Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our forgotten legacy: Remembering the persecution of Christians in Carthage in 483 A.D


I love church history. There are so many stories from our past that Christians today are unaware of.  The persecution of Christians by the Arians in the 5th century is a case in point.

King Hunneric ruled the western part of the Roman Empire from 477 to 484. The leader of a vicious band of East Germanic peoples, King Hunneric took the title of King of the Vandals and became known for his brutal oppression of Christians. He fearfully defended not only his throne but also his Arian theology. During his reign, hosts of Christians were butchered.

At first, King Hunneric allowed a new bishop of Carthage to be elected, but soon he turned against them. He tried to make church property a part of the state. The resulting protests caused him to banish a number of clergy from his kingdom. In addition, Hunneric deprived Christians holding posts at the court or those belonging to the army of their positions and pay.

King Hunneric eventually gave orders for drastic restrictions against the church. The first to suffer persecution were bishops assembled at Carthage. They were expelled from the town with nothing and were obliged to beg. The inhabitants were forbidden to give them shelter or food under penalty of being burnt alive with their whole families.

His cruelty was not limited to Christian leadership. Noble ladies were stripped naked and suspended in the public streets with heavy weights attached to their feet. Their bodies were burnt with red-hot irons, their arms and other body parts cut off and hot tar was applied to their back, front and sides. The king hoped to extort confessions of immorality that he could use against the bishops and clergy. Many perished under the torture and survivors were often maimed for life.

A collection of nearly 5,000 Orthodox bishops, priests, deacons and laity became victim to King Hunneric’s vendetta. They were commanded to swear against their previous claims to Christ. In the interest of survival, some declared an oath. Some elders resisted, however, citing Jesus Christ’s words, “swear not.” These elders of the church were sentenced to be banished or killed for not swearing. The others, having followed the king’s demand, did so in vain. They, too, received punishment because they swore against the command of the Scripture.

Other Christians were cruelly beaten, hung and burnt alive. Some had their eyes put out, others their hands, feet, noses, or ears cut off. Hunneric ordered some of the cruellest scenes of torture to be enacted in the streets he passed through on his way to the palace.

The persecution raged until Hunneric died, on December 11, 484.

(Source: Van Bragt, Thieleman. Martyr’s Mirror: of the defenseless Christians. Herald Press; Scottdale, Pennsylvania: 1886)

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