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Northern Neil

Was the rise of Christianity inevitable?

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As a free thinker with some sympathetic leanings toward polytheism, I often find myself wondering what would have happened had Maxentius defeated Constantine, thus preventing the train of events which would promote a tiny mystery cult into a re - invented state religion, and later a world religion. Although I like to think that the Classical World would have continued, with true science emerging centuries earlier, my personal view is that there was perhaps some inevitability with the rise of monotheism. Here is why.

 

Throughout history, social and technological conditions have made inevitable certain events. Even if the personalities surrounding these events had not existed or somehow been prevented from their courses of action, someone else would have stepped in and enabled the event to happen. A few examples:

 

1) Columbus - Improvements in shipbuilding and navigation, coupled with the completion of the reconquista and a need to move on to fresh glories, meant that the Americas were bound to be discovered by the Spanish/Portuguese (In a permanent and meaningful way) sometime around 1500.

 

2) Protestantism - without Martin Luther this would probably have happened anyway, as Europe moved out of the Middle Ages and a growing middle class demanded more say and challenged the status quo.

 

3) World Wars 1 and 2 - forecasted by the American Civil War, the flowering of the industrial age coupled with an agressive cynicism towards traditional forms of government would probably have given rise to any number of Stalins, Hitlers and Mussolinis. Japan, still in a feudal mindset but emboldened by the acquisition of modern technology, would have tried its luck at some stage regardless of the presence of Tojo, Hirohito etc.

 

So, what do you all think? My view is that sometime around the first half of the 4th century, an intelligent Roman emperor would have noticed the fanaticism and loyalty with which believers pursue their beliefs, and would have recognised this as a force with which to repair a fragmenting state. Also, the social conditions were such that the common people needed something to ensure their loyalty to the state as it plodded through the third and fourth centuries, and what better than a religion that promised an eternal life of reward, luxury and paradise in return for a few decades of obedience now?

 

I think that if Constantine had been thwarted, or otherwise prevented from embarking upon his career, monotheism would have taken hold anyway, maybe under the name of Mithraism, or 'Bacchusism' or whatever, but basically purveying the same message of obedience and reward, and with essentially the same magic tricks performed by the hero, to strengthen the belief of the peasentry. Maybe it was also inevitable that Persia adopted the eastern varient of this later on and used this to re ignite its 'business as usual' situation vis-a-vis the Roman Empire. Islam, after all, is little more than a regurgitation of Judaism and Christianity, with a bit of early medieval Arab history thrown in.

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a tiny mystery cult into a re - invented state religion, and later a world religion.

 

 

NN, if you are dealing with 312 CE, and not 40, 50 or 90 than

 

It is acceptable that there were 60,000,000 people in the Roman empire of 312 CE, Gibon, Friedlander and Bury estimated the nunber of Christians as 5,000,000, Richter - 6,000,000, Zockler - 7,000,000, La Bastie and Chastel - 8,000,000, Scbultze - 10,000,000 and so on . Today the acceptable ratio is 5 to 10% with tendency to the lower figure . A minority but not tiny .

One can call it a success and the other - a failure but the bottom line is that there was no spiritual triumph of Christianity as many thought .

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I think that if Constantine had been thwarted, or otherwise prevented from embarking upon his career, monotheism would have taken hold anyway, maybe under the name of Mithraism, or 'Bacchusism' or whatever, but basically purveying the same message of obedience and reward, and with essentially the same magic tricks performed by the hero, to strengthen the belief of the peasentry. Maybe it was also inevitable that Persia adopted the eastern varient of this later on and used this to re ignite its 'business as usual' situation vis-a-vis the Roman Empire. Islam, after all, is little more than a regurgitation of Judaism and Christianity, with a bit of early medieval Arab history thrown in.

 

I agree, it seems the empire was bound to turn to monotheism. Even Julian's 'return to paganism' was a largely monotheist construct.

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I think you overestimate the grasp of Christianity over it's new converters, unless you were part of the high clergy or one of the few which experience a deep spiritual discovery, converting wouldn't seem like a big deal to the average person and he probably still kept his old belief system only that it's was applied to Jesus, the trinity, etc.

 

Only after centuries did Christianity became deeply rooted in the hearts of the people.

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I think you overestimate the grasp of Christianity over it's new converters, unless you were part of the high clergy or one of the few which experience a deep spiritual discovery, converting wouldn't seem like a big deal to the average person and he probably still kept his old belief system only that it's was applied to Jesus, the trinity, etc.

 

Well said!

 

I know I

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I believe that most converts to the Jesus movement probably maintained their polytheistic views while adding the Christian God(s)* to their collection of worshiped deities.

...and still do. The Holy Trinity itself, with the Virgin Mary, gives worshippers a choice of four 'gods' to fit different situations. Plus there is the army of souls who were made into saints after their deaths, which suggests a continuity of the Roman practice of deifiing prominent citizens. In addition, the saints cover just about every aspect of temporal life, just as the old gods did. They get prayed to as well, despite the commandment of only worshipping one god. Also, the other gods are still there aren't they? Mercury - winged messenger, Angel Michael - winged messenger, for example. Could it be that they are both the same guy? To say that they are angels and not gods is a play on words - they are still up there, with all their supernatural powers.

 

(According to the scriptures, by Dawkins!)

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I believe that most converts to the Jesus movement probably maintained their polytheistic views while adding the Christian God(s)* to their collection of worshiped deities.

...and still do. The Holy Trinity itself, with the Virgin Mary, gives worshippers a choice of four 'gods' to fit different situations. Plus there is the army of souls who were made into saints after their deaths, which suggests a continuity of the Roman practice of deifiing prominent citizens. In addition, the saints cover just about every aspect of temporal life, just as the old gods did. They get prayed to as well, despite the commandment of only worshipping one god. Also, the other gods are still there aren't they? Mercury - winged messenger, Angel Michael - winged messenger, for example. Could it be that they are both the same guy? To say that they are angels and not gods is a play on words - they are still up there, with all their supernatural powers.

 

(According to the scriptures, by Dawkins!)

 

 

Just as a small foot note. I would hardly put participating in prayer to Saints on certain temporal issues in the same bracket as worshipping a God. I would have thought the Cult of the Saints including that of the Virgin Mary would have been viewed as role models on piety and a Christian way of living...opposed to actual God(s) in their own right. Just thought I would put forward an other possible reason for the Early Christians to have prayed to the Saints.

 

Also I would have thought the rise of Christianity as inevitable... Particularly after the Council Of Nicea in in AD 325 as it lead to the first uniform Christian doctrine. This uniformity would insure a healthy development for the Christian church and enable it to spread its influence futher in the Empire. Yes there were still a lot of challanges in the form of Theological disputes about Christ Nature to follow, the rise of Islam, the Photian schism, the reformation and counter-reformation, communist opression of Eastern Churches to follow in the Churchs interesting and troubled history. However the uniformity gained at various Ecumenical Councils and the peoples readiness for change would ensure this faiths survival against all odds...

Edited by AEGYPTUS

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my personal view is that there was perhaps some inevitability with the rise of monotheism. Here is why.

 

Throughout history, social and technological conditions have made inevitable certain events. Even if the personalities surrounding these events had not existed or somehow been prevented from their courses of action, someone else would have stepped in and enabled the event to happen. A few examples:

 

1) Columbus - Improvements in shipbuilding and navigation, coupled with the completion of the reconquista and a need to move on to fresh glories, meant that the Americas were bound to be discovered by the Spanish/Portuguese (In a permanent and meaningful way) sometime around 1500.

 

2) Protestantism - without Martin Luther this would probably have happened anyway, as Europe moved out of the Middle Ages and a growing middle class demanded more say and challenged the status quo.

 

3) World Wars 1 and 2 - forecasted by the American Civil War, the flowering of the industrial age coupled with an agressive cynicism towards traditional forms of government would probably have given rise to any number of Stalins, Hitlers and Mussolinis. Japan, still in a feudal mindset but emboldened by the acquisition of modern technology, would have tried its luck at some stage

Agree, but with a slightly different spin. Issue wasn't only monotheism (Rome wasn't likely to become Jewish), but the taming of a religion that threatened to be transformational of politics and culture if not co-opted. Mono or poly theisms can each be the usual political and social lubricants to an existing order, or at least relatively neutral. But a religion having ideological vitality to the point of being a threat likely will have single (mono) loyalty. After all, couldn't many of the Christians executions be revoked if they would simply give lip service to the additional gods?

 

Self interest and forces of history may have led Romans to institutionalize Christianity (or the like) and marginalize Christian mystics, but here's a half baked brainstorm suggesting their wise foresight, possibly trying to delay the advent of ideological kooks like Stalin or Pol Pot. I've noticed how radical atheistic left movements often seem to be infused with Christian ideals, and are really advocating a subset of these (like equality) taken to their literal "damn the consequences" extreme. Basically the religion they reject may have left them feeling perversely sanctioned for a fractured reinvention.

 

Was recently surprised to see a well argued non Christian case in "Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare" that he brought about mass murder of his own people not on the basis of Stalinism that French taught him (he preferred examples of French revolution beheadings) or even on the brutality of SE Asian war, but on the very principles of Th. Buddhism, such as how individuals and their material wants don't matter. He was atheist, but had culturally infused some of it's principles as a dysfunctional response to... [omitting pre western historical reasons for Khmer territorial paranoia and bipolar switches between brutality and mellowness]. Anyway, another kook running amok empowered by (cultural basis of) the transformational religion they reject. Not even an individual personality issue, because Pol Pot was claimed to be a bland non-entity whose associates did much dirty work without direction.

 

Back to your #1 - the vitality and technical prowess of Iberian explorers may have their roots back in Diamond's geographical theory in "Guns, Germs, and Steel, the fates of human societies". Geography modulates food production potential, which lets the tech-saavy crowd out societies less productive of food.

 

#2 Never thought of Protestant being a product of middle class interests, but maybe that helps explain lack of Islamic reformation. There seem to be elements of Protestantism that aren't strictly spiritual but give a basis of contract law, etc.

 

#3 Agree for WW1, although the Anglo countries didn't strictly have to participate. Could agree for WW2 Japan and the unopposed early victories of Hitler like Austria and Czech. But was expansion to France and Russia inevitable? The Army opposed the early plans for this and looked poised to get rid of Hitler, until a last minute change from an unpromising to an ingenius French invasion plan was made, and it's success made opposition politically untenable.

 

By the way, the excellent 13-part documentary series on "Hitler's Bodyguard" has me thinking of the Romans all the time. Covers 40 attempts on his life, and especially the power struggles in the pre-war years somehow bring to life the pressures the Roman emperors must have faced, many of them meeting with assassination. There was a time Hitler was a bluffing underdog and did much of his own thuggish dirty work under high personal risk. The detailing of this brings understanding of a dog-eat-dog world of political survival that I couldn't earlier relate to just from Roman chronicles.

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Particularly after the Council Of Nicea in in AD 325 as it lead to the first uniform Christian doctrine. This uniformity would insure a healthy development for the Christian church and enable it to spread its influence futher in the Empire.

 

It could be debated whether the Nicene Creed "...would insure a healthy development for the Christian church

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...I think it could have been any religion, it just happened that Christianity contained within in teachings encouraging forgiveness of others, and of turning the other cheek etc etc. All very useful for population control by an autocracy. The promise of a glowing afterlife as reward for compliant suffering in the present life was used to great effect in other instances as has been stated before in Buddhism. Don't worry about your status, the fact that you are a slave, you don't have enough to eat or that you can loose your life at the whim of the local official, you'll be sweet in the next life.

 

Can the rise of these kind of teachings and their adoption by various states as official religion not be seen as a direct function of growth in population. As a means to control greater territory and the many disparate groups within those territories ?

 

It is very interesting Neil, nice topic.

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Off topic (?) - what did Constantinus and his army saw on that day ? Did the soldiers saw it ? How he, Constantinus, convinced his army that "it" relates to Jesus ? Primary sources ?

Thanks

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Off topic (?) - what did Constantinus and his army saw on that day ? Did the soldiers saw it ? How he, Constantinus, convinced his army that "it" relates to Jesus ? Primary sources ?

Thanks

 

Constantine the great? anyway that event before the Battle of the Milvian bridge, there are differing accounts on if Constantine saw it in a dream or his soldiers also saw it before the battle. The former is far more believable, anyway the symbol that he saw was the greek name for Christ, P = CHI, X = RHO, the P intersects the X. Further more there was other writing that proclaimed that "in this sign you will conquer"

 

anyway primary sources would be Lactantius and the early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea

 

edit: the symbol is my avatar with the addition of the greek letters Alpha and omega signifying that christ is the beginning and the end

Edited by Honorius

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Just as a small foot note. I would hardly put participating in prayer to Saints on certain temporal issues in the same bracket as worshipping a God. I would have thought the Cult of the Saints including that of the Virgin Mary would have been viewed as role models on piety and a Christian way of living...opposed to actual God(s) in their own right. Just thought I would put forward an other possible reason for the Early Christians to have prayed to the Saints.

Is this in any way different to acknowledging Jupiter as the supreme god, but sending an occasional prayer to Ceres to ensure a bumper crop, or a prayer to Venus to capture someone's heart? Apart from the difference in names, I really do not see any contextual difference at all.

 

...I think it could have been any religion, it just happened that Christianity contained within in teachings encouraging forgiveness of others,

Which is exactly what I thought when I started this thread. Maybe I should have named the thread 'Was the rise of monotheism inevitable?

 

Regarding Constantinus, I believe he was named as 'The Great' by the Church, in deference to his patronage of the Christian religion. Looking at his career dispassionately, he was as ruthless as any Nero or Caligula, and quite clearly adopted Christianity (or rather, the particularly authoritarian version of it) in order to unify the state. Without the Church to this day holding him in such esteem, I suspect that history would regard him in a similar way to other ruthless and (arguably) effective reformers such as Severus and Diocletian. He remains 'The Great' rather than 'St. Constantine' on account of his monstrous behaviour, which includes boiling his mother to death and murdering his son.

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Off topic (?) - what did Constantinus and his army saw on that day ? Did the soldiers saw it ? How he, Constantinus, convinced his army that "it" relates to Jesus ? Primary sources ?

Thanks

 

Constantine the great? anyway that event before the Battle of the Milvian bridge, there are differing accounts on if Constantine saw it in a dream or his soldiers also saw it before the battle. The former is far more believable, anyway the symbol that he saw was the greek name for Christ, P = CHI, X = RHO, the P intersects the X. Further more there was other writing that proclaimed that "in this sign you will conquer"

 

anyway primary sources would be Lactantius and the early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea

 

edit: the symbol is my avatar with the addition of the greek letters Alpha and omega signifying that christ is the beginning and the end

 

 

O.K. I will try to be more specific (and sensitive) - What was the natural phenomena that Constantinus and/or his companions interprated as the "Greek name for Christ" ?

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O.K. I will try to be more specific (and sensitive) - What was the natural phenomena that Constantinus and/or his companions interprated as the "Greek name for Christ" ?

 

 

um. supposedly it appeared in the sky before the battle and then again in a dream to Constantine, (so he claimed), i recently read that some people have suggested that a natural phenomena did take place that a number of stars lined up and produced the symbol

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