Christianity in Late Antiquity

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Christianity in Late Antiquity
The period of Late Antiquity was roughly between 300 and 600 A.D. It was a period of change for the European world, change in politics, religion, economics, and much more. New ideas and ways were emerging while many of the old were starting to disappear. One of the most important and drastic changes during this time was the change in Christianity. Christianity was present before this period, but during Late Antiquity was when the Christian Church went from a persecuted religion to a desired and dominate faith. In this paper I will argue through the writings of Saint Augustine’s Confessions good Christians in Late Antiquity must be obedient and have a good sense of acceptance.

Christianity really started to spread and expand in the third century. When the Roman Empire was declining in the third century Christianity was able to come in and take a place that was felt to be empty by the people. The economy was deteriorating with the decline in agriculture and food, leaving Christian Church to provide care for the poor, making Christianity appealing to the normal person. During the time of catastrophe such as the plague the Church was there to take care of the people; they managed burials for the dead, and during famine they organized food-supplies for the poor. The Church was the only form of a unified organization during times of upheaval making it alluring to people who felt they had been abandoned by the Roman Empire; the Church also gave the people something to live for in this lifetime.[1]

Another appealing aspect of the Christian Church during Late Antiquity was the view of inwardness the Church held. An example would be the practice of giving alms. The alms collected from the Christian congregation were not given out liberally; it was taken in by the bishop and given to the Lord as a “sacrifice” from the community as a whole. The collected alms were then dispersed back to the community, to those who needed it, as a gift from God to his promised people. The Christian religion was a small community that was attractive to many people. The Christian population was spread all over the Roman Empire; where ever a Christian was to migrate to they could find a small community they were a part of. They were able to come in from the larger world and be apart of a small community and feel more unified to something greater then themselves.[2] People were attracted to the Christian Church because it gave them a sense of unity, and togetherness.[3] Christian martyrs showed people the heroism[4] and a sense of effervescence, a group feeling that overrides that of the individual giving a sensation of being a part of something that is larger than yourself.[5]

The Christian Church resembled other “oriental cults” in many ways but it differed in its narrow-mindedness toward the external world.[6] During this period of Late Antiquity Roman Emperors, those that came after Constantine, thought it was their duty to spread Christianity, not only across their empire but also across the entirety of the world.[7] Bishops were sent by Rome, rarely were they sent by the Pope, across the empire into territories that did not belong to the Roman Emperor to convert the “barbarians” in the region to Christianity. In some cases a ruler of a region that had been taken over by the Roman Empire would convert to Christianity, usually through threatened force. In these cases these rulers would request bishops to come help convert the rest of the people of the territory. When a bishop was sent by the state to reform a barbarian church they were also given authority to govern over those they resided over. In this the Roman Empire and church was not only controlling the religion of the outside world but also the politics.[8]

Saint Augustine contradicts the Roman Emperors when he states in his Confessions “When I was trying to reach a decision about serving the Lord my God, as I had long intended to do, it was I who willed...
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