Why Did Early Christians Come in Conflict With Rome

The teachings of who is jesus were that there was no other God except Christos and that Christians were not to worship any other gods. The refusal to accept the ancient Roman religion and worship the gods of the state was seen as treason in the Roman world. This was the basis for most of the persecutions against the Christians before the time of Constantine. Christians denied the existence of the states gods and refused to worship the gods of the Roman pantheon, which lead them to be seen as atheists.

In A.D 112 one of the early letters we have of government officials deciding what to do with Christians was written by Pliny who had been sent from Rome by the emperor Trajan to restore order in the Province of Bithynia-Pontus. One of the issues Pliny had to deal with concerned what to do with the Christians; there was a large amount of Christians in the province where Pliny had been sent to govern. Pliny reported to Trajan that Christianity had not only affected the cities in his jurisdiction but also the surrounding country side and villages. One of the results of the spread of Christianity in this region was that the area had received some economic loss because so many had become Christians and were not buying sacrifices to offer to the gods.

Complaints were laid against some Christians that resulted in arrest and being sent before Pliny to be examined; those that refused to recant and accept the states gods and religion were executed, because Pliny thought that just their mere stubbornness concerning Christianity and the state religion deserved some sort of punishment. However some at first said they were Christians but when threatened with execution they said they were once Christians but now they were no longer Christians and others stated that they had never been Christians.

Pliny had never dealt with this problem before and wrote to the emperor Trajan to receive some advice on what to do about the problem of Christians. Pliny wanted to know if the age of the accused changed the type of punishment, secondly what to do with those that had renounced their Christian faith and thirdly, whether the mere profession of Christianity should be regarded as a crime, and punishable as such, independent of the fact of the innocence or guilt of the accused of the crimes ordinarily associated with such profession.

Trajan responded in a way that may have resulted in precedence that was set throughout the second century in regards of what to do with Christians in the Roman Empire. Trajan approved of the actions that were taken by Pliny and also gave further instruction. Trajan instructed that the magistrates and officials were not to go out and seek Christians to punish them and if someone was reported as being a Christian and that person admitted he was a Christian and then they were to be punished, most likely with execution. Trajan also instructed Pliny not to act on anonymous reports to the magistrates and those that recanted their Christian faith and sacrificed to the state gods were to be released and pardoned.

Later on there was the edict of Decius which was the opposite of this, the magistrates were told to seek out and find Christians and that is was their duty to punish the Christians for simply being a Christian and not wanting to sacrifice to the gods of the Roman world and renounce their faith.

In A.D 257 there was another edict written up by the Emperor Valerian, this edict however was targeting the clergy, deacons, priests and bishops. The edict forced the hierarchy of the Christian church to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be exiled. Later on another edict was written up around A.D 258 that made the crime of being a Christian punishable by death. This also affected the Christians that had higher status in the Roman Empire such as senators, knights and other government officials, the punishment for them was a reduction in their status and their possessions confiscated, if this did not deter them from renouncing their Christian faith, then severe measures were taken such as the death penalty for men and exile for the woman.

From this date to the last persecution brought on by Diocletian in 284 – 305 the Church, pretty much remained in the same legal situation as in the second century. The first edict of Diocletian was promulgated at Nicomedia in the year 303, and had the following rules: Christian assemblies were forbidden; churches and sacred books were ordered to be destroyed, and all Christians were commanded to reject their religion forthwith. The penalties for refusing to comply with these demands was being demoted to a lower class and civil death for the higher classes, reduction to slavery for freemen of the humbler sort, and for slave’s incapacity to receive the gift of freedom.

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