Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, “Chapter 2. Persecution of Christianity and Christian Martyrdom.”
Schaff presents a lightly annotated bibliography of sources for the period A.D. 100-325 (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12537).
§13. General Survey.
Schaff compares the periodic persecutions of the early Christians to the crucufixion and resurrection. There were times of forewarning, actual attack, suffering, then relief (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12562). The persecutions began in the Jewish world, then spread to within the Gentile world. At issue was the fact that one side or the other must desist. The worldviews were inherently incompatible (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12571). Schaff details a number of the persecutions which were widespread, but notes that most were very localized and short-lived (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12580). Because the persecutions brought out the heroic character of Christian faith, Christianity survived. It was purified by the opposition of those who would destroy it Further, Schaff notes, the success of Christianity opened the door for religious liberty (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12589). Christianity allowed for conscience to be a sacred right. This contrasted with the Greek and then Roman view that the state had absolute authority. Schaff does admit that Christians, after Constantine, tended to forget the importance of freedom of conscience (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12609). Yet it is present in the foundation of Christianity.
§14. Jewish Persecution.
Schaff now provides an annotated bibliography of sources pertaining to Jewish persecution. He then discusses the specific conflicts. Schaff’s assessment of the situation is that Jews, having provoked God through persecution of Christians, then received retaliation at various times in the early second century. Under Hadrian, the Roman government asserted its authority and commitment to the traditional gods (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12627). The rejection of Judaism continued even under the Christian emperors. Partly as a reaction to the Roman hostility toward Judaism, by the late second century, the growth of the Talmud spoke in traditional and anti-Christian terms of pure Judaism (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12637). Schaff comments as follows. “The Talmud is the slow growth of several centuries. It is a chaos of Jewish learning, wisdom, and folly, a continent of rubbish, with hidden pearls of true maxims and poetic parables . . . It is the Old Testament misinterpreted and turned against the New, in fact, though not in form” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12646).
§15. Causes of Roman Persecution.
While Roman did actively try to destroy its opponents, the government’s role was fairly tolerant of differences of religious thought (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12655). Jews had some protection, though not promotion. While Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, it also had some protection, particularly when practiced by citizens (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12665). However, as it came to be known as its own religion, it was considered unlawful. After all, Christianity rejected the deities who had allegedly brought Rome to power (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12675). The Christian refusal to participate in what they considered to be idolatry was considered insulting to the Roman religion (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12694). The Christians would not give the honor considered appropriate to the deities or the emperor. This led to a deep distrust. As a result, the Romans would readily accept rumors about Christians, such as incest, cannibalism, and the bringing of plagues upon the people (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12703).
§16. Condition of the Church before the Reign of Trajan.
Schaff engages in a brief review of first century imperial attitudes toward Christianity. Apparently the emperors were aware of the story of Christ’s resurrection. They were uncertain whether to consider Jesus a god or his followers as revolutionaries making a novel claim. By the time of Domitian (81-96), we find an emperor who determined Christianity to be a serious crime. The fact that he prosecuted numerous Christians, including political leaders, indicates that Christianity had been accepted by many and powerful people (Schaff 2014, Loc. 12722).