Today the Church remembers and brings to mind the first Martyrs of Rome. I have to say that it never ceases to amaze me how the Lectionary or Calender of the Saints interact with what the Spirit is doing in the world. I suspect there is something about the promise in the 10th Canticle (Quaerite Dominum Isaiah 55:6-11) of God's Word not returning to Him empty at work here.
Sunday night I was with a discussion group on the impact of the Church on the culture and vice versa. It was lead by my new friend Seth, and he gave a panoramic sketch of the Church since her beginnings to the modern day. The following discussion was lively and informative.
One of the discussion areas was on the early Church and how the people interacted with the culture of Rome that they found themselves in. And so today as the Church Universal remembers those who went before in Rome, perhaps it would do well to consider their lives.
We know from the Christian Scriptures that there were followers of Jesus in Rome very early on. They were there even before Paul came in around 60 A.D. We know that some sort of disturbances happened in 50 A.D. or so, when the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome due to problems caused “caused by the certain Chrestus” as the historian Suetonius tells us. I wonder what those disturbances were? But then under the Emperor Nero in 64 A.D. there came a horrific persecution.
Wooden Rome burned terribly that year and many so distrusted their own Emperor that they speculated that he had set the fire to clear central Rome for a grand palace for himself (and he did, in fact build the "Golden House" on the ruins). To divert the blame Nero accused the Christians, and began such a persecution that even Romans felt sorry for them.
We have no idea how many died. We are pretty sure that St. Peter and Paul were probably among those lost in this bloodbath. We do know that their example did in fact, begin the change of the culture of Rome and paved the way for the eventual triumph of the Faith.