The Gospel having spread itself into Persia, the pagan priests,
who worshipped the sun, were greatly alarmed, and dreaded the
loss of that influence they had hitherto maintained over the people's
minds and properties. Hence they thought it expedient to complain
to the emperor that the Christians were enemies to the state,
and held a treasonable correspondence with the Romans, the great
enemies of Persia.
The emperor Sapores, being naturally averse to Christianity, easily
believed what was said against the Christians, and gave orders
to persecute them in all parts of his empire. On account of this
mandate, many eminent persons in the church and state fell martyrs
to the ignorance and ferocity of the pagans.
Constantine the Great being informed of the persecutions in Persia,
wrote a long letter to the Persian monarch, in which he recounts
the vengeance that had fallen on persecutors, and the great success
that had attended those who had refrained from persecuting the
Speaking of his victories over rival emperors of his own time,
he said, "I subdued these solely by faith in Christ; for
which God was my helper, who gave me victory in battle, and made
me triumph over my enemies. He hath likewise so enlarged to me
the bounds of the Roman Empire, that it extends from the Western
Ocean almost to the uttermost parts of the East: for this domain
I neither offered sacrifices to the ancient deities, nor made
use of charm or divination; but only offered up prayers to the
Almighty God, and followed the cross of Christ. Rejoiced should
I be if the throne of Persia found glory also, by embracing the
Christians: that so you with me, and they with you, may enjoy
In consequence of this appeal, the persecution ended for the time,
but it was renewed in later years when another king succeeded
to the throne of Persia.
Persecutions Under the Arian Heretics
The author of the Arian heresy was Arius, a native of Lybia, and
a priest of Alexandria, who, in A.D. 318, began to publish his
errors. He was condemned by a council of Lybian and Egyptian
bishops, and that sentence was confirmed by the Council of Nice,
A.D. 325. After the death of Constantine the Great, the Arians
found means to ingratiate themselves into the favor of the emperor
Constantinus, his son and successor in the east; and hence a persecution
was raised against the orthodox bishops and clergy. The celebrated
Athanasius, and other bishops, were banished, and their sees filled
In Egypt and Lybia, thirty bishops were martyred, and many other
Christians cruelly tormented; and, A.D. 386, George, the Arian
bishop of Alexandria, under the authority of the emperor, began
a persecution in that city and its environs, and carried it on
with the most infernal severity. He was assisted in his diabolical
malice by Catophonius, governor of Egypt; Sebastian, general of
the Egyptian forces;
Faustinus, the treasurer; and Heraclius, a Roman officer.
The persecutions now raged in such a manner that the clergy were
driven from Alexandria, their churches were shut, and the severities
practiced by the Arian heretics were as great as those that had
been practiced by the pagan idolaters. If a man, accused of being
a Christian, made his escape, then his whole family were massacred,
and his effects confiscated.
Persecution Under Julian the Apostate
This emperor was the son of Julius Constantius, and the nephew
of Constantine the Great. He studied the rudiments of grammar
under the inspection of Mardonius, a eunuch, and a heathen of
Constantinople. His father sent him some time after to Nicomedia,
to be instructed in the Christian religion, by the bishop of Eusebius,
his kinsman, but his principles were corrupted by the pernicious
doctrines of Ecebolius the rhetorician, and Maximus the magician.
Constantius, dying the year 361, Julian succeeded him, and had
no sooner attained the imperial dignity than he renounced Christianity
and embraced paganism, which had for some years fallen into great
disrepute. Though he restored the idolatrous worship, he made
no public edicts against Christianity. He recalled all banished
pagans, allowed the free exercise of religion to every sect, but
deprived all Christians of offices at court, in the magistracy,
or in the army. He was chaste, temperate, vigilant, laborious,
and pious; yet he prohibited any Christian from keeping a school
or public seminary of learning, and deprived all the Christian
clergy of the privileges granted them by Constantine the Great.
Biship Basil made himself first famous by his opposition to Arianism,
which brought upon him the vengeance of the Arian bishop of Constantinople;
he equally opposed paganism. The emperor's agents in vain tampered
with Basil by means of promises, threats, and racks, he was firm
in the faith, and remained in prison to undergo some other sufferings,
when the emperor came accidentally to Ancyra. Julian determined
to examine Basil himself, when that holy man being brought before
him, the emperor did every thing in his power to dissuade him
from persevering in the faith. Basil not only continued as firm
as ever, but, with a prophetic spirit foretold the death of the
emperor, and that he should be tormented in the other life. Enraged
at what he heard, Julian commanded that the body of Basil should
be torn every day in seven different parts, until his skin and
flesh were entirely mangled. This inhuman sentence was executed
with rigor, and the martyr expired under its severities, on June
28, A.D. 362.
Donatus, bishop of Arezzo, and Hilarinus, a hermit, suffered about
the same time; also Gordian, a Roman magistrate. Artemius, commander
in chief of the Roman forces in Egypt, being a Christian, was
deprived of his commission, then of his estate, and lastly of
The persecution raged dreadfully about the latter end of the year
363; but, as many of the particulars have not been handed down
to us, it is necessary to remark in general, that in Palestine
many were burnt alive, others were dragged by their feet through
the streets naked until they expired; some were scalded to death,
many stoned, and great numbers had their brains beaten out with
clubs. In Alexandria, innumerable were the martyrs who suffered
by the sword, burning, crucifixion and stoning. In Arethusa,
several were ripped open, and corn being put into their bellies,
swine were brought to feed therein, which, in devouring the grain,
likewise devoured the entrails of the martyrs, and in Thrace,
Emilianus was burnt at a stake; and Domitius murdered in a cave,
whither he had fled for refuge.
The emperor, Julian the apostate, died of a wound which he received
in his Persian expedition, A.D. 363, and even while expiring,
uttered the most horrid blasphemies. He was succeeded by Jovian,
who restored peace to the Church.
After the decease of Jovian, Valentinian succeeded to the empire,
and associated to himself Valens, who had the command in the east,
and was an Arian and of an unrelenting and persecuting disposition.
Persecution of the Christians by the Goths and Vandals.
Many Scythian Goths having embraced Christianity about the time
of Constantine the Great, the light of the Gospel spread itself
considerably in Scythia, though the two kings who ruled that country,
and the majority of the people continued pagans. Fritegern, king
of the West Goths, was an ally to the Romans, but Athanarich,
king of the East Goths, was at war with them. The Christians,
in the dominions of the former, lived unmolested, but the latter,
having been defeated by the Romans, wreaked his vengeance on his
Christian subjects, commencing his pagan injunctions in the year
In religion the Goths were Arians, and called themselves Christians;
therefore they destroyed all the statues and temples of the heathen
gods, but did no harm to the orthodox Christian churches. Alaric
had all the qualities of a great general. To the wild bravery
of the Gothic barbarian he added the courage and skill of the
Roman soldier. He led his forces across the Alps into Italy,
and although driven back for the time, returned afterward with
an irresistible force.
The Last Roman "Triumph"
After this fortunate victory over the Goths a "triumph,"
as it was called, was celebrated at Rome. For hundreds of years
successful generals had been awarded this great honor on their
return from a victorious campaign. Upon such occasions the city
was given up for days to the marching of troops laden with spoils,
and who dragged after them prisoners of war, among whom were often
captive kings and conquered generals. This was to be the last
Roman triumph, for it celebrated the last Roman victory. Although
it had been won by Stilicho, the general, it was the boy emperor,
Honorius, who took the credit, entering Rome in the car of victory,
and driving to the Capitol amid the shouts of the populace. Afterward,
as was customary on such occasions, there were bloody combats
in the Colosseum, where gladiators, armed with swords and spears,
fought as furiously as if they were on the field of battle.
The first part of the bloody entertainment was finished; the bodies
of the dead were dragged off with hooks, and the reddened sand
covered with a fresh, clean layer. After this had been done the
gates in the wall of the arena were thrown open, and a number
of tall, well-formed men in the prime of youth and strength came
forward. Some carried swords, others three-pronged spears and
nets. They marched once around the walls, and stopping before
the emperor, held up their weapons at arm's length, and with one
voice sounded out their greeting, Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant!
"Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!"
The combats now began again; the glatiators with nets tried to
entangle those with swords, and when they succeeded mercilessly
stabbed their antagonists to death with the three-pronged spear.
When a glatiator had wounded his adversary, and had him lying
helpless at his feet, he looked up at the eager faces of the spectators,
and cried out, Hoc habet! "He has it!" and awaited
the pleasure of the audience to kill or spare.
If the spectators held out their hands toward him, with thumbs
upward, the defeated man was taken away, to recover if possible
from his wounds. But if the fatal signal of "thumbs down"
was given, the conquered was to be slain; and if he showed any
reluctance to present his neck for the death blow, there was a
scornful shout from the galleries, Recipe ferrum! "Receive
the steel!" Privileged persons among the audience would
even descend into the arena, to better witness the death agonies
of some unusually brave victim, before his corpse was dragged
out at the death gate.
The show went on; many had been slain, and the people, madly excited
by the desperate bravery of those who continued to fight, shouted
their applause. But suddenly there was an interruption. A rudely
clad, robed figure appeared for a moment among the audience, and
then boldly leaped down into the arena. He was seen to be a man
of rough but imposing presence, bareheaded and with sun-browned
face. Without hesitating an instant he advanced upon two gladiators
engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and laying his hand upon
one of them sternly reproved him for shedding innocent blood,
and then, turning toward the thousands of angry faces ranged around
him, called upon them in a solemn, deep-toned voice which resounded
through the deep inclosure. These were his words: "Do not
requite God's mercy in turning away the swords of your enemies
by murdering each other!"
Angry shouts and cries at once drowned his voice: "This
is no place for preaching!--the old customs of Rome must be observed!--On,
gladiators!" Thrusting aside the stranger, the gladiators
would have again attacked each other, but the man stood between,
holding them apart, and trying in vain to be heard. "Sedition!
sedition! down with him!" was then the cry; and the gladiators,
enraged at the interference of an outsider with their chosen vocation,
at once stabbed him to death. Stones, or whatever missiles came
to hand, also rained down upon him from the furious people, and
thus he perished, in the midst of the arena.
His dress showed him to be one of the hermits who vowed themselves
to a holy life of prayer and self-denial, and who were reverenced
by even the thoughtless and combat-loving Romans. The few who
knew him told how he had come from the wilds of Asia on a pilgrimage,
to visit the churches and keep his Christmas at Rome; they knew
he was a holy man, and that his name was Telemachus-no more.
His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking
to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal
he had tried to convince them of the cruelty and wickedness of
their conduct. He had died, but not in vain. His work was accomplished
at the moment he was struck down, for the shock of such a death
before their eyes turned the hearts of the people: they saw the
hideous aspects of the favorite vice to which they had blindly
surrendered themselves; and from the day Telemachus fell dead
in the Colosseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there.
Persecutions from About the Middle of the Fifth, to the Conclusion
of the Seventh Century
Proterius was made a priest by Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, who
was well acquainted with his virtues, before he appointed him
to preach. On the death of Cyril, the see of Alexandria was filled
by Discorus, an inveterate enemy to the memory and family of his
predecessor. Being condemned by the council of Chalcedon for
having embraced the errors of Eutyches, he was deposed, and Proterius
chosen to fill the vacant see, who was approved of by the emperor.
This occasioned a dangerous insurrection, for the city of Alexandria
was divided into two factions; the one to espouse the cause of
the old, and the other of the new prelate. In one of the commotions,
the Eutychians determined to wreak their vengeance on Proterius,
who fled to the church for sanctuary: but on Good Friday, A.D.
457, a large body of them rushed into the church, and barbarously
murdered the prelate; after which they dragged the body through
the streets, insulted it, cut it to pieces, burnt it, and scattered
the ashes in the air.
Hermenigildus, a Gothic prince, was the eldest son of Leovigildus,
a king of the Goths, in Spain. This prince, who was originally
an Arian, became a convert to the orthodox faith, by means of
his wife Ingonda. When the king heard that his son had changed
his religious sentiments, he stripped him of the command at Seville,
where he was governor, and threatened to put him to death unless
he renounced the faith he had newly embraced. The prince, in
order to prevent the execution of his father's menaces, began
to put himself into a posture of defence; and many of the orthodox
persuasion in Spain declared for him. The king, exasperated at
this act of rebellion, began to punish all the orthodox Christians
who could be seized by his troops, and thus a very severe persecution
commenced: he likewise marched against his son at the head of
a very powerful army. The prince took refuge in Seville, from
which he fled, and was at length besieged and taken at Asieta.
Loaded with chains, he was sent to Seville, and at the feast
of Easter refusing to receive the Eucharist from an Arian bishop,
the enraged king ordered his guards to cut the prince to pieces,
which they punctually performed, April 13, A.D. 586.
Martin, bishop of Rome, was born at Todi, in Italy. He was naturally
inclined to virtue, and his parents bestowed on him an admirable
education. He opposed the heretics called Monothelites, who were
patronized by the emperor Heraclius. Martin was condemned at
Constantinople, where he was exposed in the most public places
to the ridicule of the people, divested of all episcopal marks
of distinction, and treated with the greatest scorn and severity.
After lying some months in prison, Martin was sent to an island
at some distance, and there cut to pieces, A.D. 655.
John, bishop of Bergamo, in Lombardy, was a learned man, and a
good Christian. He did his utmost endeavors to clear the Church
from the errors of Arianism, and joining in this holy work with
John, bishop of Milan, he was very successful against the heretics,
on which account he was assassinated on July 11, A.D. 683.
Killien was born in Ireland, and received from his parents a pious
and Christian education. He obtained the Roman pontiff's license
to preach to the pagans in Franconia, in Germany. At Wurtzburg
he converted Gozbert, the governor, whose example was followed
by the greater part of the people in two years after. Persuading
Gozbert that his marriage with his brother's widow was sinful,
the latter had him beheaded, A.D. 689.
Persecutions from the Early Part of the Eighth, to Near the
of the Tenth Century
Boniface, archbishop of Mentz, and father of the German church,
was an Englishman, and is, in ecclasiastical history, looked upon
as one of the brightest ornaments of this nation. Originally
his name was Winfred, or Winfrith, and he was born at Kirton,
in Devonshire, then part of the West-Saxon kingdom. When he was
only about six years of age, he began to discover a propensity
to reflection, and seemed solicitous to gain information on religious
subjects. Wolfrad, the abbot, finding that he possessed a bright
genius, as well as a strong inclination to study, had him removed
to Nutscelle, a seminary of learning in the diocese of Winchester,
where he would have a much greater opportunity of attaining improvements
than at Exeter.
After due study, the abbot seeing him qualified for the priesthood,
obliged him to receive that holy order when he was about thirty
years old. From which time he began to preach and labor for the
salvation of his fellow creatures; he was released to attend a
synod of bishops in the kingdom of West-Saxons. He afterwards,
in 719, went to Rome, where Gregory II who then sat in Peter's
chair, received him with great friendship, and finding him full
of all virtues that compose the character of an apostolic missionary,
dismissed him without commission at large to preach the Gospel
to the pagans wherever he found them. Passing through Lombardy
and Bavaria, he came to Thuringia, which country had before received
the light of the Gospel, he next visited Utrecht, and then proceeded
to Saxony, where he converted some thousands to Christianity.
During the ministry of this meek prelate, Pepin was declared king
of France. It was that prince's ambition to be crowned by the
most holy prelate he could find, and Boniface was pitched on to
perform that ceremony, which he did at Soissons, in 752. The
next year, his great age and many infirmities lay so heavy on
him, that, with the consent of the new king, and the bishops of
his diocese, he consecrated Lullus, his countryman, and faithful
disciple, and placed him in the see of Mentz. When he had thus
eased himself of his charge, he recommended the church of Mentz
to the care of the new bishop in very strong terms, desired he
would finish the church at Fuld, and see him buried in it, for
his end was near. Having left these orders, he took boat to the
Rhine, and went to Friesland, where he converted and baptized
several thousands of barbarous natives, demolished the temples,
and raised churches on the ruins of those superstitious structures.
A day being appointed for confirming a great number of new converts,
he ordered them to assemble in a new open plain, near the river
Bourde. Thither he repaired the day before; and, pitching a tent,
determined to remain on the spot all night, in order to be ready
early in the morning. Some pagans, who were his inveterate enemies,
having intelligence of this, poured down upon him and the companions
of his mission in the night, and killed him and fifty-two of his
companions and attendants on June 5, A.D. 755. Thus fell the
great father of the Germanic Church, the honor of England, and
the glory of the age in which he lived.
Forty-two persons of Armorian in Upper Phyrgia, were martyred
in the year 845, by the Saracens, the circumstances of which transactions
are as follows:
In the reign of Theophilus, the Saracens ravaged many parts of
the eastern empire, gained several considerable advantages over
the Christians, took the city of Armorian, and numbers suffered
Flora and Mary, two ladies of distinction, suffered martyrdom
at the same time.
Perfectus was born at Corduba, in Spain, and brought up in the
Christian faith. Having a quick genius, he made himself master
of all the useful and polite literature of that age; and at the
same time was not more celebrated for his abilities than admired
for his piety. At length he took priest's orders, and performed
the duties of his office with great assiduity and punctuality.
Publicly declaring Mahomet an impostor, he was sentenced to be
beheaded, and was accordingly executed, A.D. 850; after which
his body was honorably interred by the Christians.
Adalbert, bishop of Prague, a Bohemian by birth, after being involved
in many troubles, began to direct his thoughts to the conversion
of the infidels, to which end he repaired to Dantzic, where he
converted and baptized many, which so enraged the pagan priests,
that they fell upon him, and despatched him with darts, on April
23, A.D. 997.
Persecutions in the Eleventh Century
Alphage, archbishop of Canterbury, was descended from a considerable
family in Gloucestershire, and received an education suitable
to his illustrious birth. His parents were worthy Christians,
and Alphage seemed to inherit their virtues.
The see of Winchester being vacant by the death of Ethelwold,
Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, as primate of all England,
consecrated Alphage to the vacant bishopric, to the general satisfaction
of all concerned in the diocese.
Dustain had an extraordinary veneration for Alphage, and, when
at the point of death, made it his ardent request to God that
he might succeed him in the see of Canterbury; which accordingly
happened, though not until about eighteen years after Dunstan's
death in 1006.
After Alphage had governed the see of Canterbury about four years,
with great reputation to himself, and benefit to his people, the
Danes made an incursion into England, and laid siege to Canterbury.
When the design of attacking this city was known, many of the
principal people made a flight from it, and would have persuaded
Alphage to follow their example. But he, like a good pastor,
would not listen to such a proposal. While he was employed in
assisting and encouraging the people, Canterbury was taken by
storm; the enemy poured into the town, and destroyed all that
came in their way by fire and sword. He had the courage to address
the enemy, and offer himself to their swords, as more worthy of
their rage than the people: he begged they might be saved, and
that they would discharge their whole fury upon him. They accordingly
seized him, tied his hands, insulted and abused him in a rude
and barbarous manner, and obliged him to remain on the spot until
his church was burnt, and the monks massacred. They then decimated
all the inhabitants, both ecclesiastics and laymen, leaving only
every tenth person alive; so that they put 7236 persons to death,
and left only four monks and 800 laymen alive, after which they
confined the archbishop in a dungeon, where they kept him close
prisoner for several months.
During his confinement they proposed to him to redeem his liberty
with the sum of 3000 pounds, and to persuade the king to purchase
their departure out of the kingdom, with a further sum of 10,000
pounds. As Alphage's circumstances would not allow him to satisfy
the exorbitant demand, they bound him, and put him to severe torments,
to oblige him to discover the treasure of the church; upon which
they assured him of his life and liberty, but the prelate piously
persisted in refusing to give the pagans any account of it. They
remanded him to prison again, confined him six days longer, and
then, taking him prisoner with them to Greenwich, brought him
to trial there. He still remained inflexible with respect to
the church treasure; but exhorted them to forsake their idolatry,
and embrace Christianity. This so greatly incensed the Danes,
that the soldiers dragged him out of the camp and beat him unmercifully.
One of the soldiers, who had been converted by him, knowing that
his pains would be lingering, as his death was determined on,
actuated by a kind of barbarous compassion, cut off his head,
and thus put the finishing stroke to his martyrdom, April 19,
A.D. 1012. This transaction happened on the very spot where the
church at Greenwich, which is dedicated to him, now stands. After
his death his body was thrown into the Thames, but being found
the next day, it was buried in the cathedral of St. Paul's by
the bishops of London and Lincoln; from whence it was, in 1023,
removed to Canterbury by Ethelmoth, the archbishop of that province.
Gerard, a Venetian, devoted himself to the service of God from
his tender years: entered into a religious house for some time,
and then determined to visit the Holy Land. Going into Hungary,
he became acquainted with Stephen, the king of that country, who
made him bishop of Chonad.
Ouvo and Peter, successors of Stephen, being deposed, Andrew,
son of Ladislaus, cousin-german to Stephen, had then a tender
of the crown made him upon condition that he would employ his
authority in extirpating the Christian religion out of Hungary.
The ambitious prince came into the proposal, but Gerard being
informed of his impious bargain, thought it his duty to remonstrate
against the enormity of Andrew's crime, and persuade him to withdraw
his promise. In this view he undertook to go to that prince,
attended by three prelates, full of like zeal for religion. The
new king was at Alba Regalis, but, as the four bishops were going
to cross the Danube, they were stopped by a party of soldiers
posted there. They bore an attack of a shower of stones patiently,
when the soldiers beat them unmercifully, and at length despatched
them with lances. Their martyrdoms happened in the year 1045.
Stanislaus, bishop of Cracow, was descended from an illustrious
Polish family. The piety of his parents was equal to their opulence,
and the latter they rendered subservient to all the purposes of
charity and benevolence. Stanislaus remained for some time undetermined
whether he should embrace a monastic life, or engage among the
secular clergy. He was at length persuaded to the latter by Lambert
Zula, bishop of Cracow, who gave him holy orders, and made him
a canon of his cathedral. Lambert died on November 25, 1071,
when all concerned in the choice of a successor declared for Stanislaus,
and he succeeded to the prelacy.
Bolislaus, the second king of Poland, had, by nature, many good
qualities, but giving away to his passions, he ran into many enormities,
and at length had the appellation of Cruel bestowed upon him.
Stanislaus alone had the courage to tell him of his faults, when,
taking a private opportunity, he freely displayed to him the enormities
of his crimes. The king, greatly exasperated at his repeated
freedoms, at length determined, at any rate, to get the better
of a prelate who was so extremely faithful. Hearing one day that
the bishop was by himself, in the chapel of St. Michael, at a
small distance from the town, he despatched some soldiers to murder
him. The soldiers readily undertook the bloody task; but, when
they came into the presence of Stanislaus, the venerable aspect
of the prelate struck them with such awe that they could not perform
what they had promised. On their return, the king, finding that
they had not obeyed his orders, stormed at them violently, snatched
a dagger from one of them, and ran furiously to the chapel, where,
finding Stanislaus at the altar, he plunged the weapon into his
heart. The prelate immediately expired on May 8, A.D. 1079.