(Dr. Richard Abels, Dept of History, USNA)

First Century of the Common Era: The Christian Apostolic Age

Augustus establishes the "Principate", transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Classical Age of Rome. Proclamation of peace for the world: Pax Romana

63 BCE: Pompey the Great makes Judaea a Roman protectorate with both a king and a Roman governor to ensure payment of taxes

40 BCE:  Mark Antony persuades Roman Senate to name Herod the Idumean “king of the Jews”

37-4 BCE: Reign of Herod the Great (rebuilds the Temple)

c. 4 BCE: birth of Joshua/Jesus "the Christ"

c. 30: crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem

c. 35-c.49: Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, followed by his missionary work in Antioch. Tension between the "Jewish Christians" of Jerusalem and the "gentile Christians" of Antioch.

c.49-64: the missionary voyages and letters of St. Paul (a Roman citizen of Tarsus, who was versed in both the Hellenistic and Judaic traditions), mainly in the eastern Aegean (Macedonia, Corinth, and Ephesus).

c. 60-100: the writing of the gospels.

64: first Roman persecution of the Christians: The Christians are used by Emperor Nero as scapegoats for the, great fire that almost destroyed the city of Rome.

c. 67: Paul's death in Rome

66-70: the Jewish Revolt against Rome. The revolt drags on until 73, when the Romans take Masada. (Masada provides an example of Roman determination to pursue and extirpate rebels as well as an example of Jewish martyrdom.) Christian community in Jerusalem withdraws to Pella in Jordan (source for this is Eusebius, ca. 330).

70: Romans sack Jerusalem and burn the Second Temple

73:  Rabbis establish center for Jewish study at Yavneh on the coast. Masada falls to Romans.

73-c. 200: Rabbinic period in which the Mishnah, rabbinic commentary on Torah, takes form

90-100: Rabbi Gamaliel II excludes Christians and other sectarians from the synagogues.

c. 90-150: Jewish Bible takes its canonical form (tanakh: Torah (five books of Moses, the "Law"), Nevi'im (the Prophets), Kethuvim (Writings: e.g. Kings, Chronicles, Song of Songs, Proverbs)

96: Romans legally distinguish Christians from Jews. Emperor Nerva removes Jewish tax (tax owed by Jews to Rome) from Christians, recognizing distinction between sects (will prove problematic for Christians since Jews were a legal religion and as long as Christians were seen by the Romans as Jews they had a legitimate status)


The Jewish milieu for early Christianity: In the 1st century B.C. Palestine came under Roman control. Mark Antony in 40 BCE persuaded the Roman Senate to raise a half-Jew, Herod the Idumean, to the throne. After Herod's death, southern Palestine, Judea, was turned into a Roman province (6 C.E.) under a Roman procurator. Augustus ordered a census to be taken to assess Rome's new acquisition.

Judaism in the time of Jesus was riven with disputes. The two main groups were the PHARISEES and the SADDUCEES. The former tended to be anti-Roman (the Zealots were a radical fringe element of the Pharisees), and strict in their observance of both the MOSAIC LAW (Torah) and the oral TRADITION that explained the law. They believed in an afterlife with rewards and punishments, angels, and demons. They tended to be urban and attracted members of the middle and lower classes. The Sadducees rejected the oral tradition and claimed that only the Mosaic laws were obligatory. Politically they supported Roman rule and the status quo. The Sadducees appealed to a higher economic stratum than did the Pharisees. Theologically, they denied resurrection and angels as innovations without foundation in Scripture.

There was also a third group, the ESSENES, who were less numerous than the Pharisees or Sadducees, but were very important in the shaping of Christianity. The Essenes were ascetics who rejected physical pleasure as an evil and praised continence and self-denial as a virtue. They emphasized the SHARING OF PROPERTY, BODILY AND SPIRITUAL PURITY, CELIBACY, AND MYSTICISM. They also had entry tests, various degrees of perfection--full fellowship was achieved only after a 3 year probation, and vows of secrecy. They lived apart in communities on the west shore of the Dead Sea, most notably at at Qu'mran, where their Scripture, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found about fifty years ago. (Compare with monasticism.) Those who failed to observe the rules strictly enough were excommunicated. They believed in the IMMORTALITY of the soul and in God's determination of all things ("All things are best ascribed to God".)

Although Judea was governed by a Roman procurator (Pontius Pilate in 30 C.E.), the Jews were permitted their own high court--the Sanhedrin, which consisted of 70 members and was presided over by the High Priest. The religion itself revolved around the TEMPLE and the PRIESTLY HIERARCHY. The High Priest was a hereditary office, and had been a function of the king under the Maccabees. Herod stripped the position of most of its political power. The priesthood was a caste; its duties included the care, custody, repair, and policing of the Temple; sacrifices; and enforcement of the Mosiac laws.

The Romans granted Jews a license to practice their own religion and exempted them from the requirement to make sacrifices to the gods for the welfare of Rome. The Roman procurators, however, levied heavy annual taxes on the Jews, and Rome claimed the right to appoint the High Priest, which meant that the Temple and its religious rituals were controlled by Jews who supported Rome.  The Jews chafed under Roman rule and anti-Roman movements sprang up, notably the ZEALOTS, who looked forward to the coming of the MESSIAH, the 'anointed one,' a 'son of the House of David' whom God would raise up to be the king of a restored Davidic kingdom. (The idea of a Messiah arose after the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. and the Babylonian Captivity. It was popular in the first century B.C. as can be seen in the emphasis placed on the messiah in the apocryphal books of the Old Testament (e.g., the Book of Enoch), composed during that time. The Jews of the first century expected the messiah to come. Jesus was only one of a number of holy men who claimed to be the awaited one. The followers of John the Baptist pressed his claim, as did the followers of a number of more obscure figures (see Acts 5.35-39). In 132-5 a warrior called Bar Cochbar not only claimed to be the messiah but led a revolt against Rome. Bar Chochbar was what the Jews of the time expected a messiah to be; Jesus was not.

In 66 CE the Roman procurator Florus responded to a massive anti-taxation protests and attacks on Roman citizens, by confiscating the sacred treasures in the Temple in Jerusalem and executing thousands of protestors. This precipitated a full-scale revolt. The uprising was initially successful. The rebels ambushed and defeated a Roman army, killing about 6,000 Roman soldiers, along with the Roman governors of Judea and Syria. Rome responded by sending three legions (16,500 men) and about 9,000 auxiliary cavalry under the command of the later emperors Vespasian and his son Titus to put down the rebellion. By 69 Vespasian, aided by conflicts among the various factions in the Jewish revolt, had pacified most of the province of Judea, killing or enslaving about 100,000 people in the process. In 69 CE Vespasian was hailed as emperor by his troops and decided to march on Rome, leaving his son Titus to complete the job. Both father and son proved successful. In 70 CE, after a siege of nearly seven months, Titus’ troops breached the walls of Jerusalem and sacked the city. The rebels made their last stand in the Temple that Herod had built. The Romans destroyed and looted it. The main rebellion was ended, although a splinter group of the Zealot movement continued to fight from the fortress of Masada, built on a plateau on the edge of the Judean desert in southern Israel. The Romans besieged the mountain fortress with an army of 10,000 men. They overcame the natural advantage of the position by building a ramp up to the fortress. When it became clear that the citadel would fall, the defenders of Masada killed themselves rather than surrender. Upon entering Masada, the Romans found only 7 of the 967 defenders still alive. Masada became a model for later Jewish ideas about martyrdom.


Christianity splintered off from Judaism. Jesus and his apostles were all Jewish, and even Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was an orthodox Jew trained by the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:1-11).. (In fact, the term "Christian" was probably first coined in Antioch about fifteen years after the death of Jesus, as a perjorative term by their Jewish critics.)  From Judaism the Christians took the ideas of: MONOTHEISM, the MESSIAH ('the anointed one'='Christos' in Greek) , the COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND MAN, the notion of a CHOSEN PEOPLE, the idea of a BOOK OF REVEALED WISDOM, and the practice of MARTYRDOM. They also inherited from the Jews a basic intolerance of other religions (follows from the ideas of monotheism and revealed truth; if we are right and there is only one God, you must be wrong and your gods false).


The Acts of the Apostles describes (but in careful terms) a Christian Church riven by a fundamental disagreement over the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The older and more established Church, centered on Jerusalem and led by James, John and Peter, were much like today's "Jews for Jesus." In opposition to them were St. Paul and his followers in Antioch, who rejected the necessity of observing the Jewish laws to be a follower of Christ. "There are several issues involved here," observes Prof. Michael White of the University of Texas.

One is the notion of the dietary laws, the eating restrictions that would have obtained for eating certain kinds of food if one was an observant Jew. Also with whom one could eat, and so we see some indication during Paul's time in Antioch that this becomes a source of some tension. Precisely because in Paul's view it's now possible to integrate these gentiles, people who don't keep the proper food laws, into a dining fellowship with Jews, all of whom are followers of Jesus. And it's in that mixed community where fellowship around a common meal and the celebration of the story of Jesus is the center where Paul brings everyone together, but because it's at a meal it also runs headlong into some Jewish sensitivities about what kind of foods you can eat and with whom you can eat.


The upshot was that Paul received the approval of the leaders of the Jerusalem church to convert gentiles without insisting upon circumcision or "keeping kosher"  (Acts 15; Galatians 2) as requirements for conversion. Further, James, Peter, and John came to an agreement with Paul that they would preach to the Jews and he to gentiles. Since the church in Jerusalem was poor, Paul took it upon himself to act as a fundraiser for it among the newly concerted gentiles.  Even so, Peter was so sensitive about appearances of propriety that, according to Paul (Galatians 2), when he visited Paul in Antioch he ate with gentile Chrisitans until a delegation arrived from Jerusalem, and then he kept himself separate from them. Paul denounced this as hypocrisy. Peter's behavior reflects the ongoing tension over the definition of what a "Christian" was.


Saul of Tarsus (c. 5-c.67 C.E.), "ST. PAUL," was perhaps the decisive figure in the development of early Christianity and its separation from the Jewish religion. Paul was a Jew and a Roman citizen who was grew up in a Hellenistic city and was greatly influenced by Hellenistic culture. (He embodied the essence of the Pax Romana.) The importance of Paul's contribution to the development of Christianity cannot be overemphasized. He brought the fledgling religion to "gentiles," i.e. non Jews, and shaped its theology by emphasizing 1) Jesus's death and resurrection, explaining the paradox of a crucified "messiah" in spiritual terms so that his death became the instrument of salvation for those who believed in him, 2) the primacy of faith over "works" (i.e., following the Jewish laws of the Torah) for justificaton, 3) the inability to justify oneself before God because of "Original Sin" (a doctrine that Paul may have created), and, nonetheless, 3) the necessity of Christian's practicing ethical behavior, not to "earn" salvation but from love of God as a fruit of their faith. Paul also contributed to the Augustinian-Lutheran-Calvinist concept of "predestination," in which God alone chooses according to His own predetermined plan those to whom He will grant faith/grace. This idea possibly derived from Paul's personal experience of conversion, in which he was "called" by God without seeking God. (The story of Paul's miraculous conversion while he was on the road to Damascus where he was going to persecute Christians is told in Acts 9.)

    Despite his opposition to the "Judaizing Christians," Paul's background as a Pharisee informed virtually all his theology. He apparently saw himself as a prophet, much like Isaiah. His explanation of the Hebrew Law, while subverting the Jewish conception of the Covenant, nonetheless is rooted in the sort of logic and discussion that was to form the basis for rabbinical Judaism and the Talmud. As Professor White observes,

Paul's notion that it was possible for gentiles to enter the congregation of God without some of the rules of Judaism interestingly enough seems to be a conviction on his part that comes from his own interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. In fact he gets it mostly from the prophet Isaiah. Paul's message of the conversion of gentiles seems to be predicated on the Isaiah language of what will happen when the kingdom comes when the Messiah has arrived and there will be a light to the nations, "a light to the gentiles." And in that sense Paul views the messianic age having arrived with Jesus as being a window of opportunity for bringing in the gentiles into the elect status alongside the people of Israel. So what Paul is really doing is creating this apocalyptic message of what the kingdom is about to be, and the arrival of the gentiles, the engrafting or integrating of the gentiles who will come to believe in the true God of Israel into the community of Israel as the elect nation, then is one of the hallmarks of the messianic age.


The Romans only gradually came to distinguish between the Jews and the Christians. Although the Romans considered the former to be a peculiar and troublesome people with an odd and barbarous cult, they recognized the Hebrew religion as 'legitimate' and tolerated its practice, even excusing the Jews from participation in the imperial cult (the Jews showed their loyalty to the emperor by making sacrifices to Yahweh on his behalf). Christianity was one of the few religions that the Romans persecuted. Until the trial of St. Paul in Rome, c. 61, for 'acts contrary to Caesar', the Roman authorities apparently did not distinguish between the new sect of Christians and the Jews. After Paul's audience with Nero, the authorities began to realize that the two were different. They regarded Christianity as a novel 'superstition' rather than a true religion (the worship of the traditional gods of a people or nation). Christians announced their break with Jews by refusing to support the rebellion of 66 and moving the Christian community of Jerusalem first to Pella in Greece and then to Antioch. By 98 the Roman authorities officially distinguished between Jews and Christians.


Second Century of the Common Era

(Pax Romana: the Roman Empire’s "golden age" extolled by Gibbon: Peace, stability, and economic prosperity)

98-117: Emperor Trajan, greatest expansion of Rome

112:  Pliny the Younger, recently installed as Roman governor of the province of Bithynia and Pontus (modern day Turkey along the Black Sea), presides over trials of suspected Christians who had been anonymously denounced to the authorities.

117-138: Emperor Hadrian, economic prosperity and able provincial administration.

115-117: Jewish revolt against Trajan (115-117) while he was attempting to conquer Mesopotamia, involving the Jews of Egypt, Cyrenaica (in modern Libya), Cyprus, and, to a lesser degree, of Syria and Mesopotamia. This was a widespread revolt led by Cyrenacian king-messiah, Lukuas-Andreas, aimed at freeing the Jews from Roman rule. Christians oppose it. The revolt began with Lukuas inflaming the Jews of Cyrene to destroy pagan temples and drive out pagans from the city. In response, exiles from Cyrene and local pagans attacked the large Jewish community in Alexandria. Lukuas, in turn, ravaged Egypt with an army of Cyrenacian Jews. Simultaneously, local Jewish revolts broke out in Cyprus, Syria, and recently conquered Mesopoamia. Trajan sent two legions to deal with the revolts, which were ruthlessly suppressed. Trajan ordered a Hellenization of the Jews.

132-135: Bar Khochba (claimed to be the messiah) rebellion in Judea, supported by rabbi Akiba, greatest Jewish sage of his time; opposed by Christians; destruction of Jerusalem in 135 followed by expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem.

161-180: Emperor Marcus Aurelius, "the philosopher on the throne" (Stoic: Meditations)

c. 170: Celsus writes polemic against Christians

c. 190: Irenaeus establishes the canonicity of the four gospels.


Analysis: Christianity continues its mission underground, attempting to secure a unified faith, fighting various heterodox strands, i.e., the earliest "heresies." The structure of the second-century Church in the East was based on autonomous urban communities led by bishop-presbyters assisted by deacons. Bishops begin to appear in southern Gaul toward end of century. The religion is still far better established in the east than the west. By the end of the century there were still only about 150,000 Christians in the empire.


IDEAL OF MARTYRDOM: Persecution during this period was sporadic and local (e.g., violent attacks on Christians of Lyons in 177). Much of the violence against Christians was perpetrated by local mobs. A powerful Christian ideal of martyrdom (spiritual athletes) was shaped during this period. (The idea of martydom comes from the Jews of the Hellenistic Era.)


Popular resentment against Christians ran high, and there were many instances of popular attacks against Christians. Christians had obtained a bad reputation among their neighbors, partly because of secrecy surrounding rites of sect. Rumors were then circulating about 'wicked' Christian practices. We know from anti-Christian polemics and the responses of Christian Apologists (i.e., defenders of the faith against critics) that Christians were accused of eating infants during the mass, of incest, 'free-love', disrespect to paternal authority, refusal to fulfill their civic responsibilities, lack of patriotism, pacificism, and atheism. (The charge of atheism stemmed from their denial of the existence of other gods; lack of patriotism, from their refusal to offer sacrifices to the gods for the welfare of the Emperor and the Empire.)  The were viewed as bad sons and daughters (because they placed the religion above deference to their fathers), bad citizens, and secret criminals.



Although there was little active official persecution, to be Christian nonetheless was a capital offense. The Roman authorities regarded Christianity as an anti-social and atheistic superstition and an illegal association. In practical terms, however, the official policy during the Pax Romana was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This attitude is perhaps best exemplified by an exchange of letters in 111 between Pliny, governor of Bithynia-Pontus (region in Turkey along the Black Sea) and the Emperor Trajan on how to deal with Christians.  Flooded with numerous anonymous accusations, Pliny questioned those accused of being Christian. He released those willing to offer sacrifices to the Emperor and the gods and to curse the name of Christ, even if they had once been Christian. His inquiry turned up no evidence of criminal activity or depraved activities:


They asserted …that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.  


But he ordered non-Roman citizens who refused to recant executed, not because of crimes they committed but because of their dangerous “stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy.” Christians who proved they were Roman citizens were sent to Rome for trial. Pliny then wrote to the Emperor Trajan asking for confirmation his dealings with Christians, and whether simply being Christian was sufficient cause for capital punishment. Trajan wrote back: "These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be.



Around 170 CE, a Greek Platonist philosopher named Celsus wrote a treatise called The True Doctrine, the first full-length attack on Christianity. Celsus ridiculed the Christians as uneducated, illiterate, credulous, and low-class (cobblers, laundry-workers, wool-workers, and yokels), pacifists and bad citizens. Celsus also made the philosophical argument that Christians are impious because they deny the existence of a single supreme god by making Jesus the equal of god. (By this time the educated Roman elite believed in one supreme being who created all things and was the source of all reality. They also, however, accepted the existence of many other gods under this supreme deity.)


Third Century of the Common Era

(The third century was a period of economic, military, and constitutional crisis for the Roman Empire, which between 235 and 284 was ruled by a series of military emperors who quickly succeed one another. This period witnesses increasing military pressure from Rome's foreign enemies, the Persians (Sassanids) in the East, and a number of German tribes in the north. The century came to an end with the restoration of order by the Emperor Diocletian)

235-284: “Third Century Crisis”: the era of the "barracks emperors", twenty-six 'legitimate' emperors and about 50 pretenders in 49 years.

249-50:  First wide-spread, official, and thorough persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ("the Decian Persecution"). Emperor Decius issued edict ordering everyone to sacrifice to the gods throughout the empire. (The Jews were exempted.)

c.280:  Neo-Platonist Porphyry wrote Against the Christians

Developments in Christianity:
This century also saw `the flourishing `of a Christian theological school at Alexandria, represented by Clement (c. 200) and Origen (c. 225). The "Gnostic" heresy also flourished. (Gnosticism emphasized a supernatural wisdom concerning the nature of God and salvation arrived at through mystical comtemplation and participation in mystery rites. The gnostics divided the world into the good ideal world beyond human experience and the evil material world.)

Developments in Judaism:
This century witnessed the compilation of the "Oral Torah," the Mishnah, around 200 by Rabbi Simon Nasi, the Prince or the Patriarch. The 'Palestinian' and 'Babylonian' Talmuds, commentary on the Mishnah, took form between ca. 220 and 468. The former was edited ca. 400 and the latter (which is today the main Talmud) between ca. 400 and 600.  Modern "rabbinic" Judaism, as opposed to the ancient Hebrew religion, takes shape.


Fourth Century of the Common Era

(This century witnessed the break-through for Christianity. At its beginning Christians belonged to an illegal, persecuted sect that formed probably a little less than 10% of the population of the empire (about 5 million out of 60 million). By the end of the century, Rome was officially a Christian empire; the number of Christians had swelled to about 30 million.)

284-305: the emperor Diocletian manages to end the 3rd-century `crisis by a thorough reform and reorganization of the empire (e.g., he divides the administration of the empire among two Augusti and two Caesars). Under Diocletian the development towards absolute monarchy becomes complete. Due to financial and military pressure, Diocletian institutes stringent social reforms that transform a number of professions and offices into hereditary castes.

c. 300: great neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry writes Philosophy from Oracles in opposition to Christianity. Porphyry argues that Jesus was a good and pious Jew, but that his disciples perverted his teachings and falsely elevated him to the position of a god. Porphyry attacked the credibility of Christianity through a thorough critique of Scripture. Considered by early Christian authors as the most dangerous attack upon the religion.

303: the beginning of the last and greatest persecution of Christians.

311: the emperor Galerius ends the persecution with an edict of toleration.

312: after a period of civil war Constantine (the Great) manages to gain the upper hand in the succession of Diocletian. (Constantine was purported to have had a dream on the eve of the decisive battle of Milvian Bridge in which he was ordered to inscribe either the cross or the chi- rho ( Christian symbol) on the shields of his soldiers. He did so and won the battle.)

313: Constantine, having converted to Christianity, passes (with his co-emperor in the east, Licinius) the Edict of Milan, according Christianity protection as a legitimate religion among the others permitted in the empire.

330: Constantine, now sole emperor, founds Constantinople to replace Rome as the capital of empire.

Developments in Christian theology:
Since Christianity was now a legal religion (indeed, the religion of the emperor), it became necessary for Christians to resolve the doctrinal disputes riddling their religion (ORTHODOXY DISTINGUISHED FROM HERESY). The idea of a 'CATHOLIC' (one, all embracing) Christian Church is promoted. This is accomplished through general and public assemblies of the clergy. The most important of these are presided over by the emperor. These are known as the first four ecumenical councils:

325: Council of Nicaea. Rejects the Arian heresy. The Nicene Creed is issued with the force of an imperial decree. (The Son and the Father are of one substance.)

381: Council of Constantinople. Further defines the nature of the Trinity. Establishes as dogma: "three persons of one substance."

431: Council of Ephesus. Rejects the Nestorian heresy (i.e., that Christ has two separate natures, one human and one divine).

451: Council of Chalcedon. Rejects the Monophysite heresy (i.e., that Christ's human and divine natures are totally submerged).

Developments in Christian Church:
Part of the process of creating a catholic Christian Church involves the increasing definition of Church structure and hierarchy. THE CHURCH'S ORGANIZATION NOW MIMICS THAT OF ROMAN CIVIL ADMIN: URBAN AND HIERARCHICAL (terms such as 'vicar' and 'diocese' come from R. admin). All bishops are NOT equal. System based on METROPOLITAN BISHOPS who were superior to bishops of lesser cities. Bishops of ROME (the POPE), Antioch, Alexandria, and CONSTANTINOPLE were deemed PATRIARCHS endowed with special dignity and jurisdictional rights.

During this period the canon of the New Testament is also established. The most important individuals in this process are Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (early-4th century), Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (mid-4th century), and St. Jerome who c. 390 translates the Bible into Latin (the so-called "Vulgate").

c. 340: Ulfila, translates the Bible into Gothic and converts Visigoths--to Arian Christianity!

361-3: the emperor Julian (the "Apostate") attempts to revive paganism. Issues an edict granting full toleration to all religions, including the Christian heresies.

380: EmperorTheodosius the Great issues a constitution recommending all his subjects to adopt the orthodox Christian faith. Threatens to punish heretics.

390: St. Ambrose of Milan excommunicates Theodosius for a massacre; the emperor does humble penance, establishing `a precedent for future assertions of ecclesiastical superiority over the secular arm.

391/2: Theodosius bans the celebration of pagan cults. (If a man were to burn incense even to his domestic gods in his own home, his farm or house was to be confiscated.) Paganism is not outlawed, but pagan worship is. Christianity becomes in fact, if not in name, the imperial religion.

Christian writers, notably St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, begin to redefine the civic obligations of Christians to permit them to participate more fully in the political (and military) life of the newly Christianized empire.

The Age of the HOLY MAN & Rise of MONASTICISM: ST. ANTHONY, c. 251-356, Egyptian hermit, desert father; PACHOMIUS, c. 320, founder of COMMUNAL MONASTICISM; ST. MARTIN OF TOURS (335-397), brought monastic ideal to GAUL.) The Holy Man, like the martyr, was a spiritual athlete; unlike the martyr, however, his POWER came from the manner of his life (HEROIC ASCETISM--COMBAT AGAINST THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE FLESH) rather than his death. In East, Holy Men are seen as spiritual patrons and are integrated into village communities; in West, where Holy Men are rarer, they become part of a Christian cultural elite, separated from the masses. RAMPAGING MONKS in East also play role of storm-troopers of the faith, burning temples and synagogues, destroying pagan altars, and even killing prominent pagans.

Fifth Century of the Christian Era

Beginning in the last quarter of the 4th century, Germanic tribes increased their pressure on the Roman borders. In 376 about 200,000 Goths, running from the Huns, are permitted to cross the Danube into the empire. They are mistreated and respond by pillaging the area north of Constantinople. In 378 they defeat and destroy at Adrianople a Roman army led by the emperor Valens. In 380 C.E.. they are permitted to settle as 'allies' within Roman territory without abandoning their tribal organization. These 'Visigoths' are merely the first of such 'federates' to be take up life within the empire. The Empire in the East will weather the barbarian crisis, the West will not. The history of the Roman empire in the fifth century was the gradual collapse of public authority in the West and the survival of imperial power, bureaucracy, and authority in the East. By the end of the century, the Western Empire would be replaced by several (Romanized) Germanic kingdoms (Ostrogoths in Italy, later to be replaced by Lombards; Visigoths in Spain; Vandals in N. Africa; Burgundians in southern Gaul; and, after 490, Franks in Rhineland and northern Gaul).

407: Imperial decree orders that pagan altars be destroyed and pagan temples turned over to public use

410: sack of Rome by Alaric, chief of the Visigoths.

413-425: Augustine composes the City of God to explain why God allowed Christian Rome to be sacked.

430: Augustine dies in his episcopal see of Hippo (in northern Africa), then under siege by the Vandals.

451: Aetius, commander of the Roman forces in the West, defeats Attila the Hun at Chalons. Aetius's forces were largely made up of German federates.

476: Romulus Augustulus, child emperor, deposed by Odoacer, commander in chief of military forces in West. Last Roman emperor in the West until Charlemagne was crowned by the pope in 800.

Developments in Christianity:
In East, esp. in Syria, this is the heyday of the Holy Man: ST. SIMEON STYLITES (396-459)--40 years standing on top of a pillar. St. Simeon gave rise to a whole group of 'pillar saints.' In East, also, we see inceasingly close ties between the Church and the State--a CHRISTIAN EMPIRE WITH EMPEROR AS LIVING ICON OF CHRIST/A BUREAUCRATIC CHURCH. In West, we BEGIN to see emergence of the PAPACY--first important pope: LEO I (the Great), 440-461.



The most important Latin Church Father was AUGUSTINE (354-430). Augustine was born in northern Africa near ancient Carthage (and modern Tunis), the son of a small landowner and local official. His father was pagan and his mother Christian. He studied at Carthage (371-4) and turned to philosophy upon reading Cicero. After his father's death, he took up teaching rhetoric to support his family, teaching successively at Carthage, Rome, and Milan (384). In Milan he met St. Ambrose, who baptised him in 387. Augustine returned to north Africa and began writing treatises on Christian theology and philosophy. After founding a monastery in Hippo Regis (near Carthage) and being ordained a priest, Augustine (reluctantly) permitted himself to be consecrated bishop (395) on the death of the bishop of Hippo. Augustine's writings became increasingly polemical. As each new heresy arose, Augustine undertook to respond to it with authoritative orthodoxy. He wrote treatises to refuge Pelagianism (the idea that, because of Christ's sacrifice, man can redeem himself through his free will), Manicheeism (the idea of duality of good and evil), and Donatism (the heresy that asserted that only men in the state of grace could perform sacraments). In 429 the Germanic tribe known as the Vandals arrived in north Africa from Spain. They ravaged the territory and laid siege to Hippo Regis. Augustine died in 430 while his see was under siege. It was taken and burnt a year later.

Augustine came to Christianity late in life. (He describes his miraculous conversion, which is related as a born again experience, in his magnificent autobiography The Confessions.) He was passionately interested in the idea of good and evil, and sought answers in Manicheeism (heresy that posited two gods: a god of light and goodness and a god of darkness and evil; the first created spirit, the second, matter) and NEO-PLATONISM. Augustine 'baptized' Plato, relating Christianity to Plato's distinction between the less real world of matter and the ultimate reality of the world of mind and spirit. (For Plato's Form of the Good, read 'the Christian God'.) His theology was largely defined by his personal 'born-again' experience and feelings of sin and unworthiness. He promoted the ideas of God's omnipotence, salvation through faith and grace, and predestination. He also tried to reconcile God's omnipotence with the existence of evil, by DENYING THE ULTIMATE REALITY OF EVIL: everything that exists is good in so far as it exists. To act 'evilly,' then, is to mistake a lesser good (e.g., material wealth) for a greater good (e.g., true happiness). Augustine, like Plato, posited a "great chain of being" that culminated in a transcendental (non-physcial), perfect, and unchanging realm and Being. But this Being was God, not the Good, and one reached it by faith and revelation, not by reason.

In the CITY OF GOD (413-25), his greatest work, Augustine distinguished between the earthly CITY OF MAN (man in his fallen state) and the heavenly CITY OF GOD (man restored through the grace of God). The earthly city is shaped by man's original sin (Adam's sin of pride, which led to his revolt against God's authority); in it man mistakenly and futilely seeks happiness in the restless acquisition of material things (but 'he can't get no satisfaction'), and peace, which he tries to obtain by subduing his enemies (i.e., by war). Augustine posited that two loves made two cities: the City of Man rests upon man's self love, the only love that he is capable of in his fallen state, while the City of God is founded on love of God. All fallen men, beginning with Cain, belong to the City of Man and are doomed to damnation. God's angels and his Elect, those whom he has predestined to be shaped by faith to conform to the spirit of Christ, beginning with Abel, belong to the City of God. Augustine wrote The City of God to answer pagan critics who blamed Christians for the sacking of Rome in 410 by the Visigoth chieftain (and Roman general) Alaric. The pagan argument was elegant and simple: when Emperor Theodosius the Great closed the temples to the gods in the 390s he had deprived Rome of its supernatural protection. The problem that faced the Christians in responding was that pagan Rome had not been sacked in almost 800 years. But within twenty years of becoming Christian it had been subject to attack and pillaging.  Augustine's response was equally elegant and reveals the underlying difference between the pagan philosophical and Christian world views: WHAT HAPPENS IN THE EARTHLY CITY IS ULTIMATELY UNIMPORTANT--Rome's fall did not really matter, since it has nothing to do with salvation. All earthly cities/states, including Christian Rome (and the U.S. by extension), are cities of man. Their rise and fall are simply the backdrop to the true spiritual drama: the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the fallen. A true Christian, one of the ELECT, goes through this life like a pilgrim; he will serve the princes' of the earthly city, and do his civic responsibility (e.g., as a soldier), but he will always keep in mind his ultimate goal and true happiness--God's salvation. This is not to say that this world is purely 'evil.' (Again, Augustine denies the existence of actual evil.) Rather, its goodness, like its reality, is of a lesser quality than the goodness of the City of God. In book 19 of City of God Augustine explains this in the midst of a critique of pagan philosophical virtue and happiness.  Augustine's argument is that the virtues that man is capable of in his fallen state, the so-called four cardinal virtues of the philosophers (prudence, courage, moderation, and justice), are imperfect and transitory. Real justice entails complete submission to God's will. The justice of the 'virtuous' fallen, however, is based on self love. Thus a Socrates could subordinate his appetite, through struggle and even then incompletely, to his reason, but he could not subordinate his soul to God. What such virtues can give man is a temporary respite from the cares and tribulations of this life. But it cannot bring them true happiness. A sign of the nature of this fallen world is that men seek peace in it by praciticing war. (See more below.)

Since the Christian 'pilgrim' makes use of the earthly peace of this life, he must participate in the civic life of the world. He will llive in this world and participate in it, but he will not belong to it.  Augustine derives from this an argument for the participation of the Christian in secular affairs. Out of love of neighbor, the Christian will assume the burdens of civic duty as emperors, judges, soldiers, etc., but will always act only out of duty and love, never out of a desire of glory or pride. He will always act, moreover, according to the precepts of Christianitiy, striving to act in a manner pleasing to God, not out of a desire to oblige God to grant him salvation--God's Elect already have that as a free gift--but simply out of love and duty to God.

This leads him to the idea of the CHRISTIAN JUST WAR, war that a Christian may wage without damaging his soul. (Just war = war fought under authority of a legitimate prince either in self defense or for the recovery of stolen property; such a war must be limited, so that the means are in proportion with the ends. The Christian soldier may wage war, but he must also love his enemy while hating his sin.) Augustine combined Cicero's conception of war justified by the Stoic's Natural Law with the Christian ideas of the love of God and neighbor. For Augustine, a Christian is obliged by love of neighbor to participate in the civic life of the earthly city. This includes maintaining peace and human justice (which is the reason that God established political authority over man, see Paul, Romans, 13:1-6). From his reading of the Old Testament, Augustine knew that God had ordered the Israelites to wage righteous war. He also knew that God used war to punish sins and wickedness. Eve wicked men, such as Assyrians, fulfilled God's providence. But Augustine wnet further and, drawing upon Cicero, insisted that certain wars are in their nature just. These are the wars that 'avenge injuries' (from Augustine's commentary on Joshus, 6.10). In this senese, war not only restored justice but avenged the moral order itself that had been injured by the sins of the guilty party.
    It follows from Augustine's doctrine of obedience to authority, that only wars waged by legitimate princes are authorized by God. All just wars, then, are fought by authority of princes for defense of the fatherland, its citizens, and it property, and only soldiers are permitted to fight wars. Princes alone are answerable to God for the justice of wars, and they will be judged according to their desire and purpose for engaging in war. "Peace should be the object of your desire," and wars are just if they are "waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may deliver men from the necessity and presever them in peace. ...war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. .. Let necessity, therefore, and not your will, slay the enemy who fights against you" (from Augustine's "Letter to Count Boniface").
    For Augustine the real evil of war is not the deaths caused by it. All men are mortal and will die in any case. Nor does war harm the eternal wellbeing of God or even hurt his saints; for the trail of their patience, and chastening of their spirit, ... they are benefitted rather than injured." The real revils in war "are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, lust of power, and such like; and it generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God, good men undertake wars."  The soldier's obedience to God is fulfilled through his obedience to the prince, since "his position akes obedience a duty." Only if an order clearly contravenes divine authority may a soldier disobey it. The Christian soldier's responsibility is not to judge the justice of the conflict but to fight with a Christian spirit, out of love of both his neighbor and the wrong-doer, punishing the sin with benevolent severity. Malice, not militia (military service), is what endangers the spriitual well-being of a Christian.