The early Christians endured persecution not only from non-believers but also from believers who sought to change their faith. The reasons for these persecutions were mainly due to the fear of Christianity by the Romans, as they dubbed it a mere superstition rather than a belief. It is imperative to understand that, the Roman Empire adopted policies of incorporation where foreign religions and gods were incorporated into their culture. However, it is ironic that the Romans were to be specifically hostile to Christianity as a religion. This can be explained by their belief that the loyalty to the state was based on the religious attitude towards the Romans1. They believed that stable religions were those that were old and since Christianity was just growing, it could not be recognized as a stable religion. Considering that most incidences of persecutions occurred in the 1st and 2nd century AD, the uncertainty that came with the unknown fuelled disgust and anger as well as the fear that it would break the social unity that kept the empire alive.
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One of the rulers who greatly persecuted Christians was the emperor Nero who ruled from 64 to 68 AD. Paul and Peter remain as the most outstanding martyrs during this period. There was specifically a large fire in Rome that destroyed most parts of the city and Nero took this chance to not only rebuild the city of Rome in his preference but also to curve out a huge part of the city for his prestigious palace. The suspicion that followed thereafter that he had burnt the city intentionally forced him to blame the fire on the Christians and ordered their torture which at times was just for his entertainment. Though the persecutions of Christians by Nero were localized and short-lived, it opened the way for further persecutions and the spread of the campaign against Christianity in the entire Rome Empire and beyond. The persecution of Christians was actually at one time regarded as ‘Institutum Neronianum’ (the institution of Nero). This opened the way for the total criminalization of Christianity, which offered pardons if a person condemned Christ and agreed to make sacrifices to the other gods.
The Pax Romana was a period of relative peace in Europe, as Caesar Augustus reduced military activities. The period lasted for about 207 years which were mainly from 27 BC to 180 AD. This period was characterized by a free movement that promoted Christianity, as missionaries could travel all over the Roman Empire to spread Christianity to non-believers. There were open and safe roads throughout the empire and people were more open to learning new things hence the wide acceptance of Christianity2. At the same period, due to the integration of the languages, people used the Roman language, which made it even easier for the missionaries since everyone understood their teachings.
Heresies were doctrines that disputed the established Christian beliefs and the teachings of Jesus, his disciples, and the early church leaders. Most heresies were started between the first and the third centuries and of particular interest was Docetism which was introduced by Julius Cassianus. He taught that Jesus’ body was just an illusion or an aberration3. Therefore, he solicited Gnostic beliefs where God could not be associated with physical matter as the matter was considered evil. This heresy taught that the spirit of Jesus had come to liberate matter and that it had entered a human body when he was baptized and left when he was crucified, hence, disputing the story of his resurrection.
Ferguson, Everett. “Baptism in the early church: history, theology, and liturgy in the first five centuries”. Journal of Religious Studies Review 36 issue 1, (2010): 81-93.
Franz-Steiner, Verlag. “The evidence of the conversion of to Christianity: book 16 of the theodosian code.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (1993): 66-78.
Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed. “No Other Gods before Me: Spheres of Influence in the Relationship between Christianity and Islam.” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 33 (2005): 223-234, Web.
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- Verlag Franz-Steiner. “The evidence of the conversion of to Christianity: book 16 of the Theodosia code.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (1993): 76.
- Everett, Ferguson. “Baptism in the early church: history, theology, and liturgy in the first five centuries”. Journal of Religious Studies Review 36 issue 1, (2010): 82.
- Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. “No Other Gods before Me: Spheres of Influence in the Relationship between Christianity and Islam.” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 33 (2005): 226.