The story of the Church’s and Christianity’s rise to prominence in the Roman Empire is a remarkable one but also blurry one. The Roman Empire began when Augustus Caesar (27 BCE-14 CE) became the first emperor of Rome and ended, in the west, when the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer (476 CE). Christianity as a religion faced many years of persecution and punishments, and even death. But, over the course of a few hundred years, despite all of this, the small persecuted religion of Christianity rose to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Although Jesus had died, his message had not. Word of his teachings spread to Jewish communities across the empire. This was helped by energetic apostles, such as Paul and by the modern communications of the Roman Empire. Over 30 years, Paul travelled around 10,000 miles, traveling across the Roman Empire. He preached in some of the empire’s most important cities. Although places like Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Athens looked magnificent, they were also home to tens of thousands of poor, desperate people who were the perfect audience for the Christian message of eternal life. The reason that the church developed so quickly and so successfully in the Roman Empire was because it appealed to the masses of the Roman Empire or basically the poor people in the Roman empire. (The poor people were called the masses because they made up most of the empire’s population.) The religion appealed to the poor people because they did not have to be rich to follow the religion. They did not have to sacrifice cows or their food unlike the roman religion where they had to sacrifice animals or food but they were rich so it did not really matter. It did matter to the poor because they probably did not even have food and of course not a herd of animals that the person could just sacrifice all day long. In the Christian religion, they did not have to sacrifice their food which saved them a lot because they could actually live and not starve.
Like Jesus, Paul spoke to people in their homes and synagogues. But he went beyond Jesus, who had only preached to Jews. Paul believed his message should also be taken to gentiles – the non-Jews. This meant taking a more relaxed approach to ancient Jewish laws about food and circumcision. It was a slap in the face for Jewish tradition, but it was also the central reason for the rapid spread of Christianity. As the Christian movement began to accept non-Jewish members, it moved further away from the strict rules imposed on Jews. In so doing, it gradually became a new and separate religion. This made the roman government mad and scared because they thought that the Christians were going to become one very big mass and take over the Roman Empire. It made them mad because they were opposing the roman religion which was thought to be opposing the roman government. Despite its growing popularity, Christianity was sometimes misunderstood and membership could bring enormous risks. Widely criticised after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, the Emperor Nero tried to divert attention away from his own failings by providing an easy scapegoat: the Christians. Also, during the time, the Pax Romana was crumbling and the Christians were blamed for it or scapegoat. They did not really cause the crumbling of the Pax Romana. They just happened to be there at the time. Although the followers of Jesus were working hard to spread the message, there were still very few Christians in Rome. They were regarded with suspicion. Some important Christian rituals were mistaken as cannibalism, others as incest. Christians became an easy target. Nero wasted no time. He arrested and tortured all the Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches.
Despite this, Nero’s persecution of the new Christian sect was brief and, in the first century at least, was not repeated in other parts of the empire. Over time, the Christian church and faith grew more organised. The religion Christianity was then revived in the time of Constantine. In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which accepted Christianity: 10 years later, it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine also passed a Roman Law that the Christians were not allowed to be persecuted ever again. Therefore, Constantine is basically the saviour of Christianity because if he did not promote Christianity, the church would not exist now.
The road for Christianity from a small Jewish sect to the official religion of the Roman Empire was a long and deadly one paved with the loves of many a Christian, starting with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus start out with the goal of spreading the news that there was only one God and that he was a loving, forgiving, and faithful God. Roman authorities from first learning of Christianity, sought to destroy it. They wanted no part of a cult that didn’t bend to their will because they could not control them. Many Roman’s thought that by threatening and then following through with killing Christians, they would renounce their faith in their God. But, they didn’t. It took a very long time and many, many deaths and persecutions for one Roman emperor to stand on the side of the Christians. Had it not been for Constantine and his vision, Christianity may not have gotten to where it is today. It is not only to official Roman Empire’s religion it has become the most well known and most practiced religion among the western world to date. And it all leads back to one man who died on the cross for my sins.
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