Why was Christianity so successful?

PADDYBOY

Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
6,545
Scotland
I think the reason why it was successful in Europe and the Middle East (until the rise of Islam) was because of it's similarities to the pagan religion. For instance, the date for Christmas, December 25, comes from the cult of Mithras which was popular amongst Roman legions toward the tail end of the empire. My guess is that Christianity adopted the date as means to attain more followers. There is a book by Marvin Meyer called Ancient Christian Magic. In the book, there are many spells and remedies that were once used by pagans and adopted by many "Christians" who believed they were practicing a form of Christianity. I think I have the book in my library and I will see if I can post an example when I find the book.

To make a long story short, early Christianity sought to convert by convincing pagan worshipers they were, in a sense, practicing a form of Christianity. That was one of the major reasons why Christianity was so successful. The were able to adopt or adapt pagan religious practices and concepts (i.e. Saint worship=God and goddess worship of ancient Rome and Greece).

Hopefully this partially answers your questions. I think the main reasons why Christianity did not spread any further than it did was because it simply wasn't "compatible" to the religions of the Far East (although Hindu and Buddhist ideology is sometimes argued as similar to that of Christianity).

Thanks for the reply Comet, :)
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
Olav Tryggvason made Norway a Christian nation (starting in the summer of AD 995 and ending four decades later) in order to gain equality with the rest of Europe (equality, that is, in the eyes of the rest of Europe).

I think a similar sentiment might have been in operation regarding the spread of Christianity in Europe prior to that date as well. Modern-day, secular humanists, etc, might not see that much difference (in the "believe-abilty department") between being born of a virgin and being born full-grown out of a rock. But it might not have been so cut and dried back then. On the one hand, a god who can't do the impossible is not god at all, at any time or place on the planet. On the other hand, no one wants to be regarded as an ignorant bumpkin. I think in the long run, Christianity's advantage lay in that it had book accepted by it's adherents as more or less authoritative. Major centrifugal tendencies were sublimated into different interpretations of the book. The others were small and could be killed off.

Why didn't other peoples in the world accept Christianity the same way European peoples did? Maybe European people gave Christianity a bad name?
 

Edgewaters

Ad Honorem
Jul 2007
9,098
Canada
I think Constantine understood the ramifications of what Christianity's ideology was implying and he implemented that message into a political entity. Christianity was monotheistic in nature, preaching one true God. I believe Constantine thought that one true God also meant one true emperor. Take what you will about his famous story before the battle of Milvian bridge, but it does make sense to think that the Christian God was the decisive factor in his victory as well as his rise to power. One God, one emperor, one empire. It's a vague explanation but one that I think should be taken into consideration.
Yes. Although early Christianity was anything but homogenous in doctrine, none of the other mystery cults were either. Constantine was looking for one that he would be able to impose a standardized doctrine upon, and monotheism fit the bill - there's only one deity (well, sort of, I suppose you have trinitarianism) which cut down alot on the complexities of issuing a standardized dogma. It was difficult enough to resolve disputes surrounding the nature of Jesus, imagine the same process for an entire pantheon! He had to find a way to stop syncretism from generating new beliefs constantly, as the mystery cults were a force of disunity in that the society no longer held to a common religion or common traditions.

It was really a very Roman decision, looking for that thing most amenable to standardization.
 
Jul 2007
1,688
Australia
So basically, Christianity offered the most simplist choice (ie: one God, one set of worship guidelines, etc) over the many choices offered by the pagan religions.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
Well, in the event, once Rome starting worshipping past emperors as gods, the cat was out of the bag. A lot of people would have regarded such a thing as, well, ludicrous. They became "ready for a better idea."

The two contenders on the ground were Mithraism and that Jewish sect with that book. Saint Vincent DePaul (1581 – 1660) said that the future of Christianity lay in Africa and in Asia. He didn't mention Europe or America. It's starting to look like he might have been right.
 
May 2007
1,755
Australia
People were drawn to Christianity because it emphasised humility, IE being poor and having little, as opposed to the pagan religion where building expensive temples etc. was admired. Also, Christians gave each other support, whether it was caring for the sick and hungry within the sect or travelling across the Roman empire to help rebuild the homes of Christians whose homes had been burnt by angry pagans. And remember that the poor in Rome often led miserable lives. Christianity promised a beautiful, painless afterlife for all believers, and that was really the most they could hope for.

Had it not caught on then, it would have caught on later, because science proved the pagan gods weren't gods at all... the sun, the seasons, lighting... all would come to have scientific explanations. People needed a god to believe in that was harder to disprove, even if they didn't realize this way back in the days of the Roman empire.
I agree with Fromage here. Jesus’ teachings were/are for everyone and included groups that other regions at the time (Jewish) did not e.g., the poor, the sick, widows, people that society shunned. Also Jesus’ teachings did not have the burden of a lot of study that the Jewish region had.
Jesus said,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
I also agree that Christianity would have caught on sooner or later. Then having it become law in Rome would have also made it more popular once people understood what it was all about.
 
May 2007
1,755
Australia
Was it ?

As far as I know, all religions offer an afterlife, even the early pagan ones ?
Humans being the only species on planet Earth who are aware of their own inevitable death, religion of one sort or another must have been comforting to people, folk don't like the idea of dying, end of story!

If Christianity was so successful, why didn't it spread further afield and take over all other religions, why was it only, "so successful amongst Europeans? " why didn't other peoples in the world accept Christinity the same way European peoples did?
Just a little added note here. It was illegal and still is in many Asian countries to follow or convert to Christianity. People are still being thrown into goal to day for having a bible or talking about Christianity in some countries.
 

Comet

Forum Staff
Aug 2006
8,702
IA
So basically, Christianity offered the most simplist choice (ie: one God, one set of worship guidelines, etc) over the many choices offered by the pagan religions.
I wouldn't say that it was the most simplistic because there were still a lot of issues that the early Church had difficulty defining and it did effect the way missionaries went about converting others. Hence, one of the reasons the Council of Nicea was called. Spiritually, the early Church knew that it had to solve its own internal problems with a solid or concrete set of guidelines as well as a belief system. I'm sure without a solid foundation of Church doctrine conversion was a bit difficult. This is why early missionaries used paganism to their advantage. They assimilated many pagan practices so that it would be easier to see the similarities between the two religions; ultimately leading to conversion.

By the time Islam arrives on the scene in the 7th century, it became the most simplistic monotheistic religion; which is why Islamic had such great success in converting Christians. (yes there were some forced conversions, however, the majority of Islam allowed Christians to remain so as long as they paid a special tax)
 

Comet

Forum Staff
Aug 2006
8,702
IA
I think in the long run, Christianity's advantage lay in that it had book accepted by it's adherents as more or less authoritative. Major centrifugal tendencies were sublimated into different interpretations of the book. The others were small and could be killed off.

I agree to some extent Lucius. The bible was certainly important, but by the time of the late middle ages it was hardly authoritative. This is one of the reasons why there was a rise in popular heretical movements. The Church deemed tradition and physical authority (pope) more authoritative. Those who opposed the Church, such as Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther, believed true authority to be with the bible. Protestantism actually brought the bible back as authoritative (if it ever was authoritative) during the 16th century.

Today, I don't believe Christianity to be as successful as it was during the Middle Ages. It's decline can be seen with the development of the university, the rise of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and ultimately dying with the religiously opposed Enlightenment during the late 16th and 17th centuries. While there were Christian revivals throughout the
world since then, it comes no where near to the political and spiritual power it once held. I'd say that modern Christianity's success is its tendency to survive into the 21st century in spite of all the events the religion has endured since its conception.