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
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
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.