Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew; Augustine, City of God, Book 19, chs. 7-18,
By the time the Church develops into a more established institution, the concept of
religion that it promulgates has morphed from its earlier incarnation as what amounted to
a mystery cult that operated within the context of the Roman empire. Our two readings
this week are drawn from two distinct periods of development within this period—the
second and early fifth centuries CE.
Justin Martyr (100-ca. 165 CE) writes in a climate where Christianity is generally
tolerated, but working hard to communicate itself in a context where the prestige ways of
explaining the world lie outside the boundaries of Christianity. In Dialogue with Trypho,
Justin is trying to do two things: (1) to prove that Christianity is the fulfillment of
Judaism, and (2) that this constitutes the universal law that now governs all people.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a bishop in Roman North Africa, writes at a time when
Christianity is now essentially the official religion of Rome (decrees by the Roman
emperor Theodosius I [r. 379-95] had made pagan religious practice illegal), though the
splitting of the Empire after Theodosius’s death leads to a time of uncertainty over its
future. The City of God is, in part, an attempt to identify the now Christian Roman
Empire directly with the kingdom of God on earth.
QUESTION: How do the two writings in question compare with regard to their ideas of
what religion is? How do they contrast? Can you offer any explanations for these
comparisons and elements that contrast?
selections from the Qu’ran, surahs 1, 2, 8, 17, 47, 67, 75, 90, 109, 114 Avicenna, The
Healing, Metaphysics Sixth treatise, ch. 1, and Al Ghazali, The Incoherence of the
Philosophers problem XVII The adoption of Christianity as the sole official religion of the Roman Empire under
Theodosius was followed fairly quickly by the break-up of the Empire into distinct and
independent eastern and western halves. One of the effects of this breakup was a similar
breakup of eastern and western Christianities, where the western Empire continued the
‘Catholic’ tradition, with the bishop of Rome (eventually known as the pope) in charge of
all other leaders within the Church. The eastern Empire—what became the Byzantine
Empire, lasting in various shapes and sizes until the mid-fifteenth century CE—
maintained a form of Christianity that was controlled by local bishops.
When the western empire collapsed during the fifth century CE, and in subsequent
centuries, western Europe became a tessellation of different peoples and kingdoms, while
the Byzantine Empire maintained its structural control in a form that was still
The political influence of the Catholic Church in ‘Christendom’ (the various nations that
made up western Europe’s eventually entirely Christian political powers) was always