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To understand this reaction we must remember that, by this proposal, Christianity rejected the religious and social customs on which the ancient world was founded; it did not follow the mos maiorum, the veterum instituta, and by doing so it refused to acknowledge the sacred character of the civitas, seat of the gods who protected it, and rejected its worship, which was both a civil and religious function, exercised by the magistrates in their capacity as priests. Chad Metro Map Besides disavowing the nomos a term designating the recognized principles, foundation of a venerable and glorious tradition, the Christians appeared also to be enemies of the logos, opposers of the paideia, in which so much of the wisdom handed down by the ancients resided, and followers of an uncritical and irrational faith. Hence arose the oldest accusations leveled against them, of being a race of people who followed a new and detestable superstitio, wicked and immoderate see, e.g., Tacitus, Annales XV, 44,4ff.; Pliny the Younger, Ep. X, 96,8, and who with a stupidity bordering on madness spread an unreasonable belief see Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11,3. To illustrate this deep and serious conflict, we need only compare works like Celsus’s True Discourse VAlhqh.j Lo,goj and Origen’s Contra Celsum.

Celsus’s work is lost, but Origen gives many citations from it. The danger constituted by the new religion provoked at least three types of reactions by the pagans: 1 the attempt to reabsorb those who were outside the patterns of a world rich in glory and tradition through dialogue, confrontation and persuasion; 2 the effort to marginalize the adversaries who opposed the status quo, through contempt, irony, sarcasm or accusations of all sorts; and 3 at times repression by the public authorities, to the extent of arrest, torture, trial and execution of Christians, at other times indulgence or compromise, as if to signal the ineffectiveness of the other methods. Hence the alternation of periods of persecution with periods of toleration and the intensification and radicalization of the persecutions at times when change loomed in the attitude toward the Christians of a culture shared by the general public: the first general edict especially attacking Christians goes back to the time of Decius 249. A passage in the Historia Augusta ascribing a similar provision to Septimius Severus in the early 3rd c. Spartianus, Sept. Sev. 17,1 is rejected by some critics.

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