It’s a big question whether Christianity on the whole should be seen as “tolerant”– that is, does it accept the validity of other faith traditions or not?   My sense is that some Christians do, many don’t, and most probably don’t think about it much.   It is a particularly interesting question to ask with respect to Christianity in the *ancient* world.

The reason is that when Christians were being persecuted in the second, third, and early fourth centuries, their leaders / writers pled for religious tolerance: everyone could have their own religion and no one should be persecuted for their religious choices.   But when Christianity became the religion of the emperors, Christian leaders / writers (some of them) changed their tune.  Not only did they argue that Christianity was the only right religion and that everyone should follow it; they urged that anyone who didn’t follow it should be persecuted.  Or even prosecuted.

Not every Christian or Christian leader/writer thought that, of course.  Probably (?) the vast majority did not.  But some did.  And some of those who did had real political power.  It became a problem.  Here’s how I trace the development of this significant point of view (with nasty real-life consequences) in my book Triumph of Christianity.




Christian Coercion

The Christian scholar Lactantius, one of our primary sources for the “great persecution” under Diocletian, was an early fourth-century proponent of freedom of religion.   Lactantius was …

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