ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Early Christianity in The Roman Empire

Updated on March 3, 2018

Basilica San Paulo, Rome, Italy



When Constantine became emperor, it was on the foundation that Christianity would be tolerated and eventually become the official religion of the Roman Empire. There were many Christians in the Roman Empire when Constantine came to power, so by supporting Christians, Constantine was gaining the support of a large number of people. It seemed that success followed Constantine’s choice to support Christianity, as reiterated by Lactantius in his Of the manner in Which the Persecutors Died. However, as Christianity gained followers, it became a tool used for influence and caused conflict between those who strove for power in the Roman Empire. Rulers such as Gregory VII, who desired unlimited power to the Pope and the Church, and Henry IV, who thought kings were given divine right directly from God and could be challenged by no one, began to butt heads over how the hierarchy of rule was really ordered. The true intentions of the Pope were called into question, as it seemed that corruption had even reached to the apostolic seat. In the fourth century, leaders like Lactantius and Constantine thought that the relationship between secular and religious authority could be beneficial to both Rome and Christianity, while religious leaders in the eleventh century like Gregory VII and secular rulers like Henry IV fell into conflict with each other because they had differing opinions as to whether God had given divine right to the Pope or the Emperor to rule.

St. Peter's Basilica at The Vatican


Authority of the Pope

In the fourth century, the emperor Constantine and his advisor Lactantius set up a system of government that was based on the authority of the Pope and the principles of Christianity. This started with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, in which Constantine had extended religious toleration to Christians throughout the Roman Empire. This act ended the persecution that Christians had endured during the reign of previous emperors, and gave refuge to what had become a popular religion. This move made Constantine a very popular emperor, and brought a period of peace to the Romans. It seemed that those who opposed Christianity were stricken down and that only through the support of Christianity could one obtain success as an emperor in Rome, which is stated by Lactantius in Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, “… how the Almighty manifested His power and sovereign greatness in rooting out and utterly destroying the enemies of His name.” (Lactantius 1). The Roman Empire certainly benefitted from the tolerance of Christianity, but so did Christianity itself. The religion was spread and implemented to the far regions of Europe at an accelerated rate, and Christians now had a place where they had protection through a ruler and a government that was established upon their core values. Constantine and Lactantius’ belief that secular and religious authority could be blended certainly brought benefits to the Roman Empire and Christianity itself.

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum:
Roman Forum, Via della Salaria Vecchia, 5/6, 00186 Roma, Italy

get directions

Problems with Religion & Government

Leading up to the eleventh century, the combination of secular and religious rule began to unravel as new ideas about divine right and authority created divides specifically between Gregory VII and Henry IV. The implementation of religion into government had worked for centuries in the Roman Empire, but as new rulers came to power, so did new ideas. In 1075 AD, Gregory VII decreed his Dictatus Papae in which he assumed several rights and powers. Among these he claimed the following in regard to the Pope; “That only he has the power to depose and reinstate bishops…” (Gregory VII 319) and “That he has the power to depose emperors…” (Gregory VII 319). These decrees were announced to direct all authority to the Pope, making it known that the emperor is under his command. As the conflict between Gregory VII and Henry IV continued, Henry IV sent a letter to the Pope known as his Letter of Henry IV to Hildebrand. This letter attacked Gregory VII’s claim to power, citing Henry IV’s suspicions that the Pope sought to manipulate the people and consolidate power so that he could gain popularity and use his position for his own motives. In his letter, Henry IV states, “You have attacked me, who, as unworthy as I am, have yet been anointed to rule among the anointed of God, and who, according to the teaching of the fathers, can be judged save by God alone…” (Henry VI 320). Here Henry VI claims his own authority through the ordination from God. This conflicts with Gregory VII’s claim that the church has been given authority from God alone. Henry also challenges that the Pope was given authority as the head of the church, and thus challenges that the Pope has any authority at all (Henry VI 320). These attempts of Gregory VII and Henry IV to discredit the authority of each other were based on the perception of divine authority, and to whom it was truly given.

The Tomb of St. Peter


Cotrol of The Bishops & The Abbots

The argument as to who truly received divine right stemmed from the control of the bishops and abbots. King Henry IV needed them because many were wealthy landowners and played key roles in his government and favor with the people. Pope Gregory VII claimed his own control over them because they were part of the church and essential to his control of the people in the empire as well. In response to Gregory’s Dictatus Papae, Henry asserts that the Pope has abused his power in claiming control of the bishops, “… you have not only dared to touch the Lord’s anointed, the archbishops, bishops, and priests; but you have scorned them and abused them, as if they were ignorant servants not fit to know what their master was doing.” (Henry VI 319). This again goes back to who is really given divine authority by God. Here Henry IV once again uses the argument that God has appointed his chosen rulers, in this case the bishops, and that these rulers cannot be usurped except by his will. The control of the bishops and the influence that came along with it sparked the argument as to whether the Pope or the Emperor really had divine right from God.


Leaders of the early Roman Empire such as Constantine and Lactantius founded their authority in a system where secular rule and religious authority could profit both Rome itself and Christianity in the fourth century, while in the eleventh century, religious leaders and secular rulers divided in opinion over arguments as to who had truly been given divine authority and power. Constantine and Lactantius extended toleration to Christians through the Edict of Milan. This step allowed the foundation of the Empire through the religious authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church, while still allowing an Emperor to govern the doings of the Empire. This system benefitted the empire through the stability and success it brought, while benefitting the Christians through allowing the growth of their religion and ending their persecution. This system, however, could not last as conflicts broke out as to who had divine authority in the empire. Gregory VII and Henry IV began to discredit each other as authorities, questioning each other’s intentions and true source of power. Though religion could once be a uniting force a guide to secular rulers, the idea of separation of church and state was began to reshape the hierarchy of power in the Roman Empire, shaping the forms of government under which we operate today.

A Bust of Constantine



Gregory VII. "Dictatus Papae." 2011. Human Record : Sources of Global History. Ed. Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield. Seventh ed. Vol. 1. Boston: Wadsworth Co I, 2011. 319. Print.

Henry IV. "Letter of Henry IV to Hildebrand." 2011. Human Record : Sources of Global History. Ed. Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield. Seventh ed. Vol. 1. Boston: Wadsworth Co I, 2011. 319-320. Print.

Lactantius. Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died. NEW ADVENT: Home. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)