“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked .’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ (Acts 9:3-6)
Marcus Vinicius is a hothead. He is also impulsive.
These traits are not curious considering he is a young Roman general. He wants what he wants and he has the authority to get it.
And in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis , what he wants is a woman named Lygia. She is the adopted daughter of a retired general, and technically a prisoner, as she was captured in war.
Marcus pursues Lygia, but she rejects his advances even though she is attracted to him. Lygia is a Christian, devoted to her Master, and doesn’t see much of a future with this renowned, yet pagan hero.
The young lady’s beliefs are no impediment for Marcus, however. He offers to build a large cross monument in honor of her religion.
Lygia tries to explain to Marcus that Christianity is a matter of the soul, not one of symbols. Finally agreeing to marry Marcus, she lets on that not only is he in her heart, but Jesus is there too.
Marcus doesn’t get it, though. He thinks he has to share Lygia’s love with a dead man. Even the Apostle Paul, who is in the room with Lygia and Marcus, cannot persuade Marcus of the truth.
In typical fashion, Marcus become angry. As a final demonstration before leaving Lygia’s presence, he rips a cross ornament off her wall and breaks it in two.
Eventually both Marcus and Lygia become caught up in the persecutions of Nero, who has conjured up a fable in which the Christians are blamed for the burning of Rome, which he himself instigated. Lygia is thrown in jail with many other Christians.
Marcus ends up in the same prison with her for opposing Nero’s persecution. He’s not a Christian, but he has no love for the crazy emperor’s injustices.
The jail is adjacent to the arena where prisoners are sacrificed to the lions. One by one the Christians are marched out to die.
According to tradition, on the road from Rome the Apostle Peter met the resurrected Jesus. He asked his Savior,”Where are you going” (Quo Vadis in Latin)? Jesus told Peter that he was going to Rome to be crucified all over again, obviously a reference to what is happening to His disciples, who Nero is nailing to trees and lighting on fire. Peter thus gained the strength to return to Rome, where he is eventually crucified on a cross upside down.
In the movie Quo Vadis, the imprisoned Peter comforts Christians before they face the lions. They march into the stadium singing, causing consternation in Nero.
Marcus, Lygia and the latter’s giant bodyguard Ursus are the last to enter. This is because Nero’s wife Poppaea has arranged a special death for them. She is angry with Marcus for rejecting her advances and jealous of Lygia.
The plan for extinguishing the lives of the three doesn’t involve lions, though. Poppaea has produced a special show for Nero and the crowd.
Before going out to their presumed murders, Marcus explains to Lygia his continued questions about her Christian beliefs. Lygia sees that he may doubt, but als that he is a seeker. She encourages him by telling him that Christ is in his heart more than he knows.
Now in the stadium, Lygia is tied to a stake (her own cross) . A bull is let into the arena. In between the girl and a death by goring is the powerful Ursus.
Ursus puts up a good fight, but is obviously no match for the final battle with the bull. However, something amazing occurs.
Marcus has been brought out in bonds to observe the death of his beloved. As he watches the struggle of Ursus he prays,”Christ, give him strength.”
Ursus defeats the bull, much to the crowd’s delight. Eventually, Marcus and Lygia leave Rome together to begin a new life, an implied one of faith.
The character Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis is illustrative of how faith in Jesus is not necessarily something that comes like a lightning bolt. In Marcus’s case, his coming to belief in Christ was a journey.
His path began with outright opposition to a religion he did not grasp. It culminated in a decision to step out in trust and call on this Jesus in whom his beloved believed.
The catalyst for this prayer was his desire to save Lygia from a horrible physical death. Whatever his motivation, his pleas to Jesus showed that his faith in the power of God was genuine. After all, Marcus was a general and understood power.
What Marcus experienced is described by the Apostle Paul. He describes our experience as similar to that of a person who has had a veil removed. Once it is gone, we see God more and more clearly and are transformed to His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).
Marcus’s experience is different from that of Paul, however. While the apostle, himself blinded in terms of faith in Christ, had come to the Lord in a flash, Marcus’s route is more circuitous.
The long journey of Marcus to faith is comforting to me. As I slide down the other side of middle age, I am distraught over my mistakes in life and how dense I have been in not seeing my unbelief and flaws earlier.
For example, I have been reading a book recently about a certain aspect of the Christian life. In it are surveys which basically help you to ascertain how you are doing in this particular area. I have been reading this book with some despair over what it has revealed about my life.
On the other hand, I know my only hope for true change lies in Jesus. Marcus Vinicius took a long time to figure this out, but God was patient with the general and drew this lost man to Himself.
I am putting my hope in Christ to do the same for me, especially in this aforementioned area of need. Quo Vadis.
You choose. I’ll follow.