THE Governor's advisers did their best to deepen the
adverse impression made upon his mind by the frank
admission of the Elder. The philosophical Tacitus was
especially urgent in his advice that this "execrable
superstition," as he called it, should be rooted out.
With others of the more thoughtful Roman statesmen, he
saw quite plainly that this new faith was really the
enemy of the old system of the Empire, and would
destroy it if it were not itself destroyed. It was
generally the best Emperors who were the persecutors of
the Church. A weak tyrant might happen to indulge in
some outbreak of caprice or cruelty; but the steady,
systematic hostility—the hostility that was really
dangerous—came from vigorous rulers: from such men as
Aurelius, and Decius, and Diocletian. Tacitus
accordingly was, even vehemently, on the side of
severity; and Pliny, who always leaned on the stronger
character of his friend, resolved to follow his advice.
 Something like a reign of terror followed in Nicæa and
the neighbourhood. A regular inquisition was made of
all who were known or suspected to be Christians. The
informers (who, as we know, had already been at work)
became more busy than ever. Long lists of accused
persons were drawn up, and, as usual at such times,
private spite and malice found their opportunity. A
jealous lover put down the name of a rival on the list,
and a debtor thought it a good way of ridding himself
of a troublesome creditor. As lists were received even
without being signed, or with signatures about which no
inquiry was made, scarcely any one could consider
It was a formidable array of prisoners that was
gathered on the day of the adjourned trial in the
public hall of Nicæa, no room in the Governor's palace
being sufficiently large to receive them. On this
occasion all spectators were excluded, and the
approaches to the hall were strongly guarded with
troops. Within, the arrangements for the trial were
much the same as before, except that an officer of the
local military force sat below the bench occupied by
the Governor and his assessors, in charge of a bust of
the Emperor; and that a small movable altar had been
arranged in front, with a brazier full of lighted coals
Anicetus and his companions, who had been
 arraigned on
the occasion already described, were first called to
answer to their names. Their cases would, it was
thought, take but little time, for they had already
confessed to the fact of being Christians. The only
question was, Would they adhere to that confession or
We sometimes think that all the Christians of those
early times, when the profession of the faith was never
a mere matter of inheritance or fashion, were true to
their Master in the face of all dangers, and under the
pressure of the worst tortures. But this is a
delusion. Human nature was weak then, as now. Men
fell away under temptation, either because they had not
a firm enough grasp of the truth which they professed,
or because there was some weakness—it may be, some
cherished sin—in them that sapped their strength.
Sometimes, one can hardly doubt, God, for his own good
purposes, suffered even His faithful servants to fall
away from Him for a time. St. Paul hints as much
when, describing his career as a persecutor in his
defence before Festus and Agrippa, he says "he
compelled" the objects of his hatred "to blaspheme."
And we know that
 some of the bitterest and fiercest
controversies of the early Church concerned the
treatment of the lapsi, as they were called—those who
had fallen away from their profession. One would
gladly draw a veil over the weakness of these unhappy
creatures, but to do so would make the picture of the
time less faithful.
The first prisoner called upon for his answer by the
Governor was the Elder. He, at all events, did not
show the faintest sign of yielding.
The Governor addressed him: "You declared when you
were last brought before me that you were a Christian.
Do you still abide by that declaration?"
"I do," said the old man, in an unfaltering voice.
"Are you willing to burn incense to the likeness of our
sovereign lord Trajan?"
"I am not willing."
"Not when I impose upon you the duty of thus proving
that you are a loyal citizen?"
"Loyal I am, nor can any man prove that I have erred in
this respect; but this I refuse."
"You refuse, then, to obey the commands of the Emperor
The Governor produced a parchment, from
 which, after
kissing it, he read these words: "I enjoin on my
lieutenants and governors of provinces throughout the
Empire that at their discretion they demand of all who
may be accused of the Christian superstition that they
burn incense to my likeness, by which act they will
show their respect—not indeed to me, who am no better
than other men—but to the majesty of the Empire."
He then went on: "In virtue of this authority, I
command that you burn incense to the divine Trajan."
"If I must choose between two masters, I cannot doubt
to prefer the Master who is in heaven. I refuse to
"You are condemned of treason out of your own mouth,"
said the Governor.
"Nevertheless," returned the old man, resolute, like
St. Paul, in asserting all lawful rights,
"nevertheless, I appeal unto Cæsar."
"The appeal is allowed," said Pliny, "though I doubt
whether it will much avail you."
The next prisoner called upon to answer was the old
knight Antistius. The course of questions and answers
was nearly the same as that which had been already
described. The courage of Antistius faltered as
little as that of his teacher and spiritual guide had
done. From these two the infection of courage spread
to the rest. Not
 one of the first batch of prisoners
proved weak or faithless. They were, indeed, the most
zealous, the most devoted, of the community—its chiefs
and leaders, and they showed themselves worthy of their
But when the miscellaneous multitude that had been
collected on the strength of the informations sent in
to the Governor came to answer for themselves, all did
not meet the test as well. Some had practically
ceased to belong to the Church for many years; some
had been excluded from it for conduct inconsistent with
their profession; others had never belonged to it
except in name—some passing fancy had attracted them,
but they had shrunk back from the self-denial, the
discipline, the strictly temperate rule of life which
had been demanded of them. These had no difficulty in
performing the acts enjoined upon them by the Governor.
They threw the incense on the coals that were burning
in the brazier with a careless gesture, repeating
indifferently as they did so the formula: "Honour and
worship to the divine Trajan and to all the gods who
protect the city and Empire of Rome." They were almost
as indifferent when they went on to satisfy the second
test imposed upon them, and to curse the name of
Christ. But these careless or reckless apostates—if
they are to be so called—were but few in
 number. Many
were reluctant to perform the idolatrous acts enjoined
upon them; many shrank still more from the blasphemy
which they were constrained to utter. The young
Phrygian slave who has been described as accusing Verus
to the Church was one of those whose courage failed
them in this hour of trial. His was a weak nature,
which curiously exemplified the famous saying in the
"Odyssey"—that he who takes from a man his freedom,
takes from him also half his manhood. Perhaps a finer
temper would have disdained to play the part of the
informer, even though this was done neither for revenge
nor gain, but simply to serve (as he thought) the cause
of the Church. Whatever the cause, he had a grievous
fall, which Verus, of course, watched with malignant
pleasure. At first it seemed as if his courage would
hold out. When he was called upon to answer, he stood
erect and answered with a firm voice, though his face
was deadly pale and his limb could seem to tremble.
"Are you of the people who call themselves Christians?"
asked the Governor.
"I am," said the young man.
"You make that answer deliberately, and after
reflection? Take time to consider."
The poor creature seemed to feel that reflection would
hardly serve to confirm his resolution, and he answered
at once, "I do."
 "The accused has confessed his crime. Let him be
removed and dealt with after the manner of slaves."
When he heard these words a terrible vision of the
punishment which they implied flashed across the young
man's vision. He had seen a fellow-slave crucified a
few days before. It was the wretched Lycus, the
cupbearer, whose place he had taken on the memorable
occasion of the banquet at which Verus was present.
Sosicles, his master, had found that he had been guilty
of a long career of thefts, and, enraged because the
property stolen was lost beyond recovery, had
pitilessly ordered him to the cross. From early dawn
till late in the evening—when a feeling of weariness,
rather than of compassion, had made Sosicles put an end
to his sufferings—he had hung in torture. I would not
describe those long hours of agony, even if I could.
The young Phrygian had witnessed them. His master had
compelled him to be present during the greater part of
the day. "Go and see what your accursed folly may
bring you to. It was, you tell me, your Master's
fate—this Christus whom you are mad enough to worship;
and it will be yours unless you take good heed. Judge
for yourself how you would like it."
Sosicles spoke out of a certain regard—selfish,
 indeed, but still genuine—for the young man. He was diligent,
sober, honest, and it would, he thought, be a grievous
pity to lose him for some hare-brained fancy; and lose
him he would to a certainty if this threatened movement
against the Christians should come to anything.
It seemed now as if his worldly wisdom was not to fail
of its effect. The terror of that thought, the horrors
of the scene—every one of which memory seemed to bring
up before the young man in a moment, and that with a
hideous fidelity—overpowered him. "Hold, my lord," he
cried, "I have reconsidered; I will obey your
Excellency's command and offer the incense."
He took the pinch of incense from the plate and threw
it on the fire, muttering as he did so the prescribed
formula of words.
"You are wise in time," said the Governor; "you may
stand down. Take heed that you do not repeat this
folly, or it will not go so easily with you."
"May I speak, my lord?" said Verus, who saw with rage
and disgust that his promised revenge was slipping out
of his grasp.
"Speak on," said Pliny, who loathed the man, but could
not refuse his request.
"Your lordship is aware that many who do not refuse to
burn incense are unwilling to curse
 the name of their
Master, as they call Him. I submit that the more
effectual test should be applied to the accused."
"Let it be so," said the Governor.
One of the clerks of the court read out a formula which
the wretched young man was to repeat after him. He
"I, having been accused of impiety and of neglect of
the ancient gods, and of following after strange
superstitions, hereby curse as a malefactor and
He had gone so far, and had now come to the holy name.
Then he halted. In an agony of fear and doubt he
looked round the court. All eyes were upon him.
Stern reproach was in the looks of those who had
witnessed their confession and had not failed. No
face wore a sterner regard than that of Rhoda. It was
pale and wasted; for the shock of the torture, though
this had not been carried to any grievous extent, had
sorely tried her sensitive frame. But this gave a
more terrible fierceness to the fire of righteous
indignation which seemed almost literally to blaze from
her eyes. As the young Phrygian shrank from this
scorching gaze, he met the gentle, pitying, appealing
look of Cleoné. The girl was not one of those who are
insensible to fear. Rhoda was an enthusiast who, as
we sometimes read of
 martyrs of the more heroic mould,
would have found a positive rapture of pleasure in the
pain endured for conscience' sake. Cleoné was a
delicate, sensitive woman, who had a natural shrinking
from pain, but yet could nerve herself to bear it.
She could sympathize with the poor young Phrygian's
dread. Though she had never seen a sufferer on the
cross, her vivid imagination helped her to realize its
agony, and she pitied more than she abhorred the
weakness which made him shrink from it. That look of
pity saved him.
"Ah!" he thought to himself, "that was the way in which
the Master looked at Peter when he had denied Him. I
have denied Him, too; but Peter found a place of
repentance, and so may I."
He turned boldly to the Governor. "No! I will not curse Him
who has blessed me so often. I have sinned grievously
in burning incense to that idol"—and he pointed as he
spoke to the image of the Emperor—"but I will not add
to my sin the burden of this intolerable iniquity."
"THOU SHALT WORSHIP THE LORD THY GOD"
"Ah!" whispered Tacitus to the Governor, "I have always
heard that the genuine Christian stops short at this."
"Let the law have its course with the accused," said
"Ah! my friend," said Verus to himself in a
whisper, "you will not go interfering again with a
"A curse on the obstinate villain!" muttered Sosicles,
his master; "there go twenty-five minæ as good as lost,
except I can get some compensation out of the
Government. What business is it of theirs what the man
believes? He belongs to me."
The young Phrygian's repentance seemed to give new
boldness to all that remained to be examined. There
were no more cases of apostasy.
The result of the day's proceedings was the
condemnation of a crowd so numerous that they Governor
was fairly staggered by the difficulty of having to
deal with it. A few who could plead Roman citizenship
were reserved for the judgment of the Emperor; but
there remained many—both free persons and slaves—with
whom it was his own duty to deal. To execute them all
would be to order something like a massacre. Such
severity might defeat its own object, for it might
cause a reaction in favor of the Christians. Pliny's
caution, not to speak of his humanity, made him shrink
from incurring such a risk. He resolved to consult the
Emperor by letter on the course which he ought to
pursue. Till the answer should arrive, the condemned
were to be shut in prison. The common gaol of Nicæa
 large enough to receive so many inmates, and
many of the prisoners had to be sent to private houses,
whose owners were to be held responsible for their safe
custody. Rhoda and Cleoné were among those who were
thus disposed of. The Governor was too humane and
right-feeling to allow two young women so carefully
nurtured to be exposed to the horrors of a gaol. They
were committed to the care of Lucilius, whom the reader
will remember to have been one of the conspirators who
set on foot the movement against the Christians. The
man, though hard and greedy for money, had a fair
character for respectability; and his wife, as the
Governor happened to know, was an amiable woman—much
too good for her miserable husband.
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