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• but six persecutions: Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History does not number the persecutions,
though nine persecutions may be made out from it. Upon the whole, the notion of ten • heathen persecutions had its rise in the fifth century;'
Upon all which I must say, that in the book of the Deaths of Persecutors, whether written " by Lactantius, or another, we cannot expect to see an account of all the persecutions which Christians had suffered in former times. His book is entitled, Of the Deaths of Persecutors; his design therefore is to speak of such persecutors only as came to an untimely end: accordingly he writes of the persecution of Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, and Aurelian, who suffered a violent death. Of their persecutions he gives a brief account in the first chapters of his book; and then he proceeds to Dioclesian's persecution, upon which he enlargeth. Here he computes four several persecutors, Dioclesian, Maximian Herculeus, Maximian Galerius, and Maximin. And according to his account Dioclesian met with great misfortunes; Maximian was strangled by order of Constantine for base treachery, and an attempt upon his life; Galerius 4 and Maximino died miserably by grievous distempers, supposed to have been inflicted upon them by way of judgment from heaven, for their inhumanity to the Christians. That is the design and substance of that book; and from it no argument can be formed for determining the number of persecutions which Christians endured from heathen emperors.
Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, does not number the great afflictions which the Christians had endured; but he has mentioned eleven persecutors, though the persecutions of some of them may have been of but short duration. The persecutors mentioned by Eusebius are these: Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Antoninus, Severus, Maximin the first, or the Thracian, Decius, Gallus, · Valerian, ' Aurelian, Dioclesian, and his colleagues.
The several persecutions of heathen emperors did not come to an end before the beginning of the fourth century; they could not be numbered till they were all over. Orosius
counts ten persecutions, and expressly calls Dioclesian's the tenth and last. Augustine likewise reckons ten heathen persecutions: he numbers them in this manner: the first Nero's, the second Domitian's, the third Trajan's, the fourth Marcus Antoninus's, the fifth Severus’s, the sixth Maximin’s, the seventh Decius's, the eighth Valerian's, the ninth Aurelian's, the tenth Dioclesian's. These two learned writers lived partly in the fourth and partly in the fifth century: and it may be thence argued, that this way of computing was in use before the end of the fourth century; and indeed we can prove it. Jerom's book Of Illustrious Men, or Ecclesiastical Writers, was published in the year 392, and he there sometimes numbers the persecutions. In the chapter of St. John he calls TM Domitian's the second persecution; in the chapter of Ignatius" he expressly mentions Trajan's persecution, though without numbering it; in the chapter of Polycarpo he says, he suffered in the time of the fourth persecution under Marcus Antoninus. Ile expressly calls Decius's P the seventh; and Cyprian's martyrdom he placeth in the eighth persecution, in the time of Valerian and Gallienus: and in his Latin edition of the Chronicle of Eusebius are ten persecutions, all expressly mentioned and numbered as in Augustine’s.
There may have been some affectation in numbering the persecutions. Orosius, ' and some others, have found out a way to compare the ten persecutions of the Christians with the ten plagues of Egypt, which is trifling: but the number of persecutions has a foundation in history, as we have seen in the several chapters of this wnd the preceding volume.
Some may compute nine, others ten, or eleven, but ten was a cound number, and has generally prevailed: I think
• That Lactantius is not the author of that little book, was mam, octavam a Valeriano, ab Aureliano nonam, decimam a shewn, Vol. ii. p. 264–266.
Diocletiano et Maximiano. De Civ. Dei. I. xviii. cap. 52. b De Mort. Persecut. cap. 26.
c Ibid. cap. 30.
n De V. I. c. 16.
Postea vero, regnante Marco Antonino, et L. Aurelio + H. E. 1. vi. c. 28.
8 1. vii. cap. 1.
Commodo, quartå post Neronem persecutione, Smyrnæ, l. vii. cap. 10.
i I. vii, cap. 30. p. 283. B. sedente Proconsule et universo populo, in anophitheatro ad* Interea Diocletianus in Oriente, Maximianus Herculeus versus eum personante, igni traditus est. Ib. cap. 17. in occidente, vastari ecclesias, adfligi interficique Christianos, p Septimă autem persecutione sub Decio, quo tempore decimo post Neronem loco præceperunt, quæ persecutio om- Babylas Antiochiæ passus est, Alexander ductus Cæsaream, nibus fere ante actis diuturnior atque immanior fuit. &c. et clausus in carcere, ob confessionem Christi, martyrio coroOros. 1. vii. cap. 25. Vid. et cap. 27.
natur. Ib. cap. 62. Primam quippe computant a Nerone quæ facta est, se
4 Passus sub Valeriano et Gallieno principibus, persecucundam a Domitiano, a Trajano tertiam, quartam ab Anto- tione octava. Ib. cap. 67. nino, a Severo quintam, sextam a Maximino, a Decio septi-'. ! Oros. l. vii, cap. 27,
there were eleven; it seems to me that there is good ground to say so from Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History:
The primitive Christians, I think, called those troubles persecutions, which were ordered by edicts of emperors. Sulpicius Severus, having given an account of Nero's cruelty toward the Christians at Rome, under pretence that the city had been set on fire by them, adds: “That * • was the beginning of the cruel proceedings against the Christians. Afterwards the Christian
religion was forbidden by laws; and by public edicts it was declared, that no man might be a • Christian. Of such edicts or rescripts there were ten or eleven: and I suppose, that all persecutions ordered by imperial edicts were general; they were intended for the whole Roman empire subject to their government, but possibly they did not all actually reach to every part of the empire. The edict of Maximin the Thracian - is said to have been against the clergy
only,' and his is sometimes called a local persecution: nevertheless, I think, it must have been general, and intended against the Clergy every where. There is this proof of it: that Ambrose and Protoctetus were then imprisoned: this last was presbyter at Cæsarea in Palestine, and Ambrose is supposed to have been deacon in that or some other church not far off: and Orosius says, that this persecution was particularly intended against the presbyter Origen. But all those eminent Christians lived in Syria, at a great distance from the capital of the empire; the edict, therefore, may have been intended against the clergy every where.
I apprehend I need not say any thing more here, nor make any recapitulation of what we have seen: but I would refer my readers to the accounts of the heathen persecutions which have been given in this and the preceding volume; which, I hope I may say, are authentic, and will be allowed to be so: and we have seen genuine copies of divers of the imperial edicts which were sent by them to the proconsuls, or other governors of provinces.
But it may be said, that all these ten persecutions will not prove, that Christians were all along in a state of persecution till the conversion of Constantine: for the lives of some of those persecuting emperors were short, and when they were dead their edicts were little regarded; and then peace might be restored to the churches.
Undoubtedly there is some truth in what is here alleged; therefore I shall add some farther observations for clearing up this point, and for shewing that they might still be in a state of persecution.
For Trajan's cdict was never abrogated, but was still in being; and thereby the presidents were required to pronounce sentence of death upon all who were brought before them, and accused of Christianity, unless they denied themselves to be Christians, and made out the truth of what they said. And many might be accused by the spiteful and ignorant vulgar, as well as by other malicious people.
And some judges or governors of provinces might act without law, or contrary to it, as Pliny had done. According to the edict of Trajan, Christians were not to be sought for:' but the president at Lyons, in the time of Marcus Antoninus, -d issued out public orders, that
strict searches should be made for them. And it is manifest, that many Christians suffered - in the time of Adrian and Titus Antoninus, though there were then no laws against them except the edict of Trajan: and though there were some laws in their favour, particularly the Rescript of Adrian to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia, which was also to be a rule to other governors of provinces, and the 'Letter of Titus Antoninus to the states of Asia, and other 5 letters to the Larisseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and all the Greeks.
We may do well to recollect here the history of Apollonius, a Roman senator, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Commodus, in the year of our Lord 186, or 187, or thereabout; of which I gave some account formerly, but shall now transcribe more distinctly that chapter of Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History: where, after having given an account of the sufferings of Christians in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, and then of the works of Irenæus, and some other Christian writers, he says: " At that time, in the reign of Commodus, there was a happy change in our affairs, and by the divine favour the churches enjoyed peace and tranquillity throughout
d P. 92. ! P. 69.
* Hoc initio in Christianos sæviri cæptum. Post etiam datis legibus religio vetabatur; palamquc edictis propositis, Christianum esse non licebat.' Sul. Sever. 1. ii. cap. 29. Cleric.
b See p. 187. See p. 20, 21, 29.
· P. 51-53.
& P. 70.
Euseb. H. E. I. v. cap. 21. p. 189.
s the whole world. And by the same word of the gospel, many of all ranks were converted to • the worship of the God of the universe: so that at Rome itself, many who were eminent for • their riches, and for their descent, did with their whole families, and their kindred, embrace • the way of salvation. But that was a thing not to be borne by the evil dæmon, envious of the
happiness of men, and an enemy to all goodness. He therefore arms himself again, and sets • his instruments to work against us; and he brings before the judgment-seat Apollonius, one of • the faithful, a man celebrated for learning and philosophy. A wicked wretch, one of his mi. “ nisters, well fitted for such a purpose, is stirred up to accuse him: but that miserable man • having brought his accusation unseasonably, when there was an imperial edict. appointing
capital punishment for such things, had his legs broke, and was put to death by order of Pe* rennis the judge. And the admirable man the martyr of whom I am speaking, being desired • by the judge to give an account of himself to the senate, complied, and delivered an elegant apology for the faith for which he suffered, before the senate: and then, as by decree of the senate, was condemned to die; there being, as it seems, an ancient law, that if any Christian
were accused in a court of justice he should be punished, unless he denied himself to be a ... Christian.' Eusebius then adds, “that they who are desirous to read what Apollonius said • before the judge, and his answers to the interrogatories of Perennis (præfect of the prætorium,] « and his whole apology in the senate, they might see them in the collection which he had made
of the ancient martyrdoms. But that is entirely lost, to our great grief: for those Acts of the martyrdom of Apollonius, if they were extant, we may reasonably think, would be instructive as well as entertaining.
This shews, that in times called times of peace and tranquillity,” for the churches, some might suffer capital punishment as Christians.
The ancient law to which Eusebius here refers, probably is Trajan's edict concerning the Christians, and is so understood by Valesius.
The edict of Severus against the Christians was not published before the year of our Lord 202; but from Tertullian's apology, published in the year 198, or thereabout, it plainly appears, that the Christians had suffered persecution for some while before the publication of that edict. Indeed it appears to have been a day of heavy affliction to the Christians, as may be seen in what we have already written in this . volume..
And by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, we are fully assured, that there was in that city a persecution under the emperor Philip, and that for a whole year the Christians in that place underwent a great variety of heavy sufferings, before the publication of the edict of Decius.
And my readers will here recollect the remarkable history of Marinus before related in this volume,' who suffered martyrdom at Cæsarea, after that Valerian's persecuting edict had been revoked by his son Gallienus.
These things are sufficient to assure us, that the Christians in this period were generally in suffering circumstances, and were always liable to suffer.
Nevertheless, after all, it is not to be supposed; that persecution was always violent and uninterrupted; there might be some abatements of those troubles, and some seasons of rest and peace; what they were, may be collected from what we have seen in this and the preceding volume; and I shall here reckon them up in a summary manner. We reckon, that Nerva was favourable to them, who, when he repealed the other acts of Domitian, repealed also his law against the Christians. His successor Trajan published an edict against the Christians, which, as has been often hinted already, never was abrogated, but continued in force as long as Heathenism subsisted in the Roman empire. Nevertheless we can perceive, that in the reigns of Adrian and Titus Antoninus, there were some edicts, or rescripts, which were favourable to them; though during those very reigns many Christians still suffered in almost every part of the empire. They also received some favour. and indulgence from Alexander Severus and Philip.
See p. 169.
- See P. 69.
Legem igitur, seu rescriptum Trajani ad Plinium secundum intelligo, in quo cavetur, Christianos quidem inquirendos , non esse, oblatos vero puniri oportere. Vales. in. loc..
They might also enjoy peace and tranquillity in the reigns of Commodus and Caracalla, who did not much concern themselves about the affairs of religion. The first years of Valerian, and the reign of Gallienus, after Valerian's captivity, were favourable to them; as likewise the former part of the reign of Dioclesian, when the * Roman empire was disturbed by enemies on
In such seasons as these, it is reasonable to believe that the Christians would exert themselves, and considerable accessions of new converts might be made to them. So it is said, Acts ix. 31. “ Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria:” occasioned by the consternation, into which the Jewish people were thrown by Caligula's order to have his statue set up in the temple at Jerusalem: “and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”
When therefore I say, that all this while” • Christianity was in a state of persecution;' I am willing that proposition should be understood in a mild and qualified sense: We now proceed.
2. • Nevertheless it prevailed.'
Of this we have seen good evidence in Heathen, as well as in Christian writers; which must be reckoned very wonderful, admitting all the softenings and qualifications in the forementioned proposition, that can be asked, or desired. From small beginnings it had mightily prevailed and increased in a short time: and Christians were very numerous, in every part of the empire, before the conversion of Constantine. Though they never had the princes of this world on their side, and from their first original they had endured a variety of difficulties, and several open persecutions, and now were under a severe persecution, which had raged with great violence for several years in most parts of the empire; some have imagined it a suspicion not altogether without foundation, that a great prince may have joined himself to them from considerations of interest. At least he perceived that he might do it, without dreading any quences from the Gentile people in the empire.
Nor were they considerable only for their numbers: they were also respectable for their quality. There now were among them, and always had been, men eminent for their skill in every part of literature, who wrote some in the Greek, others in the Roman language, and with uncommon purity and elegance: as appears from their works still remaining.
3. and lastly, • This is honourable to the religion of Jesus, and to the professors of it at that time.
The contention was between God and idols: and the cause of God prevailed. Many in every part of the empire « turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven, even Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thess. i. 9. 10. • The design of whose coming is to bring men to repentance, and reclaim them from
idolatry, and all other evil practices, and thereby to deliver his faithful followers from the • future misery, which will be the portion of all wicked and impenitent men, and to bestow upon • them everlasting happiness and salvation.'
Many there were at that time who were inquisitive, and open to conviction; they therefore seriously attended to what was proposed to them, and impartially weighed the evidences of what
• Ita cum per omnem orbem terrarum res turbatæ essent, founder of this religion : Matt. xii. 31-33. · The kinget Carausius in Britanniis rebellaret, Achilleus in Ægypto. • dom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a Africam Quinquegentiani infestarent, Narseus Orienti bellum ' man took and hid in his field: which indeed is the least of inferret, Diocletianus Maximianum Herculium ex Cæsare • all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among fecit Augustum, Constantium et Maximinum Cæsares. &c. • herbs, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the Eutrop. 1. ix. cap. 22. Conf. Victor. de Cæsar, et Epitome. • branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them: c. 39.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman Igitur per omnes Romani Imperii fines subitarum turbatio- • took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was num fragores concrepuerunt. . Carausio rebellante in Bri- leavened.” Compare Mark iv. 30–32. Luke xiii. 18-21, tanniâ, Achilleo in Ægypto, cum et Africam Quinquegentiani • Avant que trois siècles se soient écoulés depuis la mort infestarent, Narseus etiam Rex Persarum Orientem bello de J. C. le parti des Chrétiens est déjà si fort, qu'un Empepremeret. Hoc periculo Diocletianus permotus, Maximi- reur l'embrasse sans craindre celui des Payens. Il semble anum Herculeum ex Cæsare fecit Augustum. &c. Oros. L. même, que, loin d'affoiblir par là sa puissance, il l'augmenta, vii. c. 25.
et la fortifia par ce moien. Sermons de S. Werenfels. p. 27. b See Vol. i. p. 54–56.
1723. · Hoc temporum tractu, mirum est, quantum invaluerit Re.
That passage is quoted Vol. ii. p. 334. where are other Jigio Christiana. Sulp. Sever. I. ii. cap. 33. al. 49.
like observations. Now were fulfilled those prophetic parables of the first
was said. They forsook the error of their past way of worship; they embraced, and professed the Christian doctrine, notwithstanding many difficulties and discouragements, and then recommended it to others.
Our blessed Lord, in one of his beautiful parables, has expressed himself after this manner : “ The kingdom of heaven,” the state of things under the gospel dispensation, “is like unto a certain king, who made a marriage for his son; and he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding, and they would not come. Again he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandize : and the remnant took his servants, and intreated them spitefully and slew them.” Matt. xxii. 1-6.
This parable may have been primarily intended to represent the conduct of the Jewish people in the time of our Saviour, and his apostles; but it is a just description of the temper and conduct of Gentiles also, and of all men in general. The things of this world are preferred to those of another, and secular affairs are more minded than the things of religion. Few only are engaged in the search of truth: religious truth is the least regarded, and the most opposed of any: This truth may be hard to be found; when it is discerned, and obtained by impartial inquiries and serious meditation, it may be dangerous to own and profess it. The blessed Jesus therefore, our divine master, says again, Matt. xiii. 44–46. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field : the which when a man has found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
In the first ages of Christianity truth bore a high price; nevertheless there were those who bought it, and would not part with it upon any consideration whatever. Prov. xxiii
. 23. Nor was this distraction or obstinacy, as through mistake it is called by the proprætor · Pliny, and the emperor • Marcus Antoninus. It was a just and reasonable resolution; it is agreeable to all sound philosophy, and the sentiments of all philosophers, who have considered the obligations of human conduct, that “ we ought to suffer death rather than deny the truth, of which we are persuaded. And our Lord has expressed himself clearly upon this point, and without reserve, Matt. x. 32, 33. ^ Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” And he has given us full assurance that none shall be losers by fidelity to him, or by any acts of self. denial for the sake of him and his gospel. And he said to his disciples, Luke xviii. 29, 30. Matt. xix. 29. “ Verily I say unto you there is no man, who has left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come everlasting life.” Mark x. 29, 30. He has himself engaged in this warfare, and knows by experience what it may cost; and therefore he has sometimes expressed himself after this manner. John xvi. 33. “ In the world ye will have tribulation : but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” Again : Rev. iii. 21. “ To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my . throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
If any of the first Christians were too forward, and needlessly exposed themselves to sufferings, they are not to be vindicated; for they acted contrary to repeated precepts of Jesus himself. Behold,” says he to his disciples, “I send you forth as sheep among wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves :” and “ when they persecute you in this city, fee
ye into another." Matt. x. 16, 23.
But I do not think that they often transgressed those rules. I am rather of opinion that they were generally mindful of them, and paid them due regard. We have seen examples of it in: Polycarp and his people; in Cyprian, bishop of Carthage; in the Christians at Alexandria, during the persecution of Valerian; and in the Christians & living in Pontus and Cappadocia, in the time of Maximin the Thracian. Other instances of their discretion might be alleged.
The Christians of the first three centuries were not perfect nor infallible: they had their
· See p. 14. d P. 82.
b P. 74.
P 75. • P. 76, 197, and Vol. ii. p. 5.
i See here in this volume, p. 106. & P. 187.