Monday, April 03, 2017

"I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burnt alive." ~ April 3, AD 303

Saints Chionia, Agape and Irene listen
to the preaching of Saint Demetrios
in a modern painting.
April 3 is the Catholic feast day of three sisters who were executed during the persecution of Diocletian in AD 303: Agape, Chionia and Irene. The three were citizens of the city of Thessalonica in Macedonia which was also the hometown of Diocletian's Caesar, or junior emperor, Galerius. It was Galerius who first instigated Diocletian to commence an empire-wide persecution of Christians, so it is perhaps not surprising to find the attack being pressed so vigorously there.

We are fortunate that the authentic acts of these martyrs have come down to us from antiquity largely intact. The transcript of their trial begins with the Roman authorities making two accusations against the three sisters and four others—three women and a man—namely that they refused to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and that they were suspected of hiding Christian books which, by the decree of the emperors, were to be surrendered for destruction. For more on the burning of Christian literature under Diocletian, click here.
In the year 303, the emperor Diocletian published an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any persons to keep the holy scriptures. These saints concealed many volumes of these sacred books, but were not discovered or apprehended till the year following, when, as their acts relate, Dulcetius, the governor, being seated in his tribunal, Artemesius, the secretary, said: "If you please, I will read an information, given in by the Stationary, concerning several persons here present."

Dulcetius: "Let the information be read."
The solicitor read as follows: "The Pensioner Cassander to Dulcetius, president of Macedonia, greeting. I send to your highness six Christian women, with a man, who have refused to eat meats sacrificed to the gods. They are called Agape, Chionia, Irene, Casia, Philippa, Eutychia, and the man's name is Agatho. Therefore I have caused them to be brought before you."

The president, turning to the women, said: "Wretches, what madness is this of yours, that you will not obey the pious commands of the emperors and Cæsars?" He then said to Agatho: "Why will you not eat of the meats offered to the gods, like other subjects of the empire?"

He answered: "Because I am a Christian."

The full account of the
martyrdom of Agape,
Chionia and Irene may be
found in I Am A Christian.
Dulcetius: "Do you still persist in that resolution?" 
Agatho: "Certainly."

Dulcetius next addressed himself to Agape, saying: "What are your sentiments?"

Agape answered: "I believe in the living God, and will not by an evil action lose all the merit of my past life."

Then the president said: "What say you, Chionia?"

She answered: "I believe in the living God, and for that reason did not obey your orders."
The president, turning to Irene, said: "Why did not you obey the most pious command of our emperors and Cæsars?"
Irene: "For fear of offending God."

President: "But what say you, Casia?"

Casia: "I desire to save my soul."

President: "Will not you partake of the sacred offerings?"

Casia: "By no means."
President: "But you, Philippa, what do you say?" 
She answered: "I say the same thing."
President: "What is that?" 
Philippa: "That I had rather die than eat of your sacrifices."

President: "And you, Eutychia, what do you say?"
Eutychia: "I say the same thing, that I had rather die than do what you command."
President: "Are you married?"
Eutychia: "My husband has been dead almost these seven months."
President: "By whom are you with child?"

Eutychia: "By him whom God gave me for my husband."

President: "I advise you, Eutychia, to leave this folly, and resume a reasonable way of thinking; what do you say? Will you obey the imperial edict?" 
Eutychia: "No: for I am a Christian, and serve the Almighty God." 
President: "Eutychia being big with child, let her be kept in prison." 
Afterwards Dulcetius added: "Agape, what is your resolution? Will you do as we do, who are obedient and dutiful to the emperors?"

Agape: "It is not proper to obey Satan; my soul is not to be overcome by these discourses."

President: "And you, Chionia, what is your final answer?"

Agape: "Nothing can change me."

President: "Have you not some books, papers, or other writings, relating to the religion of the impious Christians?"
Chionia said: "We have none: the emperors now reigning have taken them all from us."

President: "Who drew you into this persuasion?"
She said, "Almighty God."

President: "Who induced you to embrace this folly?"
Chionia repeated again, "Almighty God, and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ."

Dulcetius: "You are all bound to obey our most puissant emperors and Cæsars. But because you have so long obstinately despised their just commands, and so many edicts, admonitions, and threats, and have had the boldness and rashness to despise our orders, retaining the impious name of Christians; and since to this very time you have not obeyed the stationaries and officers who solicited you to renounce Jesus Christ in writing, you shall receive the punishment you deserve." Then he read their sentence, which was worded as follows: "I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burnt alive, for having out of malice and obstinacy acted in contradiction to the divine edicts of our lords the emperors and Cæsars, and who at present profess the rash and false religion of Christians, which all pious persons abhor." He added: "As for the other four, let them be confined in close prison during my pleasure."
One of the Tetrarchs, possibly Galerius, on the
famous statue now at Saint Mark's in Venice. 
After Agape and Chionia were burned to death, Dulcetius brought Irene back for further questioning. It seems that in the interim, he had discovered some sacred books in her possession. Confronting her with this evidence, he hopes to convince her to recant and sacrifice, or failing that, to get her to implicate other Christians, including her own father. Saint Irene, however, is having none of it, and Dulcetius passes a barbaric interim sentence.
Dulcetius: "Your madness to plain, since you have kept to this day so many books, parchments, codicils, and papers of the scriptures of the impious Christians. You were forced to acknowledge them when they were produced before you, though you had before denied you had any. You will not take warning from the punishment of your sisters, neither have you the fear of death before your eyes: your punishment therefore is unavoidable. In the mean time I do not refuse even now to make some condescension in your behalf. Notwithstanding your crime, you may find pardon and be freed from punishment, if you will yet worship the gods. What say you then? Will you obey the orders of the emperors? are you ready to sacrifice to the gods, and eat of the victims?" 
Irene: "By no means: for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are threatened with eternal fire."
Dulcetius: "Who persuaded you to conceal those books and papers so long?" 
Irene: "Almighty God, who has commanded us to love him even unto death; on which account we dare not betray him, but rather choose to be burnt alive, or suffer any thing whatsoever than discover such writings."
President: "Who knew that those writings were in the house?"
Irene: "Nobody, but the Almighty, from whom nothing is hid: for we concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."
President: "Where did you hide yourselves last year, when the pious edict of our emperors was first published?" 
Irene: "Where it pleased God, in the mountains."
President: "With whom did you live?"
Irene: "We were in the open air, sometimes on one mountain, sometimes on another."
President: "Who supplied you with bread?"
Irene: "God, who gives food to all flesh."
President: "Was your father privy to it?"
Irene: "No; he had not the least knowledge of it."
President: "Which of your neighbors knew it?"
Irene: "Inquire in the neighborhood, and make your search."
President: "After you returned from the mountains, as you say, did you read those books to anybody?"
Irene: "They were hid at our own house, and we durst not produce them; and we were in great trouble, because we could not read them night and day, as we had been accustomed to do."
The Rotonda of Galerius, originally part of his palace
complex in Thessalonika, now the Rotonda of St. George. 
Dulcetius: "Your sisters have already suffered the punishments to which they were condemned. As for you, Irene, though you were condemned to death before your flight for having hid these writings, I will not have you die so suddenly; but I order that you be exposed naked in a brothel, and be allowed one loaf a day, to be sent you from the palace; and that the guards do not suffer you to stir out of it one moment, under pain of death to them."
The infamous sentence was rigorously executed; but God protecting her, no man durst approach her, nor say or do any indecency to her. The president caused her to be brought again before him
President: "Do you still persist in your rashness?"
Irene: "Not in rashness, but in piety towards God."
Dulcetius: "You shall suffer the just punishment of your insolence and obstinacy."
And having called for paper, he wrote this sentence: "Since Irene will not obey the emperor's orders and sacrifice to the gods, but, on the contrary, persists still in the religion of the Christians, I order her to be immediately burnt alive, as her sisters have been." 
Dulcetius had no sooner pronounced this sentence but the soldiers seized Irene, and brought her to a rising ground where her sisters had suffered martyrdom, and having lighted a large pile, ordered her to mount thereon. Irene, singing psalms, and celebrating the glory of God, threw herself on the pile, and was there consumed in the ninth consulship of Diocletian, and the eighth of Maximian.
The Roman Martyrology says that the martyrdom of St. Agape and Chionia took place on April 3, with St. Irene following on the 5th of April. The fates of Casia, Eutychia, Philippa and Agatho are unknown.

The above excerpt is included in the recent publication I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources which is a collection of similar ancient accounts. It was originally included in Butler's Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principle Saints, Volume 1 (1833), which introduces it as: "From their original acts, abridged out of the presidial court registers of Thessalonica, in Surius, Ruinart, p. 421, Tillemont, t. 5, p. 240 and 680. Cellier, t. 3, p. 390."

Here are links to some similar posts on the Great Persecution:


Unknown said...

Do you happen to have a source for the original Latin? Thanks!

Florentius said...

I do not, unfortunately. It might have been in Greek, actually, considering the location of the trial was Thessalonica.