Institutions in th preConstantinian ecclesia


By the time of Constantine the church was a sufficiently robust organisation for the emperor to engage it as a partner in unifying the empire. Systems of authority, patterns of belief and control of funds and property had turned the early household communities into an interlinked, empire-wide organisation that increasingly mirrored the structure of the empire itself. It is a telling fact that when Julian the Apostate tried to put the clock back in the 360s, he 'determined to introduce into the pagan temples the order and discipline of Christianity':1 various degrees of ministry were instituted, teachers and readers were appointed to give instruction in pagan doctrines, hours of prayer were established, and monasteries founded for those who wanted to live in philosophical retirement; pagan priests were told to provide hospitality for travellers, to distribute corn and wine to the poor and to live holy lives, avoiding taverns and the theatre, or be deprived of office. Julian saw the discipline and benevolence of the 'atheists' as attractions dangerous to traditional religion, whereas Constantine had recognised their usefulness.

The characteristics of the early house-based communities were described in part ii, chapter 7, above. There, the discussion attempted to view the phenomenon of the early church in its social and historical setting, noting how it combined features of household, cult, club and philosophical school, without being altogether like any of them. Throughout this volume the diversity of Christian groups has been observed: there was a range of possible futures. Yet, fractured and diverse as it was, Christianity began to acquire not only a coherent profile in the Mediterranean world, but also distinctive patterns of authority.2 This may be attributed to the sense of being a single 'household of God', despite meeting in many households - unity was a desirable end in itself. So leadership was dedicated to the preservation of social harmony,

2 Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians; Rousseau, Early Christian centuries.

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