Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Fueling the Growth of Christianity
Before Augustine, Christianity had appealed mainly to the lower classes, even women and slaves, with a promise of eternal life and equality, at least at the spiritual level. But Christianity was not popular with the elite and educated classes in Rome. Many powerful Romans believed it a religion of pacifists and the weak. James J. O’Donnell, a modern Augustinian scholar, wrote, “But in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christianity was far from certain to survive and thrive.” Moreover, Christianity had failed to appeal to the Roman intellect: it was Hebrew wisdom, which was a different style of thought, even when translated into Greek and Latin. Augustine was the philosopher that bridges this gap. But why was Augustine able to make Christianity acceptable to the educated classes of Roman society? He did so because he was able to use classical philosophy to express Christian theology, thereby expressing Christian doctrine with clear thought, passionate discourse, and succinct logic. When the Hebrew concepts were rephrased in terms of classical philosophy, the Roman aristocracy understood them, and the numbers of highly-educated Romans converting to the new faith increased. Although controversial, he was enormously influential and brought unity to the church. He showed that Christianity met the moral and intellectual needs of well-educated Romans who were both socially and politically powerful, and in doing so, helped to make the religion popular among Romans of all social classes.