NERO REDIMUS

 

By Professor H. MAURICE RELTON

 

This extract from the Church of England Newspaper (July 16, 1937) is a wonderful proof that what the Apocalypse states, and what the Early Church believed, is about to happen, since its symptoms force themselves on the attention of those to whom it is all only symbolism. For the return of Nero, see DAWN, VOLUME 2. P. 389.‑Ed.]

 

 

Nero, as we know, died by his own hand in an obscure house on the outskirts of Rome in June, A.D. 68. A few months later a rumour sprung up that he was not dead. About the same time, says Tacitus, Greece and Asia were greatly alarmed by a false report that Nero was about to come, there having been various reports about his death, so that many pretended that he was alive, and even believed it. At first the story ran that he was in hiding; then it was asserted that he had fled to the Parthians, and would return thence supported by their armies. Suetonius relates that the Emperor had himself spoken of such a flight, and also that it had been prophesied that he would become King of the East, and set up his throne in Jerusalem. The legend was strong enough to induce more than one pretender to give himself out as Nero and one of them at least was recognized by the Parthian King. The expectation was especially strong in Asia Minor.

 

Towards the end of the century, when it was no longer probable that Nero was alive, the expectation of his return was from the underworld. In Book VIII of the Sibylline oracles, he has become a ghostly, supernatural figure, and is described as a wild monster, leaving behind him a dark track of blood.

 

So it is suggested that in this legend of Nero redivivus we may find the explanation of the wounded head of Rev. 13: 3 and of the beast that was, and is not, and shall come of 17: 2. More and more as the prophecy in 13: 2 proceeds, the head with the wound and the beast himself, Nero redivivus and the Roman imperium, are identified. In Nero redivivus the writer sees the whole power and horror of the empire concentrated. The priests of this Caesar-god make every effort to spread the imperial cult and to force men to offer worship to his image.

 

A not unlikely interpretation of the number of the Beast, 666, is that which sees in it the sum of the numbers expressed by the letters of the name and title of Nero in Hebrew. Irenaeus records, though he rejects, a varied reading, 616. This is given by dropping the N in Neron. The whole thing would thus be a cryptogram for the name and title of the Emperor in Hebrew letters (Neron Kesar.) Taking, then, the interpretation as both historical and typical, we have in Nero and in Nero redivivus that which was and is and is to come. We have the embodiment of the world-spirit persecuting the Church and a prophecy of its reappearance in history.

 

We look out upon the world to-day and note an assembling of a world conference at Oxford. For what purpose? That Christians may take counsel together, particularly in view of a new menace threatening liberty. The strange phenomenon of the post-war years is the appearance of the Totalitarian State and the rise of a series of secular dictators putting forth absolutist claims for the State over the community. Thus once again, in an acute form, the very existence of the Christian Church is challenged.

 

Are we witnessing the re-incarnation, in a modern Nero redivivus, of that spirit of secularism and humanism which inevitably must take an anti-Christian form once its true character is revealed? Are we in our day and generation to witness a concentrated mobilization of the powers of secular States against the Christian Ecclesia? Must Christians once again hide in the catacombs and flee the cities as a persecuted sect in a hostile world? The problem as it presented itself to the seer on the island of Patmos was this: What chance had the Church against this all-devouring and persecuting world-spirit, this great beast sprawling over the earth and shedding the blood of the saints? If Antichrist were once embodied in a Nero or a Domitian, the future may yet witness his incarnation in an even more hideous form.

 

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