30 June 2010

First Holy Martyrs of the Church of Rome

30 JUNE 2010. At the end of June, the Church celebrates the first holy martyrs of Rome, that received the crown of martyrdom under the persecution of the Church by Emporer Nero after the burning of Rome in A.D. 64. We hear of these holy martyrs from two principle sources: from the pagan writer Tacitus, in his Annales (15, 44), and from Pope Clement in his letter to the Corinthians (chapters 5 and 6).

Below are the legacies of these first holy martyrs:

 The Torches of Nero, Henryk Siemiradzki
Nero fastened the guilt [for the great fire of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
(Tacitus, Annales, 15, 44)

Let us leave behind the examples from times of old, and come to those who struggled closest to us; let us consider the noble models of our own generation. It was through jealousy and envy that the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and struggled unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good apostles. First of all, Peter, who because of unreasonable jealousy, suffered not merely once or twice but many times, and , having thus given his witness, went to the place of glory that he deserved. It was through jealousy and conflict that Paul showed the way to the prize for perseverance. He was put in chains seven times, sent into exile, and stoned; a herald both in the east and the west, he achieved a noble fame by his faith. He taught justice to all the world and, he gave his witness before those in authority; then he left this world and was taken up into the holy place, a superb example of endurance.

Around these men with their holy lives there gathered a great thong of the elect, who, though victims of jealousy, gave us the finest example of endurance in the midst of many indignities and tortures. Through jealousy women were tormented like Dirce or the daughters of Danaus, suffering terrible and unholy acts of violence. But they courageously finished the course of faith and despite their bodily weakness won a noble prize. It was jealousy that separated wives from husbands, and violated the words of our father Adam: This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Jealousy and strife have overthrown cities and uprooted mighty nations.

We are writing this, beloved, not only for your admonition but also as a reminder to ourselves; for we are placed in the same arena, and the same contest lies before us. Hence we ought to put aside vain and useless concerns and go straight to the glorious and venerable norm which is our tradition, and we should consider what is good, pleasing and acceptable in the sight of him who made us. Let us fix our gaze on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.
(Pope Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, Liturgy of the Hours)


you sanctified the Church of Rome
with the blood of its first martyrs.
May we find strength from their courage
and rejoice in their triumph.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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