For some time after its establishment, the Christian Church enjoyed the religious privileges of the Jewish nation, but from the nature of the case it is apparent that the chiefs of the Jewish religion would not long permit without protest this state of things.For they abhorred Christ's religion as much as they abhorred its Founder.In his first public discourse the chief of the Apostles speaks of himself and his companions as "witnesses" who saw the risen Christ and subsequently, after the miraculous escape of the Apostles from prison, when brought a second time before the tribunal, Peter again alludes to the twelve as witnesses to Christ, as the Prince and Saviour of Israel, Who rose from the dead; and added that in giving their public testimony to the facts, of which they were certain, they must obey God rather than man ( Acts sqq. But even in these first examples of the use of the word martus in Christian terminology a new shade of meaning is already noticeable, in addition to the accepted signification of the term.The disciples of Christ were no ordinary witnesses such as those who gave testimony in a court of justice.
It is true indeed, that the delator was an unpopular person in the Roman Empire, and, besides, in accusing a Christian he ran the risk of incurring severe punishment if unable to make good his charge against his intended victim.Their only crime was that they were Christians, adherents of an illegal religion.Under this regime of proscription the Church existed from the year 112 to the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211).Heretics and schismatics put to death as Christians were denied the title of martyrs ( St. Lactantius, on the other hand, has only mild censure for a Christian of Nicomedia who suffered martyrdom for tearing down the edict of persecution (Do mort. If they (the lapsi ) truly and with constancy repent of what they have done, and the fervour of their faith prevails, he who cannot be delayed may be crowned " (Ep. Acceptance of the national religion in antiquity was an obligation incumbent on all citizens; failure to worship the gods of the State was equivalent to treason.This universally accepted principle is responsible for the various persecutions suffered by Christians before the reign of Constantine; Christians denied the existence of and therefore refused to worship the gods of the state pantheon. It is true, indeed, that the Jews also rejected the gods of Rome, and yet escaped persecution.