Rise of Christianity

After the death of Jesus there were two distinct factions of his followers in Jerusalem the Aramaic-speaking Christian Jews and the Hellenized, Greek-speaking Christian Jews. The Aramaic-speaking Christian Jews were confined largely to Jerusalem they were conservative, legalistic, and exclusive, still practicing Jews in all ways except that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They did not seek wider missionary activity but worshipped in the Temple and in each other's houses. The...

Fourth Century Constantine to Theodosius and the Primacy of the Church of Rome

Though the expectation was that Constantine, the son of Constan-tius, and Maxentius, the son of Maximian, would be appointed Caesars at the abdication of their fathers in 305 C.E., this did not happen. In the east, Galerius became Augustus and appointed friends and relatives as his co-Augustus and their Caesars. This second tetrarchy fell into crisis at the death of Constantius in 306 C.E. His father's army immediately proclaimed Constantine the new Augustus and, shortly thereafter, Maxentius...

Agrippa II and the Meeting with Paul

We read in Acts 9.3-8 that in about 35 C.E. when he was on the road to Damascus where he intended to persecute Christians, Paul encountered a vision of the resurrected Jesus and was converted. He began to preach a Jesus-centered eschatology to Jew and gentile alike. His first mission was in Antioch, Syria, where the followers of Jesus were called Christianoi for the first time. There, Paul taught that non-Jews were not compelled to keep the law of Moses, that is, they did not have to follow the...

The Council of 382 CE

We have seen that Damasus worked with Gratian and Theodosius to suppress heresy and was named in their edict of 380 C.E. as a model of orthodoxy, and that in 377 C.E. he had commissioned Jerome's edition of the Vulgate. It remained for him to contest openly Rome's primacy with the two other major sees, Constantinople and Antioch. In 382 C.E., he convened a church council to produce a list of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. In the third part of the resulting Decretum Damasi,...

Peter the Rock

Rome claimed its apostolic primacy from Peter to whom Jesus had given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whom he had identified as the rock or foundation of the apostolic succession of popes. In Mt 16.18-19, Jesus called Peter a rock and announced that he was to become the very foundation of the church Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. In the text, there is an intentional play on the Latin words Petrus,...

Third to Fourth Centuries

The third century, in sharp contrast to the widespread peace and prosperity of the second century, was rife with disaster, instability, and decline. Under the four Severans (193-235 C.E.), the empire moved toward military anarchy as pressure from the barbarians in the northern and eastern empire increased. Septimius Severus' wife Julia Domna and her sister Julia Maesa came to Rome bringing their native Syrian culture and a religious syncretism that was perpetuated in their sons and grandsons,...

Qreek and Roman Deities

Ancient Greek religion was the polytheistic worship of twelve anthropomorphic, ageless, immortal deities on Mount Olympus, usually Zeus and his wife, Hera Poseidon, god of the sea Apollo, a sun god of music, healing, culture, and oracles Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt who oversaw the maturation of the young Athena, goddess of wisdom and crafts, especially important as the patron goddess of Athens Hermes, the messenger god who guided all travelers, including the dead whom he...

The Death of James the Brother of Jesus

At the death of the Roman governor Festus, Lucceius Albinus (6264 C.E.) succeeded as governor of Judea. By this time, the two factions of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (both the Greek-speaking Hellenized Christian Jews and the conservative Hebrew Christian Jews) together with the chief priests and Jewish leaders, King Agrippa II and his sister queen Berenice, and the Roman governors were all embrangled in a multifarious social web of competing political and religious interests. In the...

The Apostolic Church Through The Edict Of Theodosius In 391 Ce

In these five essays we have traced the foundation and spread of Christianity, which began in the first century c.e. as a small sect of Jewish followers of Jesus, considered the Messiah. Jesus was born in the early years of the Roman Empire in Judea, where the Herods ruled as client kings of Rome. The Jews resented their Roman overlords and the Herods, their puppet client kings, and that resentment festered into open conflict. A growing divide between the new Christian sect and the more...

The Second Delegation of Symmachus

In July 384 C.E.,Valentinian II appointed Quintus Aurelius Symmachus prefect of Rome and his good friend Vettius Agorius Praetextatus praetorian prefect of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. These appointments ranked among the most important in the administration and represent the Realpolitik of the western court. Valentinian was young, inexperienced, and no match for the military might of Magnus Maximus' court at Trier. This was no time to alienate the Roman senate. Moreover, the conflict between...

Theodosius at the Court of Milan The Synagogue in Callinicum

In the summer of 388 C.E., Theodosius finally came to the aid of Valentinian against Maximus. After sending Valentinian with his mother Justina to Italy by sea, Theodosius traveled through Illyricum by land to meet Maximus at Aquileia. Theodosius had never been to Italy and had not been in the West for ten years. To celebrate his victory over Maximus, Valentinian and the metropolitan Ambrose must have staged a grand reception for him in Milan. Theodosius seems to have understood that this was...

Antipater and Herod Friends and Allies of Rome

Antipater, the chameleonic governor of Idumea, and his son Herod were able to mitigate the impact upon Judea of the tumultuous years of late Republican Rome. They had the uncanny ability to ally themselves with each new leader who emerged from the crumbling Roman Republic, changing loyalties as often as Rome changed governments. Their careers spanned those of the commanders who engineered the birth of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus (Caesar's assassins), Mark Antony and...

Islam and Christianity

In the late antique period of the church, Justinian (482-565 c.e.) ruled the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire, reasserting an imperial dominion that rivaled the ancient world. He subdued Germanic tribes in the west, especially in North Africa and Italy, and in the east was able to conclude a long-lasting peace with the Persians. His famous Latin compilation of all Roman law, called the Corpus iuris civilis, Corpus of Civil Law, contained statutes requiring universal orthodox Christian worship...

The Letters of Ambrose

Before he even knew the details of the petition, Ambrose wrote a letter (Epitsulae 17) to Valentinian opposing the senators' request (see Primary Document 5.2). He argued that Valentinian would be endorsing paganism and persecuting Christian senators if he returned the altar of Victory. He threatened that he would not be received in a Christian church and would even meet with an unforgiving God if he yielded to the demands to restore funds and property for pagan rituals. How could the emperor...

Strengthening the Papacy

It was during Damasus' papacy in 380 C.E. that an edict of Gratian and Theodosius upheld orthodox Christianity over the Arian heresy. Damasus was named as a model of the orthodox faith in Theodosius' edict. The edict, preserved in the Codex Theodosianus (16.1.2), required that everyone observe the religion handed down to the Romans by the apostle Peter. This orthodox apostolic religion, Theodosius claimed, was evident still in the practices of Pope Damasus. Theodosius' imperial sanction may...

Mystery Religions

Like Christianity, the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world promised a blessed life after death through a ritual revelation and communion with the god. The most famous of the mystery religions in the ancient world was the annual ceremony connected to the worship of Demeter and her daughter Kore Persephone at Eleusis, near Athens. The story of Demeter and Persephone is a mythical explanation for the seasons and their agricultural cycles. During the Eleusinian mysteries, the abduction of...

First to Second Centuries

For Romans, the distinction was not so clear. In the early second-century accounts of imperial reactions to Christians, Jews and Christians often seemed to be conflated, as the testimony of classical writers attests. Suetonius wrote his Lives of the Caesars while serving in the court of Hadrian (117-138 C.E.). In the Lives, Tiberius (36) and Claudius (25.4) expel Jews from Rome, the one in 19 C.E. and the other in 49 C.E., because they fear their proselytizing and the growth of these close...

Diocletians Abdication and the Dissolution of the Tetrarchy

On May 1, 305 C.E., in the midst of the persecution, Diocletian abdicated, leaving his palace in Nicomedia to retire to his palace in the modern Split, in Croatia. At the same time, his co-Augustus Maximian abdicated under pressure in Milan. Maximian's Caesar in the West, Constantius, now became Augustus, and Diocletian's Caesar, Galerius, succeeded him as Augustus in the East. Diocletian acknowledged Galerius' primacy by granting him the exclusive privilege of appointing the new Caesars the...

Agrippa I and the Persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem

Agrippa had become so devoted to Judaism, in fact, that he allowed an attack against the Christian church in Jerusalem now headed by the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee. In these early days of the church in Jerusalem there was a growing antagonism between the Greek-speaking Hellenized Jewish Christians and the Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians. We read in Acts 10 that Peter baptized the first gentile and that Hellenized Jewish Christians were proselytizing and preaching...

Concordia Apostolorum

These images of Peter and Paul, which suggest that they ruled in joint sovereignty, have been commonly termed concordia apostolorum and are meant to recall Rome's other sets of twin founders Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux, and Caesar and Augustus. Damasus applied the concept and imagery of concordia apostolorum to a broad artistic program as part of his propagandizing effort to promote Rome's apostolic primacy. Peter and Paul embracing each other in symmetric unity with their arms...

The Return to Polytheism

Old conservative religious values impelled Diocletian 284-305 C.E. to reinstitute a more traditional polytheism. He may have hoped that by moving away from Aurelian's Sol Invictus cult and reinvigorating the worship of the traditional gods of the state that he could reverse the political turmoil that had thus far characterized the third century. If properly performed, the worship and ritual sacrifices to the revered gods of the state would ensure the gods' favor in return. But preserving the...

The End of the Persecution of the Christians

Although under the various leaders in the west Severus, Constantine, Maximian, Maxentius, and Licinius the persecution lost steam, it continued with fury in the east under Galerius and Maximin Daia. General sacrifices were ordered in 306 C.E. and in 308 C.E. Food for sale in public markets was sprinkled with libations to the gods and the baths were closed to anyone who would not sacrifice before entering. Those who refused were blinded in one eye or crippled, when they were not killed. The...

The Roman Popes Damasus and Praetextatus

Damasus was worldly, wealthy, and resolute in his efforts to strengthen the power of his papacy and the dominance of the Roman church. The rival Ursinians were reported to have called him a matronarum auriscalpius, an ear-scratcher of matrons, for his ability to persuade wealthy women to donate their worldly goods to the church. An edict of Valentinian I that forbade the practice of visiting wealthy matrons, widows, and orphans for the purpose of soliciting donations for the church may have...

Constantine and Sol Invictus

In contrast to Diocletian, Constantine was a tolerant monotheist. He seems to have inherited from his father a membership in the sun-god cult of Helios and his first recorded religious act was to consult the oracle at the temple of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, at Autun in 308 C.E. On his coins he was depicted as Pontifex Maximus with representations of the sun god. He consulted haruspices and pagan priests, yet, after conquering Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 C.E., he...