Rise and Spread of Christianity on the Classical World
It’s often assumed that the religion of Christianity perhaps greatly and generously impacted the classical age; after all, it was in this period that its foundations were established and it ultimately became the formal religion of the classical age. But corroborating this understandable supposition isn’t easy. One might realize the fact that Jesus’s religion was a considerable progress from the paganism followed since ancient times. The eventual success of Christianity proved to be a blessing for humanity. Nevertheless, revealing the precise level and nature of its benefit to humanity is tricky[footnoteRef:1]. One can easily indicate individual lives in Christianity which were aided and purified. However, proving that it improved the overall society, political principles, economic standards and civil customs, the level of overall living, and overall moral standards is an entirely different matter. [1: McGiffert, Arthur Cushman. “The Influence of Christianity upon the Roman Empire.” Harvard Theological Review 2, no. 01 (1909): 28-49]
Christ is the personality to whom the foremost teachings of Christianity are traditionally ascribed. His nomadic ministry was witnessed between the late 20 and early 30 CE[footnoteRef:2]. Proofs may be found regarding a number of associations the Prophet might have possessed. He is considered a member of the Zealot resistance warriors. He is also dichotomously portrayed as a conformist Pharisee and an Essene sage.[footnoteRef:3] Clearly, from the above information, the historical personality known as Christ had questionable connections within the swiftly evolving society of that era. He preached principles like liberation of captives and liberation of tyrannized innocents from the clutches of their oppressors; his definition of tyrannized innocents included women who were subjugated by the patriarchal society of that era. Restoration of blind people’s eye-sight is a miracle attributed to him. Christ’s preaching also ranged wide enough to cover non-Jews or Gentiles.[footnoteRef:4] All the above teachings caused great alarm in the Sadducee community, which could ultimately exert its influence on a far stronger group. Christ as a potential political danger to Sadducees’ conformist Judaism and the Palestinian Roman rule may be demonstrated by the trial he faced in the Jewish Sanhedrin (or temple court) as well as before the Jerusalem-based Roman procurator (Pontius Pilate). Luke 23 records both the above trials including the control the Sanhedrin had as a resident ruling power. [2: Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. Vol. 1. Zondervan, 2010.] [3: Merkel, Helmut. “The Opposition between Jesus and Judaism.” Jesus and the Politics of His Day. Ed. Ernst Bammel and C. F. D. Moule. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1984. p. 129] [4: McGrath, Alister E. An Introduction to Christianity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. p. XV]
The words neither “male nor female” concentrate one’s attention to a possibility seldom considered by ancient communities: equality of opportunities for females. A few researchers claim that the Early Christian Church encompassed a male-controlled foundation which continued from ancient times until the end of the Roman age. But this starkly diverges from the opportunities females were accorded by the early Christian Church.[footnoteRef:5] Their relative liberty proved to be a key factor that attracted the Mediterranean communities towards Christianity. A number of regions witnessed women assuming the roles of church leaders. For instance, Lydia converted her home (located in Philippi) into a church as well as a European missionary staging station,[footnoteRef:6] Phoebe served as the Cenchrea Roman Church’s leader, and Priscilla preached alongside her husband. Paul and Luke have recorded all of the above examples. A trend of adopting celibacy was witnessed, particularly among females. Choosing such a life ensured women could be liberated from male domination which marked the key aspect of their routine life. [5: Witherington III, Ben. Women in the Earliest Churches. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1988. p. 15] [6: Ibid, at 238-9]
Ancient communities regarded married women as their husbands’ “property”. According to Aristotle, women’s status lay somewhere between that of slaves and free men. Tim Keller[footnoteRef:7] reports that Greco-Roman societies very often literally threw out newborn girls to perish from exposure to nature’s elements, owing to females’ inferior social status. But such a heinous act was forbidden by Christianity. Greco-Roman communities considered spinsters and widows as having no value. Thus, they deemed it forbidden for widows to remain so for over a couple of years. Christianity, on the other hand, became the foremost of the world’s religions to accord widows a choice as to whether to remarry or not. They were provided financial aid and the community treated them with respect. Thus, they were spared the immense pressure earlier placed on to remarry even if they desired not to. While pagan widows would lose possession of their late husbands’ property following remarriage, Christianity accorded widows a right to retain their late husbands’ property[footnoteRef:8]. Lastly, Christianity disallowed cohabitation. If any Christian man desired to spend his life with a particular woman, he was first required to wed her. Hence, Christian society afforded significantly greater security to females. Furthermore, the unfair pagan rule that permitted husbands to keep mistresses and engage in illicit affairs was disallowed by Christianity. In all of the aforementioned respects, Christianity accorded females much more of equality and security as compared to the cultures of surrounding societies. Indian widows had to, willingly or unwillingly, jump into the funeral pyre of their husbands and get burned to death. Christian missionaries contributed significantly to putting an end to such long-standing customs and standards. [7: Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. Hachette UK, 2009. p. 249] [8: Witherington III, Ben. Women in the Earliest Churches. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1988. p. 15]
Although history does reveal that Christians were slave owners, this practice is clearly not consistent with scriptural teachings. The Early Church raised tyrannized individuals’ social status through establishing such principles as accepting slaves and females as full societal members. Slaves took part equally in ritual worship and enjoyed property and contract rights. Glenn Sunshine, a historian, claims that the Church is the foremost institution in the history of humanity that systematically fought slavery. In fact, Early Christians even purchased slaves at the marketplace with the simple intention to liberate them[footnoteRef:9]. Another fact is that Christian advocates played a significant part in abolishing slavery. For instance, William Wilberforce, an English evangelical, is credited with being the main force that brought to an end the international-level slave trade (that took place before the Civil War of America (1861-65)). Around 66% of the 1835 US abolition society’s members were Christian clerics. [9: Sunshine, G. “Why you think the way you do.” (2009).]
Another noteworthy modification in the later Roman Empire was the increasing disregard for and ultimate abolition of gladiatorial fights that represented a salient Roman public amusement. The above shift in attitudes and tradition has also been widely accepted as being a result of Christian teachings. It apparently resulted from the novel emphasis Christianity placed on valuing human life. Constantine, in the year 325 CE, issued a law forbidding gladiatorial fights during peacetime. While the government continually attempted at regulating this sport and decreasing its dimensions, this was supposedly the earliest move to abolish it. Eusebius suggests that this decision of Constantine was perhaps influenced by Christ’s teachings[footnoteRef:10]. However, one ought to bear in mind the fact that the initial fathers didn’t criticize only gladiatorial fights, specifically, but public shows and theatrical performances, generally. In their opinion, the key offending factor was the materialism, immorality, and especially the paganism suggested by the performances, rather than the brutality involved. [10: Supra note 1, p. 33]
It is widely asserted that Christ’s teachings positively impacted the Roman civilization in several other ways. Christianity is believed to greatly contribute to the promotion of charity as well as the institution of benevolent public institutions like shelters, hospitals, and asylums of different kinds. This statement is definitely supported by facts. Right from the outset, the Fathers stressed charity as an important virtue for Christians, asserting that they were duty-bound to look after and aid fellow Christians using every means possible[footnoteRef:11]. With the development of the ‘penance’ principle in the century 2 AD and subsequent periods, charity joined fasting and prayer as a salient means to atone for sins. As stated by Augustine, fasting and charity were the wings of prayer’s flight to the Almighty. This idea unquestionably promoted charity giving, especially within Christian circles, significantly relieving distress and suffering. Christian Charity by Uhlhorn provides comprehensive information on this subject, as does Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries by Harnack[footnoteRef:12]. [11: Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of early Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003.] [12: Supra note 1, p. 34]
A closer examination of this subject reveals that Christianity was, in a large number of ways and respects, appealing to ancient pagan societies. For example, the religion made an assorted and powerful religious appeal. The belief in one God Almighty and the chance of achieving spiritual union with him, the promise of being redeemed of one’s sins and the material world’s and the body’s evils, the guarantee of residing in heaven in the future, and the religion’s spiritual ceremonies and fervor were all influential. Supporters interpreted it spiritually as well as legally. While some accorded it largely Jewish characters, others considered it largely Greek and still others, Oriental, thereby resulting in Christianity addressing itself to diverse temperaments.
Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of early Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. Vol. 1. Zondervan, 2010.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. Hachette UK, 2009.
McGiffert, Arthur Cushman. “The Influence of Christianity upon the Roman Empire.” Harvard Theological Review 2, no. 01 (1909): 28-49.
McGrath, Alister E. An Introduction to Christianity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. p. XV
Merkel, Helmut. “The Opposition between Jesus and Judaism.” Jesus and the Politics of His Day. Ed. Ernst Bammel and C. F. D. Moule. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1984. p. 129
Sunshine, G. “Why you think the way you do.” (2009).
Witherington III, Ben. Women in the Earliest Churches. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1988. p. 15
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