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An Account of Early Christian Martyrdom

October 21, 2009

In a the modern West where it is so often so easy to live a life of ease as a Christian, it is useful to be reminded that it is not always the case for our fellow believers, both today and in the past. Here is one account of the trial of several early Christian martyrs in North Africa in the late second century. It’s called The Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs. It’s not too long, but it does give you a sense of the courage of these Christians facing death.

When Praesens and Claudio were consuls the second time, 16th day of August in Carthage, Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secundus, and Vestia were set in the council chamber and Saturninus the proconsul said, “You can gain the indulgence of our lord, the emperor, if return to the right mind.”

Speratus said, “We have never injured anyone, we have supplied/offered no work in unfairness. We have never spoken ill of anyone, but being received wrongly we have given thanks; because of which we regard our emperor.”

Saturninus the proconsul said, “We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the genius of our lord the emperor, and we pray for his health, which you also ought to do.”

Speratus said, “If you will present your ears calm, I will speak the mystery of simplicity.”

Saturninus said, “I will not offer to you my ears while you admit to evil concerning our sacred rites. But rather swear by the genius of our lord the emperor.”

Speratus said, “I do not recognize the empire of this world. But I serve instead that God whom no man sees, nor is he able to see with these eyes. I have committed no theft, but if indeed I buy anything, I pay it the tax: because I recognize my Lord, the king of kings and emperor of all peoples.”

Saturninus the proconsul said to the others, “Cease being of this persuasion.”

Speratus said, “It is an evil persuasion to commit murder, to speak a false testimony.”

Saturninus the proconsul said, “Refuse to be partakers of this folly.”

Cittinus said, “We do not have another whom we fear, except our Lord God who is in heaven.”

Donata said, “Show honor to Caesar as to Caesar. But show fear to God.”

Vestia said, “I am a Christian.”

Secunda said, “What I am, I wish to be myself.

Saturninus the proconsul said to Speratus, “Do you persist as a Christian?”

Speratus said, “I am a Christian.” And they all agreed with him.

Saturninus the proconsul said, “Surely you want time to consider?”

Speartus said, “In so just a matter there is no consideration.”

Saturninus the proconsul said, “What are the matters in your chest?”

Speratus said, “Books and epistles of Paul, a just man.”

Saturninus the proconsul said, “Take a period of 30 days and think it over.”

Speratus said again, “I am a Christian.” And they all agreed with him.

Saturninus the proconsul read aloud the sentence from the tablet: “It is decided that Speratus, Narzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and the others who have confessed to live by Christian rite, because they persist obstinately to return to the custom of the Romans after an opportunity was offered to them, be judged by the sword.”

Speratus said, “We give thanks to God.”

Nartzalus said, “Today we are martyrs in heaven. Thanks to God.”

Saturninus the proconsul ordered that it be said by the herald, “I have ordered Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veterius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Ianuaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Secunda to be lead.”

They all together said, “Thanks to God.”

And thus they all together were crowned with martyrdom, and they reign with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

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