was being added that of outspoken opposition to 'the Roman gods' and to the Roman state. At the turn of the third century, the Christians were being perceived as prime internal enemies of the empire and of the values for which it stood.
Other factors, however, were turning in the new religion's favour. In the first half of the third century, Christianity could no longer be identified with 'the lower orders fomenting discontent'. Origen replying to Celsus c.248 describes how an increasing number of educated individuals were becoming Christians: 'When on account of the multitude of people coming to the faith even rich men and persons in positions of honour, and ladies of high refinement and birth, favourably regard adherents of the faith, one might venture to say that some become leaders of the Christian teaching for the sake of a little prestige.'55 This was happening alike in east and west, Alexandria as well as North Africa.
This change in social composition was accompanied by greater self-confidence. In the west, Tertullian's Apologeticus and other writings speak for themselves. Fiunt non nascuntur Christiani ('Christians are made, not born')56 was probably the truth. In Alexandria, Clement's Protrepticus (c.190) is the first open attempt to convert educated Greek-speaking citizens to Christianity. Defence of the faith was no longer based solely on scriptural proof-texts showing that Jesus was Messiah, but on demonstrations that Christianity was the true philosophy. This was a significant change in Christian apologetics from the second to the third century, corresponding largely to a change in the composition of the membership of the church.57
A time of quasi-toleration lasted from the final years of Septimius Severus to the death of Alexander Severus in March 235 at the hands of rebellious soldiers. It was a period of Christian advance. Tertullian, though writing some years earlier, boasts 'We are but yesterday, and we have filled everything you have -cities, tenements, forts, towns, exchanges, yes! and camps, tribes, palace, senate, forum.'58 This was gross exaggeration, but the house church at Dura Europos, and the first Roman catacombs, as well as the careers of Prosenes, an imperial chamberlain,59 and Julius Africanus, onetime officer in Septim-ius Severus' army and earliest known Christian chronographer and friend of Alexander Severus, bear witness to the growing strength and visibility of the church.60
58 Nat. 1.14, written c.197 ce; compare a similar statement written in 212 ce, Tert. Scap. 2.
59 On Prosenes, see McKechnie, 'Grave inscriptions'.
60 For Julius Africanus, see Euseb. HE 3.2 and 6.31; Simonetti, 'Julius Africanus'.
Was this article helpful?