Posts Tagged ‘ 4th Century ’

Passage of the Day, 9/28

Today’s passage comes from the King James Version of the New Testament, Romans 8:1-2.  This brief reading contains one of the Christian ideals that set the early church and Roman authorities at odds.  In a modern context it can serve metaphorically in describing the Christian belief that faith in their God can allow them life after death in paradise.  Yet in the early centuries of the Common Era this passage manifested very literally in contemporary Christian society.

In pagan Rome religion and government were inextricably bound together.  Priestly offices were sometimes directly linked to governmental ones, and men elected to some municipal seat might automatically become priests to whatever god presided over their new title.  Many Roman emperors were deified after their deaths, and the worship of these god-emperors was both a function and objective of the state.  The military was rife with internal religious orders dedicated to this or that god of war, not to mention how the Roman military’s general purpose–waging war on the empire’s borders or in the civil wars of the emperors–ran counter to the then small Christian sect’s pacifist ideals.  Even conventional business life was full of pagan rituals and ceremonies that the Christians swore vows to abstain from.

Christians who followed instructions like those recorded in Romans 8 tended to exclude themselves entirely from the workings of the Roman state and military, to preserve their spiritual state untarnished by what they viewed as pagan idolatry and cares of sinful flesh.  This stance earned them no little condemnation among their fellow citizens, who viewed the Christians’ refusal to take part in the common defense as something between cowardice and treachery.

Instead of involving themselves in the work of government, business or defense, the growing Christian community focused inward on expansion of their religion and its growing number of charitable works.  Ambitious Christians who, if born into a pagan family, might have struggled for advancement in any of the pagan-dominated fields, instead set whatever talents and resources were at their disposal to advancing–and advancement within–the church.  Their well documented efforts to provide food, shelter, and primarily Christian education to the poor filled a void left by the increasing drain cyclical war and economic depression left on the Roman state.  It was only in the 4th Century CE, after Christianity became the dominant religion of the empire, that Christian abstention from the fields of business, government and war really started to recede into oblivion.