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.