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Clif's Book World

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Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity - Kenneth W. Harl If you have a casual knowledge of the history of the Christian Church, you have probably heard the following two quotations:
--"The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," (Tertullian, 2nd-century)
--Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. (a common factoid)
The above statements are not true according to these lectures. The persecution of Christians was more scattered and inconsistent than commonly imagined, and there is no evidence that the percentage of the population that was Christian changed appreciably in response to persecutions. Also, Christianity wasn’t made the official religion of the Roman Empire until 380 AD which was 74 years after Constantine became emperor in 306 AD. What Constantine did was recognize Christianity as a legitimate sect under Roman law, and he made funds available for construction of basilicas.

Even after Christianity was adopted officially as the state religion, over half of the population remained pagan well into the 5th century. It wasn’t until the implementation of a “persecuting society” by Justinian (527-565 AD) that one could finally say that Christianity was pervasive throughout the Western world.

So how did such a dramatic change in the course of history come about? These lectures do a good job of answering that question by describing a complicated story with numerous twists and turns. Those of us on this side of history presume that the eventual outcome must have been a sure thing. But for those living through the history the outcome was not evident.

These lectures provide a historically focused discussion of the interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and paganism from the 1st to the 6th centuries. The lectures explore the reasons why Christianity was able to emerge and endure and, in turn, spark a critical transition for religion, culture and politics.

Those of us living today in a pluralistic society where everyone is free to chose (or not chose) their own religion should feel some sympathy for the pagans of this era. They had a pluralistic society that was accepting of all gods and religions. Most of the persecutions that occurred of the Christians were because they were unwilling to indicate loyalty to the Emperor (by making token sacrifice to the Emperor’s genius). As long as any cult or religion didn’t cause civil unrest, they were tolerated in the early Roman world. But by the 6th century when the Christians were completely in control, anyone who wasn’t a Christian was persecuted. Here's a LINK to an interesting Huffington Post article about the "Myth of Christian Persecution."

The following is a quotation from a 4th century pagan:
"The problem with you Christians is that you empty the world of gods and you make it a lonely place. The human and the divine no longer interact. Henceforth the divine is transcendent, it is a great magistracy of the universal God. But that God can only be approached by the holy ones and through the imperial Church.”
Most of the resistance from the pagans was in the form of inertia of customary belief and actions. Many pagans were pragmatic about it and concluded that sufficient Greek Platonism had been appropriated into the Christian culture that they could live with it.