Pagans 0, Christians 1

Coin of Constantine I, making a benediction gesture, with his sons, enthroned.

Coin of Constantine I, making a benediction gesture, with his sons, enthroned.

There is little room for the myth that Christians [in the Roman Empire] were a perpetually hounded minority, literally driven underground by unremitting persecution… Even at the height of the Great Persecution, martyrdom was not an everyday occurrence for Christians. But martyrdom did not have to be frequent for its message to inspire horror and awe…

Nor is there any truth in the more modern myth that presents the advance of Christianity as due to the spread of a religion of mercy and equality among the underprivileged. Christianity was by no means the religion only of slaves and of simple folk… It could not be said that Christians were totally innocent of wealth, of slave-owning or, even, of power… Rather, the third century was an age of surprising Christians, of whom the Roman emperor Constantine was only the last…

In the Christian churches of the third century…salvation meant, first and foremost, salvation from idolatry and from the power of the demons…Seen with Christian eyes in the age of Constantine, the immemorial worship of the gods throughout the Roman world was a grand illusion: the ancient rites to which the emperor Diocletian paid such heavy reverence were no more than a tawdry stage-set, set up by the demons so as to stand between mankind and its rightful God…

We should not underestimate the fierce mood of Christians in the fourth century A.D. For centuries, the churches had consisted of small, compact groups, tensed against the outside world. These groups had recently emerged from widespread persecution [the Great Persecution instituted in 303 A.D. under the Emperor Diocletian]. It was not a situation likely to breed tolerance of others. Furthermore, as we have seen in the case of the martyrs, Christians made sense of the world in terms of a clash of gods. The power of Christ was pitted remorselessly against the malevolent power of the demons who lurked behind the façade of traditional polytheist worship. The unexpected conversion of Constantine in 312, and his subsequent support of the Church, seemed to be a triumphant vindication of this militant view of the world. By patronizing the Church, Constantine had wished to gain the support of the God of the Christians. Whether he wanted to foster renewed religious violence (this time, by Christians against pagans) is another matter. But the Christian bishops thought otherwise. For them it was now or never. They considered that they had won the right to finish off the struggle with the gods.

— Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.63, 64, 66, 73

Constantine [the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity] united the whole Roman Empire under his rule and reigned for twenty-five years. He brought up his sons to be pious Christians, and the last of them reigned for another twenty-five years, having ultimately reunited the empire under his rule. During that half-century the Church had enjoyed imperial protection and paganism had been viewed with disfavor. Christians had been promoted and pagans frowned upon. With only two short-lived exceptions no pagan was to reign as Emperor after Constantine.

A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe

Constantineʼs Mother

Helena, Constantineʼs mother, lived about three hundred years after Jesusʼs day. Once her son became Emperor, “Helena traveled all over Palestine and whenever she found a thing mentioned in her Bible, Old or New Testament, she would search for it in reality, and never stop until she had found it. If it was Adam, she would find Adamʼs grave; if it was Goliath, Joshua or Melchizadek, she would find their graves; if it was Noahʼs ark, she would find the ark. She was always fortunate,” as Mark Twain put it in The Innocents Abroad, a book he wrote concerning his visit to the Holy Land and what he learned while there.

Helena also claimed to have found the exact spot of the crucifixion; the spot where the soldiers divided Jesusʼs clothing; and the three crosses upon which Jesus and the two thieves were crucified [see picture below, drawn to illustrate Helenaʼs discovery of “the three crosses” by an artist in Italy in the 800s].

St. Helena Finding the True Cross

Helena also claimed to have found a metal plate that was nailed to the top of the cross and upon which Pilate had written, “This is the King of the Jews;” and the rift in the rock made by the alleged earthquake (mentioned only in Matthew) at the time of Jesusʼs crucifixion. Many of the things Helena found are still being hawked to tourists in the Holy Land today, but archaeologists doubt they are genuine. Helenaʼs story proves how relatively easy it is to “find” everything youʼre looking for if you just use “eyes of faith” (and carry round enough gold to tempt folks to bring you everything you ask, whether genuine or not). For faith is a wondrous thing, it can move mountains and also convince you that a herring is a racehorse.

Her son, the Emperor Constantine, built luxurious churches in the Holy Land to house items she had found. One church allegedly features some of the same earth out of which Adamʼs body had been formed. Another features the very spot where Christʼs cross pierced the ground, which has been memorialized with gold inlay encircling it—though it lay on the second floor of the church. (Does that mean Christʼs cross was suspended in thin air?)

Another interesting thing Constantine did was to give Jesusʼ hometown of Nazareth an upgrade. Prior to Constantineʼs day, Nazareth had only been a small village. But Luke in his Gospel called Nazareth a “city” not a mere town or village. With Constantineʼs help it became one, even if after the fact.

— E.T.B.

The Word“Pagan” Was a Term of Derision Coined by Christians

In the late fourth century, polytheism received its modern name. The word “pagan,” paganus, began to circulate among Christians. This word emphasized the marginal status of polytheism. Usually, paganus had meant “second-class participant” —civilian as opposed to regular solider, lower as opposed to high officials… Cultivated polytheists, urban notables, and even members of the Roman Senate, were told by the Spanish priest, Orosius (in his History Against the Pagans, written at the behest of Augustine in 416), that… theirs was a religion of country folk, of pagani, or men of the pagus, of paysans, paesanos—that is, a religion worthy only of illiterate peasants. Nor was this simply a matter of clerical preaching. The most effective sermonizer of all, in the fourth and fifth centuries, was the newly organized Roman state… In the sharp words of an early edict of Constantine, polytheists might, if they wished, “celebrate the rites of an outmoded illusion,” provided that they did not force Christians to join in them.

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.74

A spirit of scornful tolerance breathes through not a few of his [Constantineʼs] edicts. As the years passed, toleration of paganism gave place to active repression; the emperor felt that he was strong enough to advance to a frontal attack upon paganism. The important fact to realize, however, is that this alteration in policy entailed no change of spirit, only a change of method. What Constantine would have recommended in 323 he later felt free to proclaim as the imperial will.

— Norman H. Baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church

For all their propaganda, Constantine and his successors did not bring about the end of paganism. But what they did bring to the Christian churches was peace [but not peace between Christians, click here.—E.T.B.], wealth, and, above all, the ability to build up, at a surprising rate, a strong local position.

Constantine set up great basilica churches (true “royal halls,” as the name basilica, from basileus, “king,” implies) in Rome—Saint Peterʼs and San Giovanni in Laterano. At Antioch he built a large, golden-domed octagon opposite the newly-built imperial palace. Above all, he built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. These churches were sermons in stone. They spoke far more loudly and more continuously of the providential alliance of Church and empire than did any imperial edict or the theorizing of any bishop. They left visitors amazed:

“The decorations really are too marvelous for words [wrote Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim, on Constantineʼs church of the Holy Sepulcher.] All you can see is gold and jewels and silk… You simply cannot imagine the number and the sheer weight of the candles, tapers, lamps and everything else they use for the services… They are beyond description, and so is the magnificent building itself. It was built by Constantine and … was decorated with gold, mosaic and precious marble, as much as his empire could provide.”

— Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.77

Constantineʼs allegiance to his God was backed by massive patronage. Emperors had always honored their favored gods with benefactions and buildings. Constantineʼs patronage was so lavish that he had to strip resources from pagan temples to fund it. One of his early foundations in Rome was the church of St. John Lateran, whose apse was to be coated in gold. Around 500 pounds of it was needed… Another 3,700 lbs was required for light fittings and another 400 pounds of gold for fifty gold vessels.

— Charles Freeman, “The Emperorʼs State of Grace,” History Today, January 2001

Constantine … banned the construction of new pagan temples, the consulting of oracles, and animal sacrifices. That these decrees were enforced sporadically did not detract from their symbolic value…

[During the reign of Christian Emperor Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, hereticsʼ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy non-believers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. The bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful buildings in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher.

Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, p.226-227

Examples of destroyed Temples: the Sanctuary of Aesculap in Aegaea, the Temple of Aphrodite in Golgatha, Aphaka in Lebanon, the Heliopolis. Christian priests such as Mark of Arethusa or Cyrill of Heliopolis were famous as “temple destroyers.”

Between 315 AD and the sixth century thousands of pagan believers were slain. Pagan services became punishable by death in 356 AD.

The Christian Emperor, Theodosius, even had children executed, because they had been playing with remains of pagan statues.

In the early fourth century the philosopher Sopatros was executed on demand of Christian authorities.

In the sixth century pagans were declared void of all rights.

— K. Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn, (Stuttgart 1962), p.466, 468-469

For more info concerning the works of K. Deschner click here.

The Christian zealots for conversion took to the streets or crisscrossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing barbarians thereafter.

— Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire

[Pagan] oracles had remained popular: many were shut down. Great [pagan] temples were deliberately violated: their doors were broken and their sanctuaries defiled, if only to prove that the gods associated with them were unable to protect their shrines against such sacrilege. Statues of the gods were broken up with deliberate care: their heads, arms, and legs were broken off, so as to deprive them of the divine “life” which their worshippers (and many half-hearted Christians also) had seen in them. These pre-emptive, “first strike” measures were not necessarily expected to convert pagans. They took place, rather, so as to hold in newly converted Christians by removing from them the temptation offered by old places of pagan worship.

The Christian empire was fully implicated in these actions…Constantine and his successors did the same [things that pagan emperors had done to Christians, forbidding their meetings, destroying their property and sacred books, only] in reverse…After 312, first Constantine, then his devout son, Constantius II (337-361), and finally, Theodosius I (379-395) progressively forbade public [pagan] sacrifices, closed temples, and colluded in frequent acts of local violence by Christians against major cult sites—of which the destruction of the gigantic Serapeum of Alexandria, in around 392, was only the most spectacular.

— Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.73-74

The libraries [of Alexandria] were surely in decline under Christians who, following their triumph over pagans, Jews, and Neoplatonists, found the Hellenic riches of the libraries discomfiting. Their anger reached a fever pitch in the fourth century A.D.: Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, desired the site of the temple of Serapis [a huge temple/library and part of the libraries of Alexandria] for a church; he set loose a mob of Christians, who destroyed the pagan temple, and perhaps, the books of its library as well …

The [rest of the] libraries of Alexandria probably shared a modest fate, moldering slowly through the centuries as people grew indifferent and even hostile to their contents. Ancient Greek, never a linguistic monolith in any case, became incomprehensible to Alexandrians of the Christian era with their mixture of Coptic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Koine, or demotic Greek. Ignored by the generations to whom they were indecipherable, the scrolls would have been damaged … stolen, lost, and yes, burned. They were replaced by writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the church and by the thinning literature of the declining Roman world.

— Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p.24,32

The Theodosian Code & Paganism

In 436, the lawyers of Theodosius II (408-450), the grandson of Theodosius I, met in Constantinople to bring together the edicts of his Christian predecessors in a single book. The subsequent Theodosian Code appears in 438…

When early medieval Christians looked back to Rome, what they saw, first and foremost, was not the “Golden Age” of classical Rome (as we would tend to do). The pagan empire did not impress them. It was the Theodosian Code that held their attention and esteem. It was the official voice of the Roman empire at its greatest, that is, when it was the Roman empire as God always intended it to be—a Christian empire. The Code ended with a book On Religion. This book, in itself, signaled the arrival of a new attitude to religion. Religious belief as such was not treated as a subject for legislation. As we have seen, Roman had always been concerned with the correct performance of religions, with the maintenance of traditional rites. But this attitude had been replaced by the new definition of “religion” which, as we saw, had emerged in the course of the third century A.D. Now it was “thought-crime” itself—wrong view on religion in general, and not simply failure to practice traditional rites in the traditional manner—which was disciplined. In the Theodosian Code, extracts from the laws issued from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius II were arranged in chronological order. They communicated a rising sense of governmental certainty. There was to be little place, in the new Roman order, for heresy, schism, or Judaism, and no place at all for “the error of stupid paganism.”

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.75

Pagans had not been clear or unanimous in their belief in an afterlife, but those who credited it looked to mystery cults for insurance in their future. Christians were much more positive…The Christians united ritual and philosophy and brought the certainty of God and history to questions whose answers eluded the pagan schools… Whereas pagan cults won adherents, Christianity aimed, and contrived, to win converts…

Paganism was reclassified as a demonic system… If Satan was the source of error and evil, false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. The division between a Christian “community of goodness” and an “outer world of evil” could easily become too pronounced. The idea of Satan magnified the difference between “true” and “false” Christians and between Christian sinners and saints…

Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians exaggerated and then claimed to be able to defeat…This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for “pseudepigraphic” forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of “Peter” would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that “Peterʼs vision of hell” was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.

— Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p.326-327, 330-331, 412

Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529. [“529 A.D.” was the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian, the same Justinian who also outlawed sodomy, because, “It is well known that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited.”—E.T.B.]. As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.

Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.

— Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the bishops.

John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism

The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith & the Fall of Reason

The argument of this book is that the Greek intellectual tradition did not simply lose vigour and disappear. (Its survival and continued progress in the Arab world is testimony to that.) Rather, in the fourth and fifth century A.D. it was destroyed by the political and religious forces which made up the highly authoritarian government of the late Roman empire. There had been premonitions of this destruction in earlier Christian theology. It had been the Apostle Paul who declared war on the Greek rational tradition through his attacks on “the wisdom of the wise” and “the empty logic of the philosophers,” words which were to be quoted and requoted in the centuries to come. Then came the absorption of Platonism by the early Christian theologians. It was assumed that Christian dogma could be found through the same process as Plato had advocated, in other words, through reason, and would have the same certainty as the Forms. However, as with other aspects of Platonism, it proved impossible to find secure axioms from which to start the rational argument. Scriptural texts conflicted with each other, different theological traditions had taken root in different parts of the empire, theologians disagreed whether they should discard pagan Greek philosophy or exploit it. The result, inevitably, was doctrinal confusion. Augustine was to note the existence of over eighty heresies (for which read “alternative ways of dealing with the fundamental issues of Christian doctrine”). When Constantine gave toleration to the churches in the early fourth century, he found to his dismay that Christian communities were torn by dispute. He himself did not help matters by declaring tax exemptions for Christian clergy and offering the churches immense patronage, which meant that getting the “right” version of Christian doctrine gave access not only to heaven but to vast resources on earth. By the middle of the fourth century, disputes over doctrine had degenerated into bitterness and even violence as rival bishops struggled to earn the emperorʼs favour and the most lucrative bishoprics. At a time of major barbarian attacks, the threat to order was so marked that it was the emperors who increasingly defined and enforced an orthodoxy, using hand-picked church councils to give themselves some theological legitimacy.

So one finds a combination of factors behind “the closing of the Western mind”: the attack on Greek philosophy by Paul, the adoption of Platonism by Christian theologians and the enforcement of orthodoxy by emperors desperate to keep good order. The imposition of orthodoxy went hand in hand with a stifling of any form of independent reasoning. By the fifth century, not only has rational thought been suppressed, but there has been a substitution for it of “mystery, magic and authority,” a substitution which drew heavily on irrational elements of pagan society that had never been extinguished. Pope Gregory the Great warned those with a rational turn of mind that, by looking for cause and effect in the natural world, they were ignoring the cause of all things, the will of God. This was a vital shift of perspective, and in effect a denial of the impressive intellectual advances made by the Greek philosophers.

Some who have found this argument too damning have stressed how it was Christians who preserved the great works of the Greek philosophers by copying them from decaying papyri, or parchment. The historian is indeed deeply indebted to the monks, the Byzantine civil servants and the Arab philosophers who preserved ancient texts, but the recording of earlier authorities is not the same as maintaining a tradition of rational thought. This can be done only if these authorities are then used as inspiration for further intellectual progress or as a bulwark against which to react. This happened in the Arab world (where, for instance, even the findings of a giant such as Galen were challenged and improved on) but not in the Byzantine empire or the Christian west. The Athenian philosopher Proclus made the last recorded astronomical observation in the ancient Greek world in A.D. 475. It was not until the sixteenth century that Copernicus—inspired by the surviving works of Ptolemy but aware that they would make more sense, and in fact would be simpler, if the sun was placed at the centre of the universe—set in hand the renewal of the scientific tradition. The struggle between religion and science had now entered a new phase, one which is beyond the scope of this book. What cannot be doubted is how effectively the rational tradition had been eradicated in the fourth and fifth centuries. The “closing of the Western mind” has been ignored for all too long. I hope this book reinvigorates debate on this turning point in European history.

— Charles Freeman

Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

The slaughter of animals for religious feasts, the tinkling of bells to ward off evil during holy rites, the custom of dancing in religious services-these and many other pagan practices persisted in the Christian church for hundreds of years after Constantine proclaimed Christianity the one official religion of Rome. In this book, Ramsay MacMullen investigates the transition from paganism to Christianity between the fourth and eighth centuries. He reassesses the triumph of Christianity, contending that it was neither tidy nor quick, and he shows that the two religious systems were both vital during an interactive period that lasted far longer than historians have previously believed. MacMullen explores the influences of paganism and Christianity upon each other. In a rich discussion of the different strengths of the two systems, he demonstrates that pagan beliefs were not eclipsed or displaced by Christianity but persisted or were transformed. The victory of the Christian church, he explains, was one not of obliteration but of widening embrace and assimilation. This fascinating book also includes new material on the Christian persecution of pagans over the centuries through methods that ranged from fines to crucifixion; the mixture of motives in conversion; the stubbornness of pagan resistance; the difficulty of satisfying the demands and expectations of new converts; and the degree of assimilation of Christianity to paganism.

Publisherʼs synopsis for Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries by Ramsay MacMullen

The traditional view has been that, during the century after Constantineʼs conversion, most of the Roman Empire (and lands beyond) converted to Christianity with wholehearted gusto, and pagan beliefs survived only in remote pockets. Not so, according to the authorʼs overwhelming evidence: paganism had an extremely long half-life. MacMullen also dispenses with the long-held traditional argument that women and slaves converted to Christianity because paganism did not offer them much. (If anything, as he clearly and succinctly shows, the reverse is true.) Furthermore, MacMullen discusses how, beginning in the fourth century, upon subsuming power, Christians dealt with pagans in the traditional (non-Christian) way: they persecuted them with intimidation, torture, forced conversions, and death. Persecutions continued for many centuries, indicating that the underlying pagan culture was indeed very hearty.

The problem with the early Churchʼs aggressive approach is obvious: many converts were not true believers, or they didnʼt quite understand what they were accepting. In addition, the relatively new Christianity, “a religion of the book” that was strong on doctrine, lacked a distinctive culture or the ability to satisfy everyday needs and desires (whether worldly or supernatural). Still, the Christian elites—the educated or the anointed—placed far more faith in the supernatural (God) than did their pagan predecessors, who viewed the reliance on superstition (gods) as a crutch for the lower, especially rural, classes. This difference ironically gave Christianity an advantage: believers at both ends of the social spectrum, from bishops to peasants, looked to the supernatural for explanations of everyday occurrences, from the weather to illness to death. Thus, many pagan rituals provided the basis for Christian traditions: offerings to the gods became cults of the saints, pagan feasts became Christian festivals, etc. As Jerome acknowledged, in MacMullenʼs paraphrase: “better, worship of the saints in the pagan manner than none at all.”
— D. C. Smith (Amazon Review of MacMullenʼs book)

I think Stalin would find it grimly amusing reading, since it suggests that whatever success Christianity achieved was by fanaticism and violence. We start off with an account of how Christians systematically suppressed non-Christian works, as well as the “heretics” amongst themselves. We hear Eusebius, the first great Church historian, announce that it is not the duty to tell the whole truth but only what is of profit. Students of the Russian Revolution will remember the gruesome story of the child who informed on his “kulak” parents, was murdered by his relatives, and became the hero of a gruesome cult. In this book we hear how the emperor Justinian was moved to raptures on hearing of how a Jewish boy convert survived being thrown into a furnace by his father. Justinian learned how angels prevented the boy from being burned, and then he had the father crucified.

Persecution: MacMullen challenges those who argue that Christianity was an improvement for women and slaves. Women did play some role in leading Pagan cults, none at all in Christianity, and he tells how while a pagan governor demanded the compensation for the family of a murdered prostitute, Saint Jerome supported beheading for extramarital fornication. He discusses how exorcisms, resurrections, and healings played a greater role in conversions than sermons or reasoned argument. He discusses the increasingly bloodthirsty demands of bishops, monks and imperial decrees as well as pointing out the weaknesses of the bureaucratic machinery.

Cost to the Persecuted: MacMullen notes how Constantine still claimed a sort of divine status for himself and his father. He discusses the joyous pagan festivals, including feasts, dancing, poetry orations and their long persistence despite the opposition of the bishops (Augustine tried to argue that giving friends presents was wicked). MacMullen also gives accounts of pagans who thought idols had actual magical powers. He discusses the destruction of pagan temples and shrines, as well as the cutting down of sacred trees.

Superstition: MacMullen discusses the shifting attitude from the rational world view of Pliny, Seneca and Plotinus and the increase in credulity throughout the third and fourth centuries. MacMullen argues that this was a result of changes in the elite as more vulgar and less literate people increased their predominance. Whatever the merits of this thesis, MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.

Assimilation: MacMullen provides much information about the assimilation of dancing, festival meals for the dead, and the growth about the cult of martyrs. He tells how angels and martyrs took the place of minor deities who heard the wishes that would have been apparently too petty to relate to God. Christianity also assimilated practices like valorizing the dust around certain shrines and the plants that grew there, as well as amulets and ankhs used to ward off disasters, while images of Jesus and other Christian figures spread throughout the world. “The triumph of the church was not one of obliteration but of widening embrace and assimilation,” concludes MacMullen, and it is the weakness of Christian efforts which mitigates an otherwise brutal history.
— pnotley, Amazon Review of MacMullinʼs book

Also See

Constantine: 4. 2. Suppression of other religions

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