The rise of Christianity (in particular, Catholicism)


In response to suggestions that Muslims spread their religion by the sword, it has been suggested that Christianity - and in particular, Catholicism - did exactly the same thing. In this thread, I would like to focus less on the rise of Islam, and more on the rise of Christianity. However, I’m asking it here in the Non-Catholic Religion forum because I want perspectives from non-Catholics.

I know that Christianity spread mostly peacefully (on the Christian side, at least) up until the Edict of Milan in the beginning of the 4th century. So what happened after that? I know that the Edict of Milan didn’t make Catholicism the official religion of the Empire - rather it made Christianity legal, right? I’m pretty sure that Catholicism became the official religion of the Empire at a later date.

But what about all the Barbarians? It seems to me that whenever a new tribe (the Goths, Vandals, Slavs, Franks, Lombards) invaded the Empire, they all eventually converted. To me, this is pretty good evidence that Christianity was primarily not spread by the sword, but by the shield as it were - the conquerors were the converts, as opposed to the converters.

I’m sure there were at times people who tried to spread Christianity by the sword in some misguided zeal, but was this the norm rather than the exception? That is what I am trying to find out in this thread.


Great topic idea. :thumbsup:

Just from my own research on the history of the British Isles during the Viking Age, I too, have seen the pattern of conquerors ending up converting to Christianity and becoming more peaceful. Take for instance the Viking raiders of the Scottish Isles, Ireland and England. The Vikings eventually adopted Christianity. As a result their raids, the great terror of their age, came to an end. That’s not to say that the Vikings completely gave up their marauding ways overnight. But the Vikings were also not “wiped out” by Christians invading Scandanavia. Instead, they integrated into the local cultures and eventually integrated the Christian faith as well.


History attests that there were periods were forced conversion took place. There are the Inquisitions, Crusades, colonization of the Americas for starters. However forced conversions have never been something the Church has condoned but some clerics took upon themselves to accomplish. Within Protestanism during the reformation one also sees certain people taking part in forced conversion against other protestants. However by no means can one state that the widespread of Christianity is based on this rare and few occasions of stupidity.

Another thing to remember during the middle ages is that being Christian was seen as the only way to be civilised. No different as to Greece in the ancient world. Greek culture stood as the pedistal of what it meant to be civilised. Israel suffered greatly from the hellenization of their surroundings as seen in 1&2Maccabees. The point is that during the middle ages barbarian societies in their quest to become civilised would have accepted Christianity as both were seen as part of the same package…not necessarily out of devotion but convenience. What figure these people would represnt? I don’t know.


The growth of Christian since its beginning did not spread by the sword. It started in Jerusalem when the Apostles preached to the people of Jerusalem. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the enemies of Christ’s Church started presecuting them. The Jewish leaders killed Stephan the first Christian martyr. The Christian religion was becoming a threat to those of authority.

Then Emperor Nero came into power, and burned Rome. He blamed Christians for the burning and so he made an eddict killing all Christians. I could give you a lecture on Christian history but I’ll cut it short.

By the middle ages, Christian did not spread by the sword. It was not until the later years that the Christianity spread by the sword. This was done by secular kingdom like Spain. The Catholic Church condemned force conversions and the Pope at the time condemned it as well. However, the Catholic country ignored the Pope and the Church.

The Inquisition was a formal legal inquiries that is, inquisition-to be carried out to expose secret believers in false religion. In Deut 17:2 God said, “If there is amongst you, with any of your town which the Lord your God give you, a man and woman who does evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshipped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the hosts of heaven which I have forbidden, and it is told you, and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such abomination things has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth your gate that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death by stone.”


I think maybe the first instance of a forced conversion may have Charlemagne when he conquered the Saxons. I’m not sure though if forced conversion took place or if he just conquered them and conversion happened as matter of assimilation. I just know that he attacked them because they were not Christian.

I actually don’t count the Crusades as a forced conversion. I count that as a war. The Crusaders were there to reopen Jerusalem and to reclaim lands that had been Christian but conquered by the Muslims. So to me I think they viewed that as a military action between two religions and not a situation of forced conversion.

The conquistadors also did some forced conversions in South America. We do have those black marks on our history but by and large the spread of Christianity has not been through war.


Interestingly enought, there’s a book called “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark that’s an OK place to start on the subject.
There was an old Pagan proverb that stated, “look at those Christians; see how they love eachother.” Christianity was spreading a social message some people abhorred in the Roman Empire, but many others found it appealing: that we’re all brothers, that God is our Father, that we have eternal life with God, that through love we can change the world, etc. The faith started as a grassroots movement with person to person evangelism. Women far outnumbered men in the early church (sound familiar?), and often Men would be converted through their wives. This corresponds to what Peter says in 1Pet 3:1.
During the second and third centuries when mysterious plagues were decimating Rome and the empire–yes mysterious plagues!–Christians were the only ones taking care of sick people, and sometimes they would build immunities to the sickness. People would be amazed and believe these Saints had supernatural powers. Whether they did or not, Julian the Apostate Emperor urged Pagans to try really hard to “outlove” the booming Christian movement.
When the Church was given all kinds of money they could affored to send missionaries to convert emperors of barbarian tribes and other nations. This usually did happen, but unfortunately it did not have the effect the Missionaries that it would. It was hoped that if we could convert the emperor, then the whole nation would convert, somehow. Well, now it’s been argued that much of Europe was in fact never Christianized, and many groups not until the Protestant Reformation when a religious fury swept the land. The Protestants in many ways returned to the ethic of grassroots evangelism to “Catholics” who didn’t really know anything about Christianity. The Catholic Church responded in kind and bumped up their evangelistic efforts.
Of course there were some very dark times, including inquisitions, and even conquests in the new world. But the main way Christianity rose was through love, the way Jesus said it would.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit