favour, the ancient and illustrious church of Antioch consisted of one hundred thousand persons, three thousand of whom were supported out of the public oblations.159 The splendour and dignity of the queen of the East, the acknowledged populousness of Ccesarea, Seleucia, and Alexandria, and the destruction of two hundred and fifty thousand souls in the earthquake which afflicted Antioch under the elder Justin,160 are so many convincing proofs that the whole number of its inhabitants was not less than half a million, and that the Christians, however multiplied by zeal and power, did not exceed a fifth part of that great city. How different a proportion must we adopt when we compare the persecuted with the triumphant church, the West with the East, remote villages with populous towns, and countries recently converted to the faith with the place where the believers first received the appellation of Christians! It must not, however, be dissembled that, in another passage, Chrysostom, to whom we are indebted for this useful information, computes the multitude of the faithful as even superior to that of the Jews and Pagans.161 But the solution of this apparent difficulty is easy and obvious. The eloquent preacher draws a parallel between the civil and the ecclesiastical constitution of Antioch; between the list of Christians who had acquired heaven by baptism, and the list of citizens who had a right to share the public liberality. Slaves, strangers, and infants were comprised in the former; they were excluded from the latter.

The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion. It was at first embraced by great numbers of the Therapeutae, or Essenians, of the lake Mareotis, a Jewish sect which had abated much of its reverence for the Mosaic ceremonies. The austere life of the Essenians, their fasts and excommunications, the community of goods, the love of celibacy, their zeal for martyrdom, and the warmth though not the purity of their faith, already offered a very lively image of the

ls» Chrysostom. Opera, torn. vii. p. C58, 810 [edit. Savil. ii. 422, 529].

160 John Malala, torn. ii. p. 144 [ed. Oxon.; p. 420, ed. Bonn]. He draws the same conclusion with regard to the populousness of Antioch.

161 Chrysostom. torn. i. p. 592. I am indebted for these passages, though not for my inference, to the learned Dr. Lardner. Credibility of the Gospel History, vol. xii. p. 370.*

* The statements of ChrysoBtom with than half the population. Gibbon has

regard to the population of Antioch, what- neglected to notice the first passage, and

ever may be their accuracy, are perfectly has drawn his estimate of the population

consistent. In one passage he reckons of Antioch from other sources. The 3000

the population at 200,000. In a second maintained by alms were widows and vir

the Christians at 100,000. In a third he gins alone.—M. states that the Christians formed more


primitive discipline.162 It was in the school of Alexandria that the Christian theology appears to have assumed a regular and scientifieal form; and when Hadrian visited Egypt, he found a church composed of Jews and of Greeks, sufficiently important to attract the notice of that inquisitive prince.163 But the progress of Christianity was for a long time confined within the limits of a single city, which was itself a foreign colony, and till the close of the second century the predecessors of Demetrius were the only prelates of the Egyptian church. Three bishops were consecrated by the hands of Demetrius, and the number was increased to twenty by his successor Heraclas.1" The body of the natives, a people distinguished by a sullen inflexibility of temper,165 entertained the new doctrine with coldness and reluctance; and even in the time of Origen it was rare to meet with an Egyptian who had surmounted his early prejudices in favour of the sacred animals of his country.166 As soon, indeed, as Christianity ascended the throne, the zeal of those barbarians obeyed the prevailing impulsion; the cities of Egypt were filled with bishops, and the deserts of Thebais swarmed with hermits.

A perpetual stream of strangers and provincials flowed into the , _ capacious bosom of Rome. Whatever was strange or

In Borne. f . ?,

odious, whoever was guilty or suspected, might hope, in tne obscurity of that immense capital, to elude the vigilance of the law. In such a various conflux of nations, every teacher, either of truth or of falsehood, every founder, whether of a virtuous or a criminal association, might easily multiply his disciples or accomplices. The Christians of Rome, at the time of the accidental persecution of Nero, are represented by Tacitus as already amounting to a very great multitude,"'7 and the language of that great historian is almost similar to the


style employed by Livy, when he relates the introduction and the suppression of the rites of Bacchus. After the Bacchanals had awakened the severity of the senate, it was likewise apprehended that a very great multitude, as it were another people, had been

'•* Basnago, Hiatoire des Juifs, 1. ii. c. 20, 21, 22, 23, has examined with the most critical accuracy the curious treatise of Philo which describes the Therapeutce. By proving that it was composed as early as the time of Augustus, Basnage has demonstrated, in spite of Eusebius (1. ii. c. 17), and a crowd of modern catholics, that the Therapeutee were neither Christians nor monks. It still remains probable that they changed their name, preserved their manners, adopted some new articles of faith, and gradually became the fathers of the Egyptian Ascetics.

,M See a letter of Hadrian in the Augustan History, p. 245. [VopiBC. Saturn, c. 1.]

184 For the succession of Alexandrian bishops, consult Renaudot's History, p. 24, &c. This curious fact is preserved by the patriarch Eutychius (Annal. torn. i. p. 332, Vers. Pocock), and its internal evidence would alone be a sufficient answer to all the objections which Bishop Pearson has urged in the Vindicias Ignatiana:.

1M Ammian Marcellin. xxii. 16.

'• Origen contra Celsum, 1. i. p. 40 [c. 52, torn. i. p. 308, ed. Bened.J.

ln Ingena multitudo is the expression of Tacitus, xv. 44.


initiated into those abhorred mysteries. A more careful inquiry soon demonstrated that the offenders did not exceed seven thousand; a number indeed sufficiently alarming when considered as the object of public justice.168 It is with the same candid allowance that we should interpret the vague expressions of Tacitus, and in a former instance of Pliny, when they exaggerate the crowds of deluded fanatics who had forsaken the established worship of the gods. The church of Rome was undoubtedly the first and most populous of the empire; and we are possessed of an authentic record which attests the state of religion in that city about the middle of the third century, and after a peace of thirty-eight years. The clergy, at that time, consisted of a bishop, forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, as many sub-deacons, forty-two acolythes, and fifty readers, exorcists, and porters. The number of widows, of the infirm, and of the poor, who were maintained by the oblations of the faithful, amounted to fifteen hundred.169 From reason, as well as from the analogy of Antioch, we may venture to estimate the Christians of Rome at about fifty thousand. The populousness of that great capital cannot perhaps be exactly ascertained; but the most modest calculation will not surely reduce it lower than a million of inhabitants, of whom the Christians might constitute at the most a twentieth part.170

The western provincials appeared to have derived the knowledge of Christianity from the same source which had diffused inAfriC!l among them the language, the sentiments, and the manners "^n, of Rome. In this more important circumstance, Africa, as ProviI,ce8well as Gaul, was gradually fashioned to the imitation of the capital. Yet notwithstanding the many favourable occasions which might invite the Roman missionaries to visit their Latin provinces, it was late before they passed either the sea or the Alps;"' nor can we discover in those great countries any assured traces either of faith or of persecution that ascend higher than the reign of the Antonines.17"

'** T. Liv. xxxix. 13, 15, 16, 17. Nothing could exceed the horror and consternation of the senate on the discovery of the Bacchanalians, whose depravity is described, and perhaps exaggerated, by Livy.

"• Eusebius, 1. vi. c. 43. The Latin translator (M. de Valois) has thought proper to reduce the number of presbyters to forty-four.

"° This proportion of the presbyters and of the poor to the rest of the people was originally fixed by Burnet (Travels into Italy, p. 168), and is approved by Moyle (vol. ii. p. 151). They were both unacquainted with the passage of Chrysostom, which converts their conjecture almost into a fact.

171 Serius trans Alpes, religione Dei susceptft. Sulpicius Severus, 1. ii. [p. 383, ed. Lugd. Bat. 1647]. With regard to Africa, see Tertullian ad Scapulam, c. 3. It is imagined that the Scyllitan martyrs were the first (Acta Sincera Ruinart. p. 34). One of the adversaries of Apuleius seems to have been a Christian. Apolog. p. 496, 497, edit. Delphin.

1,2 Turn primum intra Gallias martyria visa. Snip. Severus, 1. ii. [I.e.] These were the celebrated martyrs of Lyons. See Eusebius, v. i. Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiast. torn. ii. p. 316. According to the Donatists, whose assertion is confirmed by the tacit acknowledgment of Augustin, Africa was the last of the provinces which received the Gospel. Tillemont, Mem. Ecclcsiast. torn. i. p. 754.


The slow progress of the Gospel in the cold climate of Gaul was extremely different from the eagerness with which it seems to have been received on the burning sands of Africa. The African Christians soon formed one of the principal members of the primitive church. The practice introduced into that province of appointing bishops to the most inconsiderable towns, and very frequently to the most obscure villages, contributed to multiply the splendour and importance of their religious societies, which during the course of the third century were animated by the zeal of Tertullian, directed by the abilities of Cyprian, and adorned by the eloquence of Lactantius. But if, on the contrary, we turn our eyes towards Gaul, we must content ourselves with discovering, in the time of Marcus Antoninus, the feeble and united congregations of Lyons and Vienne; and even as late as the reign of Decius we are assured that in a few cities only—Aries, Narbonne, Toulouse, Limoges, Clermont, Tours, and Paris—some scattered churches were supported by the devotion of a small number of Christians.173 Silence is indeed very consistent with devotion; but as it is seldom compatible with zeal, we may perceive and lament the languid state of Christianity in those provinces which had exchanged the Celtic for the Latin tongue, since they did not, during the three first centuries, give birth to a single ecclesiastical writer. From Gaul, which claimed a just pre-eminence of learning and authority over all the countries on this side of the Alps, the light of the Gospel was more faintly reflected on the remote provinces of Spain and Britain; and if we may credit the vehement assertions of Tertullian, they had already received the first rays of the faith when he addressed his Apology to the magistrates of the emperor Severus.1 "'* But the obscure and imperfect origin of the western churches of Europe has been so negligently recorded, that, if we would relate the time and manner of their foundation, we must supply the silence of antiquity by those legends which avarice or superstition long afterwards dictated to the monks in the lazy gloom of their convents.175 Of these holy romances, that of the apostle St. James can alone, by its singular extravagance, deserve to be mentioned. From a peaceful fisherman of the lake of

1,3 Rare in aliquibus civitatibus ecclesise, paiicorum Christianorum devotione, resurgerent. Acta Sincera, p. 130. Gregory of Tours, 1. i. c. 28. Mosheim, p. 207, 449. There is some reason to believe that, in the beginning of the fourth century, the extensive dioceses of Liege, of Treves, and of Cologne, composed a single bishopric, which had been very recently founded. See Memoires de Tillemont, torn. vi. part i. p. 43, 411.

'" The date of Tertullian's Apology is fixed, in a dissertation of Mosheim, to the year 198. [Rather 199.—S.]

175 In the fifteenth century there were few who had either inclination or courage to question whether JoBeph of Arimathea founded the monastery of Glastonbury, and whither Diouyaius the Areopagite preferred the residence of Paris to that of Athens.


Gennesareth, he was transformed into a valorous knight, who charged at the head of the Spanish chivalry in their battles against the Moors. The gravest historians have celebrated his exploits; the miraculous shrine of Compostella displayed his power; and the sword of a military order, assisted by the terrors of the Inquisition, was sufficient to remove every objection of profane criticism.176

The progress of Christianity was not confined to the Roman empire; and, according to the primitive fathers, who Beyond the interpret facts by prophecy, the new religion, within a R^„ofthe century after the death of its Divine Author, had already empire visited every part of the globe. "There exists not," says Justin Martyr, "a people, whether Greek or barbarian, or any other race "of men, by whatsoever appellation or manners they may be distin"guished, however ignorant of arts or agriculture, whether they "dwell under tents, or wander about in covered waggons, among "whom prayers are not offered up in the name of a crucified Jesus "to the Father and Creator of all things."'" But this splendid exaggeration, which even at present it would be extremely difficult to reconcile with the real state of mankind, can be considered only as the rash sally of a devout but careless writer, the measure of whose belief was regulated by that of his wishes. But neither the belief nor the wishes of the fathers can alter the truth of history. It will still remain an undoubted fact that the barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who afterwards subverted the Roman monarchy, were involved in the darkness of paganism; and that even the conversion of Iberia, of Armenia, or of ^Ethiopia, was not attempted with any degree of success till the sceptre was in the hands of an orthodox emperor.178 Before that time the various accidents of war and commerce might indeed diffuse an imperfect knowledge of the Gospel among the tribes of Caledonia,179 and among the borderers of the Rhine, the Danube,

"* The stupendous metamorphosis was performed in the ninth century. See Mariana (Hist. Hispan. 1. vii. c. 115, torn. i. p. '285, edit. Hag. Com. 1733), who, in every sense, imitates Livy; and the honest detection of the legend of St. James by Dr. Geddes, Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 221.

177 Justin Martyr, Dialog, cum Tryphon. p. 341 [c. 117, p. 211, ed. Bened.]. Iremeus adv. Ihcres. 1. i. c. 10. Tertullian adv. Jud. c. 7. See Mosheim, p. 203.

178 See the fourth century of Mosheim's History of the Church. Many, though very confused circumstances, that relate to the conversion of Iberia and Armenia, may be found in Moses of Chorene, 1. ii. c. 78-89.*

"* According to Tertullian, the Christian faith had penetrated into parts of Britain inaccessible to the Roman arms. About a century afterwards, Ossian, the son of

* Mons. St. Martin has shown that Armenia" from the text of future edi

Armenia was the first tuition that em- tions (Vindication, Works, iv. 577). He

braced Christianity. Me'moires sur l'Ar- was bitterly taunted by Porson for neg

mcme, vol. i. p. 306, and notes to Le lecting or declining to fulfil his promise.

Beau. Gibbon, indeed, had expressed his Preface to Letters to Travis.—M. intention of withdrawing the words "of

« ForrigeFortsett »