I just finished Dr. Taylor Marshall’s book, The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, and wow, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Marshall begins the book with an account of the moment he knew he had to become Catholic, while touring the catacombs under St. Peter’s and then attending a Mass with Pope Benedict himself. He was an Anglican priest at the time, but he and his wife both came to the realization that they were in schism from the Church Christ founded.
In the first chapter he explains that the prophet Daniel foretold that the Messiah would come during the Roman Empire, but that the Roman Empire would itself be handed over to the people of the Messiah, the Church.
He then unpacks the period in history from Daniel to Christ, giving a great historical and theological background of the Jews during this time, and in particular how the events described in 1 & 2 Maccabees fits into the story of the coming Messiah.
This prelude leads up to the Incarnation and birth of Christ, within the Roman Empire. Taylor argues convincingly for the traditional date of Christ’s birth on December 25th. Most of us have come to accept that Christ was born sometime between 6 B.C. and 2 B.C., but this is based on dating given by Josephus, who made many errors in his chronologies.
From the traditional date of the Nativity, it is possible to confirm that Christ was conceived on March 25, which is also the traditional date for His Crucifixion, as well as what some Church Fathers believed to be the date on which the universe began (March 25th). I don’t know for sure whether this is all true, but it is fascinating to consider that the traditional dates observed for these great Holy days correspond with the actual events.
Along the way, Taylor brings up so many neat facts and explanations that I couldn’t begin to mention even half of them. For instance, when speaking about the Wise Men, he writes:
The genealogies listed in Genesis…reveal that Noah’s son Shem fathered the people who would become the nations of the Middle East. This includes the Israelites, and for this reason they are called Semitic people–from the name Shem. Ham, the second son of Noah, become the father of the Canaanite, Egyptian, and African peoples. Noah’s third son Japheth fathered the people who eventually populated Europe.
I had always wondered why they were called Semites.
Taylor spends a chapter describing the events leading up to Christ’s Crucifixion, and how they also fulfill the Danielic prophecies. One neat factoid here: the word excruciating comes from the root word crux, for the terrible pain experienced by Christ on the Cross.
The book reaches its climax in the next chapters, where Taylor establishes that St. Peter founded the church in Rome and that he was crucified in Rome. This truth is often contentious, as Protestants rarely want to concede it. But the arguments and evidence for it are overwhelming, as they are found both in the Scriptures themselves as well as in secular historians and finally in a landslide of writings by the Church Fathers. Sts. Peter and Paul both found martyrdom in Rome, and this was no coincidence, but had profound implications for the Church.
In the next chapter, Taylor offers further recent evidence: the discovery of St. Peter’s tomb under the high altar of St. Peter Basilica itself. His relics were always traditionally believed to be under there, but no one knew for sure until last century. He sketches out the history of the relics and why it is quite expected that they would end up where they did.
After St. Peter’s death, the next four popes all have strong testimony to their presence in Rome. Sts. Linus, Anacletus, and Clement were all ordained by St. Peter and became the next bishops, one after the other as each received the crown of martyrdom. St. Evaristus was the fifth bishop of Rome, and he too was martyred.
Taylor goes on to describe how the Roman Empire destroyed the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70 and how that fit in with the prophecies. Then he moves forward in history through the Roman persecutions of the early Christians, up through Constantine’s miraculous conversion in the fourth century, and the subsequent fulfillment of the prophecy that the Roman Empire would be handed over to the Church.
But isn’t all this perhaps coincidental? Is Rome now irrelevant? Does the Church still have to be centered there? Taylor responds:
Christ’s establishment of Rome as the perpetual Apostolic See is not intended as a legalistic mechanism to limit salvation throughout the earth. Moreover, it is certainly not meant to restrict grace.
Rather, Rome was established as the perpetual Apostolic See so that full communion might be achieved among Christians…
The Church is Roman, not because Catholics thought it would be a neat idea, but because God established the principle of unity there. He did so in the face of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, showing that all earthly power would fall before His divine power and wisdom.
Dr. Marshall boldly proclaims these truths and supports them with solid evidence and arguments. This book brings his series The Origins of Catholicism to a close. I am going to go back and read the previous two books in the series now that I have read this one. It is quick to read, wonderfully informative, and has an irenic tone. Highly recommended.
You can get the book from amazon here!