It wasn’t easy living in Ancient Rome. Women were treated as property and
many marriages were loveless and miserable. Teenage boys roamed the streets in gangs and parents left their children outside the streets in the dung heaps to die.
Finding themselves in the face of darkness and hostility, Rome’s early Christians took the steps necessary to transform their culture. Their struggles and the hard lessons they learned – documented in Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea’s newest book – give Christians today hope that, by following their example, we may do the same for our culture today.
How the Christianity Saved Civilization is about seven revolutions that changed society for the better. These revolutions were a direct result of Christianity. But today, we live in a society that highlights the Church’s failures over her faithfulness.
Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea’s newest book shows readers why understanding those seven revolutions is so important for the Church (and the world!) and provide concrete steps that Christians can take today to change the world for the better again.
1. Uphold the dignity of every human life
“The pagan world had no notion of ‘human rights’ – no idea that a human being was a person who was somehow sacred just because he was human,” Aquilina and Papandrea write. “Life could be pretty miserable for the ordinary millions.”
Thankfully, Christianity shook up social order in a revolutionary way. They believed that each human person deserved respect. Christianity emphasized the virtue of charity and universal love for all. This flew in the face of a culture who’s ancient sewers were found clogged with the bones of newborns, presumably most of them female.
What can the Church today learn from ancient Christians? We, too, live in a world where life is discarded. “In the ancient word, widows and orphans were among the faceless poor. To Christians, they were like the Holy Eucharist,” Aquilina and Papandrea comment. To reclaim our faith in today’s neo-pagan culture, we have to uphold the dignity of every human life.
2. Reclaim the beauty of the family
Although you would find families in ancient, pagan Rome, they certainty weren’t look for love in their relationships. “According to marital customs, newlywed girls could look forward to predatory relationships rife with sodomy, abortion, and contraception. Adultery was expected of men, and, at least in rich families, of women as well,” write Aquilina and Papandrea.
But Christians believed that marriage was a sacrament. They’d left behind the culture of abuse and strove for the ideal home-life where a father and mother loved their children and raised them together. Imagine how counter-cultural this view of marriage would have seemed to a well-bred pagan Roman!
“As our own world looks more and more like the world of the ancient pagans – as divorce, abandonment, and self-indulgence become the rule rather than the exception – that christian ideal of marriage is still lurking, waiting to turn the world upside down once more,” explain Aquilina and Papandrea.
To reclaim our faith today, we have to value the family and speak to the glory that is Christian marriage.
3. Make your labor holy
Rome’s work world was a world of industry, giant commercial enterprises, international travel and shady politics. Poor working conditions, miserly worldviews, and a lack of respect for the human person made the work world miserable. But Christians brought something new to the table – that work could be a place to practice charity and grow in holiness.
To reclaim our faith in today’s neo-pagan society, we have to restore the idea that our work is a way of reaching to the divine, not a distraction from the life of the spirit.
“The revolution in the world’s attitude to work can be summed up in Benedict’s motto, the one by which Benedictines still live today: Ora et labora – ‘Pray and work.’ In the Christian, as in Christ, those activities are distinct yet united,” Aquilina and Papandrea write.
4. Share with others that God is love
“Before Christianity, religion was a service contract,” Aquilina and Papandrea write. “For the most part, ancient religions entailed people seeking various gods (usually by ritual sacrifice) so that the gods would protect people or give them blessings. Religion meant doing whatever was believed would coax or motivate the gods to do the people’s will.”
But Christianity taught that religion wasn’t about a service contact, it was about a relationship with the Divine. Instead of convincing God to do what we want, Christians believe that our life is a process of conforming ourselves to God’s will.
We’ve heard “Jesus loves you” so many times growing up that it seems more like a children’s song lyric than anything extraordinary. But in a world today that rejects the idea of religion as burdensome, the idea that God is love is revolutionary. We have to share that truth with the world today in order to reclaim our faith in modern culture.
5. Genuinely love your neighbor
Ancient Romans practiced philanthropy, but it was self-serving. Gifts were given to improve approval rating with fellow Roman citizens. Works of charity were done with the desire to draw attention to oneself and make society feel indebted to the generous.
“In contrast to the gods of the Greco-Roman religion, the God of the Hebrews required his people to care for the widow, the orphan, and even the stranger in their midst,” Aquilina and Papandrea write. “The prophets proclaimed it was a sin for the powerful to oppress the weak. . . following Jesus’s lead, the Church has always insisted that we respond to the love of God by loving our neighbor.”
The world will never be the same thanks to the way Christians followed Christ’s invitation to love their neighbors. Today, we can reclaim our faith by seeing that charity is a form of evangelization.
6. Celebrate Christ’s victory over death
Roman pagans didn’t want to think about dead bodies. “The mere sight of a corpse made a pagan ritually unclean, not to mention giving him the willies,” Aquilina and Papandrea write.
But Christians thought differently. They treated the bodies of their dead with dignity and worth. To them, bodies were much more than a cast-off container for the soul.
“Christians believe in the resurrection of the body – we say that every time we recite the Creed, but we seldom think what an odd thing it appears to be. Some (not all) pagan philosophers thought the soul was immortal; they saw the body as a machine animated by the soul and dead without it. but it simply never occurred to pagans to talk about the resurrection of the body,” the authors go on to explain.
Today we can reclaim our faith in the face of modern culture by continuing to honor the dead. After all, the bonds of our Christian family continue long after death. “Human beings have dignity, even when their bodies are decomposing,” emphasize Aquilina and Papandrea.
7. View government through the eyes of stewardship
The idea of religious freedom wasn’t invented by America’s Founding Fathers. Religious freedom isn’t a product of the enlightenment, either. It finds its origins with the Constantine in ancient Roman times.
“Once Constantine became emperor, one of the first things he did was to legalize Christianity,” explain Aquilina and Papandrea. “Our seventh revolution is a revolution of the state – a revolution of government itself, in which citizenship would not determine religious loyalties, and people would be free to worship according to their own consciences.”
Ancient Christians criticized Roman culture and then instilled a new set of values in their world. Instead of viewing human life as expendable, they encouraged all to recognize that all human life is valuable.
“Religious freedom is more than the freedom to worship according to one’s conscience – it’s also about freedom from persecution, oppression, and exploitation by one’s government,” Aquilina and Papandrea clarify. “Religious freedom is also freedom from fear – a freedom that can be had only in a society in which the leaders are considered stewards of their people and resources.”
In How Christianity Saved Civilization . . . And Must Do So Again, Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea document the many ways in which Christians penetrated and civilized that debased Roman empire, introducing then-radical notions such as the equal dignity of women, respect for life, protection of the weak and vulnerable, and the obligation of rulers to serve those they rule and maximize their freedom.
Pick up a copy of the book for their road map for modern Christians to reclaim the faith today! Find the book at your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.