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SS. CLAUDIUS, ASTERIUS, NEON, DOMNINA, AND THEONILLA, MM.
THOUGH the emperors Dioclesian and Maximian were, for a great part of their reign, favorable to the Christians, and passed no edicts against them till the latter end, yet several martyrs suffered in the beginning of their reign, especially at Rome, and in Gaul and Britain, and some also in the East. This was owing to particular occasions, or to the humor of certain governors of provinces, who acted by virtue of former laws which had never been repealed. In this manner the above-mentioned five martyrs were crowned in Cilicia. Claudius, Asterius, and Neon were three brothers, who were impeached as Christians before the magistrates of the city Ægea, in which they dwelt, by their mother-in-law, whose principal view was to possess herself of their estate. About the same time two pious women named Domnina and Theonilla with a little child (perhaps Domnina’s) were likewise, on account of their faith, thrown into prison by the same magistrate, and brought to their trial before the proconsul of Cilicia, whose name was Lysias. Their Acts are extant entire, as they were copied from the proconsular register.
The proconsul visiting his province arrived at Ægea, a seaport, and a free town of Cilicia, forty-six miles south-east from Tarsus; and being there seated on his tribunal said: “Let them bring before me the Christians whom the officers have delivered to the city magistrate.” Euthalius the jailer said: “The magistrate of this city having, pursuant to your orders, made the strictest inquiry after the Christians, has apprehended six of this profession; three young men, all brothers, two women, and a small child. One of them is here before you.” Lysias said to him: “Well; what is your name?” He answered, “Claudius.” “Be not such a madman,” said Lysias, “as to throw thyself away in thy youthful days; but sacrifice to the gods, the only way to escape the torments prepared for thee in case of refusal.” CLAUDIUS. “My God requires no such sacrifices; he rather delights in alms-deeds and holiness of life. Your gods are unclean demons, who are pleased with such sacrifices, whilst they are preparing eternal punishments for those who offer them.” LYSIAS. “Let him be bound in order to be beaten with rods; there is no other way of bringing him to reason.” CLAUDIUS. “Though you should inflict upon me the most cruel torments, you will not move or hurt me.” LYSIAS. “The emperors have commanded that the Christians sacrifice to the gods; that they who refuse to do it be punished, but that honors and rewards be bestowed on such as obey.” CLAUDIUS. “Their rewards are temporary and short-lived; whereas the confession of Jesus Christ has everlasting glory for its recompense.” Then the proconsul commanded him to be put upon the rack; fire to be applied to his feet, and little slices of flesh to be cut off his heels, and presented to him. The martyr said: “Neither your fire nor all your other torments can hurt those who fear God. All this conduces to bring them to eternal life.” Lysias ordered his flesh to be torn with iron hooks; then his sides to be rubbed with broken potsherds, and burning torches to be applied to them. Claudius said: “I esteem it a great benefit to suffer for God, and the greatest riches to die for Jesus Christ.” LYSIAS. “Take him hence, carry him back to prison, and bring another.” Euthalius, the keeper of the prison, said: “According to your orders, my lord, we have brought hither Asterius the second brother.” Lysias said to him: “Take my advice, and sacrifice to the gods; you have before your eyes the torments that are prepared for those that refuse.” ASTERIUS. “There is one God who dwelleth in the heavens, and in the greatness of his power regardeth the lowest things. Him my parents have taught me to love and adore. I know not those that you worship, and call gods.” Lysias then ordered him to be laid on the rack, saying: “Squeeze his sides, tear them with iron hooks, and bid him comply instantly, and sacrifice to the gods.” Asterius replied: “I am his brother whom you just now interrogated. Our sentiments are the same, and we make the same confession. My body is in your power; but my soul is out of your reach.” Lysias said: “Bring the iron pincers and pulleys, bind his feet, squeeze and torture him, that he may perceive I can inflict torments.” After this he said: “Put live coals under his feet; and lash him on the back and belly with whips of leather thongs.” The martyr replied: “The only favor I desire of you is, that you suffer no part of my body to be exempt from torment.” Lysias said: “Take him hence, and put him with the rest, and bring the third.”
When Neon was brought, Lysias called him son, and treated him with mildness, exhorting him to sacrifice to the gods that he might escape torments. Neon answered that his gods had no power if they were not able to defend themselves without having recourse to his authority. Lysias said: “Strike him on the neck, and bid him not blaspheme the gods.” Neon replied: “You think I blaspheme when I speak the truth.” Lysias said: “Stretch him by the feet upon the rack; put burning coals upon him, and scourge his back with thongs.” While this was executing, Neon said: “I will do what is profitable for my soul, and no man shall ever make me change this resolution.” Lysias then dictated this sentence: “Euthalius the keeper, and Archelaus the executioner, shall take care that these three brothers be crucified without the town, that the birds of the air may devour their bodies.”
Then Euthalius presented Domnina, whereupon Lysias said to her: “You see, woman, the fire and torments which are preparing for you; if you would avoid them, draw near and sacrifice.” Domnina replied: “I shall not do it, lest I fall into eternal fire, and perpetual torments. I worship God and his Son Jesus Christ, who hath made heaven and earth, and all that is therein.” Lysias said: “Take off her garments, lay her at her length, and scourge her with rods.” After this was done, Archelaus, the executioner, said to Lysias: “May it please you, Domnina is just expired.” Lysias said: “Throw her body into the midst of the river.” Euthalius said “Here, my lord, is Theonilla.” Lysias said to her: “You have seen the flames and torments with which the others have been punished. Honor the gods and sacrifice.” Theonilla replied. “I dread eternal torments, which will destroy both body and soul.” Lysias said: “Buffet her, lay her flat, and bind her, and torment her with the utmost violence.” Theonilla said: “Are you not ashamed to inflict such punishments on a woman that is free and a stranger too? You know it to be true, and God sees what you do.” Lysias said: “Hang her up by the hair of the head, and strike her on the face.” Theonilla said: “Is it not enough that you have stripped me naked? It is not me only that you have injured, but your mother and your wife are also put to confusion in my person.” Lysias said: “Are you a married woman, or are you a widow?” Theonilla replied: “I have been a widow these three and twenty years. It is for the love of God that I have continued in this state, accustoming myself to fasting, watching, and prayer, ever since I have forsaken your unclean idols.” Lysias said: “Shave her head, that she may undergo greater confusion. Gird her about with thorns: extend her body, and tie it to four stakes; scourge her with thongs, not only upon the back, but over all her body; lay live coals upon her belly, and so let her die.” Euthalius the gaoler and Archelaus the executioner said: “My lord, she is now dead.” Then said Lysias to them: “Sew her body up in a sack; tie it fast, and throw it into the water.” Euthalius and Archelaus said: “We have executed your orders relating to the bodies of the Christians.” The persecutors took these precautions with regard to their dead bodies, that the Christians might not get possession of their relics. These holy martyrs suffered at Ægea in the consulate of Dioclesian and Aristobulus, on the tenth of the calends of September, that is, on the 23d of August, in the year of our Lord 285, Lysias being proconsul of Cilicia, by whose command SS. Cosmas and Damian, brothers and physicians, and a great number of other martyrs suffered. See the genuine proconsular Acts of SS. Claudius, Asterius, &c., in Baronius, Surius, and Ruinart.