Adrian Andre’ Hist 101 8/17/12 Roman Empire Influence on Early Christianity The influence of the Roman Empire on early Christianity can clearly be seen through the teachings and actions of Christ and the Roman government. The affects of the empire are expressed through Christ’s teachings at the Sermon on the Mound and through preaching the Kingdom of Heaven. Influence of the empire can also be seen through the deaths of martyrs and by decisions made by Roman authority. The message conveyed by Jesus at the Sermon on the mound is essential because it can help gain insight to understanding that time period.
During this time period Christ was preaching to predominantly Jewish people. With this in mind, his listeners would commonly be familiar with the Old Testament writings. Jesus’ teachings were similar to that of the Old Testament but were less strict and trendier. Since the Romans were persecuting the Christians, concepts like turning the other cheek and forgiveness were more appealing to the people of that time. Jesus speaks of being humble with their religion and if they do not obey this rule then they will not be rewarded in the afterlife (Penguin, p. 140).
This idea is appealing because it allows his followers to try and escape persecution but at the same time be good disciples. Appealing beliefs can also be seen when Jesus tells his followers to be more then cooperative with authority and “If someone wants to sue you and takes your shirt, let him have your cloak as well” (Penguin, p. 140). These passive behaviors spoken of by Christ are examples of teachings that were molded and affected by the Roman Empire. Alongside preaching model behavior Jesus speaks of a better life after death several times in his sermon.
Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Fear him rather who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Penguin, 146). Keeping in mind the present persecution at that time, the thought of a better life after death would prove to be alluring to the people Christ’s message was intended for. His followers would therefore be more reluctant to enduring the everyday discrimination knowing there is a better future to come. Along with afterlife, Jesus also preached maintaining faith to him. Christ, in an effort to maintain belief, portrayed following him as an act of rebellion.
Jesus states, “Everyone will hate you for your allegiance to me, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Penguin, p. 146). By preaching this, Christ makes its seem as if following him will be going against the grain which therefore could make it more appealing due to the scarcity factor. Jesus also speaks of how his followers must acknowledge him when asked by others and he will do the same when asked by God (Penguin, p. 146). Telling people to be proud of a certain belief could instill a sense of pride, which brings about a positive attitude and inevitably makes Christianity more appealing.
Influence of the Roman Empire can be observed in their actions as well as Jesus’ teachings. One tremendous event that affected Christians greatly was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Romans forced Jesus to carry a cross along with other horrific punishments all leading to his inevitable death. In the telling of his death it is stated, “They stripped him and dressed him in a scarlet cloak; and plaiting a crown of thorns they place it on his head, and a stick in his right hand. Falling on their knees before him they jeered at him: “Hail, king of the Jews! They spat on him, and used the stick to beat him about the head” (Penguin, p. 153). Witnessing Christ endure such pain and torture due to what he believed added a sense of faith to his followers. People believed only a truly worthy cause would be worth death in such horrific circumstances. Jesus was just one of the people to die in the name of Christianity. Martyrs strengthen faith of those who witness them through their willingness to die for their beliefs. One individual whose life helped contribute was that of Vibia Perpetua.
During the early years of Christianity right after the death of Christ, Christians were still being heavily persecuted. Due in part to this fact, the people of this time needed and looked for a place of hope. Martyrs like Perpetua provided the hope through their actions. In Perpetua’s written account it says, “Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if the trembled at all it was for joy, not for fear” (Penguin, p. 206).
This account of the martyr’s death shows that these individuals truly felt they were dying for a cause. People of this time would have seen this and felt prideful and compelled to stand up for their beliefs as well. All of this being causes by the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine ending the persecution of Christians was a pivotal moment in the history of Christianity. Once Christians were no longer persecuted they were forced to defend their beliefs since Pagans were blaming them for a fall in the Roman Empire.
Due in part to this need of defense a great theologian rose to the task. St Augustine of Hippo was and still is a leading authority in the Roman Catholic Church. In Augustine’s The City of God, he defends his religion by saying that peace in some way shape or form is what everyone hopes to obtain. Augustine states, “The human nature we all share, recognizes that just as there is no man who does not wish for joy, so there is no man who does not wish for peace” (Penguin, p. 212) and “Those who pronounce judgment cannot see into the conscience of those on whom they pronounce it” (Penguin, p. 10). These proclamations are meant to disable the argument that Christians caused a downturn in the Roman Empire. These examples show how a decline in the empire affected Christianity by forcing it to adapt. Affects of the Roman government can be observed throughout the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ along with the repercussions of the decisions made by the Roman authority. Each one of these instances shown helps illustrate just how much the Roman Empire influenced early Christianity.