Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed]
[graphic][subsumed]
[graphic]

preserved the purity of the orthodox faith, his reign over the capital of Syria would have ended only with his life; and had a seasonable persecution inter vened, an effort of courage might perhaps have placed him in the rank of saints and martyrs.” Some nice and subtile errors, which he imprudently adopted and obstinately maintained, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, excited the zeal and indignation of the eastern churches.(129). From pt to the Euxine sea, the bishops were in arms and in motion. Several councils were held, consutations were published, excommunications were pronounced, ambiguous explana tions were by turns accepted and refused, treaties were concluded and violated, and at length Paul of Samosata was degraded from his episcopal character, by the sentence of seventy or eighty bishops, who assembled for that purpose at Antioch, and who, without consulting the rights of the clergy or F. o: a successor by their own authority. The manifest irreguarity of this proceeding increased the numbers of the discontented faction; and as Paul, who was no stranger to the arts of courts, had insinuated himself into the favour of Zenobia, he maintained above four years the possession of the episcopal house and office. The victory of Aurelian changed the face of the ast, 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 scarcel 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 general principles of equity and reason. He considered the bishops ot Italy as the most impartial and respectable judges among the Christians, and as soon 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.(130) [A. D. 284–303.] Amidst the frequent revolutions of the empire, the Christians still flourished in peace and prosperity; and notwithstanding a celebrated era of martyrs has been ..f from the accession of Dioclesian,(131) the 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. emind of Dioclesian himself was less adapted indeed to speculative inquiries, than to the active labours of war and overnment. 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 o regard for the ancient deities of the empire. But the leisure of the two empresses, of his wife Prisca, and of Valeria his o: 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.(132)

(129). His heresy, (like those of Noetus and Sahellius, in the same century,) tended to confound the mysterious distinction of the divine persons. See Mosheim, p. 702, &c.

(130). Euseb. His Ecclesia...'...wisc. 30. we are entirely indebted to him for the curious story of Paul of Samosata.

(131) The Era of Martyrs, which is still in use among the op. and the Abyssinians, must be reckoned from the 29th of August, A. d. 284; as the beginning of the Égyptian year was nineteen days earlier sthan the real accession of Dioclesian. see Dissertation preliminaire a l'Art verifier les Dates.t

(132) 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. 919), that they had been privately baptized.

[graphic]

The principal eunuchs, Lucian(133) and Dorotheus, Gorgonius and Andrew, who attended the person, possessed the favour, and governed the household of Dioclesian, 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 theim perial 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,(134) they enjoyed with their wives, their children, and their slaves, the free exercise of the Chris tian religion. Dioclesian 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 #. 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,(135) 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 Dioclesian. 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 preeminence, 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.

Noutanding this seeming security, an attentive observer might discern some symptoms that threatened the church with a more violent persecution than any which she had yet endured. The zeal and rapid progress of the Christians awakened the Polytheists from their supine indifference in the cause of those deities, whom custom and education had taught them to revere. The mutual provocations of a religious war, which had already continued above two hundred years, exasperated the animosity of the contending parties. The pagans were incensed at the rashness of a recent and obscure sect, which pre sumed to accuse their countrymen of error, and to devote their ancestors to eternal o The habits of justifying the popular mythology, against the invectives of an implacable enemy, produced in their minds some sentiments of faith and reverence for a system which they had been accustomed to consider with the most careless levity. The supernatural powers assumed by the church inspired at the same time terror and emulation. The followers of the established religion entrenched themselves behind a similar fortification of prodigies; invented new modes of sacrifice, of expiation, and of initiation;(136 attempted to revive the credit of their expiring oracles;(137) and listened wi eager credulity to every impostor, who flattered their prejudices by a tale of wonders.(138). Both parties seemed to acknowledge the truth of those mira.

[graphic]

(133) M. de Tillemont (Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. v. part i. p. 11, 12) has quoted from the Spici 1 o of Dom. Luc. d'Acheri, a very curious instruction which bishop Theonas composed for the uss of Lucian (134) Lactantius de M. P. c. 10. (135). Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiast. 1. viii. c. 1. The reader who consults the original will not accuse me #. ons the picture. Eusebius was about sixteen years of age at the accession of the emperor ociesian. (136) We might quote, among a great number of instances, the mysterious worship of Mythras,"and the Taurobolia; the latter of which became fashionable in the time of the Antonines. (See a Dissertation of M. de Boze, in the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. ii. p. 443.) The Romance of Apu leius is as full of devotion as of salire. (137) The impostor Alexander very strongly recommended the oracle of Trophonius at Mallos, and those of Apollo, at Claros and Miletus (Lucian, tom. ii. p. 236, Edit. Reitz). The last of these, whose singular history would furnish a very curious episode, was Ited by Dioclesian before he published his edicts of persecution (Lactantius, de M. P. c. 11). (138) Besides the ancient stories of Pythagoras and Aristeas, the cures performed at the shrine of

cles which were claimed by their adversaries; and while they were contented with ascribing them to the arts of magic and to the power of demons, the mutually concurred in restoring and establishing the reign of ...to Philosophy, her most dangerous enemy, was now converted into her most use ful ally. The §. 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 :(140) and many among the Romans were desirous that the writings of Cicero should be condemned and suppressed by the authority of the senate.(141). The prevailing sect of the new Platonicians judged it prudent to connect themselves with the priests, whom they perhaps 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 o ;: 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,(142) which have since been committed to the flames by the prudence of orthodox emperors.(143) Although ihe policy of Dioclesian and the humanity of Constantius inclined them to preserve inviolate the maxims of toleration, it was soon discovered that their two associates, Maximian and Galerius, entertained the most implacable aversion for the name and religion of the Christians. The minds of those princes had never been enlightened by science; education had never softened their temper. They owed their greatness to their swords, and in their most elevated fortune they still retained their superstitious prejudices of soldiers and peasants. In the general administration of the provinces they obeyed the laws which their . had established; but they frequently found occasions of exercising within their camp and palaces a secret persecution,(144) for which the imprudent zeal of the Christians sometimes offered the most specious pre tences. A sentence of death was executed upon Maximilianus, an African youth, who had been produced by his own father"before the magistrates as a sufficient and legal recruit, but who obstinately persisted in declaring, that his conscience would not permit him to embrace the profession of a soldier.(145) It could scarcely be expected that any government should suffer the action of Marcellus the centurion to pass with impunity. On the day of a public festival, that officer threw away his belt, his arms, and the ensigns of his office, and exclaimed, with a loud voice, that he would obey none but Jesus Christ the

AEsculapius, and the fables related of Apollonius of Tyana, were frequently opposed to the miracles of Christ; though I agree with Dr. Lardner (see Testimonies, vol. iii. p. 253. 352), that when Philostratus composed the life of Apollonius, he had no such intention. (139) 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. (140) 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, 1.x, c. 26. (141) Cumque alios audiam' mussitare indignanter, et dicere opportere statui per Senatum, aboleantut ethaec 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 inter cipere scripta, et publicatam velle submergere lectionem, non est Deum defendere sed veritatis testificationem timere. (142) Lactantius (Divin. Institut. l. v. c. 2, 3,) gives a very clear and spirited account of two of these philosophic adversaries of the farth. The large treatise of Porphyry against the Christians consisted of thirty books, and was composed in Sicily about the year 270. (143) See Socrates, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. i c. 9, and Codex Justinian, 1. i. tit. i. 1 3. ' (144) Eusebius, 1. viii. c. 4, c. 17. He limits the number of military martyrs, by a remarkable expression, (oravious rouruv ris rs kav ćevrrpos) of which neither his Latin nor French translator have rendered the energy. Notwithstanding the authority of Eusebius, and the silence of Lactantius, Ambrose, Sulpicius, Orosius, &c. it has been o believed, that the Thebaean legion, consisting of 6000 Christians, suffered martyrdom, by the order of Maximian, in the valley of the Penine Alps. The story was first published about the middle of the fifth century, by Eucherius, bishop of Lyous, who received it from certain persons, who received it from Isaac, bishop of Geneva, who is said to have received it from Theodore, bishop of Octoduram. The Abbey of St. o still subsists, a rich monument of the credulity of Sigismond, king of Burgundy. See an excellent Dissertation in the xxxvith volume of the Bibliothèque Raisonnée, p. 427 (145) See the Acta Sincera, p. 299. The accounts of his martyrdom, and of that of Marcellus, bear every mark of truth and authenticity.

« ForrigeFortsett »