Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 THE Elder felt that his position, so to speak, had been
turned. His silence, however skilfully justified,
was useless—nay, it was worse than useless, for it had
brought this daughter of the Church, one for whom they
would all gladly have suffered, into terrible peril.
They had escaped for the time; but at what a cost, if
Rhoda was to be tortured!
He made a last effort to save her. "My lord," he said,
"I withdraw my refusal to speak. Any questions that
you or the prosecutor may put to me I will answer; and
what I say for myself, I say also for all the accused."
"What say you to this?" asked the Governor.
There was another brief consultation between the
advocate and Lucilius. Then the former rose.
"My lord, our interest, our only interest, is the
Our aim, and, I presume, the aim of all persons not
being criminal or hostile to the State, is that the
truth should be fully told, and amply confirmed.
Therefore we must have the best evidence that can be
procured, nor can we allow our private feelings to
hinder its forthcoming. Is it not a maxim of the law
that when slaves are at hand you do not use the
testimony of freemen, it being agreed that the truth is
more surely drawn forth by the more powerful
The Governor referred the point to his assessor, and
that official decided, though with evident reluctance,
that the contention was just.
Nothing now stood between the prisoner and her fate.
The instrument of torture was sent for. Whilst it was
being brought there was a terrible pause of expectation
in the court. Tacitus rose as if to leave the room,
but a whispered entreaty from the Governor made him
resume his seat. In the audience the agitation was
extreme. Several persons fainted; many, both men and
women, burst into uncontrollable weeping. The least
troubled of all was the girl herself. There was
something more than calm on her countenance; there
was exaltation—almost, it might be said, rapture.
Even as it had been with the judges of Stephen—for so
we learn from the confession of one of their number—those
 upon her saw her face "as it had been
the face of an angel."
The instrument of torture was something like a rack.
The savage humour which gives a half-comic name to these
hideous implements of cruelty had invented for it the
nickname of the "Little Horse." The resemblance lay
in the four beams, projecting from a timber frame, to
which the limbs of the sufferer were attached.
Before this was done the Governor ordered the court to
be cleared of all persons not immediately interested in
the trial. A few heartless creatures were probably
disappointed that their curiosity was not to be
gratified; but most of the spectators, however intense
their interest, felt the order to be a relief. Bion
and his wife claimed to be allowed to remain. It would
break their hearts to see such a sight, but their
presence might comfort the sufferer; and as she was
their slave, if not their daughter, their claim was, of
course, allowed. The elder Rhoda's whole thought was
centred on the desire to minister to this, the child
of her heart if not the child of her womb. Bion
watched what was done with a set, tearless face,
crushing down the wild impulse to fly to the sufferer's
rescue. Most of the spectators averted their eyes;
even Lucilius was seen to bury his face in a fold of
 The preparations were now complete, and the executioner
awaited the signal of the judge to commence his hideous
task. This was given by a gesture, and the man
immediately followed it up by the first turn of the
dreadful instrument. No one who was present that day
ever forgot the horrible creaking sound of the timbers,
mingled with a groan of the sufferer, forced from her
by the pain, but stifled almost as soon as uttered.
There was not a heart, not even of the ruthless
Lucilius, in which the blood did not curdle; not a
forehead on which the cold drops of sweat did not
The Governor thundered, in a voice such as had never
been heard to issue from his lips before: "Hold!"
The executioner, brutalized as he was by familiarity
with the horrid details of his office, was not sorry to
stay his hand.
The Governor went on: "The law has so far been
satisfied. The torture has been applied, and in my
judgment, which in this matter is final, has been
applied sufficiently. If the accused is now willing
to make confession, I will hear her."
Rhoda was unfastened from the rack. The executioner
assisted her to rise; but she could not stand, and the
Governor directed that a seat should be provided for
her. "Now," he said to the prosecutor, "put your
 "Are you one of the people that are called Christians?"
"Are you accustomed to assemble together?"
"We are so accustomed."
WITNESSING A GOOD CONFESSION
"On what days, and at what time?"
"Once in seven days at the least, and at other times
also. The hour of our assembling is before daybreak."
"And what do you at these gatherings?"
"We offer up prayers, and sing praises to God."
"To what god?"
"To God Almighty, who made the heavens and the earth,
and is the Father of all men."
"Who, then, is this Christus by whose name you are
"He is God."
"Then you worship two gods—the Father, of whom you
speak, and Christus?"
"Nay, for Christus is the Son of the Father, and they
two are one God. But ask me not to explain these
matters, for I am unlearned in them."
"Is there anything else that you do when you have
finished these prayers and hymns?"
"These being finished we depart to our own homes. But
in the evening of the same day we meet together and
have our Feast of Love."
 "With what preparations do you make this feast? With
what dainties in meat and drink is it furnished?"
"The preparation is of the very simplest; there is
nothing, indeed, beyond bread and wine."
"Why do you take such trouble to do that which is
easier done in your own homes?"
"Because it has been so commanded us by our Master,
that we may remember Him and His death for us, and may
also show forth the love by which we are bound one to
"Do you, then, all sit down together at this feast?"
"Yes, we all sit down; nor is there any distinction
made of rich and poor, bond and free."
"And do you bind yourselves by any oath?"
"Yes, if you will have it so, for this very feast is an
oath to us."
"And to what does this oath constrain you?"
"That we should neither kill, nor steal, nor commit
uncleanness, nor break a promise, nor refuse when
called upon to account for moneys committed to our
 "Does this oath concern at all the Emperor and the
"Only so far that we are bound to be loyal and
"Obedient in all things?"
"In all things that are lawful to us as followers of
the Lord Christ."
"I pray you, my lord, to take a note of this
reservation," said the prosecutor, addressing this
observation to the Governor. He then proceeded with
his examination of the prisoner. "Can you tell the
names of others who were accustomed to be present at
The girl hesitated for a moment when this question was
put to her. Then she spoke with a firm voice:
"Concerning myself I will speak the truth, nor seek to
conceal anything; but of others I am not free to
The Elder did not lose a moment in intervening at this
point. "Permit me, my lord," he said addressing the
Governor, "to admit for myself, and for all that are
here present with me that we are of the people called
The prosecutor proceeded with his examination of Rhoda.
"Can you tell us the names of others not here present?"
"Nay," interrupted the Governor; "on behalf of the
absent, whom the magistrate is always
 especially bound
to protect, I disallow that question."
The prosecutor then turned to the Elder: "Are you a
ruler among these people?"
"Yes, if you will have it so. I am, as it were, the
first among the brethren; but if they obey me it is of
their own free will."
"Yet they are accustomed to follow your advice?"
"Certainly; they are so accustomed."
"Do you know that his Excellency the Governor, by
command of our lord Trajan, issued an edict by which it
was forbidden to hold unlawful assemblies?"
"Yes, I knew that such an edict was issued."
"Did you, therefore, cease to hold your
assemblies?—though, indeed, seeing that you are year
to-day, I need scarcely ask this question."
"We did not cease to hold them."
"Was the matter debated among you?"
This was a difficult question to answer. The matter
had been debated, and that with considerable energy, in
the Christian community. Some, of a more timorous
spirit, had advised that the assemblies should cease;
but Anicetus had been firm for their continuance. It
would be a risk to hold them, for it might bring the
Church into conflict with the law; but the spiritual
 dangers of growing coldness, of want of
faith, of laxity of practice, that would follow on
their discontinuance, were, in his view, much more
serious. Prudent Christian that he was, and anxious
to avoid a conflict of which he could not see the end,
his voice had been given without hesitation for
disregarding the edict, or, at least, treating it as if
it did not apply. A division had followed. Some
members of the community had preferred to follow the
safer course. The majority had held with Anicetus,
and the assemblies had gone on without interruption.
Nothing, of course, remained for him now but to speak
"It was debated. We differed in opinion. I held
that the edict did not apply to us, and advised my
brethren accordingly. Some thought differently, and
came no more to our meetings."
This frank reply gave a very serious appearance to the
whole affair. It could hardly be otherwise regarded
than as an avowal of guilt, or at least of what was
guilt in the eye of Roman law. The Governor, who had
begun the inquiry with a feeling of tolerance, and had
become more and more favourably disposed to the accused
as it proceeded, was adversely impressed by it. He
seemed to see himself face to face with the invincible
obstinacy of which he had been warned. Still, he
would gladly have sheltered the accused if he could.
 His own private opinion was that the Emperor's
opposition to what were called secret societies was
over-strained and excessive. No trace of loose behaviour
or mischievous aims could be found in these people.
He was unwilling to condemn, and yet, in view of their
own admission, he could not acquit them. The only
thing that remained was to postpone the trial. If a
time for consideration were given, perhaps some
compromise might become possible. This accordingly was
the course on which he determined.
"I postpone this inquiry," he announced, "till the ides
of May [the 15th]. The prisoners will be released on
giving bail. The woman Rhoda will be delivered to her
master Bion, who will give sufficient surety for
producing her when she shall be required."
The court was then adjourned.