Yet no attempt was made to reshape civilization

In addition to the effects which we have already noted, there were others which must be taken into account if anything like satisfactory answers are to be given to the questions which we have propounded.

It is significant that no thoroughgoing remaking of Graco-Roman society was achieved. Indeed, none was attempted. For the first two centuries Christians constituted a small minority. At the outset many of them expected the early visible return of their Lord, bringing with him the abrupt end of history. For several generations, as we have seen, substantial numbers of Christians continued to reassert that hope. For the most part the Church was concerned for the salvation of the individual. It sought to gather these individuals into its fellowship and it constituted a community, divided to be sure, but fairly distinct from the world about it. Their critics charged Christians with being enemies of society, but Christian apologists protested the loyalty of their co-believers to the Empire. Tertullian, for instance, declared that Christians regarded the existence of the Roman Empire as a bulwark against chaos, held that God had appointed the Emperors, and that, as commanded by the New Testament, Christians prayed for their temporal rulers, the Emperors and their ministers, and even for those who persecuted them. Against those who charged Christians and their neglect of the gods with the responsibility for the ills which were overtaking society, Tertullian boldly insisted that because of its sins the human race had always deserved ill at God's hands, that God's judgements had brought misfortunes upon mankind in pre-Christian days, and that calamities had actually declined since the advent of Christianity, for, so he said, from that time onward virtue had placed some restraint upon the wickedness of the world and men had begun to pray for the averting of God's wrath. Christians were far from attempting the overthrow and reconstruction of Graco-Roman society. To be sure, they were attacking certain features of that society — its polytheism, its immoralities, its gladiatorial contests, the indecencies of its theatre, its infanticide, and its sexual irregularities — but in doing so they believed that they were conserving and not destroying the Empire and its civilization.

When, beginning with Constantine, the Empire made its peace with the Church, it sought to control the latter and to use it as a bulwark against the mounting threats to the stability of the realm. In this the leaders of the Church acquiesced. Indeed, when the sack of Rome by Alaric and his Goths in 410 made apparent the mortal weakness of the Empire, Augustine stoutly declared that the presence of churches as sanctuaries and the Christian profession of some of the Goths had mitigated the disaster.

With the numerical triumph of Christianity through the winning of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Roman Empire to the Christian faith, it might have seemed that the Church would at last undertake the reshaping of civilization. However, the emergence of monasticism served further to preclude even the formulation of such a programme. The monks sought to withdraw from the world and either to live completely apart from society or to set up communities of their own which would perfectly embody the Christian ideal.

Although Christians did not attempt the complete remaking of Grsco-Roman civilization, they attacked some of the constituent elements of the life about them and in other ways their attitudes were in stark contrast with the culture in which they were immersed and wrought not only negative but also positive changes in the Mediterranean world. Moreover, there was a striking difference between Grsco-Roman civilization and the Roman state on the one hand and on the other the faith set forth in Christ and by his apostles. There were basic differences in values — what was deemed most worth while — and in conceptions of the nature and destiny of man, of the universe, of the course of history, and of power — between the kind of power seen in the cross and the resurrection and that which formed and sustained the Roman Empire. These could scarcely be reconciled. Here, as in Judaism, the parable of Jesus of the new wine in old wineskins was pertinent, perhaps tragically so. In trying to put the one into the other both might be lost.

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