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If Lucian considered it sufficient to censure and revile the Christians, Celsus, his contemporary, (for it is highly probable, that the Celsus, refuted by Origen, is the individual, to whom Lucian dedicated his Pseudomantis), * felt it expedient to take other ground. He lived towards the end of the age of the Antonines, and came forward against the supporters of Christianity, as an assailant of their opinions, as a defender of the public religion against the ruin, with which he saw that they were threatening it, and as the author of charges, which represented them as factious, insurrectionary and dangerous to the State. His work, entitled, loyos qilaλnons, is extant but in part. From the remains of it, however, not inconsiderable, which Origen has preserved with the very words of the author in his eight books, which he wrote in reply to Celsus, it is evident, that he was no stranger to the circumstances of the Christians, that he employed in his attacks upon them both raillery and argument, and in short that he spared nothing, which would serve either to invalidate their opinions, or expose them to hatred. In this book Celsus anticipated the part of the NeoPlatonists, who in subsequent times were distinguished for their support of the public religion, and their opposition to the Christians; although he himself, in our opinion, was not a Platonist, but an Epicurean, and was led to assume the position, which he took, not from any impulse of piety, but rather from a regard to the consistency of his own character. Having displayed so much zeal against new and foreign rites (for the chief ground on which he rested his censure of the Christians, was that they embraced βαρβαρον δόγμα and νομοθεσίαν καινην), he felt that it became him to give his support to that, which had the sanction of custom and the authority of law.
Celsus completes the list of those writers, who took notice of the Christians from the time of Domitian to the conclusion of the age of the Antonines. We have now before us the facts, which the case involves. It remains that we explain why it is, that the early history of the church received so little attention from Greek and Roman authors.
The ground of this assumption is this; Lucian in the piece, which is entitled Pseudomantis, c. 21. p. 229. Tom. II., mentions some books on magic written by the Celsus, to whom this same piece is dedicated and Origen contra Cels. L. I. p. 53. ed. Spenc. says, that it is very probable, that the Celsus, refuted by himself, is the same person, to whom the books on magic are attributed.
The references, which these authors make to this subject, until A. D. 180, the end of the age of the Antonines, are truly inconsiderable, whether we have respect to their number or their importance. For most of them, as the result of the foregoing examination shows, were entirely silent in regard to the Christians, some of them mentioned them briefly and censured them in few words, (even Lucian was far from speaking of them. with any thing like minuteness), and at length in the age of the Antonines, Crescens, Fronto and Celsus took up the pen against them. The question therefore is very properly asked, why the Greek and Roman writers alluded to the Christians thus rarely? and it is a question surely, which deserves to be carefully investigated.
In the prosecution of this inquiry, it is important to distinguish properly the different periods, which the limits of our survey embrace. In the age of the Antonines, the Christians had obtained notoriety; but in the reigns of Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian, we suppose, that they were so situated, as to be altogether unknown to multitudes, or known to them only by name. Even down to the time of Trajan they were considered as a mere sect or family of the Jews, and were then, for the most part, safe, as Tertullian says,* under the shadow of the toleration, which was extended to the Jewish religion. Nor is there any thing singular in this, since at this period most of the Christians were converts from the Jews, and their churches, whether we consider the form of their government or the mode of their worship, differed but little from the synagogues. Like the Jews, the Christians were accustomed to meet on the Sabbath to offer prayers, read the Scriptures and sing praises; as the Jews had their chief rulers of the synagogue and their elders, so the Christians had their presbyters and bishops, who presided over their affairs; and the latter, as well as the former, abhorred the gods of the heathen, refused to accept public offices and to perform military service, and shunned theatres, shows and feasts. Not a few Syrians indeed, born at Antioch, Egyptians born at Alexandria, Greeks, natives of Corinth and Athens, Romans, residents at Rome, espoused the Christian cause, and at length by degrees οἱ ἐκ τῆς ἀκροβυστίας were so increased, that in many places they either equalled or exceeded the number twv ix ins nepirouns. But the Christians, notwithstanding this accession,
* In Apologetico c. 21. p. 53. ed. Semleri.
were still regarded as a part of the Jewish community. For it was but the recurrence of what often took place, that those who were by birth either Egyptians or Grecians or Romans, became proselytes to Judaism and lived in the observance of its rites. Nor did it make any difference, that the Jews and Christians were at variance with each other. Those who ascertained any thing in regard to these dissensions, were very naturally led to confound them with the domestic feuds and animosities of the various parties, into which the Jews were divided. This was the opinion of those Roman magistrates, who replied to the Jews, when they charged the apostle Paul with breaking the law, that these were ζητήματα πέρι λογου, και ὀνομάτων και νόμου, or ζητηματα περι της ίδιας δεισιδαιμονίας.
Besides, there were not many among the Christians of that time, either conspicuous for rank and birth, or eminent for literary fame, towards whom the eyes of all would be attracted. Those certainly err, who suppose, that they were gathered from the very lowest dregs of the people. The authority of Caecilius, who in the Octavius of Minucius Felix acts the part of an accuser of the Christians, and who reproaches them with precisely such an origin, has an undue influence, when made the basis of such an opinion. It cannot be doubted, that from the very first not a few persons of no mean consideration, in regard both to property and mental culture, enrolled themselves on the side of Christ. For what could Paul and Peter have meant by admonishing the women, who were believers, that they should not make their adorning consist of necklaces, pearls, gold and silver, and costly raiment,† unless there were those in the churches, who were able to procure for themselves expensive apparel? And with what consistency too could Lucian remark, as he does in the passage already cited, that any impostor who should join the Christians, might easily become rich among them, had they been a troop of paupers and mendicants? Nor were the Christians all ignorant and illiterate men; they always had those in their ranks, who could not only speak, but write in explanation and defence of their principles; and who in their public assemblies could discourse upon the subjects of religion and comment on the Scriptures, although it might not be indeed in the style of orators, who had been taught the art of rhetoric.
See Actor. 18: 21. 23: 29. 25: 19.
† 1 Tim. 2: 9. 1 Pet. 3: 3.
Sometimes also an individual of noble birth and station appears to have joined their number. It is highly probable, that Flavius Clemens, a consul, cousin of the emperor Domitian, and his wife, Domitilla, became converts to Christianity. As to the statement indeed of Dio Cassius, that they had fallen into such error, as to embrace τα ήθη των Ιουδαίων, it may be understood alike of the Christian and the Jewish religion. The accusation however ins áðɛorηtos, which they are said to have incurred, inclines us to suppose, that the former was meant rather than the latter; since this charge was often alleged against the Christians but could not easily apply to the Jews.* Still it must certainly be allowed, that the Christians were, for the most part, from the lower walks of life, and but little acquainted with Grecian and Roman letters. For had it been otherwise, Caecilius, in the Octavius of Minucius Felix, could neither have said, with all the liberty of exaggeration, which may be claimed for him as an accuser, that they were collected from the lowest dregs, nor have addressed to them the language -behold; both the greater and better part of you, as you yourselves say, are in want, suffer cold, contempt and hunger.† And in like manner Celsus could have had no pretence for saying, that those who displayed such zeal to proselyte children and ignorant women, ἐριουργους είναι, και σκυτοτομους, και αναφεῖς, ἀπαιδευτους και άγροι κοτατους (that they were wooldressers, and leather-cutters and fullers, uneducated and rustic men). But if there was room even in the age of the Antonines for the application of such language to the Christians, as Caecilius and Celsus used in reference to them, it is to be still less expected, that their earlier annals were adorned with the names either of the learned or the noble. We may imagine some resemblance in this respect between the primitive churches and the modern societies of the Mennonites and Quakers. These latter consisted chiefly of mechanics, artists, and merchants, men of principle and respectability indeed, possessed also of some information and property, yet in few instances eminent either for learning or birth or opulence. The first churches, it should be remembered, were small and made up of those, who not only lived in the shades of private life, but, from their
* Dio Cassius L. LXVII. c. 14. p. 1112. ed. Hamb.
tc. 8. and c. 12.
† See Origines contra Celsum, L. III. p. 144. ed. Spene.
constant fear of danger, had every motive to evade rather than court the public observation. (On this account they are called by Caecilius a light-fleeing, skulking, speechless tribe.)* They were established too, not in towns and villages where all things of a private nature become public, but in large and populous cities, where the eyes of men notice only that, which is, as it were, thrust upon their attention. It is easy to conceive, that the Christians, under such circumstances, may have been utterly unknown to multitudes of their contemporaries. We have no doubt that there are many in London at this day, who know nothing in regard to the Quakers or the Baptists; and we have ascertained it for a fact, that very many of our own citizens are ignorant, that there is a small community at Leipsic, who worship in the manner of the Bohemian brethren. In the same way we suppose that great numbers of the Antiochians, Alexandrians, Romans, Athenians, Thessalonians, had at that time either no knowledge of the Christians, or only such as acquainted them with their name as Galilaeans, and their Jewish origin. Those things, which neither dazzle the eyes of men by their splendor, nor awaken in their minds admiration or abhorrence, nor allure them by the hope of gain and the prospect of pleasure, often remain concealed for a long time from the general view.
But in the age of the Antonines the Christians were no longer unknown. They ceased, from the time of Trajan, to be confounded with the Jews, and occupied henceforth a separate and conspicuous station in the eyes of the world. All those, who were accustomed to pay any attention to public affairs, could not but know, that the churches differed entirely from the synagogues, that the Christians observed rites of religion peculiar to themselves, that they abhorred the gods, worshipped by the heathen, that they were bound to each other by stronger ties, than were those of other sects, that they had been repeatedly punished by the magistrates, and treated with indignity and violence by the multitude in revenge for the contempt, which they saw cast upon the objects of their worship. At the same time, most of those, who were aware of these and similar facts respecting the Christians, imagined that they saw nothing in them very remarkable; and, under this belief, they of course had no sufficient motive either for investigating their
See Minucii Felicis Octavius, c. 8.