Marcus Aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius once wrote "What is your vocation? To be a good person." but then he was given the power of the Emperor and ended by saying, "For 25 years, I have conquered, spilt blood, expanded the empire. Since I became Caesar, I have known four years without war, four years of peace in twenty. And for what? I brought the sword. Nothing more." His Meditations were full of wise sayings of the stoics but he delivered destruction and death to thousands of people. The greatest disservice to a man is to give him the power to rule.

Marcus the Man

Marcus Aurelius (born at Rome 121 AD) was forty when he succeeded Antoninus. He ruled with his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, until his death in 169. And then shared the throne with his son, Commodus, from 177 AD. He was the last of what was known as the Five Good Emperors. He has been called "The Philosopher" and was a practitioner of Stoicism.

"No man has ever carried further than Marcus Aurelius the desire of moral perfection, and he accounted, like other Stoics, the service of humanity indispensable to the attainment of such perfection. The idea which runs through all his Meditations—a collection of thoughts jotted down in the leisure moments of a busy life...His view of life is austere and even sad. “The things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling”. But he cultivated a cheerful temper. His teacher Maximus, he tells us, had taught him cheerfulness in all circumstances as well as in illness. The precepts on which he is always dwelling are to love all men as brothers, to forgive injuries, and to sacrifice even thing to duty. Few men have more nearly approached in practice their own ideal." THE PRINCIPATE OF MARCUS AURELIUS  (161-180 AD), Sect. I., Marcus and Verus. The two Augusti. History of the Roman Empire 27 BC to 180 AD By J.B. Bury (1861 - 1927).

Marcus Aurelius once wrote "What is your vocation? To be a good person." but then he was given the power of the Emperor and ended by saying, "For 25 years, I have conquered, spilt blood, expanded the empire. Since I became Caesar, I have known four years without war, four years of peace in twenty. And for what? I brought the sword. Nothing more." His Meditations were full of wise sayings of the stoics but he delivered destruction and death to thousands of people. The greatest disservice to a man is to give him the power to rule.

Marcus Aurelius' own Meditations offer a personal view of what he claimed was his inner life. Yet, he used his position of power over the Pax Romana to conquer the Parthian Empire in the East kiling thousands. As the Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus directed his general Avidius Cassius to sack the Parthian capital Ctesiphon in 164 AD but later killed him as competition to his power. He also fought the German Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with vigor during the Marcomannic Wars but most significant is that he went out of his way to allow if not increase the persecution of early Christians during his reign.


The Fourth Persecution

The Fourth Christian Persecution was under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162.

Marcus Aurelius' contempt for Christians manifested cruelties and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were put to death. They were often delivered to the wild beasts on account of their faith in private religion. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was carried before the proconsul. Others offered to pay the charge but the proconsul urged him, saying, "Swear, and I will release thee...."

Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" and was burned and stabbed.

Metrodorus, a minister, and Pionius, an apologist for the Christian faith, were likewise burnt. Carpus and Papilus, and Agatonica, a woman, were killed at Pergamopolis, in Asia. Felicitatis, a Roman lady of a ranking and wealthy family had seven sons. The eldest, Januarius was scourged, and crushed to death with weights; Felix and Philip, the had their brains dashed out with clubs; Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice; and the three younger sons, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial, were beheaded. The Felicitatis was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter. Their property was confiscated.

Justin the Martyr wrote his first apology to Antonio Pious which caused the emperor to publish an edict in favor of the Christians. But the second apology of Justin gave Crescens an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor against the writer. Justin, and six of his companions, including Concordus, a deacon of the city of Spolito, were commanded to sacrifice to the Imperial Cult of Rome. They refused and were scourged and then beheaded under the reign of Marcus Aurelius.


The principal of The persecution in Lyons were Vetius Agathus, Ponticus (both youths), Blandina[1], Biblias (food for the wild beasts), Sanctus (deacon of Vienna), Attalus (of Pergamus), and Pothinus (bishop of Lyons), who was ninety years of age. Countless others were tortured and murdered by those who adored Marcus Aurelius, the author of the Meditations.


Marcus Aurelius was a politician and needed the support of the Senate and the people and believed in concepts of power and control over the people. While he may have imagined himself a servant king the power of the office of Benefactor through taxation and tribute made him a ruler who exercised authority one over the other. Power corrupts and highminded philosophies[2] help us justify that corruption.

Marcus Aurelius once wrote "What is your vocation? To be a good person." but then he was given the power of the Emperor and ended by saying, "For 25 years, I have conquered, spilt blood, expanded the empire. Since I became Caesar, I have known four years without war, four years of peace in twenty. And for what? I brought the sword. Nothing more."


"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." —Letter to Bishop Creighton[3] by Lord Acton[4]


His Meditations were full of wise sayings of the stoics but he delivered destruction and death to thousands of people. The greatest disservice to a man is to give him the power to rule.

In his youth through adoption, he was close to Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian and the Christians is a publication that must excite curiosity about this emperor whose reign is widely considered to be one of peace, prosperity, and religious tolerance.

Hadrian like Trajan had a policy toward the Christians that they should not be sought or hunted. But they continued to persecute them through prosecution for specific offenses. One of the common indictments was their consistent refusal to swear oaths. Hadrian laid down the regulation for the judges of the courts that accusers of Christians had to bear the burden of proof for their denunciations or be punished for calumnia.[5]

Quintus Licinius Silvanus Granianus, had enquired of Hadrian how to handle legal cases where some inhabitants were accusing their neighbors of being Christians through "informers or mere clamor". Gaius Minicius Fundanus was the recipient of that imperial edict from Hadrian about conducting trials of Christians which stated that merely being a Christian was not enough for action against them to be taken, they must also have committed some illegal act.[6]

  • "This order of Hadrian was attached by the Christian apologist Justin Martyr to the end of his First Apology, 155 AD. The Sanctuary of the Three Gauls had been established by Augustus in the late 1st century BC at Lugdunum (Lyons, France). The persecution in Lyons[7] started as an unofficial movement to ostracize Christians from public markets, but eventually Christians were arrested, tried in the forum, and subsequently imprisoned and even condemned to various punishments: fed to the beasts, torture, and the poor living conditions of imprisonment. Accusations of atheism [8], incest, and even cannibalism were used to justify the Christian conflict.


Christian historian Eusebius, posts a rather odd letter in his Ecclesiastical History, describing the events around Marcus Aurelius:

  • "The greatness of the tribulation in this region, and the fury of the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings of the blessed witnesses, we cannot recount accurately, nor indeed could they possibly be recorded. For with all his might the adversary [Satan] fell upon us, giving us a foretaste of his unbridled activity at his future coming. He endeavored in every manner to practice and exercise his servants against the servants of God, not only shutting us out from houses and baths and markets, but forbidding any of us to be seen in any place whatever. But the grace of God led the conflict against him, and delivered the weak, and set them as firm pillars, able through patience to endure all the wrath of the Evil One."
"And they joined battle with him, undergoing all kinds of shame and injury; and regarding their great sufferings as little, they hastened to Christ, manifesting truly that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us afterward.’ Romans 8:18 7. First of all, they endured nobly the injuries heaped upon them by the populace; clamors and blows and draggings and robberies and stonings and imprisonments, and all things which an infuriated mob delight in inflicting on enemies and adversaries. Then, being taken to the forum by the chiliarch [garrison commander?] and the authorities of the city, they were examined in the presence of the whole multitude, and having confessed, they were imprisoned until the arrival of the governor."

The imperial Cult of Rome was funded by tribute in the form of a patrimonial offerings of its Qurban, but his father needed to register the child's name and the date of its birth to be eligible for those privileges which came from the Parens Patriae, The Father of the Country.

Rome had birth registration for centuries to determine the eligibility of a subject citizen for property, inheritance, and benefits of the temples along with corresponding obligations of taxation and service.

  • "Birth registration... was first required under Marcus Aurelius, when it was ordained that the father must register the date of birth and the name of his child within thirty days, at Rome before the praefectus aerāriī[9], in the provinces before the tabulāriī pūblicī. In the case of the boy the registering of the name on the list of citizens may have occurred at the time he put on the toga virīlis." [10]

Marcus Aurelius as the first Emperor to make that birth registration with the Treasury Department mandatory within thirty days of the birth was imposing an obligation to submit your children the Patrimonial jurisdiction of the state.

Marcus Aurelius believed in the Patrimonial right of the State as the "Father" of the people which brought his politacal position in conflict with early Christians. This was inevitable because of the Public religion of Rome which became more and more supported through taxation since the days of Polybius who warned that such practices would alter the character of the Roman citizen. Marcus though benevolent in all other respects had the worst record of official persecution of Christians under his reign than any other Emperor and President of Rome.

The Christians could not do this in good conscience and were persecuted. Such registration would be an application to the Father of the Roman State and would be turning from Christ’s command concerning the 'Fathers of the earth'. The State would be “In Loco Parentis” which in the Latin, means “in the place of a parent” which is a turning away from the Natural Family instituted by God.

Christians could not make application or prayer to that earthly political Father, or benefactor, to obtain the "gifts, gratuities or benefits" of their civil altars. Those public altars compelled a contribution by its authority through force, an authority was established by the application of the people under oaths.

Neglect to register was an illegal act of omission and opened the door to local magistrates to accept the of people allowing Christians to be denounced, executed and their property confiscated.

Eventually the Christian Religion would be outlawed as a private system of Welfare. This difference between welfare based on faith, hope and charity and the Perfect law of liberty and the one based on compelled offerings by the Roman state was part of the doctrines of Jesus, the Gospel of the Kingdom and the bases of the Christian conflict.

Life and Death

Temple of Saturn was where Romans stored, among other things, their documents of birth registration. Almost all the temples provided some government service and were a part of the Imperial Cult of Rome.

The conflict between Christians and the people who persecuted them in the early days of the Church was mostly over their system of social welfare which was managed through their temples like Ephesus, Temple of Saturn and the Parthenon. The Christians depended on a Holy temple made of living stones which was a network of people living by the perfect law of liberty and faith, hope and charity. Those that had shared with those who had true needs.

Our modern ideas of religion differ from the meaning of the word in the days the Bible was written. Pure religion was a religion rooted in charity alone and not defiled by the force and abuses of the world.

Celsus, a Platonist, writing during the term of Marcus Aurelius, “opposed the ‘sectarian’ tendencies at work in the Christian movement because he saw in Christianity a ‘privatizing’ of religion, the transferal of religious values from the public sphere to a private association.” [11]

Celsus' writings no longer survive in tact, but we have access to some of his work when Origen quotes passages for the purpose of refuting what he claimed. The following is one of those quoted passages.

"Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god." Origen, Contra Celsum 1.28 Translation


The difference between public and private welfare is the difference between socialism and charity. The nation of Rome and those of the Pax Romana were all going socialist and made the power of the state their benefactors while Christians were living by love for one another in the "union and discipline" of companies of tens according to the commandments of Christ.

Roman Emperor Septimius Severus

This persecution which began under the Emperor Septimius Severus:

  • "Severus returned victorious from having vanquished the kings who had taken part with Nigar against him, he published his cruel edicts against the Christians in the year of Christ 202, the tenth of his reign. But the general laws of the empire against foreign religions, and the former edicts of several emperors against the Christians, were a sufficient warrant to many governors to draw the sword against them before that time; and we find that the persecution was very hot in Africa two years before, under the proconsul Saturninus..." [12]

The emperors maintained the loyalty by the sword and by the temples which supplied free bread and welfare for the people in a welfare state. A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization." Welfare state, Britannica Online Encyclopedia

The Church is one form of government that depends upon charity rather than force. As Christians, the six principal among them were Speratus, Marsalis, and Cittinus; and three women, Donata, Secunda, and Vestina, declined the proconsul's offer to them of the emperor’s pardon if they would worship the gods of the Romans, and sign up for their system of Qorban, social welfare. They knew that system of sacrifice made the word of God to none effect. Christians relied upon the Genius of God the Father working through the freewill offerings given in congregations of the Church by faith, hope, and charity.

Vigellius Saturninus, proconsul of Africa in 180 CE, addressed the seeming antisocial behavior of the twelve Scillitan Christian martyrs with the statement, “We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the Genius of our lord the emperor, and we apply for his benefits, as you also ought to do.” The true Christians like Speratus, one of the twelve, would not apply to that Emperor for their daily bread and social security or common welfare, but claimed Christ as “Lord, the King of kings” and ruler of all nations saying:

  • "I know not the genius of the emperor of this world; but I serve the God of heaven, whom no mortal man hath ever seen or can see. I never committed any crime punishable by the laws of the state. I pay the public duties for whatever I buy, acknowledging the emperor for my temporal lord; but I adore none but my God, who is the King of kings, and sovereign Lord over all the nations of the world. I have been guilty of no crime, and therefore cannot have incurred punishment."

Most modern Christians are not following in the way of Christ and his system of social welfare by charity alone but have been seeking the system that early Christians died to avoid. The result is that modern society has become fit subjects for tyrants and despots. They have not only weakened the poor but themselves.

Christians should turn around, Repent, and begin to seek the ways of Christ and the prophets by forming charitable systems based not on force but on the love of Christ.

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Quotes of Marcus Aurelius

  • "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
  • "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love."
  • "Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."
  • "You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."
  • "The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."
  • "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one."
  • "The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts."
  • "Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back."
  • "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."
  • "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
  • "Are you ready to do your duty for Rome?"
  • "For 25 years, I have conquered, spilt blood, expanded the empire. Since I became Caesar, I have known four years without war, four years of peace in twenty. And for what? I brought the sword. Nothing more."
  • "Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy."
  • "If a man is mistaken, instruct him kindly and show him his error. But if you are not able, blame yourself, or not even yourself."
  • "What is your art? To be good."
  • "No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good."
  • "What is your vocation? To be a good person."

No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.

Footnotes

  1. none of the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was remanded to prison. After several attempts and enduring all the torments was finally slain with the sword.
  2. 2 Peter 2:18 For when they speak great swelling [words] of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, [through much] wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
  3. Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887 published in Historical Essays and Studies, edited by J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907)
  4. John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO, DL —known as Sir John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Bt from 1837 to 1869 and usually referred to simply as Lord Acton—was an English Catholic historian, politician, and writer
  5. Defamation, calumny, vilification, or traducement is the communication of a false statement that, depending on the law of the country, harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.
  6. Also that "slanderous attacks" against Christians were not to be tolerated and should be punished.
  7. The sole account is preserved by Eusebius.
  8. "The more the early Christians reflected on the life and message of their rabbi-messiah, and the more they tried to live the way of the gospel, the harder they collided with the state and its hopes and dreams, militaries and market. In fact, Christians in those first few hundred years were called atheists because they no longer believed in the Roman gospel; they no longer had any faith in the state as savior of the world." Jesus for President Pack: Politics for Ordinary Radicals; Shane Claiborne; Section III: When the Empire Got Baptized; p141.
  9. praefectus governor, prefect, overseer while aerārium n (genitive aerāriī) treasury in general but specifically, "The place in the Temple of Saturn at Rome, where the public treasure was kept...." praefectus aerāriī was the national treasurer.
  10. Chapter 4. S 97. Diēs Lūstricus. The Private Life of the Romans, by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932).
  11. Christians as the Romans Saw Them, by Robert Wilken page 125.
  12. The Lives of the Saints. Volume VII: July. 1866. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).