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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXVIII

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Chapter XXVIII.—The Persecution under Maximinus.

The Roman emperor, Alexander, having finished his reign in thirteen years, was succeeded by Maximinus Cæsar. 2004 On account of his hatred toward the household of Alexander, 2005 which contained many believers, he began a persecution, commanding that only the rulers of the churches should be put to death, as responsible for the Gospel teaching. Thereupon Origen composed his work On Martyrdom, 2006 and dedicated it to Ambrose and Protoctetus, 2007 a presbyter of the parish of Cæsarea, because in the persecution there had come upon them both unusual hardships, in which it is reported that they were eminent in confession during the reign of Maximinus, which lasted but three years. Origen has noted this as the time of the persecution in the twenty-second book of his Commentaries on John, and in several epistles. 2008



Alexander Severus was murdered early in the year 235, and was succeeded at once by his commanding general, the Thracian Maximinus, or Caius Julius Verus Maximinus, as he called himself.


The reference here is not to the immediate family of Alexander, but to the court as a whole, his family in the widest sense including court officials, servants, &c. The favor which Alexander had shown to the Christians (see chap. 21, note 8) is clearly seen in the fact that there were so many Christians at court, as Eusebius informs us here. This persecution was at first directed, Eusebius tells us, solely against the heads of the churches (τοὺς τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν ἄρχοντας), i.e. the bishops; and we might imagine only those bishops who had stood nearest Alexander and had been most favored by him to be meant (Pontianus and Hippolytus of Rome were exiled, for instance, at the very beginning of Maximinus’ reign, in the year 235; see chap. 22, note 1); for Maximinus’ hostility to the Christians seems to have been caused, not by religious motives, but by mere hatred of his predecessor, and of every cause to which he had shown favor. But the persecution was not confined to such persons, as we learn from this chapter, which tells us of the sufferings of Ambrose and Protoctetus, neither of whom was a bishop. It seems probable that most of the persecuting was not the result of positive efforts on the part of Maximinus, but rather of the superstitious hatred of the common people, whose fears had been recently aroused by earthquakes and who always attributed such calamities to the existence of the Christians. Of course under Maximinus they had free rein, and could persecute whenever they or the provincial authorities felt inclined (cf. Firmilian’s epistle to Cyprian, and Origen’s Exhort. ad Mart.). Eusebius tells us nothing of Origen’s whereabouts at this time; but in Palladius’ Hist. Laus. 147, it is said that Origen was given refuge by Juliana in Cæsarea in Cappadocia during some persecution, undoubtedly this one, if the report is true (see chap. 17, note 4).


This work on martyrdom (εἰς μαρτύριον προτρεπτικὸς λόγος, Exhortatio ad Martyrium) is still extant, and is printed by Lommatzsch in Vol. XX., p. 231–316. It is a most beautiful and inspiring exhortation.


On Ambrose, see chap. 18, note 1. Protoctetus, a presbyter of the church of Cæsarea (apparently Palestinian Cæsarea), is known to us only from this passage.


On Origen’s Commentary on John’s Gospel, see chap. 24, note 1. No fragments of the twenty-second book are extant, nor any of the epistles in which reference is made to this persecution.

Next: Chapter XXIX