“The more oftern we are mown down, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed”
(Tertullian, Apology, chapter 50)
When the Church was founded and commanded to preach the Gospel, Christ did warn His disciples, “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them” (Mark 13:9).
From the very first days of the Church up to her present days of existence, she endured sufferings from persecution and hatred from those who do not understand what she believes, teaches and fights for. That was His Master told her, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
Below is the timeline of the persections of the holy Catholic Church. It isn’t the complete history record but it clearly shows the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy: “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13a):
- AD 33: The One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church (moved to Rome by Peter after he fled from Jerusalem due to Christian Persecution) was founded by Jesus Christ.
- ca. AD 34: St. Paul led the persecution of the Church at Jerusalem but would be converted and become an Apostle. St. Stephen was stoned to death at Jerusalem; thus, venerating him as the first Christian martyr.
- AD 42: Persecution of Christians in Palestine broke out during the rule of Herod Agrippa. St. James the Greater was beheaded in 44 AD. St. Peter was imprisoned for a short time; many Christians fled to Antioch, making the beginning of dispersion of Christian beyond the confines of Palestine. At Antioch, the followers of Christ were called Christians for the first time.
- AD 49: Christians at Rome, considered members of a Jewish sect, were adversely affected by a decree of Emperor Claudius which forbade Jewish worship there.
- AD 64: Persecution broke out at Rome under Emperor Nero, the emperor said to have accused Christians of starting the fire which destroyed half of Rome. St. Peter was crucified upside down at Rome. He established his see there after preaching in and around Jerusalem, establishing a see at Antioch, and presiding at the council of Jerusalem.
- AD 95: Domitian persecuted Christians, principally at Rome.
- ca. AD 107: St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred at Rome. He was the first writer to use the expression, “the Catholic Church.”
- AD 112: Emperor Trajan, in a rescript to Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, instructed him not to search out Christians but to punish them if they were publicly denounced and refused to do homage to the Roman gods. This rescript set a pattern for Roman magistrates in dealing with Christians.
- AD 117-138: Persecution under Emperor Hadrian. Many acts of martyrs date from this period.
- ca. AD 155: St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and disciple of St. John the Evangelist, was martyred at Rome.
- AD 161-180: Reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. His persecution, launched in the wake of natural disasters, was more violent than those of his predecessors.
- AD 165: St. Justin, an important early Christian apologist, was martyed at Rome.
- AD 202: Persecution under Emperor Septimus Severus, who wanted to establish a simple common religion in the Empire.
- AD 217-235: St. Hippolytus, the first antipope; he was reconciled to the Church while in prison during persecution in 235 AD.
- AD 249-251: Persecution under Emperor Decius. Many of those who denied the faith (lapsi) sought readmission to the Church at the end of persecution in 251 AD.
- AD 257: Persecution under Emperor Valerian, who attempted to destroy the Church as a social structure.
- AD 261: Gallienus issued an edict of toleration which ended general persecution for nearly 40 years.
- ca. AD 292: Emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into East and West. The division emphasized political, cultural, and other differences between the two parts of the Empire and influenced different developments in the Church in the East and West. The prestige of Rome began to decline.
- AD 303: Peesecution broke out under Emperor Diocletian; it was particularly violent in 304 AD.
- AD 311: An edict of toleration, issued by Galerius at the urging of Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius, officially ended the persecution in the West; some persecution continued in the East.
- AD 313: The Edict of Milan, issued by Constantine and Licinius, recognized Christianity as a lawful religion in the Roman Empire.
- ca. AD 342: Beginning of a 40-year persecution of the Church in Persia.
- AD 361-363: Emperor Julian the Apostate waged an unsuccessful campaign against the Church in an attempt to restore paganism as the religion of the empire.
- ca. AD 365: Persecution of the Church under Emperor Valens in the East
- AD 410: Visigoths under Alaric sacked Rome and the last Roman legions departed Britain. The decline of imperial Rome dates approximately from this time.
- AD 452: Pope Leo the Great persuaded Attila the Hun to spare Rome.
- AD 455: Vandals under Geiseric sacked Rome.
- AD 496: Clovis, king of the Franks, was converted and became defender of Christianity in the West. The Franks became Catholics.
- AD 622: The Hegira (flight) of Mohammed from Mecca signalled the beginning of Islam which, by the end of the century, persecuted the Christians and claimed almost all of the southern Mediterranean area.
- AD 711: Muslims began the conquest of Spain.
- AD 726: Emperor Leo III the Isurian launched a campaign against the veneration of sacred images and relics; called Iconoclasm (image-breaking), it caused turmoil in the East until about AD 843. This was condemned by Pope Gregory III and the Roman synod in AD 731, Lateran synod in AD 769, 2nd Ecumenical Council of Nicea in AD 787.
- AD 754: Pope Stephen II (III) crowned Pepin as ruler of the Franks. Pepin twice invaded Italy, in 754 and 756, to defend the pope against the Lombards. His land grants to the papacy, called the Donation of Pepin, were later extended by Charlemagne in AD 773 and formed parts of the States of the Church.
- AD 755: St. Boniface (Winfrid) was martyred. He was called the Apostle of Germany for his missionary work and organization of the hierarchy there.
- AD 813: Emperor Leo V the Armenian revived Iconoclasm which persisted until about AD 843.
- AD 846: Muslims invaded Italy and attacked Rome.
- AD 915: Pope John X played a leading role in the expulsion of Saracens from central and southern Italy.
- AD 1097-1099: The first of several Crusades undertaken between this time and 1265. Recovery of the Holy Places and gaining free access to them for Christians were diverted to less worthy objectives in various ways. Results included: a Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1187; a military and political misadventure in the form of a Latin Empire of Constantinople, 1204-1261; acquisition, by treaties, of visiting rights for Christians in the Holy Land. East-West economic and cultural relationships increased during the period. In the religious sphere, actions of the Crusaders had the effect of increasing the alienation of the East from the West.
- AD 1118: Christian forces captured Saragosa, Spain; the beginning of the Muslim decline in that country.
- AD 1170: St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, who clashed with Henry II over church-state relations, was murdered in his cathedral.
- AD 1208: Pope Innocent III called for a crusade, the first in Christendom itself, against the Albigensians; their beliefs and practices threatened the fabric of society in southern France and northern Italy.
- AD 1231: Pope Gregory IX authorized establishment of Papal Inquisition for dealing with heretics. It was a creature of its time, when crimes against faith and heretical doctrines of extremists like the Cathari and Albigenses threatened the good of the Christian community, the welfare of the state and the very fabric of society.
- AD 1309-1377: For a period of approximately 70 years, seven popes resided at Avignon because of the power struggles over the mixed interests of Church and state with the rulers of France, Bavaria, and England; factionalism of French and Italian churchmen; political as well as ecclesiastical turmoil in Italy.
- AD 1338: Four years after the death of Pope John XXII, who had opposed Louis IV of Bavaria in a years-long controversy, electoral princes declared at the Diet of Rhense that the emperor did not need papal confirmation of his title and right to rule. Charles IV later (1356) said the same thing in a Golden Bull, eliminating papal rights in the election of emperors.
- AD 1347-1350: The Black Death swept accross Europe, killing perhaps one-fourth to one-third of the total population; an estimated 40 per cent of the clergy succumbed.
- AD 1438: The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges was enacted by Charles VII and the French Parliament to curtail papal authority over the Church in France, in the spirit of conciliarism.
- AD 1478: Pope Sixtus IV, at the urging of King Ferdinand of Spain, approved establishment of the Spanish Inquisition for dealing with the Jewish and Moorish converts accused of heresy. The institution, which was peculiar to Spain and its colonies in America, acquired jurisdiction over other cases as well and fell into disrepute because of its procedures, cruelty and the manner in which it served the Spanish crown, rather than the accused and the good of the Church. Protests by the Holy See failed to curb excesses of the Inquisition, which lingered in Spanish history until early in the 19th century.
- AD 1517: Martin Luther signaled the beginning of the Reformation by posting 95 theses at Wittenberg.
- AD 1519: Zwingli triggered the Reformation in Zurich and became its leading proponent there until his death in combat in 1531.
- AD 1524: Luther’s encouragement of German princes in putting down the two-year Peasants’ Revolt gained political support for his cause.
- AD 1533: Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon, married Anne Boleyn, was excommunicated. In 1534, he decreed the Acts of Supremacy, making the sovereign the head of the church of England, under which St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore were executed in 1535.
- AD 1549: Start of the five-year reign of Mary Tudor who tried to counteract actions of Henry VIII against the Catholic Church.
- AD 1555: Enactment of the Peace of Augsburg, an arrangement of religious territorialism rather than toleration, which recognized the existence of Catholicism and Lutheranism in the German Empire and provided that citizens should adopt the religion of their respective rulers.
- AD 1570: Queen Elizabeth I was excommunicated. Penal measures against Catholics subsequently became more severe.
- AD 1571: Defeat of the Turkish armada at Lepanto starved off the invasion of Eastern Europe.
- AD 1605: The Gunpowder Plot, an attempt by alleged Catholic fanatics to blow up James I of England and the houses of Parliament, resulted in an anti-Catholic Oath of Allegiance.
- AD 1613: Catholics were banned from Scandinavia.
- AD 1648: Provisions in the Peace of Westphalia, ending the Thirty Years’ War, extended terms of the Peace of Augsburg (1555) to Calvinists and gave equality to Catholics and Protestants in the 300 states of the Holy Roman Empire.
- AD 1649: Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland and began a severe persecution of the Catholic Church there.
- AD 1673: The Test Act in England barred from public office Catholics who would not deny the doctrine of transubstantiation and receive Communion in the Anglican Church.
- AD 1678: Many English Catholics suffered death as a consequence of the Popish Plot, a false allegation by Titus Oates that Catholics planned to assassinate Charles II, land a French army in the country, burn London, and turn over the government to the Jesuits.
- AD 1682: The four Gallican articles, drawn up by Bossuet, asserted political and ecclesiastical immunities of France from papal control. The articles, which rejected the primacy of the pope, were declared null and void by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690.
- AD 1689: The Toleration Act granted a measure of freedom of worship to other English dissenters but not to Catholics.
- AD 1724: The persection of the Catholic Church in China broke out.
- AD 1760’s: Josephinism, a theory and system of state control of the Church, was initiated in Austria; it remained in force until about 1850.
- AD 1764: Febronianism, an unorthodox theory and practice regading the constitution of the Church and relations between Church and state, was condemned for the first of several times. Proposed by an auxiliary bishop of Tier using the pseudonym Justinus Febronius, it had the effects of minimizing the office of the pope and supporting national churches under the state control.
- AD 1778: Catholics in England were relieved of some civil disabilities dating back to the time of Henry VIII, by an act which permitted them to acquire, own, and inherit property. Additional liberties were restored by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791 and sunsequent enactments of Parliament.
- AD 1789: Religious freedom in the United States was guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Beginning of the French Revolution which resulted in: the secularization of church property and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790; the persecution of priests, religious and lay persons loyal to papal authority; invasion of the Papal States by Napoleon in 1796; renewal of persecution from 1797-1799; attempts to dechristianize France and establish a new religion; the occupation of Rome by French troops and the forced removal of Pope Pius VI to France in 1798.
This century is called the age of Enlightenment or Reason because of the predominating rational and scientific approach of its leading philosophers, scientists and writers with respect to religion, ethics and natural law. This approach downgraded the fact and significance of revealed reigion.
- AD 1809: Pope Pius VII was made captive by Napoleon and deported to France where he remained in exile until 1814. During this time, he refused to cooperate with Napoleon who sought to bring the Church in France under his own control, and other leading cardinals were imprisoned. The turbulence in church-state relations in France at the beginning of the century recurred in connection with the Bourbon Restoration, the July Revolution, the second and third Republics, the second Empire and the Dreyfus case.
- AD 1820: Year’s-long persecution of the Catholic Church, during which thousands died for the faith, ended in China. Thereafter, communication with the West remained cut off until about 1834. Vigorous missionary work got under way in 1842.
- AD 1829: The Catholic Emancipation Act relieved Catholics in England and Ireland of most of the civil disabilities to which they had been subject from the time of Henry VIII.
- AD 1833: Start of Oxford Movement which affected the Anglican Church and resulted in some notable conversions, including that of John Henry Newman in 1845, to the Catholic Church.
- AD 1870-1871: Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia, crowned king of Italy after defeating Austrian and papal forces, marched into Rome in 1870 and expropriated the Papal States after a plebiscite in which Catholics, at the order of Pope Pius IX, did not vote. In 1871, Pius IX refused to accept the Law of Guarrantees. Confiacation of church property and hindrance of ecclesiastical administration by the regime followed.
- AD 1871: The German Empire, a confederation of 26 states, was formed. Government policy launched a Kulturkampf whose May Laws of 1873 were designed to annul papal jurisdiction in Prussia under imperial control. Resistance to the enactments and the persecution they legalized forced government to modify its anti-Church policy by 1887.
- AD 1881: Alexander II of Russia was assassinated. His policies of Russification — as well as those of his two predecessors and a successor during the century — caused great suffering to Catholics, Jews, and Protestants in Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, and Bessarabia.
- AD 1901: Restrictive measures in France forced Jesuits, Benedictines, Carmelites, and other religious orders to leave the country. Subsequently, thousands of Catholic schools were suppressed; religious orders and congregations were expelled; the concordat was renounced in 1905; church property was confiscated in 1906. For some years, refusing to comply with government demands for the control of the bishops’ appointments, left some ecclesiastical offices vacant.
- AD 1903-1914: The Pontificate of St. Pius X who removed ban against the participation of Catholics in Italian national elections.
- AD 1910: Laws of separation were enacted in Portugal, marking a point of departure in church-state relations.
- AD 1914: Start of World War I, which lasted until 1918.
- AD 1914-1922: The Pontificate of Benedict XV who devoted to seeking ways and means of minimizing the material and spiritual havoc of World War I. In 1917, he offered his services as a mediator to the belligerent nations, but his pleas for settlement of the conflict went unheeded.
- AD 1917: A new constitution, embodying repressive laws againts the Catholic Church, was enacted in Mexico. Its implementation resulted in persecution in the 1920s and 1930s. Meanwhile, Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and set up a dictatorship. The event marked the rise of communism in Russian and world affairs. One of its immediate, and lasting, results was persecution of the Catholic Church, Jews, and other segments of population.
- AD 1922-1939: The Pontificate of Pius XI who subsctibed to the Lateran Treaty in 1929 that settled the Roman Question created by the confiscation of the Papal States in 1871. He also resisted the efforts of Benito Mussolini to control Catholic Action and the Church.
- AD 1926: The Catholic Relief Act repealed virtually all legal disabilities of Catholics in England.
- AD 1931: Leftists proclaimed Spain a republic and proceeded to disestablish the Church, confiscate church property, deny stipends to the clergy, expel the Jesuits and ban teaching of the Catholic faith. These actions were preludes to the civil war of 1936-1939.
- AD 1933: Emergence of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany. By 1935, two of his aims were clear, the elimination of the Jews and control of a single national church. Millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The Catholic Church was subject to repressive measures, which Pope Pius XI protested futilely in the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge in 1937.
- AD 1936-1939: Civil war in Spain between the Leftist Loyalist and the forces of the rightist leader Francisco Franco. The loyalists were defeated and one-man, one-party rule was established. Many priests, religious and lay persons fell victim to Loyalist persecution and atrocities.
- AD 1939-1945: World War II.
- AD 1940: Start of a decade of communist conquest in more than 13 countries, resulting in conditions of persecution for a minimum of 60 million Catholics as well as members of other faiths. Persecution diminished in Mexico because of non-enforcement of anti-religious laws still on record.
- AD 1957: The communist regime of China established the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics in opposition to the Church in union with the pope.
- AD 1989-1991: The decline and fall of communist influence and control in Middle and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the help of the Catholic Church under the pastoral leadership of Pope John Paul II.
- AD 2000: The holy Catholic Church, the true Body of Christ, celebrated the Holy Year 2000 and the Jubilee — the commencement of the third Christian millennium.
- AD 2014 to present: Christian persecution in Middle East by a terrorist group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Thousands of Catholics were tortured or killed; and more Catholic churches were burned or destroyed.
AT PRESENT, the persecution and hatred towards the Church still continues in any way. However, despite those centuries of persecutions and attempts to destroy the very foundation of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, she remains undefeated. Christ promised, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18b). She will never be brought down by any anti-Catholics because her Groom once again promised her, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
But remember what the Lord has reminded His children:
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrew 13:3).
TO PERSECUTE THE CHURCH IS TO PERSECUTE CHRIST.