One of the centerpieces of Paris is the Arc de Triomphe, it is a massive stone archway that was built between 1806 and 1836 to commemorate all those who fought in the Napoleonic wars (Aexyt). Many other similar arches were built before and have been built after the French built the Arc de Triomphe. This is significant because all of these arches are based on Triumphal Arches that were built in ancient Rome when a General had made a successful conquest. Starting in 313 AD Constantine took the persecuted, outlawed and martyred religion of Christianity and legalized it, 10 years later it was made the state religion of Rome. Many would argue that this adoption of Christianity by Rome was so monumental for Christianity that it would deserve its own Triumphal Arch. I argue that Christianity did not triumph with its adoption by Rome because first, it was changed to make it more popular and easier for the Pagan Romans to convert and second it was changed by Emperors to be used as a tool to control their people. The fact that Christianity was changed and is no longer the same religion that Christ established means that even with widespread adoption if failed and does not deserve its own Triumphal Arch.
One of the first major changes made to Christianity is known as the Nicene Creed. Emperor Constantine felt it was his duty to unify Christianity and protect it from schisms (breaking into different sects based on a difference in doctrine). He called a council in Nicaea where he brought together Church leaders to discuss the doctrine (or heresy) causing one of these schisms, that Christ was a created being and not divine. In this meeting, Emperor Constantine presided and participated even though he was not even Christian. By the end of the meeting it was decided that “The council condemned Arius (the introducer of this doctrine) and, with reluctance on the part of some, incorporated the non scriptural ineword homoousios (“of one substance”) into a creed (the Nicene Creed) to signify the absolute equality of the Son with the Father. The emperor then exiled Arius, an act that, while manifesting a solidarity of church and state, underscored the importance of secular patronage in ecclesiastical affairs.”(The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica) This decision came about not because of God but because of the Emperor’s need to unify the church. This was the first of many changes that happened as Christianity was adopted by Rome.
After Constantine made Christianity legal the next goal was for them to make it appealing to the Roman people. “On 17 December each winter Ancient Rome would erupt into an ancient party called Saturnalia that lasted seven days. It was in honor of the god Saturn, the god of agriculture”(John, 112) This was one of the most popular holidays in Ancient Rome and as such the Romans were reluctant to relenquish it as Christianity began to replace their Pagan beliefs. In response, Pope Julius 1 chose December 25th as Christ’s birth celebration in an attempt to replace the Pagan holiday of Saturnalia. (John, 112) In catering to the desires of the Romans, they created Christmas with corresponding traditions to Saturnalia such as giving of gifts, decorating trees and having parties. By attempting to cater to the Pagan beliefs the holiday was no longer a symbol of Christianity, rather it was a peace offering to entice the Romans to join Christianity. Christmas and its similarity to Saturnalia are an example of how Christianity was changed and therefore lost when it was adopted by ancient Rome.
While small changes were made to Christianity to make it more popular, Emperors and Priests changed Christianity over the centuries to help them control those they ruled. An example of this is this piece of Byzantine art. It portrays Jesus as a Caucasian holding a cross and wearing the clothes of a Byzantine emperor. When an uneducated person of this time period went to church they would see this mosaic and would associate the divinity of Jesus Christ with the rule of their Government. This association is no accident on the part of rulers at the time. The unifying of church and state developed as Popes would crown emperors and emperors would protect Popes. Holy crusades would be waged against foreign kingdoms and any line that divided church and state seemed to disappear (Jantzen). At this point, Christianity was extremely different than it was when it was first founded.
In conclusion, we see that when Christianity was adopted by the Roman empire it was changed to make it more popular to the Roman citizens and used by leaders as a way to more easily control the population. Some would argue that Christianity would not have survived without Rome’s adoption and through Rome’s adoption it was able to spread to more people than it ever could have on its own and therefore it triumphed. In response to this, I argue that what was spread by Rome was not Christianity but some fusion of Pagan and Christian beliefs and because of this corruption, there is no triumph for the Christian Religion in Ancient Rome.
Aexyt. “Arc De Triomphe Paris.” Arcdetriompheparis, 8 Mar. 2015, arcdetriompheparis.com/blog/.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Council of Nicaea.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/Event/Council-of-Nicaea-Christianity-325.
J.JOHN. CHRISTMAS COMPENDIUM: Discover Christmas Old & New. PHILO TRUST, 2018.
Jantzen, Kyle. “Christianity and Politics, Past and Present.” c2cjournal, 19 June 2009, www.c2cjournal.ca/2009/06/christianity-and-politics-past-and-present/.