Christians have always taken care for the poor, the powerless and the social-marginals (prisoners, sick and old people, prostitutes, orphans). Since the reign of Constantine I the Church began to expand its social activities taking care not only for Christians but for everybody in need, forming institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly. In the process of formation of these institutions the clerics established specific relations with the subjects of their care which resulted in the accumulation of social power.
This presentation will focus on the process of shifting social power from the city representatives to the Christian clerics during fourth and fifth centuries as presented in the Roman law codes. Defining this process is of great importance for the understanding of Church transformation from network of communities with limited power into the institution with almost limitless cultural, economic, social and political powers. The main sources for the study are the late Roman and Byzantine law collections: Codex Theodosianus and Codex Justinianus. The comparative examination of this body of secular juridical evidence will be supplemented by information from the canon law and non-legal sources (predominantly Christian writings) where the problem of the social power of the Church is often treated.