Decius was the Roman emperor during the seventh persecution from 249-251. The emperor Decius, coming to the throne in what appeared to be a decaying empire was determined to restore the old Roman virtue and vigor. He regarded Christians as most dangerous and set out a deliberate policy to root out the menace to the state. The persecution was occasioned partly by the hatred he bore to his predecessor Philip, who was deemed a Christian and was partly by his jealousy concerning the amazing increase of Christianity; the heathen temples began to be forsaken, and the Christian churches thronged. These reasons stimulated Decius to attempt the very extirpation of the name of Christian; and it was unfortunate for the gospel that many errors had, about this time, crept into the church. The Christians were at variance with each other and self interest divided those whom social love ought to have united; the virulence of pride occasioned a variety of factions. This was the first really general persecution, the first attempt for the utter extirpation of Christianity.

In 249, imperial edicts were issued commanding all citizens of the empire to sacrifice to the gods. Those who obeyed were given certificates as evidence that they had complied. Christians were not singled out but the sacrifices were to be made by all, of whatever faith. Obviously however, the Christians were the chief sufferers, the pagans would not find their consciences troubled by compliance. For Christians, however, the issue was far more serious. To sacrifice would be apostasy, the unforgivable sin. Decius published an edict of general proscription aimed at destroying Christianity once and for all. It would be difficult to find language too strong to paint its horror. The ferocious instincts of the populace, long repressed, burst out anew, not only permitted but encouraged by the rulers.

Heathens in general were ambitious to enforce the imperial decrees and looked upon the murder of a Christian as merit to themselves. The martyrs were innumerable, they were decapitated, stoned and burned. Many of them were killed by not sacrificing to the Roman idols. Forty virgins were scourged and burnt after imprisonment at Antioch.

In the end the church proved too strong for the state. When Decius perished miserably in a morass during a war with the Goths, the persecution flickered out and faded away. There had been a host of martyrs but multitudes of weaker men and women had been terrified into apostasy, and the Church was now faced with the grave problem of "the lapsed," a problem that led to a serious division.

[14, 18, 23, 26, 68]

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