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To Fabian, Bishop of Antioch
(Eus., H. E. vi. 41, 42, and 44)
(1) The persecution did not begin amongst us with the Imperial edict; for it anticipated that by a whole year. And the prophet and poet of evil to this city, whoever he was,1313It looks as if Dionysius was afraid to mention his name. Perhaps it was Sabinus the Prefect. The word “poet” in Greek means properly “maker,” and there is evidently a double entendre in its use here. was beforehand in moving and exciting the heathen crowds against us, rekindling their zeal for the national superstitions. So they being aroused by him and availing themselves of all lawful authority for their unholy doings, conceived that the only piety, the proper worship of their gods was this—to thirst for our blood. First, then, they carried off an old man, Metras, and bade him utter impious words,1414i. e. against Christ (1 Cor. xii. 3). and when he refused they beat his body with sticks and stabbed his face and eyes with sharp bulrushes as they led him into the outskirts of the city and there stoned him. Then they led a believer named Quinta to the idol-house and tried to make her kneel down, and, when she turned away in disgust, they bound her by the feet and hauled her right through the city over the rough pavement, the big stones bruising her poor body, and at the same time beat her till they reached the same spot, and there stoned her. Thereupon they all with one 36 consent made a rush on the houses of the believers, and, falling each upon those whom they recognized as neighbours, plundered, harried and despoiled them, setting aside the more valuable of their possessions and casting out into the streets and burning the cheaper things and such as were made of wood, till they produced the appearance of a city devastated by the enemy. But the brethren gave way and submitted and accepted the plundering of their possessions with joy like unto those of whom Paul also testified.1515The reference is to Heb. x. 34. It will be noticed that Dionysius attributes this Epistle to S. Paul, either inadvertently or in accordance with the Alexandrine tradition, which Origen also accepts (Eus., H. E., vi. 25). And I know not if any, save possibly a single one who fell into their hands, up till now has denied the Lord.
Another notable case was that of the aged virgin Apollonia, whom they seized and knocked out all her teeth, striking her on the jaws: then they made a pyre before the city and threatened to burn her alive, if she would not join them in uttering blasphemies. But she asked for a brief respite, and being let go, suddenly leapt into the fire and was devoured by the flames. Sarapion, also, they caught in his own house, and after outraging him with cruel tortures and crushing all his limbs, they cast him headlong from the upper storey.
And we could go by no high road, thoroughfare, or byway, either by day or by night; for everywhere and always there was a constant cry that any one who did not utter words of blasphemy must be dragged off and burnt.
And this state of things prevailed for some time, till the revolution and civil war1616Viz. the revolt of Decius in Oct. 249. occupied the attention 37 of these unhappy men and turned on one another their fury against us. And so we had a short breathing space, as they found no leisure for raging against us: but very soon the overthrow of the ruler who had been not unfavourable to us1717i. e. Philip the Arabian, who was popularly supposed to be half a Christian. is announced, and our grave fears of being attacked are renewed. And, in fact, the edict arrived, which was itself almost to be compared with that foretold by the Lord, well-nigh the most terrible of all, so as to cause, if possible, even the elect to stumble.1818The reference is obviously to Matt. xxiv. 24 (Mark xiii. 22) though Dionysius has substituted “cause to stumble” (σκανδαλίσαι) for “cause to go astray” (πλανῆσαι or ἀποπλανᾶν). Nevertheless all were panic-stricken, and numbers at once of those who were in higher positions, some came forward in fear, and some who held public posts were led by their official duties; others, again, were brought in by those about them, and when their names were called, approached the impure and unholy sacrifices; pale and trembling in some cases as if they were not going to sacrifice but themselves become sacrifices and victims to the idols, so that they incurred ridicule from the large crowd that stood by, and proved themselves to be utter cowards both in regard to death and in regard to sacrificing, whilst others ran readily up to the altar, making it plain by their forwardness that they had not been Christians even before. About such the Lord’s prediction is most true that with difficulty shall they be saved.1919The reference is very loosely to Matt. xix. 23 and 25. And of the rest2020Viz. those who held no prominent position; the ordinary folk. some followed one or other of the above, while others fled or were captured: and of these last, again, some after going 38 as far as chains and imprisonment, and even after being immured several days in certain cases, still, before coming into court, forswore themselves; and others, even after enduring some amount of torment, failed at the last. But the steadfast and blessed pillars of the Lord,2121Cp. Gal. ii. 9. being strengthened by Him and receiving due and proportionate power and endurance for the mighty Faith that was in them, proved themselves admirable witnesses of His Kingdom.2222Cp. Acts xxviii. 23 and Rev. i. 9. Foremost among them was Julian, a sufferer from gout, unable to stand or walk; he was brought up with two others, who carried him, of whom the one straightway denied the Faith; the other, Cronion by name, but surnamed Eunous (well-disposed), and the old man Julian himself confessed the Lord and were conveyed on camel’s back, and scourged as they rode right through the city—big though it be, as ye know—and at last were burnt with fire unquenchable, whilst all the people stood round. And a soldier who stood by as they were carried along and protested against those who insulted them was denounced and brought up, to wit God’s brave warrior Besas, and after heroic conduct in the great war of piety was beheaded. And yet another, a Libyan by race, who rightly and happily was named Mauar (happy),2323There is evidently an allusion here to Matt. v. 11 and Luke vi. 22. though the judge urged him strongly to renounce the Faith, would not give in, and so was burnt alive. After them Epimachus and Alexander, when they had remained a long time in bonds and had endured endless tortures from the “claws”2424Viz. the ungulæ, with which the flesh was torn from the bones. and scourges, were also consumed 39 with fire unquenchable. And with them four2525Only three are mentioned in the text. women: Ammonarion, a holy virgin, though the judge tortured her vigorously for a long time because she had declared beforehand that she would say nothing that he bade her, kept true to her promise and was led off to punishment; and of the rest there was the aged and reverend Mercuria and Dionysia, who, though she had many children, did not love them above the Lord: these the Prefect was ashamed to go on torturing in vain and be beaten by women, and so they died by the sword without further tortures: for the brave Ammonarion had exhausted all their devices.
Then were delivered up three Egyptians: Heron, Ater and Isidore, and with them Dioscorus, a lad of about fifteen. And first of all the Prefect tried to cajole the stripling with words, thinking he could easily be won over, and then to force him by torments, thinking he would soon give in, but Dioscorus was neither persuaded nor forced. So the others he cruelly lacerated, and when they, too, stood firm, handed them over to the fire; but Dioscorus, who had distinguished himself in public and had answered his private questionings most wisely, he let off, saying that he granted him a reprieve for repenting, on account of his age. And now2626i. e. some time between 251, when persecution ended with the death of Decius, and 257, when Valerian revived it. the godly Dioscorus is still with us, having waited for his longer trial and his more determined conflict.
Another Egyptian, Nemesion, was falsely accused of being an associate of brigands, but being accused of that most untrue charge before the centurion, he was then denounced as a Christian and came in 40 chains before the Prefect.2727The first was a martial offence, the second a civil. And he having most unjustly maltreated him with twice as many tortures and stripes as the brigands had received, burnt him to death between them, being honoured, happy man, by the example of Christ.2828i. e. by being allowed to follow Christ’s example.
Again a whole quaternion of soldiers—Ammon, Zenon, Ptolemy and Ingenuus, and an old man, Theophilus, with them, were standing before the judgment seat, whilst some one was being tried for being a Christian, and when he showed signs of denying the Faith they were so provoked as they stood by, nodding their heads, and stretching out their hands and making gestures with their bodies, that they drew the general attention to themselves, and then, before any could seize them, they leapt upon the stand2929This was the catasta, or platform, which corresponded to our prisoner’s dock. of their own accord, saying they were Christians, so that the Prefect and his assessors were frightened, and those who were being judged seemed to take courage over what awaited them, and their judges lost heart. So these soldiers walked in brave procession from the court and rejoiced in their witness (martyrdom), God giving them a glorious triumph.3030Dionysius’s language recalls 2 Cor. ii. 14; Col. ii. 15 is different.
(2) And many others in the cities and villages were torn asunder by the heathen (Gentiles), one of which I will mention as an example. Ischyrion acted as steward to one of the authorities at a wage. His employer bade him sacrifice, ill-treated him when he refused, and on his persistence drove him forth with insults: when he still stood his ground, he took 41 a big stick and killed him by driving it through his vital parts. What need to mention the multitude of those who wandered in deserts and mountains3131Cf. Heb. xi. 38. consumed by hunger and thirst and cold and diseases and brigands and wild beasts? the survivors of whom bear witness to their election and victory.3232i. e. they showed themselves worthy of being among the elect. Of these, also, I will bring forward one instance by way of illustration. Chæremon was the aged Bishop of what is called Nilopolis. He fled to the Arabian hills3333A range of hills to the east of the Nile seems to have been so called. with his wife3434On the marriage of the clergy at this time, see Bingham, Antiq., IV, v. § 5. and never returned, nor were they ever seen again by the brethren, who made long search, but found neither them nor their bodies. And there were many who on those very Arabian hills were sold into slavery by the barbarian Saracens,3535This is probably the earliest extant mention of the Saracens—at least by that name. of whom some were with difficulty ransomed at high sums, and others even yet have not been ransomed. And these things I have described at length, brother, not without purpose, but in order that thou mightest know how many terrible things have taken place amongst us, of which those who have had more experience will know of more cases than I do.
Then shortly after he proceeds—
(3) Accordingly, the holy martyrs themselves, when still amongst us, who are now the assessors of Christ and partners of His Kingdom, sharing His judgments and decisions,3636The opinion that the martyrs passed at once to heaven and shared His throne was general among the early Fathers (see Matt. xix. 28 and 1 Cor. vi. 2, 3). espoused the cause of 42 certain of the fallen brethren who had incurred the charge of having done sacrifice, and seeing their conversion and repentance and approving it as fit to be accepted by Him who desireth not at all the death of the sinner so much as his repentance,3737Cp. Ezek. xviii. 23, xxxiii. 11, 2 Pet. iii. 9. received them, summoned them to assemblies, introduced them and admitted them to the prayers and feasts.3838These expressions are not to be pressed as if they assumed episcopal authority. What, then, do ye counsel us in these matters, brethren? What ought we to do? Shall we acquiesce and assent to them and maintain their decision and concession and treat kindly those to whom they have extended mercy? or shall we hold their judgment wrong and set ourselves up as critics of their decision and vex their kind hearts and reverse their arrangement?
[A further extract on the subject of the lapsed]
I will set out the following single example that happened amongst us. There was a certain aged believer amongst us, Sarapion, who had lived blamelessly for a long time but yielded to temptation. This man often begged to be restored, but no one heeded him; for he had sacrificed. But he fell ill, and for three days in succession he remained speechless and unconscious. Then recovering a little on the fourth day, he called to him his nephew and said: “How long, my child, do ye keep me back? hasten ye, I pray, and let me go speedily. Call thou one of the elders (presbyters).” After this he became speechless again. The boy ran for the elder, but it was night and he was ill and could not come. Now I had given instructions that if those who were 43 departing life asked and especially when they chanced to have made supplication even before, they should be absolved in order that they might depart in good hope; he gave the boy, therefore, a morsel of the Eucharist, bidding him moisten it and drop it into the old man’s mouth. The lad went back with it. When he drew near, before he entered, Sarapion revived again and said: “Hast come, child? The presbyter could not come, but do thou quickly what he bade thee, and let me go.” So the boy moistened it and dropped it into his mouth: and the other shortly after swallowing it straightway gave up the ghost. Was he not clearly sustained and kept alive until he was absolved that, with his sin wiped out, he might be acknowledged (by the Lord) for the many good things he had done?
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