How important was the Roman Empire to the spread of Christianity?

I always found it really interesting that Our Lord had appeared during the advent of the Roman Empire nearly two millenia ago. Needless to say, after His death and resurrection, giving the decree for the Apostles to begin their missionary work, would the Church and its message have spread to the extent it did without the Roman Empire? I remembered reading that the stability of Rome and the roads that the Empire created helped the spread of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean. Considering that the Roman Empire, under St. Constantine the Great, became a Christian one, it is quite the story. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Extremely important. If anything, I believe God chose that time and place, AND raised up the Roman Empire for the purpose of spreading the Church.

That, by the way, includes the persecutions.

Of course, His message would have spread without the Empire; but I’ve no doubt that God chose the year of His son’s birth so that the appurtenances of the Empire would be used to further it.

Consider the place. Israel is where three continents intersect, therefore most of the world’s countries can be walked to from it. But during the OT, hostile kingdoms and war fronts made such a progression impossible. The enforced stability of the Pax Romana opened the way.

When Saint Paul went to Rome, He did so essentially on the Empire’s chit!

Although the Gospel certainly continued to move after the Empire had passed, there’s no doubt that, even with all the persecutions, it was an important starting point.


Aye, a good book to read about the period of Constantine’s reign as emperor and his life beforehand is The Life and Times of Constantine the Great by D.G. Kousoulas. I remember that at the time, Diocletian (Augustus in the East and head of the tetrarchy) was old by the time of the persecutions, which he mandated himself. Although it seems his subordinate (Caesar) Galerius seemed to have influenced him in this regard, a gentle push if you will. Galerius, almost ironically, died of a horrible liver cancer I believe, and begged that the God of the Christians would forgive and heal him of his illness. I’d highly recommend the book.

Rome would be the instrument by which Christianity would spread…and the pattern of governing the Church was modeled after the Roman Empire…which goes on to this day.

It is very often forgotten that the early Church found a model for her organization in the political divisions of the Roman Empire rather than in the apostolic tradition. This form of Church organization was initiated by the Apostles themselves, who, for practical reasons, had to respect and to use the organization they found in the world in which they lived. They started preaching in the capitals of the major cities of the Roman provinces because there they found important Jewish communities, and it was from these centers that Christianity spread through the provinces and to other communities.

The future organization of the Church was thus foreshadowed by the Apostles when Peter addressed letters to the communities of Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia, and Paul to the capitals of the political provinces of the Empire (Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonika). A passage in the second Epistle to the Corinthians (II Cor. 1:1) indicates clearly that these letters were meant to be sent by the bishops of each capital to other cities of the province. Although this does not mean that the bishops of these cities received from the Apostles a superior place in the original hierarchy of the Church, it was natural that the bishops of the capital of a civil province should enjoy a certain prestige over the bishops of other provincial cities. So it happened that from the outset the Church was obliged, for reasons of practical expediency deriving from the political and economic conditions of the Roman Empire, to adapt its ecclesiastical organization to the political divisions of the Empire.1

The same factor also influenced the origins and the organization of the Synods. When it became necessary to discuss important problems arising from the spread of Christianity throughout the different provinces and from the development of doctrine, the meeting places of the bishops was again dictated, not by the consideration that the See of any particular city was founded by an Apostle, but rather by administrative expediency. The political centers of the provinces were the natural places for such meetings, and the initiative of convoking the local Synods and the privilege of presiding over its debates was left to the bishops of the provincial capitals, called Metropoles. Such was the origin of the metropolitan organization. It has also been shown recently that the sessions of the Synods were held according to the same rules which were observed at the meetings of the Roman Senate and of the local municipal assemblies.2

Also, the supra-metropolitan organization which resulted in the formation of the first Patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, owes its origin, not to the apostolic foundation of these cities, but to the fact that they were the most important cities of the Empire, the capitals of groups of provinces. Rome was more privileged in this way, because it was the capital of the Empire and the residence of the Emperors. Owing to the intimate connection of all Italian cities with the city of Rome by which they were regarded only as municipia, the Bishops of the capital of Italy and of the Empire were able to preserve direct jurisdiction over the whole of Italy, without the intermediary of the Metropolitans of the provinces, into which Italy was subdivided.

So was it the relative stability and peace that the Roman Empire provided? Would this also in some way have helped Peter on the day of Pentecost be able to preach to so many from the diaspora who in turn went back home to their respective locations?

Indeed. Without the Pax Romana, travel from such far-flung provinces would have been undoable. Piracy on the sea and conflict on land would have led, as it did both before and after the Empire, to a far more local life for everybody.


I would say

*]Peter and Paul being martyred in Rome
*]and all the other martyrs who died in Rome for the faith
“The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.” Tertullian, ch 50 written ~197 a.d. during his Catholic period. He ultimately became a Montanist, (a heresy).

Often rephrased, the blood of martyrs is the seedbed of the Church

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