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Amazing Testimony of Early Christians

While doing my reading for my reading project in the church fathers, I came across this portion which I found really amazing. It is worth reading, as a testimony to the sort of witness and effect which the early Christians had.

The following is an official oration which was presented by a Roman general, before the Roman senate. This event occurred sometime around 150 A.D.

Epistle of Marcus Aurelius to the senate, in which he testifies that the Christians were the cause of his victory
The Emperor Cæsar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Germanicus, Parthicus, Sarmaticus, to the People of Rome, and to the sacred Senate greeting: I explained to you my grand design, and what advantages I gained on the confines of Germany, with much labour and suffering, in consequence of the circumstance that I was surrounded by the enemy; I myself being shut up in Carnuntum by seventy-four cohorts, nine miles off. And the enemy being at hand, the scouts pointed out to us, and our general Pompeianus showed us that there was close on us a mass of a mixed multitude of 977,000 men, which indeed we saw; and I was shut up by this vast host, having with me only a battalion composed of the first, tenth, double and marine legions. Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. And having made inquiry, I discovered a great number and vast host of them, and raged against them, which was by no means becoming; for afterwards I learned their power. Wherefore they began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. Therefore it is probable that those whom we suppose to be atheists, have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience. For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy’s territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognised the presence of God following on the prayer — a God unconquerable and indestructible. Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves. And I counsel that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But if any one be found laying to the charge of a Christian that he is a Christian, I desire that it be made manifest that he who is accused as a Christian, and acknowledges that he is one, is accused of nothing else than only this, that he is a Christian; but that he who arraigns him be burned alive. And I further desire, that he who is entrusted with the government of the province shall not compel the Christian, who confesses and certifies such a matter, to retract; neither shall he commit him. And I desire that these things be confirmed by a decree of the Senate. And I command this my edict to be published in the Forum of Trajan, in order that it may be read. The prefect Vitrasius Pollio will see that it be transmitted to all the provinces round about, and that no one who wishes to make use of or to possess it be hindered from obtaining a copy from the document I now publish.


    • That is a really good question, which is heavily debated. Proponents of just-war say, “They were in the army! What could they possibly be doing but killing people?!” Pacifists point out that this document specifically states that killing was “hateful to them,” and notes that the army served many non-killing roles, such as police-men and security forces. Also, there were many support roles available. Finally, many people were saved in the army, and did not necessarily defect immediately (since this would mean death), but did eventually. Oh, and then there were people in the army who were TOLD to leave by the church leaders, who may or may not have left.

      Doubtless, I will know more about this question when I go further in my research.

  1. Are you at all distinguishing between pacifism(meaning the government must obey the sermon on the mount) and nonresistance(Christians are to stay out of military)? Shane Claibourne is a flaming pacifist. Most conservative Mennonites are nonresistant.

    • I have not heard pacifism as defined in this way. Is this how most people define it? I think the Christian thing to say is “the state does not bear the sword in vain…I just can’t help the state in this regard, because I belong to another kingdom…”

      Yeah, I should look into shane. He might have some interesting words.

      (In all regards, I am exceedingly new to this discussion, so if I say something stupid, please let me know!)

  2. Read his book”Jesus for President”. I’d recommend keeping it out of the hands of young folk.
    Hey, we postponed our pilgrimage to RL till sometime in Oct. Sure hope we can meet up.

  3. Advanced thought: Jesus wouldn’t run for president. What a proposterous idea! I guess I’ll have to see what his angle is…

  4. (note: when they came to make Jesus “president” – king – he ran away…then, when they found Him He preached such a hard sermon that they all left confused. Either way, He made it quite plain that He had better things to do that run an earthly kingdom.)

    • I meant that Jesus would not be President because He is King,and is not about to accept”checks and balances”. I also believe that He will one day rule this earth.Big subject,I know.
      Don’t have Claibourne’s book.

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