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Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler

300px-Ignatius-2Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler 

January 26, 2014

Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus from 111 to 113, had a problem. Growing numbers of Christians were unsettling the pagan establishment. He wrote to the emperor Trajan: “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.” He deemed them superstitious because “they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Superstition was not a crime, as it was rife in the Empire, but these Christians refused to worship the gods of the land and would rather die than worship the Emperor himself. Trajan replied that the “spirit of our age” required that the governor should persecute only those who refused to cease being Christians.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared on a radio program in Albany that those who refuse to go along with state legislation on such matters as abortion and the redefinition of marriage, have “no place in the State of New York.” He did not threaten to throw Christians to wild beasts, but the tone of the governor of the Empire State was decidedly imperious. Attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but more probably the words of Joseph de Maistre, is the warning: “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” Catholics fragile in spirit who symbolically offered incense to Caesar by voting for such present leaders, were either ignorant (and ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be cured) or selfish in placing material considerations above moral standards. But they certainly have got the government they deserve.

According to tradition, when Trajan was en route to Armenia, he stopped in Antioch where the bishop Ignatius was brought before him. The emperor was perplexed that such a gentle man would not water down his faith in order to cooperate with the state. Before arriving in Rome where he was tossed to the lions, Ignatius wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: “Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becoming defiled {in this way}, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.”

St. Ignatius was second in succession to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch. He was a student of Christ’s most beloved apostle John. So what Ignatius wrote pulses with the authority Christ gave to Peter and the heart John could hear beating at the Last Supper.


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