What do we really know about the early Christians?

The big media event for Christians next weekend will perhaps be the release of this film, directed by Andrew Hyatt, who happens to be a Catholic. The first view that the trailer linked above gives us seems highly accurate, based on ancient histories and the martyrological traditions that come down through us from the Church. According to these, the first centuries were fraught for Christians in the Roman Empire, because of the attractiveness of their religion especially to the poor and disadvantaged. This attractiveness was probably a result in no small part of the pervasive class system of the day, a strong feature in the life of S. Paul himself, who was a synagogue-trained Pharisee from Asia Minor, who ended up as a student of the rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem, an honour reserved to only the best students from the synagogues. This Pharisee could also claim the citizenship of Rome, as given by Acts, chapter 22. As a citizen of Rome, he entered the class system of the Empire and it was probably this, among other qualities, that allowed him to perform his mission so successfully.

But the ordinary Christian in the Roman Church at the time would have come from the lowest classes in that society and, as given by the film trailer, they were easily harassed, tortured and killed, women and children as well. When the author Tertullianus tells us that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church [link], it refers to the powerful inspiration such men, women and children produce in the hearts of the more lukewarm Christians such as we probably are. Even today, there are children who refuse to deny Christ, and suffer grievously for it. They have our admiration and our respect. And they ask us the perpetual question, Would you do the same if you were as I am?

So, how much do we really know about the early Christians, the early Catholics? Their spirit still lives in this 'progressive' world of ours.