Decius was emperor from 249-251. Not much is known about his early life but he spent most of it in the Army. He was the first of the great soldier-emperors. Upon his rise to power, he tried to institute many reforms. Among his chief concerns was the moral decay of the empire. He tried to force (and then enforce) a return to the traditional religion of the empire.

By this time, however, a growing number of professing Christians had produced a growing Christian Church. This combined with influence from other groups made a return to the paganism of old Rome an impossible thing to enforce.

Various reasons have been given for the emperor's hatred of Christianity, some seeing it as evidence of his innate cruelty, others think it was a desire to be avenged on the friends of his predecessor (Philip the Arab); but there can be little doubt that the main motives for his hostility were political, not religious. The scope of the anti-Christian legislation of Decius was broader than that of his predecessors and much more far-reaching in its effects. The text of most of his edicts is lost to us but but this excerpt has survived. Decius' edicts were renewed under Valerius in 253 and repealed under his son, Gallienus, in 260-1.

The religious edicts of Decius did not single out Christians. He simply demanded that every citizen of the empire should make sacrifice to the state gods. Anyone who refused faced execution. This did not prove to be problematic for many outside the Christian community.

The Church had enjoyed a 40 reprieve from persecution and the new attacks were unexpected. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the Church had grown complacent during this time. At any rate multitudes presented themselves to the magistrates to express their compliance with the imperial edict were subsequently issued tickets (libelli) attesting the fact that they had offered sacrifice (sacrificati) or burned incense (thurificati.) These Llibelli were also available for the appropriate bribe without actually performing these rites. There were also multitudes who suffered death, exile, confiscation, or torture in all parts of the empire. The Decian persecution was the severest trial to which the Church up to that time. The problem of deciding on what conditions the lapsi should be admitted to the church and what weight was to be attached to the pardon of confessors, produced much division in the Church.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04666a.htm  8/9/11

http://www.roman-empire.net/decline/decius.html  8/9/11

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decius  8/9/11