The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 67
This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the
Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could
design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made
stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole
Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
The Second Persecution, Under Domitian, A.D. 81
Among the numerous martyrs that suffered during this persecution was Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, who was crucified; and St. John, who was boiled in
oil, and afterward banished to Patmos. Flavia, the daughter of a Roman senator, was likewise banished to Pontus; and a law was made, "That no
Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion."
A variety of fabricated tales were, during this reign, composed in order to injure the Christians. Such was the infatuation of the pagans, that, if
famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces, it was laid upon the Christians. These persecutions among the Christians
increased the number of informers and many, for the sake of gain, swore away the lives of the innocent.
The Third Persecution, Under Trajan, A.D. 108
In the third persecution Pliny the Second, a man learned and famous, seeing the lamentable slaughter of Christians, and moved therewith to pity, wrote
to Trajan, certifying him that there were many thousands of them daily put to death, of which none did any thing contrary to the Roman laws worthy of
persecution. "The whole account they gave of their crime or error (whichever it is to be called) amounted only to this-viz. that they were accustomed
on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat together a set form of prayer to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an obligation-not
indeed to commit wickedness; but, on the contrary-never to commit theft, robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, never to defraud any man:
after which it was their custom to separate, and reassemble to partake in common of a harmless meal."
The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162
Marcus Aurelius, followed about the year of our Lord 161, a man of nature more stern and severe; and, although in study of philosophy and in civil
government no less commendable, yet, toward the Christians sharp and fierce; by whom was moved the fourth persecution.
The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the
intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc. upon
their points, others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised,
they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage that
several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude.
Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards
who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been
instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.
The second apology of Justin, upon certain severities, gave Crescens the cynic an opportunity of prejudicing the emperor against the writer of it;
upon which Justin, and six of his companions, were apprehended. Being commanded to sacrifice to the pagan idols, they refused, and were condemned to
be scourged, and then beheaded; which sentence was executed with all imaginable severity.
Several were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the image of Jupiter; in particular Concordus, a deacon of the city of Spolito.
etc etc etc.