THE FIRST fourteen verses of St John's Gospel set out the basic doctrine of the Christian religion, the doctrine of the Incarnation. This is the article of faith that unites all Christians of today with one another and with their co- religionists of the primitive Church, and which provides a continuity that is independent of place or people.
The story of the Early Christians is therefore limited only in time, and the real problem here is to decide on an acceptable definition of the word 'early'. To some it will suggest the period up to the Edict of Toleration in 313, or before 410 when Rome was sacked by the barbarians; there is, however, much to be said for the choice of the year 527 as a lower limit. It is the year of Justinian's accession, and effectively marks the end of an old era and the beginning of a new.
Before his time, although Constantinople had been in fact the sole effective capital of what remained of the Roman Empire for more than a century, the prestige and influence of Rome still left its impress on every department of the city's official life. Two Consuls, annually appointed, propped up the rickety façade of the ancient state edifice, against which the farce of an Emperor in Constantinople responsible to the Senate and People of Rome was still enacted, and in a cosmopolitan city whose predominant elements were Oriental and Greek, Latin remained the language of officialdom. Statues to the Emperors and memorials to their victories were set up in the new capital, as earlier they had been in Rome under their pagan predecessors. From 527 onwards the last tenuous links with ancient Rome were snapped one by one, and Constantinople, in the person of the Emperor, became undisputed leader of a new Empire based on the authority, under imperial safeguards, of the Christian Church.