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Persecution for the Sake of Roman Stability
Believing When Believing Would Get You Killed
Close your eyes now. 210 predates Orthodox Roman Catholicism killing its competitors. Before Protestants got the idea that they didn't like the Pope and Indulgences, before the Middle Ages, before the time when Constantine would decide that these Christians had grown to a sizeable population in the 300's. No, its just 210.
The super churches then were pagan. The news then was a town crier and a dead person hanging on a tree. The establishment officially hates you. Writing about your faith was the best way to defend yourself. And the important thing was to die the right way. The apostles had all made their statements and died in diverse locations, mostly by persecution and martyrdom. Some as far as India, the founding fathers had recorded their deeds in various spots around the Empire. There had been a meeting in Jerusalem in 50 AD and John had written his last writing on the Isle of Patmos, or even possibly Ephesus. From the Destruction of Jerusalem and the next 130 years, the little idea spread mouth to mouth.
Most of the Christians were Greek influenced. The Greek Septuagint had been written by the "70 elders" in Alexandria, and so the knowledge of the Old Testament was spread abroad. The Hebrew origin of Jesus was acknowledged, but the early Christians came from many places that were not Judea and many tongues that were not Aramaic. Origen who was alive at this time of 210, a famous Church Father who lived in Alexandria had to undertake the study of Hebrew in his latter days to fully amplify his knowledge. He was to write a combination work called the Hexapla which brought more understanding beyond the Septuagint. Christianity was a child of the extensive Roman road system. Jerusalem had been destroyed in 70 AD and the spreading of the gospel was not longer centered in any one city. It was spread through the vigorous vocalizations of the small churches that populated the Mediterranean world.
Persecution and Martyrdom Not Continuous But Ever Present
If you are the one being beheaded, or burnt, it doesn't matter how many others are dying. You are dying and that's it! However, a source makes this comment: "It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace."
This gives a basic picture of a hostile world in which you had to keep on the run and maintain an "off the grid" kind of life in order to survive. This article is about how hard it was to be a Believer in those days, and how Christian doctrinal infighting today and "My belief is better than your belief" battles don't make us any better, and probably rancorous. But then today's Christians, (accept those perhaps in China) have a different life than Origen and his cohorts.
Another picture of persection gives a fuller perspective:
- Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). Martyrdom of Polycarp.
- Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210). Martyrdom of Perpetua.
The emperor Severus may not have been personally ill-disposed towards Christians, but the church was gaining power and making many converts and this led to popular anti-Christian feeling and persecution in Catharge, Alexandria, Rome and Corinth between about 202 and 210. The famed St. Perpetua was martyred during this time, as were many students of Origen of Alexandria.
Apologetics - A Pleasant Sounding Word for Writing Your Head Off
A second response of the church to Roman persecution was to write apologies, or defenses, of the Christian faith. The bishops and leaders who wrote these defenses are known as the Apologists. Writing especially in the 2nd century AD, the Apologists' primary goal was to defend Christianity against pagan accusations and misconceptions in an effort to stop the persecution. Thus they often addressed their works to Roman emperors. The Apologists explained, for example, that the Christian "love feast" did not involve cannibalism or orgies as many thought, but was a sacred meal of bread and wine in honor of Christ's death.
Imagine a Letter That You Might Have to Write
Imagine a letter that you might have to write to the local DA that says: "Please don't mistake my conduct. I am not having consuming sexual pleasure of all ugly types and practices, I am eating bits of bread and drinking a little wine and praying to God. You don't need to kill me and my relatives, believe me."
Origen of Alexandria
During this time, the little churches in the bigger towns were being governed by Bishops and there were scholars at work in places like Alexandria. (Note above references to Biblical literature) Alexandria was a place of fantastic learning. The whole Mediterranean world for hundreds of years saw it as a place where libraries and learning were abounding. Origen was of Greek extraction and taught, made journies, preached, wrote and nourished his close relationships to the end of what would be considered a long life at the time. Note this quote about his life:
Origen was a theologian, philosopher, and devoted Christian of the Alexandrian school. He famously castrated himself so he could tutor women without suspicion, and he risked his life countless times in encouraging martyrs. He himself was tortured under Decius as an old man and died a short time later. Origen's controversial views on the pre-existence of souls, the ultimate salvation of all beings and other topics eventually caused him to be labeled a heretic, yet his teachings were highly influential and today he is regarded as one of the most important early church fathers.
Gnosticism, a belief crushed through the sword and the pen of Roman Catholics
was the dominant belief during this time of 210. It wasn't called "gnosticism". That is a name that scholars and writers put on it after the fact. This hellenized belief system heavily influenced the Kabbalah in ancient days. There was an immediate grasping of the truth of the Christ because the concept of redemption and forgiveness were already a part of their system. Pre-existence of the soul, and the ultimate reconcilation and subduing of evil are not wild ideas now, but Origen would be labeled by Orthodoxy later on as a heretic, so as to discourage ideas that the Romans did not think fit into their dogma. The Romans would go on to conduct a little thing called the Inquisition, which ironically was begun against "heretics" who innocently called themselves Christians.
Just to Be Christian They Did What?
But, its not that time yet. It is still the time when Romans are killing Christians because they are not Pagan. Its the time when you did not have a marquis naming the sermon topic for the day, or have your preacher's name up in neon lights. It is the time when in order to be above reproach a man castrated himself, instead of keeping mistresses on the side. It is that time when people held each other's hands and counseled the condemned not to cry out or surrender their faith as they perished. Origen spent lots of time moving from one house to another, trying to evade arrest by local sheriffs.
This was an Act that was "always on the road", until a time when the world would settle down, long after these believers were dead. I am a bit overwhelmed with these examples, and I nod my head in acknowledgement of the Power of Faith in the Human Soul and the Magesty of the Divine to help us live lives that ascend above the petty, the mundane and our daily angst that distracts us from our larger goals. Christofer's website is astrologygetalong.com.