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Heart and History of the Early Church. Session 6: 3 rd Century Persecutions. www.drewcuster.wordpress.com. Period of Peace. The End of the second century, following the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius, was peaceful for the Christians

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heart and history of the early church

Heart and History of the Early Church

Session 6: 3rd Century Persecutions


period of peace
Period of Peace
  • The End of the second century, following the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius, was peaceful for the Christians
  • Trajan’s policies operated for all of the 2nd century but things were about to change
emperor severus
Emperor Severus
  • Struggled to keep unity in the growing Empire
  • Decided to unite the Empire through syncretistic religion under Sol Invictus—The Unconquered Sun
    • All gods accepted as long as the Sun shined above all
  • In 202, the Edict of Severus was issued, outlawing conversion to Christianity and Judaism under penalty of death
emperor severus1
Emperor Severus
  • Irenaeus killed in Lyons at this time
  • Many killed in Alexandria, including Origen’s father
  • Origen flushed out of Alexandria
  • Tertullian wrote “The blood of the martyrs is a seed”
martyrdom of perpetua and felicitas
Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
  • 5 catechumens were arrested
  • Long trial during which authorities and family encouraged them to recant their faith
  • Perpetua had an infant child and Felicitas was pregnant
  • Felicitas delivered in the eighth month under imprisonment. Hearing her in labor pains she was taunted.
  • She replied “When I face the beasts there will be another one who will live in me and will suffer for me.”
martyrdom of perpetua and felicitas1
Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
  • 3 males put in arena first:
    • Saturnitus and Revocatus killed quickly by beasts
    • They ignored Secundulus until they released a leopard
  • Then Perpetua and Felicitas were put in arena:
    • Beaten up by a bull
    • Perpetua then retied her hair (loose hair was a sign of mourning)
    • The bleeding women gave each other a kiss of peace as the soldier came and put them to the sword
more peace
More Peace
  • The persecution was severe under Emperor Severus only for a few years and then died down even before he died in 211
  • There were other brief periods of persecution in 211, 235. These were brief storms compared to the second century.
  • During these times the martyrs were even more admired, because persecution was less often.
  • Christians gained more influence in the aristocracy, because of this the immoral rumors about Christians were shown to be false.
emperor decius 249
Emperor Decius (249)
  • If persecutions over the last half of century can be described as brief storms, under Decius came the hurricane.
  • Like other past Emperors who persecuted Christians, Decius wanted to restore the ancient glory of Rome.
emperor decius 2491
Emperor Decius (249)
  • He felt that because had abandoned the ancient religion, the gods had abandoned them. Thus leading to the barbarian revolts and economic crisis of the time
emperor decius 249 251
Emperor Decius (249-251)
  • Solution: Get everyone to worship the gods!
  • Persecution was based not on rumors of immorality or of rebellion against the courts, but on treason against the ancient ways of Rome
  • Decius edict was not punishment against those who do not worship the gods but forced worship
emperor decius 249 2511
Emperor Decius (249-251)
  • After the decree, everyone had to report to a statue of Decius and offer incense to the gods and then they would receive a certificate
  • Those who did not have certificate were outlaws
  • New generation:
    • Some immediately offered sacrifices
    • Some stood firm until placed before authorities
    • Some made fraudulent certificates
    • Many stood firm and refused to obey the edict
emperor decius 249 2512
Emperor Decius (249-251)
  • The goal was not to kill Christians but to force worship to the gods, so there were relatively few martyrs
  • The method was a combination of promises, threats, and torture to get them to abandon their faith
emperor decius 249 2513
Emperor Decius (249-251)
  • This persecution was widespread around the Empire for two years. Christians were intentionally sought out.
  • “Confessor” became a new title of honor in the church—one who had survived the tortures
  • Origen was tortured during this time and died of his wounds
what about the lapsed
What about the Lapsed?
  • There were great numbers who gave in to persecution and then wanted to return afterwards
  • As the church dealt with this question there were several complicated factors:
    • Some offered sacrifices
    • Some made fraudulent certificates
    • Some endured some torture
what about the lapsed1
What about the Lapsed?
  • Confessors began taking a role to welcome people back
  • Bishops didn’t thought only they had the Biblical right to do this but many agreed with the confessors lenient approaches
  • Some though both groups were showing too much leniency to the Lapsed
  • Cyprian and Novatian played important roles during this time
  • Bishop of Carthage
  • Was a student of Tertullian’s writing
  • He fled persecution with many other Christians, many held this against his authority
  • Elders and confessors took over leadership of the church in Carthage displacing Cyprian
  • Cyprian called a synod of bishops because of a church dispute in Carthage
  • The synod decided:
    • Those who made fraudulent certificates and showed repentance could be readmitted to the church immediately
    • Those who sacrificed to the gods and showed repentance could be readmitted on their deathbeds
    • Those who sacrificed and showed no repentance where out
    • Only bishops had rights to reinstate someone to the church
  • Cyprian’s understanding of the church:
    • “outside the church there is no salvation.”
    • “no one can have God as Father who does not have the church as mother.”
    • The church is to be a community of saints, there is no room for idolaters and apostates
  • There was no punishment for those who fled
  • He thought those who lapsed in the church of Rome were being readmitted too easily
  • Years earlier there was a church split on whether someone should be forgiven of fornication (Bishop- yes; Hippolytus- no). Led to two bishops. The split did not last long.
  • Novatian caused a split and two bishops again (himself as the second) only lasted seven years
purity vs forgiveness
Purity vs. Forgiveness
  • The struggle here as in many times in the early church is the struggle to maintain moral purity while at the same time exercising loving forgiveness
  • This led to the penitential system which emphasized living forgiveness too much that the protestants fought against
  • Where is modern evangelical Christianity today on this scale?
purity ephesians 5 3 7
Purity – Ephesians 5:3-7

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

forgiveness 2 corinthians 2 5 11
Forgiveness – 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”

heart and history of the early church1

Heart and History of the Early Church

Session 6: 3rd Century Persecutions