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Outline the Roman Empire's attitude to Christianity until the end of the first century.

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Introduction

Q: Outline the Roman Empire's attitude to Christianity until the end of the first century. The Christian church from its outset has faced many challenges as a result of external influences; one of the most important of these influences was the persecution of the Christian people by the Roman Empire. From the year 64AD onwards the church was persecuted by the Roman authorities in an intermittent and sporadic manner, not on account of their beliefs, but was a result of chance and circumstance. Christianity was born out of Judaism and appeared as an entity after the death of Christ. Of course Jews of the time felt threatened by the emergence of Christianity as a faith, and so the earliest persecutions of Christians occurred at the hands of Jewish Sadducees, who branded Christians 'blasphemous'. Indeed it is clear that the Jews played a part in persecution of Christians as late on as AD156 in the persecution of Polycarp. The persecution of Christians in the first century by Jews however were minimal in comparison to the much more widespread and systematic persecutions by the Roman authorities from the year AD64 onwards. ...read more.

Middle

Yet other critics have also suggested that the fire may well have been started by Christian extremists, anxious to fulfil apocalyptic prophecies. The first persecuted Christians were charged with arson and as Tacitus tells us, immense in number, this charge apparently changed to a charge of 'hatred for the human race'. This in itself indicates the immense suspicion of the Roman population towards Christianity and the ability of Roman authorities to exploit this. Wand indicates to us the state of Roman perceptions of Christianity after Nero's reign: 'By the end of the reign of Nero the state had settled down to an attitude of suspicion towards the church.' The persecutions themselves were reported to be gruesome and perverse in nature by Tacitus among others. They were deliberately devised to create amusement for the public as well as humiliate the incumbent. Accounts included victims being covered with the hides of dogs and beasts and set upon by dogs, being crucified and being used as streetlights to 'illuminate the darkness'. Even Tacitus the most ardent of anti Christian writers, could not help but feel pity for them. ...read more.

Conclusion

However it still remains in dispute whether Domitian persecuted Christians at all. The early church writer Dio Cassius, wrote from Bythinia, a strong Christian province and yet he never mentions any of Domitian's victims as Christians. Furthermore, Pliny, a lawyer working in Rome at the time of Domitian's reign tells Trajan many years later that he had never been involved in a Christian trial. This indicates at least that Domitian's persecution was not exactly widespread or for reaching, if it existed at all. There is little doubt of the immense impact the early persecutions had on the growth of the Christian church. While some argue that it has helped the church in its growth, others claim that it has actually hindered the churches growth. Tertullian observes 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church'. I believe that because of the limited nature of early persecutions they did not seriously slow down the expansion of Christianity. What is certain though is that the persecutions at the hands of Nero and Domitian set a precedent for future Christian persecution. Niall Dumigan R.E. Essay ...read more.

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