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Rome and the Christian Church A.D. 64 -180

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TRUMPETS sounded the fire alarm in Rome on the night of July 18, in the year 64. It seemed that the flames first broke out in the crowded section near the Great Circus and spread rapidly, driven by a strong wind to row after row of wooden houses. Sparks carried by the wind started other fires. People fled in panic. The fire roared on unchecked, continuing for six days and six nights. When it was finally brought under control, most of the city lay in ruins. People could not believe that one small accidental fire somewhere could have caused all that damage. Some thought several fires had started at the same time. They looked about for someone to blame. Soon they began saying that Nero, the emperor, had set the fire himself. Others said that he had murdered members of his own family and the angry gods were striking back with thunderbolts from the sky. Frightened by such talk, Nero turned suspicion away from himself by blaming the Christians. Not much was known about them, but since they were members of the poorer classes they were looked upon with suspicion. The bread and wine of their suppers, which represented the body and blood of Jesus, led many Romans to believe that the Christians were actually cannibals. There were rumors that Christians killed and ate small children at their secret meetings. Nero’s persecution of the Christians, therefore, proved to be highly popular. The prisons were soon filled with a “great multitude” of Christians and executions and brutal tortures went on day after day in Nero’s Circus, which was located where St. Peter’s Cathedral stands today. Peter and Paul may have been executed during or shortly after this wave of persecution. The “great multitude” that filled the prisons suggests that the Christian …

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