SS. Processus and Martinian, Martyrs
BY the preaching and miracles of SS. Peter and Paul at Rome, many were converted to the faith, and among others several servants and courtiers of the emperor Nero, of whom St. Paul 1 makes mention. 2 In the year 64 that tyrant first drew his sword against the Christians, who had in a very short time become very numerous and remarkable in Rome. A journey which he made into Greece in 67, seems to have given a short respite to the Church in Rome. He made a tour through the chief cities of that country, attended by a great army of singers, pantomimes, and musicians, carrying instead of arms, instruments of music, masks, and theatrical dresses. He was declared conqueror at all the public diversions over Greece, particularly at the Olympian, Isthmian, Pythian, and Nemæan games, and gained there one thousand eight hundred various sorts of crowns. Yet Greece saw its nobility murdered, the estates of its rich men confiscated, and its temples plundered by this progress of Nero. He returned to Rome only to make the streets of that great city again to stream with blood. The apostles SS. Peter and Paul, after a long imprisonment were crowned with martyrdom. And soon after them their two faithful disciples Processus and Martinian gained the same crown. Their acts tell us that they were the keepers of the Mamertine jail during the imprisonment of SS. Peter and Paul, by whom they were converted and baptized. St. Gregory the Great preached his thirty-second homily on their festival, in a church in which their bodies lay, at which he says, the sick recovered their health, those who were possessed by evil spirits were freed, and those who had foresworn themselves were tormented by the devils. Their ancient church on the Aurelian road being fallen to decay, Pope Paschal I. translated their relics to St. Peter’s church on the Vatican hill, as Anastasius informs us. Their names occur in the ancient Martyrologies. See Tillemont, Hist. Eccl. t. 1. p. 179. and Hist. des Emp. Crevier, &c. 1
Note 1. 1 Phil. iv. 20.
Note 2. Nero reigned the first five years with so much clemency, that once when he was to sign an order for the death of a condemned person, he said, “I wish I could not write.” But his master Seneca, and Burrhus, the prefect of the prætorium, to whom this his moderation was owing, even then discovered in him a bent to cruelty, to correct which they strove to give his passions another turn. With this view Seneca wrote and inscribed to him a treatise On Clemency, which we still have. But both Seneca and Burrhus connived at an adulterous intrigue in which he was engaged in his youth: so very defective was the virtue of the best among the heathen philosophers. If the tutors imagined that by giving up a part, they might save the rest, and by indulging him in the softer passions they might check those which seemed more fatal to the commonwealth, the event showed how much they were deceived by this false human prudence, and how much more glorious it would have been to have preferred death to the least moral evil, could paganism have produced any true martyrs of virtue. The passions are not to be stilled by being soothed: whatever is allowed them is but an allurement to go farther, and soon makes their tyranny uncontrollable. Of this Nero is an instance. For, availing himself of this indulgence, he soon gave an entire loose to all his desires, especially when he began to feel the dangerous pleasure of being master of his own person and actions. He plunged himself publicly, and without shame or constraint, into the most infamous debaucheries, in which such was the perversity of his heart, that, as Suetonius tells us, he believed nobody to be less voluptuous and abandoned than himself, though he said they were more private in their crimes, and greater hypocrites; notwithstanding, at that very time, Rome abounded with most perfect examples of virtue and chastity among the Christians.
There is a degree of folly inseparable from vice. But this in Nero seemed by superlative malice to degenerate into downright phrenzy. All his projects consisted in the extravagances of a madman; and nothing so much flattered his pride as to undertake things that seemed impossible. He forgot all common rules of decency, order, or justice. It was his greatest ambition to sing or perform the part of an actor on the stage, to play on musical instruments in the theatre, or to drive a chariot in the circus. And whoever did not applaud all his performances, or had not the complaisance to let him carry the prize at every race or public diversion, his throat was sure to be cut, or he was reserved for some more barbarous death; for cruelty was the vice which above all others has rendered his name detestable. At the instigation of Poppæa, a most infamous adulteress, he caused his mother Agrippina to be slain in the year 58, and from that time it seemed to be his chief delight to glut his savage mind with the slaughter of the bravest, the most virtuous, and the most noble persons of the universe, especially of those who were the nearest to him. He put to death his wife Octavia after many years ill-usage, and he cut off almost all the most illustrious heads of the empire.