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The Empire And The Imperial Stat





In the period extending from the accession of Constantine (311 or 324) to
the death of Theodosius the Great (395), the characteristic features of
the Church's organization took definite form, and its relations to the
secular authorities and the social order of the Empire were defined. Its
constitution with its hierarchical organization of clergy, of courts, and
synods, together with its intimate union, at least in the East, with the
imperial authority, became fixed ( 72). As the Church of the Empire, it
was under the control and patronage of the State; all other forms of
religion, whether pagan or Christian, schismatical or heretical, were
severely repressed ( 73). The Christian clergy, as officials in this
State Church, became a class by themselves in the society of the Empire,
not only as the recipients of privileges, but as having special functions
in the administration of justice, and eventually in the superintendence of
secular officials and secular business ( 74). By degrees the Christian
spirit influenced the spirit of the laws and the popular customs, though
less than at first sight might have been expected; the rigors of slavery
were mitigated and cruel gladiatorial sports abandoned ( 75). Meanwhile
popular piety was by no means raised by the influx of vast numbers of
heathen into the Church; bringing with them no little of their previous
modes of thought and feeling, and lacking the testing of faith and
character furnished by the persecutions, they lowered the general moral
tone of the Church, so that Christians everywhere were affected by these
alien ideas and feelings ( 76). The Church, however, endeavored to raise
the moral tone and ideals and to work effectively in society by care for
the poor and other works of benevolence, and in its regulation of
marriage, which began in this period to be a favorite subject of
legislation for the Church's councils ( 76). In monasticism this striving
against the lowering forces in Christian society and for a higher type of
life most clearly manifested itself, and, beginning in Egypt, organized
forms of asceticism spread throughout the East and toward the end of the
period to the West as well ( 78). But monasticism was not confined to the
private ascetic. The priesthood, as necessarily presenting an example of
higher moral life, began to be touched by the ascetic spirit, and in the
West this took the form of enforced clerical celibacy, though the custom
of the East remained far less rigorous ( 79). In presenting these lines
of development, it is at times convenient to pass beyond the exact bounds
of the period, so that the whole subject may be brought together at this
point of the history.





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