History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions
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, needeth 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 holden its own! What storms and tempests
it hath overpast, 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.
I. St. Stephen
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
Upon this a great persecution was raised against all who professed
their belief in Christ as the Messiah, or as a prophet. 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 Judaea and
Samaria, except the apostles."
About two thousand Christians, with Nicanor, one of the seven
deacons, suffered martyrdom during the "persecution that
arose about Stephen."
II. James the Great
The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History
of the Apsotles' 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 undauntedness, 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 and Parmenas 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.
V. James the Less
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 Catholic superstition, 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 Cross.
VIII. St. Mark
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 saith
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 saith 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, declareth
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 baptised 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.
Called Didymus, 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 travelled with Paul through various countries, and
is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree, by the idolatrous
priests of Greece.
Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and
even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D.
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.
And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and
horrible punishments, the Church daily increased, deeply rooted
in the doctrine of the apostles and of men apostolical, and watered
plentously with the blood of saints.