Analysis of the Connection between the Persecution of Christians and the Christianization of the Roman Empire through the Perspective of Apostasy in Early Christianity
In spite of more than a century of historical research, the question of Christianization of the Roman Empire still poses a challenge to scholars. Numerous theories have been proposed as a way of explaining how the marginal religious community of several hundred persons managed to become, by the end of the 4th century, the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. In the first part of this paper, the author presents the most common theories put forward by scholars going back to Adolf von Harnack, with their critical evaluation. Special emphasis is placed on a specific theory, summarized already by Tertullian, who stated in one of his works: Semen est sanguis Christianorum. In the second part of the article, the author presents the standard criticism of Tertullian’s notion offered by contemporary scholars, as well as some new arguments related to the phenomenon of early Christian apostasy. Thus, the basic argument of the paper is as follows: The crucial problem of any “Semen est sanguis Christianorum theory” is the existence of apostates who, despite claims made by several early Church leaders, were not an imperceptible minority in the early Christian period. Approaching the subject of apostates from a historical and sociological (sociology of deviance) point, the author concludes that the apostates posed a serious problem to the stability and security of the new religion. Therefore, any hypothesis that martyrdom as such helped the process of Christianization has to account for the problem of apostasy, which is hardly taken into the consideration in discussions of the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
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