Eusebius Church History on Diocletian

Having dealt fully with the apostolic succession in sevenbooks, in this eighth section it is surely a matter of the highest importance that for the enlightenment of future generations I should set down the events of my own day, calling as they do for a most careful record. That shall be the starting-point for my account.

Events before the persecution of my time

I. How great, how unique were the honour, and liberty too, which before the persecution of my time were granted by all men, Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the message given through Christ to the world, of true reverence for the God of the universe! It is beyond me to describe it as it deserves. Witness the goodwill so often shown by potentates to our people; they even put into their hands the government of thc provinces, releasing them from the agonizing question of sacrificing, in view of the friendliness with which they regarded their teaching. What need I say about those in the imperial palaces and about the supreme rulers? Did they not permit the members of their households - consorts, children, and servants, _ to embrace boldly before their eyes the divine message and way of life, hardly minding even if they boasted of the liberty granted to the Faith? Did they not hold them in special esteem, and favour them more than their fellow
servants? I might instance the famous Dorotheus, the most devoted and loyal of their servants, and on that account much more honoured than the holders of offices and governorships. With him I couple the celebrated Gorgonius, and all who because of God's word were held in the same honour as these two. And what approbation the rulers in every church unmistakably won from all procurators and governors! How could one describe those mass meetings, the enormous gatherings in every city, and the remarkable congregations in places of worship ? No longer satisfied with the old buildings, they raised from the foundations in all the cities churches spacious in plan. These things went forward with the times and expanded at a daily increasing rate, so that no envy stopped them nor could any evil spirit bewitch them or check them by means of human schemes, as long as the divine and heavenly hand sheltered and protected its own people, as being worthy.

But increasing freedom transformed our character to arrogance and sloth; we began envying and abusing each other, cutting our own throats, as occasion offered, with weapons of sharp-edged words; rulers hurled themselves at rulers and laymen waged party fights against laymen, and unspeakable hypocrisy and dissimulation were carried to the limit of wickedness. At last, while the gatherings were still crowded, divine judgement, with its wonted mercy, gently and gradually began to order things its own way, and with the Christians in the army the persecution began. But alas! realizing nothing, we made not the slightest effort to render the Deity kindly and propitious; and as if we had been a lot of atheists, we imagined that our doings went unnoticed and unregarded, and went from wickedness to wickedness. Those of us who were supposed to be pastors cast offthe restraining influence of the fear of God and quarrelled heatedly with each other, engaged solely in swelling the disputes, threats, envy, and mutual hostility and hate, frantically demanding the despotic power they coveted. Then, then it was that in accordance with the words of Jeremiah, the Lord in His anger covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud, and cast down from Heaven the glory of Israel; He remembered not the footstool of His feet in the day of His anger, but the Lord also drowned in the sea all the beauty of Israel, and broke down all his fences.! So also, as foretold in the Psalms, He overthrew the covenant of His bondservant and profaned to the ground (through the destruction of the churches) his sanctuary and broke down all his fences; He made his strongholds cowardice. All that passed by the way despoiled the multitudes of the people; moreover, he became a reproach to his neighbours. For He exalted the right hand of his enemies, and turned back the aid of his sword and did not assist him in the war. But He also cut him off from cleansing and threw down his throne to the ground, and shortened the days of his time, and finally covered him with shame.
The Destruction of the Churches
2. Everything indeed has been furfilled in my time; I saw with my own eyes the places of worship thrown down from top to bottom, to the very foundations, the inspired holy Scriptures committed to the flames in the middle of the public squares, and the pastors of the churches hiding disgracefully in one place or another, while others suffered the indignity of being held up to ridicule by their enemies - a reminder of another prophetic saying: for contempt was poured on rulers, and He made them wander in a trackless land where there was no road.3 But it is not for me to describe their wretched misfortunes in the event: nor is it my business to leave on record their quarrels and inhumanity to each other before the persecutions, so I have made up my mind to relate no more about them than enough to justify the divine judgement. I am determined therefore to say nothing even about those who have been tempted by the persecution or have made complete shipwreck of their salvationI and of their own accord flung themselves into the depths of the stormy sea; I shall indude in my overall account only those things by which first we ourselves, then later generations, may benefit. Let me therefore proceed from this point to describe in outline the hallowed ordeals of the martyrs of God's word.

It was the nineteenth year of Diocletian's reign and the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, and the festival of the Saviour's Passion was approaching, when an imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering the churches to be razed to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire and giving notice that those in places of honour would lose their places, and domestic staff, if they continued to profess Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty. Such was the first edict against us. Soon afterwards other decrees arrived in rapid succession, ordering that the presidents of the churches in every place should all be first committed to prison and then coerced by every possible means into offering sacrifice.

Ordeals endured in the persecution: God's glorious martyrs
Then, then it was that many rulers of the churches bore up heroically under horrible torments, an object lesson in the endurance of fearful ordeals; while countless others, their souls already numbed with cowardice, promptly succumbed to the first onslaught. Of the rest, each was subjected to a series of different tortures, one flogged unmercifully with the whip, another racked and scraped beyond endurance, so that the lives of some came to a most miserable end. But different people came through the ordeal very differently: one man would be forcibly propelled by others and brought to the disgusting, unholy sacrifices, and dismissed as if he had sacrificed, even if he had done no such thing; another, who had not even approached any abomination, much less touched it, but was said by others to have sacrificed, would go away without attempting to repudiate the baseless charge. Another would be picked up half dead, and thrown away as if already a corpse; and again a man lying on the ground might be dragged a long way by his feet, though induded among the willing sacrificers. One man would announce at the top of his voice his determination not to sacrifice, another would shout that he was a Christian, exulting in the confession of the Saviour's Name, while yet another insisted that he had never sacrificed and never would. These were struck on the mouth and silenced by a formidable body of soldiers lined up for the purpose: their faces and cheeks were battered and they were forcibly removed. It was the one object in life of the enemies of true religion to gain credit for having finished the job.

But no such methods could enable them to dispose of the holy martyrs. What could I say that would do full justice to them? . I could tell of thousands who showed magnificent enthusiasm for the worship of the God of the universe, not only from the beginning of the general persecution, but much earlier when peace was still secure. For at long last the one who had received the authority! was as it were awaking from the deepest sleep, after making attempts - as yet secret and surreptitious - against the churches, in the interval that followed Decius and Valerian. He did not make his preparations all at once for the war against us, but for the time being took action only against members of the legions. In this way he thought that the rest would easily be mastered if he joined battle with these and emerged victorious. Now could be seen large numbers of serving soldiers most happy to embrace civil life, in order to avoid having to repudiate their loyalty to the Architect of the universe. The commander-in-chief, whoever he was, was now first setting about persecuting the soldiery, classifying and sorting those serving in the legions, and allowing them to choose either to obey orders and retain their present rank, or alternatively to be stripped of it if they disobeyed the enactment. But a great many soldiers of Christ's kingdom without hesitation or question chose to confess Him rather than cling to the outward glory and prosperity they enjoyed. Already here and there one or two of them were suffering not only loss of position but even death as the reward of their unshakable devotion: for the time being the man behind the plot was acting cautiously and going as far as bloodshed in a few cases only; he was apparently afraid of the number of believers, and shrank from launching out into war with them all at once. But when he stripped more thoroughly for battle, words are inadequate to depict the host of God's noble martyrs whom the people of every city and every region were privileged to see with their own eyes.

Martyrs in Nicomedia and in the imperial palaces

5. When the edict agamst the churches was issued at Nicomedia and posted up in a conspicuous public place, a well known person, by worldly standards of pre- eminence a man of the greatest distinction, was so stirred by religious enthusiasm and carried away by burning faith that he promptly seized it and tore it to shreds, as something unholy and utterly profane - and that, when two emperors were there in the same city, the most senior of them all and the one who held the fourth place in the government. But he was only the first of many who at that time distinguished themselves in this way and suffered the natural consequences of such bold conduct, preserving a cheerful, confident bearing to their very last breath. 6. Of all those who have at any time been praised in song for their virtues and lauded for their courage, among Greeks and non-Greeks alike, none was ever more remarkable than the divine martyrs produced by this occasion - Dorotheus and the imperial servants who followed his lead. They had been most highly honoured by their imperial masters and treated by them as if they had been their own children, but they accounted reproaches and sufferings for religion, and the many kinds of death invented against them, as in truth greater riches than worldly fame and luxury. I shall describe the death that one of them met, and leave it to my readers to infer from that case what happened in the others.

In the city named above, the rulers in question brought a certain man into a public place and commanded him to sacrifice. When he refused, he was ordered to be stripped, hoisted up naked, and his whole body torn with loaded whips till he gave in and carried out the command, however unwillingly. When in spite of these torments he remained as obstinate as ever, they next mixed vinegar with salt and poured it over the lacerated parts of his body, where the bones were already exposed. When he treated these agonies too with scorn a lighted brazier was then brought forward, and as if it were edible meat for the table, what was left of his body was consumed by the fire, not all at once, for fear his release should come too soon, but a little at a time; and those who placed him on the pyre were not permitted to stop till after such treatment he should signify his readiness to obey. But he stuck immovably to his determination, and victorious in the midst of his tortures, breathed his last. Such was the martyrdom of one of the imperial servants, a martyrdom worthy of the name he bore - it was Peter.

The heroism of the others was just as great, but to preserve the proportions of this book I shall pass it over, only recording that Dorotheus and Gorgonius, with many more of the imperial household, went through a succession of ordeals and finally were put to death by strangling, carrying off the prizes of their inspired victory.

It was at that period that Anthimus, then head of the Nicomedian church, bore witness to Christ and was beheaded. He was followed by a number of martyrs at once, for somehow or other at that very time there was a conflagration in the palace at Nicomedia, and through a groundless suspicion word went round that our people were responsible. By imperial command God's worshippers there perished wholesale and in heaps, some butchered with the sword, others furfilled by fire; it is on record that with an inspired and mystical fervour men and women alike leapt on to the pyre. A number of others were bound by the public executioners, dumped in small boats, and thrown into the depths of the sea. As for the imperial servants already dead and committed to the ground with fitting ceremony, they were dug up by their so-called masters, who thought it advisable to start again and throw them too into the sea, with the absurd notion that as they lay in their graves some people would worship them in the belief that they were gods!

Such was the state of affairs at Nicomedia in the early stages of the persecution. But when a little later, in the district of Melitene and all over Syria as well, attempts were being made to attack the empire, an imperial decree was circulated that the heads of the churches everywhere should be fettered and imprisoned. The spectacle of what happened after this beggars description: in every town great numbers were locked up, and everywhere the gaols built long before for homicides and grave- robbers were crowded with bishops, presbyters and deacons, readers and exorcists, so that now there was no room in them for those convicted of crimes.

It was not long before the first decree was followed by another, in which it was laid down that if the prisoners offered sacrifice they should be allowed to go free, but if they refused they should be mutilated by endless tortures. Now once more, how could one count the number of martyrs in every province of the Empire, especially those in Africa and Mauretania, in the Thebais and Egypt? From Egypt at this time some went off to other cities and provinces, where they showed their worth by martyrdom.

Egyptian martyrs in Phoenicia, in Egypt itself, and in the Thebais

7. At any rate we know those of them who became shining lights in Palestine, and we know those at Tyre in Phoenicia. Did any man see them without being amazed at the merciless floggings and the endurance displayed under them by these truly astounding champions of pure religion; at the ordeal with man-eating beasts which came directly after the floggings, when they were attacked by panthers, bears of different kinds, wild boars, and bulls goaded with red-hot irons; at the unflinching courage of these noble people in the face of every one of the beasts? When these things were going on I was there myself, and there I witnessed the ever-present divine power of Him to whom they test)fied, our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself, visibly manifesting itself to the martyrs. For some time the man-eaters did not dare to touch or even approach the bodies of God's beloved, but rushed at the others who apparently were irritating and provoking ther from outside; only the holy champions, as they stood naked and in accordance with their instructions waved their hand to attract the animals to themselves, were left quite un molested: sometimes when the beasts did start towards them they were stopped short as if by some divine power, and re treated to their starting-point. When this went on for a long time it astounded the spectators, so that in view of the ineffectiveness of the first a second and third beast were set on to one and the same martyr.

Nothing could be more amazing than the fearless courage of these saints under such duress, the stubborn, inflexible endurance in youthful bodies. You would see a youngster not yet twenty standing without fetters, spreading out his arms in the form of a cross, and with a mind unafraid and unshakable occupying himself in the most unhurried prayers to the Almighty; not budging in the least and not retreating an inch from the spot where he stood, though bears and panthers breathing fury and death almost touched his very flesh. Yet by some supernatural, mysterious power their mouths were stopped, and they ran back again to the rear. Again you would have seen others - there were five altogether - thrown to an infuriated bull. When others approached from outside he tossed them with his horns into the air and mangled them leaving them to be picked up half-dead; but when in his fury he rushed head-down at the lonely group of holy martyrs he could not even get near them, but stamped his feet and pushed with his horns in all directions. Provoked by the hot irons he breathed rage and threats, but divine providence dragged him back. So, as he too did his intended victims no harm whatever, other beasts were set on them. At last when these animals had launched their terrible varied assaults, the martyrs were one and all butchered with the sword, and instead of being buried in the earth were given to the waves of the sea.

8. Such was the ordeal of the Egyptians who championed the faith so gloriously at Tyre. But we should feel equal admiration for those of them who were martyred in their own country, where immense numbers of men, women, and children, despising this transient life, faced death in all its forms for the sake of our Saviour's teaching. Some were scraped, racked, mercilessly flogged, subjected to countless other torments too terrible to describe in endless variety, and finally given to the flames; some were submerged in the sea; others cheerfully stretched out their necks to the headsman's axe; some died under torture; others were starved to death; others again were crucified, some as criminals usually are, some with still greater cruelty nailed the other way up, head down, and kept alive till they starved to death on the very cross.

9. But words cannot describe the outrageous agonies endured by the martyrs in the Thebais. They were torn to bits from head to foot with potsherds like claws till death released them. Women were tied by one foot and hoisted high in the air, head downwards, their bodies completely naked without a morsel of clothing, presenting thus the most shameful, brutal, and inhuman of all spectacles to everyone watching. Others again were tied to trees and stumps and died horribly; for with the aid of machinery they drew together the very stoutest boughs, fastened one of the martyr's legs to each, and then let the boughs fly back to their normal position; thus they managed to tear apart the limbs of their victims in a moment. In this way they carried on, not for a few days or weeks, but year after year. Sometimes ten or more, sometimes over twenty were put to death, at other times at least thirty, and at yet others not far short of sixty; and there were occasions when on a single day a hundred men as well as women and little children were killed, condemned to a succession of