The Problem With Christendom

From the fourth century on, instruction in Christianity could even serve as a shortcut to Romanization, as joining the Episcopalians was till recently a shortcut to respectability in America. Once the emperor had conferred on Christianity its position of privilege, most Romans had little difficulty in reading this sign of the times for what it was and grasping that their own best interest lay in church membership. Though it would be cynical and ahistorical to conclude that conversions to Christianity in late antiquity were made only for the sake of political advancement or social convenience, it would be naive to imagine that Christianity swept the empire only because of its evident spiritual superiority. Certainly, the Christians of the first three centuries, whose adherence to Christianity could easily prove their death warrant, were devout and extraordinary. But from the time of Constantine, the vast majority of Christian converts were fairly superficial people. Despite Augustine’s enormous influence on subsequent history, the bland, detached, calculating Ausonius was a far more typical Christian of the late empire than was the earnest bishop of Hippo.

Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, pp. 125-126

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