20 January 250

Pope Fabian is martyred during the Decian persecution.

The Decian persecution refers to a series of events during the Roman Empire in the mid-3rd century AD, particularly during the reign of Emperor Decius (249–251 AD). Decius issued an edict in 250 AD that required all Roman citizens to perform a religious sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the emperor. This decree was aimed at fostering unity within the empire and reinforcing traditional Roman religious practices.

The edict had significant implications for Christians, as it posed a challenge to their monotheistic beliefs and their refusal to worship the Roman gods. Christians were faced with a choice: comply with the imperial decree and perform the required sacrifices, or face persecution and potential martyrdom for refusing to do so.

The Decian persecution resulted in widespread hardship for the Christian community. Many Christians chose to endure persecution rather than renounce their faith, and a number of them became martyrs. The persecution varied in intensity across different regions of the empire, with some areas experiencing harsher measures than others.

It’s important to note that the Decian persecution was not a continuous and empire-wide event but rather a sporadic and localized series of incidents. The severity of the persecution also depended on the local authorities and their enforcement of Decius’s edict.

The Decian persecution had a lasting impact on the Christian community. It prompted discussions within the Christian Church about how to deal with those who had renounced their faith under duress (lapsi). The controversy led to theological debates and contributed to the development of the doctrine of penance within the Christian tradition.

The persecution ended with the death of Decius in 251 AD. Subsequent emperors adopted different policies toward Christians, ranging from tolerance to renewed persecution, until the eventual recognition of Christianity as a legitimate religion within the Roman Empire in the 4th century.