Early Christianity in Ancient Rome
The origins of Christianity in Ancient Rome are not well documented or known. Much of what is recognized comes from biblical accounts and documents during the period when Ancient Rome was in its infancy in adopting Christianity. Ancient Rome was generally tolerant of new religious ideas, gods, and deities. In fact, the Ancient Romans embraced several foreign gods and even applied many of these gods’ characteristics to their deities and religious practices. This was also true with Christianity to a degree.
Early Christianity in Ancient Rome was treated as most new religions or gods the Romans encountered on their journeys were—some Ancient Romans simply adopted the Christian God as another god to worship alongside their pagan gods. However, Christianity was not legal in Ancient Rome and did not gain momentum until years after its introduction. Nevertheless, Christian missionaries were allowed to move freely through the Ancient Roman Empire without much trouble, spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is probably why Christianity took such a stronghold and became the official religion of Ancient Rome after its oppressed start. Christianity was not officially legalized until 313 A.D. Before this legalization, Christian persecution occurred throughout the Empire with severe consequences. Christians were blamed for issues that arose throughout the Empire. Emperors would accuse, and with horrible brutality punish, torture, and murder innocent Christians. These punishments were used to make examples of Christians because they refused to worship the Emperor; as this worship was only reserved for their God. Christianity in the Ancient Roman Empire had a rocky start, but was eventually accepted as the only accepted religion in Rome.
Ancient Rome’s poor became greatly attracted to Christianity for many reasons:
Equal Opportunity – Christianity guaranteed fairness. Because this religion treated all followers the same, from nobility to the poor, kings to slaves, everyone had the same status and rights. No one could buy their way into Heaven. The Christian God did not take bribes or make deals with those who were high ranking or had lots of money, unlike the Ancient Roman gods who would cut deals with their followers.
It should also be noted that even though Christianity was looked at as “the poor man’s religion,” many wealthy citizens also supported Christianity in various ways. This support came by spreading the word, helping fellow Christians, appealing to the Emperor for leniency towards Christians, and monetary support.
Life after Death in Heaven – Christianity also offered eternal life in Heaven to those who believed and were faithful. In Ancient Roman beliefs, only the gods could live in heaven. Emperors also had this opportunity because some were turned into gods after their death, known as apotheosis, or the making of a god.
The Problem with Christianity in Ancient Rome
Christianity was not adopted fully by Ancient Rome. It was not acceptable to Christian thinkers at the time to have Jesus Christ added in or associated with the pagan gods or Ancient Roman religion. It was either Jesus Christ as savior and only God, or nothing. To be Christian, one had to renounce all pagan gods, and the Ancient Romans were not accepting of this system as well. Some Ancient Romans did adopt certain characteristics of Christianity and did worship Jesus Christ along with their pagan gods. But because of the vast differences and persecution, Christianity did not fully catch on in Ancient Rome early on. In addition, personal faith, superstition, and political views played a huge role in Ancient Rome’s religious rejection of Christianity.
It was not until the year 311 A.D. that persecution of the Christians started to end. Co-Emperors Constantine I, Licinius, and Galerius (Tetrarchy) issued the “Edict of Toleration.” The Edict of Toleration allowed Christians the right to practice their religious beliefs. After this toleration and the help of Emperor Constantine (306-337), Rome embraced the concept of monotheism (the belief or worship of one god). After this, the Ancient Romans stopped worshiping the pagan gods they were so devoted to. The concept of monotheism came through the teachings of early Christianity. When the Emperor Constantine the Great came into power, he legalized Christianity and it began to flourish and take hold. This only meant that it was a religion that was legal to practice as was the pagan practices of the gods; however, the Ancient Roman government did not allow for other religions to openly be practiced in their state.
Christian Persecution in Ancient Rome
Before the Emperor Constantine, many Christian believers in Ancient Rome were persecuted and tortured for their beliefs. The reason for this was because Christians would not worship the Ancient Roman gods and anyone who wanted to become Christian or worship the Christian god had to renounce all other gods. Christians would not pay homage to deceased Ancient Roman Emperors or Caesars who were made into gods after their deaths. In addition, Christians refused to participate in Ancient Rome’s Imperial cut, which was seen as an act of treason and was punishable by execution. These refusals confirmed that Christians were disloyal and dangerous to the Ancient Roman government and stirred up massive suspicion. A religion like Christianity that renounced all other gods and practices threatened to cause trouble in the Ancient Roman state in the eyes of the government. Especially in Ancient Rome that had a religious system that was opposing to Christianity.
This was hard for Ancient Romans to accept simply because this had been their form of belief from the beginning of the Ancient Roman. Renouncing other gods was seen as intolerable to Ancient Roman citizens and made the Ancient Roman Government very suspicious of Christians—especially those who would not give tribute to passed Ancient Roman Emperors. It became more of a political problem than a religious issue to the Ancient Roman Government. As for years Ancient Romans adopted several gods and practices from other cultures and did not understand why Christians would not do the same. The Ancient Romans believed that the Christian religion came across as arrogant, denouncing other gods and not showing any mercy towards the pagan gods truly rubbed the Ancient Romans the wrong way. This was a major blow to the Ancient Roman’s ego because they worshiped several gods from all over. In addition, Christianity did not agree with the Ancient Romans lifestyle. Because of the behavior of Christians, Ancient Romans soon became apprehensive of their belief system and teachings. The Ancient Romans did not like this fact and began persecuting them.