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 scourg
d 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.