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Success of Christianity in Rome was gradual

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Christian mosaic in an early church in the Roman fort of Megiddo (North  Israel).
Christian mosaic in an early church in the Roman fort of Megiddo (North Israel).

Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire at a steady, steady pace. At the beginning of the 2nd century CE, even 1% of Christians could not be spoken yet; one hundred years later, this number increased to 5%, so that in the middle of the third century CE amount to 20% of the total population of the Empire.

Why such a sudden increase in 50 years? Third century CE it was a time of a serious crisis of the Roman state, which was economically and politically destabilized and had to fend off numerous barbarian attacks at the borders. In the face of wars, murders, and hunger, weaker people who could not count on state aid sought support in the new faith. The peaceful slogans given by Evangelists gave them the necessary mental security. At the beginning of the 4th century CE, when Constantine I reigned, more than 60% of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth were already in the Empire.

It is worth noting that the inhabitants of larger cities, which were well connected with the rest of the country, were the fastest to convert. The largest Christian communities were in the Mediterranean, especially in cities closer to Judea. They were, among others Alexandria, Antioch, Cyrenaica, Ephesus, Carthage or Rome itself. Not only did the apostles and disciples of Christ influence the rapid spread of Christianity, but above all the fact that the Empire was very well connected by a road network. Interestingly, the rural towns did not recognize the new faith because of their hostility to all novelties and distance from civilization. There is a reason why the word “pagan” is derived from the Latin word paganus or “peasant”.

The fact that in the third century CE had a great impact on the increase in the number of Jesus’ followers. the Roman authorities began to conduct an aggressive policy towards all cults not recognizing the divinity of the emperor – including Christians. This decision, however unintentionally, caused that persecution and distress cemented the faith of Christians and their conviction of the uniqueness of the Messiah.

Ultimately, 392 CE Theodosius I banned any worship except Christianity. Of course, at that time many people still confessed to pagan gods, but mainly in places that were further away from civilization.

  • Żuławski Stanisław, Pax Christiana. Od apokaliptycznych nadziei do sojuszu z Rzymem. Polityczna ewolucja chrześcijaństwa, Kraków 2016

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