Recognize aspects of the Roman persecution of the early church before 250 AD. (Sect. 9)
9.1. Persecution was intermittent for the church’s first 250 yearsIn the early 2nd century the Emperor Trajan told his governor of Bithynia (Pliny the Younger whose letters survive) Christians should not be hunted down but when otherwise in custody should be expected to sacrifice to the gods like all others in the Roman Empire; death was the expected penalty for noncompliance; it was not a formal “policy” but became the usual way the Roman government dealt withChristians; their conduct (refusing to sacrifice) was illegal but, in times of economic prosperity, noncompliance was overlooked.
- 9.2. Despite its irregularity, by the end of the 2nd century Tertullian can write that the blood of the martyrs is seed (often rendered “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”)
- Heroism of Christian martyrs led many unbelievers to faith in Christ (including Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century).
9.3. Two of the most infamous examples of martyrdom
9.3.1. The martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in 155 AD
9.3.2. The martyrdom of the Christians in Lyon/Lugdunum in 177 AD
Both illustrate the heroism of early Christian martyrs, all of whom remain examples for us today.
9.4. Until 250 AD, Christians were martyred mainly during bad economic times. Ancient pagans believed the gods had to placated periodically; when drought came, when the harvest failed, when the river flooded, when natural disasters (like earthquakes) occurred, or when pestilence and disease struck, pagans naturally flooded into the temples to sacrifice to the gods; Christians refused; hence, the rest of the populace persecuted them in the hope of forcing them to sacrifice so the gods would turn back their anger; the reason Christians were persecuted was mainly economic, not due to any dislike of the tenets of Christianity.
9.5. Ironically, in the 2nd century the most aggressive emperor to persecute the church was Marcus Aurelius
Ironic because pagans (and many modern historians) felthis was the golden age of Rome; but philosophically Marcus Aurelius’ stoicism had little sympathy with the philosophy called Christianity.
9.6. In the ancient world Christianity was the only religion with no animal sacrifice in its religious services; hence, it was often considered aphilosophy, not a religion.
9.7. There were two eras of systematic persecution in the church’s first 250 years
9.7.1. One by the Emperor Decius beginning in 250 AD,and one by the Emperor Diocletian beginning in 303AD;
9.7.2. Each emphasized: 1) destruction of books used by Christians, and 2) identifying and eliminating leaders of Christians; the 303 AD persecution was the mostextensive and severe of the persecutions prior to the legalization of Christianity by the EmperorConstantine in 312 AD.