“It is easy enough to exaggerate the practical achievements of the Christian church in these directions during this last generation of the real Roman empire. Social life was only beginning to be christianised. But what was done is not to be discounted. When one understands the sort of things which passed unquestioned in the world of the first three centuries one appreciates better the significance of the christian empire ….
…one sees the vastness of the change the gospel brought to the theory of human life. The unlimited right of power, deliberate cruelty, lust, the calculated oppression of the helpless, these things were accepted motives in pagan life. They did not disappear at the end of the fourth century with the christian triumph; they were not even more than checked in practice. But at least they were now publicly reprobated and challenged in the name of justice, pity, purity and mercy. They were beginning to be generally regarded in practice as sins, and not as the inevitable and natural way in which men may behave when they can.”
"This was the achievement of the church in the fourth century, and it is to my mind a great one, though it is not always appreciated either by christian moralists or secular historians. Our own age has been shocked by the cynical horrors of which its own neo-paganism has proved capable, to the point of determination that the symptoms must be eradicated by force, cost what it may. But I do not see why such things should greatly surprise students of classical antiquity. They are among the familiar fruits of the pagan ideal, the apotheosis of human power. Perhaps modern christians and post-christians alike, weary of the tension of christian belief in a deeply secularised order of society, have been over-anxious to hurry the church back to the catacombs, from which she emerged to put an end to the pagan theory of human life. If she should ever return to them she would survive, as Russia shews; but it would be the worse for the world. That theory in some form is Europe’s only alternative religion, whether men try to set in the place of the Faith ‘our Saviour Adolf Hitler’ or the ikon of Lenin or the inscrutable wisdom and providence of an impersonal L.C.C. The men and women who refuted and smashed that theory of the sufficiency of power were the noble army of martyrs…”
Dom Gregory Dix: The Shape of the Liturgy