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kind. Mr. Mosheim suspects, that · Hierocles, or some other learned men, were the contrivers of this malignant order, and suggested it to the emperors. Mr. Mosheim is also of opinion, that becclesiastical history has greatly suffered by it. The precept in the edict might speak only of sacred books, or scriptures. But the officers employed in the execution, when they searched for sacred books, would lay hold of any writings, which they found in the places of Christian worship, or in the habitations of bishops or other Christians. The copies of the sacred books of the Old and the New Testament were now so numerous, that they could not be all found and destroyed. But of some Acts of Martyrs, Registers of Church-affairs, Epistles of Bishops to each other, there might be few copies only, or perhaps one alone. If such papers were seized and thrown into the flames, they were irrecoverably lost.
Those observations are from Mr. Mosheim. I shall now add two or three others.
Obs. 3. Dioclesian's persecution was very grievous : indeed, it was the longest and the worst that the Christians had ever endured. This may appear from the particulars alleged above from Eusebius, though my accounts have been designedly brief, and therefore defective. Sulpicius Severus, as may be remembered, said, • Never was the world more wasted by any war.'
war. That observation is verified by the eighth and ninth books of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, together with his book Of the Martyrs of Palestine : containing the authentic accounts of a learned and eminent man, who was a contemporary, and an eye-witness of many of the cruelties related by him. I say, that observation may be verified by those authentic histories, without having recourse to spurious acts of martyrs, or any other legendary writings.
Sulpicius Severus adds: Nor ever had we a greater victory, than when we were not overcome by the slaughters of ten years.' Another true and just observation! For the patience and fortitude of the Christians of that time were invincible and admirable. Some of all orders, pastors of churches, and others, were presently terrified, and fell away; but many were faithful to death. They patiently endured calumnies, stripes, imprisonments, maiming of members, exquisite tortures of every kind, and still persevered; and though many were taken off by cruel deaths of every kind, the number of the faithful was not diminished, but increased and multiplied under that heavy weight of afflictions.
Obs. 4. The revolution made in the Roman empire, in favour of the Christians, upon the conversion of Constantine, was a gracious dispensation of divine Providence; it put an end to scenes of cruelty, which are shocking to think of, and were disgraceful to human nature.
The professors of the religion of Jesus had now endured many severe trials, and had approved their zeal and fidelity to them. They had been tried, and were “ found faithful, and loved not their lives unto death.” Rev. ii. 10. xii. 11. And thereby they had done great and lasting honour to the principles of their religion. Now, therefore, God appointed them rest from those troubles. “ For," as it is said, Ps. cxxv. 3. “ the rod of the wicked shall not” always “ rest upon the lot of the righteous, lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity."
Obs. 5. And lastly, the cruelties of Dioclesian's and other heathen persecutions, which have been endured by Christian people, may fill our minds with horror for persecution, and every degree of it.
Never let us be persecutors: never let us encourage or give countenance to persecution : never let the cruelties of heathen persecutions be practised in Christian countries.
If we would effectually secure ourselves from temptations to persecution, let us take care to derive our religion from the books of the Old and New Testament, without adding other doctrines, not found in them, as important parts of religion. Where transubstantiation, or other like absurdities are taught as articles of religion, there will be persecution. Ancient Gentilism could not stand before the light of the gospel. It was absurd, and could not be maintained by reason and argument. The Christians, therefore, were continually gaining ground. They drew men off from the temples, from sacrifices, from the religious solemnities, from public sports and entertainments. This was a provocation to heathen people, which they could not endure ; they had recourse, therefore, to violence, and tried every possible way to discourage the progress of the Christian religion ; and in the space of about two hundred and fifty years, from the emperor Nero to Maximin, there were ten, or more, heathen persecutions of the Christians: the last of which was the longest, and the worst of all; at the end of which Christianity prevailed. But if Gentilism had been revived, heathen persecutions would have been repeated, and the cruelties of former times would
a Non dubito vero, malignam hanc voluntatem libros Tom. ii. p. 84. constat, epistolas etiam salutatorias, quas episChristianorum delendi, Hieroclen, de quo diximus, Augustis copi mutuo sibi variis de rebus scribebant, combustas esse. injecisse. Certe, non hominum rudium, et rei Christiana Nam hæ in tabulariis etiam templorum reponi solebant. Hinc ignarorum, quales Maximianus, ejusque socer erant, sed eru- incredibilem Historia Christiana jacturam in hoc bello Dioditorum, et sacri codicis peritorum, qui quid in illis traderetur, cletianæo fecit. Nam ex primis rerum Christianorum temporiet quantam vim haberent ad Christianorum animos contra bus quæ supererant documenta, chartæ, epistolæ, Jeges Acta deorum cultum et superstitionen muniendos, ex lectione Martyrum et Conciliorum, ex quibus antiqua Christianæ eorum ipsi percepissent. Id. ib. p. 925.
civitatis historia egregie illustrari potuisset, omnia in his tur• Ex Actis purgationis Felicis apud Baluzium Miscell. bis, plurima saltem, interierunt. Id. ib. p.924, 925.
have been practised over again, with equal, or, if possible, with redoubled rage and violence. The emperor Julian, when he became a heathen, though he was a man of wit and learning, and though he dressed up his scheme of Gentilism in as plausible a form as he was able, to recommend it to the judgments of men, could not help being a persecutor, like his admired Marcus Antoninus, and many others, his heathen ancestors and predecessors. So it will be always. An absurd religion cannot maintain itself by reason and argument: it needs, and will have recourse to force and violence for its support. But true religion, which is throughout reasonable, can rely upon its own intrinsic excellence, and those testimonials, which God, in his good Providence, has been pleased to afford it, as the proper evidences of its high original.
CH A P. XLI.
A review of the foregoing period, from the beginning of the third century to the conversion of
Constantine : with some general observations upon the state of Christianity under heathen emperors.
1. I have now given an account of the heathen writers of the third century, who have taken notice of the Christians : and I have made large extracts out of them, and transcribed many passages at length. It may be worth the while to recollect here what we have met with.
In Dion Cassius's noble work, The History of the Romans, published about the year 230, we have seen another testimony to that important event, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of the Jewish people in Judea by Vespasian and Titus. In him also we have seen another testimony to Domitian's persecution of the Christians. From him also we learn Nerva's favourable regard to them.
In Amelius, a Platonic philosopher, disciple of Plotinus, about the year 263, we have seen a very distinct and honourable testimony to St. John's gospel.“
That eminent critic Longinus, about the year 264, in his work, Of the Sublime, has made very honourable mention of Moses, the Jewish Lawgiver, and commends the style, in which he
represents the creation of the world. There is also a Fragment' ascribed to him, where the apostle Paul is mentioned to advantage.
And we have met with a passage in Diogenes Laërtius & about the year 210, which gives great light to St. Paul's discourse at Athens, where he puts the Athenians in mind of an “altar” of theirs, “ with an inscription to the Unknown God.”
The saying of Numenius, ' what is Plato, but Moses in Greek ?' is well known, and recorded in divers ancient "writers. But the time of Numenius appears to me uncertain. Nor is it clear, that he has at all referred to the affairs of Christians, or their scriptures.
The emperor Alexander Severus, whose reign began in the year 222, as we learn from Lampridius, 'one of the Augustan writers, was favourable both to Jews and Christians, and had a respect for the Lord Jesus Christ. He had two private chapels, one more honourable than the other. In the first were placed the deified emperors, and also some eminently good men, and among them Christ, and Abraham, and Orpheus. Some other things of a like kind may be seen in his chapter, which need not be recollected here; but they are of use to shew that the Christians were then well known, and that their innocence, or freedom from licentious principles and great crimes, was manifest. And this emperor deserves to be commended for his moderation, and for the justness of his sentiments.
a In this volume, p. 182, 183. b P. 183-185.
c P. 185. d P. 200-202.
• P. 203.
1 P. 205.
The emperor Philip, whose reign began in 244, and ended in 249, has been by some supposed to be a Christian. We have examined that question, and now refer our readers to what has been said upon it by divers learned a men.
The emperor Aurelian reigned from 270 to 275. Flavius Vopiscus, one of the Augustan writers, has preserved a part of a letter written by him to the senate at the beginning of his reign, in which the Christians are expressly mentioned: which shews that the Christians were then well known to the Roman emperors, and to the Roman senate, and to all men.
A like observation may be made upon a story told by the same writer concerning Heliogabalus, whose reign began in 218.
In this period were several learned men, who wrote against the Christians, and the Christian religion: one of whom is · Porphyry. He was born about the year 233. We have placed him as flourishing in the year 270. He was disciple of the celebrated Plotinus, and was himself a learned man, and a philosopher of the first rank. He published many books, some of which are still extant. His work against the Christians consisted of fifteen books, and seems to have been prolix, and carefully studied, and filled with a great deal of learning, and the quotations of divers authors not now extant. Rufinus calls him a determined enemy of Christ, and says he did his utmost to overthrow the Christian religion by his writings. His objections against Christianity were in esteem with heathen people for a great while, as we learn from Augustine and others; and his memory was in abhorrence with Christians, for the bitterness with which he had opposed them. His work was a violent attack upon our scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament; as we can perceive by the fragments of his work still remaining in Christian writers, who have quoted him ; at the same time they are a testimony to them; they bear witness to their antiquity, and to the great esteem which they were in with Christians; and if his work were still extant, it might be of farther use to us in that respect, and upon some other accounts. I have made a large collection of the remaining fragments of his work, to which I refer my readers, without adding any more observations here. But the work called The Philosophy of Oracles,' which has been quoted by some as his, I take to be a forgery; and I have assigned my reasons at large for that opinion.
At the beginning of Dioclesian's persecution, about the year 303, anothers published a work against the Christians. We do not know his name, but he likewise was by profession a philosopher. His work was written in an insinuating manner, making fair pretences of good-will to the Christians, that he might recover them from error, and deliver them from the sufferings, to which they were exposed by a worship contrary to the laws. It seems to have been a large volume, for it consisted of three books ; Lactantius slights it; but this philosopher's objections may have been sufficient to affect many of the common people among the Gentiles, and if it were now extant, it would be a great curiosity.
About the same time another work was written against the Christians by Hierocles, a man of learning, and a person of authority and influence, as he was a magistrate; it was in two books. Nor did he take upon him the character of an enemy to the Christians; he aimed rather to be esteemed a kind and friendly counsellor and adviser. He was well acquainted with our scriptures, and made many objections against them ; thereby bearing testimony to their antiquity, and to the great respect which was shewn to them by the Christians: for he has referred to both parts of the New Testament, the gospels and the epistles.
· P. 188–19!. b P. 207.
CP. 251. & See his chapter, p. 209, &c.
e Si nihil aliud est, vel de Porphyrio silere debuerat, qui specialis hostis Christi est, qui religionem Christianam, quantum in se fuit, penitus subvertere conatus est scriptis suis. Rufin. in Hieron. Invectiv. lib. ii. ap. Hieron. T. 4. p. 418.
Nam Porphyrius tuus, dic, quæso, quid te docuit; qui adversum Christianos, et adversum religionem nostram blasphemiæ volumina conscripsit? &c. Ib. p. 424.
ipsum Porphyrium sequendo, qui adversum Christum, et adversus Deum libros impios ac sacrilegos scripsit. Id. ib.
& P. 252, &c.
h P. 253. &c.
And by Dioclesian's edict, the Christian scriptures were ordered to be burnt when their temples were demolished: it was the first order of the kind; it shews, that our scriptures were then well known, and that the Gentile people were sensible of their importance : whether Hie. rocles was the adviser of that order we cannot say.
He did not deny the truth of our Saviour's miracles; but in order to weaken the argument which the Christians formed from them, in proof of our Saviour's divine authority and mission, he set up Apollonius Tyanæus as a rival, or superior to him: but it was a vain effort. We still have the Life of Apollonius, which Hierocles made use of, written by Philostratus; we are therefore able to pass a judgment upon his argument, and we can discern it to be very weak : for the works there ascribed to Apollonius are not equal to our Saviour's miracles, nor conparable with them : nor are the things ascribed to Apollonius written in a credible manner. And moreover, the history of him which Hierocles made use of, was not written till more than an hundred years after his death.
By Lactantius we are informed, that the famous lawyer Domitius Ulpian, about the year 222, in his book of the Duty of a Proconsul, made a collection of all the edicts of former emperors against the Christians.
And we have now in this volume seen an account of all the persecutions endured by the Christians, from the year of our Lord 202, when the emperor Severus published his edict against the Christians, to the year 312, or 313, when Constantine and Licinius put an end to the persecution begun by Dioclesian.
The progress of the Christian religion in this period is abundantly attested : every thing bears witness to it. Porphyry says, that there were many Christians and others who censured • Plato, against whom Plotinus (about the year 260 and before] often argued in his disputations, ! and also wrote a little book, which was entitled, Against the Gnostics. Porphyry complained also, that since Jesus had been honoured, none had received any public benefit from the
gods. I presume, it could not be a very small number of Christians, in some obscure place, which so disgusted the gods, as to induce them to withhold their gracious influences from the whole Roman empire. From his reflections upon Origen, a who, as he says, had • many admirers and followers,' it appears that the Christians were then a numerous body of men.
If the number of the professors of the Christian religion had not been increased and multiplied, there would have been no persecutions, nor any adversary writers: those learned men and philosophers would have spared the labour of composing voluminous works against the Christian religion if it had few or no votaries. Persecutions likewise bear witness to the growing number of the Christians. Says the Author of the book of the Deaths Of Persecutors, near the beginning of his work : . In the time of Nero, Peter came to Rome, and having wrought di• vers miracles by the power of God, he converted many to righteousness. Nero being informed
of this, and hearing likewise, that not only at Rome but every where else, many forsook the worship of idols, and slighting antiquity went over to the new religion, he resolved to extirpate that doctrine, and was the first who persecuted the servants of God. At which time, by his order, Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded.'
Sulpicius Severus has expressed himself much after the same manner: I shall place a part of what he says below' without translating him.
And Maximin, one of the last persecuting emperors, in his letter to Sabinus above 5 quoted, speaks to this purpose : “ It is, I am persuaded, well known to yourself, and to all men, how
a P. 179. c P. 234.
omnium persecutus Dei servos, Petrum cruci adfixit, et Paud P. 213, &c.
lum interfecit. &c. De Mortib. Persec. cap. 2. Cumque jam Nero imperaret, Petrus Romam advenit, Interea, abundante jam Christianorum multitudine, acet editis quibusdam miraculis, quæ virtute ipsius Dei, datá cidit, ut Roma incendio conflagraret, Nerone apud Antium sibi ab eo potestate, faciebat, convertit multos ad justitiam, constituto --Hoc initio in Christianos sæviri cæptum. Post deoque templum fidele ac stabile collocavit. Qua re ad Ne- etiam datis legibus religio vetabatur : palamque edictis proronem delatâ, cum animadverteret, non modo Romæ, sed positis Christianum esse non licebat. Tum Paulus ac Petrus ubique quotidie magnam multitudinem deficere a cultu ido- capitis damnati; quorum uni cervix gladio desecta, Petrus in lorum, et ad religionem novam, damnatâ vetustate, transire, crucem sublatus est. Sulp. Sever. 1. ü. cap. 29. ut erat exsecrabilis ac nocens tyrannus, prosilivit ad exciden- & See p. 288, 289. dum coeleste templum, delendamque justitiam, et prinius VOL. IV.
• that our lords and fathers, Dioclesian and Maximian, when they saw that almost all mankind • were forsaking the worship of the gods, and going over to the sect of the Christians, did « wisely ordain, that all men, who had forsaken the worship of their immortal gods, should be • brought back to the worship of the gods by public pains and penalties.' Where the great increase of men professing Christianity is expressly assigned as the reason of inflicting pains and penalties upon them at that time : “ that they might be brought back to the old religion. And what is here so clearly owned, must be supposed to have always been the real occasion of those violent methods, which had been so often made use of to check the increase of the number of Christians, and to root them out, if possible, and all traces and footsteps of their religion. And the several edicts of all the persecuting emperors are proofs, that the Christian religion was continually making progress, and gaining ground.
Let this suffice for a review of the argument of this volume.
II. I now proceed to make some observations upon the state of Christianity under heathen emperors ; and they shall be these three.
It was all along in a state of persecution :
1. Christianity, from the time of its first appearance in the world, was all along in a state of persecution till the conversion of Constantine.
I forbear to shew here, how it was opposed and persecuted after the resurrection of Jesus by the Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, and in Judea, and then by Herod Agrippa when king of Israel, and afterwards by other Jews in Judea, and out of it. Upon these things I do not now insist, which may be seen in the Acts of the apostles, and the epistles of the New Testament, and also in the second chapter of the third volume of this work, where was shewn • the treatment given to the first Christians by the unbelieving Jews.' I am now only to consider the state of Christianity in Gentile countries, and under heathen emperors, from the time that it began to be preached among the Gentiles, and to make some progress among them, from about the middle of the first century to the end of this period, when Constantine embraced the Christian religion, and by edicts gave leave to Christians to worship God according to their own judgment and conviction.
St. Luke, in the Acts of the apostles, has taken notice of some difficulties which St. Paul met with in preaching the gospel in Gentile cities; particularly at Lystra in Lycaonia, ch. xiv. 19, 20. at Philippi, ch. xvi. 19-24. St. Paul himself speaks of some of his sufferings, 2 Cor. xi. 23—26. particularly at 25. “ thrice was I beaten with rods:” meaning, as I suppose, by Roman magistrates: though St. Luke has mentioned one instance only, which was at Philippi, as just mentioned, when both Paul and Silas underwent that hard usage. But there were no imperial edicts issued against the Christians, before that of Nero in the year of Christ 64 or 65; at which time the two apostles, Peter and Paul, were put to death.
It has now of a long time been a prevailing opinion, that Christians suffered ten persecutions under heathen emperors: nevertheless, there have been some exceptions made to this opinion by a learned writer, who is deservedly in great repute. If a you speak,' he says, of heavy • persecutions that prevailed every where, there were not so many; if of lesser troubles, there • were more than ten. The number of ten general persecutions is no more than a popular error • which arose in the fifth century, destitute of good foundation in history, and founded in a fan• ciful interpretation of some texts of the Old Testament, where the Christian persecutions have · been thought to be foretold. Lactantius, in his book Of the Deaths of 'Persecutors, makes
2 Numeramus a multis jam seculis decem ejusmodi per- meo periculo, adscribere jubeo. Auctores ejus ignoti sunt. secutiones. Verum non suffragatur huic numero vetus rerum Hoc vero certum est, eos hanc sententiam non ab historia Christianarum historia. Si graviores intelligas persecutiones, traditam accepisse, sed parum felicibus auspiciis ex divinis et per universum orbem Romanum pertinentes, pauciores libris eruisse, atque historiæ reluctanti obtrusisse. Quarto sunt, quam decem ; si minores, et provinciales, multo plures post natum servatorem seculo numerus persecutionum Chrissunt, quam decen. Auctores hujus numeri non eum in his- tianarum nondum definitus erat. Lactantius libello de Mortoria invenerunt, sed historiam ad partes quasdam sacri codicis tibus Persecutorum sex tantuin numerat. Eusebius, in His accommodârunt, quibus persecutiones Christianorum prædictastoriâ Ecclesiasticâ, mala quæ Christianis evenerant, recenset, esse opinabantur---Perantiqua est, et a quinto seculo ad nos numerum malorum non addit. At novem tamen ex eo ducta sententia, de decem Christianorum sub Imperatoribus a Christianorum calamitates colligi quodammodo possunt. ToChristo aversis persecutionibus. Quam ego tamen omnes tidem seculo quinto Sulpicius Severus commemorat. Mos. veri amantes popularibus et fundamento destitutis erroribus, hem, de Reb. Christianor. p. 97, 98.