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first vial of the wrath of God announces the divine judgment on the monarchs of Rome and their subjects, for their supporting idolatry, an abomination so odious to God, and for persecuting his Church and his people. How this was fulfilled, the following short account will discover:
Nero, the first Roman emperor that imbrued his hands in Christian blood, had by his cruelties made himself the detestation of mankind. The people of Rome would no longer bear with him; his armies revolted from him and set up a new emperor. He was deserted by his own guards, and the Roman senate pronounced sentence of death against him.. In this desperate and forlorn condition he fled from Rome into the country, to a house belonging to his freedman, where, by the help of others, not having resolution himself, he got himself despatched with daggers. Thus fell Nero a victim to the vengeance of God.
But heaven was not appeased with this sole victim. The weight of divine justice, conformably to the tenor of the vial, fell also upon the whole Roman state, which was torn to pieces by intestine convulsions. Galba succeeded Nero: but soon after rose up Otho, who got himself proclaimed emperor by the soldiers. Galba was murdered in the Forum, and the people were trampled under foot in the streets of Rome by the brutal soldiers. During these troubles in the city, the Roman legions in Germany, created their commander Vitellius emperor. This new contest between two competitors could not be decided but by the sword, and the blood of many thousands of Romans. Four considerable battles were fought within the space of a few months, which gave the empire to Vitellius. But that same year the Roman armies in the east vested their own commander Vespasian with the imperial purple in opposition to Vitellius. This continued the civil war, and a battle was fought between the two parties at the gates of Rome, in which the Vitellians lost the day. Rome was made a scene of slaughter, being taken and ravaged by its own subjects, and the Capitol was laid in ashes
Eight years after this calamity sprung up a fresh one. Such a terrible plague infected the city of Rome, that according to Eusebius it swept away ten thousand inhabitants in a day for several days together.
Domitian, the second persecutor, felt also the weight of divine anger. His own friends and domestics, with his wife Domitia, conspired against him and slew him. And after his death the senate of Rome rescinded all his edicts, ordered
all his statues to be pulled down, his name to be erasea in all the public registers, and never more to be mentioned.
The emperors Trajan, Adrian, and Marcus Aurelius, having rather tolerated than raised persecution, escaped such visible judgments. But the empire itself felt the dismal effects of the Christian blood that had been spilt during these reigns. In the eighteenth year of Trajan there happened a prodigious earthquake, which was almost general in the East, but Syria chiefly suffered. Many great towns were ruined. In the city of Antioch, where the Emperor Trajan then resided, almost all the buildings were thrown down, and many thousands of people lost their lives; the emperor himself narrowly escaping by leaping out of a window. In the second year of Marcus Aurelius the Tiber overflowed a considerable part of Rome, carried away a multitude of people and cattle, ruined the country, and caused an extreme famine. This inundation was followed by swarms of insects, which devoured all that the flood had spared. Four years after, Lucius Verus coming victorious from the Parthian war, brought the plague along with him, which communicated the contagion to all the Roman provinces through which he passed, and carried off multitudes of people.
Severus, the fifth persecutor, among other misfortunes, had for son Antoninus Caracalla, a most vicious prince, who attempted to take away his father's life by stabbing him with his own hand, but was prevented by some that were present. This behaviour of his son threw Severus into a deep melancholy, which put an end to his life. The hand of vengeance pursued even his children. Caracalla murdered his brother Geta, and he himself underwent the same fate, which extinguished the family.
Maximinus, the sixth persecutor, became odious to the whole empire for his cruelties and his avarice. Africa rebelled against him. The senate of Rome declared him an enemy to the state, and set up new emperors against him. He was so detested, that while he was besieging the city of Aquileia, his own soldiers fell upon him in his tent, slew both him and his son, sent their heads to Rome, and left their bodies to be devoured by dogs and birds of prey.
During the short reign of Maximinus, neither the city of Rome nor the provinces were free from wars, tumults, murders, and all sorts of calamities.
Decius the emperor, an execrable beast, as Lactantius styles him, in his war with the Goths being attacked by them, and
seeing his eldest son killed before his face, and a great part of his army cut off, in despair ran into a deep bog where he perished. His body was not allowed common burial, but exposed to be devoured by the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air.
The horrible persecution in this emperor's reign seemed to rouse up afresh the indignation of heaven. The Roman state was harassed by great wars and desolation from the Goths and other barbarous northern nations; and likewise by a dreadful pestilence, which spread itself over all the provinces, and lasted ten years, destroying incredible numbers of people. In the first year of the Emperor Gallus, Decius's successor, who continued the persecution, the plague raged more furiously than ever, particularly at Carthage in Africa. There vast multitudes were swept away every day, and the streets were filled with the carcasses of the dead. St. Cyprian, bishop of that city, wrote on this occasion his book on the Mortality, or Pestilence, to comfort and encourage his own flock under the general calamity, and he zealously exhorted them not to be wanting in giving all assistance possible to the infected, though pagans and their declared enemies. He also wrote at this time to Demetrianus, a magistrate of Carthage, representing to him that these evils were not, as the pagans pretended, punishments inflicted upon them by their gods for their permitting the growth of Christianity; but on the contrary, that they were real punishments sent from the true God of heaven and earth for their cruelties to the Christians. St. Cyprian tells him: “Never do we see the Christian name persecuted but we see the divine vengeance soon follows. Of this we have a recent example, when so quick and so remarkable a judgment lately appeared in the violent death of the kings, (meaning Decius and his son,) in the great devastations made by the enemies, and the ruin of the Roman army."
Valerian, the eighth cruel persecutor of the Christians, in his war with the Persians was taken prisoner by Sapor, their King, who treated him with the utmost indignity, so far as to make him, who had but just before been the greatest monarch in the world, to bow down and serve as a footstool to him, the king to get on horseback. After keeping him seven years in this wretched slavery, Sapor ordered that his eyes should be pulled out, then that he should be flayed alive, and his skin Chung up as a trophy in one of the Persian temples.
After Valerian's persecution, heaven and earth seemed to conspire in the destruction of the Roman empire. Earth
quakes overthrew cities, and destroyed great numbers of people. The sea overswelled its boundaries, and broke into many continents, drowning countries, cities, and people; and so violent a pestilence raged, that in Rome no less than five thousand persons died in a day. Besides this, the whole empire was invaded on all sides. A body of Germans crossed The Alps and broke into Italy. Another body of the same enemies wasted Gaul and entered Spain. The Goths and Scythians ravaged Pontus and great part of lesser Asia; and in Europe, all Greece, Macedon, and their confines. The Quadi and Sarmatians seized on Dacia and Pannonia; and the Persians and Parthians took possession of Mesopotamia and a great part of Syria. To complete these disasters, there rose up thirty tyrants, who, assuming the title of emperors, set up in opposition to one another and to the reigning emperor Gallienus, which occasioned the empire to be more harassed and oppressed by its own intestine broils than by foreign devastations. These disasters had been foretold in the time of the persecution by the holy Martyr, St. Marian, when he was carried to execution. He announced them as a scourge impending on the state for the innocent blood that was spilt of the Christians.
The Emperor Aurelian, another persecutor, was assassinated by his own secretary and some others, who had formed a conspiracy against him.
Dioclesian, the tenth persecutor, was compelled by Galerius, whom he had created Cæsar, to resign to him the empire, and retire himself to a private life. Afterwards he had the mortification to learn, that Constantine, who was become emperor, had pulled down his statues. His wife and daughter were also put to death by Licinius. These disgraces, and the load of guilt that hung upon him, operated so strongly on his mind, that he could neither eat nor sleep. He sighed and groaned continually, often with tears in his eyes, sometimes tumbling himself on his bed, and sometimes on the ground. Thus he who governed the world for twenty years, as Lactantius observes, was reduced to so miserable a condition, that he finished his life by hunger and grief. This happened in the year 312.
Maximian, Dioclesian's colleague in the empire and in the persecution, had been also obliged to abdicate. He made several attempts to resume the purple, but seeing them all defeated, he hanged himself.
The succeeding emperors, Galerius, Maxentius, Maximinus
Daia, and Licinius, endeavouring to carry on the persecution begun by Dioclesian and Maximian, met also with their due punishment. And first,
The hand of God was very visible upon the abominable Galerius, who had taken so much pains to instigate Diocle. sian against the Christians. He was struck with a dreadful disease. An ulcer consumed the lower parts of his belly, and laid open his very bowels. He was devoured by vermin, and the whole mass of his body putrified. The stench that came from him was intolerable. His pains were so violent, that he roared out, and often attempted to kill himself.. In these agonies he seemed to acknowledge the hand that lay over him, and in order to avert it, he published an edict in favour of the Christians. But heaven did not relent: and his distemper increasing, in a few days put a period to his life.
Maxentius was routed in a battle he fought with Constantine on the banks of the Tyber. As he was crossing that river in his flight, the bridge gave way with the weight of the crowd, and he was drowned.
Maximinus Daia being upon the point of engaging in battle with Licinius, made a vow to Jupiter, that if he got the victory, he would extinguish the very name of Christian. His army was totally defeated by a much lesser number: upon which he threw away his imperial robe, and fled in the habit of a slave. He made different efforts to retrieve himself, but not succeeding, he resolved to make away with himself. For that purpose he eat and drank to great excess, but this not effecting it, he took poison, which burnt him within, and threw him into such a phrenzy that he eat common earth. His pains became so intolerable, that he ran his head against the wall with such violence that his eves started out. In the end he acknowledged the justice of his punishment for his cruelty to the Christians, and in the most exquisite torments he breathed out his last.
We learn from Lactantius, that not only the forementioned persecutors were all crushed by a superior power, but that their whole race was also cut off. The same fate, in like manner, attended many of the governors, of the Roman provinces, who had so willingly concurred in executing the cruel and bloody statutes of the emperors for the extirpation of Christianity. The provinces of the east, where Maximinus commanded, had also shared in the disasters that usually followed persecution. A dreadful famine and plague had spread through them a universal desolation.