What is the history of Christianity in Rome?
The origin of Christianity in Rome is not known. But, the history of Christianity in Rome is fairly well documented. The Bible includes an epistle written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome. The book of Acts records that Paul, though Jewish, was a Roman citizen by birth. When the Jews accused Paul of bringing Gentiles into their synagogue, Paul made an appeal for Caesar to hear his case. Paul's fate while in Rome is not known. Some historians believe that he was beheaded under orders of the Roman emperor, Nero.
The influence of the Apostles Paul and Peter, throughout the early church, undoubtedly impacted the history of Christianity of Rome. The Apostle Peter is known to have established his headquarters in the city, following his thirty-year ministry in the East. The Apostle Peter was martyred in Rome.
In its infancy, the Church was scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Keeping the Christian community unified was a major concern of the church leaders. The structure and organization of the Roman Empire influenced the character of the early church. Because there was so many cities scattered throughout the empire, Christianity spread within the urban centers, which were populated by slaves and the poorer members of society. Christianity soon became known as "a religion of slaves."
During the first century, Roman authorities used the Christians who resided in their city as political scapegoats. Christians received the blame, and punishment, for everything from plagues and economic inflation to hostile invasions by barbarians. Under the Emperor Nero, the public execution of Christians became "sports" events in which the early believers were torched, fastened to crosses and torn to pieces by dogs.
In the face of these persecutions, the church in Rome birthed writers to defend the faith. These writers were known as "Apologists." The early apologists sought to explain Christian doctrine in philosophical terms to pagan intellectuals and Greek philosophers. Their writings provided a reasoned defense that served to quench the hysterical attacks of the unbelieving, but failed to convert the empire to Christianity.
After facing nearly three centuries of hostility by Roman emperors, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Rome ended with the reforms of the Emperor Constantine (r. 306-337). Constantine was responsible for legalizing Christianity throughout the Roman empire. Constantine became a patron and protector of the church.
In 380, the Flavius Theodosius (r. 379-395) made Christianity the official religion of Rome. At the close of the fourth century, the majority of Roman citizens had converted to Christianity. The separation between Church and state was all but extinguished. When the political power of the emperors collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire, in 410, the Church and its leaders endured as the dominant influence in Roman culture and politics.
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