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 ruins.
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. This persecution
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, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth;
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 Second Persecution, Under Domitian, A.D. 81
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
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. Flavia,
the 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
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.
Dionysius, the Areopagite, was an Athenian by birth, and educated
in all the useful and ornamental literature of Greece. He then
travelled to Egypt to study astronomy, and made very particular
observations on the great and supernatural eclipse, which happened
at the time of our Savior's crucifixion.
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.
Protasius and 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 days later.
The Third Persecution, Under Trajan, A.D. 108
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."
Trajan being succeeded by Adrian, the latter continued this third
persecution with as much severity as his predecessor. About this
time Alexander, bishop of Rome, with his two deacons, were martyred;
as were Quirinus and Hernes, with their families;
Zenon, a Roman nobleman, and about ten thousand other Christians.
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 be martyred.
At the martyrdom of Faustines and Jovita, brothers and citizens
of Brescia, their torments were so many, and their patience so
great, that 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.
The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D.
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 likewise
burnt. Carpus and Papilus, two worthy Christians, and Agatonica,
a 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; Felix and Philip, the two next had their brains dashed
out with clubs; 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 travelling, 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,
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 Spolito.
Some of the restless northern nations having risen in arms against
Rome, the emperor marched to encounter them. He was, however,
drawn into an ambuscade, 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 recovered.
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
tenderest 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. Blandina, 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 the sword.
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, whivch 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:
"Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace."
"Lawrence to his sweetest son, borne away of angels."
"Victorious in peace and in Christ."
"Being 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 as:
"Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing
"I lift my hands against the gods who took me away
at the age of twenty though I had done no harm."
"Once I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about
it, and it is no concern of mine."
"Traveler, 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.
The Fifth Persecution, Commencing with Severus, A.D. 192
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. Tertullian,
who lived in this age, informs us that if the Christians had collectively
withdrawn themselves from the Roman territories, the empire would
have been greatly depopulated.
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
Plutarchus and Serenus; another Serenus, Heron, and 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 Rhais had been; but
Basilides, an officer belonging to the army, and ordered to attend
her execution, became her convert.
Basilides 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 surpsie, 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 opposer 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,
Irenaeus wrote 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
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. Felicitas
and Perpetua were 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. Revocatus
and Satur were destroyed by wild beasts; Saturninus was beheaded;
and Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in the 205,
on the eighth day of March.
Speratus and twelve others were likewise beheaded; as was Andocles
in France. Asclepiades, bishop of Antioch, suffered many tortures,
but his life was spared.
Cecilia, 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,
Calistus, 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.
The Sixth Persecution, Under Maximus, A.D. 235
A.D. 235, was in the time of Maximinus. In Cappadocia, the president,
Seremianus, did all he could to exterminate the Christians from
The principal persons who perished under this reign were Pontianus,
bishop of Rome; Anteros, a Grecian, his successor, who gave offence
to the government by collecting the acts of the martyrs, Pammachius
and Quiritus, Roman senators, with all their families, and many
other Christians; Simplicius, senator;
Calepodius, a Christian minister, thrown into the Tyber; 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 Maximinus, numberless Christians
were slain without trial, and buried indiscriminately in heaps,
sometimes fifty or sixty being cast into a pit together, without
the least decency.
The tyrant 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 Seventh Persecution, Under Decius, A.D. 249
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 factions.
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.
Peter, a young man, amiable for the superior qualities of his
body and mind, was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to Venus.
He said, "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. Nichomachus replied,
"I cannot pay that respect to devils, which is only due to
the Almighty." This speech so much enraged the proconsul
that Nichomachus was 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,
Andrew and Paul, two companions of Nichomachus, the martyr, A.D.
251, suffered martyrdom by stoning, and expired, calling on their
Alexander and 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 beheaded.
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. On being 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 Gospel."
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.
Trypho and 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, enaged 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 tempestuous times.
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 Christians,
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 ofence. 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 virgins,
at 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 soldiers, viz. 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
Theodora, a beautiful young lady of Antioch, on refusing to sacrifice
to the Roman idols, was condemned to the stews, 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
Secundianus, having been accused as a Christian, was conveyed
to prison by some soldiers. On the way, Verianus and Marcellinus
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 Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian, A.D. 257
Began under Valerian, in the month of April, 257, and continued
for three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this
persecution 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.
The suitors, 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
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. Jesteth the traitor with the emperor? 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 martyr 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 violence; 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 Gentilism, 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 practise 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 connexion 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 Christrians;
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, Cyprian was 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. 258.
The disciples of Cyprian, martyred in this persecution, were Lucius,
Flavian, Victoricus, Remus, Montanus, Julian, Primelus, and Donatian.
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 two deacons,
Augurius and Eulogius, were burnt for being Christians.
Alexander, Malchus, and 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.
Maxima, Donatilla, and 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 Ninth Persecution Under Aurelian, A.D. 274
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 same year.
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 Felician and Primus, two brothers.
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
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 saame 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.
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 pullies 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.
The Tenth Persecution, Under Diocletian, A.D. 303
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 of Diocletian
and Galerius, who, not contented with burning the books, had the
church levelled 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 alive.
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 conspicious persons
who laid down their lives in martyrdom in this bloody persecution.
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; unallured by the splendors
of a court, untained 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 dead.
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 regulation.
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 batoons, 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,
Maximus, governor of Cilicia, being at Tarsus, three Christians
were brought before him; their names were Tarachus, an aged man,
Probus, and 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,
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
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
Peter, a 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; this he undertook, but soon
himself became converted, burnt his books of astrology and magic,
received baptism, and felt 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,
Cyprian and Justina were seized upon as Chrisitans, the former
was torn with pincers, and the latter chastised; and, after suffering
other torments, both were beheaded.
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 ina 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 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 paritcular
of whom we shall enumerate.
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 father.
Dativas, a noble Roman senator; Thelico, a pious Christian;
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.
Agrape, Chionia, and 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, conforting
his soul until he expired with the prospect of these glorious
rewards it would receive by the tortures suffered in the body.
Victorius, Carpophorus, Severus, and Severianus, 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 plumbetae, 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, Timothy and 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 execution, 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.
Amphianus 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, Julitta 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.
Hermolaus, 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 Panteleon.
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.
Nicander and 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 beheaded.
In the kingdom of Naples, several martyrdoms took place, in particular,
Januaries, bishop of Beneventum; Sosius, deacon of Misene; Proculus,
another deacon; Eutyches and 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 pious Christians.
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. He 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,
Peter, the sixteenth bishop of Alexandria, was martyred November
25, A.D. 311, by order of Maximus Caesar, who reigned in the east.
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 marvellous 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
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
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, Constantine, in 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
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 tyrant."
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.