Excerpt from:


(Ecclesiastical History)

by Eusebius

Translated by G. A. Williamson (1895-1960?)

Published by Dorset Press

About the Author: Eusebius (A.D. 263-339), a Greek Christian writer, was born in Palestine and educated at Caesarea, the city of which he later became bishop. A close friend of Emperor Constantine, the Greek Bishop Eusebius wrote the only surviving account of the Church during its first 300 years. Apart from this work we would know little of its rapid extension, its vitality, tribulation, persecutions, and martyrdoms. He deals with the ordeals of 146 martyrs, the teachings of 47 heretics, and the proceedings leading up to the major Councils, especially Nicea.

Editor's Notes: All material in brackets [...], including book/verse references, were added by the translator G. A. Williamson, and were originally footnotes. Explanatory items [1]-[3] are kept as front notes. Text in braces {...} was inserted by Robin Vogsland for clarity in this text excerpt.

Book 5

{Which covers the time...}


Front notes:

[1] A.D. 177: 'Antoninus Verus is presumably Marcus Aurelius.
[2] Most of the Gallic converts were emigrants from these areas.
[3] Thyestes ate his sons, Oedipus had children by his mother.

{Eusebius:} It was in the eighth year of his rule that Bishop Soter of Rome passed away. He was succeeded by Eleutherus, twelfth from the apostles, it being the seventeenth year of the Emperor Antoninus Verus.[1] At that period in some parts of the world the persecution of the Church flared up again more fiercely, and as the result of mob onslaughts in one city after another countless martyrs came to their glory, as can be gathered from what happened in a single province. Fortunately for posterity it was all written down, and it certainly deserves a permanent place in history. The entire document, containing a very full account of these things, has been inserted in my Collection of Martyrs. It contains not only the historical record but the lessons to be drawn from it. For the moment I will content myself with quoting such passages as are relevant to the present work.

Other historians have confined themselves to the recording of victories in war and triumphs over enemies, of the exploits of commanders and the heroism of their men, stained with the blood of the thousands they have slaughtered for the sake of children and country and possessions; it is peaceful wars, fought for the very peace of the soul, and men who in such wars have fought manfully for truth rather than for country, for true religion rather than for their dear ones, that my account of God's commonwealth will inscribe on imperishable monuments; it is the unshakable determination of the champions of true religion, their courage and endurance, their triumphs over demons and victories over invisible opponents, and the crowns which all this won for them at the last, that it will make famous for all time.


{Eusebius:} Gaul was the country in which the arena was crowded with these people. Her capital cities, famous and held in higher repute than any in the land, are Lyons and Vienne, both situated on the River Rhone, whose broad stream flows through the whole area. A written account of the martyrs was sent by the most important churches there to those of Asia and Phrygia, relating what had happened in their midst as follows--I will quote their own words:

{Gallic Letter:} The servants of Christ at Vienne and Lyons in Gaul to our brothers in Asia and Phrygia [2] who have the same faith and hope of redemption as we; peace, grace, and glory from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord [2 Peter 1:1-2].

{Eusebius:} Then, after completing their introductory remarks, they begin their story thus:

{Gallic Letter:} The severity of our trials here, the unbridled fury of the heathen against God's people, the untold sufferings of the blessed martyrs, we are incapable of describing in detail; indeed no pen could do them justice. The adversary swooped on us with all his might, giving us now a foretaste of his advent, which undoubtedly is imminent [2 Thess. 2:7-9]. He left no stone unturned in his efforts to train his adherents and equip them to attack the servants of God, so that not only were we debarred from houses, baths, and the forum; they actually forbade any of us to be seen in any place whatever. But against them the grace of God put itself at our head, rescuing the weak and deploying against our enemies unshakable pillars, [Gal. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:15] able by their endurance to draw upon themselves the whole onslaught of the evil one. These charged into the fight, standing up to every kind of abuse and punishment, and made light of their heavy load as they hastened to Christ, proving beyond a doubt that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the glory that is in store for us [Rom. 8:18].

To begin with, they heroically endured whatever the surging crowd heaped on them, noisy abuse, blows, dragging along the ground, plundering, stoning, imprisonment, and everything that an infuriated mob normally does to hated enemies. Then they were marched into the forum and interrogated by the tribune and the city authorities before the whole population. When they confessed Christ, they were locked up in jail to await the governor's arrival. Later, when they were taken before him and he treated them with all the cruelty he reserves for Christians, Vettius Epagathus, one of our number, full of love towards God and towards his neighbor, came forward. His life conformed so closely to the Christian ideal that, young as he was, the same tribute might be paid to him as to old Zacharias; he had scrupulously observed all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord [Luke 1:6], and was untiring in service to his neighbor, utterly devoted to God [Rom. 10:2], and fervent in spirit [Rom. 12:11; Acts 18:25]. As such he found the judgment so unreasonably given against us more than he could bear; boiling with indignation, he applied for permission to speak in defense of the Christians, and to prove that there was nothing godless or irreligious in our society. The crowd round the tribunal howled him down, as he was a man of influence, and the governor dismissed his perfectly reasonable application with the curt question, 'Are you a Christian?' In the clearest possible tones Vettius replied, 'I am.'

And he, too, was admitted to the ranks of the martyrs. He was called the Christians' advocate, but he had in himself the Advocate [paraclete, John 14:16], the Spirit that filled Zacharias [Luke 1:67], as he showed by the fullness of his love when he gladly laid down his own life in defense of his brother Christians [1 Thess. 2:8; John 3:16]. For he was and is a true disciple of Christ, following the Lamb wherever He goes [Rev. 14:4]

Then the rest fell into two groups. It was clear that some were ready to be the first Gallic martyrs; they made a full confession of their testimony with the greatest eagerness. It was equally clear that others were not ready, that they had not trained and were still flabby, in no fit condition to face the strain of a struggle to the death. Of these some ten proved stillborn, causing us great distress and inexpressible grief, and damping the enthusiasm of those not yet arrested. However, in spite of the agonies they were suffering, these people stayed with the martyrs and did not desert them. But at the time we were all tormented by doubts about their confessing Christ; we were not afraid of the punishments inflicted, but looking to the outcome and dreading lest anyone might fall away. But the arrests went on, and day after day those who were worthy filled up the number of the martyrs, so that from the two dioceses were collected all the active members who had done most to build up our church life. Among those arrested were some of our heathen domestics, as the governor had publicly announced that we were all to be hunted out. These were ensnared by Satan, so that fearing the tortures which they saw inflicted on God's people, at the soldiers' instigation they falsely accused us of Thyestean banquets and Oedipean incest [3] and things we ought never to speak or think about, or even believe that such things ever happened among human beings. When these rumors spread, people all raged like wild beasts against us, so that even those who because of blood-relationship had previously exercised restraint now turned on us, grinding their teeth with fury. So was proved true the saying of our Lord, 'The time will come when whoever kills you will think he is doing a service to God.' [John 16:2] From then on the holy martyrs endured punishments beyond all description, while Satan strove to wring even from them some of the slanders.

The whole fury of crowd, governor, and soldiers fell with crushing force on Sanctus, the deacon from Vienne; on Maturus, very recently baptized but heroic in facing his ordeal; on Attalus, who had always been a pillar and support [1 Tim. 3:15] of the church in his native Pergamum; and on Blandina, through whom Christ proved that things which men regard as mean, unlovely, and contemptible are by God deemed worthy of great glory [1 Cor. 1:28], because of her love for Him shown in power and not vaunted in appearance. When we were all afraid and her earthly mistress, who was herself facing the ordeal of martyrdom, was in agony lest she should be unable even to make a bold confession of Christ because of bodily weakness, Blandina was filled with such power that those who took it in turns to subject her to every kind of torture from morning to night were exhausted by their efforts and confessed themselves beaten--they could think of nothing else to do to her. They were amazed that she was still breathing, for her whole body was mangled and her wounds gaped; they declared that torment of any one kind was enough to part soul and body, let alone a succession of torments of such extreme severity. But the blessed woman, wrestling magnificently, grew in strength as she proclaimed her faith, and found refreshment, rest, and insensibility to her sufferings in uttering the words, 'I am a Christian; we do nothing to be ashamed of.'

Sanctus was another who with magnificent, superhuman courage nobly withstood the entire range of human cruelty. Wicked people hoped that the persistence and severity of his tortures would force hum to utter something improper, but with such determination did he stand up to their onslaughts that he would not tell them his own name, race, and birthplace, or whether he was slave or free; to every question he replied in Latin, 'I am a Christian.' This he proclaimed over and over again, instead of name, birthplace, nationality, and everything else, and not another word did the heathen hear from him. Consequently, the governor and his torturers strained every nerve against him, so that when they could think of nothing else to do to him they ended by pressing red-hot copper plates against the most sensitive parts of his body. These were burning, but Sanctus remained unbending and unyielding, firm in his confession of faith, bedewed and fortified by the heavenly fountain of the water of life that flows from the depths of Christ's being [John 7:38; 19:34]. But his poor body was a witness to what he had suffered--it was all one wound and bruise, bent up and robbed of outward human shape, but, suffering in that body, Christ accomplished most glorious things, utterly defeating the adversary and proving as an example to the rest that where the Father's love is [1 John 4:18] nothing can frighten us, where Christ's glory is [2 Cor. 8:23] nothing can hurt us. A few days later wicked people again put the martyr on the rack, thinking that now that his whole body was swollen and inflamed a further application of the same instruments would defeat him, unable as he was to bear even the touch of a hand; or that by dying under torture he would put fear into the rest. However, nothing of the sort happened; to their amazement his body became erect and straight as a result of these new torments, and recovered its former appearance and the use of the limbs; thus through the grace of Christ his second spell on the rack proved to be not punishment but cure.

Biblis again, one of those who had denied Christ, was handed over to punishment by the devil, who imagined that he had already devoured her [1 Peter 5:8] and hoped to damn her as a slanderer by forcing her to say wicked things about us, being--so he thought--a feeble creature, easily broken. But on the rack she came to her senses [2 Tim. 2:26], and, so to speak, awoke out of deep sleep, reminded by the brief chastisement of the eternal punishment in hell [Matt. 25:46]. She flatly contradicted the slanderers; 'How could children be eaten by people who are not even allowed to eat the blood of brute beasts?' [Acts 15:29] From then on she insisted that she was a Christian, and so she joined the ranks of the martyrs.

When the tyrant's instruments of torture had been utterly defeated by Christ through the endurance of the blessed saints, the devil resorted to other devices--confinement in the darkness of a filthy prison; clamping the feet in the stocks, stretched apart to the fifth hole; and the other agonies which warders when angry and full of the devil are apt to inflict on helpless prisoners. Thus the majority were suffocated in prison--those whom the Lord wished to depart in this way, so revealing His glory [John 2:2]. Some, though tortured so cruelly that even if they received every care it seemed impossible for them to survive, lived on in the prison, deprived of all human attention but strengthened by the Lord and fortified in body and soul, stimulating and encouraging the rest. But the young ones who had been recently arrested and had not previously undergone physical torture could not bear the burden of confinement, also died in prison.

Blessed Pothinus, who had been entrusted with the care of the Lyons diocese, was over ninety years of age and physically very weak. He could scarcely breathe because of his chronic physical weakness, but was strengthened by spiritual enthusiasm because of his pressing desire for martyrdom. Even he was dragged before the tribunal and though his body was feeble from age and disease, his life was preserved in him, that thereby Christ might triumph. He was conveyed to the tribunal by the soldiers, accompanied by the civil authorities and the whole populace, who shouted and jeered at him as though he were Christ Himself. But he bore the noble witness. When the governor asked him 'Who is the Christians' god?', he replied, 'If you are a fit person, you shall know.' Thereupon he was mercilessly dragged along beneath a rain of blows, those close by assailing him viciously with hands and feet and showing no respect for his age, and those at a distance hurling at him whatever came to hand, and all thinking it a shocking neglect of their duty to be restrained in savagery towards him, for they imagined that in this way they would avenge their gods. Scarcely breathing, he was flung into prison, and two days later he passed away.

Then occurred a great dispensation of God, and the infinite mercy of Jesus was revealed to a degree rarely known in the brotherhood of Christians, but not beyond the skill of Christ. Those who when the first arrests took place had denied Him were jailed with the others and shared their sufferings; on this occasion they gained nothing by their denial, for whereas those who declared what they were jailed as Christians, no other charge being brought against them, the others were further detained as foul murderers and punished twice as much as the rest. For the faithful were relieved of half their burden by the joy of martyrdom and hope of the promises, and by love towards Christ and the Spirit of the Father, but the unfaithful were tormented by their conscience, so that as they passed they could easily be picked out from the rest by the look on their faces. The faithful stepped out with a happy smile, wondrous glory and grace blended on their faces, so that even their fetters hung like beautiful ornaments around them and they resembled a bride adorned with golden lace elaborately wrought [Ps. 14:13]; they were perfumed also with the sweet savor of Christ [2 Cor. 2:15], so that some people thought they had smeared themselves with worldly cosmetics. The unfaithful were dejected, downcast, ill-favored, and devoid of charm; in addition they were jibed at by the heathen as contemptible cowards; they were accused of homicide, and had lost the honorable, glorious, life-giving name. The sight of this stiffened the resistance of the rest; those who were arrested unhesitatingly declared their faith without one thought for the devil's promptings. ...

From that time on, their martyrdoms embraced death in all its forms. From flowers of every shape and color they wove a crown to offer to the Father; and so it was fitting that the valiant champions should endure an ever-changing conflict, and having triumphed gloriously should win the mighty crown of immortality. Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were taken into the amphitheater to face the wild beasts, and to furnish open proof of the inhumanity of the heathen, the day of fighting wild beasts being purposely arranged for our people. There, before the eyes of all, Maturus and Sanctus were again taken through the whole series of punishments, as if they had suffered nothing at all before, or rather as if they had already defeated their opponent in bout after bout and were now battling for the victor's crown. Again they ran the gauntlet of whips, in accordance with local custom; they were mauled by the beasts, and endured every torment that the frenzied mob on one side or the other demanded and howled for, culminating in the iron chair which roasted their flesh and suffocated them with the reek. Not even then were their tormentors satisfied; they grew more and more frenzied in their desire to overwhelm the resistance of the martyrs, but do what they might they heard nothing from Sanctus beyond the words he had repeated from the beginning--the declaration of his faith.

In these two, despite their prolonged and terrible ordeal, life still lingered; but in the end they were sacrificed, after being made all day long a spectacle to the world [1 Cor. 4:9] in place of the gladiatorial contest in its many forms.

But Blandina was hung on a post and exposed as food for the wild beasts let loose in the arena. She looked as if she was hanging in the form of a cross, and through her ardent prayers she stimulated great enthusiasm in those undergoing their ordeal, who in their agony saw with their outward eyes in the person of their sister the One who was crucified for them, that He might convince those who believe in Him that any man who has suffered for the glory of Christ has fellowship forever with the living God. As none of the beasts had yet touched her she was taken down from the post and returned to the jail, to be kept for a second ordeal, that by victory in further contests she might make irrevocable the sentence passed on the crooked serpent [Is. 27:1] and spur on her brother Christians--a small, weak, despised woman who had put on Christ [Gal. 3:27] the great invincible champion, and in bout after bout had defeated her adversary and through conflict had won the crown of immortality.

Attalus too was loudly demanded by the mob, as he was a man of note. He strode in, ready for the fray, in the strength of a clear conscience, for he had trained hard in the school of Christ and had been one of our constant witnesses to the truth. He was led round the amphitheater preceded by a placard on which was written in Latin 'This is Attalus the Christian', while the people were bursting with fury against him. But when the governor was informed that he was a Roman, he ordered him to be put back in jail with the others, about whom he had written to Caesar and was awaiting instructions.

Their time of respite was not idle or unfruitful [2 Peter 1:8]; through their endurance the infinite mercy of Christ was revealed; for through the living the dead were being brought back to life, and martyrs were bestowing grace on those who had failed to be martyrs, and there was great joy in the heart of the Virgin Mother [the Church], who was receiving her stillborn children back alive; for by their means most of those who had denied their Master traveled once more the same road, conceived and quickened a second time, and learnt to confess Christ. Alive now and braced up, their ordeal sweetened by God, who does not desire the death of the sinner but is gracious towards repentance [Ez. 33; 2 Pet 3:9], they advanced to the tribunal to be again interrogated by the governor. For Caesar had issued a command that they should be tortured to death, but any who still denied Christ should be released; so at the inauguration of the local festival, at which all the heathen congregate in vast numbers, the governor summoned them to his tribunal, making a theatrical show of the blessed ones and displaying them to the crowds. After re-examination, all who seemed to possess Roman citizenship were beheaded and the rest sent to the beasts. Christ was greatly glorified in those who had previously denied Him but now confounded heathen expectation by confessing Him. These were individually examined with the intention that they should be released, but they confessed Him and so joined the ranks of the martyrs. Left outside were those who had never had any vestige of faith or notion of the wedding-garment [Matt. 22:2] or thought of the fear of God, but by their very conduct brought the Way into disrepute [Acts 19:9; 2 Peter 2:2]--truly the sons of perdition [John 17:12]. But the rest were all added to the Church [Acts 2:47, 5:14].

During their examination, Alexander, a Phrygian by birth and a doctor by profession, who had lived for many years in Gaul and was known to nearly everyone for his love of God and his boldness of speech [Acts 4:29]--he had a large measure of the apostolic gift--stood by the tribunal and gestured to them to confess Christ. To those surrounding the tribunal it was plain that he was suffering birth-pangs. But the crowds, furious that those who had hitherto denied Christ were now confessing Him, shouted against Alexander as the person responsible. The governor made him come forward and demanded to know who he was; when he replied, 'A Christian,' he lost his temper and condemned him to the beasts. The next day he entered the arena with Attalus, whom the governor, to gratify the mob, was again giving to the beasts. The two men were subjected to all the instruments of torture assembled in the amphitheater, and underwent a supreme ordeal. In the end they were sacrificed. Alexander uttered no cry, not so much as a groan, but communed with God in his heart, while Attalus, when he was put in the iron chair and was being burnt and the reek was rising from his body, called out to the spectators in Latin, 'Look! eating men is what you are doing; we neither eat men nor indulge in any malpractices.' When asked what name God had, he answered, 'God hasn't a name like a man.'

To crown all this, on the last day of the sports Blandina was again brought in, and with her Ponticus, a lad of about fifteen. Day after day they had been taken in to watch the rest being punished, and attempts were made to make them swear by the heathen idols. When they stood firm and treated these efforts with contempt, the mob was infuriated with them, so that the boy's tender age called forth no pity and the woman no respect. They subjected them to every horror and inflicted every punishment in turn, attempting again and again to make them swear, but to no purpose. Ponticus was encouraged by his sister in Christ, so that the heathen saw that she was urging him on and stiffening his resistance, and he bravely endured every punishment till he gave back his spirit to God. Last of all, like a noble mother who had encouraged her children and sent them before her in triumph to the King [2 Macc. 7:21-41], blessed Blandina herself passed through all the ordeals of her children and hastened to rejoin them, rejoicing and exulting at her departure as if invited to a wedding supper, [Rev. 19:9] not thrown to the beasts. After the whips, after the beasts, after the griddle, she was finally dropped into a basket and thrown to a bull. Time after time the animal tossed her, but she was indifferent now to all that happened to her, because of her hope and sure hold on all that her faith meant, and of her communing with Christ. Then she, too, was sacrificed, while the heathen themselves admitted that never yet had they known a woman suffer so much or so long.

Not even this was enough to satisfy their insane cruelty to God's people. Goaded by a wild beast [the devil], wild and barbarous tribes were incapable of stopping, and the dead bodies became the next object of their vindictiveness. Their defeat did not humble them, because they were without human understanding; rather it inflamed their bestial fury, and governor and people vented on us the same inexcusable hatred, so fulfilling the scripture, 'Let the wicked man be wicked still, the righteous man righteous still.' [Rev. 22:11] Those who had been suffocated in jail they threw to the dogs, watching carefully night and day to see that no one received the last offices at our hands. Then they threw out the remains left by the beasts and the fire, some torn to ribbons, some burnt to cinders, and set a military guard to watch for days on end the trunks and severed heads of the rest, denying burial to them also. Some raged and ground their teeth at them, longing to take some further revenge on them; others laughed and jeered, magnifying their idols and giving them credit for the punishment of their enemies; while those who were more reasonable, and seemed to have a little human feeling, exclaimed with the utmost scorn, 'Where is their god? [Ps. 42:3] and what did they get for their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?' Such were their varied reactions, while we were greatly distressed by our inability to give the bodies burial. Darkness did not make it possible, and they refused all offers of payment and were deaf to entreaty; but they guarded the remains with the greatest care, regarding it as a triumph if they could prevent burial. ....

Thus the martyrs' bodies, after six days' exposure to every kind of insult and to the open sky, were finally burnt to ashes and swept by these wicked men into the Rhône which flows near by, that not even a trace of them might be seen on the earth again. And this they did as if they could defeat God and rob the dead of their rebirth [Matt. 19:28], 'in order,' they said, 'that they may have no hope of resurrection--the belief that has led them to bring into this country a new foreign cult and treat torture with contempt, going willingly and cheerfully to their death. Now let's see if they'll rise again, and if their god can help them and save them from our hands.' [Dan. 3:15]

{Eusebius:} Such were the experiences of the Christian churches under Marcus Aurelius; from them one can easily guess what happened in the other provinces of the Empire.

Return to SERENDIPITY Page
Return to BOOKS Page