Posts Tagged ‘the Roman Empire’

St. Genesius of Rome lived in the late third century, mostly under the reign of the emperor Diocletian. He was an actor by trade, which probably means that he was lowborn and not a Roman citizen–the Romans thought about actors differently than we do. Since acting was essentially lying, the Roman logic goes, actors were people who lied for a living, making them among the dregs of Roman society. Therefore, most actors were of foreign extraction, and acting tended to be a hereditary job. There’s also some evidence that acting and prostitution happened in close quarters with each other. Two careers!

When the emperor Diocletian visited the city of Rome in 303 CE, Genesius’ company decided to put on a farce mocking Christians, knowing that Diocletian had been forcing them to convert or die since about 299 CE. According to some sources (by which I mean “webpages”), Genesius wrote and directed as well as acted in the play. I’m a little skeptical about this claim, since I wonder how many actors were literate. On the other hand, by this point most plays were mimes or farces which basically involved a whole lot of bawdy humor and not a lot of craft.

In the play, Genesius was supposed to be mock baptised on stage, and according to his Acts (written in the 7th century), he supposedly infiltrated the Christian community to do “research,” becoming particularly interested in the act of baptism. This is probably not true because it doesn’t make any sense–why would someone risk death and go to all the hard work of becoming part of a very secretive, wary community just to know how to pour water correctly for a play that probably featured farts prominently?

However, when the other actor poured water over his head in the mock baptism, it took for real. Genesius dropped the script and started proclaiming the Heavenly Father and the Light, Truth and the Way and all the other stuff you read about in pamphlets on the street. It didn’t take the emperor long to arrest the whole company and torture Genesius in an attempt to make him recant and sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Genesius’ martyrdom happened in 303, a mere ten years before the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal. Though he was never formally baptized, as the intent of the actor pouring water on him on stage was not to baptize (Catholics do love their intent), since he was martyred he’s considered to be “baptized by blood,” something I don’t recommend you try at home.

Genesius’ special day is August 25, and he’s the patron saint of actors, comedians, the cinema, epileptics and lawyers.

Life of St. Genesius

St. Genesius on Catholic Online

Genesius of Rome on Wikipedia

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