F. W. Farrar
The Early Days of Christianity
THE RISE OF THE ANTICHRIST
“Hic hostis Deum Hominumque templis expulit superos suis, Civesque patria; spiritum fratri abstulit Hausit cruorem matris; - et lucem videt.” Sen. Octav. 239 “Praestare Neronem Securem valet haec aetas.” Juv. Sat. viii. 173
vice, all the splendour, all the degradation of Pagan Rome seemed to
be gathered up in the person of that Emperor who first placed
himself in a relation of direct antagonism against Christianity.
Long before death ended the astute comedy in which Augustus had so
gravely borne his part,
he had experienced the Nemesis of Absolutism, and foreseen the awful
possibilities which it involved. But neither he, nor any one
else, could have divined that four such rulers as Tiberius, Gaius,
Claudius, and Nero – the first a sanguinary tyrant, the second a
furious madman, the third an uxorious imbecile, the fourth a
heartless buffoon – would in succession afflict and horrify the
world. Yet these rulers say upon the breast of
The sketch which I am now presenting to the reader is the necessary introduction to the annals of that closing epoch of the first century, which witnessed the early struggle of Christianity with the Pagan power In the thirteen years of Nero’s reign all the worst elements of life which had long mingled with the sap of ancient civilization seem to have rushed at once into their scarlet flower. To the Christians of that epoch the dominance of such an Emperor presented itself in the aspect of wickedness raised to superhuman exaltation, and engaged in an impious struggle against the Lord and against His saints.
days of Nero, the Christians had never been brought into collision
with the Imperial Government. We may set aside as a worthless
fiction the story that Tiberius had been so much interested in the
account of the Crucifixion forwarded to him by Pontius Pilate, as to
consult the Senate on the advisability of admitting Jesus among the
gods of the Pantheon.
It is very unlikely that Tiberius ever heard of the existence of the
Christians. In its early days the Faith was too humble to
excite any notice out 0of the limits of
Up to the
tenth year of Nero’s reign the Christians had many reasons to be
grateful to the power of the
spirit was walking in the house of the Caesars – a spirit of lust
and blood which destroyed every family in succession with which they
were allied. The Octavii, the Claudii, the Domitii, the
Silani, were all hurled into ruin or disgrace in their attempt to
scale, by intermarriage with the deified race of Julius, “the dread
summits of Caesarean power.” It has been well said that no
page even of Tacitus has so somber and tragic an eloquence as the
mere Stemma Caesarum. The great Julius, robbed by death of
his two daughters, was succeeded by his nephew Augustus,
who, in ordering the assassination of Caesarion, the natural son of
Julius by Cleopatra, extinguished the direct line of the greatest of
the Caesears. Augustus by his three marriages was the father of but
one daughter, and that daughter disgraced his family and embittered
his life. He saw his two elder grandsons die under
circumstances of the deepest suspicion; and being induced to
disinherit the third for the asserted stupidity and ferocity of his
disposition, was succeeded by Tiberius, who was only his stepson,
and had not a drop of the Julian blood in his veins. Tiberius had
but one son, who was poisoned by his favourite, Sejanus, before his
own death. This son, Drusus, left but one son, who was
compelled to commit suicide by his cousin, Gaius; and one daughter,
whose son, Rubellius Plautus, was put to death by order of Nero.
The marriage of Germanicus, the nephew of Tiberius, and the elder
Agrippina, the granddaughter of Augustus, seemed to open new hopes
to the Roman people and the imperial house. Germanicus was a
prince of courage, virtue, and ability, and the elder Agrippinia was
one of the purest and noblest women of her day. Of the nine
children of this virtuous union six alone survived. On the
parents, and the three sons in succession, the hopes of
That son was Nero! Truly the Palace of the Caesars must have been haunted by many a restless ghost, and amid its vast and solitary chambers the guilty lords of its splendour must have feared lest they should come upon some spectre weeping tears of blood. In yonder corridor the floor was still stained with the life-blood of the murdered Gaius; in that subterranean prison the miserable Drusus, cursing the name of his great-uncle Tiberius, tried to assuage the pangs of hunger by chewing the stuffing of his mattress; in that gilded saloon Nero had his private interviews with the poison-mixer, Locusta, whom he salaried among “the instruments of his government;” in that splendid hall Britannicus fell into convulsions after tasting his brother’s poisoned draught; that chamber, bright with the immoral frescoes of Arellius, witnessed the brutal kick which caused the death of the beautiful Poppaea. Fit palace for the Antichrist – fit temple for the wicked human god! – a temple which reeked with the memory of infamies - a palace which echoed with the ghostly footfall of murdered men!
the Second, mother of Nero, was the Lady Macbeth of that scene of
murder, but a Lady Macbeth with a life of worse stains and a heart
of harder steel. Born at
was twenty-one when her brother Gaius succeeded to the throne.
Towards the close of his re3ign she was involved in the conspiracy
of Lepidus, and was banished to the dreary
On the accession of Claudius, Agrippina was restored to her rank and fortune, and once more undertook the management of her child. He was, as we see from his early busts, a child of exquisite beauty. His beauty made him an object of special pride to his mother. From this time forward it seems to have been her one desire to elevate the body to the rank of Emperor. In vain did the astrologers warn her that his elevation involved her murder. To such dark hints of the future she had but one reply – Occidat dum imperet! “Let him slay me, so he do but reign!”
By her second marriage, with Crispus Passienus, she further increased her already enormous wealth. She bided her time. Claudius was under the control of his freedmen, Narcissus and Pallus, and of the Empress Messalina, who had borne him tow children, Britannicus and Octavia. The fierce and watchful jealously of Messalina was soon successful in securing the banishment and subsequent murder of Julia, the younger sister of Agrippina, and in spite of the retirement in which the latter strove to withdraw herself from the furious suspicion of the Empress, she felt that her own life and that of her son were in perpetual danger. A story prevailed that when Britannicus, then about seven years old, and Nero, who was little more than three years older, had ridden side by side in the Trojan equestrian game, the favour of the populace towards the latter had been so openly manifested that Messalina had dispatched emissaries to strangle him in bed, and that they had been frightened from doing so by seeing a snake glide from under the pillow. Meanwhile, Messalina was diverted from her purpose by the criminal pursuits which were notorious to every Roman with the single exception of her husband. She was falling deeper and deeper into that dementation preceding doom which at last enabled her enemy Narcissus to head a palace conspiracy and to strike her to the dust. Agrippina owed her escape from a fate similar to that of her younger sister solely to the infatuated passion of the rival whose name through all succeeding ages has been a by word of guild and shame.
But now that Claudius was a widower, the fact that he was her uncle, and that unions between uncle and niece were regarded as incestuous, did not prevent Agrippina from plunging into the intrigues by which she hoped to secure the Emperor for her third husband. Aided by the freedman Pallas, brother of Felix, the Procurator of Judaea, and by the blandishments which her near relationship to Claudius enabled her to exercise, she succeeded in achieving the second great object of her ambition. The twice-widowed matron became the sixth wife of the imbecile Emperor within three months of the execution of her predecessor. She had now but one further design to accomplish, and that was to gain the purple for the son whom she loved with all the tigress affection of her evil nature. She had been the sister and the wife, she wished also to be the mother of an Emperor.
The story of
her daring schemes, her reckless cruelty, her incessant intrigues,
is recorded in the stern pages of Tacitus. During the five
years of her married life,
it is probable that no day passed without her thoughts brooding upon
the guilty end which she had dept steadily in view during so many
vicissitudes. Her first plan was to secure for Nero the hand
of Octavia, the only daughter of Claudius. Lucius Junius
Silanus, a great-great-grandson of August, who might well be dreaded
as a strong protector of the rights of his young brother-in-law,
Britannicus. As a favourite of the Emperor, and the betrothed
of the Emperor’s daughter, Silanus had already received splendid
honours at the hands of the Senate, but at one blow Agrippian hurled
him into the depths of shame and misery. The infamous
Vitellius – Vitellius who had cone begged as a favour a slipper of
Messalina, and carried it in his bosom and kissed it with profound
reverence – Vitellius who had placed a gilded image of the freedman
Pallas among his household gods – trumped up a false charge against
Silanus, and, as Censor, struck his name off the list of the Senate.
His betrothal annulled, his praetorship abrogated, the high-spirited
young man, recognizing whose hand it was that had aimed this
poisoned arrow at his happiness, waited till Agrippina’s
wedding-day, and on that day committed suicide on the altar of his
own Penates. The next step of the Empress was to have
her rival Lollia Paulina charged with magic, to secure her
banishment, to send a tribune to kill her, and ot identify, by
personal inspection, her decapitated head. Then Calpunia was
Agrippina’s prosperous wickedness was bearing her along full sail to
the fatal haven of her ambition. She obtained the title of
As for the
phenomena on which the populace looked with terror – the fact that
the skies had seemed to blaze with fire on the day of Nero’s
adoption, and violent shocks of earthquake had shaken
Many warnings now showed her that the time was ripe for her supreme endeavour. Her quarrel with Narcissus had broken out into threats and recriminations in the very presence of the Emperor. The Senate showed signs of indignant recalcitrance against her attacks on those whose power she feared, or whose wealth she envied. Her designs were now so transparent, that Narcissus began openly to show his compassion for the hapless and almost deserted Britannicus. But, worst of all, it was clear that t Claudius was growing weary both of her and of her son. He had changed his former wife for worse. If Messelina had been unfaithful to him, so he began to suspect was Agrippina, and he could not but feel that she had changed her old fawning caresses for a threatening insolence. He was sick of her ambition, of her intrigues, of the hatred she always displayed to his oldest and most faithful servants, of her pushing eagerness for her Nero, of her treacherous cruelty towards his own children. He was heard to drop ominous expressions. He began to display towards Britannicus a yearning affection, full of the passionate hope that when he was a little older his wrongs would be avenged. All this Agrippina learnt from her spies. Not a day was to be lost. Narcissus, whose presence was the chief security for his master’s life, had gone to the baths of Sinuessa to find relief from a fit of the gout. There lay at this time in prison, on a charge of poisoning, a woman named Locusta, whose career recalls the Mrs. Turner of the reign of James I., and the Marchioness de Brinvilliers of the court of Louis XIV. To this woman Agrippina repaired with the promise of freedom and reward, if she would provide a poison which would disturb the brain without too rapidly destroying the life. Halotus, the Emperor’s praegustor, or taster, and Xenophon, his physician, had been already won over to share in the deed. The poison was infused into a fine and delicious mushroom of a kind of which Claudius was known to be particularly fond, and Agrippina gave this mushroom to her husband with her own hand. After tasting it he became very quiet, and then called for wine. He was carried off to bed senseless, but the quantity of wine which he had drunk weakened the effects of the poison, and at a assign from Agrippina the faithless physician finished the murder by tickling the throat of the sufferer with a poisoned feather. Before the morning of Cot 13, A.D. 54, Claudius was dead.
His death was concealed from the public and from his children, whom Agrippina with hypocritical caresses and false tears kept by her side in her own chamber, until everything was ready for the proclamation of Nero. At , which the Chaldaeans had declared would be the only lucky hour of an unlucky day, the gates of the palace were thrown open, and Nero walked forth with Afranius Burrus by his side. The Praetorian Praefect informed the guard that Claudius had appointed Nero his successor. But as no one answered, and the young prince was not forthcoming, they accepted what seemed to be an accomplished fact. Nero went to the Praetorian camp, promised a donation of 15,000 sesterces (more than L 130) to each soldier, and was proclai9med Emperor. The Senate accepted the initiative of the Praetorians, and by sunset Nero was securely seated on the throne of the Roman world. The dream of Agrippina’s life was accomplished. She was now the mother, as she had been the sister and the wife of an Emperor; and that young Emperor, when the tribune came to ask him the watchword for the might, answered in the words – Optimae Matri! “To the Best of Mothers!”
 On his death-bed he asked his friends “whether he had fitly gone through the play of life,” and, if so, begged for their applause like an actor on the point of leaving the stage (Suet. Octav. 99).
 Out of 43 person in Lipsius’s Stemma Caesarum, 32 died violent deaths, i.e., nearly 75 per cent.
 Suet. Ner. 31; Mart. Spect. Ep. 2.
 Ps. Clem. Hom i. 6; Tert. Apol. 5; Euseb. H.E. ii. 2; Jer. Chron. Pasch. i. 430. Braun (De Tiberii Chritum in Deorum numerum referendi consilio, Bonn, 1834) vainly tried to support this fable. Tiberius, more than any Emperor, was “circa Deos et religiones negligentior” (Seut. Tib. 69).
Tert. Apol. 3; ad Natt. i. 3; my Life and
and Works of
 Rom. Xiii. 1-7.
 It is characteristic of the manners of the age that Julius Caesar had married four times, Augustus thrice, Tiberius twice, Gauis thrice, Claudius six times, and Nero thrice. Yet Nero was the last of the Caesars, even of the adoptive line. No descendants had survived of the offspring of so many unions, and, as Merivale says, “a large proportion, which it would be tedious to calculate, were the victims of domestic jealously and politic assassination” (Hist. vi. 366).
 Tac. Ann. v.3, vi. 24.
 “The Verres of a single province sank before the majesty of the law, and the righteous eloquence of his accuser; against the Verres of the world there was no defense except in the dagger of the assassin” (Freeman, Essays, ii. 330).
 Tac. Ann. vii. 23.
 Tac. Ann. xii. 66, xiii. 5.
 Suet. Ner. I; Plut. Aemil. 25.
 “The grandfather of Nero had been checked by Augustus from the bloodshed of his gladiatorial shows…his great-grandfather, ‘the best of his race, had changed sides three times, not without disgrace, in the civil wars…his great-great-grandfather had rendered Roman infamous by cruelty and treachery at Pharsalia, and was also charged with most unRoman pusillanimity” (see Suet. Ner. 1-5; Merivale, vi. 62, seq.).
 Tacitus says two years; but see Merivale, v. 517, vi. 88.
 Suetonius thinks that the story rose from a snake’s skin which his mother gave him as an amulet, and which for some time he wore in a bracelet (Ner. 6).
 She was married in A.D. 49, and poisoned her husband in October, A.D. 54.
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