24: THE CRUEL PHILOSOPHER

the world by wisdom knew not God

1st Corinthians 1:21

Marcus Aurelius, who reigned from 161-180 AD, was the philosopher on the throne. Regarded as one of the most energetic and intellectual of the Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius has given successive generations the benefit of his thinking through his “Meditations”. Some have compared him with the Apostle Paul not on account of his subject matter but because of his logical arguments and the strong moral tone that permeates his thinking. That was where the similarity begins and ends. Where one man presented Christ as the only answer for the needs of this world the other saw the future only in terms of a pagan philosophical stoicism; a blind acceptance of our lot in this world which will lead into death and the complete absorption into the divine essence , whatever that actually means.

Marcus Aurelius, in common with godless liberals of our generation, was regarded as kind, generous, educated and progressive, yet at the same time he also was most intolerant of Christianity, considering their beliefs that one should fear God and that the soul is immortal as being dangerous for the state. He paid little attention to the several Christian apologists who petitioned him arguing their cause. He failed to consider the rapid advance of Christianity across the Empire with a sizeable proportion of his army now following this faith.

During this time the Empire suffered an earthquake, the Tiber flooded, there were several revolts and a plague affected the population from Ethiopia to modern France. Superstitiously believing the gods were punishing them, the Romans embarked on a new programme of persecution against the Christians.

Making use of Trajan’s law which made Christianity a forbidden religion, the Empire sought to banish the faith from every land and sea. Of this troubled period the Christian apologist Melito wrote, “The race of the worshippers of God in Asia is now persecuted by new edicts as it never has been before…finding occasion in edicts, now plunder the innocent night and day”.

This land, through which his pilgrims go,
Is desolate and dry;
But streams of grace from him o’erflow
Their thirst to satisfy.

When troubles, like a burning sun,
Beat heavy on their head;
To this almighty Rock they run,
And find a pleasing shade.

John Newton

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