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as the enemies of gods and men, doomed them to the severest tortures, and, venturing to accuse by name some of the most distinguished of the new sectaries, required, with irresistible vehemence, that they should be instantly apprehended and cast to the lions.” The provincial governors and magistrates who presided in the public spectacles were usually inclined to gratify the inclinations, and to appease the rage, of the people by the sacrifice of a few obnoxious victims. But the wisdom of the emperors protected the church from the danger of these tumultuous clamours and irregular accusations, which they justly censured as repugnant both to the firmness and to the equity of their administration. The edicts of Hadrian and of Antoninus Pius expressly declared that the voice of the multitude should never be admitted as legal evidence to convict or to punish those unfortunate persons who had embraced the enthusiasm of the Christians.” III. Punishment was not the inevitable consequence of con-roslot the
viction, and the Christians, whose guilt was the most clearly Christians proved by the testimony of witnesses, or even by their voluntary confession, still retained in their own power the alternative of life or death. It was not so much the past offence, as the actual resistance, which excited the indignation of the magistrate. He was persuaded that he offered them an easy pardon, since, if they consented to cast a few grains of incense upon the altar, they were dismissed from the tribunal in safety and with applause. It was esteemed the duty of a humane judge to endeavour to reclaim, rather than to punish, those deluded enthusiasts. Varying his tone according to the age, the sex, or the situation of the prisoners, he frequently condescended to set before their eyes every circumstance which could render life more pleasing, or death more terrible; and to solicit, nay, to intreat them, that they would show some compassion to themselves, to their families, and to their friends.” If threats and persuasions proved ineffectual, he had often recourse to violence; the scourge and the rack were called in to supply the deficiency of argument, and every art of cruelty was employed to subdue such inflexible and, as it appeared to the Pagans,
*See Tertullian (Apolog. c. 40). The acts of the martyrdom of Polycarp o a lively picture of these tumults, which were usually fomented by the malice of the Jews.
* These regulations are inserted in the above-mentioned edicts of Hadrian and Pius. See the apology of Melito (apud Euseb. l. iv. c. 26).
*See the rescript of Trajan, and the conduct of Pliny. The most authentic acts of the martyrs abound in these exhortations.
such criminal obstinacy. The ancient apologists of Christianity have censured, with equal truth and severity, the irregular conduct of their persecutors, who, contrary to every principle of judicial proceeding, admitted the use of torture, in order to obtain not a confession but a denial of the crime which was the object of their inquiry.” The monks of succeeding ages, who, in their peaceful solitudes, entertained themselves with diversifying the death and sufferings of the primitive martyrs, have frequently invented torments of a much more refined and ingenious nature. In particular, it has pleased them to suppose that the zeal of the Roman magistrates, disdaining every consideration of moral virtue or public decency, endeavoured to seduce those whom they were unable to vanquish, and that, by their orders, the most brutal violence was offered to those whom they found it impossible to seduce. It is related that pious females, who were prepared to despise death, were sometimes condemned to a more severe trial, and called upon to determine whether they set a higher value on their religion or on their chastity. The youths to whose licentious embraces they were abandoned received a solemn exhortation from the judge to exert their most strenuous efforts to maintain the honour of Venus against the impious virgin who refused to burn incense on her altars. Their violence, however, was commonly disappointed; and the seasonable interposition of some miraculous power preserved the chaste spouses of Christ from the dishonour even of an involuntary defeat. We should not, indeed, neglect to remark that the more ancient, as well as authentic, memorials of the church are seldom polluted with these extravagant and indecent fictions.” The total disregard of truth and probability in the representation of these primitive martyrdoms was occasioned by a very natural mistake. The ecclesiastical writers of the fourth or fifth centuries ascribed to the magistrates of Rome the same degree of implacable and unrelenting zeal which filled their own breasts against the heretics or the idolaters of their own times. It is not improbable that some of those persons who
Humanity of the Roman magistrates
* In particular, see Tertullian (Apolog. c. 2, 3), and Lactantius (Institut. Divin. v. 9). Their reasonings are almost the same; but we may discover that one of these apologists had been a lawyer and the other a rhetorician.
* See two instances of this kind of torture in the Acta Sincera Martyrum published by Ruinart, p. 160, 399. Jerome, in his Legend of Paul the Hermit, tells a strange story of a young man, who was chained naked on a bed of flowers, and assaulted by a beautiful and wanton courtezan. He quelled the rising temptation by biting off his tongue.
were raised to the dignities of the empire might have imbibed the prejudices of the populace, and that the cruel disposition of others might occasionally be stimulated by motives of avarice or of personal resentment.” But it is certain, and we may appeal to the grateful confessions of the first Christians, that the greatest part of those magistrates who exercised in the provinces the authority of the emperor, or of the senate, and to whose hands alone the jurisdiction of life and death was intrusted, behaved like men of polished manners and liberal educations, who respected the rules of justice, and who were conversant with the precepts of philosophy. They frequently declined the odious task of persecution, dismissed the charge with contempt, or suggested to the accused Christian some legal evasion by which he might elude the severity of the laws.” Whenever they were invested with a discretionary power,” they used it much less for the oppression than for the relief and benefit of the afflicted church. They were far from condemning all the Christians who were accused before their tribunal, and very far from punishing with death all those who were convicted of an obstinate adherence to the new superstition. Contenting themselves, for the most part, with the milder chastisements of imprisonment, exile, or slavery in the mines,” they left the unhappy victims of their justice some reason to hope that a prosperous event, the accession, the marriage, or the triumph of an emperor might speedily restore them, by a general pardon, to their former state. The martyrs, devoted to immediate exe-inconsider. cution by the Roman magistrates, appear to have been selected:###" from the most opposite extremes. They were either bishops and presbyters, the persons the most distinguished among the Christians by their rank and influence, and whose example might strike terror into the whole sect;” or else they were
*The conversion of his wife provoked Claudius Herminianus, governor of Cappadocia, to treat the Christians with uncommon severity. Tertullian ad Scapulam, c. 3. & Tertullian, in his epistle to the governor of Africa, mentions several remarkable instances of lenity and forbearance which had happened within his knowledge. * Neque enim in universum aliquid quod quasi certam formam habeat constitui potest: an expression of Trajan which gave a very great latitude to the governors of provinces. *In metalla damnamur, in insulas relegamur. Tertullian, Apolog. c. 12. The mines of Numidia contained nine bishops, with a proportionable number of their clergy and 5. to whom Cyprian addressed a pious epistle of praise and comfort. See Cyprian, Epistol. 76, 77. 70 Though we cannot receive with entire confidence either the epistles or the acts of Ignatius (they may be found in the 2d volume of the Apostolic Fathers), yet we may quote that bishop of Antioch as one of those exemplary martyrs. ... He was sent in chains to Rome as a public spectacle; and, when he arrived at Troas, he
the meanest and most abject among them, particularly those of the servile condition, whose lives were esteemed of little value, and whose sufferings were viewed by the ancients with too careless an indifference.” The learned Origen, who, from his experience as well as reading, was intimately acquainted with the history of the Christians, declares, in the most express terms, that the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable.7° His authority would alone be sufficient to annihilate that formidable army of martyrs whose relics, drawn for the most part from the catacombs of Rome, have replenished so many churches,” and whose marvellous achievements have been the subject of so many volumes of holy romance.” But the general assertion of Origen may be explained and confirmed by the particular testimony of his friend Dionysius, who, in the immense city of Alexandria, and under the rigorous persecution of Decius, reckons only ten men and seven women who suffered for the profession of the Christian name.”
received the pleasing intelligence that the persecution of Antioch was already at an end. [The Acts are certainly spurious; the Epistles are doubtless genuine, though some German critics still question Lightfoot's conclusions. The question is closely connected with the origin of episcopacy which is assumed in the Letters. They are edited by Lightfoot in his “Apostolic Fathers”. Cp. App. 4.] 7. Among the martyrs of Lyons (Euseb. 1. v. c. 1), the slave Blandina was distinguished by more exquisite tortures. Of the five martyrs so much celebrated in the acts of Felicitas and Perpetua, two were of a servile, and two others of a very mean, condition. [Acts of the Martyrdom of Perp. and Felic., Harris and Gifford, 1890. *Origen, advers. Celsum. l. iii. p. 116 sp. 929]. His words deserve to be transcribed, “’OAiyot sarà kapovs, kai obóðpa evapiéunrot repi [leg. trip]rov Xploravov 6eooreflečas reëvskaart.” 78 If we recollect that all the Plebeians of Rome were not Christians, and that all the Christians were not saints and martyrs, we may judge with how much safety religious honours can be ascribed to bones or urns indiscriminately taken from the public burial-place. After ten centuries of a very free and open trade, some suspicions have arisen among the more learned Catholics. They now require, as a proof of sanctity and martyrdom, the letters B. M., a vial full of red liquor, supsed to be blood, or the figure of a palm tree. But the two former signs are of ittle weight, and with regard to the last it is observed by the critics, I. That the figure, as it is called, of a palm is perhaps a cypress, and perhaps only a stop, the flourish of a comma, used in the monumental inscriptions. 2. That the palm was the symbol of victory among the Pagans. , 3. That among the Christians it served as the emblem, not only of martyrdom, but in general of a joyful resurrection. See the epistle of P. Mabillon, on the worship of unknown saints, and Muratori sopra le Antichità Italiane, Dissertat. lviii. 74 As a specimen of these legends, we may be satisfied with Io'ooo Christian soldiers crucified in one day, either by Trajan or Hadrian, on Mount Ararat. See Baronius ad Martyrologium Romanum; Tillemont, Mém. Ecclésiast. tom. ii. part ii. p. 438; and Geddes's Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 203. The abbreviation of MILwhich may signify either soldiers or thousands is said to have occasioned some extraordinary mistakes. 75 Dionysius ap. Euseb. 1. vi. c. 41. One of the seventeen was likewise accused
of robbery [falsely].
During the same period of persecution, the zealous, the Example of
eloquent, the ambitious Cyprian, governed the church, not onlyś of Carthage, but even of Africa. He possessed every quality which could engage the reverence of the faithful or provoke the suspicions and resentment of the Pagan magistrates. His character as well as his station seemed to mark out that holy prelate as the most distinguished object of envy and of danger.” The experience, however, of the life of Cyprian is sufficient to prove that our fancy has exaggerated the perilous situation of a Christian bishop; and that the dangers to which he was exposed were less imminent than those which temporal ambition is always prepared to encounter in the pursuit of honours. Four Roman emperors, with their families, their favourites, and their adherents, perished by the sword in the space of ten years, during which the bishop of Carthage guided, by his authority o and eloquence, the counsels of the African church. It was A.D.) only in the third year of his administration that he had reason, during a few months, to apprehend the severe edicts of Decius, the vigilance of the magistrate, and the clamours of the multitude, who loudly demanded that Cyprian, the leader of the Christians, should be thrown to the lions. Prudence suggested ###" the necessity of a temporary retreat, and the voice of prudence” was obeyed. He withdrew himself into an obscure solitude, from whence he could maintain a constant correspondence with the clergy and people of Carthage; and, concealing himself till the tempest was past, he preserved his life, without relinquishing either his power or his reputation. His extreme caution did not, however, escape the censure of the more rigid Christians who lamented, or the reproaches of his personal enemies who insulted, a conduct which they considered as a pusillanimous and criminal desertion of the most sacred duty.” The propriety of reserving himself for the future exigencies of the church, the example of several holy bishops,” and the
*The letters of Cyprian exhibit a very curious and original picture both of the man and of the times. See likewise the two lives of Cyprian, composed with equal accuracy, though with very different views; the one by Le Clerc (Bibliothèque Universelle, tom. xii. p. 208–378), the other by Tillemont, Mémoires Ecclésiastiques, tom. iv. part i. p. 76–459. [His name was Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus. The best ed. of his works is that of Hartel in the Vienna Corpus Script. eccl. Lat.]
7See the polite but severe epistle of the clergy of Rome to #. bishop of Carthage (Cyprian, Epist. 8, 9). Pontius labours with the greatest care and diligence to justify his master against the general censure.
7*In particular those of Dionysius of Alexandria and Gregory Thaumaturgus of Neo-Caesarea. See Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. l. vi. c. 40, and Mémoires de Tillemont, tom. iv. part. ii. p. 685.