Asia Minor, Early Church in
ASIA MINOR, EARLY CHURCH IN
In extant documents, the fifth-century author orosius (Patrologia Latina. ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 1878–90.] 31:679A) is the first to use the term Asia Minor. The name Asia occurred earlier and designated the Roman Province that developed from the kingdom of Pergamum bequeathed to Rome by Attalus III (d. 133 b.c.). To the Attalid legacy were subsequently added Mysia, Lydia, Caria, Phrygia, Cappadocia, Bithynia, Galatia, and Pontus. At the beginning of the Christian era the territory thus augmented was coextensive with the Asiatic peninsula of which Ephesus was the administrative center. In the late third century, Diocletian and his immediate successors reorganized the territory into the Diocese of Asia in seven separate provinces along the lines of the older boundaries: Proconsular Asia, the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Rhodes, and Cyprus, the Hellespont and Cyzicus, Lydia, Caria, Phrygia I Pacatiana, and Phrygia II Salutaris. To the Byzantines this area was known as mikrà Asía or Anatolé, and still later it was called the Levant.
Culture and Religion. Asia Minor, the bridge between East and West, felt the impact of many cultures, some dating back to the third millennium b.c. More important for the early Church, however, were the contacts established there with Hellenistic civilization, the Hellenized Jews of the Diaspora, the Roman imperial administration, and the mystery religions. The great temple of Diana at Ephesus and the cult image of the Mother Goddess and her mysteries were factors that left traces of influence on the manner in which the Christian gospel was proclaimed. Well-organized Jewish communities in all the large cities, though frequently hostile to Christianity (see Acts 13.45; 14.2), disposed many for accepting its message. The presence of diverse ethnic groups seems to have minimized any national resistance to Christianity, such as the Syro-Phoenician sun-worship at Emesa.
Knowledge of the spread of Christianity in apostolic times is limited to the information gathered from the books of the New Testament. The record of Paul's activity in Asia Minor is found in Acts ch. 13–16 and 18 or can be inferred from his Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Galatians. The messages directed by John to the seven Churches in Asia (Rv 1.11; ch. 2, 3), each located in a capital city with a conventus juridicus —Ephesus, the largest market west of the Taurus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea—all point to an urban-centered Church in the region that was to become the land of Christianity par excellence.
The Post-apostolic Age. Evidence of the growth of Christianity centers in important places, as is indicated by the letters of ignatius of antioch to the Churches in Asia Minor. It tends to become slightly more detailed in regard to specific persons. Smyrna gained renown through its Bishop Polycarp, the spokesman with Pope Anicetus for the Church in Asia Minor in the easter controversy. The account of his martyrdom (Martyrium Polycarpi ), written, in its earliest form, immediately after his death, continued to focus attention on the Church of that city. Laodicea is known for its Bishop Sagaris, who died as a martyr (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.26.3), and Eumenia in Phrygia is famous for its martyr Bishop Thraseas (ibid. 5.24.4). Ephesus took on a preeminence that it held for many years; it is known in this period for its Bishop Polycrates, who presided at a synod c. 190 attended by numerous bishops (ibid. 5.24). Hierapolis in Phrygia is especially remembered for two of its bishops, Papias, author of an Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord, and Apollinaris, an apologist and strenuous opponent of montanism. Sardis merits specific mention because its Bishop Melito was distinguished as an apologist and author of numerous treatises (ibid. 5.28.5).
The Church in Asia Minor was disturbed by the rigoristic errors and the so-called "new prophecy" of Montanus in Phrygia and by the Monarchian teachings of Noëtus of Smyrna. From the closing years of this period comes the earliest extant nonliterary evidence concerning the spread of Christianity, recorded in the inscription of abercius, Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia Salutaris.
Only a few place names are known as early centers of Christianity. caesarea in cappadocia, under the leadership of its Bishop firmilian, was a thriving center of missionary activity. Between 230 and 235 two important councils were held, one at Iconium, the other at Synnada, attended by bishops from Galatia, Phrygia, Cappadocia, and Cilicia. On both occasions the bishops of Asia Minor denied the validity of heretical baptism, thus anticipating the decision of the African bishops in the Council of carthage of 256 under the leadership of cyprian (Epistula 75.7).
The tragic event for the Church in this period was the Decian persecution and the serious problem it caused in dealing with lapsi. Only two authentic contemporary accounts of the martyrs in Asia Minor are extant. The Acta Pionii relate the martyrdom of the presbyter Pionius of Smyrna and the apostasy of his bishop, Euctemon, a successor of Polycarp (Acta Pionii 15; 16). The Passio SS. Carpi et sociorum gives the details of the trial and death of Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonice at Pergamum [see Analecta Bollandiana 58 (1940) 142–176]. Later information coming from Gregory of Nyssa (Patrologia Graeca. ed J. P. Migne [Paris 1857–66] 46:944–953) tells of the ravages of this persecution in Pontus and the flight of Gregory Thaumaturgus. Legendary accounts of martyrdoms purporting to date from this persecution are numerous; among them is the account of the seven sleepers of ephesus walled up in a cave during the Decian persecution; their alleged tomb was a famous place of pilgrimage till the days of the Turkish conquest of Asia Minor. Toward the end of the third century, methodius of olympus, an early opponent of Origen, defended Christianity against the attacks of Porphyry. Of his voluminous writings, only one, the Symposium or Banquet of the Ten Virgins, has survived in its entirety.
The Diocletian Persecution. While the Church in Asia Minor suffered greatly during this period, surviving documents yield little detailed information. It is recorded that "armed soldiers surrounded a little town in Phrygia, of which the inhabitants were all Christians, every man of them, and setting fire to it burnt them all, along with young children and women" (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 8.11.1). The little town is probably Eumeneia. Pontus felt the terror of persecution in which judges are said to have vied with one another, "ever inventing novel tortures, as if contending for prizes in a contest" (ibid. 8.12.1). A third place in Asia Minor afflicted by this persecution was Cappadocia (ibid. 8.12.1).
With the accession of Constantine I a new era began for the Church. Local councils dealing with doctrinal and disciplinary matters became frequent, and great ecumenical councils met in this region to deal with fundamental Christian teachings. From the great urban centers, Christianity spread to the outlying districts, thus increasing the number of the chorepiscopi or bishops (see chorbishop) of rural areas, 50 of whom are said to have been assisting the bishop of Caesarea by the end of the fourth century. The pattern for the administrative organization of the Church into metropolitan sees with suffragan bishops was set in Asia Minor.
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