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the fury of a lawless multitude persons who had been convicted of no crime. Nor was his wise and equitable remonstrance without effect; for Adrian (Trajan's successor), by an edict issued out to these magistrates, prohibited the putting of Christians to death unless they were regularly accused and convicted of crimes committed against the laws; and this edict appears to have been a solemn renewal of the edict of Trajan.”)
From this time, that is, during the remainder of Adrian's reign, and the greater part of the reign of Antoninus, who protected them, Christians were exposed only to occasional acts of popular violence until the accession of Marcus Antoninus; when, under the auspices of this celebrated philosopher, the persecutions were again revived, and carried on systematically, and with savage ferocity.
Mosheim, in his account of this period, says:
6. The Christians were put to the most cruel tortures, and were condemned to meet death in the most barbarous forms.
Among these victims there were many men of illustrious piety, and some of eminent learning and abilities, such as the holy and venerable Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and Justin Martyr, so deservedly renowned for his erudition and philosophy. Many churches, particularly those of Lyons and Vienne, were almost entirely destroyed during this violent persecution, which raged in the year 177, and will be an indelible stain upon the memory of the prince by whose order it was carried
In an epistle of the Church of Smyrna an account is given of the sufferings of some of the martyrs in those terrible times :
“ Doubtless their magnanimity, their patience, and their love of the Lord deserve the admiration of every one; who though torn with whips till the frame and structure of their bodies were laid open even to their veins and arteries, yet meekly endured; so that those who stood around pitied them and lamented. .. In like manner those who were condemned to the wild beasts underwent for a time cruel torments, being placed under shells of sea-fish, and exposed to various other tortures, that if possible the infernal tyrant, by an uninterrupted series of suffering,
I Ecc. His. cent. ii. c. ii.
2 Mosheim, ib. cent. ii. c. ii.
might tempt them to deny their Master. Much did Satan contend against them; but, thanks to God, without effect against them all.”!
Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who was above eighty-six years of age, was offered his life if he would “reproach Christ," and swear by the fortunes of Cæsar, or say " Lord Cæsar,” and " sacrifice." On his refusal he was condemned to be burned.
The following passages are taken from “The Epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons to the Brethren in Asia and Phrygia,” which gives an account of their sufferings:
“We are not competent to describe with accuracy, nor is it in our power to express, the greatness of the afflictions sustained here by the saints, the intense animosity of the heathen against them, and the complicated sufferings of the blessed martyrs. The grand enemy assaulted us with all his might.
Christians were absolutely prohibited from appearing in any houses except their own, in baths, in the markets, or in any public place whatever.
The holy martyrs now sustained tortures which exceed the powers of description : Satan labouring, by means of these tortures, to extort something slanderous against Christianity.
Christians were thrust into the most noisome parts of the prison: their feet were distended in a wooden trunk even to the fifth hole; and in this situation they suffered all the indignities which diabolical malice could inflict. Hence many of them were suffocated in prison,” &c.2
The fifth imperial persecution commenced A. D. 202, in the reign of Severus. Tertullian, quoted by Lardner, and Mosheim, say, “ the Christians were crucified, being hung upon stakes, burned alive, thrown to wild beasts, condemned to the mines, banished into desolate islands."
After this storm the church had rest until the persecution was renewed by Maximin. 3. During his reign the Christians suffered in the most barbarous manner; for though the edict of this tyrant extended only to bishops and leaders of Christian churches, yet its shocking effects reached much further; as it animated the heathen priests, the magistrates, and the multitude against the Christians of every rank and order.” But a still more fearful im
2 Ib. cent. ii. c. v.
1 Milner, His. C. cent. ii. c. v.
3 Mosheim, cent. ii. c. ii.
" a perial persecution burst out on the accession of Deceus. 16 The management of this seems to have been the whole employment of the magistrates. Swords, wild beasts, wheels for stretching human bodies, and talons of iron to tear them; these were at this time the instruments of pagan vengeance."
Pionius, a presbyter of Smyrna, was ordered to sacrifice; he refused, and was threatened with torture and death.
26 The people who surrounded him, said with Polemon, 'Believe us, Pionius, your probity and wisdom make us deem you worthy to live; and life is sweet. “I know,' says the martyr, life is pleasing, but I mean that eternal life which I aspire after; I do not, with a contemptuous spirit, reject the good things of this life; but I prefer something that is infinitely better; I thank you for your expression of kindness.? A few days after, the proconsul Quintilian returned to Smyrna and examined Pionius. He then tried both torture and persuasions in vain ; and at length, enraged at his obstinacy, he sentenced him to be burnt alive. The martyr went cheerfully to the place of execution, and thanked God, who had preserved his body pure from idolatry. After he was stretched and nailed to the wood, the executioner said to him, Change your mind, and the nails shall be taken out.' "I have felt them,' answered Pionius: he then remained thoughtful for a time; afterward he said, 'I hasten, O Lord, that I may sooner be partaker of the resurrection.'
Pionius remained motionless, absorbed in prayer, while the fire was consuming him. At length opening his eyes, and looking cheerfully on the fire, he said, “Amen.'
His last words were, • Lord, receive my soul.""3
Gallus succeeded Decius, who was slain in the Gothic war, A.D. 251. " Gallus, says Eusebius, did not attend to the fate
4 of Decius, nor consider what was his ruin; but stumbled upon the same stone which lay before his eyes. When his empire was in a happy state, and all things succeeded according to his wishes, he persecuted those truly holy men, who prayed to God for his health and prosperity; and with them drove away those prayers which they offered up for him.”
Gallus was soon cut off, and succeeded, A.D. 253, by Valerian. For the first four years of his reign he was favourable to the Christians; but in 257, he issued an edict against them to the following effect:—“That bishops, presbyters, and deacons should be put to death without delay; that senators and persons of quality, and Roman knights, should be deprived of their dignity and their goods; if after that they persist in being Christians, they should be beheaded; that ladies of quality should be deprived of their goods, and sent into exile; that the emperor's freed-men, who have confessed, or shall hereafter confess, shall lose their goods, which are to be seized by the treasury; and that they are to be sent chained to the emperor's estate, and that they be put in the list of slaves to work there.”l
i Milner, cent. iii., c. xi.
The tenth and greatest of the heathen persecutions began A. D. 303, and continued ten years. It was instigated by the priests, and its avowed object was to extirpate the Christian religion.
The following account of the state of the empire, and the causes of this dreadful persecution, are taken from Mosheim :
“In the beginning of the fourth century, the Roman empire was under the dominion of four chiefs, of whom two, Diocletian and Maximian Herculius, were of superior dignity, and were distinguished each by the title of Augustus; while the other two, Constantius Chlorus and Maximinus Galerius, were in a certain degree of subordination to the former, and were honoured with the appellation of Cæsars. Under these four emperors, the church enjoyed an agreeable calm. Diocletian, though much addicted to superstition, did not, however, entertain any aversion to the Christians; and Constantius Chlorus, who following the dictates of right reason alone in the worship of the Deity, had abandoned the absurdities of polytheism, and treated them with condescension and benevolence. This alarmed the pagan priests, whose interests were so closely connected with the continuance of the ancient superstition, and who apprehended, not without reason, that to their great detriment the Christian religion would become daily more universal and triumphant throughout the empire. Under these anxious fears of the downfal of their authority, they addressed themselves to Diocletian, whom they knew to be of a timorous and credulous disposition, and by fictitious · oracles, and other such perfidious stratagems, endeavoured to engage him to persecute the Christians.
i Lardner, vol. vii. p. 368.
2 There are two inscriptions in Gruter relating to it, in which it is intimated that in the times of Dioclesian and Maximian Herculius and Galerius, the name of the Christians who had overthrown the republic was extirpated. And again, “ That the superstition of the Christians was everywhere extirpated, and the worship of the gods restored.”- Lardner's Works, 10 vols., vol. vii., p. 548.
“ In the year 303, when the emperor (Diocletian) was at Nicomedia, an order was obtained from him to pull down the churches of the Christians, to burn all their books and writings, and to take from them all their civil rights and privileges, and render them incapable of any honours or civil promotion. This first edict, though rigorous and severe, extended not to the lives of the Christians, for Diocletian was extremely averse to slaughter and bloodshed; it was, however, destructive to many of them, particularly to those who refused to deliver the sacred books into the hands of the magistrates. Many Christians, therefore, among them several bishops and presbyters, seeing the consequences of this refusal, delivered up all the religious books, and other sacred things that were in their possession, in order to save their lives. This conduct was highly condemned by the most steady and resolute Christians, who looked upon this compliance as sacrilegious, and branded those who were guilty of it with the ignominious appellation of traditors.”
Not long after the publication of this first edict against the Christians, a fire broke out, at two different times, in the palace of Nicomedia, where Galerius lodged with Diocletian. The Christians (as in the reign of Nero) were accused of being the authors of it.
“ Diocletian, by a new edict, ordered all the bishops and ministers of the Christian church to be cast into prison. Nor did his inhuman violence end here; for a third edict was issued out, by which it was ordered, that all sorts of torments should be employed, and the most insupportable punishments invented, to force these venerable captives to renounce their profession, by sacrificing to the heathen gods; for it was hoped, that, if the bishops and doctors of the church could be brought to yield, that their respective flocks would be easily induced to follow their example. An immense number of persons, illustriously distinguished by their piety and learning, became the victims of this cruel stratagem, throughout the whole Roman empire, Gaul excepted, which was under the mild and equitable dominion of Constantius Chlorus. Some were punished in such a shameful manner, as the rules of decency oblige us to pass in silence; some were put to death after having had their constancy tried by tedious