January 20


Beginning of the Decian persecution.

Christians had been frequently the subject of hostile acts by the Roman state: the persecutions by Nero, Domitian and Pliny the Younger kept Christianity an underground movement. However, these decrees tended to be local and sporadic, not empire-wide. It was not until the accession of Decius in 249 that the notion of a national test for religious loyalty was conceived. The mid-third century was a time of crisis for the Roman Empire and Decius believed that a wholesale assertion of loyalty to the old gods would serve to unify and revitalize the state. In 250 he mandated that all citizens (with the exception of Jews) be required to sacrifice to the pagan pantheon and receive and official certification recording this. Though it appears that Decius was not aiming specifically at the Christian community the effect on it was profound. Its leadership either fled, apostatized or faced martyrdom. On this day Pope Fabian was executed.


Death of a Bible translator.

Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was an English Roman Catholic priest who became influenced by the religious Reform movement in the 1520s. He spent many years in exile on the Continent involved in the production of an English translation of the Bible, a project for which William Tyndale had been arrested and executed for in 1536. Parts of his work appeared in the clandestine “Matthew Bible” of 1537 but his triumph was the production of the 1540 “Great Bible” authorized by the English government which commanded each parish purchase “one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”

During the Protestant reign of Edward VI Coverdale was named Bishop of Exeter but when Mary I came to the throne in 1553 he was expelled and fled to the Continent for refuge. On the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 he returned to England but was denied a bishopric, most likely because of his Puritan leanings.

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