Persecution was practically inevitable for early Christianity because of the sharp antithesis bet. it and the Roman empire. Christianity was spiritual, worshiped the King of kings, and looked for the ultimate triumph of His kingdom; the Roman empire was carnal, worshiped the emp., and made the welfare of his realm their goal. As a result, Christians came under suspicion and were charged with treason, atheism, etc. Pub. calamities (e.g., floods, earthquakes) were regarded as signs of divine wrath against them. Heathen priests, artisans, and tradesmen, whose living depended on maintaining the traditional faith, stirred up the masses against them. Extreme charges included incest and cannibalism, based on warped reports of love feasts (see Agape, 2) and Communion.
2. At first, indeed, Christianity was only regarded as a sect of Judaism (cf. Acts 18:1217). But when it became clear that it was not anchored to Jerusalem but was a community knit by distinctive beliefs and practices, it was regarded as a menace and proscribed. This change of imperial policy probably occurred under the Flavian emps. 6996 (Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus [see Vespasian], emp. 6979; Titus* Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus, emp. 7981; Titus Flavius Domitianus Augustus [see Domitian], emp. 8196).
3. Orosius* popularized the concept of 10 persecutions, but their numbering and identification are not altogether simple. They may be listed as under (1) Nero*; (2) Domitian*; (3) Trajan*; (4) Marcus* Aurelius; (5) Lucius Septimius Severus*; (6) G. J. V. Maximinus*; (7) Decius*; (8) Valerian*; (9) Aurelian*; (10) Diocletian* and successors to 313.
The persecution under Nero 64 did not result from est. imperial policy. Nero, suspected of burning Rome, apparently used Christians as scapegoats. C. Tacitus* describes the scene: A vast multitude was convicted, not so much of arson as of hatred of the human race. And they were not only put to death, but subjected to insults, in that they were either dressed up in the skins of wild beasts and perished by the cruel mangling of dogs, or else put on crosses to be set on fire, and, as day declined, to be burned, being used as lights by night.
In the persecution under Domitian 96, who called himself Lord and God, many were executed on charge of atheism.
In the persecution under Trajan 112113, which extended over Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine, Christians were not to be sought out, but if accused and convicted they were to be punished. Ignatius of Antioch (see Apostolic Fathers, 2) died in this persecution. Polycarp (see Apostolic Fathers, 3) suffered martyrdom ca. 156 under the reign of Antoninus Pius, but at the hands of the people rather than by will of the authorities.
G. J. V. Maximinus reversed the policy of his immediate predecessor, Alexander Severus, who was apparently well disposed toward Christians. Legends assign the martyrdom of Ursula* to persecution under Maximinus ca. 235.
Martyrs in the persecution under Valerian 257 include Cyprian* of Antioch.
The edict of persecution issued by Aurelian ca. 274 was voided by his assassination.
The persecution 303313 under Diocletian and his successors Galerius* and Galerius Valerius Maximinus* was most violent. Goaded by Galerius, Diocletian issued 3 edicts against Christians 303; Maximian (subordinate coregent; suicide 310) added a 4th 304. Christian chs. were to be destroyed, all Bibles burned, all Christians deprived of pub. office and civil rights, and all were to sacrifice to the gods on pain of death. A 5th edict 308 required all provisions in markets to be sprinkled with sacrificial wine. Eusebius* of Caesarea: Large crowds [were executed] in one day, some suffering decapitation, others tortured by fire, so that the murderous sword was blunted, and becoming weak, was broken, and the very executioners grew weary and relieved each other (HE, VIII, ix, 4). Martyrs assigned by hist. or legend to this persecution include Agnes,* Alban,* Januarius,* Pamphilus* of Caesarea, Peter* of Alexandria, and Phileas.*
The Edict of Milan* granted equal toleration to all religions 313.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission
Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.
Content Reproduced with Permission