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The Growth of Christianity

The Growth of Christianity

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Published by Johnsavior

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Published by: Johnsavior on Aug 19, 2012
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 There are three main related factors that contributed to the growth and expansion of Christianity,and ultimately its success. These were a combination of political, social and economic factors. Therise of early Christianity has been the topic of much debate and historical analyses. I will beattempting to simply outline and comment on some of the main social factors that lead to the riseof Christianity. Christianity seems to have come at the right time, in an age where life was uncertain and manycircumstances could not be controlled such as the barbarians invading; fires burning down wholecities and plagues killing off quite a lot of the population, whether you were rich or poor it made nodifference, life in the Greco-Roman world was very fragile and short. Life expectancy was notgreat and the average person lived until around the age of 30 or even considerably less. Lifeexpectancy was very low and what may have appealed to pagans was that the Christian religionand doctrines offered hope and certainty in the afterlife and even some personal divine protectionin this world. These new doctrines would have seemed attractive to pagans, when there wasgrowing discontent with pagan practices and a general spiritual unrest. Like Christianity theRoman Religion was for the ordinary man but interest was waning and the mystery religions werefar too complicated for the common Roman, thus the people's choice was likely to be Christianity. Christianity also offered hope to a usually pessimistic society that believed that their destinieswere fixed, either to be in the Gods' favour or to be out of it, with no hope of redemption.Christianity offered an alternative with the much desired possibility of salvation. Christianity was primarily an urban movement, in these urban centre's Christianity grew at asteady pace, the urban areas of cities such as Antioch, were very condensed with people it isestimated that there were 117 people per acre. In comparison to modern cities of today this israther overcrowded. The overcrowding was so extreme, entire families were living together insingle room apartments; this left little personal space and allowed everyone to know each other'sbusiness. Given that urban centre's were dramatically overcrowded and that early Roman Grecocities had minimal sanitation or sewerage to the average apartments people would often just throwtheir bodily waste out the window of their apartments onto the streets. Starks describe the situationin these urbanized areas as: Given limited water and means of sanitation and the incredible density of humans and animals,most people in the Greco-Roman world would have lived in filth beyond our imagining. Apartment buildings were often Smokey, dark, damp and always dirty. The air was filled with thesmell of sweat, urine and faces. Onto of these conditions the rodents and bugs were everywherein these apartments. The city streets were not much better they had open sewers, animal manureand crowds in some places it was so bad there were dead human corpses abandoned in thestreets. When cities were in a constant state of filth, insects and crowding, disease was rife inthese conditions, especially when these Roman societies had no antibiotics or knowledge ofgerms. Often plagues would strike and physical illness was most likely a part of daily life. Anexample of this was the analysis of human faeces that were found in a cesspit in Jerusalemshowed large amounts of tapeworm and whipworm eggs, which shows poor sanitary conditionswhere humans often came into contact with human faeces. 
 
Christianity revitalized the way of life in Greco-Roman society offering social change, which dealtwith some of the consequences of urban problems. Charity and hope was offered to homeless andthe poor, often the cities were full of newcomers and strangers and Christianity offered anextended family and a base for attachments as well as effective nursing services in times ofdisaster, that were often brought on by plagues, earthquakes and fires. Christianity's attitude towards society and its social impact greatly resulted in the expansion andsuccess of the church. The church was particularly well-known for its acts of charity, it is likely thatthe charity itself was one of the most influencing factors to the growth of Christianity. The church offered this charity to everyone, including pagans and Jews. By the third century theChurch was looking after one thousand five hundred widows in need. The church itself was well offand according to Eusebius, by the year 251 the church in Rome supported the bishop, 46presbyters, 7 deacons, 7 sub deacons, 42 acolytes and 52 exorcists, reader and doorkeepers, butalso more than 1500 widows and needy persons. The churches obvious financial stability leads itto be popular and it successfully expanded because it helped those in need, it offered help andoften people were converted to Christianity as a result of the kindness and attention they received.Even though the Roman Empire did have some charitable services such as the bread dole,Christian charity far outweighed the state's charity. Throughout the first century to the fourth century there was government enforced persecution ofearly Christianity, though not constantly. Persecution and martyrdom became a sign of thestrength of Christianity, which often shows if the movement was attracting attention from theRoman state. Such emperors that instigated severe persecution were Decius and Diocletian.There were sufficient amounts of Christians in North Africa for martyrdoms to be noticed, one ofthese martyrdoms were Perpetua and her slave girl, Felicity who were thrown to the lions after atrial. Tertullian wrote that "the blood of Christians is seed" which is often misquoted as "the blood of themartyrs is the seed of the church." Tertullian may have been saying this because he believed thatmartyrdoms created new converts or may have strengthened the church. The Roman Empire wanted to exterminate this new religion as quickly as possible and it seems ittried in the beginning to exterminate every Christian they could find but later under Decius theystarted new methods to try and exterminate Christianity one way was by removing the clergy andthe bishops and also taking away lands and churches from the Christians, irrespective of rankwhile forcing them to sacrifice to the states pagan gods or be punished severely with torture, exile,slavery and sometimes execution, depending on numerous reasons and the time of persecution. This would have had to give this new religion much publicity, especially if it was in the circusarenas being killed by wild beats would have been creating attention, it seems many would haveseen these peculiar people willing to suffer excruciating torture and even die for their God andreligion, this must have left the pagan with something further to think about and consider if theywere willing to die for their pagan gods. The Christians may even have won converts in some areas, because of their courage during thepersecutions, the strength of their faith and the support they showed one another, Tertullian saidthat pagans had exclaimed in the arenas during martyrdoms "See how these Christians love one
 
another" this indicated the social nature of the Christian faith. The persecutions also createdapologists these were people who would be writing trying to convince the authorities they haddone nothing wrong, whether or not the Emperors read these long letters of apology no oneknows, it seems rather unlikely however one could suggest State officials having read these lettersof apology. Another aspect of Christian growth was that Christianity and its friendships formed from within theChurch lead to its successful growth because those who had become a Christian felt that theywere to fulfil the great commission as taught by Jesus and the apostles and they were to pass themessage onto their friends and family, this quite often led to a close knit community and this wasappealing in an era when it was expected of you to look after yourself. In this Greco-Roman erareligious and social life was very much interlinked. It was taught in the church that if Christiantravellers came from outside of the city or were strangers to a new city, Christians were to providetheir needs and provide shelter to these Christians, this was not only taught in the teachings ofJesus but also by the apostle Paul. So it was an incentive to be a Christian as there was alwayshelp and social networks that could support you in a large empire. It was like an extended familywhere ever you went in the Roman Empire. Eusebius writes that the Christian missionaries wereso inspired by the Holy Spirit that they saw mass conversions occur, this may also be acontributing factor. Christianity also gained some favour in society because of its improvement in the treatment ofwomen, and it elevation of their social status. Christianity taught that marital unfaithfulness in onepartner as serious as in the other and that in according to the New Testament, husbands shouldtreat their wives with such consideration and love as Christ manifested for his Church, thoughwomen were still considered homemakers and wives. It is believed that Christianity made its wayinto the aristocracy in Rome at the time through the influence of their wives. The Greco-Roman world was quite different woman had far less rights than men. It was a verymale orientated society where male babies were wanted and female babies rejected this resultedin infant side of female babies. Some excavations have found hundreds of babies bones in anunderground sewer thought to be female babies. It was not uncommon that girls were offered inmarriage before they had reached puberty to much older men and the cultural custom was that thewomen were the property of the man, either the father or the husband. Women played a big role inthe early Christian church this may have been because they received more rights in the Christiancommunity when compared to women in the Greco-Roman world. We see in some early writingsin regards to the persecution of Christians that many more females clothing were stored or foundthan men's, more than double, this may suggest there were far more females than males in theearly church. If this is true that there were far more females than males in the early church then that allows formany secondary conversions. Secondary conversions are ones that are a result of someone elsebeing converted because of the first conversion, for instance a woman is converted but thenshortly after her husband is converted which most likely would not have occurred if the womanwas not originally converted. Christian doctrines were against abortion and infanticide. This mayhave had some effect on the birth-rates of Christian woman compared to their pagan counterparts. The spread of Christianity also involved Christian writings by the end of the first century thewritings of Paul and the apostles of Jesus had been spread sporadically through the Roman

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