Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19.
Early Christians suffered sporadic persecution, but in 313 A.D. Constantine the Great established religious tolerance with the edict of Milan, and Christianity soon became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Soon missionaries began carrying the Bible and its message throughout the Western world.
Although peoples in the far reaches of the empire had their own languages, they had no way of writing them. In order to reach these people, missionaries not only had to supply translations of the Bible, but they also had to devise alphabets in which to record them. In this way the early missionaries also spread literacy.
In the fourth century Ulfilas, a bishop from Cappadocia (now part of Turkey), carried Christianity to the Visigoths inventing an alphabet and translating Scripture into Gothic. In the fifth century Mesrop, an Armenian monk, created no less than 3 alphabets that were then used to translate the Bible into Armenian, Albanian and Georgian.
In the 9th century Cyril and Methodius of Greece traveled to Moravia (now Slovakia), created an alphabet, and translated the Bible into old Slavonic. From there the Bible was carried into the regions that are now Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and Russia. Without the alphabets forged by tireless missionaries, the peoples of Eastern Europe may not have learned to read or write for a long while.
MONKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE. By the fourth century, Latin had replaced Greek as the language of empire, and so a good Latin Bible was needed. An irascible Italian monk named Jerome accepted the challenge and produced a translation that came to be known as the Vulgate because it was in the vulgar (common) tongue of Latin. Jerome translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek and the entire Old Testament from the ancient Hebrew texts– instead of working from the Greek Septuagint version, which had been used by Christians from the beginning. The Vulgate Bible, completed in A.D. 405, remained the major Biblical text for more than a millenium.
As a result of barbarian incursions, the Roman Empire fell and intellectual life in Europe suffered greatly. However, from the late 6th century on, communities of monks worked diligently throughout the West to preserve and copy Biblical texts. These meticulously copied manuscripts are amazing in their accuracy and prized for the high quality of their ornamentation. And the monks endless hours of tireless copying led to a major innovation in handwriting.
In the late 7th century, Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon monk, perfected a new style of writing known as minuscule script, in which letters were connected rather than printed individually in block form. This free-flowing script, which made it possible to write much more quickly, soon became the standard throughout Europe.
For centuries the monks were also the chief educators, teaching in their monasteries or cathedral schools. Then, early in the 13th century, the first universities emerged in Paris, Bologna, and England. Theology was still the predominant subject, but for he first time, thanks to a new movement called scholasticism, students were urged to seek knowledge in texts beyond those of he Scripture, especially in the works of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Scholasticism resulted in the emergence of some of the greatest thinkers of all time, including Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica (1267-1273) remains a masterpiece of Christian Theology.