Chapter 8: The Martyrdom of Crispina, by Varneihthangi
Christians have met with martyrdom throughout their long history. The regularity of martyrdom confirms a certainty that the earliest apostles had from Christ himself who warned them that the choice they make will expose them to death and this is how it would always be. And also it is not just because of an unfortunate combination and turn of events.
Martyrdom arose quite naturally out of the work of proclaiming Christ as the only Lord and Savior and none beside him. It is therefore, specifically for this reason that the Christians died and in turn imitated Christ’s passion of suffering and through it teaching a lesson.
The Martyrdom of Crispina occurred during the last persecution period of the Roman Empire, under the emperor- ship of Galerius Vaerius Maximianus, who was of humble stock and a native of Illyricum. Galerius was invested with the title Caesar in 293 AD. by Diocletian whose daughter he married and was given responsibility for the Danube frontier. When Diocletian decided on measures against the Christians, the serenity with which this decision was implemented in the series of edicts after 303 AD. was due largely to the influence of Galerius. (J.D. Douglas, et.al. The International Dictionary of the Christian Church [revised Edition], Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, p. 399.) Galerius’ power increased as the emperor’s health failed and he persuaded both the Augusti to abdicate. He then became the Augustus of the East in 305 AD. and Constantine became Augustus in the West. While the Church in the West, under Constantine enjoyed comparative peace, the policy of persecution was continued in the east by Galerius and his Caesar, Maximian. There was remission only after 307 A.D. when Galerius’ own health failed and moreover because he was under the threat of Constantine and Maxetius who were in alliance. It was also the same year that Galerius died, but not before he published the Edict of Toleration from Nicomedia.
This period of martyrdom was the last desperate attempt of the state against the new religion and therefore it was the most terrible of all the persecutions.
Reason for Persecution
The reason for the persecution of Crispina is in no way different from that of the other martyrs of the early centuries, i.e. to renounce her faith in Christ and submit to the laws issued by the emperor of offering sacrifices to all their gods for their welfare to which she did not oblige, but instead firm in her faith in Christ in spite of all attempts made, to try and persuade her to renounce her faith. Moreover she showed no fear at all even to die, by being thrown to the wild beasts or be killed by the sword.
Crispina came from a noble family of Toura in North Africa. She was married and was the mother of several children. Her sincerity, her proud assurance and her repartee triumphed over the dryness of her judge. (Bruno Chenu, et.al., The Book of Christian Martyrs, London: SCM Press Ltd., 1990, p. 91.)
The Trial and Manner of Martyrdom
The trial took place on 5th December in the ninth consulate of Diocletian Augustus and the eighth of Maximian Augustus. Sitting in judgement on the tribunal of his council-chamber was the proconsul Anullinus. The court clerk then announced that Crispina, a lady of Toura was to be tried at his good pleasure for she had spurned the law of their lords, the emperors.
After she was brought in, the proconsul asked her whether she was aware of what was commanded by the sacred decree. Crispina replied that she did not know what has been commanded.
Then Anullinus said that the decree was that she should offer sacrifice to all their gods for the welfare of their emperors. But Crispina replied, "I have never sacrificed and I shall not do so save to the one true God and to our Lord, Jesus Christ, his Son, who was born and died." (Herbert Mururilo, The Acts of Christian Martyrs, London: Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 303.)
Then Anullinus said to her to break with her superstition and to bow her head to the sacred rites of the gods of Rome. But again Crispina replied, "Every day I worship my God almighty. I know of no other God besides Him" (Ibid., p. 303.)
Anullinus again then said, "You are a stubborn and insolent woman and you will begin to feel the force of our laws against your will." (Ibid., p. 303.) But to this also, Crispina did not waver but replied, "Whatever happens I shall be glad to suffer it on behalf of the faith which I hold firm". (Ibid., p. 303.)
Though Anullinus tried in various ways to force her to renounce her faith and offer sacrifice to their gods, Crispina was firm in her stand of faith in Jesus Christ and that she has never offered sacrifice to any other gods other than the one true God who has made the heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them and who alone is to be feared which is also said by Appollonius.
As she was not willing to give in to their laws of offering sacrifice to their gods and even prepared to undergo any torture, Anullinus then ordered that she be completely disfigured first before being killed. Her hair was cut and her head shaved with a razor in order to bring shame to her beauty. After this, even when the execution order was given she was still indifferent to their demand and moreover showed no fear. She instead said, "I shall thank my God if I obtained this. I should be very happy to lose my head for the sake of my God. For I refuse to sacrifice to these ridiculous deaf and dumb statues. Thanks be to God !". (Ibid., p. 307.) She then made a sign of the cross on her forehead and willingly put her neck out. She was then beheaded by the sword for the name and sake of the Lord Jesus Christ whom she refused to renounce despite many threats and persuasions.
One really feels touched in reading about the martyrdom of Crispina. Moreover because she was a woman, for women being the weaker sex are often considered to relapse faster to abuses and threats than men. But it is not so as we can clearly see from Crispina, who stood firmly to her belief and faith in Jesus Christ in spite of all threats and persuasion. Courage, as from Crispina’s life is not mere physical strength, but firmness in standing for a just and right cause.
On the other aspect of Crispina that really touches one is that even when it was ordered that she first be disfigured before her execution by cutting her hair and shaving her head with a razor, she did not give in though it is really a shame and humiliation for a woman to have her hair cut, moreover her head shaved without one’s consent for hair is considered as a woman’s pride and beauty. Crispina was humiliated and put to shame first even before being executed, yet, as mentioned above, Crispina did not waver in her stand of faith in Jesus. Moreover when the time for her execution came, she without any hesitation willingly put her neck out as if she wanted everything to be done with quickly. Her boldness, I found noteworthy for it seems that she was clear of God whom she believed and knew where she was going, to heaven, which is the promise of God to all who believed in Him in and through Jesus Christ.
Crispina’s strong stand in her faith also showed that God alone is to be feared and worshipped above all else. But who is this God ? According to the Christian belief and tradition, God is the father, to whom we can have access only by believing in faith through Jesus Christ, His Son, whom he sent to redeem the world from eternal death and sin. But in today’s context of religious pluralism it can be argued that Christianity alone cannot be said as the one true religion and this is not what I mean to say Instead what I want to say is whether we like Crispina or not, her words are clear about the God whom we are worshipping, the God of Jesus Christ too and who can be reached only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Also, Crispina in spite of being a mother did not give in to the attempts made in order to persuade her. it is not that she would have no love for her children, for a mother’s love for her children cannot be measured and a mother is one who is willing to sacrifice her all for her children, but her love for Christ, comes above all else, that she was willing to even give up her life with her children for Christ’s sake.
Above all these, I would like to go a little further and raise a question -- "Do we like Crispina, really know who our God and Savior is ? Are we prepared to stand firm in our faith in working for the people in their struggle for justice, liberation and so on in spite of all accusations and threats ? Leaving aside the physical death of martyrdom, are we ready to become living martyrs ? for especially in our present-day context, in order to stand up against injustice, oppression and so on, one has to be prepared to be a living martyr, working for and with the people for the upliftment and betterment against all evil forces. And this is the task to which all are called. It is also the teaching of all religions. I would not like to limit the idea of martyrdom to the Christian circle alone, but to all who worship God. For me, anyone who stands up and suffers for the people in their struggle, whether dead or living, is a martyr.
Chenu, Bruno, et. al. The Book of Christian Martyrs, London: SCM Press, 1990.
Mururilo, Herbert, The Acts of Christian Martyrs, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
The International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House (Revised edition).