RA Markus (Christianity and the Secular) argues that as the church celebrated the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century, they also wanted to maintain their continuity with the church that gave them birth - the persecuted church of the martyrs: "The great need felt by Christians of the post-Constantinian age was for the restoration of a lost continuity with the age of persecutions. It was met by three developments: a huge extension of the cult of the martyrs, a new interest in the Church's past, and, especially, the growing appeal of asceticism. These were the principal means which helped the Christian community to convince itself that it was still identical with the Church of the martyrs."
Contrary to common mythology, these developments did not arise from protest against the establishment of the church. Rather, "Protest and rejection were confined to dissident sects on the fringes of Catholic orthodoxy, which were not recognized by the imperial authorities and were sometimes actively repressed by them." Rather than protest, the three developments Markus mentions aimed at reassurance: "Catholics sought to reassure themselves that triumph did not have to mean betrayal." Except on the margins, "the general dispensation of a Church favoured by the powers, recognised by legislation, and sharing Roman lifestyles and culture went unquestioned."
At least, it went unquestioned for a while, until (in Markus' view) Augustine began to back off from his own initial enthusiasm. There were several reasons: Augustine learned that "bishops often had little clout and that the influence they could wield on the conduct of affairs was severely limited." Rulers were often still pagan, and resisted the bishops' effort to direct politics along Christian lines. The City of God, Markus thinks, is the result of this more sober view of the triumph of the church.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, March 30, 2006 at 03:01 PM
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