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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

MAXENTIUS, the son of Maximian, who had established his government at Rome, in the commencement, pretended indeed, by a species of accommodation and flattery towards the Romans, that he was of our faith. He, therefore, commanded his subjects to desist from persecuting the Christians, pretending to piety with a view to appear much more mild and merciful than the former rulers. But he by no means proved to be in his actions such as he was expected. He sunk into every kind of wickedness, leaving no impurity or licentiousness untouched; committing every species of adultery and fornication, separating wives from their lawful husbands, and after abusing these, sending them thus most shamefully violated back again to their husbands. And these things he perpetrated not upon mean and obscure individuals, but insulting more particularly the most prominent of those that were most distinguished in the senate. Whilst he was thus dreaded by all, both people and magistrates, high and low were galled with a most grievous oppression; and though they bore this severe tyranny quietly, and without rebellion, it produced no relief from his murderous cruelty. On a certain very slight occasion, he gave up the people to be slaughtered by the prætorian guards, and thus multitudes of the Roman people were slain in the very heart of the city, not with the arrows and spears of the Scythians or barbarians, but of their own fellow-citizens. It would be impossible to tell what slaughter was made of the senators merely for the sake of their wealth, thousands being destroyed on a variety of pretexts and fictitious crimes. But when these evils had reached their greatest height, the tyrant was induced to resort to the mummery of magic. At one time he would cut open pregnant females; at another he would examine the bowels of new-born babes; sometimes he was slaughtering lions and performing every kind of execrable acts, to invoke the demons, and to avert the impending war. For all his hope now was that victory would be secured to him by these means. It is impossible then to say, in what different ways this cruel tyrant oppressed his subjects, so that they were already reduced to such extreme want and scarcity, such as they say has never happened at Rome, or elsewhere in our time. But Maximums, who was sovereign of the east, as he had secretly formed an alliance with Maxentius, his true brother in wickedness at Rome, designed to conceal his designs as long as possible. But being at length detected, he suffered the deserved punishment. It was wonderful how nearly allied, and similar, rather how vastly beyond the tyranny of the Roman, were the cruelties and crimes of this tyrant. The first of impostors and jugglers were honoured by him with the highest rank. He became so extremely timorous and superstitious, and valued the delusion and supposed influence of demons above all, so that he was hardly able to move his finger, one might say, or undertake any thing without soothsayers and oracles. Hence, also, he assailed us with a more violent and incessant persecution than those before him. He ordered temples to be erected in every city, and those that had been demolished by time, he commanded in his zeal to be renewed. Priests of the idols he established in every place and city; and over these a high priest in every province, some one of those who had been particularly distinguished for his skill in the management of political affairs, adding a military guard. He granted to all his jugglers the same reverence as if they were the most pious and acceptable to the gods, freely bestowing on them governments, and the greatest privileges.

And from this time forth he began to vex, not merely a single city or region, but all the provinces under him, by exactions of silver and gold and money, by the most oppressive seizures and confiscations of property, in different ways and on various pretexts. Despoiling the wealthy of the substance inherited from their fathers, he bestowed vast wealth and heaps of money upon the flatterers around him. And he had now advanced to such a pitch of rashness, and was so addicted to intoxication, that, in his drunken frolics he was frequently deranged and deprived of his reason, like a madman; so that what he commanded when he was intoxicated, he afterwards regretted when he became sober. But determined to leave no one his superior in surfeiting and gluttony, he presented himself a fit master of iniquity to the rulers and subjects around him; initiating the soldiers, by luxury and intemperance, into every species of dissipation and revelling, encouraging the governors and generals, by rapacity and avarice, to proceed with their oppressions against their subjects, with almost the power of associate tyrants. Why should I mention the degrading and foul lust of the man? Or why mention his innumerable adulteries? There was not a city that he passed through in which he did not commit violence upon females. And in these he succeeded against all but the Christians. For they, despising death, valued his power but little.

The men bore fire, sword, and crucifixions, savage beasts, and the depths of the sea, the maiming of limbs, and searing with red hot iron, pricking and digging out the eyes, and the mutilations of the whole body. Also hunger, and mines, and prisons; and after all they chose these sufferings for the sake of religion, rather than transfer that veneration and worship to idols which is due to God only. The females, also, no less than the men, were strengthened by the doctrine of the divine word; so that some endured the same trials as the men, and bore away the same prizes of excellence. Some, when forced away, yielded up their lives rather than submit to the violation of their bodies.

The tyrant having fully gratified his lust on others at Alexandria, his unbridled passion was defeated by the heroic firmness of one female only, who was one of the most distinguished and illustrious at Alexandria, and she was a Christian. She was in other respects distinguished both for her wealth, and family, and condition, but esteemed all as inferior to modesty. Having frequently made attempts to bring her over to his purposes, though she was prepared to die, he could not destroy her, as his passion was stronger than his anger; but, punishing her with exile, he took away all her wealth. Many others, also, unable to bear even the threats of violation from the rulers of the heathen, submitted to every kind of torture, the rack and deadly punishment. Admirable, indeed, were all these; but far above all most admirable, was that lady who was one of the most noble and modest of those whom Maxentius, in all respects like Maximinus, attempted to violate. For when she understood that the minions of the tyrant in such matters, had burst into the house (for she was also a Christian), and that her husband, who was the prefect of Rome, had suffered them, to carry her off, she requested but a little time, as if now for the purpose of adorning her body: she then entered her chamber, and when alone thrust a sword into her breast. Thus, dying immediately, she indeed left her body to the conductors; but in her deeds, more effectually than any language, she proclaimed to all who are now and will be hereafter, that virtue, which prevails among Christians, is the only invincible and imperishable possession. Such, then, was the flood of iniquity which rushed on at one and the same time, and which was wrought by the two tyrants that swayed the east and the west. And who can inquire into the cause of such evils, and hesitate to affirm that the persecution against us was the fountain of them all? especially as the confusion of the empire, which prevailed to a great extent, did not cease before the Christians received full liberty of conscience to profess their religion.








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