One interesting tidbit I came across, was that the early Christians at times seemed almost enthusiastic to become martyrs. A Roman officer, Arrius Antoninus, was once recorded saying to a group of voluntary martyrs, "If you want to die, you wretches, you can use ropes or precipices." Certain early Christians were doing literally everything they could to "die for Christ". I think this has been true ever since Christianity's foundations. There is a HUGE appeal to becoming a martyr.
The only evidence against Marcus Aurelius, came from a Bishop Historian, Eusebius. He told of a massacre, which took place in Lyon, in 177AD. In great gory detail, Eusebius described laws enacted which Christians were prohibited from appearing in marketplaces, bath houses, forums, etc. Christians were also accused in incest, from calling each other "brother" and "sister", as well as cannibalism, for eating the "body" and "blood" of Christ. As a result, 48 Christians were convicted, tortured in very gory ways, and killed. A monument still stands in Lyons to mark their martyrdom.
BUT... there is some pretty strong evidence that no such thing ever happened. First, Eusebius record, which came 120 years after the incident, is the only record we have of it happening. Three years after the incident supposedly occurred, Father Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons at the time, wrote, "The Romans have given the world peace, and we [Christians] travel without fear along the roads and across the sea wherever we will." (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 30, Sentence 3). Delving in a little deeper, I learned of the term "Pious Fraud".
To quote Eusebius,
Eusebius' account of the mass martyrdom also included stories of certain Christian convicts escaping death by being levitated 100+ feet into the sky, or somehow surviving with the stomachs of lions. There are plenty of probable embellishments, that I can't help but feel his record is entirely false.“... It will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”
I also found a equally troubling from Martin Luther. At first, I was in shock that it could ever possibly have come from him. But after much research, I finally found the first hand reference in one of his letters, recorded here.
Martin Luther wrote:"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church ... a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them."
I've had this suspicion myself in Church many times. People will come up with fantastical stories, containing all sorts of strange doctrines, which they preach in Church. And I've noticed, as long as they aren't undermining the authority of the Church, no one bats an eye. It is almost as if any story which supports the Dogma of Church is praised and considered to be "true", even if it isn't. Conversely, any story that goes against the Dogma of the Church is considered to be false and of the Devil, even if it is objectively true. What's worse, is that it seems very apparent that certain prominent Christian leaders have believed it is perfectly acceptable to bend the truth, embellish, and even outright lie, in order to "bring people to Christ."
The Book of Mormon further emphasizes this by stating, "For every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God." More and more, I am unable to buy that. I think Christ would be appalled, that people would bend the truth and even lie to convert their fellowman. I think many of us have been hurt by the "Pious Fraud" of Church leaders, but I don't think this is an expressly Mormon issue. I am afraid that too many prominent Christians would go to any lengths, commit any vice, in order to spread the "gospel message".
**Side Note: After looking through the sources, all evidence points to Marcus Aurelius being a protector of Christians, which I find very inline with his character.
***Side Note 2: I'm not saying all Christian leaders (or most, or even many) are guilty of "Pious Fraud". But as we know from the media, the loudest, most sensational stories always rise to the top. With the whole "fake news" epidemic, it's become obvious that the truthfulness of a story isn't as important to many as is the reaction. Even if it's just the smallest minority, it can cause a MASSIVE problem.