Christianization of Rome

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Christianization of Rome In the third and the fourth century, the course of becoming a follower of the Christian faith was thorny and a complex one. But something was appealing enough that motivated and encouraged people to take dire measures and become a Christian and motivated the pagan Constantine to change not only the course to Christianity but also the incentive to become one. Before the reign of Constantine the path to Christianity was not easy. It was a path that asked the converts for complete submission and dedication.

They not only had to change their beliefs but also their perspective on life and their entire lifestyle. This process of Christianization consisted of four stages. Stage one of evangelization was one during which the candidate would meet Christians and after discussing with them about their religion would decide to become one. Once the church receives the application it would run a background check on the candidate’s lifestyle and life choices before promoting him to stage two of the process. Once cleared by the Church the candidate enters stage two, the catechumenate.

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It was this stage where the candidate would be asked to change everything about him, a complete transformation. This was a prolong process where the candidate held several meeting with the church to help him with the instruction of the conversion process. Sometime this stage would last 5 years but time was very subjective and could take more or less. Once the church was satisfied with the catechumen’s performance as being creditable enough for being a Christian, he was promoted to stage three, the enlightenment. Enlightenment dealt with the individual’s belief.

After a long process of orthodox teachings and frequent exorcism to stay pure the individual was baptized. Mystagogy was the final stage for the new convert. In this final stage the catechists would share his experience of Eucharistic rites in the week succeeding Easter. This entire process, whether intentionally or not, was drastically changed by the emperor Constantine. Some might disagree with it but if you look back at Constantine’s successors and all the laws that came along after him you see a clear track line going back to Constantine. In 312, Constantine saw a dream the night before the decisive battle.

He saw a skewed letter X with its head top bowed around and the words “By this conquer” attached to it[1]. The Christian back then thought it was a labarum but there have been some dispute among scholars of the subject if it was something truly Christian or symbolic ancient paganism. Regardless of what the symbol actually represented the reality of the fact is that it was accepted as Christian by Constantine and he had the sign attached to all his soldier’s armor the next day. In fact, this event became so significant to Constantine that he adapted the motto hoc signo vinces which translates as “in this sign conquer”[2].

He entered the battle with that sign and was victorious. Constantine completely honored the labarum as the raison d’etre for his triumph against Maxentius. This success over Maxentius under the banner of Christianity would in due course lead to a Constantine meeting with Licinius in Milan the following year in 313 A. D[3]. Constantine and Licinius during the meeting came to a mutual agreement according to which the empire would take neutral stance in terms of religious worship. This agreement is commonly known as the edict of Milan.

It established Christian tolerance in the empire and returned back all the properties that had been held from them[4]. Free from persecution Christianity became an appealing religion to convert to. Constantine was certainly favoring the Christian belief but did he convert? He declared the bishops as his dearly loved brethren and would later even position himself below them and yet never went through the four rigorous conversion steps to Christianity[5]. And hence, the question arises that if Constantine did really accepted the Christian faith, what impact would that have caused to the church in regards of the mandatory onversion process that they had devised? During the first two decades of Constantine’s reign he presented the globe a new-fangled prospect; convert to Christianity without being baptized. A complete submission to church and going through all the mandatory procedure didn’t come until he was in his death bed. Derek Wilson in his book, “Charlemagne” pointed to this fact stating that Constantine’s was not baptized until the very end of his life which was in 337[6]. This could have been due to the fact that Constantine realized that he is going to die.

He openly declared to follow the rules that are worthy of God but how hard could it be not to go to war or kill someone or wear a purple color in that case for such a short period of time. Considering Constantine to be a Christian during his reign and welcoming him into the church just before his death is obviously unconventional. How would have this affected Christianity? Conventionally, one needed to honestly devote himself to the teaching of the church and show complete devotion in your deeds to be an accepted by the church.

On the other hand, a huge motivation can be seen behind Constantine being a ‘Christian Emperor. ’ Constantine didn’t believe in conversion by compulsion. But he wasn’t opposed to bribing people into conversion. According to Sir Herbert Butterfield, Constantine provided them with what he calls inducements. The inducements consisted of imperially granted reimbursement for church leaders, including exemption from public duties; imperial gifts in form of; the enrichment of churches; career advancement of civilians who converted to Christianity; and the respect that would be gained by following the emperor’s religion.

Though Constantine might be earnest in all his efforts to shun compulsion but eventually his attempt got the entire empire converting to Christianity for the erroneous reasons. Instead of converting for amends in beliefs, lifestyle and sincerity this policy got them converting for cash gifts, good positions and an attempt to gain the emperor’s favors. Therefore, it could be said that the only true belief these new converts held was ‘reward for conversion. ’ They might have lacked the true devotion to God that the Christian faith required.

Constantine did try his best to shun compulsion but things changed soon after his death. Within a decade following his demise there was an official ordered issued stating pagans to be an intolerable social deviation in terms of social norms. In 380, the so called heretical Christian faction was banned from public act of worship by the orthodox authorities. Similarly, public act of pagan worship was outlawed in 392. It was almost impossible for a pagan to be a part of the royal establishment. Additionally, in 408 ‘’enemy of the church’’ cannot serve the royal palace.

In 416, a law was passed which allowed only Christians to serve the military and the army. By end of the decade people were compelled to convert to Christianity and failure to do so could even lead to a death sentence. Justinian later issued a decree declaring conversion to Christian faith as mandatory leading to baptism of all infants. Constantine’s conversion to the Christian faith not only set a stepping stone for his successor’s inspiration but also gave the Roman Empire a political stability and cultural unity[7].

Constantine certainly would have opposed the actions taken later on by his successors but their decisions can be linked to Constantine’s decision on his life, laws and of course his conversion to Christianity. For instance, Charlesmagne was so much motivated by the ideology that Constantine fathered, that he believed, or to say the least assumed, that Christianity and Paganism were locked into a battle of death and that he was the chosen leader of the Christian world[8]. The imperial government was doing everything possible for a complete eradication of the Christian faith from the empire before Constantine’s reign.

Despite all the previous effort by the imperial empire, Christianity had a complete control over all imperial ranks, lifestyle and their duties just before Constantine’s death in 337. Except for a very short reign in 360, almost every empire has been a Christian in one way or the other. Personally, I hold the opinion that nothing would have happened if Constantine hadn’t converted to Christianity. Everything from the conversion process to oppression of Christianity would have stayed the same. Moreover, the faith which Constantine’s successors made mandatory upon the kingdom, in all possibility, would have been paganism.

The Pagans were not only against the Christian doctrine, they thought that Christians were full of immorality, cannibals and not worthy of social respect[9]. Taking this into account there is quite a possibility that today the Christian faith would be nothing but a mere chapter in the forgotten history. Work Cited Halsall, Paul. “Eusebius: The Conversion of Constantine. ” Available from http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/source/conv-const. html. Internet; accessed 7 June 2010. Halsall, Paul. “Medieval Sourcebook: Galerius and Constantine: Edicts of Toleration 311/313. ” Available from http://www. ordham. edu/halsall/source/edict-milan. html. Internet; accessed 7 June 2010. Halsall, Paul. “Ancient History Sourcebook: The Ritual Cannabilism Charge Against Christians. ” Available from http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/ancient/christian-cannibals. html. Internet; accessed 7 June 2010. Wilson, Derek. “Charlemagne. ” New York: Vintage Books, 2007 ———————– [1] Halsall Paul, “Eusebius: The Conversion of Constantine. ” Online, http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/source/conv-const. html (June 7, 2010) [2] Wilson Derek, Charlemagne, New York: Vintage Books, 2007. 3] Halsall Paul, “Medieval Sourcebook: Galerius and Constantine: Edicts of Toleration 311/313. ” Online, http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/source/edict-milan. html (June 7, 2010) [4] Ibid [5] Halsall Paul, “Eusebius: The Conversion of Constantine. ” Online, http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/source/conv-const. html (June 7, 2010) [6] Wilson Derek, Charlemagne, New York: Vintage Books, 2007. [7] Ibid [8] Ibid [9] HalSall Paul, “Ancient History Sourcebook: The Ritual Cannabilism Charge against Christians. ” Online, http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/ancient/christian-cannibals. html (June 7, 2010)

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