Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

which were slain eleven thousand beasts, wild and tame; and there were combats of ten thousand gladiators.

The emperor's great fondness for gladiators has been supposed by some to be one reason why Pliny speaks so honourably of those shews in his" Panegyric.

Trajan's introducing pantomimes into the theatre is the more remarkable, because they had been prohibited or restrained by Domitian. Nerva disliked them, though to please the people he allowed them at Rome. Pliny has more than once plainly condemned them in his letters, which is much to his honour. And indeed I take him to be a much better man than his admired master.

It seems to make no small abatement in Trajan's reputation for wisdom, and his regard for the prosperity of the empire, that he so long deferred to nominate his successor. Pliny' extols Nerva for appointing Trajan to succeed him. And it is always reckoned a point of wisdom in princes to make early provision against their own mortality. But Trajan, though he reigned almost twenty years, did not adopt Adrian his successor till he was dying, if he did then. And whenever this was done, whether before or after his death, it is represented to be owing to the good conduct of the empress Plotina, who was favourable to Adrian, and has a great character for virtue and discretion. i

They who will consider all these things, may, perhaps, see cause not to be much surprised at the hard treatment which Christians met with from the great men of those times.

It ought not to be thought by any that I take pleasure in detracting from the merit of those who have been distinguished by their high stations, or their eminent abilities, or their useful services to mankind of any sort. For indeed the disadvantageous part of this detail has been made, and carried on, not without great reluctance, much diffidence, and tenderness; whilst commendable things have been cheerfully acknowledged. And if we now think, and judge, and act, better than many in former times, it is owing to our superior advantages : such' especially as we have received from the Christian revelation, by which our minds have been enlightened and enlarged: for which we ought to be ever thankful, still thinking modestly of ourselves, and giving God the glory of all.

IX. There still remain some general remarks upon the foregoing epistles to be mentioned here, though divers of them may have been in part hinted before.

1. These epistles are justly esteemed by learned men as very valuable. They are the only authentic accounts of the persecution in Pontus and Bithynia which we have. Indeed those epistles have been referred to by Tertullian, and Eusebius, and other later writers: but* we have no history of it by any Christian writer who lived at that time. Whence this has come to pass cannot be certainly said. We may regret it, but we cannot help it, and should acquiesce, and -improve what we have as well as we can.

2. We see here one ground of offence against Christians--they draw men off from the worship of the heathen deities. Their temples were not so much frequented as formerly. The priests, and all who had a dependance upon the temples,' the sacrifices, the statuaries, the painters, the engravers, and others, were deprived of their wonted gain. This must have made the Christians many fierce enemies in all parts. An early instance of this kind is recorded by St. Luke, Acts. xix. 23—41.

Satisfactum, quâ civium, quâ sociorum utilitatibus. Visum * Tibi terras, te terris reliquit; eo ipso carus omnibus, ac est spectaculum inde non enerve, nec fluxum, nec quod a- desiderandus, quod prospexerat, ne desideraretur. Paneg. nimos virorum molliret et frangeret, sed quod ad pulchra vul

cap. x. nera contemtumque mortis accenderet; quum in servorum 8 At Trajanum non prius Hadrianum adoptasse, si tamen etiam, noxiorumque, corporibus amor laudis et cupido vic- adoptavit, quam in morbum inciderit- -certo deducitur. toriæ cerneretur. Paneg. cap. 33.

Pagi ann. 117. n. v. And see Crevier's History of Trajan, b Interdixit histrionibus scenam, intra domum quidem exer- near the end. cendi artem jure concesso. Sueton. Domit. cap. 7. Vid. et + Vid. Dion. 1. 69. in. Eutrop. 1. 8. c. 6. Victor. de CæNero. c. 16.

© Dio. 1. 68. p. 1119, al. 770. B. sarib. cap. 13. Spartian. in Adrian. cap. 4. à Plin. Pan. cap. 46. Conf. Reimar. not. 82. ad Dion. i Plin. Paneg. cap. 83. Dion. 1. 68, p. 1123. in. al.

P: 771. p. 1127.

D. Victor. Epit. in. Constantio. cap. 42. sub fin. e Gymnicusagon apud Viennenses, ex cujusdam testamento, k Verum hisce temporibus, et hoc quidem anno, cæpit tercelebrabatur. Hunc Trebonianus Rufus, vir egregius nobis- tia, quæ vocatur, persequutio, ut liquet ex Epistolâ Plinii, qui que amicus, in duumviratu suo tollendum abolendumque Bithyniæ Proconsul erat,-- quam integram recitabimus, quod curavit-Placuit agona tolli, qui mores Viennensium infe- sit unicum persecutionis illius tertiæ monumentum, tempori cerat, ut noster hic omnium. Nam Viennensium vitia intra æquale. Tantafuit Christianorum eo ævo, in scribendáreligionis ipsos resident, nostra late vagantur. Utque in corporibus, sic suæ historiâ, negligentia, aut scriptorum illius ætatis jacturas in imperio, gravissimus est morbus, qui a capite diffunditur. Cleric. H. E. Ann, cxi. n. i. L. 4. ep. 22. Vid. et. l. 7. ep. 24.

3. Here is a remarkable evidence of the great progress of the Christian religion in a short space. There never was any such thing as Christianity heard of in the world before the reign of Tiberius. It was not fourscore years since the crucifixion of Jesus when Pliny wrote this letter, nor seventy years since the disciples of Jesus began to make any mention of him to Gentiles. And yet there were at this time great numbers of men, whom Pliny once and again plainly calls Christians, in that part of Asia where he presided, at a great distance from Judea. Christians there were every where, throughout the whole extent of his province, in cities, in villages, and in the open country. There were persons of all ages, of every rank and condition, and of each sex, and some Roman citizens, who had embraced this principle. They abounded so much in those parts, that there was a visible desertion of the temples. Beasts, brought to market for victims, had few purchasers; the annual sacred solemnities were much neglected. So many were accused, and were in danger of suffering upon account of the prevalence

of this opinion, as gave the president no small concern.

Moreover, there were not only many at this time who bore that name, but there had been such people there a good while; some several years before; and one, or more, brought before Pliny, had professed Christianity, and forsaken it, twenty years before. By which we are assured that there were Christians here before the year of our Lord 90, and within sixty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. And indeed the great number of Christians found in this country by Pliny, affords good reason to believe that Christianity had been planted there many years before his arrival. Such an increase must have been the work of time.

I do not say, nor think, that the Christians were the majority of the people in Pontus and Bithynia : but I suppose we may conclude, from what Pliny writes, that there were then many Christians in every part of those countries.

4. They who were called Christians were very resolute and steady in this profession, which must have been owing to some cause or other. Jesus had been crucified as a malefactor; and yet there were great numbers of men who had a great respect for him, and could not by any means be compelled, as Pliny was assured, to speak ill of him. And this governor found those informations, which had been given him, to be true. For there were men brought before him, who, when he interrogated them whether they were Christians, confessed they were. And, though threatened by him with death, they persevered in that confession, and therefore were by him ordered away for execution.

It is reasonable to think that this was owing to some authentic information which they had received concerning Jesus, and his exemplary life and excellent doctrine, confirmed by miraculous works, and a full persuasion of the truth of them, as also of his resurrection from the dead, and his exaltation to power and dominion after his crucifixion.

It could not well be owing to any thing, but such evidences of these things as are contained in the books of the New Testament. What else could have induced so many men to take upon them the name of Christ, and profess themselves to be his followers, though all men knew he had suffered an ignominious death? They lived near enough to the time of Jesus to know whether there had been any extraordinary appearances in his favour, during his abode on this earth, at his death, and after it. Without credible information of some such things, it is unaccountable that any number of men should take upon them this profession, and persevere' in it, notwithstanding the many difficulties to which they were exposed.

a Says Mr. Mosheim : Tota igitur provincia, non quædam But it seems to me that, in a preceding note, the same ejus pars, Christianis repleta erat. Postremo non obscure sig- learned man speaks more judiciously in a remark upon Ternificat, Deorum causam magno in discrimine paullo ante ver- tullian. Oracula fundere Tertullianus plurimis videtur in satam esse, pluresque Christo, quam Diis serviisse. Hoc ex Apologetico. cap. 37, • Hesterpi sumus, et vestra omnia im.eo manifestum est, quod templa deserta fuisse, sacra solennia pleviinus-Palatium, senatum, forum. Sola vobis relindiu intermissa, sacrificia perpauca Diis oblata memorat.' Certe, quimus templa.' Ego virum, ad exaggerandum natura fac

satis constat, prope jam desolata templa cæpisse celebrari, tum, declansare, modumque excedere, arbitror. Tolle dis&c.' Aut fabulam hero suo narrare Plinium statue--aut tributionem illam rhetoricam, fallacem certe et insidiosam, et certum puta, provinciam Ponticam plures ejus tempore Chris- hanc habebis sententiam : Plurimi sunt in orbe Romano diavos habuisse, quam deorum superstitioni deditos, saltem Christiani, et nullus fere ordo est, qui prorsus illis careat. Id. maximam incolarum partem ad deserendam avitam religionem ib. p. 217. inclinâsso. Mosh. De Reb. Christian. ante C. M. p. 218, 219.

[ocr errors]

If it should be said they were not all constant; there were some who abandoned this profession; it is allowed-some such there were: but they seem to have been but few in comparison of those who persevered. For Pliny saw that great numbers of all sorts of people were exposed to danger. Besides, the constancy of a few, in such a case as this, is of more weight than the inconstancy of many. There were many temptations to renounce this profession, even contrary to conviction : but there were no worldly inducements of any kind to persist in it. Unsteadiness might be owing to worldly considerations ; perseverance could be owing to nothing but a firm persuasion of the truth.

5. We are here assured of divers important things concerning the religious belief and wor. ship of the first Christians, in which they agree with the principles and precepts delivered in the New Testament.

(1.) They disowned all the gods of the heathens: they would not worship the images of the emperors, or of their gods. The people, who embraced this religion, forsook the heathen temples and altars, and offered there no sacrifices.

(2.) They met together on a stated day, undoubtedly meaning Sunday, or the Lord's-day, on which Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead. And we are assured by Justin Martyr, in his Apology, written not very many years after this time, that this was the practice of all Christians in general.

(3.) When they were assembled, as Pliny says, they sang a hymn to Christ, as a God: and * also engaged themselves, as by an oath, not to commit theft, or robbery, or adultery; never to falsify their word, or betray any trust committed to them.'

Which account is much to the honour of these Christians. Their religion did not lie in abstruse speculations, or numerous rites and ceremonies, but in the worship of the one God, through Jesus Christ, and the practice of moral virtue.

(4.) The Christians in Pontus and Bithynia had love-feasts, or agapæ, as they are also sometimes called. Many other Christians had the like, as we learn from · Tertullian. Those of the Christians in Bithynia were not held at the same time with their more solemn worship, but afterwards; and for avoiding offence they had omitted them.

(5.) They also had church officers. Pliny expressly mentions two women, who were ministers, or deaconnesses, whom he also calls maid-servants. But, as before hinted, he might be mistaken about their condition.

Whence it came to pass that he has mentioned no other officers among the Christians, such as bishops, or presidents, or elders, or deacons, cannot be said. But it may be allowed that the persons pitched upon by him, to be examined by torture, were as likely as any to answer his purpose, of obtaining a knowledge of their secret practices, if the Christians had

any

such among them.

6. We are here assured of the innocence and virtue of the first Christians. Both these epistles, that of Pliny, and that of Trajan, bear testimony to their innocence, in their solemn worship, in their meal, some time afterwards, and in their whole lives. There was not any crime, beside that of their religion, proved against any of those that were brought before Pliny. Even their accusers and prosecutors appear not to have alleged any thing else against them, but that they were Christians. He examined deserters. He put to the torture two women who were ministers, or deaconnesses. And yet he discovered nothing but what was quite harmless. The only charge against them is, an absurd superstition and obstinacy therein.

Trajan's rescript affords as strong proof of the innocence of these men. He knew not of any offence they were guilty of, excepting only their not supplicating to the gods. Heb forbids inquiries to be made after them; and he allows pardon to those who would give proof of their renouncing Christianity, by a public act of worship paid to the gods, then generally received.

The honesty and innocency of these men, obliges us to pay a great regard to their belief and profession of the Christian religion. If they were sober and discreet before they embraced it, we may hence argue, that there were then such evidences of its truth as approved themselves to serious persons.

If they are supposed to have been in fore time vicious and irregular, here * Ap. cap. 39

idque re ipsâ manifestum fecerit, id est, supplicando Diis nos• Conquirendi non sunt. Si deferantur, et arguantur, tris, quanivis suspectus in præteritum fuerit, veniam ex puniendi sunt, ita tamen, ut qui negaverit se Christianum esse, pænitentia impetret. Trajanus,

[blocks in formation]

is a strong proof of the truth and goodness of Christianity, in that it had so great an influence on men's minds at a time when they might easily know whether it was well grounded or not. Either way, it is an honour to these principles, that they who embraced them maintained such innocence in their lives, that their enemies, by the strictest inquiries, could discover nothing criminal in them.

7. At the same time that these Christians appear resolute in their adherence to Christ and his doctrine, and will by no means be compelled to give religious worship to the emperors, or the heathen deities, they pay due obedience to the orders of the civil magistrate. Their evening meeting, for partaking together in a common meal, was not a sacred ordinance of the Christian institution. When therefore Pliny published an edict forbidding assemblies, which was often done by the Roman governors of provinces, because of the licentious practices which usually attended them, these Christians forbore those meetings, though they had not been used to commit any disorders in them.

8. I would now take occasion to observe the expedience and usefulness, the value and importance, of inquisitiveness in things of religion.

Improvements in any science depend upon inquisitiveness, carried on and continued with diligence. These are the only methods of obtaining a knowledge of the principles of any science, and the grounds, reasons, and evidences of them : for the want of which there is so much ignorance in the world. Nor is there any thing less cultivated than the knowledge of religion. How easily might some great men, and many others, have avoided the faults which they fell into, and have acted more for their own honour, and the benefit of mankind, than they did, if they could but have been persuaded to attend to the principles of the Christian religion, and the evidences of their truth and certainty, apparent in their intrinsic excellence and reasonableness, and in the extraordinary works accompanying the original revelation of them, which shewed that they were promulgated with divine authority ?

That Christianity had appeared in the world a good while ago; and that there were many Christians at Rome, and elsewhere, in the reign of Nero and Domitian; and that these Christians had suffered much, and still persisted in the faith of Christ, were things well known to Tacitus and Suetonius, friends of our Pliny, and indeed to all the world, at the time when the eminent men, just mentioned, lived and wrote. But how little regard did they shew to this ? Did they consider the evidences which those Christians alleged, as the ground and reason of their firm and disinterested belief and profession ? Did those persons admit any doubts about the grounds of the ancient worship, or make any serious inquiries about religious truth? It does not appear

they did.

We have a collection of Pliny's letters in ten books. The tenth and last contains the correspondence between him and the emperor Trajan. In the other nine books are more than two hundred and forty letters, many of them written to Tacitus and Suetonius, and other men of great distinction for their learning and ingenuity, and high station, and the offices which they had borne in the Roman empire. Is there any thing in these letters relating to the Christian religion, or the Christians, its honest professors ? Not one word : there is total silence upon that subject throughout! Do any of them ask Pliny whether he could inform them concerning the Christian philosophy, which had made such progress in the world in a short time? Or does Pliny ask any of thein whether they had examined the pretensions of those people, and considered whether there was not somewhat extraordinary in this new sect ? No, there are no inquiries of this sort sent by Pliny to any of his learned and honourable friends: nor to him by any of them, so far as appears! They are all well satisfied in the ancient way. They hesitated not to proceed in the observation of all the idolatrous rites and ceremonies practised by their ancestors. If they would not inquire, how should they know? And if they did not know, how should they act wisely, as the circumstances of the things might require ?

And in all ages ignorance will be culpable, if men neglect the means of knowledge, and will not inquire. And they must bear the consequence of their own neglects.

I beg leave to transcribe here the pathetic address of Justin Martyr to Antoninus the pious, and the senate and people of Rome, at the end of bis first apology, to induce them to attend to, and examine the evidences of, the Christian religion, and to give such treatment to the professors of it as in all equity they had a right to expect. And I the rather transcribe it here, because

[ocr errors]

I am persuaded the like things were said to Pliny, and repeated to him more than once, by those Christians who were accused before him and examined by him. And possibly, yea very probably, they came also to the ears of the emperor Trajan himself.

: On the day called Sunday we all ineet together- -On which day Jesus Christ our • Saviour rose from the dead. On the day before Saturday he was crucified. And on the day · after Saturday, which is Sunday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples, and taught them • those things which we have set before you, and refer to your consideration. If these things

appear agreeable to reason and truth, pay a regard to them. If they appear trifling, reject • them as such. But do not treat as enemies, nor appoint capital punishment to those who have • done no harm: for we foretel unto you, that you will not escape the future judgment of God <if you persist in unrighteousness. And we shall say: The will of the Lord be done.'

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAP. X.

EPICTETUS THE STOIC PHILOSOPHER.

1. His life and time. II. A story representing his great patience. III. That he was learned.

IV. A general account of the stoic principles. V. Of Arrian, who drew up the Enchiridion, and Discourses of Epictetus. VI. Passages in Epictetus relating to the Christians, with remarks and observations.

1. EPICTETUS ° was a celebrated stoic a philosopher. But there are not many particulars of his life which are known with certainty. He is in Suidas: and I shall take the historical part of his article for my text.

• Epictetus,' says that “ author, born at Hierapolis in Phrygia, a philosopher, was slave of Epaphroditus, one of the emperor Nero's body guards. He was lame in one leg, occasioned by • a defluxion. He dwelt at Nicopolis

, a city of New Epirus; and reached to the time of Marcus • Antoninus. He wrote many things.'

Epictetus, born at Hierapolis in Phrygia:' which I do not think to be certain. And I have observed that', divers learned men speak doubtfully of this particular, as not entirely relying upon the authority of Suidas.

The names and quality of his parents are no where mentioned.

• He was a slave of Epaphroditus, one of Nero's body-guards, and was lame in one leg, oc• casioned by a defluxion.'

That Epictetus was for some while a slave, and always poor, and likewise lame, are things attested by many ancient writers, and need not to be disputed. They are mentioned by . Aulus Gellius, who was contemporary with our philosopher, but survived him: who mentions a short Greek epigram, which he also ascribes to Epictetus himself, to this purpose :

· A slave, in body maim'd, as Irus poor:

• Yet to the gods was Epictetus dear.' Simplicius, whose authority is very good, says that • Epictetus ' was a slave, of an infirm

• Justin. p. 99. Paris. 1636. p. 84. Bened. 5 Ο φιλος τω Θεω, τοτο γενεσθω.

e Vid. Fabr. Bib. Or. l. 4. c. 7. Tom. 3. p. 257. &c. Tillemont Adrien, art. xx.

4 Epictetus Stoicorum vel maximus. Ap. A. Gell. I. 1. c. 2. Maximus Philosophorum. Ib. I. 17. cap. xix. • V. Επικτητος.

Natum Hierapoli Phrygiæ tradunt. Lips. citat. in notis ad A.G. 1. 1. cap. 2.

On le fait natif d'Hiéraple en Phrygie. Tillem: ut supr.

και Πηρωθεις δε το σκελος υπο ρευματος. Suid.

h De Epicteto autem, philosopho nobili, quod is quoque servus fuit, recentior est memoria, quam ut scribi quasi obliteratum debuerit. Ejus Epicteti etiam de se scripti duo versus feruntur

Δελος Επικτητος γενόμην, και σωματι πηρος,

Και σενιην Ιρος, και φιλος αθανατους.
A. G. I. 2. c. 18. Et Macrob. I. 1. c. xi. sub fin.

Οτε αυτος ο ταυτα λεγων Επικτητος και δελος ην, και το σωμα ασθενης, και χωλος εκ νεας ηλικιας, και πενιαν ακροτα

« AnteriorContinuar »