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THE TEN PRIMITIVE PERSECUTIONS.
The First Persecution under Nero, A. D. 67.
The first persecution of the church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered, that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macænas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared, "That he wished the ruin of all things before his death." Besides the noble pile, called the circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the christians were such as even excited the commisseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in the skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs till they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian; and Trophimus, an Ephesian, converted by St. Paul, and fellow-labourer with him; Joseph, commonly called Barsabas; and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the seventy.
The Second Persecution, under Domitian, A. D. 81.
The emperor Domitian, who was naturally inclined to cruelty, first slew his brother, and then raised the second persecution against the christians. In his rage he put to death some of the Roman senators; some through malice; and others to confiscate thar estates. He then commanded all the lineage of David to be put to eath.
Among the numerous martyrs that suffered during this persecution, was Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, who was crucified; and St. John, who was boiled in oil, and afterward banished to Patmos. Flavia, the daughter of a Roman senator, was likewise banished to Pontus; and a law was made, "That no christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion."
A variety of fabricated tales were, during this reign, composed in order to injure the christians. Such was the infatuation of the pagans, that, if famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces, it was laid upon the christians. These persecu tions among the christians increased the number of informers, and many, for the sake of gain, swore away the lives of the in
Another hardship was, that, when any christians were brought before the magistrates, a test oath was proposed, when, if they refused to take it, death was pronounced against them; and if they confessed themselves christians, the sentence was the same.
The following were the most remarkable among the numerous martyrs who suffered during this persecution.
Dionysius, the Areopagite, was an Athenian by birth, and educated in all the useful and ornamental literature of Greece. He then travelled to Egypt to study astronomy, and made very particular observations on the great and supernatural eclipse, which happened at the time of our Saviour's crucifixion.
The sanctity of his conversation, and the purity of his manners, recommended him so strongly to the christians in general, that he was appointed bishop of Athens.
Nicodemus, a benevolent christian of some distinction, suffered at Rome during the rage of Domitian's persecution.
Protasius and Gervasius were martyred at Milan.
Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul, and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the church till A. D. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people, that they fell upon him with clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner, that he expired of the bruises two days after.
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 not 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 death.
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 dipped 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 chris tians!" 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 apolo
gy 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 favour.
Adrian dying A. D. 138, was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, one of the most amiable monarchs that ever reigned, and who stayed thə. persecution against the christians.
The fourth persecution, under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A. D. 162. THIS commenced A. D. 162, under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Philosophus, a strong pagan.
The cruelties used in this persecution were such, that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, &c. upon their points, others were scourged till their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Germanicus, a young man, but a true christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage, that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude.
Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market-place. Twelve other christians, who had been intimate with Polycarp, were soon after martyred.
The circumstances attending the execution of this venerable old man, as they were of no common nature, so it would be injurious to the credit of our professed history of martyrdom to pass them over in silence. It was observed by the spectators, that, after finishing his prayer at the stake, to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immoveable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred.
Metrodorus, a minister, who preached boldly; and Pionius, who made some excellent apologies for the christian faith; were likewise burnt. Carpus and Papilus, two worthy christians, and Agathonica, a pious woman, suffered martyrdom at Pergamopolis, in Asia.
Felicitatis, an illustrious Roman lady, of a considerable family,