Tertullian, the Carthaginian theologian said, "The Blood of the Martyrs is
the seed of Christianity." Those first centuries indeed were the setting
for a fertile field of holy martyrs who gave their very lives for their
faith amidst horrific persecution by a plethora of Roman Emperors who
paranoically feared these Christians were a threat to their existence. The
only threat to the Roman way of life was their own pagan lifestyle! This,
along with the blood of the millions of Christians who'd been put to the
death was their downfall, for justice demands that such atrocities must be
dealt with. Despite years of persecution, the Catholic Church survived and
flourished - their faith and perseverance converting innumerable souls who
in turn promulgated the faith and the Sacraments to far-reaching nations -
until Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity as the state religion.
Through this nurturing time schisms and Apostasies reared their ugly heads
but all the popes persevered and passed on a flourishing Church to those
who would follow and reap the blessings and life-giving sacrifices of the
early Christians. Because Rome had played such a pivotal role in the
annals of early Church history, the city of Seven Hills became the
permanent seat of Roman Catholicism. The Holy Mass flourished; blossoming
liturgically once Latin was declared the official language of the Church.
It has long been said that if something is of God it will persevere and
grow, if not it will fade away. The greatest example of this is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Consider
that over five million were murdered in the first three centuries of the
Church and yet, it multiplied miraculously through the blood of the martyrs.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has continued to spread
all over the world until it has today reached every corner of the earth.
It has done so despite the faults of humans, the mistakes of the
Magisterium and even bad Popes, excluding of course our present vicar who
is truly a saint in these end times. To say the Church is lily-white would
be an aberration for it has gone through some very trying times - schisms,
apostasies, wars, inquisitions, and massacres all in the name of the
Church. Yet despite these setbacks the Church has flourished and will
continue because it has rigorously obeyed the command Jesus Christ gave to
His Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold I am
with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:
That was the inspiration the Apostles had in dispersing to different
countries in order to carry out Our Lord's command. They baptized,
preached, celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and ruled in some of
the countries where they were dispatched. They also appointed and ordained
bishops and priests to rule and minister to those who believed - the faithful.
But there was a price to pay. And the price the early Christians paid was
the greatest treasure they could give --their lives. They were forced to
choose between a pagan culture where the morals of Rome were extremely
depraved and the Truth, the Way, and the Life.
This pagan evil spread from within the walls of Rome to the farthest
regions of the Roman empire. There were some 30,000 different "gods" and
"goddesses" which the Roman peoples worshipped a majority of them for the
very purpose of debauchery and immorality. This cancer spread rapidly and
those who sought to stop it, such as the Apostles and their many disciples,
were considered traitors to Rome. This was the crux of the reasons why the
full force of Rome was pitted against the new religion of these Christians.
Those whose faith was lax faltered and they betrayed their own fellow
Christians as to their location in homes, caves and forests where the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated.
The first Pope, of course, was a fisherman - Saint Peter. Christ commanded that His
Apostles "become fishers of men" (cf. Mark 1:17). As a legacy to Christ,
to the role Peter played, and a symbol of Christianity the fish became the
mark that identified those loyal to Christ. It was their way of
communicating while practicing their religion underground.
The Liturgy of the Mass was not set in stone. Because the Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass was celebrated in varied places, and often "on the run," no
special vestments were worn. Depending on where Mass was said the
celebrant would either sit at a table as Christ did or stand at the table.
Mass prayers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the earlier days and
passed on so that eventually all were striving to emulate these
supplications. Though very little was written down and there was no set
"apostolic liturgy", "liturgical" improvisation did not open the door to
celebrants doing or saying anything they pleased" writes Fr. Pierre Loret
in "The Story of the Mass." This is encouraging to offset the modernist
movement within the Church today.
Research shows that when Mass was conducted in the Catacombs, the priest
often presided at the hollowed out tombs in the cave walls. Thus, he had
his back to the people. This practice eventually evolved into a standard
practice until the Second Vatican Council.
The bread and wine were gathered from the gifts brought by the people. It
is documented that in the early days this was ordinary bread and wine, not
necessarily unleavened bread. Possibly, because of the diversity, the
Church sought in ensuing centuries to consolidate the type of properties to
Liberals today hold to the argument that the Holy Eucharist was always
meant to be given in the hand and condone wide-spread distribution to all
because in the early Church the baptized were handed Holy Communion while
standing and also took the consecrated bread back to their homes to give to
those who could not attend the Mass. What these modern free-thinkers fail
to realize is the bread was often bulky, the catacombs rocky and uneven -
thus making kneeling practically impossible - and because of confinement of
area, very few cold attend. It was also dangerous to attend at times for
fear they might be followed and discovered, thus jeopardizing the rest of
the faithful. There was also a great shortage of celebrants and thus
prudence necessitated that the early Christians conduct themselves in the
manner they did. Later, as the Church developed and sanctuaries were built
tabernacles were created to keep the Blessed Sacrament. As more churches
developed, emphasis was placed on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament by
providing a quiet, reverent atmosphere which prompted kneeling and
receiving Our Lord on the tongue.
But in the early days of the Church, this was impossible. Many things
were impossible, including regular reception of the Holy Eucharist for
Masses were at times few and far between and the fear of being discovered
Despite this hindrance, Christianity grew. It is important here to note
that while we all call them Christians - they were in reality all Catholics
for they received the Sacraments and participated in the Mass, receiving
the true Body and Blood of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Catholic in
Greek is katholikos which etymologically is derived from kata meaning
"thoroughly" and holos meaning "whole" - thus: universal. The Church was
indeed boundless for these early Catholics spread the faith to all regions
of the vast empire, clashing with the pagan culture and mores that were a
direct dichotomy of everything Christ taught. They were living in the
world, but not of the world. For their beliefs, they were persecuted.
Sound familiar with what is happening today?
Like what is happening in this century here in the United States and
worldwide, the Roman culture became debase over a period of time.
Originally, it was set up as an idealistic culture, to learn from the
Greeks' mistakes and become the greatest empire ever. But as time went on,
greed, lust, envy --all the deadly sins crept in and Rome began to decay
As Rome capitalized on the Greek's mistakes, they also were victimized by
them for history does indeed repeat itself. Because of the tremendous
Grecian influence, most of the upper class of Rome spoke Greek. Romans
strove to imitate the Greeks in many ways, chief among them their worship
of "gods" and "goddesses." As mentioned earlier, many of these deities
stood for all that is immoral and debase. Just as Greece lost its soul, so
also the carbuncle of immorality and paganism rotted the once proud Roman
empire from within. As mentioned, history has a way of repeating itself,
which is paralleled in today's headlines about our very country. America
is losing its soul also. But back to the early days - the final days of
the Roman empire from the glorious times of Julius and Augustus Caesar to
the decadent reigns of Caligula and Nero. As we touched in the previous
installment, it was under Nero's regime that Christians began to be
persecuted and murdered by the thousands for their faith.
The Christians had been persecuted well before that, but not to the degree
that Nero accomplished. Also, harassment and persecution prior to that had
not come from the Romans as much as from the Jews as chronicled in the New
Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was imprisoned in 44
A.D. and Saint Paul was taken prisoner in Jerusalem in 56 A.D. The two were
not incarcerated and put to death by the Romans until 67 A.D, after the
great fire of Rome perpetrated by the vile Nero.
While the blood of the martyrs nourished the seeds of Christianity, the
blood of idolatry sowed seeds of discontent. In past installments we saw where the first Jewish revolt
against Rome occurred at the same time Nero was killing millions of
Christians. While the Roman general Titus put down this bloody revolt in 70 A.D.
when he destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, it was the beginning of the decline of Rome which over the next several centuries would sink into decay because of its moral malaise.
In the next installment we will cover the Popes of the third century leading up to the time of Constantine and the end of persecution.