In general, the endeavours of the State to suppress or harass the Church by physical or moral means.
Ten are generally enumerated.
- Nero (64 to 68) charged the Christians with misanthropy and slaughtered them in crowds.
- Domitian (94 to 96) took his victims mainly from the nobility.
- Trajan (98 to 117) considered Christianity a menace to the Empire.
- Marcus Aurelius (166 to 180) confiscated property and tortured his victims.
- Septimius Severus (202 to 211).
- Maximinus Thrax (235 to 238) persecuted the clergy.
- Decius (249 to 251) began one of the cruelest persecutions.
- Valerian (247 to 259) persecuted the clergy and nobility.
- Aurelian (275).
- Diocletian (303 to 305) and his successors till the edict of Milan in 313, put more than 20,000 Christians to death. His was the bloodiest persecution.
They began with the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Refusal to accept the Act was equivalent to high treason. Monasteries were suppressed, their goods confiscated, relics and images were destroyed. Under Elizabeth (1558 to 1603) refusal to accept the Oath meant death. In 1587 over 100 persons died for their Faith. The persecution was directed mainly against the clergy. The Tidal Acts of 1673 barred Catholics from State appointments, and in 1678 they were excluded from Parliament. The saying of Mass and keeping schools entailed life imprisonment. The Bill of Emancipation was passed in 1829.
Under Elizabeth the Irish were enticed to give up their religion but without success. Thereupon, the island was seized and in 1603, 600,000 acres of land confiscated. Cromwell reduced the island in 1652. A price was set on the head of every priest. Catholics were deprived of every civil right, and Parliament was closed to them. Relief came mainly through O’Connell.
In the beginning of the 19th century the government seized all Church property. In 1830, the “placet” of the State was demanded for all ecclesiastical ordinances. Children had, in all cases, to be taught the religion of their father. A number of bishops were imprisoned for opposing this last measure. The worst blow came with the “Kulturkampf.” Education was laicized. Religious were expelled. The anti-clerical May Laws were passed in 1873. Refusal to comply with them entailed imprisonment. Most of the sees and hundreds of parishes were declared closed and no priest was allowed to enter them. These measures were defeated by the Center Party under the leadership of Windthorst (died 1891) and in 1886 peace was restored.
During the French Revolution, all Church property was confiscated. Religious orders were dissolved, and a new constitution for the clergy, containing a long list of anti-Catholic laws, was passed. Refusal to submit to the latter resulted in 40,000 persons being banished and in many acts of violence. The Convention (1792-1795) effaced all trace of Christianity. Pope Pius VI was imprisoned. The States of the Church were seized in 1809 and Pope Pius VII made prisoner. Later, the Radicals used every means to “laicize” education. In 1904, all teaching Orders were suppressed, and in 1905 more anti-Catholic laws were passed.
Due to the efforts of Freemasonry and other secret societies to suppress the Church, many anti-Catholic laws were passed between 1822 and 1855. The anti-religious spirit was at its height from 1857 till 1874. The Constitutions of 1857 and subsequent laws suppressed all religious orders, forbade the wearing of the religious garb under penalty of exile, laicized all schools, etc. The Constitutions of 1917 denied all rights to the Church. In 1926, President Calles began to enforce the laws. There followed a persecution unequaled in history. Pillage, robbery, torture, and summary execution or deportation were the means employed. Over 100 priests were tortured and killed and scenes worthy of a Nero were enacted. A quasi-armistice was made on 21 June 1929.