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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

ABOUT this period Isdegerdes, the Persian king, kindled a war against the churches. The following was the cause of this war. There was a certain bishop named Abdas, who possessed many virtues: he was led by unrestrained zeal to destroy a Pyrœum, for so the Persians call the temples dedicated to fire, which they worship as a god. The emperor being informed of this act by the magi, sent for Abdas. At first he only reproved him in a kind manner, and desired him to re-erect the Pyrœum. Abdas having refused to obey, the emperor threatened to destroy all the Christian churches. He first ordered the holy man to be slain, and then proceeded to the demolition of the churches. I confess that the destruction of the Pyrœum was quite mis-timed. When the holy apostle went to Athens, and saw idolatry established in the city, he did not destroy any of the idolatrous altars, but, by his discourses to the citizens, he proved their folly, and made truth manifest to them. I, however, greatly admire the firmness of Abdas, in consenting to die rather than to re-erect the temple which he had destroyed, and I judge that he thereby merited a crown. Indeed it seems to me almost the same thing to erect a temple to fire, and to fall down and worship it as a deity. From this act of Abdas arose a tempest which raged with violence against all persons of piety, and which, lasted no less than thirty years: its violence and long duration were mainly occasioned by the magi. The Persians give the name of magi to those who attribute divinity to the elements of nature. I have exposed the fables which they hold in another work, with the answers proper to be given to all their questions. Upon the death of Isdegerdes, the kingdom and, as if by hereditary succession, the war against piety devolved upon his son Gororanes, who, at his death, transmitted both to his son. It is not easy to describe the various species of punishments which they invented to torture the faithful. Some had their hands flayed, and others their backs. Some had the skin torn off the face, from the forehead to the chin. Others had reeds, which had been split in half, fastened round their bodies, and bound on as tightly as possible from head to foot, then, each of the reeds was draped off with great force, bearing with it the adjacent skin. This operation occasioned great agony. The persecutors also dug pits, and filled them with mice; they then threw the pious defenders of the faith into these pits, after having first bound their hands and their feet, so that they could not drive off the animals. The mice, pressed by hunger, devoured their flesh, thus occasioning exquisite torture. Besides these cruelties, the persecutors devised and executed yet more barbarous punishments, which were suggested to them by the enemy of human nature and of truth. But nothing could shake the fortitude of these defenders of the faith. Some of them voluntarily surrendered themselves to the persecutors, desiring to receive the death which leads to immortal life. I shall relate the sufferings of two or three of these holy men, in order that their fortitude may convey an idea of that of the others. Hormisdas was descended from the illustrious race of Aclemenides, and was the son of a prefect. When the king heard that he was a, Christian, he sent for him, and desired him to deny God the Saviour. But he told the king, that this command was neither just nor expedient. “Whoever,” said he, “can be easily induced to contemn and to deny the God of the universe, would be much more easily persuaded to despise kings, who are but men, and by nature subject to death. If it be a crime deserving capital punishment, O king,” continued he, “to deny your power, how much more deserving of punishment is he who denies the Creator of all things.” The king instead of admiring the wisdom of this admirable speech, deprived him of his possessions and of his honours, and commanded him to take charge of the camels of the army. After many days had elapsed, the king, as he was looking through a window, caught sight of this great man, and perceived that he had become tanned by the heat of the sun, and that he was covered with dust. Remembering his illustrious parentage, the king sent for him, and ordered him to be attired in a linen tunic. Then, thinking that his mind would be subdued by his former labour, contrasted with the present kind treatment afforded him, he said to him, “Do not now persist in carrying on this contention, but renounce the Son of the carpenter.” Hormisdas, full of divine zeal, tore, in the presence of the king, the tunic which he had given him, and said to him, “If, by this present, you thought to seduce me from religion, take back your gift.” The king, perceiving his fortitude, banished him, naked as he was, out of the kingdom.

The king, discovering that Suenas, a wealthy man possessed of a thousand slaves, would not consent to deny his Creator, asked him which of his slaves was the most wicked. To this very slave the king gave authority over the whole family, and desired that he should be waited on by his master. He also gave the wife of Suenas in marriage to this slave, hoping by these means to subdue the faith of this defender of the truth. But this hope was frustrated, for Suenas had built his house upon a rock.

A certain deacon, named Benjamin, was seized, and cast into prison. Two years after, a Roman ambassador arrived in Persia, who was sent upon some special embassy. He heard of the imprisonment of the deacon, and entreated the king to release him. The king consented, on condition that Benjamin would promise not to instruct any of the magi in the Christian doctrines. The ambassador promised in his own name, that Benjamin would comply with this condition. But Benjamin, on hearing the declaration of the ambassador, exclaimed, “I cannot refrain from communicating: the light which I have received. The punishment of which those are worthy who hide their talents, is declared in the holy Gospel.” The king, not being aware that such a reply had been made by Benjamin, commanded him to be released from captivity. After he had been set at liberty, he continued as usual to seek out those who were in the darkness of ignorance, and to lead them to the light of truth. About a year after, the king was informed of these proceedings; he sent for him, and commanded him to deny the God whom he worshipped. He asked the king, what punishment would be merited by one of his subjects who should leave the kingdom, and prefer to dwell in some other region. The king; having answered that he would be worthy of death and of the greatest vengeance, this wise man said, “Of what punishment, then, is not that man worthy, who for sakes his Creator to make a god of one of his fellow-servants, and to render to him the worship which he owes to God?” The king was highly provoked at this reply, and he commanded twenty reeds to be forced up the nails of his hands and of his feet. But perceiving that he turned this punishment into ridicule, he ordered pointed reeds to be thrust into his private parts, which produced unspeakable agony. The generous defender of the faith was afterwards empaled, and in this condition he gave up his spirit. Numberless other barbarities were perpetrated by the Persians. It must not, however, be regarded as a matter of surprise, that these acts of cruelty and impiety were permitted by the Great Ruler of the universe; for, previous to the reign of the great emperor Constantine, all the Roman emperors furiously persecuted the defenders of truth. Diocletian also, on the day of the commemoration of our Saviour’s sufferings, demolished all the sacred edifices which were in the Roman empire. But nine years afterwards these churches were rebuilt in a far higher style of magnificence and grandeur than before, whereas Diocletian perished in his impiety. The wars in which the church was involved, and her subsequent victory, were predicted by our Lord. It is evident that war is more profitable to us than peace; for, while the one renders us effeminate, heedless, and timid, the other inspires us with vigilance, and with contempt for the things which are passing away. But we have frequently dwelt upon these topics in other works.








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