Chapter 15 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon (1776–1789)

Titties for Jesus!!

The progress of Christian religion and the sentiments, manners, numbers and conditions of the primitive Christians

Christianity is an essential part of Roman history because of its infiltration into Roman politics and power.

Difficulties in inquiry

  • Scanty and suspicious documents of church history make study of facts difficult.
  • Must reveal imperfections of church history and figures which may make the church look bad.
  • Theologians may look at their religion as divine revelations in purity but historians look at it as a mixture of error and corruption among weak degenerates.

How did Christianity really win out?

  1. Christianity came from Judaism but didn’t focus on ethnic purity from Moses’s line and had a broader social spirit.
  2. Doctrine of future life gave it an advantage over other religions.
  3. Miraculous powers ascribed to the Church.
  4. Pure and austere morals of Christians.
  5. Union and discipline of Christian world grew an independent and increasing state within the Roman Empire.

Christianity came from Judaism but abandoned racism and became more social

  • Jews refused join other religions or associate with them. They were usually at the bottom of empires but eventually rose during the time of Alexander.
  • They wouldn’t cave to violence or entreatment and Jews maintained a contempt for all non-Jews.
  • To them, God meted out punishment or rewards according to people’s treatment of his rules.
  • It was suited for defense but not for conquest.
  • Jews were constantly at war with their neighbors looking to annihilate any idol-worshippers. They were forbidden to marry, trade or associate with Gentiles. They didn’t want to share God with others. The religion was suited for just one country, Israel.
  • Even in complete defeat, they maintained an air of superiority about them. Their diets, clothes, weird customs kept them apart from others and turned off perspective converts.
  • This was Christianity’s foundation – exclusive God, zeal for truth and knowledge of God. The prophesies of a Messiah, a Conqueror/King and his expiatory sacrifice made it whole.
  • Divine favor brought in converts of all backgrounds since it was open to Gentiles. It was a duty to convert others and remove oneself from non-believing family and friends.
  • Early Jewish Christians wanted it to remain exclusive to Jews since Jesus was a practicing Jews and he never said anything about abolishing ceremonial laws.
  • Others claimed old laws didn’t apply because new ones were written by Jesus.
  • The first 15 Bishops of Jerusalem were Jews and held Jewish laws sacred. Eventually as other churches grew, focus shifted away from Jerusalem.
  • Strict Jewish Christians were annoyed by the entrance of pagan ceremonies and the phasing out of Jewish ceremonies. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem but other ones were unaffected.
  • Jews left Jerusalem for Pella, about 60 miles away waiting to be able to come back to the Holy Land.
  • Under reign of Hadrian, Jews became fanatical and rebellious – Romans put a garrison on Mount Zion.
  • Christians elected an Italian, Marcus, to help circumvent the ban on Jews, establish the Catholic Church and acceptance in Jerusalem. Those who refused the changes were called heretics and were forced to leave. Eventually, Mosaic law was phased out of the conditions for salvation which meant a permanent split from Judaism.
  • All the murders, executions and massacres by Jews of heretics and non-believers were their attempt to implement God’s law.
  • There was some in-fighting within the young Church about which one was the Sabbath day, Adam’s rib, where the Garden of Eden was, the Tree of Knowledge, Forbidden Fruit, the Serpent, etc.
  • Gnostics believed that the Old Testament God was different to the one of the Gospels. The Jewish God was nasty, capricious and error-prone. The was a great deal of confusion over what was metaphor and what was literal.
  • Most converts had to surrender their possessions, money and personal opinion. Gnostics were the nicest, smartest and wealthiest Christians. They were originally from Egypt or Syria. They believed that there are various and infinite paths of error. They were responsible for giving the Church its penchant for philosophy.
  • While the Gentiles rejected Mosaic law, they kept all the same zeal and abhorrence of idolatry which were really just their pet peeves that they called sins.
  • Pagans seen as degenerate and evil-worshippers determined to pervert the faithful, even if the stories were similar. Their temples, feasts, oracles were a rebellion versus God. They wove deities and rites into all aspects of public life.
  • Christians had to remove themselves in order to keep pure. They left all pagan family and friends.

Doctrine of Future Life Give it an Advantage

  • Cicero and others used Metaphysics in stating that the mind/soul was other-worldly and immortal and had a past eternity and a part of the universe. This attitude was ideal for idle, extravagant philosophy without concern of anything other than here and now.
  • Defects of Greek and Roman Mythology:
    • No evidence for mythology
    • People only know of heaven and hell through art and poetry
    • Focus on what Gods’ whims wanted and how it affected life on earth
  • Jews didn’t talk about the soul or immortality. Only after living in Babylon did some Jews start talking about them.
  • Sadducees – very literal interpretation of the law and rejected immortality because it wasn’t in any holy text.
  • Pharisees – picked up elements of eastern philosophy – angels, immortality of the soul and liked them and suited Christianity later
  • With Christians – When Gospels embraced eternity, Romans liked it. The early church focused on Judgment Day coming very soon because it had been predicted by Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus was coming back soon and there was a real sense of immediacy.
  • Millennium – Elijah had predicted a Messiah coming 6000 years after the creation. Then after him, there would be a waiting period of 1000 years and he’d come back. This was popular because it was a return to the Garden. As the time passed, this fizzled out.
  • Conflagration of Rome – Romans were condemned for Paganism as an idolatrous religion as a sign of the end, along with a fire in Roman and Mt. Vesuvius which were all “prophesied”.
  • Pagans and Eternal Punishment – Early Christians saw pagans as doomed. Those who lived before Christ were given a pass if they had live good lives. But afterwards, it meant hell. Families and friends broke up because of it.
  • Conversion due to Fear – Many tried to convert pagans to have avoid hell and many converted because of this fear.

Miraculous Power of the Church

  • Supernatural gifts did a lot of convincing: miracles, gift of tongues, visions, prophesies, exorcism, healings and reviving the deal.
  • They were good with languages. This helped spread the religion around because they could talk to the potentially converted. Divine inspiration caused conversions along with possession by the Holy Spirit after prayers, fasts and vigils. The visions directed the Church’s activities as signs from God.
  • Exorcising demons were very convincing because it was a huge spectacle – driving out pagan demons and the victim was usually a quick convert. The spectators were impressed by the scene.
  • We can’t rely on testimony because there’s no evidence. We should remain skeptical about what qualifies as evidence in the early days of the church. It’s interesting that these things happen only when people weren’t very skeptical. We usually chalk these things up to natural phenomena these days because we understand it better.

Virtues of Christians

  • Effects of Repentance – The Christians brought in ex-convicts who were remorseful. Pagan would never offer redemption but Baptism did that. The Gospels focused on avoiding sin to the purity of the soul. Passions moved criminals from one extreme to another.
  • Care of Reputation – New converts were watched closely and expected to change behavior. The Christians were being watched closely and they were worried about their reputation. The virtues of the Gospels prevented further crimes and cause them to be honest.
  • Morality of the Fathers – Many problems came from excessive virtue and literal interpretation which exalted perfection not wisdom purity and patience. This slowed acceptance.
  • Principles of Human Nature – 2 qualities of virtuous and liberal dispositions:
    • Love of Pleasure – refined by arts and learning, improved by social intercourse, economy, health, reputation à for the benefit of private life.
    • Love of Action – when guided by propriety and benevolence and makes oneself useful and respectable.
    • Combined – perfect idea of human nature.
  • Primitive Christians Condemned Pleasure and Usury – Knowledge with reason and conversation makes a liberal mind. The early fathers rejected this because they hated anything without a direct course to salvation. They wanted perfection and hated anything involving worldly delight. Senses are necessary for survival and are only to be used as such. But they saw their first use as their first abuse. Followers had to reject sensual pleasures because they are signs of pride and hinder salvation. Luxuries were an affront to God because they are an attempt to improve his creation.
  • Sentiments of Marriage and Chastity – Anything gratifying the senses degrades the soul. If Adam had obeyed God, we’d still be in the Garden of Eden in a perfect, pure state. Marriage was seen as an imperfect solution in an imperfect world that suits the needs of the species and symbolized the union between Christ and the Church. Any second marriage was considered adultery and was an excommunicable offense. Celibacy was the closest to divine perfection. Rome could barely get their vestal virgins but the Church was tripping over people signing up for chastity, untempted by flesh.
  • Aversion to War and Government – It’s difficult to forgive people and maintain any defense of life and property at the same time. Christ told people to invite further abuse. They developed an aversion to war by forbidding bloodshed of world war and justice. However, they knew it was necessary in order to survive so they decided to free-ride off pagan government protection.

Christians Active in Church Government

  • While they wanted nothing to do with business and pleasure, their love of action made them establish a church government. They wanted an internal policy and ministers for spiritual functions and overall direction. It established safety, honor, growth and patriotism for the church and its members. With them, the ends justified the means. They dealt with heresy through excommunication by combining “wisdom” and “innocence”. It ultimately grew increasingly corrupt.
  • Primitive Freedom and Equality – The government was a source of contention. Its earliest forms connected churches through a network of charity and faith, although they maintained their independence. Large figures of all ages, sexes, ability and background made an impact, Eventually, they were replaced by bishops and presbyters.
  • Institutions of Bishops as Presidents of Colleges of Presbyters­ – There was a need for a supreme Church magistrate and a place for public deliberations – collecting sentiments and executing assembly resolutions. The wisest men would be making the decisions. The assembly was modelled after the Senate with presbyters instead of Senators and an Emperor executing law.
  • Provincial Councils – Each society was separate but eventually started meeting together twice a year in local meetings to exchange ideas. Decrees were issued and became canon. The links between individual churches grew stronger.
  • Progress of Episcopal Authority – The use of legislative authority waned and the Bishops began to rule with arbitrary executive power. They curbed the rights of the priests and the people. Also, they cited Scripture to justify their actions. The Church began to speak for God and considered itself above any worldly powers. Some provinces were more authoritarian than others.
  • Preeminence of Metropolitan Bishops – High clergy began to overthrow assemblies and collect power for itself openly. Many assemblies appealed to outside authority for help. The Bishop of Italy became a centralizing figure at this time.
  • Laity and Clergy – There was a line drawn between the clergy and laity where the clergy began granting itself special roles, rights and privileges.

Church Functions

  • Oblations and Revenue of the Church – The Church collected goods and property. Money was put in a collective pot. The communal style began to be phased out in favor of a Jewish style of tithing – 10% of income. This added up and began to corrupt the people and the priests. The church got a lot of land and money.
  • Distribution of Revenue – Bishops ran things like CEOs and presbyters were in charge of spiritual functions. Many higher-ups spent money lavishly on luxuries, private gains. Public feasts held public interest mostly to keep them occupied from the fact that the priests and bishops were spending so much. Some money was spent on the poor, sick, old, orphaned and widowed. Pagans saw the good and the bad.


  • Members were cast out for rejecting or violating established regulations. This was reserved for really bad sinners, murderers, frauds, heretics and idolaters. They were cast out, not talked to, not allowed to participate in the Church or Christian society. Some were given a few years of exile and allowed back in when the memory of their sin faded and were truly penitent.
  • Dignity of Episcopal government – There was a mixture of liberality and rigor, punishment and reward according to Church policy. The Bishop had paternal care and acted on a prerogative, using the cross as a pretext for action.
  • Skepticism of Pagan World Proved Favorable to the New Religion – Pagans were skeptical of the fantastical claims. They were more into logic and reason, as well as philosophy and conversation. On the surface, they accepted pagan institutions but in reality, they didn’t care. However, they maintained a love for the supernatural and were curious about life after death. They were fairly superstitious on the surface of things and Christianity brought those elements altogether.
  • As well as the Peace and Union of the Roman Empire – The conquest of the Roman Empire prepared and helped Christianity. All provinces were united under a common language, common legal system and a common culture. It was the perfect place to spread ideas around.
  • In the East – The locals really took to it and the allowance of Gentiles into the religion sealed the deal. People stopped going to pagan temples and started going to Churches.
  • Antioch – Numbers are hard to give with large cities. In spite of earthquakes in Caesarea, Seleucia and Alexandria, Christians were more numerous than pagans or Jews.
  • Egypt – Alexandria was a hot spot for Christianity since they were pre-disposed to celibacy, martyrdom, etc.
  • Rome – About 1/20 of Rome was Christian in a city full of foreigners coming and going with lots of trade and new ideas. There is some evidence that the Christians were trying to curb the Bacchanal feasts of Rome – and having some success.
  • Africa and Western Provinces – These lands copied all the Roman fashions. They may have been receptive to the religion but Gaul was too far to be reached. It didn’t pass the seas or Alps. There was almost none in Britain. St-James’s travels brought some influence but not very much into Spain. Africa was the most receptive. Every town and village had a fair share of Christians, including Carthage.
  • Beyond Limits – Barbarians may have heard tell of it but certainly didn’t practice it in any significant numbers.
  • General Reception – Until the time of Constantine about 5% of the population were Christian.
  • Were 1st Christians Most Favorably Received by the Poor and Simple? – The poor, sick and outcast were focus of Jesus’s speeches. They were usually the first to convert. However, missionaries succeeded in getting some rich families to join. Most of them were poor and sick because the religion openly speaks of favoring them. They were promised the highest positions in heaven – a complete reversal of stations of life in heaven – poor à rich, rich àpoor, etc.
  • Learned Followers – Aristide, Justin Martyr, Clemens of Alexandria, Julius Africanus and Origen, some of the most learned men of the era were believers.
  • With Regard to Rank and Fortune – Deserters of Paganism were often tried. Warnings from Pliny the Younger were to the Romans – don’t pursue them too far because they are among the ranks of the government and army.
  • Rejected by Eminent Men of 1st and 2nd Centuries – By name – Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Plutarch, Galen, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius either overlooked it, ignored it or rejected it. Some of them even called it a perversion because it focused on a text and not reason itself. Some may or may not have been aware of it and may have possibly accepted elements of it like compassion for the poor and sick. But they certainly would have rejected the superstitious aspects.
  • Miracles – Doctrine was confirmed by many prodigies at Jesus’s time. The lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, laws of nature suspended for the benefit of the Church. Sages turned away from the spectacled and preoccupied themselves with life and studying, turning away from the alterations of the physical and natural world. During the reign of Tiberius, there were 3 hours of night in the middle of the day and very few paid any notice to it. All sorts of natural disasters didn’t make anyone curious.

Author: knowit68

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