One of the great charges against the Church is that Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire, as if the alleged glory of Rome was something to be cherished and maintained. The Enlightenment era historian, Edward Gibbon, in his work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), clearly laid some blame on Christianity for the fall of Rome. “As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear, without surprise or scandal, that the introduction, or at least the abuse, of Christianity had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire.”
From a Divine perspective, Edward Gibbon was not wrong in writing that Christianity had an influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. This was by Divine design. In the sixth century BC, the Jewish prophet, Daniel, had been given a vision of the destruction of the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:45; 7:24). The prophesy of Daniel came true in AD 476 when the Roman Empire fell to barbarian tribes. Sixty-six years earlier, in AD 410, Rome had been pillaged in a three-day robbery by the Visigoth, Alaric. Part of the city was burned down.
NEWS FLASH: 25 August AD 410
“Yesterday, 24 August, the barbarian leader Alaric and his armies attacked and pillaged Rome when a group of slaves opened the gates for them.
This terrible day started when late at night, a group of traitorous slaves hoping to get revenge on their masters opened the Salarian Gate. The barbarians amassed outside the gate poured in and set fire to nearby buildings. In the hours that followed, barbarians pillaged and burned homes, villas, and palaces. The statues of all of our leaders and emperors were torn down, and many people were killed. Many of the few buildings and valuables that were spared were Christian sites and treasures. This is also true for many of the people who survived. The barbarians are Christians, so will not harm other Christians or their religious sites and treasures. Therefore, it is quite ridiculous for the pagans to claim that it is because of Christians that Rome fell.
The aftermath of this sacking of Rome is devastating. The city is stripped of every movable and slightly valuable object. Many hostages were taken captive including Galla Placidia, the emperor’s half-sister. North Africa is still being flooded with refugees from the city. St. Jerome recently wrote ‘My voice sticks in my throat, and, as I dictate, sobs choke me. The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.’ Although Rome is sure to survive through this tragedy, this day will be remembered and avenged.” ~Roman News Report
While war and famine enhanced the fall of Rome, the empire primarily fell because it could not enforce its two unchristian foundational principles. These foundational principles could not be enforced because they were intrinsically evil and self-destructive, and because they were assaulted by the Church, led by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
Born on November 13, AD 354, and born again in late August of AD 386, the mighty intellect of St. Augustine, age 31, was turned against the two foundational principles on which Roman culture and society rested.
Like so many in the United States today, the citizens of Rome believed in personal happiness. Because of the pax Romana, the peace of Rome, citizens found time to pursue every form of personal pleasure in a spirit of optimism. They would have embraced the modern-day idea that whatever the mind of man can conceive, the ability of man can achieve. And, if it feels good, do it.
So, the aqueducts were built in Rome to provide drinking water, and the massive coliseums were constructed to give people “bread and circuses.” Anything that diminished one’s personal happiness was discarded. This included unwanted children, which could be aborted, or killed at birth. In ancient Rome, babies were not considered to be truly human at birth. The babies gained humanity over time as they were named after a few days, and when they cut their teeth, and could eat solid food.
The optimism of the Romans expressed itself in creative technology, and in a belief that individuals could help themselves. The trained orators were often motivational speakers who cherished persuading people to do greater things in life. People could improve themselves, and control their destiny, and nature itself. Pride, ambition, and confidence in the future were great virtues, and espoused by Cicero and Plutarch. Individuals could be perfected through education, culture, and civic duty.
In addition to the frantic pursuit of personal happiness at all cost, the Romans believed in pursuing a just social order (Justicia), much like so many modern movements in America. The quest for social justice was, and is, a major topic.
The Romans believed justice could be mandated in society if only the right people were in power.
If the right political policies were implemented, Romans believed that anyone could enjoy social mobility based on hard work and merit.
In a just society, anyone could make money, if they chose to do so. Once money was acquired, it was to be put on display for all to see. It was the honorable thing to do, and a source of personal pride and achievement. Wealth was a sign of superior wisdom, and inner virtue.
Fame was also sought after.
In his youth, Augustine himself embraced these two guiding principles of Roman society. Augustine was a very ambitious man who pursued personal pleasure, and then sought to improve himself by studying the law and rhetoric. Because of his education and oratorical skills, he was able to become famous, and make money. According to the mindset of the age, Augustine was a virtuous Roman in so many ways. A large part of Roman society admired Augustine, and envied him, especially after he became the Court Orator for the Emperor.
What the people of Rome did not realize was that Augustine had grown disillusioned with the two basic philosophical principles on which Roman society was built. Augustine had become a Christian.
As a convert to Christ, as a student of the Bible, and as an observer of human nature, Augustine knew that true happiness was not to be found in the toys of time, and the pursuit of money or self-pleasure. He also came to believe that society is incapable of being just.
The problem, according to Augustine, was, original sin, and the wrong choices that flow from a fallen sinful nature. The Bible says “the wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalms 58:3). The Bible says “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Said Augustine, our sin nature gives rise to the libido dominandi, or the desire to dominate, which is manifested in the brutal, and inhumane way people are treated, without remorse. People lie, cheat, and steal in order to dominate, and take the resources of others. Wars are fought, and crime becomes a way of life in society. There is no ability to love, for ego and pride take precedent over self-sacrifice, and desiring the good of others.
The power to reason, and think clearly, is also a mockery, said Augustine. The ungodly do not understand themselves, and so they engage in psycho-babble pretending that there can be a marriage between the same sex, or that pedophilia, and bestiality, is normal behavior.
The pursuit for personal happiness leaves individuals filled with fears and anxieties, unloved, and unloving. Augustine rebuked those philosophers, and their followers, who “have wished with amazing folly, to be happy here on earth and to achieve bliss by their own efforts.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ recognizes that humanity has been ruined by sin, but there is a solution. There is a Savior from the penalty, power, and pollution of sin. Jesus Christ can give individuals something they cannot find on their own through sex, money, or power, and that is joy and peace with God.
In like manner, it is Christ who offers the solution to all of the injustices in society. In the Sermon on the Mount, in the Moral Law, and in the epistles, the principles are set forth as to how justice can be established. But first, individuals must bow before Jesus as Lord and Savior, and then rise to follow Christ in righteousness.
With an eye on eternity, Augustine believed that one day people will be turned to righteousness. One day there will be perfect justice. One day, when Jesus comes the Second Time for all who believe, there will come with Him a new world order, for there will be a new heaven, and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. This is the promise of God.
For those who will abandon the pursuit of lust, money, and power for personal happiness as the end goal, for those who will concede there is no consistent justice in the land, there is hope, for attention can then be turned from earth to heaven. The City of God will replace the City of Man. The heart can dream again.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1).