p. 283 Chapter XLI.—The Martyrs in Alexandria.
1. The same writer, in an epistle to Fabius, 2080 bishop of Antioch, relates as follows the sufferings of the martyrs in Alexandria under Decius:
“The persecution among us did not begin with the royal decree, but preceded it an entire year. 2081 The prophet and author of evils 2082 to this city, whoever he was, previously moved and aroused against us the masses of the heathen, rekindling among them the superstition of their country.
2. And being thus excited by him and finding full opportunity for any wickedness, they considered this the only pious service of their demons, that they should slay us.
3. “They seized first an old man named Metras, 2083 and commanded him to utter impious words. But as he would not obey, they beat him with clubs, and tore his face and eyes with sharp sticks, and dragged him out of the city and stoned him.
4. Then they carried to their idol temple a faithful woman, named Quinta, that they might force her to worship. And as she turned away in detestation, they bound her feet and dragged her through the entire city over the stone-paved streets, and dashed her against the millstones, and at the same time scourged her; then, taking her to the same place, they stoned her to death.
5. Then all with one impulse rushed to the homes of the pious, and they dragged forth whomsoever any one knew as a neighbor, and despoiled and plundered them. They took for themselves the more valuable property; but the poorer articles and those made of wood they scattered about and burned in the streets, so that the city appeared as if taken by an enemy.
6. But the brethren withdrew and went away, and took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, 2084 like those to whom Paul bore witness. I know of no one unless possibly some one who fell into their hands, who, up to this time, denied the Lord.
7. Then they seized also that most admirable virgin, Apollonia, an old woman, and, smiting her on the jaws, broke out all her teeth. And they made a fire outside the city and threatened to burn her alive if she would not join with them in their impious cries. And she, supplicating a little, was released, when she leaped eagerly into the fire and was consumed.
8. Then they seized Serapion in his own house, and tortured him with harsh cruelties, and having broken all his limbs, they threw him headlong from an upper story. And there was no street, nor public road, nor lane open to us, by night or day; for always and everywhere, all of them cried out that if any one would not repeat their impious words, he should immediately be dragged away and burned.
9. And matters continued thus for a considerable time. But a sedition and civil war came upon the wretched people and turned their cruelty toward us against one another. 2085 So we breathed for a little while as they ceased from their rage against us. But presently the change from that milder reign was announced to us, 2086 and great fear p. 284 of what was threatened seized us.
10. For the decree arrived, almost like unto that most terrible time foretold by our Lord, which if it were possible would offend even the elect. 2087
11. All truly were affrighted. And many of the more eminent in their fear came forward immediately; 2088 others who were in the public service were drawn on by their official duties; 2089 others were urged on by their acquaintances. And as their names were called they approached the impure and impious sacrifices. Some of them were pale and trembled as if they were not about to sacrifice, but to be themselves sacrifices and offerings to the idols; so that they were jeered at by the multitude who stood around, as it was plain to every one that they were afraid either to die or to sacrifice.
12. But some advanced to the altars more readily, declaring boldly that they had never been Christians. Of these the prediction of our Lord is most true that they shall hardly 2090 be saved. Of the rest some followed the one, others the other of these classes, some fled and some were seized.
13. And of the latter some continued faithful until bonds and imprisonment, and some who had even been imprisoned for many days yet abjured the faith before they were brought to trial. Others having for a time endured great tortures finally retracted.
14. But the firm and blessed pillars of the Lord being strengthened by him, and having received vigor and might suitable and appropriate to the strong faith which they possessed, became admirable witnesses of his kingdom.
15. The first of these was Julian, a man who suffered so much with the gout that he was unable to stand or walk. They brought him forward with two others who carried him. One of these immediately denied. But the other, whose name was Cronion, and whose surname was Eunus, and the old man Julian himself, both of them having confessed the Lord, were carried on camels through the entire city, which, as you know, is a very large one, and in this elevated position were beaten and finally burned in a fierce fire, 2091 surrounded by all the populace.
16. But a soldier, named Besas, who stood by them as they were led away rebuked those who insulted them. And they cried out against him, and this most manly warrior of God was arraigned, and having done nobly in the great contest for piety, was beheaded.
17. A certain other one, a Libyan by birth, but in name and blessedness a true Macar, 2092 was strongly urged by the judge to recant; but as he would not yield he was burned alive. After them Epimachus and Alexander, having remained in bonds for a long time, and endured countless agonies from scrapers 2093 and scourges, were also consumed in a fierce fire. 2094
18. And with them there were four women. Ammonarium, a holy virgin, the judge tortured relentlessly and excessively, because she declared from the first that she would utter none of those things which he commanded; and having kept her promise truly, she was dragged away. The others were Mercuria, a very remarkable old woman, and Dionysia, the mother of many children, who did not love her own children above the Lord. 2095 As the governor was ashamed of torturing thus ineffectually, and being always defeated by women, they were put to death by the sword, without the trial of tortures. For the champion, Ammonarium, endured these in behalf of all.
19. The Egyptians, Heron and Ater and Isidorus, and with them Dioscorus, 2096 a boy about fifteen years old, were delivered up. At first the judge attempted to deceive the lad by fair words, as if he could be brought over easily, and then to force him by tortures, as one who would readily yield. But Dioscorus was neither persuaded nor constrained.
20. As the p. 285 others remained firm, he scourged them cruelly and then delivered them to the fire. But admiring the manner in which Dioscorus had distinguished himself publicly, and his wise answers to his persuasions, he dismissed him, saying that on account of his youth he would give him time for repentance. And this most godly Dioscorus is among us now, awaiting a longer conflict and more severe contest.
21. But a certain Nemesion, who also was an Egyptian, was accused as an associate of robbers; but when he had cleared himself before the centurion of this charge most foreign to the truth, he was informed against as a Christian, and taken in bonds before the governor. And the most unrighteous magistrate inflicted on him tortures and scourgings double those which he executed on the robbers, and then burned him between the robbers, thus honoring the blessed man by the likeness to Christ.
22. A band of soldiers, Ammon and Zeno and Ptolemy and Ingenes, and with them an old man, Theophilus, were standing close together before the tribunal. And as a certain person who was being tried as a Christian, seemed inclined to deny, they standing by gnashed their teeth, and made signs with their faces and stretched out their hands, and gestured with their bodies. And when the attention of all was turned to them, before any one else could seize them, they rushed up to the tribunal saying that they were Christians, so that the governor and his council were affrighted. And those who were on trial appeared most courageous in prospect of their sufferings, while their judges trembled. And they went exultingly from the tribunal rejoicing in their testimony; 2097 God himself having caused them to triumph gloriously.”
I read φ€βιον with the majority of the mss., and with Valesius, Stroth, Burton, Closs, and Crusè, preferring to adopt the same spelling here that is used in the other passages in which the same bishop is mentioned. A number of mss. read φαβιανόν, which is supported by Rufinus, and adopted by Schwegler, Laemmer, and Heinichen. On Fabius, bishop of Antioch, see chap. 39, note 7. The time of his episcopate stated in that note fixes the date of this epistle within narrow limits, viz. between 250 and the spring of 253. The whole tone of the letter and the discussion of the readmission of the lapsed would lead us to think that the epistle was written after the close of the persecution, but in §20, Dioscorus is said to be still among them, waiting for “a longer and more severe conflict,” which seems to imply that the persecution, if not raging at the time, was at least expected to break out again soon. This would lead us to think of the closing months of Decius reign, i.e. late in the year 251, and this date finds confirmation in the consideration that the epistle (as we learn from chap. 44) was written after the breaking out of the Novatian schism, and apparently after the election of Novatian as opposition bishop, for Fabius can hardly have sided with him against his bishop, so long as he was only a presbyter. Doubtless Novatians official letter, announcing his election, had influenced Fabius. But Novation was elected bishop in 251, probably in the summer or early fall; at least, some months after Cornelius accession which took place in February, 251. It seems, from chap. 44, that Fabius was inclined to side with Novatian, and to favor his rigoristic principles. This epistle was written (as we learn from chap. 42, §6) with the express purpose of leading him to change his position and to adopt more lenient principles in his treatment of the lapsed. It is with this end in view that Dionysius details at such length in this chapter the sufferings of the martyrs. He wishes to impress upon Fabius their piety and steadfastness, in order to beget greater respect for their opinions. Having done this, he states that they who best understood the temptations to which the persecuted were exposed, had received the lapsed, when repentant, into fellowship as before (see chap. 42, note 6). Dionysius own position in the matter comes out very clearly in this epistle. He was in full sympathy with the milder treatment of the lapsed advocated in Rome and in Carthage by Cornelius and Cyprian.283:2081
The edict of Decius was published early in the year 250, and therefore the persecution in Alexandria, according to Dionysius, began in 249, while Philip was still emperor. Although the latter showed the Christians favor, yet it is not at all surprising that this local persecution should break out during his reign. The peace which the Christians were enjoying naturally fostered the growth of the Church, and the more patriotic and pious of the heathen citizens of the empire must necessarily have felt great solicitude at its constant increase, and the same spirit which led Decius to persecute would lead many such persons to desire to persecute when the opportunity offered itself; and the closing months of Philips reign were so troubled with rebellions and revolutions that he had little time, and perhaps less inclination, to interfere in such a minor matter as a local persecution of Christians. The common people of Alexandria were of an excitable and riotous disposition, and it was always easy there to stir up a tumult at short notice and upon slight pretexts.283:2082
ὁ κακῶν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ μ€ντις καὶ ποιητής. The last word is rendered “poet” by most translators, and the rendering is quite possible; but it is difficult to understand why Dionysius should speak of this persons being a poet, which could have no possible connection with the matter in hand. It seems better to take ποιητής in its common sense of “maker,” or “author,” and to suppose Dionysius to be thinking of this man, not simply as the prophet of evils to the city, but also as their author, in that he “moved and aroused against us the masses of the heathen.”283:2083
Of the various martyrs and confessors mentioned in this chapter, we know only what is told us by Dionysius in this epistle.283:2084
Heb. x. 34. Upon the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, see Bk. III. chap. 3, note 17; and upon Eusebius opinion in the matter, see Bk. III. chap. 25, note 1.283:2085
We know that the closing months of Philips reign were troubled with seditions in various quarters; but Dionysius is our only authority for this particular one, unless it be connected, as some think, with the revolt which Zosimus describes as aroused in the Orient by the bad government of Philips brother, who was governor there, and by excessive taxation (see Tillemont, Hist. des Emp. III. p. 272).283:2086
This refers to the death of Philip and the accession of Decius. The hostile edicts of the latter seem not to have been published until some months after his accession, i.e. early in 250. But his hostility to Christianity might have been known from the start, and it might have been understood that he would persecute as soon as he had attended to the other more important matters connected with his accession.284:2087
Matt. xxiv. 24. Eusebius reads σκανδαλίσαι; Matthew, πλανᾶθαι or πλανῆσαι284:2088
i.e. to sacrifice.284:2089
οἱ δὲ δημοσιεύοντες ὑπὸ τῶν πρ€ξεων ἤγοντο. Every officer of the government under the imperial regimen was obliged to sacrifice to the Gods upon taking office, and also to sacrifice at stated times during his term of office, and upon special occasions, or in connection with the performance of important official duties. He might thus be called upon in his official capacity frequently to offer sacrifices, and a failure to perform this part of his duties was looked upon as sacrilege and punished as a crime against the state. Christian officials, therefore, were always in danger of suffering for their religion unless they were allowed as a special favor, to omit the sacrifices, as was often the case under those emperors who were more favorably inclined toward Christianity. A private citizen was never obliged to sacrifice except in times of persecution, when he might be ordered to do so as a test. But an official could not carry out fully all the duties of his position without sacrificing. This is one reason why many of the Christians avoided public office, and thus drew upon themselves the accusation of a lack of patriotism (cf. Origen, Contra Cels. VI. 5 sq., and Tertullians Apol. c. 42); and it is also one reason why such Christians as happened to be in office were always the first to suffer under a hostile emperor.284:2090
Cf. Matt. xix. 23. This sentence shows that Dionysius did not consider it impossible even for those to be saved who denied Christ before enduring any suffering at all. He was clearly willing to leave a possibility of salvation even to the worst offenders, and in this agreed perfectly with Cornelius, Cyprian, and the body of the Roman and Carthaginian churches.284:2091
The Greek word μ€καρ means “blessed.”284:2093
ξυστῆρας. “The instrument of torture here mentioned was an iron scraper, calculated to wound and tear the flesh as it passed over it” (Crusè).284:2094
Rufinus adds at this point the words et alia Ammonaria (“and another Ammonaria”). Valesius therefore conjectures that the words καὶ ᾽Αμμον€ριον ἕτερα must have stood in the original text, and he is followed by Stroth and Heinichen. The mss., however, are unanimous in their omission of the words, and the second sentence below, which speaks of only a single Ammonarium, as if there were no other, certainly argues against their insertion. It is possible that Rufinus, finding only three women mentioned after Dionysius had referred to four, ventured to insert the “other Ammonaria.”284:2096
It has been suggested (by Birks in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.) that this Dioscorus may be identical with the presbyter of the same name mentioned in Bk. VII. chap. 11, §24. But this is quite impossible, for Dioscorus, as we learn from this passage, was but fifteen years old at the time of the Decian persecution, and Dionysius is still speaking of the same persecution when he mentions the presbyter Dioscorus in the chapter referred to (see note 31 on that chapter).285:2097
μαρτυρί& 139·. It is difficult to ascertain from Dionysius language whether these five soldiers suffered martyrdom or whether they were released. The language admits either interpretation, and some have supposed that the magistrate was so alarmed at what he feared might be a general defection among the troops that he dismissed these men without punishing them. At the same time it seems as if Dionysius would have stated this directly if it were a fact. There is nothing in the narrative to imply that their fate was different from that of the others; and moreover, it hardly seems probable that the defection of five soldiers should so terrify the judge as to cause him to cease executing the imperial decree, and of course if he did not execute it in the case of the soldiers, he could hardly do it in the case of others.