Persecution at Lyons and Vienne - The Epistle of the Gallican Churches

Garner, Gary O. (2003) Persecution at Lyons and Vienne - The Epistle of the Gallican Churches. (Unpublished)


In A.D. 177 a relatively brief, but particularly brutal persecution of Christians, occurred at Lyons and Vienne, Gaul (now southern France). The persecution saw around 50 persons, both male and female, young and old, martyred, on account of their admitted Christian faith. Along with these, many more people were badly treated and tortured at the hands of the state, then under the ultimate control of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The severity and brutality of the persecution is almost too terrible to comprehend. Foakes Jackson describes it as one of the most terrible persecutions on record. It is therefore with some credulity that a number of Christians, having originally confessed under torture, later recanted, and as a consequence were executed. In some instances, allegations of crimes such as incest and cannibalism were made by pagan slaves belonging to Christians: such confessions extracted under torture until the "truth" was revealed. The "best" outcome for those under persecution was a pardon (if they pledged allegiance to Rome, and denounced their Christian faith), or alternatively beheading - if found to be a Roman citizen. Others were cruelly tortured and died in the process, or otherwise allowed to be publicly gored to death by wild animals or bulls. In some instances, and perhaps out of sheer frustration at their obstinacy (in terms of both lack of confession, and/or the rather miraculous lingering of life) Christians eventually had their throats cut if they continued to outlive their oppressor's inhuman treatment.

This persecution began following a period of unprovoked attacks by mobs, whereby the Christians, after initial investigation by local policing authorities, were held prisoner until their fate could be decided by the governor of the province. The governor carried out the atrocities after consultation with, and apparent approval of, the Emperor.

The timing of the persecution coincided with the August festivals of the three provinces of Gaul, and in so doing provided a macabre, and apparently very popular, games spectacle. The public humiliation and torture of the Christians at these games was observed by an outraged crowd whom were whipped into a frenzy by the confessions of crimes said to be committed by the persecuted.

The events surrounding this persecution are captured in a very moving narrative from the Christian brethren comprising churches established at Lyons and Vienne. Commonly referred to as "The Epistle of the Gallican Churches", the letter was sent to the churches of the mother country in Asia and Phrygia where there were strong, established connections and a synonymous Greek heritage. The text was preserved for posterity by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History. It has been described as "the fullest description of early Christian martyrs", and accordingly provides an excellent backdrop for examining and understanding the testimony and witness of suffering and martyrdom, which has application for the ongoing suffering of Christ’s church and its people - even today.

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ID Code: 7221
Item Type: Other
Refereed: No
Keywords: Christian, martyr, persecution, chruch, 'Gallican, Lyons, Vienne, Marcus Aurelius
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES (220000) > RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS (220400) > Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History) (220401)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2003 Gary Garner
Deposited On: 27 Apr 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 12:39

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