Saturday, April 25, 2009

Church History Lesson 13 (The New Testament Writings)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)
Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)
Church History Lesson 9 (The End of the Apostolic Age)
Church History Lesson 10 (Those Crazy 60s!)
Church History Lesson 11 (The Next 200 Years)
Church History Lesson 12 (Worship in the Early Church)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The New Testament Writings

There was an interesting issue that troubled early Christianity: the question of sin after baptism. This was a very difficult subject. The source of the problem can be traced to a passage in Hebrews:
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:26-27)
We would tend to paraphrase this passage like this: For those who heard the gospel and continue to sin without repentance, completely alienating themselves from the church, where can they turn? There is no sacrifice remaining that will result in forgiveness.

But by some in the early church this passage was interpreted to mean that there was little hope for forgiveness of post-baptismal sin. (So difficult was this passage, that some denied the authority of Hebrews for lack of a satisfactory explanation--for to accept that there is no forgiveness after baptism was too difficult a yoke to bear.)

This was one of the reasons some of the church fathers (Tertullian, in particular) supported adult baptism: once baptized there was no turning back. In order to fit their severe view of post-baptismal sin, it was taught that it was possible for man to live a post-baptismal sinless life.

To see how seriously this was taken, let us look at the appearance of a milder view, which is found in the allegorical The Shepherd of Hermas by a Roman writer, sometime early in the second century. This work was a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for the early Christians and was widely distributed among the churches. Addressing post-baptismal sin, you read in The Shepherd:
1[29]:7 "If then, Sir," say I, "after the wife is divorced, she repent and desire to return to her own husband, shall she not be received?"

1[29]:8 "Certainly," saith he, "if the husband receiveth her not, he sinneth and bringeth great sin upon himself; nay, one who hath sinned and repented must be received, yet not often; for there is but one repentance for the servants of God. For the sake of her repentance therefore the husband ought not to marry. This is the manner of acting enjoined on husband and wife.
In other words, the radical new idea was that believers could be forgiven for post-baptismal sin, but just once! Tertullian, for his part, refers to Hermas’s work as "The Shepherd of the Adulterers".

After some time, necessary expedients were developed. Of course, not all sin was equally heinous, and some sin was mild enough that confession and repentance sufficed for complete restoration. However, the big three, that is the three major sins in Judaism: murder, perjury, and adultery, were excommunicable, as was apostasy -–which is self-excommunication at any rate. So a new issue arose concerning whether one who was excommunicated could ever be restored.

A serious dispute arose in Rome over this question in the early part of the third century. Callistus, Bishop of Rome (Pope Callistus I) from 217 to 222, ruled that the sincerely repentant may be readmitted even after adultery or fornication. Tertullian was outraged and responded with venom from across the Mediterranean at what he viewed as a “peremptory edict” issued from “the Bishop of Bishops” (intended sarcastically.)

There was also serious opposition from within Rome, and it lead to an early schism. Hippolytus, considered by some to be the greatest scholar in the Western world of his time, complained of Callistus’s “criminal laxity.” Then, with his followers, he withdrew from fellowship and established a rival Roman church, giving him the distinction of being the first antipope (a false claimant to the papacy) in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. A great scholar, yes. A great theologian, no. Callitus’s psotion more accurately reflected the gospel. The schism was short lived. Hippolytus was banished to Sardinia in A.D. 235, during a period of persecution, along with Callistus’s successor, Pontainus (Pope St. Pontian). The rival popes were reconciled before their martyrdom, and Hippolytus is now a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

A little later, during the persecution under Decius (249-251) you might recall that many believers renounced their faith, unable to persevere when faced with the prospect of torture and death. Another debate arose concerning whether they could be restored. To some, who conveniently forgot the example of Peter himself, those who lapsed were analogous to traitors to an army, and reconciliation was impossible. To more reasoned others, a distinction was sought to differentiate between those who took active measures to renounce their faith and those who recanted under torture. Dionysius, Bishop of Rome (Pope St. Dionysius) was of the moderate (and, in this case, correct) camp who argued against those who said that restoration was impossible, calling them “those who slander our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ as unmerciful.” Once again, controversy led to schism. This time the antipope was a man by the name of Novatian. Novatian, c.200-c.258, was a Roman theologian and the first writer of the Western church to use Latin. He had himself consecrated bishop of Rome in 251 in opposition to Pope Cornelius, believing, as mentioned, that Cornelius was too lenient toward those who had apostatized during the Decian persecution and had then sought readmission. Novatian was excommunicated, but his followers formed a schismatic church that persisted for several centuries. Novatian himself was probably martyred in the persecution of Valerian.

The New Testament Writings

Some would like to couch a portion of the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church in this way: The former believes that Jesus rose from the dead because he reads it in the New Testament, while the latter believes it because the Church says it is true. In fact, that’s a distinction without a difference (which is not to say there is not considerable differences between Protestants and Catholics to be found elsewhere.) Both the New Testament (the scriptures) and the church are a consequence of Christ’s resurrection. The New Testament did not create the church, nor the church the New Testament. As some have put it: the two grew up together.

Throughout the first Christian century, the apostles’ writings were conveyed both orally and in writing. This was true from the earliest days of the Church. When Paul was at Ephesus, he heard of problems in the church at Corinth, and he immediately dispatched an epistle. Later, in Corinth, he sent a letter outlining the essentials of Christian theology to the church at Rome. By about A.D. 60, there were several letters from Paul and other apostles in the hands of various churches and individuals.

The need for a written account became acute when the apostles advanced in age, for it was clear that at some point they, the eyewitnesses, would not be around. The Roman church asked Mark to write down the message that Peter had delivered to them. At an earlier time, written collections of the sayings of Christ took shape. Shortly after Mark’s account was written down, Luke penned his two part history of Christianity, the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. Then in the Syrian region, another gospel appeared: the gospel of Matthew. Later in the century, at Ephesus, the gospel of John, the last surviving apostle, appears.

As long as these documents were scattered about, there was in no sense a New Testament. Not that the documents were not accepted as authoritative, for they certainly were, as were Paul’s correspondence, even though (for example in Corinth) there was some questioning of Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul himself wrote:
If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. (1 Cor. 14:37)

Here we see that Paul is affirming the absolute authority of what he is writing.

What was lacking, in this early period, was a canon, or an officially recognized list of sacred writings. Now an example of such a thing did exist: the Old Testament. What was needed was a similar compendium of apostolic writings.

Toward the end of the first century, a movement developed to collect the writings of Paul, which consisted entirely of letters. The motivation for the movement is uncertain, but some have speculated that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles became widely known and extremely popular around the year 90, and this sparked interest in Paul. It is know that about this time various churches began searching their records and archives for Pauline correspondence.

By about the year 95, the “Vatican Library” of the time held Paul’s letter to the Romans, his first epistle to the Corinthians and possibly one or two others letters of Paul. It also contained the letter to the Hebrews, and First Peter, some of the gospels, and the Greek version of the New Testament (the Septuagint).

An incontrovertible piece of evidence is the letter written to the Corinthian church in A.D. 95 by the bishop of Rome (Pope) Clement, in which he wrote:
Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas [Peter] and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties. (1 Clement, 47)

So without question Clement had access to Paul’s first Corinthian epistle. Since he nowhere quoted Paul’s second letter in his own correspondence to the Corinthians, even though parts are apropos to what he writing, it is concluded that Rome did not have a copy of that correspondence.

So the effort to collect Paul’s writings continued, and by the end of the first century, it is evident that there existed a Pauline corpus that was in the hands of various churches. At first it contained ten letters, but shortly thereafter the three pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were added.

At the same time, another collection began to circulate among the churches: the four gospels. From the beginning of the second century, the Catholic Church used these and only these gospels, even though the occasional gospel of someone-else appeared.

So in the early years of the second century there were two books in circulation: The Gospels, with contents According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and The Pauline Corpus, with subheadings To the Romans, First Letter to the Corinthians, etc.

The church was making admirable progress in establishing a canon. And then something happened to expedite the process.


Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus (Asia Minor), born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. Around the year A.D. 140 he traveled to Rome and presented his peculiar teachings to the elders. They found his ideas unacceptable, to say the least. Marcion’s response was to leave the church and form his own heretical sect.

Marcion’s heresy anticipates some that will follow, and we will have more to say about it next week. For now, we note that Marcion (1) denied the authority of the entirety of the Old Testament and (2) denied the authority of all the apostles except Paul, because only Paul (according to Marcion) did not allow his faith to be defiled by mixing it with Judaism. Only Paul had not apostatized from the teachings of Jesus.

Marcion was perhaps the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Jesus’ many appeals to the Old Testament notwithstanding, Marcion believed that Jesus Himself placed no authority in the Old Testament and had come to liberate man from the bondage to the Old Testament God.

Jesus, according to Marcion, was not the son of the God of the Old Testament, but the son of the superior God of goodness and mercy of the New Testament whom Marcion called the Father.

The sacred writings (including Paul’s letters), Marcion taught, had been corrupted by Judiazers if not directly by the Jewish sympathies of the apostles (excluding Paul). All scripture was in need of a cleansing under Marcion’s direction.

So Marcion deleted the Old Testament, and developed his own canon consisting of two parts: The Gospel, a sanitized version of Luke’s gospel, and The Apostle, a similarly sanitized version of Paul’s first ten letters. Marcion’s canon provided the impetus for the Church to redouble her efforts to establish a proper canon of her own. Immediately there was anti-Marcion pronouncements that voiced support for the Catholic writings, but still, those writings were not officially delimited into a collection of sacred scriptures.

On the other hand, the situation was not hopelessly muddled, not by a long shot. The church did have an effectively recognized ad hoc canon, but it lacked official sanctioning. Documents discovered in the twentieth century attest to the fact that by 140-150, the collection of writings accepted by Rome was virtually identical with our New Testament.

So the Catholic response to Marcion was this: (1) We accept the Old Testament because Christ fulfilled them and stamped them with his approval. (2) The divinely inspired books of this new age do not supersede the Old Testament but stand beside it. (3) The Gospel contains not one but four accounts, including the one that Marcion mangled. (4) The Apostle contains not just ten of Paul’s letters, but thirteen, and it also contains correspondence of some of the other apostles. (5) Special emphasis was placed on Luke’s second half of Christian history, the Book of Acts, which Marcion omitted from his canon. Its special place was now recognized: it bridged The Gospel to The Apostle. (It was at this time that the book became known as The Acts of the Apostles, although in some anti-Marcion literature it was dubbed The Acts of All the Apostles.

Another response to Marcion was to write prologues for each of the gospels in order to establish their legitimacy. The prologue to Matthew’s gospel was lost. Part of Mark’s prologue reads:
…Mark declared, who is called 'stump-fingered,' because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.

Luke’s prologue has a lengthy biography:
Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch, a physician by profession, a disciple of the apostles. Later he accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom, serving the Lord without distraction, for he had neither wife nor children. He died in Boeotia at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit. So then, after two Gospels had already been written - Matthew's in Judea and Mark's in Italy - Luke wrote this Gospel in the region of Achaia, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. At its outset, he indicated that other Gospels had been written before his on, but that the obligation lay upon him to set forth for the Gentile believers a complete account in the course of his narrative and to do so as accurately as possible. The object of this was that they might not be captivated on the one hand by a love for Jewish fables, nor on the other hand be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus wander from the truth. So, right at the beginning, Luke has handed down to us the story of the birth of John [the Baptist], as a most essential [part of the Gospel story]; for John marks the beginning of the Gospel, since he was our Lord's forerunner and associate both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry [of John's] was foretold by one of the Twelve Prophets [i.e. the minor prophets]. Later on, the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.

The anti-Marcion flavor of this prologue is evident when it is understood that included in the considerable mischief Marcion made with Luke’s gospel, he completely excised any reference to John the Baptist, since John the Baptist was a link between the new age and the Jewish past. Furthermore, the explicit reference to The Acts of the Apostles is a not very subtle reminder that Marcion rejected that work.

The most intriguing is John’s prologue:
The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John when he was still in the body, as Papias of Hierapolis, John’s dear disciple has related in his five exegetical books. He wrote down the gospel accurately at John’s dictation. But the heretic Marcion was rejected by John, after earning his disapproval for his contrary views.

There are several inaccuracies that jump out—certainly the apostle John was not a contemporary of Marcion.

Another anti-Marcion document was a list of books that represents the canon near the end of the second century. It was discovered by L. A. Muratori in 1740. The beginning is missing, and the first book mentioned is the gospel of Luke and it’s called the third, so it is reasonable to assume that it included Matthew and Mark as the first and second books.

I. ...those things at which he was present he placed thus.23 The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name24 in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself25 as one studious of right.26 Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began27 his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, "Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to each of us." On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind.28 And hence, although different points29 are taught us in the several books of the Gospels, there is no difference as regards the faith of believers, inasmuch as in all of them all things are related under one imperial Spirit,30 which concern the Lord's nativity, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent,-the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these several things31 so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, "What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written."32 For thus he professes himself to be not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer; and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord in their order.

2. Moreover, the Acts of all the Apostles are comprised by Luke in one book, and addressed to the most excellent Theophilus, because these different events took place when he was present himself; and he shows this clearly-i.e., that the principle on which he wrote was, to give only what fell under his own notice-by the omission33 of the passion of Peter, and also of the journey of Paul, when he went from the city-Rome-to Spain.

3. As to the epistles34 of Paul, again, to those who will understand the matter, they indicate of themselves what they are, and from what place or with what object they were directed. He wrote first of all, and at considerable length, to the Corinthians, to check the schism of heresy; and then to the Galatians, to forbid circumcision; and then to the Romans on the rule of the Old Testament Scriptures, and also to show them that Christ is the first object35 in these;-which it is needful for us to discuss severally,36 as the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans. Moreover, though he writes twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians for their correction, it is yet shown-i.e., by this sevenfold writing-that there is one Church spread abroad through the whole world. And John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes only to seven churches, yet addresses all. He wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey.

4. The Epistle of Jude, indeed,37 and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John-are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church. The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Plus sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public38 in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time. Of the writings of Arsinous, called also Valentinus, or of Miltiades, we receive nothing at all. Those are rejected too who wrote the new Book of Psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides and the founder of the Asian Cataphrygians.39

So from this we see what books are in the canon around A.D. 200. The four gospels, Acts, Paul’s thirteen letters, Jude, two epistles of John (the second of which is possibly what we now consider the second and third.) Revelation, and a second Revelation due to Peter. This book is known and was read in some churches –its lurid treatment of the state of the damned is believed to underlie much medieval writing on the subject including Dante’s Inferno.

Some believe the epistles of Peter are omitted by error. Regardless, we have essentially a recognizable canon, with the notable absence of Hebrews and James.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Church History Lesson 12 (Worship in the Early Church)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)
Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)
Church History Lesson 9 (The End of the Apostolic Age)
Church History Lesson 10 (Those Crazy 60s!)
Church History Lesson 11 (The Next 200 Years)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

Worship in the Early Church

In the previous lesson, we discussed the political climate from the end of the first century until the ascendancy of Constantine in A.D. 312. Now it is time to look at how these early Christians worshiped.

Documentation is much more available for the second half of this period. From about A.D. 60, where Luke's history (The book of Acts) ends, to about A.D. 180, there is no continuous account, and what little is known must be pieced together.

By the time the picture clarifies, toward the end of the second century, it does so in a (perhaps) surprising manner. We do not find highly independent Christian communities scattered throughout the world, but something much more like a universal or catholic church, which we might as well call the Catholic Church, a loose but definite confederation of churches that, while disagreeing on certain things, nevertheless distinguished themselves from others that might claim the Christian mantle. The way in which this distinction was manifested is that they functioned as an ecumenical body with a "rule of faith" and a recognized body of scripture that served as the guideline for judging the veracity of anything that might be thought of as a question of faith or doctrine.

Charitable Works

From the earliest days one of the commonalities among groups of Christians was the practice of charity and mutual aid. Recall that one of the first acts of the second Christian community, the church at Antioch, was to send gifts to the first community, the church at Jerusalem, to alleviate their suffering in the face of famine. In the Jerusalem church itself, wealthier members placed their property in a common pool for use by those in need. The first institution of deacons in the church was intended to distribute goods to the needy.

In later apostolic times, after Paul had founded churches throughout the Mediterranean region, we see additional efforts from a number of them to provide assistance to the poverty stricken Jerusalem church.
1Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (1 Cor. 16:1-4)
While these apostolic era churches were administered independently, with their own bishops and elders, it was clear they felt a sense of being part of a catholic body, as evidenced by the readiness of one community to assist another.

Widows were another area in which the early church practiced charity. Widows were not only to be taken care of, but also put to work in the church, primarily in the distribution of charity to others in need. This is evident in the instructions regarding widows found, for example, in 1 Tim. 5.

The charitable and mutual aid aspect of Christianity made its way into the period's secular literature. In the second century, and Greek satirist by the name of Lucian describes Christian practice in one of his works. The character is a charlatan named Proteus Peregrinius. Proteus is depicted as joining the Christians. When he ends up in prison, Lucian writes that the Christians "left no stone unturned" in their effort to secure his release. When they were unsuccessful, they looked after his needs in all matters with "untiring solicitude and devotion." From the crack of dawn, widows and orphans are waiting at the prison doors, and church officers bribe the jailers so that they might spend the night and being him meals and partake of their "sacred formulas."

The fact that Christian charity did not go unnoticed is, of course, also testimony of the fact that it was unusual. This is an important part of the explanation of how the church grew even us it suffered repeated persecutions.

Caring for children (orphans) is another mark of the Christian communities, and one which distinguishes them—for this was an era when children were exposed (instead of murdered in the womb) if unwanted by their parents. This practice of abandonment is well documented in the Greco-Roman world, and these children were often picked up by "baby farmers" to become slaves or courtesans.

An example: a letter, written in 1 B.C., from an Egyptian to his wife. Though written in a loving manner to his pregnant spouse, the writer gives these matter-of-fact instructions: "If it is a boy, keep it; if a girl, expose it."

In addition to attending to the needs of widows and orphans, the church also distinguished itself by caring for the sick. When Alexandria was devastated by a plague in the middle of the third century, the bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, wrote about the devotion of Christians in tending the sick, often catching the plague and dying of it themselves in consequence, whereas their pagan neighbors "thrust from them those who showed symptoms of the plague and fled from their nearest and dearest. They would throw them into the streets half dead, or cast out their corpses without burial."

In these and other matters (e.g., slavery) Christians were not just "doing what any decent folk would do," but were setting an entirely new standard in treating all human life with respect and kindness.


It would be nice if a study of the nascent church demonstrated a definitive point of view when it comes to baptism, both in the question of who gets baptized (children and professing believers, or only professing believers?) and in the mode of administration of the sacrament (ordinance). Alas, it does not, and many of the same debates that rage in our day were also present (although the arguments were couched differently) in the earliest days of the church.

One of earliest documents to speak on this is the Didache (~A.D. 120), which has the full title: The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. Considered lost, the Didache was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Nicomedia in 1873 in the Greek Codex Hierosolymitanus written in 1056. Its neglect of Paul suggests it was at first a document of Jewish Christians, probably of Syrian origin. In this document we read, concerning baptism in the early church:
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: After reviewing all of this teaching, baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in living (running) water. But if running water is not available, then baptize into other water; and cold is preferred, but if not available in warm. But if neither is available, pour water three times upon the head in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism, let the overseer fast, and also the one being baptized, and all others who are able; Be sure to instruct the one being baptized to fast one or two days before. (Didache 7)
Notice a sort of non-dogmatic reasonableness, cold running water is preferred, but if not, warm static water is fine. Neither dunking nor sprinkling is declared as the "only" method; the meaning of baptism (whatever they took it to be) is more important than the method. Since fasting is mentioned, it is also interesting to look at what the Didache has to say about that:
Be careful not to schedule your fasts at the times when the hypocrites fast. They fast on the second (Monday) and fifth (Thursday) day of the week, therefore make your fast on the fourth (Wednesday) day and the Preparation day (Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath-Saturday). Likewise, don't pray as the hypocrites, but as commanded in the Gospel in this manner:

Our Father in heaven,
Sacred is Your Name.
Your kingdom comes.
Your will is accomplished,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debt
in the manner that we forgive our debtors.
And do not allow us to fall to temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for Yours is the power and the glory forever.

Pray in this manner three times per day. (Didache 8)
The admonition against fasting like the hypocrites brings to mind:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matt. 6:16)
But in the Didache, fasting like the "hypocrites" is extended to avoid the very days in which they fast (second and fifth), i.e., the days when the Jews fasted!

As for the Lord's Supper, the Didache throws a curve: it instructs the partaking of the cup first:
Now concerning the Thanksgiving meal, give thanks in this manner.

First, concerning the cup:

We thank You, our Father,
For the Holy Vine of David Your servant,
Whom You made known to us through Your Servant;
May the glory be Yours forever.

Concerning the broken bread:

We thank You, our Father,
For the life and knowledge
Which You made known to us through Your Servant;
May the glory be Yours forever.
As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains,
And was gathered together to become one,
So let Your Body of Faithful be gathered together
From the ends of the earth into Your kingdom;
for the glory and power are Yours forever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving, unless they have been baptized; for concerning this is taught, "Do not give what is holy to dogs." (Didache 9)
Back to baptism. Some of the earliest evidence that infant baptism was practiced in the early church comes from those who argue against it. For example, Tertullian:
And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary--if (baptism itself) is not so necessary --that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfill their promises, and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in those for whom they stood? The Lord does indeed say, "Forbid them not to come unto me." Let them "come," then, while they are growing up; let them "come" while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ. Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the "remission of sins?" More caution will be exercised in worldly matters: so that one who is not trusted with earthly substance is trusted with divine! Let them know how to "ask" for salvation, that you may seem (at least) to have given "to him that asketh." For no less cause must the unwedded also be deferred--in whom the ground of temptation is prepared, alike in such as never were wedded by means of their maturity, and in the widowed by means of their freedom--until they either marry, or else be more fully strengthened for continence. If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation. (Tertullian, On Baptism)
Tertullian is not arguing against a hypothetical, it would seem, but an actual practice in the North African church. He did not dispute the validity of infant baptism, but questioned its necessity and pointed out what, in his mind, were its risks "If people understood the obligations of baptism, they fear receiving it more than delaying it."

Origen, on the other hand, was in favor of baptizing children, claiming and preaching that it was apostolic. He wrote:
Little ones are baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Which sins? Or at what time have they sinned? Or how can there be the slightest reason for the baptism of little children, unless it is to be found in the passage "No one is free from taint, not even he whose life upon earth lasts but a day"? Even little children are baptized. Because the taint which we have at birth is removed in the sacrament of baptism.

Cyprian (200-258), Bishop of Carthage, was another ardent supporter of infant baptism.
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man… And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to he hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to he observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat. (Cyprian, Epistle LVIII)
In spite of evidence that infant baptism was practiced and that some of the great church fathers and first-generation apologists supported it, a great deal of evidence points to the widespread practice of "believers baptism" (implying also withholding baptism from children). Many church fathers, those of Christian parents, were not baptized until the end of their "student days," e.g. Augustine.

We can also turn to Justin Martyr, and look at his teaching concerning baptism:
I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers' wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Isaiah the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the layer the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed. (Justin, Apol, 1, 61)
Justin appears to have an unresolved and rather odd view –he seems to teach baptismal regeneration while denying the common view of original sin.

Concerning Communion, Justin writes:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
And this food is called among us [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. (Justin, Apol, 1, 65,66)
Concerning weekly worship, Justin instructs:
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savoir on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. (Justin, Apol, 1, 67)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Poor little Megachurch Pastor!

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Oh, the travails of Pastor Mac Brunson of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville! What thorn, nay thorns in his flesh he must endure! What a prime target is he on Satan's radar! His $300,000 salary, surely no greater than the apostle Paul's when inflation is taken into account, leaves him, as he righteously explains, as one of the lowest-paid mega-church pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention! Please pray for his resoluteness in the face of such iniquity, which is surely of sinister origin.

You can read about the ugliness here, in the Florida Times Union.

And don't make me mention that blogger, former church member, and a minion of the anti-Christ, who dares to question the administration of this modern day Saint, this George Müller of Florida. The church was the very model of Christ when it had the civil authorities investigate this, this Judas!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Church History Lesson 11 (The next 200 Years)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)
Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)
Church History Lesson 9 (The End of the Apostolic Age)
Church History Lesson 10 (Those Crazy 60s!)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The Next 200 Years

For the next two hundred years, the Christians of the Roman Empire would endure periods of persecution of varying intensity as well as brief respites of tranquility. The common thread is that the church maintained her faith (as always, imperfectly) and propagated it so successfully that her numbers always increased.

At this time, the first post-apostolic apologists appear, scholars who preferred to defend the church with pen rather than sword. The earliest known is Quadratus.

The historian Eusebius (~260 - before 341) wrote regarding Quadratus:
After Trajan had reigned for nineteen and a half years [Hadrian] became his successor in the empire. To him Quadratus addressed a discourse containing an apology for our religion, because certain wicked men had attempted to trouble the Christians. The work is still in the hands of a great many of the brethren, as also in our own, and furnishes clear proofs of the man's understanding and of his apostolic orthodox. He himself reveals the early date at which he lived in the following words: "But the works of our Savior were always present, for they were genuine:-those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Savior was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day." (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., IV, 3:2)

In the middle of the second century, the most notable apologist is Justin (100-165), a Greek philosopher from Samaria who had been converted to Christianity. Ultimately he would die for his faith, and so is known to us as Justin Martyr. He defended Christianity to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his two adopted sons.

One early anonymous apologist from the mid second century sums of the state of Christianity in the world:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred..

To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake. (Epistle to Diognetus, 5-6)

Although the author is unknown, he is considered one of the most eloquent writers of the era. Indeed, its beauty is the prime reason why the epistle is not credited to Justin.

None of these apologetic writings had any effect on their intended recipients. The authorities had no interest in defenses of Christianity. If Christians wanted to prove their loyalty, then they could burn incense for the state gods, just like the pagans did.

Justin, who was bona fide Greek philosopher, was martyred under another philosopher, the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius. Brought with six companions to Rusticus, prefect of Rome, we have an accurate account of the dialog:
"The Prefect Rusticus says: Approach and sacrifice, all of you, to the gods. Justin says: No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety. The Prefect Rusticus says: If you do not obey, you will be tortured without mercy. Justin replies: That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Saviour. And all the martyrs said: Do as you wish; for we are Christians, and we do not sacrifice to idols. The Prefect Rusticus read the sentence: Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws. The holy martyrs glorifying God betook themselves to the customary place, where they were beheaded and consummated their martyrdom confessing their Savior."

Under Marcus Aurelius, it was political turmoil within the empire that intensified persecution against the church. The year 166 was a year of great calamity, when havoc was wrought by plague, flood, famine, and invasion from beyond the Danube. In those times many Romans looked around for who, Jonah-like, was bringing the wrath of the gods upon them. Often the "atheistic" Christians were just the group.

The most notorious persecution of Marcus's regime began in Gaul in 177 the church at Lyons. The outbreak began not with an official edict but mob violence that was given a blind eye by the local magistrates. When some of Christians turned out to be Roman citizens, the Emperor's ruling was sought. Marcus replied that those who don't recant should be beheaded, if Roman citizens, and tortured to death otherwise. The survivors sent a poignant and detailed description of the persecution to the churches at Asia Minor. Neither age (young or old) nor gender spared one from death. The ninety year old bishop of Lyons, Ponthinus, was a victim as were children. The most memorable martyr was a slave-girl Blandina. From the Catholic Enclopedia:
Among these Christians was Blandina, a slave, who had been taken into custody along with her master, also a Christian. Her companions greatly feared that on account of her bodily frailty she might not remain steadfast under torture. But although the legate caused her to be tortured in a horrible manner, so that even the executioners became exhausted "as they did not know what more they could do to her", still she remained faithful and repeated to every question "I am a Christian and we commit no wrongdoing." Through fear of torture heathen slaves had testified against their masters that the Christians when assembled committed those scandalous acts of which they were accused by the heathen mob, and the legate desired to wring confession of this misconduct from the Christian prisoners. In his report to the emperor the legate stated that those who held to their Christian belief were to be executed and those who denied their faith were to be released; Blandina was, therefore, with a number of companions subjected to new tortures in the amphitheater at the time of the public games. She was bound to a stake and wild beasts were set on her. They did not, however touch her. After this for a number of days she was led into the arena to see the sufferings of her companions. Finally, as the last of the martyrs, she was scourged, placed on a red-hot grate, enclosed in a net and thrown before a wild steer who tossed her into the air with his horns, and at last killed with a dagger.

Up to now there was a trend: those emperors that were most brutal in their persecutions were those who, after their deaths, were denounced by their pagan subjects as well. Namely: Nero and Domitian. Here the rule is violated: Marcus Aurelius presided over heinous violence against Christians, but is known by historians as one of the "five good emperors" who ruled during the Pax Romana heyday of the empire: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.

The persecution under Marcus Aurelius is odd in many ways. As a Stoic, he advocated self-control and old-world piety. And his work Meditations was much admired by Christians for centuries. But Somehow the resoluteness of the Christians in the face of death elicited in the Stoic emperor not a sense of admiration but condemnation as a display of prideful obstinacy.

Marcus's son Commodus, who succeeded him, is known to historians as a bad emperor, a scoundrel, but Christians had a much easier time under him. That may be due to his wife Maria who may have been a Christian or at least regarded the Christians favorably.

After Commodus's death, Rome was ruled by a succession of soldier-emperors. The first of these was Septimius Severus who was known from campaigns in Roman Britian. (He reconstructed Hadrian's wall and died in York.) In 202, Severus issued a first-of-its-kind decree officially forbidding anyone from converting to Christianity.

At this time there was an outbreak of persecution in Egypt that was so severe that many thought it heralded the apocalypse. It was at this time that Leonidas, the father of the great Christian scholar Origen, was beheaded by command of the prefect of Egypt, Lactus. (The fifteen year old Origen wanted to join his father when he was arrested, but could not because his mother hid his clothes!)

Farther west on the African coast, at Carthage, there was another famous martyrdom, that of Perpetua and Felicitas. We have accurate account of their martyrdom, including the fact that Perpetua a free-born matron and Felicitas, her slave, entered the amphitheater hand in hand bearing witness not only to the enduring Christian faith but also attesting to its making class distinctions irrelevant.

Perpetua was about 22 years old and had recently given birth to a son. Apparently, she was a relatively new Christian, too--she was actually baptized while in prison. Felicitas, her slave girl, was like a sister to her. And she too was a new mother, giving birth shortly after her arrest.

Three times Perpetua's father was allowed in to beg her to change her mind. No decent daughter in this patriarchal society would deny her father's pleas and cause him public disgrace. The resolve of the two young women and their friends was unshakable. To deny Christ was worse than death. To follow Him was their first loyalty, no matter what the cost. Shortly before her trial, Perpetua received a series of visions from the Lord, reassuring her of his strength and presence.

When the fatal day came, Perpetua and Felicitas left the prison for the arena "joyfully as though they were on their way to heaven," as the eyewitness account puts it. Before a raging crowd, the Christians were thrown to the wild beasts. A mad heifer charged the women and tossed them, but Perpetua rose and helped Felicitas to her feet. She was ready, even eager, to die for the Lord.

"You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another," she called to the other martyrs, "and do not be weakened by what we have gone through!" When the beasts failed to kill the women, soldiers came to finish them off. But the soldier who came to Perpetua was trembling so much that she had to guide the sword to her throat, indicating that she was giving her life willingly. (

The greatest of the early apologists was Tertullian (~160 – [220-240]) who lived during the suppression under Septimius Severus addressed the Roman governors. He complained about Christians being the scapegoats for everything:
The term conspiracy should not be applied to us but rather to those who plot to foment hatred against decent and worthy people, those who shout for the blood of the innocent and plead in justification of their hatred the foolish excuse that the Christians are to blame for every public disaster and every misfortune that befalls the people. If the Tiber rises to the walls, if the Nile fails to rise and flood the fields, if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake or famine or plague, straightaway the cry arises: “The Christians to the lions!” (Tertullian, Apologeticus 40, 1-2)

Tertullian also “bragged” about the rapid growth of Christianity:
We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges, the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the senate, the market place; we have left you nothing but your temples. (Tertullian, Apologeticus 37, 4ff.)

Tertullian goes into veiled threat mode, writing that it is well for the Empire that Christians do not really take up arms against it, they are numerous enough to do it effectively if they were so minded; or depopulate it by packing up and going to a distant corner of the earth. And if they were in truth the incendiaries that some alleged them to be, they could do considerable damage with torches some dark night.

Following this wave of suppression came a half century of relative peace. Some of the Emperors of that period were from the east, including Philip the Arab (244-249) of Damascus. They were more tolerant of Christianity, which had its roots in the eastern provinces. Alexander Severus (222-235) included Christ in his pantheon. And his mother was instructed by Origen.) This period of tranquility brought even more growth to the church.

An exception was the short reign of Maximan, from 235-238. But Maximan's persecutions had a unitended consequence. He exiled, to Sardinia, bot the Bishop of Rome Pontianus (Pope Pontian) and his rival Hippolytus, leader of a breakaway group. While in exile, the two reconciled, and Hippolytus instructed his followers to rejoin communion with the Roman church.

In the middle part of the third century, there was more trouble for the empire. She faced a two fronted war against barbarians: Goths on north and Persians on the east. The war with Persians was especially problematic for Christians in the eastern provinces, for official Rome worried that they would have questionable loyalties: Christianity was in their minds an eastern religion and so Christians might look at Persian invaders as liberators. During this time, Decius (249-251) adopted the policy of “One Empire, one religion.” No more “merely” punishing Christians, Christianity itself had to go. In 250, an edict was issued that everyone in the empire must sacrifice to the state gods, and must get a certificate attesting to the fact that he had done so.

This sudden attack after a half century of relative peace led to turmoil within the church. A large number of Christians, those who found it easy to join in peaceful times, proved unable to endure the persecution and instead offered the sacrifices.

There was something different about this persecution. Unlike those of earlier years, the pagan populace as a whole did not go along. There was no mob uprising; the persecution was carried out by police. The hatred against Christians from "every day folk" (pagans) had largely disappeared, and slander against Christians, accusing them of horrible atrocities, had ceased. Christianity had grown so large, that everyone knew and was probably related to a Christian. In many cases, the pagans in general society tried to protect the Christians. One of the victims of this wave of persecution was Origen, who was "imprisoned and barbarously tortured, but his courage was unshaken and from his prison he wrote letters breathing the spirit of the martyrs." (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xxxix).

A few years of peace followed the persecution under Decius. Valerian (253-260) acted favorably toward the Christians for the first few years of his reign. He changed his mind in 257, no doubt in part due to the advancing Persian army who reached Syrian Antioch. He issued an edict prohibiting Christians from holding meetings and banning access to their cemeteries. It is believed that at this time the relics of Peter and Paul were removed from the Vatican hill and the Ostian road to find temprorary security in a place called Ad Catacumbas where the church of St. Sebastian now stands on the Appian Way. From here we get the word catacombs which eventually came to refer to all Christian cemeteries.

A further edict in 258 spelled out the penalties: The clergy would be executed upon conviction; Senators and knights were to be degraded from their rank; ladies of rank were to be punished by confiscation and exile; employees of the imperial household were to be sent to forced labor camps on the imperial estates. Xystus, bishop of Rome (Pope Sixtus II) while seated on his chair in the act of addressing his flock he was suddenly apprehended by a band of soldiers. There is some doubt whether he was beheaded forthwith, or was first brought before a tribunal to receive his sentence and then led back to the cemetery for execution. Cyprian the bishop of Carthage was also executed in accordance with this edict.

Valerian himself was taken prisoner by the Persians and died in captivity. Following his death, though the Empire was still besieged on two fronts, there came almost forty years of peace for the church. Gallienus (253-268), Valerian's son and successor, revoked the anti-Christian edicts and restored their property. Aurelian (270-275) planned to fuse all religions into a single state religion, but fortunately his death precluded his plan from being enacted.

One interesting "first" occurred under the reign of Aurelian: the first time the state was asked to settle an ecclesiastical dispute. In 268, the Church condemned Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, as a heretic. (Paul was accused of of acquiring great wealth by illicit means, of showing haughtiness and worldliness, of having set up for himself a lofty pulpit in the church, and of insulting those who did not applaud him and wave their handkerchiefs, and so forth. He had caused scandal by admitting women to live in his house, and had permitted the same to his clergy.) He was removed from office but refused to leave. At this time Antioch was part of the kingdom of Palmyra, whose ruler Zenobia was Paul's patroness. In 273 Aurelian conquered Zenobia and regained Antioch. He heard the appeals of both sides, and ordered that the church property be handed over to the party recognized by the bishop of Rome.

In the peaceful closing decades of the third century, the numbers of Christians once again rose rapidly, to a point where they were at least a powerful minority in most of the empire, and a majority in certain parts.

Diocletian (284-305, whose wife and daughter were Christian) decided to reorganize the empire. He divided it into two parts, each ruled by a senior Emperor (with the title: Augustus) and a junior colleague who held the title Caesar. While this worked as long as Diocletian ruled (who was the first among equals) it effectively resulted in four wannabes vying for power after his abdication in 305.

Near the end of Diocletian's reign, persecution suddenly reappeared in 303. It was mainly due to his son Galerius, who was Diocletian's junior colleague in the eastern province. Galerius, it would seem, viewed the rapid growth of Christianity as ominous. He and other conservatives decided that if action wasn't taken against Christianity, it would soon be too late. The first action in 303 was an edict ordering the destruction of church buildings and scripture. After several fires in the imperial palace were falsely blamed on Christians, a second edict was issued ordering the arrest of all clergy. In 304, an edict was issued that all Christians should sacrifice to the state gods, on pain of death. Diocletian's Christian wife and daughter (who was Galerius's wife) recanted. Once again the tendency among the populace was to protect their Christian neighbors. As crowds lined up to pay tribute to the gods, officials often turned a blind eye to Christians who just walked by without taking the prescribed action, such as throwing incense on the altar.

The severity of this persecution varied with local circumstances. In Gaul and Britian, which Constantius ruled as the western Caesar, there was hardly any. In Egypt and Palestine, the persecution was fierce, especially after Diocletian's abdication in 305, when Galerius was elevated to the eastern Augustus, and his like-minded nephew Maximian became his eastern Caesar.

Although severe in certain areas, the persecution was short-lived. Galerius himself rescinded the anti-Christian measures before his death in 311. Maximian became Augustus of the east, and attempted some dimwitted propaganda against Christians, but he was quickly defeated in battle by his rival Licinius. Meanwhile, Constantine, the son of Constantius, had established supremacy over his rivals in the west, restoring church property in his part of the empire.

In 313 Constantine and Licinius held a meeting in Milan where the two victors agreed upon an official policy of tolerance for all religions in the empire.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pastors and Politics: Always a bad idea

Reason #42532 why I dislike politically active pastors. They always embarrass us. Not for the gospel, which would be perfectly fine, but because of their political aspirations.

Here is Rick Warren, during the election cycle, endorsing Proposition 8 (anti gay marriage) in California:

In the video, Warren states:
This is not even just a Christian issue, it's a humanitarian, a human issue, that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation. So I urge you to support Proposition 8 and pass that word on.
That sounds like a pretty clear endorsement of Proposition 8.

Fast forward to the present. Here is a quote from Rick Warren, heir apparent to Billy Graham as pastor to the presidents, from a recent appearance on Larry King live (April 6, 2009):

The money quote:
During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never—never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.
I guess it depends on what the definition of “give an endorsement” is.

Sounds to me like the politician Warren wants to disown any impolitic statement from the past. It would have been just as transparent but at least more honorable if he had told Larry King: I now regret my previous endorsement.

Of course, this is all independent of the question of whether or not evangelical Christians should have supported or opposed Proposition 8. It is about whether or not Christians should seek national political prominence—which will inevitably put them in a position where, as Warren did, they lie out of political expediency.

Christians, repeat after me: Preach the gospel. Do not seek political prominence. Preach the gospel. Do not make it your goal in life to make sin illegal for unbelievers. Preach the gospel. Preach the gospel.

H.T.: Ed Brayton

Ed's blog, which I greatly enjoy, is the blog of an atheist deist. You will note, Pastor Warren, that your mistakes on nationally televised new shows (why are you there?) are celebrated and publicized by unbelievers.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cat and Mouse with C. S. Lewis

A good friend read this C. S. Lewis quote (from Surprised by Joy) in church today:
"Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.' To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat."
Hard to believe the great man was not a Calvinist--he's almost there.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Church History Lesson 10 (Those Crazy 60's!)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)
Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)
Church History Lesson 9 (The End of the Apostolic Age)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

Those Crazy 60's!

In A.D. 64, Rome burned and Nero launched his persecution of the Christians. By A.D. 68, Nero had lost complete control of the senate and was deposed. He was to be arrested and executed in a most hideous manner, but before that could happen he committed suicide. Suetonius wrote:
Finally, when his companions unanimously insisted on his trying to escape from the miserable fate threatening him, he ordered them to dig a grave at once, and then collect any pieces of marble that they could find and fetch wood and water for the disposal of the corpse. As they bustled about obediently he muttered through his tears: "Dead! And so great an artist!"

A runner brought him a letter from Phaon. Nero tore it from the man's hands and read that, having been declared a public enemy by the Senate, he would be punished in 'ancient style' when arrested. He asked what 'ancient style' meant, and learned that the executioners stripped their victim naked, thrust his head into a wooden fork, and then flogged him to death with sticks. In terror he snatched up the two daggers which he brought along and tried their points; but threw them down again, protesting that the final hour had not yet come.

Then he begged Sporus to weep and mourn for him, but also begged one of the other three to set him an example by committing suicide first. He kept moaning about his cowardice, and muttering: 'How ugly and vulgar my life has become!' And then in Greek: 'This certainly is no credit to Nero, no credit at all,' and: 'Come pull yourself together, man!' By this time a troop of cavalry who had orders to take him alive were coming up the road. Nero gasped: 'Hark to the sound I hear! It is hooves of galloping horses.' Then, with the help of his scribe, Epaphroditos, he stabbed himself in the throat and was already half dead when a cavalry officer entered, pretending to have rushed to his rescue, and staunched the wound with his cloak. Nero muttered: 'Too late! But, ah, what fidelity!' He died, with his eyes glazed and bulging from their sockets, a sight which horrified everybody present.

In between the burning of Rome and suicide of Nero, the Jewish revolt against Roman rule began. The war didn’t end until after Nero's death (which in fact escalated the conflict since it emboldened the Jews)

The Destruction of Jerusalem

Today, we underestimate the magnitude and horror of the Roman response to the Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70). We view it as something similar in degree to the British torching of the White House (after enjoying a complementary dinner for 40 that had been prepared for Dolly Madison and friends, but abandoned as the canon neared) in the war of 1812.

Properly understood, there is no way in which a Christian cannot recognize the significance of the destruction of Jerusalem. It fulfilled Jesus' prophecy of the temple's destruction, and yet it providentially occurred long enough after the fragile start of the church, when the protection afforded by "hiding with Judaism" was needed, that by A.D. 70 Christianity was established enough to survive on its own as a completely different religion. It meant the end of the Jewish age, as the center for Jewish worship was gone. And it fulfilled another prophecy of Jesus, made to the Samaritan women, when he said: "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (John 4:21)

The destruction of Jerusalem is so vast that some even view it as the fulfillment of all the prophecy of Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24), including the Great Tribulation. That is, the division of eschatological views is two dimensional. In one dimension is the familiar premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial views. But in another dimension there is futurism vs. preterism. The former being the more familiar view that the prophecies in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation will take place in the future while the latter, preterism, arguing that they were fulfilled in A.D. 70.

Prior to its destruction, Jerusalem was a large and formidable walled city. As the Romans began responding to Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) throughout the land, the population of Jerusalem swelled as many sought safety within her walls.

The historian Josephus was captured by the future Roman Emperor Vespasian who, early in the Jewish Revolt, led the assault on city of Jotapata. Josephus was the General in charge of defending Jotapata. Some accounts state that Josephus survived the ensuing slaughter (following a 45 day siege) by hiding in a deep pit. Josephus claimed that Vespasian spared him because of his incredible valor. Much of what we quote below comes from Josephus’s book The Wars of the Jews.

Jack Van Deventer lists some of the atrocities committed by the Romans in a "dateline" manner, most of the information gleaned from the writings of Josephus.
  • Jerusalem (June 3, 66 A.D.)--"So the [Roman] soldiers did not only plunder the place they were sent to, but forcing themselves into every house, they slew its [Jewish] inhabitants; so the citizens fled along the narrow lanes, and the soldiers slew those that they caught, and no method of plunder was omitted; they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children (for they did not spare even the infants themselves), was about 3,600."

  • Cesarea (66 A.D.)--"Now the people of Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them. . . [I]n one hour's time above 20,000 Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them to the galleys."

  • Scythopolis and other cities (66 A.D.)--"The people of Scythopolis watched their opportunity, and cut all [the Jews'] throats, some of them as they lay unguarded, and some as they lay asleep. The number that was slain was above 13,000, and then they plundered them of all they had." "Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew 2,500, and those of Ptolemais 2,000, and put not a few in bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison."

  • Alexandria (66 A.D.)--These [Roman] soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city which was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together [The Jews were] destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field (Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (Matt. 24:40).), and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 of them lay dead upon heaps. . . ."

  • Jotapata (July, 67 A.D.)--"[T]he Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred; and as for those that were slain at the taking of the city, and in the former fights, they were numbered to be 40,000.
The widespread slaughter of the Jews continued for several years. Many of the Jews fled to Jerusalem for safety.
24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" 25All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:24-25)
The Jews asked that the blood be upon their hands. And so it was. In Jerusalem alone, Josephus records that 100,000 were captured, and 1.1 million killed. This does not include the Jews killed in other cities (as described above) as the Roman Juggernaut pushed forward.

After the Roman armies reached Jerusalem a lengthy siege ensued. The Romans bombarded the city with 90 pound stones hurled as far as 1200 feet by catapult

When the food ran out, civil war broke out among three Jewish factions. Murder and starvation were rampant. Josephus wrote that civil war inside the walls of Jerusalem wrought more carnage than the conquering Romans. People who were thought to have consumed food were sometimes killed and disemboweled in search of food within their stomachs. There were many reports of cannibalism. Many tried to escape starvation by sneaking out of the city. Most were captured by the Romans, killed on the spot and disemboweled: the Romans believed that the Jews hid their valuables by swallowing them. If a father was killed searching for food, his wife and children became targets within the city.

Josephus also described a scene of horror concerning a starving mother. In the midst of the famine she suddenly withdrew her nursing infant from her breast. She killed, roasted and ate half the child, and offered the rest to astonished and horrified bystanders.

It is interesting to read Josephus’ accounts of the events leading up to the war. In addition to "rumors of wars", Josephus records that there was a rise of false Christs and prophets.
There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration…. But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives…( Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.13.)

Note that the Egyptian false prophet appears to be corroborated by the bible, Recall that Paul was arrested (although it was as much a rescue as an arrest) in his last trip to Jerusalem. The commander mistakes Paul for the false prophet Josephus described: "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" (Acts 21:38).

Vespasian arrived to lead the Roman response in the spring of A.D. 67. Nero was emperor (he dispatched Vespasian to squelch the revolt). In A.D. 68, Nero died at his own hand. The following year was a bad one for Rome, the "year of the four emperors" viz. Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and finally stability with Vespasian. When Vespasian returned to Rome, his son Titus took over the military campaign. It was Titus who led the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The siege began in April A.D. 70 and by the end of August the Temple was first occupied then destroyed. Josephus describes the actual attack on the temple:
WHILE the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner;

AND now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy. And now all the soldiers had such vast quantities of the spoils which they had gotten by plunder, that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value.

What happened to the Christians?

According to the historian Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) Christians escaped from Jerusalem either before the siege, as the Roman armies surrounded the city, or during a lull in the fighting. The bulk of the Jewish Christians probably left Jerusalem in A.D. 66 when war broke out. For this they would later be branded as traitors by their Jewish countrymen.

By A.D. 70: James had been stoned in Jerusalem. Paul and Peter, had been martyred in Rome, by beheading and crucifixion respectively. Nero was dead. Jerusalem had been sacked, and the temple destroyed, and with its destruction came an end to Jewish temple worship. Over a million Jews died during the wars. It was, in many ways, the end of the Jewish age. We now turn to Rome as the center of the Christian world, and what happened there after Nero's persecution.

Post-Nero Rome

Nero was identified by the early Christians as the antichrist. This is a fascinating story. It is entwined with that fact that after Nero's suicide, many in the eastern provinces (where he was popular) did not believe he was dead. Indeed, for about twenty years there arose a series of pretender Neros. After that, the hope shifted into an expectation that Nero would return from the dead to reclaim his sovereignty. This superstition continued almost to the end of the second century. Some attribute the early church identification of Nero as the antichrist as stemming from this pagan superstition.

Who was the sixth king?

This is a provocative side-question arising from the book of Revelation
7When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. 9"This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.(Rev 17:7-11).
Many identify the kings as Roman emperors on the basis of the "seven hills." Only one city is known throughout history as the "City of Seven Hills:" Rome (Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline). The passage indicates that at the time of writing, five emperors have fallen, the sixth presently reigns, and the seventh has not yet come, but when he does come, he will reign for just a little while.

The most natural counting scheme of Roman kings (emperors) is:
  1. Julius Caesar (49-44)
  2. Agustus (31-14)
  3. Tiberius (14-37)
  4. Caligula (37-41)
  5. Claudius (41-54)
  6. Nero (54-68)
  7. Galba (68-69)
  8. Otho (69-69)
  9. Vitellius (69-69)
  10. Vespasian (69-79)
  11. Titus (79-81)
  12. Domitian (81-96)
This enumeration is not universally accepted (the debate is whether to begin the count with Julius Caesar or Augustus, the first to oficially hold the title), but it is found in various ancient sources including Josephus, who refers to Augustus as "the second" and Tiberius as "the third." This enumeration has Nero as the sixth and "current" king from the perspective of the writer of Revelation places the writing of Revelation much earlier that is often taught, and most importantly it fixes its writing as having occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Note that no enumeration results in Domitian as the sixth king (many believe the book was written during Domitian’s reign, circa A.D. 90). The most biased in that direction is to start with Augustus and skip (as inconsequential) Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. That still results in Vespasian, not Domitian as number six. That is still a much earlier date than many would like—but it is after the destruction of Jerusalem.

What does Revelation say about the destruction of Jerusalem? Nothing. Like with all the books of the New Testament, there is a deafening silence. This is the strongest internal evidence for the early date for Revelation and in fact evidence that all scripture was completed by the time of Nero’s death, If Jerusalem had already been destroyed, with well over a million Jews killed, hundreds of thousands of others in bondage, and the rest scattered, not to mention the temple in ruins, it is reasonable to expect that such a catastrophic event would warrant a mention.

Recovery from Nero's Persecution

Nero's persecution of the Christians was horrific but not fatal. However, for the next two hundred plus years, until a Christian sat on the throne of Augustus, the story of Christianity is one of a constant struggle against Imperial Rome. It should be noted that the Gentile Christians did not seek confrontation with the Roman state, the citizens of which they desired to evangelize. That had nothing equivalent to the party of the zealots that incited the Jews to rebel. Paul, a Roman citizen, regarded the magistrates as ministers of God in place to contain crime, and Christians faithfully paid their taxes (a recurring source of tension for the Jews.) Even at this early stage, Christians saw the hand of God behind the empire and the infrastructure it provided to help in spreading the gospel. In short, Christians viewed the empire as a good thing, but it had to shake its paganism.

The respect was not mutual. At this time, Christianity was held in low esteem by Roman society. Evidence suggests that it was viewed as a combination of atheism and Judaism. Certainly it was clearly recognized as distinct from Judaism and so it ranked as an illegal cult. Any hope to win official recognition was pointless. Unlike Judaism, which was the religion of a distinct sub-nation with the empire, Christianity was not the religion of any particular nation or people, nor did it boast of any long-established customs. To many it was a vulgar innovation whose religious aspect was probably a façade hiding something worse. Recall Tacitus referred to Christians as "a class of men loathed for their vices", and Suetonius called Christianity "a novel and baneful superstition".

Christians were atheists, in the minds of many, for they worshiped no visible god. And they were haters of the human race, because Christian scruples prevented them from engaging in the normal social intercourse. Also, since the fire of A.D. 64 that launched Nero's persecution, the imperial police took great interest in their gatherings, forcing them to meet in secret, which increased the perception that they had something to hide. And exactly what were their alleged secret activities? Stories circulated about ritualistic cannibalism and ceremonial incest.

Titus held the throne for only two years, and was succeeded by his younger brother Domitian who would rule for about fifteen years. Both Vespasian and Titus had been revered and were afforded the posthumous honor of being deified. Domitian was despised and in some sense wisely did wait for death for deification, for if he had he would not have received the honor. Instead he declared himself "Lord and God" and demanded the oath "by the genius of the emperor".

Domitian's reign was characterized by suspicion, and for good reason –he had many enemies in the senate. His deification created a crisis for the Jews and caused embarrassment for the church as well. This only served to increase Domitian’s paranoia. He took some repressive action against the Jews, including increased penalties for proselytizing and severe taxation.

Among those who fell victim to imperial suspicion were his cousin Titus Flavius Clemens, consul in the year 95 and his wife Flavia Domitilla, the emperor’s niece. What is intriguing is that Domitilla was put on trial for this nebulous mix of Judaism and atheism, which many have taken as meaning Christianity.(Probably the real reason Domitian brought charges was to remove a perceived threat, and he used the religious accusations to find a crime the senate would recognize.) Clemens was executed, and Domitilla was exiled. This familial purge is all the more intriguing because the childless Domitian had designated Clemens and Domitilla’s sons as his heirs. Their fate is unknown.

The historian Dio Cassius writes about this period:
At this time the road leading from Sinuessa to Puteoli was paved with stone. And the same year Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the consul, although he was a cousin and had to wife Flavia Domitilla, who was also a relative of the emperor's. The charge brought against them both was that of atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of their property. Domitilla was merely banished to Pandateria. (Dio Cassius, History (Epitome), LXVII, 14.
Bear in mind the significance of the possibility is that just thirty years after Nero’s persecution, a Roman family of the highest social and political ranks (and at one point a heartbeat away from the throne) might have been Christians. It bears further examination of the evidence beyond the mere fact that they had suffered the same accusation that is known to have been used against believers.

More circumstantial evidence comes from the historian Suetonius who wrote of Clemens "[he is] a man despised by all for his inactive life." This so-called inactive life, once again, often indicated Christians who withdrew from societal excess.

There is also archeological evidence. One of the oldest Christian burial places in Rome is called Cemetery of Domitilla. Evidence indicates that (1) its usage began at the start of the second century and (2) the land beneath which the burial place was hollowed out belonged to Flavia Domitilla. The burial grounds contain the remains of martyrs and shows evidence of being used for a devotional place up through the fourth century. It seems unlikely that the family land would have been used as such had Flavia Domitilla not been a Christian.

The point is that by the end of the first century, Christianity have both recovered (from Nero) and changed. It no longer was the exclusive province of the lower strata of the Roman populace.