Early Church

Maximus the Confessor

What is Dyothelitism? On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces Maximus the Confessor, one of the early champions of this doctrine.

Perpetua and Felicitas

Jesus gives us the strength to endure through suffering. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols and Jeremy Vuolo recount the story of two bold martyrs.


When Columba traveled from Ireland to Scotland, he brought the gospel with him. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to this missionary, scribe, and hymn writer.

Constantine in Threads

On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols returns to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and walks us through a series of tapestries depicting Constantine’s life.

Sixth Century Scotland

The story of how the gospel came to Scotland is shrouded in mystery. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Drs. Stephen Nichols and Sinclair Ferguson introduce us to two “monk-evangelists” who took the gospel from town to town.

A.D. with S.F.

We can learn a great deal from our Christian friends and family members. But we can also learn by studying the lives of the saints who came before us. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols interviews Dr. Sinclair Ferguson on his book In the Year of Our Lord.

The History of the Doctrine of God, Part 2

God is simple but not simplistic. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. James Dolezal joins Dr. Stephen Nichols in the studio to discuss the simplicity of God.

The History of the Doctrine of God, Part 1

God is infinite, transcendent, and unfathomable. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. James Dolezal joins Dr. Stephen Nichols in the studio to discuss the greatness of God.

Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar ruled at the time of the birth of Christ and lived from 63 BC to AD 14. He was the first Roman emperor to use a particular title, and it was in fact his favorite title. In Latin, the title is Divi filius, or “son of a god.”

Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. One of Julius Caesar’s favorite titles was “Divine Julius.” He considered himself to be descended from the gods, and a god on earth. Augustus, when he officially became part of Julius Caesar’s family through adoption, took on the title Divi filius, “son of a god.”

Augustus also set up statues of himself throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, because of the limitations of travel in that day, many more people would have seen his statues and images than would have seen him.

The most famous statue of Augustus had certain characteristics, and it gave birth to a popular style of statute representing him. He had the original statue commissioned while he was middle-aged, but it is an image of him as a young man with ideal proportions. In this style of statue, he’s perpetually youthful and perfect. Also, his feet are bare. Such a representation was only used in the depiction of gods and goddesses, so the statue connects him to the gods of the Roman pantheon.

In these statues, Augustus is also dressed in military garb, and his arm is raised up, as if he is addressing the people. He is represented as their leader, as their victorious military leader, who is leading Rome through all its military endeavors, exploits, and pursuits.

At his right leg, on many of these statues, there is a Cupid riding a dolphin. Now, there’s a double image here. The dolphin represents his victories at sea, and the Cupid represents Venus. It’s a way of signifying that Augustus was descended from the goddess Venus herself.

On his breastplate are figures that signify all of the countries that he had conquered and had brought into the empire, and it represents what we speak of in reference to the Pax Romana, or “peace of Rome.” The unification of various tribes and nations into one people throughout the Roman world was all brought about by Augustus.

One of the famous altars associated with Augustus can be seen today in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum, constructed in 1930. Of course, the foundation of the altar is in Pergamum, but it was moved to Berlin. It was constructed before the time of Augustus Caesar, sometime between BC 150 to BC 100, but blocks, an altar, and a statue of Augustus were later added to it.

On that altar is Augustus’ favorite title, Divi filius. We also find graffiti on the altar’s block and around the title. You might remember that Pergamum was one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2–3. It’s the northernmost of the seven churches in Asia Minor. In the early Byzantine period, as that area was Christianized, someone put two lines of graffiti on the title Divi filius in the symbol of the cross. So, while Augustus Caesar thought he was the son of god on Earth, he was not. It was, in fact, that baby who was born in a manger during his reign. Jesus Christ alone is the Son of God.


Tacitus was a Roman historian who lived in the first century. He was born in 56 or 58 and died in 118. He was an orator and a lawyer who served in the Roman Senate, and he appears to have had some sort of political role in the province of Germania. He is known to us as one of the historians of first-century Rome. In his books, the Annals and the Histories, he tells the story of first-century Rome, starting with the death of Augustus Caesar in AD 14 and ending with Domitian’s death in 96. Through the lens of the emperors, Tacitus looks at the various events of the first century. His history takes on another layer of importance because it coincides with the time of Christ’s earthly life and with the writing of the New Testament and the early church.

Much of Tacitus’ work is lost, but the parts that remain are fascinating. One of the books that remains from the Annals is book 15, which tells the story of Nero’s reign from 62 to 65. This was a very important time, coinciding with Paul’s imprisonment and, as church tradition tells us, Nero’s oversight of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul.

In this period, there was another very important event: the burning of Rome in 64. As Tacitus tells it, Nero himself was thought to be responsible for the fire. He had a desire to rebuild the city, and, if he could simply burn away some of the city’s undesirable areas, it would be easier for him to rebuild. But the fire grew out of control and ended up destroying much of the city. This caused the people of Rome to turn on him.

Tacitus tells us:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations called “Christians” by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origins, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out, not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.

At this point in the Annals, Tacitus reveals what he thinks about Rome: “Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.”

Tacitus continues:

Accordingly, an arrest was made of all who pled guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt to serve as nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a chariot. Hence, even for criminals, who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

In this selection from the Annals, we can observe a number of things. We see one of the first references outside of the New Testament to Christ, wherein His life is dated relative to Pontius Pilate and reference is made to His death by crucifixion. We also see the attitude of the Romans toward Christians and the intense, cruel persecution they faced at the hands of Nero.