Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Martyrs of 64

Another day, another feast. Yet the subject matter of these two days is monumental and worth pausing over. Yesterday, we commemorated the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. Today, of all the Christians who were martyred with them in the first great persecution of the Church.

In his gardens across the Tiber by the Vatican hill, near where Peter had probably lived when he first came to Rome 22 years before, Nero held the circus games which could no longer be held in the two great amphitheatres, damaged in the fire. During those games in the fall of 64, many of the Christians whom Nero's police had arrested were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Others were dressed in clothing soaked in pitch and sulfur and lit as human torches along the Appian Way, as Nero raced by in his chariot.

- Warren Carroll, The Founding of Christendom, p424

New tortures have been invented for the madmen who have brought good news. That sad and weary society seems almost to find a new energy in establishing its first religious persecution. Nobody yet knows very clearly why that level world has thus lost its balance about the people in its midst, but they stand unnaturally still while the arena and the world seem to revolve around them. And there shone on them in that dark hour a light that has never been darkened; a white fire clinging to that group like an unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightning by which the world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it more inexplicable; the halo of hatred around the Church of God.

- G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p197

This feast is, perhaps, the first largescale revelation of Christianity in its purest essence. Following Christ means that you end up going where Christ went, to the cross, the gallows, the guillotine, the arena. The natural end of the Christian path is love pouring out its lifeblood. This is the triumph of the Cross. This is the imitation of Christ. This is Christianity in its natural state. All other expressions merely point towards it. And, ultimately, this is how the world is redeemed, by the Body following its Head, by diabolical hatred expending all its energy to extinguish divine love, and divine love sacrificing itself for the love of its killers and becoming all the stronger thereby. This is how Christianity wins the world, not by war or persuasion or social programs or being nice to people. The dark days of 64AD set the step of the Church's march through history which was first established on Calvary. Islam may win lands and peoples to itself through war and conquest. Christianity will win them by the blood of men and women who give up their lives freely for love of their Lord.

No comments: