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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Sympathy for the Devil

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

We Christians, right from the start, have thought we were the only game in town. Everyone else was either woefully misguided or willfully sinful but, either way, an enemy of Christ and destined for damnation.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 CE

The history of the church, like all history, is recorded from the point of view of its victors, which is us. With the conversion in the early 4th Century of the Roman Emperor Constantine (or that of his mother Helena who, in turn, influenced him) we won the day. His predecessors who persecuted the early Christians were now depicted as barbarians while the martyrs themselves were canonized as heroes of the faith.

But I read recently a view from the other side, from Marcus Aurelius, 2nd Century Roman Emperor, for whom the Christian martyrs were not symbols of spiritual triumph. A follower of Stoic thought, he was reflective, highly principled, reverent before the mysterious hand of the gods, and committed to a moral life guided by the "directing mind."

To Marcus Aurelius, the Christian martyrs showed the world, not faith-inspiring courage, but only a troubling witness of how not to die! The soul, he writes in his Meditations, when its time has come to leave the body, should go purposefully, with dignity, and, "unlike the Christians," without drama!

We're only the heroes of our own story. For others, not so much.

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