The Christianization of the West
Initially, Christians were poor, persecuted, and competed against other religions and other versions of
Christianity. Eventually they became tolerated and then an official state religion. There was a great deal
of need to establish authority in the church and establish a universal doctrine.
1. Why did it spread in the West?
2. How did it spread?
3. How “Christian” were the Westerners? (will be compared to orthodox doctrine)
Constantine: Engine of Christianity’s Spread
− Persecution shaped the cult of the martyrs – some was government sponsored but never
wiped out the church
− By the 4 Century, 15% of the western population was Christian and 25% in the East, but
there was never a place that was wholly Christian.
− Christians were usually a minority
− Early 4 Century
− Was a joint ruler of roman empire for the first half of his reign and then the sole ruler
− Established the capital in Constantinople instead of in Rome
− During a civil war in 312, in a key battle, he claims to have seen a cross above the sun.
“By this you shall conquer.” Had a Christian symbol on his shield (Chi Rho). He wins
− He attributes his success to the Christian God at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, in Rome
• Developments following conversion
− Edict of Milan (313): established tolerance for ALL religions, including Christianity. It
built on an edict years earlier. It was the first step in making Christianity the official
− Poured money into building basilicas and other religious buildings − Put Christians into government positions
− Assumed religious authority as emperor: he considered himself a bishop
− Called the Council of Nicea and presided over it to establish and control doctrine.
− He favoured Christianity but was friendly to other religions
− He was only baptized the night before he died and probably didn’t have an excellent
grasp on the religion itself.
− He may have been politically savvy, slowly detaching from the tradition of pagan
superstition and easing into it.
− A single religion could be useful in unifying a very diverse empire
− There are however, officials who oppose this (and those who support Arianism).
• Most emperors decide to continue to follow Christianity (or Nicene Christianity)
− Specifically the doctrine established at council of nicea.
• They establish it further by deestablishing paganism
− They outlaw pagan practices and superstitions
− Death penalty to anyone who performs sacrifices
• Theodosius I outlawed paganism and unNicene versions of Christianity
− On his death in 395, Nicene Christianity becomes the only legitimate religion of the
• Becomes the official state religion of Rome
− NonChristians are persecuted
− Churches are given privileges: tax exemptions, clergy have power in civil disputes
− Christianity can now spread more effectively because it is in a system and competition
has been knocked down. − Most of Roman empire becomes nominally Christian
Who has the real power?
• The Church is now closely related to government
• Bishops make it clear that they want to maintain power over the church – not the state
− Ambrose of Milan threatens to excommunicate Theodosius for his massacre of the
− Fight back against emperors who support Arianism
− The interrelationship between church and state becomes a source of tension
• Success of the spread of orthodox Christianity also due to religious leaders who fought against
• Social and political expediency (nominally)
• Miracles (especially exorcism and dealing with spirits)
• Preaching and coercion
• The message
− Hope to the oppressed
− Divine forgiveness
− Eternal life
− Beliefs that embraced everyone
• Adaptable to Roman empire – did not seem foreign
− Adopted Latin
− Embraced Roman artistic license − Incorporated Roman law
− This cont