Chapter 52.—Whether We Should Believe What Some Think, That, as the Ten Persecutions Which are Past Have Been Fulfilled, There Remains No Other Beyond the Eleventh, Which Must Happen in the Very Time of Antichrist.
I do not think, indeed, that what some have thought or may think is rashly said or believed, that until the time of Antichrist the Church of Christ is not to suffer any persecutions besides those she has already suffered,—that is, ten,—and that the eleventh and last shall be inflicted by Antichrist. They reckon as the first that made by Nero, the second by Domitian, the third by Trajan, the fourth by Antoninus, the fifth by Severus, the sixth by Maximin, the seventh by Decius, the eighth by Valerian, the ninth by Aurelian, the tenth by Diocletian and Maximian. For as there were ten plagues in Egypt before the people of God could begin to go out, they think this is to be referred to as showing that the last persecution by Antichrist must be like the eleventh plague, in which the Egyptians, while following the Hebrews with hostility, perished in the Red Sea when the people of God passed through on dry land. Yet I do not think persecutions were prophetically signified by what was done in Egypt, however nicely and ingeniously those who think so may seem to have compared the two in detail, not by the prophetic Spirit, but by the conjecture of the human mind, which sometimes hits the truth, and sometimes is deceived. But what can those who think this say of the persecution in which the Lord Himself was crucified? In which number will they put it? And if they think the reckoning is to be made exclusive of this one, as if those must be counted which pertain to the body, and not that in which the Head Himself was set upon and slain, what can they make of that one which, after Christ ascended into heaven, took place in Jerusalem, when the blessed Stephen was stoned; when James the brother of John was slaughtered with the sword; when the Apostle Peter was imprisoned to be killed, and was set free by the angel; when the brethren were driven away and scattered from Jerusalem; when Saul, who afterward became the Apostle Paul, wasted the Church; and when he himself, publishing the glad tidings of the faith he had persecuted, suffered such things as he had inflicted, either from the Jews or from other nations, where he most fervently preached Christ everywhere? Why, then, do they think fit to start with Nero, when the Church in her growth had reached the times of Nero amid the most cruel persecutions; about which it would be too long to say anything? But if they think that only the persecutions made by kings ought to be reckoned, it was king Herod who also made a most grievous one after the ascension of the Lord. And what account do they give of Julian, whom they do not number in the ten? Did not he persecute the Church, who forbade the Christians to teach or learn liberal letters? Under him the elder Valentinian, who was the third emperor after him, stood forth as a confessor of the Christian faith, and was dismissed from his command in the army. I shall say nothing of what he did at Antioch, except to mention his being struck with wonder at the freedom and cheerfulness of one most faithful and steadfast young man, who, when many were seized to be tortured, was tortured during a whole day, and sang under the instrument of torture, until the emperor feared lest he should succumb under the continued cruelties and put him to shame at last, which made him dread and fear that he would be yet more dishonorably put to the blush by the rest. Lastly, within our own recollection, did not Valens the Arian, brother of the foresaid Valentinian, waste the catholic Church by great persecution throughout the East? But how unreasonable it is not to consider that the Church, which bears fruit and grows through the whole world, may suffer persecution from kings in some nations even when she does not suffer it in others! Perhaps, however, it was not to be reckoned a persecution when the king of the Goths, in Gothia itself, persecuted the Christians with wonderful cruelty, when there were none but catholics there, of whom very many were crowned with martyrdom, as we have heard from certain brethren who had been there at that time as boys, and unhesitatingly called to mind that they had seen these things? And what took place in Persia of late? Was not persecution so hot against the Christians (if even yet it is allayed) that some of the fugitives from it came even to Roman towns? When I think of these and the like things, it does not seem to me that the number of persecutions with which the Church is to be tried can be definitely stated. But, on the other hand, it is no less rash to affirm that there will be some persecutions by kings besides that last one, about which no Christian is in doubt. Therefore we leave this undecided, supporting or refuting neither side of this question, but only restraining men from the audacious presumption of affirming either of them.