The Rise of Christianity
1. Christianity first arose historically as a reform movement within Judaism. The
apostle Paul forced it open to non-Jews and gave it the Greek flavor that allowed it
to flourish in the eastern Mediterranean. The significant question is how it became
the official religion of the Roman empire and an agency of the Roman imperial
2. Roman religion did not provide a moral base or message of hope.
The Romans had an elaborate religious system with many groups and types of
the gods and goddesses of mythology.
The old gods -- Chronos, Uranus, and others overthrown by the Olympian
- defeated allies of the old gods -- friends of humanity --
Prometheus, the fire-bringer was a titan.
The demi-gods -- the "almost gods" -- like Ganymede, chosen as servants
by the Olympians
The heroes -- humans who achieved divine status -- Hercules was the most
famous example. Note that the gap between god and human was not so
great as to be uncrossable.
Local deities -- each region, city, town, and village had its own tutelary
gods, and their were gods who protected field boundaries, storehouses, and
every other imaginable thing of value.
Nature spirits -- each tree, stream, hill, and other natural feature had its in-
in springs and streams,
hills and mountains.
-- the early Romans were ancestor worshippers, and each
family and family home had its "household gods."
-- in addition, each individual had his or her own "genius," a tutelary
deity transformed by the early Christians into the "guardian angel."
Magic and superstition -- people needed to believe that they had protecting
spirits, because they were very superstitious and that they were always in
danger of "bad luck" on Fridays, the 13th of the month, after having broken
a mirror, when their stars were not in a good alignment, and so forth. They
also believed in witches, vampires, the evil eye, and other malevolent
There were alternate systems of belief for those dissatisfied with the chaotic
traditional religious forms:
Greek philosophical systems (Skepticism, Epicurianism, Stoicism) that offered
moral bases but no hope.
Nevertheless, some of these systems, particularly Stoicism with its belief in