Why did Ancient Rome put aside its belief in toleration and cruelly punish Christians? And might today’s similarly tolerant and legally enlightened societies do the same?

What Rome wanted from the Christians was submission. Roman law demanded of the Christians, an act of obeisance to Roman values, however small. Just burn some incense to the deified Emperor. That’s all you have to do.

Again, Christians, with their views about gender, sexual morality, and the sanctity of life do not go along with modern secular values values. But the secularists insist on submission.

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It’s like Mussolini said: Everything inside the state, nothing outside the state.

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The proposed parallel between, on the one hand, compliance with the Roman laws governing the practice of religion and, on the other, present-day intolerance of “politically incorrect” opinions doesn’t really hold, in my opinion. There was no such thing as the Thought Police in the Roman Empire. What got the Christians into trouble was their refusal to take part in the ceremonial public worship of the pagan gods and goddesses. Nobody cared about their attachment to an unRoman code of ethical values. For the Romans and the Greeks alike, religion had nothing to do with a person’s private life, still less with his conscience.

Edwin Hatch summed it up in a few lines, back in the nineteenth century, when he wrote that, for Christians, “religion is a personal bond between God and the individual soul. We cannot believe that there is any virtue in an act of worship in which the conscience has no place … [We are] overlooking the entirely different aspect under which religion presented itself to a Roman mind. It was a matter which lay, not between the soul and God, but between the individual and the state. Conscience had no place in it. Worship was an ancestral usage which the state sanctioned and enforced. It was one of the ordinary duties of life. The neglect of it, and still more the disavowal of it, was a crime. An emperor might pity the offender for his obstinacy, but he must necessarily either compel him to obey or punish him for disobedience.

Hatch, The Influence of Greek Thought and Usages Upon the Christian Church

https://archive.org/details/influenceofgreek00hatc/page/20

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Martyrdom is the seed of Christianity.

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Regarding the modern secular world, the other day I was thinking something which I agree with a priest:

Future martyrs won’t be primarily slain, they will be imprisioned and censored. Sadly, it won’t be a heroic and brief act like in Antiquity, but a long and concealed judicial process.

I think, in the end, God will work with that too; to transform it in a seed.

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Maybe I am being too pessimistic but I honestly believe I will be martyred here in the United States. I’m in my early 20s and I would not be surprised if I was murdered by the State by the time I am 50 because of my Catholic faith. I hope not, but that is my gut feeling.

Actually my dad told me about a story about Mussolini, where at one time was asked by his daughter during lunch if he could explain “Fascism” to her, to which he replied “Taci e Mangia” literally “Shut up and eat”
The Romans would leave alone their subjects as long as they aquiesced to bow to the Emperor and give “Latria” to him, in other words they had to recognize the “Divine” nature of the Emperor.
Could the Christians do this? In good faith they could not.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 No one is able to serve two masters. For either he will have hatred for the one, and love the other, or he will persevere with the one, and despise the other.
Peace!

Still, the Romans were familiar with Judaism and respected its antiquity. They were familiar with mystery cults and tolerated those which did not engage in riotous behavior. Why could they not accept Christianity as a mystery cult of Judaism and grant the Church the same toleration they gave the Jews? Surely, the Christians would have been glad to pay two denarii per year to the Imperial Treasury in order to be exempt from pagan rituals, and if the Emperor chose to give the money to the Temple of Jupiter, that is his sin, not the sin of those who pay taxes to the Emperor.

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