Christianity in the Roman EmpireChris MadridCollege of the Desert The topic of the following research paper will be toillustrating the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The purpose of theresearch will be to demonstrate the legacy of Christianity during the timeperiod. Utilizing primary and secondary sources, the researcher will prove thatreligion impacted the society in various ways. Although primary sources arelimited, the researcher’s secondary sources will further prove the topic to betrue. Hopefully, the research will help further the discussion of Christianityin the Roman Empire.Every faith and religion has their own story thattells how it has risen to its prominence, and Christianity is like the underdogthat rose from persecution to become the largest religion in the world.Christians began to be persecuted by Emperor Nero of Rome in 64 AD, when a firebroke out which destroyed a great deal of the city. During the time, rumorsspread that Emperor Nero was the one responsible for setting the fire(Ermatinger, 2007).
In order to divert attention away from the fire, Neroordered that the Christians be rounded up to be killed, many of which wereripped apart by dogs or even burnt alive to be used as human torches. Christianswould continue to be persecuted over the next hundred years. Reasons forattacking the Christians vary based on different viewpoints; some may say thatthe pagans felt that their faith was attacked, or that they believed Christianswere insulting their faith. The Christians at the time were not willing to makesacrifices to the Roman gods, which made the pagans particularly suspicious.Their actions were seen as an insult to the gods, which could potentiallyendanger the city in the eyes of the Romans.
Christians’ refusal to make asacrifice was an act of treason and would ultimately lead to extremepunishment. Christians were forced to put their faith to the test by swearingto the emperor while nearly being put to death. A Christian bishop in the secondcentury named Polycarp was an example of martyrdom, which is a person who iskilled based on their religious beliefs (Benko 1986). Polycarp was urged to say’Caesar is lord’, in order for his life to be spared. However, Polycarp refusedto say so, and was eventually lit aflame and burned alive.
During the thirdcentury, the great empire of Rome was suffering in every way imaginable. Thecity had no true leader; social relations were flipped upside down, and therewere threats of the empire being attacked (Gwynn 2015). Most importantly, theeconomy of the state was in a downfall. Pagans saw it fit that there had to besomeone or something to blame, and the Christians were in a way the sacrificiallamb about to be sent to the slaughter in order to try and restore peace.Eventually, persecutions against the Christianswould die down to a minimal due to the fact that it was a time that the paganswere being influenced from expansion from a wide range of cultures andphilosophies. The pagans’ faith was not based off a unified religion, but washowever a melting pot that incorporated other faiths so there was no clear formsof religion (Stark 1997).
In the midst of all the chaos, it is known that theChristians were not the only faith to be persecuted by the Romans. Judaismalong with the cults of Bacchus and of Magna Mater was all heavily persecutedby the Romans. Strangely enough, the Roman emperor Trajan saw that admitting tobelong to the Christian faith as an offence; he however believed thatex-Christians whom turned away from their faith should not have to face anysort of punishment (Morgan 2003).Despite facing persecution, Christianity grew muchlarger than other faiths due to the fact that Christianity was more open topeople from all walks of life. Emperor Constantine the Great of Rome was themain reason that the empire had converted to Christianity (Ferguson, 2009).Previously, emperors had their harsh views on the religion, and would never ina lifetime conform to worship Jesus Christ. The Romans had no respectwhatsoever for Christianity, especially since it was a religion practiced amongslaves and warriors.
Reason for Constantine’s conversion to Christianity wasbecause of a dream or vision he had, which Jesus Christ told him to fight underChristian standards (Green 2010). After winning the fight, Constantinereassured himself that Christianity would be his new faith. Constantineeventually advocated that both Christians and pagans should be allowed topractice their faith as they will. Property which was confiscated from theChristians during persecution was given back along with certain types ofprivileges. However, this did not mean that the entire empire was fullyconverted to a Christian way of rule. Emperor Constantine even built a citynamed after him, Constantinople, which Christians believed would be the newcapital for the newly Christian Empire. In the ‘Christian’ city, Constantineset up pagan statues and temples. It seemed as though Constantine was unawareof the insinuation that the Christian faith meant being devoted exclusively tothe religion.
Christians at the time saw Constantine’s conversionas a conclusive period of victory between good and evil, although it was farfrom it. Over the next few centuries, Christianity gradually grew, andConstantine only had one successor, Emperor Julian, whom tried to unitepaganism as the supreme religion of the empire although Christianity had seemedto be the practice of the Roman Empire, it did not mean that paganism had yetdisappeared (Stark, 1997). Pagans had put the blame on the Christians for theSack of Rome in 410 AD, which was when the city was attacked by the Visigoths.A well known Christian, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, replied to the seriouscharge by the pagans by writing a lengthy response in his book, The City of God (Novak, 2001). Although paganism would never becomethe imperial religion of Rome, it did however impose both a religious andpolitical challenge for the Christian church. The legacy of Christianity of the Roman Empire hashad an everlasting affect that played a major role in spreading Christianity.
Itis however unfortunate that persecution of the Christians in a way helpedexpand the faith far beyond measure. Christians were the easiest to target dueto the fact that they were so distinct and different in their practice whichmade persecution that much easier because if killed they believed in a lifeafter death in heaven (MacMullen, 2007). Rome then became the capital of theCatholic Church which was a great influence in not just Rome but all of Europefor the next two thousand years (Ando, 2006). Churches would warn theChristians of any common danger which led to great communication between thetwo and ultimately made the Christian bond stronger. In the third century,there was roughly around 220,000 Christians in the Roman Empire, and by midfourth century, there was an estimated 6 million followers (Vaage, 2006). Now,Christianity is the largest religions practiced by 1.4 billion peopleworldwide. At the time, and even today, Christianity continued to grow based onthe fact that the faith was more open to people regardless of gender, race, oreconomic stature.
Rome was the center of the Catholic-Christian church, and waseven more stable than Jerusalem. Christmas was even originated in Rome, andthose who practiced the faith would have feasts to celebrate and honor JesusChrist’s birthday. As stated previously, Constantine played a crucial role inChristianizing the Roman Empire. Under Constantine’s rule, pagan temples wereseized and their money was used to build churches, laws were even passed toconform to the Christians’ ethics (Elsner, 1998).
Previously, Christians wouldonly practice their faith privately in fear of persecution, but underConstantine’s rule, they were more freely open to practice their faith as theywished. Constantine felt that there needed to be more Christian churches built,so he was on a mission to create churches spreading from Rome all the way toJerusalem. Under Constantine, Rome had reached its greatest size with more thana million citizens. In a way, Constantine was similar to the Pope in the sensethat he called for the first ecumenical council to settle decisions overdocuments.
Constantine issued than any Christians whom drift away from theofficial church doctrine would be called as a heathen. Those who did so wouldalso receive no support from the church, and were often punished for doing so.The topic of the following research paper was toillustrate the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The purpose of theresearch was to demonstrate the legacy of Christianity during the time period.Utilizing primary and secondary sources, the researcher has proven thatreligion impacted the society in various ways. Although primary sources werelimited, the researcher’s secondary sources did further prove the topic to betrue.
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