« Severinus, monk of Noricum Severus, L. Septimius Severus, Aurelius Alexander »

Severus, L. Septimius

Severus (1), L. Septimius, emperor, born at Leptis in Tripoli in Apr. 146. His family were of equestrian rank, and two of his uncles had been consuls. His early life at Rome was a mixture of study and dissipation, his talents attracting the attention of M. Aurelius, who conferred various offices upon him. In one capacity or another he held office in nearly all the western provinces. In 193 he was in command of Pannonia and Illyricum. When the news arrived of the murder of Pertinax and the sale of the empire to Didius Julianus, it aroused great indignation in the Pannonian army, and Severus taking advantage of this feeling, got himself saluted emperor by them at Carnuntum in Apr. or May, and immediately marched on Rome. Julian was abandoned by the praetorians, and put to death by order of the senate on June 1 or 2. Severus left Rome after 30 days, to fight his most formidable rival Pescennius Niger, who had assumed the purple at Antioch a few days before himself, and overthrew him in 194. Albinus, who had assumed the title of emperor, was defeated and slain on Feb. 19, 197, in the plain of Trevoux near Lyons. In the autumn of 204 the secular games were celebrated with great magnificence for the last time. In 208 Severus set out for Britain, and marched through Caledonia to the extreme N., cutting down forests and making roads. He added a new rampart to the wall built by Hadrian from the Tyne to the Solway. He died at York on Feb. 4, 211. Of all emperors from Augustus to Diocletian, Severus was probably the man of greatest power. Crafty, ambitious, and unscrupulous, he allowed no considerations of humanity to stand in his way. Yet he did not delight in cruelty for its own sake, and any weakness on his part would have been fatal to himself and have plunged the Roman world again in the anarchy from which he had rescued it. Disorder and brigandage throughout the empire were put down with a firm hand. He was an adept in astrology and magic.

In the earlier part of his reign he favoured the Christians. He believed he had been cured of an illness by oil administered by a Christian named Proculus, whom till his death he maintained in the palace; and the nurse and some of the playmates of CARACALLA were Christians. No Christians took a prominent part on the side of Niger or Albinus, and it is even probable that those who tried to hold Byzantium for Niger ill-treated the Christians there during the siege. The number of councils held in the early years of Severus on the time of observing Easter proves that the church was then unmolested. The first change for the worse appears to have been at the emperor's entry into Rome, a.d. 197, after the defeat of Albinus. The Christians excited the fury of the mob by refusing to join in the rejoicings, an act they considered inconsistent with their religion. But Severus used his influence to protect Christian men and women of rank against the fury of the mob (ad Scap. 4). But in 202 he issued an edict forbidding future conversions to Judaism or Christianity (Vita Severi, 17). His motives are unknown. Probably, as a stern statesman of the old Roman school, he foresaw the peril to the national religion and the constitution of the state that lay in the active Christian propaganda, and though personally friendly to some among them, thought it time to check the further progress of the religio illicita.

Though the edict applied only to new converts, and catechumens were accordingly the greatest sufferers, yet there were numerous victims among the Christians of long standing. In the East, the Christians suffered most in Egypt, perhaps because the emperor had visited it immediately after the promulgation of his edict. So terrible was the outbreak that Judas, a Christian writer, made the 70 weeks of Daniel expire with the 10th year of Severus, and thought the advent of Antichrist at hand. Laetus the prefect and his successor Aquila were merciless enemies of the Christians, who were dragged from all parts of Egypt to their tribunal at Alexandria. Among the most notable martyrs was Leonidas, the father of Origen, who was only prevented by a stratagem of his mother from sharing his father's fate. By a strange inconsistency Origen was allowed to visit the martyrs in prison and to be present at their trial, and even to accompany them on their way to execution, apparently without being molested by the government, though several times in great danger from mob violence.

In Africa the persecution began with a violation of the cemeteries, and a bad harvest following, the rage of the people against the Christians increased (ad Scap. 3). [SCILLITAN MARTYRS.] In the spring of 203, under Hilarianus the procurator, who had assumed the government on the death of the proconsul, the famous group of martyrs among whom St. Perpetua was most conspicuous, suffered. Yet here again we find the same inconsistency as at Alexandria. Deacons were allowed to visit the imprisoned Christians, unmolested, to alleviate their sufferings, and even to procure their removal to a better part of the prison. In 205 or 206, under the milder government of Julius Asper, the persecution seems to have abated, after raging for 3 years (de Pallio, 3). Many Christians had sought refuge in flight, while others tried to escape by bribing the Roman officials, and in some cases the Christian community as a whole seems to have done so. These subterfuges were regarded with scorn and abhorrence by the more enthusiastic, but no trace is to be found of the Libellatici so notorious in later persecutions. The abatement seems to have continued till near the close of the reign, but in 210 and 211 the persecution broke out again in its sharpest form under the proconsul Scapula and extended to Mauritania. There the sword was the instrument of execution, whilst the cruel Scapula burnt his victims alive or flung them to the wild beasts of the amphitheatre.

Of persecution in other parts of the empire we have only a few isolated notices. The aged Irenaeus and his companions suffered at Lyons in this reign, but no details are preserved, and even the date is uncertain. In Syria, Asclepiades, afterwards bp. of Antioch, was a confessor (Eus. H. E. vi. 11). Cruel as 893it was, and severer than any previous one, the persecution under Severus had not the systematic character of those of Decius and Diocletian. Except Irenaeus, no bishops or prominent members seem to have been executed; many, like Tertullian and Origen, who might have been thought certain victims, were unmolested, and the resolution of the martyrs under their sufferings caused many conversions. Eus. H. E. vi. 1–12; Tillem. Mém. eccl. iii.; Görres, in Jahrbücher für Protest. Theol. 1878, 273; for Africa in particular, Tertullian, Apologeticus; ad Martyres; ad Nationes; ad Scapulam; de Fuga; de Corona Militis; Aubé, Revue historique, xi. 241.

[F.D.]

« Severinus, monk of Noricum Severus, L. Septimius Severus, Aurelius Alexander »





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