In the neighbourhood of Lampsacus, a city of Lesser Asia, near the Hellespont, was apprehended in the persecution of Decius, a young man called Peter, remarkable for the beauty of his person, and natural endowments of his mind, but much more for his faith and virtue. He was brought before Optimus, the proconsul of Asia, who said to him: “You have before your eyes the edicts of our invincible princes: sacrifice to the goddess Venus as they command.”
Peter answered: “I am surprised that you should endeavour to persuade me to sacrifice to an infamous lewd woman, whose actions modesty forbids me to mention, and are such as are punishable by your own laws.”
Optimus ordered him to be extended on a wheel, with pieces of wood so disposed and bound on his body with iron chains, that the wheel being put in motion it might gradually occasion the breaking of his bones. The martyr, turning his eyes towards the heavens, said, with a cheerful countenance: “I praise and thank you, O Lord Jesus Christ, for vouchsafing me patience to overcome this cruel tyrant.” Optimus, seeing his unshaken resolution, ordered his head to be struck off.
After this execution, as the proconsul was going to set out for Troas, a city in Phrygia, built by Alexander, near the ruins of the famous Troy, three other Christians, Andrew, Paul, and Nicomachus, were brought before him. He asked them whence they came, and what was their religion? Nicomachus answered with impatience, and a remarkably loud voice: “I am a Christian.” The others modestly replied: “We are also Christians.”
The proconsul said to Nicomachus: “Sacrifice to the gods.”
He answered: “A Christian must not sacrifice to devils.” The proconsul gave orders that he should be hung on the rack and tortured. When he was just ready to expire under his torments, he unhappily lost his crown, and cried out: “I never was a Christian; and am ready to sacrifice to the gods.” The proconsul immediately caused him to be taken off the rack, but no sooner had the miserable man offered sacrifice than he was seized by the devil, fell on the ground, and beat it with his head in violent agonies, in which he expired. Thus the devil usually laughs to scorn the unhappy souls which he has drawn into sin. He lures them with great promises; but, being the father of lies, pays them with treacherous shadows, or often with bitter disappointments and calamities. A wretched exchange for their souls and eternal happiness! God afforded his other two servants a comfort under their affliction for this loss. Denysa, a tender virgin about sixteen years old, who was standing by, was struck at this misfortune, and said: “Unfortunate wretch! why wouldst thou bring upon thyself eternal torments for the sake of a moment’s ease?” Optimus, hearing these words, asked if she were a Christian? She confessed she was. He then required her to sacrifice, and threatened to expose her to prostitution, and burn her alive in case of refusal. Finding his threats made no impression on her constancy, he ordered her to be put into the hands of two lewd young men to be deflowered. They took her with them to their lodgings: whose endeavours to force her she resisted so long that she fairly tired them out. About midnight they were surprised at the appearance of a young man glittering with light, which diffused itself over the whole house. Upon which they were seized with fear, and cast themselves at the feet of the holy virgin. She raised them up and bid them not be afraid, saying: “This is my guardian and protector:” and they earnestly besought her to intercede for them, that they might come to no hurt. The next morning the mob, stirred up by the priests of Diana, beset the house of the proconsul, demanding in a tumultuous manner to have Andrew and Paul delivered up to them. The proconsul to humour them, having caused the martyrs to be brought forth, bid them sacrifice to Diana; which they refusing to do, he ordered them to be most inhumanly scourged, and then to be put into the hands of the rabble, by them to be atoned to death. The populace, without further delay, having tied their feet together, dragged them out of town in order to stone them. Whilst they were under execution, Denysa heard the noise, and began to weep and wail bitterly; and having escaped from those who guarded her, ran to the place where they were, and upon seeing them cried out: “That I may live with you eternally in heaven, I will die with you on earth.” The proconsul being informed of the wonderful preservation of her chastity, her escape, and desire to die with the martyrs, ordered her to be taken away from Andrew and Paul, and to be beheaded at a distance; which was accordingly put in execution.
If the martyrs had not been crucified to the world, they would never have attained to their crowns. There is a love of the world which though it be not either for the matter or the degree of it criminal enough to destroy the hopes of salvation, yet abates our vigour, hinders our perfection, and bereaves us of many degrees of fervour. The indications of this kind of love of the world, are a fondness for the pomp and show of life; too slavish an exactness in the modes and customs of the world; too quick a sense of praise, reputation, and pre-eminence; too great an eagerness to grow rich; too brisk a relish of pleasures, too much diversion; too great a love of ease; or an uninterrupted pursuit of worldly business, which extinguishes all gust of virtue, and all relish of heavenly things, and leaves not the mind sufficient leisure or ardour for spiritual duties. These are symptoms of a soul tainted with a love of the world, which exceedingly checks the vigour of the mind. The means by which this defect is to be overcome is frequent meditation on eternal truths. One who has these deeply imprinted in his heart, will have no great taste for the honours, the pleasures, or the interests of life; he will never be slothful or remiss, but always fervent in spirit serving the Lord; and will have no emulation but for good works, no ambition but for eternal glory. In the pursuit of this will he lay out the vigour and strength of his mind, retrench his profit by alms, deny his pleasure, and rejoice to lead an obscure, mean, laborious, and crucified life.