but they do not appear to have made any deep impression on the minds of the Persians, whose religious system, by the labours of a well-disciplined order of priests, had been constructed with much more art and solidity than the uncertain mythology of Greece and Rome.188 From this impartial, though imperfect, survey of the progressor. of Christianity, it may, perhaps, seem probable that the number; #. of its proselytes has been excessively magnified by fear on the “” one side and by devotion on the other. According to the irreproachable testimony of Origen,* the proportion of the faithful was very inconsiderable when compared with the multitude of an unbelieving world; but, as we are left without any distinct information, it is impossible to determine, and it is difficult even to conjecture, the real numbers of the primitive Christians. The most favourable calculation, however, that can be deduced from the examples of Antioch and of Rome will not permit us to imagine that more than a twentieth part of the subjects of the empire had enlisted themselves under the banner of the cross before the important conversion of Constantine. But their habits of faith, of zeal, and of union seemed to multiply their numbers; and the same causes which contributed to their future increase served to render their actual strength more apparent and more formidable. Such is the constitution of civil society that, whilst a few o' persons are distinguished by riches, by honours, and by know-i. ledge, the body of the people is condemned to obscurity, orant ignorance, and poverty. The Christian religion, which addressed itself to the whole human race, must consequently collect a far greater number of proselytes from the lower than from the superior ranks of life. This innocent and natural circumstance has been improved into a very odious imputation, which seems to be less strenuously denied by the apologists than it is urged by the adversaries of the faith; that the new sect of Christians was almost entirely composed of the dregs of the populace, of peasants and mechanics, of boys and women, of beggars and slaves; the last of whom might sometimes introduce the missionaries into the rich and noble families to which they belonged.

io According to Bardesanes (ap. Euseb. Praepar. Evangel.), there were some Christians in Persia before the end of the second century. In the time of Constantine (see his Epistle to Sapor, Vit. l. iv. c. 13), they composed a flourishing thurch. Consult Beausobre, #. Critique du Manichéisme, tom. i. p. 180, and the Bibliotheca Orientalis of Assemani. *Origen contra Celsum, l. viii. p. 424 (p. 1621, (révv baiyo'). Cp. App. 5.] 5


These obscure teachers (such was the charge of malice and infidelity) are as mute in public as they are loquacious and dogmatical in private. Whilst they cautiously avoid the dangerous encounter of philosophers, they mingle with the rude and illiterate crowd, and insinuate themselves into those minds, whom their age, their sex, or their education has the best disposed to receive the impression of superstitious terrors.”

This unfavourable picture, though not devoid of a faint resemblance, betrays, by its dark colouring and distorted features, the pencil of an enemy. As the humble faith of Christ diffused itself through the world, it was embraced by several persons who derived some consequence from the advantages of nature or fortune. Aristides, who presented an eloquent apology to the emperor Hadrian, was an Athenian philosopher.” Justin Martyr had sought divine knowledge in the schools of Zeno, of Aristotle, of Pythagoras, and of Plato, before he fortunately was accosted by the old man, or rather the angel, who turned his attention to the study of the Jewish prophets.” Clemens of Alexandria had acquired much various reading in the Greek, and Tertullian in the Latin, language. Julius Africanus and Origen possessed a very considerable share of the learning of their times; and, although the style of Cyprian is very different from that of Lactantius, we might almost discover that both those writers had been public teachers of rhetoric. Even the study of philosophy was at length introduced among the Christians, but it was not always productive of the most salutary effects; knowledge was as often the parent of heresy as of devotion, and the description which was designed for the followers of Artemon may, with equal propriety, be applied to the various sects that resisted the successors of the apostles. “They presume to alter the holy scriptures, to abandon the ancient rule of faith, and to form their opinions according to the subtile precepts of logic. The science of the church is neglected for the study of geometry, and they lose sight of Heaven while they are employed in measuring the earth. Euclid is perpetually in their hands. Aristotle and Theophrastus are the objects of their admiration; and they express an uncommon reverence for the works of Galen. Their errors are derived from the abuse of the arts and sciences of the infidels, and they corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel by the refinements of human reason.” ” Nor can it be affirmed with truth that the advantages of birth marssars and fortune were always separated from the profession of:::::::* Christianity. Several Roman citizens were brought before the tribunal of Pliny, and he soon discovered that a great number of persons of every order of men in Bithynia had deserted the religion of their ancestors.” His unsuspected testimony may, in this instance, obtain more credit than the bold challenge of Tertullian, when he addresses himself to the fears as well as to the humanity of the proconsul of Africa, by assuring him that, if he persists in his cruel intentions, he must decimate Carthage, and that he will find among the guilty many persons of his own rank, senators and matrons of noblest extraction, and the friends or relations of his most intimate friends.” It appears, however, that about forty years afterwards the emperor Valerian was persuaded of the truth of this assertion, since in one of his rescripts he evidently supposes that senators, Roman knights, and ladies of quality were engaged in the Christian sect.” The church still continued to increase its outward splendour as it lost its internal purity; and in the reign of Diocletian the palace, the courts of justice, and even the army concealed a multitude of Christians who endeavoured to reconcile the interests of the present with those of a future life. And yet these exceptions are either too few in number, or too christianity recent in time, entirely to remove the imputation of ignorance on and obscurity which has been so arrogantly cast on the first of proselytes of Christianity. Instead of employing in our defence

Some exceptions regard to learning

* Minucius Felix, c.8, with Wowerus's notes, Celsus ap. Qrigen., l. iii. p. 138, 142, sp. 984, sqq.]. Julian ap. Cyril. l. vi. p. 206. Edit. Spanheim.

186 É. Hist. Eccles. iv. 3. Hieronym. Epist. 83, [leg. 84. But in Migne's arrangement, ep. 70, vol. i. p. 667. Since Gibbon wrote there have been discovered, not the Apology of Aristides in its original form, but materials for reconstructing it. These consist of (1) a Syriac version or paraphrase found on Mount Sinai by Mr. J. Rendel Harris (published in Robinson's Texts and Studies, 1891), (2) a fragment of an Armenian translation (published at Venice by the Mechitarists, 1878), (3) a loose Greek reproduction, incorporated in the Tale of Barlaam and Josaphat (see Robinson, loc. cit.). In the second superscription of the Syriac version, the work is addressed to Antoninus Pius, which is inconsistent with the statement of Eusebius, who, however, had not seen the book.]

187 The story is prettily told in Justins Dialogues. Tillemont (Mém. Ecclésiast. tom. ii. p. 334), who relates it after him, is sure that the old man was a disguised * Eusebius, v. 28. It may be hoped that none, except the heretics, gave occasion to the complaint of Celsus (ap. Origen., l. li. p. 77) that the Christians were perpetually correcting and altering their Gospels.

*Plin. Epist. x. 97. Fuerunt alii similis amentiae, cives Romani . . . Multi onim omnis aetatis, omnis ordinis, utriusque sexãs, etiam vocantur in periculum at vocabuntur.

*Tertullian ad Scapulam. Yet even his rhetoric rises no higher than to claim a tenth part of Carthage.

* Cyprian. Epist. 79 [80].

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

the fictions of later ages, it will be more prudent to convert the
occasion of scandal into a subject of edification. Our serious
thoughts will suggest to us that the apostles themselves were
chosen by providence among the fishermen of Galilee, and that,
the lower we depress the temporal condition of the first Christians,
the more reason we shall find to admire their merit and success.
It is incumbent on us diligently to remember that the kingdom
of heaven was promised to the poor in spirit, and that minds
afflicted by calamity and the contempt of mankind cheerfully
listen to the divine promise of future happiness; while, on the
contrary, the fortunate are satisfied with the possession of this
world; and the wise abuse in doubt and dispute their vain
superiority of reason and knowledge.
We stand in need of such reflections to comfort us for the
loss of some illustrious characters, which in our eyes might
have seemed the most worthy of the heavenly present. The
names of Seneca, of the elder and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus,
of Plutarch, of Galen, of the slave Epictetus, and of the emperor

Marcus Antoninus, adorn the age in which they flourished, and

exalt the dignity of human nature. They filled with glory their
respective stations, either in active or contemplative life; their
excellent understandings were improved by study; Philosophy
had purified their minds from the prejudices of the popular
superstition; and their days were spent in the pursuit of truth
and the practice of virtue. Yet all these sages (it is no less an
object of surprise than of concern) overlooked or rejected the
perfection of the Christian system. Their language or their
silence equally discover their contempt for the growing sect,
which in their time had diffused itself over the Roman empire.
Those among them who condescend to mention the Christians
consider them only as obstinate and perverse enthusiasts, who
exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious doctrines,
without being able to produce a single argument that could
engage the attention of men of sense and learning.”
It is at least doubtful whether any of these philosophers
perused the apologies which the primitive Christians repeatedly
published in behalf of themselves and of their religion; but it is
much to be lamented that such a cause was not defended by

* Dr. Lardner, in his first and second volume of Jewish and Christian testimonies, collects and illustrates those of Pliny the younger, of Tacitus, of Galen, of Marcus Antoninus, and perhaps of Epictetus (for it is doubtful whether that philosopher means to speak of the Christians). The new sect is totally unnoticed by Seneca, the elder Pliny, and Plutarch [and Dion Chrysostom].

abler advocates. They expose with superfluous wit and eloquence the extravagance of Polytheism. They interest our compassion by displaying the innocence and sufferings of their injured brethren. But, when they would demonstrate the divine origin of Christianity, they insist much more strongly on the predictions which announced, than on the miracles which accompanied, the appearance of the Messiah. Their favourite argument might serve to edify a Christian or to convert a Jew, since both the one and the other acknowledge the authority of those prophecies, and both are obliged, with devout reverence, to search for their sense and their accomplishment. But this mode of persuasion loses much of its weight and influence, when it is addressed to those who neither understand nor respect the Mosaic dispensation and the prophetic style.” In the unskilful hands of Justin and of the succeeding apologists, the sublime meaning of the Hebrew oracles evaporates in distant types, affected conceits, and cold allegories; and even their authenticity was rendered suspicious to an unenlightened Gentile by the mixture of pious forgeries, which, under the names of Orpheus, Hermes, and the Sibyls,” were obtruded on him as of equal value with the genuine inspirations of Heaven. The adoption of fraud and sophistry in the defence of revelation too often reminds us of the injudicious conduct of those poets who load their invulnerable heroes with a useless weight of cumbersome and brittle armour. But how shall we excuse the supine nattention of the Pagan and of air and philosophic world to those evidences which were presented * by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses P During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended general

silence concerning the 12. If the famous prophecy of the Seventy Weeks had been alleged to a Roman *::::::: philosopher, would #. not have replied in the words of Cicero, “Quae tandem ista auguratio est, annorum potius quam aut mensium aut dierum?" De Divinatione, i 30. Observe with what irreverence Lucian (in Alexandro, c. 13), and his friend Celsus *f; Origen. (l. vii. p. 327, [p. 1440, Migne]), express themselves concerning the Hebrew prophets. 194The Philosophers, who derided tne more ancient predictions of the Sibyls, would easily have detected the Jewish and Christian forgeries, which have been so triumphantly quoted by the fathers, from Justin Martyr to Lactantius. When the Sibylline verses had performed their appointed task, they, like the system of the millennium, were quietly laid aside. The Christian Sibyl had unluckily fixed the ruin of Rome for the year 195, A.U.C. 948.

« ForrigeFortsett »