Early Christianity Thesis

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Christianity and the Roman Empire: Faith Superiority or Modern Construct

The history of the Roman Empire is forever intertwined with the history of Christianity. This is in part due to the fact that the historians (and their readership) most interested in the Roman Empire also had a bi-fold interest in the history of Christianity. It is for this reason that many of the most fundamental of texts written about the Roman Empire are fundamentally peppered with Christian events and trends. The difficulty for the modern historian or reader is to glean from these prominent texts, often considered primary sources, how much the Roman Empire was actually influenced by Early Christianity. This work will attempt to analyze how early Christianity affected and influenced the Roman Empire.

The texts you see, come from the opposite stand, seeking to understand more how Early Christianity was effected by the Roman Empire, rather than visa versa. Even the quintessential text of Roman history, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire written, at great length by consummate historian, Gibbon focuses a great deal on Christian rather than Roman history, so much so that many modern historians contend that Christianity was in fact the source of the decline of the empire.

Cosgrove 88) new attempt (from a neo-Marxist, Bolshevik point-of-view) to lay the blame for the ruin of the Roman Empire on Christianity has been made in the second edition of G. Sorel, La Ruine du monde antique (1925). This book is without value for the historian.

Rostovtzeff 751)

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The thesis that Christianity had a great deal to do with the decline of the Roman Empire can be found in many places, but is just as often confronted as supported. Though the supposition is premature at the least and ethnocentric at the most, it still has a some merit and Gibbon himself cites the rise of Christianity as one of many other causal factors to the decline of the empire, one that is remarkably high on his list in fact.

Thesis on Early Christianity Assignment

Of these pilgrims, and of every reader, the attention will be excited by an History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind. The various causes and progressive effects are connected with many of the events most interesting in human annals: the artful policy of the Caesars, who long maintained the name and image of a free republic; the disorder of military despotism; the rise, establishment, and sects of Christianity; the foundation of Constantinople; the division of the monarchy; the invasion and settlements of the Barbarians of Germany and Scythia; the institutions of the civil law; the character and religion of Mahomet; the temporal sovereignty of the popes; the restoration and decay of the Western empire of Charlemagne; the crusades of the Latins in the East; the conquests of the Saracens and Turks; the ruin of the Greek empire; the state and revolutions of Rome in the middle age.

Gibbon 325)

Gibbon then goes on to briefly offer the reader an apology for his own imperfection as a historian and researcher and for the sources themselves, fragmented and limited.

The historian may applaud the importance and variety of his subject; but, while he is conscious of his own imperfections, he must often accuse the deficiency of his materials. It was among the ruins of the Capitol that I first conceived the idea of a work which has amused and exercised near twenty years of my life, and which, however inadequate to my own wishes, I finally deliver to the curiosity and candour of the public.

Gibbon 325)

The reality is that the early Christian influence on the Roman Empire was likely relatively narrow and it was not until such time that the Christians actually began to count leaders and influential reformers as members that the real effects of the church surfaced in the empire. According to one prominent historian the foundational ideal, in Christianity, of Christian martyrdom at the hands of the Romans was actually very limited.

There was no persecution from the imperial authorities, except insofar as the governor would hand down the final sentence of death, imprisonment, or slavery. One Roman governor laughed at Christians who came to him of their own accord and confessed that they were Christians; he told them that if they were so eager to die, there were plenty of ropes to hang themselves with or cliffs to jump off (Tertullian to Scapula 5.1). Many Christians, in fact, seem to have desired death, so that Christian leaders warned against volunteering for martyrdom (Martyrdom of Polycarp 3). Most officials showed no hesitation in condemning these societal malcontents.

Doran 10)

The Roman Empire and Christianity were more effected by one another after the point where some regional Roman leaders began to feel the constraint of Christianity upon economics, more than culture. The resources are split, with regard to how well Christians conformed to the pagan standards of any given institution, many of which where economic in nature, in the form of tribute (tax) and economic sacrifice. Doran speaking of a tell tale trial of a group of Christian martyrs in antiquity demonstrates this point by discussing the fact that the spokesperson for the martyrs claimed that none had forsaken the economic responsibilities of the local government, which was intrinsically tied to religion as each city state was thought to be the embodiment of the god that was seen as its protector and tribute to these faith figures was a sacred civic duty.

We do not know the precise circumstances surrounding the trial of the Scillitan martyrs, but one curious fact does emerge from the trial proceedings. In stating the defense, the spokesperson for the martyrs, Speratus, argued that they had never done any wrong or stolen, "and on any purchase I pay the tax, for I acknowledge my lord who is the emperor of kings and of all nations." While belonging to this antisocietal group, Speratus engaged in normal market activity and did not try to disrupt the financial system of the city and imperial government. Such anomalies are not hard to find in the history of the Christians in the Roman Empire.

Doran 10)

It is often argued that Christian resistance to such civic duties as paying sacrifices and taxes to civic Gods was the beginning of the strife between the Roman Empire and the early church. The fact that the defendants claimed not to have engaged in this sort of civic rejection implies that it was a common accusation and that at least in this case the accusation was likely inflammatory but not necessarily true. The breakdown of tribute and tax paying would have been a serious social and bureaucratic problem, and would likely mark a civic breakdown that would constitute a significant way that Christians might have, in mass, affected the Roman civic structure. The eventuation of this trend could be argued to be a source of modern secularization of taxation and other forms of central and local government support.

Doran argues that in early Christianity there was not a consistent trend in acceptance or rejection of local and regional bureaucratic support. The overall rejection of assimilation of civic duties was subjective, but again effected the Empire in that where it existed it undermined the authority and support of the pagan institutions of the empire.

A variety of attitudes to the Roman Empire was already present in the Christian Scriptures. Paul's letter to the Romans encouraged Christians to obey proper civic authorities and to pay taxes (Rom. 13:1-7). While insisting that Christians live as aliens and exiles in their society, the author of I Peter 2:11-17 urged his hearers to "accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors." Yet the Christians who heard the Book of Revelation saw the Roman Empire symbolized as bloodthirsty and bestial and those who were martyred as triumphing over that beast; they looked forward to a new Jerusalem that would come down out of heaven to replace Roman society.This sense of opposition and confrontation between the Christians and the Roman Empire was perpetuated by stories about the martyrs that circulated quickly among Christians. In a commentary on Daniel, the Roman Christian Hippolytus, who lived in the early third century, applied to his own day Daniel's vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7. The last and most horrible beast was the Roman Empire, which held people in subjection with its feet of iron. Hippolytus looked forward to the empire's fall and the liberation of all peoples (Commentary on Daniel 2:12-13; GCS 1.68). Tertullian compared the Romans to the barbarian Phrygians (on the Pallium 2.6).

Doran 10)

According to Dorian in fact the turning point for wide spread disloyalty to Roman bureaucratic institutions and standards began only after the first official and wide spread incidence of mass martyrdom of Christians occurred.

Such an attitude was only reinforced when the Emperor Decius himself im- posed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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