Class Warfare Blog

June 3, 2018

What Did the Romans Want?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have commented often enough that Christianity getting adopted by the Roman Empire, first as a state religion (in 313 CE according to Roman records) and then later as the state religion of the Roman Empire (in 380 CE according to Roman records), held immense benefits for Christianity and Christians. (Of course this would not have happened unless Christianity endorsed slavery as Rome was a major slave state.) After these dates, the history of Christianity is rife with Christian prelates falling all over themselves to curry favor with the Emperor/Empire and in trying to get Roman state power to enforce their particular beliefs. (Prior to those adoptions the prelates pleaded for tolerance of all Christians, something that vanished thereafter.) If you haven’t read any of this first through fourth century church history a good place to start is the book Jesus Wars.).

I haven’t finished my readings on that era but a question comes to mind for which little in the way of answers has come is: what was in it for the Romans? It was Constantine who adopted Christianity as “a” state religion of Rome and I saw one comment that made sense. Constantine, apparently, admired the control Christian bishops had over their “flocks.” Pagan religions were just rite centered. Other than performing the rites necessary to propitiate the gods (and being paid appropriately for that service), they made no demands upon “believers.” The Christian prelates, on the other hand, organized their communities and demanded behaviors when not performing rites, etc. It makes sense that Romans would appreciate this ability to create order administratively. In addition Christians had been a source of Roman concern for their disdain for the other gods. As part of a polytheistic culture, Roman citizens were supposed to respect the worship practices of all of the other cults. Christians and Jews respected none of them. This respect was a major aspect of Roman foreign policy. When the Romans conquered a people, they allowed them to keep their gods and worship practices. In fact, Romans welcomed the “captured” gods into the Roman pantheon. Sometimes they did this by melding the conquered gods into pre-existing Roman gods and other times they just added them to the list of gods to be worshiped in the Empire. Rome had an official office of Roman cults whose role it was to keep track of all of these accepted cults and make sure they were being worshipped (thus protecting the Empire from angry jilted gods).

So, bringing a conquered cult’s gods into the fold, as it were, was a standard practice. But Judaism/Christianity had somewhat of a checkered past, which resulted in Roman oppression in several short stints. (This oppression was much overblown by Judaic/Christian propaganda. Nobody persecuted Christians anywhere near as much as other Christians.) So, what the Romans wanted was religious peace and the support for their civilization Empire that religions brought. Constantine even tried to help the Christians find their center in the first great Christian get together of their leaders. He took hundreds of them in at one of his plush villas and wined and dined them. He even attended and participated in some of their deliberative sessions and left the conclave thinking that he had helped them find their way (and his way to religious peace). Little did he know that the troubles were just getting started.

So, the Romans were looking to use the authority of the Christian bishops to rein in some of the disdainful behavior of Christians toward other cults and the Christians were looking for … what?

If you find anything in the histories to explain what Christians wanted from the Roman Empire (remember the Romans, the guys who crucified Jesus?) other than state power to enforce their particular orthodoxy, please let me know as I have seen nothing else so far.

This propensity by Christians to seek state power to enforce their religion continues in the U.S. to this day.



  1. Indeed it does, but they’re not doing themselves any favours with their embrace of Agent Orange.


    Comment by john zande — June 3, 2018 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

  2. Although, the Donald is packing the federal courts with conservatives who are likely to continue making bad decisions such as the Hobby Lobby case … and the floodgates will open for “religious liberty” cases as soon as the goobers discover they can win.


    Comment by Steve Ruis — June 3, 2018 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

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