To understand the rise of Christianity in Rome, it is necessary to examine how the religion developed within the region and the subsequent events that took place that led to it becoming the state’s dominant religious practice. However, it is also necessary to separate fact from fiction since many of the events and depictions of Christianity during this era are filled with hyperbole and outright falsehoods due to the tendency for exaggeration when it comes to retelling historical events.
For example, the story of Constantine’s “vision” before a critical battle never actually occurred, as historical records show, and Christians were not fed to lions in the Coliseum as a form of grisly entertainment to the Roman masses. The truth is, admittedly, more bland in comparison to the outlandish stories surrounding Christianity’s rise. Were Christians persecuted in Rome in 300 AD before the birth of Constantine? Yes, but only to a certain extent given the presence of other religions within the region.
Rome During the Early Church
Rome was one of the most progressive city-states since it espoused a form of religious freedom which enabled people in the area the freedom to worship, to a certain extent (policies and levels of tolerance often changed based on who was in power). However, at the time, Christianity differed significantly from its other counterpart religions since it was still defining what it was. You need to remember that, from the standpoint of religious development, Christianity during 200 AD was still relatively young and lacked the many rituals, writings, scripts and traditions that it possesses today (Meynell, 2016). [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
During 100 AD it did not consider itself separate from Judaism; rather, a different aspect of it born from the teachings of Jesus. It was found to be more of a movement rather than a religion. It was only by 300 AD that Christianity was able to develop many of the familiar religious texts, traditions, and ideas that are visible today which resulted in what many describe as an “orthodoxy” that gave rise to the concept of Christianity being separate from Judaism. In the decades leading up to 300 AD, Christianity was a minority religion that was practiced by barely 10 percent of the Roman population. As seen in various countries around the world in the present day, members of minorities tend to be discriminated against by the majority. This helps to explain why historical records at the time point towards the persecution of Christians in Rome; however, it is unlikely that events spiraled into state-sponsored killings of Christians in the Roman Coliseum.
Understanding the Persecution of Early Christians and the Rise of the Church
The persecution was based more on the lack of sufficient legality and recognition surrounding Christianity than an actual abhorrence of the religion. Simply put, Christianity as an underground movement worked against it since it was viewed as potentially politically destabilizing due to the lack of sufficient information surrounding it. Combined with the presence of different Christian sects, each with its own opinion, resulted in a state of disunity that prevented the early church from putting up a genuinely united front. Its rise within Rome is thus connected to its legalization under the law which enabled it to receive the same protections as other recognized religions.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
This legalization was brought about through Constantine who, after his military victories in both the West and East and after defeating his rival Maxentius, became the de facto head of Rome. However, Constantine’s legalization of Christianity as a religion was not a decision brought about through a vision or divine intervention; rather, it was due to the influence of his mother who was secretly a Christian and had instilled many Christian values, ideas, and concepts into Constantine since an early age. Without his mother’s influence from an early age, it is unlikely that Constantine would have developed the same positive inclinations towards Christianity. As such, it is ironic that the present day Roman Catholic Church, which has a distinctly patriarchic orientation, owes much of its power, prestige, and basilicas to the matriarchal influence of a woman on her son.
Constantine’s rise is thus connected to the rise of Christianity since its legalization, and subsequent redefining under Imperial ideology through the Edict of Milan resulted in a state of mutual tolerance by 313 AD. A few years later, Constantine passed several new laws that focused on preventing the persecution of Christianity which enabled the religion to spread throughout the Roman empire due to the lack of potential prosecution and Constantine’s patronage of the faith. With Constantine commissioning the creation of numerous cathedrals around Rome and the subsequent cementing of Christian doctrine under the First Council of Nicea by 325 AD, this created the perfect situation for Christianity to not only gain prominence but to rise as the future dominant religion within the region (Jones, 2014).
Impact of Constantine on the Rise of the Church
What you need to understand is that Constantine’s legal and financial aid to the early Church was instrumental towards its rise since this enabled it to have advantages that other religions within the area lacked. Combined with a social campaign from 324 to 330 which focused on changing the public mindset away from paganism and the Imperial Cult towards Christianity, this enabled the nascent Church to exponentially increase its followers. This precedent set by Constantine paved the way for future Roman Emperors to adopt the same ideas surrounding Christianity resulting in a slow but gradual conversion of not only the Imperial Senate but of the Roman citizenry in general into Christians.
One aspect of the rise of Christianity that is particularly notable during this period was Christians being placed in leadership positions within the government. With Christians in positions of power and the respect the general Roman citizenry had towards Rome’s hierarchical system of government, this placed Christianity in a positive light and profoundly influence public perception towards being a Christian. Aside from this, Constantine was shown to implement hiring policies that focused on placing Christians in positions of power over those who were from other religions.
In fact, records from this period of time reveal that Constantine pressured the members of many prominent Roman families to convert to Christianity if they wanted positions of power within the government. Unfortunately for many of the non-Christian religions within the Roman Empire, the shift from a ruling body that was composed of the Imperial Cult and minor religions to one that eventually became predominantly Christian was the death knell for policies of religious tolerance within the country (Maier, 2015). While Constantine was biased towards Christianity, this policy seemed oriented towards a peaceful and potential intertwining of Christianity and paganism in the future. Upon his death and the subsequent introduction of Christian-oriented governing bodies and emperors, this possible peaceful co-existence made way for a reversal of fortunes wherein instead of Christians being the ones persecuted, it eventually became members of other religions who were the ones being victimized by members of the Church
Even after the death of Constantine, from 320 AD to 402 AD, the rise of Christianity in Rome resulted in the subsequent decline of other religions within the empire. From a state of religious tolerance, the Christian majority eventually implemented new policies which persecuted other religions resulted in Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The Church and the Fall of the Roman Empire
It is interesting to note that, for some scholars of history, they point towards the Church as being one of the main reasons behind the fall of the Roman Empire. However, it should be noted that from 295 AD onwards, the Roman empire was actually in decline due to a combination of disease, famine, mismanagement of resources and attacks from Germanic states. Though there is some credence to the correlation between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Church. The growing influence of Christianity also lead to bishops also gaining substantial political and social power within Rome. When taking into consideration the already chaotic nature of Roman politics and bureaucracy and combine it with the personal and church-oriented interests of the bishops, this created, even more, instability within the Roman government.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
Considering the fact that many scholars point towards instability within the government as one of the leading causes behind the fall of the Roman Empire, then it can be stated that the rise of Christianity was a factor, albeit a small one, behind the eventual fall of Rome with its introduction into Roman society simply being at the same time as Rome’s gradual decline. The lasting impact of Christianity’s rise in Rome can still be felt today since it is considered as the largest and most dominant religion.
Jones, A. W. (2014). Scholarly Transgressions: (Re)writing the History of World Christianity.Theology Today, 71(2), 221.
Maier, H. O. (2015). The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Church History, 84(1), 222.
Meynell, H. (2016). The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity. Heythrop Journal, 57(2), 405.