I have a list of books that I am trying to read this summer. Last year I read a book called Quo Vadis by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz. It is a historical novel which takes place during the time of the Emperor Nero. The novel focuses on a character named Marcus, a military tribune and patrician who is in love with a foreign woman he calls Lygia. He will stop at nothing to have her be at his side even though she is a slave. As the story progresses, many characters are encountered including a Greek charlatan named Chilo and a host of early Christians including St. Peter and St. Paul. Marcus undergoes a serious change of perspective as the story develops and climaxes with an account of the Roman persecution of early Christians.
The reason I bring up the book is because today’s the Feast day of the first martyrs of Rome. Quo Vadis illustrates the transforming power of Christianity with its practical advantage for individuals and society. The book contains vivid dialogue that takes the reader to the first century and explains the essence of Christian living in the midst of the world. You can tell that the early Christians were all about Jesus Christ and didn’t mess around, even when it costs them to lose their very lives to bloodthirsty lions, excruciating crucifixions, and as human torches. The book brings the martyrs alive. I could almost hear St. Peter preaching to the crowd of fearful Roman Christians, giving them hope and inspiration for the last time… and they knew they had something waiting for them that was better and then their present lives.
Sometimes people doubt the power of the witness of early Christians. They should read this book to understand how a prideful, selfish, and lustful society of pagans crumbled and succumbed to the victorious energy of Jesus Christ. I once heard a hip-hop song on which the confused emcee insulted other rappers as making “no sense like Roman Christians.” In many ways it really doesn’t make sense for pagans to completely embrace the beliefs that they had been persecuting. But according to God’s plan, it makes perfect sense for the most evil places to conquered and transformed as headquarters of holiness. Churches now stand in place of venues of depravity. A cross triumphantly stands over a pagan obelisk that stood in the place where martyrs shed their blood.
The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church.