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Early Christianity may be divided into 2 distinct phases: the apostolic period, when the first apostles were alive and led the Church, and the post-apostolic period, when an early episcopal structure developed, and persecution was periodically intense.The Roman persecution of Christians ended in AD 324 when Constantine the Great decreed tolerance for the religion.These men reportedly knew and studied under the apostles personally and are therefore called Apostolic Fathers.Each Christian community also had presbyters, as was the case with Jewish communities, who were also ordained and assisted the bishop.There is no agreement on how Christianity managed to spread so successfully prior to the Edict of Milan and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that Christianity triumphed over paganism chiefly because it improved the lives of its adherents in various ways.



Edward Gibbon in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire discusses the topic in considerable detail in his famous Chapter Fifteen, summarizing the historical causes of the early success of Christianity as follows: "(1) The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses.He then called the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils.In his "Great Commission", the resurrected Jesus commanded that his teachings be spread to all the world.The very earliest accounts of belief are contained in these texts, such as early creeds and hymns, as well as accounts of the Passion, the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances; some of these are dated to the 30s or 40s AD, originating within the Jerusalem Church.

The post-apostolic period concerns the time after the death of the apostles (roughly 100 AD) until persecutions ended with the legalisation of Christian worship under Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius.

Christianity expanded throughout the world and became the world's largest religion due to European colonialism.



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