International Standard Bible EncyclopediaCHRISTIANITY
kris-chan'-i-ti, kris-chi-an'-i-ti, kris-ti-an'-i-ti (Christianismos):
I. IN PRINCIPLE AND ESSENCE
1. Early Use of Term
2. New Testament Implications:
3. Did Jesus Claim to Be Christ?
4. The Resurrection
5. Two Contrasted Estimates of our Lord's Person
(1) The Non-Believing Estimate-not Truly Historical
(2) The Believing Estimate-Relation to Experience
6. Christianity an Experience of Salvation
7. Jesus and the Gospel
8. New Testament Types of Doctrines
9. Naturalistic Interpretations-the Religio-Historic School
II. HISTORICAL AND DOCTRINAL
1. "Religion of Christ" and "The Christian Religion"
(1) The Historical Jesus Is Supernatural
(2) Essence of Christianity in Redemption
2. Modern Definitions
3. Place in Historical Religions
(1) This Place Unique
(2) Universality of Christianity
(3) The Absolute Religion
(4) Religion of Redemption
4. Development and Influence
(1) Expansion of Christianity (a) Apostolic Age
(b) Succeeding Period
(c) Modern Missions
(2) Doctrinal Shaping
(d) Sin and Grace
(e) Person of Christ
(f) The Atonement
(g) The Reformation
(h) Lutheran and Reformed
(3) Its Influence
(a) The Ancient World
(b) The Modern World
(c) Testimony of Professor Huxley
I. In Principle and Essence.
1. Early Use of Term:
Unlike "Christian" (the King James Version), the term "Christianity," so far as is known, was first used by the Christians themselves, but does not occur in the New Testament. It is exactly parallel to Judaism ("the Jews' religion"), found not only in Galatians 1:13, 14, but in 2 Maccabees 2:21, etc. Our earliest authority for the word "Christianism" is Ignatius of Antioch. Christian is now a title of honor, and the Christian's glory is "to live according to Christianism" (Ignatius, Ad magnes, 10).
2. New Testament Implications: Messiahship-Resurrection-Redemption: While, however, the name is foreign to the New Testament, the New Testament is by universal consent our most important source of information regarding the thing. Christianity arose out of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be "the Christ." During Jesus' lifetime this claim was admitted by a circle of adherents, in whose view, afterwards, it was triumphantly vindicated by His resurrection from the dead. By resurrection He "was declared to be the Son of God with power" (Romans 1:4). With this was united from the first the recognition of Christ as the God-sent Redeemer, through whom has come to the world forgiveness, reconciliation with God and Divine spiritual power.
One of the oldest summaries of Christianity is that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;. and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures." Of similar purport are the apostle's words in 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19: "God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses." From this reconciliation springs the new life of believers (Romans 6 2 Corinthians 5:14-17).
3. Did Jesus Claim to Be Christ?:
More recently some have denied that Jesus advanced any such claim to Messiahship, but always upon purely arbitrary and subjective grounds. On the one hand these writers have been profoundly impressed by the grandeur of Jesus' character; on the other they have looked upon the claim to stand in such a unique relation to God and man as unfounded or meaningless. They have sought, accordingly, to escape the difficulty by denying that Jesus regarded Himself as the Anointed of the Lord (thus, e.g. Wrede). Sometimes they have gone the length even of affirming that Jesus was not so regarded by His personal disciples. Divine honors were accorded Him only gradually, as the memory of what He actually was faded away, and an idealization begotten of Christian faith took its place. The notion of Messiah is merely a piece of Jewish folklore. This position in its distinctively modern form has been answered, it seems to us, with absolute conclusiveness, by Professor James Denney in his Jesus and the Gospel. In a historical point of view, nothing in Jesus' life is more certain than that He regarded Himself as the Christ, the culmination and fulfillment of the Divine revelation given to Israel. This conviction of His is the point round which His whole message revolves. The most recent New Testament theology, that, e.g. of Dr. Paul Feine (1910), rightly starts from Jesus' Messianic consciousness, and seeks to understand His whole teaching in the light of it. Doubtless, like everything else which Jesus touched, the concept of Messiahship becomes transmuted and glorified in His hands. our Lord was in no way dependent upon current beliefs and expectations for the content of His Messianic consciousness. But is it likely that His followers, without His authority, would have attributed Messiahship to one so utterly unlike the Messiah of popular fancy?
4. The Resurrection:
The New Testament proves not only that the Christians from the very outset were fully persuaded, on what they regarded as adequate grounds in history and experience, that their Lord had risen from the dead, but also that this conviction mastered them, giving direction and purpose to their whole lives. Historical Christianity was erected on the foundation of a Risen Lord.
On this point Professor Denney says (Jesus and the Gospel, 111): "The real historical evidence for the resurrection is the fact that it was believed, preached, propagated, and produced its fruit and effect in the new phenomenon of the Christian church, long before any of our gospels were written.. Faith in the resurrection was not only prevalent but immensely powerful before any of our New Testament books were written. Not one of them would ever have been written but for that faith. It is not this or that in the New Testament-it is not the story of the empty tomb, or of the appearing of Jesus in Jerusalem or in Galilee-which is the primary evidence for the resurrection: it is the New Testament itself. The life that throbs in it from beginning to end, the life that always fills us again with wonder, as it beats upon us from its pages, is the life which the Risen Saviour has quickened in Christian souls. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the existence of the church in that extraordinary spiritual vitality which confronts us in the New Testament. This is its own explanation of its being."
5. Two Contrasted Estimates of our Lord's Person:
The best Christian thought of our day has no more difficulty than had the apostles in holding and establishing what Principal Forsyth fitly calls "the superhistoric finality of Christ." In the very nature of the case, wherever the problem of our Lord's person has been seriously faced, there have always been two distinct estimates of His value, that of assured faith, based upon personal experience of His redemptive power, and that of mere externalism.
(1) The Non-Believing Estimate-not Truly Historical:
The latter or non-believing estimate has no more right now to call itself "historical" or "scientific," than it had, nearly nineteen hundred years ago, to crucify the Lord of glory. The priests doubtless thought that they understood Jesus better than the ignorant, deluded Galileans. Yet the boldest champion of "the religio-historic method" would scarcely claim that theirs was the correct judgment. As a matter of fact, the so-called critical school are no more free from presuppositions than is the most thoroughgoing traditionalist. Nor have they a monopoly either of historical knowledge or of critical acumen. No truths are accessible to them which are not equally available for the Christian believer. No proof exists, beyond their own unsupported assertions, that they are better interpreters of the common truth. On the other hand, that whole range of experience and conviction intop which the Christian believer finds the supreme assurance of the truth of his religion is to them a sealed book. Surel y, then, it is the height of absurdity to maintain that the external, non-believing, estimate of our Lord's person is likely to be the more correct one. From the standpoint of Christian faith, such an external estimate is necessarily inadequate, whether it finds expression in a mechanical acceptance of the whole ecclesiastical Christology, or in the denial that such a person as Jesus of Nazareth ever lived.
(2) The Believing Estimate-Relation to Experience:
The believing estimate of our Lord's person is the essence of Christianity as a historical religion. But according to the New Testament this estimate is itself Divinely-inwrought and Divinely attested (Matthew 16:17 1 Corinthians 12:3 1 John 4:2, 3). It presupposes the perfect objective self-manifestation of God in Jesus Christ on the one hand, and the subjective appropriation of this revelation by faith on the other. No argument against the reality of the revelation can be built upon the fact, generally acknowle dged by Christian theologians nowadays, that the Deity of our Lord and the supernatural origin of our religion can neither be proved nor disproved independently of one's personal attitude to Christianity. This follows necessarily from the nature of the apprehension of Divine truth. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. There can be no impersonal knowledge of religious, any more than of ethical and aesthetic, truth. In these realms another's knowledge has no real meaning for anyone till he has felt its power and tested it in his own experience. Evangelical Christians do not accept the Deity of the Lord as the cardinal article of their religious faith on any merely external authority whether of Scripture or of tradition, or even of His own recorded words apart from experience of Christ. They accept it precisely as they accept the authority of Scripture itself, because of the witness of the Spirit with their spirits. The combined testimony of Scripture and tradition is confirmed in their religious life, when by receiving Jesus as our Lord and Saviour they experience the Christian power. This power is the great experienced reality in the light of which alone the other realities become intelligible. "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25). "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
6. Christianity an Experience of Salvation:
The true church of Christ consists of all who have experienced the power of Christ, delivering them from the guilt, the stain, and the dominion of sin and bringing the peace of God into their souls. Nothing less than this is either the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or the historic faith of Christendom, or a religion adequate to human need. The Christian doctrine is partly the assertion of the reality of this power, partly its interpretation. Facts of history and theological propositions are vital to our faith, just in proportion as they are vitally related to this power. The Christian essentials are those elements, historical and dogmatic, without which Christianity would lose in whole or in part its living power to reconcile sinful man to the all-righteous, loving God.
7. Jesus and the Gospel:
Thus Jesus Himself belongs to His gospel. He is the heart and core of it. Christianity is both a rule of life and a doctrine. But in its inmost nature and being it is neither an ethic, nor a theology, but a religion-a new relation to God and man, Divinely mediated through Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection. As many as receive Him, to them gives He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12). He brings man to God by bringing God to man, and the power of God into man's sin-stained life.
8. New Testament Types of Doctrines:
It can scarcely be claimed that New Testament Christianity was in a theological point of view absolutely homogeneous. Various types can be distinguished with more or less clearness; even the ordinary reader feels a difference of theological atmosphere between e.g. Romans and James. This is inevitable, and need occasion no perplexity to Christian faith. All theology is partly interpretation-the relation of universal and eternal reality to personal thought. Hofmann rightly says that genuine Christian faith is one and the same for all, but that everyone must have his own theology, if he is to have any at all. In all genuine serious thought there is a personal element not precisely the same for any two individuals. It is possible to find in the New Testament foreshadowings of all the great distinctive types of historic Christianity. But the essential purpose of the New Testament is to make Christ real to us, to proclaim reconciliation to God through Him, and to convey the Christian power to our lives. The New Testa ment everywhere exhibits the same Christ, and bears witness to the same redeeming, life-transforming power.
9. Naturalistic Interpretations-the Religio-Historic School:
The attempt has often been made to explain Christianity as the natural product of contemporary forces intellectual and religious-most recently by the so-called "religio-historic school." But at most they have only shown that the form in which the religious concepts of primitive Christianity found articulate expression was to some extent influenced ab extra, and that the earliest Christians were in their general intellectual outlook the children of their own time. They have not proved that the distinctive content of Christianity was derived from any external source. They have not even realized what they have to prove, in order to make good their contention. They have done nothing to account for the Christian power on their principles.
Seethe New Testament Theologies, especially that of Feine (1910); Seeberg, Fundamental Truths of the Christian Religion (English translation very incorrect, 1908); Seeberg's Lehrbuch d. Dogmengeschichte, 2nd edition I, 1908; Brown, Essence of Christianity, New York, 1902; W. N. Clarke, What Shall We Think of Christianity? New York, 1899; above all Denney, Jesus and the Gospel (1909), and Forsyth, Person and Place of Jesus Christ (1909).
II. Historical and Doctrinal.
In its historical and doctrinal relations, developments, and influence, and its connection with the successive phases of human thought, Christianity presents many points of interest, only the more prominent of which can here briefly be touched upon.
1. "Religion of Christ" and "The Christian Religion":
A convenient starting-point is the well-known distinction of Lessing (Fragment in Works, XI, 242) between "the religion of Christ" and "the Christian religion"-a distinction which still exactly marks the attitude to Christianity of the modern so-called "historical" school. By "the religion of Christ" is meant the religion which Christ Himself acknowledged and practiced as man; by "the Christian religion" is meant the view which regards Christ as more than man, and exalts Him as an object of worship. From this standpoint the problem for the historian is to show how the religion of Christ came to develop into the Christian religion-in modern speech, how the "Jesus of history" became the "Christ of faith."
(1) The Historical Jesus Is Supernatural.
It has already been pointed out (under I above) that the view of Jesus on which the assumed contrast rests is not one truly historical. The fallacy lies in regarding the Jesus of history as simply a man among men-holier, diviner in insight, but not essentially distinguished from the race of which He was a member. This is not the Christ of apostolic faith, but as little is it the picture of the historical Jesus as the Gospels actually present it. There, in His relations alike to God and to man, in His sinlessness, in His origin, claims, relation to Old Testament revelation, judgeship of the world, in His resurrection, exaltation, and sending of the Spirit, Jesus appears in a light which it is impossible to confine within natural or purely human limits. He is the Saviour who stands over against the race He came to save. It is the same fallacy which under-lies the contrast frequently sought to be drawn between the religious standpoints of Christ and Paul. Pau l never for an instant dreamed of putting himself on the same plane with Christ. Paul was sinner; Christ was Saviour. Paul was disciple; Christ was Lord. Paul was weak, struggling man; Christ was Son of God. Jesus achieved redemption; Paul appropriated it. These things involved the widest contrasts in attitude and speech.
(2) Essence of Christianity in Redemption.
Though, therefore, Christ, in His relations of love and trust to the Father, and perfection of holy character, necessarily ever remains the Great Exemplar to whose image His people are to be conformed (Romans 8:29), in whose steps they are to follow (1 Peter 2:21), it is not correct to describe Christianity simply as the religion which Christ practiced. Christianity takes into account also the work which Christ came to do, the redemption He achieved, the blessings which, through Him, are bestowed on those who accept Him as their Saviour, and acknowledge Him as their Lord. Essentially Christianity is a religion of redemption; not, therefore, a religion practiced by Jesus for Himself, but one based on a work He has accomplished for others. Experimentally, it may be described as consisting, above all, in the joyful consciousness of redemption from sin and reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ, and in the possession of a new life of sonship and holiness through Christ's Spirit. Everything in the way of holy obedience is included here. This, at least, reduced to its simplest terms, is undeniably what Christianity meant for its first preachers and teachers, and what historically it has meant for the church ever since.
2. Modern Definitions:
Definitions of Christianity are as numerous as the writers who treat of the subject; but one or two definitions may be glanced at as illustrative of the positions above assumed. As modern types, Schleiermacher and Ritschl may be selected in preference to writers of more conspicuous orthodoxy.
Schleiermacher, in his Der Christliche Glaube, has an interesting definition of Christianity. Christianity he speaks of as "a form of monotheistic faith, of the teleological order of religion (i.e. in which the natural is subordinated to the moral), the peculiarity of which, in distinction from other religions of this type, essentially is, that in it everything is referred to the redemption accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth" (section 11). As, in general, Schleiermacher's merit is recognized to lie in his bringing back, in a time of religious decay, the person of Christ to a central place in His religion, so here his true religious feeling is manifested in his fixing on the reference to redemption by Christ as the distinctive thing in Christianity.
Ritschl's definition is more complicated, and need not here be cited in full (compare his Justif. and Recon., III; English translation, 13). The important point is that, like Schleiermacher, Ritschl gives, together with the idea of the kingdom of God, an essential place to the idea of redemption in the conception of Christianity. "Christianity," he says, "so to speak, resembles not a circle described from a single center, but an ellipse which is determined by two foci" (Jb., 11). The idea of the kingdom of God furnishes the teleological, the idea of redemption the religious, element in Christianity. There is truth in this; only it is to be remembered that the kingdom of God, as representing the end, can only, in a world of sin, be into existence through a redemption. Redemption, therefore, still remains the basal conception.
3. Place in Historical Religions:
In the enlarged view of modern knowledge, Christianity can be no longer regarded in isolation, but is seen to take its place in the long series of historical religions. It appears, like these other religions, in a historical context; has, like some of them, a personal founder; claims, as they also do, or did, the allegiance of multitudes of the population of the world; presents in externals (e.g. the possession of Scriptures), sometimes in ideas, analogies to features in these religions. For this reason, an influential modern school is disposed to treat Christianity, as before it, the religion of Israel, as simply one of these historical religions-"nothing less, but also nothing more"-explaining it from the inherent laws of religious development, and rejecting the idea of any special, authoritative revelation. Sacred books are pitted against sacred books; moral codes against moral codes; Jesus against founders of other religions; gospel stories against legends of the Buddha; ideas like those of the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection, against seeming parallels on other soils. For examination of the principal of these alleged resemblances, see COMPARATIVE RELIGION.
(1) This Place Unique.
Here it is desirable to look at the place of Christianity in the series of historical religions in certain of its wider aspects. The uniqueness of Christ's religion, and justification of its claim to a special, Divine origin, will only appear the more clearly from the comparison. In general, it need only be remarked that no other religion in the world has ever even professed to present a plain, historically developed, progressive revelation, advancing through successive stages in the unfolding of a Divine purpose of grace, till it culminates in the appearance of a person, life, character and work, like that of Jesus Christ; not in one single instance.
(2) Universality of Christianity.
A distinction is commonly made between national and universal religions, and Christianity is classed as one of the three universal religions-the other two being Buddhism and Mohammedanism (compare e.g. Kuenen's Hibbert Lectures on National Religions and Universal Religions). There is certainly agreement in the fact that the two religions named with Christianity are not "national" religions; that they are "universal," in the sense in which Christianity is, may be denied. Neither Buddhism nor Mohammedanism has any fitness to become a religion for the world, nor, with all their remarkable extension, have they succeeded in establishing themselves, as Christianity has done, in East and West, in Old World and in New. Mohammed boasted that he would plant his religion wherever the palm tree grew (Palgrave), and this still marks very nearly the range of its conquests. It is not a revivifying influence, but a blight on all higher civilization. It degrades woman, perpetuates slavery, fosters intolerance, and brings no real healing for the spiritual woes of mankind. Buddhism, again, notwithstanding its wide spread in China and neighboring lands, has in it no real spring of moral progress, and is today withering up at the root. Its system of "salvation"-attainment of Nirvana-is not for the many but the few. It has not a message for all men alike. Buddha does not profess that all can accept his method, or ought to be asked to do so. For the multitude it is impossible of attainment. In practice, therefore, instead of one, he has three codes of duty-one for the laity, who continue to live in the world; one for the monks, who do not aspire to Arahatship or sainthood: and one for those who would reach the goal of Nirvana. These last are very few; only two cases are specified, besides Buddha himself, of success in this endeavor. In contrast with these Christianity approves itself as a strictly universal religion-the only religion of its kind in the world. In its doctrines of the one God and Father, and of the brotherhood of all mankind; its teaching on universal need through sin, and universal provision for salvation in Christ; its gospel of reconciliation addressed to all; its pure spirituality in worship and morality; its elevating and emancipating tendency in all the relations of human life, it approves itself as a religion for all sections and races of mankind, for all grades of civilization and stages of culture, appealing to that which is deepest in man, capable of being understood and received by all, and renewing and blessing each one who accepts and obeys it. The history of missions, even among the most degraded races, in all parts of the globe, is the demonstration of this truth. (On the universalism of Christianity, compare Baur, Church History of the First Three Centuries, I, Pt 1.)
(3) The Absolute Religion.
It is the custom, even in circles where the full supernatural claims of Christianity are not admitted, to speak of Christ's religion as, in comparison with others, "the absolute religion," meaning by this that in Christianity the true idea of religion, which in other faiths is only striven after, attains to complete and final expression. Hegel, e.g. speaks of Christianity as the "Absolute or Revealed Religion" in the sense that in it the idea is discovered of the essential unity of God and man (thus also T. H. Green, E. Caird, etc.); others (e.g. Pfleiderer) in the meaning that it expresses the absolute "principle" of religion-a Divine sonship. Christianity also claims for itself, though in a more positive way, to be the absolute religion. It is the final and perfect revelation of God for which not only revelation in Israel, but the whole providential history of the race, was a Divinely ordained preparation (Galatians 4:4). It is absolute in the sense that a larger and fulle r revelation than Christ has given is not needed, and is not to be looked for. Not only in this religion is all truth of Nature about God's being, attributes and character, with all truth of Old Testament revelation, purely gathered up and preserved, but in the person and work of the incarnate Son a higher and more complete disclosure is made of God's Fatherly love and gracious purposes to mankind, and a redemption is presented as actually accomplished adequate to all the needs of a sinful world. Mankind can never hope to attain to a higher idea of God, a truer idea of man, a profounder conception of the end of life, of sin, of duty, a Diviner provision for salvation, a more perfect satisfaction in fellowship with God, a grander hope of eternal life, than is opened to it in the gospel. In this respect again, Christianity stands alone (compare W. Douglas Mackenzie, The Final Faith, a Statement of the Nature and Authority of Christianity as the Religion of the World).
(4) Religion of Redemption.
A third aspect in which Christianity as a historical religion is sometimes regarded is as a religion of redemption. In this light a comparison is frequently instituted between it and Buddhism, which also in some sort is a religion of redemption. But the comparison brings out only the more conspicuously the unique and original character of the Christian system. Buddhism starts from the conception of the inherent evil and misery of existence, and the salvation it promises as the result of indefinitely prolonged striving through many successive lives is the eternal rest and peace of non-being; Christianity, on the other hand, starts from the conception that everything in its original nature and in the intent of its Creator is good, and that the evil of the world is the result of wrong and perverted development-holds, therefore, that redemption from it is possible by use of appropriate means. And redemption here includes, not merely deliverance from existing evils, but restoration of the Divine likeness which has been lost by man, and ultimate blessedness of the life everlasting. Dr. Boyd Carpenter sums up the contrast thus: "In Buddhism redemption comes from below; in Christianity it is from above; in Buddhism it comes from man; in Christianity it comes from God" (Permanent Elements in Religion, Introduction, 34).
4. Development and Influence:
Christianity, as an external magnitude, has a long and chequered history, into the details of which it is not the purpose of this article to enter. Ecclesiastical developments are left untouched. But a little may be said of its outward expansion, of the influences that helped to mould its doctrinal forms, and of the influence which it in turn has exercised on the thought and life of the peoples into whose midst it came.
(1) Expansion of Christianity.
From the first Christianity aimed at being a world-conquering principle. The task it set before itself was stupendous. Its message was not one likely to commend it to either Jew or Greek (1 Corinthians 1:23). It renounced temporal weapons (in this a contrast with Mohammedanism); had nothing to rely on but the naked truth. Yet from the beginning (Acts 2) it had a remarkable reception. Its universal principle was still partially veiled in the Jewish-Christian communities, but with Paul it freed itself from all limitations, and entered on a period of rapid and wide diffusion.
(a) Apostolic Age:
It is the peculiarity of the Pauline mission, as Professor W. M. Ramsay points out, that it followed the great lines of Roman communication, and aimed at establishing itself in the large cities-the centers of civilization (Church in Roman Empire, 147, etc.). The Book of Acts and the Epistles show how striking were the results. Churches were planted in all the great cities of Asia Minor and Macedonia. In Rome Tacitus testifies that by the time of Nero's persecution (64 A.D.) the Christians were a "great multitude" ("ingens multitudo" (Annals xv.44)).
(b) Succeeding Period:
Our materials for estimating the progress of Christianity in the post-apostolic age are scanty, but they suffice to show us the church pursuing its way, and casting its spell alike on East and West, in centers of civilization and dim regions of barbarism. In the last quarter of the 2nd century great churches like those of Carthage and Alexandria burst into visibility, and reveal how firm a hold the new religion was taking of the empire. Deadly persecution could not stop this march of the church to victory. From the middle of the 3rd century there is no question that it was progressing by leaps and bounds. This is the period in which Harnack puts its great expansion (Expansion, II, 455, English Translation). On the back of the most relentless persecution it had yet endured, the Diocletian, it suddenly found itself raised by the arms of Constantine to a position of acknowledged supremacy.
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ROMAN EMPIRE AND CHRISTIANITY, 1
I. OUTLINE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
1. Roman Empire a Result of Social Conflict
2. Coming of Monarchy
(1) Exhaustion of Parties
(2) Inability of Either Aristocracy or Democracy to Hold Equilibrium
(4) Withdrawal from Public Life: Individualism
(7) Imperial Interests
(8) Influence of Orient
II. PREPARATION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE FOR CHRISTIANITY
1. Pax Romana and the Unification of the World
4. Protection for Greek Culture
8. Pattern for a Universal Church
9. Roman Jurisprudence
10. Negative Preparation
III. ATTITUDE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE TO RELIGIONS
1. Roman or State Religion
2. Non-Roman Religions-religiones licitae and religiones illicitae
(1) Judaism a religio licita
(2) Why Christianity Was Alone Proscribed
(3) Two Empires: Causes of Conflict
(a) Confusion of Spiritual and Temporal
(b) Unique Claims of Christianity
(c) Novelty of Christianity
(d) Intolerance and Exclusiveness of the Christian Religion and Christian Society
(f) Aggressiveness against Pagan Faith
(g) Christianos ad leones: Public Calamities
(h) Odium generis humani
(4) The Roman Empire Not the Only Disturbing Factor
IV. RELATIONS BETWEEN THE ROMAN EMPIRE AND CHRISTIANITY
1. Beginning of Christianity until Death of Nero, 68 A.D.
2. Flavian Period, 68-96 A.D.
3. The Antonine Period, 96-192 A.D.
4. Changing Dynasties, 192-284 A.D.
5. Diocletian until First General Edict of Toleration, 284-311 A.D.
6. First Edict of Toleration until Extinction of Western Empire, 311-476 A.D.
V. VICTORY OF CHRISTIANITY AND CONVERSION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
1. Negative Causes
2. Positive Causes
I. Outline of the Roman Empire.
1. Roman Empire a Result of Social Conflict:
The founding of the Roman empire was the grandest political achievement ever accomplished. The conquests of Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Napoleon seem small compared with the durable structure reared by Julius and his successor, Augustus. In one sense Julius Caesar-the most wonderful man that Rome or any other country produced-was the founder of the empire, and Augustus the founder of the principate. But the Roman empire was the culmination of a long process of political, constitutional, and social growth which gives a lasting interest to Roman history. The Roman empire was the only possible solution of a 700 years' struggle, and Roman history is the story of the conflict of class with class, patrician against plebeian, populus against plebs, the antagonism of oligarchy and democracy, plutocracy against neglected masses. It is the account of the triumphant march of democracy and popular government against an exclusive governing caste. Against heavy odds the plebeians asserted their rights till they secured at least a measure of social, political and legal equality with their superiors (see ROME, I, 2-4). But in the long conflict both parties degenerated until neither militant democracy nor despotic oligarchy could hold the balance with justice. Democracy had won in the uphill fight, but lost itself and was obliged to accept a common master with aristocracy. It was of no small importance for Christianity that the Roman empire-practically synonymous with the orbis terrarum-had been converging both from internal and external causes toward a one-man government, the political counterpart of a universal religion with one God and Saviour.
(1) Julius Caesar.
For a couple of generations political leaders had foreseen the coming of supreme power and had tried to grasp it. But it was Julius Caesar who best succeeded in exploiting democracy for his own aggrandizement. He proved the potent factor of the first triumvirate (60 B.C.); his consulship (59) was truly kingly. In 49 B.C. he crossed the Rubicon and declared war upon his country, but in the same year was appointed Dictator and thus made his enemies the enemies of his country. He vanquished the Pompeians-senatorial and republican-at Pharsalia in 48 B.C., Thapsus in 46 B.C., and Munda in 45 B.C. Between 46 and the Ides of March 44 no emperor before Diocletian was more imperial. He was recognized officially as "demigod"; temples were dedicated to his "clemency." He encouraged the people to abdicate to him their privileges of self-government and right of election, became chief (princeps) of the senate and high priest (pontifex maximus), so that he could manipulate even the will of the gods to his own purposes. His plans were equally great and beneficent. He saw the necessity of blending the heterogeneous populations into one people and extending Roman citizenship. His outlook was larger and more favorable to the coming of Christianity than that of his successor, Augustus. The latter learned from the fate of Caesar that he had advanced too rapidly along the imperial path. It taught Augustus caution.
Octavian (Augustus) proved the potent factor of the second triumvirate. The field of Actiuim on September 2, 31 B.C., decided the fate of the old Roman republic. The commonwealth sank in exhaustion after the protracted civil and internecine strife. It was a case of the survival of the fittest. It was a great crisis in human history, and a great man was at hand for the occasion. Octavian realized that supreme power was the only possible solution. On his return to Rome he began to do over again what Caesar had done-gather into his own hands the reins of government. He succeeded with more caution and shrewdness, and became the founder of the Roman empire, which formally began on January 16, 27 B.C., and was signalized by the bestowal of the title AUGUSTUS (which see). Under republican forms he ruled as emperor, controlling legislation, administration and the armies. His policy was on the whole adhered to by the Julio-Claudian line, the last of which was Nero (died 68 A.D.).
(3) Flavian Dynasty.
In 68 A.D. a new "secret of empire" was discovered, namely, that the principate was not hereditary in one line and that emperors could be nominated by the armies. After the bloody civil wars of 68, "the year of the four emperors," Vespasian founded the IInd Dynasty, and dynastic succession was for the present again adopted. With the Flavians begins a new epoch in Roman history of pronounced importance for Christianity. The exclusive Roman ideas are on the wane. Vespasian was of plebeian and Sabine rank and thus non-Roman, the first of many non-Roman emperors. His ideas were provincial rather than Roman, and favorable to the amalgamation of classes, and the leveling process now steadily setting in. Though he accepted the Augustan "diarchy," he began to curtail the powers of the senate. His son Titus died young (79-81). Domitian's reign marks a new epoch in imperialism: his autocratic spirit stands half-way between the Augustan principate and the absolute monarchy of Diocletian. Domitian, the last of the "twelve Caesars" (Suetonius), was assassinated September 18, 96 A.D. The soldiers amid civil war had elected the last dynasty. This time the senate asserted itself and nominated a brief series of emperors-on the whole the best that wore the purple.
(4) Adoptive or Antonine Emperors.
The Antonine is another distinct era marked by humane government, recognition of the rights of the provinces and an enlargement of the ideas of universalism. Under Trajan the empire was extended; a series of frontier blockades was established-a confession that Rome could advance no farther. Under Hadrian a policy of retreat began; henceforth Rome is never again on the aggressive but always on the defensive against restless barbarians. Unmistakable signs of weakness and decay set in under Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. This, the best and happiest period of Roman imperial government, was the beginning of the end. In this era we detect a growing centralization of authority; the senate practically becomes a tool of the emperor. A distinct civil service was established which culminated in bureaucracy under Hadrian.
(5) Changing Dynasties, 193-284 A.D.
On the death of Commodus, whose reign 180-93 A.D. stands by itself, the empire was put up for sale by the soldiery and knocked down to the highest bidder. The military basis of the empire was emphasized-which was indeed essential in this period of barbaric aggressiveness to postpone the fall of the empire until its providential mission was accomplished. A rapid succession of rulers follows, almost each new ruler bringing a new dynasty. Those disintegrating forces set in which developed so rapidly from the reign of Diocletian. The pax Romana had passed; civil commotion accentuated the dangers from invading barbarians. Plague and famine depopulated rich provinces. Rome itself drops into the background and the provincial spirit asserts itself proportionally. The year 212 A.D. is memorable for the edict of Caracalla converting all the free population into Roman citizens.
(6) From Diocletian until Partition.
In the next period absolute monarchy of pure oriental type was established by Diocletian, one of the ablest of Roman rulers. He inaugurated the principle of division and subdivision of imperial power. The inevitable separation of East and West, with the growing prominence of the East, becomes apparent. Rome and Italy are reduced to the rank of provinces, and new courts are opened by the two Augusti and two Caesars. Diocletian's division of power led to civil strife, until Constantine once more united the whole empire under his sway. The center of gravity now shifted from West to East by the foundation of Constantinople. The empire was again parceled out to the sons of Constantine, one of whom, Constantius, succeeded in again reuniting it (350 A.D.). In 364 it was again divided, Valentinian receiving the West and Valens the East.
(7) Final Partition.
On the death of Theodosius I (395), West and East fell to his sons Honorius and Arcadius, never again to be united. The western half rapidly degenerated before barbaric hordes and weakling rulers. The western provinces and Africa were overrun by conquering barbarians who set up independent kingdoms on Roman soil. Burgundians and Visigoths settled in Gaul; the latter established a kingdom in Spain. The Vandals under Genseric settled first in Southern Spain, then crossed to Africa and reduced it. Goths burst over Roman frontiers, settled in Illyria and invaded Italy. Alaric and his Goths spared Rome in 408 for a ransom; in 409 he appeared again and set up Attalus as king of the Romans, and finally in 410 he captured and sacked the city. It was again sacked by the Vandals under Genseric in 462, and, lastly, fell before Odoacer and his Germans in 476; he announced to the world that the empire of the West had ceased. The empire of the East continued at Constantinople the greatest political power through a chequred history down to the capture of the city in 1214 and its final capture by the Turks in 1453, when its spiritual and intellectual treasures were opened to western lands and proved of untold blessing in preparing the way for the Reformation of the 16th century. The East conquered the West intellectually and spiritually. In the East was born the religion of humanity.
2. Coming of the Monarchy:
(1) Exhaustion of Parties.
The Roman world had for two generations been steadily drifting toward monarchy, and at least one generation before the empire was set up clear minds saw the inevitable necessity of one-man government or supreme power, and each political leader made it his ambition to grasp it. The civil wars ceased for a century with the death of Antony. But the struggles of Tiberius Gracchus and Scipio Aemilianus, Caius Gracchus and Opimius, Drusus and Philippus, Marius and Sulla, Pompey and Caesar, and lastly Octavian and Antony had exhausted the state, and this exhaustion of political parties opened the way for monarchy. In fact it was a necessity for the welfare of the commonwealth that one should be elevated who could fairly hold the balance between oligarchy and the commons and duly recognize the claims of all parties. Even Cato Uticensis-the incarnation of republican ideas-admitted it would be better to choose a master than wait for a tyrant. The bloody wars could find no solution except the survival of the fittest. Moreover, the free political institutions of Rome had become useless and could no longer work under the armed oppression of factions. If any form of government, only supreme power would prove effectual amid an enfeebled, unpopular senate, corrupt and idle commons, and ambitious individuals.
(2) Inability of Either Aristocracy or Democracy to Hold Equilibrium.
Events had proved that a narrow exclusive aristocracy was incapable of good government because of its utterly selfish policy and disregard for the rights of all lower orders. It had learned to burke liberty by political murders. Neither was the heterogeneous population of later Rome disciplined to obey or to initiate just government when it had seized power. This anarchy within the body politic opened an easy way to usurpation by individuals. No republic and no form of free popular government could live under such conditions. Caesar said of the republic that it was "a name without any substance," and Curio declared it to be a "vain chimera." The law courts shared in the general corruption. The judicia became the bone of contention between the senate and the knights as the best instrument for party interests, and enabled the holders
(a) to receive large bribes,
(b) to protect their own order when guilty of the most flagrant injustice, and
(c) to oppress other orders.
Justice for all, and especially for conquered peoples, was impossible. Elective assemblies refused to perform their proper functions because of extravagant bribery or the presence of candidates in arms. In fact, the people were willing to forego the prerogative of election and accept candidates at the nomination of a despotic authority. The whole people had become incapable of self-government and were willing-almost glad-to be relieved of the necessity.
Besides, precedents for one-man government, or the concentration of supreme power in one hand, were not wanting, and had been rapidly multiplying in Roman history as it drew nearer to the end of the republic. Numerous protracted commands and special commissions had accustomed the state to the novelty of obedience without participation in administration. The 7 consulships of Marius, the 4 of Cinna, the 3 extraordinary commissions of Pompey and his sole consulship, the dictatorship of Sulla without time limit, the two 5-year-period military commands of Caesar, his repeated dictatorships the last of which was to extend for 10 years-all these were pointing directly toward Caesarism.
(4) Withdrawal from Public Life: Individualism.
On another side the way was opened to supreme power by the increasing tendency for some of the noblest and best minds to withdraw from public life to the seclusion of the heart life and thus leave the field open for demagogic ambition. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, philosophy abandoned the civic, political or city-state point of view and became moral and individual. Stoicism adopted the lofty spiritual teachings of Plato and combined them with the idea of the brotherhood of humanity. It also preached that man must work out his salvation, not in public political life, but in the secret agonies of his own soul. This religion took hold of the noblest Roman souls who were conscious of the weariness of life and felt the desire for spiritual fellowship and comfort. The pendulum in human systems of thought generally swings to the opposite extreme, and these serious souls abandoned public life for private speculation and meditation. Those who did remain at the helm of affairs-like the younger Cato-were often too much idealists, living in the past or in an ideal Platonic republic, and proved very unequal to the practical demagogues who lived much in the present with a keen eye to the future. Also a considerable number of the moderate party, who in better days would have furnished leaders to the state, disgusted with the universal corruption, saddened by the hopeless state of social strife and disquieted by uncertainty as to the issue of victory for either contending party, held aloof and must have wished for and welcomed a paramount authority to give stability to social life. Monarchy was in the air, as proved by the sentiments of the two pseudo-Sallustian letters, the author of which calls upon Caesar to restore government and reorganize the state, for if Rome perish the whole world must perish with her.
To another considerable class monarchy must have been welcome-the industrial and middle class who were striving for competence and were engaged in trade and commerce. Civil wars and the strife of parties must have greatly hindered their activity. They cast their lot neither with the optimates nor with the idle commonalty. They desired only a stable condition of government under which they could uninterruptedly carry on their trades.
Military conditions favored supreme power. Not only had the lengthened commands familiarized the general with his legions and given him time to seduce the soldiery to his own cause, but the soldiery too had been petted and spoiled like the spoon-fed populace. The old republican safeguards against ambition had been removed. The ranks of the armies had also been swollen with large numbers of provincials and non-Romans who had no special sentiment about republican forms. We have seen the military power growing more and more prominent. The only way of averting a military despotism supported and prompted by the soldiers was to set up a monarchy, holding all the military, legislative and administrative functions of the state in due proportion. This was superior to a merely nominal republic always cringing under fear of military leaders.
(7) Imperial Interests.
Lastly, the aggression and conquests of the republic had brought about a state of affairs demanding an empire. The East and the West had been subdued; many provinces and heterogeneous populations were living under the Roman eagle. These provinces could not permanently be plundered and oppressed as under the republican senate. The jus civile of Rome must learn also the jus naturale and jus gentium. An exclusive selfish senatorial clique was incapable of doing justice to the conquered peoples. One supreme ruler over all classes raised above personal ambition could best meet their grievances. The senate had ruled with a rod of iron; the provinces could not possibly be worse under any form of government. Besides, monarchy was more congenial to the provincials than a republic which they could not comprehend.
(8) Influence of Orient.
The Orientals had long been used to living under imperial and absolute forms of government and would welcome such a form among their new conquerors. Besides, residence in the Orient had affected Roman military leaders with the thirst after absolute power. And no other form was possible when the old city-state system broke down, and as yet federal government had not been dreamed of. Another consideration: the vast and dissimilar masses of population living within the Roman dominions could more easily be held together under a king or emperor than by a series of ever-changing administrations, just as the Austro-Hungarian and the British empires are probably held together better under the present monarchies than would be possible under a republican system. This survey may make clear the permanent interest in Roman history for all students of human history. The Roman empire was established indeed in the fullness of the times for its citizens and for Christianity.
II. Preparation of the Roman Empire for Christianity.
About the middle of the reign of Augustus a Jewish child was born who was destined to rule an empire more extensive and lasting than that of the Caesars. It is a striking fact that almost synchronous with the planting of the Roman empire Christianity appeared in the world. Although on a superficial glance the Roman empire may seem the greatest enemy of early Christianity, and at times a bitter persecutor, yet it was in many ways the grandest preparation and in some ways the best ally of Christianity. It ushered in politically the fullness of the times. The Caesars-whatever they may have been or done-prepared the way of the Lord. A brief account must here be given of some of the services which the Roman empire rendered to humanity and especially to the kingdom of God.
1. Pax Romana and the Unification of the World:
The first universal blessing conferred by the empire was the famous pax Romana ("Roman peace"). The world had not been at peace since the days of Alexander the Great. The quarrels of the Diadochi, and the aggression of the Roman republic had kept the nations in a state of constant turmoil. A universal peace was first established with the beginning of the reign of Augustus and the closing of the temple of Janus. In all the countries round the Mediterranean and from distant Britain to the Euphrates the world was at rest. Rome had made an end of her own civil wars and had put a stop to wars among the nations. Though her wars were often iniquitous and unjustifiable, and she conquered like a barbarian, she ruled her conquests like a humane statesman. The quarrels of the Diadochi which caused so much turmoil in the East were ended, the territory of the Lagids; Attalids, Seleucids and Antigonids having passed under the sway of Rome. The empire united Greeks, Romans and Jews all under one government. Rome thus blended the nations and prepared them for Christianity. Now for the first time we may speak of the world as universal humanity, the orbis terrarum, he oikoumene (Luke 2:1), the genus humanum. These terms represented humanity as living under a uniform system of government. All were members of one earthly state; the Roman empire was their communis omnium patria.
This state of affairs contributed largely to the spread of cosmopolitanism which had set in with the Macedonia conqueror. Under the Roman empire all national barriers were removed; the great cities-Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, etc.-became meeting-places of all races and languages. The Romans were everywhere carrying their laws and civilization; Greeks settled in thousands at all important centers as professors, merchants, physicians, or acrobats; Orientals were to be found in large numbers with their gods and mysteries in Rome, "the epitome of the world." In the Roman armies soldiers from all quarters of the empire became companions. And many thousands of slaves of fine education and high culture contributed much to cosmopolitanism. Being in many cases far superior in culture to their masters, they became their teachers. And in every city of importance, East or West, large bodies of the Jewish Diaspora were settled.
This cosmopolitanism gave great impetus to a corresponding eclecticism of thought. Nothing could have been more favorable to Christianity than this intermixture of all races and mutual exchange of thought. Each people discovered how much it had in common with its neighbors. From the days of the Diadochi, Stoicism had been preaching the gospel of a civic and ethical brotherhood of humanity. In the fusion of different philosophic systems the emphasis had shifted from the city-state or political or national to the moral and human point of view. All men were thus reduced to equality before the One; only virtue and vice were the differentiating factors. Men were akin with the divine-at least the wise and good-so that one poet could say, "We are His offspring."
Stoicism did a noble service in preparation for Christianity by preaching universalism along the path of individualism. It also furnished comfort and strength to countless thousands of weary human lives and ministered spiritual support and calm resignation at many a heathen deathbed. It may be declared to be the first system of religious thought-for it was a religion more than a philosophy-which made a serious study of the diseases of the human soul. We know of course its weakness and imperfections, that it was an aristocratic creed appealing only to the elect of mortals, that it had little message for the fallen and lower classes, that it was cold and stern, that it lacked-as Seneca felt-the inspiration of an ideal life. But with all its failures it proved a worthy pedagogue to a religion which brought a larger message than that of Greece. It afforded the spiritual and moral counterpart to the larger human society of which the Roman empire was the political and visible symbol. Hitherto a good citizen had been a good man. Now a good man is a good citizen, and that not of a narrow city-state, but of the world. Stoicism also proved tile interpreter and mouthpiece to the Roman empire of the higher moral and spiritual qualities of Greek civilization; it diffused the best convictions of Greece about God and man, selecting those elements that were universal and of lasting human value.
The mind of the Roman empire was further prepared for Christianity by the Jewish Diaspora. Greeks learned from Jews and Jews from Greeks and the Romans from both. The unification effected by Roman Law and administration greatly aided the Diaspora. Jewish settlements became still more numerous and powerful both in the East and West. Those Jews bringing from the homeland the spiritual monotheism of their race combined it with Greek philosophy which had been setting steadily for monotheism. With the Jews the exclusively national element was subordinated to the more human and universal, the ceremonial to the religious. They even adopted the world-language of that day-Greek-and had their sacred Scriptures translated into this language in which they carried on an active proselytism. The Roman spirit was at first essentially narrow and exclusive. But even the Romans soon fell beneath the spell of this cosmopolitanism and eclecticism. As their conquests increased, their mind was correspondingly widened. They adopted the policy of Alexander-sparing the gods of the conquered and admitting them into the responsibility of guarding Rome; they assimilated them with their own Pantheon or identified them with Roman gods. In this way naturally the religious ideas of conquered races more highly civilized than the conquerors laid hold on Roman minds.
4. Protection for Greek Culture:
Another inestimable service rendered to humanity and Christianity was the protection which the Roman power afforded the Greek civilization. We must remember that the Romans were at first only conquering barbarians who had little respect for culture, but idealized power. Already they had wiped out two ancient and superior civilizations-that of Carthage without leaving a trace, and that of Etruria, traces of which have been discovered in modern times. It is hard to conceive what a scourge Rome would have proved to the world had she not fallen under the influence of the superior culture and philosophy of Greece. Had the Roman Mars not been educated by Pallas Athene the Romans would have proved Vandals and Tartars in blotting out civilization and arresting human progress. The Greeks, on the other hand, could conquer more by their preeminence in everything that pertains to the intellectual life of man than they could hold by the sword. A practical and political power was needed to protect Greek speculation. But the Romans after causing much devastation were gradually educated and civilized and have contributed to the uplifting and enlightenment of subsequent civilizations by both preserving and opening to the world the spiritual qualities of Greece. The kinship of man with the divine, learned from Socrates and Plato, went forth on its wide evangel. This Greek civilization, philosophy and theology trained many of the great theologians and leaders of the Christian church, so that Clement of Alexandria said that Greek philosophy and Jewish law had proved schoolmasters to bring the world to Christ. Paul, who prevented Christianity from remaining a Jewish sect and proclaimed its universalism, learned much from Greek-especially from Stoic-thought. It is also significant that the early Christian missionaries apparently went only where the Greek language was known, which was the case in all centers of Roman administration.
The state of the Roman empire linguistically was in the highest degree favorable to the spread of Christianity. The Greek republics by their enterprise, superior genius and commercial abilities extended their dialects over the Aegean Islands, the coasts of Asia Minor, Sicily and Magna Graecia. The preeminence of Attic culture and literature favored by the short-lived Athenian empire raised this dialect to a standard among the Greek peoples. But the other dialects long persisted. Out of this babel of Greek dialects there finally arose a normal koine or "common language." By the conquests of Alexander and the Hellenistic sympathies of the Diadochi this common Greek language became the lingua franca of antiquity. Greek was known in Northern India, at the Parthian court, and on the distant shores of the Euxine (Black Sea). The native land of the gospel was surrounded on all sides by Greek civilization. Greek culture and language penetrated into the midst of the obstinate home-keeping Palestinian Jews. Though Greek was not the mother-tongue of our Lord, He understood Greek and apparently could speak it when occasion required-Aramaic being the language of His heart and of His public teachings. The history of the Maccabean struggle affords ample evidence of the extent to Which Greek culture, and with it the Greek language, were familiar to the Jews. There were in later days Hellenistic bodies of devout Jews in Jerusalem itself. Greek was recognized by the Jews as the universal language: the inscription on the wall of the outer temple court forbidding Gentiles under pain of death to enter was in Greek. The koine became the language even of religion-where a foreign tongue is least likely to be used-of the large Jewish Diaspora. They perceived the advantages of Greek as the language of commerce-the Jews' occupation-of culture and of proselytizing. They threw open their sacred Scriptures in the Septuagint and other versions to the Greek-Roman world, adapting the translation in many respects to the requirements of Greek readers. "The Bible whose God was Yahweh was the Bible of one people: the Bible whose God was (kurios, "Lord") was the Bible of humanity." When the Romans came upon the scene, they found this language so widely known and so deeply rooted they could not hope to supplant it. Indeed they did not try-except in Sicily and Magna Graecia-to suppress Greek, but rather gladly accepted it as the one common means of intercourse among the peoples of their eastern dominions.
SeeLANGUAGE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Though Latin was of course the official language of the conquerors, the decrees of governors generally appeared with a Greek translation, so that they might be "understanded of the people," and Greek overcame Latin, as English drove out the French of the Norman invaders. Latin poets and historians more than once complained that Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit ("conquered Greece vanquished its stern conqueror").
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ROMAN EMPIRE AND CHRISTIANITY, 2
III. Attitude of the Roman Empire to Religions.
1. Roman or State Religion:
The history of Roman religion reveals a continuous penetration of Italian, Etruscan, Greek, Egyptian and oriental worship and rites, until the old Roman religion became almost unrecognizable, and even the antiquarian learning of a Varro could scarcely discover the original meaning or use of
many Roman deities. The Roman elements or modes of worship progressively retreated until they and the foreign rites with which they were overlaid gave way before the might of Christianity. As Rome expanded, her religious demands increased. During the regal period Roman religion was that of a simple agricultural community. In the period between the Regifugium and the Second Punic War Roman religion became more complicated and the Roman Pantheon was largely increased by importations from Etruria, Latium and Magna Graecia. The mysterious religion of Etruria first impressed the Roman mind, and from this quarter probably came the Trinity of the Capitol (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva) previously introduced into Etruria from Greek sources, thus showing that the Romans were not the first in Italy to be influenced by the religion of Greece. New modes of worship, non-Roman in spirit, also came in from the Etruscans and foreign elements of Greek mythology. Latium also made its contribution, the worship of Diana coming from Aricia and also a Latin Jupiter. Two Latin cults penetrated even within the Roman pomoerium-that of Hercules and Castor, with deities of Greek origin. The Greek settlements in Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) were generous in their contributions and opened the way for the later invasion of Greek deities. The Sibylline Books were early imported from Cumae as sacred scriptures for the Romans. In 493 B.C. during a famine a temple was built to the Greek trinity Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone, under the Latin names of Ceres, Liber, and Libera-the beginning of distrust in the primitive Roman numina and of that practice, so oft repeated in Roman history, of introducing new and foreign gods at periods of great distress. In 433 Apollo came from the same region. Mercury and Asclepius followed in 293 B.C., and in 249 B.C. Dis and Proserpina were brought from Tarentum. Other non-Roman modes of approach to deity were introduced. Rome had been in this period very broad-minded in her policy of meeting the growing religious needs of her community, but she had not so far gone beyond Italy. A taste had also developed for dramatic and more aesthetic forms of worship. The period of the Second Punic War was a crisis in Roman religious life, and the faith of the Romans waned before growing unbelief. Both the educated classes and the populace abandoned the old Roman religion, the former sank into skepticism, the latter into superstition; the former put philosophy in the place of religion, the latter the more sensuous cults of the Orient. The Romans went abroad again to borrow deities-this time to Greece, Asia and Egypt. Greek deities were introduced wholesale, and readily assimilated to or identified with Roman deities (see ROME, III, 1). In 191 B.C. Hebe entered as Juventas, in 179 Artemis as Diana, in 138 Ares as Mars. But the home of religion-the Orient-proved more helpful. In 204 B.C. Cybele was introduced from Pessinus to Rome, known also as the Great Mother (magna mater)-a fatal and final blow to old Roman religion and an impetus to the wilder and more orgiastic cults and mysterious glamor which captivated the common mind. Bacchus with his gross immorality soon followed. Sulla introduced Ma from Phrygia as the counterpart of the Roman Bellona, and Egypt gave Isis. In the wars of Pompey against the pirates Mithra was brought to Rome-the greatest rival of Christianity. Religion now began to pass into the hands of politicians and at the close of the republic was almost entirely in their hands. Worship degenerated into formalism, and formalism culminated in disuse. Under the empire philosophic systems continued still more to replace religion, and oriental rites spread apace. The religious revival of Augustus was an effort to breathe life into the dry bones. His plan was only partly religious, and partly political-to establish an imperial and popular religion of which he was the head and centering round his person. He discovered the necessity of an imperial religion. In the East kings had long before been regarded as divine by their subjects. Alexander the Great, like a wise politician, intended to use this as one bond of union for his wide dominions. The same habit extended among the Diadochian kings, especially in Egypt and Syria. When Augustus had brought peace to the world, the Orient was ready to hail him as a god. Out of this was evolved the cult of the reigning emperor and of Roma personified. This worship gave religious unity to the empire, while at the same time magnifying the emperor. But the effort was in vain: the old Roman religion was dead, and the spiritual needs of the empire continued to be met more and more by philosophy and the mysteries which promised immortality. The cult of the Genius of the emperor soon lost all reality. Vespasian himself on his deathbed jested at the idea of his becoming a god. The emperor-worship declined steadily, and in the 3rd and 4th centuries oriental worships were supreme. The religion of the Roman empire soon became of that cosmopolitan and eclectic type so characteristic of the new era.
2. Non-Roman Religions: religiones licitae and religiones illicitae:
The non-Roman religions were divided into religiones licitae ("licensed worships") and religiones illicitae ("unlicensed"). The Romans at different times, on account of earthquakes, pestilences, famine or military disasters, introduced non-Roman cults as means of appeasing the numina. This generally meant that the cults in question could be performed with impunity by their foreign adherents. It legalized the collegia necessary for these worships from which Roman citizens were by law excluded. But, generally speaking, any people settling at Rome was permitted the liberty of its own native worship in so far as the exercise of it did not interfere with the peace of the state or corrupt the morals of society. On one occasion (186 B.C.), by a decree of the senate, a severe inquisition was instituted against the Bacchanalian rites which had caused flagrant immorality among the adherents. But Rome was never a systematic persecutor. These foreign rites and superstitions, though often forbidden and their professed adherents driven from the city, always returned stronger than ever. Roman citizens soon discovered the fascination of oriental and Greek mysteries, and devoted themselves to foreign gods while maintaining the necessary formalism toward the religion of the state. Very often too Roman citizens would be presidents of these religious brotherhoods. It should not be forgotten that the original moral elements had fallen out of Roman religion, and that it had become simply a political and military religion for the welfare of the state, not for the salvation of the individual. The individual must conform to certain prescribed rites in order to avert calamity from the state. This done, the state demanded no more, and left him a large measure of freedom in seeking excitement or aesthetic pleasure in the warm and more social foreign mysteries. Thus, while the Romans retained the distinction of religiones licitae and illicitae, they seldom used severity against the latter. Many unlicensed cults were never disturbed. In fact, the very idea of empire rendered toleration of non-Roman religions a necessity. Practically, though not theoretically, the empire abandoned the idea of religiones illicitae, while it retained it upon the statute-book to use in case of such an emergency as the Christian religion involved. Not only the government was tolerant, but the different varieties of religions were tolerant and on good terms with each other. The same man might be initiated into the mysteries of half a dozen divinities. The same man might even be priest of two or more gods. Some had not the slightest objection to worshipping Christ along with Mithra, Isis and Adonis. Men were growing conscious of the oneness of the divine, and credited their neighbors with worshipping the One Unknown under different names and forms. Hadrian is said to have meditated the erection of temples throughout the empire to the Unknown God.
(1) Judaism a "religio licita."
An interesting and, for the history of Christianity, important example of a religio licita is Judaism. No more exclusive and obstinate people could have been found upon whom to bestow the favor. Yet from the days of Julius Caesar the imperial policy toward the Jew and his religion was uniformly favorable, with the brief exception of the mad attempt of Gaius. The government often protected them against the hatred of the populace. Up to 70 A.D. they were allowed freely to send their yearly contribution to the temple; they were even allowed self-governing privileges and legislative powers among themselves, and thus formed an exclusive community in the midst of Roman society. Even the disastrous war of 68-70 A.D. and the fall of Jerusalem did not bring persecution upon the Jew, though most of these self-governing and self-legislating powers were withdrawn and the Jews were compelled to pay a poll-tax to the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter. Still their religion remained licensed, tolerated, protected. They were excused from duties impossible for their religion, such as military service. This tolerance of the Jewish religion was of incalculable importance to infant Christianity which at first professed to be no more than a reformed and expanded Judaism.
(2) Why Christianity Was Alone Proscribed.
The question next arises: If such was the universally mild and tolerant policy of the empire to find room for all gods and cults, and to respect the beliefs of all the subject peoples, how comes the anomaly that Christianity alone was proscribed and persecuted? Christianity was indeed a religio illicita, not having been accepted by the government as a religio licita, like Judaism. But this is no answer. There were other unlicensed religions which grew apace in the empire. Neither was it simply because Christianity was aggressive and given to proselytism and dared to appear even in the imperial household: Mithraism and Isism were militant and aggressive, and yet were tolerated. Nor was it simply because of popular hatred, for the Christian was not hated above the Jew. Other reasons must explain the anomaly.
(3) Two Empires: Causes of Conflict.
The fact was that two empires were born about the same time so like and yet so unlike as to render a conflict and struggle to the death inevitable. The Christians were unequivocal in asserting that the society for which they were waiting and laboring was a "kingdom."
(a) Confusion of Spiritual and Temporal:
They thought not merely in national or racial but in ecumenical terms. The Romans could not understand a kingdom of God upon earth, but confused Christian ambition with political. It was soon discovered that Christianity came not to save but to destroy and disintegrate the empire. Early Christian enthusiasm made the term "kingdom" very provoking to pagan patriotism, for many, looking for the Parousia of their Lord, were themselves misled into thinking of the new society as a kingdom soon to be set up upon the earth with Christ as king. Gradually, of course, Christians became enlightened upon this point, but the harm had been done. Both the Rein empire and Christianity were aiming at a social organization to embrace the genus humanum. But though these two empires were so alike in several points and the one had done so much to prepare the way for the other, yet the contrast was too great to allow conciliation. Christianity would not lose the atom in the mass; it aimed at universalism along the path of individualism-giving new value to human personality.
(b) Unique Claims of Christianity:
It seemed also to provoke Roman pride by its absurd claims. It preached that the world was to be destroyed by fire to make way for new heavens and a new earth, that the Eternal City (Rome) was doomed to fall, that a king would come from heaven whom Christians were to obey, that amid the coming desolations the Christians should remain tranquil.
(c) Novelty of Christianity:
Again after Christianity came from underneath the aegis of Judaism, it must have taken the government somewhat by surprise as a new and unlicensed religion which had grown strong under a misnomer. It was the newest and latest religion of the empire; it came suddenly, as it were, upon the stage with no past. It was not apparent to the Roman mind that Christianity had been spreading for a generation under the tolerance granted to Judaism (sub umbraculo licitae Judeorum religionis: Tert.), the latter of which was "protected by its antiquity," as Tacitus said. The Romans were of a conservative nature and disliked innovations. The greatest statesman of the Augustan era, Maecenas, advised the emperor to extend no tolerance to new religions as subversive of monarchy (Dio Cassius lii.36). A new faith appearing suddenly with a large clientele might be dangerous to the public peace (multitude ingens: Tac. Ann. xv0.44; polu plethos Clem. Rom.; Cor 1 6).
(d) Intolerance and Exclusiveness of the Christian Religion and Christian Society:
In one marked way Christians contravcned the tolerant eclective spirit of the empire-the intolerance and absoluteness of their religion and the exclusiveness of their society. All other religions of the empire admitted compromise and eclecticism, were willing to dwell rather on the points of contact with their neighbors than on the contrast. But Christianity admitted no compromise, was intolerant to all other systems. It must be admitted that in this way it was rather unfair to other cults which offered comfort and spiritual support to thousands of the human race before the dawn of Christianity. But we shall not blame, when we recognize that for its own life and mission it was necessary to show itself at first intolerant. Many heathen would gladly accept Christ along with Mithra and Isis and Serapis. But Christianity demanded complete separation. The Jesus cult could tolerate no rival: it claimed to be absolute, and worshippers of Jesus must be separate from the world. The Christian church was absolute in its demands; would not rank with, but above, all worships. This spirit was of course at enmity with that of the day which enabled rival cults to co-exist with the greatest indifference. Add to this the exclusive state of Christian society. No pious heathen who had purified his soul by asceticism and the sacraments of antiquity could be admitted into membership unless he renounced things dear to him and of some spiritual value. In every detail of public life this exclusive spirit made itself felt. Christians met at night and held secret assemblies in which they were reputed to perpetrate the most scandalous crimes. Thyestean banquets, Oedipean incest, child murder, were among the charges provoked by their exclusiveness.
Add to this also the sullen obstinacy with which Christians met the demands of imperial power-a feature very offensive to Rein governors. Their religion would be left them undisturbed if they would only render formal obedience to the religion of the state. Roman clemency and respect for law were baffled before Christian obstinacy. The martyr's courage appeared as sheer fanaticism. The pious Aurelius refers but once to Christianity, and in the words psile parataxis, "sheer obstinacy," and Aristides apparently refers to Christianity as authadeia, stubbornness.
SeePERSECUTION, sec. 18.
(f) Aggressiveness against Pagan Faith:
But the Christians were not content with an uncompromising withdrawal from the practices of heathen worship: they also actively assailed the pagan cult. To the Christians they became doctrines of demons. The imperial cult and worship of the Genius of the emperor were very unholy in their sight. Hence, they fell under the charges of disloyalty to the emperor and might be proved guilty of majestas. They held in contempt the doctrine that the greatness of Rome was due to her reverence for the gods; the Christians were atheists from the pagan point of view. And as religion was a political concern for the welfare of the state, atheism was likely to call down the wrath of divinity to the subversion of the state.
(g) Christianos ad leones: Public Calamities:
Very soon when disasters began to fall thickly upon the Roman empire, the blame was laid upon the Christians. In early days Rome had often sought to appease the gods by introducing external cults; at other times oriental cults were expelled in the interests of public morality. Now in times of disaster Christians became the scapegoats. If famine, drought, pestilence, earthquake or any other public calamity threatened, the cry was raised "the Christians to the lions" (see NERO; PERSECUTION, sec. 12). This view of Christianity as subversive of the empire survived the fall of Rome before Alaric. The heathen forgot-as the apologists showed-that Rome had been visited by the greatest calamities before the Christian era and that the Christians were the most self-sacrificing in periods of public distress, lending succor to pagan and Christian alike.
(h) Odium generis humani:
All prejudices against Christianity were summed up in odium generis humani, "hatred for the human race" or society, which was reciprocated by "hatred of the human race toward them." The Christians were bitterly hated, not only by the populace, but by the upper educated classes. Most of the early adherents belonged to the slave, freedman and artisan classes, "not many wise, not many noble." Few were Roman citizens. We have mentioned the crimes which popular prejudice attributed to this hated sect. They were in mockery styled Christiani by the Antiochians (a name which they at first resented), and Nazarenes by the Jews. No nicknames were too vile to attach to them-Asinarii (the sect that worshipped the ass's head), Sarmenticii or Semaxii. Roman writers cannot find epithets strong enough. Tacitus reckons the Christian faith among the "atrocious and abominable things" (atrocia aut pudenda) which flooded Rome, and further designates it superstitio exitiabilis ("baneful superstition," Ann. xv.44), Suetonius (Ner. 16) as novel and maletic (novae ac maleficae), and the gentle Pliny (Ep. 97) as vile and indecent (prava immodica). Well might Justus say the Christians were "hated and reviled by the whole human race." This opprobrium was accentuated by the attacks of philosophy upon Christianity. When the attention of philosophers was drawn to the new religion, it was only to scorn it. This attitude of heathen philosophy is best understood in reading Celsus and the Christian apologists.
(4) The Roman Empire Not the Only Disturbing Factor.
Philosophy long maintained its aloofness from the religion of a crucified Galilean: the "wise" were the last to enter the kingdom of God. When later Christianity had established itself as a permanent force in human thought, philosophy deigned to consider its claims. But it was too late; the new faith was already on the offensive. Philosophy discovered its own weakness and began to reform itself by aiming at being both a philosophy and a religion. This is particularly the case in neo-Platonism (in Plotinus) in which reason breaks down before revelation and mysticism. Another force disturbing the peace of the Christian church was the enemy within the fold. Large numbers of heathen had entered the ecclesia bringing with them their oriental or Greek ideas, just as Jewish Christians brought their Judaism with them. This led to grave heresies, each system of thought distorting in its own way the orthodox faith. Later another ally joined the forces against Christianity-reformed paganism led by an injured priesthood. At first the cause of Christianity was greatly aided by the fact that there was no exclusive and jealous priesthood at the head of the Greek-Roman religion, as in the Jewish and oriental religions. There was thus no dogma and no class interested in maintaining a dogma. Religious persecution is invariably instituted by the priesthood, but in the Roman world it was not till late in the day when the temples and sacrifices were falling into desuetude that we find a priesthood as a body in opposition. Thus the Roman imperial power stood not alone in antagonism to Christianity, but was abetted and often provoked to action by
(a) popular hate,
(c) pagan priesthood,
(d) heresies within the church.
IV. Relations between the Roman Empire and Christianity.
We have here to explain how the attitude of the Roman empire, at first friendly or indifferent, developed into one of fierce conflict, the different stages in the policy-if we can speak of any uniform policy-of the Roman government toward Christianity, the charges or mode of procedure on which Christians were condemned, and when and how the profession of Christianity (nomen ipsum) became a crime. We shall see the Roman empire progressively weakening and Christianity gaining ground. For the sake of clearness we shall divide the Roman empire into six periods, the first from the commencement of the Christian era till the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
1. Beginning of Christianity until Death of Nero, 68 A.D.:
At first the presence of the Christian faith was unknown to Roman authorities. It appeared first merely as a reformed and more spiritual Judaism; its earliest preachers and adherents alike never dreamed of severing from the synagogue. Christians were only another of the Jewish sects to which a Jew might belong while adhering to Mosaism and Judaism. But soon this friendly relation became strained on account of the expanding views of some of the Christian preachers, and from the introduction of Gentile proselytes. The first persecutions for the infant church came entirely from exclusive Judaism, and it was the Jews who first accused Christians before the Roman courts. Even so, the Roman government not only refused to turn persecutor, but even protected the new faith both against Jewish accusations and against the violence of the populace (Acts 21:31 f). And the Christian missionaries-especially Paul-soon recognized in the Roman empire an ally and a power for good. Writing to the Romans Paul counsels them to submit in obedience to the powers that be, as "ordained of God." His favorable impression must have been greatly enhanced by his mild captivity at Rome and his acquittal by Nero on the first trial. The Roman soldiers had come to his rescue in Jerusalem to save his life from the fanaticism of his own coreligionists. Toward the accusations of the Jews against their rivals the Romans were either indifferent, as Gallio the proconsul of Achaia, who "cared for none of those things" (Acts 18:12), or recognized the innocence of the accused, as did both Felix (Acts 24:1) and Porcius Festus (Acts 25:14). Thus the Romans persisted in looking upon Christians as a sect of the Jews. But the Jews took another step in formulating a charge of disloyalty (begun before Pilate) against the new sect as acting "contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7; compare Acts 25:8). Christianity was disowned thus early by Judaism and cast upon its own resources. The increasing numbers of Christians would confirm to the Roman government the independence of Christianity. And the trial of a Roman citizen, Paul, at Rome would further enlighten the authorities.
The first heathen persecution of Christianity resulted from no definite policy, no apprehension of danger to the body politic, and no definite charges, but from an accidental spark which kindled the conflagration of Rome (July, 64 A.D.). Up to this time no emperor had taken much notice of Christianity. It was only in the middle of the reign of Augustus that Jesus was born. In the reign of Tiberius belong Jesus' public ministry, crucifixion and resurrection; but his reign closed too early (37 A.D.) to allow any prominence to the new faith, though this emperor was credited with proposing to the senate a decree to receive Christ into the Roman pantheon-legend of course. Under the brief principate of the mad Gaius (37-41 A.D.) the "new way" was not yet divorced from the parent faith. Gaius caused a diversion in favor of the Christians by his persecution of the Jews and the command to set up his own statue in the temple. In the next reign (Claudius, 41-54 A.D.) the Jews were again harshly treated, and thousands were banished from Rome (Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit: Suet. Claud. 25). Some would see in this an action against the Christians by interpreting the words as meaning riots between Jews and Christians, in consequence of which some Christians were banished as Jews, but Dio Cassius (lx.6) implies that it was a police regulation to restrain the spread of Jewish worship. It was in the reign of Nero, after the fire of 64 A.D., that the first hostile step was taken by the government against the Christians, earliest account of which is given by Tacitus (Ann. xv.44). Nero's reckless career had given rise to the rumor that he was the incendiary, that he wished to see the old city burned in order to rebuild it on more magnificent plans. SeeNERO. Though he did everything possible to arrest the flames, even exposing his own life, took every means of alleviating the destitution of the sufferers, and ordered such religious rites as might appease the wrath of the gods, the suspicion still clung to him.
"Accordingly in order to dissipate the rumor, he put forward as guilty (subdidit reos) and inflicted the most cruel punishments on those who were hated for their abominations (flagitia) and called Christians by the populace. The originator of that name, Christus, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilatus in the reign of Tiberius, and the baneful superstition (exitiabilis superstitio) put down for the time being broke out again, not only throughout Judea, the home of this evil, but also in the City (Rome) where all atrocious and shameful (atrocia aut pudenda) things converge and are welcomed. Those therefore who confessed (i.e. to being Christians) were first arrested, and then by the information gained from them a large number (multitudo ingens) were implicated (coniuncti is the manuscript reading, not conuicti), not so much on the charge of incendiarism as for hatred of mankind (odio humani generis). The victims perished amid mockery (text here uncertain); some clothed in the skins of wild beasts were torn to pieces by dogs; others impaled on crosses in order to be set on fire to afford light by night after daylight had died..... Whence (after these cruelties) commiseration began to be felt for them, though guilty and deserving the severest penalties (quamquam adversus sontes et novissima exempla meritos), for men felt their destruction was not from considerations of public welfare but to gratify the cruelty of one person (Nero)."
This passage-the earliest classical account of the crucifixion and the only mention of Pilate in a heathen author-offers some difficulties which require to be glanced at. It is held by some that Tacitus contradicts himself by writing subdidit reos at the beginning and sontes at the end, but sontes does not mean guilty of incendiarism, but guilty from the point of view of the populace and deserving severe punishment for other supposed flagitia, not for arson. It is thus quite clear that Tacitus regards the Christians as innocent, though he had not the slightest kindly feeling toward them. Qui fatebantur means most naturally, "those who confessed to being Christians," though Arnold argues that confiteri or profiteri would be the correct word for professing a religion. But this would contradict both the sense and the other evidences of the context; for if fatebantur could mean "confessed to arson," then the whole body of Christians should have been arrested, and, further, this would have diverted suspicion from Nero, which was not the case according to Tacitus. Some Christians boldly asserted their religion, others no doubt, as in Bithynia, recanted before tribulation. By indicio eorum Ramsay (Christianity in the Roman Empire, 233) understands "on the information elicited at their trial," i.e. from information gathered by the inquisitors in the course of the proceedings. This incidental information implicated a large number of others, hence Ramsay prefers the manuscript reading coniuncti to the correction conuicti. This is in order to explain the difficulty seemingly raised, namely, that the noblest Christians who boldly confessed their Christianity would seek to implicate brethren. But it is not impossible that some of these bold spirits did condescend to give the names of their coreligionists to the Roman courts. Hence, Hardy (Christianity and the Roman Government, 67) prefers the more usual rendering of indicio eorum as "on information received from them." This may have occurred either
(1) through torture, or
(2) for promised immunity, or
(3) on account of local jealousies.
The early Christian communities were not perfect; party strife often ran high as at Corinth. And in a church like that of Rome composed of Jewish and pagan elements and undoubtedly more cosmopolitan than Corinth, a bitter sectarian spirit is easy to understand. This as a probable explanation is much strengthened and rendered almost certain by the words of Clement of Rome, who, writing to the church at Corinth (chapter vi) from Rome only a generation after the persecution, and thus familiar with the internal history of the Roman ecclesia, twice asserts that a (polu plethos = Tac. multitudo ingens) of the Roman Christians suffered (dia zelos), "through jealousy or strife." The most natural and obvious meaning is "mutual or sectarian jealousy." But those who do not like this fact explain it as "by the jealousy of the Jews." Nothing is more easily refuted, for had it been the jealousy of the Jews Clement would not have hesitated one moment to say so. Those who are familiar with the Christian literature of that age know that the Christians were none too sensitive toward Jewish feelings. But the very fact that it was not the Jews made Clement rather modestly omit details the memory of which was probably still bearing fruit, even in his day. Once more correpti, usually rendered "arrested," is taken by Hardy as "put upon their trial." He argues that this is more in accord with Tacitean usage. A "huge multitude" need not cause us to distrust Tacitus. It is a relative term; it was a considerable number to be so inhumanly butchered. There is some hesitation as to whether odio humani generis is objective or subjective genitive: "hatred of the Christians toward the human race" or "hatred of the human race toward the Christians." Grammatically of course it may be either, but that it is the former there can be no doubt: it was of the nature of a charge against Christians (Ramsay).
Some have impugned the veracity of Tacitus in this very important passage, asserting that he had read back the feelings and state of affairs of his own day (half a century later) into this early Neronian period.
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ROMAN EMPIRE AND CHRISTIANITY, 3
V. Victory of Christianity and Conversion of the Roman Empire.
Christianity was now acknowledged as the religion of both East and West. It had also grown strong enough to convert the barbarians who overran the West. It restrained and educated them under the lead of the papacy, so that its conquests now extended beyond the Roman empire.
Merivale (preface to Conversion of Roman Empire) attributes the conversion of the Roman empire to four causes: (1) the external evidence of apparent fulfillment of prophecy and the evidence of miracles, (2) internal evidence as satisfying the spiritual wants of the empire and offering a Redeemer, (3) the example of the pure lives and heroic deaths of the early Christians, and (4) the success which attended the Christian cause under Constantine. Gibbon (chapter xv of Decline and Fall) seeks to account for the phenomenal success of Christianity in the empire by (1) the zeal and enthusiasm of the early Christians, (2) the belief of Christianity in immortality with both future rewards and future retributions, (3) miracles, (4) the high ethical code and pure morals of professing Christians, and (5) strong ecclesiastical organization on imperial patterns. But neither of these lists of causes seems to account satisfactorily for the progress and success of the religion of Jesus.
1. Negative Causes:
This was due in the first place to negative causes-the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the antique world, the internal rottenness and decay of heathen systems. All ancient national religions had failed and were abandoned alike by philosophers and the masses, and no universal religion for humanity was offered except by Christianity. Worship had degenerated into pure formalism which brought no comfort to the heart. An imperious demand for revelation was felt which no philosophy or natural religion could satisfy.
2. Positive Causes:
But it was to positive causes chiefly that the success of the new religion was due, among which were the zeal, enthusiasm, and moral earnestness of the Christian faith. Its sterling qualities were best shown in persecution and the heroic deaths of its adherents. Paganism, even with the alliance of the civil power and the prestige of its romantic past, could not withstand persecution. And when heathenism was thrown back on the voluntary system, it could not prosper as Christianity did with its ideals of self-sacrifice. The earnestness of early Christianity was raised to its highest power by its belief in a near second coming of the Lord and the end of the aeon. The means of propagation greatly helped the spread of Christianity, the principal means being the exemplary lives of its professors. It opposed moral and spiritual power to political. Besides, Christianity when once studied by the thinkers of the ancient world was found to be in accord with the highest principles of reason and Nature. But "the chief cause of its success was the congruity of its teaching with the spiritual nature of mankind" (Lecky). There was a deepseated earnestness in a large section of the ancient world to Whom Christianity offered the peace, comfort and strength desired. It was possessed also of an immense advantage over all competing religions of the Roman empire in being adapted to all classes and conditions and to all changes. There was nothing local or national about it; it gave the grandest expression to the contemporary ideal of brotherhood. Its respect for woman and its attraction for this sex gained it many converts who brought honor to it; in this respect it was far superior to its greatest rival, Mithraism. In an age of vast social change and much social distress it appealed to the suffering by its active self-denial for the happiness of others. As an ethical code it was equal and superior to the noblest contemporary systems. One incalculable advantage it could show above all religions and philosophies-the charm and power of an ideal perfect life, in which the highest manhood was held forth as an incentive to nobler living. The person of Jesus was an ideal and moral dynamic for both philosopher and the common man, far above any abstract virtue. "It was because it was true to the moral sentiments of the age, because it represented faithfully the supreme type of excellence to which men were then tending, because it corresponded with their religious wants, aims and emotions, because the whole spiritual being could then expand and expatiate under its influence that it planted its roots so deeply in the hearts of men" (Lecky, Hist of European Morals, chapter iii). Add to all this the favorable circumstances mentioned under "Preparation for Christianity," above (II), and we can understand how the Roman empire became the kingdom of Christ.
Ancient sources include Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Pliny's Letters, x.97-98 (in Hardy's edition), Dio Cassius (in Xiphilin), the apologists, Church Fathers, Inscriptions, etc.
Modern sources are too numerous to mention in full, but those most helpful to the student are: Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Merivale, Hist of the Romans under the Empire; The Fall of the Roman Republic, 1856; Conversion of the Roman Empire, 1865; Milman, Hist of Christianity; Hist of Latin Christianity; Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire; The Expositor, IV, viii, pp. 8;, 110;, 282;; E. G. Hardy, Christianity and the Roman Government, 1894; D. Duff, The Early Church: a Hist of Christianity in the First Six Centuries, Edinburgh, 1891; J. J. Blunt, A Hist of the Christian Church during the First Three Centuries, 1861; Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, 1907; Mommsen, "Der Religionsfrevel nach rom. Recht," in Hist. Zeit, 1890, LXIV (important); Provinces of the Roman Empire; The Expositor, 1893, pp. 6;; G. Boissier, La religion romaine d'Auguste aux Antonins; La fin du paganisme; Wissowa, Religion u. Kultus der Romer; Gerb. Uhlhorn, Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism, English translation by Smyth and Ropes, 1879; B. Aube, Histoire des persecutions de l'eglise jusqu'a la fin des Antonins, 1875; Schaff, Hist of the Christian Church (with useful bibliographies of both ancient and modern authorities); Orr, Neglected Factors in Early Church Hist; Keim, Ro u. Christentum; Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, English translation, London, 1910; Wendland, Die hellenistischromische Kultur2, 1912; F. Overbeck, "Gesetze der rom. Kaiser gegen die Christen," in his Studien, 1875; C. F. Arnold, Die Neronische Christenverfolgung; Stud. zur Gesch. der Plinianischen Christenverfolgung; Westcott, "The Two Empires," in commentary to Epistles. of John, 250-82; Friedlander, Sittengeschichte Roms; Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers; Lecky, Hist of European Morals, chapter iii. "The Conversion of Rome."
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
) The religion of Christians; the system of doctrines and precepts taught by Christ.
2. (n.) Practical conformity of one's inward and outward life to the spirit of the Christian religion
3. (n.) The body of Christian believers.