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§ 7. Extent of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Justin Martyr says, about the middle of the second century: "There is no people, Greek or barbarian, or of any other race, by whatsoever appellation or manners they may be distinguished, however ignorant of arts or agriculture, whether they dwell in tents or wander about in covered wagons—among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered in the name of the crucified Jesus to the Father and Creator of all things." Half a century later, Tertullian addresses the heathen defiantly: "We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate and forum; we have left to you only your temples."66   sola vobis relinquimus templa."Apol.c. 37. Long before Tertullian the heathen Pliny, in his famous letter to Trajan (Epp. x. 97) had spoken of "desolata templa" and "sacra solemnia diu intermissa, " in consequence of the spread of the Christian superstition throughout the cities and villages of Asia Minor. These, and similar passages of Irenaeus and Arnobius, are evidently rhetorical exaggerations. Origen is more cautious and moderate in his statements. But it may be fairly asserted, that about the end of the third century the name of Christ was known, revered, and persecuted in every province and every city of the empire. Maximian, in one of his edicts, says that "almost all" had abandoned the worship of their ancestors for the new sect.

In the absence of statistics, the number of the Christians must be purely a matter of conjecture. In all probability it amounted at the close of the third and the beginning of the fourth century to nearly one-tenth or one-twelfth of the subjects of Rome, that is to about ten millions of souls.

But the fact, that the Christians were a closely united body, fresh, vigorous, hopeful, and daily increasing, while the heathen were for the most part a loose aggregation, daily diminishing, made the true prospective strength of the church much greater.

The propagation of Christianity among the barbarians in the provinces of Asia and the north-west of Europe beyond the Roman empire, was at first, of course, too remote from the current of history to be of any great immediate importance. But it prepared the way for the civilization of those regions, and their subsequent position in the world.


Gibbon and Friedländer (III. 531) estimate the number of Christians at the accession of Constantine (306) probably too low at one-twentieth; Matter and Robertson too high at one-fifth of his subjects. Some older writers, misled by the hyperbolical statements of the early Apologists, even represent the Christians as having at least equalled if not exceeded the number of the heathen worshippers in the empire. In this case common prudence would have dictated a policy of toleration long before Constantine. Mosheim, in his Hist. Commentaries, etc. (Murdock’s translation I. p. 274 sqq.) discusses at length the number of Christians in the second century without arriving at definite conclusions. Chastel estimates the number at the time of Constantine at 1/15 in the West, 1/10 in the East, 1/12 on an average (Hist. de la destruct. du paganisme, p. 36). According to Chrysostom, the Christian population of Antioch in his day (380) was about 100,000, or one-half of the whole.

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