The First Persecution Under Nero A D 67
The first persecution of the church took place in the year 67, under
Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of
five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the
greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities.
Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be
set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and
servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower
of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy,
and openly declared, "That he wished the ruin of all things before his
death." Besides the noble pile, called the circus, many other palaces
and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were
smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that
his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him,
determined to lay the whole upon the christians, at once to excuse
himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new
cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the
barbarities exercised on the christians were such as even excited the
commisseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty,
and contrived all manner of punishments for the christians that the most
infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up
in the skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs till they expired;
and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees,
and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This
persecution was general throughout the whole Roman empire; but it rather
increased than diminished the spirit of christianity. In the course of
it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth;
Aristarchus, the Macedonian; and Trophimus, an Ephesian, converted by
St. Paul, and fellow-labourer with him; Joseph, commonly called
Barsabas; and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the seventy.