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Chapter III.

1. In the course of the second year, the persecution against us increased greatly. And at that time Urbanus 2633 being governor of the province, imperial edicts were first issued to him, commanding by a general decree that all the people should sacrifice at once in the different cities, and offer libations to the idols. 2634

In Gaza, a city of Palestine, Timotheus endured countless tortures, and afterwards was subjected to a slow and moderate fire. Having given, by his patience in all his sufferings, most genuine evidence of sincerest piety toward the Deity, he bore away the crown of the victorious athletes of religion. At the same time Agapius 2635 and our contemporary, Thecla, 2636 having exhibited most noble constancy, were condemned as food for the wild beasts.

2. But who that beheld these things would not have admired, or if they heard of them by report, would not have been astonished? For when the heathen everywhere were holding a festival and the customary shows, it was noised abroad that besides the other entertainments, the public combat of those who had lately been condemned to wild beasts would also p. 345 take place.

3. As this report increased and spread in all directions, six young men, namely, Timolaus, a native of Pontus, Dionysius from Tripolis in Phœnicia, Romulus, a sub-deacon of the parish of Diospolis, 2637 Pæsis and Alexander, both Egyptians, and another Alexander from Gaza, having first bound their own hands, went in haste to Urbanus, who was about to open the exhibition, evidencing great zeal for martyrdom. They confessed that they were Christians, and by their ambition for all terrible things, showed that those who glory in the religion of the God of the universe do not cower before the attacks of wild beasts.

4. Immediately, after creating no ordinary astonishment in the governor and those who were with him, they were cast into prison. After a few days two others were added to them. One of them, named Agapius, 2638 had in former confessions endured dreadful torments of various kinds. The other, who had supplied them with the necessaries of life, was called Dionysius. All of these eight were beheaded on one day at Cæsarea, on the twenty-fourth day of the month Dystrus, 2639 which is the ninth before the Kalends of April.

5. Meanwhile, a change in the emperors occurred, and the first of them all in dignity, and the second retired into private life, 2640 and public affairs began to be troubled.

6. Shortly after the Roman government became divided against itself, and a cruel war arose among them. 2641 And this division, with the troubles which grew out of it, was not settled until peace toward us had been established throughout the entire Roman Empire.

7. For when this peace arose for all, as the daylight after the darkest and most gloomy night, the public affairs of the Roman government were re-established, and became happy and peaceful, and the ancestral good-will toward each other was revived. But we will relate these things more fully at the proper time. Now let us return to the regular course of events.



Of Urbanus governor of Palestine, we know only what is told us in the present work (he is mentioned in this passage and in chaps. 4, 7, and 8, below) and in the Syriac version. From the latter we learn that he succeeded Flavianus in the second year of the persecution (304), and that he was deposed by Maximinus in the fifth year (see also chap. 8, §7, below), and miserably executed.


This is the famous fourth edict of Diocletian, which was issued in the year 304. It marks a stupendous change of method; in fact, Christianity as such is made, for the first time since the toleration edict of Gallienus, a religio illicita, whose profession is punishable by death. The general persecution, in the full sense, begins with the publication of this edict. Hitherto persecution had been directed only against supposed political offenders and church officers. The edict is a complete stultification of Diocletian’s principles as revealed in the first three edicts, and shows a lamentable lack of the wisdom which had dictated those measures. Mason has performed an immense service in proving (to my opinion conclusively) that this brutal edict, senseless in its very severity, was not issued by Diocletian, but by Maximian, while Diocletian was quite incapacitated by illness for the performance of any public duties. Mason’s arguments cannot be reproduced here; they are given at length on p. 212 sq. of his work. He remarks at the close of the discussion: “Diocletian, though he might have wished Christianity safely abolished, feared the growing power of the Church, and dared not persecute (till he was forced), lest he should rouse her from her passivity. But this Fourth Edict was nothing more nor less than a loud alarum to muster the army of the Church: as the centurions called over their lists, it taught her the statistics of her numbers, down to the last child: it proved to her that her troops could endure all the hardships of the campaign: it ranged her generals in the exact order of merit. Diocletian, by an exquisite refinement of thought, while he did not neglect the salutary fear which strong penalties might inspire in the Christians, knew well enough that though he might torture every believer in the world into sacrificing, yet Christianity was not killed: he knew that men were Christians again afterwards as well as before: could he have seen deeper yet, he would have known that the utter humiliation of a fall before men and angels converted many a hard and worldly prelate into a broken-hearted saint: and so he rested his hopes, not merely on the punishment of individuals, but on his three great measures for crushing the corporate life,—the destruction of the churches, the Scriptures, and the clergy. But this Fourth Edict evidently returns with crass dullness and brutal complacency to the thought that if half the church were racked till they poured the libations, and the other half burned or butchered, Paganism would reign alone forever more, and that the means were as eminently desirable as the end. Lastly, Diocletian had anxiously avoided all that could rouse fanatic zeal. The first result of the Fourth Edict was to rouse it.”

According to the Passio S. Sabini, which Mason accepts as in the main reliable, and which forms the strongest support for his theory, the edict was published in April, 304. Diocletian, meanwhile, as we know from Lactantius (de Mort. pers. 17) did not recover sufficiently to take any part in the government until early in the year 305, so that Maximian and Galerius had matters all their own way during the entire year, and could persecute as severely as they chose. As a result, the Christians, both east and west, suffered greatly during this period.


Agapius, as we learn from chap. 6, below, survived his contest with the wild beasts at this time, and was thrown into prison, where he remained until the fourth year of the persecution, when he was again brought into the arena in the presence of the tyrant Maximinus, and was finally thrown into the sea.


καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς Θέκλα. Thecla seems to be thus designated to distinguish her from her more famous namesake, whom tradition connected with Paul and who has played so large a part in romantic legend (see the Acts of Paul and Thecla in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, VIII. 487 sq., and the Dict. of Christ. Biog., s.v.). She is referred to again in chap. 6, below, but we are not told whether she actually suffered or not.


A city of Palestine, lying northwest of Jerusalem, and identical with the Lydda of Acts ix. 32 sq. For many centuries the seat of a bishop, and still prominent in the time of the crusades. The persons referred to in this paragraph are to be distinguished from others of the same names mentioned elsewhere.


To be distinguished from the Agapius mentioned earlier in the chapter, as is clear from the date of his death, given in this paragraph.


Dystrus was the seventh month of the Macedonian year, corresponding to our March. See the table on p. 403, below.


Diocletian and Maximian abdicated on May 1, 305. See above, Bk. VIII. chap. 13, note 16.


When Maxentius usurped the purple in Rome, in the year 306. See above, Bk. VIII. chap. 13, note 21.

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