The Seventh Persecution Under Decius A D 249

This was occasioned partly by the hatred he bore to his predecessor

Philip, who was deemed a christian, and partly to his jealousy

concerning the amazing increase of christianity; for the heathen temples

began to be forsaken, and the christian churches thronged.

These reasons stimulated Decius to attempt the very extirpation of the

name of christian; and it was unfortunate for the gospel, that many

had, about this time, crept into the church: the christians were

at variance with each other; self-interest divided those whom social

love ought to have united; and the virulence of pride occasioned a

variety of factions.

The heathens in general were ambitious to enforce the imperial decrees

upon this occasion, and looked upon the murder of a christian as a merit

to themselves. The martyrs, upon this occasion, were innumerable; but

the principal we shall give some account of.

Fabian, the bishop of Rome, was the first person of eminence who felt

the severity of this persecution. The deceased emperor, Philip, had, on

account of his integrity, committed his treasure to the care of this

good man. But Decius, not finding as much as his avarice made him

expect, determined to wreak his vengeance on the good prelate. He was

accordingly seized; and on the 20th of January, A. D. 250, he suffered


Julian, a native of Cilicia, as we are informed by St. Chrysostom, was

seized upon for being a christian. He was put into a leather bag,

together with a number of serpents and scorpions, and in that condition

thrown into the sea.

Peter, a young man, amiable for the superior qualities of his body and

mind, was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to Venus. He said, "I am

astonished you should sacrifice to an infamous woman, whose debaucheries

even your own historians record, and whose life consisted of such

actions as your laws would punish.--No, I shall offer the true God the

acceptable sacrifice of praises and prayers." Optimus, the proconsul of

Asia, on hearing this, ordered the prisoner to be stretched upon a

wheel, by which all his bones were broken, and then he was sent to be


Nichomachus, being brought before the proconsul as a christian, was

ordered to sacrifice to the pagan idols. Nichomachus replied, "I cannot

pay that respect to devils, which is only due to the Almighty." This

speech so much enraged the proconsul, that Nichomachus was put to the

rack. After enduring the torments for a time, he recanted; but scarcely

had he given this proof of his frailty, than he fell into the greatest

agonies, dropped down on the ground, and expired immediately.

Denisa, a young woman of only sixteen years of age, who beheld this

terrible judgment, suddenly exclaimed, "O unhappy wretch, why would you

buy a moment's ease at the expense of a miserable eternity!" Optimus,

hearing this, called to her, and Denisa avowing herself to be a

christian, she was beheaded, by his order, soon after.

Andrew and Paul, two companions of Nichomachus the martyr, A. D. 251,

suffered martyrdom by stoning, and expired, calling on their blessed


Alexander and Epimachus, of Alexandria, were apprehended for being

christians: and, confessing the accusation, were beat with staves, torn

with hooks, and at length burnt in the fire; and we are informed, in a

fragment preserved by Eusebius, that four female martyrs suffered on the

same day, and at the same place, but not in the same manner; for these

were beheaded.

Lucian and Marcian, two wicked pagans, though skilful magicians,

becoming converts to christianity, to make amends for their former

errors, lived the lives of hermits, and subsisted upon bread and water

only. After some time spent in this manner, they became zealous

preachers, and made many converts. The persecution, however, raging at

this time, they were seized upon, and carried before Sabinus, the

governor of Bithynia. On being asked by what authority they took upon

themselves to preach, Lucian answered, "That the laws of charity and

humanity obliged all men to endeavour the conversion of their

neighbours, and to do every thing in their power to rescue them from the

snares of the devil."

Lucian having answered in this manner, Marcian said, that "Then

conversion was by the same grace which was given to St. Paul, who, from

a zealous persecutor of the church, became a preacher of the gospel."

The proconsul, finding that he could not prevail with them to renounce

their faith, condemned them to be burnt alive, which sentence was soon

after executed.

Trypho and Respicius, two eminent men, were seized as Christians, and

imprisoned at Nice. Their feet were pierced with nails; they were

dragged through the streets, scourged, torn with iron hooks, scorched

with lighted torches, and at length beheaded, February 1, A. D. 251.

Agatha, a Sicilian lady, was not more remarkable for her personal and

acquired endowments, than her piety: her beauty was such, that Quintian,

governor of Sicily, became enamoured of her, and made many attempts upon

her chastity without success.

In order to gratify his passions with the greater conveniency, he put

the virtuous lady into the hands of Aphrodica, a very infamous and

licentious woman. This wretch tried every artifice to win her to the

desired prostitution; but found all her efforts were vain; for her

chastity was impregnable, and she well knew that virtue alone could

procure true happiness. Aphrodica acquainted Quintian with the

inefficacy of her endeavours, who, enraged to be foiled in his designs,

changed his lust into resentment. On her confessing that she was a

christian, he determined to gratify his revenge, as he could not his

passion. Pursuant to his orders, she was scourged, burnt with red-hot

irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with

admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals,

intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she

there expired on the 5th of Feb. 251.

Cyril, bishop of Gortyna, was seized by order of Lucius, the governor of

that place, who, nevertheless, exhorted him to obey the imperial

mandate, perform the sacrifices, and save his venerable person from

destruction; for he was now eighty-four years of age. The good prelate

replied, that as he had long taught others to save their souls, he

should only think now of his own salvation. The worthy prelate heard his

fiery sentence without emotion, walked cheerfully to the place of

execution, and underwent his martyrdom with great fortitude.

The persecution raged in no place more than the Island of Crete; for the

governor, being exceedingly active in executing the imperial decrees,

that place streamed with pious blood.

Babylas, a christian of a liberal education, became bishop of Antioch,

A. D. 237, on the demise of Zebinus. He acted with inimitable zeal, and

governed the church with admirable prudence during the most tempestuous


The first misfortune that happened to Antioch during his mission, was

the siege of it by Sapor, king of Persia; who, having overrun all Syria,

took and plundered this city among others, and used the christian

inhabitants with greater severity than the rest, but was soon totally

defeated by Gordian.

After Gordian's death, in the reign of Decius, that emperor came to

Antioch, where, having a desire to visit an assembly of christians,

Babylas opposed him, and absolutely refused to let him come in. The

emperor dissembled his anger at that time; but soon sending for the

bishop, he sharply reproved him for his insolence, and then ordered him

to sacrifice to the pagan deities as an expiation for his offence. This

being refused, he was committed to prison, loaded with chains, treated

with great severities, and then beheaded, together with three young men

who had been his pupils. A. D. 251.

Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, about this time was cast into prison on

account of his religion, where he died through the severity of his


Julianus, an old man, lame with the gout, and Cronion, another

christian, were bound on the backs of camels, severely scourged, and

then thrown into a fire and consumed. Also forty virgins, at Antioch,

after being imprisoned and scourged, were burnt.

In the year of our Lord 251, the emperor Decius having erected a pagan

temple at Ephesus, he commanded all who were in that city to sacrifice

to the idols. This order was nobly refused by seven of his own soldiers,

viz. Maximianus, Martianus, Joannes, Malchus, Dionysius, Seraion, and

Constantinus. The emperor wishing to win these soldiers to renounce

their faith by his entreaties and lenity, gave them a considerable

respite till he returned from an expedition. During the emperor's

absence, they escaped, and hid themselves in a cavern; which the emperor

being informed of at his return, the mouth of the cave was closed up,

and they all perished with hunger.

Theodora, a beautiful young lady of Antioch, on refusing to sacrifice to

the Roman idols, was condemned to the stews, that her virtue might be

sacrificed to the brutality of lust. Didymus, a christian, disguised

himself in the habit of a Roman soldier, went to the house, informed

Theodora who he was, and advised her to make her escape in his clothes.

This being effected, and a man found in the brothel instead of a

beautiful lady, Didymus was taken before the president, to whom

confessing the truth, and owning that he was a christian the sentence of

death was immediately pronounced against him. Theodora, hearing that her

deliverer was likely to suffer, came to the judge, threw herself at his

feet, and begged that the sentence might fall on her as the guilty

person; but, deaf to the cries of the innocent, and insensible to the

calls of justice, the inflexible judge condemned both, when they were

executed accordingly, being first beheaded, and their bodies afterward


Secundianus, having been accused as a christian, was conveyed to prison

by some soldiers. On the way, Verianus and Marcellinus said, "Where are

you carrying the innocent?" This interrogatory occasioned them to be

seized, and all three, after having been tortured, were hanged and


Origen, the celebrated presbyter and catechist of Alexandria, at the age

of sixty-four, was seized, thrown into a loathsome prison, laden with

fetters, his feet placed in the stocks, and his legs extended to the

utmost for several successive days. He was threatened with fire, and

tormented by every lingering means the most infernal imaginations could

suggest. During thus cruel temporizing, the emperor Decius died, and

Gallus, who succeeded him, engaging in a war with the Goths, the

christians met with a respite. In this interim, Origen obtained his

enlargement, and, retiring to Tyre, he there remained till his death,

which happened when he was in the sixty-ninth year of his age.

Gallus, the emperor, having concluded his wars, a plague broke out in

the empire: sacrifices to the pagan deities were ordered by the emperor,

and persecutions spread from the interior to the extreme parts of the

empire, and many fell martyrs to the impetuosity of the rabble, as well

as the prejudice of the magistrates. Among these were Cornelius, the

christian bishop of Rome, and Lucius, his successor, in 253.

Most of the errors which crept into the church at this time, arose from

placing human reason in competition with revelation; but the fallacy of

such arguments being proved by the most able divines, the opinions they

had created vanished away like the stars before the sun.