The First Martyrs of Rome and the Cost of Our Faith

Many martyrs suffered death under Emperor Nero. Owing to their executions during the reign of Emperor Nero, they are called the Neronian Martyrs, and they are also termed the Protomartyrs of Rome, being honored by the site in Vatican City called the Piazza of the Protomartyrs. These early Christians were disciples of the Apostles, and they endured hideous tortures and ghastly deaths following the burning of Rome in the infamous fire of 62 AD.Their dignity in suffering, and their fervor to the end, did not provide Nero or the Romans with the public diversion desired. Instead, the faith was firmly planted in the Eternal City. The Blood of Martyrs is the Seed of the Church.

Many people today think little of the faith that has been handed on to them. Only 27% of Catholics even go to Mass. Many too consider any suffering due to the faith intolerable. So, when reminded of basic moral norms against things like fornication, contraception, assisted suicide, or requirements such as weekly Mass attendance, frequent confession, occasional fasting etc, many consider such things too demanding or unreasonable. But all of us should consider how precious is the faith handed on to us. Many died for the faith because they would not compromise with the demands of the world or deny Christ. Many too were imprisoned and suffered loss of jobs and property because they witnessed to Christ. Others were rejected by family and friends. It is remarkable to consider that the martyrs even to this day were willing  to suffer death but many Christians today  are not even willing  to risk some one raising an eyebrow at them or any unpopularity. Pray for the courage of the martyrs! And never forget the cost of the faith handed on to us.

This video depicts the suffering of the First Martyrs of Rome. Careful! It is a graphic video which quite accurately depicts death by lions and the cruel and sadistic glee of the crowds who found it entertaining to see other humans torn apart and eaten. This clip is from the 2002 Movie “Quo Vadis” a Polish Production available at Amazon I added some music over the top that is a dramtic hymn: Once to Every Man and Nation. I listed the Words in the comments section.


11 Replies to “The First Martyrs of Rome and the Cost of Our Faith”

  1. I am amazed that on an Archdiocese website your focus for non-observance by Catholics is on going to Mass, fasting, confession, etc. and not on the things Jesus said were most important -two great commandments – (1)love thy God above all others and (2) love thy neighbor as thyself.

    I think your focus might be why 73% of all Catholics practice Jesus’ two commandments daily without bothering to see you in Church on Sunday.

    1. Well Jane, come on lighten up a bit. This is only one post. We’ve posted over 700 here and plenty deal with the matters you mention. You seem awfully harsh to be insisting that I “forgot” to mention love. I’m not feeling a lot of love from you Jane 🙂

      I might ask you also to consider that perhaps Jesus wasn’t so uninterested as you assume in our attendance at Mass. One of his final requests was that we would “do this in remembrance of me.” And he warned in Jn 6:53 “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you.” I don’t think we need to get into a contest about what Jesus thought was “most important.” Perhaps what we ought to practice is the whole counsel of God. Jesus once indicated that weighter matters ought to be followed without neglecting other matters.(cf Lk 11:42) Hence, even if you don’t think Mass attendance to be a weighty matter (a point on which I disagree) it still does not follow that you are free to reject this. Even if you want to relegate it to a small matter you might consider that little things mean a lot and that if you can trust a person in small matters, such a one can also be trusted in weightier matters. (cf Lk 16:10). THink about it.

  2. The Words to the song are:

    Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
    In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
    Some great cause, some great decision,
    offering each the bloom or blight,
    And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

    Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
    Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
    Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
    Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

    By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
    Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
    New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
    They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

    Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
    Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
    Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
    Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own

  3. Beautiful music … Last year my son told me he didn’t want to wear a cross to school because it might offend somebody. We had a great discussion about the martyrs and how he should be prepared to defend his faith and the Church. He is growing; we all are … and Sunday Mass is when we get the full meal deal. Reading and studying at home isn’t sufficient.

    When we went through the Rite of Acceptance, a handmade wooden cross was given to each of us. It has weight. It is big (2×4 in). Every time I wear it, people ask me about it, and as you might guess, I do love to share the story.

  4. The Roman historian Tacitus gives a near-contemporary report of what happened in Book 15 of The Annals (c. A.D. 109)

    44. To get rid of the report [that the fire had been purposely started at his order], Nero fastened the guilt 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 [as human torches], 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.

    The “circus” was where they held chariot races and other sporting events, not like today’s circuses where they have clowns, etc. It was at Nero’s circus, which used to be on the Vatican hill, across the Tiber River from the Forum, where much of the killing was done. One of those killed was named Peter, previously called Simon bar Jonah, who was crucified upside down at that site and subsequently buried in a nondescript grave there.

    The site of his crucifixion, which is to the left of the Basilica, is not open to the general public, but the obelisk that was there in the circus, and brought to Rome from Egypt by the Emperor Caligula in an amazing feat of engineering, is now in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.

  5. Just so you will know I am still lurking, Monsignor, you have inadvertently set the date of the fire two years too early.

    As for the heroic devotion of the early Christians to the faith, and specifically the intensity of their feeling for the Sunday Eucharist, may I refer again to the reply of the spokesman of the martyrs of Abitine in Africa in AD 304 when challenged to explain why they risked such terrible punishment: “sine dominico non possumus” (we cannot live without Sunday).

    The Holy Father delivered a wonderfully inspiriting homily on this very subject in course of his first Apostolic Journey outside his diocese which I referred to under another post of yours, Monsignor and the link to which is

    He drew the parallel with the feeding of the Israelites in their wandering in the desert, and invited us to consider that we too can often feel we are wandering in a vast modern desert of indifference and materialism from which God is steadily being expelled (a phenomenon more advanced in Europe than in the US). Precisely for this reason, the Holy Father said:-

    “We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a favourable opportunity to draw strength from him, the Lord of life. The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week.”

  6. I am not sure where Bender got the date AD 109 which is possibly offered as the date of composition of the “Annales”, but it is his earlier work, the “Historiae”, which is generally taken to have been published in that year. The composition of the “Annales” is generally dated to the second decade of the 2nd. century (the dating has to be deduced from oblique internal references). The Great Fire of Rome, as I have already indicated, occurred in AD 64.

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