The profound effect on the religious life

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As was to be expected, Christianity had a profound effect upon the religious life or the Roman Empire and its people. Christian apologists devoted much of their energy to denouncing the pagan cults in which the Empire abounded and would have no compromise with them. As we have suggested, there was some carry over from paganism in the attitudes and practices of many Christians, but there was not the deliberate and easygoing syncretism which was so marked a feature of the contemporary religious life outside of Christianity and Judaism. The Church was officially intransigent. It held that through itself alone was salvation, the true goal of human life, to be attained. By the year 500 the pagan cults had all but disappeared. They survived chiefly in backward rural districts and remote mountain valleys, or among the barbarian invaders.

So sweeping a religious revolution had never before been seen in the Mediterranean world. It was not unique. It was later to be paralleled by the supplanting of religions, some of them "higher" than the paganism of the Roman Empire, by Islam, and by the elimination and absorption in most of India of Buddhism, also a "high" religion, by Hinduism. Yet in some ways the victory of Christianity was a more notable achievement than either of these. In contrast with Islam, the triumph of Christianity, which had really been won before Constantine espoused the faith, had been accomplished without the use of arms or the support of the state, and, unlike the success of Hinduism in India as against Buddhism, it was not the resurgence of the hereditary religion against what the latter regarded as an heretical variant from itself.

The religious effects of Christianity were not alone negative, the destruction of rival cults. Christianity contributed to new religious movements. It was a potent element in Manichsism, and in the various forms of Gnosticism. It may have had some influence on the rise and growth of Neoplatonism. Even more significant were the positive results in the conceptions of God and of human nature, in the kind of worship, and in the quality of living which the victor produced. On the conceptions of God and of human nature and on the kind of worship associated with Christianity, we have already said as much as the limitations of our space will wisely permit. However, we must add something about the basic convictions concerning the relation of the Christian community to the society in which it was immersed, convictions concerning the goal of history, and the sort of behaviour and character which issued from the religious beliefs of Christians. Here were tensions and reciprocal contradictions. While they were partially resolved as Christian thinkers achieved an uneasy reconciliation and as membership in the Church came to be almost identical with citizenship in the Empire, they never fully disappeared, but persisted, a source both of weakness and strength in the society with which Christianity had become associated.

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