The Persecution of Heretics
One would expect from a religion that, at least ostensibly, preaches forgiveness and universal love, would, upon ascendency to temporal power, have brought forth universal peace and, at least, the believers would be able to live in harmony with one another. However, such was not the case.
The need to keep to the one true faith and to avoid deviant teachings led these Christians to disagree with one another as to who were the orthodoxes and who were the innovators or heretics. The warning of Jesus, "He who is not with me is against me", must have rung through the ears of believers as they refined their teachings and argued with each other over hair-splitting differences in their theologies.
Some Christians may try to claim that this tendency to argue over small differences could not have scriptural support. But it does. The saying of Jesus given below clearly emphasized the importance of knowing the exact faith:
Matthew 7:13-14 |
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Hence, upon gaining ascendency in the fourth century, Christianity broke into almost a hundred different sects or factions. (Augustine [354-430] during his lifetime estimated that there were eighty eight different Christian sects).  These, as we have seen, included: the Athanasians, who held that Jesus was of one substance (homoousion) with the Father; the Arians who did not accept Jesus' equality to the Father; the semi-Arians who held that Jesus was of "similar" substance (homooiusion) with the Father; the Nestorians who believed that Jesus had two distinct nature, one divine and one human; and the Donatists who objected to the appointment of a certain bishop to the see of Carthage. Anxious to spread what they believe to be the truth, the narrow path to heaven, they zealously persecuted one another. The passage below, taken from A History of European Morals (1877) by the historian William Lecky (1838-1903), captures the fanaticism of that era:
If we consider the actual history of the Church since Constantine, we shall find no justification for the popular theory that beneath its influence the narrow spirit of patriotism faded into a wide and cosmopolitan philanthropy. A real though somewhat languid feeling of universal brotherhood had already been created in the world by the universality of the Roman Empire. In the new faith the range of genuine sympathy was strictly limited by the creed. According to popular belief, all who differed from the teaching of the orthodox lived under the hatred of the Almighty and were destined after death for an eternity of anguish ... The eighty or ninety sects into which Christianity speedily divided, hated one another with the intensity that extorted the wonder of Julian and the ridicule of the pagans in Alexandria, and the fierce riots and persecution that hatred produced appeared in every page of ecclesiastical history ... The Donatists, having separated from the orthodox simply on the question of the validity of the consecration of a certain bishop, declared that all who adopted the orthodox view must be damned, refused to perform their rites in orthodox churches which they had seized till they had burnt the altar and scraped the wood, beat multitudes to death with clubs, blinded others by anointing their eyes with lime, filled Africa, during nearly two centuries, with war and desolation, and contributed largely to its final ruin. The childish almost unintelligible quarrels between the Homoiousians and the Homoousians ... filled the world with riot and hatred. The Catholics tell ... how three thousand people perished in the riots that convulsed Constantinople when the Arian bishop Macedonius superseded the Athanasian Paul ... In Ephesus, during the contest between St. Cyril and the Nestorians, the cathedral itself was the theater of a fierce and bloody conflict ... Later, when the monophysite controversy was at its height, the palace of the emperor at Constantinople was blockaded, the churches were besieged, and the streets commanded by furious bands of contending monks. 
The above passage showed that the early Christians were far from the ostensible ideal of Christianity: love, forgiveness and charity. They persecuted pagans and other Christians alike. Jesus was undoubtedly correct when he said:
Matthew 10:34 |
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."
It was a sword that slaughtered pagans and Christians. Truly it was not peace that the new religion brought, but hatred and intolerance.
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|1.||Knight, Honest to Man: p65|
|2.||quoted in Ibid: p66-67|
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