Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eusebius on the Persecution of Gallic Christians by the "Tolerant" Pagans

In his Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Eusebius writes:

{Gallic Letter:} The severity of our trials here, the unbridled fury of the heathen against God's people, the untold sufferings of the blessed martyrs, we are incapable of describing in detail; indeed no pen could do them justice. The adversary swooped on us with all his might, giving us now a foretaste of his advent, which undoubtedly is imminent [2 Thess. 2:7-9]. He left no stone unturned in his efforts to train his adherents and equip them to attack the servants of God, so that not only were we debarred from houses, baths, and the forum; they actually forbade any of us to be seen in any place whatever. But against them the grace of God put itself at our head, rescuing the weak and deploying against our enemies unshakable pillars, [Gal. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:15] able by their endurance to draw upon themselves the whole onslaught of the evil one. These charged into the fight, standing up to every kind of abuse and punishment, and made light of their heavy load as they hastened to Christ, proving beyond a doubt that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the glory that is in store for us [Rom. 8:18].

To begin with, they heroically endured whatever the surging crowd heaped on them, noisy abuse, blows, dragging along the ground, plundering, stoning, imprisonment, and everything that an infuriated mob normally does to hated enemies. Then they were marched into the forum and interrogated by the tribune and the city authorities before the whole population. When they confessed Christ, they were locked up in jail to await the governor's arrival. Later, when they were taken before him and he treated them with all the cruelty he reserves for Christians, Vettius Epagathus, one of our number, full of love towards God and towards his neighbor, came forward. His life conformed so closely to the Christian ideal that, young as he was, the same tribute might be paid to him as to old Zacharias; he had scrupulously observed all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord [Luke 1:6], and was untiring in service to his neighbor, utterly devoted to God [Rom. 10:2], and fervent in spirit [Rom. 12:11; Acts 18:25]. As such he found the judgment so unreasonably given against us more than he could bear; boiling with indignation, he applied for permission to speak in defense of the Christians, and to prove that there was nothing godless or irreligious in our society. The crowd round the tribunal howled him down, as he was a man of influence, and the governor dismissed his perfectly reasonable application with the curt question, 'Are you a Christian?' In the clearest possible tones Vettius replied, 'I am.'

And he, too, was admitted to the ranks of the martyrs. He was called the Christians' advocate, but he had in himself the Advocate [paraclete, John 14:16], the Spirit that filled Zacharias [Luke 1:67], as he showed by the fullness of his love when he gladly laid down his own life in defense of his brother Christians [1 Thess. 2:8; John 3:16]. For he was and is a true disciple of Christ, following the Lamb wherever He goes [Rev. 14:4]

Translated by G. A. Williamson (1895-1960?). Published by Dorset Press. Source

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