In the decades following the ascendancy of Augustus Caesar, the Roman Empire enjoyed its greatest expansion in territory, wealth, and power. Within that same era, another movement was born and had begun to spread widely, mostly within the empire. That movement—Christianity—would eventually draw attention, irritation, and, periodically, persecution from Roman officials and emperors, later culminating in the empire-wide Great Persecution under Emperor Diocletian in the early 300s C.E. (or A.D., to show the longstanding influence of this new movement on Western history).
Within less than a decade after that climactic period, however, a new Emperor Constantine declared religious toleration (Edict of Milan, 313 C.E.) and subsequently began to privilege Christian officials and professed citizens with various forms of state support—financial, organizational, infrastructural, and, at times, even military. Within a few decades, under another emperor, Christianity was declared the official religion of the empire, with the state frequently enforcing its decrees.
The partnership between church and state represented a profound change for both the Roman Empire and Christianity, and influenced Western civilization for many centuries to come, even, to some degree, to the present.
address the following:
- What traditional Roman beliefs, ideas, and/or practices were challenged by Christian teachings?
- What impact did the imperial embrace of Christianity after 313 have on the Empire and Roman culture? What impact did it have on Christianity? Were the consequences positive, negative, or both, and why?
- In your view, between Christianity and Rome, who conquered whom? How so?
- What significance might this hold out for our own time?