Rome and the Christians

  • PHASE I: 30 A.D. to 312 A.D.

    an illegal assembly (see the letter of Pliny to Trajan), not authorized by the Roman govt. and therefore in violation of the law

  • PHASE II: 313 A.D. to 392 A.D

    a legal cult, authorized by the Roman government (Galerius, Constantine) and thus able to exist publically, to build churches, to receive bequests as a corporation, etc.

  • PHASE III: 392 ff.

    Thanks to Theodosius II ('The Great'), Christianity became the STATE RELIGION; pagan temples were closed; festivals (Olympics, etc.) cancelled forever; theaters closed. The government enforced religious conformity; HERESY was both a crime and a in.


  • THE POPE Bishop of Rome

    "Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth" HEAD OF THE CHURCH: (according to Matthew 16--in the Catholic view of the text) appointed by Christ to supervise the entire world:

    "You are `Peter', and upon this `rock' I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; but whose sins you do not forgive, they are retained."

    This text was not however used to prove this until the 4th century A.D., and the interpretation was at all times resisted by some Christians ('vile heretics' according to orthodox believers in the Western Church).

  • THE PATRIARCHS [Chalcedon, 450]

    (Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople) divided up the Mediterranean into administrative districts; under them were the heads of PROVINCES (sometimes exactly the Roman civil provinces) the METROPOLITAN BISHOPS, who led the PROVINCIAL COUNCILS of Bishops. Each bishop was "overseer" of a diocese, originally by election by the entire community in the city, both clergy and laity.


    first one held in 325 A.D. (May to July) at NICAEA in the Roman province of Bithynia. Summoned and presided over by CONSTANTINE THE GREAT, the Emperor, to decide the most important questions of doctrine and discipline. Even as a Christian, Constantine wanted law and order. This was the beginning of CAESAROPAPISM, the idea that the Emperor was head of both Church and State, a kind of super-bishop who could and should control even the Pope for the common welfare of the entire people, CHRISTENDOM (the new unifying principle). This began a pair of struggles which continues down to our own day:

(a) Is the whole (ECUMENICAL COUNCIL) greater than the part (POPE)?
(b) Is the STATE inferior to, equal to, superior to or indifferent to the CHURCH/ RELIGION?

IN LAW, too, the Christian Church followed the example of the Empire: magistrates (Bishops) could issue decrees which were valid inside their jurisdiction; regional synods and Ecumenical Councils could issue rules of behavior (CANONS) of regional or universal application. Bishops became judges, with courts and jurisdiction.

[The texts of the early church councils are translated in: P. Schaff & H.Wace (edd.), The Seven Ecumenical Councils (Volume 14 of A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, second series). Discussion in: Peter L' Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1996).]



May 22, 2009 12:52 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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