Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter IV
Chapter IV.—The Famous Martyrs of God, who filled Every Place with their Memory and won Various Crowns in behalf of Religion.
1. For we might tell of many who showed admirable zeal for the religion of the God of the universe, not only from the beginning of the general persecution, but long before that time, while yet peace prevailed.
2. For though he who had received power was seemingly aroused now as from a deep sleep, yet from the time after Decius and Valerian, he had been plotting secretly and without notice against the churches. He did not wage war against all of us at once, but made trial at first only of those in the army. For he supposed that the others could be taken easily if he should first attack and subdue these. Thereupon many of the soldiers were seen most cheerfully embracing private life, so that they might not deny their piety toward the Creator of the universe.
3. For when the commander, 2511 whoever he was, 2512 began to persecute the soldiers, separating into tribes and purging those who were enrolled in the army, giving them the choice either by obeying to receive the honor which belonged to them, or on the other hand to be deprived of it if they disobeyed the command, a great many soldiers of Christs kingdom, without hesitation, instantly preferred the confession of him to the seeming glory and prosperity which they were enjoying.
4. And one and another of them occasionally received in exchange, for their pious constancy, 2513 not only the loss of position, but death. But as yet the instigator of this plot proceeded with moderation, and ventured so far as blood only in some instances; for the multitude of believers, as it is likely, made him afraid, and deterred him from waging war at once against all.
5. But when he made the attack more boldly, it is impossible to relate how many and what sort of martyrs of God could be seen, among the inhabitants of all the cities and countries. 2514
In the Chron. we are told of a commander by name Veturius, who is doubtless to be identified with the one referred to here. Why Eusebius does not give his name in the History, we do not know. There seems to be contempt in the phrase, “whoever he was,” and it may be that he did not consider him worth naming. In Jeromes version of the Chron. (sixteenth year of Diocletian) we read: Veturius magister militiæ Christianos milites persequitur, paulatim ex illo jam tempore persecutione adversum nos incipiente; in the Armenian (fourteenth year): Veturius magister militiæ eos qui in exercitu Christiani erant, clanculum opprimebat atque ex hoc inde tempore ubique locorum persecutio se extendit. Evidently the occurrence took place a few years before the outbreak of the regular persecution, but the exact date cannot be determined. It is probable, moreover, from the way in which Eusebius refers to the man in the History that he was a comparatively insignificant commander, who took the course he did on his own responsibility. At least, there is no reason to connect the act with Diocletian and to suppose it ordered by him. All that we know of his relation to the Christians forbids such a supposition. There may have been some particular occasion for such a move in the present instance, which evidently affected only a small part of the army, and resulted in only a few deaths (see the next paragraph). Perhaps some insubordination was discovered among the Christian soldiers, which led the commander to be suspicious of all of them, and hence to put the test to them,—which was always in order,—to prove their loyalty. It is plain that he did not intend to put any of them to death, but only to dismiss such as refused to evince their loyalty by offering the customary sacrifices. Some of the Christian soldiers, however, were not content with simple dismission, but in their eagerness to evince their Christianity said and did things which it was impossible for any commander to overlook (cf. the instances given by Mason, p. 41 sq.). It was such soldiers as these that suffered death; and they of course were executed, not because they were Christians, but because they were insubordinate. Their death was brought on themselves by their foolish fanaticism; and they have no claim to be honored as martyrs, although Eusebius evidently regarded them as such.326:2513
We should rather say “for their rash and unjustifiable fanaticism.”326:2514
In this sentence reference is made to the general persecution, which did not begin until some time after the events recorded in the previous paragraphs.
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