"Representing" mission from below: Historians as interpreters and agents of Christianization

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Discussion of mission in east Roman or Byzantine history has typically focused on imperial ambitions, royal conversions, and a "top-down" approach to Christianization. The Christian emperor, the earthly image of the heavenly king, had been called by God to propagate the faith and civilize the barbarians. Toward this end he sent out emissaries to foreign potentates, and the conversion of the ruler was soon followed by the Christianization of his people. Such narratives largely ignore missionaries "from below," deemed "accidental" evangelists, and focus instead on imperially sponsored or "professional missionaries." Several recent studies have added nuance to the traditional picture by devoting increased attention to mission from below or presenting Christianization as a process comprising multiple stages that spanned several centuries. Building on my own previous article on this theme, the present essay will reexamine narratives of unofficial mission on the eastern frontiers, in particular accounts of captive women credited with converting whole kingdoms to the Christian faith. In each case a female ascetic has either been taken prisoner or has lived for some time as a captive in a foreign land just beyond east Roman borders. The woman's steadfast adherence to her pious way of life, performance of apostolic signs, and verbal testimony to faith in Christ move the ruler and his people to accept the Christian God.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-304
Number of pages34
JournalChurch History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


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