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The First General Persecution An

On account of various principles of the Roman law, Christians were always
liable to severe penalties, and parts of the Church occasionally suffered
fearfully. But it was only in exceptional cases and sporadically that the
laws were enforced. There was, accordingly, no prolonged and systematic
effort made to put down Christianity everywhere until the reign of Decius
(249-251). The renewed interest in heathen religions and the revived
patriotism in some circles occasioned in 248 by the celebration of the
thousandth anniversary of the founding of Rome may have contributed to a
renewal of hostilities against the Church. Decius undertook the military
defence of the frontier. His colleague, Valerian, had charge of the
internal affairs of the Empire and was the author of the measures against
the Christians. Because the Church included many who had embraced the
faith in the long period when the Church rarely felt the severity of the
laws, many were unable to endure the persecution, and so apostatized or
"fell." The persecution continued only for a short time in full intensity,
but it was not abandoned for a number of years. It became violent once
more when Valerian became Emperor (253-260). One result of the
persecutions was the rise of serious disputes, and even schisms, from
differences regarding the administration of discipline by the bishops. In
the case of the Novatians at Rome, a dissenting Church which spread
rapidly over the Empire came into existence and lasted for more than two

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