Missionaries & the Spread of Christianity Across the World

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  • 0:02 Christian Missionary Activity
  • 0:53 Activity in Asia
  • 2:29 Activity in the New World
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about missionary activity and the spread of Christianity during the late Medieval and early Modern Era. We will highlight key themes, and we will identify locations of missionary work.

Christian Missionary Activity

Suppose something fantastic happens in your life, or is about to happen. You know, like you're taking a trip to Hawaii, or let's say you just won the lottery. You wouldn't keep that to yourself. You'd want to tell people about this amazing, life-changing experience, right? That's kind of what happened with Christianity. When people converted to Christianity, they wanted to share their experience with others; they wanted others to adopt Christianity as well.

Jesus Christ commanded his followers to, 'Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.' Since the time of Christ, this has been accomplished through missionary activity. In this lesson we will be focusing on missionary activity in the late Medieval and early Modern Era.

Missionary Activity in Asia

Christian missionaries reached parts of Europe and Africa shortly after Christ's death, but it was not until the 13th and 14th century that missionary activity became fully established in Asia. John of Montecorvino (1247-1328) was one of the earliest Roman Catholic missionaries to India and China. John belonged to the Order of Franciscans, meaning he closely followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. He spent time preaching in the Madras region of India and later traveled to what is now Beijing, China. By the 1500s, the Catholic Church was actively engaging in missionary activity in Japan.

During this time, the Jesuits became a powerful force in missionary work. The Jesuits were members of a Catholic group called the Society of Jesus. They were a male group devoted to pleasing Jesus Christ through demonstrations of chastity, piety, a denial of excess, and humble servitude. They practiced asceticism, which was basically a denial of worldly pleasure. By living a simple, often impoverished lifestyle, they hoped to demonstrate their love for God and their displeasure at worldly corruption. The Jesuits were zealous missionaries. They played a major role in evangelizing (which basically means preaching and gaining converts) in China and the New World.

Missionary Activity in the New World

The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492 opened up an entirely new mission field. Spain and Portugal, in particular, took up early missionary activity in the New World. Franciscan missionaries had a strong presence in Latin America, where they worked to evangelize the Maya and other Native American groups. The Jesuits were also very active throughout the New World.

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