Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Ramsay MacMullen
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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    Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14754-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. 1 Persecution
    (pp. 1-31)

    Looked at from a sufficient distance, if indeed any distance is sufficient for a clear view, what seems to confront the observer of the religious scene in the period of my chosen title is a transition from one Establishment to another. That is the grand event. Thanks to our omniscience, however, we know the ancient Establishment will not survive. In that knowledge we focus our attention on the winner (and it is an old saying that history doesn’t like losers). We write off the losing Establishment, we pay it no mind; we look closely only at the rising Church, in...

  4. 2 The Cost to the Persecuted
    (pp. 32-73)

    Apart from Judaism and, in due course, Christianity and Manichaeism, the essential characteristics of religion in the empire were, I would say, these four: the acknowledgment of innumerable superhuman beings, the expectation that they were benevolent and would respond kindly to prayer (all but those who might be bent to wicked uses by magical invocation), the belief that some one or few of these beings presided especially over each place and people, and a substratum of rites addressing life’s hopes and fears without appeal to any one being in particular.

    This religion had no single center, spokesman, director, or definition...

  5. 3 Superstition
    (pp. 74-102)

    The mix of acts and beliefs to be called religious, especially in the West, included some of a particularly long history post-312 that were certainly not Christian. In a loose sense, instead, they were, or are today, called pagan. Some discussion of them obviously belongs in these pages, and leads into wider areas of inquiry.

    To begin with, their identity. I mean the word in its literal sense. Across a great length of centuries, is it one cult that reappears from time to time, or are the several appearances of successive different cults?

    Diana worship may serve as illustration. Classical...

  6. 4 Assimilation
    (pp. 103-149)

    Ritual dance as a custom of north African Christians was familar to Augustine post-400 as before; and how could it not be, since in the opening year of the fifth century it was to be seen both at martyr tombs and “throughout city precincts and squares.” It spared neither the close vicinity of the churches nor the saints’ days themselves, as the bishops in their council described the sight. Most of them objected to it, especially for the sake of women coming to worship, who might be the target of sexy remarks.¹ It was a case of the bishops against...

  7. 5 Summary
    (pp. 150-160)

    In the opening century or two of their existence as a religious community, Christians lacked a distinctive poetry, rhetoric, drama, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, or dance—all, arts serving the older faith richly. They lacked arts of play and celebration that other faiths enjoyed. They had almost no special language of gestures or symbols in which to express their feelings or their wishes to, or regarding, the divine, such as pagans had developed; nor were they sure just how to conceive or address most superhuman powers acknowledged in their world: the souls of their dead, heroes or holy men, angels...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 161-246)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-276)
  10. Index
    (pp. 277-282)