In his Apologeticus — written almost certainly in Carthage around 197 AD — Tertullian writes about the persecution suffered by Christians throughout the Roman Empire:
If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves, who can suffer injury at our hands? In regard to this, recall your own experiences. How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws! How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand, and assails us with stones and flames! With the very frenzy of the Bacchanals, they do not even spare the Christian dead, but tear them, now sadly changed, no longer entire, from the rest of the tomb, from the asylum we might say of death, cutting them in pieces, rending them asunder. Yet, banded together as we are, ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, what single case of revenge for injury are you able to point to, though, if it were held right among us to repay evil by evil, a single night with a torch or two could achieve an ample vengeance? But away with the idea of a sect divine avenging itself by human fires, or shrinking from the sufferings in which it is tried. If we desired, indeed, to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret avengers, would there be any lacking in strength, whether of numbers or resources? The Moors, the Marcomanni, the Parthians themselves, or any single people, however great, inhabiting a distinct territory, and confined within its own boundaries, surpasses, forsooth, in numbers, one spread over all the world! We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you — cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum, — we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods…. Yet you choose to call us enemies of the human race, rather than of human error. Nay, who would deliver you from those secret foes, ever busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health? Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of those spirits of evil, which without reward or hire we exorcise? This alone would be revenge enough for us, that you were henceforth left free to the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact necessary to your well-being, you prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.
It’s clear from the context that Christians were charged with being “enemies of the human race,” but no, Tertullian says, we wish only to offer a better understanding of our relationship to (and our alienation from) God. There are a great many of us, Tertullian says, and though “we are but of yesterday,” we’re everywhere in your society — except of course in the temples of your gods, whom we do not and will not worship — so if we were to rise up in violence you’d have a big problem on your hands.
But we don’t rise up in violence. You persecute us, you torment us, you even kill us; and instead of answering violence with violence, we pray for you. We constantly intercede for you with God so that the demonic forces you (wittingly or unwittingly) invoke will not destroy you. The very strength you employ against us you possess because of our prayers for you. Sometimes it feels that all of you are our declared enemies; and if so, well, then, we must love all — for we are forbidden to hate our enemies and commanded to bless them. So be it.
And your persecution in any event will not work: as Tertullian famously says elsewhere in his treatise, semen est sanguis Christianorum — the blood of Christians is seed. From it new spiritual life emerges.
A great many American Christians these days want to “take back their country,” dominate their enemies, and then “enjoy the spoils of victory.” Tertullian shows us what the real spoils of victory look like. Who wants them?