|« Prev||Christianity in Rome||Next »|
§ 36. Christianity in Rome.
I. On the general, social, and moral condition of Rome under the Emperors:
Ludwig Friedländer: Sittengeschichte Roms. Leipzig, 1862, 5th ed. revised and enlarged, 1881, 3 vols.
Rod. Lanciani: Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries. Boston, 1889 (with 100 illustrations).
II. On the Jews in Rome and the allusions of Roman Writers to Them:
Renan: Les Apôtres, 287–293; Merivale:History of the Romans, VI., 203 sqq.; Friedländer: l.c. III., 505 sqq.; Hausrath: Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte, III., 383–392 (2d ed.); Schürer: Lehrbuch der Neutestamentlichen Zeitgeschichte, pp. 624 sq., and Die Gemeindeverfassung der Juden in Rom in der Kaiserzeit, Leipz., 1879; Huidekoper: Judaism at Rome, 1876. Also John Gill: Notices of the Jews and their Country by the Classic Writers of Antiquity. 2d ed. London, 1872. On Jewish Roman inscriptions see Garrucci (several articles in Italian since 1862), von Engeström (in a Swedish work, Upsala, 1876), and Schürer (1879).
III. On the Christian Congregation in Rome:
The Histories of the Apostolic Age (see pp. 189 sqq.); the Introductions to the Commentaries on Romans (mentioned p. 281), and a number of critical essays on the origin and composition of the Church of Rome and the aim of the Epistle to the Romans, by Baur (Ueber Zweck und Veranlassung des Römerbriefs, 1836; reproduced in his Paul, I., 346 sqq., Engl. transl.), Beyschlag (Das geschichtliche Problem des Römerbriefs in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1867), Hilgenfeld (Einleitung in das N. T., 1875, pp. 302 sqq.), C. Weizsäcker (Ueber die älteste römische Christengemeinde, 1876, and his Apost. Zeitalter, 1886, pp. 415–467).
W. Mangold: Der Römerbrief und seine gesch. Voraussetzungen, Marburg, 1884. Defends the Jewish origin and character of the Roman church (against Weizsäcker).
Rud. Seyerlen: Entstehung und erste Schicksale der Christengemeinde in Rom. Tübingen, 1874.
Adolf Harnack: Christianity and Christians at the Court of the Roman Emperors before the Time of Constantine. In the "Princeton Review," N. York, 1878, pp. 239–280.
J. Spencer Northcote and W. R. Brownlow (R. C.): Roma Sotterranea, new ed., London, 1879, vol. I., pp. 78–91. Based upon Caval. de Rossi’s large Italian work under the same title (Roma, 1864–1877, in three vols. fol.). Both important for the remains of early Roman Christianity in the Catacombs.
Formby: Ancient Rome and its Connect. with the Chr. Rel. Lond., 1880.
Keim: Rom. u. das Christenthum. Berlin, 1881.
[MAP INSET] From "Roma Sotteranea," by Northcote and Brownlow.
The City of Rome.
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, and drew its population from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South. All languages, religious, 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 language of the Orient and of the civilized world.482482 Friedländer, I. 372 sqq. 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 ofpeace 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 aeterna,
"qua nihil posis visere majus."483483 See some of these eulogistic descriptions in Friedländer, I. 9, who says that the elements which produced this overwhelming impression were "the enormous, ever changing turmoil of a population from all lands, the confusing and intoxicating commotion of a truly cosmopolitan intercourse, the number and magnificence of public parks and buildings, and the immeasurable extent of the city." Of the Campagna he says, p. 10: "Wo sich jetzt eine ruinenerfüllte Einöde gegen das Albanesergebirge hinerstreckt, über der Fieberluft brütet, war damals eine durchaus gesunde, überall angebaute, von Leben wimmelden Strassen durchschnittene Ebene."See Strabo, v. 3, 12
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.484484 Friedländer, I. 54 sqq., by a combination of certain data, comes to the conclusion that Rome numbered under Augustus (A. U. 749) 668,600 people, exclusive of slaves, and 70 or 80 years later from one and a half to two millions. Afterwards the city grew again and reached the height of its splendor under Hadrian and the Antonines.485485 Friedländer, I. 11: "In dem halben Jahrhundert von Vespasian bis Hadrian erreichte Rom seinen höchsten Glanz, wenn auch unter den Antoninen und später noch vieles zu seiner Verschönerimg geschehen ist."
The Jews in Rome.
The number of Jews in Rome during the apostolic age is estimated at twenty or thirty thousand souls.486486 By Renan, L’Antechrist, p. 7; Friedländer, I. 310, 372; and Harnack, l.c., p. 253. But Hausrath, l.c., III. 384, assumes 40,000 Jews in Rome under Augustus, 60,000 under Tiberius. We know from Josephus that 8,000 Roman Jews accompanied a deputation of King Herod to Augustus (Ant. XVII. 11, 1), and that 4,000 Jews were banished by Tiberius to the mines of Sardinia (XVIII. 3, 5; comp. Tacitus, Ann. II. 85). But these data do not justify a very definite calculation. 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.487487 Friedländer, III. 510: "Die Inschrift sind überwiegend griechisch, allerdings zum Theil bis zur Unverständlichkeit jargonartig; daneben finden sich lateinische, aber keine hebräischen."See also Garrucci, Cimiterio in vigna Rondanini, and the inscriptions (mostly Greek, some Latin) copied and published by Schürer, Die Gemeindeverfassung der Juden, etc., pp. 33 sqq. 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.488488 Josephus, Ant. XVIII. 6,4. Comp. Harnack, l.c., p. 254. 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.489489 Tacitus, Hist. V. 4: "Profana illic omnia quae apud nos sacra; rursum concessa apud illos quae nobis incesta."Comp. his whole description of the Jews, which is a strange compound of truth and falsehood. 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).490490 "Poppaea Sabina, the wife of Otho, was the fairest woman of her time, and with the charms of beauty she combined the address of an accomplished intriguer. Among the dissolute women of imperial Rome she stands preëminent. Originally united to Rufius Crispinus, she allowed herself to be seduced by Otho, and obtained a divorce in order to marry him. Introduced by this new connection to the intimacy of Nero, she soon aimed at a higher elevation. But her husband was jealous and vigilant, and she herself knew how to allure the young emperor by alternate advances and retreats, till, in the violence of his passion, he put his friend out of the way by dismissing him to the government of Lusitania. Poppaea suffered Otho to depart without a sigh. She profited by his absence to make herself more than ever indispensable to her paramour, and aimed, with little disguise, at releasing herself from her union and supplanting Octavia, by divorce or even death." Merivale, Hist. of the Romans, VI. 97. Nero accidentally kicked Poppaea to death when in a state of pregnancy (65), and pronounced her eulogy from the rostrum. The senate decreed divine honors to her. Comp. Tac. Ann. XIII. 45, 46; XVI. 6; Suet., Nero, 35. Seneca, who detested the Jews (calling them sceleratissima gens), was constrained to say that this conquered race gave laws to their conquerors.491491 "Victi victoribus leges dederunt."Quoted by Augustin (De Civit. Dei, VI. 11) from a lost work, De Superstitionibus. This word received a singular illustration a few years after Seneca’s death, when Berenice, the daughter of King Agrippa, who had heard the story of Paul’s conversion at Caesarea (Acts 25:13, 23), became the acknowledged mistress first of Vespasianus and then of his son Titus, and presided in the palace of the Caesars. Titus promised to marry her, but was obliged, by the pressure of public opinion, to dismiss the incestuous adulteress. "Dimisit invitus invitam." Sueton. Tit., c. 7; Tacit. Hist., II. 81.
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.492492 The history of the Roman Ghetto (the word is derived from ﬠדּגָ, caedo, to cut down, comp. Isa. 10:33; 14:12; 15:2; Jer. 48:25, 27, etc., presents a curious and sad chapter in the annals of the papacy. The fanatical Pope Paul IV. (1555-’59) caused it to be walled in and shut out from all intercourse with the Christian world, declaring in the bull Cum nimis: "It is most absurd and unsuitable that the Jews, whose own crime has plunged them into everlasting slavery, under the plea that Christian magnanimity allows them, should presume to dwell and mix with Christians, not bearing any mark of distinction, and should have Christian servants, yea even buy houses." Sixtus V. treated the Jews kindly on the plea that they were "the family from which Christ came;" but his successors, Clement VIII., Clement XI., and Innocent XIII., forbade them all trade except that in old clothes, rags, and iron. Gregory XIII. (1572-’85), who rejoiced over the massacre of St. Bartholomew, forced the Jews to hear a sermon every week, and on every Sabbath police agents were sent to the Ghetto to drive men, women, and children into the church with scourges, and to lash them if they paid no attention! This custom was only abolished by Pius IX., who revoked all the oppressive laws against the Jews. For this and other interesting information about the Ghetto see Augustus J. C. Hare, Walks in Rome, 1873, 165 sqq., and a pamphlet of Dr. Philip, a Protestant missionary among the Jews in Rome, On the Ghetto, Rome, 1874.
When Paul arrived in Rome he invited the rulers of the synagogues 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.493493 Acts 28:17-29.
Christianity in Rome.
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."494494 Acts 2:10:οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντεσ Ῥωμαῖοι, Ἰουδαῖοι τε καὶ προσήλυτοι . Sojourners are strangers (comp. 17:21, οἱ επιδημοῦντες ζένοι), as distinct from inhabitants (κατοικοῦντες, 7:48; 9:22; Luke 13:4). Among the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem who disputed with Stephen were Libertini, i.e., emancipated Roman Jews, descendants of those whom Pompey had carried captive to Rome, Acts 6:9. 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.495495 Given up even by Roman Catholic historians in Germany, but still confidently reasserted by Drs. Northcote and Brownlow, l.c. I., p. 79, who naively state that Peter went to Rome with Cornelius and the Italian band in 42. Comp. on this subject §26, pp. 254 sqq. Paul greets among the brethren in Rome some kinsmen who had been converted before him, i.e., before 37.496496 Rom. 16:7, "Salute Andronicus and Junias (or Junia), my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners who ... have been in Christ before me." If Junias is masculine, it must be a contraction from Junianus, as Lucas from Lucanus. But Chrysostom, Grotius, Reiche, and others take it as a female, either the wife or sister of Andronicus. 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 Edict of Claudius.
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").497497 Sueton., Claud., c. 25: "Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit." The Romans often confounded Christus (the Anointed) andChrestus (from χρηστός, useful, good), and called the Christians χρηστιανοί, Chrestiani. Compare the French form chrétien. Justin Martyr uses this etymological error as an argument against the persecution of the Christians for the sake of their name. Apol. I., c. 4 (I. p. 10, ed. Otto): Χριστιανοὶ εἶναι κατηγορούμεθα, τὸ δὲ χρηστὸν μισεῖσθαι οὐ δίκαιον. He knew, however, the true origin of the name of Christ, I.c. 12: Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἀφ’ οὖ καὶ τὸ Χριστιανοὶ ἐπονομάζεσθαι ἐσχήκαμεν . Tertullian says that the name Christus was almost invariably mispronounced Chrestus bythe heathen. Apol., c. 3; Ad Nat., I.3. This mistake continued to be made down to the fourth century, Lactantius, Instit. Div., IV. 7, and is found also in Latin inscriptions. Renan derives the name Christianus from the Latin (like Herodian, Matt. 22:16, Pompejani, Caesareani), as the derivation from the Greek would require Χρίστειος (Les âpotres, p. 234). Lightfoot denies this, and refers to Σαρδιανὸς, Τραλλιανός(Philippians, p.16, note 1); but Renan would regard these nouns as Latinisms like Ἀσιανός (Acts 20:4, Strabo, etc.). Antioch, where the name originated (Acts 11:26), had long before been Romanized and was famous for its love of nicknames. Renan thinks that the term originated with the Roman authority as an appellation de police. The other two passages of the N.T. in which it occurs, Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16, seem to imply contempt and dislike, and so it is used by Tacitus and Suetonius. But what was originally meant by the heathen to be a name of derision has become the name of the highest honor. For what can be nobler and better than to be a true Christian, that is, a follower of Christ. It is a remarkable fact that the name " Jesuit,"which was not in use till the sixteenth century, has become, by the misconduct of the order which claimed it, a term of reproach even in Roman Catholic countries; while the term " Christian"embraces proverbially all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like.
This commotion in all probability refers to Messianic controversies 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 Beraea; 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.498498 Acts 18:2; Rom. 16:3. An unconverted Jew would not have taken the apostle under his roof and into partnership. The appellation .Ἰουδαῖος often signifies merely the nationality (comp. Gal. 2:13-15). The name Aquila, i.e., Eagle, Adler, is still common among Jews, like other high sounding animal names (Leo, Leopardus, Löwe, Löwenherz, Löwenstein, etc.). The Greek Ἀκύλας was a transliteration of the Latin, and is probably slightly altered in Onkelos, the traditional author of one of the Targums, whom the learned Emmanuel Deutsch identifies with Aquila (Ἀκύλας, סליקﬠ in the Talmud), the Greek translator of the Old Testament, a convert to Judaism in the reign of Hadrian, and supposed nephew of the emperor. Liter. Remains (N. York, 1874), pp. 337-340. The name of his wife, Priscilla (the diminutive form of Prisca), " probably indicates a connection with the gens of the Prisci, who appear in the earliest stages of Roman history, and supplied a long series of praetors and consuls." Plumptre on Acts, 18:2.
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.499499 Rom. 1:8; 16:5, 14, 15, 19. 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.500500 Acts 28:13. Puteoli was, next after Ostia, the chief harbor of Western Italy and the customary port for the Alexandrian grain ships; hence the residence of a large number of Jewish and other Oriental merchants and sailors. The whole population turned out when the grain fleet from Alexandria arrived. Sixteen pillars still remain of the mole on which St. Paul landed. See Friedländer, II. 129 sq.; III. 511, and Howson and Spence on Acts 28:13. 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.501501 Acts 28:15. The Forum of Appius (the probable builder of the famous road called after him) is denounced by Horace as a wretched town "filled with sailors and scoundrel tavern-keepers." Tres Tabernae was a town of more importance, mentioned in Cicero’s letters, and probably located on the junction of the road from Antium with the Via Appia, near the modern Cisterna. The distances from Rome southward are given in the Antonine Itinerary as follows: "to Aricia, 16 miles; to Tres Tabernae, 17 miles; to Appii Forum, 10 miles."
Paul in Rome.
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.502502 Phil. 1:12-15; Acts 28:30. 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.503503 Col. 4:7-14; Eph. 6:21; Philem. 24; Phil. 2:25-30; 4:18; comp. also 2 Tim. 4:10-12. 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 Rome.504504 Phil. 1:15-18. Comp. Lightfoot in loc.
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 same 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 Christians).505505 Ad Cor., ch. 6. The πολὺ πλῆθος ἐκλεκτῶν corresponds precisely to the "ingens multitudo"of Tacitus, Ann. XV. 44.
Composition and Consolidation of the Roman Church.
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.506506 Comp. my Hist. Ap. Ch., p. 296 sqq. Dr. Baur attempted to revolutionize the traditional opinion of the preponderance of the Gentile element, and to prove that the Roman church consisted almost exclusively of Jewish converts, and that the Epistle to the Romans is a defense of Pauline universalism against Petrine particularism. He was followed by Schwegler, Reuss, Mangold, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Holsten, Holtzmann., and also to some extent by Thiersch and Sabatier. But he was opposed by Olshausen, Tholuck, Philippi, De Wette, Meyer, Schott, Hofmann, in favor of the other view. Beyschlag proposed a compromise to the effect that the majority, in conformity with Paul’s express statements, were Gentile Christians, but mostly ex-proselytes, and hence shared Judaizing convictions. This view has been approved by Schürer and Schultz. Among the latest and ablest discussions are those of Weizsäcker and Godet, who oppose the views both of Baur and Beyschlag. The original nucleus was no doubt Jewish, but the Gentile element soon outgrew it, as is evident from the Epistle itself, from the last chapter of Acts, from the Neronian persecution, and other facts. Paul had a right to regard the Roman congregation as belonging to his own field of labor. The Judaizing tendency was not wanting, as we see from the 14th and 15th chapters, and from allusions in the Philippians and Second Timothy, but it had not the character of a bitter personal antagonism to Paul, as in Galatia, although in the second century we find also a malignant type of Ebionism in Rome, where all heretics congregated.
We have no reason to suppose that it was at once fully organized 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."507507 Lightfoot, Galat., p. 323.
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 au 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 pope.
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."508508 Lightfoot, l.c., p. 20. See especially the investigations of Caspari, in his Quellen zur Geschichte des Taufsymbols, vol. III. (1875), 267-466. According to Friedländer, I. 142, 481, Greek was the favorite language at the imperial court, and among lovers.
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.509509 Phil. 1:13; 4: 22. The πραιτώριον embraces the officers as well as the soldiers of the imperial regiments; οἱ εκ τῆς καίσαρος οἰκίας may include high functionaries and courtiers as well as slaves and freedmen, but the latter is more probable. The twenty names of the earlier converts mentioned in Rom. 16 coincide largely with those in the Columbaria of the imperial household on the Appian way. Comp. Lightfoot, Philipp., p. 169 sqq., Plumptre, Excursus to his Com. on Acts, and Harnack, l.c., pp. 258 sq. Harnack makes it appear that the two trusty servants of the Roman church, Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito, mentioned in the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, c. 63, belonged to the household of the emperor Claudius.
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.510510 See above, § 29, p. 279, especially the essay of Lightfoot quoted there. Harnack (l.c., p. 260) and Friedländer regard the acquaintance of Paul with Seneca as very improbable, Plumptre as probable. An epitaph from the third century was found in Ostia which reads: D M. M. Anneo. Paulo. Petro. M. Anneus. Paulus. Filio. Carissimo. See De Rossi in the Bullet. di archeol. christ., 1867, pp. 6 sq., and Renan, L’Antechrist, p. 12. Seneca belonged to the gens Annaea. But all that the inscription can be made to prove is that a Christian member of the gens Annaea in the third century bore the name of "Paul," and called his son "Paulus Petrus," a combination familiar to Christiana, but unknown to the heathen. Comp, Friedländer, III. 535.
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.511511 Here Christianity has been inferred from the vague description of Tacitus, Ann. XIII. 32. See Friedländer III. 534; Lightfoot, p. 21; Northcote and Brownlow, I. 82 sq. Harnack, p. 263. The inference is confirmed by the discovery of the gravestone of a Pomponius Graecinus and other members of the same family, in the very ancient crypt of Lucina, near the catacomb of St. Callistus. De Rossi conjectures that Lucina was the Christian name of Pomponia Graecina. But Renan doubts this, L’Antech., p. 4, note 2. 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.512512 Plumptre, l.c. Martial, a Spaniard by birth, came to Rome a.d. 66. 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).513513 Sueton., Domit. 15; Dion Cass., 67, 14; Euseb., H. E. III. 18. 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.514514 De Rossi, Bullett. for 1865, 1874 and 1875; Lightfoot, St. Clement of Rome, Append., 257 sq., Harnack, 266-269.
|« Prev||Christianity in Rome||Next »|