Webpage Hist-1 Page 28 Return Previous page Next page BACK TO INDEX
The following 4 pages are a short sketch of church history from the year AD 33, providing the reader with a general outline of the church, and by comments to a means of recognizing truth from deception. The author will call anyone a saint, wherefore these notations have been removed.
AGE OF THE APOSTLES (AD 33-100)
The beginning of the Christian Church is reckoned from the great day on which the Holy Ghost came down, according as our Lord had promised to His Apostles. At that time, "Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven," were gathered together at Jerusalem, to keep the Feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks), which was one of the three holy seasons at which God required His people to appear before Him in the place which He had chosen.
Many of these devout men there converted by what they then saw and heard, to believe the Gospel; and, when they returned to their own countries, they carried back with them the news of the wonderful things which had taken place at Jerusalem. After this, the Apostles went forth "into all the world," as their Master had ordered them, to "preach the Gospel to every creature".
Book of Acts tells us something of what they did, and we may learn something
more about it from the Epistles. And, although this be but a small part of the
whole, it will give us a notion of the rest, if we consider that, while Paul
was preaching in Asia Minor, Greece, and at Rome, the other Apostles were busily
doing the same work in other countries.
We must remember, too, the constant coming and going which in those days took place throughout the world, how Jews from all quarters went up to keep the Passover and other feasts at Jerusalem; how the great Roman empire stretched from our own island of Britain as far as Persia and Ethiopia, and people from all parts of it were continually going to Rome and returning. We must consider how merchants traveled from country to country on account of their trade; how soldiers were sent into all quarters of the empire and were moved about from one country to another.
And from these things we may get some understanding of the way in which the knowledge of the Gospel would be spread, when once it had taken root in the great cities of Jerusalem and Rome. Thus it came to pass, that, by the end of the first hundred years after our Savior's birth something was known of the Christian faith throughout all the Roman empire, and even in countries beyond it; and if in many cases, only a very little was known, still even that was a gain, and served as a preparation for more.
last chapter of the Acts leaves Paul at Rome, waiting for his trial on
account of the things which the Jews had laid to his charge. We find from the
Epistles that he afterwards got his liberty, and returned into the East. There
is reason to suppose that he also visited Spain, as he had spoken of doing in
his Epistle to the Romans (ch. xv. 28); and it has been thought by some that he
even preached in Britain; but this does not seem likely.
was at last imprisoned again at Rome, where the wicked Emperor Nero persecuted
the Christians very cruelly; and it is believed that both Peter and Paul
were put to death there in the year of our Lord 68. The bishops of Rome
afterwards set up claims to great power and honor, because they said that Peter was the first bishop of their church, and that they were his successors.
But although we may reasonably believe that the Apostle was martyred at Rome,
there does not appear to be any good ground for thinking that he had been
settled there as bishop of the city.
the Apostles, except John, are supposed to have been martyred (or put to
death for the sake of the Gospel). James the Less, who was bishop of
Jerusalem, was killed by the Jews in an uproar, about the year 62. Soon after
this, the Romans sent their armies into Judea, and, after a bloody war, they
took the city of Jerusalem, and destroyed the Temple.
years after Herod's time another cruel emperor, Domitian, raised a fresh
persecution against the Christians (AD 95). Among those who suffered were some
of his own near relations; for the Gospel had now made its way among the great
people of the earth, as well as among the poor, who were the first to listen to
it. There is a story that the emperor was told that some persons of the family
of David were living in the Holy Land, and that he sent for them, because he was
afraid lest the Jews should set them up as princes, and should rebel against his
were two grandchildren of Jude, who was one of our Lord's kinsmen after the
flesh, and therefore belonged to the house of David and the old kings of Judah.
But these two were plain countrymen, who lived quietly and contentedly on their
little farm, and were not likely to lead a rebellion, or to claim earthly
kingdoms. And when they were carried before the emperor, they showed him their
hands, which were rough and horny from working in the fields; and in answer to
his questions about the kingdom of Christ, they said that it was not of this
world, but spiritual and heavenly, and that it would appear at the end of the
world, when the Savior would come again to judge both the quick and the dead. So
the emperor saw that there was nothing to fear from them, and he let them go.
was during Domitian's persecution that John was banished to the island of
Patmos, where he saw the visions which are described in his
"Revelation." All the other Apostles had been long dead, and John
had lived many years at Ephesus, where he governed the churches of the country
around. After his return from Patmos he went about to all these churches, that
he might repair the hurt which they had suffered in the persecution.
one of the towns which he visited, he noticed a young man of very pleasing
looks, and called him forward, and desired the bishop of the place to take care
of him. The bishop did so, and, after having properly trained the youth, he
baptized and confirmed him. But when this had been done, the bishop thought that
he need not watch over him so carefully as before, and the young man fell into
vicious company, and went on from bad to worse, until at length he became the
head of a band of robbers, who kept the whole country in terror.
the Apostle next visited the town, he asked after the charge which he had put
into the bishop's hands. The bishop, with shame and grief, answered that the
young man was dead, and, on being further questioned he explained that he meant
dead in sins, and told all the story. St John, after having blamed him because
he had not taken more care, asked where the robbers were to be found, and set
off on horseback for their haunt, where he was seized by some of the band, and
was carried before the captain.
young man, on seeing him, knew him at once, and could not bear his look, but ran
away to hide himself. But the Apostle called him back, told him that there was
yet hope for him through Christ, and spoke in such a moving way that the robber
agreed to return to the town. There he was once more received into the Church as
a penitent; and he spent the rest of his days in repentance for his sins, and in
thankfulness for the mercy which had been shown to him.
The apostle John, in his old age, was much troubled by false teachers, who had begun to corrupt the Gospel. These persons are called "heretics", and their doctrines are called "heresy" from a Greek word which means "to choose", because they chose to follow their own fancies, instead of receiving the Gospel as the Apostles and the Church taught it. Simon the sorcerer, who is mentioned in the eighth chapter of the Acts, is counted as the first heretic, and even in the time of the Apostles a number of others arose, such as Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who are mentioned by Paul.
earliest heretics were mostly of the kind called Gnostics,- a word which means
that they pretended to be more knowing than ordinary Christians, and perhaps Paul may have meant them especially when he warned Timothy against
"science" (or knowledge) "falsely so called". Their doctrines were a strange mixture of Jewish and heathen notions with
Christianity; and it is curious that some of the very strangest of their
opinions have been brought up again from time to time by people who fancied that
they had found out something new, while they had only fallen into old errors,
which had been condemned by the Church hundreds of years before.
The apostle John lived to about the age of a hundred. He was at last so weak that he could not walk into the church; so he was carried in, and used to say continually to his people, "Little children, love one another." Some of them, after a time, began to be tired of hearing this, and asked him why he repeated the words so often, and said nothing else to them. The Apostle answered, "Because it is the Lord's commandment, and if this be done it is enough."
IGNATIUS (AD 116)
our Lord ascended into Heaven, He left the government of His Church to the
Apostles. We are told that during the forty days between His rising from the
grave and His ascension, He gave commandments unto the Apostles, and spoke of
the things belonging to the kingdom of God. Thus they knew what
they were to do when their Master should be no longer with them; and one of the
first things which they did, even without waiting until His promise of sending
the Holy Ghost should be fulfilled, was to choose Matthias into the place
which had been left empty by the fall of the traitor Judas (Acts 1. 15-26).
this we find that they appointed other persons to help them in their work.
First, they appointed the deacons to take care of the poor and to assist in
other services. Then they appointed presbyters (or elders), to undertake the
charge of congregations. Afterwards, we find Paul sending Timothy to
Ephesus, and Titus into the island of Crete, with power to "ordain elders
in every city" (Tit. 1. 5), and to govern all the churches within a large
then, three kinds (or orders) of ministers of the Church are mentioned in the
Acts and Epistles. The deacons are lowest, the presbyters, or elders, are next;
and, above these, there is a higher order, made of the Apostles themselves, with
such persons as Timothy and Titus, who had to look after a great number of
presbyters and deacons, and were also the chief spiritual pastors (or shepherds)
of the people who were under the care of these presbyters and deacons. In the
New Testament, the name of "bishops," (which means
"overseers") is sometimes given to the Apostles and other clergy of
the highest order, and sometimes to the presbyters, but after a time it was
given only to the highest order, and when the Apostles were dead, the bishops
had the chief government of the Church.
has since been found convenient that some bishops should be placed above others,
and should be called by higher titles, such as archbishops and patriarchs, but
these all belong to the same order of bishops; just as in a parish, although the
rector and the curate have different titles, and one of them is above the other,
they are both most commonly presbyters (or, as we now say, priests), and so they
both belong to the same "order" in the ministry.
of the most famous among the early bishops was Ignatius, bishop of Antioch,
the place where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11. 26).
Antioch was the chief city of Syria, and was so large that it had more than two
hundred thousand inhabitants. Peter himself is said to have been its bishop
for some years; and, although this is perhaps a mistake, it is worth
remembering, because we shall find by-and-by that much was said about the
bishops of Antioch being Peter's successors, as well as the bishops of Rome.
had known John, and was made bishop of Antioch about thirty years before the
Apostle's death. He had governed his church for forty years or more, when the
Emperor Trajan came to Antioch. In the Roman history, Trajan is described as one
of the best among the emperors; but he did not treat the Christians well. He
seems never to have thought that the Gospel could possibly be true, and thus he
did not take the trouble to inquire what the Christians really believed or did.
were obliged in those days to hold their worship in secret, and mostly by night,
or very early in the morning, because it would not have been safe to meet
openly; and hence, the heathens, who did not know what was done at their
meetings, were tempted to fancy all manner of shocking things, such as that the
Christians practiced magic; that they worshipped the head of an ass; that they
offered children in sacrifice; and that they ate human flesh!
is not likely that the Emperor Trajan believed such foolish tales as these; and,
when he did make some inquiry about the ways of the Christians, he heard nothing
but what was good of them. But still he might think that there was some mischief
behind; and he might fear lest the secret meetings of the Christians should have
something to do with plots against his government; and so, as I have said, he
was no friend to them.
Trajan came to Antioch, Ignatius was carried before him. The emperor asked
what evil spirit possessed him, so that he not only broke the laws by refusing
to serve the gods of Rome, but persuaded others to do the same. Ignatius
answered, that he was not possessed by any evil spirit; that he was a servant of
Christ; that by His help he defeated the malice of evil spirits; and that he
bore his God and Savior within his heart. After some more questions and answers,
the emperor ordered that he should be carried in chains to Rome, and there
should be devoured by wild beasts. When Ignatius heard this terrible sentence,
he was so far from being frightened, that he burst forth into thankfulness and
rejoicing, because he was allowed to suffer for his Savior, and for the
deliverance of his people.
was a long and toilsome journey, over land and sea, from Antioch to Rome, and an
old man, such as Ignatius, was ill able to bear it, especially as winter was
coming on. He was to be chained, too, and the soldiers who had the charge of him
behaved very rudely and cruelly to him. And no doubt the emperor thought that,
by sending so venerable a bishop in this way to suffer so fearful and so
disgraceful a death (to which only the very lowest wretches were usually
sentenced), he should terrify other Christians into forsaking their faith. But
instead of this, the courage and the patience with which St Ignatius bore his
sufferings gave the Christians fresh spirit to endure whatever might come on
news that the holy bishop of Antioch was to be carried to Rome soon spread, and
at many places on the way the bishops, clergy, and people flocked together, that
they might see him, and pray and talk with him, and receive his blessing. And
when he could find time, he wrote letters to various churches, exhorting them to
stand fast in the faith, to be at peace among themselves, to obey the bishops
who were set over them, and to advance in all holy living.
of the letters was written to the Church at Rome, and was sent on by some
persons who were traveling by a shorter way. Ignatius begs, in this letter,
that the Romans will not try to save him from death. "I am the wheat of
God," he says, "let me be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be
found the pure bread of Christ. Rather do ye encourage the beasts, that they may
become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body, so that, when dead, I may not
be troublesome to any one."
even said that, if the lions should hang back, he will himself provoke them to
attack him. It should not be right for ordinary people to speak in this way, and
the Church has always disapproved of those who threw themselves in the way of
persecution. But a holy man who had served God for so many years as Ignatius,
might well speak in a way which could not become ordinary Christians. When he
was called to die for his people and for the troth of Christ, he might even take
it as a token of God's favor, and might long for his deliverance from the
troubles and the trials of this world, as St. Paul said of himself, that he
"had a desire to depart, and to be with Christ".
reached Rome just in time for some games which were to take place a little
before Christmas; for the Romans were cruel enough to amuse themselves with
setting wild beasts to tear and devour men, in vast places called amphitheatres,
at their public games. When the Christians of Rome heard that Ignatius was near
the city, great numbers of them went out to meet him, and they said that they
would try to persuade the people in the amphitheatre to see that he might not be
put to death.
But he entreated, as he had before done in in his letter, that they would do nothing to hinder him from glorifying God by his death; and he knelt down with them, and prayed that they might continue in faith and love, and that the persecution might soon come to an end. As it was the last day of the games, and they were nearly over, he was then hurried into the amphitheatre (called the Coliseum), which was so large that tens of thousands of people might look on. And in this place (of which the ruins are still to be seen), St Ignatius was torn to death by wild beasts, so that only a few of his larger bones were left, which the Christians took up and conveyed to his own city of Antioch.
JUSTIN MARTYR (AD 166)
Trajan was no friend to the Gospel, and put Ignatius to death, he made a law
which must have been a great relief to the Christians. Until then they were
liable to be sought out, and any one might inform against then; but Trajan
ordered that they should not be sought out, although, if they were discovered,
and refused to give up their faith, they were to be punished. The next emperor,
too, whose name was Hadrian (AD 117-138) did something to make their condition
better; but it was still one of great hardship and danger. Notwithstanding the
new laws, any governor of a country, who disliked the Christians, had the power
to persecute and vex them cruelly.
the common people among the heathens still believed the horrid stories of their
killing children and eating human flesh. If there was a famine or a plague,-if
the river Tiber, which runs through Rome, rose above its usual height and did
mischief to the neighboring buildings,- or it the emperor's armies were defeated
in war, the blame of all was laid on the Christians. It was said that all these
things were judgments from the gods, who were angry because the Christians were
allowed to live. And then at the public games, such as those at which Ignatius was put to death, the people used to cry out, "Throw the
Christians to the lions! away with the godless wretches!"
For, as the Christians were obliged to hold their worship secretly, and had no images like those of the heathen gods, and did not offer any sacrifices of beasts, as the heathens did, it was thought that they had no God at all, since the heathens could not raise their minds to the thought of that God who is a spirit, and who is not to be worshipped under any bodily shape. It was, therefore, a great relief when the Emperor Antoninus Pius (AD 138 to 161), who was a mild and gentle old man, ordered that governors and magistrates should not give way to such outcries, and that the Christians should no longer be punished for their religion only, unless they were found to have done wrong in some other way.
There were now many learned men in the Church, and some of these began to write books in defense of their faith. One of them, Athenagoras, had undertaken, while he was a heathen, to show that the Gospel was all a deceit; but when he looked further into the matter, he found that it was very different from what he had fancied; and then he was converted, and, instead of writing against the Gospel, he wrote in favor of it.
Another of these learned men was Justin, who was born at Samaria, and was trained in all the wisdom of the Greeks; for the Greeks, as they were left without such light as God had given to the Jews, set themselves to seek out wisdom in all sorts of ways. And, as they had no certain truth from heaven to guide them, they were divided into a number of different parties, such as the Epicureans, and the Stoics, who disputed with Paul at Athens (Acts xvii. 18). These all called themselves "philosophers," (which means, "lovers of wisdom"); and each kind of them thought to be wiser than all the rest. Justin, then, having a strong desire to know the truth, tried one kind of philosophy after another, but could not find rest for his spirit in any of them.
One day, as he was walking thoughtfully on the sea-shore, he observed an old man
of grave and mild appearance, who was following him closely, and at length
entered into talk with him. The old man told Justin that it was of no use to
search after wisdom in the books of the philosophers, and went on to speak of
God the maker of all things, of the prophecies which He had given to men in the
time of the Old Testament, and how they had been fulfilled in the life and death
of the blessed Jesus.
Justin was brought to the knowledge of the Gospel; and the more he learnt of it,
the more was he convinced of its truth, as he came to know how pure and holy its
doctrines and its rules were, and as he saw the love which Christians bore
towards each other, and the patience and firmness with which they endured
sufferings and death for their Master's sake. And now, although he still called
himself a philosopher, and wore the long cloak which was the common dress of
philosophers, the wisdom which he taught was not heathen but Christian wisdom.
He lived mostly at Rome, where scholars flocked to him in great numbers. And he
wrote books in defense of the Gospel against heathens, Jews, and heretics, or
The old Emperor Antoninus Pius, under whom the Christians had been allowed to live in peace and safety, died in the year 161, and was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, whom he had adopted as his son. Marcus Aurelius was not only one of the best emperors, but in many ways was one of the best of the heathens. He had a great character for gentleness, kindness, and justice, and he was fond of books, and liked to have philosophers and learned men about him.
unhappily, these people gave him a very bad notion of Christianity, and, as he
knew no more of it than what they told him, he took a strong dislike to it. And
thus, although he was just and kind to his other subjects, the Christians
suffered more under his reign than they had ever done before. All the
misfortunes that took place, such as rebellions, defeats in war, plague, and
scarcity, were laid to the blame of the Christians; and the emperor himself
seems to have thought that they were in fault, as he made some new laws against
the success which Justin had as a teacher at Rome had long raised the envy and
malice of the heathen philosophers; and, when these new laws against the
Christians came out, one Crescens, a philosopher of the kind called
"Cynics", or "doggish" (on account of their snarling,
currish ways), contrived that Justin should be carried before a judge, on the
charge of being a Christian. The judge questioned him as to his belief, and as
to the meetings of the Christians; to which Justin answered that he believed in
one God and in the Savior Christ, the Son of God, but he refused to say anything
which could betray his brethren to the persecutors.
The judge then threatened him with scourging and death: but Justin replied that the sufferings of this world were nothing to the glory which Christ had promised to His people in the world to come. Then he and the others who had been brought up for trial with him were asked whether they would offer sacrifice to the gods of the heathen, and as they refused to do this, and to forsake their faith, they were all beheaded (AD 166). And on account of the death which he thus suffered for the Gospel, Justin has ever since been especially styled "The Martyr."
POLYCARP (AD 166)
the same time with Justin the Martyr, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was put to
death. He was a very old man; for it was almost ninety years since he had been
converted from heathenism. He had known St. John, and is supposed to have been
made bishop of Smyrna by that Apostle himself, and he had been a friend of Ignatius, who, as we have seen, suffered martyrdom fifty years before. From all
these things, and from his wise and holy character, he was looked up to as a
father by all the Churches, and his mild advice had sometimes put all end to
differences of opinion which but for him might have turned into lasting
the persecution reached Smyrna, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a number of
Christians suffered with great constancy, and the heathen multitude, being
provoked at their refusal to give up their faith, cried out for the death of
Polycarp. The aged bishop, although he was ready to die for his Savior,
remembered that it was not right to throw himself in the way of danger; so he
left the city, and went first to one village in the neighborhood and then to
another. But he was discovered in his hiding-place, and when he saw the soldiers
who were come to seize him, he calmly said, "God's will be done!" He
desired that some food should be given to them, and while they were eating, he
spent the time in prayer.
was then set on an ass, and led towards Smyrna; and, when he was near the town,
one of the heathen magistrates came by in his chariot, and took him up into it.
The magistrate tried to persuade Polycarp to sacrifice to the gods; but finding
that he could make nothing of him, he pushed him out of the chariot so roughly
that the old man fell and broke his leg. But Polycarp bore the pain without
showing how much he was hurt, and the soldiers led him into the amphitheatre,
where great numbers of people were gathered together. When all these saw him,
they set up loud cries of rage and savage delight; but Polycarp thought, as he
entered the place, that he heard a voice saying to him, "Be strong and play
the man!" and he did not heed all the shouting of the crowd.
governor desired him to deny Christ, and said that, if he would, his life should
be spared. But the faithful bishop answered "Fourscore and six years have I
served Christ, and He hath never done me wrong; how then can I now blaspheme my
King and Savior?" The governor again and again urged him, as if in a
friendly way, to sacrifice; but Polycarp steadfastly refused. He next threatened
to let wild beasts loose on him, and as Polycarp still showed no fear, he said
that he would burn him alive. "You threaten me," said the bishop,
"with a fire which lasts but a short time; but you know not of that eternal
fire which is prepared for the wicked."
stake was then set up, and a pile of wood was collected around it. Polycarp
walked to the place with a calm and cheerful look, and, as the executioners were
going to fasten him to the stake with iron cramps, he begged them to spare
themselves the trouble. "He who gives me the strength to bear the
flames," he said. "will enable me to remain steady." He was
therefore only tied to the stake with cords, and as he stood thus bound, he
uttered a thanksgiving for being allowed to suffer after the pattern of his Lord
When his prayer was ended, the wood was set on fire, but we are told that the flames swept round him, looking like the sail of a ship swollen by the wind, while he remained unhurt in the midst of then. One of the executioners, seeing this, plunged a sword into the martyr's breast, and the blood rushed forth in such a stream that it put out the fire. But the persecutors, who were resolved that the Christians should not have their bishop's body, lighted the wood again, and burnt the corpse, so that only a few of the bones remained; and these the Christians gathered out, and gave them an honorable burial. It was on Easter eve that Polycarp suffered, in the year of our Lord 166.
MARTYRS OF LYONS AND VIENNE (AD 177)
other martyrs suffered in various parts of the empire under the reign of Marcus
Aurelius. Among the most famous of these are the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, in
the south of France (or Gaul, as it was then called), where a company of
missionaries from Asia Minor had settled with a bishop named Pothinus at their
head. The persecution at Lyons and Vienne was begun by the mob of those towns,
who insulted the Christians in the streets, broke into their houses, and
committed other such outrages against them. Then a great number of Christians
were seized, and imprisoned in horrid dungeons, where many died from want of
food, or from the bad and unwholesome air.
bishop, Pothinus, who was ninety years of age, and had long been very ill, was
carried before the governor, and was asked, "Who is the God of
Christians?" Pothinus saw that the governor did not put this question from
any good feeling; so he answered, "If thou be worthy, thou shalt
know." The bishop, old and feeble as he was, was then dragged about by
soldiers, and such of the mob as could reach him gave him blows and kicks, while
others, who were further off, threw anything which came to hand at him; and,
after this cruel usage, he was put into prison, where he died within two days.
The other prisoners were tortured for six days together in a variety of horrible ways. Their limbs were stretched on the rack; they were cruelly scourged; some had hot plates of iron applied to them, and some were made to sit in a red-hot iron chair. The firmness with which they bore these dreadful trials gave courage to some of their brethren, who at first had agreed to sacrifice, so that these now again declared themselves Christians, and joined the others in suffering. As all the tortures were of no effect, the prisoners were at length put to death. Some were thrown to wild beasts; but those who were citizens of Rome were beheaded: for it was not lawful to give a Roman citizen up to wild beasts, just as we know from Paul's case at Philippi that it was not lawful to scourge a citizen.
the martyrs was a boy from Asia, only fifteen years old, who was taken every day
to see the tortures of the rest in the hope that he might be frightened into
denying his Savior; but he was not shaken by the terrible sights, and for his
constancy he was cruelly put to death on the last day. The greatest cruelties of
all, however, were borne by a young woman named Blandina. She was slave to a
Christian lady; and, although the Christians regarded their slaves with a
kindness very unlike the usual feeling of heathen masters towards them, this
lady seems yet to have thought that a slave was not likely to endure tortures so
courageously as a free person; and she was the more afraid because Blandina was
not strong in body. But the poor slave's faith was not to be overcome. Day after
day she bravely bore every cruelty that the persecutors could think of; and all
that they could wring out from her was, "I am a Christian, and nothing
wrong is done among us!"
The heathen were not content with putting the martyrs to death with tortures, or allowing them to die in prison. They cast their dead bodies to the dogs, and caused them to be watched day and night, lest the other Christians should give them burial; and after this, they burnt the bones, and threw the ashes of them into the river Rhone, by way of mocking at the notion of a resurrection. For, as Paul had found at Athens (Acts 17 32), and elsewhere, there was no part of the Gospel which the heathen in general thought so hard to believe as the doctrine that that which is "sown in corruption" shall hereafter be "raised in incorruption;" that that which "is sown a natural body" will one day be "raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor 15. 42-44).
TERTULLIAN; PERPETUA AND COMPANIONS (AD 181-206)
Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in 181, and the Church was little troubled by
persecution for the following twenty years. About this time a false teacher
named Montanus made much noise in the world. He was born in Phrygia, and seems
to have been crazed in his mind. He used to fall into fits, and while in them,
he uttered ravings which were taken for prophecies, or messages from heaven: and
some women who followed him also pretended to be prophetesses. These people
taught a very strict way of living, and thus many persons who wished to lead
holy lives were deceived into running after them.
of these was Tertullian, of Carthage, in Africa, a very clever and learned man,
who had been converted from heathenism, and had written some books in defense of
the Gospel, but he was of a proud and impatient temper, and did not rightly
consider how our Lord Himself had said that there would always be a mixture of
evil with the good in His Church on earth (Matt. 13. 38, 48). And hence,
when Montanus pretended to set up a new church, in which there should be none
but good and holy people, Tertullian fell into the snare, and left the true
Church to join the Montanists (as the followers of Montanus were called). From
that time he wrote very bitterly against the Church; but he still continued to
defend the Gospel in his books against Jews and heathens, and all kinds of false
teachers, except Montanus. And when he was dead, his good deeds were remembered
more than his fall, so that, with all his faults, his name has always been held
After more than twenty years of peace, there were cruel persecutions in some
places, under the reign of Severus. The most famous of the martyrs who then
suffered were Perpetua and her companions, who belonged to the same country with
Tertullian, and perhaps to his own city, Carthage. Perpetua was a young married
lady, and had a little baby only a few weeks old. Her father was a heathen, but
she herself had been converted, and was a "catechumen"- which was the
name given to converts who had not yet been baptized, but were in a course of
training for baptism.
Perpetua had been put into prison, her father went to see her, in the hope that
he might persuade her to give up her faith. "Father," she said,
"you see this vessel standing here; can you call it by any other than its
right name?" He answered, "No." "Neither," said
Perpetua, "can I call myself anything else than what I am-a
Christian." On hearing this, her father flew at her in such anger that it
seemed as if he would tear out her eyes; but she stood so quietly that he could
not bring himself to hurt her, and he went away and did not come again for some
In the meanwhile Perpetua and some of her companions were baptized; and at her baptism she prayed for grace to bear whatever sufferings might be in store for her. The prison in which she and the others were shut up was a horrible dungeon, where Perpetua suffered much from the darkness, the crowded state of the place, the heat and closeness of the air, and the rude behavior of the guards. But most of all she was distressed about her poor little child, who was separated from her, and was pining away. Some kind Christians, however, gave money to the keepers of the prison, and got leave for Perpetua and her friends to spend some hours of the day in a lighter part of the building, where her child was brought to see her. And after a while she took him to be always with her, and then she felt as cheerful as if she had been in a palace.
The martyrs were comforted by dreams, which served to give them courage and strength to bear their sufferings, by showing them visions of blessedness which was to follow. When the day was fixed for their trial, Perpetua's father went again to see her. He begged her to take pity on his old age, to remember all his kindness to her, and how he had loved her best of all his children. He implored her to think of her mother and her brothers, and of the disgrace which would fall on all the family if she were to be put to death as an evil-doer. The poor old man shed a flood of tears; he humbled himself before her, kissing her hands, throwing himself at her feet, and calling her Lady instead of Daughter. But, although Perpetua was grieved to the heart, she could only say, "God's pleasure will be done on us. We are not in our own power, but in His."
day, as the prisoners were at dinner, they were suddenly hurried off to their
trial. The market-place, where the judge was sitting, was crowded with people,
and when Perpetua was brought forward, her father crept as close to her as he
could, holding out her child, and said, "Take pity on your infant."
The judge himself entreated her to pity the little one and the old man, and to
sacrifice but, painful as the trial was, she steadily declared that she was a
Christian, and that she could not worship false gods. At these words, her father
burst out into such loud cries that the judge ordered him to be put down from
the place where he was standing and to be beaten with rods.
Perhaps the judge did not mean so much to punish the old man for being noisy as to try whether the sight of his suffering might not move his daughter; but, although Perpetua felt every blow as if it had been laid upon herself, she knew that she must not give way. She was condemned, with her companions, to be exposed to wild beasts; and, after she had been taken back to prison, her father visited her once more. He seemed as if beside himself with grief; he tore his white beard, he cursed his old age, and spoke in a way that might have moved a heart of stone. Put still Perpetua could only be sorry for him; she could not give up her Savior.
The prisoners were kept for some time after their condemnation, that they might be put to death at some great games which were to be held on the birthday of one of the emperor's sons; and during this confinement their behavior had a great effect on many who saw it. The gaoler himself was converted by it, and so were others who had gone to gaze at them. At length the appointed day came, and the martyrs were led into the amphitheatre. The men were torn by leopards and bears; Perpetua and a young woman named Felicitas, who had been a slave, were put into nets and thrown before a furious cow, who tossed them and gored them cruelly.
And when this was over, Perpetua seemed as if she had not felt it, but were awaking from a trance, and she asked when the cow was to come. She then helped Felicitas to rise from the ground, and spoke words of comfort and encouragement to others. When the people in the amphitheatre had seen as much as they wished of the wild beasts, they called out that the prisoners should be killed. Perpetua and the rest then took leave of each other, and walked with cheerful looks and firm steps into the middle of the amphitheatre, where men with swords fell on them and dispatched them. The executioner who was to kill Perpetua was a youth, and was so nervous that he stabbed her in a place where the hurt was not deadly; but she herself took hold of his sword, and showed him where to give her the death-wound.
The same persecution in which Perpetua and her companions suffered at Carthage raged also at Alexandria in Egypt, where a learned man named Leonides was one of the martyrs (AD 202). Leonides had a son named Origen, whom he had brought up very carefully, and had taught to get some part of the Bible by heart every day. And Origen was very eager to learn, and was so good and so clever that his father was afraid to show how fond and how proud he was of him, lest the boy should become forward and conceited. So when Origen asked questions of a kind which few boys would have thought of asking, his father used to check him, but when he was asleep Leonides would steal to his bedside and kiss him, thanking God for having given him such a child, and praying that Origen might always be kept in the right way.
the persecution began, Origen, who was then about seventeen years old, wished
that he might be allowed to die for his faith; but his mother hid his clothes,
and so obliged him to stay at home; and all that he could do was to write to his
father in prison, and to beg that he would not fear lest the widow and orphans
should be left destitute, but would be steadfast in his faith, and would trust
in God to provide for their relief.
persecutors were not content with killing Leonides, but seized on all his
property, so that the widow was left in great distress, with seven children, of
whom Origen was the eldest. A Christian lady kindly took Origen into her house;
and after a short time, young as he was, he was made master of the
"Catechetical School,", a sort of college, where the young Christians
of Alexandria were instructed in religion and learning. The persecution had
slackened for a while, but it began again, and some of Origen's pupils were
martyred. He went with them to their trial, and stood by them in their
sufferings; but although he was ill-used by the mob of Alexandria, he was
himself allowed to go free.
had read in the Gospel, "Freely ye have received, freely give", and he thought that therefore he ought to teach for nothing. In
order, therefore, that he might be able to do this, he sold a quantity of books
which he had written out, and lived for a long time on the price of them,
allowing himself only about five pence a day. His food was of the poorest kind;
he had but one coat, through which he felt the cold of winter severely, he sat
up the greater part of the night, and then lay down on the bare floor. When he
grew older, he came to understand that he had been mistaken in some of his
notions as to these things, and to regret that, by treating himself so hardly,
he had hurt his health beyond repair. But still, mistaken as he was, we must
honor him for going through so bravely with what he took to be his duty.
He soon grew so famous as a teacher, that even Jews, heathens, and heretics went to hear him; and many of them were so led on by him that they were converted to the Gospel. He traveled a great deal; some of his journeys were taken because he had been invited into foreign countries that he might teach the Gospel to people who were desirous of instruction in it, or that he might settle disputes about religion. And he was invited to go on a visit to the mother of the Emperor Alexander Severus, who was himself friendly to Christianity, although not a Christian. Origen, too, wrote a great number of books in explanation of the Bible, and on other religious subjects; and he worked for no less than eight-and-twenty years at a great book called the "Hexapla", which was meant to show how the Old Testament ought to be read in Hebrew and in Greek.
But, although he was a very good, as well as a very learned man, Origen fell
into some strange opinions, from wishing to clear away some of those
difficulties which, as St Paul says, made the Gospel seem
"foolishness" to the heathen philosophers (I Cor 1 23). Besides this,
Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, although he had been his friend, had some
reasons for not wishing to ordain him to be one of the clergy; and when Origen
had been ordained a presbyter (or priest) in the Holy Land, where he was on a
visit, Demetrius was very angry.
He said that no man ought to be ordained in any church but that of his own home; and he brought up stories about some rash things which Origen had done in his youth, and questions about the strange doctrines which he held. Origen, finding that he could not hope for peace at Alexandria, went back to his friend the bishop of Caesarea, by whom he had been ordained, and he spent many years at Caesarea, where he was more sought after as a teacher than ever. At one time he was driven into Cappadocia, by the persecution of a savage emperor named Maximinus, who had murdered the gentle Alexander Severus; but he returned to Caesarea, and lived there until another persecution began under the Emperor Decius.
was by far the worst persecution that had yet been known. It was the first which
was carried on throughout the whole empire, and no regard was now paid to the
old laws which Trajan and other emperors had made for the protection of the
Christians. They were sought out, and were made to appear in the market-place of
every town, where they were required by the magistrates to sacrifice, and if
they refused, were sentenced to severe punishment.
emperor wished most to get at the bishops and clergy; for he thought that, if
the teachers were put out of the way, the people would soon give up the Gospel.
Although many martyrs were put to death at this time, the persecutors did not so
much wish to kill the Christians, as to make them disown their religion; and, in
the hope of this, many of them were starved, and tortured, and sent into
banishment in strange countries, among wild people who had never before heard of
Christ. But here the emperor's plans were notably disappointed, for the banished
bishops and clergy had thus an opportunity of making the Gospel known to those
poor wild tribes, whom it might not have reached for a long time if the Church
had been left in quiet.
shall hear more about the persecution in the next chapter. Here I shall only say
that Origen was imprisoned and cruelly tortured. He was by this time nearly
seventy years old, and was weak in body from the labors which he had gone
through in study, and from having hurt his health by hard and scanty living in
his youth, so that he was ill able to bear the pains of the torture, and,
although he did not die under it, he died of its effects soon after (AD 254).
Decius himself was killed in battle (AD 251), and his persecution came to an end. And when it was over, the faithful understood that it had been of great use, not only by helping to spread the Gospel, in the way which has been mentioned, but in purifying the Church, and in rousing Christians from the carelessness into which too many of them had fallen during the long time of ease and quiet which they had before enjoyed. For the trials which God sends on His people in this world are like the chastisements of a loving Father, and, if we accept them rightly, they will all be found to turn out to our good.
CYPRIAN, (AD 200-253)
About the same time with Origen lived St Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. He was born about the year 200, and had been long famous as a professor of heathen learning, when he was converted at the age of forty-five. He then gave up his calling as a teacher, and, like the first Christians at Jerusalem (Acts iv. 34f), he sold a fine house and gardens, which he had near the town, and gave the price, with a large part of his other money, to the poor. He became one of the clergy of Carthage, and when the bishop died, about three years after, Cyprian was so much loved and respected that he was chosen in his place (AD 248).
tried with all his power to do the duties of a good bishop, and to get rid of
many wrong things which had grown upon his Church during the long peace which it
had enjoyed. But about two years after he was made bishop the persecution under
Decius broke out, when, as was said in the last chapter, the persecutors tried
especially to strike at the bishops and clergy, and to force them to deny their
Now Cyprian would have been ready and glad to die, if it would have served the good of his people; but he remembered how our Lord had said, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matt. x. 23), and how He Himself withdrew from the rage of His enemies, because His "hour was not yet come" (John viii. 20, 59; xi. 54). And it seemed to the good bishop, that for the present it would be best to go out of the way of his persecutors. But he kept a constant watch over all that was done in his church, and he often wrote to his clergy and people from the place where he was hidden.
in the meanwhile, things went on badly at Carthage. Many had called themselves
Christians in the late quiet times who would not have done so if there had been
any danger about it. And now, when the danger came, numbers of them ran into the
market-place at Carthage, and seemed quite eager to offer sacrifice to the gods
of the heathen. Others, who did not sacrifice, bribed some officers of the
Government to give them tickets, certifying that they had sacrificed; and yet
they contrived to persuade themselves that they had done nothing wrong by their
cowardice and deceit!
There were, too, some mischievous men among the clergy, who had not wished Cyprian to be bishop, and had borne him a grudge ever since he was chosen. And now these clergymen set on the people who had lapsed (or fallen) in the persecution, to demand that they should be taken back into the Church, and to say that some martyrs had given them letters which entitled them to be admitted at once.
those days it was usual, when any Christian was known to have been guilty of a
heavy sin, that (as is said in our Community Service), he should be "put to
open penance" by the Church; that is, that he should be required to show
his repentance publicly. Persons who were in this state were not allowed to
receive the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as all other Christians then
did very often. The worst sinners were obliged to stand outside the church door,
where they begged those who were going in to pray that their sins might be
forgiven, and those of the penitents who were let into the church had places in
it separate from other Christians.
penance lasted for years; and always until the penitents had done enough to
prove that they were truly grieved for their sins, so that the clergy might hope
that they were received to God's mercy for their Redeemer's sake. But as it was
counted a great and glorious thing to die for the truth of Christ, and martyrs
were highly honored in the Church, penitents had been in the habit of going to
them while they were in prison awaiting death, and of entreating the martyrs to
plead with the Church for the shortening of the appointed penance.
it had been usual, out of regard for the holy martyrs, to forgive those to whom
they had given letters desiring that the penitents might be gently treated. But
now these people at Carthage, instead of showing themselves humble, as true
penitents would have been, came forward in an insolent manner, as if they had a
right to claim that they might be restored to the Church; and the martyrs'
letters (or rather what they called martyrs' letters) were used in a way very
different from anything that had ever been allowed.
had a great deal of trouble with them; but he dealt wisely in the matter, and at
length had the comfort of settling it. But, as people are always ready to find
fault in one way or another, some blamed him for being too strict with the
lapsed, and others for being too easy; and each of these parties went so far as
to set up a bishop of its own against him. After a time, however, he got the
better of these enemies, although the straighter sect (who were called
Novatianists, after Novatian, a presbyter of Rome) lasted for three hundred
years or more.
after the end of the persecution, a terrible plague passed through the empire,
and carried off vast numbers of people. Many of the heathen thought that the
plague was sent by their gods to punish them for allowing the Christians to
live; and the mobs of towns broke out against the Christians, killing some of
them, and hurting them in other ways.
instead of returning evil for evil, the Christians showed what a spirit of love
they had learnt from their Lord and Master; and there was no place where this
was more remarkably shown than at Carthage. The heathen there were so terrified
by the plague that they seemed to have lost all natural feeling, and almost to
be out of their senses. When their friends fell sick, they left them to die
without any care; when they were dead, they cast out their bodies into the
street, and the corpses which lay about unburied were not only shocking to look
at, but made the air unwholesome, so that there was much more danger of the
plague than before.
while the heathen were behaving in this way, and each of them thought only of
himself, Cyprian called the Christians of Carthage together, and told them that
they were bound to do very differently. "It would be no wonder," he
said, "if we were to attend to our own friends; but Christ our Lord charges
us to do good to heathens and publicans also, and to love our enemies. He prayed
for them that persecuted Him, and if we are His disciples, we ought to do so
And then the good bishop went on to tell his people what part each of them should take in the charitable work. Those who had money were to give it, and were to do such acts of kindness as they could besides. The poor, who had no silver or gold to spare, there to give their labor in a spirit of love. So all classes set to their tasks gladly, and they nursed the sick and buried the dead, without asking whether they were Christian or heathens.
When the heathens saw these acts of love, many of them were brought to wonder what it could be that made the Christians do them, and how they came to be so kind to poor and old people, to widows, and orphans, and slaves; and how it was that they were always ready to raise money for buying the freedom of captives, or for helping their brethren who were in any kind of trouble. And from wondering and asking what it was that led Christians to do such things, which they themselves would never have thought of doing, many of the heathen were brought to see that the Gospel was the true religion, and they forsook their idols to follow Christ.
this, Cyprian had a disagreement with Stephen bishop of Rome. Rome was the
greatest city in the whole world, and the capital of the empire. There were many
Christians there even in the time of the Apostles, and, as years went on, the
church of Rome grew more and more, so that it was the greatest, and richest, and
most important church of all. Now the bishops who were at the head of this great
church were naturally reckoned the foremost of all bishops, and had more power
than any other, so that if a proud man got the bishopric of Rome, it was too
likely that he might try to set himself up above his brethren, and to lay down
the law to them.
was, unhappily, a man of this kind, and he gave way to the temptation, and tried
to lord it over other bishops and their churches. But Cyprian held out against
him, and made him understand that the bishop of Rome had no right to give laws
to other bishops, or to meddle with the churches of other countries. He showed
that, although Peter (from whom Stephen pretended that the bishops of Rome
had received power over others) was the first of the Apostles, he was not of a
higher class or order than the rest; and, therefore, that, although the Roman
bishops stood first, the other bishops were their equals, and had received an
equal share in the Christian ministry. So Stephen was not able to get the power
which he wished for over other churches, and, after his death, Carthage and Rome
were at peace again.
six years after the death of the Emperor Decius, a fresh persecution arose under
another emperor, named Valerian (AD 257). He began by ordering that the
Christians should not be allowed to meet for worship, and that the bishops and
clergy should be separated from their flocks. Cyprian was carried before the
governor of Africa, and, on being questioned by him, he said. "I am a
Christian and a bishop. I know no other gods but the one true God, who made
heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. It is this God that we
Christians serve; to Him we pray day and night, for ourselves and all mankind,
and for the welfare of the emperors themselves."
governor asked him about his clergy. "Our laws," said Cyprlan, forbid
them to throw themselves in your way, and I may not inform against them; but if
they be sought after, they will be found, each at his post." The governor
said that no Christians must meet for worship under pain of death; and he
sentenced Cyprian to be banished to a place called Curubis, about forty miles
from Carthage. It was a pleasant abode, and Cyprian lived there a year, during
which time he was often visited by his friends, and wrote many letters of advice
and comfort to his brethren. And, as many of these were worse treated than
himself, by being carried off into savage places, or set to work underground in
mines, he did all that he could to relieve their distress, by sending them money
and other presents.
the end of the year, the bishop was carried back to Carthage, where a new
governor had just arrived. The emperor had found that his first law against the
Christians was of little use; so he now made a second law, which was much more
severe. It ordered that bishops and clergy should be put to death; that such
Christians as were persons of worldly rank should lose all that they had, and be
banished or killed; but it said nothing about the poorer Christians, who do not
seem to have been in any danger. Cyprian thought that his time was now come; and
when his friends entreated him to save himself by flight, he refused.
He was carried off to the governor's country house, about six miles from Carthage, where he was treated with much respect, and was allowed to have some friends with him at supper. Great numbers of his people, on hearing that he was seized, went from Carthage to the place where he was, and watched all night outside the house in fear lest their bishop should be put to death, or carried off into banishment without their knowledge. Next morning Cyprian was !ed to the place of judgment, which was a little way from the governor's palace. He was heated with the walk, under a burning sun; and, as he was waiting for the governor's arrival, a soldier of the guard, who had once been a Christian, kindly offered him some change of clothes. "Why," said the bishop, "should we trouble ourselves to remedy evils which will probably come to an end today?"
The governor took his seat, and required Cyprian to sacrifice to the gods. He refused; and the governor then desired him to consider his safety "In so righteous a cause," answered the bishop, "there is no need of consideration;" and, on hearing the sentence, which condemned him to be beheaded, he exclaimed, "Praise be to God!" A cry arose from the Christians, "Let us go and be beheaded with him!" He was then led by soldiers to the place of execution.
Many of his people climbed up into the trees which surrounded it, that they might see the last of their good bishop. After having prayed, he took off his upper clothing; he gave some money to the executioner, and as it was necessary that he should be blindfolded before suffering, he tied the bandage over his own eyes. Two of his friends then bound his hands, and the Christians placed cloths and handkerchiefs around him, that they night catch some of his blood. And thus Cyprian was martyred, in the year 258.
attempts against the Gospel were all in vain. The Church had been purified and
strengthened by the persecution under Decius, so that there were now very few
who fell away for fear of death. The faith was spread by the banished bishops,
in the same way as it had been in the last persecution (see page 25); and, as
has ever been found, "the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the