The Seventh Persecution, under Decius, 249 AD

Numerous persecutions took place during the reign of Decius. There was a vehement desire to exterminate Christians. One account of persecution involved chastity and unwavering faith in the face of seduction.

Beautiful but chaste Agatha

 It is the story of Agatha, a very beautiful woman who lived in Sicily. The governor of Sicily, Quintian, got so attracted to Agatha’s beauty that he made several attempts to be in love with her but it was to no avail. Next he conspired with Aphrodica, a promiscuous woman, to lure Agatha into an immoral life.

Aphrodica tried all she could to influence Agatha into prostitution but she failed. The evil conspirators could not understand the impregnable discipline and chastity of this attractive virgin. Unknown to them was the power of the Gospel in her heart which kept her from sin. That’s how a true believer is consecrated; he or she remains faithful even when sin becomes so attractive or luring. It is not so with some professed believers: they appear clean and innocent not because that’s what they truly are but because they haven’t had an opportunity to sin secretly, where no man can see them!

Quintian became frustrated over his failure to have Agatha. His lust turned into anger and resentment. When Agatha confessed she was a Christian Quintian  found an opportunity to frustrate and persecute her. Events that followed next, in Agatha’s life, was horrendous.

Agatha had her breasts cut. She was stripped naked and thrown on hot coals of fire which were mingled with glass. She was later taken to prison where she died on 5th February, 251 AD.

Soldiers defy an Order

In the same year Agatha died the emperor, Decius, ordered the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifices to idols in a pagan temple he had erected. Strangely, seven of his soldiers defied the order. This was not good for the emperor: their refusal clearly testified of the growing influence of Christianity. He decided to give them time to reconsider. He proceeded to attend an expedition giving the soldiers time to reflect on the grave offence they committed. However, after he left the soldiers escaped and went into hiding in a large cave. On his return the emperor was informed about the matter and the whereabouts of the soldiers. He ordered for the mouth of the cavern to be closed up with a huge stone. There the soldiers perished with hunger.

Origen the Theologian and Apologetic

Origen, known as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced”[1] taught  logic, cosmology and natural history. Although some of his teachings were controversial and considered heretic, he was a Christian scholar, theologian and apologetic[2] whose writings established fundamental principles of theology. Christian churches in  Palestine and Arabia regarded him as the ultimate authority on all matters of theology.

Famous writings of Origen include On The First Principles, Contra Celsum, and the Hexapla. In On the First Principles Origen established the fundamental principles of Christian theology. This became a very important work for Christian scholars. Contra Celsum  was a defense of Christianity against the pagan philosopher Celsum. In Origen Celsus met a mind that could challenge his wit. Thus, Contra Celsum became the most important reference work for early Christian apologetics. Hexapla  is a large volume of the Bible consisting of six columns. The columns compare the different languages into which Scripture was written. There is a column with the Hebrew text, another column with the Greek transliteration of it, and four other Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and a revised version of the Septuagint.

At the age of 64, in 250 AD, Origen fell in the hands of the persecutors. He got arrested and was so severely tortured. John Foxe wrote that Origen was “thrown into a loathsome prison, laden with fetters, his feet placed in the stocks, and his legs extended to the utmost for several successive days. He was threatened with fire, and tormented by every lingering means the most infernal imaginations could suggest.” It so happened that the Emperor Decius died around this time. His successor, Gallus, was engaged in a war which took some attention away from persecuting Christians. Origen retired to start living in Tyre where he shortly died from injuries he suffered from the tortures.

>The Eigth Persecution

[1] McGuckin, J.A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] An apologetic is a person who provides a formal or logical defence or justification for a belief or doctrine.

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