ROMAN VIEWS OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS
A TYPICAL ROMAN MISCONCEPTION OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS: THE
STATEMENT OF M. F. OCTAVIUS
Many Romans misunderstood the beliefs and rituals of early Christians,
believing them to be anti-social, lustful, depraved, superstitious and even
cannibals. The Roman official Ocatvius’ view is typical of these anti-Christian
The charge of ritual cannibalism was probably based on confused
accounts of the Christian Eucharist.
"And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners
creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are
maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought
to be rooted out and destroyed. They know one another by secret marks and
insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another;
everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they
call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual
debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is
thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.
Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so
great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were
at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of
creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, a worthy and
appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the genitals
of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common
parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is
applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies
by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to
the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and
wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.
Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be
detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal,(1) that it may
deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites:
this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless
blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O
horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim
they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are
covenanted to mutual silence.
(1) Suggesting that the baby is covered with ground oats
to disguise it as a loaf of bread? This is a confused misinterpretation of the
Eucharist commemoration of the Last Supper.