Paganism and Christianity, 100-425 C.E: A Sourcebook

Paganism and Christianity, 100-425 C.E: A Sourcebook

Paganism and Christianity, 100-425 C.E: A Sourcebook

Paganism and Christianity, 100-425 C.E: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

This book is a collection of nearly 175 documents'from saints, emperors, philosophers, satirists, inscriptions, graffiti, and other interesting types'that sheds light on the complex fabric of religious belief as it changed from a variety of non-Judeo-Christian movements to Christian in late antiquity. These texts illuminate and bring to life the bizarre and the banal of the social world of the Roman Empire, the world in which Christianity ultimately gained preeminence. This treasury of texts leads the reader through the matrix of beliefs among which Christianity grew. It includes both Christian and non-Christian sources, avoiding a common but obscuring division between the two. The material is presented as one single flow that satisfies natural curiosity and whets the reader's appetite for more. Brief explanatory introductions to the documents are included.

Excerpt

The emergence of Christianity from the tangled mass of older religious beliefs, eventually to a position of unchallenged superiority, is surely the most important single phenomenon that can be discerned in the closing centuries of the ancient world. In its impact on the way life was to be lived thereafter in the West, it outmatches even the decline of Rome itself. For the study of the process there exist such books as those of von Harnack and others more recent; as primary sources there is the indispensable account of the early history of the church by Eusebius, amplified by Stevenson. On these and other works, see the bibliography, below. It must be said in criticism of these works, however, that they make little or no mention of the body in which Christianity grew—as if obstetrics were limited to passing references in a handbook on babies. How about the mother? Will she not help determine the manner in which the child enters the world and, to some extent, its shape and nature?

To illustrate: In most regions of St. Paul’s or St. Augustine’s world, attendance at holy places on religious anniversaries was a time for friends and family together to enjoy the meal that followed the sacrifice. That was how reverence was paid to the sanctuaries of saints in the fourth century— not because those attending were still “pagan” (they would have indignantly rejected any such label) but because the ceremony still lacked any distinctively Christian form. Or again: The impulse to join actively in reverence at shrines most often took the form of dancing, whether restrained or vigorous, we do not know; and congregations that we glimpse in various cities of the west and east alike expressed themselves in this fashion without the least sense of inappropriateness, because to them it seemed the natural way to show religious feeling. Their bishops disagreed, and such activity was gradually suppressed. Or finally: The wish to predict the near term, whether in choosing to favor the suit of Jack or Tom, or to begin a journey on the first or last day of the week, or to address the sickness of a child with this or some other treatment, was just . . .

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