This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 9, chapter 5-7.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters describe the renewal of persecution against Christians under the tyrant Maximin.
Chapter 5 describes a forged memoir concerning Pilate that blasphemed Christ. The pagans widely distributed this false report and required teachers in schools to review it with their young students.
It is also relayed that a commander or dux compelled certain “infamous women” to claim to be former Christians and to spread false stories of lewd practices in the churches, which Maximin recorded in documents that were then widely published.
Chapter 6 begins by noting that this dux eventually paid for his sin by taking his own life.
Meanwhile, however, the persecution only increased.
Three were put to death in Emessa of Phoenicia, given to wild beasts, including Silvanus who had served as bishop for 40 years.
Peter of Alexandria was beheaded, alongside other Egyptian bishops.
Lucian, the presbyter of Antioch, stood before the emperor at Nicomedia, was imprisoned, and then put to death.
Maximin’s zeal made this persecution seem worse than the first.
Chapter 7 notes how Maximin set up brazen tablets in the cities describing petitions against the Christians and his ordinances in reply against them. All the while, children in the schools were still being taught from the forged memoirs regarding Pilate and Jesus.
Eusebius provides a translation of one of the ordinances posted at Tyre from Maximin, “the hater of God”, against Christians, in response to public petitions. In this tablet he commends the pagans for continuing to worship the immortal gods rather than be deceived by the Christians. He asserts that they will be protected and rewarded by Zeus for this. Those, like Christians, who fail to worship the gods put the city as risk for the failure of crops, defeat in war, and suffering under storms.
Such tablets were posted in every city and gloom came over the Christians. Just when the believers were about to despair, however, God, “the Champion of His own Church”, intervened.
The respite from the Diocletian persecution was short-lived. The reputations of Christians were smeared by false reports and even through indoctrination of children in school. Pagans were blaming Christians for things like crop failures, wars, and storms, because they did not worship the gods. Though disheartening, the believers endured and relief was just around the corner.