7. THE FIFTH PERSECUTION UNDER SEVERUS
After the death of Commodus reigned Pertinax but few months, after whom succeeded Severus, under whom was raised the fifth persecution against the Christian saints; who reigning the term of eighteen years, the first ten years of the same was very favourable and courteous to the Christians; afterward, through sinister suggestions and malicious accusations of the malignant, was so incensed against them, that by proclamations he commanded no Christians any more to be suffered. Thus the rage of the emperor being inflamed against them, great persecution was stirred up on every side, whereby an infinite number of martyrs were slain, as Eusebius in his sixth book recordeth, which was about the year of our Lord two hundred and five. The crimes and false acccusations objected against the Christians are partly touched before; as sedition and rebellion against the emperor, sacrilege, murdering of infants, incestuous pollution, eating raw flesh, libidinous commixture, whereof certain indeed, called then Gnostici, were infamed. Item, it was objected against them for worshipping the head of an ass; which whereof it should rise I find no certain Cause, except it were, perhaps, by the Jews. Also they were charged for worshipping the sun, for that peradventure before the sun did rise they convented together, singing their morning hymns unto the Lord, or else because they prayed toward the east; but specially for that they would not with them worship their idolatrous gods, and were counted as enemies to all men, &c.
The captains and presidents of this persecution under the emperor were Hilerianus, Vigellius, Claudius, Hermianus, ruler of Cappadocia, Cecilius, Capella, Vespronius, also Demetrius, mentioned of Cyprian, and Aquila, judge of Alexandria, of whom
Eusebius maketh relation.
The places where the force of this persecution most raged were Africa, Alexandria, Cappadocia, and Carthage. The number of them that suffered in this persecution, by the report of the ecclesiastical story, was innumerable. Of whom the first was Leonides, the father of Origen, who was beheaded; with whom also Origen his son, being of the age then of seventeen years, should have suffered, (such a fervent desire he had to be martyred for Christ,) had not his mother privily in the night season conveyed away his clothes and his shirt. Whereupon more for shame to be seen, than for
Lear to die, he was constrained to remain at home; and when he could do nothing else, yet he writeth to his father a letter with these words: Take heed to yourself that you turn not your thought and purpose for our sake, &c. Such a fervency had this Origen, being yet young, to the doctrine of Christ's faith, by the operation of God's heavenly providence, and partly also by the diligent education of his father, who brought him up from his youth most studiously in all good literature, but especially in the reading and exercise of Holy Scripture, wherein he had such inward and mystical speculation, that many times he would move questions to his father of the meaning of this place or that place in the Scripture. Insomuch that his father divers times would uncover his breast, being asleep, and kiss it, giving thanks to God which had made him so happy a father of such a happy child. After the death of his father, and all his goods confiscated to the emperor, he with his poor mother, and five brethren, were brought to such extreme poverty, that he did sustain both himself and them by teaching a school; till at length, being weary of the profession, he transferred his study only to the knowledge and seeking of Divine Scripture, and such other learning conducible to the same. So much he profited both in the Hebrew and other tongues, that he conferred the Hebrew text with the translation of the threescore; and, moreover, did confer and find out the other translations which we call the common translation of Aquila, of Symmachus, and Theodotion. Also he adjoined to these aforesaid other four translations, whereof more is in the story of Eusebius expressed.
They that write of the life of Origen, testify of him that he was of wit quick and sharp, much patient of labour, a great travailer in the tongues, of a spare diet, of a strict life, a great faster; his teaching and his living were both one; his going was much barefoot; a strict observer of that saying of the Lord, bidding to have but one coat, &c. He is said to have written so much as seven notaries and so many maids every day could pen. The number of his books, by the account of Hierom, came to seven thousand volumes, the copies whereof he used to sell for three pence, or a little more, for the sustentation of his living. But of him more shall be touched hereafter. So zealous he was in the cause of Christ, and of Christ's martyrs, that he, nothing fearing his own peril, would assist and exhort them going to their death, and kiss them, insomuch that he was oft in jeopardy to be stoned of the multitude; and sometimes by the provision of Christian men had his house guarded about with soldiers, for the safety of them which daily resorted to hear his readings. And many times he was compelled to shift places and houses, for such as laid wait for him in all places; but great was the providence of God to preserve him in the midst of all this tempest of Severus. Among others which resorted unto him, and were his hearers, Plutarchus was one, and died a martyr; and with him Serenus his brother, who was burned. The third after these was Heraclides, the fourth Heron, who were both beheaded. The fifth was another Serenus, also beheaded, Rhais, and Potamiena, who was tormented with pitch poured upon her, and martyred with her mother Marcella, who died also in the fire. This Potamiena was of a fresh and flourishing beauty, who, because she could not be removed from her profession, was committed to Basilides, one of the captains there in the army, to see the execution done. Basilides receiving her at the judge's hand, and leading her to the place, showed her some compassion in repressing the rebukes and railings of the wicked adversaries: for the which Potamiena the virgin, to requite again his kindness, bade him be of good comfort, saying that she would pray the Lord to show mercy upon him; and so went she to her martyrdom, which she both strongly and quietly did sustain.
Not long after it happened that Basilides was required to give an oath in a matter concerning his fellow soldiers, which thing he denied to do, plainly affirming that he was a Christian; for their oath then was wont to be by the idols and the emperor. At the first he was thought dissemblingly to jest; but after, when he was heard constantly and in earnest to confirm the same, he was had before the judge, and so by him committed to ward. The Christians marvelling thereat, as they came to him in the prison, inquired of him the cause of that his sudden conversion; to whom he answered again, and said, that Potamiena had prayed for him to the Lord, and so he saw a crown put upon his head; adding, moreover, that it should not be long but he should be received. Which things thus done, the next day following he was had to the place of execution, and there beheaded. Albeit the said Eusebius giveth this story of no credit, but only of hearsay, as he there expresseth.
As divers and many there were that suffered in the days of this Severus, so some there were again, which, through the protection of God's providence, being put to great torments, yet escaped with life; of whom was one Alexander, who, for his constant confession and torments suffered, was made bishop afterward of Jerusalem, together with Narcissus; who being then an old man of a hundred and threescore years and three, as saith Eusebius, was unwieldy for his age to govern that function alone.
Of this Narcissus it is reported, in the Ecclesiastical History, that certain miracles by him were wrought, very notable, if they be true. First of water by him turned into oil, at the solemn vigil of Easter, what time the congregation wanted oil for their lamps. Another miracle is also told of him, which is this: There were three evil-disposed persons, who seeing the soundness and grave constancy of his virtuous life, and fearing their own punishment, as a conscience that is guilty is always fearful, thought to prevent his accusations, in accusing him first, and laying a heinous crime unto his charge. And to make their accusation more probable before the people, they bound their accusation with a great oath; one wishing to be destroyed with fire, if he said not true; the other to be consumed with a grievous sickness; the third to lose both his eyes, if they did lie. Narcissus, although having his conscience clear, yet not able, being but one man, to withstand their accusation, bound with such oaths, gave place, and removed himself from the multitude into a solitary desert by himself, where he continued the space of many years. In the mean time, to them which so willingly and wickedly forsware themselves this happened: the first, by casualty of one little small spark of fire, was burnt with his goods and all his family. The second was taken with a great sickness, from the top to the toe, and devoured with the same. The third, hearing and seeing the punishment of the other, confessed his fault, but through great repentance poured out such tears that he lost both his eyes: and thus was their false perjury punished. Narcissus, after long absence returning home again, was by this means both cleared of the fact, and received into his bishopric again; to whom, as is said, for impotency of his age, Alexander was joined in execution of the function. Of this Alexander is recorded in the said Ecclesiastical History, that after his agonies and constancy of his confession showed in the persecution of Severus, he was admonished by a vision in the night season to make his journey up to Jerusalem and Palestine, (for that place remained free from this persecution,) to see there the congregation and to pray. Thus he, taking his journey, and drawing near to the city, a vision with plain words was given to certain chief heads of Jerusalem to go out of the gate of the city, there to receive the bishop appointed to them of God. And so was Alexander met and received, and joined partner with aged Narcissus, as is before expressed, in the city of Jerusalem, where he continued bishop above
forty years, until the persecution of Decius, and there erected a famous library, where Eusebius had his chiefest help in writing his Ecclesiastical History. He wrote also divers epistles to divers churches, and licensed Origen openly to teach in his church. At length, being very aged, he was brought from Jerusalem to Cesarea before the judge under Decius, where after his constant confession the second time, he was committed to prison, and there died.
Besides these that suffered in this persecution of Severus, recited of Eusebius, Vincentius also speaketh of one Andoclus, whom Polycarp before had sent into France; which Andoclus, because he spread there the doctrine of Christ, was apprehended of Severus, and first beaten with staves and bats, and after was beheaded.
To these above named may also be added Asclepiades, who, although he was not put to death in this persecution of Severus, yet constantly he did abide the trial of his confession, and suffered much for the same, as Alexander before mentioned did. Wherefore afterward he was ordained bishop of Antioch, where he continued the space of seven years, of whom Alexander writes unto the church of Antioch out of prison, much rejoicing and
giving thanks to God to hear that he was their bishop.
About the same time, during the reign of Severus, died Irenæus. Ado, and other martyr writers, do hold, that he was martyred with a great multitude of others more, for the confession and doctrine of Christ, about the fourth or fifth year of Severus. This Irenæus, as he was a great writer, so was he greatly commended of Tertullian for his learning, whom he calleth a great searcher of all kind of learning. He was first scholar and hearer of Polycarp; from thence either was sent or came to France, and there, by Photinus, and the rest of the martyrs, was instituted into the ministry, and commended by their letter to Eleutherius, as is before premonished. At length, after the martyrdom of Photinus, he was appointed bishop of Lyons, where he continued about the space of three and twenty years. In the time of this Irenæus the state of the church was much troubled, not only for the outward persecution of the foreign enemy, but also for divers sects and errors then stirring, against which he diligently laboured and wrote much, although but few books be now remaining. The nature of this man, well agreeing with his name, was such, that he ever loved peace, and sought to set agreement when any controversy rose in the church. And therefore, when the question of keeping the Easter-day was renewed in the church between Victor, bishop of Rome, and the churches of Asia, and when Victor would have excommunicated them as schismatics, for disagreeing from him therein; Irenæus, with other brethren of the French church, sorry to see such a contention among brethren for such a trifle, convented themselves together in a common council, and directing their letter with their common consent subscribed, sent unto Victor, entreating him to stay his purpose, and not to proceed in excommunicating his brethren for that matter. Although they themselves agreed with him in observing the Sunday Easter as he did; yet with great reasons and arguments they exhorted him not to deal so rigorously with his other brethren, following the ancient custom of their country manner in that behalf. And besides this, he wrote divers other letters abroad concerning the same contention, declaring the excommunication of Victor to be of no force.
Not long after Irenæus followed also Tertullian about the time of this Severus, and Antoninus Caracalla his son, a man both in Greek and Latin well expert, having great gifts in disputing, and in writing eloquent, as his books declare, and as the commendation of all learned men doth testify no less. To whom Vincentius Liriensis giveth such praise, that he calleth him the flower of all Latin writers; and of the eloquence of his style he thus writeth: that with the force of his reasons, he saith, whom he could not persuade, them he compelled to consent unto him. How many words, so many sentences, and how many sentences, so many victories, he had, &c.
Such men of doing and writing God raised up from time to time, as pillars and stays for his poor church, as he did this Tertullian, in these dangerous days of persecution; for when the Christians were vexed with wrongs, and falsely accused of the Gentiles, Tertullian taking their cause in hand, defendeth them against the persecutors, and against their slanderous accusations. First, that they never minded any stir or rebellion, either against the empire or emperors of Rome; for so much as the use of Christians was to pray for the state of their emperors and governors. And whereas they were accused falsely to be enemies to all man kind, how could that be, (saith Tertullian to Scapula,) seeing the proper office of the Christians is by their profession to pray for all men, to love their enemies, never requiting evil for evil, whenas all other do love but only their friends, and scarcely them? As touching the horrible slander of murdering infants, how can that be true in the Christians, (saith he,) whose order is to abstain from all blood and strangled, insomuch that it is not lawful for them to touch the blood of any beast at their tables when they feed? From filthy copulation no sort more free than they, which are, and ever have been, the greatest observers of chastity, of whom, such as may, live in perpetual virginity all their life; such as cannot, contract matrimony, for avoiding all whoredom and fornication. Neither can it be proved that the Christians do worship the sun; which false surmise Tertullian declareth to rise hereof, for that the manner of the Christians was to pray toward the east. Much less was there any of them so mad as to worship an ass's head; whereof the occasion being taken only of the Jews, the slander thereof therefore he proveth to be falsely and wrongfully laid to the charge of the Christians.
And likewise against all other lies and slanders, objected of the heathen against the Christians, the said Tertullian purgeth the Christians, declaring them falsely to be belied, and wrongfully persecuted, not for any desert of theirs, but only for the hatred of their name, And yet, notwithstanding, by the same persecutions, he proveth in the same Apology the religion of the Christians nothing to be impaired, but rather increased. The more (saith he) we are mown down of you, the more rise up. The blood of Christians is seed. For what man, (saith he,) in beholding the painful torments and the perfect patience of them, will not search and inquire what is the cause? and when he hath found it out, who will not agree unto it? and when he agreeth to it, who will not desire to suffer for it? Thus (saith he) this sect will never die, which the more it is cut down, the more it groweth. For every man seeing and wondering at the sufferance of the saints, is moved the more thereby to search the cause; in searching he findeth it, and finding he followeth it.
Thus Tertullian, in this dangerous time of persecution, being stirred up of God, defended the innocency of the Christians against the blasphemy of the adversaries; and, moreover, for the instruction of the church, he compiled many fruitful works, Whereof some are extant, some are not to be found. Notwithstanding the great learning and famous virtues of this worthy man, certain errors and blemishes are noted in his doctrine, as were before both of Origen and Irenæus, and likewise of them, were they never so excellent, that followed them. Which errors, all here in order to note and comprehend, were too long a matter for this story to prosecute. This, by the way, shall be sufficient, to admonish the reader never to look for any such perfection of any man in this world, how singular soever he be (Christ only excepted); but some
blemish or other joineth itself withal, whereof more, perchance, shall be said when we come to Cyprian.
And now to return again to the order of bishops of Rome intermitted. After Eleutherius afore mentioned, next in the bishopric of Rome succeed Victor, who, as Platina saith, died quietly in the days of Severus. But Damasus, and such as do follow the common chronicles, affirm that he died a martyr, after he had sat ten (or, as some say, twelve) years. This Victor was a great stirrer (as partly before is signified) in the controversy and contention of Easter-day, for the which he would have proceeded in excommunication against the churches of Asia, had not Irenæus, then bishop of Lyons, with the counsel of other his brethren there assembled, repressed his intended violence. As touching that controversy of Easter in those days of the primitive church, the original thereof was this, as Eusebius, Socrates, Platina, and others, record. First, certain it is that the apostles, being only intentive and attendant to the doctrine of salvation, gave no heed nor regard to the observation of days and times, neither bound the church to any ceremonies and rites, except those things necessary mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, as strangled and blood, which was ordained then of the Holy Ghost, not without a most urgent and necessary cause, touched partly in the history before. For when the murdering and blood of infants was commonly objected by the heathen persecutors against the Christians, they had no other argument to help themselves, nor to refell the adversary, but only their own law, by the which they were commanded to abstain, not only from all men's blood, but also from the blood of all common beasts. And therefore that law seemeth by the Holy Ghost to be given, and also to the same end continued in the church, so long as the cause, that is, the persecutions of the heathen Gentiles, continued. Besides these, we read of no other ceremonies or rites which the apostles greatly regarded, but left such things free to the liberty of Christians, every man to use therein his own discretion, for the using or not using thereof. Whereupon, as concerning all the ceremonial observation of days, times, places, meats, drinks, vestures, and such others; of all these things neither was the diversity among men greatly noted, nor any uniformity greatly required. Insomuch that Irenæus, writing to Victor of the tradition of days, and of fastings, and of the diversity of these things then used among the primitive fathers, saith, Notwithstanding all this variety, all they kept peace among themselves, and yet we keep it still, and this difference of fasting among us commendeth more the concord of faith. And so long did the doctrine of Christian liberty remain whole and sound in the church till the time of Victor, which was about the year of our Lord two hundred; although the diversity of these usages began before also in the days of Pius and Anicetus, about the year of Christ one hundred sixty and three, to be misliked; yet restraint hereof was not so much urged before as in the time of Victor. And yet neither did the violence of Victor take such place, but that the doctrine of Christian liberty was defended and maintained by means of Irenæus and others, and so continued in the church till after the Council of Nice. And thus much concerning the doctrine of Christian liberty, and of the differences of rites and ceremonies.
Now to return to Victor again, to show what diversity there was in observing the day of Easter, and how it came, thus is the story. First, in the time of Pius and Anicetus, in the year of Christ one hundred sixty and three, the question of Easter-day began first to be moved; at what time Pius, by the revelation of Hermes, decreed the observation of that day to be changed from the wonted manner of the fourteenth day of the moon in the first month unto the next Sunday after. After him came Anicetus, Soter, and Eleutherius, bishops of Rome, which also determined the same. Against these stood Melito, bishop of Sardis, Polycarp, and, as some think, Egesippus, with other learned men of Asia. Which Polycarp, being sent by the brethren of Asia, came to Rome, as is aforesaid, to confer with Anicetus in that matter; wherein, when they could not agree after long debating, yet, notwithstanding, they did both communicate together with reverence, and departed in peace. And so the celebration of Easter-day remained as a thing indifferent in the church, till the time of Victor; who, following after Anicetus and his fellows, and chiefly stirring in this matter, endeavoured by all means and might to draw, or rather subdue, the churches of Asia unto his opinion; thinking, moreover, to excommunicate all those bishops and churches of Asia as heretics and schismatics which disagreed from the Roman order; had not Irenæus otherwise restrained him from that doing, as is aforesaid, which was about the year of our Lord one hundred four score and eleven, in the reign of Commodus. Thus then began the uniformity of keeping that holy day to be first required as a thing necessary, and all they accounted as heretics and schismatics which dissented from the bishop and tradition of Rome.
With Victor stood Theophilus, bishop of Cesarea, Narcissus of Jerusalem, Irenæus of Lyons, Palmas of Pontus, Banchillus of Corinth, the bishop of Ostroena, and others more. All which condescended to have the celebration of Easter upon the
Sunday, because they would differ from the Jews in all things as near as they might; and partly, because the resurrection of the Lord fell on the same day.
On the contrary side, divers bishops were in Asia, of whom the principal was Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, who being assembled with a great multitude of bishops and brethren of those parts, by the common assent of the rest, wrote again to Victor, and to the church of Rome, declaring that they had ever from the beginning observed that day according to the rule of Scripture unchanged, neither adding nor altering any thing from the same; alleging, moreover, for them the examples of the apostles and holy fathers, their predecessors, as Philip the apostle, with his three daughters, at Hieropolis; also John the apostle and evangelist at Ephesus, Polycarp at Smyrna, Thraseas at Eumenia, bishop and martyr; likewise of Sagaris at Laodicea, bishop and martyr, holy Papirius, and Melito at Sardis. Besides these, bishops also of his own kindred, and his own ancestors, to the number of seven, which all were bishops before him, and he the eighth, now after them. All which observed (saith he) the solemnity of the same day, after the same wise and sort as we do now.
Victor, being not a little moved herewith, by letters again denounceth against them (more bold upon authority than wise in his commission) violent excommunication; albeit, by the wise handling of Irenæus and other learned men, that matter was stayed, and Victor otherwise persuaded. That the variance and difference of ceremonies is no strange matter in the church of Christ, whenas this variety is not only in the day of Easter, but also in the manner of fasting, and in divers other uses among the Christians. For some fast one day, some two days, some others fast more. Others there be, which, counting forty hours, both day and night, take that for a full day's fast. And this so divers fashion of fasting in the church of Christ began not only in this our time, but was before among our fore-elders. And yet notwithstanding they with all this diversity were in unity among themselves, and so be we; neither doth this difference of ceremonies any thing hinder, but rather commendeth the concord of faith. And he bringeth forth the examples of the fathers, of Telesphorus, Pius, Anicetus, Soter, Eleutherius, and such others, who neither observed the same usage themselves, nor prescribed it to others, and yet notwithstanding kept Christian charity with such as came to communicate with them, not observing the same form of things which they observed, as well appeared by Polycarp and Anicetus, which although they agreed not in one uniform custom of rites, yet refused not to communicate together, the one giving reverence unto the other. Thus the controversy, being taken up between Irenæus and Victor, remained free to the time of the Nicene Council. And thus much concerning the controversy of that matter, and concerning the doings of Victor.
After Victor succeeded in the see of Rome Zephirinus, in the days of the foresaid Severus, about the year of our Lord two hundred and three. To this Zephirinus be ascribed two epistles, in the first tome of the Councils. But as I have said before of the decretal epistles of other Roman bishops, so I say and verily suppose of this, that neither the countenance of the style, nor the matter therein contained, nor the condition of the time, doth otherwise give to think of these letters but that they be verily bastard letters, not written by these fathers, nor in these times, but craftily and wickedly packed in by some, which, to set up the primacy of Rome, have most pestilently abused the authority of these holy and ancient fathers, to deceive the simple church. For who is so rude but that in considering only the state of those terrible times he may easily understand, (except affection blind him,) beside a number of other probable conjectures to lead him, that the poor persecuted bishops in that time would have been glad to have any safe covert to put their heads in? so far was it off that they had any lust or leisure then to seek for any primacy or patriarchship, or to drive all other churches to appeal to the see of Rome, or to exempt all priests from the accusation of any layman; as in the first epistle of Zephirinus is to be seen, written to the bishops of Sicilia; and likewise the second epistle of his to the bishops of the province of Egypt, containing no manner of doctrine nor consolation necessary for that time, but only certain ritual decrees to no purpose, argueth no less but the said epistles neither to savour of that man, nor to taste of that time.
Of like credit also seemeth the constitution of the patins of glass, which Danlasus saith that the same Zephirinus ordained to be carried before the priest at the celebration of the mass. Again, Platina writeth that he ordained the administration of the sacrament to be no more used in vessels of wood, or of glass, or of any other metal, except only silver, gold, and tin, &c. But how these two testimonies of Damasus and Platina join together, let the reader judge; especially seeing the same decree is referred to Urbanus, that came after him. Again, what needed this decree of golden chalices to be established afterward in the Council of Tiber and Rhens, if it had been enacted before by Zephirinus? How long this Zephirinus sat our writers do vary. Eusebius saith he died in the reign of Caracalla, and sat seventeen years. Platina writeth that he died under Severus, and sat eight years, and so saith also Naucicrus. Damasus affirmeth that he sat sixteen years and two months.
Matheus, author of the story entitled Flores Historiarum, with other later chronicles, maketh mention of Perpetua, and Felicitas, and Revocatus her brother, also of Saturninus and Satyrus, brethren, and Secundulus, which in the persecution of this Severus gave over their lives to martyrdom for Christ, being thrown to wild beasts, and devoured of the same in Carthage and in Africa; save that Saturninus, brought again from the beasts, was beheaded, and Secundulus died in prison about the year of our Lord two hundred and two, as writeth Florilegus.
This Severus the persecutor reigned, as the most part of writers accord, the term of eighteen years, who about the later time of his reign came with his army hither into Britain, where after many conflicts had with the Britons, in the borders of the north, he cast up a ditch with a mighty wall, made of earth, and turfs, and strong stakes, to the length of one hundred thirty and two miles, from the one side of the sea to the other, beginning at Tine, and reaching to the Scottish sea; which done he removed to York, and there by the breaking in of the northem men and the Scots was besieged and slain, about the year of our Lord two hundred and eleven, leaving behind him two sons, Bassianus and Geta. Which Bassianus, surnamed Caracalla, after he had slain his brother Geta here in Britain, governed the empire alone, the space of six years. After whose death, he being slain also of his servants, (as he had slain his brother before,) succeeded Macrinus, with his son Diadumenus, to be emperor, who, after they had reigned one year, were both slain of their own people.
After them followed Varius Heliogabalus in the empire, rather to be called a monster than a man, so prodigious was his life in all gluttony, filthiness, and ribaldry. Such was his pomp, that in his lamps he used balm, and filled his fishponds with rose water. To let pass his sumptuous vestures, which he would not wear but only of gold, and most costly silks, his shoes glistering with precious stones finely engraved, he was never two days served with one kind of meat; he never wore one garment twice. And likewise for his fleshly wickedness, some days his company was served at meal with the brains of ostriches, and a strange fowl called phenocoptery; another day with the tongues of popinjays, and other sweet singing birds. Being nigh to the sea, he never used fish; in places far distant from the sea, all his house was served with
most delicate fishes: at one supper he was served with seven thousand fishes and five thousand fowls. At his removing in his progress, often there followed him six hundred chariots laden only with bawds, common harlots, and ribalds. He sacrificed young children, and preferred to the best advancements in the commonweal most light personages, as minstrels, carters, and such-like; in one word, he was an enemy to all honesty and good order. And when he was foretold by his sorcerers and astronomers that he should die a violent death, he provided ropes of silk to hang himself, swords of gold to kill himself, and strong poison in hyacinths and emeralds to poison himself, if needs he must thereto be forced; moreover, he made a high tower, having the floor of boards covered with gold plate, bordered with precious stones, from the which tower he would throw himself down, if he should be pursued of his enemies. But notwithstanding all his provision, he was slain of the soldiers, drawn through the city, and cast into Tiber, after he had reigned two years and eight months, as witnesseth Eutropius; others say four years.
This Heliogabalus, having no issue, adopted to his son and heir Aurelius Alexander Severus, the son of Mammea, who entering his reign the year of our Lord two hundred twenty and four, continued thirteen years, well commended for virtuous, wise, gentle, liberal, and to no man hurtful. And as he was not unlearned himself, through the diligent education of Mammea his mother; so he was a great favourer of men wise and learned. Neither did he any thing in the commonweal without the assistance of learned and sage counsellors. It is reported of him to bear such stomachs against corrupt judges, that when he chanced to meet with any of them, by the commotion of his mind he would cast up choler, being so moved with them that he could not speak, and was ready with his two fingers to put out their eyes. From his court he dismissed all superfluous and unnecessary servants, saying that he was no good pupil which fed idle servants with the bowels of his commonweal.
Among his other good virtues, it appeareth also that he was friendly and favourable unto the Christians, as by this act may be gathered; for when the Christians had occupied a certain public place in some good use, belike for the assembling and conventing together of the congregation, the company of the cooks or tipplers made challenge of that place to belong unto them. The matter being brought before the emperor, he judged it more honest the place to be continued to the worship of God, howsoever it were, than the dirty slubbering of cooks and scullions.
By this it may be understood that in Rome no Christian churches were erected unto this time, when as yet (notwithstanding this favour of the emperor) no public house could quietly be obtained for the Christians. So that by the reason hereof may appear the decretal epistle and ordinance of Pope Higinus. concerning the dedication of churches above mentioned, to be falsified. And likewise the ordinance of Pius his successor, concerning the altar, or high altar, to be also false. For what high altar was it like they had in the time of Higinus and Pius, whenas at this time, which was long after, no public place almost could be granted them for the Christians to assemble together?
Of this Alexander Platina writeth, that as he was a great hater of all boasters and flatterers, so he was of such prudence, that no deceit could escape him; and bringeth in a story of one Turinus, who had gotten craftily many great bribes and gifts, in making the people believe that he was of great authority with the emperor, and that he could help them to have whatsoever they sued for. Whereof the emperor being certified, caused him in the open market to be fastened to a stake, and there killed with smoke, where the crier stood thus crying to the people: Smoke he sold, and with smoke he is punished.
Mammea, the mother of this Alexander above mentioned, (whom Hierom calleth a devout and religious woman,) hearing of the fame and the excellent learning of Origen, being then at Alexandria, sent for him to Antioch, desirous to hear and see him; unto whom the foresaid Origen according to her request resorted, and after that he had there remained a space with the emperor and his mother, returned again to Alexandria.
And thus continued this good emperor his reign the space of thirteen years; at length at a commotion in Germany, with his mother Mammea, he was slain. After whom succeeded Maximinus, contrary to the mind of the senate, only appointed by the soldiers to be emperor. During all this time, between Severus and this Maximinus, the church of Christ, although it had not perfect peace, yet it had some mean tranquillity from persecution. Albeit some martyrs there were at this time that suffered, whereof Nauclerus giveth this reason: For although (saith he) Alexander, being persuaded through the entreating of his mother Mammea, did favour the Christians; yet notwithstanding there was no public edict or proclamation provided for their safeguard. By reason whereof divers there were which suffered martyrdom under Almachius and other judges. In the number of whom, after some stories, was Calixtus, bishop of Rome, who succeeded next unto Zephirinus above mentioned; and after him Urbanus also; which both being bishops of Rome, did both suffer, by the opinion of some writers, under Alexander Severus.
This Calixtus in his two decretal epistles, written to Benedictus, and to the bishops of France, giveth these ordinances: that no actions or accusations against the prelates or teachers of the church should be received; that no secret conspiracies should be made against bishops; item, no man to communicate with persons excommunicate; also, no bishop to excommunicate or to deal in another's diocess. And here he expoundeth the diocess, or the parish, of any bishop or minister to be his wife. The wife (saith the apostle) is bound to the law as long as the husband liveth; when he is dead, she is free from the law: so (saith Calixtus) the wife of a bishop (which is his church) so long as he liveth is bound only to him, neither ought to be judged or disposed by any other man without his will and judgment; after his death she is free from the law to marry to whom she will, so it be in the Lord, that is, regularly. In the end of the said his epistle decretal, he confuteth the error of them which hold, that they which are fallen are not to be received again. Which heresy, after the time of Calixtus or Calistus, came in first by Novatus, in the days of Cornelius. Moreover, in his said first epistle decretal is contained the fast of the four times, commonly called the ember fast, whereof also Marianus Scotus maketh mention. But Damasus, speaking of the same fast, saith he ordained the fast but of three times, which was for the increase of corn, wine, and oil.
By these hitherto promised, it is not hard for a quick reader to smell out the crafty juggling of that person or persons, whosoever they were, that falsely have ascribed these decretal institutions to those holy fathers. For, first, what leisure had the Christians to lay in their accusations against their bishops, when we never read or find in any story any kind of variance in those days among them, but all love, mutual compassion, and hearty communion among the saints? And as we read of no variance among the people in those days, nor of any fault or back sliding among the bishops, who for the most part then died all constant martyrs; so neither do we read of any tribunal seat or consistory used or fre quented then about any such matters. Again, if a man examine well the dangers of those busy days, he shall see the poor flock of the Christians so occupied and piteously oppressed by the cruel accusations of the heathen infidels, that though the cause did, yet the time would not, serve them to commence any law against their bishops. Secondly, as touching their conspiracy against bishops, what conspiracy either would they then practise against them, which always gave their lives for their defence? Or how could they then conspire in any companies together, when never a true Christian man durst once put his head out of his doors? neither was there in the church any Christian man in those perilous days, except he were a true man indeed, such as was far from all false conspiracies. And when as all the world almost in all places conspired against them, what time, what cause, or what heart, trow ye, could they have to conspire against their instructors? Thirdly, concerning the confutation of that heresy, how standeth the confutation with the time of Calixtus, when Novatus, the author of that heresy, was after him in the time of Cornelius? Fourthly, if by the law of Calixtus every diocess be the proper wife of every bishop or minister, then how many bishops' wives, and parsons' wives, had the adulterous pope of Rome defloured in these later days of the church, which so proudly and impudently hath intermeddled and taken his pleasure and his own profit in every diocess and parish almost through all Christendom, without all leave and licence of the good man, who hath been in the mean time, and yet is compelled still, wheresoever the pope's holiness cometh, to give him leave unasked to do what he list! Wherefore, if this canon decretal be truly his, why is it not observed, so as it doth stand without exception? If it be not, why is it then falsely forged upon him, and the church of Christ deceived? and certes, lamentable it is, that this falsifying of such trifling traditions, under the false pretence of antiquity, either was begun in the church to deceive the people, or that it hath remained so long undetected. For, as I think, the church of Christ will never be perfectly reformed before these decretal constitutions and epistles, which have so long put on the visor of antiquity, shall be fully detected, and appear in their own colour, wherein they where first painted.
And yet neither do I say this, or think contrary, but that it may be that bishops of Rome and of the same name have been the true authors of these traditions. But here cometh in the error, (as I credibly suppose,) that when other later bishops of the like name have devised these ceremonial inventions, the vulgar opinion of men hath transferred them to the first primitive fathers, although being of another time, yet bearing the same name with the true kn ventors thereof.
After Calixtus followed Urbanus, about the year of our Lord two hundred twenty and seven, who in his epistle decretal, (coming out of the same forge,) which he wrote in common to all bishops, making no mention of the heavy persecutions of the church, nor ministering any exhortation of comfort or constancy to the brethen, only giveth many strict precepts for not transporting or alienating the goods of the church, and to pay truly their offerings which they vow; also to have all common among the clergy. Moreover, about the end of his epistle, he instituteth the confirmation of children after baptism (which the papists be wont to take into the number of their seven sacraments); affirming and denouncing more than Scripture will bear, that the imposition of the bishop's hand bringeth the Holy Ghost, and that thereby men be made full Christians, &c. But of these decretal epistles enough is said before, more may be considered of the discreet reader. Marianus Scotus, Sabellicus, Nauclerus, and other late story writers, do hold, as is aforesaid, that he died a martyr in the days of Alexander Severus, after he had governed that seat four years, as Damasus and Platina do witness, as Marianus saith, eight years.
The same Damasus and Platina do testify of him, that he by his preaching and holiness of life converted divers Ethnics to the faith; among whom were Tiburtius, and Valerianus, the husband of Cecilia; which both, being noblemen of Rome, remained constant in the faith unto the end and martyrdom. Of this Cecilia thus it is written in the martyrology by Ado: that Cecilia the virgin, after she had brought Valerian, her husband espoused, and Tiburtius his brother, to the knowledge and faith of Christ, and with her exhortations had made them constant unto martyrdom, after the suffering of them, she was also apprehended by Almachius the ruler, and brought to the idols to do sacrifice; which thing when she abhorred to do, she should be presented before the judge to have the condemnation of death. In the mean time, the serjeants and officers which were about her, beholding her comely beauty, and the prudent behaviour in her conversation, began with many persuasions of words to solicit her mind to favour herself, and that so excellent beauty, and not to cast herself away, &c. But she again so replied to them with reasons and godly exhortations, that by the grace of Almighty God their hearts began to kindle, and at length to yield to that religion which before they did persecute. Which thing she perceiving, desired of the judge Almachius a little respite; which being granted, she sendeth for Urbanus the bishop home to her house, to establish and ground them in the faith of Christ: and so were they with divers others at the same time baptized, both men and women, to the number (as the story saith) of four hundred persons, among whom was one Gordianus, a nobleman. This done, this blessed martyr was brought before the judge, where she was condemned; then after was brought to the house of the judge, where she was enclosed in a hot bath; but she remaining there a whole day and night without any hurt, as in a cold place, was brought out again, and commaundment given, that in the bath she should be beheaded. The executioner is said to have dealt four strokes at her neck; and yet her head being cut off, she (as the story giveth) lived three days after; and so died this holy virgin martyr, whose body in the night season Urbanus the bishop took and buried among the other bishops. Ado, the compiler of this martyrology, addeth, that this was done in the time of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. But that cannot be, forsomuch as Urbanus by all histories was long after those emperors, and lived in the days of this Alexander, as is above declared. Antoninus, Bergomensis, Equilinus, with such other writers, set forth this history with many strange miracles wrought by the said Cecilia, in converting her husband Valerianus and his brother, in showing them the angel which was the keeper of her virginity, and of the angel putting on crowns upon their heads. But as touching these miracles, as I do not dispute whether they be true or fabulous; so because they have no ground upon any ancient or grave authors, but am taken out of certain new legends, I do therefore refer them thither from whence they came.
Under the same Alexander divers other there be whom Bergomensis mentioned to have suffered martyrdom, as one Agapetus, of the age of fifteen years, who, being apprehended and condemned at Preneste at Italy, because he would not sacrifice to idols, was assailed with sundry torments; first, with whips scourged; then hanged up by the feet; after having hot water poured upon him, at the last cast to the wild beasts; with all which torments, when he could not be hurt, finally, with sword was beheaded. The executioner of these punishments (as by Henricus Erford. may be gathered) was one Antiochus, who, in the executing of the foresaid torments, suddenly fell down from his judicial seat, crying out, that all his inward bowels burned with in him, and so gave up the breath.
Also with the same Agapetus is numbered Calepodius, a minister of Rome, whose body first was drawn through the city of Rome, and after cast into Tiber.
Then followeth Pammachius, a senator of Rome, with his wife and children, and others, both men and women, to the number of forty and two.
Item, another noble senator of Rome, named Simplicius, all which together in one day had their heads smitten off, and their heads after hanged up in divers gates of the city, for a terror of others, that none should profess the name of Christ.
Besides these suffered also Quiritius, a nobleman of Rome, who, with his mother Julia, and a great number more, were put likewise to death.
Also Tiberius and Valerianus, citizens of Rome, and brethren, suffered (as Bergomensis saith) the same time, who, first being bruised and broken with bats, after were beheaded.
Also Vincentius, Bergomensis, and Erfordiensis make mention of Martina, a Christian virgin, which, after divers bitter punishments being constant in her faith, suffered in like manner by the sword.
Albeit as touching the time of these forenamed matters, as I find them not in older writers, so do I suppose them to suffer under Maximinus or Decius, rather than under Alexander.