"Semen est sanguis Christianorum."—Tertullian.




 § 12. Literature.


I. Sources:


Eusebius: H. E., particularly Lib. viii. and ix.

Lactantius: De Mortibus persecutorum.

The Apologies of Justin Martyr, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and Origen, and the Epistles of Cyprian.

Theod. Ruinart: Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta. Par. 1689; 2nd ed. Amstel. 1713 (covering the first four cent.).

Several biographies in the Acta Sanctorum. Antw. 1643 sqq.

Les Acts des martyrs depuis l’origine de l’église Chrétienne jusqu’à nos temps. Traduits et publiés par les R. R. P. P bénédictins de la congreg. de France. Par. 1857 sqq.

The Martyrol. Hieronymianum (ed. Florentini, Luc. 1668, and in Migne’s Patrol. Lat. Opp. Hieron. xi. 434 sqq.); the Martyrol. Romanum (ed. Baron. 1586), the Menolog. Graec. (ed. Urbini, 1727); De Rossi, Roller, and other works on the Roman Catacombs.


II. Works.


John Foxe (or Fox, d. 1587): Acts and Monuments of the Church (commonly called Book of Martyrs), first pub. at Strasburg 1554, and Basle 1559; first complete ed. fol. London 1563; 9th ed. fol. 1684, 3 vols. fol.; best ed. by G. Townsend, Lond. 1843, 8 vols. 8o.; also many abridged editions. Foxe exhibits the entire history of Christian martyrdom, including the Protestant martyrs of the middle age and the sixteenth century, with polemical reference to the church of Rome as the successor of heathen Rome in the work of blood persecution. "The Ten Roman persecutions" are related in the first volume.

Kortholdt: De persecutionibus eccl. primcevae. Kiel, 1629.

Gibbon: chap. xvi.

Münter: Die Christen im heidnischen Hause vor Constantin. Copenh. 1828.

Schumann Von Mansegg (R.C.): Die Verfolgungen der ersten christlichen Kirche. Vienna, 1821.

W. Ad. Schmidt: Geschichte der Denk u. Glaubensfreiheit im ersten Jahrhundert der Kaiserherrschaft und des Christenthums. Berl. 1847.

Kritzler: Die Heldenzeiten des Christenthums. Vol. i. Der Kampf mit dem Heidthum. Leipz. 1856.

Fr. W. Gass: Das christl. Märtyrerthum in den ersten Jahrhunderten. 1859–60 (in Niedner’s "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol." for 1859, pp. 323–392, and 1860, pp. 315–381).

F. Overbeck: Gesetze der röm. Kaiser gegen die Christen, in his Studien zur Gesch. der alten Kirche, I. Chemn. 1875.

B. Aubé: Histoire des persécutions de l’église jusqu’ à la fin des Antonins. 2nd ed. Paris 1875 (Crowned by the Académie française). By the same: Histoire des persécutions de l’église, La polémique paÿenne à la fin du II. siècle, 1878. Les Chréstiens dans l’empire romain, de la fin des Antonins au milieu du IIIe siécle (180–249), 1881.  L’église et L’état dans la seconde moitié du IIIe siécle, 1886.

K. Wieseler: Die Christenverfolgungen der Cäsaren, Hist. und chronol. untersucht. Gütersloh, 1878.

Gerh. Uhlhorn: Der Kampf des Christenthums mit dem Heidenthum. 3d ed. Stuttgart, 1879. Engl. transl. by Smyth & Ropes, 1879.

Theod. Keim: Rom und das Christenthum. Berlin, 1881.

E. Renan: Marc-Aurèle. Paris, 1882, pp. 53–69.


 § 13. General Survey.


The persecutions of Christianity during the first three centuries appear like a long tragedy: first, foreboding signs; then a succession of bloody assaults of heathenism upon the religion of the cross; amidst the dark scenes of fiendish hatred and cruelty the bright exhibitions of suffering virtue; now and then a short pause; at last a fearful and desperate struggle of the old pagan empire for life and death, ending in the abiding victory of the Christian religion. Thus this bloody baptism of the church resulted in the birth of a Christian world. It was a repetition and prolongation of the crucifixion, but followed by a resurrection.

Our Lord had predicted this conflict, and prepared His disciples for it. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. They will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for My sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. And brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child: and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved." These, and similar words, as well as the recollection of the crucifixion and resurrection, fortified and cheered many a confessor and martyr in the dungeon and at the stake.

The persecutions proceeded first from the Jews, afterwards from the Gentiles, and continued, with interruptions, for nearly three hundred years. History reports no mightier, longer and deadlier conflict than this war of extermination waged by heathen Rome against defenseless Christianity. It was a most unequal struggle, a struggle of the sword and of the cross; carnal power all on one side, moral power all on the other. It was a struggle for life and death. One or the other of the combatants must succumb. A compromise was impossible. The future of the world’s history depended on the downfall of heathenism and the triumph of Christianity. Behind the scene were the powers of the invisible world, God and the prince of darkness. Justin, Tertullian, and other confessors traced the persecutions to Satan and the demons, though they did not ignore the human and moral aspects; they viewed them also as a punishment for past sins, and a school of Christian virtue. Some denied that martyrdom was an evil, since it only brought Christians the sooner to God and the glory of heaven. As war brings out the heroic qualities of men, so did the persecutions develop the patience, the gentleness, the endurance of the Christians, and prove the world-conquering power of faith.


Number of Persecutions.


From the fifth century it has been customary to reckon ten great persecutions: under Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Maximinus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian.12  This number was suggested by the ten plagues of Egypt taken as types (which, however, befell the enemies of Israel, and present a contrast rather than a parallel), and by the ten horns of the Roman beast making war with the Lamb, taken for so many emperors.13  But the number is too great for the general persecutions, and too small for the provincial and local. Only two imperial persecutions—those, of Decius and Diocletian—extended over the empire; but Christianity was always an illegal religion from Trajan to Constantine, and subject to annoyance and violence everywhere.14 Some persecuting emperors—Nero, Domitian, Galerius, were monstrous tyrants, but others—Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Decius, Diocletian—were among the best and most energetic emperors, and were prompted not so much by hatred of Christianity as by zeal for the maintenance of the laws and the power of the government. On the other hand, some of the most worthless emperors—Commodus, Caracalla, and Heliogabalus—were rather favorable to the Christians from sheer caprice. All were equally ignorant of the true character of the new religion.


The Result.


The long and bloody war of heathen Rome against the church, which is built upon a rock, utterly failed. It began in Rome under Nero, it ended near Rome at the Milvian bridge, under Constantine. Aiming to exterminate, it purified. It called forth the virtues of Christian heroism, and resulted in the consolidation and triumph of the new religion. The philosophy of persecution is best expressed by the terse word of Tertullian, who lived in the midst of them, but did not see the end: "The blood of the Christians is the seed of the Church."


Religious Freedom.


The blood of persecution is also the seed of civil and religious liberty. All sects, schools, and parties, whether religious or political, when persecuted, complain of injustice and plead for toleration; but few practise it when in power. The reason of this inconsistency lies in the selfishness of human nature, and in mistaken zeal for what it believes to be true and right. Liberty is of very slow, but sure growth.

The ancient world of Greece and Rome generally was based upon the absolutism of the state, which mercilessly trampled under foot the individual rights of men. It is Christianity which taught and acknowledged them.

The Christian apologists first proclaimed, however imperfectly, the principle of freedom of religion, and the sacred rights of conscience. Tertullian, in prophetic anticipation as it were of the modern Protestant theory, boldly tells the heathen that everybody has a natural and inalienable right to worship God according to his conviction, that all compulsion in matters of conscience is contrary to the very nature of religion, and that no form of worship has any value whatever except as far as it is a free voluntary homage of the heart.15

Similar views in favor of religious liberty were expressed by Justin Martyr,16 and at the close of our period by Lactantius, who says: "Religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried on by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected. Torture and piety are widely different; nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with cruelty. Nothing is so much a matter of free will as religion."17

The Church, after its triumph over paganism, forgot this lesson, and for many centuries treated all Christian heretics, as well as Jews and Gentiles, just as the old Romans had treated the Christians, without distinction of creed or sect. Every state-church from the times of the Christian emperors of Constantinople to the times of the Russian Czars and the South American Republics, has more or less persecuted the dissenters, in direct violation of the principles and practice of Christ and the apostles, and in carnal misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the kingdom of heaven.


 § 14. Jewish Persecution.




I. Dio Cassius: Hist. Rom. LXVIII. 32; LXIX. 12–14; Justin M.: Apol. I. 31, 47; Eusebius: H. Eccl. IV. 2. and 6. Rabbinical traditions in Derenbourg: Histoire de la Palestine depuis Cyrus jusqu’à Adrien (Paris 1867), pp. 402–438.

II. Fr. Münter.: Der Judische Krieg unter Trajan u. Hadrian. Altona and Leipz. 1821.

Deyling: Aeliae Capitol. origines et historiae. Lips. 1743.

Ewald: Gesch. des Volkes Israel, VII. 373–432.

Milman: History of the Jews, Books 18 and 20.

Grätz: Gesch. der Juden. Vol. IV. (Leipz. 1866).

Schürer: Neutestam. Zeitgeschichte (1874), pp. 350–367.


The Jews had displayed their obstinate unbelief and bitter hatred of the gospel in the crucifixion of Christ, the stoning of Stephen, the execution of James the Elder, the repeated incarceration as of Peter and John, the wild rage against Paul, and the murder of James the Just. No wonder that the fearful judgment of God at last visited this ingratitude upon them in the destruction of the holy city and the temple, from which the Christians found refuge in Pella.

But this tragical fate could break only the national power of the Jews, not their hatred of Christianity. They caused the death of Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem (107); they were particularly active in the burning of Polycarp of Smyrna; and they inflamed the violence of the Gentiles by eliminating the sect of the Nazarenes.


The Rebellion under Bar-Cochba. Jerusalem again Destroyed.


By severe oppression under Trajan and Hadrian, the prohibition of circumcision, and the desecration of Jerusalem by the idolatry of the pagans, the Jews were provoked to a new and powerful insurrection (a.d. 132–135). A pseudo-Messiah, Bar-Cochba (son of the stars, Num. 24:17), afterwards called Bar-Cosiba (son of falsehood), put himself at the head of the rebels, and caused all the Christians who would not join him to be most cruelly murdered. But the false prophet was defeated by Hadrian’s general in 135, more than half a million of Jews were slaughtered after a desperate resistance, immense numbers sold into slavery, 985 villages and 50 fortresses levelled to the ground, nearly all Palestine laid waste, Jerusalem again destroyed, and a Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina, erected on its ruins, with an image of Jupiter and a temple of Venus. The coins of Aelia Capitolina bear the images of Jupiter Capitolinus, Bacchus, Serapis, Astarte.

Thus the native soil of the venerable religion of the Old Testament was ploughed up, and idolatry planted on it. The Jews were forbidden to visit the holy spot of their former metropolis upon pain of death.18  Only on the anniversary of the destruction were they allowed to behold and bewail it from a distance. The prohibition was continued under Christian emperors to their disgrace. Julian the Apostate, from hatred of the Christians, allowed and encouraged them to rebuild the temple, but in vain. Jerome, who spent the rest of his life in monastic retirement at Bethlehem (d. 419), informs us in pathetic words that in his day old Jewish men and women, "in corporibus et in habitu suo iram a Domini demonstrantes," had to buy from the Roman watch the privilege of weeping and lamenting over the ruins from mount Olivet in sight of the cross, "ut qui quondam emerant sanguinem Christi, emant lacrymas suas, et ne fletus quidem i eis gratuitus sit."19 The same sad privilege the Jews now enjoy under Turkish rule, not only once a year, but every Friday beneath the very walls of the Temple, now replaced by the Mosque of Omar.20


The Talmud.


After this the Jews had no opportunity for any further independent persecution of the Christians. Yet they continued to circulate horrible calumnies on Jesus and his followers. Their learned schools at Tiberias and Babylon nourished this bitter hostility. The Talmud, i.e. Doctrine, of which the first part (the Mishna, i.e. Repetition) was composed towards the end of the second century, and the second part (the Gemara, i.e. Completion) in the fourth century, well represents the Judaism of its day, stiff, traditional, stagnant, and anti-Christian. Subsequently the Jerusalem Talmud was eclipsed by the Babylonian (430–521), which is four times larger, and a still more distinct expression of Rabbinism. The terrible imprecation on apostates (pratio haereticorum), designed to deter Jews from going over to the Christian faith, comes from the second century, and is stated by the Talmud to have been composed at Jafna, where the Sanhedrin at that time had its seat, by the younger Rabbi Gamaliel.

The Talmud is the slow growth of several centuries. It is a chaos of Jewish learning, wisdom, and folly, a continent of rubbish, with hidden pearls of true maxims and poetic parables. Delitzsch calls it "a vast debating club, in which there hum confusedly the myriad voices of at least five centuries, a unique code of laws, in comparison with which the law-books of all other nations are but lilliputian." It is the Old Testament misinterpreted and turned against the New, in fact, though not in form. It is a rabbinical Bible without inspiration, without the Messiah, without hope. It shares the tenacity of the Jewish race, and, like it, continues involuntarily to bear testimony to the truth of Christianity. A distinguished historian, on being asked what is the best argument for Christianity, promptly replied: the Jews.21

Unfortunately this people, still remarkable even in its tragical end, was in many ways cruelly oppressed and persecuted by the Christians after Constantine, and thereby only confirmed in its fanatical hatred of them. The hostile legislation began with the prohibition of the circumcision of Christian slaves, and the intermarriage between Jews and Christians, and proceeded already in the fifth century to the exclusion of the Jews from all civil and political rights in Christian states. Even our enlightened age has witnessed the humiliating spectacle of a cruel Judenhetze in Germany and still more in Russia (1881). But through all changes of fortune God has preserved this ancient race as a living monument of his justice and his mercy; and he will undoubtedly assign it an important part in the consummation of his kingdom at the second coming of Christ.


 § 15. Causes of Roman Persecution.


The policy of the Roman government, the fanaticism of the superstitious people, and the self-interest of the pagan priests conspired for the persecution of a religion which threatened to demolish the tottering fabric of idolatry; and they left no expedients of legislation, of violence, of craft, and of wickedness untried, to blot it from the earth.

To glance first at the relation of the Roman state to the Christian religion.


Roman Toleration.


The policy of imperial Rome was in a measure tolerant. It was repressive, but not preventive. Freedom of thought was not checked by a censorship, education was left untrammelled to be arranged between the teacher and the learner. The armies were quartered on the frontiers as a protection of the empire, not employed at home as instruments of oppression, and the people were diverted from public affairs and political discontent by public amusements. The ancient religions of the conquered races were tolerated as far as they did not interfere with the interests of the state. The Jews enjoyed special protection since the time of Julius Caesar.

Now so long as Christianity was regarded by the Romans as a mere sect of Judaism, it shared the hatred and contempt, indeed, but also the legal protection bestowed on that ancient national religion. Providence had so ordered it that Christianity had already taken root in the leading cities of the empire before, its true character was understood. Paul had carried it, under the protection of his Roman citizenship, to the ends of the empire, and the Roman proconsul at Corinth refused to interfere with his activity on the ground that it was an internal question of the Jews, which did not belong to his tribunal. The heathen statesmen and authors, even down to the age of Trajan, including the historian Tacitus and the younger Pliny, considered the Christian religion as a vulgar superstition, hardly worthy of their notice.

But it was far too important a phenomenon, and made far too rapid progress to be long thus ignored or despised. So soon as it was understood as a new religion, and as, in fact, claiming universal validity and acceptance, it was set down as unlawful and treasonable, a religio illicita; and it was the constant reproach of the Christians: "You have no right to exist."22


Roman Intolerance.


We need not be surprised at this position. For with all its professed and actual tolerance the Roman state was thoroughly interwoven with heathen idolatry, and made religion a tool of itspolicy. Ancient history furnishes no example of a state without some religion and form of worship. Rome makes no exception to the general rule. "The Romano-Hellenic state religion" (says Mommsen), "and the Stoic state-philosophy inseparably combined with it were not merely a convenient instrument for every government—oligarchy, democracy, or monarchy—but altogether indispensable, because it was just as impossible to construct the state wholly without religious elements as to discover any new state religion adapted to form a substitute for the old."23

The piety of Romulus and Numa was believed to have laid the foundation of the power of Rome. To the favor of the deities of the republic, the brilliant success of the Roman arms was attributed. The priests and Vestal virgins were supported out of the public treasury. The emperor was ex-officio the pontifex maximus, and even an object of divine worship. The gods were national; and the eagle of Jupiter Capitolinus moved as a good genius before the world-conquering legions. Cicero lays down as a principle of legislation, that no one should be allowed to worship foreign gods, unless they were recognized by public statute.24  Maecenas counselled Augustus: "Honor the gods according to the custom of our ancestors, and compel25 others to worship them. Hate and punish those who bring in strange gods."

It is true, indeed, that individuals in Greece and Rome enjoyed an almost unlimited liberty for expressing sceptical and even impious sentiments in conversation, in books and on the stage. We need only refer to the works of Aristophanes, Lucian, Lucretius, Plautus, Terence. But a sharp distinction was made then, as often since by Christian governments, between liberty of private thought and conscience, which is inalienable and beyond the reach of legislation, and between the liberty of public worship, although the latter is only the legitimate consequence of the former. Besides, wherever religion is a matter of state-legislation and compulsion, there is almost invariably a great deal of hypocrisy and infidelity among the educated classes, however often it may conform outwardly, from policy, interest or habit, to the forms and legal acquirements of the established creed.

The senate and emperor, by special edicts, usually allowed conquered nations the free practice of their worship even in Rome; not, however, from regard for the sacred rights of conscience, but merely from policy, and with the express prohibition of making proselytes from the state religion; hence severe laws were published from time to time against transition to Judaism.


Obstacles to the Toleration of Christianity.


To Christianity, appearing not as a national religion, but claiming to be the only true universal one making its converts among every people and every sect, attracting Greeks and Romans in much larger numbers than Jews, refusing to compromise with any form of idolatry, and threatening in fact the very existence of the Roman state religion, even this limited toleration could not be granted. The same all-absorbing political interest of Rome dictated here the opposite course, and Tertullian is hardly just in changing the Romans with inconsistency for tolerating the worship of all false gods, from whom they had nothing to fear, and yet prohibiting the worship of the only true God who is Lord over all.26  Born under Augustus, and crucified under Tiberius at the sentence of the Roman magistrate, Christ stood as the founder of a spiritual universal empire at the head of the most important epoch of the Roman power, a rival not to be endured. The reign of Constantine subsequently showed that the free toleration of Christianity was the death-blow to the Roman state religion.

Then, too, the conscientious refusal of the Christians to pay divine honors to the emperor and his statue, and to take part in any idolatrous ceremonies at public festivities, their aversion to the imperial military service, their disregard for politics and depreciation of all civil and temporal affairs as compared with the spiritual and eternal interests of man, their close brotherly union and frequent meetings, drew upon them the suspicion of hostility to the Caesars and the Roman people, and the unpardonable crime of conspiracy against the state.27

The common people also, with their polytheistic ideas, abhorred the believers in the one God as atheists and enemies of the gods. They readily gave credit to the slanderous rumors of all sorts of abominations, even incest and cannibalism, practised by the Christians at their religious assemblies and love-feasts, and regarded the frequent public calamities of that age as punishments justly inflicted by the angry gods for the disregard of their worship. In North Africa arose the proverb: "If God does not send rain, lay it to the Christians." At every inundation, or drought, or famine, or pestilence, the fanatical populace cried: "Away with the atheists!  To the lions with the Christians!"

Finally, persecutions were sometimes started by priests, jugglers, artificers, merchants, and others, who derived their support from the idolatrous worship. These, like Demetrius at Ephesus, and the masters of the sorceress at Philippi, kindled the fanaticism and indignation of the mob against the new religion for its interference with their gains.28


 § 16. Condition of the Church before the Reign of Trajan.


The imperial persecutions before Trajan belong to the Apostolic age, and have been already described in the first volume. We allude to them here only for the sake of the connection. Christ was born under the first, and crucified under the second Roman emperor. Tiberius (a.d. 14–37) is reported to have been frightened by Pilate’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection, and to have proposed to the senate, without success, the enrollment of Christ among the Roman deities; but this rests only on the questionable authority of Tertullian. The edict of Claudius (42–54) in the year 53, which banished the Jews from Rome, fell also upon the Christians, but as Jews with whom they were confounded. The fiendish persecution of Nero (54–68) was intended as a punishment, not for Christianity, but for alleged incendiarism (64). It showed, however, the popular temper, and was a declaration of war against the new religion. It became a common saying among Christians that Nero would reappear as Antichrist.

During the rapidly succeeding reigns of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespacian, and Titus, the church, so far as we know, suffered no very serious persecution.

But Domitian (81–96), a suspicious and blasphemous tyrant, accustomed to call himself and to be called "Lord and God," treated the embracing of Christianity a crime against the state, and condemned to death many Christians, even his own cousin, the consul Flavius Clemens, on the charge of atheism; or confiscated their property, and sent them, as in the case of Domitilia, the wife of the Clemens just mentioned, into exile. His jealousy also led him to destroy the surviving descendants of David; and he brought from Palestine to Rome two kinsmen of Jesus, grandsons of Judas, the "brother of the Lord," but seeing their poverty and rustic simplicity, and hearing their explanation of the kingdom of Christ as not earthly, but heavenly, to be established by the Lord at the end of the world, when He should come to judge the quick and the dead, he let them go. Tradition (in Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome) assigns to the reign of Domitian the banishment of John to Patmos (which, however, must be assigned to the reign of Nero), together with his miraculous preservation from death in Rome (attested by Tertullian), and the martyrdom of Andrew, Mark, Onesimus, and Dionysius the Areopagite. The Martyrium of Ignatius speaks of "many persecutions under Domitian."

His humane and justice-loving successor, Nerva (96–98), recalled the banished, and refused to treat the confession of Christianity as a political crime, though he did not recognise the new religion as a religio licita.


 § 17. Trajan. a.d. 98–117—Christianity Forbidden—Martyrdom of Symeon of Jerusalem, and Ignatius of Antioch.


I. Sources.


Plinius, jun.: Epist. x. 96 and 97 (al. 97 sq.). Tertullian: Apol. c. 2; Eusebius: H. E. III. 11, 32, 33, 36. Chron. pasch. p. 470 (ed. Bonn.).

Acta Martyrii Ignatii, in Ruinart, p. 8 sqq.; recent edd. by Theod. Zahn, in Patrum Apost. Opera (Lips. 1876), vol. II. pp. 301 sqq.; FUNK, Opera Patr. Apost., vol. I. 254–265; II. 218–275; and Lightfoot: S. Ignatius and S. Polyc., II. 1, 473–570.


II. Works.


On Trajan’s reign in general see Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs; Merivale, History of the Romans under the Empire.

On Ignatius: Theod. Zahn: Ignatius von Antiochien. Gotha 1873 (631 pages). Lightfoot: S. Ignatius and S. Polyc., London 1885, 2 vols.

On the chronology: Adolph Harnack: Die Zeit des Ignatius. Leipzig, 1878 (90 pages); Comp. Keim, l.c. 510–562; but especially Lighfoot, l.c. II. 1, 390 sqq.

The Epistles of Ignatius will be discussed in chapter XIII. on ecclesiastical literature, §164 and 165.


Trajan, one of the best and most praiseworthy emperors, honored as the "father of his country," but, like his friends, Tacitus and Pliny, wholly ignorant of the nature of Christianity, was the first to pronounce it in form a proscribed religion, as it had been all along in fact. He revived the rigid laws against all secret societies,29 and the provincial officers applied them to the Christians, on account of their frequent meetings for worship. His decision regulated the governmental treatment of the Christians for more than a century . It is embodied in his correspondence with the younger Pliny, who was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor from 109 to 111.

Pliny came in official contact with the Christians. He himself saw in that religion only a "depraved and immoderate superstition," and could hardly account for its popularity. He reported to the emperor that this superstition was constantly spreading, not only in the cities, but also in the villages of Asia Minor, and captivated people of every age, rank, and sex, so that the temples were almost forsaken, and the sacrificial victims found no sale. To stop this progress, he condemned many Christians to death, and sent others, who were Roman citizens, to the imperial tribunal. But he requested of the emperor further instructions, whether, in these efforts, he should have respect to age; whether he should treat the mere bearing of the Christian name as a crime, if there were no other offence.

To these inquiries Trajan replied: "You have adopted the right course, my friend, with regard to the Christians; for no universal rule, to be applied to all cases, can be laid down in this matter. They should not be searched for; but when accused and convicted, they should be punished; yet if any one denies that be has been a Christian, and proves it by action, namely, by worshipping our gods, he is to be pardoned upon his repentance, even though suspicion may still cleave to him from his antecedents. But anonymous accusations must not be admitted in any criminal process; it sets a bad example, and is contrary to our age" (i.e. to the spirit of Trajan’s government).

This decision was much milder than might have been expected from a heathen emperor of the old Roman stamp. Tertullian charges it with self-contradiction, as both cruel and lenient, forbidding the search for Christians and yet commanding their punishment, thus declaring them innocent and guilty at the same time. But the emperor evidently proceeded on political principles, and thought that a transient and contagious enthusiasm, as Christianity in his judgment was, could be suppressed sooner by leaving it unnoticed, than by openly assailing it. He wished to ignore it as much as possible. But every day it forced itself more and more upon public attention, as it spread with the irresistible power of truth.

This rescript might give occasion, according to the sentiment of governors, for extreme severity towards Christianity as a secret union and a religio illicita. Even the humane Pliny tells us that he applied the rack to tender women. Syria and Palestine suffered heavy persecutions in this reign.

Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem, and, like his predecessor James, a kinsman of Jesus, was accused by fanatical Jews, and crucified a.d. 107, at the age of a hundred and twenty years.

In the same year (or probably between 110 and 116) the distinguished bishop Ignatius of Antioch was condemned to death, transported to Rome, and thrown before wild beasts in the Colosseum. The story of his martyrdom has no doubt been much embellished, but it must have some foundation in fact, and is characteristic of the legendary martyrology of the ancient church.

Our knowledge of Ignatius is derived from his disputed epistles,30 and a few short notices by Irenaeus and Origen. While his existence, his position in the early Church, and his martyrdom are admitted, everything else about him is called in question. How many epistles he wrote, and when he wrote them, how much truth there is in the account of his martyrdom, and when it took place, when it was written up, and by whom—all are undecided, and the subject of protracted controversy. He was, according to tradition, a pupil of the Apostle John, and by his piety so commended himself to the Christians in Antioch that he was chosen bishop, the second after Peter, Euodius being, the first. But although he was a man of apostolic character and governed the church with great care, he was personally not satisfied, until he should be counted worthy of sealing his testimony with his blood, and thereby attaining to the highest seat of honor. The coveted crown came to him at last and his eager and morbid desire for martyrdom was gratified. The emperor Trajan, in 107, came to Antioch, and there threatened with persecution all who refused to sacrifice to the gods. Ignatius was tried for this offence, and proudly confessed himself a "Theophorus" ("bearer of God") because, as he said, he had Christ within his breast. Trajan condemned him to be thrown to the lions at Rome. The sentence was executed with all haste. Ignatius was immediately bound in chains, and taken over land and sea, accompanied by ten soldiers, whom he denominated his "leopards," from Antioch to Seleucia, to Smyrna, where he met Polycarp, and whence be wrote to the churches, particularly to that in Rome; to Troas, to Neapolis, through Macedonia to Epirus, and so over the Adriatic to Rome. He was received by the Christians there with every manifestation of respect, but would not allow them to avert or even to delay his martyrdom. It was on the 20th day of December, 107, that he was thrown into the amphitheater: immediately the wild beasts fell upon him, and soon naught remained of his body but a few bones, which were carefully conveyed to Antioch as an inestimable treasure. The faithful friends who had accompanied him from home dreamed that night that they saw him; some that he was standing by Christ, dropping with sweat as if he had just come from his great labor. Comforted by these dreams they returned with the relics to Antioch.


Note on the Date of the Martyrdom of Ignatius.


The date a.d.107 has in its favor the common reading of the best of the martyrologies of Ignatius (Colbertium) ejnnavtw/ e[tei, in the ninth year, i.e. from Trajan’s accession, a.d. 98. From this there is no good reason to depart in favor of another reading tevtarton e[to", the nineteenth year, i.e. a.d. 116. Jerome makes the date a.d. 109. The fact that the names of the Roman consuls are correctly given in the Martyrium Colbertinum, is proof of the correctness of the date, which is accepted by such critics as Ussher, Tillemont, Möhler, Hefele, and Wieseler. The latter, in his work Die Christenverfolgungen der Caesaren, 1878, pp. 125 sqq., finds confirmation of this date in Eusebius’s statement that the martyrdom took place before Trajan came to Antioch, which was in his 10th year; in the short interval between the martyrdom of Ignatius and Symeon, son of Klopas (Hist. Ecc. III. 32); and finally, in the letter of Tiberian to Trajan, relating how many pressed forward to martyrdom—an effect, as Wieseler thinks, of the example of Ignatius. If 107 be accepted, then another supposition of Wieseler is probable. It is well known that in that year Trajan held an extraordinary triumph on account of his Dacian victories: may it not have been that the blood of Ignatius reddened the sand of the amphitheatre at that time?

But 107 a.d. is by no means universally accepted. Keim (Rom und das Christenthum, p. 540) finds the Martyrium Colbertinum wrong in stating that the death took place under the first consulate of Sura and the second of Senecio, because in 107 Sura was consul for the third and Senecio for the fourth time. He also objects that Trajan was not in Antioch in 107, but in 115, on his way to attack the Armenians and Parthians. But this latter objection falls to the ground if Ignatius was not tried by Trajan personally in Antioch. Harnack concludes that it is only barely possible that Ignatius was martyred under Trajan. Lightfoot assigns the martyrdom to between 110 and 118.


 § 18. Hadrian. a.d. 117–138.


See Gregorovius: Gesch. Hadrians und seiner Zeit (1851); Renan: L’E’glise, chrétienne (1879), 1–44, and Wagenmann in Herzog, vol. v. 501–506.


Hadrian, of Spanish descent, a relative of Trajan, and adopted by him on his death-bed, was a man of brilliant talents and careful education, a scholar an artist, a legislator and administrator, and altogether one of the ablest among the Roman emperors, but of very doubtful morality, governed by changing moods, attracted in opposite directions, and at last lost in self-contradictions and utter disgust of life. His mausoleum (Moles Hadriani) still adorns, as the castle of Sant’ Angelo, the bridge of the Tiber in Rome. He is represented both as a friend and foe of the church. He was devoted to the religion of the state, bitterly opposed to Judaism, indifferent to Christianity, from ignorance of it. He insulted the Jews and the Christians alike by erecting temples of Jupiter and Venus over the site of the temple and the supposed spot of the crucifixion. He is said to have directed the Asiatic proconsul to check the popular fury against the Christians, and to punish only those who should be, by an orderly judicial process, convicted of transgression of the laws.31  But no doubt he regarded, like Trajan, the mere profession of Christianity itself such a transgression.

The Christian apologies, which took their rise under this emperor, indicate a very bitter public sentiment against the Christians, and a critical condition of the church. The least encouragement from Hadrian would have brought on a bloody persecution. Quadratus and Aristides addressed their pleas for their fellow-Christians to him, we do not know with what effect.

Later tradition assigns to his reign the martyrdom of St. Eustachius, St. Symphorosa and her seven sons, of the Roman bishops Alexander and Telesphorus, and others whose names are scarcely known, and whose chronology is more than doubtful.


 § 19 Antoninus Pius. a.d. 137–161. The Martyrdom of Polycarp.


Comte de Champagny (R.C.): Les Antonins. (a.d. 69–180), Paris, 1863; 3d ed. 1874. 3 vols., 8 vo. Merivale’s History.

Martyrium Polycarp (the oldest, simplest, and least objectionable of the martyr-acts), in a letter of the church of Smyrna to the Christians in Pontus or Phrygia, preserved by Eusebius, H. Eccl. IV. 15, and separately edited from various MSS. by Ussher (1647) and in nearly all the editions of the Apostolic Fathers, especially by O. v. Gebhardt, Harnack, and Zahn, II. 132–168, and Prolog. L-LVI. The recension of the text is by Zahn, and departs from the text of the Bollandists in 98 places. Best edition by Lightfoot, S. Ign. and S. Polycarp, I. 417 sqq., and II. 1005–1047. Comp. the Greek Vita Polycarpi, in Funk, II. 315 sqq.

Ignatius: Ad. Polycarpum. Best ed., by Lightfoot, l.c.

Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. III. 3. 4. His letter to Florinus in Euseb. v. 20.

Polycrates of Ephesus (c. 190), in Euseb. v. 24.

On the date of Polycarp’s death:

Waddington: Mémoire sur la chronologie de la vie du rhéteur Aelius Aristide (in "Mém. de l’ Acad: des inscript. et belles letters," Tom. XXVI. Part II. 1867, pp. 232 sqq.), and in Fastes des provinces Asiatiques, 1872, 219 sqq.

Wieseler: Das Martyrium Polykarp’s und dessen Chronologie, in his Christenverfolgungen, etc. (1878), 3 87.

Keim: Die Zwölf Märtyrer von Smyrna und der Tod des Bishops Polykarp, in his Aus dem Urchristenthum (1878), 92–133.

E. Egli: Das Martyrium des Polyk., in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissensch. Theol." for 1882, pp. 227 sqq.


Antoninus Pius protected the Christians from the tumultuous violence which broke out against them on account of the frequent public calamities. But the edict ascribed to him, addressed to the deputies of the Asiatic cities, testifying to the innocence of the Christians, and holding them up to the heathen as models of fidelity and zeal in the worship of God, could hardly have come from an emperor, who bore the honorable title of Pius for his conscientious adherence to the religion of his fathers;32 and in any case he could not have controlled the conduct of the provincial governors and the fury of the people against an illegal religion.

The persecution of the church at Smyrna and the martyrdom of its venerable bishop, which was formerly assigned to the year 167, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, took place, according to more recent research, under Antoninus in 155, when Statius Quadratus was proconsul in Asia Minor.33  Polycarp was a personal friend and pupil of the Apostle John, and chief presbyter of the church at Smyrna, where a plain stone monument still marks his grave. He was the teacher of Irenaeus of Lyons, and thus the connecting link between the apostolic and post-apostolic ages. As he died 155 at an age of eighty-six years or more, he must have been born a.d. 69, a year before the destruction of Jerusalem, and may have enjoyed the friendship of St. John for twenty years or more. This gives additional weight to his testimony concerning apostolic traditions and writings. We have from him a beautiful epistle which echoes the apostolic teaching, and will be noticed in another chapter.

Polycarp steadfastly refused before the proconsul to deny his King and Saviour, whom he had served six and eighty years, and from whom he had experienced nothing but love and mercy. He joyfully went up to the stake, and amidst the flames praised God for having deemed him worthy "to be numbered among his martyrs, to drink the cup of Christ’s sufferings, unto the eternal resurrection of the soul and the body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit." The slightly legendary account in the letter of the church of Smyrna states, that the flames avoided the body of the saint, leaving it unharmed, like gold tried in the fire; also the Christian bystanders insisted, that they perceived a sweet odor, as of incense. Then the executioner thrust his sword into the body, and the stream of blood at once extinguished the flame. The corpse was burned after the Roman custom, but the bones were preserved by the church, and held more precious than gold and diamonds. The death of this last witness of the apostolic age checked the fury of the populace, and the proconsul suspended the persecution.


 § 20. Persecutions under  Marcus Aurelius. a.d. 161–180.


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: (b. 121, d. 180)::Tw'n eij" eJauto;n Bibliva ib J|'’, or Meditations. It is a sort of diary or common place book, in which the emperor wrote down, towards the close of his life, partly amid the turmoil of war "in the land of the Quadi" (on the Danube in Hungary), for his self-improvement, his own moral reflections) together with striking maxims of wise and virtuous men. Ed. princeps by Xylander Zurich 1558, and Basle 1568; best ed with a new Latin trans. and very full notes by Gataker, Lond. 1643, Cambr. 1652, and with additional notes from the French by Dacier, Lond. 1697 and 1704. New ed. of the Greek text by J. M. Schultz, 1802 (and 1821); another by Adamantius Coraïs, Par. 1816. English translation by George Long, Lond. 1863, republ. Boston, revised edition, London, 1880. There are translations into most European languages, one in Italian by the Cardinal Francis Barberini (nephew of Pope Urban VIII), who dedicated his translation to his own soul, "to make it redder than his purple at the sight of the virtues of this Gentile." Comp. also the letters of the famous rhetorician M. Corn. Fronto, the teacher of M. Aurelius, discovered and published by Angelo Mai, Milan 1815 and Rome 1823 (Epistolarum ad Marcum Caesarem Lib. V., etc.)  They are, however, very unimportant, except so far as they show the life-long congenial friendship between the amiable teacher and his imperial pupil.

Arnold Bodek: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus als Freund und Zeitgenosse les Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi. Leipz. 1868. (Traces the connection of this emperor with the Jewish monotheism and ethics.)

E. Renan: Marc-Aurèle et la fin du monde antique. Paris 1882. This is the seventh and the last vol. of his work of twenty years’ labor on the "Histoire des Origines du Christianisme." It is as full of genius, learning and eloquence, and as empty of positive faith as the former volumes. He closes the period of the definite formation of Christianity in the middle of the second century, but proposes in a future work to trace it back to Isaiah (or the "Great Unknown") as its proper founder.

Eusebius: H. E. V. 1–3. The Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne to the Christians of Asia Minor. Die Akten, des Karpus, des Papylus und der Agathonike, untersucht von AD. Harnack. Leipz., 1888.

On the legend of the Legio fulminatrix see Tertullian: Apol. 5; Euseb.: H. E V. 5.; and Dion Cass.: Hist. LXXI. 8, 9.


Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher on the throne, was a well-educated, just, kind, and amiable emperor, and reached the old Roman ideal of self-reliant Stoic virtue, but for this very reason he had no sympathy with Christianity, and probably regarded it as an absurd and fanatical superstition. He had no room in his cosmopolitan philanthropy for the purest and most innocent of his subjects, many of whom served in his own army. He was flooded with apologies of Melito, Miltiades, Athenagoras in behalf of the persecuted Christians, but turned a deaf ear to them. Only once, in his Meditations, does he allude to them, and then with scorn, tracing their noble enthusiasm for martyrdom to "sheer obstinacy" and love for theatrical display.34  His excuse is ignorance. He probably never read a line of the New Testament, nor of the apologies addressed to him.35

Belonging to the later Stoical school, which believed in an immediate absorption after death into the Divine essence, he considered the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul, with its moral consequences, as vicious and dangerous to the welfare of the state. A law was passed under his reign, punishing every one with exile who should endeavor to influence people’s mind by fear of the Divinity, and this law was, no doubt, aimed at the Christians.36  At all events his reign was a stormy time for the church, although the persecutions cannot be directly traced to him. The law of Trajan was sufficient to justify the severest measures against the followers of the "forbidden" religion.

About the year 170 the apologist Melito wrote: "The race of the worshippers of God in Asia is now persecuted by new edicts as it never has been heretofore; shameless, greedy sycophants, finding occasion in the edicts, now plunder the innocent day and night." The empire was visited at that time by a number of conflagrations, a destructive flood of the Tiber, an earthquake, insurrections, and particularly a pestilence, which spread from Ethiopia to Gaul. This gave rise to bloody persecutions, in which government and people united against the enemies of the gods and the supposed authors of these misfortunes. Celsus expressed his joy that "the demon" [of the Christians] was "not only reviled, but banished from every land and sea," and saw in this judgment the fulfilment of the oracle: "the mills of the gods grind late." But at the same time these persecutions, and the simultaneous literary assaults on Christianity by Celsus and Lucian, show that the new religion was constantly gaining importance in the empire.

In 177, the churches of Lyons and Vienne, in the South of France, underwent a severe trial. Heathen slaves were forced by the rack to declare, that their Christian masters practised all the unnatural vices which rumor charged them with; and this was made to justify the exquisite tortures to which the Christians were subjected. But the sufferers, "strengthened by the fountain of living water from the heart of Christ," displayed extraordinary faith and steadfastness, and felt, that "nothing can be fearful, where the love of the Father is, nothing painful, where shines the glory of Christ."

The most distinguished victims of this Gallic persecution were the bishop Pothinus, who, at the age of ninety years, and just recovered from a sickness, was subjected to all sorts of abuse, and then thrown into a dismal dungeon, where he died in two days; the virgin Blandina, a slave, who showed almost superhuman strength and constancy under the most cruel tortures, and was at last thrown to a wild beast in a net; Ponticus, a boy of fifteen years, who could be deterred by no sort of cruelty from confessing his Saviour. The corpses of the martyrs, which covered the streets, were shamefully mutilated, then burned, and the ashes cast into the Rhone, lest any remnants of the enemies of the gods might desecrate the soil. At last the people grew weary of slaughter, and a considerable number of Christians survived. The martyrs of Lyons distinguished themselves by true humility, disclaiming in their prison that title of honor, as due only, they said, to the faithful and true witness, the Firstborn from the dead, the Prince of life (Rev. 1:5), and to those of his followers who had already sealed their fidelity to Christ with their blood.

About the same time a persecution of less extent appears to have visited Autun (Augustodunum) near Lyons. Symphorinus, a young man of good family, having refused to fall down before the image of Cybele, was condemned to be beheaded. On his way to the place of execution his own mother called to him: "My son, be firm and fear not that death, which so surely leads to life. Look to Him who reigns in heaven. To-day is thy earthly life not taken from thee, but transferred by a blessed exchange into the life of heaven."

The story of the "thundering legion"37 rests on the fact of a remarkable deliverance of the Roman army in Hungary by a sudden shower, which quenched their burning thirst and frightened their barbarian enemies, a.d. 174. The heathens, however, attributed this not to the prayers of the Christian soldiers, but to their own gods. The emperor himself prayed to Jupiter: "This hand, which has never yet shed human blood, I raise to thee." That this event did not alter his views respecting the Christians, is proved by the persecution in South Gaul, which broke out three years later.

Of isolated cases of martyrdom in this reign, we notice that of Justin Martyr, at Rome, in the year 166. His death is traced to the machinations of Crescens, a Cynic philosopher.

Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his cruel and contemptible son, Commodus (180–192), who wallowed in the mire of every sensual debauchery, and displayed at the same time like Nero the most ridiculous vanity as dancer and singer, and in the character of buffoon; but he was accidentally made to favor the Christians by the influence of a concubine,38 Marcia, and accordingly did not disturb them. Yet under his reign a Roman senator, Apollonius, was put to death for his faith.


§ 21. Condition of the Church from Septimius Severus to Philip the Arabian. a.d. 193–249.

Clemens Alex.: Strom. II. 414. Tertull.: Ad Scapulam, c. 4, 5; Apol. (a.d. 198), c. 7, 12, 30, 37, 49.

Respecting the Alexandrian martyrs comp. Euseb.: VI. 1 and 5.

The Acts of the Carthaginian martyrs, which contain their ipsissima verba from their diaries in the prisons, but bear a somewhat Montanistic stamp, see in Ruinart, p 90 sqq.

Lampridius: Vita Alex. Severi, c. 22, 29, 49.

On Philip the Arabian see Euseb.:VI. 34, 36. Hieron.: Chron. ad ann. 246.

J. J. Müller: Staat und Kirche unter Alex. Severus. Zürich 1874.

F. Görres: Kaiser Alex. Severus und das Christenthum. Leipz., 1877.

Jean Réville: La religion à Rome sous les Sévères. Paris, 1886 (vii and 302 pp.); Germ. transl. by Krüger, 1888.


With Septimius Severus (193–211), who was of Punic descent and had a Syrian wife, a line of emperors (Caracalla, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus) came to the throne, who were rather Oriental than Roman in their spirit, and were therefore far less concerned than the Antonines to maintain the old state religion. Yet towards the close of the second century there was no lack of local persecutions; and Clement of Alexandria wrote of those times: "Many martyrs are daily burned, confined, or beheaded, before our eyes."

In the beginning of the third century (202) Septimius Severus, turned perhaps by Montanistic excesses, enacted a rigid law against the further spread both of Christianity and of Judaism. This occasioned violent persecutions in Egypt and in North Africa, and produced some of the fairest flowers of martyrdom.

In Alexandria, in consequence of this law, Leonides, father of the renowned Origen, was beheaded. Potamiaena, a virgin of rare beauty of body and spirit, was threatened by beastly passion with treatment worse than death, and, after cruel tortures, slowly burned with her mother in boiling pitch. One of the executioners, Basilides, smitten with sympathy, shielded them somewhat from abuse, and soon after their death embraced Christianity, and was beheaded. He declared that Potamiaena had appeared to him in the night, interceded with Christ for him, and set upon his head the martyr’s crown.

In Carthage some catechumens, three young men and two young women, probably of the sect of the Montanists, showed remarkable steadfastness and fidelity in the dungeon and at the place of execution. Perpetua, a young woman of noble birth, resisting, not without a violent struggle, both the entreaties of her aged heathen father and the appeal of her helpless babe upon her breast, sacrificed the deep and tender feelings of a daughter and a mother to the Lord who died for her. Felicitas, a slave, when delivered of a child in the same dungeon, answered the jailor, who reminded her of the still keener pains of martyrdom: "Now I suffer, what I suffer; but then another will suffer for me, because I shall suffer for him." All remaining firm, they were cast to wild beasts at the next public festival, having first interchanged the parting kiss in hope of a speedy reunion in heaven.

The same state of things continued through the first years of Caracalla (211–217), though this gloomy misanthrope passed no laws against the Christians.

The abandoned youth, El-Gabal, or Heliogabalus (218–222), who polluted the throne by the blackest vices and follies, tolerated all the religions in the hope of at last merging them in his favorite Syrian worship of the sun with its abominable excesses. He himself was a priest of the god of the sun, and thence took his name.39

His far more worthy cousin and successor, Alexander Severus (222–235), was addicted to a higher kind of religious eclecticism and syncretism, a pantheistic hero-worship. He placed the busts of Abraham and Christ in his domestic chapel with those of Orpheus, Apollonius of Tyana, and the better Roman emperors, and had the gospel rule, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," engraven on the walls of his palace, and on public monuments40. His mother, Julia Mammaea, was a patroness of Origen.

His assassin, Maximinus the Thracian (235–238), first a herdsman, afterwards a soldier, resorted again to persecution out of mere opposition to his predecessor, and gave free course to the popular fury against the enemies of the gods, which was at that time excited anew by an earthquake. It is uncertain whether he ordered the entire clergy or only the bishops to be killed. He was a rude barbarian who plundered also heathen temples.

The legendary poesy of the tenth century assigns to his reign the fabulous martyrdom of St. Ursula, a British princess, and her company of eleven thousand (according to others, ten thousand) virgins, who, on their return from a pilgrimage to Rome, were murdered by heathens in the neighborhood of Cologne. This incredible number has probably arisen from the misinterpretation of an inscription, like "Ursula et Undecimilla" (which occurs in an old missal of the Sorbonne), or "Ursula et XI M. V.," i.e. Martyres Virgines, which, by substituting milia for martyres, was increased from eleven martyrs to eleven thousand virgins. Some historians place the fact, which seems to form the basis of this legend, in connexion with the retreat of the Huns after the battle of Chalons, 451. The abridgment of Mil., which may mean soldiers (milites) as well as thousands (milia), was another fruitful source of mistakes in a credulous and superstitious age.

Gordianus (208–244) left the church undisturbed. Philip the Arabian (244–249) was even supposed by some to be a Christian, and was termed by Jerome "primus omnium ex Romanis imperatoribus Christianus." It is certain that Origen wrote letters to him and to his wife, Severa.

This season of repose, however, cooled the moral zeal and brotherly love of the Christians; and the mighty storm under the following reign served well to restore the purity of the church.


 § 22. Persecutions under Decius, and Valerian. a.d. 249–260. Martyrdom of Cyprian.


Dionysius Alex., in Euseb. VI. 40–42; VII. 10, 11.

Cyprian: De Lapsis, and particularly his Epistles of this period. On Cyprian’s martyrdom see the Proconsular Acts, and Pontius: Vita Cypriani.

Franz Görres: Die Toleranzedicte des Kaisers Gallienus, in the "Jahrbücher für protest. Theol.," 1877, pp. 606–630. By the same: Die angebliche Christenverfolgung zur Zeit der Kaiser Numerianus und Carinus, in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theologie." 1880 pp. 31–64.


Decius Trajan (249–251), an earnest and energetic emperor, in whom the old Roman spirit once more awoke, resolved to root out the church as an atheistic and seditious sect, and in the year 250 published an edict to all the governors of the provinces, enjoining return to the pagan state religion under the heaviest penalties. This was the signal for a persecution which, in extent, consistency, and cruelty, exceeded all before it. In truth it was properly the first which covered the whole empire, and accordingly produced a far greater number of martyrs than any former persecution. In the execution of the imperial decree confiscation, exile, torture, promises and threats of all kinds, were employed to move the Christians to apostasy. Multitudes of nominal Christians,41 especially at the beginning, sacrificed to the gods (sacrificati, thurificati), or procured from the, magistrate a false certificate that they had done so (libellatici), and were then excommunicated as apostates (lapsi); while hundreds rushed with impetuous zeal to the prisons and the tribunals, to obtain the confessor’s or martyr’s crown. The confessors of Rome wrote from prison to their brethren of Africa: "What more glorious and blessed lot can fall to man by the grace of God, than to confess God the Lord amidst tortures and in the face of death itself; to confess Christ the Son of God with lacerated body and with a spirit departing, yet free; and to become fellow-sufferers with Christ in the name of Christ?  Though we have not yet shed our blood, we are ready to do so. Pray for us, then, dear Cyprian, that the Lord, the best captain, would daily strengthen each one of us more and more, and at last lead us to the field as faithful soldiers, armed with those divine weapons (Eph. 6:2) which can never be conquered."

The authorities were specially severe with the bishops and officers of the churches. Fabianus of Rome, Babylas of Antioch, and Alexander of Jerusalem, perished in this persecution. Others withdrew to places of concealment; some from cowardice; some from Christian prudence, in hope of allaying by their absence the fury of the pagans against their flocks, and of saving their own lives for the good of the church in better times.

Among the latter was Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who incurred much censure by his course, but fully vindicated himself by his pastoral industry during his absence, and by his subsequent martyrdom. He says concerning the matter: "Our Lord commanded us in times of persecution to yield and to fly. He taught this, and he practised it himself. For since the martyr’s crown comes by the grace of God, and cannot be gained before the appointed hour, he who retires for a time, and remains true to Christ, does not deny his faith, but only abides his time."

The poetical legend of the seven brothers at Ephesus, who fell asleep in a cave, whither they had fled, and awoke two hundred years afterwards, under Theodosius II. (447), astonished to see the once despised and hated cross now ruling over city and country, dates itself internally from the time of Decius, but is not mentioned before Gregory of Tours in the sixth century.

Under Gallus (251–253) the persecution received a fresh impulse thorough the incursions of the Goths, and the prevalence of a pestilence, drought, and famine. Under this reign the Roman bishops Cornelius and Lucius were banished, and then condemned to death.

Valerian (253–260) was at first mild towards the Christians; but in 257 he changed his course, and made an effort to check the progress of their religion without bloodshed, by the banishment of ministers and prominent laymen, the confiscation of their property, and the prohibition of religious assemblies. These measures, however, proving fruitless, he brought the death penalty again into play.

The most distinguished martyrs of this persecution under Valerian are the bishops Sixtus II. of Rome, and Cyprian of Carthage.

When Cyprian received his sentence of death, representing him as an enemy of the Roman gods and laws, he calmly answered: "Deo gratias!"  Then, attended by a vast multitude to the scaffold, he proved once more, undressed himself, covered his eyes, requested a presbyter to bind his hands, and to pay the executioner, who tremblingly drew the sword, twenty-five pieces of gold, and won the incorruptible crown (Sept. 14, 258). His faithful friends caught the blood in handkerchiefs, and buried the body of their sainted pastor with great solemnity.

Gibbon describes the martyrdom of Cyprian with circumstantial minuteness, and dwells with evident satisfaction on the small decorum which attended his execution. But this is no fair average specimen of the style in which Christians were executed throughout the empire. For Cyprian was a man of the highest social standing and connection from his former eminence, as a rhetorician and statesman. His deacon, Pontius relates that "numbers of eminent and illustrious persons, men of mark family and secular distinction, often urged him, for the sake of their old friendship with him, to retire." We shall return to Cyprian again in the history of church government, where he figures as a typical, ante-Nicene high-churchman, advocating both the visible unity of the church and episcopal independence of Rome.

The much lauded martyrdom of the deacon St. Laurentius of Rome, who pointed the avaricious magistrates to the poor and sick of the congregation as the richest treasure of the church, and is said to have been slowly roasted to death (Aug. 10, 258) is scarcely reliable in its details, being first mentioned by Ambrose a century later, and then glorified by the poet Prudentius. A Basilica on the Via Tiburtina celebrates the memory of this saint, who occupies the same position among the martyrs of the church of Rome as Stephen among those of Jerusalem.


 § 23. Temporary Repose. a.d. 260–303.


Gallienus (260–268) gave peace to the church once more, and even acknowledged Christianity as a religio licita. And this calm continued forty years; for the edict of persecution, issued by the energetic and warlike Aurelian (270–275), was rendered void by his assassination; and the six emperors who rapidly followed, from 275 to 284, let the Christians alone.

The persecutions under Carus, Numerianus and Carinus from 284 to 285 are not historical, but legendary.42

During this long season of peace the church rose rapidly in numbers and outward prosperity. Large and even splendid houses of worship were erected in the chief cities, and provided with collections of sacred books and vessels of gold and silver for the administration of the sacraments. But in the same proportion discipline relaxed, quarrels, intrigues, and factions increased, and worldliness poured in like a flood.

Hence a new trial was a necessary and wholesome process of purification.43


 § 24. The Diocletian Persecution, a.d. 303–311.


I. Sources.


Eusebius: H. E. Lib. VIII. – X; De Martyr. Palaest. (ed. Cureton, Lond, 1861); Vita Const. (ed. Heinichen, Lips. 1870).

Lactantius: De Mortibus Persec. c. 7 sqq. Of uncertain authorship.

Basilius M.: Oratio in Gordium mart.; Oratio in Barlaham mart.


II. Works.


Baronius: Annal. ad ann. 302–305.

Gibbon: Chrs. XIII., XIV. and XVI.

Jak. Burckhardt: Die Zeit Constantins des Gr. Basel, 1853, p. 325.

Th. Keim: Der Uebertritt Constantins des Gr. zum Christenthum. Zürich 1852. The same: Die römischen Toleranzedicte für das Christenthum (311–313), in the "Tüb. Theol. Jahrb." 1852. (His. Rom und das Christenthum only comes down to a.d. 192.)

Alb. Vogel: Der Kaiser Diocletian. Gotha 1857.

Bernhardt: Diokletian in s. Verhältnisse zu den Christen. Bonn, 1862.

Hunziker: Regierung und Christenverfolgung des Kaisers Diocletianus und seiner Nachfolger. Leipz. 1868.

Theod. Preuss: Kaiser Diocletian und seine Zeit. Leipz. 1869.

A. J. Mason: The Persecution of Diocletian. Cambridge, 1876. Pages 370. (Comp. a review by Ad. Harnack in the "Theol. Literaturzeitung" for 1877. No. 7. f. 169.)

Theod. Zahn: Constantin der Grosse und die Kirche. Hannover, 1876.

Brieger.: Constantin der Gr. als Religionspolitiker. Gotha, 1880. Comp. the Lit. on Constantine, in vol. III., 10, 11.


The forty years’ repose was followed by, the last and most violent persecution, a struggle for life and death.

"The accession of the Emperor Diocletian is the era from which the Coptic Churches of Egypt and Abyssinia still date, under the name of the ’Era of Martyrs.’ All former persecutions of the faith were forgotten in the horror with which men looked back upon the last and greatest: the tenth wave (as men delighted to count it) of that great storm obliterated all the traces that had been left by others. The fiendish cruelty of Nero, the jealous fears of Domitian, the unimpassioned dislike of Marcus, the sweeping purpose of Decius, the clever devices of Valerian, fell into obscurity when compared with the concentrated terrors of that final grapple, which resulted in the destruction of the old Roman Empire and the establishment of the Cross as the symbol of the world’s hope."44

Diocletian (284–305) was one of the most judicious and able emperors who, in a trying period, preserved the sinking state from dissolution. He was the son of a slave or of obscure parentage, and worked himself up to supreme power. He converted the Roman republican empire into an Oriental despotism, and prepared the way for Constantine and Constantinople. He associated with himself three subordinate co-regents, Maximian (who committed suicide, 310), Galerius (d. 311), and Constantius Chlorus (d. 306, the father of Constantine the Great), and divided with them the government of the immense empire; thereby quadrupling the personality of the sovereign, and imparting vigor to provincial administration, but also sowing the seed of discord and civil war45. Gibbon calls him a second Augustus, the founder of a new empire, rather than the restorer of the old. He also compares him to Charles V., whom he somewhat resembled in his talents, temporary success and ultimate failure, and voluntary retirement from the cares of government.

In the first twenty years of his reign Diocletian respected the toleration edict of Gallienus. His own wife Prisca his daughter Valeria, and most of his eunuchs and court officers, besides many of the most prominent public functionaries, were Christians, or at least favorable to the Christian religion. He himself was a superstitious heathen and an oriental despot. Like Aurelian and Domitian before him, he claimed divine honors, as the vicar of Jupiter Capitolinus. He was called, as the Lord and Master of the world, Sacratissimus Dominus Noster; he guarded his Sacred Majesty with many circles of soldiers and eunuchs, and allowed no one to approach him except on bended knees, and with the forehead touching the ground, while he was seated on the throne in rich vestments from the far East. "Ostentation," says Gibbon, "was the first principle of the new system instituted by Diocletian." As a practical statesman, he must have seen that his work of the political restoration and consolidation of the empire would lack a firm and permanent basis without the restoration of the old religion of the state. Although he long postponed the religious question, he had to meet it at last. It could not be expected, in the nature of the case, that paganism should surrender to its dangerous rival without a last desperate effort to save itself.

But the chief instigator of the renewal of hostility, according to the account of Lactantius, was Diocletian’s co-regent and son-in-law, Galerius, a cruel and fanatical heathen.46  He prevailed at last on Diocletian in his old age to authorize the persecution which gave to his glorious reign a disgraceful end.

In 303 Diocletian issued in rapid succession three edicts, each more severe than its predecessor. Maximian issued the fourth, the worst of all, April 30, 304. Christian churches were to be destroyed; all copies of the Bible were to be burned; all Christians were to be deprived of public office and civil rights; and at last all, without exception, were to sacrifice to the gods upon pain of death. Pretext for this severity was afforded by the occurrence of fire twice in the palace of Nicomedia in Bithynia, where Diocletian resided 47. It was strengthened by the tearing down of the first edict by an imprudent Christian (celebrated in the Greek church under the name of John), who vented in that way his abhorrence of such "godless and tyrannical rulers," and was gradually roasted to death with every species of cruelty. But the conjecture that the edicts were occasioned by a conspiracy of the Christians who, feeling their rising power, were for putting the government at once into Christian hands, by a stroke of state, is without any foundation in history. It is inconsistent with the political passivity of the church during the first three centuries, which furnish no example of rebellion and revolution. At best such a conspiracy could only have been the work of a few fanatics; and they, like the one who tore down the first edict, would have gloried in the deed and sought the crown of martyrdom.48

The persecution began on the twenty-third day of February, 303, the feast of the Terminalia (as if to make an end of the Christian sect), with the destruction of the magnificent church in Nicomedia, and soon spread over the whole Roman empire, except Gaul, Britain, and Spain, where the co-regent Constantius Chlorus, and especially his son, Constantine the Great (from 306), were disposed, as far as possible, to spare the Christians. But even here the churches were destroyed, and many martyrs of Spain (St. Vincentius, Eulalia, and others celebrated by Prudentins), and of Britain (St. Alban) are assigned by later tradition to this age.

The persecution raged longest and most fiercely in the East under the rule of Galerius and his barbarous nephew Maximin Daza, who was intrusted by Diocletian before his retirement with the dignity of Caesar and the extreme command of Egypt and Syria49. He issued in autumn, 308, a fifth edict of persecution, which commanded that all males with their wives and servants, and even their children, should sacrifice and actually taste the accursed offerings, and that all provisions in the markets should be sprinkled with sacrificial wine. This monstrous law introduced a reign of terror for two years, and left50 the Christians no alternative but apostasy or starvation. All the pains, which iron and steel, fire and sword, rack and cross, wild beasts and beastly men could inflict, were employed to gain the useless end.

Eusebius was a witness of this persecution in Caesura, Tyre, and Egypt, and saw, with his own eyes, as he tells us, the houses of prayer razed to the ground, the Holy Scriptures committed to the flames on the market places, the pastors hunted, tortured, and torn to pieces in the amphitheatre. Even the wild beasts, he says, not without rhetorical exaggeration, at last refused to attack the Christians, as if they had assumed the part of men in place of the heathen Romans; the bloody swords became dull and shattered; the executioners grew weary, and had to relieve each other; but the Christians sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving in honor of Almighty God, even to their latest breath. He describes the heroic sufferings and death of several martyrs, including his friend, "the holy and blessed Pamphilus," who after two years of imprisonment won the crown of life (309), with eleven others—a typical company that seemed to him to be "a perfect representation of the church."

Eusebius himself was imprisoned, but released. The charge of having escaped martyrdom by offering sacrifice is without foundation.51

In this, as in former persecutions, the number of apostates who preferred the earthly life to the heavenly, was very great. To these was now added also the new class of the traditores, who delivered the holy Scriptures to the heathen authorities, to be burned. But as the persecution raged, the zeal and fidelity of the Christians increased, and martyrdom spread as by contagion. Even boys and girls showed amazing firmness. In many the heroism of faith degenerated to a fanatical courting of death; confessors were almost worshipped, while yet alive; and the hatred towards apostates distracted many congregations, and produced the Meletian and Donatist schisms.

The number of martyrs cannot be estimated with any degree of certainty. The seven episcopal and the ninety-two Palestinian martyrs of Eusebius are only a select list bearing a similar relation to the whole number of victims as the military lists its of distinguished fallen officers to the large mass of common soldiers, and form therefore no fair basis for the calculation of Gibbon, who would reduce the whole number to less than two thousand. During the eight years52 of this persecution the number of victims, without including the many confessors who were barbarously mutilated and condemned to a lingering death in the prisons and mines, must have been much larger. But there is no truth in the tradition (which figures in older church histories) that the tyrants erected trophies in Spain and elsewhere with such inscriptions as announce the suppression of the Christian sect.53

The martyrologies date from this period several legends, the germs of which, however, cannot now be clearly sifted from the additions of later poesy. The story of the destruction of the legio Thebaica is probably an exaggeration of the martyrdom of St. Mauritius, who was executed in Syria, as tribunus militum, with seventy soldiers, at the order of Maximin. The martyrdom of Barlaam, a plain, rustic Christian of remarkable constancy, and of Gordius, a centurion (who, however, was tortured and executed a few years later under Licinius, 314) has been eulogized by St. Basil. A maiden of thirteen years, St. Agnes, whose memory the Latin church has celebrated ever since the fourth century, was, according to tradition, brought in chains before the judgment-seat in Rome; was publicly exposed, and upon her steadfast confession put to the sword; but afterwards appeared to her grieving parents at her grave with a white lamb and a host of shining virgins from heaven, and said: "Mourn me no longer as dead, for ye see that I live. Rejoice with me, that I am forever united in heaven with the Saviour, whom on earth I loved with all my heart." Hence the lamb in the paintings of this saint; and hence the consecration of lambs in her church at Rome at her festival (Jan. 21), from whose wool the pallium of the archbishop is made. Agricola and Vitalis at Bologna, Gervasius and Protasius at Milan, whose bones were discovered in the time of Ambrose Janurius, bishop of Benevent, who became the patron saint of Naples, and astonishes the faithful by the annual miracle of the liquefaction of his blood, and the British St. Alban, who delivered himself to the authorities in the place of the priest he had concealed in his house, and converted his executioner, are said to have attained martyrdom under Diocletian.54


 § 25. The Edicts of Toleration. a.d. 311–313.


 See Lit. in § 24, especially Keim, and Mason (Persecution of Diocletian, pp. 299 and 326 sqq.)


This persecution was the last desperate struggle of Roman heathenism for its life. It was the crisis of utter extinction or absolute supremacy for each of the two religions. At the close of the contest the old Roman state religion was exhausted. Diocletian retired into private life in 305, under the curse of the Christians; he found greater pleasure in planting cabbages at Salona in his native Dalmatia, than in governing a vast empire, but his peace was disturbed by the tragical misfortunes of his wife and daughter, and in 313, when all the achievements of his reign were destroyed, he destroyed himself.

Galerius, the real author of the persecution, brought to reflection by a terrible disease, put an end to the slaughter shortly before his death, by a remarkable edict of toleration, which he issued from Nicomedia in 311, in connexion with Constantine and Licinius. In that document he declared, that the purpose of reclaiming the Christians from their wilful innovation and the multitude of their sects to the laws and discipline of the, Roman state, was not accomplished; and that he would now grant them permission to hold their religious assemblies provided they disturbed not the order of the state. To this he added in conclusion the significant instruction that the Christians, "after this manifestation of grace, should pray to their God for the welfare of the emperors, of the state, and of themselves, that the state might prosper in every respect, and that they might live quietly in their homes."55

This edict virtually closes the period of persecution in the Roman empire.

For a short time Maximin, whom Eusebius calls "the chief of tyrants," continued in every way to oppress and vex the church in the East, and the cruel pagan Maxentius (a son of Maximian and son-in-law of Galerius) did the same in Italy.

But the young Constantine, who hailed from the far West, had already, in 306, become emperor of Gaul, Spain, and Britain. He had been brought up at the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia (like Moses at the court of Pharaoh) and destined for his successor, but fled from the intrigues of Galerius to Britain, and was appointed by his father and proclaimed by the army as his successor. He crossed the Alps, and under the banner of the cross, he conquered Maxentius at the Milvian bridge near Rome, and the heathen tyrant perished with his army of veterans in the waters of the Tiber, Oct. 27, 312. A few months afterwards Constantine met at Milan with his co-regent and brother-in-law, Licinius, and issued a new edict of toleration (313), to which Maximin also, shortly before his suicide (313), was compelled to give his consent at Nicomedia.56  The second edict went beyond the first of 311; it was a decisive step from hostile neutrality to friendly neutrality and protection, and prepared the way for the legal recognition of Christianity, as the religion of the empire. It ordered the full restoration of all confiscated church property to the Corpus Christianorum, at the expense of the imperial treasury, and directed the provincial magistrates to execute this order at once with all energy, so that peace may be fully established and the continuance of the Divine favor secured to the emperors and their subjects.

This was the first proclamation of the great principle that every man had a right to choose his religion according to the dictates of his own conscience and honest conviction, without compulsion and interference from the government.57  Religion is worth nothing except as an act of freedom. A forced religion is no religion at all. Unfortunately, the successors of Constantine from the time of Theodosius the Great (383–395) enforced the Christian religion to the exclusion of every other; and not only so, but they enforced orthodoxy to the exclusion of every form of dissent, which was punished as a crime against the state.

Paganism made another spasmodic effort. Licinius fell out with Constantine and renewed the persecution for a short time in the East, but he was defeated in 323, and Constantine became sole ruler of the empire. He openly protected and favored the church, without forbidding idolatry, and upon the whole remained true to his policy of protective toleration till his death (337). This was enough for the success of the church, which had all the vitality and energy of a victorious power; while heathenism was fast decaying at its root.

With Constantine, therefore, the last of the heathen, the first of the Christian, emperors, a new period begins. The church ascends the throne of the Caesars under the banner of the once despised, now honored and triumphant cross, and gives new vigor and lustre to the hoary empire of Rome. This sudden political and social revolution seems marvellous; and yet it was only the legitimate result of the intellectual and moral revolution which Christianity, since the second century, had silently and imperceptibly wrought in public opinion. The very violence of the Diocletian persecution betrayed the inner weakness of heathenism. The Christian minority with its ideas already controlled the deeper current of history. Constantine, as a sagacious statesman, saw the signs of the times and followed them. The motto of his policy is well symbolized in his military standard with the inscription: "Hoc signo vinces."58

What a contrast between Nero, the first imperial persecutor, riding in a chariot among Christian martyrs as burning torches in his gardens, and Constantine, seated in the Council of Nicaea among three hundred and eighteen bishops (some of whom—as the blinded Confessor Paphnutius, Paul of Neocaesarea, and the ascetics from Upper Egypt clothed in wild raiment—wore the insignia of torture on their maimed and crippled bodies), and giving the highest sanction of civil authority to the decree of the eternal deity of the once crucified Jesus of Nazareth!  Such a revolution the world has never seen before or since, except the silent, spiritual, and moral reformation wrought by Christianity itself at its introduction in the first, and at its revival in the sixteenth century.


 § 26. Christian Martyrdom.

I. Sources.


Ignatius: Epistolae. Martyrum Polycarpi. Tertullian: Ad Martyres. Origenes: Exhortatio ad martyrium (protreptikoV" Lovgo" ei*" martuvpion.) Cyprian: Ep. 11 ad mart. Prudentius: PeriV stefavvwnV hymni XIV. Comp. Lit. § 12.


II. Works.


Sagittarius: De mart. cruciatibus, 1696.

H. Dodwell: De paucitate martyrum, in his Dissertationes Cyprianiae. Lond. 1684.

Ruinart (R.C.): Praefatio generalis in Acta Martyrum.

P. W. Gass: Das christl. Märtyrerthum in den ersten Jahrhunderten, in Niedner’s "Zeitschrift f. Hist. Theol." 1859 and ’60.

E. de Pressensé: The Martyrs and Apologists. Translated from the French. London and N. Y. 1871. (Ch. II. p. 67 sqq.).

Chateaubriand: Les martyrs ou le triomphe de la rel. chrét. 2 vols. Paris 1809 and often (best Engl. trsl. by O W. Wight, N. York, 1859.)  Has no critical or historical value, but merely poetical.

Comp. in part Mrs. Jameson: Sacred and Legendary Art. Lond. 1848. 2 vols.


To these protracted and cruel persecutions the church opposed no revolutionary violence, no carnal resistance, but the moral heroism of suffering and dying for the truth. But this very heroism was her fairest ornament and staunchest weapon. In this very heroism she proved herself worthy of her divine founder, who submitted to the death of the cross for the salvation of the world, and even prayed that his murderers might be forgiven. The patriotic virtues of Greek and Roman antiquity reproduced themselves here in exalted form, in self-denial for the sake of a heavenly country, and for a crown that fadeth not away. Even boys and girls became heroes, and rushed with a holy enthusiasm to death. In those hard times men had to make earnest of the words of the Lord: "Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." "He, that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me." But then also the promise daily proved itself true: "Blessed are they, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "He, that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it." And it applied not only to the martyrs themselves, who exchanged the troubled life of earth for the blessedness of heaven, but also to the church as a whole, which came forth purer and stronger from every persecution, and thus attested her indestructible vitality.

These suffering virtues are among the sweetest and noblest fruits of the Christian religion. It is not so much the amount of suffering which challenges our admiration, although it was terrible enough, as the spirit with which the early Christians bore it. Men and women of all classes, noble senators and learned bishops, illiterate artisans and poor slaves, loving mothers and delicate virgins, hoary-headed pastors and innocent children approached their tortures in no temper of unfeeling indifference and obstinate defiance, but, like their divine Master, with calm self-possession, humble resignation, gentle meekness, cheerful faith, triumphant hope, and forgiving charity. Such spectacles must have often overcome even the inhuman murderer. "Go on," says Tertullian tauntingly to the heathen governors, "rack, torture, grind us to powder: our numbers increase in proportion as ye mow us down. The blood of Christians is their harvest seed. Your very obstinacy is a teacher. For who is not incited by the contemplation of it to inquire what there is in the core of the matter?  And who, after having joined us, does not long to suffer?"59

Unquestionably there were also during this period, especially after considerable seasons of quiet, many superficial or hypocritical Christians, who, the moment the storm of persecution broke forth, flew like chaff from the wheat, and either offered incense to the gods (thurificati, sacrificati), or procured false witness of their return to paganism (libellatici, from libellum), or gave up the sacred books (traditores). Tertullian relates with righteous indignation that whole congregations, with the clergy at the head, would at times resort to dishonorable bribes in order to avert the persecution of heathen magistrates.60  But these were certainly cases of rare exception. Generally speaking the three sorts of apostates (lapsi) were at once excommunicated, and in many churches, through excessive rigor, were even refused restoration.

Those who cheerfully confessed Christ before the heathen magistrate at the peril of life, but were not executed, were honored as confessors.61 Those who suffered abuse of all kind and death itself, for their faith, were called martyrs or bloodwitnesses.62

Among these confessors and martyrs were not wanting those in whom the pure, quiet flame of enthusiasm rose into the wild fire of fanaticism, and whose zeal was corrupted with impatient haste, heaven-tempting presumption, and pious ambition; to whom that word could be applied: "Though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." They delivered themselves up to the heathen officers, and in every way sought the martyr’s crown, that they might merit heaven and be venerated on earth as saints. Thus Tertullian tells of a company of Christians in Ephesus, who begged martyrdom from the heathen governor, but after a few had been executed, the rest were sent away by him with the words: "Miserable creatures, if you really wish to die, you have precipices and halters enough." Though this error was far less discreditable than the opposite extreme of the cowardly fear of man, yet it was contrary to the instruction and the example of Christ and the apostles,63 and to the spirit of true martyrdom, which consists in the union of sincere humility and power, and possesses divine strength in the very consciousness of human weakness. And accordingly intelligent church teachers censured this stormy, morbid zeal. The church of Smyrna speaks thus: "We do not commend those who expose themselves; for the gospel teaches not so." Clement of Alexandria says: "The Lord himself has commanded us to flee to another city when we are persecuted; not as if the persecution were an evil; not as if we feared death; but that we may not lead or help any to evil doing." In Tertullian’s view martyrdom perfects itself in divine patience; and with Cyprian it is a gift of divine grace, which one cannot hastily grasp, but must patiently wait for.

But after all due allowance for such adulteration and degeneracy, the martyrdom of the first three centuries still remains one of the grandest phenomena of history, and an evidence of the indestructible divine nature of Christianity.

No other religion could have stood for so long a period the combined opposition of Jewish bigotry, Greek philosophy, and Roman policy and power; no other could have triumphed at last over so many foes by purely moral and spiritual force, without calling any carnal weapons to its aid. This comprehensive and long-continued martyrdom is the peculiar crown and glory of the early church; it pervaded its entire literature and gave it a predominantly apologetic character; it entered deeply into its organization and discipline and the development of Christian doctrine; it affected the public worship and private devotions; it produced a legendary poetry; but it gave rise also, innocently, to a great deal of superstition, and undue exaltation of human merit; and it lies at the foundation of the Catholic worship of saints and relics.

Sceptical writers have endeavored to diminish its moral effect by pointing to the fiendish and hellish scenes of the papal crusades against the Albigenses and Waldenses, the Parisian massacre of the Huguenots, the Spanish Inquisition, and other persecutions of more recent date. Dodwell expressed the opinion, which has been recently confirmed by the high authority of the learned and impartial Niebuhr, that the Diocletian persecution was a mere shadow as compared with the persecution of the Protestants in the Netherlands by the Duke of Alva in the service of Spanish bigotry and despotism. Gibbon goes even further, and boldly asserts that "the number of Protestants who were executed by the Spaniards in a single province and a single reign, far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries and of the Roman empire." The victims of the Spanish Inquisition also are said to outnumber those of the Roman emperors.64

Admitting these sad facts, they do not justify any sceptical conclusion. For Christianity is no more responsible for the crimes and cruelties perpetrated in its name by unworthy professors and under the sanction of an unholy alliance of politics and religion, than the Bible for all the nonsense men have put into it, or God for the abuse daily and hourly practised with his best gifts. But the number of martyrs must be judged by the total number of Christians who were a minority of the population. The want of particular statements by contemporary writers leaves it impossible to ascertain, even approximately, the number of martyrs. Dodwell and Gibbon have certainly underrated it, as far as Eusebius, the popular tradition since Constantine, and the legendary poesy of the middle age, have erred the other way. This is the result of recent discovery and investigation, and fully admitted by such writers as Renan. Origen, it is true, wrote in the middle of the third century, that the number of Christian martyrs was small and easy to be counted; God not permitting that all this class of men should be exterminated.65  But this language must be understood as referring chiefly to the reigns of Caracalla, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus and Philippus Arabs, who did not persecute the Christians. Soon afterwards the fearful persecution of Decius broke out, in which Origen himself was thrown into prison and cruelly treated. Concerning the preceding ages, his statement must be qualified by the equally valid testimonies of Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria (Origen’s teacher), and the still older Irenaeus, who says expressly, that the church, for her love to God, "sends in all places and at all times a multitude of martyrs to the Father."66  Even the heathen Tacitus speaks of an "immense multitude" (ingens multitudo) of Christians, who were murdered in the city of Rome alone during the Neronian persecution in 64. To this must be added the silent, yet most eloquent testimony of the Roman catacombs, which, according to the calculation of Marchi and Northcote, extended over nine hundred English miles, and are said to contain nearly seven millions of graves, a large proportion of these including the relics of martyrs, as the innumerable inscriptions and instruments of death testify. The sufferings, moreover, of the church during this period are of course not to be measured merely by the number of actual executions, but by the far more numerous insults, slanders, vexatious, and tortures, which the cruelty of heartless heathens and barbarians could devise, or any sort of instrument could inflict on the human body, and which were in a thousand cases worse than death.

Finally, while the Christian religion has at all times suffered more or less persecution, bloody or unbloody, from the ungodly world, and always had its witnesses ready for any sacrifice; yet at no period since the first three centuries was the whole church denied the right of a peaceful legal existence, and the profession of Christianity itself universally declared and punished as a political crime. Before Constantine the Christians were a helpless and proscribed minority in an essentially heathen world, and under a heathen government. Then they died not simply for particular doctrines, but for the facts of Christianity. Then it was a conflict, not for a denomination or sect, but for Christianity itself. The importance of ancient martyrdom does not rest so much on the number of victims and the cruelty of their sufferings as on the great antithesis and the ultimate result in saving the Christian religion for all time to come. Hence the first three centuries are the classical period of heathen persecution and of Christian martyrdom. The martyrs and confessors of the ante-Nicene age suffered for the common cause of all Christian denominations and sects, and hence are justly held in reverence and gratitude by all.




Dr. Thomas Arnold, who had no leaning to superstitious and idolatrous saint-worship, in speaking of a visit to the church of San Stefano at Rome, remarks: "No doubt many of the particular stories thus painted will bear no critical examination; it is likely enough, too, that Gibbon has truly accused the general statements of exaggeration. But this is a thankless labor. Divide the sum total of the reported martyrs by twenty—by fifty, if you will; after all you have a number of persons of all ages and sexes suffering cruel torment and death for conscience’ sake, and for Christ’s; and by their sufferings manifestly with God’s blessing ensuring the triumph of Christ’s gospel. Neither do I think that we consider the excellence of this martyr spirit half enough. I do not think that pleasure is a sin; but though pleasure is not a sin, yet surely the contemplation of suffering for Christ’s sake is a thing most needful for us in our days, from whom in our daily life suffering seems so far removed. And as God’s grace enabled rich and delicate persons, women and even children, to endure all extremities of pain and reproach, in times past; so there is the same grace no less mighty now; and if we do not close ourselves against it, it might be in us no less glorious in a time of trial."

Lecky, a very able and impartial historian, justly censures the unfeeling chapter of Gibbon on persecution. "The complete absence," he says (History of European Morals, I. 494 sqq.), "of all sympathy with the heroic courage manifested by the martyrs, and the frigid, and in truth most unphilosophical severity with which the historian has weighed the words and actions of men engaged in the agonies of a deadly, struggle, must repel every generous nature, while the persistence with which he estimates persecutions by the number of deaths rather than the amount of suffering, diverts the mind from the really distinctive atrocities of the Pagan persecutions .... It is true that in one Catholic country they introduced the atrocious custom of making the spectacle of men burnt alive for their religious opinions an element in the public festivities. It is true, too, that the immense majority of the acts of the martyrs are the transparent forgeries of lying monks; but it is also true that among the authentic records of Pagan persecutions there are histories, which display, perhaps more vividly than any other, both the depth of cruelty to which human nature may sink, and the heroism of resistance it may attain. There was a time when it was the just boast of the Romans, that no refinement of cruelty, no prolongations of torture, were admitted in their stern but simple penal code. But all this was changed. Those hateful games, which made the spectacle of human suffering and death the delight of all classes, had spread their brutalising influence wherever the Roman name was known, had rendered millions absolutely indifferent to the sight of human suffering, had produced in many, in the very centre of an advanced civilisation, a relish and a passion for torture, a rapture and an exultation in watching the spasms of extreme agony, such as an African or an American savage alone can equal. The most horrible recorded instances of torture were usually inflicted, either by the populace, or in their presence, in the arena. We read of Christians bound in chains of red-hot iron, while the stench of their half-consumed flesh rose in a suffocating cloud to heaven; of others who were torn to the very bone by, shells or hooks of iron; of holy virgins given over to the lust of the gladiator or to the mercies of the pander; of two hundred and twenty-seven converts sent on one occasion to the mines, each with the sinews of one leg severed by a red-hot iron, and with an eye scooped from its socket; of fires so slow that the victims writhed for hours in their agonies; of bodies torn limb from limb, or sprinkled with burning lead; of mingled salt and vinegar poured over the flesh that was bleeding from the rack; of tortures prolonged and varied through entire days. For the love of their Divine Master, for the cause they believed to be true, men, and even weak girls, endured these things without flinching, when one word would have freed them from their sufferings, No opinion we may form of the proceedings of priests in a later age should impair the reverence with which we bend before the martyr’s tomb.


 § 27. Rise of the Worship of Martyrs and Relics.


I. Sources.


In addition to the works quoted in §§ 12 and 26, comp. Euseb. H. E. IV. 15; De Mart. Palaest. c. 7. Clem. Alex.: Strom. IV. p. 596. Orig.: Exhort. ad mart. c. 30 and 50. In Num. Kom. X. 2. Tertull.: De cor. mil. c. 3; De Resurr. carn. c. 43. Cypr.: De lapsis, c. 17; Epist. 34 and 57. Const. Apost.: l. 8.


II. Works.


C. Sagittarius: De natalitiis mart. Jen. 1696.

Schwabe: De insigni veneratione, quae obtinuit erga martyres in primit. eccl. Altd. 1748.


In thankful remembrance of the fidelity of this "noble army of martyrs," in recognition of the unbroken communion of saints, and in prospect of the resurrection of the body, the church paid to the martyrs, and even to their mortal remains, a veneration, which was in itself well-deserved and altogether natural, but which early exceeded the scriptural limit, and afterwards degenerated into the worship of saints and relics. The heathen hero-worship silently continued in the church and was baptized with Christian names.

In the church of Smyrna, according to its letter of the year 155, we find this veneration still in its innocent, childlike form: "They [the Jews] know not, that we can neither ever forsake Christ, who has suffered for the salvation of the whole world of the redeemed, nor worship another. Him indeed we adore (proskunou'men) as the Son of God; but the martyrs we love as they deserve (ajgapw'men ajxivw") for their surpassing love to their King and Master, as we wish also to be their companions and fellow-disciples."67  The day of the death of a martyr was called his heavenly birth-day,68 and was celebrated annually at his grave (mostly in a cave or catacomb), by prayer, reading of a history of his suffering and victory, oblations, and celebration of the holy supper.

But the early church did not stop with this. Martyrdom was taken, after the end of the second century, not only as a higher grade of Christian virtue, but at the same time as a baptism of fire and blood,69 an ample substitution for the baptism of water, as purifying from sin, and as securing an entrance into heaven. Origen even went so far as to ascribe to the sufferings of the martyrs an atoning virtue for others, an efficacy like that of the sufferings of Christ, on the authority of such passages as 2 Cor. 12:15; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 4:6. According to Tertullian, the martyrs entered immediately into the blessedness of heaven, and were not required, like ordinary Christians, to pass through the intermediate state. Thus was applied the benediction on those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, Matt. 5:10–12. Hence, according to Origen and Cyprian, their prayers before the throne of God came to be thought peculiarly efficacious for the church militant on earth, and, according to an example related by Eusebius, their future intercessions were bespoken shortly before their death.

In the Roman Catacombs we find inscriptions where the departed are requested to pray for their living relatives and friends.

The veneration thus shown for the persons of the martyrs was transferred in smaller measure to their remains. The church of Smyrna counted the bones of Polycarp more precious than gold or diamonds.70  The remains of Ignatius were held in equal veneration by the Christians at Antioch. The friends of Cyprian gathered his blood in handkerchiefs, and built a chapel over his tomb.

A veneration frequently excessive was paid, not only to the deceased martyrs, but also the surviving confessors. It was made the special duty of the deacons to visit and minister to them in prison. The heathen Lucian in his satire, "De morte Peregrini," describes the unwearied care of the Christians for their imprisoned brethren; the heaps of presents brought to them; and the testimonies of sympathy even by messengers from great distances; but all, of course, in Lucian’s view, out of mere good-natured enthusiasm. Tertullian the Montanist censures the excessive attention of the Catholics to their confessors. The libelli pacis, as they were called—intercessions of the confessors for the fallen—commonly procured restoration to the fellowship of the church. Their voice had peculiar weight in the choice of bishops, and their sanction not rarely overbalanced the authority of the clergy. Cyprian is nowhere more eloquent than in the praise of their heroism. His letters to the imprisoned confessors in Carthage are full of glorification, in a style somewhat offensive to our evangelical ideas. Yet after all, he protests against the abuse of their privileges, from which he had himself to suffer, and earnestly exhorts them to a holy walk; that the honor they have gained may not prove a snare to them, and through pride and carelessness be lost. He always represents the crown of the confessor and the martyr as a free gift of the grace of God, and sees the real essence of it rather in the inward disposition than in the outward act. Commodian conceived the whole idea of martyrdom in its true breadth, when he extended it to all those who, without shedding their blood, endured to the end in love, humility, and patience, and in all Christian virtue.



* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.

12  So Augustin, De Civit. Dei, xviii. 52, but he mentions Antoninus for Marcus Aurelius. Lactantius counts six, Sulpitius Severus nine persecutions.

13  Ex. chs. 5-10; Rev. 17:12 sqq. Augustin felt the impropriety of referring to the Egyptian plagues, and calls this a mere conjecture of the human mind which "sometimes hits the truth and sometimes is deceived." He also rectifies the number by referring to the persecutions before Nero, mentioned in the N. T., and to the persecutions after Diocletian, as that of Julian, and the Arian emperors. "When I think of these and the like things," he says, "it does not seem to me that the number of persecutions with which the church is to be tried can be definitely stated."

14  On the relation of Christianity to the laws of the Roman empire, see Aubé, De la legatité du Christianisme dans l’empire Romain au Ier siècle. Paris 1866.

15  See the remarkable passageAd Scapulam, c. 2: "Tamen humani juris et naturalis potestatis est unicuique quod putaverit colere, nec alii obest, aut prodest alterius religio. Sed religionis est cogere religionem, quae sponte suscipi debeat non vi, cum et hostiae ab animo libenti expostulentur. Ita etsi nos compuleritis ad sacrificandum, nihil praestabitis diis vestris. Ab invitis enim sacrificia non desiderabunt, nisi si contentiosi sunt; contentiosus autem deus non est." Comp. the similar passage in Tertullian, Apolog. c. 24, where after enumerating the various forms of idolatry which enjoyed free toleration in the empire he continues: "Videte enim ne et hoc ad irreliqiositatis elogium concurrat, adimere libertatem reliqionis et interdicere optionem divinitatis, ut non liceat mihi colere quem velim sed cogar colere quem nolim. Nemo se ab invito coli volet, ne homo quidem."

16  Apol. I. c. 2, 4, 12

17  Instit. div. V. 20.

18  As reported by Justin M., a native of Palestine and a contemporary of this destruction of Jerusalem. Apol. l.c. 47. Tertullian also says (Adv. Jud. c. 13), that, "an interdict was issued forbidding any one of the Jews to linger in the confines of the district."

19  Ad Zephan. 1:15 sqq. Schürer quotes the passage, p. 363.

20  "The Wailing Place of the Jews" at the cyclopean foundation wall is just outside of the Mosque El Aska, and near "Robinson’s Arch." There I saw on Good Friday, 1877, a large number of Jews, old and young, men and women, venerable rabbis with patriarchal beards, others dirty and repulsive, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears, while repeating from Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Psalms 76th and 79th, and various litanies. Comp. Tobler, Topographie von Jerusalem I. 629.

21  On the literature of the Talmud see the articles in Herzog, and in McClintock & Strong, and especially Schürer, Neutestamentl. Zeitgeschichte (Leipz. 1874), pp. 45-49, to which I add Schürer’s essay: Die Predigt Jesu Christi in ihrem Verhältniss zum Altem Testament und zum Judenthum, Darmstadt, 1882. The relation of the Talmud to the Sermon on the Mount and the few resemblances is discussed by Pick in McClintock & Strong, vol. ix. 571.

22  "Non licet esse vos." Tertullian, Apol. 4

23  The History of Rome, translated by Dickson, vol. IV. P. II. p. 559.

24  "Nisi publice adscitos."

25  ajnavgkaze, according to Dion Cassius.

26  Apolog. c. 24 at the close: "Apud vos quod vis coler ejus est praeter Deum verum, quasi non hic magis omnium sit Deus, cuius omnes sumus."

27  Hence the reproachful designation "Hostes Caesarum et populi Romani."

28  Comp. Arts. 19:24; 16:16.

29  Or prohibited clubs. This is the meaning of hetaeria (eJtaireiva or eJtairiva), collegium, sodalitas, sodalitium, company, brotherhood, especially a private political club or union for party purposes. The Roman sodalities were festive clubs or lodges, and easily available for political and revolutionary ends. Trajan refused to sanction a company of firemen in Nicomedia (Pliny, Ep. X. 34, al. 43). Comp. Büttner, Geschichte der politischen Hetärien in Athen (1840). and Mommsen, De collegiis et sodali us Romanorum (Kiel, 1843).

30  In three recensions, two in Greek, and one in Syriac. The seven shorter Greek Ep. are genuine. See below § 165.

31  The rescript of Hadrian to Minucius Fundanus (124 or 128), preserved by Eusebius in a Greek translation, (H. H. E., IV. V. 8, 9), is almost an edict of toleration, and hence doubted by Baur, Keim, Aubé, but defended as genuine by Neander (I. 101, Engl. ed.), Wieseler, Funk, Renan (l.c. p. 32 sqq). Renan represents Hadrian as a rieur spirituel, un Lucian couronné prenat le monde comme un jeu frivole (p. 6), and therefore more favorable to religious liberty than the serious Trajan and the pious Antoninius and Marcus Aurelius. But Friedländer (III. 492) accepts the report of Pausanias that Hadrian was zealously devoted to the worship of the gods. Keim regards him as a visionary and hostile to Christianity as well as to Judaism.

32  He always offered sacrifice himself as high-priest. Friedländer III. 492.

33  So Waddington, who has made it almost certain that Quadratus was Roman consul a.d. 142, and proconsul in Asia from 154 to 155, and that Polycarp died Feb. 23, 155. He is followed by Renan (1873), Ewald (1873), Aubé (1875), Hilgenfeld (1874), Lightfoot (1875), Lipsius (1874), 0. v. Gebhardt (1875), Zahn, Harnack (1876), Egli (1882), and again by Lightfoot (1885, l.c. I. 647 sqq). Wieseler and Keim learnedly defend the old date (166-167), which rests on the authority of Eusebius and Jerome, and was held by Masson and Clinton. But Lightfoot refutes their objections (I. 647, sqq.), and sustains Waddington.

34  Med. xi. 3: Mh; kata; yilh;n paravtaxin, wJ" oiJ Cristianoi;, aJlla; lelogismevno" kai; semnw'" kai;, w{ste kai; a]llon p ei'sai atragw/vdw"

35  Bodek (l.c. p. 82 sqq.) maintains, contrary to the common view, that Marcus Aurelius was personally indifferent to heathenism and Christianity, that his acts of respect for the worship of the gods, related by Capitolinus and others, were simply official tributes, and that the persecutions of the Christians did probably not originate with him. "Er wareben so wenig ein Feind des Christenthums, als er ein Feind des Heidenthums war: was wie religiöser Fanatismus aussah,war in Wahrheit nur politischer Conservatismus" (p. 87). On the other hand, Bodek claims for him a friendly sympathy with Judaism in its monotheistic and ethical features, and assumes that he had intimate relations with a Jewish rabbi. But there is nothing in his twelve books "Do seipso et ad seipsum," which is inconsistent with an enlightened heathen piety under the unconscious influence of Christianity, yet hostile to it partly from ignorance of its true nature, partly from a conscientious regard to his duty as the pontifex maximus of the state religion. The same was the case with Trajan and Decius. Renan (p. 262 sqq.) calls the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius "le livre le plus purement humain qu’il y ait. Il ne tranche aucune question controversée. En théologie, Marc Aurèle flotte entre le déisme pur, le polythéisme enterprété dans un sens physique, à la façon des stoïciens, et une sorte de panthéisme cosmique."

36  "Si quis aliquid fecerit, quo leves hominum animi superstitio numinis terrerentur, Divus Marcus hujusmodi homines in insulam relegari rescripsit."Dig. XLVIII. tit. 19. 1. 13, quoted by Lecky in Hist. of Europ. Morals, I. 448. 9

37  Legio fulminatrix, keraunofovro". The twelfth legion bore the name Fulminata as far back as the time of Trajan; and hence it cannot be derived from this event.

38  filovqeo" pallakhv

39  Unless we should prefer to derive it from  aeL

and  gIb;iil

40  Yet he meant no more than toleration, as Lampridius says, 22 (21): Judaeis privilegia reservavit, Christianos esse passus est.

41  "Maximus fratrum numerus," says Cyprian.

42  See Franz Görres, l.c.

43  Eusebius, H. E. VIII. 1.

44  So Arthur James Mason begins his book on thePersecution of Diocletian.

45  Maximian (surnamed Herculius) ruled in Italy and Africa, Galerius (Armentarius) on the banks of the Danube, and afterwards in the East, Constantius (Chlorus) in Gaul, Spain, and Britain; while Diocletian reserved to himself Asia, Egypt, and Thrace, and resided in Nicomedia. Galerius married a daughter of Diocletian (the unfortunate Valeria), Constantius a (nominal) daughter of Maximian (Theodora), after repudiating their former wives. Constantine, the son of the divorced Helena, married Fausta, the daughter of Maximian as his second wife (father and son being married to two sisters). He was raised to the dignity of Caesar, July 25, 306. See Gibbon, chs. XIII and XIV.

46  Lactantius (De Morte. Persec. c. 9), calls him "a wild beast, " in whom dwelt "a native barbarity and a savageness foreign to Roman blood." He died at last of a terrible disease, of which Lacantius gives a minute account (ch. 33).

47  Lactantius charges the incendiarism on Galerius who, as a second Nero, endangered the residence for the purpose of punishing the innocent Christians. Constantine, who then resided at the Court, on a solemn occasion at a later period, attributes the fire to lightning (Orat. ad Sanct. c. 25), but the repetition of the occurrence strengthens the suspicion of Lactantius.

48  Gibbon, ch. XVI., intimates the probability of a political plot. In speaking of the fire in the imperial palace of Nicomedia, he says: "The suspicion naturally fell on the Christians; and it was suggested, with some degree of probability, that those desperate fanatics, provoked by their present sufferings, and apprehensive of impending calamities, had entered into a conspiracy with their faithful brethren, the eunuchs of the palace, against the lives of two emperors, whom they detested as the irreconcilable enemies of the Church of God." The conjecture of Gibbon was renewed by Burkhardt in his work on Constantine, pp. 332 ff, but without any evidence. Baur rejects it as artificial and very improbable. (Kirchengesch. I. 452, note). Mason (p. 97 sq.) refutes it.

49  See Lactant., De Morte Persec. ch. 18 and 19, 32, and Gibbon, ch. XIV. V. (vol. II. 16 in Smith’s edition). The original name of Maximin was Daza. He must not be confounded with Maximian (who was older and died three years before him). He was a rude, ignorant and superstitious tyrant, equal to Galerius in cruelty and surpassing him in incredible debauchery (See Lact. l.c. ch. 37 sqq.). He died of poison after being defeated by Licinius in 313.

50  See on this edict of Maximin, Euseb. Mart. Pal. IX. 2; the Acts of Martyrs in Boll., May 8, p. 291, and Oct. 19, p. 428; Mason, l.c. 284 sqq.

51  Lightfoot vindicates him in his learned art. Euseb. in Smith and Wace, Dict. of Christ. Biogr. II. 311.

52  Or ten years, if we include the local persecutions of Maximin and Licinius after the first edict of toleration (311-313).

53  As "Nomine Christianorum deleto; superstitione Christiana ubique deleta, et cultu Deorum propagato." See the inscriptions in full in Baronius (ad. ann. 304, no. 8, 9; but they are inconsistent with the confession of the failure in the edict of toleration, and acknowledged to be worthless even by Gams (K. Gesch. v. Spanien, I. 387).

54  For details see the Martyrologies, the "Lives of Saints, " also Baronius Annal. This historian is so fully convinced of the "insigne et perpetuum miraculum sanguinis S. Januarii," that he thinks; it unnecessary to produce; my witness, since "tota Italia, et totus Christianus orbis testis est locupletissimus!"Ad ann. 305 no. 6.

55  M. de Broglie (L’Église et l’Empire, I. 182) well characterizes this manifesto: "Singulier document, moitié insolent, moitié suppliant, qui commence par insulter chrétiens et finit par leur demander de prier leur maÎ tre pour lui." Mason (1. c. p. 299): "The dying emperor shows no penitence, makes no confession, except his impotence. He wishes to dupe and outwit the angry Christ, by pretending to be not a persecutor but a reformer. With a curse, he dashes his edict of toleration in the church’s face, and hopes superstitiously that it will win him indemnity."

56  It is usually stated (also by Keim, l.c., Gieseler, Baur, vol. I.. 454 sqq.), that Constantine and Licinius issued two edicts of toleration, one in the year 312, and one from Milan in 313, since the last refers to a previous edict, but the reference seems to be to directions now lost for officials which accompanied the edict of Galerius (311), of which Constantine was a co-signatory. There is no edict of 312. See Zahn and especially Mason (p. 328 sq.), also Uhlhorn (Conflict, etc., p. 497, Engl. translation).

57  "Ut daremus et Christianis et omnibus liberam potestatem sequendi religionem, quam quiscunque voluisset." See Euseb. H. X. 5; Lactant. De Mort. Pers. c. 48. Mason (p. 327) says of the Edict of Milan: "It is the very first announcement of that doctrine which is now regarded as the mark and principle of civilization, the foundation of solid liberty, the characteristic of modern politics. In vigorous and trenchant sentences it sets forth perfect freedom of conscience, the unfettered choice of religion."

58  For a fuller account of Constantine and his relation to the Church. see the next volume.

59  Comp. a similar passage in the anonymous Ep. ad Diognetum, c. 6 and 7 at the close, and in Justin M., Dial .c. Tryph. Jud. c. 110.

60  De fuga in persec. c. 13: "Massaliter totae ecclesiae tributum sibi irrogaverunt."

61  JJOmologhvtai, confessores, Matt. 10:32; 1 Tim. 6:12.

62  Mavrture", Acts 22:20; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 5:1; Rev. 17:6.

63  Comp. Matt. 10:23; 24:15-20; Phil. 1:20-25; 2 Tim. 4:6-8.

64  The number of Dutch martyrs under the Duke of Alva amounted, according to Grotius, to over 100,000; according to P. Sarpi, the R. Cath. historian, to 50,000. Motley, in his History of the Rim of the Dutch Republic, vol. II. 504, says of the terrible reign of Alva: "The barbarities committed amid the sack and ruin of those blazing and starving cities are almost beyond belief; unborn infants were torn from the living bodies of their mothers; women and children were violated by the thousands; and whole populations burned and hacked to pieces by soldiers in every mode which cruelty, in its wanton ingenuity, could devise." Buckle and Friedländer (III. 586) assert that during the eighteen years of office of Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition punished, according to the lowest estimate, 105,000 persons, among whom 8,800 were burnt. In Andalusia 2000 Jews were executed, and 17,000 punished in a single year.

65  jOlivgoi kata; kairou;" kai; sfovdra eujarivqmhtoi teqnhvkasi.. Adv. Cels. III. 8 The older testimony of Melito of Sardis, in the well-known fragment from his Apology, preserved by Eusebius IV. 26, refers merely to the small number of imperial persecutors before Marcus Aurelius.

66  Adv. Haer. IV. c. 33, § 9: Ecclesia omni in loco ob eam, quam habet erga Deum dilectionem, multitudinem martyrum in omni tempore praemittit ad Patrem.

67  Martyrium Polycarpi, cap. 17; Comp. Eusebius, H. E. IV. 15.

68  JHmevra genevqlio", genevqlia, natales, natalitia martyrum.

69  Lavacrum sanguinis, bavptisma dia; purov", comp. Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50; Mark 10:39.

70  It is worthy of note, however, that some of the startling phenomena related in the Martyrium Polycarpi by the congregation of Smyrna are omitted in the narrative of Eusebius (IV. 15), and may be a later interpolation.