THE COMING OF CHRISTIANITY

Er the last century B.C. peace and justice seemed to have 'een banished for ever from the world. People had sought consolation in oriental worships such as that of Isis of Egypt and of Mithras, the Persian god of light, a form of belief which, by arousing religious ecstasy, suggested that the rewards of the next world would balance the inequalities of this. During the reign of Tiberius, Christ was preaching His revolutionary creed which affirmed the equality of all men in the sight of God. Mankind, He taught, was the object of Divine Love, and He Himself was its agent. The new religion, which attacked the narrowness of the Hebraic and the selfish individuality of the Greek religion, found a most valuable champion in Paul, a great apostle. He travelled widely, preaching the faith and attempting to find a theological basis for the new religion so that it would withstand the criticisms of the Greek philosophers. The Romans who were, officially, uninterested in religion, apart from the formal worship of the Emperor as a token of loyal submission, at first tolerated the Christians as a sect of the Jews. Trajan, when consulted by Pliny, forbade systematic prosecution, but ordered punishment for any who, when brought before the governor, refused to worship the Emperor's image. Their refusal to do this, and their secret meetings, led to occasional persecution of the Christians by suspicious Emperors. The pagan mob, too, sometimes massacred the unbelievers who took no part in the popular religious festivals and shunned the shambles of the gladiatorial combats. In spite of repeated martyrdoms, the number of converts multiplied, and by the end of the second century A.D. it is probable that Christianity claimed more adherents than any other single creed. The third century A.D. saw the Empire on the verge of collapse. There was a bewildering succession of short-lived emperors who failed to check repeated barbarian raids. On the west, from A.D. 213 the German Alemanni and the Franks swept over Gaul and Spain, whilst their kinsmen, the Goths, from A.D. 238 overran the provinces south of the Danube and annexed Dacia. In A.D. 273 Aurelian restored peace temporarily, but it was now impossible for one man to protect East and West at the same time. Under Diocletian (A.D. 284-305), who reorganised every department of the Empire, all the tendencies of the Empire's three hundred years reached maturity. The last traces of Augustus's republican compromise are replaced by an undisguised Oriental monarchy with a crown and royal robes, a throne and a title. Rome, which had long ago fallen into the background as the needs of war kept the emperors on the Danube or Euphrates, now became a provincial municipality with the Senate as the local town council. Diocletian sought increased efficiency by partitioning the Empire between four rulers, but unfortunately this involved still heavier taxation, for there were now four courts and four sets of officials to maintain. Money was raised by making the wealthy men everywhere responsible for the financial quota of their own district. Diocletian attempted to prevent evasion of taxes by stereotyping society. A son was compelled to follow his father's trade, and no one might change his home or his occupation without permission. Even the cost of living was regulated by a price-fixing board. By these measures the new despotism crushed all personal freedom and initiative. This was truly " for life's sake to lose what makes life worth living." Constantine (A.D. 323-337) made two epoch-making decisions -the removal of the capital to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople) and the official acceptance of Christianity as the State religion. The foundation of Constantinople, while bringing the capital nearer to the seats of war, hastened the separation of East and West, for Gaul and Spain and Britain were quite out of the orbit of oriental politics. The new city became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and outlived the Western Empire by a thousand years.