The northern shores of Africa teemed with Christians during the second century, but all were at risk. In 180 seven men and five women were captured carrying “the sacred books, and the letters of Paul, a just man.” On July 17, 180 they appeared before the Roman proconsul Saturninus in Carthage. Charges against them were read: “Whereas Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and the rest have confessed they live in accordance with the religious rites of the Christians, and when an opportunity was given them of returning to the usage of the Romans they persevered in their obstinacy, it is our pleasure they should suffer the sword.”
Nartzalus said, “Today we are martyrs in heaven. Thanks be to God!”
The proconsul was bewildered by their reaction and by their claim that Christianity was the only true religion. “We too have a religion,” he said, “and ours is a simple one. We swear by the fortune of the emperor. You should do the same.”
Speratus replied, “I do not recognize an empire in this world. I serve that God whom no man has seen or can see. The Lord I acknowledge is the Emperor of all kings and all nations.”
Donata added, “Honor to Caesar, but reverence to God alone.”
“We reverence no one except our God in heaven,” said another.
Saturninus, still perplexed, asked, “Would you like time to think it over?”
“What is the use?” replied Speratus. “The matter is as plain as can be.”
And it was. The early Christians expected persecution. The Savior had died on the cross, the Twelve had suffered for their faith, and no generation since had escaped pain and bloodshed. In 95 Domitian executed his own family members who espoused Christianity. In 107 Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, was killed. In 110 Ignatius died. Polycarp was martyred in 155. In 165 Justin Martyr was scourged and killed. In 177, 48 Christian perished in France.
And in 180 the twelve from Scilli were marched out and beheaded.
“As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:36-37
Story excerpted from “On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes” by Robert J. Morgan.
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