XVI
A CHRISTIAN EMPIRE

You asked me to write an answer to the lying distortions spouted by those
people who are strangers to the City of God. They are called pagans after
the rustic crossroads and villages (pagi) they inhabit and foreigners (gentiles)
because all they know about are earthly matters. They have no interest in
things to come: as for the past they have either forgotten it or are simply
ignorant. Nevertheless they still claim that the present day is unusually
beset with disasters for this one reason alone, that men believe in Christ
and worship God, while idols received less and less cult.

(Orosius, History against the Pagans Preface 9)


The Rise of Religions

Once upon a time, the Romans felt they enjoyed the special favour of their gods. Those gods were in a sense their fellow citizens. Their worship in the public rituals—the sacra publicaof Rome was the organizing centre of the religious lives and identities of the Romans. How this cohered with the public cults of the other communities of the empire was, as I have explained already, a little unclear. Yet the many polytheistic religious systems of the classical Mediterranean were not so different, and the worship of the emperors figured in them all, one way or another. Across the empire, the wealthy built temples, took on priesthoods, and celebrated festivals: all seemed to prosper.

-254-

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