Jesus And The Early Christians

This article covers the historical information about Jesus And The Early Christians.

Blessed are the gentle,
for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted
on account of justice,
for theirs is the sovereignty of heaven.
Jesus in Matthew 5:5-10
You heard that it was said,
“You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
But I tell you: love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.
Jesus in Matthew 5:43-4

But the wisdom from above is first pure,
then peaceable, gentle, open to reason,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without uncertainty or insincerity.
And the harvest of justice is sown in peace
by those who make peace.
What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you?
Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?
You desire and do not have; so you kill.
And you covet and cannot obtain;
so you fight and wage war.
You do not have, because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 3:17-4:3
Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword,
when the Lord proclaimed that he who takes the sword
shall also perish by the sword?
Tertullian, The Crown 11

We are educated not for war but for peace.
In war, there is need for much equipment,
just as self-indulgence craves an abundance.
But peace and love, simple and plain blood sisters,
do not need arms nor abundant supplies.
Origen, Christ the Educator 1
For we no longer take up “sword against nation,”
nor do we “learn war any more,”
having become children of peace,
for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.
Origen, Against Celsus 5:33

In so far as we conquer the demons
who stir up war and disturb peace,
we perform better service for our ruler
than they who bear the sword.
Origen, Against Celsus 8:246



Jesus the Christ

Probably the greatest exemplar and teacher of peace is Jesus the Christ. Jesus has been considered by many to be the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies concerning the coming of a messiah, the prince of peace. His birth and his death were both shrouded in miracle, myth, and tragedy. Angels were said to have greeted his mother with the blessing of “peace on earth.” Persian magi (astrologer-priests) found their way to the child by cosmic guidance. He was probably born around 6 BC. Herod, fearing the birth of a rival king, had innocent babies slaughtered in Bethlehem. The baby Jesus, however, was taken by his family to Egypt. Little was recorded about his childhood and youth, but it is likely that he may have studied with teachers in Egypt, Persia, and India. At the age of twelve he was debating with rabbis in Jerusalem.

When he was about thirty in 27 CE, Jesus appeared at the Jordan River to be baptized by John. While fasting in the desert for forty days, Jesus was tempted by the devil. Then he began to call his disciples and preach. During the Passover festival he told Nicodemus that he must be born from above for the spiritual life. The Light had come into the world; but those loving the darkness hated him because the Light exposed their evil actions. While passing through Samaria, he read the mind of a divorced Samaritan woman; but he was not prejudiced against her as most Jews were against Samaritans. In Cana he healed an official’s son from a distance. When he preached in a Nazareth synagogue, his neighbors were angered by his spiritual claims and made him leave. Jesus helped the brothers Simon and Andrew catch fish. In Capernaum and throughout Galilee he healed the ill and the possessed. In a synagogue Jesus cured a paralytic, but some Pharisees thought he blasphemed by saying he forgave sins. He asked Levi (Matthew) to be his disciple even though he had been a hated tax collector. When people complained that he associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus urged them to learn about mercy. He explained that his new teachings, like new wine, must be put in fresh skins.

When Jesus healed a chronic invalid in Jerusalem, Jews complained that he did work on the Sabbath. Jesus explained that he was only doing the work of his Father (God). The Father has given authority to the human son so that they may have life. He said that if they believed Moses, they would believe him, because Moses wrote about him. Pharisees also complained that his disciples ate grain while passing through a field on a Sabbath. On another Sabbath he healed a man’s hand in a synagogue despite the anger of Pharisees, asking whether it is not permitted to do good. After praying on a mountain, Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples to preach and expel demons.

Many of the ethical teachings of Jesus are explained in his sermon on a mountain. He blessed the poor, the grieving, the gentle, those hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because of justice. He warned the rich that they have already received their reward. Jesus explained that he did not come to do away with the old law but to teach a better ethics. Not only should they not murder, but they should not become angry with each other; they should learn to resolve their own conflicts so that they can avoid legal trials. Not only should they not commit adultery, they should not lust. Not only should they not break oaths, they should not swear at all but simply tell the truth. Jesus went beyond the old law of Moses and advised standing up to one who is doing wrong but without using any violence.

You heard that it was said,
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
But I tell you not to resist evil;
but whoever strikes you on your right cheek,
turn to him the other also;
and to the one who intends to judge you and take your shirt,
leave him also the coat;
and whoever forces you one mile, go with him two.
Give to the one who asks you,
and do not turn away from the one
who wishes to borrow from you.1

Not only should they not seek revenge, they should be generous with their adversaries by giving without asking for anything in return. They should love their enemies and be like God, who loves the just and the unjust.

Instead of praying in public like hypocrites, they should pray secretly and directly to God, asking that God’s will be done. Also they should do their good works in secret and not publicize them. Reward in heaven is better than treasure on Earth. No one can serve two masters; either one serves money or God. Therefore they should not worry about food or clothing, for God will provide whatever they need. Their first concern should be God’s will and justice. Instead of judging, they should forgive, because the law measures back to you what you give. Instead of examining the minor defects of others, they should look at their own major faults first so that they can perceive better. They should pray and search until they find. God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. The narrow way leads to life, but the broad roads end in destruction. They should watch out for false prophets, who can be discerned by their actions. Those doing good produce good results. Therefore those who practice his teachings will build on a solid foundation, but those who do not practice them will be swept away.

In Capernaum Jesus told a generous centurion that his servant had been healed. In Nain he brought a widow’s dead son back to life. Jesus reproached those in the cities who condemned him for being a friend to those who drank. He forgave a sinner after she wept and washed his feet with her tears, telling her to go in peace. Many of the healed women and others supported them from their possessions. Some scholars thought he expelled demons by Beelzebub, but Jesus explained that a divided house cannot stand and that he acted by the power of God. To do so he had to be able to overcome the negative. The worst slander is against the Holy Spirit. He warned that unclean spirits can return to those possessed.

In the parable of the sower Jesus explained to his disciples that their negativity prevents some from understanding the teachings; others accept the teachings but fall away when difficulties arise; others are seduced by their worries and the deception of wealth; but some bear good fruit with patience. Jesus noted that many seeds are sown; but later the harvest will show which bear fruit and which are weeds. While crossing the sea, Jesus commanded the winds to calm down. He allowed expelled entities to lead a herd of pigs into the sea. A woman was healed by making contact with him, and he raised a daughter from the dead. Then Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs to preach and heal, advising them not to take any money but to give and stay with those who welcomed them. Even when they are brought before authorities, the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say. They should not be afraid of those who can kill only the body. Twice Jesus provided food for a large crowd in the desert. After staying behind to pray, he crossed over the water. When asked about dietary restrictions, he explained that food passes through the body; what people say defiles them more than that. In Bethsaida he healed a blind man.

When Simon recognized that Jesus is the Christ, son of God, he called him a rock (Peter). Yet a moment later when Jesus said he must be given over and killed, Peter objected; then Jesus called him Satan. Jesus said that those who want to follow him must deny themselves and be willing to lose their lives in order to save them. On a mountain Jesus spoke to the spirits of Moses and Elijah. Jesus began predicting that he would be killed but would rise up on the third day. He said they were free of paying tax but allowed Peter to pay the Temple tax with a four-drachma coin taken from a fish. To teach humility, Jesus said the servant is the greatest. They should forgive, no matter how many times they are asked to do so. During the Jewish feast of tabernacles Jesus preached in the temple even though some of the Jews wanted to kill him. The religious authorities began to debate whether he was the Christ or not. To test him to see if he would enforce their law to stone an adulterer, they brought a convicted woman to him; but he forgave her and persuaded others not to stone her either. Jesus warned the Jews that anyone performing sin is a slave to sin. When he said that he existed before Abraham, they became so angry they were going to stone him; but Jesus left the temple. He healed a blind man to show the glory of God.

Jesus sent out seventy-two others in pairs to preach also. When a lawyer asked who is the neighbor that he should love, Jesus told how a priest did not help a man who had been beaten by robbers; but a Samaritan had compassion and went out of his way to help the person. Martha was busy serving and wanted Jesus to have Mary help her, but he explained that listening to the teachings was more important. Jesus taught them to pray persistently. When criticized by a Pharisee for not washing at a dinner, Jesus reproached the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the lawyers. He warned against greed, because life is more than the abundance of possessions. He advised them to change their ways, for they might die suddenly. At the dedication festival in Jerusalem when Jesus said he is one with God, Jews tried to stone him; but he quoted the scripture, “I have said, ‘You are gods.'”2 They tried to arrest him again, but he slipped away.

Jesus taught in parables. At banquets he suggested being humble, and he urged people to invite the poor and disabled to their feasts. He advised his disciples they must give up all their possessions. Parables of missing sheep and lost coins made the point that he came to save the lost sinners. The prodigal son gets more attention from his father because he needs it more than his brother. The wise manager cares more about people than his boss’s money. The rich did not seem to understand. So he told how a poor man named Lazarus died and went to heaven and got his spiritual rewards; but the rich man who ignored his needs in life also died and, suffering the consequences of his actions, begged for mercy. Then Jesus went and brought Lazarus back to life. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus cured ten lepers. Once again he advised praying with humility and persistence. He implied that divorcing and marrying again is like adultery and suggested that celibacy is best for some. A rich person was distressed because Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to let her sons sit next to him in heaven, he reminded them that the servant is the greatest of all.

Dining with the wealthy but generous Zacchaeus, Jesus told the parable of the talents in which the one with five gained five more, but the one who hid his talent lost it. When the king returns, he orders that those who did not want him to be king over them were to be slaughtered. Jesus did not say this was a parable of the sovereignty of God, but rather it seems to be a parable of how the world works. As Jesus approached Jerusalem on the first day of Passover week, he lamented that the city did not know the ways of peace. He predicted that its walls would be razed to the ground, and this occurred forty years later when the Romans crushed the Jewish revolt in 70 CE.

Entering the temple, Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and drove out the animals that were being sold for sacrifice. He said that when they destroyed his temple (his body), he would raise it in three days. High priests and scholars tried to trap him with difficult questions. When they asked him by what authority he taught, he asked them to say by what authority John baptized, knowing that people believed in John. He told parables of working in a vineyard and implied that criminals would kill the son and heir. Another parable invited people to a wedding. Herodians knew that he opposed paying tax to Caesar and wanted him to admit it so that they could arrest him; but Jesus cleverly sidestepped the question by suggesting they should have nothing to do with the Roman money system at all. Hypocritical Sadducees asked about the resurrection, which they did not even accept. Jesus explained that death is an illusion, because everyone is alive in God. Jesus taught the greatest commandment is love. He clarified that the Christ is not the son of David but his lord.

Then Jesus warned the people about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who put burdens on them without helping, who devour the houses of widows while pretending to pray, who love honors, who block the way with their bad examples, who value gold more than the temple, who pay attention to details while forgetting justice and mercy, who clean the outside but are corrupt inside, who build tombs for prophets their fathers killed and now would kill him. After commending a poor widow for giving all she had, Jesus went back to the Mount of Olives. There he predicted the wars, rumors, revolutions, earthquakes, plagues, and famines that would precede the sovereignty of God. When his apostles are delivered, the Holy Spirit will speak for them. The good message will be preached in the whole world before the end. During the days of affliction many will claim to be Christs; but the presence of the human son will be as obvious as lightning from east to west, for everyone will see the human son coming. Not even the son knows when this will happen. He warned them to be ready and alert. The wise virgins keep their lamps shining. The parable of the sheep and the goats separates those who actually love and help others from those who do not.

The high priests and elders plotted to arrest and kill Jesus, who told his disciples that everyone must die in order to inherit eternal life. Judas Iscariot complained that Mary wasted expensive perfume on the hair and feet of Jesus. Judas told the high priests that he would give over Jesus. At the Passover feast Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and shared bread and wine with them as if they were his body and blood that were about to be sacrificed. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will comfort them after he dies and goes to the Father; they should love one another as he loved them. Jesus prayed for them and said they will fall away. Peter objected, and Jesus predicted he would deny him three times before dawn. In a moment of confusion Jesus told them to buy a sword but then said the two they had were enough. While his disciples slept, Jesus prayed for a reprieve but affirmed God’s will. Judas brought a cohort of officials from the high priests and identified Jesus with a kiss. Jesus asked them to let the others go. When Simon Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus healed it and told Peter to put down the sword, for all who take up a sword will die by a sword.

Jesus was taken to the high priests Annas and then Caiaphas for questioning. In the council Jesus said little but admitted he is the son of God. He was condemned, mocked, and beaten. Peter was watching but denied three times that he was one of his disciples. When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he regretted his action and hanged himself. Then they took Jesus to the Roman procurator Pilate, who asked the Jews why they brought Jesus to him. They said that Jesus forbade them to pay taxes to Caesar and that he claimed to be king; they were not allowed to execute anyone. Jesus affirmed that he was a king who came into the world to testify to the truth. When Pilate learned that he was a Galilean, he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, who wanted to see a miracle; but Jesus said nothing and was mocked before being sent back to Pilate. He called together high priests and leaders and said that he was going to release Jesus because of the feast. However, the crowd shouted for him to release the rebel Barabbas instead. Pilate’s wife warned him not to do anything to Jesus because of a dream she had. After the crowd shouted that he should crucify Jesus, Pilate had him whipped, dressed in a purple robe with a thorn crown, and gave him over to be crucified, the Roman capital punishment for slaves and rebels.

The governor’s soldiers took Jesus to Golgotha and nailed his arms and legs to a cross with a sign saying “King of the Jews.” Jesus never resisted and even forgave those who were punishing him in their ignorance. He assured one of the criminals crucified with him that they would soon be in paradise. His words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” refer to the first line of the 22nd Psalm that prophesied these events. Joseph of Arimathea got permission to put his body in his tomb; but two days later Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, discovered that it was gone. According to them and several other accounts, Jesus appeared to the disciples and others before ascending to heaven.

James, Clement, and Justin Martyr

After the crucifixion and resurrection the organization of the Christians began to grow. They were persecuted by Jews (including Saul of Tarsus who became Paul), and some, like Stephen, even sacrificed their lives as they testified to their faith in Christ. Led by Peter, Jesus’ brother James, and a converted Paul, the cult increased and spread throughout the Roman world by peaceful means even in the face of violent persecution.

Although James was skeptical of his brother Jesus during his lifetime, after seeing him resurrected, James (with Peter and John) became a leader of the Jerusalem church. According to Hegesippus, James was universally called the Just; he drank no alcohol, ate no animal food, wore linen garments, and no razor touched his head; his knees became hardened by frequent praying. The Gospel of the Hebrews was mentioned more than any other by the early church. A quote from it by Jerome states that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his brother James the Just. When Festus died about 61 CE, before Albinus arrived, the high priest Ananus accused James before the council and had him killed. Complaints about this to King Agrippa caused him to take the high priesthood away from Ananus.

A letter attributed to this James emphasizes that faith also requires works, though many scholars question whether it was written by James himself. It is written to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, encouraging them to be joyful because trials testing their faith can produce steadfastness. People are not tempted by God but by their own desires. James suggested they be quick to hear, but slow to speak or become angry; for anger does not work what is right by God. They should be doers of the word, not just hearers. The religious also need to bridle their tongues, because religion has more to do with visiting orphans and widows and keeping oneself unstained from the world. James exhorted his brothers not to show partiality to the rich over the poor, asking has not God chosen the poor to be rich in faith. Are not the rich the ones who oppress them and drag them into court? Fulfilling the scripture is loving one’s neighbor as oneself, but showing partiality is to commit sin and transgress the law. They should speak and act as those judged under the law of liberty. Judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy; yet mercy overcomes judgment.

James asked what benefit faith has without works. A little tongue can boast of great things, as a great forest is inflamed by a small fire. The wise will show good works in the gentleness of wisdom. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition cause disorder and vile practices. The wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, gentle, open to reason, and merciful, bearing good fruit without uncertainty or insincerity. The harvest of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars and fighting among them if not passions? Not getting what they desire, they kill. Coveting without obtaining, they fight and wage war. They ask wrongly when intending to spend it on their passions. Whoever loves the world too much makes oneself an enemy of God. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Draw near God, and God will draw near you. Purify your hearts. Do not speak evil against one another, because this is to judge the law. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. Who are they to judge their neighbors? Knowing what is right to do but failing to do it is a sin. Be patient and do not grumble against one another so that you may not be judged. Therefore confess your sins and pray for one another so that you may be healed, for God is compassionate and merciful. James concluded that bringing back a sinner from error will cover a multitude of sins.

Clement of Rome may have known Paul at Philippi. According to Eusebius, Clement was the third bishop of Rome from 92 to 101. His letter to the Corinthians urges repentance, which can be learned from past generations. He recommended humility and advised them to obey God rather than those who excite strife and tumult by adhering to those who truly cultivate peace and not to hypocrites who merely profess it. They should hold to God’s will and let their children be trained as Christians. Clothing themselves in concord and humility and always exercising self-control, they may stand apart from evil-speaking. The good worker receives bread, but the lazy cannot look his employer in the eye. Cleave to the holy, innocent, and just, and they shall be made holy.

Clement was concerned that the church of Corinth was engaging in sedition against its ministers because of one or two persons. They should return to the practice of brotherly love, because love unites people with God. Love does not give rise to seditions but does everything in harmony. They should all pray for God’s mercy and live blamelessly in love free from human partiality for one above another. He implored forgiveness for all transgressions and asked the leaders of sedition to respect the common hope. Clement urged them to do whatever the majority commands, that the flock may live in peace under its appointed ministers, concluding that those who caused the sedition should submit themselves to the ministers and receive correction.

About 155 CE the church at Smyrna was persecuted, and the martyrdom of its bishop Polycarp was described in a circular letter sent first to the church at Philomelium. Polycarp made little effort to flee. When he was arrested, he was allowed to pray for two hours, causing many to repent. Polycarp was taken by the Roman peacekeeper and had his leg dislocated when he was thrown from a chariot. He was asked to revile Christ in a stadium, but he confessed himself a Christian, refusing to repent from what is good in order to adopt what is evil. Polycarp gave thanks and prayed, but the flames only surrounded his glowing body. He was pierced with a dagger, and his blood extinguished the fire. Jews objected to the Christians being given his body, and so it was burned. By this account Polycarp was the twelfth Christian martyred in Smyrna and Philadelphia. Polycarp’s witness and death checked the fury of people, and the proconsul suspended the persecution.

Justin Martyr was born about 110 CE in Samaria although apparently he was not a Jew. He studied philosophy and became a disciple of Socrates and Plato before being won over to the good message of Jesus the Christ. His first defense of the Christian faith was addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and his philosopher sons on behalf of all nations that are unjustly hated and abused. He began by pointing out that reason directs the truly pious and philosophical to love only what is true even if death is threatened. He adopted the Stoic idea that no evil can be done to one unless that person does evil. Justin wrote, “You can kill, but not hurt us.”3 If they are not convicted of anything, reason forbids wronging blameless people. Justin considered it his obligation to inform authorities of Christian life and teachings so that he would not be complicit with their mental blindness. If those continue to do what is not just after learning the truth, they will have no excuse before God.

Nothing can be decided about good or evil merely by a name. They are accused of being Christians, but to hate what in Justin’s view is excellent is unjust. They are not atheists because they believe in the one true God. Justin demanded that they be judged for their actions, not simply for being Christians. Like Plato, Christians believe in judgment after death, but by Christ instead of by Minos and Rhadamanthus. Justin argued therefore that Christians believe they cannot escape the knowledge of God; they live decently because of the penalties they would suffer if they did not. Formerly delighting in fornication, now they embrace chastity; formerly using magic, now they dedicate themselves to God; before they valued acquiring property, now they share with those in need; before they hated and destroyed one another, now they pray for their enemies and attempt to persuade those who hate them unjustly to live by good precepts. Justin noted that many have changed their violent and tyrannical dispositions to learn patience.

Justin noted that in the recent revolt the Jewish leader Bar-Kochba ordered Christians cruelly punished unless they would deny Jesus Christ. Justin learned from the prophets that chastisements and rewards are rendered to the merit of one’s actions. He did not believe fate determined such things and argued that if it were fated to be either good or bad, one would not be capable of both opposites nor would there by so many transitions from one to the other.

In his second defense addressed to the Roman Senate, Justin compared Christ to Socrates, who was similarly accused of introducing new divinities. Justin himself had been converted from Platonism when he heard Christians slandered and saw them holding to their beliefs fearless of death. Justin prayed that his little book be published, because it is human nature to know good and evil. Those condemning Christians, whom they do not understand, and inflicting death on them are condemning themselves. In a long dialog with the Jew Trypho, Justin described how he studied Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and Platonic philosophy and how these led him to God. A flame was kindled in his soul as he began to love the prophets and the friends of Christ. He then went on to argue why Christianity is superior to many practices of Judaism.

Apparently the Cynic philosopher Crescens stirred up a persecution, which in 165 resulted in the martyrdom of Justin and six others who stated they were Christians. They were brought before the judgment seat of the prefect of Rome and were asked to obey the gods and submit to the Emperor. Justin replied that obeying the commandments of their savior Jesus Christ is worthy of neither blame nor condemnation. Justin explained they worship the God of the whole creation; they meet in various places; but Justin had been communicating the truth from only one particular home since he came to Rome. The prefect Rusticus asked him if he believed he would ascend to heaven after being beheaded, and Justin answered that he was convinced of that. When the prefect warned them that they would be punished if they would not sacrifice to the gods, Justin said they expected to be saved by their Lord Jesus Christ when they came before the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of their Lord. The other martyrs also refused to sacrifice to idols, and they were all led away to be scourged and decapitated according to the law.


Tertullian was born in the middle of the second century at Carthage, where he was well educated. His father was probably a centurion. Tertullian went to Rome as a young man and probably practiced law. He did not convert to Christianity until he returned to Carthage near the end of the century. Twelve Christians had been martyred at Carthage in 180. Tertullian was impressed by the witness of martyrs, the moral discipline, and the devotion to one God.

About 197 or so Tertullian wrote a defense of Christianity addressed to the rulers of the Roman empire in which he pleaded for a hearing so that they would not condemn Christians in ignorance and therefore unjustly. He argued that those who once hated Christianity because they knew nothing about it, after knowing it, not only laid down their enmity but became its disciples. There is an outcry that the state is being filled with Christians of both sexes and of every age and condition, and this is true because many are passing over to the Christian faith. Most criminals are ashamed of their evils; but Christians are an exception, usually only being ashamed they had not been converted earlier. Christians alone are forbidden to explain what they did in order to help the judge make a correct decision. All that public hatred demands is the confession of the name, not an examination of the charge. Usually criminals deny the offense and are tortured to confess; but Christians alone are tortured to make them deny their confession. Since there is no investigation of one’s actions, clearly the only crime of a Christian is adhering to the name. The authorities are unwilling or ashamed to mention the actual crimes.

Tertullian argued that Romans hate the guiltless and a guiltless name, exhibiting violence and the unjust domination of a tyranny, because the law to condemn for a mere name is unjust. He cited Nero and Domitian as examples of cruel tyrants who persecuted Christians, whereas the noble Marcus Aurelius put the law aside and condemned their accusers. Christians have kept their secrets as have the Samothracian and Eleusinian mysteries. False rumors have spread of Christian enormities that have never been proven, such as child sacrifice, which was practiced publicly in Africa as recently as the proconsulship of Tiberius.

Christians are charged with not worshipping the gods because they do not sacrifice for the Emperor. Tertullian believed there are no such gods. He wrote they worship the one God, who is invisible but created all things. Christ came once as a lowly human and expelled devils by a word, restored vision to the blind, cleansed lepers, reinvigorated paralytics, summoned the dead to life, and made the elements of nature obey him by calming storms and walking on the sea, proving he was the Logos of God. He was crucified; but he had predicted that, as he did also his resurrection. His disciples have spread over the world, as their master bade them; they have suffered persecution by Jews and Romans.

Tertullian challenged the authorities to search and see if the divinity of Christ is true. If its acceptance transforms a person to one truly good, one should renounce what is opposed to it as false. Tertullian believed that Christ is coming again to judge every soul. The charges recoil on the heads of the accusers not merely for refusing the religion of the one true God but for persecuting it. Even if their gods exist, is it not generally held that there is one higher and more powerful absolute God? Tertullian noted that empires are acquired by wars and victories that involve the taking of cities with the destruction of temples and killing of priests as well as citizens. “Thus the sacrileges of the Romans are as numerous as their trophies. They boast as many triumphs over the gods as over the nations.”4 They have advanced to greatness by injuring religion.

Tertullian argued that it is unjust to compel free persons to offer sacrifices against their will, because honoring the gods should be voluntary. Jesus taught Christians to pray for their enemies and bless those who persecute them, and Paul said to pray for kings and rulers so that they may live in peace. Augustus, who founded the empire, would not accept the title Lord. Tertullian suggested they give up worship of other beings as divine except God so that God will be propitious to the Emperor. To call Caesar god is to invoke a curse. Tertullian went on that in addition to loving their enemies, Christians are forbidden to retaliate if they are injured lest they become as bad themselves. Thus who can suffer from their hands? He asked if anyone could point to a single act of Christian vengeance. Christians even help by exorcising evil spirits. Therefore Christians should receive milder treatment and have a place among the societies that are tolerated by the laws since they are not charged with any real crimes. Christians are not interested in affairs of state, because they acknowledge the one all-embracing commonwealth of the world.

Tertullian described Christian society as a religious community bound by a unity of discipline and a common hope that meets together to pray to God. They pray for emperors, those in authority, and for the welfare of the world in peace, and they read their sacred writings. They are known for loving one another. All are brothers by the law of their common mother nature, though their opponents are hardly men, being such unkind brothers. Those who have drunk in one spirit of holiness are even more fit to be called brothers. One in mind and soul, they share their worldly goods with one another, having all things in common except their wives. Their feasts are known by the Greek term for affection, agapè, as they benefit the needy in modest gatherings that begin with prayer to God. They eat and drink in chastity. Tertullian also observed that Christians fast and bind their passions tightly and assail heaven with importunities; yet when they have awakened the divine compassion, Jupiter gets the honor. Yet the Romans are the sources of trouble in human affairs, since they are always attracting public adversity. Christians live and work among them without retreating like Indian Brahmins, and their arts benefit the public.

Tertullian believed that Christians alone are without crime, because they are taught by God what goodness is and have knowledge revealed by a perfect master. They faithfully do God’s will enjoined on them by a Judge they dare not despise. He asked why they are not permitted equal liberty for their doctrines, which are similar to what the philosophers counsel – justice, patience, sobriety, and chastity. Christians avoid sexual perversions, as the men confine themselves to women. If their speculations are presumptuous, they should be subjected to ridicule, not to swords, flames, crosses, and wild beasts. Yet even these martyrdoms are their joy, because they would rather be condemned than give up their faith in God. Like warriors, their battle is to be summoned before tribunals to face execution while testifying to the truth. They are overcome, but they conquer by dying, being victorious at the moment they are subdued. The unjust killing of Christians is the proof of their innocence. Although this cruelty is a temptation to Christians, the more often they are mowed down, the more their numbers grow; for the blood of Christians is the seed. Those who inquire into their doctrines embrace them, and those who embrace them desire to partake fully of God’s grace by giving their blood. Although they may be condemned by men, they are acquitted by the Highest.

Under Emperor Septimius Severus about 202 several Christians were martyred for their religious belief in Carthage. Tertullian may have edited the account of Vivia Perpetua’s arrest and visions, how Felicitas prayed and had her baby a month early, and a description of how these two women and Saturas were exposed to wild animals in the arena before being killed by swords. It was probably some time after these events that Tertullian supported Montanist prophecy and its strict moral discipline as he felt the traditional church was becoming lax and corrupt.

In 204 Tertullian wrote in defense of a Christian soldier, who had refused to wear a certain crown because he regarded it as a pagan act in conflict with his faith. In “The Crown” he questioned whether warfare is proper at all for Christians,

Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword,
when the Lord proclaims that
he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword?
And shall the son of peace take part in the battle
when it does not become him even to sue at law?
And shall he apply the chain, and the prison,
and the torture, and the punishment,
who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?5

He goes on to ask why one should watch others more than Christ or guard the temples one has renounced. He suggested that when one becomes a believer, the military profession should be abandoned. Tertullian recommended that Christians serve Christ rather than the militia of the Emperor. He believed that war was the most evil of all earthly activities and ought to be avoided in every case.


Origen was born about 185 probably at Alexandria. He was well educated by his father Leonidas, who made him memorize passages from the Bible, and by Clement in the Catechetical school. In the persecution of 202 when his father was arrested, Origen was restrained by his mother from becoming a martyr by hiding all his clothes. He wrote encouraging his father not to change his beliefs for their sake. Leonidas was beheaded, and his property was confiscated, leaving Origen to provide for his mother and six younger brothers. Origen lived with a wealthy woman and earned money teaching Greek and copying manuscripts. Bishop Demetrius appointed Origen to succeed Clement as principal of the Catechetical school when he was only 18 years old. He attended classes of philosopher Ammonius Saccas, founder of Neo-Platonism.

According to Eusebius, while he was a young man, Origen castrated himself so as to instruct freely young female catechumens. However, in 248 Origen wrote one should not take literally the statement of Jesus in Matthew 19:12 that some “made themselves eunuchs because of the sovereignty of heaven.” Eusebius also described how Origen fearlessly supported martyrs and barely escaped himself on numerous occasions. Origen arranged for Heraclas to teach elementary students so that he could learn Hebrew and devote himself to advanced teaching and writing. Origen lived very ascetically, fasting often, rarely eating flesh, never drinking wine, having only one coat, no shoes, and sleeping on the bare floor.

Origen traveled, meeting Hippolytus at Rome in 211, fleeing Emperor Caracalla’s persecuting visit to Alexandria by going to Jerusalem and Caesarea in 216, and visiting Alexander Severus’ mother Mammaea at Antioch in 218. Back in Alexandria, the wealthy Ambrosius was converted from Valentinian beliefs and provided Origen with books and seven stenographers. In 229 he was ordained a presbyter in Caesarea on the way to a debate with Valentinian Candidus in Greece, where he answered the theory of predestination by asserting that Satan fell by free will and therefore could repent. This caused Alexandrian bishop Demetrius to hold two church councils, excommunicating Origen in 231. Rome and other churches concurred, but bishops in Palestine, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Greece strongly supported Origen. He pitied and prayed for his enemies, opening a school at Caesarea in Palestine. During the persecution of 235 he fled to Cappadocia and stayed with the Christian woman Juliana for two years. At an Arabian council in 244 he persuaded Bishop Beryllus to change his theological position on the Christ. During the Decian persecution Origen was thrown into prison, tortured, and condemned; the Emperor’s death in 251 freed him, but Origen died three years later in Tyre.

While he was young in Alexandria, Origen wrote On Principles (De Principiis), which except for fragments only exists in the Latin translation made by Rufinus in the late fourth century. In the prolog Rufinus admitted he made changes to make this work more consistent with Origen’s later writings, thus making it more orthodox. Origen believed that Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets before it was in Jesus. He followed the apostolic teaching that the soul has its own life and after departing the world is rewarded according to its merit with eternal life or is punished for its crimes in eternal fire. Every rational soul has free will and must struggle with opposing influences, though we may free ourselves from the burden of sins if we live correctly and wisely. In the resurrection the soul rises in incorruptible glory. Origen held that the scriptures are inspired and therefore have meanings not apparent at first sight which he attempted to elucidate on various levels.

Origen wrote that every rational creature is capable of earning praise by advancing to better things, acting in conformity to reason, or of receiving censure for falling away from what is right and so becoming justly liable to pains and penalties. In addition to humans Origen included among these rational creatures the devil and its followers as well as angels. He believed in a final consummation in which the goodness of God through the Christ may recall all creatures to one end, including the enemies that have been conquered. While the heretical Gnostics separated the God of the law and justice from the good God of the Gospels, Origen perceived only one just and good God, who confers benefits justly and punishes with kindness; for the dignity of the divine nature must have both justice and goodness. With free will comes individual responsibility, and Origen cited Isaiah 1:11 for the idea that all sinners kindle for themselves their fire. No one is plunged into a fire kindled by another. When the soul has gathered a multitude of evil works, the abundance of sins boils up to punishment. The mind then can see in signs and forms a history of its foul and shameful deeds. Thus the conscience is harassed and becomes the accuser and witness against itself.

The first chapter of the third book of On Principles about the freedom of will exists in the original Greek. The just judgment of God urges people to live virtuously and shun sin, because things worthy of praise or blame are within our power. In Origen’s view the Creator makes vessels of honor and dishonor not from foreknowledge since that would be condemning or justifying ahead; but vessels of honor are for those who have cleansed themselves and those of dishonor are for those unpurged. Thus he inferred that older causes before the lifetime affect the destiny and gave the example of Jacob and Esau. Ancient causes lead some to be born into better vessels (or circumstances) than others. Also by the actions in this life one may earn by reformation an honored vessel in the future, or one may fall back to a worse condition. These ideas clearly imply the doctrines of karma and reincarnation.

To explain wisdom of the world, Origen suggested there are spiritual powers which use their freedom of will to produce certain effects. Those admiring worldly power adopt their way of life and habits and thus work for these spirits they serve. Thus souls in human bodies may attract different energies in operations using a diversity of good and evil spirits. Humans may be acted upon by good or evil spirits, previous to their birth as in the examples of John the Baptist and Jeremiah; for souls have free will, whether in a body or not. In discussing temptations, Origen described an irrational component of the human psyche as well as a rational one. The irrational part has two affections – coveting and passion. The rational and irrational psyches have been called the good, heavenly one and the other that is inferior and earthly. The wisdom of the flesh is dominated by a material spirit, which is not subject to the law of God, because it has earthly wishes and bodily desires. These desires can produce mental perturbations such as ambition, avarice, envy, pride, and so on. Origen suggested that the will of the soul is intermediate between the flesh and the spirit, obeying and serving one or the other. Those yielding to the pleasures of the flesh become carnal, and those uniting to the spirit become spiritual.

As a result of his On Principles Origen would later be considered unorthodox on four points.

1. Human souls existed previously, and their life in material bodies reflects the results of previous actions.
2. Christ existed previously and was united to the divine nature before incarnating as the son of God related in the Gospels.
3. The resurrection will occur in absolutely ethereal bodies rather than in material ones.
4. All souls, even devils, will finally be restored through the mediation of Christ.

As Origen let his readers choose what they think they should prefer, so I too will let readers decide whether these principles may be true.

When Origen was about sixty, Ambrosius asked him to respond to A True Discourse by Celsus that severely criticized Christianity. In a long work Origen repeated and answered every charge of Celsus, whom he called an Epicurean. Celsus believed the Jews were barbarous, that through Moses and others they gained most of their wisdom from the Egyptians, and that their god Jehovah was an inhuman ogre. He considered Christianity a Jewish superstition aimed at the uneducated by the self-deluded. He thought Jewish and Christian religious beliefs ignored the intellectual problems posed by Greek philosophy. Celsus noted that Christianity attracted the wicked and shiftless from the fishermen and tax collectors who were disciples to appealing to thieves, criminals, and blasphemers. He suggested that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier, who being rejected at home, went to Egypt, where he learned magic. Later he hawked a contradictory message, failed to overcome his enemies, and was abandoned by his disciples to a shameful death.

Celsus argued that ethical teachings of Christianity are nothing new, since they could be found in Plato. Other mysteries like those of the Egyptians and Persian Mithraism offered a similar ascent of the soul to God. Celsus also accused the Christians of treason in their secret and illegal associations, which supported the barbarian threats to the state. He criticized their presumption to have a monopoly on God, and finally he asked them to reject their perverted nonsense and make common cause for the public welfare. Celsus accused Christianity of undermining the Roman state, particularly by their refusal to perform military service.

Origen answered these objections by the usual methods of quoting scripture and philosophical arguments. He particularly noted that if Christianity seduced people, it seduced them into much more ethical behavior, making them temperate instead of dissolute, just instead of unjust, prudent instead of foolish, and courageous instead of cowardly, especially in the struggles for the sake of their religion. Origen appealed to the higher natural law as superior to the man-made laws of the Romans. The legitimacy of the state depends on how well it fulfills the spiritual laws. Origen argued that Christians do more good by praying than by fighting in the army. Ultimately he hoped for a peaceful society in which every world citizen would display Christian virtue so that state compulsion would disappear. Origen took the position that the Christians could convert even the barbarians to justice and humility by their peaceful methods. The unity of humanity must go beyond the Roman empire of the pagans’ concept to include everyone in the whole world. Christians, he felt, owed their allegiance to Christ above the Emperor, and they could not take up arms for any cause, although they could pray for the empire.

Origen also wrote commentaries to many scriptures such as the Gospels of John and Matthew. He interpreted these on the three levels of the physical, psychological, and spiritual, already described as the three parts of humans. Origen also wrote an Exhortation to Martyrdom, encouraging Christians not to be tempted by compromises, and On Prayer to counter determinists who believed that prayer had no effect. Origen wrote that there is peace when no one lives in discord, when no one quarrels, and when there is no hostility or cruelty. He felt that the Earth is so infested with war that peace could be achieved only by God’s grace and that this would amaze even the angels.

Lactantius and Martin

The faith of the martyrs influenced many conversions, and the loving fellowship was attractive to many. As the religion became stronger, it rivaled the authority of the Roman state. Many Christians had to choose whether or not to serve in the Roman army and obey the Roman cults which deified the Emperor.

An example of the Christian-Roman conflict over military service was the case of Maximilian, a twenty-year-old Numidian, who was called to be enrolled as a soldier in 295 CE. He declared that he was a Christian and could not fight. The proconsul Dion tried to mark him, but he refused. Dion gave him the choice of bearing arms, or he would be killed. Maximilian asserted that he was not a soldier of this world, but a soldier of God. Dion asked him who persuaded him, and he said that it was his own mind and the one who called him. Dion tried to get his father to convince him, but the father said his son knew what was best for him. Maximilian continued to refuse to bear arms. Even when he was told that other Christians are soldiers and fight, he replied that others may know what is best for them; but as a Christian it was unlawful for him to do evil. Believing that he was going to Christ, Maximilian was beheaded. Three years later the centurion Marcellus threw away his arms and refused to obey anyone but Jesus Christ; he was beheaded too.

Arnobius taught rhetoric in Sicca on the Nubian border southwest of Carthage. He converted to Christianity as an adult and wrote Adversus Gentes (Against the Gentiles) about 303. The first two books defend Christianity, and the next five attack Roman religion. Arnobius argued that wars are diminishing because of Christ’s teaching not to requite evil with evil but even shed our own blood rather than stain our hands and conscience. Savage ferocity is being softened, as some have begun to withhold hostile hands from fellow creatures. If all people capable of reason would listen to these peaceful rules, the whole world may turn the use of steel into peaceful occupations, uniting in harmony and respecting the sanctity of treaties.

Lactantius was born about the middle of the third century. He studied in the school of Arnobius at Sicca. He surpassed his teacher as a master of rhetoric and was invited to teach at Nicomedia by Emperor Diocletian. Since most people there spoke Greek while he taught Latin, Lactantius had few students and suffered poverty. He converted to Christianity during the persecution in 303. He was considered an old man about 317 when he settled in Gaul and tutored Crispus, the oldest son of Constantine. Lactantius died about ten years later, and the Emperor executed Crispus in 326.

The principal work of Lactantius, Divine Institutes, was designed to complete the Latin writings of Tertullian, Minucius Felix, and Cyprian. The work is dedicated to Constantine, whom he praised as the first Roman prince to repudiate errors and acknowledge the one true God, restoring justice and expiating the shameful deeds of others. Lactantius aimed to direct the learned to true wisdom and the unlearned to true religion. Lactantius began by asserting it is better to investigate and know human and divine things than to be occupied in heaping up riches. Some have given up property and pleasures in order to follow the simple truth without impediments, believing that truth offers the greatest good. Lactantius believed that truth is the secret of the highest God, creator of all, and that it cannot be attained by our own ability and perceptions. Otherwise there would be no difference between God and humans.

Lactantius admitted that bitterness is mingled with the virtues and that pleasures season the vices, causing some to be seduced by evils; but these errors can be encountered by religion. Philosophy is more valuable than rhetoric, because philosophers teach right living, which is useful to all, while speaking well is needed only by a few. Lactantius found the cause of perverseness in ignorance of oneself. He believed religion needs wisdom, and wisdom cannot be approved without religion. He observed the providence of God in the beauty and design of the universe. There must be only one God, because otherwise other gods would be lesser. He criticized the licentious behavior of the Roman and barbarian gods, and he saw the heavenly bodies, like the sun and moon, as the work of the divine creator rather than as gods.

The second book of the Divine Institutes is on the origin of error. Lactantius noticed that many people never remember God until they are in trouble. He observed that from prosperity arises luxury and other vices that lead to impiety. In the third book he criticized various philosophers. Moral philosophy is the most important, because these errors really affect one’s life. Yet daily experiments can teach us what is truer and better. Philosophers disagree on what is the chief good. Lactantius discounted the goals of pleasure, living according to nature, and worldly success as ends shared by other animals. Knowing and worshipping God is what elevates humans. Ultimate happiness is found in immortality, which is gained by religion in knowing God. He criticized Stoics for approving suicide. Lactantius believed God placed us in the body, and we should not withdraw from it except by God’s command. We must endure violence offered to us with equanimity, because the death of an innocent person cannot be unavenged; but taking vengeance is in the hands of the great Judge (God).

In the fourth book on true wisdom and religion Lactantius argued that the example of Jesus and the religion of the Catholic church are best. He derived the word “religion” from the Latin religare, meaning “to bind again.” It is the bond of piety, because God binds humans to Himself. Christian reunion of humans with God is through reconciliation. The original unity was separated by sin but has been restored again.

The fifth book discusses justice. Lactantius noted, “Most wicked murderers have invented impious laws against the pious.”6 He asked what should be done to those tyrants who inflicted tortures on the innocent and yet wish to appear just and prudent when they are clearly wrong. Yet the number of Christians has been increasing and has not been lessened by persecutions. Because they have not turned away from God, the truth has prevailed by its own power. Certainly these martyrs have demonstrated the virtue of courage. For Lactantius no one is poor in the sight of God except the unjust, and no one is rich, except those full of virtues. Greeks and Romans did not possess justice, because they had people differing by degrees from poor to rich and from humble to powerful. Without equity there is no real justice. Lactantius believed that riches do not make one illustrious unless they make one conspicuous by good works. The truly rich use their wealth for works of justice and charity; those who seem poor may be rich, because they desire nothing.

In humility the free and slaves are equal, also the rich and poor, because God’s sight distinguishes by virtue. The unjust and those ignorant of God may abound in riches, power, and honors, for these are the rewards of injustice; but they are not perpetual and are sought through lust and violence. The just and wise do not desire what belongs to another lest they should injure anyone and violate the laws of humanity. They do not even defend their own if it is taken by violence. To bear with injury inflicted is virtuous. Lactantius believed that God’s injunction not to kill means that no just person can go to war nor support any capital punishment. He believed that God allowed the persecutions so that the people of God could be increased. Many were driven from their false gods because they hated cruelty. They wanted to know what that good is which believers defended even to death, preferring it to everything pleasant and beloved in life so that neither loss of goods nor torture could deter them.

In the sixth book on true worship Lactantius pointed out that knowledge precedes virtue but must be united with it, because knowledge is of no avail unless it is followed by right action. Virtue restrains anger, desire, and lust in order to flee from vice, for almost all wrong and dishonest actions result from these emotions. Thus crimes and disgraceful actions can be eliminated if these emotions are calmed by virtue. Lactantius argued that it is not virtue to defend the good or be an enemy of the bad, because virtue is not subject to chance. He believed that the philosophers, though they may be naturally good, are not wise as long as they are ignorant of God, the Head of virtue and knowledge. For him the first duty of justice is to be united with God in religion, and the second, to be united with humans, is called mercy or kindness. Worshipers of God share this virtue in the common life. This brotherhood means never doing evil but always doing good. The God of Lactantius prescribes this good as aiding the oppressed and giving food to the destitute. A kind God wishes us to be a social animal, as all humans require mutual support. Thus hospitality is a principal virtue, and it is a great work of justice to protect and defend orphans and widows who need assistance. Why fear poverty when the philosophers praise it as a calm life.

Lactantius recommended examining your conscience and healing your wounds. God commands repentance, offers mercy and forgives sins. The fear of God can free one from all other fears. Lactantius questioned some traditional values. Frugality may arise from the love of possessing, and prodigality may give food to the needy out of pity. Money may lead to vice if it is spent on one’s own appetites, but it is a virtue to lay it out well. Those who give way to grief and anger in doing wrong do not fulfill the duty of virtue. Whoever tries to return an injury desires to imitate the very person by whom one had been injured. How can imitating a bad person be good? The wise do not try to remove their adversaries, which cannot be done without guilt and danger; but they wish to put an end to the conflict, which may be done with justice and mutual advantage. Thus patience is the very great virtue of the just person; for patience opposes all vices. For Lactantius the three passions that drive people to crime are anger, desire, and lust. Those who know Christ may repent and be forgiven. Repentance recognizes the wisdom of God’s justice. Those who do the will of God will be strengthened in their struggles with a heroic passion.

The seventh and last book of the Divine Institutes is on the happy life. Lactantius believed the chief good is the immortality that only God can grant, and virtue is rewarded not on Earth but by life eternal. Thus ultimately piety is confirmed. In his Epitome of the Divine Institutes Lactantius concluded by exhorting everyone to train themselves for justice, self-restraint, and virtue so that an adversary waging war may not be able with force, terror, or torture to drive them to senseless fictions; but they may uprightly acknowledge the one true God, cast away pleasures, hold to innocence, be of service to as many as possible, and with God as their judge gain incorruptible treasures by good works and with the merits of their virtue gain the crown of faith and the reward of immortality.

After Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity in 313, Christianity became established as the religion of the Roman empire, and the views of Christians on war and military service changed radically. Only the Donatists in North Africa remained pacifists in the face of “Christian” Roman militarism, and they were condemned for it by the Roman church at conferences in Rome in 313 and in Arles in 314.

Martin was born about 330 to pagan parents in Pannonia (Hungary). Since his father was a tribune in the army, by Roman law Martin was required to serve in the military also. At age ten against the wishes of his parents he became a Christian catechumen. Among the soldiers he lived like a monk. Once in winter he tore his only cloak in half to clothe a beggar that others with extra clothes had ignored, and in a dream he saw Jesus with that cloak he gave away. This stimulated Martin to be baptized. He remained a soldier for two more years until Emperor Julian was offering them a bonus. Martin refused to accept it, saying he could not fight anymore because he was Christ’s soldier. When Julian called him a coward, Martin volunteered to face the enemy unarmed with only the sign of the cross. He was arrested; but envoys made peace the next day, and Martin was soon released from the army.

Martin went to Poitiers bishop Hilary and was made a deacon. In the Alps, Martin got lost and was set upon by brigands; but his faith in danger converted one of the robbers. When Hilary was banished in 355, Martin became a hermit at Milan, where he was persecuted and driven out by Bishop Auxentius. Martin went to Rome to greet the returning Hilary. Martin was said to have revived from death a catechumen, who said that while he was out of his body, two angels told the Judge that Martin was praying for him; then the two angels brought him back. In 360 Hilary provided land at Ligugé, where Martin established the first monastery in Gaul. About 371 the reluctant Martin was elected bishop at Tours. When a pagan of consular rank named Tetradius promised to become a Christian if Martin expelled the demon from his serf, Martin healed the boy. As bishop, Martin continued to live like a monk and even moved away from the city.

Martin tore down pagan temples and preached as a missionary as far away as Vienne. He was credited with curing the eyes of Paulinus of Nola. During a synod at Bordeaux in 384 Martin appealed to Emperor Maximus on behalf of the Gnostic and Manichaean Priscillian and his followers; but Ossanova bishop Itacius urged they be put to death. Although Maximus promised Martin not to spill their blood, his prefect Evodius had Priscillian and others beheaded. Martin continued to intervene in order to prevent a bloody persecution of Spanish Priscillianists. Martin would not join in communion with the bishops who were persecuting the heretics to death, and for a while this conflict seemed to diminish his spiritual powers. Martin died in 397, and his funeral was attended by two thousand monks. He was one of the first non-martyrs to be canonized, and he became the patron saint of France.

In ancient Rome the priests had to approve of a war, and under the republic it had to be passed by the Senate. During the Roman empire the Emperor had the authority to order war though it was supposed to be for defensive purposes. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Christianized imperial Rome’s theory of the “just war” by adding that Christians should conduct war with the moral intention to punish their enemies. This convoluted logic was intended to justify that such violence still fell under the injunction to love one’s enemies. Thus for practical purposes the issue of just war moved to conducting it in a just manner by avoiding injury to non-combatants and plunder. The old Roman conditions of having a right intention and declaring it by the proper authority still applied.

By Sanderson Beck


1. Matthew 5:38-42 tr. Sanderson Beck.
2. Psalm 82:6.
3. The First Apology of Justin 2 tr. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, p. 163.
4. Tertullian, Apology 25 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Volume 3, p. 40.
5. Tertullian, “The Chaplet, or De Corona” 11 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, p. 99.
6. Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5:11 tr. William Fletcher in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Volume 7, p. 147.

This article is borrowed from Sanderson Beck.

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