THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.

|239 CHAPTER 15: THE MARTYRS OF GAUL

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Denarius: Commodus

COMMODUS CO-EMPEROR, A.D. 177

Before considering the martyrdoms of Lugdunum and Vienne in 178, we may glance at the imperial background to our story. In 177 Marcus Aurelius elevated his son Commodus, who was now fifteen or sixteen years of age, to the position of co-emperor, with the title of Augustus. It was a disaster. He should have chosen a mature, experienced, and seasoned administrator as his successor. He was only fifty-six, but his philosophy should have taught him that even emperors are mortal. A third Marcomannic war broke out; the two emperors hastened to take command of the troops; and Marcus died of the plague at Sirmium at the age of fifty-nine.

A new plea for the Christians was presented to the two emperors by Athenagoras, a philosopher from Athens. He called his little book a Presbeia or 'Embassy', a word which suggests that he went on a journey to present it. The same word, in its verbal form, is used of the' embassy' of Irenaeus to the bishop of Rome in the following year. As it is unlikely that Athenagoras would pursue the emperors into the Balkans, we may assume that he waited on them in Rome early in 177. It is addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and best of all, philosophers.

Our first impression of this apology is that it continues faithfully along the lines which had been laid down by Justin. Our second is that it is written in a more moderate, learned and judicious manner. It is non-rhetorical. It aims apparently at giving a clear, dry, unemotional statement of the Christian case.
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|240 THE PRESBEIA OF ATHENAGORAS, A.D. 177

In his introduction Athenagoras deals briefly with the condemnation of the Christians by the Roman courts for the mere confession of a name, when no impartial inquiry has been made into the nature of Christianity. He feels that if Christians have actually committed crimes against the law, they should be charged with these crimes, and, if found guilty, condemned on that account. He refers to a law which is adverse to the Christians, and this falls in with Melito's allusion to 'new decrees'. The existence of such a law is demonstrated by a reference to it in the trial of Apollonius five years later. It would appear that no such law existed in the period of Trajan and Hadrian; and there is no reference to it under Antoninus. It must have been passed in the prin-cipate of Marcus. Perhaps the Presbeia of Athenagoras is an answer to it; if so, it is singularly academic for its purpose.

He then enumerates the common scandals which are circulated against the Christians. They are three in number, atheism, cannibal banquets and incestuous intercourse. He does not take the latter very seriously; his short book is mainly occupied with the charge of atheism.

He begins by outlining the Christian doctrine of God. It is a pure monotheism, towards which the Greek poets and philosophers have been feeling their way; it was fully revealed, however, in the Hebrew prophets. Athenagoras expresses the hope that the learned emperors have had time to read Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah. His view of the prophets suggests the theology of Montanism; they were like musical instruments in the hand of the Lord, and he made use of them to express his truth. He also agrees with Montanus in his stern disapproval of second marriages.

His doctrine of God and of the Logos is carefully related to the speculations of philosophy; it is also very cautious from the point of view of Christian theology. The one God creates through his Word and inspires men through his Spirit; but the unity of God must be preserved even though these distinctions of being are real. He actually anticipates the classical doctrine of the Trinity. Like Justin he mentions the army of the angels in close connexion with the Trinity; and like Justin he goes from this point to the Sermon on the Mount, and the injunction to love one's enemies. He is far more succinct than Justin, however; and this dry statement of the content of the faith, with the |241 addition of the duty of divine love, makes up his compendious summary of Christianity. His doctrine of daemons is given at a later point, when he is dealing with the deities of Greece and Rome, with whom, of course, they are identified.

He devotes a great deal of space to the polytheistic religion of the empire, which he criticizes, with considerable ability and learning, as absurd and immoral. This counter-attack is more and more the burden of Christian propaganda, both for the philosopher and the martyr, in the lecture room and in the courts of justice. It was, no doubt, the strongest and most effective line of argument. Christianity was persecuted because it attacked the religion of the empire; it was strong and confident because it reposed on a rational faith in one God, who had created the world by his 'reason', and inspired men by his Spirit. As we read the acts of the Gallican martyrs, we shall observe how every one of these points appears in their flesh-and-blood reality.

He deals very briefly with the charges of cannibalism and incest. He asks again for an impartial inquiry, and he assures the emperors of the prayers of the Christians on their behalf.
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THE LAWS AGAINST THE CHRISTIANS

There has been a certain amount of study recently on the subject of the persecutions, and it has been argued by some scholars that the last years of Marcus Aurelius, 177-80, were marked by a very severe official persecution which followed years of comparative peace. This theory has some truth in it, but it attempts to prove too much; and it calls for a rearrangement of the evidence which is not very easy to accept. The martyrdom of Polycarp, and the Epistle of Marcianus, in which it is described, are assigned to 177, and made part of the same empire-wide official persecution of Christians to which this theory attributes the Gallican martyrdoms of 177 or 178. The Apology of Melito in 176 foreshadows the approaching storm; new decrees have been issued. The Apology of Athenagoras in 177 refers to a definite law. In 178 the storm burst both in Smyrna and in Gaul.

Previous to this, the Christians were not seriously disturbed, it is claimed. There was a certain amount of what is called 'police action' from time to time, but that was all. This is a little too facile. The persecution of the early Christian church has been over-dramatized in |242 liturgy, literature and art; a process which began in the period of persecution itself, and has been consummated in the modern film; on the other hand, certain scholars and historians, beginning with the great Gibbon, have taken in hand to prove that the persecutions were negligible affairs.

It is difficult to make generalizations from sporadic evidence scattered over a century of history. It is clear that Christians might live for a number of years without molestation; but it is equally clear that once they admitted in a law-court that they were Christians, their life was not safe. On the other hand, if they abandoned their Christianity they were released. This state of affairs appears in Pliny about in and in Justin Martyr about 150-65. These are examples of 'police action'.

But persecution of another type broke out suddenly from time to time. There was uproar and disturbance and rioting and looting by the mob. There was also the ordeal of the arena as we see it in the case of Ignatius in 115, in whose letters it is perfectly plain that it was no strange thing. He knows exactly what to expect. And the same picture is given before his time by Clement, Hermas and Tacitus. Then there is the horrible orgy which was so graphically described in the case of Polycarp. We do not fully understand all the factors that contributed to these horrible demonstrations; an aboriginal festival with a contest to the death in devotion to some old myth? ancient emotional rituals by which human scapegoats atoned for communal sin? or simply a savage delight in blood and death and combat? Clement uses the word 'athlete' of the Christian martyr. Ignatius uses the word 'off-scourings', by which he means the human scapegoat. So does Paul. All the world's an arena to him.

Too little thought has been given to the psychology of the persecutors in this grisly question. Tertullian puts his finger on the point with his usual psychological accuracy. When calamity suddenly falls, or plague or famine or flood or war, the mob demands a victim, and will not be refused. Nominally it may be offered to the darker or more vindictive gods; but actually it is the fear and fury of the superstitious multitude that demands it. 'Persuade the mob', is what Statius Quadratus, Rome's proconsul, said to Polycarp.

The Roman authorities knew that the mob must be provided with these sacrifices from time to time, particularly at the prehistoric festivals of nature, when law was powerless for the time, and wretched slaves |243 or outcasts dressed as kings or gods were feted and mocked and murdered. The civic and imperial magistrates provided 'games' at these times, in which men fought with men, or beasts with beasts, or men and beasts together. Victims were provided in the name of the emperor; outlaws, or prisoners of war, or Christians. The proconsul was there to give the thing the emperor's sanction. He was unable sometimes to oppose the demands of the mob. In 129, the proconsul of Asia asked the Emperor Hadrian whether he should yield to 'popular clamour' in the case of Christians; it sounds as if he was referring to the scenes in the amphitheatre. The emperor did not like it.

Trajan had extended a measure of protection to Christians in the case of' police action'; Hadrian and Antoninus had extended it in the case of 'popular clamour'; but there was no absolute protection. The convicted and self-confessed Christian must die.

Why the 'name' itself should be a capital charge is an enigma. Christians were hated and feared. They were the enemies of gods and men, and of the whole civilization by which men lived their insecure lives. They were foreign and mysterious and secretive and unpatriotic. They would not give a grain of incense to the emperor's image. They were rebels, traitors and atheists. What happened in the years 175-8 was that such protection as had been given by imperial rescripts was relaxed. The great philosopher-emperor may have issued new decrees, in which it may be that the Christians were not actually named. « See R. M. Grant, The Sword and the Cross (New York, 1955), p. 87. It was decided, however, that they would be firmly dealt with. On the other hand, this view of the matter must not be made too much of; Aurelius was remembered in the Christian tradition as one of the good emperors who did not persecute.
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Amphitheatre, Lyons

THE GAMES AT LUGDUNUM, 1 AUGUST 178

The kind of tragedy which had occurred in Smyrna in 155 or 156 was repeated at Lugdunum, the modern Lyons, in the south of France, in 177 or 178. It was a great religious and imperial festival, a national one too, of old standing. The festival of the Three Gauls was celebrated annually on August 1 in honour of the divine emperor, whose month it was. It had been established in 12 B.C., but no doubt it was the |244 continuation of prehistoric rituals. It was a time of licence and violence in which the crowd was king. Nothing could be refused them.

In this case the mob was allowed to indulge in a wild hunt for Christians in the two cities of Lyons and Vienne, which are situated close together on the River Rhone. It was accompanied with every kind of violence, and with the plundering of Christian houses. Those who were discovered were taken before the 'chiliarch', or tribune and examined by him in the presence of the crowd and of the city authorities; if they confessed, they were put in prison to await the arrival of the proconsul. No doubt numbers of non-Christians suffered in these preliminary riots, in which many old scores may have been worked off.
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THE EXAMINATIONS; VETTIUS EPAGATHUS

The next stage was the examination before the proconsul, which also took place in public. A young Christian who was present in court, a neophyte apparently, named Vettius Epagathus, unable to bear the unfairness of the proceedings, stood up and made a defence on behalf of the brethren. It was not listened to, of course. He was simply asked if he was a Christian; and when he 'confessed' it, he was 'received into the portion of the martyrs', and nicknamed the 'paraclete of the Christians'.

The word paraclete means in general a champion or defender, and in particular, a legal counsel for the defence. It is the word used in St John's Gospel for the Holy Spirit which would come to the aid of the Christian in his hour of martyrdom (Mark xiii. 11). It is generally translated 'comforter', but more correctly 'advocate'. It was a keyword in the Phrygian prophecy, and this passage sheds light upon its use. A divine power, the Paraclete himself, had entered into Vettius Epagathus, and become in him the advocate of the Christians. For what was taking place was a battle between the powers of heaven and the powers of hell. The grace of God in the martyrs was conducting a counter-offensive (antistrategei) against the adversary of mankind; or, as we should say, in our less realistic way, the new religion was defying the old.

One notes, too, a certain system of tactics, and a certain vocabulary, which had been worked out on both sides. No doubt it was expected that the Spirit would move some Christian in court to stand up and |245 make a protest, as Lucius had done in the case of Ptolemaeus. It would not be right for the case to go undefended; the man who was giving his life for his faith must have comfort and help. Equally clearly it was the proconsul's part to make no real answer to the protest, but to put the incriminating question, 'Are you a Christian too?'

The answer 'I am a Christian' was sufficient in itself to incur the death penalty, but the martyrs were racked and tortured after their confession to get them to deny what they had confessed or to give further information, which was not necessary, except perhaps to incriminate others.
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THE TORTURE; SANCTUS THE DEACON

In addition to this, the servants of the Christians were seized and examined by torture, a legitimate process under the Roman law, as the evidence of slaves without torture could not legally be accepted. These slaves soon confessed that their Christian masters and mistresses indulged in cannibal feasts and unholy sexual lusts. This news inflamed the 'Gentiles' even more, and gave them grounds for still further investigations.

Meanwhile the imprisoned martyrs had been separated into two 'churches'; for a number of the captives had denied their faith. It did them very little good, for they were still open to the charges of murder and incest, for which evidence had now been found. They remained in prison, but had no communion with the faithful.

The faithful were then examined by torture. Sanctus, a deacon from Vienne, answered every question with the two Latin words, 'Christianus sum'. What is your name? they asked; Of what race? Of what city? Are you a slave? Or free? He made the same reply to each: 'Christianus sum', 'I am a Christian'. This form of defensive tactics was suggested of course by the tactics of the court with its demand for this incriminating reply; what else mattered? Sanctus endured every kind of torture without giving way. They applied red-hot brass to the most sensitive parts of his body, 'and these were indeed burned, but he stood erect and unshaken, firm in his confession, receiving a dew of refreshment and power from the heavenly well of the water of life which proceeds from the side of Christ'. In much the same language Ignatius, the pattern martyr, had prayed that his persecuted Syrian church might be refreshed with the dew of God. This idea of a supernatural coolness and |246 dew was drawn from the Septuagint version of Daniel's story of the three young Jews in the 'burning fiery furnace', a favourite theme in the literature and art of the period.

Sanctus came back to the prison with his whole body 'one entire wound and weal, contorted out of human shape'. After the wounds had stiffened, and blood-poisoning had set in, he went through the whole business again. He came back with his body straightened, and the use of his members restored, as if the second torture had been healing rather than torment.
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BLANDINA AND BIBLIAS

About Blandina, they were dubious. She was a slave-girl of poor and weak appearance. Her mistress, who was also among the martyrs, doubted whether she would go through with it; other slaves had made false confessions. She was tortured from morning till evening, till her whole body was torn and opened; it was a wonder that she lived; but her rest and refreshment and 'analgesia' was to repeat the blessed words, 'I am a Christian' and ,'Among us no evil thing is done.' Blandina, as events will show, was the greatest of them all, and may be regarded as the mother of French Christianity.

They began work then on those who had denied, in order to make them give evidence against those who had confessed. One of these, named Biblias, obviously another slave-girl, recovered herself during her torments by thinking on the eternal torment in hell, and spoke a word of truth, 'How would such as they eat children, when it is not lawful for them to eat even the blood of animals?' And she confessed herself a Christian, and was added to the portion of the martyrs. Inharmonious as it may be with the tenor of the narrative, we pause to note the interesting fact that this church in Gaul, with its Asian contacts, still kept the Jewish food-law which had been laid down in the Jerusalem council of A.D. 49. Evidence comes in from other quarters too that this was still the case.
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THE INNER PRISON; POTHINUS THE BISHOP

The martyrs were then moved into a completely dark and unpleasant part of the prison, and underwent such torments as minor officials, especially when angry and full of the devil, are wont to inflict upon |247 their prisoners. The majority of them died of suffocation. Those who had been badly tortured were the ones who endured it best. The new prisoners who had not endured any tortures were the ones who died soonest.

Among the newcomers was the bishop of Lyons, old Pothinus, now more than ninety years of age, who as a child could have heard St John. He had been hunted down and dragged before the tribunal, and had borne a good witness. When the proconsul had asked him who was the God of the Christians, he had replied, 'If thou art worthy, thou shalt know.' He was dragged away; he suffered many blows of fists and feet; they pelted him with missiles of all kinds; 'they all thought that it was a great sin and wickedness to omit any insult, for they all considered that they were avenging their gods'. He was hardly breathing when he was thrown into the prison, and he died in two days. We hear nothing about a bishop in Vienne; he had, perhaps, succeeded in concealing his place of retirement.

And now a great difference became apparent between those who had confessed, and those who had denied. Those who had denied were downcast and mournful; they were despised too by the 'Gentiles' as inglorious and unmanly. The martyrs, on the other hand, were refreshed by the joy of witness and the hope of the promises. Their joy was visible in their faces; they wore their chains like bridal ornaments; and they breathed forth the sweet savour of Christ, so that there were some who thought they had been anointed with actual ointment. In more modern words, they were in a high state of spiritual tension, and had achieved perfect morale.

It is a picture which we have not been privileged to see before, the long slow agonizing process of the 'perfecting' of the martyrs. Many martyrs, at this point, became unduly exalted, and assumed high spiritual authority; but these, we are told, were modest and humble. They would not allow themselves to be called martyrs. They were gentle to those who had denied, and, one by one, the majority of these were received into grace and 'learned how to confess'. 'They defended all and accused none; and as for those who administered the torments, they prayed for them, like Stephen the perfect martyr.' We are thus permitted to see how the accredited martyrs in their prison took on themselves the pastoral ministry of the presbyters, reconciling the lapsed, and restoring them to the 'virgin mother', as they called the |248 true church; and we can see how this might lead, in due course, to a claim on the part of the martyr to presbyteral rank; a claim which Hippolytus himself appears to concede.
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THE MONTANIST TOUCH; ALCIBIADES

The brotherhood in the prison, cut off from the world, acted as a church of God, having its own endowment of the Spirit. An interesting example was the case of Alcibiades, an ascetic who had been accustomed to lead a 'dismal life', never eating anything but bread and water. This perpetual fast he tried to keep up in prison; but his brother-martyrs advised him against it. Finally Attalus of Pergamum, after his first contest in the arena, had a revelation to the effect that Alcibiades was not doing well by refusing to use the creatures of God, and was leaving behind him an example which would prove a stumbling-block to others. Alcibiades was persuaded, and took part in the food of all, and gave thanks to God inasmuch as they were not unbishopped (anepiskeptoi) by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit being their counsellor; a sentence in which a reference to the sacrament of the eucharist seems to be enfolded.

It is not to be supposed, however, that there was no connexion at all with the outside world; or how could this inside story have been written? Somehow or other, Christian pertinacity and ingenuity found its way in with material and spiritual relief. It also found its way out with messages from the martyrs to the Christian world.
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THE EPISTLE OF THE MARTYRS

It was the time, Eusebius says (and we are following Eusebius here, who has preserved the Acts of these martyrs at great length), it was the time when, for the first time, the disciples of Montanus, Alcibiades and Theodotus, in the region of Phrygia, were winning a wide reputation for prophecy. We have seen that the Montanist crisis had reached just this stage; and it may be that the martyr Alcibiades of Gaul is the Montanist Alcibiades of Phrygia; for there was a close connexion between the two countries, and the brethren in Gaul were at this very time making their second contribution to the controversy by issuing a pious and orthodox judgement on the subject, as Eusebius says. With |249 this document, they sent various letters of martyrs who had been perfected among them, letters which they penned while actually in bonds, to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus who was then bishop of the Romans, sending an embassy (presbeuontes) on behalf of the peace of the churches. The man who carried these letters was Irenaeus, and Eusebius gives us the words in which he was recommended by the martyrs in their epistle.

Once more, and always, dear father Eleutherus, we pray that thou mayest be glad in God. This Epistle, we have charged our brother and companion Irenaeus to convey to thee, and we beseech thee to hold him in commendation as one who is zealous for the covenant of Christ; for if we knew that rank ever brought a man righteousness, we would have commended him first and foremost as a presbyter of the church, which office he holds.
(Eusebius, E.H. v, 4, 2.)

It would appear from the tone of this passage that the Epistle went out with some slight assumption of authority as a martyrs' communication to the church; yet it is friendly and even affectionate.

This is our first contemporary reference to Irenaeus. The letter which he carried cannot have been unfavourable to Montanism, and it was clearly anticipated that it would have a sympathetic reception in Rome. The phrase 'brother and companion' is taken from the opening verses of the Revelation, where it describes the apostolic and prophetic author who was enduring affliction for the word of God. The phrase 'zealous for the covenant' seems to be borrowed from the Maccabaean literature, which provided the church with model stories of persecution and martyrdom. It is curious that the day devoted to the Maccabaean martyrs in the old Roman calendar was August i, a commemoration which was afterwards changed to St Peter's chains; the Gallican persecution took place at a pagan festival, the high day of which was August 1.
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MATURUS AND SANCTUS

Every one of these men and women was destined to die. They came out of that dark hole into the broad daylight of the amphitheatre, where thousands of men and women and children were waiting to see them. The leaders among them were Sanctus, the deacon from Vienne; Maturus a neophyte, 'newly-illuminated'; and Attalus of Pergamum, |250 whose courage and steadiness had been their support throughout. There was also the marvellous Blandina, who may be said in modern terms to have stolen the show.

Maturus and Sanctus were put through the old series of torments for a third time. Then they passed along a line of men who lashed them with whips as they went by, this being the customary form of introduction into the arena. Then they met the wild beasts, and felt their claws and teeth. Meanwhile the crowd, mad with excitement, was howling out its demands. Then came the iron chair which was made red-hot to receive their bodies. At last their throats were cut.

Blandina had been tied crosswise to an upright stake, as food for the wild beasts, and she inspired the martyrs with her earnest prayer; for they kept up their faith by looking at her, and seemed to see in her the image of the one who had been crucified for them. None of the beasts would touch her, and she was taken down and reserved for another day.

Attalus too was remanded. He was led round the arena with a title carried in front of him in the Latin language: 'This is Attalus the Christian '; but the proconsul was informed that he was a Roman citizen, and he decided to refer his case to the emperor. It was during this further delay that the reconciliation of those who had formerly denied took place. There were, therefore, more martyrs than ever, and the cause of Christ was correspondingly glorified.
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ATTALUS AND HIS COMPANIONS

When the instructions of Marcus Aurelius arrived, they were to the effect that those who confessed were to be executed, and those who denied were to be released, thus sanctioning the mode of inquiry which Athenagoras had denounced as illogical. Those who were Roman citizens were to be beheaded; the others were to be given to the beasts. In spite of this grim news, the whole augmented body of martyrs stood firm.

While the further examination was going on, there was a physician from Phrygia named Alexander who stood by and encouraged the lapsed Christians who were now making their confession before the proconsul. He had lived in Gaul many years, and everybody knew his love for God and his boldness in the word; for he was not without his share of the apostolic charisma. He stood there encouraging the |251 Christians as they made their confessions of faith; indeed, they may well have been his patients and pupils. As he did this, nodding to each one in turn, the crowd began to shout against him, and the proconsul asked him who he might be. 'I am a Christian', he replied. Once more the solemn procedure of a Roman law court had been interfered with by the advocate of Christ.

On the next day the last martyrdoms took place. Attalus and Alexander went through the whole series of tortures before they were put to death. Alexander neither groaned nor complained, but conversed with God in his heart. Attalus, as he sat in the iron chair, and the air was filled with the stench of burning flesh, made the following observation in the Latin tongue: 'Look,' he said, 'what you are doing now is devouring men; but we neither eat men, nor do any other evil.'

Blandina was brought in with Ponticus, a boy of fifteen years of age, who had been brought every day to watch the punishment of the other Christians. He refused to save himself by sacrificing to idols. The crowd was wild with anger, and they were put through the whole round of tortures, omitting nothing, Blandina encouraging Ponticus until he died. She was then left alone 'like a noble mother' who had encouraged her children and sent them before her as conquerors to the king; and 'after the whips, after the wild beasts, after the iron chair, she was rolled in a net and thrown to a bull; and when she had been tossed by the bull, without having any sensation of what was happening to her, through the hope and understanding of those things in which she believed, and her converse with Christ, she too was killed; and even the Gentiles confessed that never a woman among them had suffered so many and such grievous things'.

The simile of the mother is obviously derived from the story of the mother who gave her seven sons as martyrs in the fourth book of the Maccabees.
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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THEIR WITNESS

So went Pothinus the aged bishop, Sanctus the heroic deacon, Maturus the neophyte, Attalus the strong and outstanding citizen, Vettius Epagathus the young aristocrat, Alexander the beloved physician, Blandina the poor little servant-girl, Ponticus the young and brave, Alcibiades the ascetic, and Biblias who had denied and come back to the faith, 'awaking as it were out of sleep'; and many more. A whole |252 community is created before our eyes as we read this painful record. We see an ancient polytheistic civilization, at a very low level of culture, subject to daemonic recurrences of pure savagery; its Roman piety and Greek philosophy was not strong enough or willing enough to cast out the daemon. It would take men and women with the spirit of martyrdom in them to do that.

Against this background we see a new kind of people, introducing a strange and foreign worship. They are called Christians. They live a good life, though they are accused of unmentionable crimes; they have the ordinary social virtues, as we recognize them today; but they have also a frightful courage which their enemies call obstinacy. This courage, they said, was due to a divine Spirit in them which was more than equal to the devilish spirit which animated their persecutors.

Their strange apocalyptic dreams of a better world to come were practical and true in a sense which they could not understand, but only hold on to by faith. They were before their times, as the saying is. They belonged to a new age, and a new world, and a new social order, which had not yet appeared but was to come. It would be established on this earth, as least to some degree, wherever the gospel of Christ infused men's minds; it was already established among them in their Christian fellowship by anticipation. If the dreams which they cherished sometimes seem to us to be too brightly coloured or too simply conceived, we must forgive them for that; the point is that they had a dream at all. Their faith was the faith of children, the wise Clement of Alexandria said. How far the intellectuals and mystics were ahead of them, the reader must judge.

The argument which Athenagoras had presented to Marcus Aurelius was the clearest intellectual summary so far of the ideology which created the tragic scenes in the arena. The monotheism which expressed itself in terms of reason and inculcated the gospel of love was pitting itself against the polytheism which expressed itself in terms of passion, and knew no final argument except force. The best emblem of Christianity in our whole century is the naked figure of the slave-girl Blandina, advancing without fear against the whips, the red-hot irons, and the wild beasts which were the weapons of those pagan gods in whom the philosophic Marcus Aurelius put his trust.
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|253 THE LOSS OF THE RELICS

There came then the usual strange contest over the bodies of the martyrs. The 'Gentiles' were in a condition of hysterical triumph. Those who died in the prison had been thrown to the dogs; but the fragments in the arena, the heads and trunks and limbs, charred or shredded as they were, they guarded night and day; 'and among us there was great lamentation because we could not cover the bodies with earth; night was no help to us, nor could money persuade or entreaty move'. For six days this suspense continued, and then the remains were burned by the Gentiles and the ashes swept into the River Rhône, which was in flood at the time; 'and this they did as if they could overcome God and deprive them of the rebirth: as they said themselves,"lest they should attain the hope of the resurrection in which they trust".'

This church, so sadly torn, needed a wise and fatherly bishop, a man with a missionary and pastoral spirit, firm, sympathetic and peaceful. They were fortunate in obtaining Irenaeus. And so the church of France was born; and for many centuries Lyons was the see of its primate.

The idea that Irenaeus himself composed the Acts of the Martyrs is only a modern guess. It may be so. Their memory was long preserved, and further names, with additional details, are to be found in later martyrologies. The day assigned to them in the 'Hierony mian' martyrology, strange to say, is 2 June.
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