After the resurrection and ascension of Our Lord, the Roman Empire persecuted the Church for 300 years. There were ten official persecutions by the following Roman emperors: Nero (64-68), Domitian (94-96), Trajan (98-117), Marcus Aurelius (166-180), Septimius Severus (202-211), Maximinus Thrax (235-238), Decius (249-251), Valerian (247-259), Aurelian (270-275), and Diocletian (284-305).
The Romans considered the state divine and the emperor was looked upon as a god. The Christians did not accept these teachings, and thus embracing Christianity was regarded as treason. With ignorance, hatred and mob spirit, the pagans falsely accused Christians of immorality and of killing children in sacrifice. When problems arose in society, the pagans would blame the Christians, saying that the gods were angry because the Christians refused to worship them.
It was during the persecution under Nero that St. Peter and St. Paul martyred in Rome. Peter was crucified and was buried at the foot of Vatican Hill. St. Paul was beheaded. Nero set Rome afire and blamed the Christians for it. He killed the Christians by the thousands with great cruelty.
Under Domitian, St. John of apostle was plunged into a caldron of boiling oil but miraculously escaped. He was then banished to the island of Patmos, where he received divine revelations and wrote the Book of Revelation.
Pope St. Clement was martyred under Trajan. St. Ignatius of Antioch was devoured by lions in the Roman amphitheater around 110. While he was on his way to martyrdom at Rome, Ignatius wrote seven beautiful epistles to various churches.
According to legend, St. Cecilia suffered under Marcus Aurelius. Cecilia made a vow of virginity. Her parents arranged a marriage for her. Cecilia converted her husband Valerian to the Faith and they agreed to live in continence. Cecilia was condemned to be suffocated by steam, but was miraculously preserved. She was then killed with the sword.
During the reign of Septimius Severus, five catechumens (including Sts. Perpetua and Felicity) were arrested at Carthage. St. Saturus, their teacher, voluntarily joined them in prison. The catechumens were baptized in prison. They were martyred at the Arena.
Popes Pontian and Anterus suffered martyrdom under Maximus Thrax. The pagans blamed the Christians for repeated earthquakes and cried: “The Christians to the lions!”
For fifty years after Septimius Severus, the Christians were left more or less at peace. Due to unrest and discontent throughout the Empire, the emperor was occupied with other concerns. The Christians were allowed to own properties and to build churches. However, some Christians also became worldly and less fervent and their faith was weakened. Hence, during the persecution under Decius many Christians were wanting in courage. Some offered sacrifices to pagan gods and others, through bribery or political influence, obtained certificates saying they had done so. After the persecution, the Church received the apostates back into the fold, but also imposed severe penance on them.
Before the reign of Decius, persecutions were only limited to certain provinces. But under Decius there was general and systematic persecution against the Christians. Decius targeted especially the bishops and priests of the Church. St. Agatha was martyred under Decius.
Pope Sixtus II and his deacon, St. Lawrence, suffered martyrdom under Valerian. The persecution under Aurelian did not last long, for the emperor soon met a violent death.
The persecution under Diocletian was the most violent. Some of the martyrs under this persecution are best known to us: St. Sebastian, the Roman soldier whose body was shot with arrows but who survived and was killed by the sword; St. Tarcisius, the acolyte who died defending the Blessed Sacrament; St. Lucy, St. Agnes, and many others were martyred who had consecrated their virginity to Christ.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”— Tertullian
聖伯多祿和聖保祿，均在尼祿皇帝統治下殉道 —— 聖伯多祿被反倒釘死在十字架上，死後葬在梵蒂崗崗下；聖保祿則被斬首致命。尼祿縱火燒毀羅馬，竟嫁禍基督徒，他把數以千計的基督徒，殘酷地處死。