Roman Catholics were persecuted across the empire for their religious views during the time of the Roman Empire. It was because these religious views posed a threat to the empire. As a result, rumors began to spread and it was a common belief that Catholics practiced immoral rituals such as incest and cannibalism. This fear drove people to mistreat, torture, and even murder Catholics. Eventually it became a legitimate form of entertainment to feed Christians to lions at the coliseum.
The year 64 AD was among the most difficult times in history for Catholics. Emperor Nero blamed the Christian Community for a segment of Rome being burnt to the ground. This sparked a catastrophic surge of unrest towards the Christian culture, which resulted in large amounts of public executions of Catholic citizens. This caused Catholic communities to begin to meet underground. Despite the massacres across the empire, by the year 100 AD, 40 Catholic communities were present across several different roman cities.
The mistreatment and death of Catholic citizens seemed to only strengthen the resolve of the Christians. Many believe that this is because Jesus died as a martyr, leading his followers to believe that dying for their cause would only help them to prove their infinite resolve for their beliefs. The message that Catholics portrayed by continuing their beliefs, even in the face of torture or death, was inspiring and infectious. This took away the Roman Empire’s ability to stop the spread of Christianity albeit they tried to do it with force.
The year 313 AD marked the uplifting of the “Ban on Christianity.” The ban was removed by the Edict of Milan, which was written by Emperor Constantine and gave equal status to Catholicism. He also gave the Vatican, a 108-acre plot of land within Rome, to Pope Miltiades. The Vatican is widely accepted within Roman culture to be a blessed land, and for Emperor Constantine to give this land to the Catholic Church was a huge step forward. This, in of itself, would help lead to the successes of Catholicism in the future.
The reason Emperor Constantine wrote the Edict of Milan was because he believed that his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, which gave him emperorship over Western Rome, was credited to the Christian God. He believed that before the battle Jesus had given him a sign that signaled he would achieve victory in the upcoming battle. In order to pay respect to Catholicism he outfitted his troops with shields that bore the Catholic cross.
Several decades later, Emperor Theodosius I recognized how quickly Christianity was growing and by 380 AD, he declared Christianity the State Church of the Roman Empire. This allowed for the Pope to receive a great deal of political power and he essentially became a political link between the Roman State and the Catholic people. The widespread nature of the Roman Empire allowed for Catholicism to spread its ideals further than it was able to ever do in the past. This spread lasted even after the collapse of the Roman Empire and allowed for Catholicism to be one of the world’s largest and most successful religions.
In a span of just under 400 years, Christianity had gone from being a religion found amongst the beggars and slaves of the city into the State’s official church, which allowed it to become the size that it is today. Catholicism has had such a large impact on the world and remains today to be amongst the most popular religions. The refinement and spread of this message can be credited to the religion’s early attention given to it by the Roman Empire – both negative and positive.