Although fourth and fifth century AD Christian narratives tend to describe the preceding centuries bitterly as a period of sustained and vicious persecution, there were in fact lulls. How can we explain this? Well, the Roman empire was in the first few centuries AD expansionist and in its conquests accommodated new cults and philosophies from different cultures, such as the Persian cult of Mithraism, the Egyptian cult of Isis and Neoplatonism, a Greek philosophical religion.
Paganism was never, then, a unified, single religion, but a fluid and amorphous collection. But it would also be a mistake to describe Roman religion as an easy, tolerant co-existence of cults. The very history of Christianity and Judaism in the empire demonstrates that there were limits to how accommodating Roman religion could be, and these were not the only cults to be singled out for persecution. Bacchic revels encouraged ecstatic drunkenness and violence, and the cult of Magna Mater involved outlandish dancing and music, and was served by self-castrating priests.
Under particular emperors, Christians were less liable to be punished for the mere fact of being Christians — or indeed, for ever having been Christian. Thus under Trajan, it was agreed that although admitting to Christian faith was an offence, ex-Christians should not be prosecuted.
Historians have marvelled at this idea. Emperors had historically been hostile or indifferent to Christianity.
How could an emperor subscribe to a faith which involved the worship of Jesus Christ - an executed Jewish criminal? This faith was also popular among slaves and soldiers, hardly the respectable orders in society. The conversion was the result of either a vision or a dream in which Christ directed him to fight under Christian standards, and his victory apparently assured Constantine in his faith in a new god.
The conversion was the result of either a vision or a dream in which Christ directed him to fight under Christian standards. Although he immediately declared that Christians and pagans should be allowed to worship freely, and restored property confiscated during persecutions and other lost privileges to the Christians, these measures did not mark a complete shift to a Christian style of rule.
Many of his actions seemed resolutely pagan. Constantine founded a new city named after himself: Constantinople. Christian writers played up the idea that this was to be a 'new Rome', a fitting Christian capital for a newly Christian empire. But they had to find ways to explain the embarrassing fact that in this new, supposedly Christian city, Constantine had erected pagan temples and statues.
The differing but related accounts of his miraculous conversion suggest some basic spiritual experience which he interpreted as related to Christianity. His understanding of Christianity was, at the stage of his conversion, unsophisticated.
The history of church and state
He may not have understood the implications of converting to a religion which expected its members to devote themselves exclusively to it. However, what was certainly established by the early fourth century was the phenomenon of an emperor adopting and favouring a particular cult. The political power of the Christian proclamation of the coming sovereignty of God resided in its promise of both the establishment of a kingdom of peace and the execution of judgment.
The church, like the state, has been exposed to the temptation of power, which resulted in the transformation of the church into an ecclesiastical state. At times, too, the secular state declared itself Christian and the executor of the spiritual, political, and social commission of the church; it understood itself to be the representative of the kingdom of God.
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This development took place in both the Byzantine and Carolingian empires as well as in the medieval Holy Roman Empire. The struggle between the church, understanding itself as state, and the state, understanding itself as representative of the church, not only dominated the Middle Ages but also continued into the Reformation period.
The wars of religion in the era of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation discredited in the eyes of many the theological and metaphysical rationales for a Christian state. The Anabaptists in the 16th century and some Puritans in the 17th century contributed to this skepticism by advocating religious liberty and rejecting the involvement of the state in religious matters. The empire, or the city of Rome itself, are identified by these scholars as the Whore of Babylon , and the Roman emperor becomes the Beast or Antichrist.
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Both divine punishment and economic and military catastrophe are prophesied against " Babylon ", which most scholars agree is John's code name for Rome. No call to arms is contained within the Christian apocalypse. Instead, the calamities that doom the oppressive regime represented by these allegorical figures are expected from divine intervention alone.
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Nevertheless, if the books are properly read in this way, they seem to evidence deep hostility to the Roman government, no doubt a reaction to the persecution of Christians by the Roman state. Anabaptism adheres to a two kingdom concept. This is the belief that the kingdom of heaven or of Christ the Church is different and distinct from the kingdoms of this world. It essentially means the separation of church and state but differs from Protestantism in their belief that the church has no right to interfere in the affairs of the state any more than the state in the church.
Not all Anabaptist churches subscribe to anarchist ideologies. The Hutterite church traces its roots back to the Radical Reformation and Jacoub Hutter, but respect and adhere to government authority. When the Roman persecution of Christianity came to an end under Constantine I with the Edict of Milan , and the Orthodox Catholic Christian faith became the favoured religion of the Roman Empire , Christians were presented with issues they never before had to confront. Could a Christian ruler legitimately wage war? If Christians were discouraged in Scripture from entering litigation against one another, how were they supposed to function as officers within a judicial system?
What civil rights were to be afforded to non-Christians or to heterodox Christians in a civil commonwealth governed by the orthodox faithful? Augustine of Hippo was one religious figure who confronted these issues in The City of God ; in this work, he sought to defend Christians against pagan charges that the abandonment of official sponsorship of pagan worship had brought civil and military calamities upon the Roman Empire by the abandoned pagan deities.
Pecknold, Augustine sought to reaffirm that the City of God was a heavenly and spiritual matter, as opposed to an earthly and political affair. The City of God is contrasted with, and in conflict with, the city of men; but the City of God's eventual triumph is assured by divine prophecy. Catholics historically have had a wide variety of positions on issues of war and peace. The historical peace churches are now the chief exponents of Christian pacifism , but this was an issue that first came to light during the Roman Empire.
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Soldiers in the Roman military who converted to Roman Catholicism were among the first who had to face these issues. Catholics in the Roman military had to confront a number of issues, that go beyond the obvious one about whether war could be reconciled with the Christian religion. Paganism saturated Roman military institutions.
Idols of the Greco-Roman gods appeared on the legionary standards.
Military service involved oaths of loyalty that maight contradict Catholic teachings even if they did not invoke pagan gods. The duties of Roman military personnel included law enforcement as well as defense, and as such Roman soldiers were sometimes obliged to participate in the persecution of Christians themselves. Sexual licentiousness was considered to be a moral hazard to which military personnel were exposed. See Imperial cult ancient Rome. The conversion of Constantine I transformed the relationship of the Christian churches with the Roman military even as it transformed the relationship of the churches with the Roman state.
A strongly contrary idea, sometimes called " caesaropapism ", identified the now Catholic Empire with the Church militant. The Latin word Christianitas originally meant the body of all Christians conceived as a political body, or the territory of the globe occupied by Christians, something akin to the English word Christendom. Apocalyptic texts were reinterpreted.
The idea of a Christian empire continued to play a powerful role in Western Europe even after the collapse of Roman rule there; the name of the Holy Roman Empire bears witness to its claims to sanctity as well as to universal rule. An apocryphal apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius , written during the seventh century, depicts a saintly Last Roman Emperor who holds his earthly kingdom in anticipation of Christ's return. The Western Roman Empire faded out of existence in the late 5th century; Charlemagne arguably revived it in the form of the Holy Roman Empire from Both popes and emperors recognized that church and state worked together de facto in ruling medieval Europe.
Secular rulers would support missionary efforts in order to enlarge their realms. Bishops and abbots were not only church leaders, but often also large land-owning princes and thus vassals of secular feudal lords. The line dividing church and state interests was not always clear.
In Western Europe , after the collapse of Roman rule, yet more issues arose.
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Sensing war as an aspect of politics, the Catholic Church expressed periodic unease with the fact that, in the absence of central imperial rule, Christian princes made war against each other. Church councils attempted to limit the volume and permitted times of warfare from onwards by proclaiming the Truce of God , which sought to set limits upon the times and places where warfare could be conducted, and to protect Christian non-combatants from the hazards of war.
The Crusades involved - at least in theory - a declaration of war by the entire armed body of Christendom against an enemy that was implicitly labelled an enemy of God and His Church. Some Crusades aimed to recover and secure Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims ; other Crusades attacked the Cathari , and the Teutonic Knights and their supporters fought against non-Catholics including Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Baltic Sea area In Spain , the Crusader mindset continued for several centuries after the last crusade in the Middle East, in the form of the Reconquista , a series of wars fought to recover the Iberian peninsula from the Muslim Moors.
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