This was the Good News (Gospel) proclaimed by an itinerant Jewish teacher (rabbi) and faith-healer called Yesu (a Galilean short form of Yehoshua) bar Yosef (Jesus son of Joseph) from the hick town of Nazareth in the Roman province of Judea (formerly the southern Kingdom of Judah), in what is now Israel. Jesus was regarded by his Jewish followers as the Meshiach (Messiah). They expected him to liberate Judea from the brutal Roman Occupation. During the Passover of approximately the year 30 of the Common Era, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, had Jesus scourged and crucified (executed by being hung from a cross) for the crime of sedition against the authority of the Roman Empire. Three days later, Jesus began appearing to many of his followers alive, in the flesh as the Risen Christ. This event, the Resurrection, galvanized his followers to proclaim what they had witnessed by teaching and preaching throughout first Judea, and then the world.
The most effective of these preachers was a Pharisee named Saul (Greek name Paul). Paul undertook as his special mission to bring Christianity to the Goyim (Gentiles) throughout the Roman Empire. The letters (epistles) he wrote to the churches he founded form the earliest documents of the Christian faith. Others wrote epistles as well, and these were read at clandestine gatherings of Christians until some of the original eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (Apostles) among Yesu's closest students (disciples) began to die. At this point, disciples of the Apostles wrote what we now call Gospels, which were various versions of the life and sayings of Jesus.
Some 300 years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire. This completed the transformation of Christianity from a variant of Judaism to distinct and exclusively Gentile religion. During this process, much of Jewish liturgy (especially the use of Hebrew) and ritual (especially rituals for worship at home) were discarded or simplified in order to make the religion palatable to a Roman pagan sensibility. Constantine's Council of Nicaea fixed (for the most part) the present form of the Christian Bible, which includes a rearrangement of the Hebrew Bible called the Old Testament, followed by the New Testament, which consists of the four canonical Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Epistles of Paul and other writers, and the Revelation to John.
Christianity has split into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) traditions, and Protestantism has further fragmented into Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist and other flavors, all with slightly different theological emphases, liturgical (worship) practices, organizational structures (or lack thereof) and social traditions. Christians understand that these schisms (and church politics generally) are manifestations of the present flawed Human Condition, which they attribute to Original Sin (an innate tendency to use our God-given Free Will to disobey God's Will). All of these branches adhere to some version of the Christian Calendar. A new, North American variant of Christianity is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church.
The central message of Christianity is the Incarnation of God as Jesus, his death by Crucifixion, and his Resurrection to new life. Christians believe that this event sequence establishes a new covenant between God and all of Humanity, by which we humans receive Forgiveness of our Sins so that we, too, will be Resurrected to a glorious new life with God, after we die to this Universe. In response to this Good News, Christians are expected to spread the message of Christianity through thought (prayer, study), word (teaching, preaching) and deed (right living, obedience to God's Commandments, ministry, charity).
While there are strains of exclusivity in Christianity, including a poisonous anti-Semitism which set the stage for the Holocaust (Shoah) of the Jews during World War II, as well as a poisonous antipathy toward Islam which set the stage for the Crusades in the Late Middle Ages, there are also strong movements within Christianity to reach out to adherents of these religions, as well as to Buddhists and indeed, to all Humanity. Christianity contains several opposing traditions, such as Just War theory (a temporal ruler may be under a positive moral obligation to make war to defend his or her people) and pacifism (there is never any justification for violence).
Christianity has shaped most of the history, philosophy (political and moral), and legal tradition of Western Civilization (including idea of the sanctity of individual Human Rights). The current fashion on the part of Western intellectual elites to abandon Christianity therefore risks cutting off Western Civiization from the powerful mythic basis (in the Joseph Campbell sense) of its identity and reason to exist. That is to say, if these elites cut off the past, they may lose the way forward as well.
For more on Christianity, check out the links below.
The Christian Church as a Whole
- Christian Classics Ethereal Library Christian writings online, from early to modern
- Guide to Early Church Documents
- Ecole Initiative online documents from early church history
- Fides Quaerens Internetum, the Christian Theology Page
- Creeds of Christendom
- Creeds and Confessions
- About.com: Christianity
- Christianity FAQ for new Christians and old skeptics
- BELIEVE Religious Information Collection — Scholarly articles
- VCBC's Top Ten Fallacies About Christianity
- Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi Catholicism par excellence.
- New Advent Catholic SuperSite.
- The Holy See (The Vatican's official website).
- Documents of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) John Paul II on the moral teaching authority of the Church.
- Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) John Paul II on the sanctity of innocent human life.
- Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) John Paul II on the life of mind and soul.
- Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Paul VI's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
- Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) John XXIII on society, war and nuclear weapons.
- Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) Paul VI's Declaration on Relations with Non-Christians.
- We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah
- Writings of St. Augustine the original source of Christian Fundamentalist hermeneutics and apologetics.
- The "Confessio" of Saint Patrick the autobiography of the Irish savior of Western Civilization.
- The Mary Page
- Jesuit Resources on the World Wide Web
- Images and Words of the Desert Fathers
- The Orthodox Christian Information Center
- Catechism of The Eastern Orthodox Church
- Orthodox Church in America
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Protection of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church
- Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America
- Coptic Orthodox Church
- Project Wittenberg, online texts by and about Luther and other Lutherans.
- Jesus, Mary, and Martin, a page of Lutheran mariology.
- Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics Calvinism explained.
- The Religious Society of Friends. They tolerate all expressions of faith, even ours.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints