The Christian Church in the 3rd century AD was in a state of active formation. Christianity developed separately from Judaism and was not considered an ethnic religion. Therefore, it had no legal rights to defend its interests. Christianity was periodically persecuted; however, no governmental efforts were made to eliminate the pursuit. Christianity representatives faced several tasks: the creation of doctrines of salvation and the church, making decisions regarding the attitude towards people who renounced Christianity, and considering apostate believers as part of the religious system.
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Throughout the 3rd century, the Christian Church was in dire need of legalization. Despite the church’s presence as a powerful and continuously expanding organization, this religion needed to be strengthened, which was almost impossible due to constant persecution. The persecution itself was a violent measure to alienate Christian believers from their faith. In this regard, the church representatives realized that to preserve their existence, they needed to form certain doctrines that would interfere with the eradication of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Thus, the idea of the martyrdom of Christians resulting from persecution allowed the church to achieve two goals.1 First, the persecution itself discredited the authorities, making them unfavorable. Secondly, the statement about martyrdom as a way to approach God strengthened the faith of Christians. Thus, the persecution of Christians allowed the church to enhance internal dogmas for further development.
There was no unequivocal opinion among church representatives on forgiving baptized Christians in the event of their faith’s renunciation. Some churchmen believed that in such case the redemption in lost and apostates must repent until the end of their lives. Others thought that those who showed weakness should get the salvation. Cyprian of Carthage took an intermediate point of view, according to which the question of forgiveness should be based on the severity of the offense committed.2 Consequently, despite the Christian Church’s contradictions, people who renounced the faith were likely to be restored within the framework of Christianity.
Opinions were divided on the issue of including those who had repudiated Christianity in the church. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of bishops believed that these people should not be turned away.3 The reason for this phenomenon was the precarious position of the church in the third century. Although the number of Christians increased rapidly throughout the Roman Empire, many did abdicate the faith for security reasons. If the church did not forgive such people and refused to accept them back into Christianity’s dogma, the number of followers would begin to decline.4 People saw support and salvation in Christ’s teachings, and if they had been denied a return in the event of a committed mistake, they would have had doubts about accepting this faith. To expand the number of followers, it was necessary to create the correct image of religion, which was impossible in the conditions of severe and principled measures against people who have only recently adopted a new faith.
In conclusion, the Christian church in the third century was in a state of formation and teaching. Christianity was forced to develop new dogmas to continue its development and strengthen the church’s role in public and political life. There was no unequivocal opinion among the clergy regarding the attitude towards those who renounced their faith. Nevertheless, most bishops were inclined to believe that it was necessary to forgive such people and allow them to return returning to Christianity through repentance. According to most opinions, the church could include Christians who renounced the faith to increase the number of followers and strengthen its position.
Everton, Sean F. and Robert Schroeder. “Plagues, Pagans, and Christians: Differential Survival, Social Networks, and the Rise of Christianity.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 114, no. 4 (2019): 775-789, Web.
Ferguson, Everett. Church History. Volume One. From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2013.
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Green, Bernard. Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries. (London, T&T Clark International, 2010), 136.
- Green, Bernard, Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries. (London: T&T Clark International, 2010), 136.
- Fergusson, Everett, Church History. Volume One. From Christ to Pre-Reformation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 381.
- Green, Christianity in Ancient Rome, 185.
- Everton, Sean F. and Schroeder, Robert. “Plagues, Pagans, and Christians: Differential Survival, Social Networks, and the Rise of Christianity.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 114, no. 4 (2019): 775-789, Web.