Thursday, September 21, 2017

OSCAR Student Alexander Mertz Examines the Rise of the Christian Church as a Political Force in the Late Roman Empire

Good day to you all! My name is Alex Mertz and although I am a mathematics major, I am currently pursuing research in fourth century religious and political history. Not to worry – I am also minoring in religious studies! (This all ties together somehow…) In any case, my current project examines the rise of the Christian Church as a political force in the late Roman Empire.

This project is rooted in my Honors 240 class from Fall 2016 with Dr. Collins, my mentor for this research. That class focused on Christian and pagan interactions in the early Roman Empire, through the life of Constantine in the early 300s. Finding the class fascinating, I wanted to know what happened next. How did Christians go from a persecuted minority to crucial imperial advisors in less than a century? By the year 380, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was changing imperial action with a mere letter or sermon. I sought to discover how this change occurred so quickly.

My research is entirely literary: every week I choose some ancient writings (letters, sermons, or speeches) to examine and note any interesting passages while I look for language about politics and authority. After this, I often consult a secondary or tertiary source from some scholarly character to see what they thought. I revisit the original writing in Greek or Latin and again look for the themes and patterns. Last, I compare what I found to other writings from the same author and other authors in the time period. Having amassed numerous quotations and notes, I move on to another piece.

Reading all day may sound boring, especially when that reading is in a dead language, authored by someone who lived almost two millennia ago, but this directly relates to my career goals. After graduating Mason, I plan to attend Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to become a Lutheran priest, with the long-term aspiration of a PhD in theology and professorship at a university, doing more research on Church history. I have long suspected that I would enjoy such a job, and the opportunity to complete a URSP with Dr. Collins has confirmed that belief. This has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity on all accounts to enhance my education and go beyond the classroom.