« ForrigeFortsett »
deliver all their sacred books into the hands of the magistrates; who were commanded, under the severest penalties, to burn them in a public and solemn manner. By the same edict, the property of the church was at once confiscated; and the several parts of which it might consist were either sold to the highest bidder, united to the Imperial domain, bestowed on the cities and corporations, or granted to the solicitations of rapacious courtiers. After taking such effectual measures to abolish the worship and to dissolve the government of the Christians, it was thought necessary to subject to the most intolerable hardships the condition of those perverse individuals who should stil! reject the religion of nature, of Rome, and of their ancestors. Persons of a liberal birth were declared incapable of holding any honours or employments; slaves were for ever deprived of the hopes of freedom; and the whole body of the people were put out of the protection of the law. The judges were authorised to hear and to determine every action that was brought against a Christian. But the Christians were not permitted to complain of any injury which they themselves had suffered ; and thus those unfortunate sectaries were exposed to the severity, while they were excluded from the benefits, of public justice. This new species of martyrdom, so painful and lingering, so obscure and ignominious, was, perhaps, the most proper to weary the constancy of the faithful: nor can it be doubted that the passions and interest of mankind were disposed on this occasion to second the designs of the emperors. But the policy of a well-ordered government must sometimes have interposed in behalf of the oppressed Christians; nor was it possible for the Roman princes entirely to remove the apprehension of punishment, or to connive at every act of fraud and violence, without exposing their own authority and the rest of their subjects to the most alarming dangers. 153 This edict was scarcely exhibited to the public view, in the most
conspicuous place of Nicomedia, before it was torn down by
ent the hands of a Christian, who expressed at the same time, by tian. the bitterest invectives, his contempt as well as abhorrence for such impious and tyrannical governors. His offence, according to the mildest laws, amounted to treason, and deserved death. And if it be true that he was a person of rank and education, trose circumstances could serve only to aggravate his guilt. He was burnt, or rather roasted, by a slow fire; and his executioners, zealous to revenge the personal insult which had been offered to the emperors, exhausted every refinement of cruelty, without being able to subdue
of mankind were But the policyehalf of the
Zeal and punishment of a Chris
193 Many ages afterwards Edward I. practised, with great success, the same mode of persocution against the clergy of England. See Home's History of England, vol. 1 p. 300, last 4to. edition.
FIRE OF THE PALACE OF NICOMEDIA.
tiis patience, or to alter the steady and insulting smile which, in his dying agonies, he still preserved in his countenance. The Christians, though they confessed that his conduct bad not been strictly conformable to the laws of prudence, admired the divine fervour of his zeal; and the excessive commendations which they lavished on the memory of their hero and martyr contributed to fix a deep impression of terror and hatred in the mind of Diocletian. 154
His fears were soon alarmed by the view of a danger from which ne very narrowly escaped. Within fifteen days the palace Fire of the of Nicomedia, and even the bedchamber of Diocletian, were twice in flames; and though both times they were extin- imputed to guished without any material damage, the singular repeti- tians. tion of the fire was justly considered as an evident proof that it had not been the effect of chance or negligence. The suspicion naturally fell on the Christians; and it was suggested, with some degree of probability, that those desperate fanatics, provoked by their present sufferings, and apprehensive of impending calamities, had entered into a conspiracy with their faithful brethren, the eunuchs of the palace, against the lives of two emperors whom they detested as the irreconcilable enemies of the church of God. Jealousy and resentment prevailed in every breast, but especially in that of Diocletian. A great number of persons, distinguished either by the offices which they had filled, or by the favour which they had enjoyed, were thrown into prison. Every mode of torture was put in practice, and the court, as well as city, was polluted with many bloody executions. 155 But as it was found impossible to extort any discovery of this mysterious transaction, it seems incumbent on us either to presume the innocence, or to admire the resolution, of the sufferers. A few days afterwards Galerius hastily withdrew himself from Nicomedia, declaring that, if he delayed his departure from that devoted palace, he should fall a sacrifice to the rage of the Christians. The ecclesiastical historians, from whom alone we derive a partial and imperfect knowledge of this persecution, are at a loss how to account for the fears and danger of the emperors. Two of these writers, a prince and a rhetorician, were eye-witnesses of the fire of Nicomedia.
palace of Nicomedia imputed to the Chris
1 Lactantius only calls him quidam, etsi non recte, magno tamen animo, &c., M. P. c. 13. Eusebius (1. viii. c. 5) adorns him with secular honours. Neither have condescended to mention his name; but the Greeks celebrate his memory under that of John. Soe Tillemont, Mérnoires Ecclésiastiques, tom. v. part ii. p. 320.
16 Lactantius de M. P. c. 13, 14 (14, 15). Potentissimi quondam Eunuchi necati, per quos Palatium et ipse constabat. Eusebius (1. viii. c. 6) mentions the cruel execu. tions of the eunuchs Gorgonius and Dorotheus, and of Anthimus bishop of Nicomedia; and both those writers describe, in a vague but tragical manner, the horrid wrene which were acted veti in the Imperial presence.
EXECUTION OF DIOCLETIAN'S FIRST EDICT.
asures of his more which it must letrates
The one ascribes it to lightning and the divine wrath, the other affirins that it was kindled by the malice of Galerius himself.is
As the edict against the Christians was designed for a general Execution of law of the whole empire, and as Diocletian and Galerius, edict. though they might not wait for the consent, were assured of the concurrence, of the Western princes, it would appear more consonant to our ideas of policy that the governors of all the provinces should have received secret instructions to publish, on one and the same day, this declaration of war within their respective departments. It was at least to be expected that the convenience of the public highways and established posts would have enabled the emperors to transmit their orders with the utmost despatch from the palace of Nicomedia to the extremities of the Roman world; and that they would not have suffered fifty days to elapse before the edict was published in Syria, and near four months before it was signified to the cities of Africa.157 This delay may perhaps be imputed to the cautious temper of Diocletian, who had yielded a reluctant consent to the measures of persecution, and who was desirous of trying the experiment under his more immediate eye before he gave way to the disorders and discontent which it must inevitably occasion in the distant provinces. At first, indeed, the magistrates were restrained from the effusion of blood ; but the use of every other severity was permitted, and even recommended to their zeal; nor could the Christians, though they cheerfully resigned the ornaments of their churches, resolve to interrupt their religious assemblies, or to deliver their sacred books to the flames. The pious obstinacy of Felix, an African bishop, appears to have embarrassed the subordinate ministers of the government. The curator of his city sent him in chains to the proconsul. The proconsul transmitted him to the Prætorian præfeet of Italy; and Felix, who disdained even to give an evasive answer, was at length beheaded at Venusia, in Lucania, a place on which the birth of Horace has conferred fame.158 This precedent, and
156 See Lactantius, Eusebius, and Constantino, ad Cætum Sanctorum, c. XXV. Eusebius confesses his ignorance of the cause of this fire.*
157 Tillemont, Mémoires Ecclésiast. tom. v. part i, p. 43.
158 See the Acta Sincera of Ruinart, p. 353; those of Felix of Thibara, or Tibiur, appear much less corrupted than in the other editions, which afford a lively specimen of legendary licence.
As the history of these times affords de reconciled. Hist. des Empereurs, Vie us no example of any attempts made by de Diocletian, xix.-G. Had it been done the Christians against their persecutors, by a Christian, it would probably have we have no reason, not the slightest pro- been a fanatic, who would have avowed bability, to attribute to them the fire in and gloried in it. Tillemont's supposition the palace; and the authority of Constan- that the fire was first causod by lightning, tine and Lactantius remains to explain it and fed and increased by the malice of M. de Tillemont has shown how they can Galerius, seems singularly improbable.
perhaps some Imperial rescript, which was issued in consequence of it, appeared to authorise the governors of provinces in punishing with death the refusal of the Christians to deliver up their sacred books. There were undoubtedly many persons who embraced this opportunity of obtaining the crown of martyrdom ; but there were likewise too many who purchased an ignominious life by discovering and betraying the Holy Scripture into the hands of infidels. A great number even of bishops and presbyters acquired, by this criminal compliance, the opprobrious epithet of Traditors; and their offence was productive of much present scandal and of much future discord in the African church.159
The copies as well as the versions of Scripture were already so multiplied in the empire, that the most severe inquisition Demolition of could no longer be attended with any fatal consequences; the churches. and even the sacrifice of those volumes which, in every congregation, were preserved for public use, required the consent of some treacherous and unworthy Christians. But the ruin of the churches was easily effected by the authority of the government and by the labour of the Pagans. In some provinces, however, the magistrates contented themselves with shutting up the places of religious worship. In others they more literally complied with the terms of the edict; and, after taking away the doors, the benches, and the pulpit, which they burnt as it were in a funeral pile, they completely demolished the remainder of the edifice. 160 It is perhaps to this melancholy occasion that we should apply a very remarkable story, which is related with so many circumstances of variety and improbability that it serves rather to excite than to satisfy our curiosity. In a small town in Phrygia, of whose name as well as situation we are left ignorant, it should seem that the magistrates and the body of the people had embraced the Christian faith ; and as some resistance might be apprehended to the execution of the edict, the governor of the province was supported by a numerous detachment of legionaries. On their approach the citizens threw themselves into the church, with the resolution either of defending by arms that sacred edifice or of perishing in its ruins. They indignantly rejected the notice and permission which was given them to retire, till the soldiers, provoked by their obstinate refusal, set fire to the building on all sides, and consumed, by this extra274
1. See the first book of Optatus of Milevis against the Donatists. Paris, 1700, edit. Dupin. He lived under the reign of Valens.
de The ancient monuments, published at the end of Optatus, p. 261, &c., describe, in a very circumstantial manner, the proceedings of the governors in the destruction of churches. They made a minute inventory of the plate, &c., which they found in them. That of the church of Cirta, in Numidia, is still extant. It consisted of two chaliced of gold and six of silver; six urns, one kettle, seven lamps, all likewise of silver; besides a large quantity of brass utensils and wearing apraiel.
PERSECUTING EDICTS OF DIOCLETIAN. CAAP. XVI. ordinary kind of martyrdom, a great number of Phrygians, with their wives and children.161
Some slight disturbances, though they were suppressed almost as Subsequent soon as excited, in Syria and the frontiers of Armenia, edicts. afforded the enemies of the church a very plausible occasion to insinuate that those troubles had been secretly fomented by the intrigues of the bishops, who had already forgotten their ostentatious professions of passive and unlimited obedience.162 The resentment, or the fears, of Diocletian at length transported him beyond the bounds of moderation which he had hitherto preserved, and he declared, in a series of cruel edicts, his intention of abolishing the Christian name. By the first of these edicts the governors of the provinces were directed to apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order; and the prisons destined for the vilest criminals were soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers, and exorcists. By a second edict the magistrates were commanded to employ every method of severity which might reclaim them from their odious superstition, and oblige them to return to the established worship of the gods. This rigorous order was extended, by a subsequent edict, to the whole body of Christians, who were exposed to a violent and general persecution. 163 Instead of those salutary restraints which had required the direct and solemn testimony of an accuser, it became the duty as well as the interest of the Imperial officers to discover, to pursue, and to torment the most obnoxious among the faithful. Heavy penalties were denounced against all who should presume to save a proscribed sectary from the just indignation of the gods and of the emperors. Yet, notwithstanding the severity of this law, the virtuous courage of many of the Pagans, in concealing their friends or relations, affords an honourable proof that the rage of superstition had not extinguished in their minds the sentiments of nature and humanity. 164
161 Lactantius (Institut. Divin. v. 11) confines the calamity to the conventiculion, with its congregation. Eusebius (viii. 11) extends it to a whole city, and introduces something very like a regular siege. His ancient Latin translator, Rufinus, adds the important circumstance of the permission given to the inhabitants of retiring from thence. As Phrygia reached to the confines of Isauria, it is possible that the restlese temper of those independent barbarians may have contributed to this misfortune.
162 Eusebius, 1. viii. c. 6. M. de Valois (with some probability) thinks that he has discovered the Syrian rebellion in an oration of Libanius; and that it was a rash attempt of the tribune Eugenius, who with only five hundred men seized Antioch, and might perhaps allure the Christians by the promise of religious toleration. From Eusebius (1. ix. c. 8), as well as from Moses of Chorene (Hist. Armen. I. i. 77, &c.), it may be inferred that Christianity was already introduced into Armenia.
163 See Mosheim, p. 938; the text of Eusebius very plainly shows that the governors, whose powers were enlarged, not restrained, by the new laws, could punish with donth the most obstinate Christians as an example to their brethren.
164 Athanasius, p. 8:33, ap. Tillemont, Mém. Ecclésiast. tom. v. part i, p. 90