It happened today - July 17, 2016

Constantine's conversion, as imagined by Rubens. (Wikipedia) On July 17 of 180 we find the first mention of Christians in Scillium, near what was once Carthage and is now Tunis. Unsurprisingly, the mention is of their being killed for their faith.

It’s an important point to bear in mind as you contemplate the spread and triumph of Christianity. The modern mind tends to dismiss the concept of the Resurrection as superstitious, the product of credulity and blind faith in the feeble minds of our ancestors before we came along and invented intelligence in the glorious present. But even if you give that idea more credence than it deserves for those who accepted Christianity once it was dominant, even sometimes itself violently intolerant, it fails badly in the crucial early years.

Right after the death of Christ, the insistence that He was not really dead, that He had risen, that He was God incarnate and the crucifixion a stunningly unexpected metaphysical act of redemption cannot have been the product of credulity because it was clearly incredible and scorned. If it did not happen, if He was not seen by the disciples, then they must have been either insane or lying.

As mass insanity it is hard to explain. Especially as instead of being stamped out by harsh persecution it spread and ultimately converted the Roman Empire. Did everyone go nuts and, if so, why and how? But as deliberate lie it is even harder to explain. What would it be for?

Before Constantine, Christianity was not supported by governments or public opinion. Quite the reverse. It was persecuted both officially and socially. To be a Christian was not the route to prestige, wealth or power but to exclusion and very possibly a painful and degrading death. So why, in the early days, would anyone pretend to have seen the risen Christ or insist that His death on the cross was not the end of the whole business when the likely consequence would be a rock to the head or another crucifixion?

Ultimately the willingness to endure martyrdom did help establish the credibility of Christianity. But it wasn’t some smooth ploy by the actual martyrs, some cunning plan to advance a worldly agenda of any sort. They didn’t know that one day Popes would be in league with kings and emperors and even if they had, if they were not sincerely convinced of the truth of the faith, what possible use would it be to them as they died gruesomely long before that time? Including, indeed, eight of the first 13 popes who are believed to have been martyred, from Peter himself to six in a row between 125 and 189 A.D.

As the case of Scillium reminds us the fate of early Christians from St. Stephen on down, when recorded, was generally unpleasant, often brutal. So why do you think they did it?