If you’re a fan of the movie, Gladiator, you might remember the elderly emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The movie was, of course, historical fiction, but here’s a piece of real history — a letter thought to have been written to Marcus’ tutor, when Marcus was a young boy, circa A.D. 130. The letter was written to give an account of Christians, and is believed to have been written by a direct disciple of the apostles, perhaps one of Paul’s. Unfortunately, history records that Marcus was hostile toward Christians, especially toward the end of his reign. But as we read, the early Christians rejoiced as ‘men who receive life‘ in the midst of their persecution. The early church, in the first couple of centuries, had no thought of transforming this present world through earthly government — they only had a ‘theology of suffering’, yet their lifestyle and sacrifice changed the hearts of men over the whole known world.
For the distinction between Christians and other men, is neither in country nor language nor customs. For they do not dwell in cities in some place of their own, nor do they use any strange variety of dialect, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the intellect or thought of busy men, nor are they the advocates of any human doctrine as some men are. Yet while living in Greek and barbarian cities, according as each obtained his lot, and following the local customs, both in clothing and food and in the rest of life, they show forth the wonderful and confessedly strange character of the constitution of their own citizenship. They dwell in their own fatherlands, but as if sojourners in them; they share all things as citizens, and suffer all things as strangers. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is a foreign country. They marry as all men, they bear children, but they do not expose their offspring. They offer free hospitality, but guard their purity. Their lot is cast “in the flesh,” but they do not live “after the flesh.” They pass their time upon the earth, but they have their citizenship in heaven. They obey the appointed laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all men. They are unknown and they are condemned. They are put to death and they gain life. “They are poor and make many rich” they lack all things and have all things in abundance. They are dishonored, and are glorified in their dishonor, they are spoken evil of and are justified. “They are abused and give blessing,” they are insulted and render honor. When they do good they are buffeted as evil-doers, when they are buffeted they rejoice as men who receive life. They are warred upon by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, and those who hate them cannot state the cause of their enmity.
– Epistle to Diognetus, from Lake’s Apostolic Fathers in English