A present for those missing Gen Con…
The Cross, the Chapel and the Spear
During the peak and collapse of the Roman civilization, Christianity finds a home in the hearts of the living, from which it is drunk greedily by the dead. The mortal legions now serve a Christian emperor, turning people out of pagan temples and breaking up ancient rites. The ostensibly pagan Legion of the Dead recruits more Christians (or Monachals, or Sanctified) every night, and these creatures refuse to arrest their fellows.
Yet, what this new system of beliefs called Christianity actually is creates almost as much confusion and violence among the Christians themselves as between Christians and pagans. The Emperor Constantine attempted to create a single, universal Church when he declared his new religion to be that of the Empire, but adherents of his Nicene Creed still shout and brawl in the streets with Arians, while the Gnostics gather in private, seeking salvation not only from sin and suffering, but from their own fleshly bodies. In the underworld, disciples of the Monachus debate adherents of Vitericus Minor… sometimes even on the Camarilla floor itself.
In Rome, Christianity has yet to coagulate, and instead runs hot and wet from believers. They paint pictures of heaven in the blood of their enemies, and the dead follow suit.
Cities on the Cross
The Roman poor are packed into the cities, trapped with nowhere to go. Others shelter below the ground, taking refuge in caves, tunnels and sewers. Some even squat in abandoned temples, too cynical–or desperate–to believe the rumors of ancient and bloody rites reenacted by ghosts in the dark.
From the very beginning, these people–spat upon, degraded and hopeless–will be fertile ground for the seeds of faith. The promises of Jesus, however, are not the only appeal of the new faith. Christian faiths, though varied and complex, share a central message of friendship and brotherhood. Christianity spreads quickly, then, through social webs of friends and family. It also encourages not merely evangelism but service and generosity to one’s fellow man. Jesus spread the word of God first to his friends, and then took them to Jerusalem as missionaries; the early Christians are no different. The ritual which will become Catholic communion, for example, is a full meal, shared by Christians at the houses of friends.
These social networks which spread and form through Christianity thrive in urban areas. Christianity, in all its many early forms, is a religion of the city.
The same urban poor who embrace Christianity are the staple food of vampires. The dead are often messy when they feed, particularly in Rome itself. Their passion gets away from them and they kill. Roman citizens are missed when they disappear, and vanishing slaves don’t go unnoticed, either. A Roman who has only one or two slaves likely has personal relationships with them, and even the rare Roman with hundreds of slaves may jealously guard his property. Either slave owner is likely to pursue runaways. All but a few vampires, therefore, feed on the poor, who will only be missed by other wretches. While victims’ families and the mob may be dangerous, poor people are generally safer victims than the rich.
The dead, like Augustus, spend nights in Masquerade among the rabble. Many of the mob also crowd the upper levels of Necropolis, more frightened of cold and abuse than the strange noises below. The dead feed upon the living, and they hear their words. They show mercy, and Embrace childer with strange new beliefs.
The cults of the living have always infiltrated the dead. Often, the Propinqui welcome them for their novelty, bringing color and flavor to unlives spent among bleached bones. By the end of the first century, there are already Kindred in Necropolis babbling about the son of God, whose cult will admit no other divinity. The Nosferatu, who have deliberately Embraced the anonymous poor for centuries, carve a meeting-place in the rock. The Worms sing and hiss the praises of the One God, whose name is Jealous. They drink wine mixed with blood, and by miracles do not spit it forth again.
They are betrayed. The other Worms know well the ways of their kind, and tell the dead above that there is Vitae in the communion draught, tapped from the veins of slumbering elders and unwary Kindred. The Legion of the Dead takes torches into the depths, felling or burning any vampire they find. To their surprise, there are not just Worms, but Courtesans, Wanderers, and even Founders. When they reach the sanctum of the Christians, it is filled with a foul vapor, and it explodes on contact with the flame. Legionnaire and Christian alike parish in the flames. Some claim the explosion was an accident. Others believe that the resurrection cult committed suicide, imagining a life beyond Final Death.
The explosion is felt throughout Necropolis, and it echoes. The Camarilla forbids the cult of the atheists. They prescribe crucifixion before the dawn for any creature found praying or sacrificing to the Jealous God. Their mistake is critical. The Nosferatu sense fear, and along with the Gangrel see a weapon to be used against the Propinqui. The Mekhet wonder about the secrets of death and resurrection underlying the myth of the Nazarene, even as the Daeva smile at a new taboo. Only a few dead actively defy the Senex’s mandate, but those few are enough. They cajole their friends, Embrace Christian childer. Above all, they remember and they resent, nursing long grudges as only vampires can. They remember the Sanctum.
When Jesus, called Christ, is executed on the hill of skulls, his followers beg for his body. To ensure that he is dead, the soldier standing watch pierces Jesus’ side with a spear, and is rewarded with a torrent of blood and water. The blood covers his arm, and a droplet falls upon his lips. The taste is sweet, and as the disciples retrieve their teacher from the cross, the soldier licks his arm and spear clean. The spearman becomes Damned without passing the jaws of death, transfigured by the blood of the Savior.
The undead soldier finds himself wracked by hunger for more blood, but nothing from the veins of man or animal can match that which fell from the body of the so-called King of the Jews. He takes “Longinus,” from the spear with which he murdered God.
33 years after that murder, Longinus receives a revelation from God, through an angel called Vahishtael. Vahishtael reveals to Longinus that there are other dead who refuse to die, and that the soldier must bring them purpose. Longinus goes forth to preach among the dead. The core of his teaching is that vampires are Damned through sin: either their own or that of their sires. They are given the shadow of life to herd the living back to righteousness.
Longinus is met at first with confusion, and then with anger. He begins to stalk the pagan cults of the Middle East, appearing to them as an angel of blood and annihilation, revealing the falseness of their Gods. He smashes idols and decries sloth. The established dead of the region are shocked by his actions, yet some are drawn to his teachings. Longinus’ followers (who may or may not include his childer) are not only Jews, but representatives from the pagan faiths. From the cults of Lilith, tended faithfully by the Daeva, they learn the subtle tempting of the living, even as they throw down the Dark Maiden from her pedestals.
The Disciples of the Blood are not numerous, though. Later stories name only 13 of the admitted Damned. When the Jews of Jerusalem revolt against Roman rule in 70 AD, many of Longinus’s followers, and perhaps the spearman himself, join them. When the rubble settles and the vampires of Jerusalem gorge themselves on Jew and Roman alike, the mad preacher is nowhere to be found. They assume the soldier and his cult have been destroyed. They are very wrong.
Over the next century, letters emerge discussing the teachings of Longinus, many allegedly transcribed from the words of the soldier himself. The source is the Monachus, a Christian theologian Embraced to the bosom of the Damned. His followers say he is the childe of Longinus, or one of the first 13. His letters achieve great popularity among Jewish vampires, as well as those Embraced from the growing Christian movement.
In 232 AD, the Monachus and his followers openly celebrate Mass for the first time in a cave just outside Jerusalem. Inside the cave are only the Monachus and his closest followers. Outside, a group of the dead lie in wait, to destroy them. The angel Vahishtael whispers word to the Monachus, however, and he keeps those in the cave praying until dawn. Sunrise somehow catches the assassins unaware, and they are destroyed in fire and frenzy. The followers of the Monachus rejoice, and declare the cave the Sanctuary of the Lance.
From the Testament of Longinus
The dead men of the city gathered there, with murder in their hearts and flames in their hands. But the angel of the Lord whispered to the Monachus: “Do not go to your haven, for you will be set upon by your enemies.” So the Monachus and the disciples slept in the cave.
When they arose the next night, the Damned looked out of the cave, and their enemies had been burnt up by the sun. The Monachus laughed: “They are slothful, and continue their Sabbath past sunset.”
And so those who gather in numbers but do not accept God are called sabbat.
1 Sanguinaria 9:16, trans. Roberts
The Monachus and his followers are expelled from Jerusalem. Though their partisans remain hidden among the city’s dead, the most visible of the preachers and penitents are scattered throughout. Many of the Mekhet, as well as members of other clans, return west to the ancestral home of their Blood in Egypt. Others march by night for Rome, where they hide and tempt the Christians. Longinian theology becomes widely popular among the vampiric Jesus cults in the late third century, and is well on its way to becoming the dominant paradigm in the fourth. The Testament of Longinus provides the dead with their own messiah, and an identity separate from the living they consume. They are the Damned, and they know what their covenant with God is. Word spreads East to Rome of a Black Abbey consecrated somewhere by the Monachus, a new Sanctuary of the Lance and beacon of strength for the Damned.
In Rome, neither the followers of Longinus nor any Christians are accepted by the Camarilla. The hundred cults of damnation and salvation fight among each other like dogs, but can always spare the bite of their fangs or the growls of their sermons for those who have not yet learned the truth. After all, they say, we are all Damned and all Kindred in the eyes of God.
The Monachal Apocrypha
No extant version of the Testament of Longinus explains quite why Longinus Embraced the Monachus. Most versions of Torments contain a passage in which Longinus is impressed by the Monachus’ faith and courage, but many vampires of the Chapel and Spear say the story began before that. They say that the Monachus was a Christian theologian called Theodas, whose writing impressed Longinus. They produce as evidence copies of first century, which share a distinctly Longinian interest in the punishment of sinners. The Monachus, they argue, is the true author of the Testament and scholar of the Damned, and the actual recipient of divine revelation. Longinus was merely the hand that thrust the spear, where the Monachus’ lips speak the word of God.
Few of the Damned in Rome have ever met the Monachus, and those who have reject the Theodas letters, and particularly the implicit belief that the Monachus received revelation as a mortal. Several of them, though, enthusiastically acknowledge that he was a Christian before the Embrace and a great scholar besides.
The last positive reference to the letters of Theodas is a copy of a sermon transcribed in Jerusalem in the sixth century.
More interested in the pagans? Check out the sequel, Blood and Bulls.