Church and State in the Fourth Century
By Glen L. Thompson
What should be the proper relationship between organized religion and the state? If you would have asked a Greek in the second century BC or a Roman in the first century AD that question, they would undoubtedly have given you similar quizzical stares. This was not a question that occurred in ancient times. In the polytheistic worldview of antiquity, all citizens would call upon their gods to help their city or nation. Their rulers would encourage such private petitions, and public officials would ensure that there were suitably frequent and grandiose public rites of sacrifice and worship to all of the gods who might affect local events.
Occasionally the state was involved in regulating religious activities. Jews living outside Palestine would petition to absent themselves from public pagan ceremonies and to send offerings back to the Temple in Jerusalem. Tales of frenzied women conducting nocturnal bacchanalian rites in the forests led the Senate to outlaw such activities in Italy in 186 BC. Religious sacrilege might lead to civil sanctions, as when Alcibiades was involved in the desecration of the Athenian Herms and thus lost his generalship of the Athenian army in 415 BC. Astrologers, Jews, radical philosophers, devotees of extremist eastern cults — all these were at various times banished from Rome when they were seen as threats to public order.
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(H/T History of the Ancient World)