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The Fourth Persecution Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus A D 162

This commenced A. D. 162, under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Philosophus, a
strong pagan.

The cruelties used in this persecution were such, that many of the
spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at
the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to
pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells,
&c. upon their points, others were scourged till their sinews and veins
lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could
be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

Germanicus, a young man, but a true christian, being delivered to the
wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing
courage, that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired
such fortitude.

Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were
seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting
the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which
being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented
that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried
before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market-place. Twelve
other christians, who had been intimate with Polycarp, were soon after

The circumstances attending the execution of this venerable old man, as
they were of no common nature, so it would be injurious to the credit of
our professed history of martyrdom to pass them over in silence. It was
observed by the spectators, that, after finishing his prayer at the
stake, to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured
them he should stand immoveable, the flames, on their kindling the
fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the
executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword,
when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire.
But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the gospel,
especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request
of his friends, who wished to give it christian burial, rejected. They
nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible,
and caused them to be decently interred.

Metrodorus, a minister, who preached boldly; and Pionius, who made some
excellent apologies for the christian faith; were likewise burnt. Carpus
and Papilus, two worthy christians, and Agathonica, a pious woman,
suffered martyrdom at Pergamopolis, in Asia.

Felicitatis, an illustrious Roman lady, of a considerable family and
the most shining virtues, was a devout christian. She had seven sons,
whom she had educated with the most exemplary piety.

Januarius, the eldest, was scourged, and pressed to death with weights;
Felix and Philip, the two next had their brains dashed out with clubs;
Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice; and
the three younger sons, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial, were beheaded.
The mother was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter.

Justin, the celebrated philosopher, fell a martyr in this persecution.
He was a native of Neapolis, in Samaria, and was born A. D. 103. Justin
was a great lover of truth, and a universal scholar; he investigated the
Stoic and Peripatetic philosophy, and attempted the Pythagorean; but the
behaviour of one of its professors disgusting him, he applied himself to
the Platonic, in which he took great delight. About the year 133, when
he was thirty years of age, he became a convert to christianity, and
then, for the first time, perceived the real nature of truth.

He wrote an elegant epistle to the Gentiles, and employed his talents in
convincing the Jews of the truth of the christian rites; spending a
great deal of time in travelling, till he took up his abode in Rome, and
fixed his habitation upon the Viminal mount.

He kept a public school, taught many who afterward became great men, and
wrote a treatise to confute heresies of all kinds. As the pagans began
to treat the christians with great severity, Justin wrote his first
apology in their favour. This piece displays great learning and genius,
and occasioned the emperor to publish an edict in favor of the

Soon after, he entered into frequent contests with Crescens, a person of
a vicious life and conversation, but a celebrated cynic philosopher; and
his arguments appeared so powerful, yet disgusting to the cynic, that he
resolved on, and in the sequel accomplished, his destruction.

The second apology of Justin, upon certain severities, gave Crescens the
cynic an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor against the writer of
it; upon which Justin, and six of his companions, were apprehended.
Being commanded to sacrifice to the pagan idols, they refused, and were
condemned to be scourged, and then beheaded; which sentence was executed
with all imaginable severity.

Several were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the image of Jupiter;
in particular Concordus, a deacon of the city of Spolito.

Some of the restless northern nations having risen in arms against Rome,
the emperor marched to encounter them. He was, however, drawn into an
ambuscade, and dreaded the loss of his whole army. Enveloped with
mountains, surrounded by enemies, and perishing with thirst, the pagan
deities were invoked in vain; when the men belonging to the militine, or
thundering legion, who were all christians, were commanded to call upon
their God for succour. A miraculous deliverance immediately ensued; a
prodigious quantity of rain fell, which, being caught by the men, and
filling their dykes, afforded a sudden and astonishing relief. It
appears, that the storm which miraculously flashed in the faces of the
enemy, so intimidated them, that part deserted to the Roman army; the
rest were defeated, and the revolted provinces entirely recovered.

This affair occasioned the persecution to subside for some time, at
least in those parts immediately under the inspection of the emperor;
but we find that it soon after raged in France, particularly at Lyons,
where the tortures to which many of the christians were put, almost
exceed the powers of description.

The principal of these martyrs were Vetius Agathus, a young man;
Blandina, a christian lady, of a weak constitution; Sanctus, a deacon of
Vienna; red hot plates of brass were placed upon the tenderest parts of
his body; Biblias, a weak woman, once an apostate. Attalus, of Pergamus;
and Pothinus, the venerable bishop of Lyons, who was ninety years of
age. Blandina, on the day when she and the three other champions were
first brought into the amphitheatre, she was suspended on a piece of
wood fixed in the ground, and exposed as food for the wild beasts; at
which time, by her earnest prayers, she encouraged others. But none of
the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was remanded to prison.
When she was again produced for the third and last time, she was
accompanied by Ponticus, a youth of fifteen and the constancy of their
faith so enraged the multitude, that neither the sex of the one nor the
youth of the other were respected, being exposed to all manner of
punishments and tortures. Being strengthened by Blandina, he persevered
unto death; and she, after enduring all the torments heretofore
mentioned, was at length slain with the sword.

When the christians, upon these occasions, received martyrdom, they were
ornamented, and crowned with garlands of flowers; for which they, in
heaven, received eternal crowns of glory.

The torments were various; and, exclusive of those already mentioned,
the martyrs of Lyons were compelled to sit in red-hot iron chairs till
their flesh broiled. This was inflicted with peculiar severity on
Sanctus, already mentioned, and some others. Some were sewed up in nets,
and thrown on the horns of wild bulls; and the carcases of those who
died in prison, previous to the appointed time of execution, were thrown
to dogs. Indeed, so far did the malice of the pagans proceed that they
set guards over the bodies while the beasts were devouring them, lest
the friends of the deceased should get them away by stealth; and the
offals left by the dogs were ordered to be burnt.

The martyrs of Lyons, according to the best accounts we could obtain,
who suffered for the gospel, were forty-eight in number, and their
executions happened in the year of Christ 177.

Epipodius and Alexander were celebrated for their great friendship, and
their christian union with each other. The first was born at Lyons, the
latter at Greece. Epipodius, being compassionated by the governor of
Lyons, and exhorted to join in their festive pagan worship, replied,
"Your pretended tenderness is actually cruelty; and the agreeable life
you describe is replete with everlasting death Christ suffered for us,
that our pleasures should be immortal, and hath prepared for his
followers an eternity of bliss. The frame of man being composed of two
parts, body and soul, the first, as mean and perishable, should be
rendered subservient to the interests of the last. Your idolatrous
feasts may gratify the mortal, but they injure the immortal part; that
cannot therefore be enjoying life which destroys the most valuable
moiety of your frame. Your pleasures lead to eternal death, and our
pains to perpetual happiness." Epipodius was severely beaten, and then
put to the rack, upon which being stretched, his flesh was torn with
iron hooks. Having borne his torments with incredible patience and
unshaken fortitude, he was taken from the rack and beheaded.

Valerian and Marcellus, who were nearly related to each other, were
imprisoned at Lyons, in the year 177, for being christians. The father
was fixed up to the waist in the ground; in which position, after
remaining three days, he expired, A. D. 179. Valerian was beheaded.

Apollonius, a Roman senator, an accomplished gentleman, and a sincere
christian, suffered under Commodus, because he would not worship him as

Eusebius, Vincentius, Potentianus, Peregrinus, and Julius, a Roman
senator, were martyred on the same account.

Next: The Fifth Persecution Commencing With Severus A D 192

Previous: The Third Persecution Under Trajan A D 108

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