One of the chief characteristics of the ancient world, according to Edwyn Bevan, was fear—fear of life, but even more of death. To bring deliverance from that bondage, Christ came in the fullness of time with the universal Gospel. His teaching cut right across vested interests. To the Roman Empire, with its pagan rites, its protecting gods, and its emperor cult, Christianity was both a crime and an enigma. It demanded absolute and exclusive obedience, disregarded ties of blood and race and class, regarded all conflicting loyalties as human devices to lure men away from divine ends, and looked for the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God in great glory.

Yet, incred`ibly, it prospered. Christians spread to every Roman province, and by A.D. 110 Ignatius referred to bishops settled in the ends of the known world. By the end of the second century we hear of martyrdoms in various parts of Europe (Gaul, Lyons, Vienne), and of churches in Germany and elsewhere. Speaking only of Europe, Harnack estimates that at the outbreak of the Diocletian persecution in 303 the Christian population accounted for a considerable minority in Rome and Lower Italy, Spain, Greece and Southern Gaul; for a small and scattered minority in Northern Italy; and for a negligible number in Northern Gaul, Germany and Belgium. Diocletian saw Christianity as a threat, and persecuted it. Constantine, wiser in his generation, embraced it as a potential prop for his empire. Such official sanction proved to be no unmixed blessing.

With paganism absorbed rather than destroyed, Christianity was no longer criminal, but fashionable. Apostolic simplicity and missionary persuasion were replaced by official grandeur and compulsion. Heresy became a capital offense.

Now that ...

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