PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Catacombs Conquering the Coliseum”.
Things aren’t always as they appear. A recent magazine carried an article on the Coliseum in Rome. It spoke of it as the place where “Christians died for a faith, that is now taken too lightly”. i.e. “taken for granted”. We look back to that famous historic amphitheater as the place where Christians were a spectacle to be pitied. It is true that many Christians, facing the Caesar, greeted him as “those who were about to die”. They were ridiculed, mocked, faced starved lions, and died for the blood-thirsty passion of the spectators of the day. Their blood was spilled so freely in the arena that a visitor, asking about relic to mark his visit to Rome’s coliseum, was told, “take a handful of sand from the Coliseum, it is all martyrs!”. That Flavian amphitheater seated over 50,000-85,000 spectators. In its arenas gladiators and wild beasts fought for the entertainment of the public. On the Emperor’s birthday over one thousand exotic animals were slain in one day! Christians weren’t the only victims to this madness. This show place, still standing in modern day Rome built by Jewish slaves, and had surrounding walls costing over 50 million dollars to build. The great Southern Baptist Preacher Vance Havner once said, “If we had sat in those grandstands amidst the grandeur that was Rome we might have been deceived. For it was not the howling mob in the Coliseum that determined the course of history. Underground in the catacombs another force was working. A handful of men and women who worshipped another King called Jesus, who had died and risen again and was coming back again someday-here was the beginning of an empire within an empire, The Christians beneath the Caesars that would change the world. They crept along the subterranean passageways and tunnels, among the tombs and caverns, haunted and persecuted, were the scum of the earth, in Rome’s eyes. If we had prowled around in these gloomy depths, we might have come upon little companies singing songs, listening to a Gospel message, observing the Lord’s Supper. We would have said, ‘they haven’t a chance!’. BUT THE CHRISTIANS UNDERGROUND EVENTUALLY UPSET THE CAESARS ABOVE GROUND. THE CATACOOMBS EVENTUALLY OVERCAME THE COLISEUM AND PUT THAT GREAT AMPHITHEATER OUT OF BUSINESS”. (Havner Hearts Aflame. 1954).
On January 1, 404 B.C. A Christian monk, from Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, was led by an inner voice to go to Rome, and plead for an end to the gladiatorial games. He followed the crowds into the Coliseum. Two gladiators were fighting. Telemachus tried to get between them to get them to stop the fight. Three times he cried out, “in the name of Christ forbear!”. Some stories go that he was killed when he was run through by one of the gladiator’s sword. Actually, a more historic accuracy is that the frenzied crowd, angry at his attempt to stop the entertainment, actually stoned the Christian monk to death. The historian Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical history Book V, Chapter XXVI: Of Honorius The Emperor and Telemachus the Monk, says “when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, Telemachus stepped down into the area, endeavoring to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the triad fury of the demon who delights in those bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable Emperor was informed of this, he numbered Telemachus among the number of victorious martyrs, and put an end, once for all to that impious spectacle!” THE CHRISTIANS HAD CONQUERED THE COLISEUM!
We live in a pagan world. We are headed toward a very perilous age for Christians. We are given very little chance to impact our world. But as we read Christian history remember-Committed Christians who “love not their life to the end” even in numbers of courageous single Christians, even living underground, in their own self-imposed catacombs, can rise up in Spirit-filled courage, and make an impact! We must rise up, stand up, refuse to back up, shut up, until we are taken up. Who knows? History might just repeat itself!