The average military juror – whether an active church-goer or not – lives in a society heavily influenced by Christianity. A wise advocate will keep that in mind.
Christianity – from Persecution to Triumph
Historically, Christianity blossomed within the framework of a massive and unified Roman Empire.
Four matters are worth thoughtful consideration:
· Pagan Romans practiced a communal religion– to be Roman, one simply worshiped the gods of Rome
· Pagans considered the Emperor to be a deity
· Christians saw their religion as a path to personal salvation. In their view, God’s law trumped state law
· Inevitably, all this led to conflict. When troubles beset the Empire, many blamed Christians, who tempted fate by refusing to honor the traditional gods or pay homage to the Caesars
At first, Imperial Rome persecuted the followers of Jesus. Yet despite persecution, the new faith grew stronger.
Seeking stability, Emperor Decius tried to smother Christianity once and for all. Yet within a decade, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman world. This came about through the conversion of Constantine in 312 A.D. He transformed the oppressed sect into the Empire’s official religion. State funds now paid the salaries of bishops and priests. New churches were constructed, including the original St. Peter’s in Rome in 324.
Christianity triumphed, becoming the official religion of the Empire in 313 A.D. Soon thereafter, the persecuted became the persecutors. The church began to condemn heretics in the name of orthodoxy. Even emperors now feared for their souls.
Christianity displaced the pagan traditions of Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. Perhaps the triumph of the new faith was not so strange – -in one sense, the Roman psyche was somewhat prepared for Christianity. Many pagans would concede that ultimately there might be only one Creator-God – perhaps known as Jupiter, Zeus, or Providence.
The Collapse of Rome, the Rise of Christianity
By the third century A.D., Rome had lost its superpower status. Problems continued with the rise of new competing powers, unresolved economic issues, and continuing friction in the Middle East. At one point, the Emperor had to auction off the imperial jewels to pay for those never-ending wars.
Constantine had succeeded in uniting the Roman Empire under the new banner of Christ, defeating his opponents and uniting the East and West. In reality, he was not only Emperor but virtual head of the church. He began to persecute pagans; by the end of the fourth century, worshiping the old gods of Rome was a treasonable offense.
Constantine built a new capital at Constantinople. He planned a completely Christian city, named after himself. There were never pagan temples in Constantinople. It became one of the most magnificent, influential cities in history. At the same time, Constantine could not escape the problems of restless peoples ready to defy Imperial Rome. A revitalized Iran continued to resist, as did the Germans.
Lessons of History
Professor Fears makes four points:
· Until well into the 17th century religion – not money or state political power – was the chief motivator of history.
· The rise of Christianity proves the power of a world religion to hugely motivate society.
· Christians owe a debt to Rome. Its intellectual, economic, and cultural unity fueled the new faith, particularly once it had been endorsed by Constantine.
· Looking ahead, the same analysis can be applied to Islam. That world religion also arose within a Roman historical, cultural, and political framework.
Yes, the gigantic Roman Empire eventually fell; but it has played a seminal role in history, continuing even today to influence thought and action in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.