Reading N°36 in the History of the Catholic Church
Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.
|Emperor Trajan (AD 53-117)|
A broader and deeper mind would have understood that Christianity, instead of weakening the necessary foundations of the Empire, was able to strengthen them. Although the Christians were not disposed to give their sovereigns a homage of adoration, they prayed for them with sincere heart and obeyed them loyally. We have already seen the beautiful prayer for the emperor which Pope St. Clement sent to the Christians of Corinth right after Domitian's persecution, and we are acquainted with the lessons of obedience which St. Paul gave to the Christians of Rome during the tyranny of Nero. Trajan was not keen enough to see in the Church the "great school of respect" which might perhaps have saved the Empire's unity against more real dangers. Like Nero, he saw an enemy where there was an ally; for him Christianity was the odium generis humani.
It is probable that there were martyrs in the first years of Trajan's reign; but the rescript in which the Emperor's policy toward the Christians is expressed was written in AD 111 or 112. We must pause to consider this imperial act and the principles of which dominated the whole religious policy of the Antonines.
|Pliny the Younger|
Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore, Como
As an upright magistrate, careful to prosecute only crimes enumerated in the law of his country, Pliny judged it not proper to proceed with rigor against such people. But informers intervened, some of them anonymously, in such numbers and so insistently, that the legate had to do somethingabout the matter. Pliny's letter continues:
I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition. I therefore adjourned the proceedings, and betook myself at once to your counsel.
In reply to the lengthy communication of the accomplished scholar, Trajan writes with that "imperial brevity" which came to him from his military character and was suited to the giving of commands:
The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians, is extremely proper. It is not possible to lay down any general rule which can be applied as the fixed standard in all cases of this nature. No search should be made for these people; when they are denounced and found guilty, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not (that is, by adoring our gods), he shall be pardoned. [...] Informations without the accuser's name subscribed must not be admitted in evidence.
Tertullian points out the illogical part of this decision. He says:
It forbids the Christians to be sought after as innocent, and yet it commands them to be punished as guilty.
Its unreasonableness is patent if it is looked at from the point of view of morality. But Trajan, as a jurist of ancient Rome, was scarcely aware of this point of view when reasons of state seemed to be involved. It is true that the Christians did not commit any crime in common law; but simply by not performing certain religious ceremonies touching the State gods, they were disturbing the "Roman order." This is precisely why a simple "adoration of the gods" will bring them complete pardon. The "Roman order" does not require search to be made for Christians: this would involve a commotion not demanded by the situation. The crime of being a Christian will become punishable only if it is made manifest by a precise denunciation.
This, at any rate, is Trajan's view. From this principle many of his successors drew more severe consequences; they did not alter it essentially. The reasons of State, so unjustly appealed to against the Christians, were advanced, now by the jealousy of Jewish sects, now by the monstrous calumnies which the pagans invented about the Christian mysteries. But, even when the decrees of persecution seem forced upon the emperors by the rage of the people, the final reason for the attack on Christianity will remain this principle which, through Trajan, goes back to the first persecution by Nero: the Christian is the enemy of the Roman civilization, understood after the pagan manner; he is an object of "hatred for mankind." Thus are we to explain this curious anomaly, puzzling at first glance, namely, that the fiercest persecutors of the Church are not always the most detestable from the moral point of view. Often they have but little care for the Roman unity, whereas those most devoted to the State are at times led to make a sort of divinity of it, to which they sacrifice all.
This was so in the case of Emperor Trajan. His reign was glorious in many respects, but it was stained by the blood of three holy pontiffs: the head of the Church of Rome, the head of the Church of Jerusalem, and the head of the Church of Antioch: St. Clement, St. Simeon, and St. Ignatius.
The account of the condemnation, exile, and death of the great Pope St. Clement is preserved in the Passio Clementis, which is quoted by Gregory of Tours, and seems to be known to the writer of the note on Clement I in the Liber Pontificalis. The plainly legendary details of this document were pointed out long ago. But even in the most incorrect histories, there is usually some basis of truth.
According to the best critics, the following are the historical elements contained in this document. On the occasion of a popular uprising in Trajan's reign, Pope Clement was exiled to the Chersonesus. There he found two thousand Christians who had been condemned to the hard labor of the marble quarries long before. Clement consoled and encouraged them. Many conversions took place in the district. With the building material of the abandoned temples and with the wood of the forsaken sacred groves, churches were constructed. These facts reached the ears of the Emperor, who spared the multitude of the Christians, but ordered the aged Pope to sacrifice to the gods, under pain of death. When Clement refused to obey this command, the judge gave orders that an anchor be fastened to his neck and he be thrown into the sea. "There is nothing incredible in this account," says Allard, and Duchesne proves that the tradition of St. Clement's martyrdom was current in Rome as early as the end of the fourth century.
|The Martyrdom of Pope St. Clement I|
Pier Leone Ghezzi (1684-1755)
There is no historic document that enables us to determine the date of St. Clement's martyrdom. But we know the date of the death of St. Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, and of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. It was the year 107.
The story of the last days of the holy Bishop of Jerusalem is told by Eusebius, who takes the details from Hegesippus' account. This latter, a converted Jew of the second century, was well situated to be exactly informed. Simeon, son (or grandson) of Cleophas and cousin of our Lord, was 120 years old. He was denounced by Jews and by Judaizing Christians, both as a Christian and as a descendant of King David. The accusation was received by the consular legate of Palestine, Tiberius Claudius Atticus, who had the venerable old man tortured. The holy Bishop's courage aroused the admiration of all present. At last he was put to death on a cross. Hegesippus adds that, as the search for David's descendants was further prosecuted, those very ones who had denounced their pastor were arrested and put to death after being found to belong to the number of the Savior's relatives. God's justice was thus exercised even in this world upon the vile informers.
|The Martyrdom of St. Simeon of Jerusalem|
 Xiphilinus, in Champagny, Les Antonins, I, 227.
 Tillemont, Histoire des empereurs, II, 118.
 Dio Cassius, LXVII, 7; Aurelius Victor, Epitome, 13.
 Pliny, Letters, X, 25, 97.
 Cf. Reading N°31: Pope St. Clement
 Cf. Reading N°20: Epistle to the Romans
 This phrase is Guizot's. "The principles of Christianity, if graven on the heart, would be incomparably more powerful than this false honor of monarchies, these human virtues of republics, and this servile fear of despotisms." (Montesquieu, Esprit des lois, bk. 24, chap. 6.)
 Allard, Histoire des persécutions, I, 142.
 Some authors say 112. From the standpoint of general history, the date is of little importance.
 Formerly there was a lengthy controversy between scholars with regard to the authenticity of this letter. It has been denied by Aube (Histoire des persécutions, p. 219), Desjardins ("Les Antonins d'après l'épigraphie," in the Revue des Deux Mondes, December 1, 1874), and Havet (Le Christianisme et ses origines, IV, 425 ff.). But the authenticity of the letter is now universally acknowledged. See Boissier, in the Revue archéologique, 1876, p. 114; Renan, Les Evangiles, p. 476, note; Allard, Histoire des persécutions, I, 116 ff.; Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, II, 866; Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, part 2, I, 51.
 "lmperatoria brevitate," says Tacitus, referring to Galba. Tacitus, History, bk. I, chap. 18.
 Pliny, Letters, X, 97.
 Tertullian, Apology, 2.
 Allard, in his Ten Lectures on the Martyrs (pp. 120 ff.), and more fully in the Revue des questions historiques (July, 1912), clearly shows that the liberty accorded to Christianity, far from being a cause of weakness for the Roman Empire, was, from the time of Nero, an element of peace and security.
 On the causes of the persecutions, see Allard, op. cit., pp. 109-125, and "La Situation légale des chrétiens pendant les deux premiers siècles," in the Revue des questions historiques, 1896, pp. 5-43; Callewaert, "De la base juridique des premières persécutions," in the Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique, 1911, pp. 5-16, 633-651.
 See this document in Leclercq, Les Martyrs, I, 189 ff.
 St. Gregory of Tours, De gloria martyrum, 35 f.; cf. Missale gothicum, in Mabillon, De liturgia gallicana, p. 218.
 Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis, I, 124, note.
 Cf. Tillemont, Mémoires, II, 139. Tillemont makes this remark in connection with the Acts of SS. Nereus and Achilleus. And he does not pass a definite judgment on the authenticity of the Passio Clementis. He says: "We would wish that these things were as certain as they are famous." (Ibidem, p. 174.) But the difficulties which made the learned critic hesitate, have, it seems, for the most part been removed by Allard, Histoire des pers., I, 170 ff., and by de Rossi, Bullett. di archeol. crist., 1864, p. 5.
 Allard, op. cit., p. 170.
 Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis, I, 124; cf. ibidem, p. xci. Duchesne observes that neither St. Irenaeus nor Eusebius nor St. Jerome speaks of the martyrdom of this great Pope. So true is it that silence by the very best informed writers on an event of the highest importance cannot be regarded as a conclusive proof against the historical reality of that event.
 Eusebius places St. Simeon's martyrdom in the tenth year of Trajan, i. e., 107. On the date of St. Ignatius' martyrdom, see Allard, op. cit., pp. 189-192.
 Eusebius, H. E., III, xxxii, 1-4; cf. Acta sanctorum, February, III, 53-55.
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