Sixtus

The leaders of the early church included two men named Sixtus. The first served as bishop of Rome from about 117 to 127. Sixtus II occupied the same office in 257–258.

Valerian

The latter rose to the position during the unfortunate reign of Emperor Valerian when the empire was ravaged by plagues, droughts, earthquakes, tornadoes, and tidal waves. Valerian was initially tolerant toward Christians, but as natural disasters rocked his realm, he superstitiously began to blame the church. Edicts were issued against bishops and priests, and decrees forbade the gathering of Christians for worship. Churches were closed to the living Christians and cemeteries were closed to the dead ones.

Sixtus II

The followers of Christ, however, were not daunted, and within a year Valerian realized his edicts were failing. In July, 258 he ordered bishops, priests, and deacons executed. He confiscated church property and denied civil privileges to believers. Members of the royal court who espoused Christianity were made slaves on imperial estates. One prominent church leader was tied to a bull and driven up and down the streets until his brains were dashed out.

Sixtus II had become bishop of Rome just as Valerian was issuing his orders. He created a small chapel in the catacombs, and there he met secretly with his faithful flock. One day as he taught the people, imperial soldiers burst in and seized him. He was rushed before a judge, condemned, and taken back to the catacombs where, on August 6, 258, he was put to death in his episcopal chair. Several of his deacons also perished.

Three weeks later in North Africa, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage was brought before another imperial judge. When challenged, he declared, “I am a Christian bishop. I know no gods but the only true God.”

“Have you made up your mind to that?” asked the Roman.

“A good mind,” replied Cyprian, “cannot alter.” He was soon escorted to a natural amphitheater where his head was severed. In many parts of the empire, the persecution of 258–259 was the bloodiest the church had yet endured.

Be brave when you face your enemies. Your courage will show them that they are going to be destroyed, and it will show you that you will be saved. (Philippians 1:28)

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1221 – Death of Dominic, founder of the Dominican order. His love for people was so genuine, in exchange for the son of a widow he once offered himself as a slave to a Moor.

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