Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries

Article excerpt

Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries. By Bernard Green. (NewYork:T and T. Clark International. 2010. Pp. x, 258. $29.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-567-03250-8.)

This is a serious and well written account of Christianity in Rome down to and including the reign of Constantine. It discusses Christianity's first decades in the shadow of the well-established Jewish community before Nero made the Christians scapegoats for the fire of 64 AD. There follows a full exposition of doctrinal disputes among the Roman Christians of the second and third centuries and their North African brethren resulting in Tertullian's Against Praxeas,"the first Latin work to address the Trinity" and at Rome in Novatian's On the Trinity. The persecutions of Decius and Valerian in the third quarter of the third century, discussed in chapter 3, added new stresses arising from the problem of readmitting lapsed Christians back into the fold. But the Church emerged from these trials into the forty-year span before the great persecution under the Tetrarchs with new strength and an ever-increasing membership. The Christian message of hope for eternity was accompanied by charity in this life for those in need and mutual support, evidenced most clearly in the attention to the burial of the faithful. The catacombs thus are the subject of the fourth chapter. In conclusion, the author examines the great persecution and the acceptance of Christianity under Constantine.

The theme running through this work, as in any account of the Christians in Rome, is the relation of Christianity to the state. The Romans were suspicious of religious associations as potentially subversive. In 186 BC the Senate suppressed groups of devotees of Bacchus, and both pagans and Jews were the object of harassment and worse under the empire. The Christians were viewed with particular mistrust. …


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