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I know that Christians were persecuted during Marcus Aurelius's lifetime. I believe he mentions them only once in his Meditations, in which he scorns them. But that's really all I know about the subject. Do we know anything more about his view of or his interactions with Christianity? What were his words and his deeds on the matter? And what actions by Christians (or even by his mentors) may have colored his view of Christianity?

Preliminary research

From the introduction of my copy of Meditations, I know a few basic things.

  • He only mentions them once in his meditations, and in so doing, scorns them.
  • Christians were persecuted during his lifetime.
  • Saint Justin (who wrote an apology for Christianity) was martyred during his lifetime.
  • The prefect (Junius Rusticus) who tried Justin Martyr was a mentor to Aurelius.
  • Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. – sempaiscuba Nov 26 '17 at 0:10
  • @sempaiscuba Sure, I added some preliminary research. – ktm5124 Nov 26 '17 at 10:56
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It seems there may be one interesting encounter which is recorded regarding Marcus Aurelius and the Christian population at the time. Marcus gives some credit to prayer by Christians within his forces to an event during his campaign in the north (here from Apology):

For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy's territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering(3) hail.

and this apparently caused a declaration before the Senate :

Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves. And I counsel that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But if any one be found laying to the charge of a Christian that he is a Christian, I desire that it be made manifest that he who is accused as a Christian, and acknowledges that he is one, is accused of nothing else than only this, that he is a Christian; but that he who arraigns him be burned alive. And I further desire, that he who is entrusted with the government of the province shall not compel the Christian, who confesses and certifies such a matter, to retract; neither shall he commit him. And I desire that these things be confirmed by a decree of the Senate. And I command this my edict to be published in the Forum of Trajan, in order that it may be read.

So, it appears that he experienced what he interpreted as a miraculous intervention, enough that he forbade punishment of Christians merely for their faith. Please note the author of the above document is not Marcus Aurelius himself, but the individual mentioned in the question, Justin Martyr, so this writing is obviously 'biased' from a Christian viewpoint.


The view expressed in Apology, does not seem to be held by some later historians however. Gibbon, in his HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, discusses this in Chapter XVI: Conduct Towards The Christians, From Nero To Constantine.—Part V:

The edict of Marcus Antoninus is supposed to have been the effect of his devotion and gratitude for the miraculous deliverance which he had obtained in the Marcomannic war. The distress of the legions, the seasonable tempest of rain and hail, of thunder and of lightning, and the dismay and defeat of the barbarians, have been celebrated by the eloquence of several Pagan writers. If there were any Christians in that army, it was natural that they should ascribe some merit to the fervent prayers, which, in the moment of danger, they had offered up for their own and the public safety. But we are still assured by monuments of brass and marble, by the Imperial medals, and by the Antonine column, that neither the prince nor the people entertained any sense of this signal obligation, since they unanimously attribute their deliverance to the providence of Jupiter, and to the interposition of Mercury.During the whole course of his reign, Marcus despised the Christians as a philosopher, and punished them as a sovereign.

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    This is not an authentic text by Marcus Aurelius, but a fictitious narrative by the Christian author Justin Martyr. – fdb Nov 26 '17 at 19:13

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