Early Christian Persecution Vase

(Coming in the Fall 2013)
 

The Peacock and the Boat Vase

During the time of first Roman Caesars, history witnessed the birth of a new people from old, one whom many ancient Roman Governors distastefully called “fish eaters”, or “People of the Way”.  Their members were initially devout Jews, who still attended Synagogue, but called themselves followers of the Christ.

From humble beginnings in Bethlehem, with the birth of Christ, the legendary visit of the Three Magi, to its rapid expansion under Paul of Tarsus, to include non-Jewish Gentiles, Greek, Roman, Gallic, African, Oriental and middle-eastern converts, Christianity today continues to grow worldwide, attracting and uniting people of every race and socioeconomic background.

This rapid growth, through the courage, seeking of higher Truth in all fields, and sacrifices of its members, was seen as a threat by many non-Christians, including many pagans, by some adherents of its parent Hebrew faith, and by adamantly secular people in general.  From the point of view of noted ancient Roman Governors, people of “the Way” were considered cult outsiders, preaching “Love one another as yourself,” and “help the poor and needy”, contrary to the cultural mantra at the time (and still today) of “might-is-right”.  Christians were deemed a menace to the Empire, who challenged the moral authority of the Caesars, and challenged everyone to aim higher.  “First shall be last, and last shall be first,” was incomprehensible to the secular mind, then as now.

Thus, beginning with the Founder Himself, Jesus Christ, Christians were martyred, crucified, and made scapegoats for all of society’s problems.  They were reviled by secular people and religious alike, largely for this notion that there is only one valid King of Mankind, who supersedes all others, yet who was a mere Craftsman.  Everyone’s existence and very life, Jesus Himself claimed, depends upon Him.

Naturally, the proud and the arrogant, like those who sided with Plato’s Thrasymachus character mocking Socrates (‘Republic’, Book 1), ridiculed the idea that there could be a godly, natural law above man-made law, to which all owed thanks and obedience.  The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) itself relied upon its system of laws, which appeared beneficial on its surface, but in practice were often unjust, maintaining only a superficial semblance of justice.

In contrast, Christianity’s seeking of Truth, through prayer and through some of the deepest revelations of philosophical, scientific, legal and metaphysical nature, Christians regularly exposed errors and injustices, such as usury, slavery, abuse of freedom and individual rights, assaults on the dignity of women, infanticide, false alchemy and divination, inhumane Roman prisons, and of course, the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was deemed a necessary Imperial organ for pacifying overcrowded Roman cities, especially Rome itself.  Under the veneer of Progress, corrupt Roman management had startlingly high unemployment, as many stole from many, and basic rights were routinely squashed.  The Colosseums were spectacles of blood and sport, designed to keep the largely unemployed mob occupied and “happy”.  A natural scapegoat for the ills and abuses of Roman society, were the Christians.  Countless “fish eaters” were rounded up without due process, their properties dispossessed, themselves thrown to the lions, or to the Roman slave-galleys.  (See for instance, the movie, ‘Ben Hur’).  Countless more were simply abused by their own neighbors.

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, 1883
The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) [public domain]

The Roman historian Tacitus (56 – 117 A.D.) recorded some of the earliest Imperial persecutions of Christians, beginning with Nero (37-68 A.D.):

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…” (‘The Annals’, book 15, chapter 44)

The persecutions increased for the following three centuries, ostensibly peaking with Emperor Diocletian (244-314 A.D., from whom we derive our word Diocese), who issued various edicts outlawing Christianity, especially around 303 A.D.

Persecution varied across the Empire, and from town to town.  It was perhaps during the darkest of days for Christians under the Empire, that they were forced to utilize code “symbols” to signify things such as “Confession offered here”, or “Mass offered here”, without alerting the authorities, or anti-Christian neighbors from stoning, arresting, or killing, Christians, especially those annointed as singers and clergy (see Chronicles/Ezra/Nehemiah).

The Vase shown here, “The Peacock and the Boat,” is our first offering of a planned Series of Christian Persecution-Period artworks.  In the Christian Catacombs of Rome and other ancient burial places throughout the Empire, the Peacock is found drawn near the body of a loved one, symbolizing “immortal life” for one who has found a haven in Christ.  Similarly, the Boat symbol was also used, recalling Noah’s Ark, whereby Christians were now saved by Christ Himself, from the Flood (persecution). Many other symbols were used, such as the grapevine, the dove, which we will be unveiling in future releases.

 

 

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