It is the 2nd of June 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Let’s talk about persecution- of course, one person's persecution might be another’s idea of justice. One might feel they are being persecuted when in fact, they are reaping the consequences of their actions.
But there is no doubt that Jesus taught us that persecution for his sake would come. In some places, it still exists in its most literal sense- loss of life and limb for declaring that Jesus is Lord. It can exist in a myriad of ways. Still, here on the Christian History Almanac, we are interested in its origins- in the stories that come from the reigns of Nero and Decius and the horrors that took place on this, the 2nd of June in the year 177 in modern Lyon in France.
We know the first persecutions of Christians came from unbelieving Jewish people, and the very early church is not so much the church vs. the world but the church vs. the synagogue. Under Nero, around A.D. 60, we do have Christians mentioned as teaching a “new and mischievous superstition,” and they were amongst (but not alone) in getting the blame and suffering the brutal consequences.
Under Trajan around 112, we have the letters of Pliny complaining of the obstinate Christians, but it was the Emperor who cautioned restraint. Similarly, the emperor Hadrian warned against seeking out the persecution of Christians. Most emperors wanted peace above all else- it isn’t until the reign of Marcus Aurelius that we begin to see some of the commonplaces of the early Christian martyr motif. After 161, we see Christians as increasingly unpopular amongst the populace and blamed for any natural disasters, and accused of gross immorality. This gave Emperor Aurelius the cover to persecute Christians- but more importantly, seize their land and money. And it was one of the first of these that took place on this, the 2nd of June in Lyon. And how do we know about it? A guy called Eusebius and his Ecclesiastical History (I love it when shows fall together like this).
Eusebius tells the story of the Lyon Martyrs in “their own words.” That is- he attributes this section (book 5, section I) as coming from external reports. It is the story of Matures, Sanctus, Blandina, and others who were arrested and accused of cannibalism (they eat the body and blood?) And incest (they call one another brother and sister and are said to have love feasts). One esteemed Military leader objected to the baseless claims but was asked if he himself was a Christian, too. He replied he was and was added to the order of the persecuted.
They were tortured in order to exact confessions and learn of others in hiding. Some refused to confess that they were Christians but were jailed just the same. It was with a particular zeal that the authorities went after those who were steadfast in their confession. Sanctus would only respond to questions with the response, “I am A Christian,” a “red hot brazen plate” was fastened to “the most tender parts of his body.” It is said his extreme suffering emboldened others. One was Blandina, a young and frail slave girl whom some thought couldn’t withstand much. But she is said to have had her strength renewed throughout the torture such that she was ultimately one of the few who were taken to the amphitheater to be suspended on a stake and torn apart by wild animals. It was said her body appeared stretched as if on a cross which encouraged the other Christians. She was put on a burning hot chair, thrown in a net in front of the bull, and ultimately stabbed to death. While 48 are said to have lost their life- the faith and brutal treatment of the slave girl would live on in Church history through Eusebius and others. She would be one of the few early female martyrs mentioned by name. Today we remember her and the other 47 who died for their faith, as told to us by the church historian Eusebius.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, back in 2 Timothy, and appropriate for today.
12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of June 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that both red hot brazen plates and hot Gillespie coffee should be kept from “the most tender parts of the body.” He is Christopher Gillespie at Gillespie.coffee.
The show is written and read by a man who is not technically a martyr- but being a Clippers and Angels fan sometimes feels like it- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.