Before the declaration of Christianity as the official religion in England in 312 A.D., there were prior contacts between Christianity and Insular Celtic paganism. The Georgian Mission of Christianity in 596 A.D., which declared the conversion of all pagans to Christianity as well as the Christianity take-over of Ireland by 600 A.D., accelerated the rise of Christianity and the fall of paganism (Lunn-Rockliffe, p. 12). By 1100 A.D., Christianity had gained sufficient control over the Celtic region, thereby replacing the former religion, paganism (p. 17). However, since most of the people that drafted literature about the interaction between Paganism and Christianity were mostly of the latter religion, there has been a historical bias in the presentation of facts in favor of Christianity. There have been mixed reactions between historians and religious analysts as to the possible causes of the fall of paganism and the rise of Christianity, with historians presenting factual evidence as their religious counterparts presenting divine possibilities. This paper explains the weakness of paganism that led to its eventual fall in Europe and success of Christianity.
Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at University of Washington, analyzes the possible causes of the rise of Christianity and the fall of paganism, despite the popularity of paganism in the early centuries A.D. In his analysis, Stark introduces biblical scholars and Historians to social science and the rational choice theory, the role of social networks and interpersonal attachments in the conversion of pagans into Christianity, social epidemiology, dynamic population models, and models of religious economies (Stark, pp. 44-54). He is however keen to indicate that the transition from paganism to Christianity happened through a chain of events between the first and the fifth centuries interrelated. This transition from paganism in the Mediterranean world, which has raised mixed assumptions between historians and religious analysts as either factual or divine, was effortlessly accomplished by the end of the fourth century. However, according to Ramsay MacMullen, this transition extended to the eighth century, and as opposed to earlier assumptions, Christianity merged with paganism instead of destroying the latter (p. 49). Nevertheless, in the fourth century, Christianity started replacing paganism following the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, which served as a major blow to paganism. The conversion of Constantine led to the withdrawal of the supporting hand of the state, which cut off the flow of funds to the pagan temples and diverted these funds to Christianity. This eventually led to the conversion of pagan temples into other uses apart from those that they were earlier intended.
Another cause of the fall of paganism is the issue of pluralism. In the first century, the massive influx of several new gods form other parts of the Empire arose, a phenomenon that was referred to as a bewildering mass of alternatives. This influx led to too many philosophies of life, too many mysteries, and too many cults to choose from them. However, due to the limited resources available during this period, the few resources were distributed among the cults, thereby allocating few resources to individual groups. The diversity of the cults also weakened the commitment of the people toward religion. On the other hand, when Christianity first entered the region, the missionaries spoke in one voice, talking about one God, one faith, and one repentance and conversion. With the physical and psychological healing miracles, coupled with many resources available to the Christians, they easily swayed people away from paganism into Christianity. Additionally, paganism had become expensive to maintain because of its elaborate temples, professional priests, and the prolific festivals.
In addition to the aforementioned weaknesses of paganism, it is also believed that paganism lacked public reverence. The pagan self-conception of their gods differed leading to the criticism of the Christians. Christians used blasphemous graffiti to indicate that the pagan gods were not godlike, thereby changing the people's perception of the pagan religion. Even further, Christianity encompassed people across different classes in the society. While converting the influential figures in the society through converting them to Christianity, the early Christian Missionaries focused on philanthropic acts to the poor members of the society. As opposed to paganism, which majorly depended on the contribution of the believers, early Christianity helped the subjects in a bid to lure them into Christian religion.
In conclusion, had the many cults making up the Roman pluralism been vigorous in the first to the third centuries, Christianity would have remained and obscure religious movement. However, the weaknesses of the pagan religion hinted success of Christianity because the former could not contain their believers. Despite the faith-based assumptions on the fall of paganism, political interference played a key role in the thrive of Christianity against the former religion. The leaders were the first to convert to Christianity, thereby diverting the religious funds from the pagan temples to the Christian camps. These leaders also used their influence to convert the poor members of the society to believe in Christianity.
Lunn-Rockliffe, Sophie. “History: Christianity and the Roman Empire.” BBC. Web 17 February 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml
Stark, Rodney. “The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion.” New York City: HarperCollins, 2012. Print