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The times were strange, and perhaps the human race had never passed through a more extraordinary crisis. Nero was in his twenty-fourth year. The head of this wretched young man, placed by a wicked mother at the age of seventeen at the head of the world, finished by losing itself. For a long time some indications had disquieted those who knew him. His was a terribly declamatory mind, a bad, hypocritical, light, and vain nature; an incredible compound of false intelligence, deep wickedness, atrocious and cunning egotism, with unheard of refinements of subtlety; to make of him that monster who has no equal in history, and whose analogue is only found in the pathological annals of the scaffold, special circumstances were necessary. The school of crime in which he had grown up, the execrable influence of his mother, the obligation by which that abominable woman made him nearly begin life as a parricide, caused him soon to look on the world as a horrible comedy in which he was the principal actor. At the time we have reached, he has completely withdrawn himself from the philosophers his masters; he has killed nearly all his relations, and set the most shameful follies in the fashion; a portion of Roman society, by his example, has gone down to the last degree of depravity. The ancient harshness had reached its height; the reaction of popular and just instincts began. At the time when Paul entered Rome, the story of the day was this:—

Pedanius Secundus, prefect of Rome, a consular 2personage, had been assassinated by one of his slaves, not without extenuating circumstances being alleged in favour of the culprit. According to the law, all the slaves who, at the moment of the crime, had dwelt under the same roof as the assassin, ought to be put to death. There were nearly four hundred unfortunates in this case. When it became known that the atrocious execution was about to take place the feeling of justice which sleeps under the conscience of the most debased people was revolted. There had been an emeute; but the senate and the emperor decided that the law must take its course.

Perhaps among these four hundred innocents, destroyed in virtue of an odious law, there had been more than one Christian. Men had touched the bottom of the abyss of evil; they could only re-ascend. Certain moral facts of a singular kind took place even in the most elevated ranks of society. Four years before this there had been much talk of an illustrious lady, Pomponia Græcina, wife of Aulius Plautius, the first conqueror of Britain. They accused her of “foreign superstition.” She always dressed in black, and never ceased her austerity. They attributed this melancholy to some horrible recollections, especially to the death of Julia, daughter of Drusus, her intimate friend, whom Messalina had put to death; one of her sons appears also to have been the victim of one of Nero’s most monstrous enormities. But it was evident that Pomponia Græcina bore in her heart a deeper sorrow, and perhaps some mysterious hopes. She was remitted according to the ancient custom to her husband’s judgment. Plautius assembled the relatives, examined the affair in a family council, and declared his wife innocent. That noble lady lived a long time afterwards tranquil under the protection of her husband, always sad—much respected. She appears to have told her secret to no one. Who knows if the appearances which superficial observers took for 3gloomy disposition were not the great peace of soul, the calm composure, the resigned waiting for death, disdain of a foolish and wicked society, the ineffable joy of renouncing joy? Who knows if Pomponia Græcina may not have been the first saint of the great world, the elder sister of Melania, Eustochia, and of Paula?

This extraordinary situation, if it exposed the Church of Rome to the opposing influence of politics, gave it on the other hand an importance of the first order, although it was not numerous. Rome under Nero in no way resembled the provinces. Whoever aspired to a great action must go there. Paul had in this point of view a sort of deep instinct which guided him. His arrival at Rome was an event in his life nearly as decisive as his conversion. He believed that he had attained to the summit of his apostolic career, and doubtless recalled to mind the dream in which after one of his days of struggle Christ appeared to him and said, “Courage! as thou hast borne witness of me in Jerusalem, thou shall also bear witness of me at Rome.”

From the time when he approached the walls of the eternal city, the Centurion Julius conducted his prisoners to the Castra prætoriana, built by Sejan, near the Nomentan way, and handed them over to the prefect of the prætorium. The appellants to the Emperor were, on entering Rome, regarded as prisoners of the Emperor, and as such were entrusted to the imperial guard. The prefects of the prætorium were ordinarily two in number, but at this moment there was only one. This high office had been since the year 51 A.D., in the hands of the noble Afranius Burrhus, who a year afterwards, by a most miserable death, expiated the crime of having wished to do good by reckoning with evil. Paul had doubtless no direct communication with him. Perhaps, however, the humane fashion in which the apostle would appear to 4have been treated was due to the influence which this just and virtuous man exercised around him. Paul was appointed to the condition of custodia millitaris, that is to say entrusted with a prætorian guard to whom he was chained, but not in an inconvenient or continuous fashion. He had permission to live in rooms hired at his own expense, perhaps in the enceinte of the castra prætoriana, where all came freely to see him. He awaited for two years in this condition the appeal of his case. Burrhus died in March 62 A.D., and was replaced by Fenius Rufus and the infamous Tigellinus, the companion of Nero’s debauches—the instrument of his crimes. Seneca just at this moment retired from public life. Nero had no longer any council save the Furies.

The relations of Paul to the believers in Rome had begun, we have seen, during the last stay of the apostle at Corinth. Three days after his arrival he wished, as was his habit, to put himself in communication with the principal hakamim; it was not in the bosom of the synagogue that the Christianity of Rome was formed; it was believers disembarking at Ostia or Puzzoli who, grouping themselves together, had constituted the first church of the capital of the world; this church had scarcely any affinities with the different synagogues of the same city. The immense size of Rome, and the mass of strangers who met there, were the reasons why they knew little of each other there, and why some very contrary ideas could be produced side by side without actual contact. Paul was thus led to follow the rule, which he had adopted from his first and second mission in the towns to which he brought the germ of the faith. He begged some of the heads of the synagogue to come to see him. He represented his situation to them in the most favourable light and protested that he had done nothing, and wished to do nothing against his nation—that he was actuated by the hope of Israel’s faith in the resurrection. The 5Jews replied to him that they had never heard him spoken of nor received any letter from Judea on the subject, and expressed a desire to hear him expound his opinions himself. “For,” added they, “we have heard it said the sect of which you speak provokes everywhere the most lively disputations.” They fixed the hour for the discussion, and a considerable number of Jews met in the little room occupied by the apostle in order to hear him. The conference lasted nearly a whole day; Paul quoted all the texts from Moses and the prophets which proved, according to him, that Jesus was the Messiah: some believed, the greater number remained incredulous. The Jews of Rome piqued themselves upon a very strict observance. It was not there that Paul could have a very large success. They separated in great confusion; Paul, displeased, quoted a passage from Isaiah, very common among the Christian preachers, as to the wilful blindness of hardened men who shut their eyes and ears that they might not see or hear the truth. He closed, it is said, with his ordinary menace that he would carry to the Gentiles, who would receive him better, the kingdom of God which the Jews would not have. His apostolate among the Pagans was in fact crowned with a very great success indeed. His prisoner’s cell became a theatre of ardent preaching. During the two years which he passed there he was not interfered with; he was not annoyed a single time in this exercise of proselytism. He had about him certain of his disciples, at least Timothy and Aristarchus. It appears that each of his friends in turn remained with him and shared his chain. The progress of the gospel was surprising. The apostle did miracles, and was believed to order heavenly power and spirits. Paul’s prison was thus more fertile than his free activity had been. His chain, dragged along the prætorium, and which he showed everywhere with a sort of ostentation, was to them alone like a discourse. 6From his example, and animated by the manner in which he bore his captivity, his disciples and the other Christians of Rome preached boldly.

They did not encounter at first any great obstacle. The Campagna and the towns at the foot of Vesuvius received, perhaps from the Church of Puzzoli, the germs of Christianity which found there the conditions in which it was accustomed to increase, I mean with a first Jewish soil to receive it. Some strange conquests were made. The chastity of the believers was a powerful attraction. It was through this virtue that many noble Roman ladies were drawn to Christianity; the good families preserved still as to women an unbroken tradition of modesty and honour. The new sect had some adherents in the household of Nero, perhaps among the Jews, who were numerous in the lower ranks of the service, among those slaves and freed men, banded in guilds, whose condition bordered upon what had been basest and most elevated, the most brilliant and most miserable. Some vague indications would lead us to believe that Paul had certain relations with members of the Annœa family. A thing beyond doubt in any case, is that from this time the most sharp distinction between Jews and Christians was made at Rome among well informed persons. Christianity appeared a distinct “superstition” arising from Judaism, an enemy of its mother, and hated by its mother. Nero especially was sufficiently acquainted with what was going on, and took account of it with a certain animosity. Perhaps already some of the Jewish intriguers who surrounded him had inflamed his imagination from the Oriental point of view, and he had had promised to him that kingdom of Jerusalem, which was the dream of his last hours, his latest hallucination. We do not know with any certainty the names of any of the members of this Church of Rome at the time of Nero. A document of doubtful value enumerates as friends of Paul and 7Timothy, Eubulus, Pudens, Claudia, and that Linus whom ecclesiastical tradition will represent later on as the successor of Peter in the bishopric of Rome. The elements are likewise wanting to us to estimate the number of the faithful even in an approximate manner.

Everything appeared to go on in the best manner; but the implacable school, which had assumed as its task opposition to the ends of the world to the apostleship of Paul was not dormant. We have seen the emissaries of those ardent conservatives follow in a manner upon his track, and the Apostle of the Gentiles leaving behind him in the seas through which he passed a long streak of hatred. Paul, pictured as a baneful man, who teaches to eat meat sacrificed to idols, to fornicate with Pagans, is announced before in advance and marked for the vengeance of all. We scarcely believe it, but we cannot wholly doubt it, since it is Paul himself who states it. Even at this solemn and decisive moment, he found still in front of him some mean passions. Certain adversaries, members of that Judæo-Christian school which ten years previous he found everywhere in his footsteps, undertook to raise against him a species of counter-preaching to the gospel. Envious and bitter disputers, they sought occasions to contradict him, to aggravate his position as a prisoner, to enflame the Jews against him, and to lower the merit of his chains. The goodwill, the love, the respect which others manifested towards him, their loudly proclaimed conviction, that the chains of the apostle were the glory and best defence of the gospel, comforted him in all these vexations. “What does it matter, besides,” wrote he about this time—

Provided that Christ be preached, whether the preacher be sincere, or the preaching be a pretext for him, I rejoice. I will always rejoice. As for me, I have the firm hope that, even at this time things will turn to my great benefit, to the liberty of the Church, and that my body, whether I live, or whether I die, shall be used to the glory of Christ. On the one hand, Christ is my life, and to die for me is an advantage; 8on the other hand, if I live, I shall see my work bring forth fruit; thus I know not which to choose. I am pressed by two opposing desires; on the one hand, to quit this world and to go to re-join Christ; on the other to remain with you. The first would be better for me, but the second would be better for you.

This greatness of soul gave him a marvellous assurance, gaiety, and strength. “If my blood,” wrote he in one of his gospels, “is the libation by which the sacrifice of your faith must be watered, so much the better—so much the better. And you also say ‘so much the better’ with me.” He, nevertheless, believed very willingly in his acquittal, and even in a prompt acquittal: he saw in that the triumph of the gospel, and he dated from that new projects. It is true that we no more see any of his thoughts directed to the West. It is to the Philippians and Colossians that he dreams of withdrawing himself until the day of the coming of the Lord. Perhaps had he acquired a more accurate knowledge of the Latin world, and had he seen beyond Rome and the Campagna countries becoming by Syrian immigration very analogous to Greece and Asia Minor, he would have met, had it only been because of the language, with great difficulties. Perhaps he knew a little Latin; but not enough for a fruitful preaching. Jewish and Christian proselytism in the first century was little exercised in the really Latin towns; it was confined to such towns as Rome and Puzzoli, where, in consequence of constant arrivals of Orientals, Greek had become wide-spread. Paul’s programme was sufficiently full; the Gospel had been preached in the two worlds, it had attained, according to the wide pictures of the prophetic language, to the extremity of the earth, to all the nations which are under heaven. What Paul now dreamed of doing was to preach freely in Rome and then to return to his churches of Macedonia and Asia, and to wait patiently with them in prayer and extasy the advent of Christ.


In short, few years in the life of the Apostle were more happy than these. Immense consolations came from time to time to him; he had nothing to fear from the malevolence of the Jews. The poor lodging of the prisoner was a centre of marvellous activity. The follies of profane Rome, its spectacles, its scandals, its crimes, the disgraceful acts of Tigellinus, the courage of Thraseas, the horrible fate of the virtuous Octavia, and the death of Pallas, little moved our enlightened pietists. “The fashion of this world passeth away,” they said. The great picture of a divine future made them shut their eyes to the blood-soaked soil in which their feet were plunged. Certainly the prophecy of Jesus had been accomplished. In the midst of outer darkness where Satan reigns; in the midst of tears and gnashing of teeth the little paradise of the elect is founded.

They were there in their secluded world, clothed internally with light and a clear sky in the kingdom of God their father, but without them what a hell!!! Oh, God, how frightful it is to remain in this kingdom of the Beast, where the worm never dies and the fire is never extinguished!

One of the greatest joys which Paul experienced at this period of his life was the arrival of a message from his dear Church of the Philippians, the first which he had founded in Europe and in which he had left so many devoted admirers. The rich Lydia whom he calls “his true spouse,” did not forget him. Epaphroditus sent by the church brings him a sum of money, of which the apostle must have had great need, considering the expenses of his new condition. Paul, who had always made an exception of the Philippian Church and received from her what he did not wish to owe to any other, accepted it again with happiness. The news as to the church was excellent. A few quarrels which had occurred between the two deaconesses Euodia and Syntyche had come to trouble the peace. Some scandals awakened by evil-disposed persons 10and from which resulted imprisonments, only served to show the patience of the faithful. The heresy of the Judæo-Christians, the pretended necessity for circumcision, hung around them without disrupting them. Some bad examples of worldly and sensual Christians, of whom the apostle speaks with tears, did not come as it would appear from their church. Epaphroditus remained some time beside Paul, and had a sickness, the result of his devotion, which nearly brought him to death’s door. A lively desire to see the Philippians possessed this excellent man; he sought himself to calm the disquietudes of his friends. Paul on his part wishing to make cease as soon as possible the fears of those pious ladies, quickly dismissed him, sending by him to the Philippians a letter full of tenderness written by the hand of Timothy. Never had he found such sweet expressions to describe the love which he bore to these entirely good and pure churches, which he carried in his heart.

He felicitated them not only on having believed in Christ, but on having suffered for him. Those among them who were in prison ought to be proud of enduring the treatment which they had seen before inflicted upon their apostle, and which they knew he had actually endured. They are like a little chosen group of the children of God, in the midst of a corrupted and perverse race—light in the midst of a dark world. He warned them against the example of less perfect Christians, that is to say, of those who were not released from all Jewish prejudices. The apostles of the circumcision are treated with the greatest hardness.

Beware of dogs, evil workers, of all these circumcised! It is we who are the true circumcised, we who worship according to the Spirit of God, who place our glory and confidence in Christ Jesus, not in the flesh. If I wished to exalt myself by these carnal distinctions, I should have a better right than anyone; I, circumcised the eighth day, of the pure race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew 11and son of the Hebrews, formerly a Pharisee, formerly a persecutor, formerly a jealous observer of legal righteousness. Ah, well; all these advantages, I hold them from the point of view of Christ as inferiorities, as dust, since I have apprehended what is transcendent in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. To gain Christ I have lost all the rest, I have exchanged my own righteousness, arising from the observation of the law, against the true righteousness according to God, which comes from the faith in Christ, in order that I may participate in his resurrection and to rise again, I also, among the dead, as I have participated in his sufferings, and as I have taken upon me the image of his death. I am far from having attained this goal, but I pursue it. Forgetting what is behind, always reaching forth to that which is before, I aspire, like the racer, for the prize of the victory, placed at the extremity of the course. Such is the feeling of the perfect.

And he adds:—

Our country is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall transform our wretched body and make it like his glorious body, by the extension of his power, and thanks to the divine decree, which has submitted every thing to him. Behold, brethren whom I love and regret to see no longer, you, my joy and crown, this is the doctrine which should be held, my dearly beloved.

He especially exhorts them to concord and obedience. The form of life which he has given them, the manner in which they ought to practice Christianity, is good; but, after all, each believer has his revelation, his personal inspiration, which also comes from God. He prays “his true spouse” (Lydia) to reconcile Euodia and Syntyche, to go to help them and second them in their duties as servants of the poor. He wished that they should rejoice; “The Lord is at hand.” His thanks for the sending of money on the part of the rich ladies of the Philippians, is a model of good grace and lively piety:

I have experienced a great joy in the Lord in connection with this late flourishing of your friendship, which has at last made you think of me: you thought well in that: but you had not an occasion. I do not say this to dwell upon my poverty. I have taught myself to be content with what I have. I know what it is to be in penury, and to have 12abundance. I am accustomed to everything, to be full and to suffer hunger, to have an overplus, and to want even what is necessary. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me. But you—you have done well to contribute so as to relieve my distress. It is not to the gift I look, but to the profit which will result from it to you. I have everything which is needful: I even abound, since I have received by Epaphroditus your offering, a sacrifice of a good odour, an offering most welcome, agreeable to God!

He recommends humility which makes us look on others as our superiors, charity which makes us think of others more than ourselves, according to the example of Jesus. Jesus had in Him all divinity and power; He could have, during His terrestrial life, shown himself in His divine splendour, but the economy of redemption would then have been reversed. Thus does He strip Himself of His natural distinction, to take the appearance of a slave. The world has seen Him like a man; looked at from without He would have been taken for a man. “He humbled Himself, making Himself obedient even to death, and that the death of the cross. Wherefore God has exalted Him and given Him a name above every other, willing that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend in heaven, on the earth and under the earth, and in hell, and that every tongue shall confess the Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus, we see, grew hour by hour greater in the consciousness of Paul. If Paul does not admit yet his full equality with God the Father, he believes in his divinity, and represents all His earthly life as the execution of a divine plan. Prison produced on him the effect which it usually produces on strong minds. It elevated him, and incited in his ideas some lively and deep resolutions. A little after having sent the letter to the Philippians, he sends Timothy to inform him of their condition, and to bear some new instructions to them. Timothy would return promptly enough. Luke would appear also at this time to have made an absence of short duration.

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