1902 Encyclopedia > Christianity > The Influence of Rome on Christianity

(Part 10)

The Influence of Rome on Christianity

But if early Christianity found it difficult to reconcile the New Testament idea of the kingdom of God with the Old Testament conception, it was no less troubled when it came to work out this New Testament thought on the broad basis prepared for it by the existence and character of the Roman Empire. There were difficulties without as well as difficulties within. Christians are men with bodies as well as souls, and Christian ideas tend to take sensible shape, sometimes false and sometimes true. No sooner had Christianity shaken off its Jewish thraldom than it seemed eager to betake itself to a new slavery -- eager to lay down the kingdom of God on lines already furnished by the government of pagan Rome, or the creeds of pagan philosophy. At all events we can trace in early Christianity the workings of two subtle influences, the one of which strove to reduce the kingdom of God to a material and earthly empire, while the other would have dissolved it into a system of philosophy. The ecclesiastical empire of the Middle Ages and the scholastic theology overthrown at the Great Reformation were slowly built up by principles which Christianity almost unconsciously assumed during her long struggle with pagan Rome and with pagan philosophy.

The relation of Rome to Christianity was very peculiar. Both aimed at worldwide dominion, and the one was the very incarnation of polytheism, while the other forbade in the sternest terms all idolatrous worship. The Christians, while citizens of the great empire which ruled the world, found the idolatry which they hated and denounced interwoven inextricably with the law of the land, possession of property, social observances, and public ceremonies. And Christianity had scarcely emerged from Palestine when it found itself engaged in a hand to hand struggle with the imperial power of Rome herself.

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