Original Research

Schism, syncretism and politics: Derived and implied social model in the self-definition of early Christian orthodoxy

Rugare Rukuni, Erna Oliver
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 4 | a5341 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i4.5341 | © 2019 Rugare Rukuni | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 November 2018 | Published: 25 September 2019

About the author(s)

Rugare Rukuni, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Erna Oliver, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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The first 400 years of Christianity posed an intricate scenario of social dynamics. The interplay of these social dynamics or catalysts analogous to time perceivably conceived the political-religious establishment that then forged orthodoxy. The resultant continuum that was consequent of the imperial religious-political merger upon the following eras further established a formative impact of these catalysts. As a revisionist analysis of the era leading up to the Constantinian turn, and a parallel comparison between preceding and following eras, this research proposes an alternate construction to the narrative of Early Christianity orthodoxy. The preceding position derives from the attempt at the development of a modular theory through which Christianity can be analysed. Through document analysis, a literature review was accomplished. The development of early Christianity from inception to 400 CE when deduced against enculturating influences implies a sociological study. From the three perceived phases that Christianity went through, Jewish-Christian schism, Hellenism and then imperial interventional politics, implications can be made upon latter eras and derivations can be deduced from earlier eras. Significantly, there seems to have been a resurgent theme in the person of religious-political institutions that consolidated their positions. The synergy and inevitability of the process that preceded the first ecumenical council are confirmed in both a positive and negative substantiation of the proposed model. The emergent episcopal leadership in Christianity and its consolidation averse to the political dynamics of imperial Rome implied a composite significance of all factors. Similarly, the intransigent nature of certain African Christian elements argues for the inevitability of cultural enculturation as precedent to political definition in the formation of a universal orthodoxy.


Church history; Jewish-Christian schism; Hellenism; Imperial orthodoxy; Politics; Enculturation; Self-definition; Social model


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