The empire was beset by foreign invaders and war in the Middle East. Far-flung wars meant more taxes for the provinces and an increase in poverty. Some men had to choose between feeding their families and paying for medical care. Some couldn’t afford either.
In the large urban centers, the poor were getting poorer, while the rich were getting richer. The wealthy—even in the churches—were given to elaborate and expensive entertainments. Keeping pedigreed horses was a favorite hobby. Aristocrats gobbled up the land of poor farmers and created vast estates for their champion thoroughbreds. Houses were lavishly decorated with gilded ceilings and mosaic-covered walls. Personal chefs and confectioners were employed.
To make matters worse, a false version of Christianity was on the rise. Within living memory, the emperor himself had confessed that Jesus Christ is fully God, “being of one substance with the Father.” But now a new emperor, while claiming to be a Christian, was professing just the opposite. Soon, all of the old heretic pastors were out of the closet, and the emperor, in the interests of unity, was applying gentle persecution to bring the conservative pastors into line. In such an environment, any reasonable man would batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, and protect himself, his family, and his way of life.