Introductionmissions, term generally applied to organizations formed for the purpose of extending religious teaching, whether at home or abroad. It also indicates the stations or the fields where such teaching is given. In a more particular sense it designates the efforts to disseminate the Christian religion.
From the first steps taken by the disciples of Jesus to carry out his direction to preach his gospel throughout "all the world," the history of the Christian church has been in great part a history of missions. Christianity rapidly gained converts, spreading through Asia Minor to Alexandria and into Europe by way of Greece and Rome. There were centers of Christian mission in Alexandria by the 2d cent., and at Constantinople by 404. Through his missionary efforts Ulfilas (311–83) converted the Goths to Arian Christianity (also see Arianism). The following centuries were marked by notable missionary labors in Scotland, Ireland, and Central Europe and among the Northmen, reaching even to Iceland and Greenland. St. Patrick, St. Augustine of Canterbury, and St. Boniface are great names of that era. After the Christianization of Europe there was little missionary effort until the 16th cent.
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