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

sawed asunder.

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.