A Dark Future for Christianity, Third Century, A History of the Christian Church, Lesson 4, 3-5

The succession of Decius Trajan in 249 AD turned on the Christians a full persecution that they had not known since Nero. This emperor, either from a fear of the Christians or from zeal toward pagan worship, ordered all Roman governors on pain of death to destroy the whole body of Christians without exception. So for a period of two years, multitudes of Christians were put to death and furthermore, most of them were exposed to terrible tortures so that death itself was very welcome. It was not only the face of death, but the tortures preceding it that caused many Christians during these two years to backslide and publicly revert to a pagan religion to save themselves.

This backsliding was the subject of a great commotion in the church. Some of the Bishops were in favor of reinstating the defectors, and some not in favor until the individual had undergone the penance which the church laws require. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, whom we have mentioned before, was one of those who was very strict in the re-admittance of the defectors. In the year 254, Valerian stopped the persecution of the Christians for a few years, but started it again in the fifth year of his reign, and it was at this time that Cyprian and Sixtus, Bishops of Rome, were martyred. Laurentius, a Roman deacon, was also roasted over a slow fire at this time. The Christians were allowed to exist during the remainder of this century, although Aurelian in 275 had laws ready to issue to destroy the Christians when he was met with a violent death.

While the Roman emperors were trying to destroy Christianity by force, many of the philosophers were exhausting their strength to destroy it through philosophy. While there were many minor effects of these philosophies, the main trouble was that they tried to show that there was a great similarity between Christ and other older philosophers. Consequently, many pagans — believing that there was no great difference between Christianity and other religions — either went back to their pagan religion or never left it.

That Christianity faced a dark future in going into the Third Century no one can doubt after listening to the persecutions we have mentioned. However, there was a bright side to the picture too. The rights and privileges of Christians under many of the regimes were increased. It was possible during most of this century for the Christians to hold public office. And even during the persecutions, many Christians in the army, in the courts and in public life that were not molested. Furthermore, we find for the first time in this century some Emperors that were very friendly toward Christianity. The two Phillips were so friendly that they passed for Christians. Some of the other Emperors included Jesus in the number of Gods they worshipped.

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