact with the scholars. Jerome’s influence has been far-reaching, primarily through the Vulgate Bible (the Latin version he translated), but also because he transmitted much of Greek thought to the West.
Another visitor to the university was Basil ‘the Great’, Bishop of Caesarea. When Eusebius of Caesarea died in AD370, Basil was chosen to succeed him. It was here his talents were called into action.
When Emperor Valens strove to introduce Arianism into his diocese, Basil fought to prevent it. Although inclined to banish the bishop, Valens left him unmolested. Basil, with the help of Athanasius, “tried to overcome its (the West) distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians (Arians). On the other hand, Basil was grievously offended by the extreme adherents of the Homoousians (Nicenes), who seemed to him to be reviving the Sabellian heresy.” 28
Athanasius was also a student at the Alexandrian Catechist School.
Christians who loved the Word of God at Alexandria tried their best to bring a true understanding of Scripture, but the system of philosophy and literature gradually gained the ascendency.
With so many learned men at the college and library, debate was a natural part of Alexandria, and the city became increasingly a battleground of warring faiths.
Rome had long been an important city for the Roman Empire, and because of its age, is often called the ‘eternal city’. The Romans believe it was founded in 753BC, but modern historians say it was 625BC.
Legend tells us that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars, the god of war. They were left to drown in a basket on the Tiber River, but were rescued by a she-wolf. After growing up, Romulus killed his brother and became the first king of Rome. 29
The city of Rome is on a hill, the Palatine Hill. It was one of a group of hills, traditionally counted as seven, around which the ancient city grew. The other hills are the Capitoline, the Quirinal, the Viminal, the Esquiline, the Caelian, and the Aventine. 30
Rome had four classes of people; all very important to the Romans. The lowest level consisted of slaves. They owned nothing and had no rights. The next class was called the plebeians; free people, who had little say in anything, unless they were wealthy. The next level was made up of the equestrians (or knights) and they were wealthy. If they were called to fight for Rome, each man was given a horse. The highest class constituted the nobles. They were called patricians and all power lay with them. 31
The Romans built tremendous roads, always in a straight line and over the top of hills. They built the catacombs to bury the dead.
They also built an incredible sewerage facility. A system of tunnels ran under the city, connected to pipes. When the Tiber river flooded, the excess water was naturally diverted through the sewerage tunnels and out to sea. This would effectively clean the system.
These tunnels are still in working order today, 2500 years later. 32
Rome began as a monarchy, but in 509BC changed to a Republic.
In 450BC, the first Roman law code was inscribed on 12 bronze tablets and publicly displayed in the Roman Forum. By 300BC, real political power in Rome was centred in the Senate, which at the time included only members of patrician and wealthy plebeian families.
The greatest challenge to Rome was Carthage, a powerful sea port in North Africa, on the other side of the Mediterranean. Both cities controlled an empire.
The most famous incident was when Hannibal (from Carthage) crossed the Alps to the north of Italy with his troops and his war-elephants, and invaded Italy. 33 One hundred years later, Carthage was completely destroyed. 34
By the fourth century AD, Rome had 28 public libraries. Many were destroyed by war, but some materials were recovered and placed in museums. The Vatican library is an outgrowth of one of these early libraries. It was begun in 1295 and today has the greatest collection of handwritten manuscripts in the world.
It also has vast underground archives. The historical records of the Church of Rome are stored there, including the names of those who died as martyrs in the Inquisition.
Every encyclical of bishops and popes is stored in the archives, with an up-to-date recall system, so that the current pope can quote previous popes at will.
The Vatican library also contains many ancient books, including the Scriptures.
These can be produced with a claim that their antiquity is proof of their authenticity. This was done when Codex Vaticanus ‘B’ was brought forth to be acclaimed by the world, as “the oldest and most reliable manuscripts (together with the Sinaiticus) of the Greek New Testament.” 35
The Vaticanus was written on vellum and believed to have been transcribed in the fourth century. 36
It was in the fourth century that the supremacy of the Roman Church really began to rise, although the bishops in Rome began taking liberties much earlier.
One historian noted, “The removal of the capital of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople in AD330, left the Western Church practically free from Imperial power, to develop its own form of organization.
The bishop of Rome, in the seat of the Caesars, was now the greatest man in the West, and was soon forced to become the political as well as the spiritual head…
Again and again, when barbarians attacked Rome, he was compelled to actually assume military leadership.
Eastern emperors frequently recognized the high claims of the popes in order to gain their assistance. It is not difficult to understand how, under these responsibilities, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, established in the pre-Constantine period, was emphasized, and magnified after AD 313, the Edict of Milan.” 37
Another historian stated, “Then (in the fourth century) for the first time the precedence among equals willingly conceded to Rome. In early stages it was turned into a claim of authority… and from that time never ceased to advance in pretensions, until it assumed the form of The Supremacy, that is, absolute dominion throughout Christendom.” 38
A later impetus for the Roman Church was the forged ‘Donation of Constantine’. It had tremendous influence upon the territorial claims of the Church.
The Donation of Constantine was purported to have been written by Constantine, in which he desired to promote the Chair of Peter over the Empire. Its seat was to have supreme authority over all churches in the world, and be judge in all that concerns the Christian faith. The clergy were to enjoy the high privileges of the Imperial Senate.
The last clause stated, “Constantine gives up the remaining sovereignty over Rome, the provinces, cities and towns of the whole of Italy or of the Western Regions, to Pope Silvester and his successors.” 40
The Donation did not surface until the eighth century under Pippin and Charlemagne. It was used by the Papacy to leverage power among the nations. 41
In AD366, a Spaniard by the name of Damasus came to the chair of Rome. During his reign as bishop, Damasus condemned heresies, including Arianism. He sent his legates to the Council of Constantinople in AD381, declaring himself to be the ‘Apostolic See’. This was confirmed by the Council.
His secretary Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate) heartily agreed with this designation. “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none save your Beatitude, that is, with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the Rock on which the Church is built. This is Noah's ark, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood overwhelms all…” 42
Innocent I introduced the concept of ‘primacy of jurisdiction’. He wrote, “...nothing which was done even in the most remote and distant provinces should be taken as finally settled unless it came to the notice of this See, that any just pronouncement might be confirmed by all the authority of this See, and that the other churches might from thence gather what they should teach.” 43
There is no question the city of Rome rose high above the other three cities. And its rise continued from its pagan form to its papal form, until it became the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
The city of Constantinoplewas built on the ancient city of Byzantium (founded in 657BC) by Constantine I in the fourth century. It was built on a natural harbour called the Golden Horn, with water on three sides, and on the other side a protective wall.
Constantine did not completely destroy the old city, but his ‘New Rome’ was four times the size of Byzantium. It was built on seven hills, just like Old Rome, and was divided into fourteen districts. Anciently a religious building was placed on each hill. 44
The streets of Constantinople were wide avenues lined with statues of Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, Diocletian and Constantine himself dressed as Apollo holding the world aloft
The two main streets were marked by a four-way arch, called the Tetrapylon. North of the arch stood the old basilica, which Constantine converted into a square court. It was surrounded by several porticos, housing a library and a forum. On the south was his magnificent palace.
Statues of antiquity were gathered from various parts of the Empire to adorn its public places. Marble columns graced the buildings, and mosaics covered the floors.
One of Constantine’s early concerns was to provide enough water for the city. Old Rome did not have a problem, but New Rome faced periods of intense drought in the summer and torrential rain in the winter. The city needed a reliable water supply. Sufficient aqueducts, tunnels and conduits brought water into the city, but there was a lack of storage. To solve the problem, the Binbirderek Cistern was constructed. 45
The city of Constantinople was patterned after Roman architecture, and its political life a copy of Rome. The army followed Roman military customs, and the city operated under Roman laws and rules. Officials took charge of building roads, bridges, wells, and caravan shelters.
Trade and industry were controlled by the government, and it was government policy that the poor receive free bread; the old and the blind receive benefits.
The people were well-educated and all spoke Greek. Everyone regarded themselves as Romans. The new city was dedicated to God by Emperor Constantine as a Christian city.
The modern Church of Sophia became a mosque. It is now a museum.
Churches were magnificent. Relics were gathered from all over the Christian world and displayed in monuments, palaces, and churches.
The bodies of saints rested in beautiful shrines and thousands prayed at the shrines to cure their ills.
These holy relics “excited the covetousness of the Latin clerics.” 46
Constantinople is now called Istanbul. It was a gradual change, first the spelling to the Turkish Konstantiniye. Greek road signs were displayed as Stanbulin (meaning ‘to the city’). Muslims mocked and said it should be Islambol (meaning ‘Islam abounds’). These names were used interchangeably until it was settled in the 1960s as Istanbul. 47
Now that we have pictured the four cities of Christendom, our minds can better understand what it was like for the men and women who lived there. These were not tiny villages. Each city was a great metropolis with thousands of people going about their business, either for pleasure, work or study.
During times of persecution, God’s people retreated to their mountains, but when peace reigned, they witnessed to the people of the cities.
The historian Stanley stated, “Doubtless there are many points both in sacred and in common history, both in civil and ecclesiastical records, where we must be content to remain in suspense.
History will have left half its work undone, if it does not teach us humility and caution. But essential truth can almost always be found, truth of all kinds can with due research be usually found: she lies, no doubt, in a well; but we may be sure that she is there if we dig deep enough.” 48