World

O ne of the most amazing and significant facts of history is that within five centuries of its birth Christianity won the professed allegiance of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Roman Empire and even the support of the Roman state. Beginning as a seemingly obscure sect of Judaism, one of scores, even hundreds of religions and religious groups which were competing within that realm, revering as its central figure one who had been put to death by the machinery of Rome, and in spite of having been long proscribed by that government and eventually having the full weight of the state thrown against it, Christianity proved so far the victor that the Empire sought alliance with it and to be a Roman citizen became almost identical with being a Christian. It is the steps by which this consummation came which are the subject of this chapter. The equally important questions of what happened to Christianity in the process, the degree to which Christianity conformed to the Graco-Roman world, and of how far it transformed it must engage us in subsequent chapters.

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