Apostles

Anti-Papal Movement

Aryanism

Augustine

Bible

Catholic Church

Christian Church in the Middle Ages

Christian Church, Separation of

Christianity

Conversion of Constantine

Development of World Religions

Jesus Christ

Origins of Christianity

Paul/Saul

Persecutions of the Christians in Gaul

Reformed Churches

Rise and Triumph of Christianity

Rise of Christianity

Roman Church

A History Christianity

Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi

Persecution Of The Christians In Gaul

Author:      Guizot, Francois P. G.

Persecution Of The Christians In Gaul

 

A.D. 177

 

Introduction

 

     That the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Empire should have

been inaugurated by a Nero is not a subject of wonder in view of that

Emperor's character as depicted in history through all ages since his own.

But it is difficult to understand how an emperor like Trajan - an enlightened

and humane ruler - if he was powerless to prevent, could have brought himself

to give countenance to a policy at once so intolerant and cruel, and in the

end to prove so short-sighted.  A great cause prospers by persecution.  The

martyr-spirit is strengthened by blows and fagots.  History has well proved

the truth of that saying of the Church Fathers, tersely given by St. Jerome:

Est sanguis martyrium seminarium Ecclesiarum ("The blood of the martyrs is

the seed of the Church").

 

     Still more incomprehensible to modern students is the fact that Marcus

Aurelius, the imperial philosopher and benevolent man, should also be stained

with the infamy of the persecutions.  The charges brought against him as a

cruel persecutor of the Christians have given rise to much dispute among

historical scholars.  Among modern Christian writers of favorable disposition

toward Marcus, F. W. Farrar has perhaps as clearly as any set forth the views

that explain his conduct and vindicate his reputation for humanity: "That he

shared the profound dislike with which Christians were regarded is very

probable.  That he was a cold-blooded and virulent persecutor is utterly

unlike his whole character.  The deep calamities in which during his whole

reign the empire was involved caused widespread distress, and roused into

peculiar fury the feelings of the provincials against men whose atheism (for

such they considered it to be) had kindled the anger of the gods.  Marcus,

when appealed to, simply let the existing law take its course."  In like

manner the purely official or legal view of human affairs often leads the

most kindly and conscientious of men to pursue or acquiesce in policies

against which, in different situations, their moral nature would rebel.

 

     There were many reasons which led the populace to hate Christians, whom,

first of all, they regarded as being unpatriotic.  While among Romans it was

considered the highest honor to possess the privileges of Roman citizenship,

the Christians announced that they were citizens of heaven.  They shrank from

public office and military service.

 

     Again, the ancient religion of Rome was an adjunct of state dignity and

ceremonial.  It was hallowed by a thousand traditional and patriotic

associations.  The Christians regarded its rites and its popular assemblies

with contempt and abhorrence.  The Romans viewed the secret meetings of the

Christians with suspicion, and accused them of abominable excesses and crime.  They were known to have representatives in every important city of Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Asia; and the more their communities grew, the more the Roman populace raged against them.  Only such considerations appear to

mitigate the historical judgments against Aurelius for marring the splendor

of his reign by persecutions.  The tragedies enacted in the churches of Lyons

and Vienne, as described in the following pages, form one of the most

melancholy records of history.

 

Persecution Of The Christians In Gaul

 

     When Christianity began to penetrate into Gaul, it encountered there two

religions very different one from the other, and infinitely more different

from the Christian religion; these were Druidism and paganism - hostile one

to the other, but with a hostility political only, and unconnected with those

really religious questions that Christianity was coming to raise.

 

     Druidism, considered as a religion, was a mass of confusion, wherein the

instinctive notions of the human race concerning the origin and destiny of

the world and of mankind were mingled with the oriental dreams of

metempsychosis - that pretended transmigration, at successive periods, of

immortal souls into divers creatures.  This confusion was worse confounded by

traditions borrowed from the mythologies of the East and the North, by

shadowy remnants of a symbolical worship paid to the material forces of

nature, and by barbaric practices, such as human sacrifices, in honor of the

gods or of the dead.

 

     People who are without the scientific development of language and the

art of writing do not attain to systematic and productive religious creeds.

There is nothing to show that, from the first appearance of the Gauls in

history to their struggle with victorious Rome, the religious influence of

Druidism had caused any notable progress to be made in Gallic manners and

civilization.  A general and strong, but vague and incoherent, belief in the

immortality of the soul was its noblest characteristic.  But with the

religious elements, at the same time coarse and mystical, were united two

facts of importance: the Druids formed a veritable ecclesiastical

corporation, which had, throughout Gallic society, fixed attributes, special

manners and customs, an existence at the same time distinct and national; and

in the wars with Rome this corporation became the most faithful

representatives and the most persistent defenders of Gallic independence and

nationality.

 

     The Druids were far more a clergy than Druidism was a religion; but it

was an organized and a patriotic clergy.  It was especially on this account

that they exercised in Gaul an influence which was still existent,

particularly in Northwestern Gaul, at the time when Christianity reached the

Gallic provinces of the South and Centre.

 

     The Graeco-Roman paganism was, at this time, far more powerful than

Druidism in Gaul, and yet more lukewarm and destitute of all religious

vitality.  It was the religion of the conquerors and of the State, and was

invested, in that quality, with real power; but, beyond that, it had but the

power derived from popular customs and superstitions.  As a religious, creed,

the Latin paganism was at bottom empty, indifferent, and inclined to tolerate

all religions in the State, provided only that they, in their turn, were

indifferent at any rate toward itself, and that they did not come troubling

the State, either by disobeying her rulers or by attacking her old deities,

dead and buried beneath their own still standing altars.

 

     Such were the two religions with which in Gaul nascent Christianity had

to contend.  Compared with them it was, to all appearance, very small and

very weak; but it was provided with the most efficient weapons for fighting

and beating them, for it had exactly the moral forces which they lacked.

Christianity, instead of being, like Druidism, a religion exclusively

national and hostile to all that was foreign, proclaimed a universal

religion, free from all local and national partiality, addressing itself to

all men in the name of the same God, and offering to all the same salvation.

It is one of the strangest and most significant facts in history that the

religion most universally human, most dissociated from every consideration

but that of the rights and well-being of the human race in its

entirety - that such a religion, be it repeated, should have come forth from

the womb of the most exclusive, most rigorously and obstinately national

religion that ever appeared in the world, that is, Judaism.  Such,

nevertheless, was the birth of Christianity; and this wonderful contrast

between the essence and the earthly origin of Christianity was without doubt

one of its most powerful attractions and most efficacious means of success.

 

     Against paganism Christianity was armed with moral forces not a whit

less great.  Confronting mythological traditions and poetical or

philosophical allegories, appeared a religion truly religious, concerned

solely with the relations of mankind to God and with their eternal future.

To the pagan indifference of the Roman world the Christians opposed the

profound conviction of their faith, and not only their firmness in defending

it against all powers and all dangers, but also their ardent passion for

propagating it without any motive but the yearning to make their fellows

share in its benefits and its hopes.  They confronted, nay, they welcomed

martyrdom, at one time to maintain their own Christianity, at another to make

others Christians around them; propagandism was for them a duty almost as

imperative as fidelity.

 

     And it was not in memory of old and obsolete mythologies, but in the

name of recent deeds and persons, in obedience to laws proceeding from God,

One and Universal, in fulfillment and continuation of a contemporary and

superhuman history - that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man -

that the Christians of the first two centuries labored to convert to their

faith the whole Roman world.  Marcus Aurelius was contemptuously astonished

at what he called the obstinacy of the Christians; he knew not from what

source these nameless heroes drew a strength superior to his own, though he

was at the same time emperor and sage.  It is impossible to assign with

exactness the date of the first footprints and first labors of Christianity

in Gaul.  It was not, however, from Italy, nor in the Latin tongue and

through Latin writers, but from the East and through the Greeks, that it

first came and began to spread.  Marseilles and the different Greek colonies,

originally from Asia Minor and settled upon the shores of the Mediterranean

or along the Rhone, mark the route and were the places whither the first

Christian missionaries carried their teaching: on this point the letters of

the apostles and the writings of the first two generations of their disciples

are clear and abiding proof.

 

     In the West of the empire, especially in Italy, the Christians at their

first appearance were confounded with the Jews, and comprehended under the same name.  "The emperor Claudius," says Suetonius, "drove from Rome (A.D. 52) the Jews who, at the instigation of Christus, were in continual

commotion."  After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (A.D. 70), the Jews,

Christian or not, dispersed throughout the empire; but the Christians were

not slow to signalize themselves by their religious fervor, and to come

forward everywhere under their own true name.

 

     Lyons became the chief centre of Christian preaching and association in

Gaul.  As early as the first half of the second century there existed there a

Christian congregation, regularly organized as a church, and already

sufficiently important to be in intimate and frequent communication with the

Christian churches of the East and West.  There is a tradition, generally

admitted, that St. Pothinus, the first bishop of Lyons, was sent thither from

the East by the bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp, himself a disciple of St.

John.  One thing is certain, that the Christian Church of Lyons produced

Gaul's first martyrs, among whom was the bishop, St. Pothinus.

 

     It was under Marcus Aurelius, the most philosophical and most

conscientious of the emperors, that there was enacted for the first time in

Gaul, against nascent Christianity, that scene of tyranny and barbarity which

was to be renewed so often and during so many centuries in the midst of

Christendom itself.  In the eastern provinces of the empire and in Italy the

Christians had already been several times persecuted, now with cold-blooded

cruelty, now with some slight hesitation and irresolution.  Nero had caused

them to be burned in the streets of Rome, accusing them of the conflagration

himself had kindled, and, a few months before his fall, St. Peter and St.

Paul had undergone martyrdom at Rome.  Domitian had persecuted and put to

death Christians even in his own family, and though invested with the honors

of the consulate.

 

     Righteous Trajan, when consulted by Pliny the Younger on the conduct he

should adopt in Bithynia toward the Christians, had answered: "It is

impossible, in this sort of matter, to establish any certain general rule;

there must be no quest set on foot against them, and no unsigned indictment

must be accepted; but if they be accused and convicted, they must be

punished."  To be punished, it sufficed that they were convicted of being

Christians; and it was Trajan himself who condemned St. Ignatius, bishop of

Antioch, to be brought to Rome and thrown to the beasts, for the simple

reason that he was highly Christian.  Marcus Aurelius, not only by virtue of

his philosophical conscientiousness, but by reason of an incident in his

history, seemed bound to be further than any other from persecuting the

Christians.

 

     During one of his campaigns on the Danube, A.D. 174, his army was

suffering cruelly from fatigue and thirst; and at the very moment when they

were on the point of engaging in a great battle against the barbarians, the

rain fell in abundance, refreshed the Roman soldiers, and conduced to their

victory.  There was in the Roman army a legion, the Twelfth, called the

Melitine or the Thundering, which bore on its roll many Christian soldiers.

They gave thanks for the rain and the victory to the one omnipotent God who

had heard their prayers, while the pagans rendered like honor to Jupiter, the

Rain-giver and the Thunderer.  The report about these Christians got spread

abroad and gained credit in the empire, so much so that there was attributed

to Marcus Aurelius a letter, in which by reason, no doubt, of this incident,

he forbade persecution of the Christians.

 

     Tertullian, a contemporary witness, speaks of this letter in perfect

confidence; and the Christian writers of the following century did not

hesitate to regard it as authentic.  Nowadays, a strict examination of its

existing text does not allow such a character to be attributed to it.  At any

rate the persecutions of the Christians were not forbidden, for in the year

177, that is, only three years after the victory of Marcus Aurelius over the

Germans, there took place, undoubtedly by his orders, the persecution which

caused at Lyons the first Gallic martyrdom.  This was the fourth, or,

according to others, the fifth great imperial persecution of the Christians.

 

     Most tales of the martyrs were written long after the event, and came to

be nothing more than legends laden with details often utterly puerile or

devoid of proof.  The martyrs of Lyons in the second century wrote, so to

speak, their own history; for it was their comrades, eye-witnesses of their

sufferings and their virtue, who gave an account of them in a long letter

addressed to their friends in Asia Minor, and written with passionate

sympathy and pious prolixity, but bearing all the characteristics of truth.

It seems desirable to submit for perusal that document, which has been

preserved almost entire in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, bishop of

Caesarea in the third century, and which will exhibit, better than any modern

representations, the state of facts and of souls in the midst of the imperial

persecutions, and the mighty faith, devotion, and courage with which the

early Christians faced the most cruel trials:

 

     "The servants of Christ, dwelling at Vienne and Lyons in Gaul, to the

brethren settled in Asia and Phrygia, who have the same faith and hope of

redemption that we have, peace, grace, and glory from God the Father and

Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

     "None can tell to you in speech or fully set forth to you in writing the

weight of our misery, the madness and rage of the Gentiles against the

saints, and all that hath been suffered by the blessed martyrs.  Our enemy

doth rush upon us with all the fury of his powers, and already giveth us a

foretaste and the first-fruits of all the license with which he doth intend

to set upon us.  He hath omitted nothing for the training of his agents

against us, and he doth exercise them in a sort of preparatory work against

the servants of the Lord.  Not only are we driven from the public buildings,

from the baths, and from the Forum, but it is forbidden to all our people to

appear publicly in any place whatsoever.

 

     "The grace of God hath striven for us against the devil: at the same

time that it hath sustained the weak, it hath opposed to the Evil One, as it

were, pillars of strength - men strong and valiant, ready to draw on

themselves all his attacks.  They have had to bear all manner of insult; they

have deemed but a small matter that which others find hard and terrible; and

they have thought only of going to Christ, proving by their example that the

sufferings of this world are not worthy to be put in the balance with the

glory which is to be manifested in us.  They have endured, in the first

place, all the outrages that could be heaped upon them by the multitude,

outcries, blows, thefts, spoliation, stoning, imprisonment, all that the fury

of the people could devise against hated enemies.  Then, dragged to the Forum by the military tribune and the magistrates of the city, they have been

questioned before the people and cast into prison until the coming of the

governor.  He, from the moment our people appeared before him, committed all manner of violence against them.

 

     "Then stood forth one of our brethren, Vettius Epagathus, full of love

toward God and his neighbor, living a life so pure and strict that, young as

he was, men held him to be the equal of the aged Zacharias.  He could not

bear that judgment so unjust should go forth against us, and, moved with

indignation, he asked leave to defend his brethren, and to prove that there

was in them no kind of irreligion or impiety.  Those present at the tribunal,

among whom he was known and celebrated, cried out against him, and the

governor himself, enraged at so just a demand, asked him no more than this

question, 'Art thou a Christian?'  Straightway with a loud voice he declared

himself a Christian, and was placed among the number of the martyrs.

 

     "Afterward, the rest began to be examined and classed.  The first, firm

and well prepared, made hearty and solemn confession of their faith.  Others,

ill prepared and with little firmness, showed that they lacked strength for

such a fight.  About ten of them fell away, which caused us incredible pain

and mourning.  Their example broke down the courage of others, who, not being yet in bonds, though they had already had much to suffer, kept close to the martyrs, and withdrew not out of their sight.  Then were we all stricken with

dread for the issue of the trial: not that we had great fear of the torments

inflicted, but because, prophesying the result according to the degree of

courage of the accused, we feared much falling away.  They took, day by day,

those of our brethren who were worthy to replace the weak; so that all the

best of the two churches, those whose care and zeal had founded them, were

taken and confined.

 

     "They took, likewise, some of our slaves, for the governor had ordered

that they should be all summoned to attend in public; and they, fearing the

torments they saw the saints undergo, and instigated by the soldiers,

accused us falsely of odious deeds, such as the banquet of Thyestes, the

incest of Oedipus, and other crimes which must not be named or even thought

of, and which we cannot bring ourselves to believe that men were ever guilty

of.  These reports having once spread among the people, even those persons

who had hitherto by reason, perhaps, of relationship, shown moderation toward us, burst forth into bitter indignation against our people.  Thus was

fulfilled that which had been prophesied by the Lord: 'The time cometh when

whosoever shall kill you shall think that he doeth God service.'  Since that

day the holy martyrs have suffered tortures that no words can express.

 

     "The fury of the multitude, of the governor, and of the soldiers fell

chiefly upon Sanctus, a deacon of Vienne; upon Maturus, a neophyte still, but

already a valiant champion of Christ; upon Attalus also, born at Pergamus,

but who hath ever been one of the pillars of our Church; upon Blandina,

lastly, in whom Christ hath made it appear that persons who seem vile and

despised of men are just those whom God holds in the highest honor by reason

of the excellent love they bear him, which is manifested in their firm virtue

and not in vain show.  All of us, and even Blandina's mistress here below,

who fought valiantly with the other martyrs, feared that this poor slave, so

weak of body, would not be in a condition to freely confess her faith; but

she was sustained by such vigor of soul that the executioners, who from morn

till eve put her to all manner of torture, failed in their efforts, and

declared themselves beaten, not knowing what further punishment to inflict,

and marvelling that she still lived, with her body pierced through and

through, and torn piecemeal by so many tortures, of which a single one should

have sufficed to kill her.  But that blessed saint, like a valiant athlete,

took fresh courage and strength from the confession of her faith; all feeling

of pain vanished, and ease returned to her at the mere utterance of the

words, 'I am a Christian, and no evil is wrought among us.'

 

     "As for Sanctus, the executioners hoped that in the midst of the

tortures inflicted upon him - the most atrocious which man could

devise - they would hear him say something unseemly or unlawful; but so

firmly did he resist them, that, without even saying his name, or that of his

nation or city, or whether he was bond or free, he only replied in the Roman

tongue, to all questions, 'I am a Christian.'  Therein was, for him, his

name, his country, his condition, his whole being; and never could the

Gentiles wrest from him another word.  The fury of the governor and the

executioners was redoubled against him; and, not knowing how to torment him

further, they applied to his most tender members bars of red-hot iron.  His

members burned; but he, upright and immovable, persisted in his profession of

faith, as if living waters from the bosom of Christ flowed over him and

refreshed him.  Some days after, these infidels began again to torture him,

believing that if they inflicted upon his blistering wounds the same agonies,

they would triumph over him, who seemed unable to bear the mere touch of

their hands; and they hoped, also, that the sight of his torturing alive

would terrify his comrades.  But, contrary to general expectation, the body

of Sanctus, rising suddenly up, stood erect and firm amid these repeated

torments, and recovered its old appearance and the use of its members, as if,

by divine grace, this second laceration of his flesh had caused healing

rather than suffering.

 

     "When the tyrants had thus expended and exhausted their tortures against

the firmness of the martyrs sustained by Christ, the devil devised other

contrivances.  They were cast into the darkest and most unendurable place in

their prison; their feet were dragged out and compressed to the utmost

tension of the muscles; the jailers, as if instigated by a demon, tried every

sort of torture, insomuch that several of them, for whom God willed such an

end, died of suffocation in prison.  Others, who had been tortured in such a

manner that it was thought impossible they should long survive, deprived as

they were of every remedy and aid from men, but supported nevertheless by the grace of God, remained sound and strong in body as in soul, and comforted and reanimated their brethren.

 

     "The blessed Pothinus, who held at that time the bishopric of Lyons,

being upward of ninety, and so weak in body that he could hardly breathe, was

himself brought before the tribunal, so worn with old age and sickness that

he seemed nigh to extinction; but he still possessed his soul, wherewith to

subserve the triumph of Christ.  Being brought by the soldiers before the

tribunal, whither he was accompanied by all the magistrates of the city and

the whole populace, that pursued him with hootings, he offered, as if he had

been the very Christ, the most glorious testimony.  At a question from the

governor, who asked what the God of the Christians was, he answered, 'If thou

be worthy, thou shalt know.'  He was immediately raised up, without any

respect or humanity, and blows were showered upon him; those who happened to be nearest to him assaulted him grievously with foot and fist, without the slightest regard for his age; those who were farther off cast at him whatever was to their hand; they would all have thought themselves guilty of the greatest default if they had not done their best, each on his own score, to

insult him brutally.  They believed they were avenging the wrongs of their

gods.  Pothinus, still breathing, was cast again into prison, and two days

after yielded up his spirit.

 

     "Then were manifested a singular dispensation of God and the

immeasurable compassion of Jesus Christ: an example rare among brethren, but in accord with the intentions and the justice of the Lord.  All those who, at

their first arrest, had denied their faith, were themselves cast into prison

and given over to the same sufferings as the other martyrs, for their denial

did not serve them at all.  Those who had made profession of being what they

really were - that is, Christians - were imprisoned without being accused of

other crimes.  The former, on the contrary, were confined as homicides and

wretches, thus suffering double punishment.  The one sort found repose in the

honorable joys of martyrdom, in the hope of promised blessedness, in the love

of Christ, and in the spirit of God the Father; the other were a prey to the

reproaches of conscience.  It was easy to distinguish the one from the other

by their looks.  The one walked joyously, bearing on their faces a majesty

mingled with sweetness, and their very bonds seemed unto them an ornament,

even as the broidery that decks a bride; the other, with downcast eyes and

humble and dejected air, were an object of contempt to the Gentiles

themselves,who regarded them as cowards who had forfeited the glorious and

saving name of Christians.  And so they who were present at this double

spectacle were thereby signally strengthened, and whoever among them chanced to be arrested confessed the faith without doubt or hesitation.

 

     "Things having come to this pass, different kinds of death were

inflicted on the martyrs, and they offered to God a crown of divers flowers.

It was but right that the most valiant champions, those who had sustained a

double assault and gained a signal victory, should receive a splendid crown

of immortality.  The neophyte Maturus and the deacon Sanctus, Blandina and

Attalus, then, were led into the amphitheatre, and thrown to the beasts, as a

sight to please the inhumanity of the Gentiles.  Maturus and Sanctus there

underwent all  kinds of tortures, as if they had hitherto suffered nothing;

or, rather, like athletes who had already been several times victorious, and

were contending for the crown of crowns, they braved the stripes with which

they were beaten, the bites of the beasts that dragged them to and fro, and

all that was demanded by the outcries of an insensate mob, so much the more

furious because it could by no means overcome the firmness of the martyrs or

extort from Sanctus any other speech than that which, on the first day, he

had uttered - 'I am a Christian,'  After this fearful contest, as life was

not extinct, their throats were at last cut, when they alone had thus been

offered as a spectacle to the public instead of the variety displayed in the

combat of gladiators.

 

     "Blandina, in her turn, tied to a stake, was given to the beasts; she

was seen hanging, as it were, on a sort of cross, calling upon God with

trustful fervor, and the brethren present were reminded, in the person of a

sister, of Him who had been crucified for their salvation.  As none of the

beasts would touch the body of Blandina, she was released from the stake,

taken back to prison, and reserved for another occasion.

 

     "Attalus, whose execution, seeing that he was a man of mark, was

furiously demanded by the people, came forward ready to brave everything, as

a man deriving confidence from the memory of his life, for he had

courageously trained himself to discipline, and had always among us borne

witness for the truth.  He was led all round the Amphitheatre, preceded by a

board bearing this inscription in Latin: 'This is Attalus the Christian.'

The people pursued him with the most furious hootings; but the governor,

having learned that he was a Roman citizen, had him taken back to prison with

the rest.  Having subsequently written to Caesar, he waited for his decision

as to those who were thus detained.

 

     "This delay was neither useless nor unprofitable, for then shone forth

the boundless compassion of Christ.  Those of the brethren who had been but

dead members of the Church were recalled to life by the pains and help of the

living; the martyrs obtained grace for those who had fallen away; and great

was the joy in the Church, at the same time virgin and mother, for she once

more found living those whom she had given up for dead.  Thus revived and

strengthened by the goodness of God, who willeth not the death of the sinner,

but rather inviteth him to repentance, they presented themselves before the

tribunal, to be questioned afresh by the governor.  Caesar had replied that

they who confessed themselves to be Christians should be put to the sword,

and they who denied sent away safe and sound.  When the time for the great

market had fully come, there assembled a numerous multitude from every nation and every province.  The governor had the blessed martyrs brought up before his judgment-seat, showing them before the people with all the pomp of a theatre.  He questioned them afresh; and those who were discovered to be

Roman citizens were beheaded, the rest were thrown to the beasts.

 

     "Great glory was gained for Christ by means of those who had at first

denied their faith, and who now confessed it contrary to the expectation of

the Gentiles.  Those who, having been privately questioned, declared

themselves Christians were added to the number of the martyrs.  Those in whom appeared no vestige of faith and no fear of God, remained without the pale of the Church.  When they were dealing with those who had been reunited to it, one Alexander, a Phrygian by nation, a physician by profession, who had for many years been dwelling in Gaul, a man well known to all for his love of God and open preaching of the faith, took his place in the hall of judgment, exhorting by signs all who filled it to confess their faith,even as if he had been called in to deliver them of it.  The multitude, enraged to see that

those who had at first denied turned round and proclaimed their faith, cried

out against Alexander, whom they accused of the conversion.

 

     "The governor forthwith asked him what he was, and at the answer, 'I am

a Christian,' condemned him to the beasts.  On the morrow Alexander was again brought up, together with Attalus, whom the governor, to please the people, had once more condemned to the beasts.  After they had both suffered in the Amphitheatre all the torments that could be devised, they were put to the

sword.  Alexander uttered not a complaint, not a word; he had the air of one

who was talking inwardly with God.  Attalus, seated on an iron seat, and

waiting for the fire to consume his body, said, in Latin, to the people: 'See

what ye are doing; it is in truth devouring men; as for us, we devour not

men, and we do no evil at all.'  He was asked what was the name of God:

'God,' said he, 'is not like us mortals; he hath no name.'

 

     "After all these martyrs, on the last day of the shows, Blandina was

again brought up, together with a young lad, named Ponticus, about fifteen

years old.  They had been brought up every day before that they might see the

tortures of their brethren.  When they were called upon to swear by the

altars of the Gentiles, they remained firm in their faith, making no account

of those pretended gods, and so great was the fury of the multitude against

them that no pity was shown for the age of the child or the sex of the woman.

Tortures were heaped upon them; they were made to pass through every kind of torment, but the desired end was not gained.

 

     "Supported by the exhortations of his sister, who was seen and heard by

the Gentiles, Ponticus, after having endured all magnanimously, gave up the

ghost.  Blandina, last of all - like a noble mother that hath roused the

courage of her sons for the fight, and sent them forth to conquer for their

king - passed once more through all the tortures they had suffered, anxious

to go and rejoin them and rejoicing at each step toward death.  At length,

after she had undergone fire, the talons of beasts, and agonizing aspersion,

she was wrapped in a network and thrown to a bull that tossed her in the air;

she was already unconscious of all that befell her, and seemed altogether

taken up with watching for the blessings that Christ had in store for her.

Even the Gentiles allowed that never a woman had suffered so much or so long.

 

     "Still their fury and their cruelty toward the saints were not appeased.

They devised another way of raging against them; they cast to the dogs the

bodies of those who had died of suffocation in prison, and watched night and

day that none of our brethren might come and bury them.  As for what remained of the martyrs' half-mangled or devoured corpses, they left them exposed under a guard of soldiers, coming to look on them with insulting eyes, and saying: 'Where is now their God?  Of what use to them was this religion for

which they laid down their lives?'  We were overcome with grief that we were

not able to bury these poor corpses; nor the darkness of night, nor gold, nor

prayers could help us to succeed therein.  After being thus exposed for six

days in the open air, given over to all manner of outrage, the corpses of the

martyrs were at last burned, reduced to ashes, and cast hither and thither by

the infidels upon the waters of the Rhone, that there might be left no trace

of them on earth.  They acted as if they had been more mighty than God, and

could rob our brethren of their resurrection: ''Tis in that hope,' said they,

'that these folk bring among us a new and strange religion, that they set at

naught the most painful torments, and that they go joyfully to face death:

let us see if they will rise again, if their God will come to their aid and

will be able to tear them from our hands.'"

 

     It is not without a painful effort that, even after so many centuries,

we can resign ourselves to be witnesses, in imagination only, of such a

spectacle.  We can scarce believe that among men of the same period and the

same city so much ferocity could be displayed in opposition to so much

courage, the passion for barbarity against the passion for virtue.

Nevertheless, such is history; and it should be represented as it really was:

first of all, for truth's sake; then for the due appreciation of virtue and

all it costs of effort and sacrifice; and, lastly, for the purpose of showing

what obstacles have to be surmounted, what struggles endured, and what

sufferings borne, when the question is the accomplishment of great moral and

social reforms.  Marcus Aurelius was, without any doubt, a virtuous ruler,

and one who had it in his heart to be just and humane; but he was an absolute

ruler, that is to say, one fed entirely on his own ideas, very ill-informed

about the facts on which he had to decide, and without a free public to warn

him of the errors of his ideas or the practical results of his decrees.  He

ordered the persecution of the Christians without knowing what the Christians

were or what the persecution would be, and this conscientious philosopher let

loose at Lyons, against the most conscientious of subjects, the zealous

servility of his agents, and the atrocious passions of the mob.

 

     The persecution of the Christians did not stop at Lyons or with Marcus

Aurelius; it became, during the third century, the common practice of the

emperors in all parts of the empire: from A.D. 202 to 312, under the reigns

of Septimius Severus, Maximinus the First, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian,

Diocletian, Maximian, and Galerius, there are reckoned six great general

persecutions, without counting others more circumscribed or less severe.  The

emperors Alexander Severus, Philip the Arabian, and Constantius Chlorus were

almost the only exceptions to this cruel system; and nearly always, wherever

it was in force, the pagan mob, in its brutality or fanatical superstition,

added to imperial rigor its own atrocious and cynical excesses.

 

     But Christian zeal was superior in perseverance and efficacy to pagan

persecution.  St. Pothinus the Martyr was succeeded as bishop at Lyons by St.

Irenaeus, the most learned, most judicious, and most illustrious of the early

heads of the Church in Gaul.  Originally from Asia Minor, probably from

Smyrna, he had migrated to Gaul, at what particular date is not known, and

had settled as a simple priest in the diocese of Lyons, where it was not long

before he exercised vast influence, as well on the spot as also during

certain missions intrusted to him, and among them one, they say, to the pope,

St. Eleutherius, at Rome.

 

     While bishop of Lyons, from A.D. 177 to 202, he employed the

five-and-twenty years in propagating the Christian faith in Gaul, and in

defending, by his writings, the Christian doctrines against the discord to

which they had already been subjected in the East, and which was beginning to

penetrate the West.

 

     In 202, during the persecution instituted by Septimius Severus, St.

Irenaeus crowned by martyrdom his active and influential life.  It was in his

episcopate that there began what may be called the swarm of Christian

missionaries who, toward the end of the second and during the third century,

spread over the whole of Gaul, preaching the faith and forming churches.

Some went from Lyons at the instigation of St. Irenaeus; others from Rome,

especially under the pontificate of Pope St. Fabian, himself martyred in 249;

St. Felix and St. Fortunatus to Valence, St. Ferreol to Besancon, St.

Marcellus to Chalons-sur-Saone, St. Benignus to Dijon, St. Trophimus to

Arles, St. Paul to Narbonne, St. Saturninus to Toulouse, St. Martial to

Limoges, St. Andeol and St. Privatus to the Cevennes, St. Austremoine to

Clermont-Ferrand, St. Galian to Tours, St. Denis to Paris, and so many others

that their names are scarcely known beyond the pages of erudite historians,

or the very spots where they preached, struggled, and conquered, often at the

price of their lives.

 

     Such were the founders of the faith and of the Christian Church in

France.  At the commencement of the fourth century their work was, if not

accomplished, at any rate triumphant; and when, A.D. 312, Constantine

declared himself a Christian, he confirmed the fact of the conquest of the

Roman world, and of Gaul in particular, by Christianity.  No doubt the

majority of the inhabitants were not as yet Christians; but it was clear that

the Christians were in the ascendant and had command of the future.

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