QUO VADIS by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1896) tells a story of the coming of Christianity to Rome in the time of Nero. It depicts the discontinuity between Christianity and the Greco-Roman pagan world, and what happens when people actually live by the Sermon on the Mount.
This would be a revolutionary moral change today. It was an even more revolutionary change then.
Unlike in Christianity, worship of the Greco-Roman gods had nothing to do with morality nor with hope and heaven. The pagan gods were regarded as powerful supernatural beings who had to be appeased with worship and animal sacrifice for the sake of one’s family or one’s city or nation, but who otherwise did not care about you.
Many of the Roman upper classes had come to believe that religion was a useful superstition for keeping the common people contented.
This had nothing to do with leading a virtuous life, which was the province of philosophy, and only a select few were followers of philosophy.
Christianity represented a moral revolution. St. Paul, St. Peter and the Christians depicted in this novel practiced universal love, unconditional forgiveness and the sharing of all wealth and property—something unprecedented in any mass movement.
The Christian missionaries taught that in the Kingdom of God, there was no distinction between rich and poor, free and slave, man and woman or Roman, Greek or Jew. They created communities whereby poor people could band together and provide for their own needs, independently of the oppressive and indifferent Roman state. The collision of the pagan and Christian view of life is the subject of this novel.