First Martyrs of Rome

In the first few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus in 30 A.D., Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, and before long reached the city of Rome itself. Because Christians were at first considered by the Romans to be merely a sect of Judaism, they were tolerated, but the mysterious nature of the Christians’ beliefs and practices made them a target for prejudice and suspicion.

In 64 a major fire devastated the city of Rome, and the rumor quickly spread that the Emperor Nero had himself ordered it so as to make room for the expansion of his palace. To divert attention from himself, Nero accused the Christians. According to the contemporary historian Tacitus, few Romans actually believed the Christians to be guilty of arson; nevertheless, large numbers of them were arrested, mocked, and cruelly tortured before being executed. Some were dressed as animals and then thrown to wild dogs for the entertainment of the crowd in the amphitheater; others were covered with flammable material, impaled on stakes, and set afire to provide light for the evening feasts Nero held in the imperial gardens; still others were crucified.

Lessons

1. Even when Christians are innocent of sin or illegality, they may still be subject to persecution or mistreatment by state authorities.

2. Those who, by following Christ, reject the ultimate authority and values of this world, may easily find themselves resented, misunderstood, and persecuted (Mt 24:9-10; Jn 15:18-19).

3. Innocence often brings out the worst in persons inclined toward evil; they may go out of their way to oppose true followers of Christ, treating them with extreme cruelty. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit will strengthen and sustain those who are committed to Christian discipleship.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Commemoration of St. Paul (65), Apostle

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