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The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective

Joseph M. Bryant
The British Journal of Sociology
Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), pp. 303-339
DOI: 10.2307/591221
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/591221
Page Count: 37
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The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective
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Abstract

In terms of world-historical significance, few developments can rival the enduring impact of the triumph of Christianity within the Roman world. Originating as a minor sect within Judaism, and subjected to sporadic persecution over the course of three centuries of growth and missionary expansion, the social fortunes of this marginal religion were abruptly transformed by the conversion of the emperor Constantine, whose imperial support laid the organizational and ideological basis for the making of a 'Christian Empire'. The analysis presented here seeks to explicate that dramatic 'reversal', i.e., from persecution to patronage, by charting the critical internal changes that carried Christianity from its original stance of world-opposition and renunciation to accommodation and affirmation. Weber's sect-church model is employed to frame the evolving dialectic of persecution, penitential discipline, and schism that marks the protracted struggle over religious organization and self-identity within pre-Constantinian Christianity.

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