THE CHURCH RAPIDLY EXPANDS
Despite the fact that the gospel message of Jesus found a hostile,
stormy, and crisis-ridden reception in the second and third century, it
is astounding to note how quickly the Christian community spread throughout
the Roman empire. In addition to the concentration of Christians in Palestine
and Asia Minor, by the end of the second century Christians were to be found
in sizeable numbers in Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia, and also along
the north African coast with its centre in Carthage. In the third century,
the south of Spain was home to a large Christian community in Cordoba and
the city of Elvira. In southern France in the area from the Rhine to the
Mosel, as well as in the British Isles, Christian centres were established
under the leadership of local bishops.
The favourable travel conditions that existed facilitated access to
the far corners of the empire allowing the Christian faith to proliferate
rapidly. Persecutions in Italy, Greece and in Asia Minor often meant that
believing Christians became itinerant, moving to less threatening areas
within the Roman empire. This peregrination became in itself a cause for
the rapid dissemination of the Christian message.
It has been estimated that in the first century there existed almost
half a million Christians. By the close of the second century, their number
had risen to two million; at the close of the third century, their number
had again more than doubled - to almost five million. This is astonishing
when we realize that at the beginning of the fourth century, it was reputed
that the Roman empire had almost 50 million adherents within its borders.
In that century, after the conversion of emperor Constantine, and after
the Church received its freedom, the numbers of Christians in the total
Roman empire quickly rose to almost ten million.