The Roman Empire was very large and very diverse. So many different cultures coexisted that it seemed divided. Rome was a society in which any religion could express itself (even Christianity was allowed there in its early days). It was a very free society and the Romans enjoyed many rights. Seen from the perspective of respect for citizen rights, it was very similar to the United States of America.

In this mindset of tolerance, many sects developed and different political factions emerged. Despite the fact that the central government was firmly established and citizens had rights, the leaders feared division more than anything, much like the leaders of the former communist USSR. That’s why they were looking for a cure that could unify the empire.

The god “Roma” was their solution. The Roman leaders gathered all the citizens of their vast empire around this divinity that they had created, it became the rallying point and unity of all these peoples.

Although the different sects and political factions were often at odds, each remained loyal to the empire. They loved him; they had fought for him; and people around them had sacrificed their lives for the empire. By creating “Roma”, the Roman government had subtly brought together all the peoples around one main idea: to give thanks to the “Roman spirit” for their powerful empire.

Soon, temples and altars were erected in honor of Roma. We made offerings to this pseudo god. A clergy was created to serve their worshipers in their temples. He was the god that all good Romans praised and worshiped. A national religion was born around which everyone rallied.

It was during the times of Octavian and Augustus that this cult of Roma developed, a strange mixture of religion and politics. From this mixture was born the terrible persecution of the Church. You are probably wondering why.

Roma was recognized throughout the empire, and considered the great god of the state, the source of the empire’s greatness and its longevity. To refuse to worship it was to reject Rome itself.
We see that Rome and Roma were intrinsically linked. In people’s minds, they were one and the same entity. Rome would cease to exist without Roma, and the greatness of Rome would be destroyed if people stopped giving glory to this powerful deity.

Because of this Rome/Roma relationship, denying Roma or refusing to worship her was considered an act of political rebellion.
“Why don’t you worship our powerful state deity? To her we owe our greatness. Worship her!
Don’t you love Rome? If you love him then you must worship his mother Roma!” Here is what one could have said to those who did not worship Roma. In the eyes of the government and the people, to deny Roma was to deny Rome itself.

  • A dramatic situation for the Church

The people, renewed by this religious awakening, began to exert a great influence in the spiritual domain. He was under the tutelage of this god and this worship of the gods and wanted every aspect of his daily life, every facet of society as well as the government to respect and worship the gods.

Before Augustus, the new emperor, knew what was happening, Greek-speaking communities from the east began to infiltrate the empire with their mystical thought, which led people to worship the emperor.

The hearts of the Romans were thus perfectly ready to welcome a new form of idolatry. You see, idolatry does not remain static. She goes from one level of perdition to another and another and so on. Paganism was heading towards a terrible religious form. This produced an unbearable situation for the Church.

The people gave Emperor Augustus the title “Lord”. At this time, in the eastern regions of the empire the title “Lord” included all sorts of supernatural connotations. Calling someone “Lord” conferred divinity on him, defied him. Augustus understood perfectly and accepted this title, knowing that he would thus become an object of worship.

The vast majority of people began to view Augustus as the incarnation of the Roman god, Roma. He personified the supernatural, he was God in their midst. This belief was strong and growing rapidly, so people built temples dedicated to him, making sacrifices and worshiping him!

  • Satanic counterfeiting

The devil always comes up with a counterfeit! At this same time, Jesus Christ came into the world in Bethlehem, he who was the real incarnation of God! Satan was working on his own incarnation at the very moment of the birth of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ!

Initially, Augustus refused this deification. The burden of being a God seemed too great for him. However, after some time, he accepted that the title be conferred on him. And in 12 BC, a gigantic altar, built by Drusus, was erected to worship Roma and Augustus simultaneously. Now there was no longer any difference: Rome was personified in Augustus. Suddenly, in the minds of all the Romans, he had become more than a man; he was God!

After the death of Augustus, Caius Caligula took power in Rome. As the new emperor, he continued this cult of the person. In 40 AD, he demanded that a monument to the glory of Zeus be carved in his own likeness, then he placed it in the middle of the temple in Jerusalem to be worshiped, in addition to being worshiped in Rome!
Claudius succeeded Caligula in power from 41 to 54 AD. Although he was not particularly keen on deification and the cult of the person, he did not refuse to be called “our god Caesar”!

It was Claudius who appointed Nero as his successor. Nero’s madness was immediately evident. After being treated so well by Claudius, he had him brutally murdered in order to access the throne. It was a foretaste of the terror that was to follow.
Over time, this new religion evolved and took a new form. Since Roma was the God of the nation, the source of Rome’s greatness and its continued existence, to deny Roma was to deny Rome itself.

  • When something unexpected happens

The emperor’s plan worked, this new form of idolatry unified the empire politically. People were infatuated with this new divinity! The common people began to consider that the emperor of the moment was the personification of the incarnation of the god Roma.

The worship of the emperor, one of the worst that could happen to the early Church, placed the early Church in an untenable position. The result was a violent persecution of Christians.
On a grand scale, it was the enforced worship of the emperor that brought about the horrible deaths of thousands upon thousands of believers, thereby becoming martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Believers were brought before the proconsul of their region, placed in the shadow of the Roman Seal, asked to kneel, bow their heads, deny the Lord Jesus Christ, and pledge allegiance to the divine incarnation of Roma, the reigning emperor at that time.

When they refused, they were killed. Say no !” to the divine incarnation that was the emperor, amounted to refusing to recognize the god responsible for the greatness of Rome.
It was therefore considered an act of political rebellion.

  • A paranoid Nero, drunk with power

The persecution was particularly bloody during the reign of Nero. Like all tyrants, Nero was a fanatic for power and could not tolerate the slightest sedition, to the point of becoming paranoid. He was undeniably crazy, going so far as to get rid of some of his family members who disagreed with him.

In addition to assassinating a large part of the Senate and an entire order of Roman knights, he had his own mother, his brother-in-law, his sister, his wife and his dear teachers, Seneca and Lucian, executed. He was more of a beast or a demon than a human being.

At first he refused to be worshipped, but in time he recognized his own divinity and sought the worship of the empire.
He became so obsessed with power that he asked the Senate for permission to destroy all the important and magnificent buildings in Rome.

For what ? He wanted to rebuild them with a statue representing him in the center of each building. He wanted a symbol of himself to be in the main places of life in Rome, so that everyone could worship him.

He achieved his goals and had a statue built representing him which he placed in front of his gigantic newly built palace. An oversized statue represented a sun god, and this idol was the exact representation of Nero. With this idolatrous manifestation, his madness becomes obvious and his behavior even stranger. (A part of the Roman population will be so convinced of the divine nature of Nero, that even after his suicide, they will wait for his return!).

This text is an extract from the book “Living in the Combat Zone” written by Rick Renner.

We invite you to read the following article “What is a good soldier of Jesus Christ?“.

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