Christianity in Late Antiquity is a relatively new concept in the academic world. Until about forty years ago, historians and theologians were more likely to talk about the "Early Church." By this they meant a single organism that evolved from the simple ministry of Jesus and the apostles into the institutionally and theologically complex system of clergy, canons, and creeds that became the dominant religion of the Mediterranean world. According to this older view, this evolving organism was plagued with challenges: persecution from pagans and Jews, internal attacks from theological deviants (heretics), and the general cultural and political malaise that characterized the "decline and fall of the Roman Empire." Eventually (according to this older account) the Early Church overcame these challenges and emerged in the sixth century as the new stabilizing force of the medieval West and the Byzantine East.
The intellectual shift from the Early Church to Christianity in Late Antiquity has usefully complicated this evolutionary narrative. We no longer envision Christians as set apart from or in constant conflict with their wider Greco-Roman social context, and we no longer view the fourth and fifth centuries merely as a period of precipitous decline. Christianity in Late Antiquity was very much a part of the political, cultural, and intellectual intricacies of its time. Christians did not arrive from a distant planet, conspire in their remote cells, and bide their time until the world around them fell apart, allowing them to step into the mainstream and "take over." Christians were deeply embedded in their cultural landscape. We also no longer view this historical period primarily as the "beginning of the end" for the Roman Empire. Christians in Late Antiquity lived through a vibrant period of Mediterranean and Near Eastern history, as new cultural and social forms emerged from old ones and new modes of thinking and living took hold in a world that managed to merge innovation and tradition at all levels of life. If the study of the Early Church was the study of religious evolution—organic, holistic, and self-contained—then the study of Christianity in Late Antiquity has become the study of religious revolution: unpredictable, multifaceted, and diverse.
This collection of Christian primary sources from Late Antiquity is designed to facilitate understanding and study of this unpredictability and diversity. The texts (with two exceptions) were all written by Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries, the period during which Christianity underwent a dramatic transformation following the conversion of the Roman
Emperor Constantine in 312. Also included are images of Christian art and architecture from the period to give a sense of how Christian identity was embedded in the physical and aesthetic worlds of Late Antiquity. Certainly, the selection of texts and images cannot claim to be exhaustive; indeed, it would be paradoxical to demonstrate the diversity and multiplicity of ancient Christianity through a definitive and closed collection of sources. The thought worlds of the early Christians might defy any attempt at historical canonization. Nonetheless, the sources presented here are meant to be representative of the intellectual, cultural, and social diversity of Christianity in Late Antiquity and the particular issues faced by Christians who were seeking self-understanding in this period. Some texts are "classics" (such as Augustine's Confessions), others are less well known (such as Priscillian's On Faith andApoc-rypha); they all give insight into significant aspects of ancient Christianity. The geographic scope of the collection is meant to be equally representative of the vast diversity of Christians' local contexts; from western Europe to north Africa to Mesopotamia. The map at the beginning of this volume is provided to give a sense of this geographic diversity.
We have limited the chronological range of our sources to the fourth and fifth centuries. Since the 1970s, Late Antiquity has had rather flexible chronological boundaries. For some historians, it begins as early as the first Roman emperor, Augustus; for others, it begins with the political reconstruction of the third-century Emperor Diocletian. Some historians see Late Antiquity ending with the deposition of the last Roman emperor in the West in 476; other historians see Late Antiquity continuing until the fall of the Roman Empire in the East at the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Periodization is always an exercise in academic construction after the fact and therefore is always somewhat artificial. For the purposes of this collection, we have chosen the rough dates 300-450 C.E., choosing as our beginning and end points the onset of the Great (and last) Persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian and the convocation of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon under the Emperor Martian and Empress Pulcheria. These moments of Christian history vividly illustrate the ways in which Christianity in Late Antiquity was marked by intersections of politics, culture, and religion; they also show the ways in which shifts in religious identity existed alongside attempts to maintain forms of social continuity. Of course, these end dates are no less artificial than are any other attempts to demarcate a chronological period. We believe, however, that this period witnessed some of the most crucial changes in the way Christians viewed their place in the world. After 450, the options of living a Christian life were profoundly different from what they were before 300. The sources we have collected outline the contours of these changes and differences. Given the specific chronological boundaries of this collection, it is useful to provide the reader with some context: both the background and trajectories that flow into and out of this delimited period. This context is necessarily somewhat abbreviated and focused, but should nonetheless provide the novice student of early Christianity with important points of contrast, continuity, and change.
Christianity began as a religious revival movement among Jews of Galilee and Jerusalem in the first century. Debate continues as to the particular nature of this movement's goals and aspirations, as well as the highly fraught and ongoing "Quest(s) for the Historical Jesus." It seems likely that the "Jesus movement" among first-century Jews constituted a familiar pattern of ritual atonement, moral preaching, and expectation of an imminent, cosmic cataclysm to restore divine order (apocalypse), ushered in by a divine figure (a Messiah). This Jewish, apocalyptic revival movement moved out from Galilee and Judea through the efforts of
Jesus' earliest followers (apostles) to spread the message of atonement, repentance, and mes-sianism. The movement began accepting non-Jewish (gentile) adherents and soon faced important decisions concerning the particularity and universality of salvation through faith in Jesus. Although fierce controversy on this point is evident from the writings of the New Testament, the push toward universality—that is, salvation for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, on equal terms—prevailed. As the movement spread across the Roman Empire in the first centuries, it acquired a distinctive religious character: the new religion of Christianity.
By the third century C.E., Christianity had become a widespread religious movement that crossed ethnic, class, and gender lines throughout the Roman Empire. While population numbers for the ancient world are notoriously elusive, conservative estimates suggest that by the year 300, Christians may have numbered in the several millions (out of a population of about 60 million). Despite the highly rhetorical presentation of Christian apologists and historians from these early centuries, however, this rapid growth was neither uniform nor coherent. In its first centuries, Christianity was characterized by diversity and marginalization. From its origins, different groups understood the significance of "faith in Christ" in radically different ways and expressed their belief in different forms.
In addition to this internal diversity, various forms of antagonism from the dominant culture around them meant that Christians were often viewed with suspicion and mistrust. After all, they met in private homes, performed secretive rituals of initiation and communion, and stayed away from the public religious festivals of their friends and neighbors. Organized, government-sponsored persecution was rare in the first two hundred years of Christianity (although no less painful for being rare), but localized and sporadic attempts to root out religious subversives resulted in violence against some Christian communities. Our earliest account of martyrs (witnesses) who died rather than renounce Christianity appear in the mid-second century, and the circulation of martyr texts provided a theological and political framework within which Christian resistance and opposition to "the world" crystallized. This sense of marginalization cut across the diversity of Christian beliefs and practices: the perceived Christian conflict with the "powers of this world" perhaps predominated for a time over the internal pressures and contradictions of diversity within the movement.
The late third and early fourth centuries brought sweeping changes to the Roman Empire and to Christianity. In 284 a successful general named Diocles assumed the imperial throne under the name Diocletian and set out to enact military, political, and economic reorganizations. He instituted fixed prices, new provincial boundaries, and a system of shared governance between two senior emperors (called Augustuses) and two junior emperors (called Caesars). Diocletian also instituted reform that was designed to ensure religious unity in the Roman Empire, including confiscation of Christian churches and property and punishment of Christian leaders. Diocletian retired in 305, and the Augustuses and Caesars continued his policy of enforcing uniformity around the Empire, including the legal proscription of Christianity.
In 306, Constantine, the son of one of Diocletian's imperial colleagues, was proclaimed Augustus by the imperial troops stationed in York. Constantine cemented his place in the imperial structure through a strategic marriage and military prowess. Conflicts with his brother-in-law and rival co-emperor, Maxentius, led to military confrontation in 312: after a decisive victory over Maxentius, Constantine was the sole emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire. It was at this point that Christianity emerged from the margins of Roman history:
along with his eastern co-emperor, Licinius, Constantine passed an edict of religious toleration in 313 that recognized Christianity as a legal religion in the Roman Empire. The last "Great Persecution" initiated by Diocletian came to an end. (The persecuting Emperor Ga-lerius, just before his death in 311, issued an edict of toleration as well, but Constantine's and Licinius's edict was remembered by Christians as the turning point.) Constantine began to lavish his patronage on Christian churches, building basilicas and enacting legislation that favored Christian clergy. Although he continued to employ non-Christian imagery and deferred baptism until he lay dying, Constantine seems to have undergone some sort of conversion and is rightly recognized as the first Christian Roman emperor.
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Constantine's conversion and patronage of Christianity, both for the history of the Roman Empire and for the history of Christianity in Late Antiquity. The end of persecution and the beginning of imperial patronage of Christianity (and the subsequent proscription of traditional Roman religious practices in the 390s) forever altered Christian conceptions of religious, cultural, and political identity. In some ways, Christianity followed many of the trajectories on which it had been set before Constantine's conversion, but the increasing intertwining of Roman imperial and Christian religious identity throughout the fourth and fifth centuries also enabled entirely new forms of religious identity and community.
Some of the basic tensions that existed in Christianity before Constantine's conversion still remained, now recast into new contexts. Issues of cultural marginalization and internal division persisted as Christians came to terms with their increasingly prominent place in society. Whereas Christians of the second and third century had struggled to achieve intellectual and social legitimacy in the face of their non-Christian neighbors, they now strove to delineate with more care the precise boundaries between Christian and "pagan" culture. The incorporation of classical literatures and philosophies into the elaboration of Christian theology and interpretation caused, for some, a crisis of cultural identity. When was ancient Greek philosophy "pagan," and when could it be appropriately Christianized? When were classical ideals of family, society, and politics to be rejected as suspect, irreligious remnants of a bygone era, and when might they be fruitfully employed to articulate a new vision of imperial Christianity? The conceptual transition from "Church of the Martyrs" to "Church Triumphant" required reimagining historical and social categories from new vantage points. Cultural and political distinction was increasingly expressed along religious lines. Although the fourth-century non-Christian Roman politician Symmachus tried to argue for religious plurality, famously remarking that "we cannot arrive at so great a mystery by only one road," Christians in Late Antiquity insisted more and more on creating and policing sharp external boundaries.
Likewise, the manner in which internal religious difference was theorized continued to trouble many Christians as the perils of deviance were projected onto a wider, imperial stage. Christians in the second and third century had already introduced the categories of orthodoxy ("right thinking") and heresy ("deviance") in ways that drew absolute boundaries among various Christian communities. But as Christian networks of community now overlapped directly with the political concerns of Roman emperors, these intolerant discourses of orthodoxy and heresy took on a new absolutist character. Debates over correct belief and practice were now always intertwined with questions of political loyalty and social deviance. Pre-Constantinian concerns for uniformity within the Roman Empire and within Christian com munities now dovetailed, producing new forms of authority and new anxieties about difference. Bishops, charged with enforcing orthodoxy, now operated with the backing of Roman law and imperial troops, and theological debates could now erupt into wide-scale violence.
While older patterns of Christian self-definition adapted to imperial forms, entirely new modes of religious expression emerged as well. As Christianity became more and more mainstream in Roman society, a small minority of Christian faithful sought new ways to express the depths of their religious devotion. Asceticism, extreme forms of physical renunciation in the name of spiritual devotion, came to define a new echelon of religious elites in the fourth and fifth centuries. Monks and other ascetic virtuosi practiced extraordinary feats of physical self-discipline and were venerated as holy men and women operating (often) outside the bounds of clerical and imperial control. Although the number of ascetics was always a small percentage of all Christians, asceticism came to dominate the language of religious purity and devotion from Late Antiquity throughout the Middle Ages. Alongside the martyrs of the previous Christian era, the superstars of ascetic practice were venerated as arbiters of divinity and humanity, as Christian saints. Even the "everyday" Christian who could not hope to aspire to such heights of personal devotion was affected by new understandings of piety, family, sexuality, and society that were emerging from an ascetizing Christian elite.
The legalization of Christianity also permitted the religion to take on a more public face, to inscribe religious practices and beliefs more immediately into the physical world. Enormous churches rose in the urban landscape, and particular sites were believed to be imbued with special sanctity that could more immediately connect the human and divine worlds. The veneration of saints' relics and the cult of visiting and venerating holy places (particularly the holy land) became common ways of expressing piety in Late Antiquity and would structure the entire landscape of the medieval and Byzantine worlds.
As this overview suggests, many of the transformations, adaptations, and innovations that we find in Christianity in Late Antiquity continued well beyond the fifth century. Politics, culture, and religion continued to overlap in troubling and productive ways. Difference and deviance continued to be theorized and enforced, often with violent consequences. The practice of Christianity, as a lived experience, as well as a doctrinal mind-set, continued to flourish in diverse and influential patterns. The political infrastructure of the Roman Empire grew strained and overburdened in the fifth century and slowly crumbled. The eastern half of the Roman Empire, centered on Constantinople, continued as a vital force for centuries (although drastically reduced by the rise of Islam in the seventh century). The western half of the Roman Empire succumbed to the superior military forces of non-Roman groups (called collectively, and inaccurately, "barbarians"). The European Middle Ages was characterized by the demarcation of several small, loosely affiliated kingdoms that often had little in common apart from their Christian religious profession. For this reason, the developments of Christian culture and belief in Late Antiquity had a profound impact on medieval European modes of identity. Although the selections in this reader gesture toward these future developments and hearken back to the historical and religious background of the second and third centuries, they focus squarely on the period of religious transformation that we call Christianity in Late Antiquity.
Since this reader is designed to function as a representative account of this period of religious transformation through a collection of primary texts, a few words about the selection and organization of these texts is in order. Whenever possible, we have reproduced whole texts, or significant portions of texts. As we mentioned earlier, all but two of the selections (Texts 5 and 6) were written by Christians. Of course, this does not mean that important and helpful writings that might illuminate the developments of Christianity in Late Antiquity were not produced by non-Christians, but we decided to collect and analyze Christian voices, which are often dissonant and as revealing of diversity as of development and uniformity.
We have arranged the readings thematically, beginning in Chapter 2 with texts that treat the end of the last persecution of Christianity and its legalization by Constantine and his co-Emperor Licinius. The intervention of Roman emperors both to persecute and legitimate Christianity leads to the subject of Chapter 3, the relations between Christianity and the imperial house. The Roman emperor had, for centuries, been the guardian of traditional religion, serving as the pontifex maximus, or "high priest," of Roman religion. The conversion of Christian emperors forced rulers and subjects to negotiate much more delicately the conceptual relation between religious and political authority. Chapter 4 continues to explore the ways in which religion and public discourse intertwined through imperial legislation on religion, exploring one facet by which Christianity achieved normative status in the empire.
The process of becoming a member of the Christian community is the subject of Chapter 5, which explores both ideals of conversion and methods of Christian initiation and education. The exploration of the inner workings of Christian ecclesiastical communities continues in Chapter 6, an examination of the roles and ideals of Christian leaders and the shape and significance of liturgical drama. Chapter 7 enters into the complex ways in which debates over orthodoxy and heresy served to construct both positive and negative positions of Christian theology and practices, looking at ways in which descriptions of God, Christ, human salvation, the church, and the relation between Judaism and Christianity became flashpoints for the articulation of Christian identity and difference. The formal inscription of religious identity on the wider stage of Christian politics is addressed in Chapter 8, containing the creeds and canons of the first four ecumenical ("universal") councils of Christian bishops invoked by Roman emperors.
In Chapter 9 we explore some of the particular developments of Christianity in Late Antiquity, beginning with the rise of asceticism and monastic movements. Chapter 10 examines the ways in which the veneration of physical space and objects became an integral part of Christian piety through the veneration of relics and pilgrimage. Chapter 11 deals with a new literary form, the saint's life, or hagiography, that served to shape (in often surprising fashion) ideals of Christian perfection in Late Antiquity. The cultural and ecclesiastical dimensions of biblical canon and interpretation are explored in Chapter 12, while Chapter 13 turns to material expressions of Christian identity through art, architecture, and aesthetics. Finally, in Chapter 14, we look at the expansion of Christianity outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire as the politics of religious difference and identity expanded into northern Europe, Africa, and central Asia.
In organizing this collection of late ancient Christian texts, we have avoided using categories that might constrain a reader's analysis. For instance, we have not separated "theology" from "social history," since religious doctrine, practice, and controversy were not so neatly divided for the early Christians themselves. We have also made a point not to separate groups that have traditionally been marginalized in scholarship of the history of Christianity. We found no need to put together a separate chapter on "women" or "Jews," figures who were fully integrated into the discourses of early Christian identity in all its complexity and mul tiplicity. Likewise we did not deem it necessary to separate "the easterners" (Syriac authors, such as Aphrahat or Ephraim), whose views on Christianity were no less bizarre or incomprehensible than those of their Greek- or Latin-speaking counterparts and need not be conceptually ghettoized.
Texts are reproduced here from recent, reliable translations. A few texts, in the interests of clarity or accessibility, have been translated anew. Citations from the Bible follow modern numbering of chapters and verse. Biblical citations that reflect ancient versions that disagree with standard modern translations are marked as coming either from the Greek Septu-agint (LXX) or the Latin Vulgate (Vulg.). Among these texts, the student of early Christianity may find many familiar names: Athanasius, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine. Figures such as Aphrahat, Priscillian, and Optatus may be less familiar, but they are no less significant for the light they shed on ancient Christianity. A time line and a map are provided to help contextu-alize all of the included readings. We have included short introductions for each chapter and each text, in order to provide sufficient context and background for the beginning student of early Christianity; in addition, each chapter includes suggestions for further reading.
As Christianity grew into, and beyond, the limits of the Roman Empire, the canons of Christian literature grew exponentially. The writings from the so-called Fathers of the Early Church fill hundreds of volumes in libraries, and this selection can only hope to be representative. It is our hope, however, that these representative views of Christianity in Late Antiquity will provide a meaningful glimpse into a world of political, cultural, and religious transformation and that the reader inspired by them will be able to pursue the study of this period in more depth.
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