Christian prohibitions against abortion and infanticide encouraged the survival of baby girls and dramatically increased Christian fertility over the long term once those girls grew up and married. Many took pagan husbands, whom they sometimes converted, and then raised their children as Christians—another demographic boost.
All this is at the very heart of Mr. Hyatt’s understated movie, which takes place in the dank and clamorous Roman alleyways where slaves are bought and sold and mob violence rules. While Paul and Luke ( Jim Caviezel ) are central to the story, as important are Aquila ( John Lynch ) and Priscilla ( Joanne Whalley ). This affluent Christian married couple opened their house to alleviate some of the misery around them, feeding and sheltering families made homeless by the Great Fire.
Luke uses his physician’s skills, not a miracle, to heal a dying erstwhile pagan girl and touch the hearts of her parents. The imprisoned Paul is an icon of the power of forgiveness, for he himself has been forgiven for murdering Christians in his youth. The Christians marked for death in the arena are terrified ordinary people who somehow summon the faith to trust in an eternal life they have never seen.
Mr. Hyatt has dedicated his movie to “all who have been persecuted for their faith.” Today that resonates in large and small ways—from Islamic State’s violent repression of Christians to the controversy over wedding cakes in the U.S. It also should resonate with the future makers of faith-based movies: You don’t need $30 million to tell a powerful Christian tale.