Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and the instigator of the fourth persecution. Marcus Aurelius embraced the rigid system of the Stoics, which taught him to submit his body to his mind, his passions to his reason; to consider virtue as the only good, vice as the only evil, all things external as things indifferent. He despised the Christians as a philosopher, and punished them as a sovereign.

The hardships which the Christians had endured under the government of a virtuous prince immediately ceased on the accession of a tyrant (Commodus). The great Stoic chose as his successor his son Commodus who had no talent for anything except chariot racing and gladiatorial combats. He was assassinated in 193. Probably one of the wisest and most benevolent ruler of all time but persecutions under Marcus Aurelius extend throughout his reign. They were fierce and deliberate. Cruel torture broke out in all parts of the empire.

Cruelties were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight After suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths, scourged, pressed to death with weights, brains dashed out with clubs, beheaded. Blandina, on the day when she and the three other champions were first brought into the amphitheater, she was suspended on a piece of wood fixed in the ground, and exposed as food for the wild beasts; at which time by her earnest prayers encouraged others. But none of the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was remanded to prison. At length she was slain with the sword.

As a propitiation to the gods, Marcus Aurelius compelled criminals sentenced to death to slaughter each other in the amphitheater.. Christians who refuse to take part in such practices, appeared to Marcus as obstinate fanatics, dangerous to the public security. A wave of persecution struck the churches of Lyons and nearby Vienne in southern France in 177. Mobs accused the Christians of incest and cannibalism. Christians did not admit non-Christians to the Lord's supper and the charge of cannibalism arose from hearing that they ate someone’s flesh and blood. When the Christians, upon these occasions, received martyrdom they were ornamented, and crowned with garlands of flowers; for which they, in heaven, received eternal crowns of glory.

The great age of the Pax Romana ended with the death of Aurelius in 180. As Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs are seed." Marcus Aurelius heartily disliked Christians, possibly because he thought of them as undermining the structure of civilization which he was laboring to maintain against domestic and foreign threats. He was a rather severe persecutor. This persecution also spread to Gaul, and the blood of Christians reddened the water of the river Rhone. Commodus (180-92) carried out the policies of his father.
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