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Chapter XXXIX.—The Persecution under Decius, and the Sufferings of Origen.

1. After a reign of seven years Philip was succeeded by Decius.20602060    Philip was defeated and slain near Verona, on June 17, 249 by the Pannonian legions who had compelled Decius, the envoy sent by Philip to quell a mutiny among them, to accept the title of Augustus. Philip’s death made Decius emperor; and he reigned for a little over two years, when he perished in a campaign against the Goths. The cause given by Eusebius for the terrible persecution of Decius is quite incorrect. The emperor, who before his elevation was one of the most highly respected senators, seems to have been a man of noble character and of high aims. He was a thorough-going patriot and a staunch believer in the religion and laws of Rome. He saw the terrible state of corruption and decay into which the empire had fallen; and he made up his mind that it could be arrested only by restoring the ancient Roman customs, and by strengthening the ancient religion. He therefore revived the old censorship, hoping that the moral and social habits of the people might be improved under its influence; and he endeavored to exterminate the Christians, believing that thus the ancient purity of the state religion might be restored. It was no low motive of personal revenge or of caprice which prompted the persecution. We must recognize the fact that Decius was one of the best and noblest of the Roman emperors, and that he persecuted as a patriot and a believer in the religion of his fathers. He was the first one that aimed at the complete extermination of the Christians. He went systematically to work to put the religion out of existence; and the persecution was consequently both universal and of terrible severity, far more terrible than any that had preceded it. The edicts published by Decius early in the year 250 are no longer extant; but we can gather from the notices, especially of Cyprian and Dionysius, that the effort was first made to induce Christians throughout the empire to deny their faith and return to the religion of the state, and only when large numbers of them remained obstinate did the persecution itself begin. On account of his hatred of Philip, he commenced a persecution of the churches, in which Fabianus20612061    On Fabianus, bishop of Rome, see chap. 29, note 4. suffered martyrdom at Rome, and Cornelius succeeded him in the episcopate.20622062    After the martyrdom of Fabianus the church of Rome was without a bishop for about fourteen months. The bishopric of that church was naturally under Decius a place of the greatest danger. Cornelius became bishop in 251, probably in March, while Decius was away from the city. After the emperor’s death, which took place in the following winter, Gallus renewed the persecution, and Cornelius with a large part of the church fled to Cività Vecchia, where he died in the summer of 253, according to Lipsius (the Liberian catalogue says 252, which is the commonly accepted date, but is clearly incorrect, as Lipsius has shown). Both versions of the Chron. are greatly confused at this point, and their statements are very faulty (Jerome’s version assigning a reign of only fifteen months to Decius and two years and four months to Gallus). Eusebius, in Bk. VII. chap. 2, says that Cornelius held office “about three years,” which is reasonably accurate, for he was actually bishop nearly two years and a half. It was during the episcopate of Cornelius that the Novatian schism took place (see chap. 43). Eight epistles from Cyprian to Cornelius are extant, and two from Cornelius to Cyprian. In chap. 43 Eusebius makes extended quotations from an epistle written by Cornelius to Fabius of Antioch, and mentions still others which are not preserved. In chap. 46 he refers to one against Novatian addressed to Dionysius of Alexandria, which is likewise lost.

2. In Palestine, Alexander,20632063    On Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, see chap. 8, note 6. bishop of the church of Jerusalem, was brought again on Christ’s account 281before the governor’s judgment seat in Cæsarea, and having acquitted himself nobly in a second confession was cast into prison, crowned with the hoary locks of venerable age.

3. And after his honorable and illustrious confession at the tribunal of the governor, he fell asleep in prison, and Mazabanes20642064    The time of Mazabanes’ accession is fixed approximately by the fact that Alexander’s death took place in the persecution of Decius. His death is put by Eusebius (Bk. VII. chap. 14) in the reign of Gallienus (260–268), and with this the notice in the Chron. agrees, which assigns it to the year 265. Since his successor, Hymenæus, was present at the council of Antioch, in which the case of Paul of Samosata was considered (see below, Bk. VII. chaps. 29 and 30), it will not do to put Mazabanes’ death later than 265. became his successor in the bishopric of Jerusalem.

4. Babylas20652065    On Babylas, see chap. 29, note 8. in Antioch, having like Alexander passed away in prison after his confession, was succeeded by Fabius20662066    Eusebius gives the name of this bishop as Β€βιος, Jerome as Fabianus, and Syncellus as φλαβιανός. The time of his accession is fixed by the death of Babylas in the persecution of Decius. He was bishop of Antioch while Cornelius was bishop of Rome, as we learn from the latter’s epistle to him, quoted in chap. 43, below. From an epistle written by Dionysius of Alexandria to Cornelius of Rome (referred to in chap. 46), we learn that Fabius died while the latter was still bishop, i.e. before the summer of 253 (see note 3, above). The Chron. pasch. assigns three years to the episcopate of Fabius; and though we cannot place much reliance upon the figure, yet it leads us to think that he must have been bishop for some time,—at least more than a year,—and so we are inclined to put his death as late as possible. The Chron. puts the accession of his Successor Demetrianus in the year 254, which is too late, at least for the death of Fabius. We may conclude that the latter died probably in the year 253, or not long before. Harnack decides for the time between the fall of 252 and the spring of 253. Fabius, as we learn from the epistles addressed to him by Cornelius and Dionysius (see chaps. 43 and 44), was inclined to indorse Novatian and the rigoristic discipline favored by him. We know nothing more of the life or character of Fabius. in the episcopate of that church.

5. But how many and how great things came upon Origen in the persecution, and what was their final result,—as the demon of evil marshaled all his forces, and fought against the man with his utmost craft and power, assaulting him beyond all others against whom he contended at that time,—and what and how many things he endured for the word of Christ, bonds and bodily tortures and torments under the iron collar and in the dungeon; and how for many days with his feet stretched four spaces in the stocks20672067    τοὺς πόδας ὑπὸ τέσσαρα τοῦ κολαστηρίου ξύλου παρατηθεὶς διαστήματα. Otto, in his edition of Justin’s Apology (Corp. Apol. Christ. I. p. 204), says: ξύλον erat truncus foramina habens, quibus pedes captivorum immitebantur, ut securius in carcere servarentur aut tormentis vexarentur (“a ξύλον was a block, with holes in which the feet of captives were put, in order that they might be kept more securely in prison, or might be afflicted with tortures”). The farther apart the feet were stretched, the greater of course was the torture. Four spaces seems to have been the outside limit. Compare Bk. VIII. chap. 10, §8. he bore patiently the threats of fire and whatever other things were inflicted by his enemies; and how his sufferings terminated, as his judge strove eagerly with all his might not to end his life; and what words he left after these things, full of comfort to those needing aid, a great many of his epistles show with truth and accuracy.20682068    A tradition arose in later centuries that Origen died in the persecution of Decius (see Photius, Cod. 118); but this is certainly an error, for Eusebius cannot have been mistaken when he cites Origen’s own letters as describing his sufferings during the persecution. The epistles referred to here are no longer extant. On Origen’s epistles in general, see chap. 36, note 7.

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