History of Christian Martyrs to the First
General Persecutions Under Nero
Christ our Savior, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who, first of all other, openly acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, and perceiving the secret hand of His Father therein, called
him (alluding to his name) a rock, upon which rock He would build His Church
so strong that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. In which
words three things are to be noted: First, that Christ will have a Church
in this world. Secondly, that the same Church should mightily be impugned,
not only by the world, but also by the uttermost strength and powers of
all hell. And, thirdly, that the same Church, notwithstanding the uttermost
of the devil and all his malice, should continue.
Which prophecy of Christ we see wonderfully to be verified, insomuch
that the whole course of the Church to this day may seem nothing else but
a verifying of the said prophecy. First, that Christ hath set up a Church,
needeth no declaration. Secondly, what force of princes, kings, monarchs,
governors, and rulers of this world, with their subjects, publicly and
privately, with all their strength and cunning, have bent themselves against
this Church! And, thirdly, how the said Church, all this notwithstanding,
hath yet endured and holden its own! What storms and tempests it hath overpast,
wondrous it is to behold: for the more evident declaration whereof, I have
addressed this present history, to the end, first, that the wonderful works
of God in His Church might appear to His glory; also that, the continuance
and proceedings of the Church, from time to time, being set forth, more
knowledge and experience may redound thereby, to the profit of the reader
and edification of Christian faith.
As it is not our business to enlarge upon our Savior's history, either
before or after His crucifixion, we shall only find it necessary to remind
our readers of the discomfiture of the Jews by His subsequent resurrection.
Although one apostle had betrayed Him; although another had denied Him,
under the solemn sanction of an oath; and although the rest had forsaken
Him, unless we may except "the disciple who was known unto the high-priest";
the history of His resurrection gave a new direction to all their hearts,
and, after the mission of the Holy Spirit, imparted new confidence to their
minds. The powers with which they were endued emboldened them to proclaim
His name, to the confusion of the Jewish rulers, and the astonishment of
I. St. Stephen
St. Stephen suffered the next in order. His death was occasioned by
the faithful manner in which he preached the Gospel to the betrayers and
murderers of Christ. To such a degree of madness were they excited, that
they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. The time when he
suffered is generally supposed to have been at the passover which succeeded
to that of our Lord's crucifixion, and to the era of his ascension, in
the following spring.
Upon this a great persecution was raised against all who professed their
belief in Christ as the Messiah, or as a prophet. We are immediately told
by St. Luke, that "there was a great persecution against the church
which was at Jerusalem;" and that "they were all scattered abroad
throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles."
About two thousand Christians, with Nicanor, one of the seven deacons,
suffered martyrdom during the "persecution that arose about Stephen."
II. James the Great
The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History
of the Apsotles' Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother
of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german
to the Virgin Mary. It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen
that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been
appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with
them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined
to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders. The account given
us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be
overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser
was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle's extraordinary courage
and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing
himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown
of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus
did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup,
which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink. Timon and Parmenas
suffered martyrdom about the same time; the one at Philippi, and the other
in Macedonia. These events took place A.D. 44.
Was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee and was first called by the name of
"disciple." He labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered
martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison,
and afterwards crucified, A.D. 54.
Whose occupation was that of a toll-gatherer, was born at Nazareth.
He wrote his gospel in Hebrew, which was afterwards translated into Greek
by James the Less. The scene of his labors was Parthia, and Ethiopia, in
which latter country he suffered martyrdom, being slain with a halberd
in the city of Nadabah, A.D. 60.
V. James the Less
Is supposed by some to have been the brother of our Lord, by a former
wife of Joseph. This is very doubtful, and accords too much with the Catholic
superstition, that Mary never had any other children except our Savior.
He was elected to the oversight of the churches of Jerusalem; and was the
author of the Epistle ascribed to James in the sacred canon. At the age
of ninety-four he was beat and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his
brains dashed out with a fuller's club.
Of whom less is known than of most of the other disciples, was elected
to fill the vacant place of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then
Was the brother of Peter. He preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations;
but on his arrival at Edessa he was taken and crucified on a cross, the
two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground. Hence the derivation
of the term, St. Andrew's Cross.
VIII. St. Mark
Was born of Jewish parents of the tribe of Levi. He is supposed to have
been converted to Christianity by Peter, whom he served as an amanuensis,
and under whose inspection he wrote his Gospel in the Greek language. Mark
was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria, at the great solemnity
of Serapis their idol, ending his life under their merciless hands.
Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to
death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; (Webmasters Note - To
many of us, there is no proper proof that Peter ever even visited ROME,
let alone LIVED and DIED there.) albeit some others, and not without cause,
do doubt thereof. Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter
to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter
with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity
at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate,
he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said,
"Lord, whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I
am come again to be crucified." By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering
to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified,
his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because
he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner
as the Lord was.
Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail
and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also
in this first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declareth that under his
execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring
him word of his death. They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired
him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly
after they should believe and be baptised at His sepulcher. This done,
the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution,
where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword.
The brother of James, was commonly called Thaddeus. He was crucified
at Edessa, A.D. 72.
Preached in several countries, and having translated the Gospel of Matthew
into the language of India, he propagated it in that country. He was at
length cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.
Called Didymus, preached the Gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting
the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through
with a spear.
The evangelist, was the author of the Gospel which goes under his name.
He travelled with Paul through various countries, and is supposed to have
been hanged on an olive tree, by the idolatrous priests of Greece.
Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even
in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74.
The "beloved disciple," was brother to James the Great. The
churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira,
were founded by him. From Ephesus he was ordered to be sent to Rome, where
it is affirmed he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by
miracle, without injury. Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of
Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Nerva, the successor of
Domitian, recalled him. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.
Was of Cyprus, but of Jewish descent, his death is supposed to have
taken place about A.D. 73.
And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible
punishments, the Church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine
of the apostles and of men apostolical, and watered plentously with the
blood of saints.
END CHAPTER I
To Introduction - Foxe's Book Of Martyrs
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