Litany of St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven,
have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the World,
have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Virgin Immaculate, pray for us.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.
Beloved of God, pray for us.
Imitator of Jesus Christ, pray for us.
Good shepherd of the people, pray for us.
Model for priests, pray for us.
Light of the Church, pray for us.
Adorer of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for us.
Faithful son of St. Francis, pray for us.
Marked with the stigmata of Jesus, pray for us.
Patient in suffering, pray for us.
Helper of the dying, pray for us.
Director of souls, pray for us.
Heart of gold, pray for us.
Apostle of mercy, pray for us.
Worker of miracles, pray for us.
Consoler of the afflicted, pray for us.
Lover of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.
Helper of souls in doubt and darkness, pray for us.
Comforter of the sick, pray for us.
Example of humility, pray for us.
Source of wisdom, pray for us.
Mirror of the divine life, pray for us.
Lover of Jesus Crucified,
Resigned to the will of God, pray for us.
Doing good upon earth, pray for us.
Filled with the spirit of self-sacrifice, pray for us.
Our help and hope in all our needs, pray for us.
Vessel of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Leading us to Christ, pray for us.
Our spiritual father and advocate, pray for us.
Crowned with glory in Heaven, pray for us.

God our Father,  You helped St. Pio of Pietrelcina to reflect
the image of Christ through a life of charity and self-sacrifice.
May we follow your Son by walking in the footsteps of
St. Pio and by imitating his selfless love.


A Prayer

by St. Pio of Pietrelcina

May Jesus comfort you
in all your afflictions.

May He sustain you in dangers,
watch over you always with His grace,
and indicate the safe path
that leads to eternal salvation.

And may He render you
always dearer to His Divine Heart
and always more worthy of Paradise. 

To Jesus

by St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Lord, God of my heart,
You alone know and see all my troubles.

You alone are aware that all my distress
springs from my fear of losing You,
of offending You, from my fear of not loving You
as much as I should love and desire to love You.

If You, to whom everything is present
and who alone can see the future,
know that it is for Your greater glory
and for my salvation that I should remain
in this state, then let it be so.

I don’t want to escape from it.

Give me the strength to fight
and to obtain the prize due to strong souls.

A Prayer to Jesus

by St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Oh my Jesus,
give me Your strength
when my weak nature rebels
against the distress and suffering of this life of exile,
and enable me to accept everything
with serenity and peace.

With my whole strength I cling to Your merits,
Your sufferings, Your expiation, and Your tears,
so that I may be able to cooperate with You
in the work of salvation.

Give me strength to fly from sin,
the only cause of Your agony,
Your sweat of blood, and Your death.

Destroy in me all that displeases You
and fill my heart with the fire of Your holy love
and all Your sufferings.

Clasp me tenderly, firmly, close to You
that I may never leave You alone
in Your cruel Passion.

I ask only for a place of rest in Your Heart. Amen.

A Prayer for Trust and Confidence in God’s Mercy

by St. Pio of Pietrelcina

O Lord,
we ask for a boundless confidence
and trust in Your divine mercy,
and the courage to accept the crosses and sufferings
which bring immense goodness
to our souls and that of Your Church.

Help us to love You
with a pure and contrite heart,
and to humble ourselves beneath Your cross,
as we climb the mountain of holiness,
carrying our cross that leads to heavenly glory. 

May we receive You
with great faith and love in Holy Communion, and allow You to act in us as You desire for your greater glory. 

O Jesus, most adorable Heart and eternal fountain of Divine Love, may our prayer find favor before the Divine Majesty of Your heavenly Father.

Visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament

Padre Pio recited this prayer daily. It was written by St. Alphonsus Liguori

O my Lord Jesus Christ, who for the love You bear mankind, remain night and day in this Sacrament, all full of tenderness and love, expecting and receiving all those who come to visit You: I believe that You are present in the Sacrament of the altar; I adore You from the depths of my own nothingness and thank You for all the favors You have bestowed upon me; and especially for having given me Yourself in this Sacrament, and Your holy Mother Mary as my Advocate; and for having called me to visit You in this church. I pay homage this day to Your most loving Heart and this I intend to do for three intentions: first, in thanksgiving for this great gift; secondly, in reparation for all the insults You have received from Your enemies in this Sacrament; thirdly, by this visit I intend to adore You in all places upon the earth, where You are least adored and most neglected in Your Sacrament.

My Jesus, I love You with my whole heart. I repent of having in the past so many times displeased Your infinite goodness. I intend, with the help of Your grace never more to offend You in the future; and at the present, wretched as I am, I consecrate myself wholly to You. I give You, and utterly renounce, my entire will, all my affections, all my desires, and all that I possess. From this day forth, do with me and with all that is mine whatever is pleasing in Your sight. I ask and desire only Your holy love, final perseverance and the perfect fulfillment of Your will.

I commend to You the souls in purgatory, especially those who were most devoted to this Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I commend to You in like manner all poor sinners. Finally, my dear Savior, I unite all my affections with those of Your most loving Heart, and thus united I offer them to Your eternal Father, and I pray to Him in Your name graciously to accept and answer them for love of You.

St. Francis Prayer Before a Crucifix

Most high, glorious God,
cast Your light into the darkness
of my heart.

Give me right faith,
firm hope,
perfect charity
and profound humility,
with wisdom and perception,
O Lord, so that I may do
what is truly Your holy will.


Prayer of Pope John Paul II to St. Pio of Pietrelcina

(Pope John Paul II recited this prayer on the occasion of the canonization of Padre Pio, June 16, 2002)

Teach us, we pray, humility of heart,
so that we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel
to whom the Father promised to reveal
the mysteries of His Kingdom.
Help us to pray without ceasing,
certain that God knows what we need
even before we ask Him. Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will help us recognize
in the poor and suffering, the very face of Jesus. 

Sustain us in the hour of trouble and trial and, if we fall,
let us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.
Grant us your tender devotion to Mary,
mother of Jesus and our Mother.
Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage
toward the blessed Homeland,
where we too, hope to arrive to contemplate forever
the Glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

O Sacred Heart of Jesus,
filled with infinite love,
broken by my ingratitude,
pierced by my sins,
yet loving me still;
accept the consecration
that I make to You
of all that I am
and all that I have.

Take every faculty
of my soul and body
and draw me,
day by day,
nearer and nearer
to Your Sacred Heart,
and there,
as I can understand the lesson,
teach me Your blessed ways. Amen.

Efficacious Novena To The Sacred Heart Of Jesus

(This novena prayer was recited every day by Padre Pio for all those who asked his prayers)

I. O my Jesus, You have said, ‘Truly I say to you, ask and it will
be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be
opened to you.’ Behold, I knock, I seek and ask for the grace of…

Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be to the Father…
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

II. O my Jesus, You have said, ‘Truly I say to you, if you ask
anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.’
Behold, in Your name, I ask the Father for the grace of…

Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be to the Father…
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

III. O my Jesus, You have said, ‘Truly I say to you, heaven and
earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.’
Encouraged by Your infallible words, I now ask for the grace of…

Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be to the Father…
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have
compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us poor sinners
and grant us the grace which we ask of You, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate heart of Mary, Your tender mother and ours.

Hail, Holy Queen… St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Dear God, You generously blessed Your servant,
St. Pio of Pietrelcina,
with the gifts of the Spirit.

You marked his body with the five wounds of Christ Crucified, as a powerful witness to the saving Passion and Death of Your Son.

Endowed with the gift of discernment,
St. Pio labored endlessly in the confessional for the salvation of souls.

With reverence and intense devotion in the celebration of Mass,
he invited countless men and women to a greater union with Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Through the intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina,
I confidently beseech You to grant me the grace of (here state your petition).

Glory be to the Father… (three times). Amen.

Lord Prayer of St. Pio of Pietrelcina after Holy Communion

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have
You present so that I do not forget You.
You know how easily I abandon You.

Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak
and I need Your strength,
that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life,
and without You, I am without fervor.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light,
and without You, I am in darkness.

Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.

Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice
and follow You.

Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You
very much, and always be in Your company.

Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.

Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is,
I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.

Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes;
death, judgment, eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength,
so that I will not stop along the way and for that, I need You.

It is getting late and death approaches,
I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows.
O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile!

Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers. I need You.

Let me recognize You as Your disciples did at the breaking of the bread,
so that the Eucharistic Communion be the Light which disperses the darkness,
the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.

Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to You,
if not by communion, at least by grace and love.

Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it,
but the gift of Your Presence, oh yes, I ask this of You!

Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart,
Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.

With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth
and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity. Amen.


Saint Fara or Fare

Founder and first Abbess of the Abbey of Faremoutiers

(595 - 643 or 655 or 657 )

Memorial : 3 April
7 December in France

St. Fara (Burgundofara or Fare) was the daughter of a high noble family of France in the 7th century. In her childhood she was consecrated to God by St. Columbanus, the Apostle of Ireland, who visited and blessed her house in Meaux, France.

Later her father gave her an estate upon which she built the Convent of Evoriacum which was famous in her time. After her death, it was renamed in her honor and became the Benedictine Abbey of Faremoutiers. As Abbess, she established the rule of St. Columbanus, which was very strict. 

The fame of her sanctity quickly spread throughout France and reached England, where many princesses asked to be under the direction of St. Fara. The luster of her sanctity and rumors of it spread through her province in France and reached England, which in the 7th century was divided into small kingdoms, each with its own royal family. Throughout those seven kingdoms of England the news spread of St. Fara’s sanctity. Many princesses wanted to follow her example and entered her convent as well. We can imagine those courts still in their primitive pomp and luxury, with the parents and relatives of those princesses encouraging them to remain there, enter into noble marriages, and enjoy their lives, possibly even becoming queens. But many of them renounced their privileges and decided to go to that far-off French convent to follow the example of St. Fara. 

Among these were Saints Sisetrude, Gibitrudis, Hercantrudis, and the English princess Sedrido, who succeeded her as Abbess. Faremoutiers became a school of sanctity where miracles and marvels were common. Often at the deaths of nuns the singing of angelic choirs could be heard throughout the convent as they accompanied the souls of the deceased nuns to Heaven. The spiritual and physical cures were numerous. 

Notwithstanding this saintly environment, a few of the disciples of the saint did not profit from her teachings. The marvelous atmosphere of St. Fara’s convent was confirmed by the many miracles that took place there. At their deaths, the souls of the good religious were carried to Heaven by Angels singing in chorus. Their songs were heard by all the nuns and echoed through the convent walls for some time. These were physical miracles. There were also numerous spiritual miracles. We see that in this convent, the cloister, chapel, statues of Our Lady, cells, and halls were impregnated with that supernatural aura found in Fra Angelico’s paintings. 

But evil was also present. As in any convent, there were bad nuns there also. Evil entered into its cloisters, but it was obliged to reveal itself. Indeed, those bad nuns who rejected the grace of their vocations and then chose Hell, died with terrible deaths. Before dying shifting shadows surrounded their bodies and coarse voices called them by name, which were also probably heard in different parts of the convent. 

The Abbey of Faremoutiers
Thus, the cloister that had listened to the song of Angels, now heard the roar of devils taking the souls of the bad nuns to Hell. After they were buried, flames would appear over their graves. This was still a mercy of Our Lady for the convent because seeing this, the nuns felt a beneficial horror of vice. It was a way to show how vice and error should be avoided and despised. It was also her mercy that obliged the Devil to show himself amidst such horrible and appropriate symbols. 

Even though St. Fara, together with her faithful daughters, were there praying for their souls, Satan received their last breaths and took their souls to Hell. Because they died in despair, their bodies were buried in a nearby field rather than consecrated ground. 

During the seasons of Christmas and Easter, flames would appear over their sepulchers, a terrifying example of human fragility! They had abandoned the world, lived amid saints and witnessed miracles. But even though they were surrounded by every kind of supernatural assistance, they did not persevere. 

That living contrast between good and evil inside the convent confirmed the fight between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, established by God in Paradise, when He foretold that Our Lady would smash the serpent’s head: an eternal fight that was, is, and ever will be present in History until the end time.

Blessed Alexandrina di Letto

Italian Nun 

(1385 – 1458)

Memorial : 3 April

Alexandrina di Letto was born in Sulmona, the granddaughter of the patrician Nicola Raynaldo di Letto, vicar of Rome under King Robert of Naples. Alexandrina never married and became a nun at the Franciscan convent of St Clara in Sulomna (1400), where she was joined by several companions over the next few years. 

They founded the church and convent of Santa Lucia at Foligno (1425), where they resided under the protection of the local bishop. Alexandrina became first abbess of the reformed order of St Clara. Alexandrina di Letto died (April 3, 1458) aged seventy-three, at Foligno, with a reputation for holiness and religious sanctity.


Persecution in the Early Church

 "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven." -- Jesus (c. 30 AD)

"The contagion of this superstition has spread not only in the cities but in the villages and rural districts as well; yet it seems capable of being checked and set right." -- Pliny the Younger, Govenor of Bithynia (c. 110 AD)

"This temporal and brief suffering, how shall it be exchanged for the reward of a bright and eternal honor!" -- St. Cyprian of Carthage

In its first three centuries, the Christian church endured regular (though not constant) persecution at the hands of Roman authorities. This experience, and its resulting martyrs and apologists, would have significant historical and theological consequences for the developing faith.

Among other things, persecution sparked the cult of the saints, facilitated the rapid growth and spread of Christianity, prompted defenses and explanations of Christianity (the "apologies"), and, in its aftermath, raised fundamental questions about the nature of the church.

The article that follows explores the history of persecution of the early church, some of the reasons behind it, and two important Christian responses to persecution: the glorification of martyrdom and the writings of the apologists.

Extent of the Persecutions

The total number of Christians martyred in the early church is unknown. Although some early writers speak of "great multitudes," modern scholars tend to believe the actual number is not so great as is sometimes imagined. Out of the 54 emperors who ruled between 30 and 311 AD, only about a dozen went out of their way to persecute Christians.

It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.

The Roman persecutions were generally sporadic, localized, and dependent on the political climate and disposition of each emperor. Moreover, imperial decrees against Christians were often directed against church property, the Scriptures, or clergy only. It has been estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the last 50 years than in the church's first 300 years.

Reasons for Persecution

The Roman Empire was generally quite tolerant in its treatment of other religions. The imperial policy was generally one of incorporation - the local gods of a newly conquered area were simply added to the Roman pantheon and often given Roman names. Even the Jews, with their one god, were generally tolerated. So why the persecution of Christians?

In order to understand the Roman distrust of Christianity, one must understand the Roman view of religion. For the Romans, religion was first and foremost a social activity that promoted unity and loyalty to the state - a religious attitude the Romans called pietas, or piety. Cicero wrote that if piety in the Roman sense were to disappear, social unity and justic would perish along with it.

The early Roman writers viewed Christianity not as another kind of pietas, piety, but as a superstitio, "superstition." Pliny, a Roman governor writing circa 110 AD, called Christianity a "superstition taken to extravagent lengths." Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it "a deadly superstition," and the historian Suetonius called Christians "a class of persons given to a new and mischeivous superstition." In this context, the word "superstition" has a slightly different connotation than it has today: for the Romans, it designated something foreign and different - in a negative sense. Religious beliefs were valid only in so far as it could be shown to be old and in line with ancient customs; new and innovative teachings were regarded with distrust.

The Roman distaste for Christianity, then, arose in large part from its sense that it was bad for society. In the third century, the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry wrote:

How can people not be in every way impious and atheistic who have apostatized from the customs of our ancestors through which every nation and city is sustained? ... What else are they than fighters against God?

As Porphyry's argument indicates, hatred of Christians also arose from the belief that proper "piety" to the Roman gods helped to sustain the well being of the cities and their people. Though much of the Roman religion was utilitarian, it was also heavily motivated by the pagan sense that bad things will happen if the gods are not respected and worshiped properly. "Many pagans held that the neglect of the old gods who had made Rome strong was responsible for the disasters which were overtaking the Mediterranean world."  This perspective would surface again in the fifth century, when the destruction of Rome caused many to worry that the gods were angry at the Empire's new allegiance to Christianity. Saint Augustine's opus The City of God argued against this view.

On a more social, practical level, Christians were distrusted in part because of the secret and misunderstood nature of their worship. Words like "love feast" and talk of "eating Christ's flesh" sounded understandably suspicious to the pagans, and Christians were suspected of cannibalism, incest, orgies, and all sorts of immorality.

History of the Persecutions

At least since the fifth century, it has been customary to count ten major persecutions in the early church, a number that nicely parallels the ten plagues of Egypt These ten persecutions are:
  1. Persecution under Nero (c. 64-68). Traditional martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.
  2. Persecution under Domitian (r. 81-96).
  3. Persecution under Trajan (112-117). Christianity is outlawed but Christians are not sought out.
  4. Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). Martyrdom of Polycarp.
  5. Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210). Martyrdom of Perpetua.
  6. Persecution under Decius (250-251). Christians are actively sought out by requiring public sacrifice. Could buy certificates (libelli) instead of sacrificing. Martyrdoms of bishops of Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch.
  7. Persecution under Valerian (257-59). Martyrdoms of Cyprian of Carthage and Sixtus II of Rome.
  8. Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (235-38).
  9. Great Fire of Rome
    The Fire of Rome. Illustration from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

  10. Persecution under Aurelian (r. 270–275).
  11. Severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (303-324).
Persecution in the early church occured sporadically almost since the beginning, but it was first sanctioned by the government under Nero. In 64 AD, a great fire ravaged Rome. Nero took the opportunity provided by the destruction to rebuild the city in the Greek style and begin building a large palace for himself. People began speculating that Nero had set the fire himself in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the reconstruction so, according to Tacitus' Annals and Suetonius' Nero, the eccentric emperor blamed the Christians for the fire in an effort to divert attention from himself. Nero was quite insane, and is reported to have tortured Christians with great cruelties for his own enjoyment. According to the Roman historian Tacitus:
Emperor Nero
Besides being put to death they [the Christians] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beast and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even toward men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to satisfy the cruelty of an individual. 
Despite these extreme cruelties, Nero's persecution was local and short-lived. However, it was the first official persecution and marked the first time the government distinguished Christians from Jews. Tertullian referred to persecution of Christians as institutum Neronianum, an institution of Nero. After Nero, it became a capital crime to be a Christian, although pardon was always available if one publicly condemned Christ and sacrificed to the gods.

Domitian is recorded as having executed members of his own family on charges of atheism and Jewish manners, who are thus generally assumed to have been Christians. 

In Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, the persecution under the great philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius is described this way:
Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher on the throne, was a well-educated, just, kind, and amiable emperor, and reached the old Roman ideal of self-reliant Stoic virtue, but for this very reason he had no sympathy with Christianity, and probably regarded it as an absurd and fanatical superstition. He had no room in his cosmopolitan philanthropy for the purest and most innocent of his subjects, many of whom served in his own army. He was flooded with apologies of Melito, Miltiades, Athenagoras in behalf of the persecuted Christians, but turned a deaf ear to them. Only once, in his Meditations, does he allude to them, and then with scorn, tracing their noble enthusiasm for martyrdom to "sheer obstinacy" and love for theatrical display. His excuse is ignorance. He probably never read a line of the New Testament, nor of the apologies addressed to him.

Belonging to the later Stoical school, which believed in an immediate absorption after death into the Divine essence, he considered the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul, with its moral consequences, as vicious and dangerous to the welfare of the state. A law was passed under his reign, punishing every one with exile who should endeavor to influence people's mind by fear of the Divinity, and this law was, no doubt, aimed at the Christians. At all events his reign was a stormy time for the church, although the persecutions cannot be directly traced to him. The law of Trajan was sufficient to justify the severest measures against the followers of the "forbidden" religion. 
It was during the reign of Marcus Aurelius that Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred. Later, there is record of "new decrees" making it easier for Christians to be accused and have their property confiscated. In 177, 48 Christians were martyred in the amphitheater in Lyons (modern France). 

In 112 AD, Roman governor Pliny the Younger was sent by the emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) to the province of Bithynia on official business. During his visit, Pliny encountered Christians, and he wrote to the emperor about them. The governor indicated that he had ordered the execution of several Christians, "for I held no question that whatever it was they admitted, in any case obstinancy and unbending perversity deserve to be punished." However, he was unsure what to do about those who said they were no longer Christians, and asked Trajan his advice. The emperor responded that Christians should not be sought out, anonymous tips should be rejected as "unworthy of our times," and if they recanted and "worshipped our gods," they were to be freed. Those who persisted, however, should be punished. 

The emperor Hadrian granted Christians even more concessions. Also responding to a request for advice from his governor, this time in western Asia Minor, Hadrian decreed (c. 124 AD) that Christians could be brought to trial but only for specific illegal acts. Significantly, therefore, being a Christian was no longer sufficient in itself to merit arrest. Moreover, "slanderous attacks" against Christians were forbidden, meaning that anyone who brought a case against a Christian but failed would suffer serious consequences. Justin Martyr attached Hadrian's imperial order to the end of his First Apology (c. 155). 

The emperor Severus may not have been personally ill-disposed towards Christians, but the church was gaining power and making many converts and this led to popular anti-Christian feeling and persecution in Catharge, Alexandria, Rome and Corinth between about 202 and 210. The famed St. Perpetua was martyred during this time, as were many students of Origen of Alexandria.

The persecution under Decius was the first universal and organized persecution of Christians, and it would have lasting significance for the Christian church. In January of 250, Decius issued an edict requiring all citizens to sacrifice to the emperor in the presence of a Roman official and obtain a certificate (libellus) proving they had done so. Forty-four of theselibelli have survived. One surviving example reads:

To those appointed to see the sacrifices:  
From Aurelia Charis of the Egyptian village of Theadelphia.
I have always continued to sacrifice and show reverence to the gods, and now, in your presence, I have poured a libation and sacrificed and eaten some of the sacrificial meat. I request you to certify this for me below.

This method of persecution created a crisis of conscience for many Christians, as a certificate could be obtained without actually sacrificing by bribing Roman officials. It was clear that Christians should not sacrifice to a false god, but whether it was acceptable to save one's life by buying a certificate was a bit more of a gray area. Many Christians chose to defy the edict outright, refusing to buy a certificate, and were arrested or executed. Among those martyred under Decius were the bishops of Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch. However, the bishop of Smyrna performed the sacrifice, as did many others.

In general, public opinion condemned the government's violence and admired the martyrs' passive resistance, and the Christian movement was thereby strengthened. The Decian persecution ceased in 251, a few months before Decius' death.  The Decian persecution had lasting repurcussions for the church. How should those who had bought a certificate or actually sacrificed be treated? It seems that in most churches, those who had lapsed were accepted back into the fold, but some groups refused them admission to the church. This raised important issues about the nature of the church, forgiveness, and the high value of martyrdom. A century and a half later, St. Augustine would battle with an influential group called the Donatists, who broke away from the Catholic Church because the latter embraced the lapsed. 

Under Valerian, who took the throne in 253, all Christian clergy were required to sacrifice to the gods. In a 257 edict, the punishment was exile; in 258, the punishment was death. Christian senators, knights and ladies were also required to sacrifice under pain of heavy fines, reduction of rank and, later, death. Finally, all Christians were forbidden to visit their cemeteries. Among those executed under Valerian were St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and Sixtus II, Bishop of Rome. According to a letter written by Dionysus during this time, "men and women, young and old, maidens and matrons, soldiers and civilians, of every age and race, some by scourging and fire, others by the sword, have conquered in the strife and won their crowns." The persecution ended with the capture of Valerian by Persia. Valerian's son and successor, Gallienus, revoked the edicts of his father.  

The last major Roman persecution of Christians occurred under Diocletian, and it was the worst of all. It is known as the "Great Persecution." The reasons for this persecution are unclear, but Diocletians actions may have been based on the influence of his junior colleague Galarius (a fanatical adherent of Roman religion), Porphyry (an anti-Christian Neoplatonist philosopher), or the usual desire for political unity. In any case, Diocletian published four edicts of 303-04. The emperor ordered the burning of Christian books and churches, but promised not to spill any blood. In actuality, the Diocletian persecution turned out to be extremely violent. This violence "did not succeed in annihilating Christianity but caused the faith of the martyrs to blaze forth instead." 

Official persecution of Christians ended with the Edict of Milan, signed by the Christian convert Constantine and his co-emperor Licinius. This did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire (that happened under Emperor Theodosius in 381), but granted it legal status.

Two Christian Responses: The Glory of Martyrdom and Apologetics

"Though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but, the more such things happen, the more do others in larger numbers become faithful." -- Justin Martyr
In the face of persecution, many Christians chose to die before they would deny their Lord. Those who did so came to be called martyrs, which means "witnesses." The second-century theologian Tertullian had converted to Christianity based in part on his wonder at Christians' faithfulness in the face of martyrdom and it clearly had a similar effect on others as well. It was Tertullian who famously declared, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Indeed, persecution seemed to have a dramatic effect on Christianity's numbers, but not in the direction intended by the persecutors. 

A second response of the church to Roman persecution was to write apologies, or defenses, of the Christian faith. The bishops and leaders who wrote these defenses are known as the Apologists. Writing especially in the 2nd century AD, the Apologists' primary goal was to defend Christianity against pagan accusations and misconceptions in an effort to stop the persecution. Thus they often addressed their works to Roman emperors. The Apologists explained, for example, that the Christian "love feast" did not involve cannibalism or orgies as many thought, but was a sacred meal of bread and wine in honor of Christ's death. 

The Apologists also sought to show that Christianity was equal or even superior to pagan religion and philosophy, and good for the Roman state. They pointed out that Christianity was just as old as Greek thought, having originated in the ancient religion of the Hebrews. They asked their readers to compare the ethical behavior of Christians and pagans. They explained that although they were not willing to sacrifice to him as a god, Christians prayed for the emperor's welfare regularly.

The Apologists' writings do not provide a full picture of Christianity in the 2nd century, as they were generally limited in their scope to responding to specific accusations.  However, these early texts provide important insight into how early Christians related their faith to Greco-Roman paganism and why they personally found it convincing. Important Greek Apologists include Aristides, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Apollinaris (bishop of Hierapolis), Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria. Notable among the Latin apologists were Marcus Minucius Felix and Tertullian.


  1. Lk 6:22-23
  2. Epistle 10 (to Emperor Trajan), 96 (in Bettenson et al, Documents of the Christian Church, p. 3).
  3. Epistle 76, Ante-Nicene Fathers 5.403.
  4. "The tradition of martyrdom has entered deep into the Christian consciousness." Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500, rev. ed. (Prince Press, 2000), p. 81.
  5. Mark Galli, "The Persecuting Emperors." Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 20.
  6. Maurice M. Hassatt, "Martyr." The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX (Robert Appleton Company, 1910).
  7. Everett Ferguson, "Did You Know?" Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), inside cover.
  8. Robert L. Wilkin, "The Piety of the Persecutors." Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 18.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., p. 19.
  11. Latourette, p. 82.
  12. cf. Augustine, City of God, 18.52.
  13. Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd. ed.(Oxford UP, 1999), p. 2.
  14. Tertullian, Ad nat., 1.7.
  15. "Nero." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005. "Christianity." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.
  16. Suetonius, Domitian, 15.
  17. Philip Schaff, "Persecutions under Marcus Aurelius. a.d. 161–180." History of the Christian Church, 2.2.20.
  18. William H.C. Frend, "Persecution in the Early Church." Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 7.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid, p. 8.
  21. Ibid., p. 9.
  22. "Decius, Gaius Messius Quintus Trajanus." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.
  23. Maurice M. Hassatt, "Martyr." The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX (Robert Appleton Company, 1910).
  24. "Diocletian." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.
  25. Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 110.
  26. "Apologist." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.

Books on Persecution of the Early Church

Links on Persecution in the Early Church