« ForrigeFortsett »
had insinuated himself into the favour of Zenobia, o:
he maintained above four years the possession of the episcopal house and office. The victory of Aurelian changed the face of the East, and the two contending parties, who applied to each other the epithets of schism and heresy, were either commanded or permitted to plead their cause before the tribunal of the conqueror. This public and very singular trial affords a convincing proof, that the existence, the property, the privileges, and the internal policy, of the Christians, were acknowledged, if not by the laws, at least by the magistrates of the empire. As a Pagan and as a soldier, it could scarcely be expected that Aurelian should enter into the discussion, whether the sentiments of Paul or those of his adversaries were most agreeable to the true standard of the orthodox faith.
His determination, however, was founded on the ge- The sen
neral principles of equity and reason. He considered
tence is executed
the bishops of Italy as the most impartial and re-o" spectable judges among the Christians, and as soon A.D. 274.
as he was informed, that they had unanimously approved the sentence of the council, he acquiesced in their opinion, and immediately gave orders that Paul should be compelled to relinquish the temporal possessions belonging to an office, of which, in the judgment of his brethren, he had been regularly deprived. But while we applaud the justice, we should not overlook the policy, of Aurelian; who was desirous of restoring and cementing the dependence of the provinces on the capital, by every means which could bind the interest or prejudices of any part of his subjects.”
Amidst the frequent revolutions of the empire, the Peace and
Christians still flourished in peace and prosperity; ;
prosperity f the
* Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. 1. vii. c. 30. We are entirely indebted to him for the curious story of Paul of Samosata.
and notwithstanding a celebrated aera of martyrs has been deduced from the accession of Diocletian,” the
under Dio- new system of policy, introduced and maintained by
the wisdom of that prince, continued, during more than eighteen years, to breathe the mildest and most liberal spirit of religious toleration. The mind of Diocletian himself was less adapted indeed to speculative inquiries, than to the active labours of war and government. His prudence rendered him averse to any great innovation, and though his temper was not very susceptible of zeal or enthusiasm, he always maintained an habitual regard for the ancient deities of the empire. But the leisure of the two empresses, of his wife Prisca, and of Valeria his daughter, permitted them to listen with more attention and respect to the truths of Christianity, which in every age has acknowledged its important obligations to female devotion.” The principal eunuchs, Lucian" and Dorotheus, Gorgonius and Andrew, who attended the person, possessed the favour, and governed the household, of Diocletian, protected by their powerful influence the faith which they had embraced. Their example was imitated by many of the most considerable officers of the palace, who, in their respective stations, had the care of the imperial ornaments, of the robes, of the furniture, of the jewels, and even of the private treasury; and, though it might sometimes be incumbent on them to accompany the emperor when he sacrificed in the temple," they enjoyed, with their wives, their CHAP.
* The AEra of Martyrs, which is still in use among the Copts and the Abyssinians, must be reckoned from the 29th of August, A.D. 284; as the beginning of the Egyptian year was nineteen days earlier than the real accession of Diocletian. See Dissertation Preliminaire à l’Art de verifier les Dates.
* The expression of Lactantius (de M. P. c. 15), “sacrificio pollui coegit,” implies their antecedent conversion to the faith; but does not seem to justify the assertion of Mosheim (p. 912), that they had been privately baptized.
• M. de Tillemont (Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. v. part. i. p. 11, 12) has quoted from the Spicilegium of Dom Luc d'Acheri, a very curious instruction which bishop Theonas composed for the use of Lucian.
children, and their slaves, the free exercise of the Christian religion. Diocletian and his colleagues frequently conferred the most important offices on those persons who avowed their abhorrence for the worship of the gods, but who had displayed abilities proper for the service of the state. The bishops held an honourable rank in their respective provinces, and were treated with distinction and respect, not only by the people, but by the magistrates themselves. Almost in every city, the ancient churches were found
insufficient to contain the increasing multitude of .
proselytes: and in their place more stately and capacious edifices were erected for the public worship of the faithful. The corruption of manners and principles, so forcibly lamented by Eusebius," may be considered, not only as a consequence, but as a proof, of the liberty which the Christians enjoyed and abused under the reign of Diocletian. Prosperity had relaxed the nerves of discipline. Fraud, envy, and malice, prevailed in every congregation. The presbyters aspired to the episcopal office, which every day became an object more worthy of their ambition. The bishops, who contended with each other for ecclesiastical pre-eminence, appeared by their conduct to claim a secular and tyrannical power in the church; and the lively faith which still distinguished the Christians from the Gentiles was shown much less in their lives, than in their controversial writings.
Notwithstanding this seeming security, an atten-Progress of
tive observer might discern some symptoms that
zeal and superstition
threatened the church with a more violent perse-; the
cution than any which she had yet endured. The zeal and rapid progress of the Christians awakened
* Lactantius de M. P. c. 10.
* Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. viii. c. 1. The reader who consults the original will not accuse me of heightening the picture. Eusebius was about sixteen years of age at the accession of the emperor Diocletian.
o: the Polytheists from their supine indifference in the
cause of those deities, whom custom and education
(see Testimonies, vol. iii. p. 253. 352), that when Philostratus composed the life of Apollonius, he had no such intention.
they mutually concurred in restoring and establish- o:
ing the reign of superstition.' Philosophy, her most dangerous enemy, was now converted into her most useful ally. The groves of the Academy, the gardens of Epicurus, and even the portico of the Stoics, were almost deserted, as so many different schools of scepticism or impiety: and many among the Romans were desirous that the writings of Cicero should be condemned and suppressed by the authority of the senate." The prevailing sect of the new Platonicians judged it prudent to connect themselves with the priests, whom perhaps they despised, against the Christians, whom they had reason to fear. These fashionable philosophers prosecuted the design of extracting allegorical wisdom from the fictions of the Greek poets; instituted mysterious rites of devotion for the use of their chosen disciples; recommended the worship of the ancient gods as the emblems or ministers of the Supreme Deity, and composed against the faith of the Gospel many elaborate treatises,' which have since been committed to the flames by the prudence of orthodox emperors."
* It is seriously to be lamented, that the Christian fathers, by acknowledging the supernatural, or, as they deem it, the infernal, part of Paganism, destroy with their own hands the great advantage which we might otherwise derive from the liberal concessions of our adversaries. J Julian (p. 301. edit. Spanheim) expresses a pious joy, that the providence of the gods had extinguished the impious sects, and for the most part destroyed the books of the Pyrrhonians and Epicureans, which had been very numerous, since Epicurus himself composed no less than 300 volumes. See Diogenes Laertius, l. x. c. 26. * Cumque alios audiam mussitare indignanter, et dicere oportere statui per Senatum, aboleantur ut ha-c scripta, quibus Christiana Religio comprobetur, et vetustatis opprimatur auctoritas. Arnobius adversus Gentes, l. iii. p. 103, 104. He adds very properly, Erroris convincite Ciceronem ... nam intercipere scripta, et publicatam velle submergere lectionem, non est Deum defendere sed veritatis testificationem timere. | Lactantius (Divin. Institut. l. v. c. 2, 3) gives a very clear and spirited account of two of these philosophic adversaries of the faith. The large treatise of Porphyry against the Christians consisted of thirty books, and was composed in Sicily about the year 270. m See Socrates, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. i. c. 9, and Codex Justinian, l. i. tit. i. l. 3.