6. THE FOURTH PERSECUTION UNDER ANTONINUS VERUS
After the decease of the foresaid quiet and mild prince Aurelius Antoninus Pius (who, among all other emperors of that time, made the most quiet end) followed his son M. Antoninus Verus, with Lucius his brother, about the year of our Lord one hundred threescore and one, a man of nature more stern and severe. And although in study of philosophy and in civil government no less commendable, yet toward the Christians sharp and fierce; by whom was moved the fourth persecution after Nero. In whose time a great number of them which truly professed Christ suffered most
cruel torments and punishments, both in Asia and France. In the number of whom was Polycarp, the worthy bishop of Smyrna, who in the great rage of this persecution in Asia, among many other most constant saints, was also martyred. Of whose end and martyrdom I thought it here not inexpedient to commit to history, so much as Eusebius declareth to be taken out of a certain letter or epistle, written by them of his own church to the brethren of Pontus; the tenor of which epistle here followeth.
The congregation which is at Smyrna, to the congregation which is at Philomilium, and to all the congregations throughout Pontus, mercy to you, peace, and the love of God our Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. be multiplied. Amen. We have written unto you, brethren, of those men which have suffered martyrdom. and of blessed Polycarp, which hath ended and appeased this persecution, as it were, by the shedding of his own blood. And in the same epistle, before they enter into further matter of Polycarp, they discourse of other martyrs, describing what patience they abode and showed in suffering their torments; which was so great and admirable, (saith the epistle,) that the lookers on were amazed, seeing and beholding how they were so scourged and whipped, that the inward veins and arteries appeared. yea, even so much that the very entrails of their bodies, their bowels and members, were seen; and after that were set upon sharp shells taken out of the sea, edged and sharp. and certain nails and thorns for the martyrs to go upon, which were sharpened and pointed, called obelisci. Thus suffered they all kind of punishment and torment that might be devised; and lastly were thrown unto the wild beasts to be devoured. But especially, in the aforesaid epistle mention is made of one Germanicus, how he most worthily persevered and overcame, by the grace of God, that fear of death which isingrafted in the common nature of all men, whose notable patience and sufferance was so notable, that the whole multitude wondering at this beloved martyr of God, for this his so bold constancy, and also for the singular strength and virtue proceeding of the whole multitude of the Christians, began suddenly to cry with a loud voice, saying, Destroy the wicked men, let Polycarp be sought for. And whilst a great up roar and tumult began thus to be raised upon those cries, a certain Phrygian named Quintus, lately come out of Phrygia, seeing and abhorring the wild beasts, and the fierce rage of them, of an over-light mind betrayed his own safety. For so the same letter of him doth report, that he, not reverently, but more malapertly than was requisite, together with others, rushed into the judgment place, and so being taken, was made a manifest example to all the beholders, that no man ought rashly and unreverently with such boldness to thrust in himself, to intermeddle in matters wherewith he hath not to do.
But now we will surcease to speak more of them, and return to Polycarp, of whom the foresaid letter consequently declareth as followeth: How that in the beginning, when he heard of these things, was nothing at all afraid nor disquieted in mind, but purposed to have tarried still in the city, till being persuaded by the entreaty of them that were about him, (which desired him instantly that he would convey himself away,) hid himself in a grange or village not far off from the city, and there abiding, with a few more in his company, did nothing else (night nor day) but abode in supplication, wherein he made his humble petition for the obtaining of peace unto all the congregations throughout the world, for that was his accustomed manner so to do. And as he was thus making his prayers three days before he was apprehended, in a vision by night, he saw the bed set on fire under his head, and suddenly to be consumed. And when he awaked, he told by and by, and expounded unto them that were present, his vision, and told them before what thing should come to pass; that is, how that in the fire he should lose his life for Christ's cause. It is further mentioned, that when they were hard at hand which so narrowly sought for him, that he was enforced for the affection and love of his brethren to fly into another village, to which place notwithstanding, within a little while after, the pursuers came; and when they had taken a couple of children that dwelt thereabouts, they so beat one of them with whips, that by the bewraying or confession of him they were brought unto the inn where Polycarp was. And they say that the pursuers, making no great haste to enter, found him in the uppermost place of the house, from whence he might have escaped into other houses, if he would; but this he would not do, saying, The will of God be done. Furthermore, when he knew that they were come, as the said history showeth, he came down, and spake unto them with a cheerful and pleasant countenance; so that it was a wonder to see those which a while agone knew not the man, now beholding and viewing his comely age, and his grave and constant countenance, lamented that they had so much employed their labour, that so aged a man should be apprehended. To conclude, he commanded that straightway, without any delay, the table should be laid for them, and persuaded them that they would eat and dine well, and required of them boldly that he might have an hour's respite to make his prayers. Which thing, after it was granted, he arose and went to pray, so being replenished with the grace of God, that they which were present, and hearing the prayers that he made, were astonished at it, and now many of them were sorry that so honest and godly an aged man should be put to death.
After this, the aforesaid epistle or letter, prosecuting the history, addeth more, as followeth: After he had made an end of his prayers, and had called to his remembrance all those things which ever happened unto him, and to the universal catholic church throughout all the world, (whether they were small or great, glorious or elseinglorious,) and that the hour was now come in which they ought to set forward, they set him upon an ass, and brought him to the city upon a solemn feast day. And there met him Irenæus Herodes, and his father Nicetes, which causing him to come up into the chariot where they sat, persuaded him, and said, What hurt, I pray thee, shall come thereof to thee, if thou say, (by the way of salutation,) My Lord Cæsar, and do sacrifice, and thus to save thyself? But he at the beginning made them none answer, till that when they enforced him to speak, he said, I will not do as ye counsel me I should. When, as they saw he could not be persuaded, they gave him very rough language, and of purpose molested him that in going down the chariot from them he might hurt or break his legs. But he forcing very light of the matter, as though he had felt no hurt, went merrily and, diligently forward, making haste unto the place appointed. And when there was such uproar in the place of execution, that he could not be heard but of very few, there came a voice from heaven to Polycarp, as he was going into the stage, or appointed place of judgment, saying, Be of good cheer, Polycarp, and play the man. No man there was which saw him that spake, but very many of us heard his voice. And when he was brought in, there was a great noise made by them which understood that Polycarp was apprehended. The proconsul asked him, when he was come, whether his name was Polycarp or not. And when he said, Yea, it was, he gave him counsel to deny his name, and said unto him, Be good unto thyself, and favour thine old age; and many other such-like words which they accustom to speak. Swear, saith he, by the emperor's good fortune; look upon this matter; say thou with us, Destroy these naughty men. Then Polycarp, beholding with constant countenance the whole multitude which was in the place appointed, and giving a great sigh, looked up to heaven, saying, Thou, thou it is that wilt destroy these wicked, naughty men. And the proconsul thus being earnestly in hand with him, said, Take thine oath, and I will discharge thee; defy Christ. Polycarp answered, Fourscore and six years have I been his servant, yet in all this time hath he not so much as once hurt me; how then may I speak evil of my King and sovereign Lord, which hath thus preserved me? Then the proconsul again enforced him, and said, Swear thou, I advise thee, by Cæsar's prosperity. Polycarp replieth, If thou require of me this fond word of vain boasting, feigning not to know (as thou sayest) who I am, I do thee to wit that I am a Christian; and if thou desire to know the doctrine of Christianity, appoint a day, and thou shalt hear. Persuade the people unto this, said the proconsul. Truly, saith Polycarp, I have thought it my part thus to say unto you, for so much as we are commanded to give unto the governors and powers ordained of God the honour meet and due to them, and not hurtful unto us; but as for those, I do judge them unworthy to purge myself unto them. Hereupon the proconsul stood up; I have, saith he, wild beasts, to whom I will throw thee, unless thou take a better way. Whereunto Polycarp answered, Let them come; we have determined with ourselves that we will not by repentance turn us from the better way to the worse, but rather convenient it is that a man turn from things that be evil unto that which is good and just. Again, saith the proconsul, I will tame thee with fire, if that thou set not by the wild beasts, nor yet repent. Then said Polycarp, You threaten me with fire which shall burn for the space of an hour, and shall be within a little while after put out and extinguished; but thou knowest not the fire of the judgment that is to come, and of everlasting punishment, which is reserved for the wicked and ungodly. But why make you all these delays? Give me what death soever ye list. These, and many other such-like things being by him spoken, he was replenished with joy and boldness; and his countenance appeared so full of grace and favour, that not only he was not troubled with those things which the proconsul spake unto him, but contrarily the proconsul himself began to be amazed, and sent for the crier, which in the middle of the stage was commanded to cry three times, Polycarp hath confessed himself to be a Christian; which words of the crier were no sooner spoken, but all the whole multitude, both of Gentiles and Jews inhabiting at Smyrna, with a vehement rage and loud voice, cried, This is that doctor or teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the destroyer of our gods, which hath instructed a great number that our gods are not to be worshipped. And after this they cried unto Philip the governor of Asia, and required him that he would let loose the lion to Polycarp. To whom he made answer, that he might not so do, because he had already his prey. Then they cried again all together with one voice, that he would burn Polycarp alive. For it was requisite that the vision which he saw, as concerning his pillow or bolster, should be fulfilled; which when he had seen burnt, as he was in his prayer, he turned himself unto the faithful sort which were with him, saying, by the way of prophecy, It will so come that I shall be burned alive. And the proconsul had no sooner spoken but it was out of hand performed. For why? The multitude by and by brought out of their shops, work-houses, and barns, wood and other dry matter for that purpose; and especially the Jews were most serviceable for that matter, after their wonted manner.
Illustration -- The martrydom of St. Polycarp
And thus the pile being laid, and when he had now put off his garments, and undone his girdle, and was about to pull off his shoes, which he had not done before, for that all the faithful sort among themselves strived as it were who should first touch his body at their farewell, because for the good conversation of his life, even from his younger age, he was had in great estimation of all men. Therefore straightway those instruments which are requisite to such a bonfire were brought unto him;
and when they would have nailed him to the stake with iron hoops, he said, Let me alone as I am, for he that hath given me strength to suffer and abide the fire, shall also give power, that without this your provision of nails I shall abide, and not stir in the midst of this fire or pile of wood. Which thing when they heard, they did not nail him, but bound him. Therefore when his hands were bound behind him, even as the chiefest ram taken out of the flock, he was sacrificed as an acceptable burnt offering to God, saying, O Father of thy well-beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have attained the knowledge of thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of all just men which live before thee, I give thee thanks that thou hast vouchsafed to grant me this day, that I may have my part among the number of the martyrs in the cup of Christ, unto the resurrection of eternal life, both of body and soul, through the operation of thy Holy Spirit; among whom I shall this day be received into thy sight for an acceptable sacrifice: and as thou hast prepared and revealed the same before this time, so thou hast accomplished the same, O thou most true God, which canst not lie. Wherefore I in like case for all things praise thee, and bless thee, and glorify thee by our ever lasting Bishop, Jesus Christ, to whom be glory evermore. Amen.
And as soon as he had ended this word Amen, and finished his prayer, the tormentors began to kindle the fire; and as the flame flashed out vehemently, we, to whom it was given to discern the same, saw a marvellous matter; which were also to this purpose preserved, that we might show the same to others, For the fire being made like unto a roof or vault of a house, and after the manner of a shipman's sail, filled with wind, compassed about the body of the martyr, as with a certain wall, and he, in the middle of the same, not as flesh that burned, but as gold and silver when it is tried in the fire. And surely we smelt a savour so sweet, as if myrrh or some other precious balm had given a scent, at the last, when those wicked persons saw that his body could not be consumed by fire, they commanded one of the tormentors to come unto him, and thrust him through with his sword; which being done, so great a quantity of blood ran out of his body, that the fire was quenched therewith, and the whole multitude marvelled that there was so much diversity between the infidels and the elect, of whom this Polycarp was one, being a disciple of the apostles, and a prophetical instructor of our times, and bishop of the catholic church of Smyrna; for what word soever he spake, both it was and shall be accomplished. But the subtle and envious adversary, when he saw the worthiness of his martyrdom, and that his conversation even from his younger years could not be reproved, and that he was adorned with the crown of martyrdom, and had now obtained that incomparable benefit, gave in charge that we should not take and divide his body, for fear lest the remnants of the dead corpse should be taken away, and so worshipped of the people. Whereupon divers whispered Niceta the father of Herod, and his brother Dalces, in the ear, to admonish the proconsul that in no case he should deliver his body, lest (saith he) they leave Christ and begin to worship him. And this spake they, because the Jews had given them secret warning, and provoked them thereunto; who also watched us, that we should not take him out of the fire; not being ignorant how that we meant at no time to forsake Christ, which gave his life for the salvation of the whole world, (as many I mean as are elected to salvation by him,) neither yet that we could worship any other. For why? Him we worship as the Son of God, but the martyrs do we love as disciples of the Lord, (and that worthily,) for their abundant love towards their King and Master, of when we also desire and wish to be companions, aud to be made his disciples. When therefore the centurion saw and perceived the labour of the Jews, the corpse being laid abroad, they burnt the same, as was their manner to do.
Thus good Polycarp, with twelve others that came from Philadelphia, suffered martyrdom at Smyrna; which Polycarp, specially above the rest, is had in memory, so that he in all places among the Gentiles is most famous. And this was the end of this worthy disciple of the apostles, whose history the brethren of the congregation of Smyrna have written in this their epistle, as is above recited.
Irenæus, in his third book against Heresies, the third chapter, and Eusebius, in his fourth book and fourteenth chapter of his Ecclesiastical History, reporteth this worthy saying of Polycarp: This Polycarp (saith he) meeting at a certain time Marcion, the heretic, who said to him, Dost thou not know me? made answer, I know that thou art the first begotten of Satan. So little fear what evil might ensue thereof had the disciples of the apostles, that they would not speak to them whom they knew to be the depravers of the verity, even as Paul saith, The heretic, after the first and second admonition, shun and avoid, knowing that he which is such a one is perverse or froward, and damneth himself. This most holy confessor and martyr of Christ, Polycarp, suffered death in the fourth persecution after Nero, when Marcus Antoninus, and Lucius Aurelius Commodus reigned, in the year of our Lord one hundred threescore and seven, as Ursperg affirmeth, in the year one hundred threescore and ten, as Eusebius witnesseth in his chronicles, the seventh before the kalends of February.
Of Germanicus mention is made above in the story of Polycarp, of whom writeth Eusebius, noting him to be a young man, and most constantly to persevere in the profession of Christ's doctrine; whom when the proconsul went to persuade to remember his age, and to favour himself, being in the flower of his age, he would not be allured, but con stantly and boldly, and of his own accord, incited and provoked the wild beasts to come upon him, and to devour him, to be delivered more speedily out of this wretched life.
Thus have you heard out of the epistle of the brethren of Smyrna the whole order and life of Polycarp, whereby it may appear that he was a very aged man, who had served Christ fourscore and six years since the first knowledge of him, and served also in the ministry about the space of threescore and ten years. This Polycarp was the scholar and hearer of John the evangelist, and was placed by the said John in Smyrna. Of him also Ignatius maketh mention in his epistle which he wrote in his journey to Rome, going toward his martyrdom, and commendeth to him the government of his church at Antioch, whereby it appeareth that Polycarp was then in the ministry. Likewise Irenæus writeth of the said Polycarp after this manner: He always taught (said he) those things which he learned of the apostles (leaving them to the church) and are only true. Whereunto also all the churches that be in Asia, and all they which succeeded after Polycarp, to this day bear witness. And the same Irenæus witnesseth also that the said Polycarp wrote an epistle to the Philippians, which whether it be the same that is now extant and read in the name of Polycarp, it is doubted of some; notwithstanding, in the said epistle divers things are found very wholesome and apostolic; as where he teacheth of Christ, of judgment, and of the resurrection. Also he writeth of faith very worthily, thus declaring, that by grace we are saved, and not by works, but in the will of God by Jesus Christ.
In Eusebius we read in like manner a part of an epistle written by Irenæus to Florinus, wherein is declared how that the said Irenæus being yet young, was with Polycarp in Asia; at what time he saw and well remembered what Polycarp did, and the place where he sat teaching, his whole order of life and proportion of his body, with the sermons and words which he said to the people. And furthermore, he perfectly remembered how that the said Polycarp oftentimes reported unto him those things which he learned and heard them speak of the Lord's doings, power, and doctrine, who heard the word of life with their own ears, all which were more constant and agreeable to the Holy Scripture. This, with much more, hath Irenæus concerning Polycarp.
Hierom also, writing of the same Polycarp, hath, how he was in great estimation throughout all Asia, for that he was scholar to the apostles, and to them which did see and were conversant with Christ himself; whereby it is to be conjectured his authority to be much, not only with them of his own church, but with all other churches about him.
Over and besides, it is witnessed by the said Irenæus, that Polycarp came to Rome in the time of Anicetus bishop of Rome, about the year of our Lord one hundred fifty and seven, in the reign of Antoninus Pius, whose cause of his coming thither appeareth to be about the controversy of Easter day; wherein the Asians and the Romans some thing disagreed among themselves. And therefore the said Polycarp, in the behalf of the brethren and church of Asia, took his long journey thither, to come and confer with Anicetus. Whereof writeth also Nicephorus, declaring that Polycarp and Anicetus something varied in opinions and judgment about that matter, and that, notwithstanding, yet both friendly communicated either with the other, insomuch that Anicetus in his church gave place to Polycarp to minister the communion and sacrament of the Lord's supper, for honour sake. Which may be a notable testimony now to us, that the doctrine concerning the free use and liberty of ceremonies was at that time retained in the church without any offence of stomach, or breach of Christian peace in the church.
This Polycarp (as is above mentioned) suffered his martyrdom even in his own church at Smyrna, where he had laboured so many years in planting of the gospel of Christ, which was about the year of our Lord a hundred threescore and ten, as Eusebius reckoneth in his Chronicle, and in the seventh year of Antoninus Verus's reign; whereby it appeareth that Socrates was much deceived, saying that Polycarp suffered in the time of Gordianus.
In this fourth persecution, besides Polycarp and others mentioned before, we read also in Eusebius of divers others, who at the same time likewise did suffer at Smyrna.
Over and besides, in the same persecution suffered moreover Metrodorus, a minister, who was given to the fire, and so consumed. Another was worthy Pionius, which after much boldness of speech, with his apologies exhibited, and his sermons made to the people in the defence of Christian faith, and after much relieving and comforting of such as were in prisons, and otherwise discomforted, at last was put to cruel torments and afflictions, then given likewise to the fire, and so finished his blessed martyrdom.
After these also suffered Carpus, Papilus, and Agathonica, a wonlan, who, after their most constant and worthy confessions, were put to death at Pergamopolis in Asia.
And as these suffered in Asia, so in Rome suffered Felicitas with her seven children, who under this M. Antoninus Verus sustained also the cruelty of this persecution. The names of whose children Bergomensis and other histories do thus recite:
Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalis, Martialis. Of whom her first and eldest son, Januarius, after he was whipped and scourged with rods, was pressed to death with leaden weights. Felix and Philip had their brains beaten out with mauls. Silvanus was cast down headlong, and had his neck broken. Furthermore, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis were beheaded. Last of all Felicitas, the mother, (otherwise than the accustomed manner was for such as had borne children,) was slain with the sword.
In the rage of this persecution suffered also good Justin, a man in learning and philosophy excellent, and a great defender of Christian religion, who first exhibited unto the emperor, and to the senate, a book or apology in the defence of the Christians, and afterward himself also died a martyr. Of whom in the history of Eusebius it is thus recorded: that about what time, or a little before, that Polycarp with divers other saints suffered martyrdom in Pergamopolis, a city of Asia, this Justin (as is aforesaid) presented a book in defence of our doctrine to the emperor, to wit, unto Antoninus, and to the senate. After which he was also crowned with like martyrdom unto those whom he in his book had defended, through the malicious means and crafty circumvention of Crescens.
This Crescens was a philosopher, conforming his life and manners to the cynical sect, whom because this Justin had reproved in open audience, and had borne away the victory of the truth which he defended; he, therefore, as much as in him lay, did work and procure unto him this crown of martyrdom. And this did also Justin himself, a philosopher no less famous by his profession, foresee and declare in his foresaid Apology; telling almost all those things beforehand which should happen unto him by these words, saying, And I look after this good turn, that I be slain going by the way, either of some of those whom I have named, and to have my brains beaten out with a bat, or else of Crescens, whom I cannot call a philosopher, but rather a vain boaster. For it is not convenient to call him a philosopher, which openly professeth things to him unknown, and whereof he hath no skill, saying and reporting of us that the Christians be ungodly and irreligious; and all to please and flatter them which are seduced by error.
For whether he objecteth against us the doctrine of the Christians which he hath not read, yet is he very malicious, and worse than the unlearned idiots, who for the most part use not to dispute or judge of things they know not, and to bear witness of the same. Or put the case that he had read it, yet understandeth he not the majesty of the matters therein contained: or, if peradventure he understandeth them, and doth it for this purpose, that he would not be counted as one of them; then is he so much the more wicked and malicious, and the bondslave of vile and beastly both fame and fear. For this I testify of him, giving you truly to understand that for a truth which I declare unto you, how that I have opposed him, and have put unto him many questions, whereby I know and perceive that he understandeth nothing. But if so be that this our disputation with him hath not come unto your ears, I am ready to communicate unto you again those questions which I demanded of him, which things shall not be unfit for your princely honour to hear. But if ye know and understand both what things I have examined him of, as also what answer he hath made, it shall be apparent unto you that he is altogether ignorant of our doctrine and learning; or else if he knoweth the same, he dare not utter it for fear of his auditors; which thing, as I said before, is a proof that he is no philosopher, but a slave to vain-glory, which maketh none account of that which his own master Socrates had in so great estimation. And thus much of Justin out of Justin himself.
Now, to verify that which Justin here of himself doth prophesy, that Crescens would and did procure his death, Tacianus (a man brought up of a child in the institutions of the Gentiles, and obtained in the same not a little fame, and which also left behind him many good monuments and commentaries) writeth in his book against the Gentiles in this sort: And Justin, (saith he,) that most excellent learned man, full well spake and uttered his mind, that the afore-recited men were like unto thieves or liars by the highway side. And in the said book, speaking afterward of certain philosophers, the said Tacianus inferreth thus: Crescens therefore, (saith he,) when he came first into that great city, passed all others in the vicious love of children, and was very much given to covetousness; and where he taught that men ought not to regard death, he himself doth fear death, and he did all his endeavour to oppress Justin with death, as with the most greatest evil that was, and all because that Justin, speaking truth, reproved the philosophers to be men only for the belly, and deceivers: and this was the cause of Justin's martyrdom. Hierom in his Ecclesiastical Catalogue thus writeth: Justin, when in the city of Rome he had his disputations, and had reproved Crescens the cynic for a great blasphemer of the Christians, for a belly-god, and a man fearing death, and also a follower of lust and lechery; at last by his endeavour and conspiracy was accused to be a Christian, and for Christ shed his blood, in the year of our Lord one hundred fifty and four, under Marcus Antoninus, as the Chronicles do witness, Abbas Urspergensis, and Eusebius in his Chronicle, in the thirteenth year of the emperor Antoninus.
Among these above recited is also to be numbered Praxedis, a blessed virgin, the daughter of a citizen of Rome, who in the time of Anicetus, there bishop, was so brought up in the doctrine of Christ, and so affected to his religion, that she, with her sister Potentiana, bestowed all her patrimony upon the relieving of poor Christians, giving all her time to fasting and prayer, and to the burying of the bodies of the martyrs. And after she had made free all her family, with her servants, after the death of her sister, she also departed, and was buried in peace.
Under the same Antoninus also suffered Ptolomeus and Lucius, for the confession of Christ, in a city of Egypt, called Alexandrina; whose history, because it is decribed in the Apology of Justin Martyr, I thought therefore so to set forth the same, as it is alleged in Eusebius, declaring the manner and occasion thereof, in words and effect as followeth, &c.
There was (saith he) a certain woman married unto a husband, who was given much to lasciviousness, whereunto she herself in times past was also addicted. But she, afterward being instructed in the Christian religion, became chaste herself, and also persuaded her husband to live chastely; oftentimes telling him that it was written in the precepts of the Christians, that they should be punished eternally which lived not chastely and justly in this life. But he still continuing in his filthiness, thereby caused his wife to estrange herself from his company. For why? The woman thought it not convenient to continue in her husband's company, which, contemning the law of nature, sought otherwise to satisfy his filthy appetite. Therefore she was purposed to be divorced from him. But her neighbours and kinsfolk provoked her, by promising his amendment, to keep company again with him, and so she did. But he after this took his journey into Alexandria; and when it was showed her that there he lived more licentiously than at any time before, for that she would not be counted partaker of his incestuous life, by coupling herself any longer with him, she gave him a letter of divorce, and so departed from him. Then her husband, who ought rather to have rejoiced to have so honest and chaste a wife, which not only would not commit any dishonest thing her self, but also could not abide any lewd or misordered behaviour in her husband; and that by this her separation she went about to reclaim him from his incest and wickedness to better amendment of life; he, in recompence to his wife again, accused her to be a Christian, which at that time was no less than death. Whereupon she, being in great peril and danger, delivered up unto the emperor (as Justin in his Apology, writing to the emperor himself, declareth) a supplication, desiring and craving of his majesty, first, to grant her so much licence as to set her family in order; and, that done, afterward to come again and make answer to all that might or should be laid against her: whereunto the emperor condescended. Then her husband, seeing that he could have no advantage against her, devised with himself how he might bring Ptolomeus (which was her instructor in the faith of Christ) in trouble and accusation; using the means of a certain centurion, who was his very friend, whom he persuaded to examine Ptolomeus, whether he were a Christian or not. Ptolomeus (as one that loved the truth, and not thinking good to hide his profession) confessed no less than to the examiner, openly declaring that he had (as truth was) taught and professed the verity of Christian doctrine. For whoso denieth himself to be that he is, either condemneth in denying the thing that he is, or maketh himself unworthy of that the confession whereof he flieth, which thing is never found in a true and sincere Christian. Thus then he being brought before Urbicius the judge, and by him condemned to suffer, one Lucius, being also a Christian, standing by, and seeing the wrong judgment and hasty sentence of the judge, said to Urbicius, What reason, I pray you, or equity is this, that this man, who is neither adulterer, nor fornicator, nor homicide, nor felon, neither hath committed any such crime, wherewith he may be charged, is thus condemned only for his name and confession of a Christian? This condemnation, and this manner of judgments, (O Urbicius,) are neither seemly for the virtuous emperor, nor to the philosopher his son, nor yet for the estate of his senate of Rome.
Which words being heard, Urbicius making no further examination of the matter, said unto Lucius, Me thinketh thou art also a Christian. And when Lucius had given him to understand that he was also a Christian, the judge, without further delay, commanded him to be had away to the place of execution. To whom he answered, I thank you, with all my heart, that you release me from most wicked governors, and send me unto my good and most loving Father, being also the King of all gods. And in like manner the third man also, coming unto him, and using the like liberty of speech, had also the like sentence of death and condemnation, and was crowned also with the same crown of martyrdom. And thus much out of the Apology of Justin; by the which story it may appear not to be true that Gratianus attributeth unto Higinus, bishop of Rome, the deciding of causes matrimonial, seeing that in Justin's time (who was in the same age of Higinus) the divorcement of this woman in this history above touched was not decided by any ecclesiastical law, or brought before any bishop, but was brought before a heathen prince, and determined by the law civil.
Henricus de Erfordia recordeth out of the Martyrology of Isuardus, of one Concordus, a minister of the city of Spolet, who in the reign of this Antoninus Verus, because he would not sacrifice unto Jupiter, but did spit in the face of the idol, after divers and sundry punishments sustained, at last with the sword was beheaded. Vincentius, in his tenth book, chap. 108, reciteth a long story of his acts and life, whereof some part perhaps may seem tolerable. But this verily appeareth to be false and fabulous, concerning the water flowing beside his sepulchre, in the forenamed city of Spolet; unto the which water was given, (saith Vincentius,) by the virtue of Him for whose name he suffered, to restore sight to the blind, to heal the sick, and to cast out devils, &c. Which kind of virtue, to open the eyes of the blind and to expel devils, neither doth God give to any creature of water, neither is it like that Concordus, the blessed martyr, did or would require any such thing at the hands of God.
Isuardus, and Bede, Vincentius, and Henricus de Erfordia, with other authors more, make relation of divers other martyrs that, by sundry kinds of torments, were put to death under the aforesaid Antoninus Verus; the names of whom be Symmetrius, Florellus, Pontianus, Alexander, Caius, Epipodus, Victor, Corona, Marcellus, Valerianus. The cause of whose martyrdom was the reprehending of idolatry; and because, at the emperor's commandment, they would not sacrifice to idols. Many sorts of punishments and miracles are told of them: but at length the end of them all is this, that they were beheaded. Whereby it may be the more suspected the histories of these writers not to be certain or true, as well touching these as also other martyrs, as may appear in Vincentius, in Petrus de Natalibus, and other authors of like sort. In which authors they which list to read more of their miracles there may find them.
A little before mention was made of Symphorissa, otherwise named Symphorosa, wife of Getulus, with her seven sons. This Getulus or Getulius was a minister, or teacher, (as witnesseth Martyrol. Adonis,) in the city of Tiber; which Getulus, with Cerealis, Amantius, and Primitivus, by the commandment of Hadrian, were condemned to the fire, wherein they were martyred and put to death. The names moreover of the seven sons of this Symphorosa I find to be Crescens, Julianus, Nemesius, Primitivus, Justinus, Statteus, and Eugenius, whom the Chronicle of Ado declareth to be put to death at the commandment of Hadrian, being fastened to seven stakes, and so racked up with a pulley, and at last were thrust through; Crescens in the neck, Julianus in the breast, Nemesius in the heart, Primitivus about the navel, Justinus cut in every joint of his body, Statteus run through with spears, Eugenius cut asunder from the breast to the lower parts, and then cast into a deep pit, having the name by the idolatrous priests, entitled Ad septem Biothanatos. After the martyrdom of whom also Symphorosa the mother did likewise suffer, as is before declared.
Under the said Antoninus Verus, and in the same persecution, which raged not in Rome and Asia only, but in other countries also, suffered the glorious and most constant martyrs of Lyons and Vienna, two cities in France, giving to Christ a glorious testimony, and to all Christian men a spectacle or example of singular constancy and fortitude in Christ our Saviour. The history of whom, because it is written and set forth by their own churches, where they did suffer, mentioned in Euseb. lib. 6. cap. 2, I thought here to express the same in the form and effect of their own words, as there is to be seen. The title of which their epistle written to the brethren of Asia and Phrygia thus beginneth.
"The servants of Christ inhabiting the cities of Vienna and Lyons, to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, having the same faith and hope of redemption with us; peace, grace, and glory from
God the Father, and from Jesus Christ our Lord." The greatness of this our tribulation, the furious rage of the Gentiles against us, and the torments which the blessed martyrs suffered; neither can we in words, not yet in writing exactly, as they deserve, set forth. For the adversary, with all his force, gave his endeavour to the working of such preparatives as he himself listed against his tyrannous coming, and in every place practised he and instructed his ministers how in most spiteful manner to set them against the servants of God; so that not only in our houses, shops, and markets we were restrained, but also were universally commanded, that none (so hardy) should be seen in any place. But God hath always mercy in store, and took out of their hands such as were weak amongst them, and other some did he set up as firm and immovable pillars, which by sufferance were able to abide all violent force, and valiantly to withstand the enemy, enduring all their opprobrious punishment they could devise: to conclude, they fought this battle for that intent to come unto Christ, esteeming their great troubles but as light; thereby showing that all that may be suffered in this present life is not able to countervail the great glory which shall be showed upon us after this life. And, first, they patiently suffered whatsoever the multitude of frantic people running upon head did unto them, as railings, scourgings, drawings, and halings, flinging of stones, imprisonings, and what other thing soever the rage of the multitude is wont to use and practise against their professed enemies. Then afterward they being led into the market-place, and there judged of the captain and rest of the potentates of the city, after their confession made openly before the multitude, were commanded again to prison until the return of their chief governor. After this, they being brought before him, and he using all extremity that possibly he might against them, one Vetius Epagathus, one of the brethren, replenished with fervent zeal, both towards God and his brethren (whose conversation, although he were a young man, was counted as perfect as was the life of Zachary the priest; for he walked diligently in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord, and in all obedience towards his brethren, blameless); he having within him the fervent zeal of love and Spirit of God, could not suffer that wicked judgment which was given upon the Christians; but being vehemently displeased, desired that the judge would hear the excuse which he was minded to make in the behalf of the Christians, in whom (saith he) is no impiety found. But the people cried again to those that were assistants with the chief justice that it might not be so (for, indeed, he was a nobleman born); neither did the justice grant him his lawful request, but only asked him whether he himself was a Christian or not. And he immediately, with a loud and bold voice, answered and said, I am a Christian. And thus was he received into the fellowship of the martyrs, and called the advocate of the Christians. And he having the Spirit of God more plentifully in time than had Zachary, the abundance thereof he declared, in that he gave his life in the defence of his brethren, being a true disciple of Christ, following the Lamb wheresoever he goeth.
By this man's example the rest of the martyrs were the more animated to martyrdom, and made more joyous with all courage of mind to accom lish the same. Some other there were unready and not so well prepared, and as yet weak, not well able to bear the vehemency of so great a conflict; of whom ten there were in number that fainted, ministering to us much heaviness and lamentation, who by their example caused the rest which were not yet apprehended to be less willing thereunto. Then were we all for the variableness of confession not a little astonished; not that we feared the punishment intended against us, but rather as having respect to the end, and fearing lest any should fall. Every day there were apprehended such as were worthy to fulfil the number of them which were fallen; insomuch that, of two churches, such as were chiefest, and which were the principal governors of our churches, were apprehended. With these also certain of theethnics, being our men-servants, were apprehended; (for so the governor commanded, that all of us in general without any respect should be taken;) which servants being overcome by Satan, and fearing the torments which they saw the saints to suffer, being also compelled thereunto by the means of the soldiers, feigned against us that we kept the feastings of Thiestes, and incest of ?dipus, and many such other crimes, which are neither to be remembered nor named by us, nor yet to be thought that ever any man would commit the like.
These things being now bruited abroad, every man began to show cruelty against us, insomuch that those which before for familiarity sake were more gentle towards us, now vehemently disdained us, and waxed mad against us. And thus was now fulfilled that which was spoken by Christ, saying, The time will come, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doth God great good service. Then suffered the martyrs of God such bitter persecution as is passing to be told; Satan still shooting at this mark, to make them to utter some blasphemy, by all means possible. Marvellous therefore was the rage both of the people and prince, especially against one Sanctus, which was deacon of the congregation of Vienna; and against Maturus, being but a little before baptized, but yet a worthy follower of Christ; and also against Attalus, being born in Pergama, which was the foundation and pillar of that congregation; and also against Blandina; by whom Christ showeth those things, which the world esteemed vile and abject, to be glorious in God's sight, for the very love which in heart and deed they bare unto him, not in outward face only. For when all we were afraid, and especially her mistress in the flesh, who also was herself one of the number of the aforesaid martyrs, lest haply for the weakness of body she would not stand strongly to her confession, the foresaid Blandina was so replenished with strength and boldness, that they which had the tormenting of her by course, from morning to night, for very weariness gave over, and fell down, and were themselves overcome, confessing that they could do no more against her, and marvelled that yet she lived, having her body so torn and rent; and testified that any one of those torments alone, without any more, had been enough to have plucked the life from her body. But that blessed woman, fighting this worthy battle, became stronger and stronger; and as often as she spake these words, "I am a Christian, neither have we committed any evil," it was to her a marvellous comfort and boldening to abide the torments.
Sanctus also, another of the martyrs, who in the midst of his torments endured more pains than the nature of a man might away with, at what time the wicked supposed to have heard him utter some blasphemous words, for the greatness and intolerableness of his torments and pains that he was in, abode notwithstanding in such constancy of mind, that neither he told them his name, nor what coun tryman he was, nor in what city brought up, neither whether he was a free man or a servant; but unto every question that was asked him, he answered in the Latin tongue, I am a Christian, and this was all that he confessed, both of his name, city, kindred, and all other things in the place of execution; neither yet could the Gentiles get any more of him; whereupon both the governor and tormentors were the more vehemently bent against him. And when they had nothing to vex him withal, they clapped plates of brass red hot to the most tenderest parts of his body; wherewith his body indeed being scorched, yet he never shrunk for the matter, but was bold and constant in his confession, being strength ened and moistened with the fountain of lively water flowing out of Christ's side. Truly his body was a sufficient witness what torments he suffered; for it was all drawn together and most pitifully wounded and scorched, so that it had therewith lost the proper shape of a man; in whose suffering Christ obtained unspeakable glory, for that he overcame his adversaries, and, to the instruction of others, declared that nothing else is terrible, or ought to be feared, where the love of God is, and nothing grievous wherein the glory of Christ is manifested.
And when those wicked men began after a certain time again to torment the martyr, and hoped well to bring it to pass, that either they should overcome him in causing him to recant, by reiterating his torments, now when his body was so sore and swollen, that he might not suffer a man to touch him with his hand; or else that if he died under their hands, yet that thereby they should strike such fear into the hearts of the rest, as to cause them to deny Christ; they were not only disappointed herein, but also, contrary to the expecta lion of men, his body was in the latter punishment and torments suppled and restored, and took the first shape and use of the members of the same, so that the same his second torment was by the grace of Christ (instead of punishment) a safe medicine.
Also Satan, now thinking to have settled himself in the heart of one Biblides, being one of them which had denied Christ, and thinking to have caused her, being a weak and feeble woman in faith, to have damned her soul, in blaspheming the name of God, brought her to the place of execution, enforcing to wrest some wicked thing out of the mouth of the Christians. But she in the middle of her torments, returning to herself, and waked as it were out of her dead sleep by that temporal pain, called to her remembrance the pains of hell-fire, and against all men's expectations reviled the tormentors, saying, How should we Christians eat young infants, (as ye reported of us,) for whom it is not lawful to eat the blood of any beast. Upon that, so soon as she had confessed herself to be a Christian, she was martyred with the rest. Thus when Christ had ended those tyrannical torments, by the patience and sufferance of our saints, the devil yet invented other engines and instruments. For when the Christians were cast into prison, they were shut up in dark and ugly dungeons, and were drawn by the feet in a rack, or engine, made for that purpose. And many other such punishments suffered they, which the furious ministers, stirred up with devilish fury, are wont to put men unto; so that very many of them were strangled and killed in prisons, whom the Lord in this manner would have to enjoy everlasting life, and set forth his glory. And surely these good men were so pitifully tormented, that if they had had all the helps and medicines in the world, it was thought impossible for them to live and to be restored. And thus they remaining in prison, destitute of all human help, were so strengthened of the Lord, and both in body and mind confirmed, that they comforted and stirred up the minds of the rest; the younger sort of them, which were later apprehended, and put in prison, whose bodies had not yet felt the lash of the whip, were not able to endure the sharpness of their imprisonment, but died for the same.
The blessed Photinus, who was deacon to the bishop of Lyons, about fourscore and nine years old, and a very feeble or weak man, and could scarcely draw breath for the imbecility of his body, yet was he of a lively courage and spirit; and for the great desire he had of martyrdom, when he was brought unto the judgment-seat, although his body was feeble and weak, both because of his old age, and also through sickness, yet was his soul or life preserved to this purpose, that by the same Christ might triumph and be glorified. He being by the soldiers brought to the place of judgment, many citizens and men of great ability following him, and the whole multitude crying upon him diversely, as though he had been Christ himself, gave a good testimony. For being demanded of the chief ruler what was the Christian man's God, he answered, If thou be worthy to know, thou shalt know. He, being with these words somewhat near touched, caused him to be very sore beaten. For those that stood next him did him all the spite and displeasure that they could, both with hand and foot, having no regard at all to his old age or white hairs. And they which were farther off, whatso ever came next to hand they threw at him, and every man thought that he did very wickedly refrain that withheld his hand from doing the like. For by this means they thought that they did revenge the quarrel of their gods. Photinus now, even as it were gasping after life, was thrown into prison, and within two days after died.
And here is the mighty providence of God and the unspeakable mercy of Jesus Christ declared, which providence, being assured amongst others, is never destitute of the aid of Jesus Christ. For those which in their first persecution denied Christ, they also were put in prison, and made partakers of the others' affliction. Neither yet did it any whit at all at that time help them that had denied Christ, but they which confessed him were imprisoned as Christians, neither was there any other crime objected against them; but the other sort, taken like homicides and wicked doers, were laid hand on, and had double more punishment than the others had. These men were refreshed with the joy of martyrdom, the hope of God's promises, the love towards Christ, and the Spirit of God; the others, their consciences accused them, and that very sore, insomuch that, by their gait, their countenances bewrayed unto the rest their guilty con sciences. For the Christians went forth having cheerful countenances, very much adorned with glory and grace, in somuch that the very bonds wherewith they were tied set them out as men in seemly apparel, and like as brides when they be decked in gorgeous and gay garments, and therewithal savoured as of the redolent smell of Christ, so that it might be supposed them to be anointed with some sweet balm; whereas the others were doubtful and sad, abject, ill favoured, filled with all shame, and furthermore reviled of the Gentiles themselves, as wretches degenerate, having the crime of homicide, and destitute of the most precious, glorious, and lively calling of the Christian name. And truly by these sights the rest were confirmed, and, being apprehended, confessed Christ without any staggering, not having so much as the thought of any such devilish mind of denial. And in the same epistle of the foresaid brethren of France, writing to the brethren of Asia, it followeth in this manner: After these things done, the martyrdom of these holy saints was divided diversly into divers kinds and forms, as the offering to God the Father a garland decked with divers and sundry kinds of colours and flowers. For it so behoved the worthy champions of God, after they had suffered divers kinds of torments, and so won a triumphant victory, to obtain great reward of immortality.
Then Maturus, Blandina, and Attalus were brought together to the common scaffold, there in the face of the people to be cast and devoured of the beasts. And Maturus, with Sanctus, being brought the second time to the scaffold, suffered again all kind of torments, as though hitherto they had suffered nothing at all; yea, rather the adversary being oftentimes put to the worst, they, as striving for the crown, suffered again more scourgings, the tearing of wild beasts, and what thing else soever the frantic people on every side cried for and willed. And above all the rest they brought an iron chair, in the which their bodies being set, were so fried and scorched as on a gridiron fried on the coals, and filled with the savour of the frying all the people that stood by. And yet for all that the torments ceased not, but waxed more fierce and mad against them, labouring to overcome the patience of the saints. Notwithstanding all this, they could not get out of Sanctus's mouth any other thing but the confession which at the beginning he declared. And thus these holy men, after they had long continued alive in this their most horrible conflict, at the length were slain, being made all that whole day a spectacle unto the world, in place and instead of the games and sights which were wont to be exhibited to the people. And thus much concerning Maturus and Sanctus.
Now concerning Blandina, she, being fastened upon a stake, was cast to the ravening beasts to be devoured; which thing was not done without the determinate will of God; to this end, that while she seemed to hang as it were upon a cross, by the ferventness of her prayer she might comfort the rest of the saints, as beholding their Christ with their bodily eyes, which in that agony suffered for them all, and that all which believe in him and suffer for the glory of Christ might be assured to live with him for ever. And when they saw that no beast would come near her thus hanging, they took her down from the tree, and cast her again into prison till another time, that she, having the victory of many battles, might triumph over that ugly serpent the devil; and that she, being a weak and silly woman, and not regarded, armed with Christ, the invincible Conqueror, might encourage her brethren, and by the enduring of this battle might win a crown of incorruptible glory.
Now to Attalus; who, being also required and called for of the people to punishment already prepared, (for his conscience sake,) cometh forth to the sight. For he being worthily exercised in the Christian profession, was always a witness and a maintainer of our doctrine. Therefore when the press of people was about the scaffold, and the table carried before him, wherein was written in the Roman tongue, This is Attalus the Christian; then the people were in a marvellous rage against him. But the governor, understanding that he was a Roman, commanded him again to prison, with the rest of his prison fellows; whereof he wrote to the emperor, and waited for answer what his pleasure herein was. The prisoners were not idle in the mean season, nor unprofitable to their brethren, but by their patience the unspeakable mercy of Christ shined out. For those which were dead before were now revived by them that lived, and they which were martyrs profited them which were none, and the church did much rejoice, as receiving them again alive whom she had lost before as dead. For many of them which before had denied, now by their denial were restored and stirred up, and learned to be confessors. And now being revived and strengthened, and tasting the sweetness of Him which desireth not the death of a sinner, but is merciful to the penitent, came of their own accord to the judgment-seat again, that they might be examined of the judge. And for that the emperor had written back again to him, that all the confessors should be punished and the other let go, and that the sessions or assizes were now begun, which, for the multitude that had repaired thither out of every quarter, was marvellous great; he caused all the holy martyrs to be brought thither, that the multitude might behold them, and once again examined them; and as many of them as he thought had the Roman freedom he beheaded, the residue he gave to the beasts to be devoured. And truly Christ was much glorified by those which a little before had denied him, which again, contrary to the expectation of the infidels, confessed him even unto the death. For they were examined apart from the rest, be cause of their delivery; which, being found confessors, were joined to the company of the martyrs, and had with them their part. But there were then some abroad which had no faith at all, neither yet so much as the feeling of the wedding garment, nor any cogitation at all of the fear of God; but blasphemed his ways by the lewd conversation of their life, even such as were the children of damnation. All the residue joined themselves to the congregation; which when they were examined, one Alexander, a Phrygian born, and a physician which had dwelt long in France, and known almost of all, for the love he had to God, and boldness of speaking (neither was he void of the apostolical love); one Alexander, I say, standing somewhat near to the bar, by signs and becks persuaded such as were examined to confess Christ; so that by his countenance sometime rejoicing, some other while sorrowing, he was descried of the standers-by. The people not taking in good part to see those which now recanted by and by again to stick to their first confession, they cried out against Alexander as one that was the cause of all this matter. And when he was enforced by the judge, and demanded what religion he was of, he answered, I am a Christian. He had no sooner spoken the word, but he was judged to the beasts, of them to be devoured.
The next day following, Attalus, of whom I made mention a little before, and Alexander, were brought forth together, for the governor granting Attalus unto the people, he was baited again of the beasts. When these men were brought to the scaffold, and had taken a taste of all the instruments that there were prepared for their execution, and had suffered the greatest agony they could put them to, they were also at the length slain; of whom Alexander never gave so much as a sigh, nor held his peace, but from the bottom of his heart praised and prayed to the Lord. But Attalus, when he was set in the iron chair, and began to fry, and the frying savour of his burning body began to smell, he spake to the multitude in the Roman language: Behold, (saith he,) this which you do is to eat man's flesh; for we neither eat men, nor yet commit any other wickedness. And being demanded what was the name of their God; Our God (saith he) hath no such name as men have. Then said they, Now let us see whether your God can help you, and take you out of our hands or not.
After this, being the last day of the spectacle, Blandina again, and one Ponticus, a child of fifteen years old, was brought forth, and this was every day, to the intent that they seeing the punishment of their fellows might be compelled thereby to swear by their idols. But because they constantly abode in their purpose, and defied their idols, the whole multitude was in a rage with them, neither sparing the age of the child, nor favouring the sex of the woman, but put them to all the punishment and pain they could devise, and oftentimes enforced them to swear, and yet were not able to compel them thereunto. For Ponticus, being so animated of his sister, as theethnics standing by did see, after that he had suffered, all torments and pains, gave up the ghost. This blessed Blandina therefore being the last that suffered, after she had, like a worthy mother, given exhortations unto her children, and had sent them before as conquerors to their heavenly King, and had called to her remembrance all their battles and conflicts, so much rejoiced of her children's death, and so hastened her own, as though she had been bidden to a bridal, and not in case to be thrown to the wild beasts. After this her pitiful whipping, her delivery to the beasts, and her torments upon the gridiron, at the length she was put in a net, and thrown to the wild bull; and when she had been sufficiently gored and wounded with the horns of the same beast, and felt nothing of all that chanced to her, for the great hope and consolation she had in Christ and heavenly things, was thus slain, inso much that the very heathen men themselves confessed that there was never woman put to death of them that suffered so much as this woman did. Neither yet was their furious cruelty thus assuaged against the Christians. For the cruel, barbarous people, like wild beasts, when they be moved, knew not when the time was to make an end, but invented new and sundry torments every day against our bodies. Neither yet did it content them when they had put the Christians to death, for that they wanted the sense of men; for which cause both the magistrate and people were vexed at the very hearts, that the scripture might be fulfilled which saith, He that is wicked, let him be wicked still; and he that is just, let him be more just. For those which in their prisons they strangled, they threw after to the dogs, setting keepers both day and night to watch them, that they should not be buried, and bringing forth the remnant of their bones and bodies, some half burned, some left of the wild beasts, and some all to be mangled, also bringing forth heads of others which were cut off, and in like manner committed by them to the charge of the keepers to see them remain unburied.
The Gentiles grinded and gnashed at the Christians with their teeth, seeking which way they might amplify their punishment: some other flouted and mocked them, extolling their idols, attributing unto them the cause of this cruelty and vengeance showed to us. Such as were of the meeker sort, and seemed to be moved with some pity, did hit us in the teeth, saying, Where is your God that you so much boast of? and what helpeth this your religion for which you give your lives? These were the sundry passions and effects of the Gentiles; but the Christians in the mean while were in great heaviness, that they might not bury the bodies and relics of the holy martyrs. Neither could the dark night serve them to that purpose, nor any entreaty nor waging them with money, which were appointed for watchmen; but they so narrowly looked unto the matter, as though they should have gotten great benefit and profit thereby.
Thus were the bodies of the martyrs made a wondering-stock, and lay six days in the open streets; at the length they burned them, and threw their ashes into the river, so that there might appear no remnant of them upon the earth. And this did they, as though they had been able to have pulled God out of his seat, and to have let the regeneration of the saints, and taken from them the hope of the resurrection, whereof they being persuaded (said they) bring in this new and strange religion, and set thus light by death and punishment.
Among others that suffered under Antoninus, mention was made also of Justinus, who (as it is said before) exhibited two Apologies, concerning the defence of Christian doctrine; the one to the senate of Rome, and the other to Antoninus Pius the emperor; concerning whose suffering and the causes thereof is partly before declared. This Justin was born in Neapoli, in the country of Palestine, whose father was Priscus Bachius, as he himself doth testify, by whom in his youth he was set to school to learn, where in process of time he became a famous and worthy philosopher, of whose excellency many learned and notable men do record. For, first, he being altogether inflamed and ravished with desire of knowledge, would in no wise be satisfied in his mind, before he had gotten instructors singularly seen in all kind of philosophy; whereupon he writeth of himself in the beginning of his dialogue with Tripho, thus, declaring that in the beginning he, being desirous of that sect and society, applied himself to be the scholar to a certain Stoic; and remaining with him a time, when he nothing profited in Divine knowledge, (whereof the Stoic had no skill, and affirmed the knowledge thereof not to be necessary,) he forsook him, and went to another of the sect of the Peripatetics, a sharp-witted man, as he thought; with whom after he had been a while, he demanded of him a stipend for his teaching, for the better confirmation of their familiarity. Whereupon Justin, accounting him as no philosopher, left him, and departed. And yet not satisfied in mind, but desirous to hear of further learning in philosophy, adjoined himself to one that professed the Pythagorean sect, a man of great fame, and one who made no small account of himself; whom after he had followed a time, his master demanded of him whether he had any sight in music, astronomy, and gcometry, without the sight of which sci ence he said he could not be apt to receive the knowledge of virtue and felicity, unless before he had used to apply his mind from sensible matters to the contemplation of things intelligible. And speaking much in the commendation of these sci ences, how profitable and necessary they were, after that Justin had declared himself not to be seen therein, the philosopher gave him over, which grieved Justin not a little, and so much the more, because he thought his master to have some knowledge in those sciences. After this Justin considering with himself what time was requisite to the learning of these sciences, and thinking not to defer any longer, thought best to resort to the sect of the Platonists, for the great fame that ran of them: wherefore he chose unto him a singular learned man of that sect, which lately was come to those parts, and so remaining with him seemed to profit not a little in contemplation of supernal things, and invisible forms, insomuch that he thought shortly to aspire to such sharpness of wit and wis dom, that out of hand he might achieve to the co prehension and contemplation of God, which is the end of Plato's philosophy. And in this manner he bestowed his youth; but afterward, he growing to a riper age, how and by what means the said Justin came to the knowledge and profession of Christianity, it followeth likewise in his said first Apology; where he affirmeth of himself, (as witnesseth Eusebius in his fourth book,) that when he did behold the Christians in their torments and sufferings to be so constant in their profession, was therewith marvellously moved: after this manner reasoning with himself, that it was impossible for that kind of people to be subject to any vice or carnality, which vices of their own nature are not able to sustain any sharp adversity, much less the bitterness of death. The sight whereof helped him not a little (being of his own nature inclined to the searching of true knowledge and virtue) to begin thereby to love and embrace Christian religion, for so he doth witness of himself in the end of the first Apology; signifying there how it was his seeking and endeavour to attain to Christianity; understanding how the Christians by malice of wicked persons were compelled to suffer wrong and torments, and to be evil spoken of. By sight whereof, as he saith himself, he became a Christian, through this occasion. For being thus afflicted in his mind, as is aforesaid, it came in his head for his more quietness to go aside to some desert and solitary place void of concourse of people, unto a village or grange near to the sea-side: whither as he approached, thinking there to be all alone, there meeteth with him an old ancient father of a comely visage and seemly behaviour, who following him a little off, began to reason with him; where after long disputation, when the old man had declared unto him that there was no knowledge of truth amongst the philosophers, which neither knew God, neither were aided by the Holy Ghost; and further had reasoned with him of the immortality of the soul, of the reward of the godly and punishment of the wicked: then Justin being confirmed with his reasons and arguments, yielded to him of his own accord, and demanded of him by what means he might attain to that true knowledge of God whereof he had spoken; who then counselled him to read and search the prophets, adjoining therewith prayer. But what, master, (quoth Justin,) should I use for the instruction thereof, and who shall be able to help us, if these philosophers (as you say) lack the truth, and are void of the same? To whom the old father answering, There have been (said he) many years before these philosophers other more ancient than all these, which being accounted for philosophers were just and beloved of God; who spake by the Spirit of God, foreseeing and prophesying these things which we see now come to pass, and therefore they are called prophets. These only have known the truth, and revealed it to men, neither fearing nor passing for any; who were seduced with no opinions of man's invention, but only spake and taught those things which they themselves both heard and saw, being inspired with the Holy Spirit of God; whose writings and works yet to this day remain, out of which the reader may receive great profit and knowledge of things, as concerning the first creation of the world, and end of the same, with all other things necessary to be known of every true philosopher which will give credit unto them. Neither in their teaching do they use any demonstration, as being more certain of themselves than that they need any such demonstration to be made, forasmuch as the accomplishing and the end of things, both past and now present, constraineth us of necessity to believe the words and doctrine which they taught; which men not only therefore are to be believed, but also for their miracles and wonders done are worthy of credit; for that they both preached of God the Maker and Creator of all things, and also did prophesy before of Christ his Son to be sent of him; the which, the false prophets being seduced with false and wicked spirits, neither have done, nor do, but only take upon them to work certain prodigious wonders for men to gaze at, setting out thereby to the world false and unclean spirits. But then, afore all things, make thy prayer that the gate of light may be opened unto thee; for otherwise these things cannot be attained unto of every man, but only of such to whom God and his Christ giveth understanding.
These things, with much more, (which now leisure serveth not to prosecute,) after the foresaid old father had declared unto him, he departed, exhorting him well to follow the things which he had spoken; and after that Justin (as he himself witnesseth) saw
him no more. Immediately after this, Justin being all inflamed as with fire kindled in his breast, began to conceive a love and zeal towards the prophets, and all such as were favoured of Christ: and thus he, revolving in his mind more and more these words, found only this philosophy among all other professions both sure and profitable, and so became he a philosopher, and in time by these means afterwards he was made a Christian and baptized. But where he received this holy sacrament of baptism it is not read of, nor yet by what occasion he left his country and came to Rome. This only we read in Jerome, that he was in Rome, and there used certain exercises which he called diatribes; disputing there with Crescens, a cynical philosopher, as is before touched. But this is certain, how that Justin, after he had received the profession of Christian religion, became an earnest defender of the same; travelling and disputing against all the adversaries thereof, fearing neither peril of life nor danger of death, whereby he might maintain the doctrine of Christ against the malicious blasphemers, and also augment the number of Christian believers, as may appear by his vehement disputations against the heathen philosophers; also, moreover, it well appeareth in that long disputation which he had with one Tripho at Ephesus, as also in his Confutations of Heretics. Furthermore, his conflicts and Apologies which with great courage and security he exhibited against the persecutors of the Christians, both to the emperor and the magistrates, yea, and the whole senate of Rome, do testify the same.
Of the which Apologies, the first he wrote to the senate of Rome, and after to Antoninus Pius the emperor, as is before mentioned; where in the first writing with great liberty to the senate, he declared that of necessity he was compelled to write and utter his mind and conscience to them. For that in persecuting of the Christians they did neglect their duty, and highly offended God, and therefore need they had to be admonished. And further writing to Urbicius, lieutenant of the city, said that he put men to death and torments for no offence committed, but for the confession only of the name of Christ; which proceedings and judgments neither became the emperor, nor his son, nor the senate: defending, moreover, in the said Apology, and purging the Christians of such crimes as falsely were laid and objected against them by the Ethnics.
And likewise in his second Apology, writing to Antoninus the emperor, and his successors, with like gravity and free liberty declareth unto them how they had the name, commonly being reputed and taken as virtuous philosophers, maintainers of justice, lovers of learning; but whether they were so their acts declared. As for him, neither for flattery nor favour at their hands he was constrained thus to write unto them, but only to sue unto them, and desire a serious and righteous kind of dealing in their judgments and sentences; (for it becometh princes to follow uprightness and piety in their judgments, not tyranny and violence;) and also in plain words chargeth as well the emperor as the senate with manifest wrong, for that they did not grant the Christians that which is not denied to all other malefactors, judging men to death not convicted, but only for the hatred of the name. Other men which be appeached (said he) in judgment are not condemned before they are convicted; but on us you take our name only for the crime, whenas indeed you ought to see justice done upon our accusers. And again, (saith he,) ifa Christian, being accused, only deny that name, him you release, being not able to charge him with any other offence; but if he stand to his name, only for his confession you cast him, where indeed it were your duty rather to examine their manner of life, what thing they confess or deny, and according to their demerits to see justice done.
And in the same, further, he saith, You examine not the causes, but, incensed with rash affections, as with the spur of fury, ye slay and murder them not convicted, without any respect of justice. And further, he addeth, Some, peradventure, will say certain of them have been apprehended and taken in evil doings, as though (saith he) you used to inquire upon them being brought afore you, and not commonly to condemn them before due examination of their offence for the cause above mentioned. Where also, in the end of the said Apology, after this manner he reprehendeth them: You do degenerate (quoth he) from the goodness of your predecessors, whose example you follow not; for your father Hadrian, of famous memory, caused to be proclaimed, that Christians accused before the judge should not be condemned, unless they were found guilty of some notorious crime. I find that all his vehement and grave Apology standeth upon most strong and firm probations, denying that the Christians ought by conscience, at the will and commandment of the emperor and senate, to do sacrifice to the idols; for the which they being condemned, affirm that they suffer open wrong; affirming, moreover, that the true and only religion is the religion of the Christians, whose doctrine and conversation hath no fault. Justinus, although with these and such-like persuasions he did not so prevail with the emperor to cause him to love his religion and become a Christian, (for that is not written,) yet thus much he obtained, that Antoninus, writing to his officers in Asia in the behalf
of the Christians, required and commanded them, that those Christians only which were found guilty of any trespass should suffer, and such as were not convicted should not therefore only for the name be punished, because they were called Christians. By these it is apparent with what zeal and faith this Justinus did strive against the persecutors, which (as he said) could kill only, but could not hurt.
This Justinus, by the means and malice of Crescens the philosopher, (as is before declared,) suffered martyrdom under Marcus Antoninus Verus, a little after that Polycarp was martyred in Asia, as witnesseth Eusebius. Here is to be gathered how Epiphanius was deceived in the time of his death, saying that he suffered under Rusticus the president, and Hadrian the emperor, being of thirty years of age; which, indeed, agreeth neither with Eusebius, nor Hierom, nor Suide, nor others more; which manifestly declare and testify how he exhibited his Apology unto Antoninus Pius,which came after Hadrian. Thus hast thou (good reader) the life of this learned and blessed martyr, although partly touched before, yet now more fully and amply discoursed for the better commendation of his excellent and notable virtues; of whose final end thus writeth Photius, saying that he, suffering for Christ, died cheerfully and with honour.
Thus have ye heard the whole discourse of Justinus and of the blessed saints of France, Vetius, Zacharias, Sanctus, Maturus, Attalus, Blandina, Alexander, Alcibiades, with others, recorded and set forth by the writing of certain Christian brethren of the same church and place of France. In the which foresaid writings of theirs, moreover, appeareth the great meekness and modest constancy of the said martyrs described in these words: Such followers were they of Christ, (who when he was in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God, being in the same glory with him,) that they not once nor twice, but ofttimes suffered martyrdom; and taken again from the beasts, and bearing wounds, tearings, and scars in their bodies, yet neither would count themselves martyrs, neither would they suffer us so to call them: but if any of us either by word or letter would call them martyrs, they did vehemently rebuke them, saying that the name of martyrdom was to be given to Christ the faithful and true Martyr, the First-born of the dead, and the Captain of life; testifying, moreover, that martyrdom belongeth to such, who, by their martyrdom, were already passed out of this life, and whom Christ, by their worthy confession, hath received unto himself, and hath sealed up their martyrdom by their end finished: as for them which were not yet consummated, they (said they) were not worthy
the names of martyrs, but only were humble and worthy confessors, desiring also their brethren with tears to pray without ceasing for their confirmation. Thus they performing indeed that which belongeth to true martyrs, in resisting the heathen with much liberty and great patience, without all fear of man, being replenished with the fear of God, refused to be named of their brethren for martyrs. And after in the said writing it followeth more: They humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God, by which they were greatly exalted; then they rendered to all men a reason of their faith; they accused no man, they loosed all, they bound none; and for them which so evil did entreat them they prayed, following the example of Stephen the perfect martyr, which said, O Lord, impute not their sin to them. And after again, neither did they proudly disdain against them which fell; but of such as they had they imparted to them that lacked, bearing toward them a motherly affection, shedding their plentiful tears for them to God the Father, and prayed for their life and salvation; and as God gave it them, they also did communicate to their neighbours; and thus they as conquerors of all things departed to God, They loved peace, and leaving the same to us, they went to God, neither leaving any molestation to their mother, nor sedition or trouble to their brethren, but joy, peace, concord, and love to all.
Out of the same writing, moreover, concerning these martyrs of France aforementioned, is recorded also another history not unworthy to be noted, taken out of the same book of Eusebius, which history is this.
There was among these constant and blessed martyrs one Alcibiades, as is above specified; which Alcibiades ever used a very strict diet, receiving for his food and sustenance nothing else but only bread and water. When this Alcibiades, now being cast into prison, went about to accustom the same strictness of diet, after his usual manner, it was before revealed by God to Attalus aforementioned, one of the said company, being also the same time imprisoned after his first conflict upon the scaffold, that Alcibiades did not well in that he refused to use and take the creatures of God, and also thereby ministered to other a pernicious occasion of offensive example. Whereupon Alcibiades being advertised, and reformed, began to take all things boldly and with giving thanks. Whereby may appear to all scrupulous consciences, not only a wholesome instruction of the Holy Ghost, but also here is to be noted how in those days they were not destitute of the grace of God, but had the Holy Spirit of God to be their Instructor.
The foresaid martyrs of France at the same time
commended Irenæus, newly then made minister, with their letters unto Eleutherius, bishop of Rome, as witnesseth Eusebius, in the tenth chapter of the said book, which Irenæus first was the hearer of Polycarp, then made minister (as is said) under these martyrs; and after their death made bishop afterward of Lyons in France, and succeeded after Photinus. Besides this Justin, there was also the same time in Asia Claudius Apollinaris, or Apollinarius, bishop of Hieropolis; and also Melito, bishop of Sanlis, an eloquent and learned man, much commended of Tertullian, who succeeding after the time of the apostles, in the reign of this Antoninus Verus, exhibited unto him learned and eloquent Apologies in defence of Christ's religion, like as Quadratus and Aristides above mentioned did unto the emperor Hadrian; whereby they moved him somewhat to stay the rage of his persecution. In like manner did this Apollinaris and Melito (stirred up by God) adventure to defend in writing the cause of the Christians unto this Antoninus. Of this Melito Eusebius in his fourth book making mention, excerpeth certain places of his Apology in these words, as followeth: Now, saith he, which was never seen before, the godly suffer persecution by occasion of certain proclamations and edicts proclaimed throughout Asia; for villanous sycophants, robbers, and spoilers of other men's goods, grounding themselves upon those proclamations, and taking occasion of them, rob openly night and day, and spoil those which do no harm. And it followeth after, which if it be done by your commandment, be it so, well done; for a good prince will never command but good things, and so we will be contented to sustain the honour of this death. This only we most humbly beseech your Majesty, that calling before you and examining the authors of this tumult and contention, then your Grace would justly judge whether we are worthy of cruel death or quiet life. And then, if it be not your pleasure, and that it proceedeth not by your occasion, (which indeed against your barbarous enemies were too bad,) the more a great deal we are petitioners to your Highness, that here after you will vouchsafe to hear us thus so vexed and oppressed with these kind of villianous robberies. And verily our philosophy and doctrine did first among the barbarous take place, which doctrine first in the days of Augustus, your predecessor, when it did reign and flourish, thereby your empire became most famous and fortunate; and from that time more and more the state of the Roman empire increased in honour, whereof you most happily were made successor, and so shall your son too. Honour therefore this philosophy which with your empire sprang up, and came in with Augustus, which your progenitors above all other honoured and most esteemed. And verily this is no small argument of a good beginning, that since our doctrine flourished in the empire no misfortune or loss happened from Augustus's time; but, contrary, always victory, good and honourable years as ever any man would wish: only among all, and of all, Nero and Domitian, being kindled by divers naughty and spiteful persons, cavillingly objected against our doctrine; of whom this sycophantical slandering of us by naughty custom first came and sprang up. But your godly fathers, espying the ignorance of these, oftentimes by their writing corrected their temerarious attempts in that behalf; among whom your grandfather Hadrian, with many others, is read of to have written to Fundane, the proconsul and lieutenant of Asia; and your father, your own father, I say, with whom you ruled in all things, wrote to the cities under his signet, as the Laersens, Thessalonicenses, Athenienses, and Grecians, rashly to innovate or alter nothing. Of your Highness, therefore, who in this case is of that sect as your predecessors were, yea, and of a more benign and philosophical mind, we are in good hope to obtain our petition and request.
Thus much out of the Apology of Melito, who, writing to Onesimus, giveth to us this benefit, to know the true catalogue and the names of all the authentic books of the Old Testament received in the ancient time of the primitive church. Concerning the number and names whereof, the said Melito in his letter to Onesimus declareth, how that he returning into the parts where these things were done and preached, there he diligently inquired out the books approved of the Old Testament, the names whereof in order he subscribeth, and sendeth unto him as followeth: The five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numeri, Deuteronomi, Jesus Nave, The Judges, Ruth, Four books of Kings, Two books Paralipomenon, The Psalms, Proverbs of Salomon, The book of Wisdom, The Preacher, The Song of Songs, Job, The Prophets, Esay, Hieremy, Twelve Prophets in one book, Daniel, Ezechiel, Esdras. And thus much of this matter which I thought here to record, for that it is not unprofitable for these later times to understand what in the first times was received and admitted as authentic, and what otherwise.
But from this little digression to return to our matter omitted, that is, to the Apologies of Apollinarius and Melito, in the story so it followeth, that whether it was by the occasion of these two Apologies, or whether it was through the writing of Athenagoras a philosopher, and a legate of the Christians, it is uncertain; but this is certain, that the persecution the same time was stayed. Some do think, which most probably seems to touch the truth, that the cause of staying this persecution did rise upon a wonderful miracle of God, showed in the emperor's camp by the Christians, the story whereof is this: At what time the two brethren, Marcus Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius Commodus, emperors, joining together, warred against the Quades, Vandals, Sarmates, and Germans, in the expedition against them, their army, by reason of the imminent assault of their enemies, was cooped and shut in within the straits and hot dry places, where their soldiers, besides other difficulties of battle, being destitute of water five days, were like to have perished, which dread not a little discomfited them, and abated their courage; where, in this so great distress and jeopardy, suddenly withdrew from the army a legion of the Christian soldiers for their succour, who, falling prostrate upon the earth, by ardent prayer, by and by, obtained of God double relief: by means of whom God gave certain pleasant showers from the element; whereby as their soldiers quenched their thirst, so were a great number of their enemies discomfited and put to flight by continual lightnings which shooted out of the air. This miracle so pleased and won the emperor, that ever after he waxed gentler and gentler to the Christians, and directed his letters to divers of his rulers, (as Tertullian in his Apology witnesseth,) commanding them therein to give thanks to the Christians, no less for his victory, than for the preservation of him and all his men. The copy of which letter ensueth:
"I give you hereby to understand what I intend to do, as also what success I have had in my wars in Germany, and with how much difficulty I have victualled my camp; being compassed about with seventy and four fierce dragons, whom my scouts descried to be within nine miles of us, and Pompeianus, our lieutenant, hath viewed, as he signified unto us by his letters. Wherefore I thought no less but to be overrun, and all my bands, of so great multitude, as well my vaward, mainward, as rereward, with all my soldiers of Ephrata; in whose host there were numbered of fighting men nine hundred seventy and five thousand. But when I saw myself not able to encounter with the enemy, I craved aid of our country gods; at whose hands I finding no comfort, and being driven of the enemy into an exigent, I caused to be sent for those men which we call Christians, who being mustered were found a good indifferent number, with whom I was in further rage than I had good cause, as afterwards I had experience by their marvellous power; who forthwith did their endeavour, but without either weapon, munition, armour, or trumpets, as men abhorring such preparation and furniture, but only satisfied in trust of their God, whom they carry about with them in their consciences. It is therefore to be credited, although we call them wicked men, that they worship God in their hearts. For they, falling prostrate upon the ground, prayed not only for me, but for the host also which was with me, beseeching their God for help in that our extremity of victuals and fresh water; for we had been now five days without water, and were in our enemy's land, even in the midst of Germany; who thus falling upon their faces, made their prayer to a God unknown of me. And there fell amongst us from heaven a most pleasant and cold shower, but amongst our enemies a great storm of hail mixed with lightning, so that immediately we perceived the invincible aid of the most mighty God to be with us; therefore we give those men leave to profess Christianity, lest, perhaps, by their prayer we be punished with the like, and thereby I make myself the author of such hurt as shall be received by the Christian profession. And if any shall apprehend one that is a Christian only for that cause, I will that he being apprehended, without punishment may have leave to confess the same, so that there be none other cause objected against him more than that he is a Christian; but let his accuser be burned alive. Neither will I that he, confessing and being found a Christian, shall be enforced to alter the same his opinion by the governor of any of our provinces, but left to his own choice. And this decree of mine I will to be ratified in the senate house, and command the same publicly to be proclaimed and read in the court of Trajan; and that, further, from thence it may be sent into all our provinces by the diligence of Veratius, governor of our city Polione. And further, we give leave to all men to use and write, out this our decree, taking the same out of our copy publicly in the common hall set forth."
Thus the tempestuous rage of persecution against the Christians began for a time to assuage, partly by the occasion hereof, partly also upon other causes incident, compelling the enemies to surcease their persecution, as great plagues and pestilence lying upon the country of Italy; likewise great wars, as well in the east parts, as also in Italy and France, terrible earthquakes, great floods, noisome swarms of flies and vermin devouring their corn fields, &c. And thus much of things done under Antoninus Verus, which Antoninus, in the beginning of his reign, joined with him in the government of the empire his brother Marcus Aurelius Commodus, who also was with him at the miraculous victory gotten by the Christians, as Eusebius recordeth. Contrary, Platina, in his Life of Soter, refer the same to the time of Antoninus Verus, and his son Lucius Antoninus Commodus, and not of Marcus Aurelius Commodus, his brother. But howsoever the truth of years doth stand, certain it is, that after the death of Antoninus Verus, and of Aurelius Commodus, succeeded Lucius Antoninus Commodus, the son of Verus, who reigned thirty years.
In the time of this Commodus, although he was an incommodious prince to the senators of Rome, yet notwithstanding there was some quietness universally through the whole church of Christ from persecution, by what occasion it is not certain. Some think, of whom is Xiphilinus, that it came through Marcia, the emperor's concubine, which favoured the Christians; but howsoever it came, (saith Eusebius,) the fury of the raging enemies was then somewhat mitigated, and peace was given by the grace of Christ unto the church throughout the whole world; at what time the wholesome doctrine of the gospel allured and reduced the hearts of all sorts of people unto the true religion of God, insomuch that many, both rich and noble personages of Rome, with their whole families and households, to their salvation, adjoined themselves to the church of Christ.
Among whom there was one Apollonius, a nobleman, and a senator of Rome, who being maliciously accused unto the senate by one whom Hierom writeth to be the servant of the said Apollonius, and nameth him Severus; but whose servant soever he was, the wretched man came soon enough before the judge, being condignly rewarded for that his malicious diligence; for by a law which the emperor made, that no man upon pain of death should falsely accuse the Christians, he was put to execution, and had his legs broken forthwith by the sentence of Perenninus the judge, which being a heathen man, he pronounced against him: but the beloved martyr of God, when the judge with much ado had obtained of him to render an account, before the honourable senate, of His faith, under whose defence and warrant of life he did the same, delivered unto them an eloquent apology of the Christian belief: but the former warrant notwithstanding, he by the decree of the senate was beheaded, and so ended His life; for that there was an ancient law among them decreed, that none that professed Christ, and therefore arraigned, should be released without recantation, or altering his opinion.
This Commodus is said in stories to be so sure and steady-handed in casting the dart, that in the open theatre before the people he would encounter with the wild beasts, and be sure to hit them in place where he appointed. Among divers other his vicious and wild parts, he was so far surprised in pride and arrogancy, that he would be called Hercules, and many times would show himself to the people in the skin of a lion, to be counted thereby the king of men, like as the lion is of the beasts.
Upon a certain time, being his birth-day, this Commodus calling the people of Rome together, in a great royalty, having his lion's skin upon him, made sacrifice to Hercules and Jupiter, causing it to be cried through the city, that Hercules was the patron and defender of the city. There was the same time at Rome Vincentius, Eusebius, Peregrinus, Potentianus, learned men, and instructors of the people, who, following the steps of the apostles, went about from place to place where the gospel was not yet preached, converting the Gentiles to the faith of Christ. These, hearing the madness of the emperor, and of the people, began to reprove their idolatrous blindness; teaching in villages and towns all that heard them to believe upon the true and only God, and to come away from such worshipping of devils, and to give honour to God alone, which only is to be worshipped, willing them to repent and to be baptized, lest they perished with Commodus. With this their preaching they converted one Julius, a senator, and others, to the religion of Christ. The emperor hearing thereof, caused them to be apprehended of Vitellus his captain, and to be compelled to sacrifice unto Hercules; which when they stoutly refused, after divers grievous torments and great miracles by them done, at last they were pressed with leaden weights to death.
This Peregrinus above mentioned had been sent before by Xistus, bishop of Rome, into the parts of France, to supply there the room of a bishop and teacher, by reason that for the continual and horrible persecutions thereabout touched, those places were left desolate and destitute of ministers and instructors; whereafter he had occupied himself with much fruit among the flock of Christ, and had stablished the congregation there, returning home again to Rome, there he finished at last (as it is said) his martyrdom.
Now remaineth likewise to speak of Julius; which Julius being (as is afore described,) a senator of Rome, and now won by the preaching of these blessed men to the faith of Christ, did speedily invite them and brought them home to his house, where being fully instructed in Christian religion, he believed the gospel. And sending for one Ruffinus, a priest, was with all his family by him baptized, who not (as the common sort was wont to do) kept close and secret his faith, but, incensed with a marvellous and sincere zeal, openly professed the same, altogether wishing and praying to be given to him by God, not only to believe in Christ, but also to hazard his life for him. Which thing the emperor hearing how that Julius had forsaken his old religion, and become a Christian, forthwith sent for him to come before him, unto whom he spake on this wise: O July, what madness hath possessed thee, that thus thou dost fall from the old and common religion of thy forefathers, who acknowledged and worshipped Jupiter and Hercules their gods, and now dost embnce a new and fond kind of religion of the Christians? At which time Julius, having good occasion to show and open his faith, gave straightway account thereof to him, and affirmed that Hercules and Jupiter were false gods, and how the worshippers of them should perish with eternal damnation and punishments. Which the emperor hearing how that he condemned and despised his gods, being then inflamed with a great wrath, (as he was by nature very choleric,) committed him forthwith to Vitellus, the master of the soldiers, a very cruel and fierce man, to see Julius either to sacrifice to mighty Hercules, or, refusing the same, to slay him. Vitellus (as he was commanded) exhorted Julius to obey the emperor's commandment, and to worship his gods; alleging how that the whole empire of Rome was not only constituted, but also preserved and maintained, by them: which Julius denied utterly to do, admonishing sharply in like manner Vitellus to acknowledge the true God, and obey his commandments, lest he with his master should die some grievous death: whereat Vitellus being moved, caused Julius with cudgels to be beaten unto death.
These things being thus briefly recited, touching such holy martyrs as hitherto have suffered, now remaineth that we return again to the order of the Roman bishops, such as followed next after Alexander, at whom we left, whose succeeder next was Xistus or Sixtus, the sixth bishop counted after Peter, who governed that ministry the space of ten years, as Damasus and others do write. Uspergensis maketh mention but of nine years. Platina recordeth that he died a martyr, and was buried at the Vatican. But Eusebius speaking of his decease, maketh no word or mention of any martyrdom. In the second tome of the Councils certain epistles be attributed to him, whereof Eusebius, Damasus, Hierom, and other old authors, as they make no relation, so seem they to have no intelligence nor knowledge of any such matter. In these counterfeit epistles, and in Platina, it appeareth that Xistus was the first author of these ordinances. First, that the holy mysteries and holy vessels should be touched but only of persons holy and consecrated, especially of no woman. Item, that the corporal cloth should be made of no other cloth but of fine linen. Item, that such bishops as were called up to the apostolic see, returning home again, should not be received at their return, unless they brought with them letters from the bishop of Rome saluting the people. Item, at the celebration he ordained to be sung this verse, "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts," Where, moreover, it is to be noted, that the said Platina, in the Life of this Xistus, doth testify that Peter ministered the celebration of the communion only with the Lord's prayer. These trifling ordinances of Xistus, who is so rude that seeth not, or may not easily conjecture to be falsely fathered on Xistus, or on any father of that time? first by the uniform rudeness and style of all those decretal letters, nothing savouring of that age, but rather of the later foolish times that followed; also by the matter and argument in those letters contained, nothing agreeing with the state of those troublesome days. Neither again is it to be supposed that any such recourse of bishops was then to the apostolic see of Rome, that it was not lawful to return without their letters; whenas the persecution against the Christians was then so hot, in the days of Hadrian, that the bishops of Rome themselves were more glad to fly out of the city, than other bishops were to come to them unto Rome. And if Xistus added the Sanctus unto the mass canon, what piece then of the canon went before it, when they which put to the other patches came after Xistus? And if they came after Xistus that added the rest, why did they set their pieces before his, seeing they that began the first piece of the canon came after him?
The same likewise is to be judged of the epistles and ordinances of Telesphorus, who succeeded next unto Xistus, and being bishop of that congregation the term of eleven years, the first year of the reign of Antoninus Pius, died martyr about the year of our Lord one hundred thirty and eight. His epistle, like unto the rest, containing in it no great matter of doctrine, hath these ordinances. First he commandeth all that were of the clergy to fast and abstain from flesh-eating seven weeks before Easter. That three masses should be said upon the nativity day of the Lord. That no laymen should accuse either bishop or priest. He ordained, moreover, Gloria in excelsis, to be added to the mass, &c. But that these things falsely are feigned upon him may easily be conjectured. For as touching the seven weeks' fast, neither doth it agree with the old Roman term commonly received, calling it Quadragesima, that is, the forty days' fast; neither with the example of our Saviour, who fasted not seven weeks, but only forty days. Moreover, as concerning this forty days' fast, we read of the same in the epistle of Ignatius, which was long before Telesphorus; whereby it may appear that this Telesphorus was not the first inventor thereof. And if it be true that is lately come out in the name of Abdias, (but untruly, as by many conjectures may be proved,) there it is read, that in the days of St. Matthew this Lent fast of forty days was observed long before Telesphorus, by these words that follow: In the days (said he) either of Lent, or in the time of other lawful fastings, he that abstaineth not as well from eating meat as also from the mixture of bodies doth incur in so doing, not only pollution, but also committeth offence, which must be washed away with the tears of repentance. Again, Apollonius affirmeth, that Montanus the heretic was the first deviser and bringer in of these laws of fasting into the church, which before was used to be free, But especially by Socrates, writer of the ecclesiastical story, who lived after the days of Theodosius, it may be argued, that this seven weeks' fast is falsely imputed to Telesphorus. For Socrates in his first book, speaking of this time, hath these words: The Romans (saith he) do fast three weeks continually before Easter, beside the sabbath and the Sunday. And, moreover, speaking of the divers and sundry fastings of Lent in sundry and divers churches, he addeth these words: And because that no man can bring forth any commandment written of this matter, it is therefore apparent that the apostles left this kind of fast free to every man's will and judgment, lest any should be constrained by fear and necessity to do that which is good, &c. With this of Socrates agree also the words of Sozomenus, living much about the same time, in his seventh book, where he thus writeth: The whole fast of Lent (saith he) some comprehend in five weeks, as do the Illyrians, and the west churches, with all Libya, Egypt, and Palestina; some in seven weeks, as at Constantinople, and the parts bordering to Ph?nicia; other some in three weeks, next before the day of Easter; and some again in two weeks, &c. By the which it may be collected, that Telesphorus never ordained any such fast of seven weeks; which otherwise neither would have been neglected in Rome, and in the west churches; neither again would have been unremembered of these ancient ecclesiastical writers, if any such thing had been. The like is to be thought also of the rest, not only of his constitutions, but also of the other ancient bishops and martyrs which followed after him, as of Higinus in the year of our Lord one hundred forty and two, who succeeding him, and dying also a martyr, is said, or rather feigned, to bring in the cream, one godfather and godmother in baptism, to ordain the dedication of churches, whenas in his time so far it was off that any solemn churches were standing in Rome, that unneth the Christians could safely convent in their own houses. Likewise the distinguishing the orders of metropolitans, bishops, and other degrees, savour nothing less than of that time.
After Higinus followed Pius, who, as Platina reporteth, was so precisely devout about the holy mysteries of the Lord's table, that if any one crumb thereof did fall down to the ground, he ordained that the priest should do penance forty days; if any fell upon the super-altar, he should do penance three days; if upon the linen corporal cloth, four days; if upon any other linen cloth, nine days. And if any drop of the blood (saith he) should chance to be spilled, wheresoever it fell, it should be licked up, if it were possible; if not, the place should be washed or pared, and so being washed or pared, should be burned and laid in the vestry. All which toys may seem to a wise man more vain and trifling, than to savour of those pure and strict times of those holy martyrs. This Pius (as is reported) was much conversant with Hermes, called otherwise Pastor. Darnasus saith he was his brother. But how is that like, that Hermes being the disciple of Paul, or one of the threescore disciples, could be the brother of this Pius? Of this Hermes, and of the Revelations, the foresaid Pius in his epistle decretal (if it be not forged) maketh mention; declaring that unto him appeared the angel of God in the habit of a shepherd, commanding him that Easter-day should be celebrated of all men upon no other day but on a Sunday; whereupon, saith the epistle, Pius the bishop, by his authority apostolical, decreed and commanded the same to be observed of all men.
Then succeeded Anicetus, Soter, and Eleutherius, about the year of our Lord one hundred and fourscore. This Eleutherius, at the request of Lucius, king of Britain, sent to him Damianus and Fugatius, by whom the king was converted to Christ's faith, and baptized, about the year of our Lord one hundred threescore and nineteen. Nauclerus saith it was in the year one hundred fifty and five. Henr. de Erfordia saith it was in the year one hundred threescore and nine, in the nineteenth year of Verus the emperor. Some say it was in the sixth year of Commodus, which should be about the year of our Lord one hundred fourscore and five. Timotheus in his story thinketh that Eleutherius came himself; but that is not like. And as there is a variance among the writers for the count of years, so doth there rise a question among some, whether Eleutherius was the first that brought the faith from Rome into this land or not. Nicephorus saith that Simon Zelotes came into Britain. Some other allege out of Gildas, that Joseph of Arimathea, after the dispersion of the Jews, was sent by Philip the apostle from France to Britain, about the year of our Lord threescore and three, and here remained in this land all his time, and so with his fellows laid the first foundation of Christian faith among the British people. Whereupon other preachers and teachers coming afterward confirmed the same, and increased it more. And therefore doth Petrus Cluniacensis call the Scottish men, and so doth count them as more ancient Christians. For the confirmation hereof might be alleged the testimony of Origen, of Tertullian, and the words also of the letter of Eleutherius, which import no less but that the faith of Christ was here in England among the British people before Eleutherius's time, and before the king was converted; but hereof more shall be spoken hereafter, (Christ willing,) when, after the tractation of these ten persecutions, we shall enter into the matter of our English stories.
About this time of Commodus afore mentioned, among divers other learned men and famous teachers whom God stirred up at that time (as he doth at all other times raise up some) in his church, to confound the persecutors by learning and writing, as the martyrs to confirm the truth with their blood, was Serapion, bishop of Antioch, Egesippus, a writer of the ecclesiastical history from Christ's passion to his time; and those that be remaining (which be five) be not mentioned, neither Hierom, Eusebius, nor Miltiades, which also wrote his Apology in defence of Christian religion, as did Melito, Quadratus, and Aristides before mentioned. About the same time also wrote Heraclitus, who first began to write annotations and enarrations upon the New Testament, and Epistles of the apostles. Also Theophilus, bishop of Cesarea, Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, a man famously learned, which wrote divers epistles to divers churches, and among others writeth, exhorting Penitus, a certain bishop, that he would lay no yoke of chastity of any necessity upon his brethren; but that he would consider the infirmity of others, and bear with it. Moreover, the said Dionysius, in his epistles, writing of Dionysius Areopagita, declareth of him how that he was first converted to the Christian faith by St. Paul, according as in the Acts is recorded, and afterward was made the first bishop of Athens, but maketh there no mention of his book concerning the hierarchy. Whereby it may easily appear what is to be judged of that book. Furthermore, by the epistles of the said Dionysius of Corinth, this we have to understand to be the use at that time in churches, to read the letters and epistles, such as were sent by learned bishops and teachers unto the congregations, as may appear by these words qf Dionysius, who, writing to the church of the Romans and to Soter, saith, This day we celebrate the holy dominical day, in which we have read your epistle, which always we will read for our exhortation, like as we do read also the epistle of Clement sent to us before, &c. Where also mention is made of keeping of Sunday holy, whereof we find no mention made in ancient authors before his time, except only in Justin Martyr, who, in his description, declareth two times most especially used for Christian men to congregate together: first, when any convert was to be baptized; the second was upon the Sunday, which was wont for two causes then to be hallowed: first, because (saith he) upon that day God made the world; secondly, because that Christ upon that day first showed himself after his resurrection to his disciples, &c.
Over and beside these above named, about the days of Commodus wrote also Clemens Alexandrinus, a man of notable and singular learning, whose books, although for a great part be lost, yet certain of them yet remain, wherein is declared, among other things, the order and number of the books and Gospels of the New Testament, &c.
The same time, moreover, lived Pantenus, which was the first in Alexandria that professed in open school to read, of whom is thought first to proceed the order and manner among the Christians to read and profess in universities. This Pantenus, for his excellency of learning, was sent by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, to preach to the Indians, where he found the Gospel of St. Matthew written in Hebrew, left there by St. Bartholomew, which book afterward he brought with him from thence to the library of Alexandria.
During all the reign of Commodus, God granted rest and tranquillity, although not without some bloodshed of certain holy martyrs, as is above declared unto his church. In the which time of tranquillity, the Christians having now some leisure from the foreign enemy, began to have a little contention among themselves about the ceremony of Easter; which contention albeit of long time before had been stirring in the church, as is before mentioned of Polycarp and Anicetus; yet the variance and difference of that ceremony brought no breach of Christian concord and society among them: neither as yet did the matter exceed so far, but that the bond of love and communion of brotherly life continued, although they differed in the ceremony of the day. For they of the west church pretending the tradition of Paul and Peter, but indeed being the tradition of Hermes and of Pius, kept one day, which was upon the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the first month. The church of Asia, following the ordinance of John the apostle, observed another, as more shall be declared (the Lord willing) when we come to the time of Victor, bishop of Rome. In the mean time, as concerning the fourth persecution, let this hitherto suffice.