First Martyrs

June 30 is the date held by certain people, Catholics mainly, as the feast to remember the first Martyrs in Rome – those blamed by Nero and subsequently persecuted by the Empire.

Thanks to Maria for pointing that out

The Da Vinci Code movie apparently claims that there aren’t really any pagan sources telling about early Christianity.

This would rather shock Tacitus, who is not only proud to be a civilized worshiper of the Roman gods, but highly annoyed by the Christian “superstition”. (He would have been equally annoyed by his guest appearance here in the Christian section, but one hopes he changed his opinion, upon his appearance before Truth Himself.)

Tacitus is writing in AD 109 about the events of his childhood. His research and critical thinking have made him a highly credible historian from the day he finished the Annals until now. He is but one of the many contemporary pagan sources which survive, but he’s definitely one of the more interesting ones.

I’ve included the whole story of the Great Fire (and the paragraph right before it starts) so that you can see Nero’s decision (and Tacitus’ comments on Christianity) in context. So the excerpt starts with some commentary which is rather too relevant to life today, and may not be work-safe for touchy colleagues. (But if you really expected a Roman historian recounting Nero’s deeds to be work-safe, you don’t know much about Nero or Romans.)

Tacitus’ Annals on the Great Fire of Rome

No, I’m not Catholic, but all we have to be is Christian to remember those that suffered before, and those that suffer now, and those that will suffer tomorrow for the name of Christ.

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4 Replies to “First Martyrs”

  1. I am Catholic and think the church’s canonization process is essentially flawed.  To me, those who die in His name deserve the same respect and regard as those recognized by the church, even though not recognized as saints by the church– within the church, I assume this notion is considered heretical.
    There have been many non-Catholics and even non-Christians who have greatly and ultimately in His name. Are these souls to be any less revered?
    The whole concept of intercession has befuddled me for years.  I mean, we’re encouraged to have a direct prayerful relationship with God.  At the same time, we’re told that we can receive “valuable prizes” (indulgences, etc. which I like in theory) by conforming to rituals geared toward revering certain saints, rituals and events. And we can pray on and off throughout the day. Prayers can be simple. Petitions seem to be the easiest but I think prayers of thanks are.
    For years, I wore a St. Christopher medal.  As a child, I remember how comforting it was — this image of a strong protector, one who could safely guide me home should I be lost. Ditto for the guardian angel.  But a few years back, the church “fired” St. Christopher.  I gotta’ tall you, I still pray to the guy for safe passage on trips.
    To my mind, the single most important thing in our faith lives is that we establish and maintain is a personal relationship with God, one in which we can talk openly with and to Him as well as be open to signs of His presence in our lives.  If we want to pray to others who are known to have done heroic or super-human things we feel could only have been achieved through a true act of God–for intersession or whatever–that’s “icing on the cake”.
    Since I was raised that way, I’ll die that way.  I never fail to pray to St. Anthony when I lose something, which happens a lot.  And when things look hopeless, my go-to guy other than the Big Man is St. Jude.
    But regardless, the one I like to start and end my day with is Him.

  2. Dropping by….
    “To me, those who die in His name deserve the same respect and regard as those recognized by the church, even though not recognized as saints by the church– within the church, I assume this notion is considered heretical.”

    Actually, dying for Jesus’ sake automatically makes you a martyr, and you are automatically assumed to have gone directly to Heaven. Whether or not the Church chooses to “raise a saint to the altars” by formal canonization. (All that canonization means is that your name goes on a list – canon=list – and that you get liturgical commemoration lots of places.) So no, it’s not a heretical notion; it’s deeply orthodox. In the beginning, the only saints recognized as such were martyrs; that’s why a saint list is called a martyrology.
    As for sheep from other flocks — well, that’s really not the Catholic Church’s purview. It would be presumptuous for the Church to make declarations in their case, and thus violate their right to follow God or not. (Especially since the Church objects to posthumous Mormon baptism of its folks.) This doesn’t deny God the right to provide these folks with “wild grace” outside the normal channels, and so of course there will be a lot of people who will find out they were Christian saints without knowing it. But other than just pointing these folks out as examples of virtue, the Church doesn’t see it as its place to make declarations. (I believe this has been noted as particularly sad in cases where mixed groups of Catholic and other Christian missionaries, like the Anglicans who died with St. Charles Lwanga and companions,  have been killed together. Some claim that the Anglicans should be explicitly stated to be part of “companions”, while others are very insulted by the idea of Protestants getting dragged into this Catholic thing. It’s true that in some cases in the early Church, martyred schismatics were explicitly held to have died Catholic saints by their martyrdom, but this sort of thing might be deemed kinda presumptuous unless you were there. and unless somebody actually said, “Oh, yeah, and I want to be Catholic now.”)
    In any case, all saints, known and unknown, are commemmorated on November 1. That’s what the Feast of All Saints is for. And you guessed it, it was originally instituted for the sake of any martyrs who were inadvertently being missed in the martyrology/calendar. 🙂
    That said, you’ll find a lot of traditional room for naming virtuous pagans as such, and even claiming them as prophets of Christ’s coming. Socrates, Plato, Virgil… there’s a ton of them, from fairly early on until today.
    Re: intercessory prayer vs. praying to God —
    Prayer is just talking, formalized or not, mentally or not. If you thought that talking to other people than God was bad for you, you wouldn’t be on the Internet right now. 🙂

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