FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS
The Ten Primitive Persecutions
The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 67
The first persecution of the Church took place in the year
67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned
for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself,
but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to
the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he
ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order
was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the
imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas,
played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and
openly declared that 'he wished the ruin of all things before his
death.' Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other
palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in
the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero,
finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium
cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians,
at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting
his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first
persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were
such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves.
Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of
punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination
could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of
wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and
others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees,
and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.
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
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
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 his religion."
A variety of fabricated tales were, during this reign,
composed in order to injure the Christians. Such was the
infatuation of the pagans, that, if famine, pestilence, or
earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces, it was laid
upon the Christians. These persecutions among the Christians
increased the number of informers and many, for the sake of gain,
swore away the lives of the innocent.
Another hardship was, that, when any Christians were brought
before the magistrates, a test oath was proposed, when, if they
refused to take it, death was pronounced against them; and if
they confessed themselves Christians, the sentence was the same.
The following were the most remarkable among the numerous
martyrs who suffered during this persecution.
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
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
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. 162
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
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
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
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
He kept a public school, taught many who afterward became
great men, and wrote a treatise to confuse heresies of all kinds.
As the pagans began to treat the Christians with great severity,
Justin wrote his first apology in their favor. This piece
displays great learning and genius, and occasioned the emperor to
publish an edict in favor of the Christians.
Soon after, he entered into frequent contests with Crescens,
a person of a vicious life and conversation, but a celebrated
cynic philosopher; and his arguments appeared so powerful, yet
disgusting to the cynic, that he resolved on, and in the sequel
accomplished, his destruction.
The second apology of Justin, upon certain severities, gave
Crescens the cynic an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor
against the writer of it; upon which Justin, and six of his
companions, were apprehended. Being commanded to sacrifice to
the pagan idols, they refused, and were condemned to be scourged,
and then beheaded; which sentence was executed with all
Several were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the image
of Jupiter; in particular Concordus, a deacon of the city of
Some of the restless northern nations having risen in arms
against Rome, the emperor marched to encounter them. He was,
however, drawn into an 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
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 was beheaded.
The persecutions now extending to Africa, many were martyred
in that quarter of the globe; the most particular of whom we
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, A.D. 222.
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 that province.
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 emperor.
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
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
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, soon after.
Andrew and Paul, two companions of Nichomachus, the martyr,
A.D. 251, suffered martyrdom by stoning, and expired, calling on
their blessed Redeemer.
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
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
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 hunger.
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 burnt.
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 sun.
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
Let us draw near to the fire of martyred Lawrence, that our
cold hearts may be warmed thereby. The merciless tyrant,
understanding him to be not only a minister of the sacraments,
but a distributor also of the Church riches, promised to himself
a double prey, by the apprehension of one soul. First, with the
rake of avarice to scrape to himself the treasure of poor
Christians; then with the fiery fork of tyranny, so to toss and
turmoil them, that they should wax weary of their profession.
With furious face and cruel countenance, the greedy wolf demanded
where this Lawrence had bestowed the substance of the Church:
who, craving three days' respite, promised to declare where the
treasure might be had. In the meantime, he caused a good number
of poor Christians to be congregated. So, when the day of his
answer was come, the persecutor strictly charged him to stand to
his promise. Then valiant Lawrence, stretching out his arms over
the poor, said: "These are the precious treasure of the Church;
these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ
reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place. What more
precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath
promised to dwell? For so it is written, 'I was an hungered, and
ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a
stranger, and ye took me in.' And again, 'Inasmuch as ye have
done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done
it unto me.' What greater riches can Christ our Master possess,
than the poor people in whom He loveth to be seen?"
O, what tongue is able to express the fury and madness of
the tyrant's heart! Now he stamped, he stared, he ramped, he
fared as one out of his wits: his eyes like fire glowed, his
mouth like a boar formed, his teeth like a hellhound grinned.
Now, not a reasonable man, but a roaring lion, he might be
"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.