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date: 13 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Scripture, early Christians agreed, instructed believers not only how to worship God but how to live rightly with their neighbors. Christians nevertheless pursued social justice only selectively. Concern for the poor and for strangers became an early and lasting preoccupation in Christian discourse. By contrast, many Christians remained partial to the violent entertainment of circus games, and did not consistently advocate for the empire’s least regarded members. While homilists might instruct Christians to treat well their own slaves, slavery as an institution remained unchallenged by even the most socially conscious Christian writers. By the fourth century, the increasing Christianization of the empire led to Roman legal support for clergy’s efforts to ensure social justice. The care of prisoners and orphans and, increasingly, the resolution of conflict among particularly the empire’s Christian population were tasks that had long been part of bishops’ roles and that now enjoyed imperial support.

Keywords: wealth, poverty, slavery, orphans, prisons, John Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, episcopalis audientia, late antiquity, early Christianity

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