chapter seven

Nothing can destroy the Spirit!

    As the disciples gathered Saint Peter's strangulated body for a proper burial after his crucifixion in 67 AD at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero , the influential disciples appointed Saint Linus, a holy man from Tuscany, as his successor to lead the young Church. Linus was born in Volterra and died on September 23, 76 AD. He created the first fifteen bishops and forbade women to enter a church with uncovered heads. It was during his pontificate that the evangelists Saint Luke and Saint Mark were martyred for their faith and the infant Church - a Church that was at war - at war with Rome for the proud empire scoffed at these Christians. Just as they had subdued the Jews before Christ's birth, so also they would do the same to these upstart Christians. Peter had dared to venture to the heart of this empire, bringing a message to Caesar that his work was done. His Roman legions had made paths through the populace so that the apostles could travel afar. Rome's galleys had swept the seas so Christian envoys could sail safely. Peter, like Christ before him, maintained that Rome's laws had clasped the world in peace so the nations could hear the good tidings of the Gospel; he had come to conquer Rome not with a sword, but with the sceptre of love and sacrifice. The eagles adorning the Capitol and legions would be replaced by the Cross. Where the pagan temples stood on Vatican Hill, would rise the greatest tribute to the Son of God - the seat of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. But it would not come easily nor early, for Rome owned the earth and the her legions had downtrodden the earth, shaking every land with its superior tread. Her galley prows had traveled every sea in search of new riches and conquests. Wherever the eagle standards appeared foreign kings would lay down their arms, kneeling in submission to mighty Rome, while fearfully opening their treasures and homes to the greedy lust of Rome. No power had been able to withstand the sword of Rome. Yet here was a handful of unarmed Christians calling for Rome to lay down her sword and take up the cross. Rome laughed and resolved to wipe this "gnat of perturbance" off the face of the earth. Little did mighty Rome know that the Cross is indeed mightier than the sword, no matter how much blood was shed.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

    Blood indeed was shed as Christian after Christian joyfully embraced death at the hands of the frustrated and bewildered proud, overconfident Romans. But their blood became the seeds of Christianity throughout the world. Little did anyone know, other than those truly devoted to Christ, that Rome's days were numbered and Christianity's just beginning. Into this scenario Linus became the second Pope. He ruled for eleven years in which time the persecutions intensified as Rome became more and more frustrated not only at the sight of these "crazy Christians dying with a smile on their face and love in their hearts" but the growing unrest in Jerusalem where the Jews, who had grown weary of Roman dominance, mounted one last effort to oust the Romans from Israel. As Rome had done in the past, they squashed this uprising at the battle of Masada, which became a battle cry for the Jewish nation for centuries to come as they saw their mighty Jerusalem destroyed in 70 AD. Under Vespasian and then his son Titus the Romans put a stranglehold on the Jewish food and water supplies, starving thousands. Helpless, thousands of Jews were slaughtered when the Romans marched on the city, razing the walls of Jerusalem to the ground. Out of despair, God raises up hope and many Jews realized the old religion was ending. They realized the letter of the Law must give way to the spirit of the Law - the new spirit of Christianity. Indeed, through their conversion was fulfilled the words of David in Psalm 118: 4, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone." Christ, Who had been rejected by the Jews was now the One they turned to in rebuilding their faith.

    It was Saint Cletus who the disciples turned to as the third successor of Peter upon St. Linus' death in 76 AD. Pope St. Cletus was the first Roman-born elected and drew up the rules for the consecration of bishops and established rules for governing ecclesiastical garb. Near the tomb of St. Peter he ordered an oratory be built for the burial of martyrs. During this time he advised bishops to ordain priests and deacons so the faith could spread. He consulted by messenger with the Bishop of Antioch who had jurisdiction over Syria, the Bishop of Ephesus who ruled over Asia Minor, the Bishop of Caesarea who governed Palestine, the Bishop of Alexandria who covered all of Egypt, and the Bishop of Carthage who was responsible for the rest of Northern Africa.

    In 88 AD St. Cletus was laid to rest near the tomb of St. Linus on Vatican Hill. He was succeeded by Pope Saint Clement I who was consecrated a bishop by Peter himself. Clement restored the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the rite of St. Peter and introduced the "Amen" into religious ceremonies. In addition to the increasing persecutions by the Romans, Clement had to contend with schism and mutiny from within. The internal strife in the Church at Corinth prompted him to write his famous epistle to the Corinthians in which he urged the duties of charity and total submission to the authority of the clergy and the pope. It bore great fruit and the Corinthian Church once again fell in line with Rome. Clement died a martyr somewhere between the years 97 and 100 AD when the Emperor Trajan banished him to Pontus. There he was thrown into the sea with an anchor tied around his neck. During his papacy Saint John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by the Emperor Domitian and expected to suffer a cruel martyrdom, but God miraculously intervened and John emerged unhurt. Spooked by this, the Romans exiled him to the Isle of Patmos where he would be inspired to write the Apocalypse, or Revelation with numerous visions from God. He died at an old age in total peace in Ephesus in the year 100 AD.

    Clement was succeeded by Pope Saint Evaristus, the fifth successor of Peter and the first Grecian-born pontiff whose papacy, in reality, is recorded to the Second Century. Therefore we will cover his pontificate when we deal with the Second Century in future installments.

    One century down...nineteen and counting to go. The four popes who had ruled during that first embryo-stage century had set the tone for Holy Mother Church. The Mass had been established, catechumens were gaining in numbers and a hierarchy had been set up with the Bishop of Rome being recognized as the authentic and authorized successor of Peter, therefore having jurisdiction over all other bishops. All owed their obedience and loyalty to the Vicar of Christ in Rome. Anyone who failed to recognize this authority was considered an outsider. If a controversy or disagreement concerning the teachings and doctrines of the Church arose, the Bishop of Rome - the Pope - had the final say.

    Though the bloodshed would continue and even increase in the name of Jesus Christ, no matter how hard the Romans tried to destroy them bodily, they could not kill the Spirit. It was the age of Blood and that blood, nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Soul and Divinity, replenished countless souls to shed their own blood so that they could indeed join Him in a kingdom that would never end. The Romans could not understand this and grappled on, wrestling with more cruel ways to destroy Christianity.

    In chapter eight we shall cover the second century, one that was even more bloody than the first. In addition, we will examine the spiritual life of the early Christians and what prompted them to defy the things of the world in favor of Heavenly rewards.