Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter VI
Chapter VI.—Those in the Palace.
1. This period produced divine and illustrious martyrs, above all whose praises have ever been sung and who have been celebrated for courage, whether among Greeks or barbarians, in the person of Dorotheus 2519 and the servants that were with him in the palace. Although they received the highest honors from their masters, and were treated by them as their own children, they esteemed reproaches and trials for religion, and the many forms of death that were invented against them, as, in truth, greater riches than the glory and luxury of this life.
2. We will describe the manner in which one of them ended his life, and leave our readers to infer from his case the sufferings of the others. A certain man was brought forward in the above-mentioned city, before the rulers of whom we have spoken. 2520 He was then commanded to sacrifice, but as he refused, he was ordered to be stripped and raised on high and beaten with rods over his entire body, until, being conquered, he should, even against his will, do what was commanded.
3. But as he was unmoved by these sufferings, and his bones were already appearing, they mixed vinegar with salt and poured it upon the mangled parts of his body. As he scorned these agonies, a gridiron and fire were brought forward. And the remnants of his body, like flesh intended for eating, were placed on the fire, not at once, lest he should expire instantly, but a little at a time. And those who placed him on the pyre were not permitted to desist until, after such sufferings, he should assent to the things commanded.
4. But he held his purpose firmly, and victoriously gave up his life while the tortures were still going on. Such was the martyrdom of one of the servants of the palace, who was indeed well worthy of his name, for he was called Peter. 2521
5. The martyrdoms of the rest, though they were not inferior to his, we will pass by for the sake of brevity, recording only that Dorotheus and Gorgonius, 2522 with many others of the royal household, after varied sufferings, ended their lives by strangling, and bore away the trophies of God-given victory.
6. At this time Anthimus, 2523 who then presided over the church in Nicomedia, was beheaded for his testimony to Christ. A great multitude of martyrs were added to him, a conflagration having broken out in those very days in the palace at Nicomedia, I know not how, which through a false suspicion was laid to our p. 328 people. 2524 Entire families of the pious in that place were put to death in masses at the royal command, some by the sword, and others by fire. It is reported that with a certain divine and indescribable eagerness men and women rushed into the fire. And the executioners bound a large number of others and put them on boats 2525 and threw them into the depths of the sea.
7. And those who had been esteemed their masters considered it necessary to dig up the bodies of the imperial servants, who had been committed to the earth with suitable burial and cast them into the sea, lest any, as they thought, regarding them as gods, might worship them lying in their sepulchers. 2526
8. Such things occurred in Nicomedia at the beginning of the persecution. 2527 But not long after, as persons in the country called Melitene, 2528 and others throughout Syria, 2529 attempted to usurp the government, a royal edict directed that the rulers of the churches everywhere 2530 should be thrown into prison and bonds.
9. What was to be seen after this exceeds all description. A vast multitude were imprisoned in every place; and the prisons everywhere, which had long before been prepared for murderers and robbers of graves, were filled with bishops, presbyters and deacons, readers and exorcists, 2531 so that room was no longer left in them for those condemned for crimes.
10. And as other decrees followed the first, directing that those in prison if they would sacrifice should be permitted to depart in freedom, but that those who refused should be harassed with many tortures, 2532 how could any one, again, number the multitude of martyrs in every province, 2533 and especially of those in Africa, and Mauritania, and Thebais, and Egypt? From this last country many went into other cities and provinces, and became illustrious through martyrdom.
On Dorotheus, see above, chap. 1, note 3.327:2520
i.e. in Nicomedia, before Diocletian and Galerius.327:2521
πέτρος, “a rock.” It is clear from the account of Lactantius (chap. 15) that this man, and the others mentioned in this connection, suffered after the second conflagration in the palace and in consequence of it (see below, p. 400). The two conflagrations led Diocletian to resort to torture in order to ascertain the guilty parties, or to obtain information in regard to the plots of the Christians. Examination by torture was the common mode of procedure under such circumstances, and hence implies no unusual cruelty in the present case. The death even of these men, therefore, cannot be looked upon as due to persecution. Their offense was purely a civil one. They were suspected of being implicated in a treasonable plot, and of twice setting fire to the palace. Their refusal to sacrifice under such circumstances, and thus evince their loyalty at so critical a time, was naturally looked upon as practically a confession of guilt,—at any rate as insubordination on a most grave occasion, and as such fitly punishable by death. Compare Plinys epistle to Trajan, in which he expresses the opinion that “pertinacious and inflexible obstinacy” ought at any rate to be punished, whatever might be thought of Christianity as such (see above, Bk. III. chap. 33, note 1); and at such a time as this Diocletian must have felt that the first duty of all his subjects was to place their loyalty beyond suspicion by doing readily that which was demanded. His impatience with the Christians must have been increasing under all these provocations, and thus the regular persecution was becoming ever more imminent.327:2522
Gorgonius has been already mentioned in chap. 1, above. See note 4 on that chapter.327:2523
In a fragment preserved by the Chron. Paschale, and purporting to be a part of an epistle written from prison, shortly before his death, by the presbyter Lucian of Antioch to the church of that city, Anthimus, bishop of Nicomedia, is mentioned as having just suffered martyrdom (see Rouths Rel. Sac. IV. p. 5). Lucian, however, was imprisoned and put to death during the persecution of Maximinus (a.d. 311 or 312). See below, Bk. IX. chap. 6, and Jeromes de vir. ill. chap. 77. It would seem, therefore, if the fragment given in the Chron. Paschale be genuine, and there seems no good reason to doubt it, that Anthimus suffered martyrdom not under Diocletian, but under Maximinus, in 311 or 312. In that case Eusebius is mistaken in putting his death at this early date, in connection with the members of the imperial household. Indeed, we see no reason for his execution at this time, and should find it difficult to explain if we were to accept it. In the time of Maximinus, however, it is perfectly natural, and of a piece with the execution of Peter of Alexandria and other notable prelates. Eusebius, as we have already seen, pays no attention to chronology in this Eighth Book, and hence there is no great weight to be placed upon his mention of the death of Anthimus at this particular place. Mason (p. 324) says that Hunziker (p. 281) has conclusively shown Eusebius mistake at this point. I have not seen Hunziker, and therefore cannot judge of the validity of his arguments, but, on the grounds already stated, have no hesitation in expressing my agreement with his conclusion. Of Anthimus himself, we know nothing beyond what has been already intimated. In chap. 13, §1, below, he is mentioned again, but nothing additional is told us in regard to him.
Having observed Eusebius mistake in regard to Anthimus, we realize that there is no reason to consider him any more accurate in respect to the other martyrdoms referred to in this paragraph. In fact, it is clear enough that, in so far as his account is not merely rhetorical, it relates to events that took place not at this early date, but during a later time after the regular religious persecution had begun. No such “multitude” suffered in consequence of the conflagration as Eusebius thinks. The martyrdoms of which he has heard belong rather to the time after the Fourth Edict (see below, Mart. Pal. chap. 3, note 2), or possibly to the still later time when Maximinus was at Nicomedia, and was in the midst of his bloody career of persecution.328:2524
Eusebius does not accuse Galerius of being the author of the conflagration, as Lactantius does. In fact, he seems to have known very little about the matter. He mentions only one fire, whereas Lactantius distinctly tells us there were two, fifteen days apart (chap. 14). Eusebius evidently has only the very vaguest information in regard to the progress of affairs at Nicomedia, and has no knowledge of the actual order and connection of events. In regard to the effects of the fire upon Diocletians attitude toward the Christians, see above, note 3, and below, p. 400. Constantine (Orat. ad Sanct. Coet. XXV. 2) many years afterwards referred to the fire as caused by lightning, which is clearly only a makeshift, for, as Burckhardt remarks, there could have been no doubt in that case how the fire originated. And, moreover, such an explanation at best could account for only one of the fires. The fact that Constantine feels it necessary to invent such an explanation gives the occurrence a still more auspicious look, and one not altogether favorable to the Christians. In fact, it must be acknowledged that the case against them is pretty strong.328:2525
Literally, “The executioners, having bound a large number of others on boats, threw them into the depths of the sea” (δήσαντες δὲ οἱ δήμιοι ἄλλο τι πλῆθος ἐπὶ σκ€φαις, τοῖς θαλαττίοις ἐναπέ& 207·ῥιπτον βυθοῖς). The construction is evidently a pregnant one, for it cannot be supposed that boats and all were thrown into the depths of the sea. They seem to have bound the prisoners, and carried them out to sea on boats, and then thrown them overboard. Compare the Passion of St. Theodotus (Mason, p. 362), where we are told that the “President then bade them hang stones about their necks, and embark them on a small shallop and row them out to a spot where the lake was deeper; and so they were cast into the water at the distance of four or five hundred feet from the shore.” Crusè translates, “binding another number upon planks,” but σκ€φη will hardly bear that meaning; and even if it could, we should scarcely expect men to be bound to planks if the desire was to “cast them into the depths of the sea.” Lactantius (chap. 15), in speaking of these same general occurrences, says, “Servants, having millstones tied about their necks, were cast into the sea.”
Closs remarks that drowning was looked upon in ancient times as the most disgraceful punishment, because it implied that the criminals were not worthy to receive burial.328:2526
Compare Bk. IV. chap. 15, §41, above, and Lactantius, Div. Inst. V. 11. That in the present case the suspicion that the Christians would worship the remains of these so-called martyrs was not founded merely upon knowledge of the conduct of Christians in general in relation to the relics of their martyrs, but upon actual experience of their conduct in connection with these particular martyrs, is shown by the fact that the emperor first buried them, and afterward had them dug up. Evidently Christians showed them such honor, and collected in such numbers about their tombs, that he believed it was necessary to take some such step in order to prevent the growth of a spirit of rebellion, which was constantly fostered by such demonstrations. Compare the remarks of Mason on p. 135.328:2527
Part of the events mentioned in this chapter occurred at the beginning; others, a considerable time later. See note 5, above.328:2528
Melitene was the name of a district and a city in Eastern Cappadocia. Upon the outbreak there we know only what can be gathered from this passage, although Mason (p. 126 sq.) connects it with a rebellion, of which an account is given in Simeon Metaphrastes. It is possible that the account of the Metaphrast is authentic, and that the uprising referred to here is to be identified with it, but more than that cannot be said. There can be no doubt that the outbreak was one of the causes of the promulgation of the Second Edict, in which case of course it is clear that the Christians, whether rightly or wrongly, were held responsible for it. See above, chap. 2, note 7.328:2529
Valesius identifies this usurpation in Syria with that of Eugenius in Antioch, of which we are told by Libanius (in his Oratio ad Theodosium post reconciliationem, and in his Oratio ad Theod. de seditione Antioch., according to Valesius). The latter was but a small affair, involving only a band of some five hundred soldiers, who compelled their commander Eugenius, to assume the purple, but were entirely destroyed by the people of the city within twenty-four hours. See the note of Valesius ad locum, Tillemonts Hist. des Emp. IX. 73 sq., and Mason, p. 124 sq. This rebellion took place in the time of Diocletian, but there is no reason for connecting it with the uprising mentioned here by Eusebius. The words of Eusebius would seem to imply that he was thinking, not of a single rebellion, but of a number which took place in various parts of Syria. In that case, the Antiochian affair may have been one of them.328:2530
τοὺς πανταχόσε τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν προεστῶτας. Upon this second edict, see above, chap. 2, note 7.328:2531
It is evident enough from this clause alone that the word προεστῶτας, “rulers,” is to be taken in a broad sense. See the note just referred to.328:2532
The Third Edict of Diocletian. Eusebius evidently looks upon the edict as a sharpening of the persecution, but is mistaken in his view. The idea was not that those who refused to sacrifice should be punished by torture for not sacrificing, but that torture should be applied in order to induce them to sacrifice, and thus render it possible to release them. The end sought was their release, not their punishment. Upon the date and interpretation of this edict, see chap. 2, note 8.328:2533
Eusebius is probably again in error, as so often in this book, in connecting a “multitude of martyrs in every province” with this Third Edict. Wholesale persecution and persecution as such—aimed directly at the destruction of all Christians—did not begin until the issue of the Fourth Edict (see below, Mart. Pal. chap. 3, note 2). These numerous martyrdoms referred to here doubtless belong to the period after the issue of that edict, although in Africa and Mauritania, which were under Maximian, considerable blood was probably shed even before that time. For it was possible, of course, for a cruel and irresponsible ruler like Maximian to fix the death penalty for refusal to deliver up the Christian books, or for other acts of obstinacy which the Christian would quite commonly commit. These cases, however, must be looked upon as exceptional at this stage of affairs, and certainly rare.
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