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History 4: Christendom

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  1. 1. Orientation
    12 Steps
  2. 2. Eternity in Operation: The Roman Principate and the New Testament Church
    11 Steps
  3. 3. Imperium sine Fine: The Successions of Rome, Judea, and the Apostolic Church
    11 Steps
  4. 4. The World That Died in the Night: Christianity, the Church Fathers, and the Transformation of Culture
    11 Steps
  5. 5. A Creed and Still a Gospel: Constantine, Nicea and Athanasius
    11 Steps
  6. 6. Centripetal & Centrifugal Forces: The Barbarians, the Church and the Fall of Rome
    11 Steps
  7. 7. Only the Lover Sings: Augustine of Hippo
    11 Steps
  8. 8. The Long Defeat: Byzantium
    11 Steps
  9. 9. There is No God But Allah: Islam
    11 Steps
  10. 10. How the Celts Saved Civilization: Christianity in Ireland and Britain
    11 Steps
  11. 11. The Holy Roman Empire: Benedict & Monasticism, Gregory the Great & Worship, Charlemagne & Education
    11 Steps
  12. 12. The Ballad of the White Horse: The Norse and Alfred the Great
    11 Steps
  13. 13. Medieval Covenants: Feudalism and the Norman Conquest
    12 Steps
  14. 14. Deus Vult: The First Crusade
    13 Steps
  15. 15. Outremer: Crusader Kingdoms and Later Crusades
    12 Steps
  16. 16. The Music of the Spheres: Medieval Art, Towns, Cathedrals and Monks
    11 Steps
  17. 17. Wonder & Delight: Medieval Education, the Scholastics and Dante
    12 Steps
  18. 18. Just Rule and a Braveheart: Plantagenets, Common Law and the Scots
    11 Steps
  19. 19. The Fracturing of Christendom I: Invasions, Wars and Plagues
    11 Steps
  20. 20. The Fracturing of Christendom II: The End of the Middle Ages
    12 Steps
  21. 21. Man the Measure I: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  22. 22. Man the Measure II: The Renaissance
    12 Steps
  23. 23. The Morning Stars of the Reformation: Wycliffe to Erasmus
    11 Steps
  24. 24. Justification by Faith: The Great Reformation
    11 Steps
  25. 25. Towards a Proper End: Reformations and Counter-Reformations
    11 Steps
  26. 26. Lex Rex: The English Civil War and the Scots
    12 Steps
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The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.

For this final lecture, we’ll talk about what is perhaps the most infamous of emperors from this time, although they’re really all rather horrible. But then of course is Nero, who reigned from 54 to 68 AD. His mother was Agrippina, who was rather diabolical and was the one who was responsible for killing Claudius to pave the way for Nero to become emperor.

His father was a man by the name of Denetius, who we’re told was an adulterer, somebody who practiced incest, and somebody who also delighted in treason. Nero became emperor at the age of 16. Recognizing that he would most likely become the emperor, his mother, while he was still fairly young, decided to enroll the famous philosopher Seneca to be his private teacher.

In fact, Seneca would teach him for five years and then would serve as his counselor for five years more. He was to teach Nero literature and morality, but Agrippina, Nero’s mother, was very clear that Seneca was on no account to teach him philosophy. She thought that if Nero asked the big questions, If he wanted to really know about God, if he wanted to really know about the purpose of life or the whole meaning of everything, that he would become unfit to govern.

Probably, if he had had philosophy, he would have been a much better person. Seneca tried his hardest to make Nero a better person. Wrote him books with titles like “On Anger”, “On the Brevity of Life”, meaning be careful, “On the Tranquility of the Soul”, guard that which is eternal, on mercy, probably the most famous one and the one that Nero probably practiced the least, and also on providence, the idea that there really is a God or perhaps gods who order everything.

As for Seneca, he had the wisdom to say things like this. “I persist in praising not the life that I do lead, but that life which I ought to lead. I follow it from a mighty distance, crawling.” He was somebody who believed that you could better yourself through the classics. His theology and philosophy are quite clear through his writings, and often he doesn’t really know where to go. Sometimes he sees God, for example, as a personal providence who directs our lives, and he could tell Nero about that. And other times he just saw God as something like a first cause or simply fate. He wasn’t personal at all. Sometimes Seneca argued that the soul was something that was like God dwelling in us as a guest. It’s almost like what you see at Pentecost. But other times he would argue, yeah, the soul is just a material thing. If we could somehow see it up close, like in a microscope today, then we would just see it as a material thing that could be explained materially.

Sometimes he saw the afterlife as the place of perfection. Other times he said, “It’s just a beautiful dream. “I wish it was true.” In other words, Seneca flopping around on truth is probably part of the reason why Nero didn’t take him seriously enough. It could also be the fact that Nero was well Nero. When Nero became emperor at the age of 16, he was rather popular. He decided that he would only command the armies. He abolished many of the taxes of old, and he even co-ruled with his mother. In fact, for a time, the coins of Nero’s reign had both his face and his mother Agrippina’s face upon them. Seneca, however, was worried that Nero was not really intelligent enough or moral enough to actually govern wisely. So Seneca, along with some of Nero’s other counselors, kind of his handlers, decided they would try to distract Nero with various vices or sin. Seneca actually said he was, quote, letting much evil pass in order to have the power of doing a little bit of good. Basically, let Nero be a monster so that we can kind of control things ourselves and do a little bit of good for the Roman Empire.

The problem, of course, was that Nero had no interest in goodness. He had no interest, for example, in religion, says Suetonius. He had extravagant eating habits and extravagant parties, much like Caligula had had. Sometimes Nero, when he got bored, would disguise himself as a common Roman and he would wander the streets of Rome at night where he would sometimes find his own people, mug them, beat them, sometimes even kill them.

At one point when a senator resisted him, not knowing it was Nero, Nero was so offended that the following day he had his Praetorian guard find the senator and make the senator take his own life.

As for his marriages, he divorced his first wife, Octavia, whom he later had murdered. He then remarried a woman by the name of Poppea, whom Tacitus says had everything, except for an honest mind. His mother, Agrippina, was opposed to this marriage. She saw, like Tacitus, how wicked this woman was and just thought Nero and this woman would be a terrible partnership. So Nero decided not to listen to his mother, but to arrange for his mother to die. Knowing that his mother already had several antidotes and had basically conditioned her body to resist various poisons, he decided he would make an arrangement for the sails to fall upon her while she was on her ship.

When she saw the sails falling and quickly out of the way, He had a backup plan, which was have the ship sink and she’ll drown. Well, she then swam to shore and survived. So Nero decided that he would not try to make it look like an accident, but instead simply sent his Praetorian guard to stab her to death.

And then when he saw her dead, he remarked how beautiful she was. In other words, you should be really bothered by such a demented character. A demented character who was also a painter, a poet, a musician, and an actor. Somebody who appeared on stage to perform what he had written poetically, musically, or perform in some play. This is something that increased his popularity at first. But as Nero, like Caligula, began spending wildly, far above his means, he had to confiscate the wealthy’s property by accusing them of treason and taking all of their wealth to fund his own habits. He even stole the gold and silver from the temples. Eventually, and much like Caligula, Nero got himself into trouble by calling himself a god. At one point, having a 120 foot statue of himself, depicting himself as Apollo, standing on one of the hills of Rome right next to his golden palace.

As one commentator says, actually it’s Will Durant, points out that Nero, as Apollos, looked like a gloriously fit god. In reality, he was 25 years old, weak, fat, and sickly. Looking out from that same hill and before he actually built his house, we’re told and it’s often hypothesized that Nero wanted to rebuild the city of Rome, to plan it as well as a city like Alexandria or Antioch, basically imitate what the Greeks did.

So in 64 AD, when the great fire swept through Rome, there were several rumors that Nero had arranged for the fire to actually start.

He had arranged for the city of Rome to be mostly destroyed so he could rebuild it as he saw fit. We really don’t know if those rumors are true or not. Some people even say that he basically played music from his balcony about the burning of Troy as the burning of Rome was happening. Again, those stories may not be accurate, but they do fit the character of Nero and what we know about him. What we do know from the history is that Nero was right at the forefront, arranging for the firefighting to put out the fire, and then opened up various public buildings and various public lands to house those who had been homeless.

But then as people began to whisper and gossip that he had caused the fire, that’s when he turned to the Christians and that’s when he blamed them. One of the first, actually the first great persecution of Christians by the Romans that most likely caused the deaths of both the apostles, Peter and Paul.

Once that persecution was largely over, Nero did go about redesigning Rome, making it a more open city, making it more grand, with all the houses on the main streets having first stories made of stone and having covered porches.

He also designed his great golden house, which supposedly had an octagonal dining room that could actually rotate based upon a device. And yet Nero’s life was terribly unhappy. His pregnant wife, Poppaea, died, Some say after he kicked her in the stomach for arriving home late one night. He then decided to remarry, but decided to remarry a man whom he had castrated. This is Nero and all of his decrepitude. When eventually news reached him of various people conspiring to overthrow him, he had his own reign of terror and saw many people die, either executed or forced to commit suicide, including his former teacher, Seneca.

Deciding to leave Rome, we’re told that he went on a concert tour of Greece, performing in all the famous theaters. To show the people of Greece his marvelous talents, he made it very clear that nobody was allowed to leave the theater until he was done.

According to Zetonius, there was at least one woman who gave birth in the theater while Nero waxed long in his various performances. Eventually various provinces rebelled against him, including Gaul, armies turned against him, and the Senate proclaimed Galba the new emperor. Nero decided that he would take his own life. He tried to drown himself, but gave that up, and then tried to stab himself, needing the help of a servant. But of course, before he died, He said, “Oh, what an artist dies in me.” Or as some accounts give it, “Oh, what an artist the world is losing.” In other words, Neo pretended to die the death of a martyr, but he really was just a prima donna who was full of himself.

As for the real martyrs, the contrast is there in the early church. It was actually those 12 disciples who had heard Jesus say things like, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Or had heard him say, “Take up your cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it. And whoever would lose his life will save it.” It’s these 12 apostles whom I’ll go through right now just kind of to give a capstone to this first lesson, who almost all of them died a martyr’s death. For example, we have Simon Peter. Simon being his Hebrew name, which means to hear, and Peter being a Greek name that Jesus gave to him, which means the rock. It was Peter, for example, who was the first one to confess that Jesus actually was the Christ. It was Peter who was one of the inner three and who walked on water. It was Peter whom, according to Philip Schaft, was the strongest, at the same time, the weakest of the 12 disciples. He was kindhearted, he was quick, he was ardent, he was hopeful, he was impulsive, changeable, and apt to run from one extreme to another, says Schaff.

And yet Schaff also notes, Peter was quick in returning to his right position as in turning away from it. Meaning that after he three times denied Jesus upon the night that Jesus was arrested, later on we have the marvelous story Jesus secures Peter’s repentance by telling him three times to feed my sheep. It was also Peter who, according to what I already told you, this is the old tradition of the church going all the way back to guys like Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome, they say that Peter was crucified in Rome and most accounts say he was crucified upside down at his own request, something that Jesus predicted in terms of his crucifixion.

Peter’s brother was, of course, Andrew, whose name means manly. It was Andrew who we’re told was the first to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah and convinced Peter to come to Jesus. As for Andrew, he most likely traveled further north to places like Edessa, where he preached against the worship of idols. When the leaders didn’t listen to him, we’re told according to the old accounts that he was crucified upon an X cross, an X-shaped cross, which is why you’ll see the X-shaped cross associated with Andrew. It’s also the flag, for example, of Scotland. But because it took him multiple days to die upon that cross since he was not nailed to it, he used that time to preach to all who passed by for as long as he had the strength.

Then of course we come to James, the son of Zebedee. He, along with his brother John, were named the sons of thunder because they often said dumb things or impetuous things and asked for rather impetuous things.

His name of James is the same as Jacob. It means he who grabs the heel. He’s known as James the Great or James the Greater largely because he’s the more prominent James among the disciples. As for the same James, we know that he was the one who was a leader of the early church, probably the first true leader of the church in Jerusalem, and was also killed by Herod Agrippa as a way to try to appease the people.

Then we have disciples like Philip, whose name means friend or lover of horses. Philip was from Galilee. He’s the one who told his brother that he had found the one who Moses and the prophets had talked about. His brother Nathaniel, also one of the disciples, merely asked the question, “Could anything good come from Nazareth?” As for Philip, he’s the first one we’re told who was called the disciple of Jesus. We then see him in Acts preaching throughout Samaria, going on to places like Gaza or talking to an Ethiopian eunuch. One of the stories about him in terms of his end is that he traveled into upper Asia, probably Asia Minor in that area, where he supposedly found a people who worshipped a very large snake.

He decided simply to cut off the head of the serpent in good Genesis fashion. And so the elders of the town had him crucified. We also have his brother Nathaniel or Bartholomew, his name meaning something like the son of the pharaohs. We’re told he was a disciple in which there was no deceit. We’re also told that he’s the one that believed Jesus was Messiah because Jesus told him, “I saw you resting under the fig tree.” Jesus, recognizing that’s a minor thing, says that Nathaniel would see much greater things like heaven’s opening and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man like Jacob’s ladder and meaning basically the fulfillment of the old prophecies. As for Nathaniel, we think that he actually may have traveled all the way to India where he translated the Gospel of Matthew into one of the many Indian languages.

Again, we don’t really know, but this is some of the old traditions of the church. We have disciples like Thomas who was known as the twin. Somebody who said he was prepared to die with Jesus as they journeyed to raise Lazarus. Somebody who said he didn’t know the way to the Father’s house because Jesus said I’m preparing a way for you and then Jesus tells Thomas, “By the way, I am the way.” Thomas of course also called Doubting Thomas because he’s not there when Jesus first appears to the group of disciples and he says, “Unless I touch his wounds and put my hands in them, I’m not gonna believe that he’s risen from the dead.” And of course he has the chance to do that. As for Thomas, it’s thought that he traveled on to Parthia, which is Persia or modern-day Iran, and traveled on to India where many say he was martyred by a spear.

Matthew, who was also called Levi, the son of Alpheus, a name that means gift of God, was a tax collector, somebody who probably collected more than was actually due to him.

We’re told that he preached in Judea for nine years according to some of the early accounts and then also may have traveled on to places like Parthia or Persia as well as Ethiopia where he likewise was martyred by a spear.

Then we have characters like like Simon the Zealot, who was a nationalist, somebody who wanted to see a massive or a mighty Jewish nation to overthrow the Romans.

His story goes all over the place. Some people put him in North Africa, some people put him in Britain. He was most likely, however, somebody who brought the gospel message to Syria along with the disciple Thaddeus, where they were both martyred. And then of course we have James the Lesser, somebody who also is thought to have traveled to Persia and Parthia where he was martyred.

And then we even have Matthias, who was Judas Iscariot’s replacement. It was said that he was martyred at Jerusalem for his work there. But the last disciple I’ll mention and one of the inner three and the most famous is of course John, the brother of James. He’s He’s the only disciple who actually lived to see an old age. He’s somebody who refers to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. He was of course, one of the sons of thunder and sometimes said dumb, impetuous things, but he learned to love Jesus. That’s why you see him leaning on Jesus at the last supper. He’s also the only disciple to stay at the entire crucifixion, which is why Jesus basically puts John in charge of taking care of Mary and tells Mary to treat him like a son, ’cause he’s going to need it. It’s John who outruns Peter to see the empty tomb. He’s also the first to recognize Jesus on the beach as he’s out fishing one day, long after the resurrection. It was John who would found several different churches, some seven churches in Asia Minor to whom he would write his three epistles and also his magnificent book of prophecy, which is really about worship, what we call revelation.

One of the stories of John, which comes down to us from tradition, we don’t know how accurate it is, but it’s always been kind of a fun story, is that the Romans tried to execute him by putting him into a cauldron of boiling oil.

When he came out of that cauldron completely unharmed, they then sent him to a small island known as Patmos, which we do know that to be true.

And it’s there that he actually writes books like Revelation, probably dying sometime around the age of 100. Let me close with what Philip Schaaf says about John and the way that he wrote and thought. Schaaf writes, “John had a religious genius of the highest order, not indeed for planting churches, but for watering, not for outward action and aggressive work, like say Peter, but for inward contemplation and insight into the mystery of Christ’s person and of eternal life in him. He had purity and simplicity of character, depth and ardor of affection, and a rare faculty of spiritual perception and intuition. Those were his leading traits, which became ennobled and concentrated by divine grace. John heard more and he saw more, but he spoke less than the other disciples. He absorbed his deepest sayings, which escaped the attention of others. And although John himself did not understand them at first, he pondered them in his heart till the Holy Spirit illuminated them. In other words, we have this marvelous use of the different gifts and personalities of the disciples, making it quite plain that the body of Christ truly is one with many parts.