Keith Hunt - Church History #11 - Page Eleven   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #11

Christianity in Rome


From the multi-volume work of Philip Schaff
(latter part of 1800s)



The city of Rome was to the Roman empire what Paris is to France,
what London to Great Britain: the ruling head and the beating
heart. It had even a more cosmopolitan character than these
modern cities. It was the world in miniature, "orbis in urbe."   
Rome had conquered nearly all the nationalities of the then
civilized world, 

(a rather outrageous statement, it had not conquered India or
China nor parts east of Babylon, not even parts of Eastern
Europe, which often defeated Roman armies. It "occupied" Britain
but certainly never conquered Britain, and Adrian had to build a
wall across Northern England [famously known as 'Adrian's Wall']
to prevent the Scots and Pits from coming south to destroy Roman
forces, and obliterate them from Britain - Keith Hunt) 

drew its population from the East and from the West, from the
North and from the South. All languages, religions, and
customs of the conquered provinces found a home there. Half the
inhabitants spoke Greek, and the natives complained of the
preponderance of this foreign tongue which, since Alexander's
conquest, had become the Janguage of the Orient and of the
civilized world. The palace of the emperor was the chief
centre of Oriental and Greek life. Large numbers of the
foreigners were freedmen, who generally took the family name of
their masters. Many of them became very wealthy, even
millionnaires. The rich freedman was in that age the type of the
vulgar, impudent, bragging upstart. According to Tacitus, "all
things vile and shameful" were sure to flow from all quarters of
the empire into Rome as a common sewer. But the same is true of
the best elements: the richest products of nature, the rarest
treasures of art, were collected there; the enterprising and
ambitious youths, the men of genius, learning, and every useful
craft found in Rome the widest field and the richest reward for
their talents.

With Augustus began the period of expensive building. In his
long reign of peace and prosperity he changed the city of bricks
into a city of marble. It extended in narrow and irregular
streets on both banks of the Tiber, covered the now desolate and
feverish Campagna to the base of the Albanian hills, and
stretched its arms by land and by sea to the ends of the earth.  
It was then (as in its ruins it is even now) the most instructive
and interesting city in the world. Poets, orators, and historians
were lavish in the praises of the urbs eterna.

(Very overrated words, Rome was a city of DECEPTION and MAD power
of a Kingdom that is pictured in Daniel made of "iron" - strong
but lacking in quality. It also became the SEAT of Satan with the
rise of the Roman Catholic religion, and will one day be
OBLITERATED from off the face of the earth - Keith Hunt)
The estimates of the population of imperial Rome are guesswork,
and vary from one to four millions. But in all probability it
amounted under Augustus to more than a million, and increased
rapidly under the following emperors till it received a check by
the fearful epidemic of 79, which for many days demanded ten
thousand victims a day. Afterwards the city grew again and
reached the height of its splendor under Hadrian and the


The number of Jews in Rome during the apostolic age is 
estimated at twenty or thirty thousand souls. They all spoke  
Hellenistic Greek with a strong Hebrew accent. They had, as 
far as we know, seven synagogues and three cemeteries, with 
Greek and a few Latin inscriptions, sometimes with Greek words in
Latin letters, or Latin words with Greek letters. They inhabited
the fourteenth region, beyond the Tiber (Trastevere), at the base
of the Janiculum, probably also the island of the Tiber, and part
of the left bank towards the Circus Maximus and the Palatine
hill, in the neighborhood of the present Ghetto or Jewry. They
were mostly descendants of slaves and captives of Pompey,
Cassius, and Antony. They dealt then, as now, in old
clothing and broken ware, or rose from poverty to wealth and
prominence as bankers, physicians, astrologers, and
fortunetellers. Not a few found their way to the court. 
Alityrus, a Jewish actor, enjoyed the highest favor of Nero.     
Thallus, a Samaritan and freedman of Tiberius, was able to lend a
million denarii to the Jewish king, Herod Agrippa. The relations
between the Herods and the Julian and Claudian emperors
were very intimate.

The strange manners and institutions of the Jews, as
circumcision, Sabbath observance, abstinence from pork and meat
sacrificed to the gods whom they abhorred as evil spirits,
excited the mingled amazement, contempt, and ridicule of the
Roman historians and satirists. Whatever was sacred to the
heathen was profane to the Jews. They were regarded as enemies of
the human race. But this, after all, was a superficial judgment.

The Jews had also their friends. Their indomitable industry and
persistency, their sobriety, earnestness, fidelity, and
benevolence, their strict obedience to law, their disregard
of death in war, their unshaken trust in God, their hope of a
glorious future of humanity, the simplicity and purity of their
worship, the sublimity and majesty of the idea of one omnipotent,
holy, and merciful God, made a deep impression upon thoughtful
and serious persons, and especially upon females (who escaped the
odium of circumcision). Hence the large number of proselytes in
Rome and elsewhere. Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, as well as
Josephus, testify that many Romans abstained from all business on
the Sabbath, fasted and prayed, burned lamps, studied the Mosaic
law, and sent tribute to the temple of Jerusalem. Even the
Empress Poppaea was inclined to Judaism after her own fashion,
and showed great favor to Josephus, who calls her "devout" or
"God-fearing" (though she was a cruel and shameless woman).
Seneca, who detested the Jews (calling them sceleratissima gens),
was constrained to say that this conquered race gave laws to
their conquerors.

The Jews were twice expelled from Rome under Tiberius and
Claudius, but soon returned to their transtiberine quarter, and
continued to enjoy the privileges of a religio licita, which were
granted to them by heathen emperors, but were afterwards denied
them by Christian popes.
When Paul arrived in Rome he invited the rulers of the syna-
gogues to a conference, that he might show them his good will and
give them the first offer of the gospel, but they replied to his
explanations with shrewd reservation, and affected to know
nothing of Christianity, except that it was a sect everywhere
spoken against. Their best policy was evidently to ignore it
as much as possible. Yet a large number came to hear the
apostle on an appointed day, and some believed, while the
majority, as usual, rejected his testimony.


From this peculiar people came the first converts to a religion
which proved more than a match for the power of Rome. The Jews
were only an army of defense, the Christians an army of conquest,
though under the despised banner of the cross.

The precise origin of the church of Rome is involved in
impenetrable mystery. We are informed of the beginnings of the
church of Jerusalem and most of the churches of Paul, but we do
not know who first preached the gospel at Rome. Christianity
with its missionary enthusiasm for the conversion of the world
must have found a home in the capital of the world at a very
early day, before the apostles left Palestine. The congregation
at Antioch grew up from emigrant and fugitive disciples of
Jerusalem before it was consolidated and fully organized by
Barnabas and Paul.
It is not impossible, though by no means demonstrable, that
the first tidings of the gospel were brought to Rome soon after
the birthday of the church by witnesses of the pentecostal
miracle in Jerusalem, among whom were "sojourners from Rome, both
Jews and proselytes." In this case Peter, the preacher of the
pentecostal sermon, may be said to have had an indirect agency in
the founding of the church of Rome, which claims him as the rock
on which it is built, although the tradition of his early visit
(42) and twenty or twenty-five years residence there is a long
exploded fable. Paul greets among the brethren in Rome some
kinsmen who had been converted before him, i.e., before 37.'    
Several names in the list of Roman brethren to whom he sends
greetings are found in the Jewish cemetery on the Appian Way
among the freedmen of the Empress Livia. Christians from
Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece must have come to the
capital for various reasons, either as visitors or settlers.


The first historic trace of Christianity in Rome we have in a
notice of the heathen historian Suetonius, confirmed by Luke,
that Claudius, about A.D. 52, banished the Jews from Rome because
of their insurrectionary disposition and commotion under the
instigation of "Chrestus" (misspelt for "Christus").

This commotion in all probability refers to Messianic contra-
versies between Jews and Christians who were not yet clearly
distinguished at that time. The preaching of Christ, the true
King of Israel, would naturally produce a great commotion among
the Jews, as it did at Antioch, in Pisidia, in Lystra,
Thessalonica, and Beroea; and the ignorant heathen magistrates
would as naturally infer that Christ was a political pretender
and aspirant to an earthly throne. The Jews who rejected the true
Messiah looked all the more eagerly for an imaginary Messiah that
would break the yoke of Rome and restore the theocracy of David
in Jerusalem. Their carnal millennarianism affected even some
Christians, and Paul found it necessary to warn them against
rebellion and revolution. Among those expelled by the edict
of Claudius were Aquila and Priscilla, the hospitable friends of
Paul, who were probably converted before they met him in Corinth.
The Jews, however, soon returned, and the Jewish Christians also,
but both under a cloud of suspicion. To this fact Tacitus may
refer when he says that the Christian superstition which had been
suppressed for a time (by the edict of Claudius) broke out again
(under Nero, who ascended the throne in 54).


In the early part of Nero's reign (54-68) the Roman congregation
was already well known throughout Christendom, had several
meeting places and a considerable number of teachers. It was in
view of this fact, and in prophetic anticipation of its future
importance, that Paul addressed to it from Corinth his most
important doctrinal Epistle (A.D. 58), which was to prepare the
way for his long desired personal visit. On his journey to Rome
three years later he found Christians at Puteoli (the modern
Puzzuolo at the bay of Naples), who desired him to tarry with
them seven days. Some thirty or forty miles from the city, at
Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae (The Three Taverns), he was met by
Roman brethren anxious to see the writer of that marvellous
letter, and derived much comfort from this token of
affectionate regard.


His arrival in Rome, early in the year 61, which two years later
was probably followed by that of Peter, naturally gave a great
impulse to the growth of the congregation. He brought with him,
as he had promised, "the fulness of the blessing of Christ." His
very bonds were overruled for the progress of the gospel, which
he was left free to preach under military guard in his own
dwelling. He had with him during the whole or a part of the
first Roman captivity his faithful pupils and companions: Luke, 
"the beloved physician" and historian; Timothy, the dearest of
his spiritual sons; John Mark, who had deserted him on his first
missionary tour, but joined him at Rome and mediated between him
and Peter; one Jesus, who is called Justus, a Jewish Christian,
who remained faithful to him; Aristarchus, his fellow-prisoner
from Thessalonica; Tychicus from Ephesus; Epaphras and Onesimus
from Colossae; Epaphroditus from Philippi; Demas, Pudens,
Linus, Eubulus, and others who are honorably mentioned in the
Epistles of the captivity. They formed a noble band of
evangelists and aided the aged apostle in his labors at Rome and
abroad. On the other hand his enemies of the Judaizing party
were stimulated to counter-activity, and preached Christ from
envy and jealousy, but in noble self-denial Paul rose above petty
sectarianism, and sincerely rejoiced from his lofty standpoint if
only Christ was proclaimed and his kingdom promoted. While he
fearlessly vindicated Christian freedom against Christian
legalism in the Epistle to the Galatians, he preferred even a
poor contracted Christianity to the heathenism which abounded in

The number which were converted through these various agencies,
though disappearing in the heathen masses of the metropolis, and
no doubt much smaller than the twenty thousand Jews, must have
been considerable, for Tacitus speaks of a "vast multitude" of
Christians that perished in the Neronian persecution in 64; and
Clement, referring to the salve persecution, likewise mentions a
"vast multitude of the elect," who were contemporary with Paul
and Peter, and who, "through many indignities and tortures,
became a most noble example among ourselves" (that is, the Roman


The composition of the church of Rome has been a matter of much
learned controversy and speculation. It no doubt was, like most
congregations outside of Palestine, of a mixed character, with a
preponderance of the Gentile over the Jewish element, but it is
impossible to estimate the numerical strength and the precise
relation which the two elements sustained to each other.
We have no reason to suppose that it was at once fully or-
ganized and consolidated into one community. The Christians
were scattered all over the immense city, and held their
devotional meetings in different localities. The Jewish and the
Gentile converts may have formed distinct communities, or rather
two sections of one Christian community.

Paul and Peter, if they met together in Rome (after 63), would
naturally, in accordance with the Jerusalem compact, divide the
field of supervision between them as far as practicable, and at
the same time promote union and harmony. This may be the truth
which underlies the early and general tradition that they were
the joint founders of the Roman church. No doubt their presence
and martyrdom cemented the Jewish and Gentile sections. But the
final consolidation into one organic corporation was probably
not effected till after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This consolidation was chiefly the work of Clement, who appears
as the first presiding presbyter of the one Roman church. He was
admirably qualified to act as mediator between the disciples of
Peter and Paul, being himself influenced by both, though more by
Paul. His Epistle to the Corinthians combines the distinctive
features of the Epistles of Paul, Peter, and James, and has been
called "a typical document, reflecting the comprehensive
principles and large sympathies which had been impressed upon the
united church of Rome."

In the second century we see no more traces of a twofold
community. But outside of the orthodox church, the heretical
schools, both Jewish and Gentile, found likewise an early home in
this rendezvous of the world. The fable of Simon Magus in Rome
reflects this fact. Valentinus, Marcion, Praxeas, Theodotus,
Sabellius, and other arch-heretics taught there. In heathen Rome,
Christian heresies and sects enjoyed a toleration which was
afterwards denied them by Christian Rome, until, in 1870, it
became the capital of united Italy, against the protest of the


The language of the Roman church at that time was the
Greek, and continued to be down to the third century. In that
language Paul wrote to Rome and from Rome; the names of the
converts mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of the Romans, and of
the early bishops, are mostly Greek; all the early literature of
the Roman church was Greek; even the so-called Apostles' Creed,
in the form held by the church of Rome, was originally Greek.    
The first Latin version of the Bible was not made for Rome, but
for the provinces, especially for North Africa. The Greeks and
Greek speaking Orientals were at that time the most intelligent,
enterprising, and energetic people among the middle classes in
Rome. The successful tradesmen, the skilled artisans, the
confidential servants and retainers of noble houses almost all
the activity and enterprise of the common people, whether for
good or for evil, were Greek.


The great majority of the Christians in Rome, even down to the
close of the second century, belonged to the lower ranks of
society. They were artisans, freedmen, slaves. The proud Roman
aristocracy of wealth, power, and knowledge despised the gospel
as a vulgar superstition. The contemporary writers ignored it, or
mentioned it only incidentally and with evident contempt. The
Christian spirit and the old Roman spirit were sharply and
irreconcilably antagonistic, and sooner or later had to meet in
deadly conflict.
But, as in Athens and Corinth, so there were in Rome also a few
honorable exceptions.

Paul mentions his success in the praetorian guard and in the
imperial household.
It is possible, though not probable, that Paul became passingly
acquainted with the Stoic philosopher, Annaeus Seneca, the
teacher of Nero and friend of Burrus; for he certainly knew his
brother, Annaeus Gallio, proconsul at Corinth, then at Rome, and
had probably official relations with Burrus, as prefect of the
praetorian guard, to which he was committed as prisoner; but the
story of the conversion of Seneca, as well as his correspondence
with Paul, are no doubt pious fictions, and, if true, would be no
credit to Christianity, since Seneca, like Lord Bacon, denied his
high moral principles by his avarice and meanness.
Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Aulus Plautius, the conqueror of
Britain, who was arraigned for "foreign superstition" about the
year 57 or 58 (though pronounced innocent by her husband), and
led a life of continual sorrow till her death in 83, was probably
the first Christian lady of the Roman nobility, the predecessor
of the ascetic Paula and Eustochium, the companions of Jerome.

Claudia and Pudens, from whom Paul sends greetings (2 Tim. 4:
21), have, by an ingenious conjecture, been identified with the
couple of that name, who are respectfully mentioned by Martial in
his epigrams; but this is doubtful.

A generation later two cousins of the Emperor Domitian (81-96),
T. Flavius Clemens, consul (in 95), and his wife, Flavia
Domitilla, were accused of "atheism," that is, of Christianity,
and condemned, the husband to death, the wife to exile (A.D. 96).

Recent excavations in the catacomb of Domitilla, near that of
Callistus, establish the fact that an entire branch of the
Flavian family had embraced the Christian faith. Such a change
was wrought within fifty or sixty years after Christianity had
entered Rome.

And so it went that a so-called "Christianity" dug its foundation
in Rome - a Christianity that within just another 50 or more
years after 70 A.D. started on the downward slope into a false
Christianity that would eventually rule the Roman Empire, and in
time pass on its false traditions to the whole world, and would
also be drunk with the blood of the true saints of God, as was
foretold in the book of Revelation.

Keith Hunt

To be continued

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