Herod Philip and Herod Agrippa: the cult of a decadent Empire and the birth of the kingdom of Christ!
The Church of Rome has finally raised its head so that it could breathe again, after the Christians endured the great persecutions from Diocletian; under Constantine and Licinius, who signed the Edict of Milan in 313 AD proclaiming religious toleration of the Christians in the Roman Empire.
It wonderfully describes the people, the times and feasts. The celebration of the “Sol Invictus” becomes irreversibly that of Christmas; that of the perhaps legendary founders of the “Eternal City” becomes the feast of the holy apostles Peter and Paul! After Benedict XVI, we realize the need and urgency for the ‘re-Christianisation’ of the new evangelisation and evangelisation itself.
The neo-paganism, which has vaguely recovered since the 1960s, is very similar to that of decadent Rome: immorality, orgies, cruelty, aberrations, stupidity, and – excuse the expression, a “slovenly” loss of North, loss of identity and pride all at the same time, even pride in the practice of bad habits, the defeat of the family, doubts about marriage, confusion for children… Cicero exclaimed, “O tempora o mores!”, “Oh the times! Oh the customs!” the sentence is an exclamation critical of present-day attitudes and trends.
This Roman corruption spreads to Palestine, that poor “promised land” it no longer seems to be so promising! On the throne of Jerusalem, mortified as vassals of the “Eternal City”, reigning and governing with an iron fist is the Edomite and converted Jew, the puppet king of the Romans, Herod the Great, a paranoid megalomaniac murderous infanticide. His sons and successors, vassal rulers, masters and at the same time subdued, follow his “good” example! Herod Antipas passes “by a whim the head of John the Baptist”, he is beheaded to please a dancing girl! Herod Philip (the Tetrarch) II, one of the few virtuosos of that dynasty, takes the wife of his brother or step-brother: just see what Flavius Josephus wrote on the subject! Herod Agrippa I, as cynical as his grandfather, arrests, just to please the Jews, an “insignificant” almost illiterate fisherman named Shimon (Simon), son of Jonah (John), nicknamed Cephas-Peter (Shemayon Keppa) by one who was “enlightened” shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth!
Back in Rome, the new “sovereign pontiff” Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Oh hoorah! A matricidal, fratricidal pyromaniac, this time! Has just dismissed his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Spanish sage, who willingly listens to his second wife, obviously a “God-fearing” woman who sympathises with the Jews (with an exception to circumcision!) And can not even look at paintings of the Nazarene’s disciples.
Acts 12: 1-11: Saint Peter thrown into prison
Here we follow the readings, in contrast to the chronological order. The little son of Herod the Great understands that he will become more popular among the high priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, if he massacres the Nazarenes. He limits himself to executing their “leader“only. Alas the angel of the Lord, as he has done in the past during the Exodus, frees him. The apostle cannot believe their own eyes!
During the course of History, the See of Rome has passed from stupor to amazement and wonder, enchanted by the miracles of divine grace! This gives rise to a profusion of converts and so to speak “christianises” an entire Empire that has finally reached the depths of the abyss! From the simple Aramaic-speaking fishermen, some of the Roman citizens, including some of Jewish origin, share their discovery of Christ and the Gospel! In a few years, the apostles can already write in his adoptive language and writes “The brethren who are with me, salute you. All the saints salute you; especially they that are of Caesar’s household” (Phil 4:22).
At the level of the Roman Church and the Curia, however, over the centuries, the “chains” and the dust have accumulated! A sort of “prison” of corruption, a mafia and nepotistic favouritism has formally taken root and becomes the norm! The Holy Spirit decides to send one of his little angels, of Italian-Argentine extraction, to sweep away the dust and cobwebs, smash the mafia, and get the Vatican out of their imperialist ivory tower. But something that is not quite palpable is still amiss. Albeit, The Risen One is still alive. And He continues to watch over his Church!
St. Paul at the end of the scroll (1 Timothy 4:9)
The former Pharisee, armed with an almost murderous zeal, against the pagans and against “this kind of heretical Nazarene“, polytheists or rather we should say, blasphemer who substituted God with Jesus, is Saul of Tarsus, militarily conquered by the Risen one who has defeated him! He realises that it is just “terrible to fall into the hands of the living God“, mysteriously and irresistibly identified with one Jesus of Nazareth! All his hostility falls away! All his objections seem to disappear. Even today, Judaism and Islam hold the same objections toward the Trinity, the Incarnation and the divinity of Christ! Just this morning, a young Muslim expressed his bewilderment towards the concept of Redemption through the crucifixion!
St. Paul proceeds to respond and defend, “with gentleness and dignity“, “in truth and charity“, at least in two ways: through “logic” (cf. Romans 12:1) according to the triumph of the Crucified whom defeats and crowns (1 Corinthians 1:17); and through his own personal experience in the “life in Christ” indescribable happiness and the”true Way of the Cross“, the unquestionable reality of the of the Master’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), the incomparable sublimity of His teachings and the reflections upon His extraordinary guidance!
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”
At the Golan Heights, a few steps away from the Greek temple of Pan, the fictitious god of nature and music, who apparently loved beauty (which, would seem to have been tragically and irremediably lacking) in the city built by Herod Philip in honour of the Emperor, Simon of John of Bethsaida proclaims Jesus Christ, Lord and King! Although normally, Simone, who is not distinguished for either his excessive silence or pathological shyness, for once it’s not him that speaks, it’s not his intelligence nor his “comprehension” that inspired this statement! They are no longer “flesh and blood“, nor human calculations! And “our Father who is in heaven“! At Caesarea Philippi, the Fisherman arrives, thank’s be to God, to take the big fish of transcendent Truths of his teacher and friend, Jesus!
Peter and Paul follow the Nazarene, from Palestine to Rome! Both pass through Cesarea marittima, the administrative capital of the Empire. Both face and opposition from Judaism, from paganism, and from the “human” passions that reject the cross and find only hostility and vacuous virtues! Martyrdom will unite them! May their martyrdom, μαρτυρια–testimony nourish our faith, from Jerusalem to Rome, and “until the end of the earth!” Amen!
This article was originally written by Fr. Madros on the 28th June 2014 of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. I found his version fun to read in Italian and have therefore translated edited and embellished a little so that I could shared it with our English speakers.