Christ our Savior, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who, first of all other, openly acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, and perceiving the secret hand of His Father therein, called him (alluding to his name) a rock, upon which rock He would build His Church so strong that the gates of hell should not prevail against it.
In which words three things are to be noted:
First, that Christ will have a Church in this world. Secondly, that the same
Church should mightily be impugned, not only by the world, but also by the
uttermost strength and powers of all hell. And, thirdly, that the same Church,
notwithstanding the uttermost of the devil and all his malice, should continue.
Which prophecy of Christ we see wonderfully to be verified, insomuch that the whole course of the Church to this day may seem nothing else but a verifying of the said prophecy. First, that Christ hath set up a Church, needing no declaration.
Secondly, what force of princes, kings, monarchs, governors, and rulers of this world, with their subjects, publicly and privately, with all their strength and cunning, have bent themselves against this Church!
And, thirdly, how the said Church, all this notwithstanding, hath yet endured and held its own! What storms and tempests it hath endured, wondrous it is to behold: for the more evident declaration whereof, I have addressed this present history.
To the end, first,
that the wonderful works of God in His Church might appear to His glory; also
that, the continuance and proceedings of the Church, from time to time, being
set forth, more knowledge and experience may redound thereby, to the profit of
the reader and edification of Christian faith.
As it is not our business to enlarge upon our Savior's history, either before or after His crucifixion, we shall only find it necessary to remind our readers of the discomfiture of the Jews by His subsequent resurrection.
Although one apostle had betrayed Him; although another had denied Him, under the solemn sanction of an oath; and although the rest had forsaken Him, unless we may except "the disciple who was known unto the high-priest"; the history of His resurrection gave a new direction to all their hearts, and, after the mission of the Holy Spirit, imparted new confidence to their minds.
The powers with which
they were endued emboldened them to proclaim His name, to the confusion of the
Jewish rulers, and the astonishment of Gentile proselytes.
St. Stephen suffered the next in order. His death was occasioned by the faithful manner in which he preached the Gospel to the betrayers and murderers of Christ. To such a degree of madness were they excited, that they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death.
The time when he suffered is generally supposed to have been at the
Passover which succeeded to that of our Lord's crucifixion, and to the era of
his ascension, in the following spring.
We are immediately told by St. Luke, that "there
was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem;" and
that "they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and
Samaria, except the apostles."
About two thousand
Christians, with Nicanor,
one of the seven deacons, suffered martyrdom during
the "persecution that arose about
The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apostles' Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary.
It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders.
The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle's extraordinary courage and undaunted ness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone.
Hence they were both beheaded
at the same time. Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely
receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink. Timon
suffered martyrdom about the same time; the one at Philippi, and the
other in Macedonia. These events took place A.D. 44.
Was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee and was first called by the name of
"disciple." He labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered
martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and
afterwards crucified, A.D. 54.
Whose occupation was
that of a toll-gatherer, was born at Nazareth. He wrote his gospel in Hebrew,
which was afterwards translated into Greek by James the Less. The scene of his
labors was Parthia, and Ethiopia, in which latter country he suffered martyrdom,
being slain with a halberd in the city of Nadabah, A.D. 60.
Is supposed by some
to have been the brother of our Lord, by a former wife of Joseph. This is very
doubtful, and accords too much with the
that Mary never
had any other children except our Savior. He was elected to the oversight of the
churches of Jerusalem; and was the author of the Epistle ascribed to James in
the sacred canon. At the age of ninety-four he was beat and stoned by the Jews;
and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller's club.
Of whom less is
known than of most of the other disciples, was elected to fill the vacant place
of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
Was the brother of
Peter. He preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations; but on his arrival at
Edessa he was taken and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed
transversely in the ground. Hence the derivation of the term, St. Andrew's
Was born of Jewish
parents of the tribe of Levi. He is supposed to have been converted to
Christianity by Peter, whom he served as an amanuensis, and under whose
inspection he wrote his Gospel in the Greek language. Mark was dragged to pieces
by the people of Alexandria, at the great solemnity of Serapis their idol,
ending his life under their merciless hands.
Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof. Hegesippus said that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city.
Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, "Lord, whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I am come again to be crucified."
By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood,
returned into the city. Jerome said that he was crucified, his head being down
and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to
be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.
Paul, the apostle, who before was called
Saul, after his great travail and
unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this
first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declared that under his execution Nero
sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death.
They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that
they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptized
at His sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the
city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck
to the sword.
The brother of James, was commonly called
Thaddeus. He was crucified at
Edessa, A.D. 72.
Preached in several countries, and having translated the Gospel of Matthew
into the language of India, he propagated it in that country. He was at length
cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.
preached the Gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting the rage of the pagan
priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.
The evangelist, was
the author of the Gospel which goes under his name. He traveled with Paul
through various countries, and is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree,
by the idolatrous priests of Greece.
preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in
Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74.
The "beloved disciple," was brother to James the Great. The churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira, were founded by him. From Ephesus he was ordered to be sent to Rome, where it is affirmed he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil.
He escaped by miracle, without injury. Domitian
afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of
Revelation. Nerva, the successor of Domitian, recalled him. He was the only
apostle who escaped a violent death.
Was of Cyprus, but
of Jewish descent, his death is supposed to have taken place about A.D. 73.
The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities.
Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that 'he wished the ruin of all things before his death.'
Besides the noble pile, called
the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands
perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves.
nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.
was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than
diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St.
Peter were martyred.
To their names may be added,
Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and
Trophimus, an Ephesians, converted
by St. Paul, and fellow-laborer with him,
Joseph, commonly called Barsabas, and
Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the Seventy.
The emperor Domitian, who was naturally inclined to
cruelty, first slew his brother, and then raised the second persecution against
the Christians. In his rage he put to death some of the Roman senators, some
through malice; and others to confiscate their estates. He then commanded all
the lineage of David be put to death.
Among the numerous martyrs that suffered during
this persecution was
Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, who was crucified; and
St. John, who was boiled in oil, and afterward banished to Patmos.
daughter of a Roman senator, was likewise banished to Pontus; and a law was
made, "That no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be
exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion."
A variety of fabricated tales were, during this
reign, composed in order to injure the Christians. Such was the infatuation of
the pagans, that, if famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the
Roman provinces, it was laid upon the Christians. These persecutions among the
Christians increased the number of informers and many, for the sake of gain,
swore away the lives of the innocent.
Another hardship was, that, when any Christians
were brought before the magistrates, a test oath was proposed, when, if they
refused to take it, death was pronounced against them; and if they confessed
themselves Christians, the sentence was the same.
The following were the most remarkable among the
numerous martyrs who suffered during this persecution.
The sanctity of his conversation and the purity of
his manners recommended him so strongly to the Christians in general, that he
was appointed bishop of Athens.
Nicodemus, a benevolent Christian of some
distinction, suffered at Rome during the rage of Domitian's persecution.
Gervasius were martyred at Milan.
Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul,
and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the Church until A.D. 97. At
this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called catagogion,
Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous
idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their
clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two
In the third persecution Pliny the second, a man learned and famous, seeing the lamentable slaughter of Christians, and moved therewith to pity, wrote to Trajan, certifying him that there were many thousands of them daily put to death, of which none did any thing contrary to the Roman laws worthy of persecution.
"The whole account they gave of their
crime or error (whichever it is to be called) amounted only to this-viz. that
they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat
together a set form of prayer to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an
obligation-not indeed to commit wickedness; but, on the contrary-never to commit
theft, robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, never to defraud any
man: after which it was their custom to separate, and reassemble to partake in
common of a harmless meal."
In this persecution suffered the blessed martyr, Ignatius, who is held in famous reverence among very many. This Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he, being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured.
It is also said of him, that when he passed through Asia, being under the most strict custody of his keepers, he strengthened and confirmed the churches through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the Word of God. Accordingly, having come to Smyrna, he wrote to the Church at Rome, exhorting them not to use means for his deliverance from martyrdom, lest they should deprive him of that which he most longed and hoped for.
"Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!"
And even when
he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, such as the burning desire that he
had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying:
"I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild
beasts, that I may be found pure bread."
being succeeded by Adrian, the latter
continued this third persecution with as much severity as his predecessor. About
Alexander, bishop of Rome, with his two deacons, were martyred; as
with their families;
Zenon, a Roman nobleman, and about
In Mount Ararat many were crucified, crowned with thorns, and spears run into their sides, in imitation of Christ's passion. Eustachius, a brave and successful Roman commander, was by the emperor ordered to join in an idolatrous sacrifice to celebrate some of his own victories; but his faith (being a Christian in his heart) was so much greater than his vanity, that he nobly refused it.
Enraged at the denial, the ungrateful emperor forgot
the service of this skilful commander, and ordered him and his whole family to
At the martyrdom of
and citizens of Brescia, their torments were so many, and their patience so
Calocerius, a pagan, beholding them, was struck with admiration, and
exclaimed in a kind of ecstasy, "Great is the God of the Christians!"
for which he was apprehended, and suffered a similar fate.
Many other similar cruelties and rigors were
exercised against the Christians, until Quadratus, bishop of Athens, made a
learned apology in their favor before the emperor, who happened to be there and
Aristides, a philosopher of the same city, wrote an elegant epistle, which
caused Adrian to relax in his severities, and relent in their favor.
Adrian dying A.D. 138, was succeeded by Antoninus
Pius, one of the most amiable monarchs that ever reigned, and who stayed the
persecutions against the Christians.
Marcus Aurelius, followed about the year of our
Lord 161, a man of nature more stern and severe; and, although in study of
philosophy and in civil government no less commendable, yet, toward the
Christians sharp and fierce; by whom was moved the fourth persecution.
The cruelties used in this persecution were such
that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were
astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged
to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc.
upon their points, others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare,
and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they
were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian,
being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such
astonishing courage that several pagans became converts to a faith which
inspired such fortitude.
Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing
that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After
feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which
being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they
had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the
proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.
The proconsul then urged him, saying, "Swear, and I will release thee;--reproach Christ." Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?"
At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire.
But his body, at
the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be
consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it
Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of
his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred.
Metrodorus, a minister, who preached boldly, and
Pionius, who made some excellent apologies for the Christian faith, were
Papilus, two worthy Christians, and
pious woman, suffered martyrdom at Pergamopolis, in Asia.
Felicitatis, an illustrious Roman lady, of a
considerable family, and the most shining virtues, was a devout Christian. She
had seven sons, whom she had educated with the most exemplary piety.
Januarius, the eldest, was scourged, and pressed to
death with weights;
Philip, the two next had their brains dashed out
Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice;
and the three younger sons,
Alexander, Vitalis, and
Martial, were beheaded. The
mother was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter.
Justin, the celebrated philosopher, fell a martyr in this persecution. He was a native of Neapolis, in Samaria, and was born A.D. 103. Justin was a great lover of truth, and a universal scholar; he investigated the Stoic and Peripatetic philosophy.
And attempted the Pythagorean; but the
behavior of our of its professors disgusting him, he applied himself to the
Platonic, in which he took great delight. About the year 133, when he was thirty
years of age, he became a convert to Christianity, and then, for the first time,
perceived the real nature of truth.
He wrote an elegant epistle to the Gentiles, and
employed his talents in convincing the Jews of the truth of the Christian rites;
spending a great deal of time in traveling, until he took up his abode in Rome,
and fixed his habitation upon the Viminal mount.
He kept a public school, taught many who afterward
became great men, and wrote a treatise to confuse heresies of all kinds. As the
pagans began to treat the Christians with great severity,
Justin wrote his first
apology in their favor. This piece displays great learning and genius, and
occasioned the emperor to publish an edict in favor of the Christians.
Soon after, he entered into frequent contests with
Crescens, a person of a vicious life and conversation, but a celebrated cynic
philosopher; and his arguments appeared so powerful, yet disgusting to the
cynic, that he resolved on, and in the sequel accomplished, his destruction.
The second apology of
Justin, upon certain
severities, gave Crescens the cynic an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor
against the writer of it; upon which
Justin, and six of his companions, were
apprehended. Being commanded to sacrifice to the pagan idols, they refused, and
were condemned to be scourged, and then beheaded; which sentence was executed
with all imaginable severity.
Several were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to
the image of Jupiter; in particular
Concordus, a deacon of the city of
Some of the restless northern nations having risen in arms against Rome, the emperor marched to encounter them. He was, however, drawn into an ambush, and dreaded the loss of his whole army. Enveloped with mountains, surrounded by enemies, and perishing with thirst, the pagan deities were invoked in vain.
When the men belonging to the militine, or thundering legion, who were all Christians, were commanded to call upon their God for succor. A miraculous deliverance immediately ensued; a prodigious quantity of rain fell, which, being caught by the men, and filling their dykes, afforded a sudden and astonishing relief.
It appears that the storm which miraculously
flashed in the face of the enemy so intimidated them, that part deserted to the
Roman army; the rest were defeated, and the revolted provinces entirely
This affair occasioned the persecution to subside
for some time, at least in those parts immediately under the inspection of the
emperor; but we find that it soon after raged in France, particularly at Lyons,
where the tortures to which many of the Christians were put, almost exceed the
powers of description.
The principal of these martyrs were Vetius Agathus, a young man; Blandina, a Christian lady, of a weak constitution; Sanctus, a deacon of Vienna; red hot plates of brass were placed upon the most tender parts of his body; Biblias, a weak woman, once an apostate. Attalus, of Pergamus; and Pothinus, the venerable bishop of Lyons, who was ninety years of age.
on the day when she and the three other champions were first brought into the
amphitheater, she was suspended on a piece of wood fixed in the ground, and
exposed as food for the wild beasts; at which time, by her earnest prayers, she
encouraged others. But none of the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was
remanded to prison. When she was again produced for the third and last time, she
was accompanied by Ponticus, a youth of fifteen, and the constancy of their
faith so enraged the multitude that neither the sex of the one nor the youth of
the other were respected, being exposed to all manner of punishments and
tortures. Being strengthened by
Blandina, he persevered unto death; and she,
after enduring all the torments heretofore mentioned, was at length slain with
When the Christians, upon these occasions, received
martyrdom, they were ornamented, and crowned with garlands of flowers; for which
they, in heaven, received eternal crowns of glory.
It has been said that the lives of the early Christians consisted of "persecution above ground and prayer below ground." Their lives are expressed by the Coliseum and the catacombs. Beneath Rome are the excavations which we call the catacombs, which were at once temples and tombs. The early Church of Rome might well be called the Church of the Catacombs.
There are some sixty catacombs near Rome, in which some six hundred miles of galleries have been traced, and these are not all. These galleries are about eight feet high and from three to five feet wide, containing on either side several rows of long, low, horizontal recesses, one above another like berths in a ship. In these the dead bodies were placed and the front closed, either by a single marble slab or several great tiles laid in mortar. On these slabs or tiles, epitaphs or symbols are graved or painted.
Both pagans and
Christians buried their dead in these catacombs. When the Christian graves have
been opened the skeletons tell their own terrible tale. Heads are found severed
from the body, ribs and shoulder blades are broken, bones are often calcined
from fire. But despite the awful story of persecution that we may read here, the
inscriptions breathe forth peace and joy and triumph. Here are a few:
lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace."
to his sweetest son, borne away of angels."
in peace and in Christ."
called away, he went in peace."
Remember when reading these inscriptions the story
the skeletons tell of persecution, of torture, and of fire. But the full force
of these epitaphs is seen when we contrast them with the pagan epitaphs, such
for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else."
lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I
had done no harm."
I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of
curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer."
The most frequent Christian symbols on the walls of
the catacombs, are, the good shepherd with the lamb on his shoulder, a ship
under full sail, harps, anchors, crowns, vines, and above all the fish.
Severus, having been recovered from a severe fit of
sickness by a Christian, became a great favorer of the Christians in general;
but the prejudice and fury of the ignorant multitude prevailing, obsolete laws
were put in execution against the Christians. The progress of Christianity
alarmed the pagans, and they revived the stale calumny of placing accidental
misfortunes to the account of its professors, A.D. 192.
But, though persecuting malice raged, yet the
Gospel shone with resplendent brightness; and, firm as an impregnable rock,
withstood the attacks of its boisterous enemies with success.
lived in this age, informs us that if the Christians had collectively withdrawn
themselves from the Roman territories, the empire would have been greatly
Victor, bishop of Rome, suffered martyrdom in the
first year of the third century, A.D. 201.
Leonidus, the father of the
celebrated Origen, was beheaded for being a Christian. Many of Origen's hearers
likewise suffered martyrdom; particularly two brothers, named
Heraclides, were beheaded.
Rhais had boiled
pitch poured upon her head, and was then burnt, as was
Marcella her mother.
Potainiena, the sister of
Rhais, was executed in the same manner as
Basilides, an officer belonging to the army, and ordered to attend her
execution, became her convert.
being, as an officer, required to take a
certain oath, refused, saying, that he could not swear by the Roman idols, as he
was a Christian. Struck with surprise, the people could not, at first, believe
what they heard; but he had no sooner confirmed the same, than he was dragged
before the judge, committed to prison, and speedily afterward beheaded.
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, was born in Greece, and received both a polite and a Christian education. It is generally supposed that the account of the persecutions at Lyons was written by himself. He succeeded the martyr Pothinus as bishop of Lyons, and ruled his diocese with great propriety; he was a zealous opposed of heresies in general, and, about A.D. 187, he wrote a celebrated tract against heresy.
Victor, the bishop of Rome, wanting
to impose the keeping of Easter there, in preference to other places, it
occasioned some disorders among the Christians. In particular,
him a synodical epistle, in the name of the Gallic churches. This zeal, in favor
of Christianity, pointed him out as an object of resentment to the emperor; and
in A.D. 202, he was beheaded.
The persecutions now extending to Africa, many were
martyred in that quarter of the globe; the most particular of whom we shall
Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years. Those who suffered with her were, Felicitas, a married lady, big with child at the time of her being apprehended, and Revocatus, catechumen of Carthage, and a slave. The names of the other prisoners, destined to suffer upon this occasion, were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur.
On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheater. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed.
stripped, in order to be thrown to a mad bull, which made his first attack upon
Perpetua, and stunned her; he then darted at
Felicitas, and gored her
dreadfully; but not killing them, the executioner did that office with a sword.
Satur were destroyed by wild beasts;
Saturninus was beheaded; and
Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in the
AD 205, on the eighth day
twelve others were likewise beheaded;
Andocles in France.
Asclepiades, bishop of Antioch, suffered many
tortures, but his life was spared.
a young lady of good family in Rome, was
married to a gentleman named
Valerian. She converted her husband and brother,
who were beheaded; and the maximus, or officer, who led them to execution,
becoming their convert, suffered the same fate. The lady was placed naked in a
scalding bath, and having continued there a considerable time, her head was
struck off with a sword, A.D. 222.
bishop of Rome, was martyred, A.D. 224;
but the manner of his death is not recorded; and
Urban, bishop of Rome, met the
same fate A.D. 232.
A.D. 235, was in the time of
Cappadocia, the president, Seremianus, did all he could to exterminate the
Christians from that province.
The principal persons who perished under this reign
Pontianus, bishop of Rome;
Anteros, a Grecian, his successor, who gave
offence to the government by collecting the acts of the martyrs,
Quiritus, Roman senators,
with all their families, and many other Christians;
Calepodius, a Christian minister, thrown into the
Martina, a noble and beautiful virgin; and
Hippolitus, a Christian
prelate, tied to a wild horse, and dragged until he expired.
During this persecution, raised by
numberless Christians were slain without trial, and buried indiscriminately in
heaps, sometimes fifty or sixty being cast into a pit together, without the
maximinus dying, A.D. 238, was succeeded
by Gordian, during whose reign, and that of his successor Philip, the Church was
free from persecution for the space of more than ten years; but in A.D. 249, a
violent persecution broke out in Alexandria, at the instigation of a pagan
priest, without the knowledge of the emperor.
This was occasioned partly by the hatred he bore to
his predecessor Philip, who was deemed a Christian and was partly by his
jealousy concerning the amazing increase of Christianity;
for the heathen
temples began to be forsaken, and the Christian churches thronged.
These reasons stimulated Decius to attempt the very
extirpation of the name of Christian; and it was unfortunate for the Gospel,
that many errors had, about this time, crept into the Church: the Christians
were at variance with each other; self-interest divided those whom social love
ought to have united; and the virulence of pride occasioned a variety of
The heathens in general were ambitious to enforce
the imperial decrees upon this occasion, and looked upon the murder of a
Christian as a merit to themselves. The martyrs, upon this occasion, were
innumerable; but the principal we shall give some account of.
Fabian, the bishop of Rome, was the first person of
eminence who felt the severity of this persecution. The deceased emperor,
Philip, had, on account of his integrity, committed his treasure to the care of
this good man. But Decius, not finding as much as his avarice made him expect,
determined to wreak his vengeance on the good prelate. He was accordingly
seized; and on January 20, A.D. 250, he suffered decapitation.
Julian, a native of Cilicia, as we are informed by
St. Chrysostom, was seized upon for being a Christian.
He was put into a leather bag, together with a number of serpents and scorpions,
and in that condition thrown into the sea.
Chrysostom, was seized upon for being a Christian.
He was put into a leather bag, together with a number of serpents and scorpions,
and in that condition thrown into the sea.
Peter, a young man, amiable for the superior
qualities of his body and mind, was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to Venus.
"I am astonished you should sacrifice to an infamous woman, whose
debaucheries even your own historians record, and whose life consisted of such
actions as your laws would punish. No, I shall offer the true God the acceptable
sacrifice of praises and prayers."
Optimus, the proconsul of Asia, on
hearing this, ordered the prisoner to be stretched upon a wheel, by which all
his bones were broken, and then he was sent to be beheaded.
Nichomachus, being brought before the proconsul as
a Christian, was ordered to sacrifice to the pagan idols.
"I cannot pay that respect to devils, which is only due to the
Almighty." This speech so much enraged the proconsul that
put to the rack. After enduring the torments for a time,
he recanted; but
scarcely had he given this proof of his frailty, than he fell into the greatest
agonies, dropped down on the ground, and expired immediately.
Denisa, a young woman of only sixteen years of age,
who beheld this terrible judgment, suddenly exclaimed,
"O unhappy wretch,
why would you buy a moment's ease at the expense of a miserable eternity!"
Optimus, hearing this, called to her, and Denisa avowing herself to be a
Christian, she was beheaded, by his order, soon after.
Paul, two companions of
martyr, A.D. 251, suffered martyrdom by stoning, and expired, calling on their
Epimachus, of Alexandria, were
apprehended for being Christians: and, confessing the accusation, were beat with
staves, torn with hooks, and at length burnt in the fire; and we are informed,
in a fragment preserved by Eusebius, that
four female martyrs suffered on the
same day, and at the same place, but not in the same manner; for these were
Lucian and Marcian, two wicked pagans, though skilful magicians, becoming converts to Christianity, to make amends for their former errors, lived the lives of hermits, and subsisted upon bread and water only. After some time spent in this manner, they became zealous preachers, and made many converts. The persecution, however, raging at this time, they were seized upon, and carried before Sabinus, the governor of Bithynia.
asked by what authority they took upon themselves to preach, Lucian answered,
'That the laws of charity and humanity obliged all men to endeavor the
conversion of their neighbors, and to do everything in their power to rescue
them from the snares of the devil.'
Lucian having answered in this manner, Marcian
said, "Their conversion was by the same grace which was given to St. Paul,
who, from a zealous persecutor of the Church, became a preacher of the
The proconsul, finding that he could not prevail
with them to renounce their faith, condemned them to be burnt alive, which
sentence was soon after executed.
Respicius, two eminent men, were seized
as Christians, and imprisoned at Nice. Their feet were pierced with nails; they
were dragged through the streets, scourged, torn with iron hooks, scorched with
lighted torches, and at length beheaded, February 1, A.D. 251.
Agatha, a Sicilian lady, was not more remarkable for her personal and acquired endowments, than her piety; her beauty was such, that Quintian, governor of Sicily, became enamored of her, and made many attempts upon her chastity without success. In order to gratify his passions with the greater conveniency, he put the virtuous lady into the hands of Aphrodica, a very infamous and licentious woman.
This wretch tried every artifice to win her to the desired prostitution; but found all her efforts were vain; for her chastity was impregnable, and she well knew that virtue alone could procure true happiness. Aphrodica acquainted Quintian with the inefficacy of her endeavors, who, engaged to be foiled in his designs, changed his lust into resentment. On her confessing that she was a Christian, he determined to gratify his revenge, as he could not his passion.
Pursuant to his orders, she was
scourged, burnt with red-hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne
these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live
coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there
expired on February 5, 251.
Cyril, bishop of Gortyna, was seized by order of
Lucius, the governor of that place, who, nevertheless, exhorted him to obey the
imperial mandate, perform the sacrifices, and save his venerable person from
destruction; for he was now eighty-four years of age. The good prelate replied
that as he had long taught others to save their souls, he should only think now
of his own salvation. The worthy prelate heard his fiery sentence without
emotion, walked cheerfully to the place of execution, and underwent his
martyrdom with great fortitude.
The persecution raged in no place more than the
Island of Crete; for the governor, being exceedingly active in executing the
imperial decrees, that place streamed with pious blood.
Babylas, a Christian of a liberal education, became
bishop of Antioch, A.D. 237, on the demise of Zebinus. He acted with inimitable
zeal, and governed the Church with admirable prudence during the most
The first misfortune that happened to Antioch
during his mission, was the siege of it by Sapor, king of Persia; who, having
overrun all Syria, took and plundered this city among others, and used the
Christian inhabitants with greater severity than the rest, but was soon totally
defeated by Gordian.
After Gordian's death, in the reign of Decius, that
emperor came to Antioch, where, having a desire to visit an assembly of
Babylas opposed him, and absolutely refused to let him come in. The
emperor dissembled his anger at that time; but soon sending for the bishop, he
sharply reproved him for his insolence, and then ordered him to sacrifice to the
pagan deities as an expiation for his offence. This being refused, he was
committed to prison, loaded with chains, treated with great severities, and then
beheaded, together with three young men who had been his pupils. A.D. 251.
Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, about this time was
cast into prison on account of his religion, where he died through the severity
of his confinement.
Julianus, an old man, lame with the gout, and
Cronion, another Christian, were bound on the backs of camels, severely
scourged, and then thrown into a fire and consumed. Also forty
Antioch, after being imprisoned, and scourged, were burnt.
In the year of our Lord 251, the emperor Decius
having erected a pagan temple at Ephesus, he commanded all who were in that city
to sacrifice to the idols. This order was nobly refused by seven of his own
Maximianus, Martianus, Joannes, Malchus, Dionysius, Seraion, and
Constantinus. The emperor wishing to win these soldiers to renounce their faith
by his entreaties and lenity, gave them a considerable respite until he returned
from an expedition. During the emperor's absence, they escaped, and hid
themselves in a cavern; which the emperor being informed of at his return, the
mouth of the cave was closed up, and they all perished with hunger.
Theodora, a beautiful young lady of Antioch, on refusing to sacrifice to the Roman idols, was condemned to the stews (brothel) , that her virtue might be sacrificed to the brutality of lust. Didymus, a Christian, disguised himself in the habit of a Roman soldier, went to the house, informed Theodora who he was, and advised her to make her escape in his clothes.
This being effected, and a man found in the brothel instead of a beautiful lady, Didymus was taken before the president, to whom confessing the truth, and owning that he was a Christian the sentence of death was immediately pronounced against him.
Theodora, hearing that her deliverer was likely to suffer, came to the
judge, threw herself at his feet, and begged that the sentence might fall on her
as the guilty person; but, deaf to the cries of the innocent, and insensible to
the calls of justice, the inflexible judge condemned both; when they were
executed accordingly, being first beheaded, and their bodies afterward burnt.
Secundianus, having been accused as a Christian,
was conveyed to prison by some soldiers. On the way, Verianus and
said, "Where are you carrying the innocent?" This interrogatory
occasioned them to be seized, and all three, after having been tortured, were
hanged and decapitated.
Origen, the celebrated presbyter and catechist of Alexandria, at the age of sixty-four, was seized, thrown into a loathsome prison, laden with fetters, his feet placed in the stocks, and his legs extended to the utmost for several successive days. He was threatened with fire, and tormented by every lingering means the most infernal imaginations could suggest.
During this cruel temporizing, the emperor Decius died, and Gallus, who
succeeded him, engaging in a war with the Goths, the Christians met with a
respite. In this interim,
Origen obtained his enlargement, and, retiring to
Tyre, he there remained until his death, which happened when he was in the
sixty-ninth year of his age.
Gallus, the emperor, having concluded his wars, a
plague broke out in the empire: sacrifices to the pagan deities were ordered by
the emperor, and persecutions spread from the interior to the extreme parts of
the empire, and many fell martyrs to the impetuosity of the rabble, as well as
the prejudice of the magistrates. Among these were
Cornelius, the Christian
bishop of Rome, and
Lucius, his successor, in 253.
Most of the errors which crept into the Church at
this time arose from placing human reason in competition with revelation; but
the fallacy of such arguments being proved by the most able divines, the
opinions they had created vanished away like the stars before the sun.
Began under Valerian, in the month of April, 257,
and continued for three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this
were innumerable, and their tortures and deaths as various and
painful. The most eminent martyrs were the following, though neither rank, sex,
nor age were regarded.
Rufina and Secunda were two beautiful and accomplished ladies, daughters of Asterius, a gentleman of eminence in Rome. Rufina, the elder, was designed in marriage for Armentarius, a young nobleman; Secunda, the younger, for Verinus, a person of rank and opulence.
at the time of the persecution's commencing, were both Christians; but when
danger appeared, to save their fortunes, they renounced their faith. They took
great pains to persuade the ladies to do the same, but, disappointed in their
purpose, the lovers were base enough to inform against the ladies, who, being
apprehended as Christians, were brought before Junius Donatus, governor of Rome,
where, A.D. 257, they sealed their martyrdom with their blood.
Stephen, bishop of Rome, was beheaded in the same
year, and about that time
Saturninus, the pious orthodox bishop of Toulouse,
refusing to sacrifice to idols, was treated with all the barbarous indignities
imaginable, and fastened by the feet to the tail of a bull. Upon a signal given,
the enraged animal was driven down the steps of the temple, by which the worthy
martyr's brains were dashed out.
Sextus succeeded Stephen as bishop of Rome. He is supposed to have been a Greek by birth or by extraction, and had for some time served in the capacity of a deacon under Stephen. His great fidelity, singular wisdom, and uncommon courage distinguished him upon many occasions; and the happy conclusion of a controversy with some heretics is generally ascribed to his piety and prudence.
In the year 258, Marcianus, who had the management of
the Roman government, procured an order from the emperor Valerian, to put to
death all the Christian clergy in Rome, and hence the bishop with six of his
deacons, suffered martyrdom in 258.
Let us draw near to the fire of martyred Lawrence, that our cold hearts may be warmed thereby. The merciless tyrant, understanding him to be not only a minister of the sacraments, but a distributor also of the Church riches, promised to himself a double prey, by the apprehension of one soul.
First, with the rake of avarice to scrape to himself the treasure of poor Christians; then with the fiery fork of tyranny, so to toss and turmoil them, that they should wax weary of their profession. With furious face and cruel countenance, the greedy wolf demanded where this Lawrence had bestowed the substance of the Church: who, craving three days' respite, promised to declare where the treasure might be had.
In the meantime, he caused a good number of poor Christians to be congregated. So, when the day of his answer was come, the persecutor strictly charged him to stand to his promise. Then valiant Lawrence, stretching out his arms over the poor, said:
"These are the precious treasure of the Church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place. What more precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath promised to dwell?
For so it
is written, 'I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave
me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.' And again, 'Inasmuch as ye have
done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'
What greater riches can Christ our Master possess, than the poor people in whom
He loveth to be seen?"
O, what tongue is able to express the fury and
madness of the tyrant's heart! Now he stamped, he stared, he ramped, he fared as
one out of his wits: his eyes like fire glowed, his mouth like a boar formed,
his teeth like a hellhound grinned. Now, not a reasonable man, but a roaring
lion, he might be called.
"Kindle the fire (he cried)--of wood make no
spare. Hath this villain deluded the emperor? Away with him, away with him: whip
him with scourges, jerk him with rods, buffet him with fists, brain him with
clubs. Pinch him with fiery tongs, gird
him with burning plates, bring out the strongest chains, and the fire-forks, and
the grated bed of iron: on the fire with it; bind the rebel hand and foot; and
when the bed is fire-hot, on with him: roast him, broil him, toss him, turn him:
on pain of our high displeasure do every man his office, O ye tormentors."
The word was no sooner spoken, but all was done.
After many cruel handlings, this meek lamb was laid, I will not say on his fiery
bed of iron, but on his soft bed of down. So mightily God wrought with his
Lawrence, so miraculously God tempered His element the fire; that it
became not a bed of consuming pain, but a pallet of nourishing rest.
In Africa the persecution raged with peculiar
many thousands received the crown of martyrdom, among whom the
following were the most distinguished characters:
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, an eminent prelate,
and a pious ornament of the Church. The brightness of his genius was tempered by
the solidity of his judgment; and with all the accomplishments of the gentleman,
he blended the virtues of a Christian. His doctrines were orthodox and pure; his
language easy and elegant; and his manners graceful and winning: in fine, he was
both the pious and polite preacher. In his youth he was educated in the
principles of the Gentiles, and having a considerable fortune, he lived in the very
extravagance of splendor, and all the dignity of pomp.
About the year 246, Coecilius, a Christian minister of Carthage, became the happy instrument of Cyprian's conversion: on which account, and for the great love that he always afterward bore for the author of his conversion, he was termed Coecilius Cyprian. Previous to his baptism, he studied the Scriptures with care and being struck with the beauties of the truths they contained, he determined to practice the virtues therein recommended.
Subsequent to his baptism, he sold his estate, distributed the
money among the poor, dressed himself in plain attire, and commenced a life of
austerity. He was soon after made a presbyter; and, being greatly admired for
his virtues and works, on the death of Donatus, in A.D. 248, he was almost
unanimously elected bishop of Carthage.
Cyprian's care not only extended over Carthage, but
to Numidia and Mauritania. In all his transactions he took great care to ask the
advice of his clergy, knowing that unanimity alone could be of service to the
Church, this being one of his maxims, "That the bishop was in the church,
and the church in the bishop; so that unity can only be preserved by a close
connection between the pastor and his flock."
In A.D. 250, Cyprian was publicly proscribed by the emperor Decius, under the appellation of Coecilius Cyprian, bishop of the Christians; and the universal cry of the pagans was, "Cyprian to the lions, Cyprian to the beasts." The bishop, however, withdrew from the rage of the populace, and his effects were immediately confiscated. During his retirement, he wrote thirty pious and elegant letters to his flock; but several schisms that then crept into the Church, gave him great uneasiness.
The rigor of the persecution abating, he returned to Carthage, and did everything in his power to expunge erroneous opinions. A terrible plague breaking out in Carthage, it was as usual, laid to the charge of the Christians; and the magistrates began to persecute accordingly, which occasioned an epistle from them to Cyprian, in answer to which he vindicates the cause of Christianity. A.D. 257,
brought before the proconsul Aspasius Paturnus, who exiled him to a little city
on the Lybian sea. On the death of this proconsul, he returned to Carthage, but
was soon after seized, and carried before the new governor, who condemned him to
be beheaded; which sentence was executed on the fourteenth of September, A.D.
The disciples of
Cyprian, martyred in this
Lucius, Flavian, Victoricus, Remus, Montanus, Julian, Primelus,
At Utica, a most terrible tragedy was exhibited:
three hundred Christians were, by the orders of the proconsul, placed round a
burning limekiln. A pan of coals and incense being prepared, they were commanded
either to sacrifice to Jupiter, or to be thrown into the kiln. Unanimously
refusing, they bravely jumped into the pit, and were immediately suffocated.
Fructuosus, bishop of Tarragon, in Spain, and his
Eulogius, were burnt for being Christians.
Priscus, three Christians
of Palestine, with a woman of the same place, voluntarily accused themselves of
being Christians; on which account they were sentenced to be devoured by tigers,
which sentence was executed accordingly.
Secunda, three virgins of
Tuburga, had gall and vinegar given them to drink, were then severely scourged,
tormented on a gibbet, rubbed with lime, scorched on a gridiron, worried by wild
beasts, and at length beheaded.
It is here proper to take notice of the singular but miserable fate of the emperor Valerian, who had so long and so terribly persecuted the Christians. This tyrant, by a stretagem, was taken prisoner by Sapor, emperor of Persia, who carried him into his own country, and there treated him with the most unexampled indignity, making him kneel down as the meanest slave, and treading upon him as a footstool when he mounted his horse.
After having kept him for the space of seven years in this abject state of
slavery, he caused his eyes to be put out, though he was then eighty-three years
of age. This not satiating his desire of revenge, he soon after ordered his body
to be flayed alive, and rubbed with salt, under which torments he expired; and
thus fell one of the most tyrannical emperors of Rome, and one of the greatest
persecutors of the Christians.
A.D. 260, Gallienus, the son of Valerian, succeeded
him, and during his reign (a few martyrs excepted) the Church enjoyed peace for
The principal sufferers were:
Felix, bishop of
Rome. This prelate was advanced to the Roman see in 274. He was the first martyr
to Aurelian's petulancy, being beheaded on the twenty-second of December, in the
Agapetus, a young gentleman, who sold his estate,
and gave the money to the poor, was seized as a Christian, tortured, and then
beheaded at Praeneste, a city within a day's journey of Rome.
These are the only martyrs left upon record during
this reign, as it was soon put to a stop by the emperor's being murdered by his
own domestics, at Byzantium.
Aurelian was succeeded by Tacitus, who was followed
by Probus, as the latter was by Carus: this emperor being killed by a thunder
storm, his sons, Carnious and Numerian, succeeded him, and during all these
reigns the Church had peace.
Diocletian mounted the imperial throne, A.D. 284;
at first he showed great favor to the Christians. In the year 286, he associated
Maximian with him in the empire; and some Christians were put to death before
any general persecution broke out. Among these were
Marcus and Marcellianus were twins, natives of Rome, and of noble descent. Their parents were heathens, but the tutors, to whom the education of the children was intrusted, brought them up as Christians. Their constancy at length subdued those who wished them to become pagans, and their parents and whole family became converts to a faith they had before reprobated.
They were martyred by being tied to posts, and having their feet
pierced with nails. After remaining in this situation for a day and a night,
their sufferings were put an end to by thrusting lances through their bodies.
Zoe, the wife of the jailer, who had the care of
the before-mentioned martyrs, was also converted by them, and hung upon a tree,
with a fire of straw lighted under her. When her body was taken down, it was
thrown into a river, with a large stone tied to it, in order to sink it.
In the year of Christ 286, a most remarkable affair occurred; a legion of soldiers, consisting of six thousand six hundred and sixty-six men, contained none but Christians. This legion was called the Theban Legion, because the men had been raised in Thebias: they were quartered in the east until the emperor Maximian ordered them to march to Gaul, to assist him against the rebels of Burgundy.
They passed the Alps into Gaul, under the command of Mauritius, Candidus, and Exupernis, their worthy commanders, and at length joined the emperor. Maximian, about this time, ordered a general sacrifice, at which the whole army was to assist; and likewise he commanded that they should take the oath of allegiance and swear, at the same time, to assist in the extirpation of Christianity in Gaul.
Alarmed at these orders, each individual of the Theban Legion absolutely refused either to sacrifice or take the oaths prescribed. This so greatly enraged Maximian, that he ordered the legion to be decimated, that is, every tenth man to be selected from the rest, and put to the sword. This bloody order having been put in execution, those who remained alive were still inflexible, when a second decimation took place, and every tenth man of those living was put to death.
This second severity made no
more impression than the first had done; the soldiers preserved their fortitude
and their principles, but by the advice of their officers they drew up a loyal
remonstrance to the emperor. This, it might have been presumed, would have
softened the emperor, but it had a contrary effect: for, enraged at their
perseverance and unanimity, he commanded that the whole legion should be put to
death, which was accordingly executed by the other troops, who cut them to
pieces with their swords, September 22, 286.
Alban, from whom St. Alban's, in Hertfordshire, received its name, was the first British martyr. Great Britain had received the Gospel of Christ from Lucius, the first Christian king, but did not suffer from the rage of persecution for many years after. He was originally a pagan, but converted by a Christian ecclesiastic, named Amphibalus, whom he sheltered on account of his religion.
The enemies of Amphibalus, having intelligence of the
place where he was secreted, came to the house of
Alban; in order to facilitate
his escape, when the soldiers came, he offered himself up as the person they
were seeking for. The deceit being detected, the governor ordered him to be
scourged, and then he was sentenced to be beheaded, June 22, A.D. 287.
The venerable Bede assures us, that, upon this occasion, the executioner suddenly became a convert to Christianity, and entreated permission to die for Alban, or with him. Obtaining the latter request, they were beheaded by a soldier, who voluntarily undertook the task of executioner.
This happened on the twenty-second of June, A.D. 287, at Verulam,
now St. Alban's, in Hertfordshire, where a magnificent church was erected to his
memory about the time of Constantine the Great. The edifice, being destroyed in
the Saxon wars, was rebuilt by Offa, king of Mercia, and a monastery erected
adjoining to it, some remains of which are still visible, and the church is a
noble Gothic structure.
Faith, a Christian female, of Acquitain, in France,
was ordered to be broiled upon a gridiron, and then beheaded; A.D. 287.
Quintin was a Christian, and a native of Rome, but determined to attempt the propagation of the Gospel in Gaul, with one Lucian, they preached together in Amiens; after which Lucian went to Beaumaris, where he was martyred. Quintin remained in Picardy, and was very zealous in his ministry.
Being seized upon as a Christian, he was stretched with pulleys until his joints
were dislocated; his body was then torn with wire scourges, and boiling oil and
pitch poured on his naked flesh; lighted torches were applied to his sides and
armpits; and after he had been thus tortured, he was remanded back to prison,
and died of the barbarities he had suffered, October 31, A.D. 287. His body was
sunk in the Somme.
Under the Roman emperors, commonly called the Era
of the Martyrs, was occasioned partly by the increasing number and luxury of the
Christians, and the hatred of Galerius, the adopted son of Diocletian, who,
being stimulated by his mother, a bigoted pagan, never ceased persuading the
emperor to enter upon the persecution, until he had accomplished his purpose.
The fatal day fixed upon to commence the bloody
work, was the twenty-third of February, A.D. 303, that being the day in which
the Terminalia were celebrated, and on which, as the cruel pagans boasted, they
hoped to put a termination to Christianity. On the appointed day, the
persecution began in Nicomedia, on the morning of which the prefect of that city
repaired, with a great number of officers and assistants, to the church of the
Christians, where, having forced open the doors, they seized upon all the sacred
books, and committed them to the flames.
The whole of this transaction was in the presence
diocletian and galerius, who, not contented with burning the books, had the
church leveled with the ground. This was followed by a severe edict, commanding
the destruction of all other Christian churches and books; and an order soon
succeeded, to render Christians of all denomination outlaws.
The publication of this edict occasioned an
immediate martyrdom, for a bold Christian not only tore it down from the place
to which it was affixed, but execrated the name of the emperor for his
injustice. A provocation like this was sufficient to call down pagan vengeance
upon his head; he was accordingly seized, severely tortured, and then burned
All the Christians were apprehended and imprisoned; and Galerius privately ordered the imperial palace to be set on fire, that the Christians might be charged as the incendiaries, and a plausible pretence given for carrying on the persecution with the greater severities. A general sacrifice was commenced, which occasioned various martyrdoms. No distinction was made of age or sex; the name of Christian was so obnoxious to the pagans that all indiscriminately fell sacrifices to their opinions.
Many houses were set on
fire, and whole Christian families perished in the flames; and others had stones
fastened about their necks, and being tied together were driven into the sea.
The persecution became general in all the Roman provinces, but more particularly
in the east; and as it lasted ten years, it is impossible to ascertain the
numbers martyred, or to enumerate the various modes of martyrdom.
Racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison,
and famine, were made use of in various parts to dispatch the Christians; and
invention was exhausted to devise tortures against such as had no crime, but
thinking differently from the votaries of superstition.
A city of Phrygia, consisting entirely of
Christians, was burnt, and all the inhabitants perished in the flames.
Tired with slaughter, at length, several governors
of provinces represented to the imperial court, the impropriety of such conduct.
Hence many were respited from execution, but, though they were not put to death,
as much as possible was done to render their lives miserable, many of them
having their ears cut off, their noses slit, their right eyes put out, their
limbs rendered useless by dreadful dislocations, and their flesh seared in
conspicuous places with red-hot irons.
It is necessary now to particularize the most
conspicuous persons who laid down their lives in martyrdom in this bloody
Sebastian, a celebrated martyr, was born at Narbonne, in Gaul, instructed in the principles of Christianity at Milan, and afterward became an officer of the emperor's guard at Rome. He remained a true Christian in the midst of idolatry; un-allured by the splendors of a court, un-tainted by evil examples, and uncontaminated by the hopes of preferment. Refusing to be a pagan, the emperor ordered him to be taken to a field near the city, termed the Campus Martius, and there to be shot to death with arrows; which sentence was executed accordingly.
Some pious Christians coming to the place of execution, in order to give his body burial, perceived signs of life in him, and immediately moving him to a place of security, they, in a short time effected his recovery, and prepared him for a second martyrdom; for, as soon as he was able to go out, he placed himself intentionally in the emperor's way as he was going to the temple, and reprehended him for his various cruelties and unreasonable prejudices against Christianity.
As soon as
diocletian had overcome
his surprise, he ordered
Sebastian to be seized, and carried to a place near the
palace, and beaten to death; and, that the Christians should not either use
means again to recover or bury his body, he ordered that it should be thrown
into the common sewer. Nevertheless, a Christian lady named
Lucina, found means
to remove it from the sewer, and bury it in the catacombs, or repositories of
The Christians, about this time, upon mature
consideration, thought it unlawful to bear arms under a heathen emperor.
Maximilian, the son of Fabius Victor, was the first beheaded under this
Vitus, a Sicilian of considerable family, was
brought up a Christian; when his virtues increased with his years, his constancy
supported him under all afflictions, and his faith was superior to the most
dangerous perils. His father, Hylas, who was a pagan, finding that he had been
instructed in the principles of Christianity by the nurse who brought him up,
used all his endeavors to bring him back to paganism, and at length sacrificed
his son to the idols, June 14, A.D. 303.
Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in relieving the distresses of poor Christians. He was at length, however, seized by the emperor Maximian's decree, who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets.
During the execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his courage was deemed obstinacy. Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes toward heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude.
After the executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack, unmercifully beaten with batons, and again sent to prison.
Being a third time examined concerning
his religion, he persevered in his principles; a small altar was then brought,
and he was commanded to offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with
indignation at the request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot
overthrew both altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was
present, that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be
immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to pieces
with the stones, A.D. 303.
Maximus, governor of Cilicia, being at Tarsus,
three Christians were brought before him; their names were
Tarachus, an aged
Andronicus. After repeated tortures and exhortations to recant,
they, at length, were ordered for execution.
Being brought to the amphitheater, several beasts
were let loose upon them; but none of the animals, though hungry, would touch
them. The keeper then brought out a large bear, that had that very day destroyed
three men; but this voracious creature and a fierce lioness both refused to
touch the prisoners. Finding the design of destroying them by the means of wild
beasts ineffectual, Maximus ordered them to be slain by the sword, on October
11, A.D. 303.
Romanus, a native of Palestine, was deacon of the
church of Caesarea at the time of the commencement of Diocletian's persecution.
Being condemned for his faith at Antioch, he was scourged, put to the rack, his
body torn with hooks, his flesh cut with knives, his face scarified, his teeth
beaten from their sockets, and his hair plucked up by the roots. Soon after he
was ordered to be strangled, November 17, A.D. 303.
Susanna, the niece of Caius, bishop of Rome, was
pressed by the emperor Diocletian to marry a noble pagan, who was nearly related
to him. Refusing the honor intended her, she was beheaded by the emperor's
Dorotheus, the high chamberlain of the household to
Diocletian, was a Christian, and took great pains to make converts. In his
religious labors, he was joined by
Gorgonius, another Christian, and one
belonging to the palace. They were first tortured and then strangled.
Peter, an eunuch belonging to the emperor, was a
Christian of singular modesty and humility. He was laid on a gridiron, and
broiled over a slow fire until he expired.
Cyprian, known by the title of the magician, to distinguish him from Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was a native of Natioch. He received a liberal education in his youth, and particularly applied himself to astrology; after which he traveled for improvement through Greece, Egypt, India, etc.
In the course of time he became acquainted with Justina, a young lady of Antioch, whose birth, beauty, and accomplishments, rendered her the admiration of all who knew her. A pagan gentleman applied to Cyprian, to promote his suit with the beautiful Justina; but soon he himself became converted, burned his books of astrology and of magic, and received baptism, and was animated with a powerful spirit of grace.
The conversion of Cyprian had a great
effect on the pagan gentleman who paid his addresses to Justina, and he in a
short time embraced Christianity. During the persecutions of Diocletian,
Justina were seized upon as Christians, the former was torn with pincers,
and the latter chastised; and, after suffering other torments, both were
Eulalia, a Spanish lady of a Christian family, was
remarkable in her youth for sweetness of temper, and solidity of understanding
seldom found in the capriciousness of juvenile years. Being apprehended as a
Christian, the magistrate attempted by the mildest means, to bring her over to
paganism, but she ridiculed the pagan deities with such asperity, that the
judge, incensed at her behavior, ordered her to be tortured. Her sides were
accordingly torn by hooks, and her breasts burnt in the most shocking manner,
until she expired by the violence of the flames, December, A.D. 303.
In the year 304, when the persecution reached Spain, Dacian, the governor of Terragona, ordered Valerius the bishop, and Vincent the deacon, to be seized, loaded with irons, and imprisoned. The prisoners being firm in their resolution, Valerius was banished, and Vincent was racked, his limbs dislocated, his flesh torn with hooks, and he was laid on a gridiron, which had not only a fire placed under it, but spikes at the top, which ran into his flesh.
These torments neither destroying him, nor changing
his resolutions, he was remanded to prison, and confined in a small, loathsome,
dark dungeon, strewed with sharp flints, and pieces of broken glass, where he
died, January 22, 304. His body was thrown into the river.
The persecution of Diocletian began particularly to
rage in A.D. 304, when many Christians were put to cruel tortures and the most
painful and ignominious deaths; the most eminent and particular of whom we shall
Saturninus, a priest of Albitina, a town of Africa,
after being tortured, was remanded to prison, and there starved to death. His
four children, after being variously tormented, shared the same fate with their
Dativas, a noble Roman senator;
Thelico, a pious
Victoria, a young lady of considerable family and
fortune, with some others of less consideration, all auditors of Saturninus,
were tortured in a similar manner, and perished by the same means.
Irene, three sisters, were
seized upon at Thessalonica, when Diocletian's persecution reached Greece. They
were burnt, and received the crown of martyrdom in the flames, March 25, A.D.
304. The governor, finding that he could make no impression on Irene, ordered
her to be exposed naked in the streets, which shameful order having been
executed, a fire was kindled near the city wall, amidst whose flames her spirit
ascended beyond the reach of man's cruelty.
Agatho, a man of a pious turn of mind, with
Cassice, Philippa, and
Eutychia, were martyred about the same time; but the particulars
have not been transmitted to us.
Marcellinus, bishop of Rome, who succeeded Caius in
that see, having strongly opposed paying divine honors to Diocletian, suffered
martyrdom, by a variety of tortures, in the year 324, comforting his soul until
he expired with the prospect of these glorious rewards it would receive by the
tortures suffered in the body.
were brothers, and all four employed in places of great trust and honor in the
city of Rome. Having exclaimed against the worship of idols, they were
apprehended, and scourged, with the plumbean, or scourges, to the ends of which
were fastened leaden balls. This punishment was exercised with such excess of
cruelty that the pious brothers fell martyrs to its severity.
Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were separated from each other by the persecution. Timothy, being apprehended, as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, "Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God."
The governor being much incensed at this reply, ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying, "The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them." His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth.
In this state, Maura his wife, tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife's entreaties, he greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying for the faith. The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory.
The governor, after
trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to be tortured, which was
executed with great severity. After this,
Maura were crucified near
each other, A.D. 304.
Sabinus, bishop of Assisium, refusing to sacrifice
to Jupiter, and pushing the idol from him, had his hand cut off by the order of
the governor of Tuscany. While in prison, he converted the governor and his
family, all of whom suffered martyrdom for the faith. Soon after their
Sabinus himself was scourged to death, December, A.D. 304.
Tired with the farce of state and public business,
the emperor Diocletian resigned the imperial diadem, and was succeeded by
Constantius and Galerius; the former a prince of the most mild and humane
disposition and the latter equally remarkable for his cruelty and tyranny. These
divided the empire into two equal governments, Galerius ruling in the east, and
Constantius in the west; and the people in the two governments felt the effects
of the dispositions of the two emperors; for those in the west were governed in
the mildest manner, but such as resided in the east felt all the miseries of
oppression and lengthened tortures.
Among the many martyred by the order of Galerius,
we shall enumerate the most eminent.
was a gentleman of eminence in Lucia, and
a scholar of Eusebius;
Julitta, a Lycaonian of royal descent, but more
celebrated for her virtues than noble blood. While on the rack, her child was
killed before her face.
Julitta, of Cappadocia, was a lady of distinguished
capacity, great virtue, and uncommon courage. To complete the execution,
had boiling pitch poured on her feet, her sides torn with hooks, and received
the conclusion of her martyrdom, by being beheaded, April 16, A.D. 305.
a venerable and pious Christian, or a
great age, and an intimate acquaintance of
Panteleon's, suffered martyrdom for
the faith on the same day, and in the same manner as
Eustratius, secretary to the governor of Armina,
was thrown into a fiery furnace for exhorting some Christians who had been
apprehended, to persevere in their faith.
Marcian, two eminent Roman military
officers, were apprehended on account of their faith. As they were both men of
great abilities in their profession, the utmost means were used to induce them
to renounce Christianity; but these endeavors being found ineffectual, they were
In the kingdom of Naples, several martyrdoms took
place, in particular,
Januaries, bishop of Beneventum;
Sosius, deacon of Misene;
Proculus, another deacon;
Acutius, two laymen;
Festus, a deacon;
and Desiderius, a reader; all, on account of being Christians, were condemned by
the governor of Campania to be devoured by the wild beasts. The savage animals,
however, would not touch them, and so they were beheaded.
Quirinus, bishop of Siscia, being carried before matenius, the governor, was ordered to sacrifice to the pagan deities, agreeably to the edicts of various Roman emperors. The governor, perceiving his constancy, sent him to jail, and ordered him to be heavily ironed; flattering himself, that the hardships of a jail, some occasional tortures and the weight of chains, might overcome his resolution.
Being decided in his principles, he was sent to amantius, the principal governor of Pannonia, now Hungary, who loaded him with chains, and carried him through the principal towns of the Danube, exposing him to ridicule wherever he went. Arriving at length at Sabaria, and finding that Quirinus would not renounce his faith, he ordered him to be cast into a river, with a stone fastened about his neck.
This sentence being put into execution,
Quirinus floated about for some time, and, exhorting the people in the most
pious terms, concluded his admonitions with this prayer: "It is no new
thing, O all-powerful Jesus, for Thee to stop the course of rivers, or to cause
a man to walk upon the water, as Thou didst Thy servant Peter; the people have
already seen the proof of Thy power in me; grant me now to lay down my life for
Thy sake, O my God." On pronouncing the last words he immediately sank, and
died, June 4, A.D. 308. His body was afterwards taken up, and buried by some
Pamphilus, a native of Phoenicia, of a considerable family, was a man of such extensive learning that he was called a second Origen. He was received into the body of the clergy at Caesarea, where he established a public library and spent his time in the practice of every Christian virtue.
copied the greatest part of the works of Origen with his own hand, and, assisted
by Eusebius, gave a correct copy of the Old Testament, which had suffered
greatly by the ignorance or negligence of former transcribers. In the year 307,
he was apprehended, and suffered torture and martyrdom.
Marcellus, bishop of Rome, being banished on
account of his faith, fell a martyr to the miseries he suffered in exile,
January 16, A.D. 310.
Peter, the sixteenth bishop of Alexandria, was
martyred November 25, A.D. 311, by order of
maximus caesar, who reigned in the
Agnes, a virgin of only thirteen years of age, was
beheaded for being a Christian; as was
Serene, the empress of Diocletian.
Valentine, a priest, suffered the same fate at Rome; and
Erasmus, a bishop, was
martyred in Campania.
Soon after this the persecution abated in the
middle parts of the empire, as well as in the west; and Providence at length
began to manifest vengeance on the persecutors. maximian endeavored to corrupt
his daughter Fausta to murder Constantine her husband; which she discovered, and
Constantine forced him to choose his own death, when he preferred the
ignominious death of hanging after being an emperor near twenty years.
Constantine was the good and virtuous child of a good and virtuous father, born in Britain. His mother was named Helena, daughter of King Coilus. He was a most bountiful and gracious prince, having a desire to nourish learning and good arts, and did oftentimes use to read, write, and study himself.
He had marvelous good success and prosperous achieving of all things
he took in hand, which then was (and truly) supposed to proceed of this, for
that he was so great a favorer of the Christian faith. Which faith when he had
once embraced, he did ever after most devoutly and religiously reverence.
Thus Constantine, sufficiently appointed with
strength of men but especially with strength of God, entered his journey coming
towards Italy, which was about the last year of the persecution, A.D. 313.
maxentius, understanding of the coming of Constantine, and trusting more to his
devilish art of magic than to the good will of his subjects, which he little
deserved, durst not show himself out of the city, nor encounter him in the open
field, but with privy garrisons laid wait for him by the way in sundry straits,
as he should come; with whom Constantine had divers skirmishes, and by the power
of the Lord did ever vanquish them and put them to flight.
Notwithstanding, Constantine yet was in no great comfort, but in great care and dread in his mind (approaching now near unto Rome) for the magical charms and sorceries of maxentius, wherewith he had vanquished before Severus, sent by Galerius against him. Wherefore, being in great doubt and perplexity in himself, and revolving many things in his mind, what help he might have against the operations of his charming,
his journey drawing toward the city, and casting up his eyes many times to
heaven, in the south part, about the going down of the sun, saw a great
brightness in heaven, appearing in the similitude of a cross, giving this
inscription, In hoc vince, that is, "In this overcome."
Eusebius Pamphilus doth witness that he had heard
the said Constantine himself oftentimes report, and also to swear this to be
true and certain, which he did see with his own eyes in heaven, and also his
soldiers about him. At the sight whereof when he was greatly astonished, and
consulting with his men upon the meaning thereof, behold, in the night season in
his sleep, Christ appeared to him with the sign of the same cross which he had
seen before, bidding him to make the figuration thereof, and to carry it in his
wars before him, and so should we have the victory.
Constantine so established the peace of the Church
that for the space of a thousand years we read of no set persecution against the
Christians, unto the time of John Wickliffe.
So happy, so glorious was this victory of
Constantine, surnamed the Great! For the joy and gladness whereof, the citizens
who had sent for him before, with exceeding triumph brought him into the city of
Rome, where he was most honorably received, and celebrated the space of seven
days together; having, moreover, in the market place, his image set up, holding
in his right hand the sign of the cross, with this inscription:
"With this wholesome sign, the true token of
fortitude, I have rescued and delivered our city from the yoke of the
We shall conclude our account of the tenth and last general persecution with the death of St. George, the titular saint and patron of England. St. George was born in Cappadocia, of Christian parents; and giving proofs of his courage, was promoted in the army of the emperor diocletian.
During the persecution,
St. George threw up his command, went boldly to the
senate house, and avowed his being a Christian, taking occasion at the same time
to remonstrate against paganism, and point out the absurdity of worshipping
idols. This freedom so greatly provoked the senate that St. George was ordered
to be tortured, and by the emperor's orders was dragged through the streets, and
beheaded the next day.
The legend of the dragon, which is associated with
this martyr, is usually illustrated by representing St. George seated upon a
charging horse and transfixing the monster with his spear. This fiery dragon
symbolizes the devil, who was vanquished by
St. George's steadfast faith in
Christ, which remained unshaken in spite of torture and death.