The Roman Empire has been very instrumental in the spread of Christianity under the rule of different emperors. The Roman Empire did not adapt to Christianity overnight. Their beliefs and religious practices changed over time. Christianity formed out of the Jewish beliefs and traditions in addition to the Roman cultural and political structures for several centuries. Most emperors who ruled the Roman Empire tried to promote and shape it by pushing and solidifying Christianity as the official religion. The rulers tried to clear up any confusion by creating a supercedent code. In 476 CE, the Roman Western Empire fell but Christianity managed to continue spreading within that duration. It was from this time that Christianity got an opportunity of developing itself in the world. The Roman Empire rulers, therefore, had to employ various practical mechanisms to help spread and practice Christianity in the whole empire.
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The spread of Christianity was very dominant in the Roman Empire especially in the fourth and fifth centuries. Christianity started in Judea and spread in the Roman Empire in two main forms; Latin and Greek Christianity. Latin or western Christianity spread in the western part of the empire while Greek Christianity spread in the eastern part of the empire. It is also the reason why Bible was initially written in Greek and Latin. The Western Empire used Latin to spread the word so that people could understand it. The eastern part used the Greek language to spread Christianity so that it would travel fast, and that people would understand it. The ruling emperors allowed missionaries to come and spread Christianity in the language that was understood by the people. The former was the main form of Christianity in the western region while the latter was dominant in the eastern part of the empire. Much late, the two religions came to be referred to as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church respectively. The foundation of the two denominations was laid in the days of the Roman Empire. Emperors and the government, in general, acted as an instrument towards the formation of the early church and its spread to date. There interventions played an important role to the development of Christianity.
Leaders also played an important role in development of Christianity. A good example is Emperor Constantine who was a visionary leader and saw the church as a good means to unify the empire. Constantine discovered that the church could not unify the empire if it was, itself not unified. He created a very stable hierarchy under him that could address all problems affecting the church. His support of the Christian church made Christianity socially and politically desirable to some. This move by Constantine made Christianity be the leading state religion in the fourth century. Constantine by himself did not establish a successful hierarchy under his leadership but used the church as an opportunity.
Christian churches were already developed to some extent before the reign of Constantine. Constantine had hoped to get a consensus on important Christian issues. Emperor Constantine was successful in spreading Christianity because he issued the Edict of Milan which declared Christianity as the legal religion. This verdict did not completely eradicate the traditional Roman beliefs. However, he did not succeed because his move was declined by the council of Nicaea who made the creed of the western and eastern churches official. Even though Constantine did not achieve much, his decision of supporting Christianity played a vital role in the spread of the religion. Under Constantine’s guidance, most Christian’s beliefs were built, and many practices came into being.
Later in the fourth century, an emperor named, Theodosius made catholic- orthodox the official religion in the Roman Empire. All other religions were banned, for example, the Gnostic branch, worship of idols and pagans were prohibited, and their assets were given to the church. To a large extent, many people were now practicing Christianity in the early church. Emperor Theodosius II played a significant role in defining Christianity by banning other forms of worship. Theodosius also persecuted people who did not practice Christianity. The main target of Theodosius was to abolish any other form of worship that was not Christian. Theodosius II was attempting to solidify Christianity as the main religion in the empire also it had been supported by Constantine and decriminalized by Galerius.
After Theodosius’s death, people who practiced other religions were baptized forcefully and forced to practice Christianity. Many people however openly practiced Christianity but practiced their own beliefs in private. Although Theodosius might have used harsh methods to ban other forms of worship, his tenure saw the rise and growth of the religion. The emperors formed the codex Theodosianus (Eng. Theodosian Code) which comprised of laws governing the Roman Empire (Matthews, 67). This compilation of laws was made by Christian emperors such as Emperor Theodosius II and his co-emperor Valentinian III.
Most Roman emperors expanded the territory by building a vast network of road systems throughout the empire. These roads helped in a great way to spread Christianity. Missionaries would travel through these roads easily to proselytize the new religion. The new roads would help in navigating easily to all the surrounding villages. The roads were also useful because messengers would be sent to deliver direct messages. Major obstacles like hills were eliminated so the villages would be approached fast. Through the roads, Rome was connected to all the surrounding villages easily and since Rome was the center of religion, the word spread fast. Transport and trade played a significant role in spreading Christianity because many traders were converted in the process. Other tribes were also converted to Christianity during interactions and trading activities. Apostles like Paul traveled long distances in preaching the word using the new road systems established.
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The introduction of Christianity was highly formidable in the Roman Empire. Many people were persecuted and imprisoned because they confessed the Christian faith. Eventually, Christianity grew widely in the Roman Empire and spread like wildfire. It was finally accepted as the establishment and prosperity of “Christi’. In the time of Roman rulers, most of them had tried many methods to have Christianity as the religion but some worked while others failed. Christianity later became the greatest religion in the Roman Empire with most people practicing it. This implies that the methods employed worked in spreading Christianity. Christianity was deeply influenced by the roman cultural activities and the Judaism practices.
- Matthews, J. Laying Down the Law: A Study of the Theodosian Code (Oxford, 2000), chapter 6, pp. 121-67.
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