A breathing space and rapid growth

In the first half of the third century after the brief outbreak under Septimius Severus the persecution of Christians almost entirely lapsed. It was sharply revived under Maximinus Thrax (reigned 235-238) but his rule was short. The time was one in which religions from the Orient were making rapid headway. Several of the Emperors were from the eastern part of the Empire and were not concerned to maintain the Roman tradition. They encouraged the existing trend towards syncretism and monotheism. One of them, Alexander Severus (ruled 222-235) is said to have had in his chapel statues of Orpheus, Abraham, Alexander the Great, several of the Roman Emperors, and Jesus. His mother asked Origen for instruction. Philip the Arabian (reigned 244-249) is sometimes named as the first Christian Emperor. He is reported to have shared in the pascal vigil and to have been assigned to the section which was prescribed for penitents for entrance to that service.

Certainly in the first half of the second century thousands were flocking into the churches. The Christian communities had long been growing, the uncertainties of the times were moving many to seek security in religion, especially in one which was giving rise to so inclusive and strong a fellowship as the Christian Church, and the weakening of existing patterns of society and the popularity of cults from the Orient which were esteemed as having the authority of hoary antiquity were easing the path to the Church.

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