The Rise of the Christians: A Worthy Threat To Roman Culture

From a Roman perspective, the rise of Christianity in Rome could easily be seen as a threat to the polytheistic culture that had already been set in stone. People worshiping a single deity figure that was not any of the numerous gods nor the emperor could be taken as a criminal act, with the seemingly abnormal practices that they partake in (again, abnormal from a Roman perspective). Thus, I believe that the Romans did have a right to be fearful of this new religion that quickly spread throughout the region.

For many years, Rome was a culture that worshiped many gods that had control over various aspects of life. As time continued on, emperors began claiming themselves to be living divinities that should also be worshiped among gods. However, with the advent of Christianity, these aspects appeared to be threatened, due to people worshiping a deity that was neither of the two aforementioned figures. From the perspective of a Roman bureaucrat, such as Pontus’ governor Pliny, this appeared to be a threat to the power of the emperor, like Emperor Trajan. When Pliny caught wind of the growth of Christianity, he investigated it, and interrogated those who partook in it. He threatened those who claimed to be Christians with execution; he managed to get some people to denounce their faith, and take up the gods and Emperor Trajan as their deities. After they did this, he let them be discharged (Pliny 10.96). Pliny clearly took Christianity to be a threat to the power of Emperor Trajan; claiming another figure is the most powerful and righteous being to exist that is not the emperor would infer that they do not respect the emperor as the absolute authority figure. Even Emperor Trajan himself, in response to Pliny’s actions, agreed that those who were guilty of being Christians should be punished (Pliny 10.97).

Furthermore, it did not matter what Christianity entailed, in terms of what it taught. In the eyes of the hierarchy, the fact that it proclaimed Jesus Christ as the Messiah instead of the emperor was a major issue; even if it taught many morally positive things, such as to never lie, never steal, never commit adultery, and other things, it all looked suspicious and wrong. For example, Pliny discovered that the Christians would meet after their worship to “… partake of food – but ordinary and innocent food” (Pliny 10.96). The way that he has to specify that the food is “ordinary and innocent” invokes a sense of distrust and hesitation towards the practice. He may have had a different picture painted in his mind about this consumption of food, for Communion – which involves people gathering together and eating – symbolizes people eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. If a Roman, like Pliny, were to have caught wind of this, they would have believed that the Christians were a cannibalistic cult.

Chrisitianity was a very misunderstood religion when it came to its development in Rome during the late 1st to early 2nd centuries AD. The Romans could not have let such a following grow due to its challenging of already set values and norms of Roman culture. Its growth faced very much resistance from Rome, and, in my opinion, it was rightfully so. The Romans were very attached to and proud of their gods and emperors (not to mention they believed that they were the all-powerful beings of existence); having a new religion that basically denounced all of that and become popular among the common people should have been a major cause for alarm.

-Isaac Thompson

Word Count: 598

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