Constantine and Christianity

609 words | 3 page(s)

Between the times of Jesus and Constantine (early 300’s) Christians were prone to unjust persecutions by the Romans. The paper outlines the major reasons for such treatment as well as accusations brought against early Christians. Both state and local authorities of the Roman Empire heavily persecuted Christians either sporadically or randomly (ad hoc). In 250 AD emperor Decius issued a decree authorizing broad persecution.

The edict lasted for 18 months over which many Christians were killed. According to Eusebius, the early Christian church historian, the death toll was vast. Still many were reduced to apostatizing as the only way to avoid execution. The decade of the Great Persecution lasting from 303 to 313 marked the destroying of Christian churches, prohibition of Christian meetings and worships, arrests of Christian clergy. In 313 AD the Edict of Milan ceased the persecution of Christians.

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Prior to the reign of Decius, the persecutions of the early Christians were not empire-wide. Much depended on the political will of provincial governors who in boundaries of their jurisdictions. They took individual decisions of how to cope with the incidents of persecution against Christians. The socio-religious situation of the time provides sufficient reasons for understanding the core areas of conflict. While the Roman Empire followed religious diversity (syncretism), there was no loyalty to a single deity (God). The loyalty to the state was far more important. Hence, the state policies should be complied with officially acknowledged religious practices, including festive and holidays. This meant that Christians could not participate in any ceremonies glorifying other deities. Such one-sided monotheism of the Christian religion caused a great deal of social hostility, tensions and upheaval. The Christian faith, the rivals believed, was at odds with the high status of Emperor viewed as a God in itself. This fact alone made Christians disloyal to the Empire and the Emperor in the eyes of the opponents. The official position of Rome at the time was that religion would contribute to the state’s stability and flourishing. The state, therefore, embodies the union of state policy and religion. This contradicted Christian monotheism wherein the highest priority was God rather than a state .

Another major cause of persecution was associated with the attempts of Christians to privatize Christianity in private houses and apartments. Their secret night meetings caused a great deal of suspicion displayed by pagans who perceived religion as only as a public issue. The suspicions aroused numerous rumors about the misdeeds of Christians, including wickedness and crimes. Christians were harshly condemned and even accused of incest and cannibalism. The accusations were based on the fact that Christians called each other as Brothers and Sisters. Further, Christian inclusivity was deemed as disruptive and rivaling menace to the conventionally set order of the Roman society based on gender and class hierarchy. Pagans disseminated propaganda about the inevitability of future cataclysms across the Roman Empire once their gods were not worshiped in a proper way. Furthermore, pagans took Christians as the root of all evil.

From the legal perspective, Roman law much emphasized property rights. The actual verdicts and sentences primarily depended on the local governors’ personal opinion. In court cases, Christians were apriori in disadvantaged position. The only name ‘Christian’ was enough to punish a person for whatever reasons. The trials of Christians at the time were in line with the so-called Pliny’s formula. If an accused individual confirmed that he was a Christian, he was prone to execution. Otherwise, an accused should have sworn to the Emperor and sacrifice to the Roman gods .

  • Fox, Robin. Pagans and Christians. Viking, 1986.
  • Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christians,Vol 1, The Early Church of the Dawn of the Reformation, 2010.

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