Ramsay MacMullen, the author of Christianizing the Roman Empire, is the Dunham Professor of History and Classics at Yale University. On January 5, of 2001 he was the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association. The citation begins, "Ramsay MacMullen is the greatest historian of the Roman Empire alive today." Obviously the author is eminently qualified for his research for this work.
Christianity grew dramatically from the day of Pentecost to the year 400 through mass conversations. At the end of the first century, the church held a minimal significance in Roman society. It simply "did not count." Within three centuries it included ten percent of the population and had displaced the other religions of the empire. In Christianizing the Roman Empire MacMullen addresses the factors for this amazing growth. The author demonstrates that these mass conversions first came through the power of miracles and later through the social advantage of becoming a Christian. As such, MacMullen is diminishing the value of Christian piety and the testimony of martyrs as reasons for the mass evangelization.
The book is divided into two sections, which are the times prior to 312 and after 312 (Constantine's "conversion" in 312 and the Edict of Milan in 313). He first examines what Pagans of the culture believed. Then he looks at what Christians presented to the Pagans about this new faith, and how they presented it. The influence of Constantine is examined, as are the non-religious factors that led to conversions. MacMullen then looks at evangelical campaigns after 312, including the conversion of intellectuals. Finally he looks at the quality of the conversions and those that were won through coercion.
I found MacMullen's research and use of sources of the highest quality. The book contains forty-three pages of endnotes and commentary by the author about the endnotes. In addition, the biography is extensive and would be of great value for those desiring to do additional research on the subject. He uses many sources to verify his thesis that Christian miracles during the early years and favored advantage in the former years, rather than Christian love, piety, and courage in martyrdom, resulted in the dramatic growth of the church. MacMullen's research confirmed that Christianity becoming the Roman State religion strongly diluted the spiritual nature of the church.
Christianizing the Roman Empire is an outstanding work of research by an eminently qualified authority. I found the material fascinating. Some of it attacked my pre-conceived notions, while other aspects of the book confirmed my reasoned suspicions. The book is written for those who already have some knowledge and study in church history during this era in Rome. Though MacMullen obviously is writing this book to an educated audience, the writing style is not nearly as high quality as his research. The first two chapters may cause some sincere readers to give up on the book before they have an opportunity to enjoy its valuable contribution. Despite its shortcomings, I would highly recommend Christianizing the Roman Empire to those with a high interest in learning more about this period of Roman and church history.