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The Martyrs of the Coliseum
by Rev. A. J. O'Reilly, 1874
Letter of Approbation from the Pope Pius IX, 1874
The games and amusements which delighted the people of Rome present a spectacle of horror that sends a thrill to the very heart. No entertainment was popular unless accompanied by bloodshed and the loss of life; no mock tragedies would be cheered in this "temple of the furies. The amusements of the Coliseum form the darkest page in the records of the past.
During the greater celebrations there was scarcely a day passed in which some hundreds of mangled carcases of men and beasts were not dragged from the arena to the spoliorium or dead-house. The games commenced about ten, and often lasted till dark ; during all these hours, victim was falling upon victim; the spectators, more and more intoxicated by each new draught of blood, drunk in by their glistening eyes, yelled for fresh victims and more blood. On more than one occasion it happened that every animal in the vivarium was slain in one day. Eutropius, speaking of Titus, says-- "And when he had built the amphitheatre at Rome, he inaugurated the games, and caused five thousand beasts to be slain" (Eutropius, book ix. ch. x.) Gladiators, slaves, and Christians were the principal victims of the games. --page 13
Alas! in this we see human nature without Christianity. They were the victims of paganism, that terrible slavery in which the nations of the earth were held captive before the coming of the Liberator of mankind. We can easily cast a link of union between the impieties and horrid cruelties of the pagan past and the heart-rending and inhuman scenes of those pagan and infidel nations which are yet buried in the darkness of the shadow of death.
We can pass in imagination from the carnage and bloodshed of the Coliseum, the merciless massacre of women and children and unarmed captives, whose cries for mercy were the music of a Roman triumph, to the inhuman customs of those nations who expose their infants on the banks of the mountain torrents, destroy their old men, and cast living victims under the wheels of the triumphant car of their idols, or to the bivouac of the wild savages of Dahomey sitting in brutal glee around a blazing fire and consuming their meal of human flesh.
But a new era has dawned upon the earth. In the illumination of that creed which Rome vainly endeavoured to crush in the Coliseum we read a solution to this terrible enigma of life. They knew nothing of the sublime morality of Him who has said, " By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another," The dark cloud of primeval guilt hung over the world for four thousand years, and paganism, idolatry, and all their concomitant absurdities were the offspring of that first sin.
But when the time decreed by God for the regeneration of man had come, the new state of things did not break on the world like the sunshine bursting from the clotid. It pleased Almighty God that His kingdom should fight its own way and win its own dynasty ; He sent forth His Apostles to the world to overcome it by the invisible arms of faith. They attacked and conquered it. For four centuries the battle raged; paganism had nothing but its cruelties and its horrors to stem the invisible power of the unarmed Apostles, and the powers of darkness quailed in the presence of the indestructible strength of the followers of Christ. But many a noble victim must fall before the victory is gained, and streams of nobler blood than that of beasts and gladiators must dye the arena of the Coliseum.
But another species of amusement must be added to those already enumerated. About eight hundred years after the building of Rome, there appeared a new race of beings who were to furnish a fresh feast to the cruelty and depravity of the people. They were men who sought no arms to fight, and showed no fear to die. After witnessing the courageous combats of the armed gladiators madly fighting for their lives, the strength and agility of the hunters, the pitiful looks and trembling limbs of the unarmed wretches who were exposed to die without even a chance of self-defence, it was a strange and unusual sight to see men walking into the arena with a fearless step and joyful brow, their eyes raised towards heaven, where they seemed to contemplate brilliant scenes of glory, bravely and intrepidly announcing the religion of the crucified God.
These were men who belonged to the detestable sect which had come from Judea; they were the contemners of the gods of the Empire--they were Christians. Not the friendless captives from Thrace or Gaul, nor wretched slaves whose lives were the property of their masters, but some of the noblest families of the state, and some of them members of the imperial household itself. Instead of the brawny and stalwart frame of the hardy gladiator, it is the tender virgin in the bloom of girlhood that is now to face the fury of the lion. Triumphs of another kind will startle the enthusiasm of the crowded seats, and the wildest animals of the forest and the desert will crouch at the feet of the martyrs of Christ.--pages 26-28
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