Volume. XXX, No. 28
Sunday, 10 January 2016


From the Pastors heart: Christians, Jews, and Rome


I have just completed my reading of a book, Pagan and Christian Rome, written by Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani, in 1892, by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. It is quite a fascinating book for reading because it speaks about various buildings, shrines, and tombs of the emperors, popes, pagans, and Christians. The author gives his insight on Christian martyrs and catacomb privacies. I will share some of them with you for your appreciation of the Christian faith and martyrs since the first century. 
 
Nobles’ conversions
Lanciani reveals that Christian conversions were made not only in the general population but also amongst prominent members of the royal families. For example, two Domitillae, or Flavius Clemens, or Petronilla (relatives of the Flavian emperors) were converted to the Christian faith. Herodianus called them the noblest among the noble. As for their stories, Lanciani writes, “Xiphilinus states that, in the year 95, some members of the imperial family were condemned by Domitian on the charge of atheism, together with other leading personages who had embraced ‘the customs and persuasion of the Jews,’ that is, the Christian faith. Manius Acilius Glabrio, the ex-consul, was implicated in the same trial, and condemned with the same indictment as the others. Among these, the historian mentions Clemens and Domitilla, who were manifestly Christians. One particular of the case, related by Juvenal, confirms the account of Xiphilinus. He says that in order to mitigate the wrath of the emperor and avoid a catastrophe, Acilius Glabrio, after fighting the wild beasts at Albanum, assumed an air of stupidity. In this alleged stupidity it is easy to recognize the prejudice so common among the pagans, to whom the Christians’ retirement from the joys of the world, their contempt of public honors, and their modest behavior appeared as . . . most despicable laziness. This is the very phrase used by Suetonius in speaking of Flavius Clemens, who was murdered by Domitian . . . on a very slight suspicion of his faith.” Tacitus (Annal. xiii. 32) tells how Pomponia Græcina, wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, was accused of “foreign superstition,” tried by her husband, and acquitted. Such words give us ample reasons to believe that she was a Christian, and recent discoveries put it beyond doubt. Some scholars think that she was none other than Lucina, the Christian matron who interred her brethren in Christ on her own property, at the second milestone of the Appian Way. Such generous allowance for Christian brethren to be buried on her own property should not be dismissed as a small gesture of kindness. We must know that her days were the days of severe persecutions against Christians. Any kind act could be considered as an act of disloyalty to the empire and her Caesars. Unless she was bold and faithful to her Lord, she would not make such a bold move to let everyone see her profession of faith. 
 
Emperors and their persecutions
Lanciani helps us to realize that not every emperor was a persecutor. Or at least he gives us an idea that though persecutions were harsh and severe, there were some respites here and there. He says that “the Roman emperors gave plenty of liberty to the new religion from time to time; and some of them, moved by a sort of religious syncretism, even tried to ally it with the official worship of the empire, and to place Christ and Jupiter on the steps of the same lararium. The first attempt of the kind is attributed to Tiberius; he is alleged to have sent a message to the Senate requesting that Christ should be included among the gods, on the strength of the official report written by Pontius Pilatus of the passion and death of our Lord. Malala says that Nero made honest inquiries about the new religion, and that, at first, he showed himself rather favorable towards it; a fact not altogether improbable, if we take into consideration the circumstances of Paul’s appeal, his absolution, and his relations with Seneca, and with the converts de domo Cæsaris, ‘of the house of Cæsar.’ Lampridius, speaking of the religious sentiments of Alexander Severus, says: ‘He was determined to raise a temple to Christ, and enlisted him among the gods; a project attributed also to Hadrian. There is no doubt that Hadrian ordered temples to be erected in every city to an unknown god; and because they have no statue we still call them temples of Hadrian. He is said to have prepared them for Christ; but to have been deterred from carrying his plan into execution by the consideration that the temples of the old gods would become deserted, and the whole population turn Christian. . . .” This is a clear indication that syncretism was a religion of Rome. As long as other gods were worshiped, Rome closed her eyes to the Christian religion. It is also a sign of the danger of syncretism. The rabbi of the synagogue at Pompeii could even have an active part in city politics. He was even able to sign a document recommending the election of a candidate for political honors. 
 
Emperor Claudius is an interesting figure in relation to the Jews in the first century. At one time he expelled the Jews from Rome, probably because the Jews within the city caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of, possibly, early Christians. Thus, we may say that the first persecution in Rome came not from the Romans but from the Jews. This incident is recorded in Acts 18:2, “And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.” Claudius opposed proselytizing in any religion, even in those regions where he allowed natives to worship freely. Many scholars think that the Jews objected to the continuing preaching of the Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. Claudius annexed Britain to his empire. At one point, his own wife sought for his life with her lover, and both were executed. Then he married a girl named Agrippina the Younger, his niece. She had a son, Nero, whom Claudius adopted as his son. It is possible that his sudden death was an assassination by poison to make sure that Nero was going to be the next emperor. The historian Suetonius recorded that Nero laid punishments on Christians (probably even before the incident of the great fire in Rome), and the Christian religion was considered a superstition. Probably, he did not clearly understand Christianity. It is an indication that Christianity was as yet little known to the Gentile world. Here we should also recognize the difficulty of making a distinction between Judaism and Christianity in the eyes of the Gentiles in Rome. It is because Christ’s name was heard in synagogues. Paul himself was a Jew and spoke to the Jews. The Jews opposed his teachings. All these disputes and troubles could be seen only as Jewish problems in the minds of the Gentiles. 
 
It is no wonder that Claudius Lysias wrote to the governor of Judaea that Paul was accused by his fellow citizens, not of crimes deserving punishment, but on some controversial point concerning their law. We must remember that in Rome itself, Paul could preach the gospel with freedom, even when in custody, or under police supervision. However, we know that they eventually saw the Jews and the Gentiles differently, officially at least, from AD 96, when the Jews had to pay a special tax, while Christians did not have to. The Jews were subject to a tax of two drachmas per head, and the treasury officials were obliged to keep themselves acquainted with the statistics of the colony. The Church could no longer share the privileges of the Jewish community. The great fire, which destroyed half of Rome under Nero, and which was purposely attributed to the Christians, brought the situation to a crisis. The first persecution began. Lanciani insightfully said, “had the magistrate who conducted the inquiry been able to prove the indictment of arson, perhaps the storm would have been short, and confined to Rome; but as the Christians could easily exonerate themselves, the trial was changed from a criminal into a political-religious one. The Christians were convicted not so much of arson as of a hatred of mankind; a formula which includes anarchism, atheism, and high treason. This monstrous accusation once admitted, the persecution could not be limited to Rome” any longer.
 
Lovingly,
Your Pastor

More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

*New Basic Bible Knowledge Class will commence in March.
*Anyone seeking Baptism, Re-Affirmation of Faith or Membership Transfer please see Elder Michael D Lee. If Membership Transfer is from a sister B-P church there is no requirement to do Basic Bible Knowledge.
*All Bible Study groups & fellowship activities will commence first week of Feb. Let us make a commitment to learn God’s Word & partake in God’s work.
 
Praise & Thanksgiving
1. Journey mercies: all arriving safely at their destinations.
2. Visitors & new worshippers.
3. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.
4. Recovery from procedure.
 
 
Prayer Items
1. Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore) & George van Buuren; & others in affliction.
2. Special Prayer for healing.
3. iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.
4. Cambodia Missions - Rev David Koo & Ministry; Life University (Sihanoukville); Khmer pastors & families. 
5. Other Missions: Sis Ang Liang Phoa & Ministry; Filadefia BPC; orphanage, kindergarten & school (Batam).
6. New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.
7. Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.
8. Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.
9. Journey mercies: all those who are travelling during the summer vacation.
10. Safe labour & delivery.
11. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
12. Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.
13. Persecuted believers in Islamic countries & Communist countries (N Korea, China & Vietnam).
14. God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.
15. Australia: People in this nation to turn to God. Wisdom and guidance for our political leaders.
16. Hopefuls working away.

 

 

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