Christianity is the largest religion followed today. Divided among Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Churces, Christianity remains a potent force in today’s world of ever-increasing turbulence and turmoil. Here are some interesting facts about it –
1. Strangled At the Stake
One of the world’s most familiar Bible translations was made and printed by by the English religious scholar and reformer William Tyndale in the first half of the 16th century. His versions of the Old and New Testaments were largely taken over by the Authorised Version – also known as the King James Bible – which was first published in 1611 and is still in use today. Tyndale wrote in ordinary, everyday English – language, he said, that every ploughboy would be able to understand. But his efforts outraged the orthodox churchmen of his day. They felt that Tyndale was usurping the Church’s role as guardian and sole interpreter of the Scriptures. Only scholars could read the Latin and Greek translations then in existence; and almost all scholars were priests. To escape persecution, Tyndale was forced, in 1524, to flee to the Continent. The following year his New Testament translation was published in Germany and copies of it were smuggled into England – much to the annoyance of Henry VIII, who accused Tyndale, a Protestant, of spreading sedition.
Tyndale later moved to Holland, where he published English versions of parts of the Old Testament and revised versions of the New Testament. But in 1535 he was arrested by the authorities in Antwerp and accused of heresy. He was taken to state prison for the Low Countries at Vilvorde and brought to trial the following year. After being found ‘guilty’, he was strangled at the stake and his body burnt. To the end, his greatest regret was that his work had been banned in his homeland. And his last words were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”
2. Martyrs of the Papacy
When Pope John Paul II – the first non-Italian Pope since the Dutch-born Adrian VI (1522 – 23) – was shot and wounded by a Turkish gunman in Rome in 1981, the Christian world was outraged. But he was by no means the first Pope to become the target of violence. Of the 266 churchmen who have so far held office as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, 33 have died by violence. Of the 266 churchmen who have so far held office as head of the Roman Catholic Church, 33 have died by violence.
The earliest martyr was St. Peter, regarded by Catholics as the first Pope, who is believed to have been crucified upside down in about AD 64 during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero.
The first to be assassinated (rather than executed on a government’s orders) was John VIII, who was killed in December 882.
Despite the pomp that often surrounds the Vatican, the pope – the word comes from the Greek “pappas”, meaning “father” – has long had a formal reminder of humility. Since the reign of Gregory I (590 – 604), every pope had called himself the ‘Servant of the servants of God’.
3. The Face of Christ
Because the early Church disapproved of idols, there is no contemporary record of Christ’s physical appearance. The earliest representations, showing him as a beardless youth, date only from the 3rd century. And the traditional vision of a bearded Christ began only in the 4th century. Christ’s life and teachings, however, were set down very quickly in the New Testament, all of which was written within about 70 years of his death in AD 30. The earliest document was St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, written in about AD 58. Then, in succession, came St. Mark’s Gospel, St. Matthew’s (written for Jewish reader’s) and St. Luke’s (written for Gentiles). The last, St. John’s, was written in about AD 100.
4. Adam and…
Adam, the first man, is mentioned by name 30 times in the Authorised Version of the Bible. Part of the reason is that the word in Hebrew is not a name; it simply means ‘man’. Eve’s name, by contrast, appears only four times.
5. Speaking From the Throne
The Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility – the inability of the pope to err on matters of faith – dates only from the 19th century. It was declared to be dogma only in 1870 by the First Vatican Council and it can act retrospectively. Under this doctrine the Pope is deemed to be infallible when speaking “ex cathedra”, meaning “ from his throne”.
Even so, it is not entirely clear how many times the Pope has spoken with “infallibility” , and the subject is debated and disputed by Catholics throughout the world. Some maintain that Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control in 1968, “Humanae Vitae” (Of Human Life), is an example of papal infallibility. But most Catholic theologians have denied this.
There are two cases, however, which are not disputed. They concern the divinity of the Virgin Mary and are: the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854; and the Assumption (the doctrine that she ascended bodily to heaven), proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
6. The Sign of the Fish
Today’s born-again Christians often display a sketch of a fish to show their faith. This is not just because the Bible calls the Apostles fishers of men. It is because the letters if the Greek word for fish, “ichthus”, stand for the Greek phrase “Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter” (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour). The symbol appears in Christian art from the 2nd century AD as a symbol of Christ and the newly baptised.
7. The Bible Said It First
Some of the English language’s most familiar sayings and words come from the Bible – and from the Old Testament in particular. For instance, the word ‘scapegoat’ was coined by the 16th-century English scholar William Tyndale in his translation of the Old Testament. Other sayings derived from the Old Testament include:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or “the leopard his spots”?
Come not near to me; for I am “ “holier than thou”.
He kept him as “the apple of his eye”.