Jenni and I are just finishing up Paul Maier‘s The Flames of Rome (cf. my thoughts on Maier’s Pontius Pilate), a “documentary novel” that fleshes out how Nero’s insanity affected early Christianity. While I was reading Eusebius‘ Church History today (translated by none other than Paul Maier), I nodded in agreement with Eusebius’ portrayal of Nero:
Once Nero’s power was firmly established, he plunged into nefarious vices and took up arms against the God of the universe. To describe his depravity is not part of the present work. Many have accurately recorded the facts about him, and from them any who wish may study his perverse and degenerate madness, which led him to destroy innumerable lives and finally to such indiscriminate murder that he did not spare even his nearest and dearest. With various sorts of deaths, he did away with his mother, brothers, and wife, as well as countless other near relatives, as if they were strangers and enemies. Despite all this, one crime still had to be added to his catalogue: he was the first of the emperors to be declared enemy of the Deity. To this the Roman Tertullian refers as follows:
- Consult your own records: there you will find that Nero was the first to let his imperial sword rage against this sect [Christianity] when it was just arising in Rome. We boast that such a man was the originator of our pruning, for anyone who knows him can understand that nothing would have been condemned by Nero unless it were supremely good [Tertullian, Defense 5].
So it happened that this man, the first to be announced publicly as a fighter against God, was led on to slaughter the apostles. It is related that in his reign Paul was beheaded in Rome itself and that Peter was also crucified, and the cemeteries there still called by the names of Peter and Paul confirm the record. So does a churchman named Gaius, who lived when Zephyrinus was Bishop of Rome (Eusebius: The Church History: A New Translation and Commentary 2.25 [edited and translated by Paul L. Maier; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999], 84–85; emphasis added).