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The christian eye an essay across england

Although in the first few centuries AD Christians were prosecuted and punished, often with death, there were also periods when they were more secure. Secondly, the rise of Christianity to imperial-sponsored dominance in the fourth and fifth centuries, although surprising, was not without precedent, and its spread hardly as inexorable as contemporary Christians portrayed it.

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Christians were first - and horribly - persecuted by the emperor Nero. Christians were first, and horribly, targeted for persecution as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumours abounded that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the resulting devastation of the christian eye an essay across england city, building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire. Perhaps to divert attention from the rumours, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed.

Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches. Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted. It was not until the mid-third century that emperors initiated intensive persecutions. Top Reasons for persecution Why were Christians persecuted? Much seems to have depended on local governors and how zealously or not they pursued and prosecuted Christians.

The reasons why individual Christians were persecuted in this period were varied. In some cases they were perhaps scapegoats, their faith attacked where more personal or local hostilities were at issue.

Contemporary pagan and Christian sources preserve other accusations levelled against the Christians. Pagans were suspicious of the Christian refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Pagans were probably most suspicious of the Christian refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods. This was an insult to the gods and potentially endangered the empire which they deigned to protect. Furthermore, the Christian refusal to offer sacrifices to the emperor, a semi-divine monarch, had the whiff of both sacrilege and treason about it. He refused, and although he was apparently eager to meet his death, beast-fighting had been declared closed for the day and so he was burnt alive instead.

General persecutions tended to be sparked by particular events such as the fire at Rome under Nero, or during periods of particular crisis, such as the third century.

Christianity and the Roman Empire

During the third century the turn-over of emperors was rapid - many died violent deaths. As well as this lack of stability at the head of the empire, social relations were in turmoil, and barbarian incursions were on a threatening scale.

Christian Eye: An Essay Across England

The economy was suffering and inflation was rampant. Pagans and Christians alike observed this unrest and looked for someone or something, preferably subversive, to blame. It was hardly surprising that a series of emperors ordered savage empire-wide persecutions of the Christians. 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.

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The cults of Bacchus and of Magna Mater had also been suppressed. 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.

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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.

  • 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;
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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: 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. He may not have understood the implications of converting to a religion which expected its members to devote themselves exclusively to it.

The christian eye an essay across england

However, what was certainly established by the early fourth century was the phenomenon of an emperor adopting and favouring a particular cult. Progress was bitty, hesitant, geographically patchy. The progress of Christianity was bitty, hesitant, geographically patchy.

Christianity offered spiritual comfort and the prospect of salvation on the one hand, and attractive new career paths and even riches as a worldly bishop on the other.

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But plenty of pagans, both aristocrats based in the large cities of the empire and rural folk, remained staunch in their adherence to an old faith. But this did not mean that paganism had disappeared. Indeed, when pagans blamed Christian impiety meaning negligence of the old gods for the barbarian sack of Rome in 410 AD, one of the foremost Christian intellectuals of the time, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, regarded the charge as serious enough to warrant lengthy reply in his mammoth book 'The City of God'.

Paganism may have been effectively eclipsed as an imperial religion, but it continued to pose a powerful political and religious challenge to the Christian church. Her research interests include the history of early Christianity, political thought, and the history of ideas.