Before the 3rd century CE, the Romans targeted those who practiced Christianity because they believed their religious beliefs and practices held a threat to the growing empire. The monotheism was certainly a culture shock because at the time, polytheism was the only known form of religion. Romans were accustomed to worship and praise many powerful gods to look upon the empire. Different prayers were sent to different gods- beauty, wisdom, war, childbirth, the sky, the sea, the arts… you name it. The Christian religion not only undermined the polytheistic beliefs, but brought upon many social changes. The Romans had a valid reason to reject Christianity because the Christians did not share the same pride and love of powers, which triggered a suspicion for a mass cult that had to be persecuted.
The Romans feared that Christianity would be the downfall of the great empire because the newly practiced beliefs would upset their gods. If you were to look at Christianity from an outsider’s standpoint, it is pretty easy to understand why this religion instilled such fear in the Romans. A lack of understanding for the religion can make one question religious practices and beliefs. For starters, the Passover service can be viewed as being cannibalistic as Christians eat the body (bread) and drink the blood (wine) of Jesus Christ. Although Romans partook in many sacrifices for their gods, it was unheard of to eat human flesh to commemorate their gods. Additionally, Christians refused to sacrifice to and pray to a divine monarch because of the belief of only one God: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.” The Romans were so used to believing that power was divided between their gods and their monarchs, it is reasonable why the thought of the Christian’s Lord having ALL the power terrified them. Isaiah 8:11-13 quotes “ The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”
Being Christian was considered a crime, they were often persecuted to get rid of the religion. Pain, even death, was forced upon the Christians when they would refuse “to swear by the emperor and offer incense to his images, or to sacrifice to the gods.” (Lunn-Rockliffe) This test of Christian faith brought suspicion to the Romans since they would refuse to practice beliefs that were brought down by generations. Many died painful deaths, but the Christians were persistent. Christianity soon grew in numbers under the rule of Constantinople. It was not until 360 AD when it was reestablished as the dominant religion in the empire under Emperor Julian.
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