Christianity in Ancient Rome
When we think of Christianity in Ancient Rome, we think of the struggle. The Roman empire has had an extravagant influence on Christianity. How could a group of people who despised, tortured and killed Christians have played such an extraordinary role in the spread of Christianity?
Just think about this. The Romans were a challenge for Christians. What challenges have you had in your life? How have they affected you? For most of us, the challenges we face on daily bases help shape us into who we are today; they also strengthen us in many ways.
Despite their great efforts, the more the Romans tried to suppress Christianity, the more they aided in spreading it. The Romans enabled travel and commerce by uniting a vast region of people. They also provided Jesus and his disciples with an ideal audience and gave more and more credibility to Jesus every time they condemned a Christian.
Understanding Society and Christianity in Ancient Rome
To understand how the Romans helped Christianity in ancient Rome grow, it is crucial to understand what Roman society was like in the days of Jesus Christ. Rome was a mega power. It had grown in size during the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. It had a dynamic military and Julius Cesar as its administrator, which made it a dominant force in the world. After Julius Cesar was assassinated, a decade of political and military struggle followed. Victorious from these battles arose Octavian. He ruled through 27 B.C-14 A.D. The Roman empire was now united.
To many, this seemed like a blessing and a relief. But this blessing would be a bitter-sweet experience for years to come. Despite is suppression, Christianity in ancient Rome grew. The Roman’s religion was heavily influenced by the Greeks. Although Latin was the state language, many people also spoke Greek in for deals in trade and travel.
Their religion of Hellenism was a primitive religion that had satisfied the ancient Greeks and Roman people for many years. It occupied the belief of bloody sacrifices to honor the Gods. There was a God for almost everything. The good woman, in the book The Satyricon by Petronius, while speaking in Campania stated, “ This country is so peopled with divinities, a god is easier to find than a man”. The people of the region were now more socially and academically evolved than their religion. Cato foreboded that slaves should be allowed to attain a sentiment of religious devotion or reverence to the Gods.
The plebeians, or common people of ancient Rome, were not allowed to worship publicly. Many people of Rome longed for civil equality, just as many people do today. How could they possibly have been satisfied with a religion which does not allow them to worship? Worship usually only concerned a small number of wealthy and tyrannical families. What kind of example was this setting for the people of Rome? Due to these reasons, many people who lived in the Roman empire were spiritually unsatisfied and detached from Hellenism.
The Aristocracy of Rome was heavily authoritarian and tried to dictate all of its regions as much as possible. Including the Jews, the Roman empire was occupied by a vast number of people, many of them poor and detesting of the over-privileged rulers. The Roman aristocratic government wanted all people in its empire to adopt its Hellenistic state religion.
Judaism and Christianity in Ancient Rome
The people practicing Judaism were often tortured and ridiculed publicly. The aristocracy of some of the rulers was so corrupt and cruel that it even shocked and disgusted the pagan world. Some of these events were unbelievably crueler than others, that they even seemed unfit by pagan standards For example, in the time of Nero’s rule (around 54-64 A), Christians were sometimes set on fire while they were still alive as a public display. The more events such as this, the more people began to become familiar with Christianity and it’s plight against the Romans.
Although, the conditions these people lived in were harsh and at times heavily dictated, this did provide a unique and necessary atmosphere for the teachings of the gospel. There was a great need from these people for change and a new more civilized way to worship. Many people who heard the gospel wholeheartedly embraced the word of Christ. Christianity in Ancient Rome was a light in a dark cold cruel world, where they were not believed to be equal. He was not like their tyrannical leaders. He loved all people and gave graciously. His forgiveness is life changing (Isaiah 1:18)
Christianity grew in ancient Rome. The more people started to embrace Jesus Christ and Christianity the more Christians became persecuted. “Everyone loves the underdog!” I am sure you have heard this expression before. The Romans unknowingly gave more credibility and aroused more interest in Jesus Christ than anyone else. Their actions towards Jesus Christ and his followers proved Christianity to be a threat to any great power of the world. How could one man possibly bring down such a great empire without even raising a fist? The thought of this made Jesus story well known and Christianity somehow fit uncomfortably into the already settled assumptions of the world in which they lived.
Due to Rome’s superiority, travel was made a little safer. Rome cultivated civilization. It spread the idea of a central government extending over a large part of the earth. The Romans had built roads making travel more convenient. The Mediterranean was monitored and pirates were cleared making it a great highway for civilizations and ideas to spread and mingle. More people were able to communicate and socialize. Missionaries were able to better spread the gospel.
The people of the Roman Empire were able to communicate stories of the tyrannical leaders of Rome and the stories of Jesus Christ. All of this made a better canvas for the beautiful and colorful portrait of Christianity to be painted into society. All these trials and tribulations that Christianity and Christians experienced has only strengthened us and our religion. As quoted in Tertullian, Apol 50.13: “Your cruelties, each more refined than the last, achieve nothing. They attract more to our school. Each time you mow us down, you increase our number; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of you preach endurance of pain and death; Cicero in the Tusculans, Seneca in Chance, Diogenes, Pyrorno. Callinicus. But their words do not find as many followers as the Christians do in teaching by their actions”. This has proven to be true even in society today. Today Christians in other countries are being still persecuted for practicing their beliefs. What do you think will happen in these countries? Apparently, leaders in those governments have not taken a lesson from the history of the Roman Empire