Teresa Morgan reflects on whether Christianity’s rise to power was a good or a bad thing.
The great challenge to any religious tradition, I think, is having power and what you do with power. And having responsibility, because hand in hand with power goes responsibility. And power can be power for both good and evil, it can bring temptation for both good and evil; and it brings responsibility for doing both good and evil.
I don’t think I would want to guess whether acquiring power, acquiring the ear of the emperor, and eventually becoming the cult of the Empire was better or worse for Christianity. People of faith might say that it is worthwhile to have responsibility in a social situation, in a state, if you can use that responsibility for good. If you’re going to have responsibility, then you have to deal with the temptation of power and using the power for evil.
Undoubtedly Christianity changed. It became more establishment, it became more interested in money. It became more interested in protecting itself and its own prestige because of being allied with imperial power. On the other hand, it acquired opportunities to do what it saw as good. So I think it’s always a very two-edged thing, acquiring power – for any religious tradition probably, including early Christianity.