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The root of Christianity

ideologyhunter

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Jesus summons Lazarus out of the grave...only in John's gospel. This most astounding of the alleged miracles, done in public, would have meant that Jesus would be overwhelmed with grieving widows and widowers or parents of dead children, demanding and beseeching that he come and restore their loved ones to life. Caiaphas would have questioned him about it. It would not be a story that could be contained. The disciples would be talking about it and the word would have spread like a fever. But the synoptic sources don't have it.
'Many' dead people came out of their graves after Jesus was crucified, and journeyed into Jerusalem, where they were seen by 'many'...only in Matthew's gospel. No contemporary history mentions it, and Mark, Luke, and John don't have it.
This is exactly what you would expect if folklore developed around a charismatic figure, and older, traditional stories were attached to the new idol.
 

steve_bank

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Turning water to wine is a very good social skill to have.

Faith healing is not unique to Christianity, it appears in other culture forms.

In Chinese traditions chi, or your life force, can be used to heal , deflect physical blows, or kill by touch or at a distance. It is seen in Chinese martial arts movies. Think 'the force' in Star Wars. In China it is part of 'traditional medicine'. Probably predates Christianity.
 

DrZoidberg

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https://literatureandhistory.com/index.php/episode-093-severus-life-of-saint-martin

Next up on this podcast is the hagiography by Severus of Saint Martin.

Saint Martin lived through the passing of the edict of Thessalonica. In AD 313 Constantine passes the edict of Milan. This is the edict of religious toleration saying that Christians shouldn't be persecuted. In AD 380 Theodosius I passes the edict of Thesalonica making Christianity the state religion of the Roman state. Not only that, but only allows one kind of Christianity, Nicene Christianity. (Both Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity are Nicene).

Immediately the Roman pagan politiking that Christians had been so upset about now became official Christian policy. This is the moment the rebels started piloting the Death Star and turned out to be no better than good ol' Darth. Immediately.

Saint Martin got involved and got burned. Not literally. But he quickly learned that in the new theocracy of Rome it was more important to be skilled at politics than to be a good Christian. Priscillian, a man who Saint Martin judged to be a better Christian than most of those aristocratic bishops trying to persecute him, was the first man to be executed in the new Christian regime. It violated everything Saint Martin thought Christianity should be about. It also violated one of the commandments.

We all know what happened next. Rivers of blood, all in the name of turning the other cheek. It turns out that the problem with the Roman empire wasn't that they were Pagan. It was other stuff.

BTW, this book is a Hagiography. It's not a true story. It's heavily slanted and spun in order to make Saint Martin look as good as possible. Bad deeds are forgotten. Rumours of good deeds are included without verifications needed. In this Hagiography Saint Martin destroys pagan temples and desecrates pagan holy places. I don't want you to get the impression that Saint Martin was a good person. This guy was clearly an intolerant dick. The fact that this is included in the hagiography of him says a lot about the Christian culture of that time. Extremely intolerant and violent. Which also might help explain why Christians were persecuted earlier.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillian

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillianism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Milan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Thessalonica

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
 

DrZoidberg

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Constantine the Great.


Now I’m listening to the podcast, History of Rome. It’s a great well researched podcast, that does not go into great depth. It’s more to give a big picture of this giant of an empire. Which is a perspective I can recommend, because Rome is such a huge topic, it is easy to read about an emperor and think that the Roman empire always worked that way. The truth is that the Roman empire often changed quite a bit from emperor to emperor. For this thread in particular, they have a bunch of podcasts on the rise of Constantine and his Christianisation process. For me, this episode was informative to me, so perhaps it’s equally informative to you guys.


https://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/the_history_of_rome/2011/04/132-in-this-sign.html

This is what I’ve learned that I didn’t know before.

  1. Due to the later success of Christianity, there is no reliable history written about Constantine that isn’t the product of the Christianisation project. That is not an argument for or against anything. But it does mean that what later historians write as significant as it happened, perhaps wasn’t at the time. And we have no idea whether he was really Christian or not. None.

  1. The Empire had for generations slid toward monotheism. Not just Christianity. But Sol Invictus, Mithraism, Manacheism, Cult of Isis. It was a major trend at the time.

  1. Constantine’s rise to power was a very very messy time indeed. The power structure of Rome was so fractured that any random event could send history off in some random direction. Very little was inevitable. Which makes piecing together a coherent story of that period challenging.

  1. Before Constantine Rome was ruled by one of Rome’s greatest emperors of all time. Diocletian. After about a hundred years of mess where Rome teetered on the brink of collapse, he managed to reshape Rome and massage it into something that worked. In order to defend the empire Diocletian had split the power into four. The tetrarchy. Basically four emperors. Two senior and two junior. The idea was to guarantee that emperors couldn’t be assassinated and the empire would slide into chaos. While it solved the immediate threat when Rome teetered on the brink of collapse, once Rome was stabilized, there was no way this system could sustain itself.

  1. The great hero of Diocletians generation, emperor Aurelian, was a member of Sol Invictus. A monotheistic religion. What set Sol Invictus apart from Christians is that they didn’t have a specific rule against sacrificing to other gods. So they escaped any and all persecutions by Roman emperors. The ONLY crime Christains committed in the empire was that they were dicks, and didn’t respect other religions and cults.

  1. For some misguided noble reason it was decided that succession within the tetrarchy should not be to sons. It should be to whatever general was the most competent. Why they thought the sons would be fine with this, is anyone’s guess. Naive to the extreme.

  1. Constantine's father, Constantius, was one of the tetrachs. When Diocletian went into retirement Constantine got miffed that he wasn’t bumped up together with his dad. He then made a classic Roman power grab with the army, which made the remaining tetrachs back down, and make Constantine a junior emperor. Bad move. Since he'd already displayed an utter lack of respect for the election process, the coming development should have been obvious.

  1. One of Diocletian's many projects was to eradicate Christianity. He saw it as a threat to the stability of Rome. This made him very unpopular. The pagans couldn’t care less about Christians. And Christians got very upset. So it was a stupid policy in general. So when Constantine was trying to grab power for himself he wisely signalled that he was a friend of Christians. Which would have been smart, no matter if he was Christian or not.

  1. When Constantine had outmaneuvered tetrarch number 1 and 2, he only had Maximinius II left. Maximinius II was a fanatical pagan and did his best to stamp out Christianity. He was also in control over the wealthiest part of the Roman empire, the East. Which was where most of the Christians lived. Just before the final battle with Maximinus II Constantine made the Edict of Milan which legalised Christianty throughout the empire. The cynic might say that this was calculated to weaken the resolve of the legionaries fighting for Maximinius II, (who outnumbered Constantine 3 to 2). many of who probably were Christian or knew people who had been persecuted. It didn’t go so well for Maximinius II in the coming battles.

  1. We have no idea whether or not Constantine was ever really Christian. What we do know is that persecuting Christians in the early years of the third century AD was politically counter productive, and he was smart enough to see that. We also know that most Romans were pagan, so openly embracing Christianity, would also be politically counter productive. He took the only route he could take if he wanted to outmanoeuvre his political opponents. No matter what he really believed. Which means that there’s no way for us to know for sure, what his personal faith really was.

  1. By the time of Constantine (306) the Roman empire had stopped being culturally Roman, a long long time ago. The empire was culturally multi-ethnic. Being Roman in no way gave you any privileges when it came to rising in the ranks. In 235 Maximinus Thrax, a Goth became emperor. Unthinkable only a couple of generations before. Emperor Elagabalus (218) was born to a Roman family but raised in Syria. He was culturally 100% Syrian. In 192 the low born provincial Pertinax came to power (192). A son to a freed slave. Following him there would be very few ethnically Roman emperors. Constantine himself was Illyrian (born in Dacia).

    This is relevant because the Eastern part of the empire was always more open to monotheism. This, theoretically, has to do with that people there were more accustomed to absolute rulers. As the centre of power shifted east, the empire stopped being culturally Roman. As the centre of power was moved east it would start embracing Eastern religion, Christianity being one of these.
  2. Fun fact is that at the battle of the Milvian Bridge it’s said that Constantine made a big deal of painting a Chi-Rho on the shield of his soldiers. At the time Chi-Ro was a mystical symbol used by both Christians and Pagans, for different reasons. So that proves exactly nothing about his religion. No matter if it really happened. All it proves (if it happened) is that he was a clever guy when it comes to inspiring his troops.


 

steve_bank

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I thought it was about geopolitics. Romans always considered religion an essential part of civil order.
 

Politesse

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Sol Invictus, Mithraism, Manacheism, Cult of Isis

Those are all mystery religions, certainly, but not monotheistic ones. If you want to understand the roots of monotheistic thought in the Roman world, you want to look to the rise of the late Stoics and Neoplatonists.

He took the only route he could take if he wanted to outmanoeuvre his political opponents. No matter what he really believed. Which means that there’s no way for us to know for sure, what his personal faith really was.

In part because the question is anachronistic. Romans lacked a concept of "personal faith" equivalent to the modern European idea. You could, and people did, participate in various temples and religious orders of various kinds, but membership wasn't usually exclusive, and it was assumed that whole families/tribes/towns etc would have obligations to a particular temple regardless of what they "believed" or didn't believe. That simply wasn't up to them, nor relevant to the social expectation that they would do right by their family or deme or what have you. The idea of religion as a badge of autonomous personal identity was a product of the Renaissance, and took centuries to develop into it's present form. They did not reject the modern concept of personal faith, it simply didn't exist yet.
 

DrZoidberg

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I thought it was about geopolitics. Romans always considered religion an essential part of civil order.

Yes. But the nice thing about paganism is that you can hedge your bets and sacrifice to all of the gods all at once. This little detail changed with the rise of Christianity. Constantine cleverly avoided to make public sacrifices to Jupiter. He did it in private. Or not. Nobody knows. But before Constantine doing them publicly certainly was a fundamental aspect of being the emperor.

Another detail about Diocletian and Constantine is their approachability. Before them Roman emperors went out of their way to be approachable. They needed to be seen as "one of the people". Comparable to... let's say... current American presidents. So they invited the public in to see various staged performances, in order to show the people who normal they were.

Diocletian wanted to change this. In the civil wars the hundred years before Diocletian this idea of the emperor, being just another man, meant that they kept being assasinated by usurpers. If the current guy can do the job, why couldn't I? Diocletian changed that. In his new vision emperors weren't in charge because they controlled the army. They were in charge because they were chosen by Jupiter. He single handedly invented that which we now call the Great Chain of Being. He also physically removed the seat of power from Rome. As I'm sure you are aware the praetorian guard, tasked with protecting the emperors life, managed to somehow murder 1/4 of them. Diocletian created a palace in Croatia designed a long series of gates where you had to be vetted at every gate before you were allowed into his presence. He only showed himself to the public once. All of this was to create an air of mystery about him.

Constantine ran with this. He never did say he was chosen by the Christian God. He stuck to Apollo his entire life. But he simultaneously financed the building of many many churches. The first emperor ever to build them, rather than destroy them. Something which the strained treasury took quite a hit to do. It must have been very important to him. He also took a keen and active interest in the ecumenical councils. Something he actually invented. He was himself devoted to the project of that the Christian church should have a single coherent message. Odd that someone so singularly devoted to Apollo should take such an interest in helping the Christian church.

Christians have gone on and on about how the Battle of the Milvian bridge was the final battle where the Constantinian forces of Christianity fought the last pagan emperor. Odd thing then that the monument erected after the battle, (Arch of Constantine) by Constantine, only had pagan symbols on it.




When Constantine started on his project to grab power he was not a son of a senior emperor. He was at best, the fifth most powerful man in the empire. If he wanted to win he needed to be super smart about it. What the other tetrarchs failed to identify was that Christians were no longer an irrelevant sect. Diocletians persecution of the Christians had backfired. It had annoyed both Christians and Pagans. Showing goodwill to Christians swung public opinion toward Constantine, both among the Christians AND the Pagans. The Pagans of the time, in general, didn't see Christianity as a threat, at all. They saw them as innocent victims being picked on by a horrible bully. Politically, this was an incredibly savvy move.
 

DrZoidberg

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Another fun fact about Constantine. In his day, Christianity was a bottom up movement. Ie, the troops were Christian to a larger extent than the officers. The nobility were the least degree Christian. This would have been true just as much for Constantine as Maxentius. Considering the utter and complete lack of Christian symbols on the Arch of Constantine, one might easily think that Constantine was about as Christian as Maxentius. In fact, the whole idea that Constantine was inspired by the Christian God didn't turn up until much later. In the works of church historian Eusebius. Totally planted by Constantine. Eusebius was used by Constantine to spread propaganda that would secure Christian support for Constantine. He used Eusebius, rather than to say it himself, since he wanted, outwardly, to seem like he was still pagan, not to alienate the officers and the nobilty.

My point with all of this is that the rise of Christianity was a freight train no emperor was going to slow down. Sooner or later emperors would have had to embrace Christianity. My impression is that Maxentius might just as well have embraced Christianity, just as much as Constantine. Eusebius wrote that the battle was a battle between Paganism and Christianity. I don't think it was at all. It was a battle between two sides with troops that were a mix between Christians and pagans. Maxentius would have had a bit more Christians, due to where his troops came from (Africa).

I think the Battle of the Milvian Bridge was irrelevant as far as spreading Christianity. If Maxentius would have won he likely would have been the one to embrace Christianity and everything would have played out the same. Just as Constantine realised, Maxentius would also very likely have realised that he could use Maximinius II's fanatical paganism against him. He was especially vulnerable since Maximinius II's army would have had the largest proportion of Christians.

And even if Maximinius II would have been the victor. He would have died at some point and then we'd sooner or later have had a Christian emperor and history would have been back on track. After Constantine we got Julian the Apostate as an emperor. He did his best to reverse the development and stamp out Christianity. He was a capable guy, and that didn't work out.

Sure Constantine turned out to be consequential for how Christianity and the Bible was shaped. This group over that group. But Donatism vs Nicene Christianity! Who cares? They're basically the same. All these rifts and sectarian doctrinal conflicts within the Christian church, they had very little to do with how to be a good Christian as they were power politics. No matter what version of Christianity would win out it would always have been a happy mixture between Paganism and Christianity, as well as all the other religious ideas swirling around at the time. Constantine himself didn't seem to care which version of Christianity prevailed. He just wanted them all to agree on something. It was Constantine's sons who put their big fat noses in which club was their favourite, and join in the sectarian strife. Also, something which was pretty much, inevitable.

The doctrines that won out at the various equmenical councils were usually the most popular, pragmatic and sensible versions of Christianity. Which again points to social evolution being at play, rather than heavy handed tyranny by some one guy or one group.

Bottom line, in the big picture, Constantine might have been irrelevant as far as how Christianity ended up. He just happened to be in charge when the growth of Christianity reached a tipping point. And he rolled with it.
 

DrZoidberg

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Sol Invictus, Mithraism, Manacheism, Cult of Isis

Those are all mystery religions, certainly, but not monotheistic ones. If you want to understand the roots of monotheistic thought in the Roman world, you want to look to the rise of the late Stoics and Neoplatonists.

I didn't say they were monotheistic. I said they were drifting towards monotheism. And that's certainly true for all of the cults I mentioned. What set Christianity apart is that it was open to poor people and slaves. That's what made that one unique, and ultimately why it beat the others. No other reason.


He took the only route he could take if he wanted to outmanoeuvre his political opponents. No matter what he really believed. Which means that there’s no way for us to know for sure, what his personal faith really was.

In part because the question is anachronistic. Romans lacked a concept of "personal faith" equivalent to the modern European idea. You could, and people did, participate in various temples and religious orders of various kinds, but membership wasn't usually exclusive, and it was assumed that whole families/tribes/towns etc would have obligations to a particular temple regardless of what they "believed" or didn't believe. That simply wasn't up to them, nor relevant to the social expectation that they would do right by their family or deme or what have you. The idea of religion as a badge of autonomous personal identity was a product of the Renaissance, and took centuries to develop into it's present form. They did not reject the modern concept of personal faith, it simply didn't exist yet.

Excellent point. I agree fully. Which also puts a dent in the idea that Constantine would ponder about his personal faith.
 

Politesse

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He took the only route he could take if he wanted to outmanoeuvre his political opponents. No matter what he really believed. Which means that there’s no way for us to know for sure, what his personal faith really was.

In part because the question is anachronistic. Romans lacked a concept of "personal faith" equivalent to the modern European idea. You could, and people did, participate in various temples and religious orders of various kinds, but membership wasn't usually exclusive, and it was assumed that whole families/tribes/towns etc would have obligations to a particular temple regardless of what they "believed" or didn't believe. That simply wasn't up to them, nor relevant to the social expectation that they would do right by their family or deme or what have you. The idea of religion as a badge of autonomous personal identity was a product of the Renaissance, and took centuries to develop into it's present form. They did not reject the modern concept of personal faith, it simply didn't exist yet.

Excellent point. I agree fully. Which also puts a dent in the idea that Constantine would ponder about his personal faith.
Correct, his decision-making was for the entire empire, of which "The Bulldog" Constantine was the presumptive paterfamilias; there could have been no non-social, non-political permutation of faith for him. The records state he baptized on his deathbed, and despite the biased nature of those records I tend to believe this. By a similar token to the above, it's hard to explain the events of his reign and the transformations of the Empire without the faith having had his sympathies at the height of his very considerable power. But no one at the time thought of things in quite the same terms, and the kinslaying chaos that followed Constantine's death has made it difficult to understand the decades that followed with any clarity.
 

DrZoidberg

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He took the only route he could take if he wanted to outmanoeuvre his political opponents. No matter what he really believed. Which means that there’s no way for us to know for sure, what his personal faith really was.

In part because the question is anachronistic. Romans lacked a concept of "personal faith" equivalent to the modern European idea. You could, and people did, participate in various temples and religious orders of various kinds, but membership wasn't usually exclusive, and it was assumed that whole families/tribes/towns etc would have obligations to a particular temple regardless of what they "believed" or didn't believe. That simply wasn't up to them, nor relevant to the social expectation that they would do right by their family or deme or what have you. The idea of religion as a badge of autonomous personal identity was a product of the Renaissance, and took centuries to develop into it's present form. They did not reject the modern concept of personal faith, it simply didn't exist yet.

Excellent point. I agree fully. Which also puts a dent in the idea that Constantine would ponder about his personal faith.
Correct, his decision-making was for the entire empire, of which "The Bulldog" Constantine was the presumptive paterfamilias; there could have been no non-social, non-political permutation of faith for him. The records state he baptized on his deathbed, and despite the biased nature of those records I tend to believe this. By a similar token to the above, it's hard to explain the events of his reign and the transformations of the Empire without the faith having had his sympathies at the height of his very considerable power. But no one at the time thought of things in quite the same terms, and the kinslaying chaos that followed Constantine's death has made it difficult to understand the decades that followed with any clarity.

Waiting until your deathbed before getting baptized was a common strategy among noble Christians at the time. Since, it was understood, the baptism would wipe the slate clean. So until baptism the Christian was free to sin as much as they liked. Considering the amount of murder nobles of his generation were doing, waiting with baptism was the prudent move. Him waiting until his deathbed, if anything, proves he was a normal Christian for his generation, and might have been a true believer of Christ his entire life. When he founded his new capitol he went to great lengths to make it a mostly Christian capitol. That says a lot. He did a lot to push Christianity.

But... pagans, in general, didn't have a problem with Christianity. All they cared about was that their temples were well funded and sacrifices were carried out in a timely manner. Paganism isn't about faith. It's about ritual. The pagan gods don't care what you believe. They care what you do. Christian churches had endless problems getting new converts to stop sacrificing to their old gods, while also worshipping God. This idea of Christian religious exclusivity, and the idea that God was a mind reader, took a long long time before it filtered down all the way through to the individual Romans. The persecution of the Christians was only ever about the Christians refusal to sacrifice on the alter of the deified emperors. Something which it was illegal not to do. Since it was such a minor symbolic action the pagans were utterly befuddled when the Christians refused. The other monotheist/monotheist'ish faiths of that time did encourage their followers to sacrifice to the emperor. So they were left alone. The Cult of Isis was in practice in almost every other way identical to Christianity and that cruised along unmolested (until the Christians came along and molested it).

My point with this is that his embrace of Christianity was for Constantine, pretty much, politically risk free. This is of course a major reason Christianity will eventually displace paganism so utterly. This casts doubt on whether he was really a Christian or not. Pascal's wager... and all that. Even if he was a pagan, why wouldn't he get baptized on his deathbed anyway? If he was a pagan he would have nothing to lose. And we know many other pagans of his generation felt the same.

So we really don't know. I would say, given the chaos of his time and and that the only surviving accounts is all propaganda, having an opinion on whether he was a Christian is what's unsupported. There's just not enough information to prove it, either way.

Fun little trivia is that we've found sacrificial alters of Baal, in active use in Caanan well into AD 200. The Jews also struggled with getting people to stop sacrificing to other gods. We can't draw a line on a map and say this part is Christian and this pagan. The Christianization of the Roman empire, and of their pagan cults, was a gradual progress. For all we know Constantine was something in between a Christian and a pagan. That would be the case no matter what. More or less. So perhaps it's a moot point?
 

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First and foremost Roman emperors were politicians who balanced differing groups. If were not good at politics you ened up dead. What I took away form Marcus Aurelius is thathuman politics never changes.

Relgion or more generally mythology has laways been a tool of state.

When ciommunist Russia collpsed Chrtianity came beck quickly getting political power. Putin makes a point of being phograped wearing a cross. He woe re one when he met GWB a very public Christian who infamously said he looked into Putin's sou and saw a good person.
 

DrZoidberg

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Byzantinian times.

My odyssey of burning through all quality history podcasts available has taken me beyond Rome and into Byzantine times.

If you ever wondered when the Roman cities stopped looking Roman and started looking Medieval, and when culture shifted from Roman to Medieval, this is the time. The reason is... plague.

As it turns out, being Christian protected you from plague. The more Christian and moralistic the better you were protected. Highly judgemental and moralistic Christians would never set their foot in a bath. Which may have saved their lives. Christians took care of the dead and moved them to places where they would be less infectious. At the time of a plague, Christian burial practices is actually the tits. As is Christian values in general. This is the time when church brothels are closed. Yes, up to this point each church had a brothel that helped pay for it’s upkeep. Not all churches. But it was a financial model inherited from paganism. As it turns out, not going to brothels is also great from a pandemic prevention point of view. A popular past time was "pantomime". This isn't pantomime of today. It was live sex shows. Orgies were frowned upon by Christians. What a surprise!

When Rome Christianised in the 4’th century things went on much like they had before. Christian institutions didn’t spring into being until the time of the barbarian invasions of the subsequent centuries, making Roman civil society unstable and unpredictable. When state welfare seized, the church picked up the slack. And kept it going, much like before. But the church wouldn’t fund things that went against church teachings, like the baths and theatres. So these stopped being funded and would over time, literally fall apart. And then the plague came, like a sledgehammer (not literally) and obliterated what was left of paganism.

As it turns out Christianity was, at the time, just the right thing for a society being hammered by plague. Which is why the society that arose after the arrival of bubonic plague was shaped entirely on the basis of the church.

 
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