At who maintained belief in the old Pagan

At its height, the Roman Empire comprehended a vast majority of the Western world. The frontiers of this expansive empire were guarded with utmost valor by a renowned defensive force. Within its boundaries, Romans lived in wealth and luxury, basking in their innovative rise to power. Entertainment from the Colosseum and associations for the working class provided for a most agreeable lifestyle. Unified under the developed and influential legal system, the provinces flourished. However, eventually, the empire’s majestic rise to supremacy was met with an equally devastating collapse. The fall of Rome cannot be ascribed to a sole explanation for it was too established and influential of an empire. However, there was one crucial factor that played a distinctive role in the collapse – Christianity. The rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire eroded traditional Roman values, provoking debilitating hostility between the church and the Roman administration while fostering conflict between the new Christians and those who maintained belief in the old Pagan philosophies. These crippling struggles undermined the political and economic stability and social equilibrium vital to longevity, and thus contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.During the Period of Crisis, which spanned from 192 to 284, the empire’s political and administrative organizations grew increasingly rigid and unimaginative. Characterized by political turmoil and military conflict, this period left Rome in a state of utter disarray. The Roman Senate no longer held the authority or the interest to intervene is state affairs which allowed for emperors to assume increasing dictatorial powers. This, in turn, alienated the inhabitants of Rome from their formerly beloved governing system. The schism was exacerbated when the government began to bind citizens to their occupation and pursue undo fiscal policies which requisitioned for food. Settlers were also ruthlessly subjugated to the authority of their landlords who collected services and taxes (Ermatinger 23-24). In this oppressive environment, the administration ostracized those who did not conform to their rules or expectations of upstanding Romans. However, the Christian church challenged these classical values of exclusivity and rigidity and addressed the valid grievances of the oppressed and of the minorities. As a mobile and accepting organization, the church embraced those the State refused to absorb.Christianity offers enticing messages of faith, charity, and equality before God to all economic classes and social groups. It is a religion for women, slaves, and outcasts. Women were given status in the early church that was unimaginable in Roman society. Slaves and the poor devoured stories of hope for eternal salvation, happiness, and equality to their masters. Christianity promised salvation with the fulfillment of three simple requirements: “Believe in only one God; follow the moral tenets of the Ten Commandments; and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior” (Ermatinger 30). This contemporary ideology appealed to a vast majority of Roman citizens. As the State grew oppressive and ruthless, the church became a place of refuge. Citizens began to reciprocate the church’s welcome and embrace this new institution which so greatly influenced the Roman way of life. Christian themes and fables transformed both the external characteristics and internal meaning of the daily existence of a growing population. These influential teachings earned the church great amounts of trust and loyalty. With a growing support system, the church was able to amass a stable foundation for its future expansion. It was inevitable that the State was to become displeased with the growth of this new radical religion which gave negative a connotation to their administrative system and undermined their traditional system of belief.Soon displeasure transformed into outright anger. Christians refused to worship or sacrifice to the emperor. According to the religion, the Roman Emperor was simply another human (Gibbon 493). Therefore, Christians chose to reserve their worship exclusively for God and Christ. This overt denial of proper worship was cause for suspicion, anger, and eventual punishment. The Christian displacement of the emperor as a divine figure threatened his credibility. The Christians had exposed the emperor, and thus the entire Roman administrative system. If the emperor was not entirely trustworthy or accurate, the empire could not progress. Without significant progression, Rome risked a further decrease in trade, stagnation of the economy, and increased risk of crippling invasions. The Romans recognized that their empire could not handle further deterioration. Therefore, they attached themselves to Christianity and its message of salvation and unity. However, the State did not sympathize with the seemingly radical religion as the public did. Christianity undermined their authority and credibility and therefore, it compromised the efficiency of the administrative system which was vital to the salvation of their weakening empire. The State, along with pagans, began to understand just how severely Christianity threatened the administration and the Roman way of life.Christian refusal to sacrifice extended far beyond the emperor. One of the social pillars of early Rome had been its polytheistic religion. However, Christianity was a monotheistic religion that essentially “discounted the entire framework of the Roman state religion as false” (Baum and Morgan 40). This deeply offended Pagan Romans and they feared such radical beliefs. Christians violated the sacred pax deorum: the peace and agreement with the gods which protected the emperor in exchange for sacrifice and worship. Since Christians refused sacrifice and worship, they were accused of being “disloyal to Roma and that their loyalties to each other and to their god were more important to them than matter of state” (Baum and Morgan 64). It was believed that violating the pax deorum endangered not only Christians, but all those around them. They were a threat to the Roman religious system and social stability. A crime of such severe moral turpitude could not, and would not, be permitted. Accusations intensified as the attendance of Christian church services became a part of everyday life. However, these services were exclusive to worshipers which caused suspicions among Roman authorities, who feared subversion. For example, Rome outlawed a volunteer fire department due to its private meetings, where officials believed discussion to revolt and dissent about the government unfolded (Ermatinger 30). Christianity was viewed with similar skepticism and became a target of hatred. These accusations of subversion and moral turpitude inaugurated the severest and bloodiest repressive measures against Christianity. Measures that would greatly weaken the empire and its ability to maintain power and most importantly unity.In 284, Diocletian assumed the role of Roman Emperor. As a man who rose to power as a “career soldier who eventually became domesticorum, or commander of the imperial guard,” Diocletian was experienced in presiding over a large group of people and instating reforms and administrative practices. (Diocletian 1). His reign can be characterized by military development, economic reform, and the establishment of the tetrarchy, a joint leadership system. During his first 20 years as emperor, Diocletian focused on reinforcing frontier defense and strengthening civil administration in an attempt to bring security and peace to the empire. Once the borders were secured, his focus shifted.  It would soon be evident that Diocletian’s most defining campaign would be his ruthless persecution of Christians. Diocletian sought to strengthen the internal unity of the Empire by “instilling religious uniformity in the people through the promotion of Rome’s ancient pagan religion” (Constantine Legalizes 2). Because his wife Prisca and daughter Valeria took an interest in the religion, Diocletian initially tolerated Christianity, along with the mystery religions that were flourishing at the time. Still, he believed Christianity threatened his goal (Constantine 2). Diocletian was reluctant to resort to violence, realizing that unnecessary bloodshed would upset the peace he fought to preserve. However, pressured by his fellow administrators, Diocletian and one of his tetrarchs, Galerius, instituted one of the most extreme, official purges and persecution of Christians. Therefore, Diocletian overtly contributed to the decline of his empire. Even though he knew that a mass persecution would disrupt the equilibrium of the empire and cause further fraction, he proceeded with a policy of violence, and thus he and the empire paid the price.On February 23, 303, the imperial guards demolished the church in Nicomedia, marking the start of almost ten years of violence (Christianity 16). Diocletian’s first edict declared Christians outlaws which stripped them of their citizenship. Suddenly, Christians no longer lived under the protection of their Roman status. They could not hold government positions, defend themselves in court, nor ensure their freedom. The edict also called for the destruction of churches and the burning of all sacred books. Clergy who did not cooperate with the demands were imprisoned. In addition to being removed from public service, Christians were also purged from the military after a Christian recruit named Maximilian “refused to accept a tag signifying his dedication to the military because it contained the image of the emperor as god” (Ryan 1-2). Maximilian’s rebellion provoked a debilitating loss of unity in the military which would weaken the empire’s defensive measures. The second edict, issued in the summer of 303, required the arrest of all clergymen. This led to the overcrowding of prisons which encouraged the third edict. This edict, styled as an amnesty, allowed for the release of the clergy if they sacrificed — those who refused were tortured and executed. These edicts highlight the fraction that existed within Roman society at the time and how far the oppressive side would go to achieve their goal. The tension and fear of persecution were palpable in every corner of Rome. These rules caused rifts between families and neighbors. As families tore apart, the empire faced the same fate. Over time, the persecution reached beyond the clergy to the entire body of Christianity. Christian villages were burned and many ordinary worshippers were sentenced to death or sent to the mines to have an eye plucked out or a foot hacked off (Ryan 2). The prisons, destined for the vilest criminals, “were soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers, and exorcists” (Gibbon 494). Driven by fear and resentment, fostered by an anti-Christian propaganda pamphlet from the imperial circle, Diocletian further conducted a “purge of the imperial household, including his wife Prisca, his daughter Valeria, and several high officials” (Ryan 2). From these ruthless murders, it is evident that Diocletian’s efforts at unity only proved to further divide the empire and his own family. These divisions ruined the empire. By the end of the third century, the Christian church was intertwined with all levels of society. Christians had formed “a large and ubiquitous group, well-represented in the army, the imperial household, and the civil administration” (Ryan 1). Worshippers organized themselves within well-organized communities and influential churches throughout the greatest cities of the empire. Christians also had allies in all parts of Roman society that fought for Christian rights. Diocletian’s official persecution of the illicit, prevalent group further divided the empire and soon became an impediment to Roman life. Commerce and trade faltered as Christian merchants and farmers faced violence. The administration was severely weakened and loyalty to the army waned. These detrimental changes crippled the entire empire.While the empire grew weaker and further divided, Christians found unity and strength in their suffering. Rather than eliminate Christianity, the Great Persecution brought about a new group of Christians “who were willing to die for their beliefs” (Constantine Legalizes 2). The torture and public spectacles, meant to destroy the religion, fostered the development of martyrs and heightened sympathy for this oppressed people. Non-Christians empathized with those who worshipped the religion. As they connected with worshippers, their curiosity was piqued. Eventually, some of these Christian sympathizers converted themselves. Thus, the persecution not only failed to bring the demise of the religion but also encouraged its growth. And with its growth came new accomplishments for Christianity at the expense of the State.In 306, Constantine became the new Roman emperor, ushering in a new age for Christianity. While Constantine was a man of war and of the State, he was also a man of peace and unity. Constantine desired the unity of the church just as much as he desired the unity of the empire. In fact, he believed that “one seemed to require the other and was therefore greatly disturbed by the doctrinal divisions” (Constantine and Christianity 5). Constantine understood that the old aristocracy had failed and recognized the uselessness of persecution. Thus, he relied on the church and worked to foster a relationship that would end the brutal trend of his predecessors. In 311, Constantine and Licinius, the Eastern emperor, promulgated the Edict of Toleration which terminated Diocletian’s Great Persecution. Two years later, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity as a religion in Rome. All restrictions on worship were removed and all confiscated property and literature taken during the Great Persecution was returned. According to Licinius, all Romans deserved religious freedom “in order that the favor of every divinity in heaven might be ensured for the emperor and his realm” (Ziegler 1). The final step in solidifying Roman Christianity was the Nicene Creed, the first uniform Christian doctrine including basic principles of the faith such as “the church was separate from but of the same substance as God” (Constantine Legalizes 3). This creed set a precedent for local Bishops to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy. This standardization unified the world of Christianity and strengthened its institutions. Now, the Christian religion had a solidified force behind which they could stand. Their unification by this standard doctrine allowed for the religion to improve their administrative practices which fostered the spread of Christianity. As the religion grew, it proved to be the force which would lead the Romans into a new age.With the emperor’s credibility waning and the divide between church and state greater than ever, Romans looked to Bishops for guidance. Bishops were able to fill the void of leadership the emperors had proven incapable of fulfilling. The church became the real authority in Rome and all affairs, whether political, economic, or religious orbited this powerful institution. Local administration fell into the hands of the Bishop which added significant ecclesiastical power. They were treated with distinction and respect, “not only by the people, but by the magistrates themselves” (Gibbon 485). Therefore, Bishops were gaining the loyalties of Roman administrators in addition to the people. Romans also needed protection and guidance. They wanted leaders who could bring positive change. Bishops fulfilled this expectation. Suddenly, Roman emperors were cast aside in favor of this new omnipotent figure. Constantine remained a small exception to the rising opposition to this transfer of power for he supported it. In addition to sponsoring the new construction of churches, he exhibited favoritism towards Christians. Christians were promoted to high government offices and special rights were granted to Christian clergy. He established “allowances of grain to support the clergy and the poor and legalized bequests to churches” (Constantine Legalizes 3). Christian bishops also had the right to settle disputes without the civil courts intervening. All of these rights fostered the growth of the churches and Bishops. The church became the center of Roman prestige, power, and learning. As the Christian institutions grew, they gained significant influence over the empire and its inhabitants. Christianity survived the persecution and oppression of Rome, illustrating its dominance over the weakening emperors and crumbling empire. In the midst of the chaos and violence, “Christianity marched on toward the throne. It could not be stamped out or burned out” (Constantine and Christianity 4). It’s survival marked a transition of power, one that was fatally detrimental to the longevity of the great empire. The rise of Christianity undermined the stability of the empire’s administration and altered the social equilibrium of Roman society. The church made Romans proud, not of their old political institutions, but of their new churches and monasteries. Funds, which probably would have gone to the construction of aqueducts or to support the defense system, was funneled into religious projects. Furthermore, money wasn’t the only resource that left the State for the church. The rise of Christianity enticed the best men in the Empire to the church, leaving the administration weak and incapable of managing the affairs of the expansive empire. It would soon be discovered that there was more power to be absorbed in the Church than in the State. The expanding hierarchical organization of the Church offered opportunities for initiative, leadership, and ambition. The construction of churches by emperors such as Constantine and the growing importance of Bishops and other religious figure enticed all men (Constantine 71-74). Therefore, the church attracted the brightest minds; the minds that would have made excellent generals, governors, and advisors. Romans escaped the State and fled to the Church. The social equilibrium of the empire was transformed—to the advantage of the church but to the disadvantage of the empire’s ancient institutions. This decreasing supply of effective administrators served to further accelerate the decline of the empire. The best minds no longer gave their best to the State. Rather it was the church that profited.The evident schism between church and state weakened the empire and transformed the formerly invincible empire into the prime target for invasion and corruption. A trend of incompetent leaders and invasions from the Germanic peoples destroyed the empire. As the Christian church stood tall, the empire that nurtured its growth dissolved.The Roman Empire did not fall due to the rise of Christianity alone. However, the growing influence of the church highlighted the need for change in the Roman administration. As violence and inefficiency became commonplace, Christians and their supporters felt compelled to embrace the transfer of power from the emperors to the church. The ultimate triumph of Christianity over the State was clear. While the passing of Rome meant the loss of its pure culture and political state, the ideals of the great empire will never be extinguished. Lessons of unity, acceptance, and flexibility emanate from this tragedy. This knowledge gained from history is vital in shaping our individual and societal identities, allowing for intelligent and informed decisions for the future. Rome’s struggle for survival is fundamentally instilled in every human society to exist. It’s what societies learn from this tragic ending that determines if it will meet the same fate as Rome or if it will find unity and acceptance and continue on a path to greatness.