The following excerpt is taken from The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs by Henri Daniel-Rops. Published in 1948, Catholic historian Daniel-Rops provides some much needed insight as to why Christianity was, and still is, the antidote for any civilization in peril.
His observations- which Christians of the twenty-first century can benefit a great deal from -a zero in on the revolutionary nature of the Cross and how it checked unhealthy tendencies of ancient Roman society while infusing new life into its good but dorment sectors.
What was, still is! That is, the revolutionary force of the Cross, spiritual and moral in its essence, is just as productive and life-giving today as it was in the early years of the Christian era.
The Revolution of the Cross:
"It is an eternal law of history that, in order to pass effectively into deeds, all revolution has need of three fundamental and simultaneously present attributes: a revolutionary situation, a revolutionary doctrine and a revolutionary personnel. In the Empire’s Golden Age outward appearances hardly seemed to favor revolution. But a revolutionary situation is not necessarily a situation in which revolution is on the verge of starting or of being successfully concluded. It merely implies a more or less open questioning of all those moral and social standards by which have become accustomed to live, a crumbling of old values, a change in the balance of forces which go to make up the particular appearance of a society at a certain moment in history. A revolutionary situation can exist even though open revolution is far away…
Christianity was to put forward the revolutionary doctrine for which the ancient world was waiting, simply because, on all of the essential points which were being questioned by the human conscience of the period, on all those matters on which society was soon to be acutely conscious of its own shortcomings, the Gospel offered the valid answers and solutions. The ‘new birth’ attainable through baptism would assure the Christian of the renewal of vital forces which a profound, inevitable transformation of his very being had made impossible for the civilized Roman. Where all the legislative efforts of the emperors to rebuild the bases of sexual and family morality had failed, the Gospel appeal to purity was to prove successful; the crisis affecting the institution of marriage and the birth-rate would be resolved at last.
The Christian attitude towards work placed the subject in an entirely new light by insisting that labor sanctified the individual who performed it. This completely broke with the idleness and sloth of which the classical world was dying, while Christ’s terrifying condemnations of the injustices of wealth and the abuse of mammon sufficed to keep the new Christian society free of that passion for gold which was the pagan world’s most serious disease. To the false universalism of [pagan] Rome, with its extremely limited number of beneficiaries, Christianity was to oppose with the universalism of the Gospel, according to which there are no longer ‘Greeks or Jews,’ slaves and freemen, rich and poor, but only brothers in Jesus Christ…
Thus Christianity not only showed itself to be a revolutionary doctrine; it contained within it an incomparable reserve of strength to sustain the men and women who were to put its principles into practice…
Here we have the third fundamental attribute: Christianity was to possess a revolutionary personnel, that is to say men who were determined to ensure the triumph of their cause, and who made this their sole aim in life…[The Church] was in this decaying world but without being in any way a part of this world. To act effectively in a society is bound to accept a certain detachment and separation from that society, as Christ had taught his followers. He taught them something else besides: the morality of heroism, which asked man to sacrifice himself for the cause in advance, counting his own life as nothing.
The ‘revolutionary personnel’ of the early Christians was to consist of all those countless hosts of martyrs in whom the spirit of sacrifice would be pushed to heights normally unattainable by mere humanity, martyrs who awaited and even desired death from the circus lions or the executioner’s sword in order to declare their faith. Carlyle pointed to the supreme and really revolutionary meaning of this sacrifice, when he wrote that in every age, place and situation it was the hero’s characteristic to return to realities, and to rely on things and not on the appearance of things. In the first few centuries of our era reality no longer meant the Ancient World, ostentatiously strong in its outward appearances, but rotten at its roots; reality meant the new world which was waiting to be born, and whose heralds were the Christians."