Roman Empire: The transformation from Paganism to Christianity

Here we present a part of the Chapter ‘The Church and Churchmen’ (Pages 57-58) from the book ‘Everyday life in Byzantium’ by Tamara Talbot Rice.


Emperor Justinian wrote the preface to the collection of legal codes issued under the title of The Sixth Novel. In it he expressed the opinion that the ‘greatest gifts which God in his love of mankind has given to men from above are the Priesthood and the Empire, for the one ministers to things divine whilst the other guides and takes care of human affairs’. This belief was shared by the Byzantine people, many of whom were in the habit of comparing the Empire and Church to the human body and its soul. Such an attitude naturally led every layman to take as passionate an interest in religion and the Church as did the Emperor and his clergy. It is hardly surprising that this should have been the case in early Byzantine times, for the years which witnessed the establishment of Christianity were marked by an ever-increasing dissatisfaction with such older and, until recently, popular creeds as the sun cult, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism or veneration of the gods worshipped in Greece and Rome. Christianity presented a code of ethics which raised new hope in the most disenchanted hearts. Its affirmation of a single God as the ultimate source of all life appealed to those who had lost faith in the squabbling, malicious inhabitants of Olympus. The opportunities which Christianity offered to women opened the way to developments which were ultimately to affect every aspect of daily life. Furthermore, every convert believed that the fulfillment of the promise of a better life on earth and the salvation of his soul in the hereafter depended upon his ability to conform to every canon of the new faith. This conviction in its turn led him to attach immense importance to Christian dogma. The belief that a theological error might well jeopardise a Christian’s chance of entering the celestial kingdom remained firmly embedded in the Byzantine mind throughout the Empire’s history and, as a result, even during the final years of its existence, every practicing Christian remained as profoundly concerned with Church affairs as were the earliest converts. Furthermore, the imperial constitution itself helped to tighten the bonds between Church and state, until each played an almost equal part in making the rules which governed the life of the people.”


Research-Selection: Anastasius Philoponus

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