Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book VIII/Chapter 12
Chapter XII.—Many Others, both Men and Women, who suffered in Various Ways.
1. Why need we mention the rest by name, or number the multitude of the men, or picture the various sufferings of the admirable martyrs of Christ? Some of them were slain with the axe, as in Arabia. The limbs of some were broken, as in Cappadocia. Some, raised on high by the feet, with their heads down, while a gentle fire burned beneath them, were suffocated by the smoke which arose from the burning wood, as was done in Mesopotamia. Others were mutilated by cutting off their noses and ears and hands, and cutting to pieces the other members and parts of their bodies, as in Alexandria.
2. Why need we revive the recollection of those in Antioch who were roasted on grates, not so as to kill them, but so as to subject them to a lingering punishment? Or of others who preferred to thrust their right hand into the fire rather than touch the impious sacrifice? Some, shrinking from the trial, rather than be taken and fall into the hands of their enemies, threw themselves from lofty houses, considering death preferable to the cruelty of the impious.
3. A certain holy person,—in soul admirable for virtue, in body a woman,—who was illustrious beyond all in Antioch for wealth and family and reputation, had brought up in the principles of religion her two daughters, who were now in the freshness and bloom of life. Since great envy was excited on their account, every means was used to find them in their concealment; and when it was ascertained that they were away, they were summoned deceitfully to Antioch. Thus they were caught in the nets of the soldiers. When the woman saw herself and her daughters thus helpless, and knew the things terrible to speak of that men would do to them,—and the most unbearable of all terrible things, the threatened violation of their chastity,—she exhorted herself and the maidens that they ought not to submit even to hear of this. For, she said, that to surrender their souls to the slavery of demons was worse than all deaths and destruction; and she set before them the only deliverance from all these things,—escape to Christ.
4. They then listened to her advice. And after arranging their garments suitably, they went aside from the middle of the road, having requested of the guards a little time for retirement, and cast themselves into a river which was flowing by.
5. Thus they destroyed themselves. But there were two other virgins in the same city of Antioch who served God in all things, and were true sisters, illustrious in family and distinguished in life, young and blooming, serious in mind, pious in deportment, and admirable for zeal. As if the earth could not bear such excellence, the worshipers of demons commanded to cast them into the sea. And this was done to them.
6. In Pontus, others endured sufferings horrible to hear. Their fingers were pierced with sharp reeds under their nails. Melted lead, bubbling and boiling with the heat, was poured down the backs of others, and they were roasted in the most sensitive parts of the body.
7. Others endured on their bowels and privy members shameful and inhuman and unmentionable torments, which the noble and law-observing judges, to show their severity, devised, as more honorable manifestations of wisdom. And new tortures were continually invented, as if they were endeavoring, by surpassing one another, to gain prizes in a contest.
8. But at the close of these calamities, when finally they could contrive no greater cruelties, and were weary of putting to death, and were filled and satiated with the shedding of blood, they turned to what they considered merciful and humane treatment, so that they seemed to be no longer devising terrible things against us.
9. For they said that it was not fitting that the cities should be polluted with the blood of their own people, or that the government of their rulers, which was kind and mild toward all, should be defamed through excessive cruelty; but that rather the beneficence of the humane and royal authority should be extended to all, and we should no longer be put to death. For the infliction of this punishment upon us should be stopped in consequence of the humanity of the rulers.
10. Therefore it was commanded that our eyes should be put out, and that we should be maimed in one of our limbs. For such things were humane in their sight, and the lightest of punishments for us. So that now on account of this kindly treatment accorded us by the impious, it was impossible to tell the incalculable number of those whose right eyes had first been cut out with the sword, and then had been cauterized with fire; or who had been disabled in the left foot by burning the joints, and afterward condemned to the provincial copper mines, not so much for service as for distress and hardship. Besides all these, others encountered other trials, which it is impossible to recount; for their manly endurance surpasses all description.
11. In these conflicts the noble martyrs of Christ shone illustrious over the entire world, and everywhere astonished those who beheld their manliness; and the evidences of the truly divine and unspeakable power of our Saviour were made manifest through them. To mention each by name would be a long task, if not indeed impossible.
- The barbarous mutilation of the Christians which is spoken of here and farther on in the chapter, began, as we learn from the Martyrs of Palestine, in the sixth year of the persecution (a.d. 308). The tyrant Maximin seems to have become alarmed at the number of deaths which the persecution was causing, and to have hit upon this atrocious expedient as a no less effectual means of punishment. It was practiced apparently throughout Maximin’s dominions; we are told of numbers who were treated in this way, both in Egypt and Palestine (see Mart. Pal. chap. 8 sq.).
- This abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. It was entirely foreign to all the principles of Diocletian’s government, and could never have been allowed by him. It began apparently in Italy under Maximian, after the publication by him of the Fourth Edict (see Mart. Pal. chap. 3, note 2), and was continued in the East by Maximin, when he came into power. We have a great many instances given of this kind of treatment, and in many cases, as in the present, suicide relieved the victims of the proposed indignity.
- Eusebius evidently approved of these women’s suicide, and it must be confessed that they had great provocation. The views of the early Church on the subject of suicide were in ordinary cases very decided. They condemned it unhesitatingly as a crime, and thus made a decided advance upon the position held by many eminent Pagans of that age, especially among the Stoics. In two cases, however, their opinion of suicide was somewhat uncertain. There existed in many quarters a feeling of admiration for those who voluntarily rushed to martyrdom and needlessly sacrificed their lives. The wiser and steadier minds, however, condemned this practice unhesitatingly (cf. p. 8, above). The second case in connection with which the opinions of the Fathers were divided, was that which meets us in the present passage. The majority of them evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. Cf. Leckey’s History of European Morals, 3d edition (Appleton, New York), Vol. II. p. 43 sq.