Arthur Middleton on the persecution of Christians

On 4 June we commemorate Justin Martyr (AD 155), and on this day we might well think prayerfully about those Christians who are being persecuted by Islamists because they are Christian, and murdered if they do not deny their faith. Christians in our own country are being persecuted and prosecuted when they will not reject their Christian convictions and accept politically correct ideology.

This was the attitude of the Roman government towards Christians in the early centuries. Pliny, who was Governor of Bithynia, about AD 114 found that Christians had increased so rapidly that the heathen temples were almost deserted, and the trade in animals for sacrifice was collapsing. When some persons were accused of being Christians, he ordered them to abandon their faith and on their refusal put them to death, unless they were Roman citizens, who were sent to Rome for trial. This sentence involved the confiscation of the property of these Christians, a part of which was paid as reward to the accuser: such informers made a profitable business supplying lists to the authorities.

A growing Church

We may infer that, soon after AD 100, Chris tians were fairly numerous, at any rate in the chief towns, and were increasing in the adjoining country districts. The Church increased because every Christian felt it his duty to spread the faith.

The correspondence of Pliny with the Emperor Trajan illustrates the following: the amazingly rapid spread of Christianity in a rather remote province, where the Church therefore cannot at this time have been more than fifty years old; the position of Christians, always liable to be denounced by anyone who had a grudge against them, and to be condemned merely for being Christians, without fair inquiry whether they deserved to be punished; and the usual honesty of Roman officials, perplexed by a movement which they were unable to understand.

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr found the Truth, for which he had long been searching, in conversa tion with a chance acquaintance at the seaside (he would not have said ‘chance’), others from talks while resting from a game of tennis, and watching boys playing ‘ducks and drakes’ by the sea. The ‘Apolo gies’, or speeches of

prisoners on trial, are chiefly concerned with defending themselves against the accusation of vile crimes and do not enter into mysteries of religion which the heathen judge would not understand.

But the Apology of Justin Martyr, who suffered for his Lord about 155, describes the Sunday worship in detailed outline. He mentions (1) the assembly on Sunday; (2) reading ‘the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets’ (Lessons, Epistle, Gospel); (3) sermon by ‘the president’; (4) prayers for all men; (5) the Kiss of Peace (derived from Rom. 16.16: I Cor. 16.16: I Pet. 5.14); (6) offering of bread and wine with water; (7) prayers and thanksgivings by ‘the president’; (8) àpartaking by everyone of the Eucharistic Elements’; (9) Communion carried by the Deacons to those who are absent;  and alms giving for widows and orphans, the sick and needy, prisoners and strangers on their journey.

This outline corresponds exactly to the order of the primitive Eucharistic Services or ‘Liturgies’ from their earliest appearance in complete form. The actual words of Eucharistic prayer are not yet fixed, but all the essential parts of the Service are already in existence, within the lifetime of some who must have known the last survivors of the Apostles. And belief is already being worked out in doctrinal statements: Justin says. ‘The food which is blessed by the prayer of the Word which proceeded from Him...is, we are taught, both the Flesh and the Blood of that Jesus Who was made flesh.’

Creed and Sacraments

So the Creed and the Catholic sacramental worship are already formed in substance. ‘The president offers up praise and glory to the Father of all, through the Name of His Son and of the Holy Ghost’, which is very near to the formal doctrine of the Holy Trinity and to the Doxology. ‘We worship and love, next to God, the Word who is from the Unbegotten and Ineffable God; for it was even for us that He was made Man, that He might be a partaker of our true sufferings and bring us healing.’ Once more, one of those who were martyred with Justin made this con fession of faith: ‘I am a Christian, having been creed by Christ, and by the grace of Christ I par - take of the same hope’. The faith is based on Holy Scripture, and is being expressed with in creasing richness. ND