Problem Christians

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus from 111 to 113, had a problem.

Growing numbers of Christians were unsettling the pagan establishment.  He wrote to the emperor Trajan:  "I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians;  those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment;  those who persisted I ordered executed.  For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished." 

He deemed them superstitious because "they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god."  Superstition was not a crime, as it was rife in the Empire, but these Christians refused to worship the gods of the land and would rather die than worship the Emperor himself.  Trajan replied that the "spirit of our age" required that the governor should persecute only those who refused to cease being Christians.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared on a radio program in Albany that those who refuse to go along with state legislation on such matters as abortion and the redefinition of marriage, have "no place in the State of New York."  He did not threaten to throw Christians to wild beasts, but the tone of the governor of the Empire State was decidedly imperious. 

Attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but more probably the words of Joseph de Maistre, is the warning:  "In a democracy, people get the government they deserve."  Catholics fragile in spirit who symbolically offered incense to Caesar by voting for such present leaders, were either ignorant (and ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be cured) or selfish in placing material considerations above moral standards.  But they certainly have got the government they deserve.

According to tradition, when Trajan was en route to Armenia, he stopped in Antioch where the bishop Ignatius was brought before him.  The emperor was perplexed that such a gentle man would not water down his faith in order to cooperate with the state.  Before arriving in Rome where he was tossed to the lions, Ignatius wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:  "Do not err, my brethren.  Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified!  Such a one becoming defiled {in this way}, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall every one that hearkens unto him."

St. Ignatius was second in succession to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch.  He was a student of Christ's most beloved apostle John.  So what Ignatius wrote pulses with the authority Christ gave to Peter and the heart John could hear beating at the Last Supper.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler. "Problem Christians."  From the Pastor (January 26, 2014).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

THE AUTHOR

Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford.  He is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. 

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2014 Father George W. Rutler




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