Roman emperor and persecutor of the Church and successor of the Emperor Titus; b. Oct. 24, A.D. 51
Domitian (TITUS FLAVIUS DOMITIANUS), Roman emperor and persecutor of the Church, son of Vespasian and younger brother and successor of the Emperor Titus; b. October 24, A.D. 51, and reigned from 81 to 96. In spite of his private vices he set himself up as a reformer of morals and religion. He was the first of the emperors to deify himself during his lifetime by assuming the title of “Lord and God“. After the revolt of Saturninus (93) he organized a series of bloodthirsty proscriptions against all the wealthy and noble families. A conspiracy, in which his wife joined, was formed against him, and he was murdered, September 18, 96.
When the Acts of Nero‘s reign were reversed after his death, an exception was made as to the persecution of the Christians (Tertullian, Ad Nat., 1, 7). The Jewish revolt brought upon them fresh unpopularity, and the subsequent destruction of the Holy City deprived them of the last shreds of protection afforded them by being confounded with the Jews. Hence Domitian his attack upon the aristocratic party found little difficulty in condemning such as were Christians. To observe Jewish practices was no longer lawful; to reject the national religion, without being able to plead the excuse of being a Jew, was atheism. On one count or the other, as Jews or as atheists, the Christians were liable to punishment. Among the more famous martyrs in this Second Persecution were Domitian’s cousin, Flavius Clemens, the consul, and M’ Acilius Glabrio who had also been consul. Flavia Domitilla, the wife of Flavius, was banished to Pandataria. But the persecution was not confined to such noble victims. We read of many others who suffered death or the loss of their goods (Dio Cassius, LXVII, iv). The book of the Apocalypse was written in the midst of this storm, when many of the Christians had already perished and more were to follow them (St. Irenaeus. Adv. Haeres., V, xxx). Rome, “the great Babylon“, “was drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Apoc., xvii, 5, 6; ii, 10, 13; vi, 11; xiii, 15; xx, 4). It would seem that participation in the feasts held in honor of the divinity of the tyrant was made the test for the Christians of the East. Those who did not adore the “image of the beast” were slain. The writer joins to his sharp denunciation of the persecutors’ words of encouragement for the faithful by foretelling the downfall of the great harlot “who made drunk the earth with the wine of her whoredom”, and steeped her robe in their blood. St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians was also written about this time; here, while the terrible trials of the Christians are spoken of, we do not find the same denunciations of the persecutors. The Roman Church continued loyal to the empire, and sent up its prayers to God that He would direct the rulers and magistrates in the exercise of the power committed to their hands (Clem., Ep. ad Cor., c. lxi; cf. St. Paul, Rom., xiii, 1; I Pet., ii, 13). Before the end of his reign Domitian ceased to persecute. (See Persecution.)
T. B. SCANNELL