Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine

By Charles Norris Cochrane | Go to book overview

PART II

RENOVATION
V
THE NEW REPUBLIC: CONSTANTINE AND THE
TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS

THE year 313 has rightly been taken to mark a turning-point in European history. During the first three centuries the tendency of events had been, on the whole, to accentuate the elements of opposition between the Church and the world.1 It is, indeed, true that Christianity never preached or advocated the forcible overthrow of the Roman order. None the less, it regarded that order as doomed to extinction by reason of its inherent deficiencies, and it confidently anticipated the period of its dissolution as a prelude to the establishment of the earthly sovereignty of Christ. Accordingly, it viewed with detachment the nemesis which, in the years of anarchy and confusion, appeared to have overtaken Romanitas; while, at the same time, it provided, within the Church, a refuge from the cares and sorrows of a disintegrating world. In this spirit, too, it offered a triumphant resistance to the persecutions of various emperors,2 culminating in a final trial of strength with the Sacred College. The three edicts promulgated in the spring of 303 represented the crowning effort of the reforming zeal of Diocletian and Maximian.3 Inspired by what has been called a 'conservative devotion' to official paganism, these edicts formed the basis of a systematic and concerted effort to exterminate the faith. Their subsequent revocation was, therefore, deeply significant. By admitting the victory of Christianity over the secular order, it brought to a sudden and unexpected end the phase of opposition between the two; and by demonstrating, as nothing else could have done, the utter bankruptcy of the ancient religio-

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1
For an extreme statement of the opposition in question, see Tert. Apol. 38: 'nobis nulla magis res aliena quam publica'; De Pallio, 5: 'secessi de populo'; De Idol. 19: 'non potest una anima duobus deberi'; cf. De Spect. 28-9; De Corona, 14; Ad Martyres, 3; De Praescript. 7: 'quid Athenis et Hierosolymis? quid Academiae et Ecclesiae?'
2
Notably those of Decius 249-50 and Valerian 257.
3
Euseb. H.E. viii. 2-16; Lact. De Mort. Persec. 13 and 15, by whom the persecution is attributed to pressure from a fanatically anti-Christian party led by the Caesar Galerius. For the development of Diocletian's religious policy, see Parker, op. cit., part v, ch. 1, § 4.

-177-

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Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Part I- Reconstruction 1
  • II- Romanitas: Empire and Commonwealth 27
  • III- Roma Aeterna: the Apotheosis of Power 74
  • IV- Regnum Caesaris Regnum Diaboli 114
  • Part II 177
  • VI- Quid Athenae Hierosolymis? the Impasse Of Constantinianism 213
  • VIII- State and Church in the New Republic 292
  • Part III- Regeneration 359
  • XII- Divine Necessity and Human History 456
  • Index 517
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