Rome, Jerusalem and Patmos, 66 to 70
In the wake of the Great Fire of 64, Nero’s extravagant plans for the rebuilding of Rome (which he wanted to rename Neropolis!) quickly began to be implemented. In September 66 Nero himself however set out on his famous tour of Greece, a tour from which he was not to return until March 68. Thus while he may have been involved in sentencing Saints Peter and Paul, he was not in Rome at the time of their deaths in June 67. From St. Clement of Rome we learn that St. Peter and St. Paul suffered ‘under the rulers’, that is, while Nero himself was absent from Rome. These rulers were the freedman Helius and his assistant Polycleitus. These were left with full power to govern in Rome and Italy during Nero’s absence in Greece. 2
Protected by now routine secrecy and their well-organised followers, St. Peter had continued working and St. Paul his missionary travels until at last, with the outbreak of the Roman-Jewish war in the summer of 66, government surveillance on Jews in general and their leaders in particular was tightened up throughout the Empire. Now Peter, hearing all these entreaties (to flee) responded, ‘No-one come with me. I will change clothes and go by myself.’ The following night, after liturgical prayer, he took leave of the brethren and, recommending them to God with his blessing, he left, alone … He was about to pass through the gate of the city when he saw Christ coming towards him. He adored Him and said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Christ replied, ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified once again.’ Peter said, ‘Lord, will you be crucified again?’ And Christ replied, ‘Yes, I will be crucified again.’ Peter responded, ‘Lord, I am returning to follow you!’ Then the Lord returned to Heaven. Peter followed Him with his gaze, weeping tears of consolation. Considering all this, Peter understood that the words referred to his own martyrdom, that is, how the Lord would suffer in him as He suffers in the elect by means of merciful compassion in their glorious celebration. Thus he returned to the city, radiant and glorifying God. He related to the brethren that the Lord had met him and told him that He, the Lord, would be crucified anew in him. Thus did our Lord Himself ensure that St. Peter’s martyrdom and allimportant tomb would be in Rome.* 3
St. Paul was arrested at Troas (a port used by the government as a checkpoint on travellers between Asia and Macedonia) and brought to Rome. According to traditions, both St. Peter and St. Paul were kept for some nine months in the Mamertine prison (close by Rome’s Forum) before their martyrdom. The date for their execution was set for 29 June, the pagan feast day of Romulus, the semi-legendary founder of pagan Rome. No doubt the execution of these two ‘Jewish leaders’ was to be presented as a patriotic gesture on such a day. Four legions were now
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...