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1 The Neronian Persecution

The Neronian persecution took place A. D. 64. The occasion was the great
fire which destroyed a large part of the city of Rome. To turn public
suspicion from himself as responsible for the fire, Nero attempted to make
the Christians appear as the incendiaries. Many were put to death in
horrible and fantastic ways. It was not, however, a persecution directed
against Christianity as an unlawful religion. It was probably confined to
Rome and at most the immediate vicinity, and there is no evidence that it
was a general persecution.

Additional source material: Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, ch. 2
(ANF, VII); Sulpicius Severus, Chronicon, II. 28 (PNF, ser. II, vol. XI).

(a) Tacitus, Annales, XV, 44. Preuschen, Analecta, I, 3:1. Mirbt,
n. 3.

Tacitus (c. 52-c. 117), although not an eye-witness of the
persecution, had exceptionally good opportunities for obtaining
accurate information, and his account is entirely trustworthy. He
is the principal source for the persecution.

Neither by works of benevolence nor the gifts of the prince nor means of
appeasing the gods did the shameful suspicion cease, so that it was not
believed that the fire had been caused by his command. Therefore, to
overcome this rumor, Nero put in his own place as culprits, and punished
with most ingenious cruelty, men whom the common people hated for their
shameful crimes and called Christians. Christ, from whom the name was
derived, had been put to death in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator
Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition, having been checked for a while,
began to break out again, not only throughout Judea, where this mischief
first arose, but also at Rome, where from all sides all things scandalous
and shameful meet and become fashionable. Therefore, at the beginning,
some were seized who made confessions; then, on their information, a vast
multitude was convicted, not so much of arson as of hatred of the human
race. And they were not only put to death, but subjected to insults, in
that they were either dressed up in the skins of wild beasts and perished
by the cruel mangling of dogs, or else put on crosses to be set on fire,
and, as day declined, to be burned, being used as lights by night. Nero
had thrown open his gardens for that spectacle, and gave a circus play,
mingling with the people dressed in a charioteer's costume or driving in a
chariot. From this arose, however, toward men who were, indeed, criminals
and deserving extreme penalties, sympathy, on the ground that they were
destroyed not for the public good, but to satisfy the cruelty of an

(b) Clement of Rome, Ep. ad Corinthios, I, 5, 6. Funk, Patres
Apostolici, 1901. (MSG, 1:218.) Preuschen, Analecta, I, 3:5.

The work known as the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
was written in the name of the Roman Church about 100. The
occasion was the rise of contentions in the Corinthian Church. The
name of Clement does not appear in the body of the epistle, but
there is no good ground for questioning the traditional ascription
to Clement, since before the end of the second century it was
quoted under his name by several writers. This Clement was
probably the third or fourth bishop of Rome. The epistle was
written soon after the Domitian persecution (A. D. 95), and refers
not only to that but also to an earlier persecution, which was
very probably that under Nero. As the reference is only by way of
illustration, the author gives little detail. The passage
translated is of interest as containing the earliest reference to
the death of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the language used
regarding Paul has been thought to imply that he labored in parts
beyond Rome.

Ch. 5. But to leave the ancient examples, let us come to the champions who
lived nearest our times; let us take the noble examples of our generation.
On account of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of
the Church were persecuted, and contended even unto death. Let us set
before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who on account of unrighteous
jealousy endured not one nor two, but many sufferings, and so, having
borne his testimony, went to his deserved place of glory. On account of
jealousy and strife Paul pointed out the prize of endurance. After he had
been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned,
had been a preacher in the East and in the West, he received the noble
reward of his faith; having taught righteousness unto the whole world, and
having come to the farthest bounds of the West, and having borne witness
before rulers, he thus departed from the world and went unto the holy
place, having become a notable pattern of patient endurance.

Ch. 6. Unto these men who lived lives of holiness was gathered a vast
multitude of the elect, who by many indignities and tortures, being the
victims of jealousy, set the finest examples among us. On account of
jealousy women, when they had been persecuted as Danaids and Dircae, and
had suffered cruel and unholy insults, safely reached the goal in the race
of faith and received a noble reward, feeble though they were in body.

Next: The Death Of Peter And Paul

Previous: Period I The Apostolic Age To C

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