The Eighth Persecution Under Valerian A D 257
Began under Valerian, in the month of April, 257, and continued for
three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this persecution
were innumerable, and their tortures and deaths as various and painful.
The most eminent martyrs were the following, though neither rank, sex,
or age were regarded.
Rufina and Secunda, two beautiful and accomplished ladies, daughters of
Asterius, a gentleman of eminence
in Rome. Rufina, the elder, was
designed in marriage for Armentarius, a young nobleman; Secunda, the
younger, for Verinus a person of rank and opulence. The suitors, at the
time of the persecution's commencing, were both christians; but when
danger appeared, to save their fortunes, they renounced their faith.
They took great pains to persuade the ladies to do the same, but,
disappointed in their purpose, the lovers were base enough to inform
against the ladies, who, being apprehended as christians, were brought
before Junius Donatus, governor of Rome, where, A. D. 257, they sealed
their martyrdom with their blood.
Stephen, bishop of Rome, was beheaded in the same year, and about that
time Saturnius, the pious orthodox bishop of Thoulouse, refusing to
sacrifice to idols, was treated with all the barbarous indignities
imaginable, and fastened by the feet to the tail of a bull. Upon a
signal given, the enraged animal was driven down the steps of the
temple, by which the worthy martyr's brains were dashed out.
Sextus succeeded Stephen as bishop of Rome. He is supposed to have been
a Greek by birth or by extraction, and had for some time served in the
capacity of a deacon under Stephen. His great fidelity, singular wisdom,
and uncommon courage, distinguished him upon many occasions; and the
happy conclusion of a controversy with some heretics is generally
ascribed to his piety and prudence. In the year 258, Marcianus, who had
the management of the Roman government, procured an order from the
emperor Valerian, to put to death all the christian clergy in Rome, and
hence the bishop with six of his deacons, suffered martyrdom in 258.
Laurentius, generally called St. Laurence, the principal of the deacons,
who taught and preached under Sextus, followed him to the place of
execution; when Sextus predicted, that he should, three days after, meet
him in heaven.
Laurentius, looking upon this as a certain indication of his own
approaching martyrdom, at his return gathered together all the christian
poor, and distributed the treasures of the church, which had been
committed to his care, among them.
This liberality alarmed the persecutors, who commanded him to give an
immediate account to the emperor of the church treasures. This he
promised to do in three days, during which interval, he collected
together a great number of aged, helpless, and impotent poor; he
repaired to the magistrate, and presenting them to him, said, "These are
the true treasures of the church." Incensed at the disappointment, and
fancying the matter meant in ridicule, the governor ordered him to be
immediately scourged. He was then beaten with iron rods, set upon a
wooden horse, and had his limbs dislocated. These tortures he endured
with fortitude and perseverance; when he was ordered to be fastened to a
large gridiron, with a slow fire under it, that his death might be the
more lingering. His astonishing constancy during these trials, and
serenity of countenance while under such excruciating torments, gave the
spectators so exalted an idea of the dignity and truth of the christian
religion, that many became converts upon the occasion, of whom was
Romanus, a soldier.
In Africa the persecution raged with peculiar violence; many thousands
received the crown of martyrdom, among whom the following were the most
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, an eminent prelate, and a pious ornament of
the church. The brightness of his genius was tempered by the solidity of
his judgment; and with all the accomplishments of the gentleman, he
blended the virtues of a christian. His doctrines were orthodox and
pure; his language easy and elegant; and his manners graceful and
winning: in fine, he was both the pious and polite preacher. In his
youth he was educated in the principles of Gentilism, and having a
considerable fortune, he lived in the very extravagance of splendour,
and all the dignity of pomp.
About the year 246, Coecilius, a christian minister of Carthage became
the happy instrument of Cyprian's conversion: on which account, and for
the great love that he always afterward bore for the author of his
conversion, he was termed Coecilius Cyprian. Previous to his baptism,
he studied the scriptures with care, and being struck with the beauties
of the truths they contained, he determined to practise the virtues
therein recommended. Subsequent to his baptism, he sold his estate,
distributed the money among the poor, dressed himself in plain attire,
and commenced a life of austerity. He was soon after made a presbyter;
and, being greatly admired for his virtues and works, on the death of
Donatus, in A. D. 248, he was almost unanimously elected bishop of
Cyprian's care not only extended over Carthage, but to Numidia and
Mauritania. In all his transactions he took great care to ask the advice
of his clergy, knowing, that unanimity alone could be of service to the
church, this being one of his maxims, "That the bishop was in the
church, and the church in the bishop; so that unity can only be
preserved by a close connexion between the pastor and his flock."
A. D. 250, Cyprian was publicly proscribed by the emperor Decius, under
the appellation of Coecilius Cyprian, bishop of the christians; and
the universal cry of the pagans was, "Cyprian to the lions, Cyprian to
the beasts." The bishop, however, withdrew from the rage of the
populace, and his effects were immediately confiscated. During his
retirement, he wrote thirty pious and elegant letters to his flock; but
several schisms that then crept into the church, gave him great
uneasiness. The rigour of the persecution abating, he returned to
Carthage, and did every thing in his power to expunge erroneous
opinions. A terrible plague breaking out in Carthage, it was as usual,
laid to the charge of the christians; and the magistrates began to
persecute accordingly, which occasioned an epistle from them to Cyprian,
in answer to which he vindicates the cause of christianity. A. D. 257,
Cyprian was brought before the proconsul Aspasius Paturnus, who exiled
him to a little city on the Lybian sea. On the death of this proconsul,
he returned to Carthage, but was soon after seized, and carried before
the now governor, who condemned him to be beheaded; which sentence was
executed on the 14th of September, A. D. 258.
The disciples of Cyprian, martyred in this persecution, were Lucius,
Flavian, Victoricus, Remus, Montanus, Julian, Primelus, and Donatian.
At Utica, a most terrible tragedy was exhibited: 300 christians were, by
the orders of the proconsul, placed round a burning limekiln. A pan of
coals and incense being prepared, they were commanded either to
sacrifice to Jupiter, or to be thrown into the kiln. Unanimously
refusing, they bravely jumped into the pit, and were immediately
Fructuosus, bishop of Tarragon, in Spain, and his two deacons, Augurius
and Eulogius, were burnt for being christians.
Alexander, Malchus, and Priscus, three christians of Palestine, with a
woman of the same place, voluntarily accused themselves of being
christians; on which account they were sentenced to be devoured by
tigers, which sentence was executed accordingly.
Maxima, Donatilla, and Secunda, three virgins of Tuburga, had gall and
vinegar given them to drink, were then severely scourged, tormented on a
gibbet, rubbed with lime, scorched on a gridiron, worried by wild
beasts, and at length beheaded.
It is here proper to take notice of the singular but miserable fate of
the emperor Valerian, who had so long and so terribly persecuted the
This tyrant, by a stratagem, was taken prisoner by Sapor, emperor of
Persia, who carried him into his own country, and there treated him with
the most unexampled indignity, making him kneel down as the meanest
slave, and treading upon him as a footstool when he mounted his horse.
After having kept him for the space of seven years in this abject state
of slavery, he caused his eyes to be put out, though he was then 83
years of age. This not satiating his desire of revenge, he soon after
ordered his body to be flayed alive, and rubbed with salt, under which
torments he expired; and thus fell one of the most tyrannical emperors
of Rome, and one of the greatest persecutors of the christians.
A. D. 260, Gallienus, the son of Valerian, succeeded him, and during his
reign (a few martyrs excepted) the church enjoyed peace for some years.