Before we move on to the Revelation letter to Pergamum, we need a quick history lesson.
In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians by legalizing the religion. In 395 AD, Emperor Theodosius I, the last to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire, issued decrees that effectively made Nicene Christianity the official state church of the Roman Empire.
The Nicene Creed was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively. In 431, it was ratified as the universal creed of all Christendom by the First Council of Ephesus.
In these centuries following the legalization of the faith and during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the church was blessed with a number of eminent Christian teachers and great bishops – known collectively as the Early Church Fathers – whose scholarly works contributed greatly to the theological and spiritual development of the faith.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Saint John of Damascus (died 749 AD) is generally considered the last of the Early Church Fathers. He is also known as Saint John Damascene “the golden speaker.”
Two major centers of Christianity – East and West – emerged as a result of the turmoil caused by barbarian and Muslim invaders.
In the West, civilization pretty much collapsed, leaving the Christian church – under the guidance of the Bishop of Rome (Pope) – struggling to maintain itself. The constant political turmoil, invasions, wars, and repeated interference in church affairs by local political rulers consumed much of the energy of successive popes and often diverted their attention from spiritual matters.
Basically, the Western church survived, but stagnated for about five hundred years, reaching its lowest-point of spiritual prestige and power just as the calendar was approaching the apocalyptically scary 1,000 year mark.
In the East. the Christian church – under the guidance of the Bishop of Constantinople (Patriarch) – was protected by, but also largely subservient to the political rulers of the richer and more stable Eastern Roman Empire.
The Eastern Orthodox Church formally split from the Western Roman Church in 1054. Relations between the two had long been embittered by disputes over the nature of the Trinity, the use of leavened vs. unleavened bread in the Eucharist, and the Roman Pope’s claim to universal jurisdiction.
The rest of the early Christian churches were swamped by Muslim invaders, who conquered the Middle East, central Asia, and North Africa.
The once prominent Christian church in North Africa (Alexandria, Carthage) was overwhelmed and ceased to be a major player in either politics or religion, though I believe the Coptic Church traces its roots back to Apostolic times.
Now that we’re all up to speed on the history, we can better understand the Revelation letter to Pergamum.
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]