I. Persecution of Christians

II. Christians do not persecute others


I. Persecution of Christians

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. Matt. 24:9.

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Tim. 3:12.

[The proconsul] tried to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, . . . “Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Away with the atheists.’” Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 135, E), 1.41.

You have not treated us who are called Christians in like manner. We commit no wrong. In fact, as will appear in the rest of this discourse, we are of all men most piously and righteously disposed towards the Deity and towards your government. Nevertheless, you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted. The crowds make war upon us for our name alone. Athenagoras (c. 175, E), 2.129.

Gold which is hidden, as well as jewels, are dug up by those among us who are condemned to death. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.268.

They persecute us, not from the supposition that we are wrong-doers, but imagining that by the very fact of our being Christians we sin against life.

 This is because of the way we conduct ourselves, and because we exhort others to adopt a similar life. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.423.

If any one ruler whatever prohibits the Greek philosophy, that philosophy vanishes immediately. But our doctrine on its very first proclamation was prohibited by both kings and tyrants, as well as by local rulers and governors. . . . In fact, they tried as far as they could to exterminate it. However, it flourishes the more. For it does not die as does human doctrine. . . . Rather, it remains unchecked, although prophesied as destined to be persecuted to the end. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.520.

There is a persecution that arises externally—from men attacking the faithful. . . . However, the most painful is internal persecution, which proceeds from each man’s own soul being vexed by ungodly lusts. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.598.

Christians alone are forbidden to say anything in exoneration of themselves. . . . All that is cared about is having what the public hatred demands! Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.18.

Trajan wrote back that Christians were by no means to be sought after. But if they were brought before him, they should be punished. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.18.

You do not in that case deal with us in the ordinary way of judicial proceedings against offenders. For, in the case of [ordinary criminals] who deny, you use torture to make them confess. Christians alone do you torture to make them deny! Whereas, if we were guilty of any [real] crime, we would be sure to deny it, and you with your tortures would force us to confession. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.19.

You think that the Christian is a man of every crime, an enemy of the gods, of the emperor, of the laws, of good morals, and of all nature. Yet, you compel him to deny, that you may acquit him, which without his denial you could not do. In short, you play fast and loose with the laws. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.19.

What are we to think of the fact that most people so blindly knock their heads against the hatred of the Christian name? So that when they bear favorable testimony to anyone, they mingle with it abuse of the name he

 bears. For example, someone will say, “Gaius Seius is a good man, only he is a Christian.” Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.20.

It was in the days of Tiberius that the Christian name made its entry into the world. Having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events that had clearly shown the truth of Christ’s divinity, Tiberius brought the matter before the Senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. However, the senate rejected his proposal because it had not given the approval itself. Tiberius Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians. Consult your histories. You will there find that Nero was the first who attacked the Christian sect with the imperial sword. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.22.

We are daily beset by foes; we are daily betrayed! We are oftentimes surprised in our meetings and congregations. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.23.

You put Christians on crosses and stakes. . . . We are cast to the wild beasts. . . . We are burned in the flames. . . . We are condemned to the mines. . . . We are banished to islands. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.28.

Although torn and bleeding under your tortures, we cry out, “We worship God through Christ.” Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.36.

We alone are prevented from having a religion of our own. We give offense to the Romans and are excluded from the rights and privileges of Romans, because we do not worship the gods of Rome. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.39.

Some, indeed, think it is a mark of insanity that, when it is in our power to offer sacrifice at once and to go away unharmed (holding as ever our convictions), we prefer an obstinate persistence in our confession over our safety. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.41.

With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us—the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.42.

How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws. How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand,

 and attacks us with stones and flames. With the very frenzy of the Bacchanals, they do not even spare the Christian dead, but tear them from the rest of the tomb, now sadly changed, no longer entire. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.45.

Instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact are necessary to your well-being, you prefer to view us as enemies. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.45.

Recently, in condemning a Christian woman to the pimp instead of to the lion, you acknowledged that a stain on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment or death. Tertullian (c. 195, W), 3.55.

If a Christian is pointed at, he glories in it. If dragged to trial, he does not resist. If accused, he makes no defense. When questioned, he confesses. When condemned, he rejoices. Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.109, 110.

I know of various husbands, formerly anxious about their wives’ conduct, . . . upon discovering the cause of their new diligence and their unwonted attention to the duties of home, offered the entire loan of their wives to others. . . . A father disinherited his son, with whom he had ceased to find fault. A master sent his slave to the workhouse, although he had even found the slave to be indispensable to him. As soon as they discovered that they were Christians, they preferred them to be criminals again! Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.112.

Even in persecutions, it is better to take advantage of the permission granted and flee from town to town than—when apprehended and racked— to deny Christ. Tertullian (c. 205, W), 4.40.

Come, tell me what is your opinion of the flesh, when it has to contend for the name of Christ? When it is dragged out to public view and exposed to the hatred of all men? When it languishes in prisons under the cruellest deprivation of light, in banishment from the world, amidst squalor, filth, and foul-smelling food? When it has no freedom even in sleep, for it is bound on its very pallet and mangled in its bed of straw? When, at length before the public view, it is racked by every kind of torture that can be devised? Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.551.

 Every crowd in the popular assemblies is still shouting to “throw the Christians to the lions.” Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.561.

We can point you also to the deaths of some provincial rulers, who in their last hours had painful memories of their sin in persecuting the followers of Christ. . . . Claudius Lucius Herminianus in Cappadocia, enraged that his wife had become a Christian, had treated the Christians with great cruelty. Well, left alone in his palace, suffering under a contagious malady, he boiled out in living worms, and was heard exclaiming, “Let nobody know of it, lest the Christians rejoice, and Christian wives take encouragement.” Tertullian (c. 212, W), 3.106.

We, who are without fear ourselves, are not seeking to frighten you. Rather, we would save all men, if possible, by warning them not to fight with God. You may perform the duties of your charge, and yet remember the claims of humanity. Tertullian (c. 212, W), 3.106.

But you say, “How will we assemble together [if we do not pay tribute to avoid persecution]?” To be sure, just as the apostles also did—who were protected by faith, not by money. . . . If you cannot assemble by day, you have the night—the light of Christ luminous against its darkness. . . . Be content with a church of threes. It is better that you sometimes should not see your crowds [of other Christians], than to subject yourselves [to paying tribute]. Tertullian (c. 212, W), 4.125.

Pagan assemblies have their own circus, where they readily join in the cry, “Death to the third race!” Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.643.

We are regarded as persons to be hated by all men for the sake of the Name—just as it was written. And we are delivered up by our nearest of kin also—as it was written. We are brought before magistrates, examined, tortured, make confession [of Christ], and are ruthlessly killed—as it was written. Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.645.

For the church is afflicted and pressed, not only by the Jews, but also by the Gentiles. It is also afflicted by those who are called Christians, but are not such in reality. Hippolytus (c. 205, W), 5.193.

In the case of the Christians, the Roman senate, the rulers of the time, the soldiers, the people, and the relatives of those who had become converts to the faith—they all made war upon their doctrine and would have defeated

 it. They would have overcome it by a confederacy of so powerful a nature, had it not escaped the danger by the help of God. It has risen above these forces, in order to defeat the whole world in conspiracy against it. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.398.

When God gives to the Tempter permission to persecute us, then we suffer persecution. And when God wishes us to be free from suffering—even in the middle of a world that hates us—we enjoy a wonderful peace. We trust in the protection of Him who said, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Origen (c. 248, E), 4.666.

Part of you have already gone before us by the consummation of their martyrdom to receive from their Lord the crown of their deserts. Part still abide in the dungeons of the prison, or in the mines and in chains— exhibiting by the very delays of their punishments, greater examples for the strengthening and arming of the brethren. . . . The body is not cherished in the mines with couch and cushions. Rather, it is cherished with the refreshment and solace of Christ. The frame that is wearied with labors lies prostrate on the ground. Yet, it is no shame to lie down with Christ. Your unwashed limbs are foul and disfigured with filth and dirt. Yet, within, they are spiritually cleansed. . . . There the bread is scarce, but man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God. Shivering, you need clothing. But he who puts on Christ is both abundantly clothed and adorned. The hair of your half-shorn head seems repulsive. However, Christ is the head of the man, so anything is attractive to that head if it is illustrious on account of Christ’s name. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.403.

[Emperor] Valerian had sent a rescript to the Senate, to the effect that bishops, presbyters, and deacons should immediately be punished. In addition, Christians who were senators, men of importance, or Roman knights were to lose their dignity and be deprived of their property. And if, when their means were taken away, they still persisted in being Christians, then they were to lose their heads. Matrons were to be deprived of their property and sent into banishment. People of Caesar’s household, whoever of them had either confessed before or should now confess, were to have their property confiscated and be sent in chains by assignment to Caesar’s estates. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.408.

 The Lord has desired his family to be tested. Because a long peace had corrupted the discipline that had been divinely delivered to us, the heavenly rebuke has aroused our faith. For our faith was slipping and (I might say) slumbering. Although we deserved more for our sins, yet the most merciful Lord has so moderated all things that all that has happened has seemed more like a trial than a persecution. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.438.

Nor, indeed, are you Romans content with a brief endurance of our sufferings and with a simple and swift exhaustion of pains. You set in motion slow tortures, by tearing our bodies. You multiply numerous punishments by lacerating our vital organs. In fact, your brutality and fierceness cannot be content with ordinary tortures. Rather, ingenious cruelty devises new sufferings. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.461.

The Holy Spirit teaches and shows us that the army of the devil is not to be feared. And if the foe should declare war against us, our hope consists in that very war itself. . . . In Exodus, the Holy Scripture declares that we are actually multiplied and increased by afflictions. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.501.

There were many and frequent earthquakes, so that many places were destroyed throughout Cappadocia and Pontus. . . . From this, there also arose a severe persecution against those of us of the Christian name. And this persecution arose suddenly after the long peace of the previous age. . . . The faithful . . . fled here and there out of fear of the persecution. They left their country and passed over into other regions. . . . For the persecution was not over the whole world, but was local. Firmilian (c. 256, E), 5.392, 393.

Even up to the present day, the governor does not cease to put to death, in a cruel manner . . . some of those who are brought before him. Others, he wears out by torture. Others, he wastes away with imprisonment and chains. Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 262, E), 6.97.

The persecution with us did not begin with the imperial edict, but preceded it by a whole year. A certain prophet and poet, an enemy to this city, . . . had previously roused and exasperated the masses of the pagans against us, inflaming them anew with the fires of their native superstition. Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 262, E), 6.97.

 They torture, put to death, and banish the worshippers of the Most High God—that is, the righteous. Yet, those who hate us so vehemently are unable to give a reason for their hatred. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.135.

If any persons, through fear of pain or death, or by their own treachery, have deserted the heavenly oath and have consented to deadly sacrifices, the pagans praise them and load them with honors. This is so that they may lure others by their example. But as for those persons who have highly esteemed their faith and have not denied that they are worshippers of God, the pagans attack with all the strength of their butchery, as though they thirsted for blood. . . . Could anything be more desperate than to torture and tear in pieces him whom you know to be innocent? Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.144.

Some were swift to slaughter [the Christians]. For example, there was a certain individual in Phrygia who burned a whole assembly of Christians, together with their place of meeting. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.147.

Our number . . . is never lessened, not even in persecution itself. For men may commit sin and may be defiled by sacrifice. But they cannot be turned away from God. For the truth prevails by its own power. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.148.

Our persecutors act with a blind and unreasonable fury, which we see but they do not. For it is not the men themselves who persecute us. For they have no cause of anger against the innocent. Rather, it is those defiled and abandoned spirits by whom the truth is both known and hated. Those spirits infiltrate their minds and goad them to fury in their ignorance. For, as long as there is peace among the people of God, these spirits flee from the righteous and fear them. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.159.

Lest they should be as much corrupted by ease as their forefathers had been by indulgence, it was His will that they should be oppressed by those in whose power He placed them. . . . There is another reason why He permits persecutions to be carried on against us: so that the people of God may be increased. And it is not difficult to show how or why this happens. First of all, great numbers are driven from the worship of the false gods by their hatred of cruelty. . . . [Second,] someone will invariably desire to know what that good thing is that is defended even to death. What is it that

 is preferred to all things that are pleasant and beloved in this life? For neither the loss of goods or the deprivation of light, nor bodily pain, nor tortures of their vital organs can deter Christians from it. These things have a great effect! And these causes have always especially increased the number of our followers. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.161.

Therefore, whatever things wicked rulers plan against us, God Himself permits to be done. And yet these most unjust persecutors—to whom the name of God is a subject of reproach and mockery—must not think that they will escape with impunity. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.161.

[Emperor Daia] forbade the slaying of God’s servants, but he did command that they should be mutilated. So the confessors of the faith had their ears and nostrils slit, their hands and feet cut off, and their eyes dug out of their sockets. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.316.

Behold, all the adversaries are destroyed and tranquility has been re- established throughout the Roman empire. The late oppressed church arises again. The temple of God, overthrown by the hands of the wicked, is built with more glory than before. For God has raised up rulers to rescind the ungodly and bloody edicts of the tyrants and provide for the welfare of mankind. So now the cloud of past times is dispelled and peace and serenity gladden all hearts. Lactantius (c. 320, W), 7.301.

While [Emperor Diocletian] sacrificed, some attendants of his, who were Christians, stood by and they put the immortal sign on their foreheads. At this, the demons were chased away, and the holy rites were interrupted. . . . Then Diocletian, in furious passion, ordered not only all who were assisting at the holy ceremonies, but also all who resided within the palace to sacrifice. And, if they refused, they were to be whipped. And further, by letters to the commanding officers, he ordered that all soldiers should be forced to the same impiety, under pain of being dismissed from the service. Lactantius (c. 320, W), 7.304.

Presbyters and other officers of the church were seized (without evidence by witnesses or confession), condemned, and together with their families led to execution. In burning alive, no distinction of sex or age was regarded. And because of their great multitude, they were not burned one after another, but a herd of them were encircled with the same fire. Servants,

 having millstones tied around their necks, were cast into the sea. Lactantius (c. 320, W), 7.306.

They thirst for our blood, and for a long time they have been eager to remove us from the generations of men. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.419.

No innocent person who is foully slain is ever disgraced thereby. Nor is he stained by the mark of any shame when he suffers severe punishment because of the savage nature of his persecutor, rather than because of his own deserts. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.424.

Rather than to be unfaithful to Christ and to cast off the oaths of the warfare of salvation, slaves choose to be tortured by their masters as they please, wives to be divorced, and children to be disinherited by their parents. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.435.

The bitterness of persecution of which you speak is our deliverance and not our oppression. Your ill treatment will not bring evil upon us. Rather, it will lead us to the light of liberty. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.463.

Your flames, banishments, tortures, and monsters with which you tear in pieces and rend asunder our bodies do not rob us of life. They only free us from our flesh. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.463.

Why, indeed, have our writings deserved to be given to the flames? Why have our meetings deserved to be cruelly broken up? Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.488.

Notice, he says that they will deliver you up, not you will deliver yourselves up. . . . For he would have us flee from place to place so long as there are those who persecute us for his name’s sake. Even again we hear Him say, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” For he would not have us deliberately approach the ministers and attendants of the devil—so that we might not be the cause to them of a multiple death. Peter of Alexandria (c. 310, E), 6.273.

It is not lawful [for Christians] to criticize those who have left everything and have retired for the safety of their life. Peter of Alexandria (c. 310, E), 6.277.

Do not overlook any Christian who, because of the name of Christ and his love and faith towards God, is condemned by the ungodly to the games, the

 beasts, or the mines. But provide for his sustenance through your labor and your very sweat, and for a reward to the soldiers. Do this so that he may be relieved and taken care of. It should be your goal that so far as it lies in your power, your blessed brother may not be afflicted. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.437.

Let us not think it strange when we are persecuted. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.439.

Receive those who are persecuted on account of the faith and who flee from city to city—being mindful of the words of the Lord. For, knowing that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” they flee, preferring the spoiling of their goods, so that they may preserve the name of Christ in themselves without denying it. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.498.

II. Christians do not persecute others

Repay no one evil for evil. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rom. 12:17, 21.

Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sins. For God crowns those who abstain from wickedness by choice, not those who abstain by compulsion. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.581.

[Celsus has claimed that we] “utter against one another dreadful blasphemies, saying all manner of things shameful to be spoken.” . . . Now, in answer to this, I have already said that in philosophy and medicine, sects are to be found warring against other sects. We, however, who are followers of the Word of Jesus, have exercised ourselves in thinking, saying, and doing what is in harmony with His words. “When reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat.” So we would not utter “all manner of things shameful to be spoken” against those who have adopted different opinions from ours. Rather, if possible, we use every effort to raise them to a better condition. . . . Yet, if those who hold different opinions will not be convinced, we observe the injunction laid down for the treatment of such a person: “A man who is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.” . . . Moreover, we know the following teachings: “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “Blessed are the meek.” Therefore, we would not regard with hatred the corrupters of Christianity.

. . . We could also employ innumerable other quotations from the Scriptures, such as, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.” Origen (c. 248, E), 4.570, 571.

Christians could not slay their enemies or condemn those who had broken the law to be burned or stoned, as Moses commands. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.621.

Torture and piety are widely different. Nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with cruelty. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.156.

Religion is to be defended—not by putting to death—but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.157.

We, on the contrary, do not require that anyone should be compelled to worship our God, whether he is willing or unwilling. . . . Nor are we angry if anyone does not worship Him. For we trust in the majesty of Him who has power to avenge contempt shown towards Himself. . . . And, therefore, when we suffer such impious things, we do not resist even in word. Rather, we leave vengeance to God. We do not act as those persons who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, who rage without restraint against those who do not worship them. Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.158.

The children who had gathered about the place set the example and began to pelt Manes [a heretic] and drive him off. And the rest of the crowd [of Christians] followed them and moved excitedly about, with the intention of compelling Manes to flee. However, when Archelaus [a Christian bishop] observed this, he raised his voice like a trumpet above the din, in his anxiety to restrain the crowd. He addressed them in this manner: “Stop, my beloved brethren, lest perhaps we are found to have bloodguilt on us at the Day of Judgment. For it is written of men like this, that “there must also be heresies among you, that those who are approved may be made manifest.’” Disputation of Archelaus and Manes (c. 320, E), 6.213; extended discussion: 5.457–5.465, 6.96–6.100.

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