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REIGN OF ANTONINUS.
ANTONINUS PIUS, EMPEROR.–CHARACTER OF HIS REIGN.-PRO
TECTION OF THE CHRISTIANS, - MARCUS ANTONINUS, EMPEROR. -PUBLIC CALAMITIES, — THE PARTHIAN WAR. THE PLAGUE. —PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.-CONDUCT AND DEATH OF VERUS.- LITERATURE AND LEARNED MEN.-STATE OF THE JEWS.-DEATH OF MARCUS.-HIS CHARACTER AND
WRITINGS. The reign of Antoninus Pius has the advantage of furnishing few of the usual materials for history. It was a time of peace with the nations beyond the limits of the empire, so that the barbarians would sometimes choose the emperor to settle the differences among themselves; and ambassadors from the more civilized countries came to seek the honour of admission to the rank of Roman citizens. When told of the fame of conquerors, Antoninus replied, he would rather preserve one citizen, than destroy a hundred enemies; and he found pleasure in rebuilding destroyed cities, and spending the sums usually wasted in war for the relief of the distressed. His wise government produced order and tranquillity throughout the empire, which was at this time two thousand miles in breadth and three thousand in length. Antoninus had two sons; but as the young patrician, Marcus Aurelius, had been appointed by Adrian as most worthy to reign, he at once adopted him, gave him his daughter in marriage, and always treated him as the heir of the empire. Marcus, on his side, loved Antoninus as a father, whilst he obeyed him as a sovereign : and it was remarked that, during his whole reign of twenty-three years, the Cæsar was never absent from the emperor's palace except two nights.
Antoninus was a great lover of learned men, and invited them to Rome from all parts of the empire. Amongst others, he sent for the most famous Stoic philosopher of Greece, to assist him in the education of his adopted son. This was Apollonius, of whom the following story is related :-On his arrival at Rome, the emperor desired his attendance at the palace : but, as humility was not one of the virtues of the Stoic school, the philosopher sent a message in reply, saying, 140
REIGN OF ANTONINUS.
it was the scholar's duty to wait on the master. Antoninus only observed, with a smile, it was strange that Apollonius could come all the way from Greece at his bidding, and yet not walk from one part of Rome to another, and immediately sent Marcus to wait upon him. The Cæsar proved an apt scholar; and learned from the Stoic philosophy to submit his body to his mind, and passion to reason—to consider virtue as the only good, vice as the only evil, and all outward things as matters of indifference. In the third year of his reign, Antoninus received the Apology for Christianity, written by Justin ; and, as a man of sense and humanity, he at once determined that the Christians should not be denied the justice and mercy which he desired to extend to all his subjects. At the beginning of his reign they suffered much, because the crimes committed by the heretics had been charged upon them; and many false accusations were brought against them, especially that of devouring infants. It is possible the practice of baptizing infants, which was becoming common, led to this strange idea. The heathens might have perceived that infants were carried into the places for worship, and not understanding the reason, suspected that they were devoured.
Antoninus was convinced they were an innocent people, and made his opinion publicly known on the occasion of an appeal from the Asiatic Christians. They had been exposed to great persecution on account of an earthquake which had lately happened, and which the pagans considered as a proof of the wrath of the gods against this new religion.
The decree in the emperor's letter to the Common Council of Asia, was set up at Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Athens, and sent throughout Greece, so that the Christians enjoyed peace during the remainder of his reign. It was as follows :-" I am quite of opinion that the gods will take care to discover such persons: for it much more concerns them to punish those who refuse to worship them, than you, if they be able. But you harass and vex the Christians, and accuse them of Atheism and of other crimes which you cannot prove. To them it appears a desirable thing to die; and they gain their point while they throw away their lives rather than comply with your injunctions. As to the earthquakes, I would desire you to compare your despondency with their serene conduct. In such seasons you seem to be ignorant of the gods, and neglect
HIS PROTECTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.
their worship; and whilst you live in ignorance of the Supreme God, you persecute them who do worship him. Concerning these same men, other previous governors wrote to our divine father, Adrian, and he answered, that they should not be molested unless they appeared to attempt something against the Roman government. Many, also, have signified to me concerning these men; to whom I have returned an answer agreeable to the maxims of my father. But if any person will persist in accusing the Christians, merely as such, let the accused be acquitted, though he appear to be a Christian, and let the accuser be punished.”
From the foregoing letter it is clear that Antoninus was of the Stoics’ belief in one Supreme God; but it is remarkable that, though he is spoken of as inquisitive, even to a fault, he did not inquire further into the nature of that religion, in favour of which Justin told him many persons were impressed by observing the temperance and sobriety of their Christian neighbours, or their unparallelled meekness under cruel treatment, or their uncommon integrity in business.
In the seventy-fifth year of his age, Antoninus was attacked with his last illness; and, in his dying moments, he commended Marcus Aurelius to those around him, and desired that the golden statue of Fortune, * which was kept in the imperial chamber, should be removed into the apartment occupied by his successor.
After giving this final proof of a mind under the darkness of superstition, or, perhaps, desiring to preserve that influence which the common superstitions had upon the minds of the people, he gently expired, A.D. 160.
Marcus Aurelius took the surname of Antoninus (hence they are commonly called the two Antonines), and tried to imitate the mode of government and behaviour of his father. But he was greatly hindered by being yoked with a troublesome and vicious partner, the younger Verus, whom he had received according to Adrian's desire : but the conduct of his colleague,
* The Romans thought much about this imaginary goddess of fortune, and there were eight temples to her honour in different parts of the city. She was usually represented with a horn in her hand, filled to overflowing with the fruits of the earth: her image was blindfolded, and with wings on her back, or a wheel in the hand, as emblems of the uncertainty of her favours.
who was ignorant, slothful, and extravagant, probably heightened the general esteem for Marcus Antoninus, as a learned, active, and very moderate emperor. The first calamity of their reign was an inundation of the Tiber, which carried away numbers of people and cattle, destroyed many buildings in Rome, and laid the surrounding country under water. Earthquakes and conflagrations followed ; and these were succeeded by a corrupt state of the air, accompanied with innumerable swarms of insects, which destroyed what the flood had left, and produced a famine. In the meantime the Parthians, under their king Vologesus, overcame the Roman legions in Armenia and Syria, and drove out the governor. Marcus, finding ample employment at home, sent Verus against the enemy; but he proceeded no farther than Antioch, and contented himself with employing his lieutenants in the war, whilst he indulged in such riotous excesses as even shocked the pleasure-loving Greeks of that luxurious city.
Four years passed away before the Parthians discontinued the struggle for the provinces in question; and, at the end of that time, half the Roman army was wasted by pestilence and famine. It was in this war that Seleucia was destroyed. This city, once the capital of the Macedonian conquests in Asia, was situated on the west bank of the Tigris, forty-five miles to the north of Babylon; and, after the fall of the Seleucidæ, it preserved its independence as a Greek republic. It contained four hundred thousand inhabitants; and, enclosed within their strong walls, they did not fear the Parthians who dwelt almost at their gates. The Parthian monarchs, who were of Scythian origin, enjoyed the pastoral life of their ancestors; and, at first, only pitched their camp occasionally in the rich plain on the eastern bank of the Tigris. But, by degrees, their encampment grew into the great city of Ctesiphon, only three miles from Seleucia. Now, as the Greeks had no quarrel with the Romans, the gates of Seleucia were opened to receive Cassius, the lieutenant of Verus, in a friendly manner. But he ordered the whole of the inhabitants to be put to the sword, and so far destroyed the city that it never rose from a state of insignifi. cance. This unprovoked cruelty led historians to remark that the sufferings of the Roman army were a righteous punishment; and, we have reason to believe, that the violence done to the law of nature written in the hearts of the Gentiles, was PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.
constantly followed by judgment, even as the breaking of the law written on the tables of stone was followed by judgment on the Jews. The remnant of the army that returned from the East brought the plague with them; and it spread through the provinces as they passed, occasioning the greatest terror and misery. The priests of Rome, finding that their numerous sacrifices and religious ceremonies failed to remove the pestilence, charged the general distress upon the impiety of the Christians, who would not unite in their addresses to the gods. This gave fresh vigour to the persecution which was carried on through the whole reign of Marcus Antoninus, a period of nineteen years.
In vain had Justin presented a second Apology to the philosophic emperor, in which he placed before him the iniquitous conduct of Rusticus, prefect of the city, in unjustly condemning to death one Christian after another. He was himself scourged and beheaded, as before-mentioned, for the sole crime, as it was called, of being a Christian, A.D. 163.
In the year of the plague, A.D. 167, the venerable Polycarp was seized, as “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes ;' and his judges used every art to make him reproach Christ, promising him an immediate release if he would do so. The noble answer of the martyr is worthy to be remembered :“ Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He has never wronged me, and how can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?" He was burnt at Smyrna with eleven brethren from Philadelphia; thus in the two churches, commended by the Lord, there were still some faithful martyrs who held fast, and did not deny his name.
Such was the enmity of the Jews towards the Christians that, it is said, there were some howling with delight when the fires were lighted to consume the martyrs at Smyrna
Marcus Antoninus vainly attempted to reform the manners and habits of his associate. Verus often retired from the frugal evening meal of the philosopher, and spent the night feasting in his own palace with the worst and lowest companions. He exceeded even Domitian in extravagance; for it is said that one of his entertainments, with only a dozen friends, cost 32.2001. It was not only that the wines and viands were the most scarce and costly, but the guests were not allowed to drink twice out of the same cup ; and whatever vessels they