Early Christianity From illegal and despised to prestigious and profitable


  • Like the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, Christianity is monotheistic, centering on the belief in one true God
  • However, it is Judaism that has traditionally been credited with being the first monotheistic religion (Cole and Symes 53)


  • Three core principles behind Judaism:
  • One: "Yahweh is the ruler of the universe. He even makes use of peoples other than the Hebrews to accomplish his purposes. The gods of other nation are false gods. There has never been and never will be more than this one god" (Cole & Symes 55).
  • Two: "Yahweh is exclusively a god of righteousness. He wills only the good, and evil in the world comes from humanity, not from him" (55).
  • Three: Because Yahweh is righteous, he demands ethical behavior from his people. Over and above ritual and sacrifice, he requires that his followers 'seek justice, relieve the oppressed, protect the fatherless, and plead for the widow'" (55).

Jesus of Nazareth:

  • Around 4 B.C.E. to 30 C.E.
  • Spent most of his life teaching "around the rural areas of Galilee and Judea" (Cole and Symes 140)
  • In his teachings, he sought to "deemphasize Jewish observances" (141-142)
  • During a major Jewish holiday, Passover, Jesus "staged an entry into Jerusalem" (140)
  • The Jewish elite and Romans alike saw Jesus as a political threat, subsequently having him crucified as a result (141)
  • After his death, some of his followers claimed that he had risen from the dead and started following in his footsteps, teaching throughout the region (142)

Paul of Tarsus:

  • One of Jesus followers that continued his teachings was Paul of Tarsus
  • Originally born Saul (c. 10 - c.67 C.E.), the Acts of the Apostles tell that Saul originally persecuted Christians until a "dramatic conversion" which led him to change his name to Paul and begin teaching in the name of Jesus (142)
  • According to Paul, Jewish law had become irrelevant (142)
  • "Jesus had made a new covenant possible between God and humanity, and the old covenant between God and the Jews no longer applied" (142)
  • He was eventually brought to trial in Rome and beheaded for his teachings (144)


  • Paul's teachings led to major disputes among the followers of Jesus
  • Unlike Paul, Peter had been a follower of Jesus during his lifetime (142)
  • Peter and his followers were more conservative in their beliefs, maintaining that only Jews could be followers of Jesus


  • Following Paul's teaching, many non-Jewish groups began to follow the teachings of Jesus
  • One of these groups were the Stoics, who saw Jesus as a follower of Stoic principles (142)
  • Stoics "believed that the cosmos is an ordered whole in which all contradictions are resolved for ultimate good" (101)
  • The Stoics' theory of ethics and social responsibility stems from this personal philosophy
  • The highest good, according to the Stoics, is serenity of mind; Stoics emphasized self-discipline and the fulfillment of one's duties
  • Like Jesus, the Stoics taught forgiveness and tolerance


  • Another group that Christianity appealed to was the Neoplatonists
  • Neoplatonists drew on the more mystical aspects of Plato's thoughts
  • Neoplatonism taught that the material world was just that, and humans had their bodies and their souls, which had been separated from a higher power (149)
  • Thus, the highest goal of life is to "attain spiritual reunion with the divine through acts of self-denial that will liberate the soul from its earthly bondage" (149)
  • Neoplatonism's popularity contended with Stoicism in Rome
  • Additionally, Neoplatonism hurt the foundations of "traditional Roman worship of ancestors and the devotion to the empire's Gods" (149)
  • In turn, Neoplatonism allied with Christianity, and Christians were influenced by Neoplatonism, strengthening Christianity in Rome (149)


  • By 293 C.E., Roman leadership was divided in four with each man ruling a quarter of the empire (149)
  • However, by 306 C.E., a handful of military leaders were warring over control of Roman imperial power (150)
  • Constantine, son of Constantius, instead chose to focus on consolidating his power in his quarter of the empire (150); additionally, he furthered his grasp by promoting himself as a "favored devotee of the sun-god, Sol Invictus", whose popularity was growing in Rome (150)
  • In 312 C.E., Constantine decided to march on Italy, who chose to use Christian symbols his his soldiers shields and banners (150)

Constantine's Victory and the Edict of Milan:

  • Following successful invasion of Rome, Constantine "showered benefits on the Christian clergy of Rome and patronized the construction of church throughout the empire" (150)
  • Additionally, he had the augustus of the East, Licinius, join him in promoting religious tolerance
  • In 313 C.E., Licinius and Constance met in Milan, establishing an edict that "guaranteed freedom of religion to all Roman citizens, Christian and non-Christian (150)
  • The Edict of Milan was the final step towards solidifying the foundation of Christianity in Rome, paving the way for the Holy Roman Empire to come

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