Effects Of Christianity On Roman Empire History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
This essay discusses the effects of the Church on the Roman Empire and in turn the changes that the Roman Empire influenced in the Church. Most of these changes occurred during Emperor Constantine’s rule in the 300 A.D and are analyzed in this essay. At the time Christianity began spreading in the Roman Empire, it had fractured and diversified though this led to its dilution. It was in stark contrast to the Roman religion which involved Worship of Roman gods and adherence to mystery cults such as Cybill and Adonis. In these cults, it was not exclusive to be a member though it necessitated sizeable offerings which only the wealthy afforded. This was one major area of contrast with Christianity whereby it was absolutely free to join, guaranteed an after-life and was absolute in its beliefs unlike the Roman religion which was expensive to join, was open and allowed you to join any other cult and was not definite on an after-life hence accelerating the spread of Christianity. Unlike Roman Religion which mainly encompassed the rich, Christianity freely allowed the poor, women and slaves to join. Christianity largely emphasized on loyalty and unity across a divide of citizens, that is, between the rich and the poor, which other cults failed to do. This led to a variety of changes effected on the Roman Culture by Christian principles advancement.
First, it in effect changed the societal structure that had been established in the Roman culture whereby slaves, women and the poor were segregated by the rich. This highly fueled Christianity while at the same time fragmented other groups. Therefore, Christianity is seen among other factors such as politics, a contributory factor to the stability lack thereof and consequent fall of the Roman Empire. Christianity also greatly influenced a change in customs and practices such as keeping a prisoner in the dark and instead he was allowed outdoors; a condemned man could then die in the arena but not branded on his face in accordance with the literal Christian doctrine that man was created in God’s image and hence the slave could only be branded on his feet; slave masters’ powers were reduced though a slave could still be beaten to death and all gladiatorial images were ordered to be removed although this was not strictly implemented.
Secondly, Church influence on the state was evidenced by Emperor Constantine, who encouraged his subjects to abandon the temples which led to their closure and advancement of Christianity through the massive wealth previously found in these temples which was used to construct basilicas hence popularizing Christianity at the expense of any other religion. Money previously reserved for the military was also diverted into financing the advancement of Christian causes. Thirdly, Church’s influence over the state also led to the commissioning of bible supply to the churches in the empire.
However, church influence over the state was not absolute. The Church gained control over the empire but in turn, the emperor controlled the church. This led to significant changes in the church exerted by Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. He first brought into effect a controversial creed about Jesus. Next, the church borrowed heavily from the patriarchal system and hierarchical order evidenced in today’s Roman Catholic Church whereby bishops are predominantly male and an internal bureaucracy characteristic of the church’s administration in execution of their duties and responsibilities. He also ‘twisted’ the church to the advancement of his own political causes. He made it possible for Christians to participate in politics and issued tax breaks for Christian priests. Emperor Constantine also brought into effect The Edict which granted Christians the right to run for government positions in competition with Pagans in the traditional cursus honorum. Wealthy Roman families who did not embrace Christianity were denied government positions. Legal reforms were established and crucifixion was replaced with hanging. The Sabbath day was set on Sunday whereby no markets and public offices were in operation. Roman customs and names such as a pope’s name Pontifex Maximus were incorporated into Christianity. Feasts such as the exaltation of the cross whereby it was observed in commemoration that Constantine’s mother, Saint Helena had found the Holy cross, came into force.
The rapid expansion of the Roman Empire to occupy vast lands led to an increase in population who were conquered. The spread of Christianity was highly accelerated by the conversion of this population. The vast expanse of the Empire to contain this diverse population also greatly enabled easy travel between a number of nations under the emperor In fact, some Historians have claimed that were it not for the Roman Empire, Christianity would not have spread at all.
The crucifixion and persecution of various emperors who ruled thereafter also fueled the spread of Christianity since martyrs inspired both the believers and non-believers. The very cruelty of the Roman rulers served to enliven the faith of the pioneer Christians. And lastly, the oppressed state of the subjects of the Roman Empire made the message of Christ welcome to these lower classes.
SIt is therefore evident that Christianity was largely spread through the Roman Empire but in turn various changes occurred. The changes instituted by Constantine were also irreversible such as Sunday being the Sabbath day. Under repression, causes and struggles seem to prosper. Had the Roman Emperors who rules later on been fair and just, there would been lesser cause for the subjects to believe in Christianity as an emblem of hope. (Brown, 2003) (MacMullen, 1984) (Cruz, 2004) (Wylen, 1995)
Brown, P. (2003). The Rise of Christendom. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Cruz, R. G. (2004). Medieval Worlds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
MacMullen, R. (1984). “Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D. 100-400. Yale University Press.
Wylen, S. M. (1995). The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press.
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