Questions Regarding Early Christianity

Aug 2016
977
US&A
Early on, why was Christianity able to gain so many followers throughout the Roman empire?

How long was Christianity outlawed in the Roman empire?

Do we have any reasonable accurate estimates of the percentage of Christians in the empire at the time of Constantinople's conversion?

Do we have any similar estimates for the time of the fall of the western Roman empire?

Do we know of any barbarian tribes converting before they ruled over lands that were once held by the Romans?

Why was Christianity able to bounce back so quickly and move into lands that had either not been held by the Romans or were barely settled and likely had a mostly pagan population?

I think immediately after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there were about five cities that were more or less centers of the faith. I think there was a term for them, but I've forgotten what. IIRC they were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem and maybe one other.

Anyway, why was Rome, the city, more successful at converting neighboring peoples than anyone else? I know most of these cities were conquered fairly quickly by the Muslims once they came around, but Constantinople had been around awhile.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Yôḥānān

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,447
Dispargum
The Roman Empire generally tolerated Christianity. The Romans didn't like Christian exclusivity - the Christian belief that their religion was the only true faith and all other religions were false. The refusal of Christians to worship the emperor would sometimes get them in trouble. Romans saw the refusal to respect other religions as rude, and in wartime, refusal to worship the emperor could be unpatriotic or even treason. There were a few occasions when Christianity was persecuted. The most famous of these was the Persecution of Diocletian in the years before and after 300.
I've seen estimates that in the time of Constantine approximately 10-20% of the imperial population were Christians. These were probably not evenly distributed with probably more in the east than in the west.
After 381 CE, all Romans were nominally Christians. That year a law was passed that persecuted non-Christians, mostly by shutting down pagan temples and repealing the tax exempt status of pagan cults. We know that there were practicing pagans after 381, but their numbers must have fallen off significantly. By 476, pagans are rarely mentioned in the sources except for some of the barbarian tribes. As far as hearts and minds go, to be a Christian might only mean that you had been baptized. Many nominal Christians remained ignorant of even basic Christian doctrine for many centuries to come. It was not until the 9th or 10th century that every village had its own church building, and without churches people were not attending regular church services.
Circa 350 a Goth named Ulfila, who probably had some Roman ancestry, too, traveled into the empire, was educated and trained as a priest, then consecrated a bishop. He translated the Bible into Gothic and returned to the Goths and began converting them. Ulfila lived at a time when the Arian heresy predominated at the eastern court, and Ulfila was therefore an Arian and converted the Goths to Arianism. In future years Gothic evangelists spread the word to other Germanic tribes, possibly the Vandals, Burgundians, and others. Some of the Germanic tribes were therefore already converted to Arian Christianity before they migrated into the empire in the fifth century.
There was also an evangelical mission to Ireland in the fifth century. St. Patrick is the most famous person in this mission although his historiocity is questioned. He was not the only missionary to Ireland.
Collectively Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were known as the Pentarchy. Their bishops were called patriarchs.
Pentarchy - Wikipedia
 
  • Like
Reactions: RidiculousName

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Early on, why was Christianity able to gain so many followers throughout the Roman empire?
The time.of the Roman Empire was a time of great social change and mass movement of individuals. The peace created by the Roman Empire made travel.relatively easy and safe, and so many people found, themselves far from home.and traditional social support sutructures. The so called Mystery Cults emerged in the first century, and a sense Christianity was one of them, the most successful.

As to why Christianity became such a successful cult, there were several factors:

1. It was all inclusive, it was available to everyone. Some mystery cults were more restrictive, Mithraism only was open to men, for example.

2. It had ancient pedigree. It's origin from Judaism and use of the ancient Old Testament scripture gave it ancient roots that the other competing cults lacked.

3. Unlike the other cults, it could claim that it was based on real events and people with actual eyewitnesses could testify to the truth of what it said.. Other religions could and did not appeal to eyewitness testimony , and did not claim their stories and legends happened in the recent past where you give the specific names of the people who witnessed the events. The same stories of Mithras, ISIS, were not set in known historical setting off a set histoticntime and place like Christianity, but in a fairy tale setting of "once upon a time". That gave Christianity a leg up on these out her cults, which were still popular themselves.

How long was Christianity outlawed in the Roman empire?
Little less than 300 years.

Do we have any reasonable accurate estimates of the percentage of Christians in the empire at the time of Constantinople's conversion?
General consensus among scholars it was around 10% at the time Constantine announced the Edict of Milan. Constantine did not formally convert until near the end of his life (a standard practice back then), so the percentsge of Romans who were Christians was higher at the time of his baptism and formal conversion were higher than at the beginning of his reign.

Do we have any similar estimates for the time of the fall of the western Roman empire?
Around 90 - 95%. Pretty much all Romans who were not Jews were at least nominally Christian by that time .

Do we know of any barbarian tribes converting before they ruled over lands that were once held by the Romans?
Yes, the Goths. For some reason these Germans converted to Arian version of Christianity , which was regarded as a heresy, instead orthodox/Catholic versions . This create strife between the German barbarian Arian rulers and their Catholic subjects, until the Germans abandoned Arianism and became Catholics as well.

Why was Christianity able to bounce back so quickly and move into lands that had either not been held by the Romans or were barely settled and likely had a mostly pagan population?
Extremely complicated subject. Christianity managed to merge the heritage of the high civilization of the Romans and Christians with the native cultures of Europe, and the resulting hybrid proved very dynamic. But the process took several centuries, so I don't know if you can call it quick.

I think immediately after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there were about five cities that were more or less centers of the faith. I think there was a term for them, but I've forgotten what. IIRC they were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem and maybe one other.
Antioch was the other leading Christian center, I think. Except for Jerusulem, the others were also the largest cities in the empire.

Anyway, why was Rome, the city, more successful at converting neighboring peoples than anyone else? I know most of these cities were conquered fairly quickly by the Muslims once they came around, but Constantinople had been around awhile.
Constantinople did convert its neighbors, the Bulgarians, Russians, and others were all converted, most of the Eastern European countries that are Orthodox. The Turks were from Central Asia and had already converted to Islam when they arrived in the Byzantine Empire. Once a person adopts one form of the Abrahamic Faith's, the they don't readily convert to another form.
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
2. It had ancient pedigree. It's origin from Judaism and use of the ancient Old Testament scripture gave it ancient roots that the other competing cults lacked.
I think that point should be reversed, for it is the competing cults that have ancient pedigree, Judaism being a Johnny-come-lately. Three of these competing cults, that of Serapis [Osiris/Ptah combined with attributes of ancient Greek deities], Isis and Harpocrates have their origins at the dawn of Egypt, and with Harpocrates, literally so as Horus. Besides, the Christians hijacked elements of all three of those cults to the extent that without them there would be no Christianity.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Tammuz

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,000
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Not only the Goths, also the Lombards converted to Arian Christianity before of invading former lands of the Roman Empire [Lombards arrived a bit later the end of the Western Roman Empire and after the Goths]. This, among other things, created a religious mess in Italy because they imposed Arian Bishops to the Roman Christian [Catholic] population.

Regarding estimates about early Christians, that is to say numbers, we need to be really careful to trust this or that source. Many early Christians came from the area where the Jews lived and since they didn't adore idols and they spoke the language of the Jews, it's even probable that mindless Romans would have thought they were an odd Jewish sect. From an external perspective [external to the Jewish world], it's even probable that they didn't differentiate at all. So if we wonder how many Christians there were in, let's say, 70CE ... we cannot know.

There are estimates for the II century CE, but I cannot say how much I can trust them.
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,541
Republika Srpska
I believe that it was during Nerva's reign that the Roman Empire truly started considering Judaism and Christianity as separate religions. During Nerva's reign, Jewish Christians lost their Jewish status and were no longer required to pay fiscus judaicus. However, this also meant that they also certain protections given to the Jews, for example Jews were allowed to practice their own strictly monotheistic religion, but this protection was not expanded to Christians.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,447
Dispargum
What's Arian Christianity.
It has nothing to do with Nazis - that's aryan. Arianism takes its name from Arius, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt in the early 4th century.
Consider these three Christian ideas:
1. Christianity is monotheistic - there is only one God.
2. Christians worship Jesus as God.
3. The Gospels describe Jesus as praying to his heavenly Father, so there's something else out there besides Jesus that is God.
These three ideas would seem to contradict each other. How can there be one God, Jesus is God, and Jesus is not God? Also realize that the Trinity was not a part of Christian doctrine until the late 4th century. With the Trinity, there's no problem, but Arianism predates the Trinity.

Arius sought to reconcile those three contradictory ideas by demoting Jesus below the level of God. Jesus was born a man but through the exercise of his free will he never sinned. As a reward, after he died, God promoted Jesus to devine status. He was perhaps some kind of super angel - more than man but less than God.

Mainstream Christianity had a problem with Arianism and quickly branded it a heresy at the Council of Nicea in 324. For one thing, the idea that a man could live his entire life without sinning is incompatible with the idea of original sin. Christians believe that original sin is passed from the father to the child at the moment of conception. This is why Jesus had to be conceived immaculately - otherwise he would have inherited Adam's original sin. Arians were more likely to dismiss immaculate conception and believe that Jesus was conceived in the usual way. Some Arians believed that God took human form and slept with Mary similar to the way that Zeus fathered Hercules. Hercules was another man who supposedly later rose to devine status. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of Arianism. It came along at a time when many people were first converting to Christianity, and Arianism more closely resembled the religions that people were more familiar with. Arianism was also a more optimistic form of Christianity - if Jesus could achieve devine status, then maybe other people could, too. Mainstream, or Nicene Christianity, was more pessimistic - all men are doomed by original sin and can not help but sin themselves. Arianism was more popular during the relatively optimistic 4th century. The 5th century was more pessimistic (the Western Empire was in the process of falling), and that's when Arianism really went into decline although some of the barbarian tribes continued to cling to Arianism into the 7th century.