The Roman Empire, when studied superficially, can be seen as the greatest enemy of this radically new religion, Christianity.
We see for instance in the gospel that at the outset of the birth of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had been haunted down to be destroyed. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Herod is going to search for the child (Jesus) to destroy him.”
The Church in its infancy had also been persecuted. We also know Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, persecuted the Christians. In Galatians, Paul tells us, “For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond all measure and tried to destroy it…” Another instance in Acts tells us of the murderous threats of Saul against the disciples of the Lord.
The list can go on. Accounts of persecutions in Eusebius’ works and in the works of Josephus are so many. Even modern authors in Ancient Church History write and focus more on the persecutions brought by the Roman Empire for more than 250 years and little about the preparations and contributions of the empire to the Christians.
If we try to ask the question, “Why did it appear in the Roman Empire?” we can surmise that the empire where Christianity was to make its appearance was also prepared like that of the womb of the blessed Mother of Jesus where He also made his first appearance. It is very likely possible to call the Roman Empire as the best ally of Christianity. And this is what I intend to present here in this work. How did the empire prepare for Christianity? How did the empire usher to the growth, triumph and spread of Christianity?
- Pax Romana and the Unification of the World
The first universal blessing conferred by the empire was the famous pax Romana (“Roman peace”). Rome was the universal state to which all were subject. The Roman Empire…”and the peace it offered made it truly the ‘Fatherland of Christianity’.”
The world had not been at peace since the days of Alexander the Great. In Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, he cited the work of Josephus in these words: “A sedition having also arisen between the Jews dwelling at Alexandria and the Greeks.” There was also quarrels between the Jews and the Romans, Arabs against the Romans and many other coups even within the city of Rome i.e. Romans against Romans. The aggression of the Roman republic had kept the nations in a state of constant turmoil.
A universal peace was first established with the beginning of the reign of Augustus. “The reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus is usually dated from 27 BC to his death in 14 AD. According to Greek inscriptions, Augustus…was credited with establishing a time of peace throughout the Roman world during his long reign”.
In all the countries round the Mediterranean and from distant Britain to the Euphrates the world was at rest. Rome had made an end of her own civil wars and had put a stop to wars among the nations. Though her wars were often iniquitous and unjustifiable, and she conquered like a barbarian, she ruled her conquests like a humane statesman. The quarrels of the Diadochi which caused so much turmoil in the East were ended, the territory of the Lagids; Attalids, Seleucids and Antigonids having passed under the sway of Rome. The empire united Greeks, Romans and Jews all under one government. St. Melito of Sardes poited out about 175 AD that Christianity and the imperial rule entered the world about the same time and grew up together. Rome thus blended the nations and prepared them for Christianity. Now for the first time we may speak of the world as universal humanity, the orbis terrarum, he oikoumene, the genus humanum. These terms represented humanity as living under a uniform system of government. All were members of one earthly state; the Roman Empire was their communis omnium patria.
This state of affairs contributed largely to the spread of cosmopolitanism which had set in with the Macedonia conqueror. Under the Roman Empire all national barriers were removed; the great cities–Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, etc.–became meeting-places of all races and languages. “The disciples carried their message to the numerous Jewish communities scattered along the Mediterranean coast.” We also find in the Acts that Paul traveled to those centers of Roman civilizations. Bokenkotter remarked that “Paul now sets his sights on Spain, the oldest Roman province, and the main center of Roman civilization in the Western Mediterranean.”
The Romans were everywhere carrying their laws and civilization; Greeks settled in thousands at all important centers as professors, merchants, physicians, or acrobats; Orientals were to be found in large numbers with their gods and mysteries in Rome, “the epitome of the world.” “The Romans promoted the spread of common culture… This meant that the missionaries could preach the gospel in Greek in almost all the large cities and be understood.”
- Eclecticism 
This cosmopolitanism gave great impetus to a corresponding eclecticism of thought. Nothing could have been more favorable to Christianity than this intermixture of all races and mutual exchange of thought. Each people discovered how much it had in common with its neighbors.
Philosophy which had replaced religion in the case of many educated persons, was itself in a state of decay. The profound speculation of Plato and Aristotle had given way to other more eclectic systems. Epicureanism rejected speculation and taught a materialistic hedonism. Many surrendered to Skepticism and gave up all hope of ever having knowledge of truth. The Cynics subjected all religion to frivolous criticism.
Stoicism did a noble service in preparation for Christianity by preaching universalism along the path of individualism. It also furnished comfort and strength to countless thousands of weary human lives and ministered spiritual support and calm resignation at many a heathen deathbed. It may be declared to be the first system of religious thought–for it was a religion more than a philosophy–which made a serious study of the diseases of the human soul. We know of course its weakness and imperfections, that it was an aristocratic creed appealing only to the elect of mortals, that it had little message for the fallen and lower classes, that it was cold and stern. But with all its failures it proved a worthy pedagogue to a religion which brought a larger message than that of Greece. It afforded the spiritual and moral counterpart to the larger human society of which the Roman Empire was the political and visible symbol.
“But equally sublime and significant are the intellectual…victories of the church in this period over the art and science of heathenism.”
- Protection for Greek Culture
Another inestimable service rendered to humanity and Christianity was the protection which the Roman power afforded the Greek civilization. According to Schaff, one of the particular favorable outward circumstances was the prevalence of Greek language and culture.
We must remember that the Romans were at first only conquering barbarians who had little respect for culture, but idealized power. It is hard to conceive what a scourge Rome would have proved to the world had she not fallen under the influence of the superior culture and philosophy of Greece. Had the Roman Mars not been educated by Pallas Athene the Romans would have proved Vandals and Tartars in blotting out civilization and arresting human progress. The Greeks, on the other hand, could conquer more by their preeminence in everything that pertains to the intellectual life of man than they could hold by the sword. A practical and political power was needed to protect Greek speculation. But the Romans after causing much devastation were gradually educated and civilized and have contributed to the uplifting and enlightenment of subsequent civilizations by both preserving and opening to the world the spiritual qualities of Greece. The kinship of man with the divine, learned from Socrates and Plato, went forth on its wide evangel. This Greek civilization, philosophy and theology trained many of the great theologians and leaders of the Christian church, so that Clement of Alexandria said that Greek philosophy and Jewish law had proved schoolmasters to bring the world to Christ. Paul, who prevented Christianity from remaining a Jewish sect and proclaimed its universalism, learned much from Greek–especially from Stoic–thought. It is also significant that the early Christian missionaries apparently went only where the Greek language was known, which was the case in all centers of Roman administration.
The state of the Roman empire linguistically was in the highest degree favorable to the spread of Christianity. The Greek republics by their enterprise, superior genius and commercial abilities extended their dialects over the Aegean Islands, the coasts of Asia Minor, Sicily and Magna Graecia. The preeminence of Attic culture and literature favored by the short-lived Athenian empire raised this dialect to a standard among the Greek peoples. But the other dialects long persisted. Out of this babel of Greek dialects there finally arose a normal Grk: koine or “common language.” By the conquests of Alexander and the Hellenistic sympathies of the Diadochi this common Greek language became the lingua franca of antiquity. The history of the Maccabean struggle affords ample evidence of the extent to which Greek culture, and with it the Greek language, were familiar to the Jews. There were in later days Hellenistic bodies of devout Jews in Jerusalem itself. Greek was recognized by the Jews as the universal language: the inscription on the wall of the outer temple court forbidding Gentiles under pain of death to enter was in Greek. The Greek koine became the language even of religion–where a foreign tongue is least likely to be used–of the large Jewish Diaspora. They perceived the advantages of Greek as the language of commerce. They threw open their sacred Scriptures in the Septuagint and other versions to the Greek-Roman world, adapting the translation in many respects to the requirements of Greek readers. When the Romans came upon the scene, they found this language so widely known and so deeply rooted they could not hope to supplant it. Indeed they did not try to suppress Greek, but rather gladly accepted it as the one common means of intercourse among the peoples of their eastern dominions.
That Rome respected Greek is greatly to her credit and much to the advantage of Christianity. For Christianity, when it began to aim at universalism, dropped its native Aramaic. The gospel in order to become a world-evangel was translated into Greek. The early Christian missionaries did not learn the languages of the Roman empire, but confined themselves to centers of Greek culture. Paul wrote in Greek to the church in Rome itself, of which Greek was the language. And while Christianity was spreading through the Greek East under the unification of Roman administration, the Romans were Romanizing and leveling the West for Latin Christianity. In the West it may be noted that the first foothold of the Christian religion was in Greek–witness the church in Gaul.
In material ways too Rome opened the way for Christianity by building the great highways for the gospel. “A vast system of roads bound together the different parts of the empire. The Mediterranean itself formed a great water way, where traveling was safe and rapid; intercourse between the various parts of the empire, being made easy became incessant.”
The great system of roads that knit the civilized world together served not only the legions and the imperial escorts, but was of equal service to the early missionaries, and when churches began to spring up over the empire; these roads greatly facilitated that church organization and brotherhood which strengthened the church to overcome the empire. With the dawn of the pax Romana it “afforded security to travelers” all these roads became alive once more with a galaxy of caravans and traders. Commerce revived and was carried on under circumstances more favorable than any that obtained till the past century. Men exchanged not only material things, but also spiritual things. Many of these early traders and artisans were Christians, and while they bought and sold the things that perish, they did not lose an opportunity of spreading the gospel. For an empire which embraced the Mediterranean shores, the sea was an important means of intercommunication; and the Mediterranean routes were safer for commerce and travel at that period than during any previous one. The ships which plied in countless numbers from point to point of this great inland sea offered splendid advantages and opportunity for early Christian missionary enthusiasm especially that of St. Paul.
The large measure of freedom permitted by Roman authorities to the religions of all nations greatly favored the growth of infant Christianity. The Roman Empire was never in principle a persecutor with a permanent court of inquisition. Strange cults from the East and Egypt flourished in the capital, and except when they became a danger to public morality or to the peace of society they were allowed to spread unchecked under the eyes of the police.
To cap it all, it is clear that Christianity found facilities in the Roman Empire. Foremost among the facilities come Pax Romana, uniformity of culture language and ideas, and the rapid and safe communication by land or by sea. All these facilities ushered to the growth, spread and triumph of Christianity. The Roman Empire then can be considered the best ally of Christianity; its Fatherland was the Roman soil.
“The church of this period appears poor in earthly possessions and honors, but rich in heavenly grace, in world-conquering faith, love and hope; unpopular, even outlawed, hated and persecuted, yet far more vigorous and expansive than the philosophies of Greece or the Empire of Rome; composed chiefly of persons of the lower social ranks, yet attracting the noblest and deepest minds of the age, and bearing in her bosom the hope of the world; as unknown yet well-known, as dying, and behold it lives; conquering by apparent defeat, and growing on the blood of her martyrs; great in deeds, greater in sufferings, greatest in death for the honor of Christ and the benefit of generations to come.”
And the brilliant Origen writing about 248 (contra Cels. II, 30), said: “God prepared the nations and disposed things so that the Roman Emperor ruled the whole world…for the existence of many kingdoms would have proved a hindrance to the spread of Christ’s doctrine.”
- Bedouelle, Guy. The History of the Church. London: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2003.
- Bihlmeyer, Karl. Church History, translated by Victor E. Mills. Westminster: The Newman Press, 1968.
- Bokenkotter, Thomas. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1979.
- Duchesne, Louis. The Early History of the Church, From Its foundation to the End of the Fifth Century, vol. 1. London: Hunt, Barnard and Co. Ltd., 1950.
- Duchesne, Abbe. The Early History of the Church. Aylesbury, Bucks: Hunt, Bernard and Co., 1950.
- Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, translated by C.F. Cruse. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.
- Josephus, Flavius. The Jewish War, translated by William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.
- Laux, John. Church History, A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc, 1989.
- Neill, Thomas and Schmandt, Raymond. History of the Catholic Church. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957.
- Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Ante-Nicene Christianity from the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great A.D. 100-325, vol. 2. Massachusettes: HendricksonPublishers, 2002.
- First Year Latin. United States of America: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1975.
 Mt. 2:13
 Acts of the Apostles 8:1-
 Galatians 2:
 Acts of the Apostles 9:
 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. C.F. Cruse. (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 179-
 Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. William Whiston. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999), 667-909. take note here how the Romans persecuted the Jews including the Jewish Christians especially in Book 5, Chapter 11, § 1-6.
 Thomas Neill and Raymond Schmandt, History of the Catholic Church (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957), 4.
 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk.18
 Eusebius, Bk.2, 5, 41.
 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk. 18, § 108.
 See footnote on Luke 2:1
 See, Abbe Duchesne, The Early History of the Church (Aylesbury, Bucks: Hunt, Bernard and Co., 1950), 1.
 Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History, Bk IV, § 26.
 Luke 2:1
 See: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Ante-Nicene Christianity from the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great A.D. 100-325, vol. 2 (Massachusettes: HendricksonPublishers, 2002), 7-33.
 Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1979), 27.
 Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 31.
 Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 35.
 Karl Bihlmeyer, Church History, trans. Victor E. Mills. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1968), 33-36;
 Karl Bihlmeyer, Church History, 36.
 Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 35.
 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8.
 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 16.
 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 16.
 See, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk.12, 7, 3.
 For detailed account regarding this topic, see Thomas Neill and Raymond Schmandt, History of the Catholic Church (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957), 5-8.
 See, First Year Latin (United States of America: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1975), 433-435.
 Louis Duchesne, The Early History of the Church, From Its foundation to the End of the Fifth Century, vol. 1. (London: Hunt, Barnard and Co. Ltd.,1950), 5.
 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 20.
 Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 34.
 Bihlmeyer, Church History, 39.
 See for example the epistle of Emperor Hadrian, forbidding the Christians to be punished without trial. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 4, § 9.
 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8-9.
 Bihlmeyer, Church History, 39.