The Barbarian Conversion

My wife checked this book out for me at the library: The Barbarian Conversion – from Paganism to Christianity, by Richard Fletcher. I don’t know why, but for a number of years I’ve been interested in knowing more about the influence of the many barbaric cultures on European culture and history. This book has been intriguing because it deals with this idea but also how they were converted to Christianity.
Allow me a few paragraphs on  what I found interesting in the book.

  • Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, though this is often said of him. What he did was to make the Christian church the most-favored recipient of the near-limitless resources of imperial favor. p.22 The church repaid Constantine’s generosity by presenting him as the model Christian emperor, the ‘friend of God’ who ‘frames his earthly governement according to the pattern of the divine original’. These are the words of Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea. Constantine later killed his father-in-law, his wife and his son.p. 23
  • If Romanitas and Christianitas are co-terminous, then the faith is for all dwellers within the ring-fence of the empire but not for those outside. Barbarians could be as effectively de-humanized…early evangelism among them was not at all intentional but practically accidental. Fletcher adds in chapter 3 that there were ‘involuntary missionaries’ – those who were exiled because they were on the wrong side of important theological debates.
  • Monasticism was born in 320ad with Pachomius. “It spread like wildfire in the forth century. …The church now at peace after the Constantinian revolution, ascetic monasticism offered a means of self-sacrifice which was the nearest thing to martyrdom in a world where martyrs were no longer being made. In part the call of the ascetic life could be interpreted as a movement of revulsion from what many saw as the increasing worldliness of the fourth-century church, the merging of its hierarchy with the ‘establishment’…” p.36-27
  • Augustine wrote City of God (De Civitate Dei). “This book is so big, so complex, so alive, so rich in ideas, so brimming with passion, that it is difficult to summarize it in any manner which does it justice.” p. 29 “Under his hands the Roman empire became theologically neutral, drained of the positive moral charge with which Eusebius had invested it.
  • The fall of the Roman empire didn’t happen in a day – there was a lingering influence which was stronger in some areas more than others.

  • Ufila was a involuntary missionary to the Goths north of the Danube. His most enduring achievement is the translation of the Bible into Gothic.
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