No Constantine conversion

What if Constantine didn't convert to Christianity? Let's say that he does well like in OTL, but instead of becoming a full fledged convert, he concedes to simply not prosecuting the CHrsitians. So they don't have Rome on their case anymore, but neither do the Chrsitians have official sanction either. Does it spread as far and as wide still as in OTL, or does it become just another competing relgion of the late ROman Empire?
 
I suspect it spreads as in OTL, but is unincumbered by the heirarchical power structure it inherited from being the state religion of the Roman Empire. It probably retains more of its countercultural focus, an even stronger social justice element, and after several hundred years would be fairly unrecognizeable to OTL Christians - especicially Roman Catholics. Also, lacking a strong temporal central leadership it probably spawns many more "heretical" sects, many of which survive.
 
zoomar said:
I suspect it spreads as in OTL, but is unincumbered by the heirarchical power structure it inherited from being the state religion of the Roman Empire. It probably retains more of its countercultural focus, an even stronger social justice element, and after several hundred years would be fairly unrecognizeable to OTL Christians - especicially Roman Catholics. Also, lacking a strong temporal central leadership it probably spawns many more "heretical" sects, many of which survive.
In my way of looking at things, this would be quite beneficial for both the Christians and the Romans. A state religion was very far away from Republican Rome 9and also from the Rome of the first principates): it is something which comes out of the East, not the West.

Even if the Christians become the biggest religion, there would be space for other religions (Mithraism, Isis cult, classic paganism, and obviously Jews): again this would be beneficial for individual freedom, and would ultimately bring to life a saner society.
I think it was Robert Heinlein (OTOH, H. Beam Piper might be the culprit :) )who wrote that individual freedom is directly proportional to the number of competing religions in a society.
 
LordKalvan said:
I think it was Robert Heinlein (OTOH, H. Beam Piper might be the culprit :) )who wrote that individual freedom is directly proportional to the number of competing religions in a society.
Perhaps this is why alternate historians are so fond of Buddhism; it's not so much a religion as a meta-religion that can incorporate everybody else's gods as bodhisattvas.
 
chrispi said:
Perhaps this is why alternate historians are so fond of Buddhism; it's not so much a religion as a meta-religion that can incorporate everybody else's gods as bodhisattvas.
A very civilised attitude, I would say :)
 
In my Roman Culture class, we read a good bit about Republican Rome, and it seems that they did have a state religion, albeit a rather tolerant one (in the sense of no Inquisition-type shenanigans, at least at first). They had a pagan Altar of Victory in the Senate (later, the Christian Emperors and the pagan Senators had lots of fights over that one) and the State promoted the Roman religion as a means of securing divine blessing for the public (thus people who wanted "real sprituality" as opposed to the mechanistic state religion adopted a lot of the Eastern cults like Christianity, Mithraism, Isis, etc).
 
Matt Quinn said:
In my Roman Culture class, we read a good bit about Republican Rome, and it seems that they did have a state religion, albeit a rather tolerant one (in the sense of no Inquisition-type shenanigans, at least at first). They had a pagan Altar of Victory in the Senate (later, the Christian Emperors and the pagan Senators had lots of fights over that one) and the State promoted the Roman religion as a means of securing divine blessing for the public (thus people who wanted "real sprituality" as opposed to the mechanistic state religion adopted a lot of the Eastern cults like Christianity, Mithraism, Isis, etc).
What you say is true, but I always had the feeling that in classic republican times the Roman "state religion" was more similar to a pageant for public consumption than to a real "state religion". Saying that it was like a 4th of july parade might be a bit too much, but gives the idea :)
BTW, I was reading that regular, law-binding contract were kept in the temples of the gods, and regulated the obligations on the side of Rome and of the god respectively. Which is very "Roman", if you want
 
The comparison to the 4th of July parade works very well, though I think there's more urgency in this situation--if we don't have 4th of July parades, will George Washington smite us?
 
Matt Quinn said:
The comparison to the 4th of July parade works very well, though I think there's more urgency in this situation--if we don't have 4th of July parades, will George Washington smite us?
Almost there, but not exactly that: if we don't have a 4th of july parade, it means we have defaulted on our contractual obligations, and George Washington can go and make a deal with someone else. Imagine to have a contract lawyer preaching from the pulpit :D
 

Leo Caesius

Banned
LordKalvan said:
BTW, I was reading that regular, law-binding contract were kept in the temples of the gods, and regulated the obligations on the side of Rome and of the god respectively. Which is very "Roman", if you want
That's also the case in the Ancient Near East. Contracts of all sorts were arranged in the temples, and drawn up in clay tablets. The temples kept one copy for their archives and those who made the contract kept another copy. IIRC, one of the most popular gods for such things was Nabu (Nabu kudurri usur, "May Nabu Protect My Boundary Markers", was the actual name of the King Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible) but I think that most other gods guaranteed contracts. Hammurabi's Code, for example, is surmounted by a picture of Hammurabi approaching UTU/Shamash, the sun god.

Speaking of sun gods, Mithra was originally a god of contracts (at least, that is how he is portrayed in the Vedic tradition) but seems to have acquired more and more powers as he trekked westwards.
 
The early Christian Church wasn't into modern notions of religious liberty. If Constantine adopted a live/let live policy of tolerance they would see it as half a loaf and would be pressing constantly for an Emperor who would "do the right thing."
 
(Nabu kudurri usur, "May Nabu Protect My Boundary Markers", was the actual name of the King Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible)
Now, that's quite some name ! I'm intrigued now - is this a regnal name, or was he born wishing to protect his boundary markers ? Or does nobody know whether he had a different name before he became king ?

Grey Wolf
 
Well, the church didn'r develop its more fun habits (plundering or appropriating other people's places of worship, persecuting disbelievers, forcible conversion, thought police) until quite some time after Constantine, and I'm not at all sure the whole thing would be on the agenda if it wasn't for him. THe fourth and fifth centuries are the social and intellectual laboratory in which the medieval church is created, and even a slightly different input in the beginning may create a very different output at the end (imagine Constantine had refused to attend the Council at Nicaea). I guess something like the Valentinianic model might develop (tolerance towards non-Christians, active proselytising, tight internal discipline against 'heretics', definition of the truth by committee).

As to Roman 'state religion' - I think our modern understanding of religion gets in the weay. the state cult wasn't something you were required to *believe* in, it was something you were supposed to *participate* in. Belief was never at stake, and even if you were an atheist, your participation would not be devalued or regarded as dishonest. The traditional view held that the Gods lessed Rome in return for strict adsherence to the rites, but I susoect (and some sources indicate) that many people believed adherence to these forms assured the wellbeing of the state by shaping its people, not by placating the Gods. A number of social conservatives today similarly believe school prayer and church attendance are importanmt because they make you a better person, not because God mandates it.

Keep in mind, state cult rites were always public and usually festive affairs (the Independence Day parade is an excellent analogy as far as it goes). You got music and partying, and meat (not everyday food for most), and often games and lavish public largesse. The whole community got to feel 'we are one'. It's civic spirit that is celebrated here.

I think that either way, this kind of religion is doomed. However, I think Christianity, Judaism and other 'closed group' religions would have created something similar, if less unifying. Might be interesting.

BTW: isn't the claim made relatively commonly that Viet Nam and other reverses in recent US history were due to a decline in morals and patriotism? How much does that differ from George Washington smiting the unbelievers :)
 

Leo Caesius

Banned
Grey Wolf said:
Now, that's quite some name ! I'm intrigued now - is this a regnal name, or was he born wishing to protect his boundary markers ? Or does nobody know whether he had a different name before he became king ?
I'm pretty sure that it's a regnal name. It's also a fairly common pattern - there are other X kudurri-usurs running about (Ninurta-kudurri-usur, etc.)
 
In fairness, a case could be made that Christianity was well on the way to conquering the empire before it converted the first emperor. I would estimate that within a century the emperors would have been coming around, and the real question is what this might have done in terms of additional time for other religions or Christian sects to prepare and strengthen themselves.

Or is there some important Christian figure who might not have converted without the impetus of the right emperor in the right time?

Hmm, imagine St Augustine decides to stick with the wine, women and song...
 
Well, the church didn'r develop its more fun habits (plundering or appropriating other people's places of worship, persecuting disbelievers, forcible conversion, thought police) until quite some time after Constantine, and I'm not at all sure the whole thing would be on the agenda if it wasn't for him. THe fourth and fifth centuries are the social and intellectual laboratory in which the medieval church is created, and even a slightly different input in the beginning may create a very different output at the end (imagine Constantine had refused to attend the Council at Nicaea). I guess something like the Valentinianic model might develop (tolerance towards non-Christians, active proselytising, tight internal discipline against 'heretics', definition of the truth by committee).

This is a very good point - I have wondered what would have happened if an emperor agreed to tolerate Christianity, and even favored it, but didn't link the state apparatus as closely to the religion as Constantine did. What if the Roman state didn't get into the business of arbitrating disputes between different factions of Christians, and giving full support to a particular version of Chrisianity at the expense of all others?
 

Hendryk

Banned
carlton_bach said:
As to Roman 'state religion' - I think our modern understanding of religion gets in the weay. the state cult wasn't something you were required to *believe* in, it was something you were supposed to *participate* in. Belief was never at stake, and even if you were an atheist, your participation would not be devalued or regarded as dishonest. The traditional view held that the Gods lessed Rome in return for strict adsherence to the rites, but I susoect (and some sources indicate) that many people believed adherence to these forms assured the wellbeing of the state by shaping its people, not by placating the Gods. A number of social conservatives today similarly believe school prayer and church attendance are importanmt because they make you a better person, not because God mandates it.
An interesting parallel can be made with Imperial China, where Confucianism was the official religion, insofar as everyone, and most of all the civil servants, was expected to take part in the rituals of ancestor worship; but the Chinese would have been nonplussed by the idea of "faith"--whether one actually believed was his own problem, it was good enough from society's point of view that he did what he was expected to do. Once one's civic duties were fulfilled, one was free to practice any religion on the side; the saying went that a well-rounded scholar is Confucian in the morning, Taoist in the afternoon and Buddhist in the evening. When the Jesuit missionaries arrived in China in the 17th century, this casual approach to religions puzzled them no end, to the point where it took them some 150 years to figure out whether to pigeonhole Confucianism as a religion or a mere civic system.
Western society may have evolved along roughly similar lines without the political takeover by the Christian Church: Christianity may well have been the majority religion anyway, but it would not have used state power to impose itself, and other faiths and spiritualities would have survived. I think a perfectly suitable official ideology for the late Roman empire and even the following periods would have been stoicism (think Marcus Aurelius, only more institutionalized).
 
Hendryk said:
An interesting parallel can be made with Imperial China, where Confucianism was the official religion, insofar as everyone, and most of all the civil servants, was expected to take part in the rituals of ancestor worship; but the Chinese would have been nonplussed by the idea of "faith"--whether one actually believed was his own problem, it was good enough from society's point of view that he did what he was expected to do. Once one's civic duties were fulfilled, one was free to practice any religion on the side; the saying went that a well-rounded scholar is Confucian in the morning, Taoist in the afternoon and Buddhist in the evening. When the Jesuit missionaries arrived in China in the 17th century, this casual approach to religions puzzled them no end, to the point where it took them some 150 years to figure out whether to pigeonhole Confucianism as a religion or a mere civic system.
Western society may have evolved along roughly similar lines without the political takeover by the Christian Church: Christianity may well have been the majority religion anyway, but it would not have used state power to impose itself, and other faiths and spiritualities would have survived. I think a perfectly suitable official ideology for the late Roman empire and even the following periods would have been stoicism (think Marcus Aurelius, only more institutionalized).
This is a very good point, Hendryk.
A very interesting POD would be not so much Constantine refusing to convert (and in particular refusing to give his imperial imprimatur to the council of Nicea), but rather a Marcus Aurelius formalising and promoting a "civic model" - I prefer not calling it state religion - based on the traditional state religion (and its target of uniting the Roman people in a common statement of "belonging") and on stoicism.
Or (idea!) it might be Antoninus Pius, since during his reign there were contacts with China. What about some imperial advisor musing on the news from Sericana gets suddenly a bright idea.
Even better if, beside the traditional civil service, this philosophy (or civic virtue) is applied to an army academy to raise an officer corp.
 
Beginning of a timeline

Just my own idea for a possible alternate timeline along these lines ...

C. 282 AD – an 8 year old boy named Flavius Valerius Constantinus, son of an officer named Constantius in the Roman army, dies after a sudden illness.

303 AD – Emperor Diocletian launches the last and largest persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire

305 AD Emperor Diocletian abdicates as Emperor, leaving a system of 2 senior emperors and 2 junior emperors that he hopes will ensure a stable succession (which it totally fails to do)

306 AD Constantius dies in the province of Britannia with no son to succeed him

314 – 316 War between Maxentius, ruler of the western Empire, and Licinius, ruler of the Eastern Empire. Licinius is ultimately victorious as many of Maxentius’ troops are disaffected and change sides. Believing that he can not rule the entire empire at once, Licinius appoints Aurelius Valens as co-emperor, responsible for the western part of the empire.

317 – Licinius and Valens issue a general edict of religious toleration, ending the last persecution of Christians (which had been less and less common in the previous few years)

319 – 321 A series of synods are held by the various Christian communities, the main ones being in Antioch, Alexandria, Nicomedia, Carthage, and Rome. They attempt to reach agreement on many questions of doctrine and practice, with very limited success.

325 – Licinius decides to adopt Nicomedia in Asia Minor as his permanent capital, and pushes ambitious building projects in the city. In the west, Valens does much the same thing with Augusta Trevirorum in eastern Gaul, and Mediolanum in northern Italy.

328 – Licinius dies suddenly, leaving the throne to his young son Magentius. The “power behind the throne†in the east is actually Martinianus, who holds the position of Magister Officiorum.

329 – Martinianus deposes Magentius, has him placed under house arrest, and later quietly murdered when he is out of the public view. For some reason, Martinanus also becomes suspicious of the loyalty of the Christians in the eastern empire, and renews the persecution.

330 – Valens invades the eastern empire, declaring his intention to overthrow the murderer and usurper Martinianus.

331 – 332 Valens defeats Martinianus’ forces in a series of battles and sieges, until Martinianus flees with a few followers to the Persians. Most Christians in the eastern Empire welcome the victory of Valens, which ends the renewed persecutions.

333 – Valens decides to stay in the Eastern Empire, and leaves his capable young son Aurelian II in charge of the western empire. He keeps Nicomedia as his eastern capital, but also plans to enlarge and strengthen the nearby city of Byzantium, along the Bosphorus straits. In the recent war, his troops faced a difficult siege at that place, and were only able to capture it due to treachery on the part of one of the garrison’s officers.

334 – 337 Valens fights wars against the Persians. Martinianus sneaks back into the Empire and attempts to raise a revolt, but he is captured and executed.

337 In Alexandria, tension rises between rival groups of Christians, the Arians and Athanasians, who have opposing views on the nature of Christ. When rioting breaks out, imperial garrison troops have to quell the rebellion. Valens issues an edict instituting tough penalties for anyone disturbing the peace over religious disputes.
 
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