Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Claudius (1), emperor
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Claudius (1), emperor
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Claudius (1), a.d. 41–54. The reign of this emperor has special interest in being that to which we must refer the earliest distinct traces of the origines of the church of Rome. Even before his accession, the new faith may have found its way there. The "strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes " (Acts ii. 10), who were at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or some of the "synagogue of the Libertines" (Acts vi. 9), yielding to the arguments of Stephen, may have brought it thither. "Andronicus and Junia or Junias," who were "in Christ" before the conversion of St. Paul (Rom. xvi. 7), and at Rome when that apostle wrote to the church there, may have been among those earlier converts. When Herod Antipas and Herodias came to court the favour of Caligula (Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 7) and gain for the former the title of king, they must have had some in their train who had known—perhaps those who had reported to him (Matt. xiv. 1, 2)—the "mighty works" of the prophet of Nazareth. The frequent visits of Herod Agrippa would make events in Judaea common topics at Rome. His presence there when Claudius came to the throne (Joseph. Antiq. xix. 4, 5) may reasonably be connected with the indulgence then extended to the Jews by that emperor (ib. xix. 5). The decree mentioned in Acts xviii. 2, and by Suetonius (Claudius, c. 25), indicates a change of policy, and the account of Suetonius probably tells the cause of the change, "Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Româ expulit." He does not give the date of the expulsion, but it was probably between a.d. 43, when Agrippa left Rome, and a.d. 51, when St. Paul arrived at Corinth, and when the decree is mentioned as recent. The explanation turns upon the interpretation of the words "impulsore Chresto." We know from Tertullian (Apol. c. 3) that "Christianus" was commonly pronounced "Chrestianus" by those ignorant of its derivation; and that the name of Christ was for long similarly mispronounced we learn from Lactantius ("immutatâ literâ Chrestum solent dicere," Ver. Sap. iv. 7). It seems legitimate, therefore, to assume that the name "Christ" had been heard in the disputings of Jews and Christians, and that the prefects and Roman population, ignorant of its true significance, conceived it to be the name of some local ringleader in a seditious riot. Many indications in Acts and Romans imply a considerable growth of the Christian community before the accession of Nero.
It is obvious further, (1) that the expulsion of Christians who had been Jews or proselytes would leave a certain proportion of purely Gentile Christians whom the edict would not touch; and (2) that those who returned would naturally settle, not in the Jewish trans-Tiberine quarter of the city, but in some safer locality, and that thus the church at Rome, at or soon after the death of Claudius, would gradually become more and more free from Jewish or Judaizing influences. (On other points connected with the rise and progress of Christianity at Rome under Claudius see "Aquila and Priscilla," and the "Proto-martyr Stephen," in the writer's Biblical Studies.)
- Dio Cassius (lx. p. 669) speaks of Claudius as not expelling the Jews, but only forbidding them to assemble. Probably this was an earlier measure not found sufficiently effective. The expulsion of the "Mathematici" about the same time (Tacitus, Ann. xii. 52) implies a general alarm as to the spread of "Eastern superstitions."