christianity began to divide into various sects, and every sect began in turn to divide into factions, each of which held a different opinion concerning the religion and its principles and bases. in the absence of commonly held principles, in terms of which these differences could be composed, the various sects became antagonistic toward one another. their moral and mental backwardness transformed the opposing doctrines into personal antagonisms protected by blind prejudice and deadening conservatism. some of them denied that jesus ever had a body other than a ghostly shadow by which he appeared to men. others regarded the person and soul of jesus as related to each other with such extraordinary ties that only the most fastidious imagination could grasp what they meant. while some worshiped mary, others denied that she remained a virgin after the birth of christ. thus the controversies dividing the followers of jesus were typical of the dissolution and decadence affecting any nation or age; that is to say, they were merely verbal disputes arising from the assignment to words of secret and esoteric meanings removed from their commonsense connotations, oppugnant to reason and tolerated only by futile sophistry.
one of the monks of the church wrote describing the situation of his day: "the city and all its precincts were full of controversy-in the market place, in the shops of apparel, at the changers, in the grocery stores. you ask for a piece of gold to be changed at the changers and you find yourself questioned about that which in the person of jesus was created and that which was not created. you stop at the bakery to buy a loaf of bread and ask concerning the price, only to find the baker answer: ‘will you agree that the father is greater than the son and the son is subordinate to the father?’ you ask your servant about your bath, whether or not the water is warm, and your servant answers you: ‘the son was created from nothing.’”
the decay which befell christianity and caused it to split into factions and sects did not shake the political foundations of the imperium romanum. the empire remained strong and closely knit while the sects disputed their differences with one another and with the councils, which were called from time to time to resolve them. for some time at least no sect had enough power to coerce the others into agreement. the empire protected them all and granted them the freedom to argue their doctrines with one another, a measure which increased the civil power of the emperor without reducing his religious prestige. each faction sought his sympathy and encouragement; indeed, each claimed that the emperor was its patron and advocate. it was the cohesion of the empire which enabled christianity to spread to the farthest reaches of imperial authority. from its base in roman egypt, christianity thus reached to independent abyssinia and thence to the red sea which it then invested with the same importance as the mediterranean. the same imperial cohesion also enabled christianity to move from syria and palestine once it had converted their people to the adjoining arab tribe of ghassan and the shores of the euphrates. there it converted the arabs of hirah, the banu lakhm, and banu mundhir who had migrated thence from the desert but whose history has been divided between independence and persian tutelage.