The Attitude Of The Roman Govern
No general persecution of the Christians was undertaken by the Roman
Government during the second century, though Christians were not
infrequently put to death under the existing laws. These laws, however,
were by no means uniformly carried out. The most sanguinary persecutions
were generally occasioned by mob violence and may be compared to modern
lynchings. At Lyons and Vienne, in Gaul, there was much suffering in 177.
The letter from the churches of these cities to the Christians in Asia and
Phrygia, Eusebius, Hist. Ec., V, 1 (PNF, ser. I, vol. I, 211), and the
Martyrdom of Polycarp (ANF, I, 37) are among the finest pieces of
literature in this period and should be read by every student. Under
Commodus (180-193), Marcia seems to have aided the Christians suffering
persecution. The Martyrdom of Justin may be found ANF, I, 303, appended
to his works. The doubtful rescript of Hadrian and the certainly spurious
rescript of Antoninus Pius may be found in the Appendix to Justin Martyr's
works (ANF, I, 186), and in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., IV, 9 and 13. For a
discussion of their genuineness, see McGiffert's notes to Eusebius, Hist.
Ec. The original texts may be found in Preuschen's Analecta, I, § 6
(a) Justin Martyr, Apologia. II. 2. (MSG, 6:445.)
The martyrdom of Ptolemaeus.
A certain woman had been converted to Christianity by Ptolemaeus.
Her dissolute husband, who had deserted her some time before, was
divorced by her on account of his profligacy. In revenge he
attempted to injure her, but she sought and obtained the
protection of the imperial courts. The husband thereupon turned
his attack upon Ptolemaeus. According to Ruinart, the martyrdom
took place in 166. See DCB, arts. "Ptolemaeus" and "Justin Martyr."
This and the following martyrdoms illustrate the procedure of the
courts in dealing with Christians.
Since he was no longer able to prosecute her, he directed his assaults
against a certain Ptolemaeus whom Urbicus punished, and who had been the
teacher of the woman in the Christian doctrines. And he did this in the
following way: He persuaded a centurion, his friend, who had cast
Ptolemaeus into prison, to take Ptolemaeus and interrogate him only as to
whether he were a Christian. And Ptolemaeus, being a lover of the truth,
and not of deceitful or false disposition, when he confessed himself to be
a Christian, was thrown in chains by the centurion and for a long time was
punished in prison. At last, when he was brought to Urbicus, he was asked
this one question only: whether he was a Christian. And again, conscious
of the noble things that were his through the teaching of Christ, he
confessed his discipleship in the divine virtue. For he who denies
anything either denies it because he condemns the thing itself or he
avoids confession because he knows his own unworthiness or alienation from
it; neither of which cases is that of a true Christian. And when Urbicus
ordered him to be led away to punishment, a certain Lucius, who was also
himself a Christian, seeing the unreasonable judgment, said to Urbicus:
"What is the ground of this judgment? Why have you punished this man: not
as an adulterer, nor fornicator, nor as one guilty of murder, theft, or
robbery, nor convicted of any crime at all, but who has only confessed
that he is called by the name of Christian? You do not judge, O Urbicus,
as becomes the Emperor Pius, nor the philosopher, the son of Caesar, nor
the sacred Senate." And he, replying nothing else to Lucius, said: "You
also seem to me to be such an one." And when Lucius answered, "Most
certainly I am," he then ordered him also to be led away. And he professed
his thanks, since he knew that he was going to be delivered from such
wicked rulers and was going to the Father and King of the heavens. And
still a third came forward and was condemned to be punished.
(b) Passion of the Scilitan Martyrs.
Text: J. A. Robinson, Text and Studies, I, 2, 112-116,
Cambridge, 1891; reprinted in R. Knopf, Ausgewaehlte
Maertyreracten, 34 ff., Tuebingen, 1901.
The date of this martyrdom is July 17, 180 A.D. Scili, the place
of residence of these martyrs, was a small city in northwestern
Proconsular Africa. For an account of ancient martyrologies, see
Krueger, §§ 104 ff.
When Praesens, for the second time, and Claudianus were consuls, on the
seventeenth day of July, and when Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata,
Secunda, and Vestia were brought into the judgment-hall at Carthage, the
proconsul Saturninus said: Ye can win the indulgence of our lord the
Emperor if ye return to a sound mind.
Speratus said: We have never done ill; we have not lent ourselves to
wrong; we have never spoken ill; but when we have received ill we have
given thanks, because we pay heed to our Emperor.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said: We, too, are religious, and our religion
is simple; and we swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor, and pray
for his welfare, which also ye, too, ought to do.
Speratus said: If thou wilt peaceably lend me thine ears, I will tell thee
the mystery of simplicity.
Saturninus said: I will not lend my ears to thee, when thou beginnest to
speak evil things of our sacred rites; but rather do thou swear by the
genius of our lord the Emperor.
Speratus said: The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve
that God whom no man hath seen nor with these eyes can see. [I Tim. 6:16.]
I have committed no theft; but if I have bought anything I pay the tax;
because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said to the rest: Cease to be of this
Speratus said: It is an ill persuasion to do murder, to bear false
Saturninus, the proconsul, said: Be not partakers of this folly.
Cittinus said: We have none other to fear except only our Lord God, who is
Donata said: Honor to Caesar as Caesar, but fear to God. [Cf. Rom. 13:7.]
Vestia said: I am a Christian.
Secunda said: What I am that I wish to be.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said to Speratus: Dost thou persist in being a
Speratus said: I am a Christian. And with him they all agreed.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said: Will ye have a space to consider?
Speratus said: In a matter so just there is no considering.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said: What are the things in your chest?
Speratus said: Books and epistles of Paul, a just man.
Saturninus, the proconsul, said: Have a delay of thirty days and bethink
Speratus said a second time: I am a Christian. And with him all agreed.
Saturninus, the proconsul, read out the decree from the tablet: Speratus,
Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and the rest who have
confessed that they live according to the Christian rite because an
opportunity has been offered them of returning to the custom of the Romans
and they have obstinately persisted, it is determined shall be put to the
Speratus said: We give thanks to God.
Nartzalus said: To-day we are martyrs in heaven; thanks be to God.
Saturninus, the proconsul, ordered it to be proclaimed by the herald:
Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetatius,
Januaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Secunda I have ordered to be
They all said: Thanks be to God.
And so they all at one time were crowned with martyrdom; and they reign
with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, forever and ever. Amen.
(c) Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium Haeresium, X, 7. (MSG, 16:3382.)
Hippolytus, a Greek writer of the West, lived at Rome in the time
of Zephyrinus (198-217) and until shortly after A. D. 235. He
appears to have been consecrated bishop of a schismatical party in
Rome. Of his numerous works many have been lost in whole or in
part. The Philosophumena, or the Refutation of All Heresies, was
lost, with the exception of the first book, until 1842, and was
then published among the works of Origen. It is of importance as
giving much material for the study of Gnosticism. It may be found
as a whole translated in ANF, V.
But after a time, when other martyrs were there [i.e., in the mines in
Sardinia], Marcia, the pious concubine of Commodus, wishing to perform
some good deed, called before her the blessed Victor [193?-202], at that
time bishop of the Church, and inquired of him what martyrs were in
Sardinia. And he delivered to her the names of all, but did not give the
name of Callistus, knowing what things had been attempted by him. Marcia,
having obtained her request from Commodus, hands the letter of
emancipation to Hyacinthus, a certain eunuch rather advanced in life [or a
presbyter], who, receiving it, sailed away to Sardinia. He delivered the
letter to the person who at that time was governor of the territory, and
he released the martyrs, with the exception of Callistus.
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