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The question, however, which we propose to answer, has reference only to those Greek and Roman writers, who flourished from the time of Domitian to the end of the age of the Antonines. For from this time the Christians, having come forth, as it were, from the shade into the public light, and the view of men, found henceforth both advocates and not a few opponents of their cause ; and in the third century the most distinguished of the Neo-Platonists, who were almost alone in their cultivation of philosophy and Greek letters, not only mentioned them, but also assailed their opinions and principles. On the contrary those, who wrote in the reigns of Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, alluded to the Christians but seldom ; for the most part they take no notice of them whatever; in a few instances they speak of them briefly, and, as it were, incidentally; and in still fewer cases, enter into argument against them.*
Among the Greeks, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, Oenomaus, who in the time of Hadrian anticipated the part of Lucian as a derider of the gods Maximus Tyrius and Pausanias, are entirely silent in respect to the Christians. In Plutarch, it is true, some have imagined, that they found an allusion to them in that passage of the Symposion, where reference is made to certain philosophers, who on account of their teaching, ouvextiXWratov είναι του βιου το έλπιζειν (that hope is the great supporter of life) and, άλουσης ελπιδος ουδ' ηδυνουσης ούκ ανεκτον είναι τον Blov (that life, unless there be hope to sweeten it is too wretched to be endured), were called aniotixot. But since there is nothing in this place to lead us to suppose, that it is a hope of heaven, such as the Christians cherished, which is here intend
It seems however by no means improbable, that they may have been mentioned in some one or other of those works of antiquity, which are no longer extant. Nor should we particularly object to it, if any one is disposed to think that the hands of superstitious men may bave erased or omitted in the ancient manuscripts all those passages, which contained reproachful allusions to the Christians. That this was sometimes done may be inferred with some appearance of probability from the fact, that the dialogue of Lucian on the death of Peregrinus, in which the Christians are violently assailed, is wanting in a great many copies: and in one of the Royal manuscripts, there occurs an omission with the rermark: ένταυθα παρειθη έκοντι όπερ έστι Περεγρινου τελευτης λογον, δια το εν του το αποσκωπτειν εις τον Xprotiaviouov. See the note in Opp. Luciani ed. Reitz. tom.III. p. 325. ed, and since the Christians, who lived in the time of Plutarch, neither called themselves philosophers, nor were so called by others, it is utterly incredible, that this term, Elpistics, should contain a tacit allusion to them.* Thus Plutarch, like the author just mentioned, says nothing in relation to the Christians. This silence now appears the more singular, because he was a man, who took an interest in all which is human, who watched with the most careful eye the religious aspects of his time, who inculcated many principles very similar to those of the Christians, and without doubt had some acquaintance with the state and history of the Jews.t Next to Plutarch, we should naturally refer to Oenomaus as the author most likely to have left some testimony in regard to the christian church. He lived in the time of Hadrian and wrote a treatise on the falsehood of oracles under the title of: qwqa yontor (detection of impostors). Had he intended this now as an attack upon superstition, it would have been very pertinent to his object to have commended the Christians for their contempt of oracles and their abhorrence of the arts of deception ; but if, on the contrary, his design was to subvert religion itself, by holding up the gods to ridicule, it would then seem to have fallen very naturally in his way, to deride and censure those, who were introducing new rites of worship. Oenomaus however did not record so much as a word in regard to the Christians. We gather this, not only from the remains, scanty, it is true, of the book just mentioned, but from the fact, that Eusebius neither commends him as the eulogist, nor censures him as the accuser of the Christians. I
We turn to the Roman writers and we find nearly all of them observing the same silence on the subject, which is observed by the Greeks. Lucan indeed, Silius Italicus, Quinctilian, Martial, Florus, and Curtius Rufus, as they were either poets,
* This passage of Plutarch is found L. IV. Quaest. IV. c. 3. p. 503. tom. III. ed. Wyttenbach. Heumann in Actis philos. Vol. III. p. 911 seq., has it, Christian Elpistics : Brucker, in Hist. Crit. Philos. tom. III. p. 244, influenced by satisfactory reasons, denies the correctuess of this. Programma Leuschneri super.
# Which is ascertained e Convivalium Disputationem Liber IV. Quaest. V. p. 507, and Quaest. VI. p. 512.
# The fragments of Oenomaus, in regard to whom there is some account in Fabricii Bibl. Graec. Vol. III. p. 522 seq. ed. Harles, are found in Eusebius, in his Praeparatio Evangelica L. V. c. 18 at the close, and L. VI. c. 6—7.
or teachers of rhetoric, or historians of events prior to their own time, had no very natural occasion for speaking of the christian
But that there should not occur even the slightest allusion to them in Juvenal also, who was occupied entirely in describing the manners of his age, nor again in Gellius, and Apuleius, may appear less easy of explanation. Juvenal in particular had very frequent opportunities to notice them: as, for example, in that passage, in which referring to those, who forsook the religion of their country, he says:
“The laws of Rome those blinded bigots slight
To Moses and his mystic volume true," etc. * Was it not here directly in his way to censure also the Christians, who by their observance of foreign rites, showed equal contempt of the Romans ? Aulus Gellius in his Noctes Atticae has brought together from every quarter whatever seemed to him worthy of notice; but he has passed over entirely all account of the christian religion; and in like manner Luceius Apuleius has neither mentioned the Christians in his Metamorphoses, where he speaks of the sacred rites and mysteries of his time; nor in his dissertations on the deity of Socrates and the world, in which the opinions of the Platonists are reviewed, has he directed any of his remarks against them.
Thus nearly all the writers of this period are silent. Some of them indeed mention the Christians, but it is for the most part in very few words, so that it has the appearance of accident, rather than of design. No one speaks of them at all before the age of Trajan: but of those, who wrote in the reign of this emperor, Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny Secundus, the Younger, have made mention of them. Tacitus, in giving an account of the conflagration of the city, which was supposed to have been set on fire by order of Nero, relates, that the emperor for the purpose of averting suspicion from himself, charged the crime upon the Christians, and inflicted on them punishments of the most studied cruelty ; and in this connection he explains the origin of the name which they bore, and characterizes their religion as a pernicious superstition and their spirit as that of hatred towards the human race. Suetonius in his life of Ne
Satyra XIV. v. 100 sqq. + This well known passage is found Annal. L. XV. C. 44.
ro* alludes to the same punishments and speaks of the Christians as a class of men addicted to a new and mischievous superstition: and the same writer in his life of Claudius states, that the Jews were expelled from Rome by this emperor, because they were perpetually engaging in disturbances, to which they were instigated by a certain Chrestus. This Chrestus some have been disposed to regard not as Christus or Christ, but as a man of Greek extraction, whose history is unknown, save that he was a proselyte to the Jewish faith and excited seditions at Rome. The ground of this opinion is, that Suetonius, had he been ever so ignorant of the christian cause, could not have asserted in regard to Christ, that he was personally at Rome and excited seditions there in the reign of Claudius. But the fact is, that the objection, which the learned men who entertain this view, allege, is not authorized by the passage, from which they pretend to derive it. Suetonius relates, that Claudius banished the Jews from Rome, because they were odious to him on account of their constant disturbances, and he supposed that the author of these disturbances was Chrestus, since he had heard that he, -although executed as a criminal, had found many followers, who admitted his claims as king of the Jews, and who still survived him. But that the Jews stirred up commotions at Rome, and that Christ was at Rome in the time of Claudius and excited disturbances there, he does not affirm. Hence there is nothing to forbid the supposition, that Suetonius intended to refer to Christ, who by the mere change of a single letter was, as Lactantius testifies, frequently called Chrestus also by others. $ Nor is there any real force in the suggestion of Erasmus, that the idea of instigating can be understood only of a person, who is actually present. For when it is said, that the Jews were perpetually raising disturbances, it cannot be meant that they were instigated by the personal agency of the same author.
Suetonius, therefore, has mentioned the Christians twice, but
c. 25. | This was the opinion of Hilscher in his essay on the Chrestus, of whoin Suetonius makes mention. But we have not been able to examine either this or the essays of Heumann and Wirth on the Chrestus of Suetonius.
§ Institt. div. L. IV. c. 7. The latest editor of Suetonius, Baumgarten-Crusius, Vol. IL p. 55, although not decided in his opinion, still favors our view.
in fewer words than Tacitus and in so cursory a way, that he seems to have been hardly aware of their existence.
In the well known letter of Pliny Secundus, which he wrote to the emperor Trajan, when he was propraetor of Bithynia, about the year 104, we have not only more ample, but more certain also, and more important information in regard to the Christians. From this letter we learn, that they were now dispersed in all directions throughout Bithynia, so that many of the temples were abandoned, and the customary rites of religion neglected. For this reason they were accused before the propraetor, who considered it his duty to institute an inquiry in regard to these despisers of the public religion, and to adopt measures of severity against them. The course, which was pursued, he explains to the emperor very minutely, and acquaints him also with such further particulars, as he had ascertained in regard to the sect; such as, that on a stated day they were accustomed to assemble before light, and sing an hymn to Christ, as God, and to bind themselves with an oath, that they would not be guilty of any crime, but would abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, violation of promises, and withholding of property committed to their care: and he adds, that the contagion of this superstition (for so he denominates the christian faith) had spread, before he had any thought of interfering to check it, not only through the cities, but the villages also and the country in general. Such facts, as it became him in his capacity of propraetor to lay before the emperor, he examined with proper care. But their opinions on religious subjects he had not accurately investigated; nor had he read their sacred books; and that, which he wrote concerning them, was written, not for the purpose of being preserved as a historical record, but merely that the emperor might know, what had been done in the case, and might be enabled to judge in regard to the expediency and nature of any further action.*
Every one knows, that this letter is the ninety-sixth of the tenth book of the letters of Pliny; in the last edition of which, Gierigius, Tom. II. p. 498 sqq. bas very ably discussed the question of its genuineniess, and maintains it successfully against Semler. Haversaat (Vertheidigung der Plinischen Briefe über die Christen gegen die Einwendungen des Hrn. D. Semler, Göttingen, 1783) took the same ground before him. This letter, which is found in all the manuscripts, which corresponds exactly to the characters of Pliny and Trajan, which agrees with those circumstances, which we learn from other sources VOL. XI. No. 29.