BLTC Press Titles


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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)


Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans

by Frédéric Louis Godet

Excerpt:

These three subjects, the foundation, composition, and tendency of the church, are undoubtedly intimately related. They may, however, be studied separately. To avoid repetition, we shall treat the last two under a common head.

I. Foundation of the Roman Church.

Among the apostolic foundations mentioned in the Book of Acts, that of the church of Rome does not appear. Reuss sees a lacuna in this silence. But is not the omission a proof of the real course of things? Does it not show that the foundation of the Roman church was not distinguished by any notable event such as the historian can lay hold of; that it took place in a sort of stealthy manner, arid was not the work of any individual of mark?

What are the oldest known proofs of the existence of a Christian church at Rome?

In the first place, our Epistle itself, which assumes the existence, if not of a completely organized church, at least of several Christian groups in the capital; in the second place, the fact related in the first part of Acts xxviii. On his arrival at Rome in the spring of the year 62, Paul is welcomed by brethren who, on the news of his approach, come to receive him at the distance of a dozen leagues from the city. How was such a Christian community formed?

Three answers are given to the question.

I. The Catholic Church ascribes the founding of the Church of Rome to the preaching of Peter. This apostle, it is said, came to Rome to preach the gospel and combat the heresies of Simon the magician, at the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-04). But it is very probable that this tradition rests in whole or in part on a gross mistake, of which Justin Martyr is the first author.1 If the apostle had really come to Rome so early, and had been the first to propagate the gospel there, Paul evidently could not write a long letter to this church without mentioning its founder; and if we consider that this letter is a didactic writing of great length, a more or less complete exposition of the gospel, we shall conclude that he could not, in consistency with his own principles, have addressed it to a church founded by another apostle. For he more than once declares that it is contrary to his apostolic practice " to enter into an

'Apol 1. c. S6. Ju*Mn takes a statue raised to a Sabine jrod (Semo Sancut) in an island of the Tiber for a statue erected to the magician Wmon of the Book of Acts. This statue was rediscovered in 1574 with the inscription: Semoni Sanco Deo Fimo. fcuch at least is one of the sources of the legend. Euscbins (ii. 11) has followed Justin.

other man's labors," or "to build on the foundation laid by another" (Rom. xv. 20; 2 Cor. x. 16).

Strange that a Protestant writer, Thiersch, is almost the only theologian v of merit who still defends the assertion of Peter's sojourn at Rome in the beginning of the reign of Claudius. He supports it by two facts: the passage Acts xii. 17, where it is said that, delivered from his prison at Jerusalem, Peter went into another place,—a mysterious expression used, according to this critic, to designate Rome; and next, the famous passage of Suetonius, relative to the decree of Claudius banishing the Jews from Rome, because they ceased not " to rise at the instigation of Chrestus." 1 According to Thiersch, these last words are a vague indication of the introduction of Christianity into Rome at this period by St. Peter, and of the troubles which the fact had caused in the Roman synagogue. These arguments are alike without solidity. Why should not Luke have specially named Rome if St. Peter had really withdrawn thither? lie had no reason to make a mystery of the name. Besides, at this period, from 41 to 44, Peter can hardly have gone so far as Rome; for in 51 (Acts xv.) we find him at Jerusalem, and in 54 only at Antioch. Paul himself, the great pioneer of the gospel in the West, had not yet, in 42, set foot on the European continent, nor preached in Greece. And the author of the Acts, in chaps, vi.-xiii., enumerates very carefully all the providential circumstances which paved the way for carrying the gospel into the Gentile world. Assuredly, therefore, Peter had not up to that time crossed the seas to evangelize Rome. As to the passage of Suetonius, it is very arbitrary to make Chroma a personification of Christian preaching in general. The true Roman tradition is much rather to be sought in the testimony of a deacon of the church who lived in the third or fourth century, and is known as a writer under the name of Ambrosiaster or the false Ambrose (because his writings appear in the works of St. Ambrose), but whose true name was probably Hilary. He declares, to the praise of his church, that the Romans had become believers " with-V out having seen a single miracle or any of the apostles." 2 Most Catholic writers of our day, who are earnest and independent, combat the idea that Peter sojourned at Rome under the reign of Claudius.


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