Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Isaacus, Donatist Martyr
Isaacus (21), a Donatist who, together with Maximianus, met his death at Carthage in consequence of the cruel punishment inflicted by order of the proconsul of Africa, a.d. 348. The history is related by a fellow-Donatist named Macrobius; and though he does not mention the name of the proconsul, doubtless the tragedy took place in connexion with the mission into Africa of Paulus and Macarius. The narrative is told in barbarous Latin and a rhetorical style so turgid as to suggest the suspicion of exaggeration in the details. But these, horrible as they are, agree too well with what we know to have taken place in other cases. Maximianus suffered first, but Isaac provoked the anger of the judges by his taunting exclamations and was forthwith compelled to undergo a treatment no less brutal. Having been first scourged with "plumbata," a whip armed with leaden bullets, and then beaten with sticks, they were both cast into prison, but Isaac disappointed
the further violence of his tormentors by death. This took place on a Saturday. Crowds immediately flocked to the prison, singing hymns as if it were the eve of Easter, and they watched beside the corpse to ensure it Christian burial. To disappoint this intention, the proconsul on the day following gave orders that both the living man and the dead body should be cast together into the sea. To execute this command, the soldiers were obliged to clear the way from the prison by force, and many persons were wounded in the struggle. The two victims were thrown into the sea at some distance from each other in baskets weighted with sand to ensure their sinking. But the action of the waves, caused, according to the writer's belief, by divine interposition, tore away the sand, and after six days brought the two bodies together to shore, where they were received with welcome by their fellow-Christians on their way to the churches and received Christian burial, the malice of those who had sought to deprive them of it being thus gloriously defeated.
Notwithstanding the inflated style of the narrative (very different, as Mabillon remarks truly, from that of the existing accounts of the deaths of true Catholic martyrs), and notwithstanding the very slight notice St. Augustine takes of the event, into which he acknowledges that he had made very little inquiry, and also despite his evident success in convicting some accounts of Donatist martyrdoms of inaccuracy, if not of direct falsehood, there seems no reason for doubting the substantial truth of this narrative, especially as Marculus, in Dec. of the same year, suffered death for a similar cause and with similar circumstances of cruelty. Neither can we doubt that the cause for which these men suffered was essentially one of religion. True, St. Augustine compares such cases to that of Hagar, and elsewhere argues in favour of the duty of the state as the guardian of truth to repress heresy and insinuates that those guilty of this offence are punished not so much on account of religion as of treason or disloyalty; but we must bear in mind that (1) the proceedings here related took place six years before St. Augustine's birth, and had not been repeated in his time, and that thus he was no witness either to the truth or falsehood of the narratives; (2) the behaviour and language of Isaac remind us more of an angry partisan than a Christian martyr; (3) the glaring faults of the narrative in style and temper do not extenuate the treatment which, after every allowance for exaggeration, the sufferers must have endured. Aug. Tr. in Joann. xi. 315; c. Cresc. iii. 49, 54; Mabillon, Vet. Anal. p. 185; Mon. Vet. Don. No. 29, pp. 237, 248, ed. Oberthür; Ceillier, v. 106; Morcelli, Africa Christiana, ii. 249.