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Prestige and Transformations

The Church had left behind its original communal sharing and its sense of equality among members. The bishops were growing in wealth and in the splendor of their dress. Moving from simple buildings to those that were grand and imposing was accompanied by rituals made more splendid. In place of a simple table for the rite of Holy Communion – the Eucharist – the Church now used a massive and ornate altar of marble studded with gems.

And with an increase in wealth, the bishops were able to increase their charity. The Church built orphanages, hospitals, inns for travelers, and it founded old age homes, all of which helped increase Christianity's prestige and popularity.

It was the Church's new prestige, perhaps opulence and association with state power that helped attract new converts. And adjustments to pagan habits and rituals were made to attract and hold converts. Some evangelists, Gregory the Wonder Worker among them, facilitated conversions by encouraging Christians to have the feasts of their old gods celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. In the western half of the empire the popular pagan feast day celebrated as the birthday of Sol Invictus and the winter solstice, December 25th, began to be celebrated as the day of birth of Jesus Christ. Christians in the eastern half of the empire disagreed with this, and as the day of Jesus' birth they chose January 6th – the day of another great pagan festival. This difference between western and eastern Christianity was to continue into modern times.

Among the pagan practices adopted by Christians in bringing pagans into the fold were a devotion to relics, the kissing of holy objects as an act of reverence, genuflection and the use of candles and incense. Those who had prayed to pagan gods for rain and for bestowing fertility upon women would now be praying to Christian saints. Many peasants who had venerated a pagan female guardian of grain would transfer that veneration to a new guardian and creator of their grain: Mary, the mother of Jesus.

But the object of Christianity remained the same: the worship of Jesus Christ and obedience to what was seen as God's laws. What mattered from the Christian point of view was to whom people prayed.


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