This week, I had the pleasure of going on a weekend-long excursion to Rome. While in Rome, I was able to visit incredible sights, which include the following: St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John’s Lateran Basilica, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, the Roman Colosseum, the Roman Forums, and the Vatican Museum! I walked almost 10-12 miles every day, and the weekend was pretty exhausting. However, I had a great time and am incredibly excited to share some of the theological insights I had regarding the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. In the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, I was unable to take pictures, so the photos that you see are some of the many other sights I am grateful to have seen.
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus contained the resting place of around 500,000 Christians, and this was all from only the first three hundred years of Christianity (this is incredible!!). Furthermore, something else that was interesting was the three most common images written throughout the tombs: baptism, the eucharistic feast, and the story of Jonah. These three images were very important to the early Christians because they contained the essential story of the Catholic faith: we are baptized and become sons (and daughters) of God, this new identity is sustained through partaking of the sacraments, and our endurance is aimed at the ultimate goal of one day rising from the dead to see Christ. For those not familiar with the story of Jonah, Christian theologians have historically paralleled Jesus’s three days in the tomb with Jonah’s three days in the belly of the beast. In other words, just as God raised his Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead and rescued his servant Jonah from the abyss of the beast’s belly, God will raise all those baptized to new life at the resurrection of the dead.
Before I end this post, I would like to comment on two additional things I found in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. First, I was able to see in person the tombs of several popes from the second century (e.g., Pope Urban I from the year 235 AD). From my perspective, this pokes doubt into the common claim of members from other faith backgrounds who make the claim that the Catholic Church added the dogmas modern Catholics today believe many centuries after Pentecost. If we have a record of Popes (and Bishops) dating back at least from the second century, it appears to be the protestant’s duty to explain why this is the case. Lastly, the tour guide explained that the early Christians were strongly encouraged by Pope Damasus I to engage in the “coat of martyrdom.” The “coat of martyrdom” was a practice of venerating the relics of the martyrs, and dates back at least to the fourth century. Once again, this appears to be very early for “unbiblical” ideas to be coming into the church. For instance, the claim that veneration of relics is idolatry would mean the church has been idolatrous since the fourth century (and likely even earlier). This would directly contradict Jesus when He states, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, English Standard Version). Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and hear this Gospel proclaimed in the Daily Mass Readings.
Okay, that is all for this week. I hope you all come back next Tuesday to hear more of my theological reflections on my trip so far in Florence! Thanks!