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Tuesday, October 15, A.D. 2013
The Good Emperors Persecuted Christians

Bruce Charlton recently posted Charles Williams’ reflections about the Roman persecution of Christians: “The most tolerant, noble, moral, stoical non-Christians, regard Christianity as an evil.” Williams notes that it was the good emperors who persecuted the Church. I marveled at this fact when I studied Roman history. How odd it was to a young classics student that an admirable philosopher king like Marcus Aurelius would have waged war upon God’s people, or that Diocletian, among Rome’s greatest administrative architects and reformers, ordered possibly the worst persecution of the Church in antiquity. How strange it seemed until I started to have a similar suspicion that the Gospel was spiritual poison. I wandered for years in exile from the faith because I took the pagans’ criticism seriously. From the accusations that triggered De Civitate Dei to Nietzsche’s rejection of Christianity as a degenerate Western Buddhism, these pagan attacks troubled me greatly, and I came to doubt the veracity of the Christian message. For if I found Christian doctrine to be false in some part, then the whole Gospel could not be trusted. Christians appeared to counsel madness in the face of evil, threats, and injustice, and I thereby dismissed Christ’s revelation. I resigned myself to the idea that I only valued the faith insofar as it had maintained Hellenic wisdom through the centuries—often despite itself (e.g. Tertullian and his ilk in every age). After venturing for years in the wasteland, I came home—like the venerable bishop of Hippo—though I was still ill at ease with the tendencies toward error that seem to beset Christians. I have mentioned this frequently (for examples, see “Religion of Last Resort,” “Christianity’s Odd Place in the World,” “Forgiveness Sunday,” “Ethnic Parishes,” “Judge Lest Ye Be Mugged,” and “Forgetting the City of Man”). Yet, I realize that any truth will have its corresponding and concomitant errors. I believe that it is Aristotle who uses the image of archery to illustrate the search for truth. One aims at the mark, which is small, but one may miss the mark in many ways—namely, at every other point. It is easy to err, and it is not surprising that we Christians repeatedly fail in our understanding of God’s way. The path to truth is hard, and we are quite weak for the task.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, October 15, Anno Domini 2013
Religion | OrthodoxyPaganismProtestantismRoman CatholicismComments
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