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Under the Persecution of Decius

8. Decius’s reversal of his predecessor’s policy towards the Christians was probably due to reasons of state and expediency rather than, as Eusebius implies, to mere spite and hatred of Philip and all his ways. Anyhow, the severity of the Decian persecution is undoubted, and it fell with great force upon the Church at Alexandria. The Prefect of Egypt, Sabinus, lost no time in attacking Dionysius and his followers. Many endured tortures or death, or both. Dionysius himself, after waiting four days, fled and was sought for by a secret service messenger (frumentarius, see note on p. 43) sent by Sabinus. A brief search was sufficient to recover him, and he was carried off with four of his companions to Taposiris. But through a strange interposition of Providence (related on pp. 44 f.) he was rescued by a wedding party of rustic revellers and removed to a place of safety in the Libyan Desert, where he appears to have been left unmolested, with two of his four companions 14 (see pp. 64 ff.), till the persecution ceased and he was able to return to the city. In after days Dionysius’s action in fleeing on this occasion was violently attacked by a certain Bishop Germanus, who was perhaps one of his suffragans. Germanus boasted of his own much braver conduct under persecution. Dionysius in his reply (see especially pp. 43 and 45) maintains that it was not of his own will nor yet without divine intimation that he had fled, and that he had suffered far more than his critic for the Faith. Decius’s rule was brought to a calamitous end in 251, but Gallus, who succeeded him, continued his treatment of the Christians for another two years, when he, too, suffered an untimely fate.

9. For the next four years the Church of Alexandria enjoyed comparative rest and peace. In 253 Æmilianus33Not the Prefect of Egypt of that name mentioned by Dionysius on p. 46, though he did afterwards try to usurp the throne (see p. 16). the Governor of Pannonia and Mœsia, who had in that spring wrested the imperial power from Gallus, was in his turn, after four months’ rule, defeated by Valerian and his son Gallienus, and slain by the soldiery. The new Emperors (father and son) left the Christians alone during the first four years of their reign—a somewhat surprising fact, when it is considered that Valerian had been specially chosen to fill the office of “Censor,” which Decius had revived. It may in some measure have been due to what Archbishop Benson (Cyprian, p. 457) calls his “languid temperament” as well as to his son’s connexions with the Christians through his wife Cornelia Salonina.

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