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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Early Developments

Written by: Christopher Bellitto

By the late 2nd century, Christianity had spread rapidly and particularly among women, slaves, and artisans--the lower and less privileged segments of the Roman population. Each time Rome imperial control waned, largely because of poor economic conditions, leadership, or military danger, Christians were often scapegoated as atheists. In 201, Rome declared converting to Christianity or Judaism to be a capital offense.

 There were empire-wide, systematic persecutions in the middle of the 3rd century under the emperors Decius and Valerius.  Emperor Diocletian ordered what was the worst and largest persecution, in 303-305, when Christianity stood nearly on the brink. Diocletian hunted out and dismissed clandestine Christians in imperial service, confiscated liturgical objects, burned scriptures, and leveled meeting places.

 It was at this point that Constantine, moving toward total domination, gained the victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and attributed it to Jesus. The next year, his Edict of Milan permitted Christianity to be tolerated and even favored among other religions.  Constantine endowed the Church with property, buildings, and perhaps land, a step toward an imperial Church that looked increasingly Roman in style and administration-a development with both advantages as well as disadvantages. In 380, Theodosius finally declared Christianity to be the one and only religion permitted in the Roman Empire, turning the tables by declaring all other religions, including the Greco-Roman system that had been the norm for a millennium, to be pagan, atheistic, illegal, and traitorous.


Study Questions:
     1.    How was Christianity originally spread?
     2.    What events occurred during the apostolic age? The sub-apostolic age?
     3.    Why were Christians persecuted (during Christianity’s infancy)?
     4.    How did political opinions of Christianity evolve over the 3rd and 4th centuries?

 

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