Did Christianity destroy the Empire? Or did this destruction result from the Empire’s policy of pacifying its subjects while more and more unpacified barbarians pressed on its frontiers? The answer probably lies somewhere in-between….
Nonetheless, when Roman central authority faltered in the fifth century it did so as never before. Earlier, in the third century, Rome had faced a similar crisis: civil war, foreign invasion, return of brigandage, and steep economic decline. Yet the Empire fought its way back and reasserted central authority. There was no such response in the fifth century. Instead, the crisis was met with a strange mixture of complacency and willful naiveté.
We cannot understand this change without considering the ideology that now shaped the Roman worldview, i.e., all humans share the same potential for peaceful and submissive behavior. This was largely true among the pacified populations inside the Roman Empire. Outside, it was largely false. Tragically so.
There is also a vociferous faction I’ve encountered here and there on the Internet which insists that ‘we’ must return to the pre-Christian ‘gods’ or fail. Apparently, only the pre-Christian ‘gods’ have the mojo to protect us against our enemies. As I’ve asked, though, do we pick and choose religions based on their perceived usefulness to us? Or is there a little thing called Truth that matters more? There is a God or there is not; if there is, he exists independently of our ackknowledgement of him, and we ignore him to our own detriment if he exists. And if he exists, our job is to know him as he is, and to seek his will, not to assert our own will against him. We can’t simply invent ‘gods’ to our own specifications; if we do, they are only something like ‘genies’ in the fairytales, who answer to our bidding.