Early Christian Persecution

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Early Christians expected suffering. Christ had died on the cross, so there was no higher honor than to imitate that death through accepting martyrdom (witness by one’s blood). As the writer of 1 Peter expressed it,
“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (4:16)
The Roman Empire was generally pretty tolerant of other religions. So why persecute the Christians? Reasons for the persecution emerge from the record of Christianity’s first three centuries.
Persecution did not begin with the Roman authorities. The New Testament writings tell of fratricidal strife between Jews and Christians, the Christians challenging the Jews by claiming to be “the New Israel.” In the early chapters of Acts, Stephen
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64. That year a great fire engulfed much of Rome; only four of the fourteen quarters of the city escaped damage. Suspicion immediately fell on Emperor Nero: was this a madcap way of clearing part of the city to make room for new, magnificent streets and buildings in his honor? Nero, however, managed to deflect blame first, apparently, on the Jews, who had a reputation for large-scale arson but also had friends at court; and then onto the Christians. Many Christians were seized, tortured, and killed in the arena. Except for the manner of the Christians’ deaths, which he thought was excessively cruel, he showed no sympathy for the Christians.
Recording that “Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin” was executed by “one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate,” Tacitus described the Christians as a “class hated for their abominations” and guilty of “hatred of the human race,” an accusation he also made against the Jews. Theirs was not a “religion” but a “deadly superstition,” and hence worthy of repression.
Though there was no immediate continuation to Nero’s persecution, the fire extinguished any chance Christians might have had of being recognized as a“legal religion” separate from
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Although some early writers speak of "great "modern scholars tend to believe the actual number is not so great as is sometimes thought to be. Out of the 54 emperors who ruled between 30 and 311, only about a dozen went out of their way to persecute Christians. Between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.
The Roman persecutions were generally random, localized, and dependent on the current mood and opinions of a populace, and disposition of each emperor. Besides, imperial decrees against Christians were usually directed against church property, the Scriptures, or clergy only.
In the spring of 312, Constantine entered on a final bid for supremacy in the West. Campaigning against his rival, Maxentius, through north and central Italy, he reached within five miles of Rome on October 27. That night he had a vision or dream that convinced him that his own destiny lay with Christianity. Next day he defeated Maxentius’s superior forces and entered Rome in triumph. Constantine met Licinius and in a document that has become known as the Edict of Milan formally ended the persecution. All individuals were to be free to follow their own consciences. The church had

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