How do you respond to a person who says the early martyrdom of Christians in the Roman Empire is largely made up and exaggerated? According to this person, Christian persecution only happened sporadically, and it was never widespread.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the vast majority of historical information indicates that persecution was commonplace and widespread, the burden of proof is on them.
They cited Wikipedia, which stated that the persecution was small and not widespread.
And what does Wikipedia cite in turn?
Why would anyone claim this, unless they’re very anti-Catholic/Christian?
Well, one of them is a Roman Pagan, for starters.
This person is correct. It is incorrect to maintain that Christianity was universally persecuted until Constantine. There were periods of persecutions, and there were periods in which Christians wee free to preach (and gather converts) in public.
No one is denying that. But he’s claiming widespread martyrdom did not exist at any point in history, and that Christians were welcomed in with open arms.
Has this person heard the news lately? There is persecution and martyrdom taking place horrifically today.
Throughout history there have been periods of persecution of nearly any group one can think of, and times of prosperity for them.
In different places and in different times.
Some people deny the holocaust as well.
It is hard to accept man’s inhumanity towards man.
Errr, yeah, it only happened sporadically. No one denies that. Hence all the histories say that this or that emperor renewed the persecutions when he came to power.
“Sporadic” and “widespread” aren’t opposites. There were persecutions, and they were numerous, decentralized, and disorganized. No one anywhere argues that there was a single, serious, sustained, continuous persecution lasting several centuries. By and large the Church survived precisely because the Romans handled the persecutions incompetently and inconsistently.
So, no, martyrdoms were not “widespread.” But again, no one claims they were. They still happened, and persecution generally still happened for lots of people by means short of martyrdom.
The view you describe has been bolstered recently by the work of this Catholic scholar from Notre Dame:
She says most of the claims of persecution are just made up.