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even the people, when they discovered that their deities were rejected and derided by those whose rank or understanding they were accustomed to reverence, were filled with doubts and apprehensions concerning the truth of those doctrines, to which they had yielded the most implicit belief. The decline of ancient prejudice exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to the danger of a painful and comfortless situation. A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds; but the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude, that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoured the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition. Some deities of a more recent and fashionable cast might soon have occupied the deserted temples of Jupiter and Apollo, if, in the decisive moment, the wisdom of Providence had not interposed a genuine revelation, fitted to inspire the most rational esteem and conviction, whilst, at the same time, it was adorned with all that could attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the veneration of the people. In their actual disposition, as many were almost disengaged from their artificial prejudices, but equally susceptible and desirous of a devout attachment; bn object much less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant place in their hearts, and to gratify the uncertain eagerness of their passions. Those who are inclined to pursue this reflection, instead of viewing with astonishment the rapid progress of Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its Success was not still more rapid and still more universal.
a»weiia» It has been observed, with truth as well as propriety, that the conquests of Rome prepared and facilitated those of Christianity. In the second chapter of this work, we have attempted to explain in what manner the most civilized provinces of Europe, Asia, and Africa, were united under the dominion of one sovereign, and gradually connected by the most intimate ties of laws, of manners, and of language. The Jews of Palestine, who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a reception to the miracles of the divine Prophet, that it was found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew gospel.0 The authentic histories of the actions of Christ were composed in the Greek language, at a considerable distance from Jerusalem, and after the Gentile converts were grown extremely numerous.11 As soon as those histories were translated into the Latin tongue, they were perfectly intelligible to all the subjects of Rome, excepting only to the peasants of Syria and Egypt, for whose benefit particular versions were afterward made. The public highways, which had been constructed for the use of the legions, opened an easy passage for the Christian missionaries from Damascus to Corinth, and from Italy to the extremity of Spain or Britain; nor did those spiritual conquerors encounter any of the obstacles which usually retard or prevent the introduction of a foreign religion into a distant country. There is the strongest reason to believe, that before the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, the faith of Christ had been preached in every province, and in all the great cities of Historical the empire; but the foundation of the several congregations, the numbers of the faithful who KP 0f composed them, and their proportion to the unbeanity. lieving multitude, are now buried in obscurity, or disguised by fiction and declamation. Such imperfect circumstances, however, as have reached our knowledge concerning the increase of the Christian name in Asia and Greece, in Egypt, in Italy, and in the west, we shall now proceed to relate, without neglecting the real or imaginary acquisitions which lay beyond the frontiers of the Roman empire.
"The modem critics are not disposed to believe what the fathers almost unanimously assert, that St. Matthew composed a Hebrew gospel, of which only the Greek translation is extant. It seems, however, dangerous to reject their testimony.
i Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, and in the cities of Alexandria, An tiui-h. Homeland Ephesus. See Mill. Prolegomena ad Nov. Testament, and Dr. Gardner's fair and extensive collection, vol. 15.
In the The rich provinces that extended from the Eueast- phrates to the Ionian sea were the principal theatre on which the apostle of the Gentiles displayed his zeal and piety. The seeds of the gospel, which he had scattered in a fertile soil, were diligently cultivated by nis disciples; and it should seem that, during the two first centuries, the most considerable body of Christians was contained within those limits. Among the societies which were instituted in Syria, none were more ancient or more illustrious than those of Damascus, of Berea or Aleppo, and of Antioch. The prophetic introduction of the Apocalypse has described and immortalized the seven churches of Asia, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira,q Sardes, Laodicea, and Philadelphia: and their colonies were soon diffused over that populous country. In a very early period, the islands of Cyprus and Crete, the provinces of Thrace and Macedonia, gave a favourable reception to the new religion: and Christian republics were soon founded in the cities of Corinth, of Sparta, and of Athens/- The antiquity of the Greek and Asiatic churches allowed a sufficient space of time for their increase and multiplication; and even the swarms of Gnostics and other heretics serve to display the flourishing condition of the orthodox church, since the appellation of heretics has always been applied to the less numerous party. To these domestic testimonies we may add the confession, the complaints, and the apprehensions of the Gentiles themselves. From the writings of Lucian, a philosopher who had studied mankind and who describes their manners in the most lively colours, we may learn, that, under the reign of Commodus, native country of Pontus was filled with Epicureans and Christians? Within fourscore years after the his death of Christ,' the humane Pliny laments the magnitude of the evil which he vainly attempted to eradicate. In his very curious epistle to the emperor Trajan, he affirms, that the temples were almost deserted, that the sacred victims scarcely found any purchasers, and that the superstition had not only infected the cities, but had even spread itself into the villages and the open country of Pontus and Bithynia."
i The Alogians (Epiphanius de Hsuics. 51.) disputed the genuineness of the Apocalypse, because the church of Thyatira was not yet founded. Epiphanins, who allows the fact, extricates himself from the difficulty, by ingeniously supposing, that St. John wrote in the spirit of prophecy. See Abauzit Discours sur l Apocalypse.
"The epistles of Ignatius and Dionysius (ap. Euseb. 4. ?3.) point out many churches in Asia and Greece. That of Athens Seems to have been one of the least flourishing.
The Without descending into a minute scrutiny of
church of the expressions, or the motives, of those writers, who either celebrate or lament the progress of Christianity in the east, it may in general be observed, that none of them have left us any grounds from whence a just estimate might be formed of the real numbers of the faithful in those provinces. One circumstance, however, has been fortunately preserved, which seems to cast a more distinct light on this obscure but interesting subject. Under the reign of Theodosius, after Christianity had enjoyed during more than sixty years the sunshine of imperial 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/ The splendour and dignity of the queen of the east, the acknowledged populousness of Caesarea, Seleucia, and Alexandria, and the destruction of two hundred and fifty thousand souls in the earthquake which afflicted Antioch under the elder Justin/ 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." 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.
• Lucian in Alexander, c. 85. Christianity, however, must have been very unequally diffused over Pontus; since in the middle of the third century, there were no more than seventeen believers in the extensive diocess of Neo-Caesaria. See M. de TUlemont, Memoires Ecclesinst. torn. 4. p. 675.from Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, who were themselves natives of Cappadocia.
'According to the ancients, Jesus Christ suffered under the consulship of the two Gemini, in the year 29 of our present era. Pliny was sent into Bithynia (according to Pagi) in the year 110.
« Plin. Epist. 10. 97.
In E t 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
1 Chrysostom. Opera, tom. 7. p. 658. 810.
i John Malela, tom. 2. p. 144. He draws the same conclusion with regard to the populousness of Antioch.
1 Chrysostom, tom. 1. p. 592. I am indebted for these passages, though not for ffiy inference, to the learned Dr. Lardner, Credibility of the Gospel History, vol. 12. p. 370.