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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ I. External Condition.

HISTORY finds few events of note to record in the period which extends from the destruction of Jerusalem to the close of the first century. It is a time of internal development, during which the Church is gathering up all the teachings received during the apostolic age. Missions are carried on on a less imposing scale. The propagation of the faith is, however, far from being arrested, for we can prove the existence, at the commencement of the following century, of a large number of new Churches. Instead of losing ground in the countries where it had gained a footing, Christianity became firmly established. We see from the names of the Churches mentioned in the Revelation, that in Asia Minor, for example, the great cities where Paul had first preached the Gospel became centers of proselytism, from which the light spread into the neighboring towns. From Ephesus, Laodicea, and Colosse, the new faith cast forth its roots to Smyrna in Ionia—a commercial and wealthy city—to Philadelphia in Lydia, and in Mysia to Thyatira, and, lastly, to Pergamos, the ancient residence of the kings of Asia, once famous for its noble library. The same expansive movement—the truth spreading itself by contact—was doubtless carried on in Greece, Africa, and Italy.

Persecution from the close of the reign of Nero to the time of Domitian was not of a general character. It was local and intermittent, but it never entirely ceased. The most unimportant occasion was sufficient to make it burst out afresh in a province. It was continuous in Palestine, where Jewish fanaticism had been stimulated by the very chastisements designed to rebuke it. We have cited the decrees of excommunication, the effect of which was to break the last links between the Church and the Synagogue. But, even beyond Judæa, the Jewish faction pursued its adversaries with implacable hatred. At Smyrna, as at Philadelphia, it greatly troubled the Christians, and succeeded in casting some of them into prison. Rev. ii, 9, 10; iii, 9. In spite of this declared hostility on the part of the Jews, the Christians were still often the victims of the antipathy felt for their adversaries. Their cause was constantly confounded with that of the obstinate rebels, who would not bow under the yoke of Rome.600600Gieseler, "Kirchen-Geschichte," i, 135. The emperors were particularly vigilant over any movement proceeding from the Jews. They knew that revolt might at any moment burst forth afresh among them, like fire among hot, smouldering ruins. The imperial police was always on the watch to espy the slightest symptom of rebellion. This explains the strange uneasiness manifested by Domitian in relation to the grandchildren of Jude, the brother of the Lord. Hegesippus tells us that the Emperor, hearing that they were of the race of David, and so of the royal family of Judah, caused them to be brought before him. It appears from the narrative, that an attempt had been made to alarm the Emperor by connecting the Christian hope of the second coming of Christ with the intrigues of the Jews for the recovery of their independence. Domitian at once questioned the grandchildren of Jude as to the nature of the glorious kingdom for which they were looking.601601Ἐφοβεῖτο γὰρ τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," iii, 20. He was only reassured by learning how poor they were, and by seeing their horny hands, which proved that these supposed rivals of Caesar were nothing more than simple laborers.602602Εἶτα τὰς χεῖρας τὰς ἐαυτῶν ἐπιδεικνύναι μαρτύριον τῆς αὐτουργίας. Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," iii, 20; Routh, "Reliquiæ Sacræ," i, 213. This sensitive jealousy over his own imperial power led Domitian to revive the persecution of the Christians. The Church had acquired sufficient importance, especially at Rome, no longer to escape observation. It had found adherents in the highest ranks of society, and a kinsman of the Emperor—his own cousin, Flavius Clement—had embraced the Christian faith. Surrounded with spies and informers, suspicious and cruel like all tyrants, emulating Nero in crime, and surpassing him in hypocrisy, Domitian could scarcely fail to persecute a numerous sect, increasing every day, which refused the profane homage demanded by his insensate pride. It is well known that no emperor, not even Caligula, made more overt pretensions than he to be worshiped as God. He caused his statue to be placed in the most venerated sanctuaries, and whole hecatombs were sacrificed before his altars.603603Plinius, "Panegyr.," c. lii. He commenced his decrees with these words: "Our Lord and God has commanded that such and such a thing be done."604604"Dominus et Deus noster hoc fieri jubet." Suetonius, "Domitian," c. xiii. It was not lawful to speak of him in other terms. It was easy to bring before such a madman the charge of high treason against the worshipers of the true God. Great numbers of the Christians became victims;605605Πολλοὶ δὲ χριστιανων ἐμαρτύρησαν κατὰ Δομετιανόν. Eusebius, "Chron.," Lib. ii, 6-11; "Ad Olymp.," 218. and, among others, Flavius Clement. His wife, Flavia Domitelli, was sent into exile in the Isle of Pontia, where she died. "The husband and wife," says the abbreviators of Dio Cassius, "were sentenced as guilty of atheism." Many others came under the same condemnation through their attachment to Judaism, that is, to Christianity regarded as a Jewish sect. Some were put to death, others suffered the confiscation of their goods.606606Ἐπηνέχθη δὲ ἀμφοῖν ἔγκλημα ἀθεότητος. Xiphilini, "Epitome Dion. Cassius.," 67, 14. This persecution, of the details of which we have only vague information, must have been very bloody, for it was placed by the Christians of the next generation on a par with that of Nero.607607This we infer from the following passage from the Apologue of Melito of Sardis to Marcus Aurelius: "Μόνοι πάντων ἀναπεισθέντες ὑπο τινων βασκάνων ἀνθρώπων, τὸν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς ἔν διαβολῆ κατασσῆσαι λόγον ἠθὲλεσαν Νέρων καὶ Δομετιανός." Of the emperors, Nero and Domitian alone, urged on by the counsel of some malevolent men, have sought to calumniate our religion. Routh, "Reliq. Sacræ," i, 114. The more firmly Christianity became established, and the more widely it extended its conquests, the more declared became the enmity of the pagan world toward it.


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