Their example was a motive for evangelizing
1. The testimony that the primitive Christians gave didn’t stay in their homes. Their faith led them to do serious acts of mercy. Illnesses, caused more pain and death than wars at that time, when a pandemic started the rich families, with their doctors, would flee to the countryside. The rest of the population would be left waiting for death to come to them, mass infections would follow, parents would abandon their sick children and children would leave their sick parents.
In his book Stark analyzes two of the biggest epidemics that ravaged the empire. The first one occurred in the year 165 and the second one in the 251. These two pandemics killed around one third of the population, meanwhile Christianity kept on growing.
2. The primitive Christians didn’t live these pandemics like the pagans did. They didn’t flee; they didn’t abandon their sick and suffering, with small hygiene measures they were able to take care of their sick and not get infected. They would even take care of their neighbours, who had been abandoned by their families. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria in the year 260, describes the firmness and heroic behaviour of his fellow Christians during the pandemic. Lots of them died, but they were accompanied by their families during their last hours on earth. This behaviour was noticed by some pagans who accused them of spreading the disease, but they demonstrated real patience and fortitude, even till the point of martyrdom.
3. The emperor Julian, enemy of Christians, wrote to a friend with anger and admiration. Those impious Galileans people not only help their sick, but they also help our sick, these have noticed the lack of help coming from the Empire, that was passing its day in the countryside. The testimony that Christians gave by care caring of each other and caring of their pagan neighbours, created a new style of life, which is well perceived, like it is now said, by the people. The pagan faith didn’t offer any counselling against the calamity; The testimony given by the Christians and their faith was a clear difference. Their offered sense, counsel and piety towards their own and their neighbours.
4. A pagan thinker wrote: “the stoics learnt to not fear death, with an austere and disciplined life; In Christianity the fearlessness towards death is a habit common among their children and young”. Lots of the survivors converted to Christianity, due to what the had experienced, but mainly due to the happiness, the serene joy. They were very grateful but what they really wanted to live was the serenity, happiness and the sense of community that Christians demonstrated. In those times of panic and desperation, the faith that Christians overpowered the one that pagans had. The decision that pagans had to take was quite simple, I want to be like these people.
5. The famous epistle to Diognetus, notes that Christians couldn’t be distinguished by the way that they dressed, language, nor by their customs as citizens.
” As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”
We have progressed a lot, thanks to God and the work through generations. But the attractiveness of Christians comes with their lives. They don’t get divorced, take care of their sick, worry for others, they have children with mental and physical deficiencies and these are accepted with cheerfulness. They fight for chastity in this putrid world. They forgive their enemies. The missionaries don’t leave their people behind even when their embassy is calling them or even demanding they come back to their original country. The story of the mission is incredible.
There are a lot of people who are alone, disoriented, irked in this developed but cruel world we live in now. The catholic with his faith has answers to the death, pain, illness and contradictions that occur in this world, but we have the reasons to keep smiling; in the Castle of Javier in Navarre there is a beautiful Christ that is forgiving and smiling while he is on the cross. Isn’t this too supernatural, yes, without a doubt, but people aren’t stupid, they can see that way of living, that peace. Like the pagans of the times of the primitive Church.
Christians, lets not be comfortable, apathetic, don’t close yourselves in a ghetto. They are calling for our announcement. Church on a mission, the pope Francis said, 24 hour Christians. God is also determined, also his mother, our mother.
Translated by: James Breeze
Con ideas de Rodney Stark, “La expansión del cristianismo”, y Scot Hann, “La nueva evangelización de los católicos”.