Tales of Persecution: Sanctus “I Am a Christian”

His name was Sanctus. He lived under the Rule of Marcus Aurelius. This was a man who came to power in Rome in A.D. 161. It should have been a time of peace for Christianity. Marcus did not seem to be a man of evil intent. This was a man who called his people to do everything with dignity, kindness, and justice. Yet the church found him to be another man bent on its destruction. This same man who called for kindness decreed that Christian should be persecuted. Christians like Sanctus.

This period of persecution is filled with stories of men and women well known by Church Historians. The one that still regularly comes to my mind is the story of Sanctus. We learn of this man from a letter written be the churches in Lyons and Vienne. We learn in this letter that the persecution started small. Christian were merely forbidden to avoid the public, but the mob mentality developed. Christians found themselves arrested and tried. The letter says the persecution was sudden. One moment there was silence, and the next the mob took over. Like a bolt of lightning Christians found themselves facing torture and death.

This unexpected persecution became too much for some in the church to handle. We learn that Christians turned away from the faith in hopes that they would be spared from the mob. We may shake our heads at this, but it is important to understand the conditions these men and women were in. Writers back then claim that the Christians were stored away in spaces that were so crowded that some died from suffocation before they ever even made it to their execution. The temptation to turn away was great, and a noticeable amount took advantage of it.

Then there was Sanctus. He was put to torture. His persecutors demanded him to denounce his faith. With each beating his answer remained the same “I am a Christian.” Those are the only four words we have record of him saying in response to their demands. The more he was beaten the more persistent he spoke them. He spoke with such determination and fire that those who had just abandoned their faith found themselves turning back and echoing his claim. “I am a Christian.” His boldness in faith gave others the courage to not only recant their denouncement of the Christian faith, but to die as martyrs for their belief as well.

Centuries later we still speak of Sanctus today. His boldness in remaining firm while facing persecution speaks to our hearts. It also pushes me to ask myself a question. Do I live out my faith in a way that affects those around me? Am I an encouragement to those around me who may be wavering in their faith? We don’t know every detail about the life of Sanctus, but we do know about this moment. It was his final moment, and ultimately it was the one that history has deemed important to leave as a mark for future generations. It was a moment of faith that was so great that it actually called for the fallen to return unto death. We should remember his story and the sacrifice involved, but we should also challenge ourselves with asking how we are living our lives to inspire faithfulness in others.