Referring to the often-discussed 'synchronisms' between the history of the Roman empire and salvation history in Luke 1:5; 2:1; 3:1, and in deliberate conformity with the Roman propaganda and the general feeling, especially of the higher classes, another, younger Christian apologist, Melito of Sardis in Asia Minor, pens his apology (c.172).24 He depicts the time since Augustus (27 bcE-14 ce) as a period of brilliance and glory, explaining this by the fact that the Roman empire, enlarged and pacified under the 'magnificent government' of Augustus, and the Christian church are 'foster-sisters' (syntrophoi) born at (nearly) the same time and breast-fed by the same nurse. That means that the contemporaneity of Augustus and Jesus Christ is not at all fortuitous, but providential! As the unification and pacification of the Mediterranean world (pax Augusta) created, in concordance with the divine will, a favourable precondition for the Christian propaganda (pax Christi), so it is, in Melito's eyes, owing to the support Roman authorities granted to the Christians that the might of the Romans increased to great and splendid proportions. You25 are now his [Augustus'] desired successor, and such you will continue to be, together with your son,26 provided that you protect that philosophy27 which began with Augustus and was reared along with the empire. Your predecessors [sc. since Augustus and including him] have respected [this philosophy], in addition to the other religions . .. Among all [the emperors] only Nero and Domitian,28 seduced by some malevolent persons, made an exception and tried to bring our doctrine into discredit.29
Melito subsequently30 refers to a series of prior imperial interventions and encyclical letters regarding Christians, especially those of Hadrian (117-38 ce)31
the third century (see pt i, ch. 3, above). Athenagoras, another contemporary ofTatian and Theophilus, specifies the content of the Christian intercessions for the emperors and the common welfare. Lawfulness and worldwide extension of the Roman rule are, accordingly, his main concerns (Athenagoras, Leg. 37.2).
24 Fragmentarily preserved in Euseb. HE 4.26.4-11; because addressed solely to the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-80 ce), it appears to date from the short period of his autocracy (171/172 ce).
25 Cf.the previous note.
26 Commodus (reigning 180-92 ce).
27 Cf.Malingrey, Philosophia, esp. 185f,as to the reasons why early Christians could designate their own doctrine and austere lifestyle a 'philosophy' and self-confidently oppose it to the 'pagan'.
28 With the names of Nero (51-68 ce) and Domitian (81-96 ce) are usually associated -rightly or wrongly-the first persecutions of Christians in the Roman empire (see ch. 28, above). Both were regarded also by cultivated pagans as detestable, because they were enemies of the Roman senate.
31 Preserved by Eusebius (HE 4.9.1-3); cf.the commentary of Klein in Gyot and Klein, Das frühe Christentum, 325t
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