Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia

Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia

Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia

Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia


In a richly textured investigation of the transformation of Cappadocia during the fourth century, Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia examines the local impact of Christianity on traditional Greek and Roman society. The Cappadocians Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Eunomius of Cyzicus were influential participants in intense arguments over doctrinal orthodoxy and heresy. In his discussion of these prominent churchmen Raymond Van Dam explores the new options that theological controversies now made available for enhancing personal prestige and acquiring wider reputations throughout the Greek East.

Ancient Christianity was more than theology, liturgical practices, moral strictures, or ascetic lifestyles. The coming of Christianity offered families and communities in Cappadocia and Pontus a history built on biblical and ecclesiastical traditions, a history that justified distinctive lifestyles, legitimated the prominence of bishops and clerics, and replaced older myths. Christianity presented a common language of biblical stories and legends about martyrs that allowed educated bishops to communicate with ordinary believers. It provided convincing autobiographies through which people could make sense of the vicissitudes of their lives.

The transformation of Roman Cappadocia was a paradigm of the disruptive consequences that accompanied conversion to Christianity in the ancient world. Through vivid accounts of Cappadocians as preachers, theologians, and historians, Becoming Christian highlights the social and cultural repercussions of the formation of new orthodoxies in theology, history, language, and personal identity.


Cappadocians were there in the crowd at the beginning of Christianity. At the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, Cappadocians were among those amazed spectators who were startled to hear the apostles preaching in their own exotic languages. Cappadocians were also present at the end of imperial hostility toward Christianity in the eastern empire. During the final great persecutions under the emperor Maximinus, some of the illustrious martyrs in Palestine were Cappadocians.

But despite the participation of Cappadocians at these critical moments of early Christian history, Christianity seems to have spread into most of central and eastern Asia Minor only comparatively late. Evidence for Christian communities in Pontus, Cappadocia, and northern Galatia under the early empire is scanty and scattered. Only during the mid- and later third century did communities of Christians, of different varieties, finally become more common. Even then these communities continued to endure hostility and sometimes outright persecution, both from Roman magistrates and from local opponents. the patronage of the emperor Constantine in the early fourth century finally accelerated the process of conversion. By then Christian communities were widespread in central and eastern Asia Minor, and one ecclesiastical historian even complimented Galatia, Cappadocia, and neighboring regions for having taken the lead in the Christianization of the eastern provinces. Along with their ecclesiastical colleagues from throughout the eastern empire, bishops from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Galatia attended the famous Council of Nicaea in 325 and enjoyed Constantine’s hospitality. Some thought that this council, because it had been convened under the patronage of a Christian emperor, finally marked the fulfillment of the promise of the original Pentecost. From the era of the New Testament to the origins of a Christian Roman empire, Cappadocians had contributed to the growth of Christianity.

The three great Church Fathers from Cappadocia, Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, were . . .

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