Felix of Thibiuca

Contributor

Date

Location

Map

Type of Persecution

Nature of Conflict

Primary Sources

The Acts of Saint Felix Bishop and Martyr

Historical Context

On February 24, 303 C.E. Diocletian issued an anti-Christian edict at Nicomedia commanding that copies of the sacred scriptures were to be burned, church properties were to be confiscated, and Christians were to lose all civil rights. Initially, this was mainly directed towards officials of the Church; then, when the initial edict failed to suppress and discourage the Christians, all Christians were forced to offer sacrifice and burn their scriptures. This edict reached North Africa on June 5, 303 C.E., leading to the actions which take place in Felix’s martyrdom.

It should be noted that there is another Felix, also holding the title of bishop in this same era, Felix of Abthugni. He was a bishop at the same time that the edict of Diocletian arrived in Africa but escaped persecution, because he was absent from Abthugni when the officials came for him. Several years later, he plays a major role in the Donatist Controversy. This conflict concerned the schism of the North African church over the legitimacy of the traditor (betrayer) bishops and the true Catholic Church and eventually led to Christians persecuting Christians. It should be made clear that these two bishops are not the same and play significantly different roles in this time period.

Summary

There is little known about Felix of Thibiuca, and there is only one martyrdom account, The Acts of Saint Felix Bishop and Martyr. According to this account, Diocletian issued an edict that forced all Christians to hand over and burn their sacred scriptures or be executed. Initially, on June 5, 303 C.E., Magnilianus the curator ordered that those who kept the sacred scriptures be brought to him. They were Aper the presbyter and Cyril and Vitalis the lectors. After being questioned, they confess that it was not they who had the scriptures, but Felix the bishop of Thibiuca. He had left that same day for Carthage before the questioning began.

Upon Felix’s return, Magnilianus sent for Felix to be brought in, after which a confrontation occurs. They argue over the sacred texts, and, Felix refuses to hand them over while proclaiming God’s authority over the emperor’s. The confrontation ends with Felix being given three days to rethink his decision and change his mind, which he does not.

After refusing to change his mind, Felix is sent by Magnilianus to Carthage to be questioned by the proconsul. Upon arrival, Felix is questioned and then sent to the lowest part of the prison for sixteen days. Then Felix is brought before Anulinus, the proconsul, for questioning. When he would not give up the scriptures to be burned, he is sentenced to death by the sword. Felix gives thanks to God after serving him for 56 long years (his whole life) and then bows his head in sacrifice as a martyr and is beheaded. Felix is then buried in the Basilica Fausti on the Scillitan road.

Significance

Felix’s martyrdom is significant for a few reasons. First, this martyrdom account is one of the first from North Africa following the edicts of Diocletian. Second, the work of previous scholars suggests that Felix is the only documented case of a bishop of Numidia (a region in North Africa) opposing the edicts of Diocletian. This shows the proper way to handle these situations for future Christians, making him a model martyr in the time of Diocletian's edicts in North Africa. It also gives Felix a position of superiority, considering that the rest of the Christians of this area gave little resistance, while he was the only one to stay true to God and keep the holy scriptures. The rest of the bishops of the region could be seen as weak-willed in their conviction to God when faced with the persecution of prison or death, while Felix’s convictions were non-wavering. This demonstrates how and how not to react to Roman persecution of this time.

Although it is not certain that Felix’s martyrdom was used in this way, it may have been used in the later time period during the conflict between the Donatists and the Caecilianists to help in the Donatists in their power sturggle with the Caecilianists. The Donatists could have used this to show their superiority concerning martyrdom, due to the Donatist party not approving of betrayers. This martyrdom shows the difference strongly, for Felix was the only one in the whole region of Numidia to come forward to die for his beliefs.

Bibliography

Frend, W. H. C. The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa. Oxford: Clarendon, 1952. 

Frend, W. H. C. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus. New York: New York University Press, 1967.

Frend, W. H. C. Orthodoxy, Paganism, and Dissent in the Early Christian Centuries. Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum, 2002.

Tilley, Maureen A. "The Acts of Saint Felix Bishop and Martyr." In Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa, 7-11. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996.

Image Credit

Files

450px-Il_Martirio_di_San_Felice.jpg

Citation

“Felix of Thibiuca ,” Mapping the Martyrs, accessed October 18, 2019, http://mappingthemartyrs.ohio5.org/items/show/39.