Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.
From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:
- Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
- Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
- Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
- Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
Last week we continued looking at the Ninth Persecution Under Aurelian, A.D. 274. It was a brief look, Emperor Aurelian was killed by his own brothers a short while after taking the throne. This week begins a look at The Tenth Persecution, Under Diocletian, A.D. 303. All the previous persecutions were the warm-up for persecution under Diocletian. It was the worst of all. His desire to revive the old pagan religions led to what was to be a massive persecution of Christians, but the last major persecution in the Roman Empire.
Foxe continues the story-
Under the Roman emperors, commonly called the Era of the Martyrs, was occasioned partly by the increasing number and luxury of the Christians, and the hatred of Galerius, the adopted son of Diocletian, who, being stimulated by his mother, a bigoted pagan, never ceased persuading the emperor to enter upon the persecution, until he had accomplished his purpose.
The fatal day fixed upon to commence the bloody work, was the twenty-third of February, A.D. 303, that being the day in which the Terminalia were celebrated, and on which, as the cruel pagans boasted, they hoped to put a termination to Christianity. On the appointed day, the persecution began in Nicomedia, on the morning of which the prefect of that city repaired, with a great number of officers and assistants, to the church of the Christians, where, having forced open the doors, they seized upon all the sacred books, and committed them to the flames.
The whole of this transaction was in the presence of Diocletian and Galerius, who, not contented with burning the books, had the church levelled with the ground. This was followed by a severe edict, commanding the destruction of all other Christian churches and books; and an order soon succeeded, to render Christians of all denomination outlaws.
The publication of this edict occasioned an immediate martyrdom, for a bold Christian [name currently unknown] not only tore it down from the place to which it was affixed, but execrated the name of the emperor for his injustice. A provocation like this was sufficient to call down pagan vengeance upon his head; he was accordingly seized, severely tortured, and then burned alive.
All the Christians were apprehended and imprisoned; and Galerius privately ordered the imperial palace to be set on fire, that the Christians might be charged as the incendiaries, and a plausible pretence given for carrying on the persecution with the greater severities. A general sacrifice was commenced, which occasioned various martyrdoms. No distinction was made of age or sex; the name of Christian was so obnoxious to the pagans that all who bore that name received no mercy from them. Many houses were set on fire, and whole Christian families perished in the flames; and others had stones fastened about their necks, and being tied together were driven into the sea. The persecution became general in all the Roman provinces, but more particularly in the east; and as it lasted ten years, it is impossible to ascertain the numbers martyred, or to enumerate the various modes of martyrdom.
Racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison, and famine, were made use of in various parts to dispatch the Christians; and invention was exhausted to devise tortures against such as had no crime, but thinking differently from the votaries of superstition.
Romans 1:30 says that the angry unsaved are inventors of evil, and the persecutions certainly bear witness to the truth of this verse from God's word.
We owe such a great debt to the ones who passed before us. Their reliance on the Holy Spirit for boldness sets such a wonderful example. Would I be so bold as to refuse to bow to the Emperor and tear down the edict, knowing tortures await? No. But in Him, I can do all things. (Philippians 4:13). The martyrs actually did.
Praise the Lord for raising up martyrs whose momentary affliction cannot be compared to the joy set before them. (2 Corinthians 4:17). I want to know the name of the Bold Christian who face the wrath of the Roman Empire, knowing the eternal love of God outweighs man's momentary anger. Such faith!
"and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)