Imágenes de páginas





PERSECUTION. — CAPTIVITY OF VALERIAN. — CHARACTER OF GALLIENUS. — THE NEW PLATONISTS. --- RAVAGES OF THE FRANKS AND ALLEMANNI. — USURPERS OF THE PROVINCES. - GENERAL CALAMITIES.–STORY OF ODENATHUS AND ZENOBIA. IN A.D. 253, the accession of Valerian gave a short respite to the suffering Christians; for, during the first three years of his reign, he not only protected them, but had his palace filled with them, and thus had an opportunity of hearing the truth and seeing the light, if they were faithful to their profession.

Valerian's natural character is so highly esteemed by historians, that it is said if mankind had been at liberty to choose a master, he would no doubt have been the person for every one to fix upon. He began indeed with encouraging every appearance of good, and with efforts to reform the wicked : but it was soon found he was more fitted for a private station than for the head of the empire; and his want of judgment was conspicuous in his choice of his son, Gallienus, as jointemperor. They reigned together seven years, and, during eight more, Gallienus was sole emperor : but it was a period of almost uninterrupted calamity. Cyprian was so alarmed by the state of the Church and the world, that he thought Antichrist was about to be revealed, and that the end was at hand : and, in this expectation, exhorted the brethren to watching, fasting, and prayer, saying, that these were the heavenly arms in such times of danger. The troubles of the African Christians were increased by the bursting forth of the Numidian barbarians, by whom many of them were taken captive. Cyprian was very earnest in exhorting the Carthaginian Christians to ransom their brethren; and gave all that he could to assist them in this act of love. He also made great exertions to restore a pure communion of saints; and called a council of sixty-six African bishops to help him in the restoration of early discipline. Several bishops, who had fallen away, were at this time deprived of all power; and it was

[blocks in formation]

proposed that the bishops should be chosen in the presence of the whole church, that they might be publicly approved or rejected.

In A.D. 254, Cyprian was accused of ruling too absolutely ; and a painful contest arose between him and the bishop at Rome, as to whether it was necessary for persons recovered from heresy to be re-baptized. Cyprian thought it was needful: but this opinion was warmly opposed by the Roman bishop; and he would not converse with the brethren who held it, or show them any hospitality. The Church seemed to need farther purification; chastening had not yet yielded the peaceable fruit of righteousness; and the scourge was again uplifted, so that Rome and Carthage again flowed with the blood of the martyrs. The sudden change in Valerian's disposition towards the Christians, which took place in the third year of his reign, is attributed to the arts of Macrianus, a favourite magician ; and, to the end of his reign, he continued their bitter enemy.

Cyprian again retired and desired the brethren to keep quiet, and not deliver themselves up rashly to the Pagans, as some had formerly done in the heat of their zeal to obtain the honours of martyrdom. He told them it was for those who were seized to speak. “The Lord who dwells in us will speak in that hour. Confession rather than profession is our duty.” Cyprian was soon after called to the trial, and witnessed a good confession. Multitudes who loved him followed him to the place of execution; and, when he was beheaded, some, in the fervency of their respect and affection, pressed forwards to catch his blood in handkerchiefs and napkins. A short time before, the prefect of Rome, having heard a report of the riches of the Church desired that everything should be delivered up. Laurentius, the chief deacon, asked for three days of preparation ; and, at the end of that time, invited the prefect to come and see a court full of the golden vessels of God. On his arrival, he was shown the numbers of poor people who were provided for by the bounty of the richer brethren, these being the only vessels for the treasures of the Church. The disappointed prefect gave way to his fury, and commanded that Laurentius should be broiled to death before a slow fire. The martyr suffered in silence, and when one side of his body was burned, he desired to have the other side turned towards the CAPTIVITY OF VALERIAN.


fire; and this being done, he prayed earnestly for the conversion of Rome till he died.

In A.D. 260, Valerian went into Mesopotamia to try to recover the provinces seized by Sapor, in the reign of Gallus. There it is supposed that Macrianus, the magician, betrayed him into a disadvantageous position, and thus caused his defeat. He was then invited to hold a private interview with the king of Persia, and never escaped from his power. Sapor not only treacherously seized his person, but carried him in triumph through his empire, exposing him to the insults of his subjects. During seven years of captivity, Valerian suffered greatly; and, it is even said, the Persian king used him as a footstool whenever he mounted his horse, saying, that the bowed back of a Roman emperor was the proudest monument of victory that had ever been beheld. Some historians say that Valerian died in the seventy-first year of his age, overwhelmed by the hardships he endured; and the Persian king, unwilling to lose the memorial of his superiority, caused his body to be flayed, and had the skin dressed and dyed red to hang up in one of the temples. Some even say that Valerian was flayed alive, and consider his sufferings as a judgment for the rejection of the truth that he had heard, and the persecution of those whom he knew to be righteous.

After the captivity of Valerian, the Christians were not only left in peace, but protected by law for the space of forty years, that is, nearly to the close of the third century.

Gallienus was left sole emperor in A. D. 260; and, even if he were not glad to get rid of his father's control, as some imagined, it is certain he made no attempt to recover the captive emperor. The weakness of his character may account for this : he was as unfit to carry on a foreign war as to govern his own people ; and, instead of turning his attention to the duties of an emperor, he employed himself in learning arts and sciences—utterly useless in his situation. It is said, he was a ready orator, an elegant poet, a skilful gardener, and an excellent cook! He spent his time in conversation with philosophers, or in trifling pursuits and licentious pleasures. It was not surprising that the reign of such an emperor was marked by the inroads of all the warlike nations on the frontiers of the empire, and by a number of usurpers in the different pro



vinces. Yet, amidst the general distress and poverty, Gallienus lived in wasteful magnificence, and celebrated mock triumphs though his generals were defeated on all sides. When he heard of the invasion of one province, or the rebel. lion of another, he carelessly asked if Rome would be ruined without linen from Egypt, or Arras cloth from Gaul. The following anecdote is also told as an instance of his fondness for jesting. His wife had been deceived by her jeweller, and the man was condemned as guilty of fraud, and sentenced to be exposed in the amphitheatre. The emperor went there with a large concourse of people; and, just as the trembling criminal was expecting some wild beast to be let loose upon him, a harmless fowl appeared. This was the contrivance of Gallienus; as he playfully said, it was fit that the man should be deceived as he had deceived others.

It has been often remarked that, under some of the worst of the emperors, the Christians suffered the least : thus it is plain the Lord reigneth as King of kings, and can protect his people from injury under any circumstances. At the beginning of his reign, Gallienus permitted the bishops, who had been exiled by his father, to return to their homes, and restored the burial places that had been taken away from the Christians in different parts. It appears that he looked upon the Christians as a new sect of philosophers, and protected them because he took a pride in supporting every kind of knowledge, and the liberty of thinking, as he wished to be considered the patron of philosophy. The new Platonists now began to attract still more attention ; and their many fancies, especially their pretended communion with unseen spirits, charmed persons of meditative minds. But their powers were wasted in endless disputes about the nature of the human mind, and the secrets of the invisible world.

Plotinus, the head of the Alexandrian school, obtained great respect in the world for his learning and gravity of manners. Persons of the highest rank revered him; and the emperor was on the point of giving him a ruined city in Campania for the establishment of a Platonic republic, when he died. This man pretended, like Socrates, to have a demon or familiar spirit which instructed him how to act; and he was looked upon by his disciples as something heavenly. When he was dying he said, “ I am endeavouring to rejoin that which is

[ocr errors][merged small]

divine, in the divine part of the universe." How different to the simple happy confidence of Stephen, when he said “ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Porphyry, the most celebrated scholar of Plotinus, only became acquainted with Christianity to despise and oppose it; and, as he was one of the emperor's most intimate friends, Gallienus had little opportunity of considering the truth. During a dreadful plague, which afflicted the empire for many years at this time, Porphyry tried to persuade the people that the spread of the Christian religion occasioned the general suffering; “ Men forget," said he, “ that Æsculapius and the other gods no longer dwell among them ; for, since Jesus was honoured, no one has received any public benefit from the gods.” But this bitter enemy bore witness to the firmness of those who believed in Jesus, by relating that when a man inquired at the oracle of Apollo, how he could make his wife give up Christianity, the reply was, “ It is easier, perhaps, to write on water, or to fly in the air, than to reclaim her. Leave her in her folly to hymn, in a faint mournful voice, the dead God who publicly suffered death from judges of singular wisdom.” Thus was it common for the Gentiles to account“ Christ crucified” foolishness, and to set at nought the doctrine of the resurrection.

It is most plainly set forth in Scripture, that national sins are visited by national calamities, not only upon the Jews but upon the Gentiles also ; and the Romans were, doubtless, included among the nations to whom that solemn message was sent, “ Ye shall not be unpunished.” And again, “ Thus saith the Lord, Lo, I begin to bring evil on the city that is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished ?" (see Jer. xxv. 15—29). The power of Rome had been used to punish the city that was called by the name of the Lord, and now other powers were used to humble the pride of Rome.

These new powers come forwards very strikingly in the reign of Gallienus. First, there was the confederation of German tribes, who called themselves the Franks or Free-men; they were distinguished for their love of liberty, fickle disposition, and disregard of the most solemn treaties. They overran Gaul and Spain for the sake of plunder ; and, by means of some Spanish vessels, reached Mauritania, to the astonishment of the Africans, who had never seen such people before. Another confederation of Germans, who called themselves

« AnteriorContinuar »