In the year 161 Marcus Aurelius Antoninus ascended the Julian throne.
Under that strenuous and ethical rationalist, persecution [of the Christian church] began to
The self-consciousness of the Empire as regards Christians took,
through the mind and person of the Emperor, a more deliberate form.
What had been irritation, fury, riots of the blood, became a deliberate
moral and intellectual effort. [...]
The 'good' Emperors had come to regard Christianity as an evil, as all tolerant and noble non-Christian minds tend to do.
Partly, no doubt, the best Emperors
had the highest idea of their duty to the safety of the State. But also
they had the highest sense of moral balance and the least sense of the
necessity of Redemption.
The worse Emperors—Commodus, Heliogabalus—had a
more superstitious impulse which was certainly more in accord with the
asserted dogmas of the Gospel.
Gods, and the nature of the Gods, are
likely to be better understood by sinful than by stoical minds.
From The Descent of the Dove - a short history of the Holy Spirit in the church, by Charles Williams - 1939
NOTE: A profound observation.
The most moral of non-Christians, if they begin to understand Christianity and take it seriously, often come to regard Christianity as an evil.
I know this from my own past experience, but I think many lifelong and devout Christians are unaware of the fact.
As Charles Williams noted; the worst, the most systematic and thorough, persecution of Christians came from the best pagan Emperors.