Between the fourth and sixth centuries, Christianity grew from a small, dynamic sect into a fully-fledged belief; and its ministerial agent, the Roman Catholic Church, replaced the Roman Empire (Fiero, 2015). The history of these occurrences sheds light on the Christian identity, including the significance of its art, music, and architecture. Christian signs and symbols connected the discernable to the indiscernible world, and since the symbolic significance of an image carried greater weight than its literal meaning, the identification and interpretation of the figure were particularly important (Fiero, 2015). In Early Christian art, music, and literature, nearly every number was thought to bear symbolic meaning. The number 3, for instance, signified the Trinity; 4 represented the Evangelists; 5 characterized the wounds of Jesus; 12 stood for the Apostles, and so on (Fiero, 2015).
An example of this can be seen on page 204 (figure 9.3) of our textbook. Before Christianity was made lawful in 313, pictorial symbols also served the purpose of distinguishing new converts to the faith among themselves (Fiero, 2015).Early Christians doubted the deep and moving powers of music, especially instrumental music (Fiero, 2015). But, the most important music of Christian relic, and that, which became significant to the ritual of the Church, was the music of the Mass (Fiero, 2015). In the West, the service called “High Mass” included a sequence of Latin chants known as plainsong, plainchant, or Gregorian chant—the last because Gregory the Great was said to have arranged the many types of religious chant that existed in Early Christian times (Fiero, 2015).
The rhythms of Gregorian chant reverberated through Early Christian churches, whose hollow walls must have contributed to creating effects that were unearthly and spellbinding (Fiero, 2015). The ratification of Christianity made it possible to build prodigious houses for public devotion; as with the sacred temples, the Christian church consisted of a “hierarchy of spaces that ushered the devotee from the chaos of the everyday world into the serenity of the sacred chamber, and, ultimately, to the ritual of deliverance” (Fiero, 2015). Although Early Christian churches served as places of worship, they also entombed the skeletons of Christian martyrs, hence, churches were sizeable memorials (Fiero, 2015).
The church exterior, which reflected the practical allocations of the building’s interior, was usually left simple, while the interior was extravagantly ornamented with mosaics. An example of Christian architecture, specifically Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, can be seen on page 208 (figure 9.8) of our textbook.Even before the coming of Christ, communal austerity was a way of life among those who wanted an atmosphere for study and prayer and an alternative to the urban lifestyle (Fiero, 2015). Fasting, poverty, and celibacy were the vital features of the abstemious lifestyle, which was instituted by the Greek bishop, Saint Basil (Fiero, 2015). “Benedictine monks followed a routine that freed them from dependence on the secular world, balanced by religious study and prayer: the daily recitation of the Divine Office” (Fiero, 2015). This system gave structure and protected an ancient tradition.
But, as Greek and Roman sources of education desiccated, the task of conserving the history and literature of the past fell to the cloisters. Over time, Benedictine monasteries provided education, sponsored music, and art, and generated a continuous stream of missionaries, scholars, mystics, and Church reformers (Fiero, 2015). In the creation of Christian doctrine and ritual in the West, the most important figures were four Latin scholars: Jerome, Ambrose, Gregory, and Augustine.
Saint Jerome translated the Hebrew Bible and the Greek books of the “New Testament” into Latin. Ambrose wrote some of the earliest Christian hymns for congregational use (Fiero, 2015). Gregory founded the organizational system by which all succeeding popes would govern the Church of Rome (Fiero, 2015). The most influential of all the Fathers was Augustine; his dissertations on the nature of the soul, free will, and the delineation of evil made him the greatest philosopher of Christian relic (Fiero, 2015). An example of his autobiography, Confessions, is on page 201 (reading 9.3) of our textbook.The principal formula of Christian belief, as it stands, is the turning point between Classical rationalism and Christian spirituality (Fiero, 2015). It embraces faith and the clairvoyance of truths that surpass ordinary interpretation. As such, it anticipates the shift from a homocentric Classical world-view to the God-centered medieval world-view (Fiero, 2015).
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