Pros and Cons of Christianity’s Transition from Persecution

In the 4th century, Christianity transitioned from being a persecuted minority of the population to the offical state religion of the Roman Empire.

How did the transition happened?

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When Christianity entered the Roman world, their ancient religion was already in decline. Since after the Punic wars there was a sort of hellenization of Roman religion that could be seen through the erection of Greek gods and temples all around roman territory, in arts, poetical works and in mythology. Though Augustus tried to re-establish the State religion but that could not be done properly, rather the emperor cult, which developed into divine worship, was stressed. Christians, however, detached themselves from all idol worship, thereby attracting the attention of their pagan neighbours who noticed that this particular group, the Christians, did not look upon their God as a great and special divinity, but as the only true God. This brought about fierce persecutions on the Church on diverse grounds especially with Nero. The detail of Nero’s persecution is not well known but probably 1 Pet 3:13-17 is refereeing to the issue of Roman persecution.

After Nero Domitian persecuted the Christians and after him Maximin. Decius wanted to re-Romanise the state thereby persecuting and massacring Christians who were seen as traitors to the state religion. Decius was so fierce in his persecution that after executing the then pope Fabian, he said that he will rather hear of a rival to his throne than of an election of a new Bishop of Rome (P. Hughes, A History of the Church, London 1983, 165-173). Diocletian’s persecution is known as the greatest of all persecutions which started with Diocletian’s Edit of February 24 303 and the plan was a general extermination, though it is said that his lieutenant, Caesar Galerius, was the originator.

The persecution went on till the Edit of Milan toleration came through Constantine which marked the beginning of a new era.
As the Acts of the Apostles show, Christianity has always been persecuted right from the beginning. Nevertheless the persecution never stopped its spread. I would rather say that sometimes to those moments of persecution Christianity was able to grow rapidly and strongly (cf. Acts 8), just as Jesus said: In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth …

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