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- and to bind themselves by an oath not to the commission of any wickedness, but to • forbear adultery, theft, and all vice in general.'
About the interpretation of these first words learned men have differed. It is plain that Pliny does not here send Trajan an account of the several parts of the Christian worship, reading, and explaining the scriptures, and delivering explications and exhortations from them, nor of the eucharist. To me therefore, it seems, that in these words Pliny aimed to represent the general design of their worship in their religious assemblies: which was to engage themselves to the practice of all virtue, and to avoid all vice. This seems to be the meaning of Tertullian's expressions, though perhaps somewhat obscure. Who says, Pliny tells Trajan, that, `excepting an obstinate • refusal to sacrifice, he had detected nothing in their mysteries, beside their assembling together
early in the morning, before daylight, to enforce the observation of their discipline; forbidding • murder, adultery, fraud, cheating, and all manner of wickedness.' Eusebius, representing the same thing, speaks exactly to the like purpose. In short, Pliny tells Trajan, that the design of their religious assemblies, so far as he could discover, was to establish themselves, and each other, in the firm belief of the principles of their institution, and to engage themselves, not to the practice of any wickedness, but to avoid all wickedness of every kind. This Pliny calls binding themselves by an oath.'
So Justin Martyr, in his account of the Christian worship, says: ' the memoirs of the apostles, and the writings of the prophets, are read: when the reader has finished, the president * makes a discourse, recommending and exhorting to the imitation of the good examples that • have been recorded.' To the like
To the like purpose « Tertullian.
• Which things being performed, it was their custom to separate, and after some time to • come together again to a meal, which they ate in common. But this they had forborn
since the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I had prohibited assemblies.'
There can be no doubt but that Pliny, by this meal or supper, means what was called by the Christians ayury, or a love-feast: of which mention is made by 'Tertullian, and other ancient writers. Of which likewise, as is generally supposed, St. Peter speaks 2 ep. ii. 13. and St. Jude, ver 12. It is plain, from what Pliny says, that this meal was not eaten in the morning at the time of their solemn worship, but some while afterwards; and probably in the evening.
Some have thought that this feast generally accompanied the eucharist. But Mr. Hallett, in his discourse on the Agapæ, or Love-Feasts, of the ancient Christians, having considered the testimonies of ancient writers, says, it 8 was a supper, and that the eucharist did not attend it, * either before or after.' Again: the .agapæ, or love-feasts, being suppers, were not concomi• tants, or appendages of the eucharist. They were entirely distinct and independent things.' * This may be farther confirmed by observing that Justin Märtyr, in his account of the public • worship of the church, and particularly of the eucharist, does not say one word of the agapæ,
love-feasts, as tacked to it, either before or after.' Others represent this in a different manner: · Ash the worship of the Christians in Bithynia
allegans, præter obstinationen non sacrificandi, nihil aliud se de sacramentis eorum comperisse, quam cætus antelucanos ad canenduin Christo et (vel ut) Deo, et ad confederandam disciplinarn, homicidium, adulterium, fraudem, perfidiam, et cætera scelera prohibentes. Tert. Ap. c. 2.
-Και προς το την επίσημης αυτων διαφυλασσειν. κ. λ. Eus. H. E. I. 3. cap. 33. p. 106. A.
© Ap. i. p. 98. D. al. 83. D.
d Coimus ad literarum divinarum commemorationemCerte fidem sanctis vocibus pascimus, spem erigimus, fiduciam figimus, disciplinam præceptorum nihilominus inculcationibus densamus. Ibidem etiam exhortationes, castigationes, et censura divina. Ap. cap. 39.
Ego quidem Christianos dixisse opinor, se, quoties coi)gregarentur, supremo numini sancte vitam puram, et omnis criminis expertem promittere. Id Plinius, religiosum promissum, et jusjurandum parum discernens, formula Romana,
* sacramento obstringere,' quo fortius mentem Trajani moveret, exprimebat. Moshem. ubi supr. p. 150. in notis.,
f Cæna nostra de nomine rationem sui ostendit. Id vocatur, quod dilectio penes Græcos. Quantiscunque sumtibus constet, lucrum est pietatis nomine facere sumtum : siquidem inopes quosque refrigerio isto juvamus — nihil vilitatis, nihil immodestiæ admietit. Non prius discumbitur, quam oratio ad Deum pragustetur. Editur quantum esurientes cupiunt: bibitur, quantum pudicis est utile. Ita saturantur, ut qui nieminerint, etiam per noctem adorandum Deum sibi esse. Ap. cap. 39.
s See his notes and discourses on several texts of scripture. vol. 3. p. 235. &c.
Hoc igitur [stato] die binos conventus agebant Bithynienses Christiani ; alterum ante lucem, Dei colendi, firman. dæque pietatis causâ; alterum sole lucente, meridiano sine dubio tempore, communis cibi capiendi causâ. Non divellebant hac ratione officia, quæ Deo debebantur, reliqui Christiani ; verum uno omnia conventu, quæ cultûs publici lex
was for some reasons performed early in the morning, they were obliged to have their love• feast separate; though, at other seasons, when they had more liberty, this and their solemn • worship were joined together, both by them and by other Christians. The morning was not a time for a meal. This therefore they deferred till noon, or after.' So Mr. Mosheim.
The accounts which Pliny had received of this meal, represented it as harmless, and free from disorder. And it may be reasonably supposed to have been very frugal, and without delicacies, as Tertullian says, and Pliny seems to intimate.
However, this meal or feast, as Pliny was assured, the Christians in Bithynia had forborn and discontinued, since he published the emperor's order, forbidding fellowships or assemblies. Mr. Dodwell thought that Trajan's order did not include a prohibition of their meetings for religious worship. But Tillemont « does not assent to this. Whether that opinion be right or not, the Christians continued to meet early in the morning for religious worship, to enforce and. secure the great design of their institution, but onnitted the other assembly:
And, as seems to me, we have here a remarkable instance of that sincere regard which the primitive Christians had for the commands of civil magistrates in all things, within the compass of their authority. These love-feasts were of early original, and had been long in use. Nevertheless, they were not considered as a divine command, or an institution of the gospel. When therefore Pliny published his edict, forbidding assemblies, they omitted them, whilst they continued their other meeting; forasmuch as the great design of these, the providing for the poor and destitute, might be secured some other way, by private contributions and benefactions.
We may form an idea of the assemblies prohibited in Pliny's edict, by observing another letter of his to Trajan. There ' had been a dreadful fire in Nicomedia, the chief city of Bithynia; whilst Pliny was absent in some distant part of the province. By that fire had been consumed many private houses and two public buildings. Of this Pliny informs the emperor, and makes a proposal to this effect: “You will consider, Sir, whether it may not be advisable to institute a college of smiths,' or a company of firemen, consisting only of one hundred and fifty.' And he tells Trajan that as this college will consist of so small a number, it will be easy enough to * keep them under a proper regulation.'
Nevertheless the emperor did not approve of that proposal; and says, in his answer to Pliny: * Whatever name "we give them, and for whatever purposes they may be founded, they will ** not fail to form themselves into assemblies, however short their meetings may be.' This is sufficient to shew how jealous Trajan was of such societies. I shall refer to two other letters, which have some affinity with these.
By Philo k we are assured that · Flaccus, president of Egypt, near the end of the reign of · Tiberius, prohibited their eTeipias, fellowships, or assemblies at Alexandria; which they held * under a pretence of religion indeed, but made use of for drunkenness and other excesses.' However, such were not the love-feasts of the Christians, as we are well assured, but sober and harmless meals.
• After receiving this account, I judged it the more necessary to examine, and that by torture, - two maid-servants, which were called ministers. But I have discovered nothing beside a bad • and excessive superstition.'
We may be apt to think that Pliny might have been satisfied with the accounts received from
imperabat, nullo intervallo, peragebant. Bithyniensibus vero • Says Mr. Hallett, as before, p. 255. 'I cannot find that cur in duo tempore divisos actus cultum divinum distribue- the Christians looked upon their love-feasts, as religious, or rent, hæc erat magni momenti ratio. Propter hostium insidias divine institutions, like the Lord's supper. If they had, in die ad cultum publicum congregari non poterant, sed ante 'their councils would no more have banished them out of the lucem convenire debebant. Id vero antelucanum tempus churches, than the Lord's Supper itself.' cibo capiendo haud commodum erat. Quare differendum "Quum diversam partem provinciæ circumirem, Nicomeerat convivium amoris in illud diei tempus, quo corpora reliqui diæ vastissi:num incendium, multas privatorum domos, et duo cives reficere solebant. Mosh. de Reb. Christ. ante C. M. publica opera-absumsit. I. x. ep. 42. p. 147.
8 Tu, Domine, dispice, an instituendum putes collegium a See before note ' p. 24.
fabrorum, duntaxat hominum cl—Non erit difficile custo• Promiscuus cibus opponitur hic, ut arbitrer, exquisito et dire tam paucos. Ibid. delicato. Moshem. ib. p. 151.
" Quodcumque nomen, ex quâcumque caussâ dederimus < Sed et illud Agapas duntaxat spectavit, non item synaxes iis qui in idem contracti fuerint, hetæriæ quanvis breves ecclesiasticas, quæ quidem Eucharistiae percipiendæ gratiâ fient. Ep. 43. celebrarentur. &c. Diss. Cypr. xi. sect. 25.
i L. x. ep. 117, 118. d Persecution de l'Eglise sous Trajan. art. v.
k Phil. in Flac. p. 965. VOL. IV.
deserters or apostates: who were several in number, who had ceased to be Christians, some many years ago, others more lately, at different times; who had all given a clear and an agreeing testimony to the innocence of the Christian worship, and the sobriety of their manners. Nevertheless he is still dissatisfied, and now proceeds to an examination by torture. Surely this governor's moderation is not here very conspicuous ! However he gets into his hands two of the weaker sex, hoping, I presume, that if the Christians had among them any secrets still concealed from him, he should now find them out. One or other of these women must needs give way, and open all, when put to the question.
• Two maid-servants.' Some think that these were chosen because they were slaves. But I suppose, that others, beside slaves, might be legally put to the torture, though Roman citizens might not. I cannot easily believe that deaconnesses in Christian churches were slaves. Nor do I think it very likely that they should be domestic or hired servants. We now all know what is meant by a deaconness in Christian writings. But I suspect that Pliny was misled by the ambiguity of the Greek word diæxcvoć, which is sometimes used for slaves, or such as performed the lowest services, usually appropriated to slaves. I say, I am apt to think that Pliny was not sufficiently aware of the different meanings of the word dezcuoc, .deacon,' in common uşe, and in the ecclesiastical sense. Rom. xvi. 1. “I commend unto you Phæbe our sister, who is a servant of the church which is in Cenchrea.” Ουσαν διακονον της εκκλησιας της εν Κεγχρεαις. She was a servant of that church: but it does not follow that she was either a slave or a hired servant, to any one member of it.
A thought offers itself here which will aggravate the severity of this torture; for very probably these women were in years ; such only being qualified for the office of deaconness: see i Tim. v. 9. However, Pliny made no scruple to try the torture upon them. For their office and their age would lead him to think that they were thoroughly acquainted with what passed among the Christians, in their assemblies, and in their own houses. Lord Orrery, in his Notes upon Pliny's Epistles, Vol. 2, p. 430, says: · Age might have pleaded in defence of these unhappy ancillæ. But no circumstance was sufficiently strong to stem the torrent of religion.'
Well. Pliny put to the question, and examined these two women, deaconnesses among the Christians in Bithynia. But all he could discover was no more than a bad and excessive super• stition.' By • bad, pravum,' meaning, I think absurd, wrong, different from the commonly received religion. And he calls it · excessive, immodicam,' because they who embraced it were fond and tenacious of it, and would rather die than deny and forsake it. And many of them were active in propagating it and recommending it to others.
By · bad,' he could mean nothing more than wrong and absurd, and contrary to the prevailing religion. If Pliny in these examinations had discovered any thing vicious, any lewdness, any cruelty, practised in their worship; any seditious principles, any attempts or designs to subvert the government of the province, or the state of the Roman empire ; he must have given hints of it: he must have mentioned it distinctly. His regard for the welfare of Roman people, his respect for the emperor, which is well known to have been very great, would have prevented all concealment, and would have obliged and induced him to be very explicit and particular. We may hence therefore absolutely conclude, that the Christians held no principles, and were guilty of no practices, that could justly expose them to punishment from civil magistrates. Their only offence was their religion, and that was innocent in all respects; though different from the idolatrous worship of the nations.
Suspending therefore all judicial proceedings, I have recourse to you for advice. For it has • appeared to me a matter highly deserving consideration, especially upon account of the great * number of persons who are in danger of suffering : for many of all ages, of every rank, of • both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this supersti«tion seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country.'
Thus does · Pliny bear witness to the great number of converts to Christianity in Pontus and Bithynia, over which he presided. The words of Tertullian, who wrote some while afterwards,
? Ancillas vocat Plinius. Sed vix crediderim Diaconissas servili conditione fuisse, in tanto apud Bithynos Christianorum numero. Cleric. H. E. p. 551. not. 15.
-και διακονοι ωραιοι---, την εσθητα, και τραπεζας, και εκπωματα, και διακονος. κ. λ. Lucian. Gall. p. 168. Τom. 2, ed Græv. Et sie passim apud Græcos auctores.
© Hinc liquet, in Bithyniâ ingentem Christianorum jam iis temporibus numerum fuisse; ac proinde per Asiam longe lateque religionem Christianam, invitis Ethnicis et Judæis, sola sua præstantia, propagatam fuisse. Cleric, A. cxi. p. xii.
representing “the great increase of Christianity and the multitude of its professors of all ranks and orders of men, are very strong and emphatical. And yet Pliny does in a manner confirm the whole of what he
says. • Nevertheless, it seems to me that it may be restrained and corrected. It is certain that the temples, which were almost forsaken, begin to be more frequented; and the sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are revived. Victims likewise are every where bought up, whereas for ! some time there were few purchasers. Whence it is easy to imagine what numbers of men might be reclaimed if pardon were granted to those who shall repent.'
From what Pliny says of the desolation of the temples, and the neglect of the sacred solemnities, and the few purchasers of victims, which there had been for some while, it has been argued, that this persecution was begun and fomented by the priests and their adherents, and such * others as had a dependance on the sacred solemnities.' Which may be true in this as well as some other persecutions.
And I am willing to allow that Pliny here adopts the language of those people who brought these complaints, and who magnified the danger of the downtall of their religion. However, we are hereby assured that the progress, which the Christian religion had made in Pontus and Bithynia, was very considerable.
Learned men, I say, observe that this persecution was begun and fomented by the priests ; to whom, as I suppose, many others would join themselves who had a zeal for the prevailing religion. But learned men seem to forget that Pliny himself, our proprætor, was a priest, and that the emperor, to whom he writes, was high-priest, pontifex maximus. We need not, we ought not, to impute to Pliny-any thing mean and sordid. He was above such things, which must have been far from his temper. But I think we may reasonably suppose that he was sincerely concerned for the honour of the gods and the priesthood; that he was desirous the sacred solemnities should be upheld in all their splendour, and that the priests should continue to enjoy their usual emoluments and perquisites without diminution. I should think, therefore, that it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that Pliny himself was not a little moved at the abovementioned complaints, when made to him.
Some learned men have of late said that " what Pliny did against the Christians was done by him unwillingly, and not without some sort of compulsion. But I cannot discern any the least reason for this persuasion in his letter.
I am unwilling to advance any thing without ground and reason ; and therefore I forbear to say that, very probably, the arrival of this proprætor, who was augur in the province, a man well known for his exactness in all the solemnities of the ancient religion, raised great expectations in the minds of many in the province, zealous for the established rites, and encouraged accusations and persecutions against the Christians. However, I must say that this severe persecution under Pliny is a strange phenomenon; and would appear still stranger, and almost unaccountable, if it had no encouragement from him.
Though great numbers of men had embraced the Christian religion, or, as Pliny's expressions are, though the contagion of this superstition had seized many;' he was of opinion that it might be restrained and corrected.' For this end he proposeth that “pardon should be granted 'to those who repent.' And says, it is easy to imagine what numbers of men might' then be · gained.'
a Obsessam vociferantur civitatem. In agris, in castellis, discrimine versari; atque populum fortassis etiam incitavein insulis, Christianos. Omnem sexum, ætatem, conditio- rant, ut clamoribus supplicia Christianorum posceret. Mosnem, et jam dignitatem transgredi ad hoc nomen quasi detri- hem. ut supr. p. 232, notis. mento mærent. Ap. cap. i.
c Cum his sociabat sese innumerabilis varii generis turba, Hesterni sumus, et vestra omnia complevimus, urbes, cui superstitiones publicæ quæstui erant, mercatores, qui thura, insulas, castella, municipia- -Sola vobis relinquimus templa. bestias, aliaque vendebant Deorum cultoribus necessaria, arIb. c. 37. Conf. c. v. et ad Nat. 1. i. c. 1. et alibi.
chitecti, caupones, aurifices, Act. xix. 25. fabri lignarii, statub Hos vero delatores Christianorum sacerdotes fuisse, ma- arii, sculptores, tibicines, citharædi, et alii, quibus omnibus nifestum esse reor ex his Plinii verbis- Causam hic moti Dii, eorumque ministri, templa, cæremoniæ, dies festi magnas ergo Christianos belli clarissime proconsul indicat: * Templa afferebant ad vitam beate ducendam opportunitates. Moshem. ' in Bithynia desolata erant, sacra solennia intermissa,' victimæ
ut supr. p. 103. raro offerebantur. Hæc vero cuncta nullos tangebant, nisi d Ceriun est ex hac epistolâ, Plinium ipsum Christianos non sacerdotes, sacrorumque antistites, quorum intererat unice, ut aggressum fuisse, sed invitum a delatoribus et accusatoribus. templa frequentarentur, et victimæ cæderentur. Questi ergo coactum, ut eos in jus vocaret, et puviret, Moshem. ib. hi sine dubio apud Plinium erunt, religiones Deorum in summo
Every one should judge for himself: but to me it seems that in all this there is no indication of favour to the Christian religion, or good will to the professors of it. I think that Pliny proposes these measures to the emperor, as the most likely to secure the interests of the old religion. He really thought this method the most likely and most effectual to abolish what he calls
• absurd superstition, and to reduce, and gradually extirpate, the professors of it. And I suppose that from our remarks upon his epistle it may appear that Pliny himself had found the benefit of this scheme, and he had too much success in drawing men off from the open profession of the Christian doctrine. The earl of Orrery, p. 431, has already said the same that I now do. For he allows that Pliny expresses a detestation of Christianity, calling it amentia, superstitio prava et immodica.
· And the proposal,' he says, which Pliny made to the emperor, to give * room for repentance, seems rather an act of policy than of good nature.'
Having now gone over this letter, I beg leave to say: it seems to me that there is a remarkable omission. Pliny fails not to tell Trajan that the Christians worshipped Christ, as a God,' and that they refused to worship his image. He should also have told Trajan, they assured him,
however, that they offered supplications to the God of the universe, for the health and long life * of the emperor, and for the peace and prosperity of the empire, and that God would grant him • wise counsellors, and faithful servants and officers: and that they were obliged by the rules
of their religion so to do. These things do so often occur in the ancient apologists, and other Christian writers, that it may be reckoned certain, and taken for granted, that some of the Christians who pleaded before Pliny, whether Roman citizens or others, did sufficiently assure him of their dutiful respect for the emperor, and other magistrates, and of their love toward all mankind, even enemies as well as others. This one omission alone, so far as I am able to judge, is enough to persuade us there was some defect of equity and candour in Pliny's treatment of the Christians.
It has been said, that · Pliny's • Letter is throughout an apology for the Christians. If so, is it not also his own condemnation? He had received many testimonies to the Christian innoThese he reports to the emperor. Nor could he do less.
Nor could he do less. In this report the Christian principles, worship, and manners, appear in a good light. But then, is not Pliny blameable who inflicted death, and other penalties, upon such men, and that without any express law ?
I am willing to make allowance for prejudices. And I believe that the Supreme Judge, when he shall take the final cognizance of human affairs, will pass an equitable sentence upon all, according to the advantages and disadvantages of their condition in their state of trial. The farther vindication of Pliny I leave to those who are pleased to undertake it. And I am very willing that my readers should observe and consider what is said by such advocates as are favourable to him.
Having done this, I must applaud the steadiness of those Roman citizens, and others, in Pontus and Bithynia; who, when interrogated by the proprætor a second and a third time, per, severed in their first confession of the name of Christ, unmoved by his fair promises and cruel threatenings. Who can forbear to think that those Christians were mindful of what St. Peter had written to them? 1 ep. iv. ver. 12, to the end.
To them, and other such men, I humbly conceive it is owing that there is now any such thing as virtue in the world. To them, and others like them, it is owing that many great men so apprehensive of inquisitiveness in things of religion, have been at length awakened, and induced to examine, and consider, and also to embrace, the Christian doctrine, and then to adlorn it by the practice of all the virtues becoming their reasonable nature, and their high stations.
a Oramus etiam pro imperatoribus, pro ministris eorum, ac c. 2. Vid. et Athenag. Leg. sub fin. et Origen. Contr. Cels. potestatibus, pro statu seculi, pro rerum quiete, pro morâ finis. 1. 8, et passim. Tertull. ap. cap. 39. Conf. cap. 31.
Apologia enim Christianorum est, quod facile patet, tota Colimus ergo et imperatorem sic, quomodo et nobis licet, Plinii epistola, quà calumnias, quibus illi premebantur, conet ipsi expedit
, ut hominem a Deo secundum; et, quicquid vellere studet, et mentem Trajani ad lenitatem et clementiam est, a Deo consecutum, et solo Deo minorem. Itaque et sa- erga homines, quos ille a Romanorum quidem religione aliecrificamus
pro salute imperatoris, sed Deo nostro et ipsius, sed nos, verum sceleris puros cognoverat, inclinare. Mosheni, ut quomodo præcepit Deus, purâ prece. Non enim eget Deus,
supr. p. 147. conditor universitatis, odoris aut sanguinis alicujus. Ad Scap.