The Third Persecution Under Trajan A D 108
Nerva, succeeding Domitian, gave a respite to the sufferings of the
christians; but reigning only thirteen months, his successor Trajan, in
the tenth year of his reign A. D. 108, began the third persecution
against the christians. While the persecution raged, Pliny 2d, a heathen
philosopher wrote to the emperor in favor of the Christians; to whose
epistle Trajan returned this indecisive answer: "The christians ought
to be sought after, but when brought before the magistracy, they
should be punished." Trajan, however, soon after wrote to Jerusalem, and
gave orders to his officers to exterminate the stock of David; in
consequence of which, all that could be found of that race were put to
Symphorosa, a widow, and her seven sons, were commanded by the emperor
to sacrifice to the heathen deities. She was carried to the temple of
Hercules, scourged, and hung up, for some time, by the hair of her head:
then being taken down, a large stone was fastened to her neck, and she
was thrown into the river, where she expired. With respect to the sons,
they were fastened to seven posts, and being drawn up by pullies, their
limbs were dislocated: these tortures, not affecting their resolution,
they were martyred by stabbing, except Eugenius, the youngest, who was
Phocas, bishop of Pontus, refusing to sacrifice to Neptune, was, by the
immediate order of Trajan, cast first into a hot lime-kiln, and then
thrown into a scalding bath till he expired.
Trajan likewise commanded the martyrdom of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch.
This holy man was the person whom, when an infant, Christ took into his
arms, and showed to his disciples, as one that would be a pattern of
humility and innocence. He received the gospel afterward from St. John
the Evangelist, and was exceedingly zealous in his mission. He boldly
vindicated the faith of Christ before the emperor, for which he was cast
into prison, and tormented in a most cruel manner. After being
dreadfully scourged, he was compelled to hold fire in his hands, and, at
the same time, papers clipped in oil were put to his sides, and set on
fire. His flesh was then torn with red hot pincers, and at last he was
despatched by being torn to pieces by wild beasts.
Trajan being succeeded by Adrian, the latter continued this third
persecution with as much severity as his predecessor. About this time
Alexander, bishop of Rome, with his two deacons, were martyred; as were
Quirinus and Hernes, with their families; Zenon, a Roman nobleman, and
about ten thousand other christians.
In Mount Ararat many were crucified, crowned with thorns, and spears run
into their sides, in imitation of Christ's passion. Eustachius, a brave
and successful Roman commander, was by the emperor ordered to join in an
idolatrous sacrifice to celebrate some of his own victories; but his
faith (being a christian in his heart) was so much greater than his
vanity, that he nobly refused it. Enraged at the denial, the ungrateful
emperor forgot the service of this skilful commander, and ordered him
and his whole family to be martyred.
At the martyrdom of Faustines and Jovita, brothers and citizens of
Brescia, their torments were so many, and their patience so great, that
Calocerius, a pagan, beholding them, was struck with admiration, and
exclaimed in a kind of ecstacy, "Great is the God of the christians!"
for which he was apprehended, and suffered a similar fate.
Many other similar cruelties and rigours were exercised against the
christians, until Quadratus, bishop of Athens, made a learned apology
in their favour before the emperor, who happened to be there and
Aristides, a philosopher of the same city, wrote an elegant epistle,
which caused Adrian to relax in his severities, and relent in their
Adrian dying A. D. 138, was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, one of the most
amiable monarchs that ever reigned, and who stayed the persecution
against the Christians.