It is the 13 of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 293. It is a rare journey to the Ante-Nicene church, that is, ante with an "e," meaning "before.” They weren't against the Nicene Creed. They were before it. So, this is the age from the apostles to 325 AD. Let's circle the year 293 by looking at the world, in our case, the Roman world in the second half of the 3rd century.
Rome had just celebrated its 1000 anniversary. Of course, it was a republic, and then an empire, and by this time, it was an empire with many enemies. Gothic tribes were dividing and conquering. Goths with names like Visigoths or Ostrogoths would wreak havoc on the borderlands of the empire. These many goths would, of course, have the last say when it came to the fall of Rome in a few centuries.
The Berber's were striking fear in the hearts of many in the empire as they were on the march from their North African homes into the southern regions of the empire. And Franks, Germans, Saxons, and others were similarly itching for new territories in the north and west.
Diversity, especially that which didn't value the Roman gods, was seen as a problem. The first widespread persecutions began under Emperor Decius in 249. He required all Romans to perform sacrifices to the Roman gods for his well-being. These sacrifices had to be witnessed by a government official who would sign a certificate which you could then be asked to produce by anyone in authority. Decius didn't last long, but soon, in 284, Diocletian would become emperor. Diocletian would be known as a rather remarkable administrator. Under his rule, the so-called "crisis of the third century" came to a close, and he effectively divided the empire into four administrative regions. And then the tetrarchy, a rule of four, helping restore stability to a reeling empire.
But his persecutions would be the first specifically to target Christianity. The irony is, of course, that by the end of his persecutions, Christianity would become the most popular religion in the region and Constantine, Nicea, and all that was on its way.
And it was in this context, of Christian Persecution in the late 3rd century, specifically in 293, that we remember the young woman, Aquilina, who is said to have been martyred on this day, the 13 of June in 293. Her story is relatively short. Aquilina was a young woman from Byblos. This city is in Lebanon, just north of the town of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast. This area had been evangelized early, likely by Peter and Paul, and had a relatively large Christian presence.
Aquilina was a pious young girl, known for her ability as a witness and as a preacher of the Gospel. Born in 283, she was still in single digits when she first became an evangelist. However, as the young woman grew famous for her piety, and after she is said to have helped convert a young girl, the local authorities took her under arrest.
She was given the opportunity to recant, and when she didn't, she was subjected to torture. The story goes that a heated rod was placed through her ears and brain. Thinking that she had died, she was thrown outside the city walls to be eaten by dogs. However, an angel appeared to her, and she awoke, only to confront the governor again and condemn him for his unbelief. She was sentenced to death, but before the executioner could decapitate her, it is said she was granted a dispensation and gave up her spirit before the sword reached her neck.
We can question the historicity of the account, but not the reality that these stories helped strengthen the faith of those who heard them. It is a remarkable story in that it is early. There are earlier martyrs, but martyrology was new in the era of Aquilina. The story of a young woman as an evangelist from the 3rd century is also worth noting. The church would continue to lift those, even of a lowly estate, as examples of the imitation of Christ. This would also help the message to spread amongst the ordinary people. Born in 283, Aquilina was only ordinary in her earthly estate. Today we remember her extraordinary faith and martyrdom, which took place on this, the 13 of June, in the year 293.
The reading for today is a quatrain from William Blake on martyrdom, from his work, "the Grey Monk."
For a tear is an intellectual thing;
And a sigh is the sword of an angel-king;
And the bitter groan of a martyr's woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13 of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who is also Anti-Nicean, but that's anti with an "i." The show is written and read by 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.