Of a christian church that traced its origins to the

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of a Christian Church that traced its origins to the fifth-century teachings of Nestorius, patri- arch of Constantinople. Nestorius and his followers, who drew a sharp distinction between the human and divine natures of Jesus, had been declared heretics by the imperial Roman Church. The charges of heresy were motivated more by political considerations than theologi- cal doctrine, but the result was no less devastating. The Nestorians were effectively denied a place within the imperial Christian Church that looked to Constantinople and Rome as its twin centers of authority. Moving east, the Nestorians found a home in the Sassanid (Sassanian) Empire of Persia. Despite sporadic persecution by the Zoroastrian Sassanids, Nestorianism flourished in Sassanian Persia's two major cultural centers: Mesopotamia and Iran. Moreover, like other contemporary Christians, be they Ethiopians or members of the Roman Empire, the Nestorians of Persia took quite seriously the evangelical command to con- vert all nations (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16; Lk 24:47). From Persia, Nestorian Christians and their faith traveled east to the Turkic peoples of Inner Asia and finally to China. Scholars have known of these seventh-century monks from the West since 1623 when the so- called Christian Monument (also known as the Nestorian Stone ) was unearthed.(2) Composed in 781 by Bishop Adam, a native of Central Asia but of Persian ethnicity,(3) the text on this stone stele records the early history of the Nestorian Church in China, beginning with the arrival in 635 of Bishop Aluoban.(4) Bishop Aluoban seems not to have been the first Nestorian missionary in China, but he is the first for whom we have a name. Moreover, given that he arrived in China during the reign of the ecumenically minded Emperor Tang Taizong (r. 626-649), he enjoyed a warm and generous reception at the imperial court. If we can believe the monument, and the recent discovery of the monastery lends weight to its reliabili- ty, the small Nestorian community subsequently enjoyed a fair amount of imperial patronage for the next century and a half, during which time monasteries were constructed in many other cities of China. This success was achieved despite setbacks during the reign of Empress Wu (r. 690-705), who favored Buddhism and encouraged attacks on the Christians. The success was relatively short-lived, however. Sometime between the composition of Bishop Adam's triumphal monument and the collapse of the Tang dynasty in 907, Christianity essen- tially died out in China. Undoubtedly China's xenophobia during the last century and a half of the Tang Era that resulted in a series of mid-ninth-century imperial edicts mandating the shutting down of foreign monasteries and shrines played a major role in this demise.(5) Yet, 46 EARLY EURASIAN EMPIRES Highlighted Reading A. J. Andrea Copyright © 2003 by College Entrance Examination Board. All rights reserved.

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