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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.8 Their It is at least doubtful whether any of these
of pro* philosophers perused the apologies which the phecy, 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 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.11 In the unskilful hands
i DR. Lardner, in his first and second volumes 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.
k If the famous prophecy of the seventy weeks had been alleged to a Roman philosopher, would he not have replied in the words of Cicero, " Qusb tandem is'a auguratio est, annorum potius quam aut mensium aut dierum V De Divinatione, 2. 30. Observe with what irreverence Lucian (in Alexandra, c. ts) and his friend Celsus ap. Origen (lib. 7. p. 327.) express themselves concerning the Hebrew prophets.
VOL. II. O
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,1 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.
of But how shall we excuse the supine inatten^Qn of the pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? 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, demons were expelled, and the laws of nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the General moral or physical government of the world. Unsiience <jer the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth,k or at
concem- ° •
ing the least a celebrated province of the Roman empire,1 of the*88 was involved in a preternatural darkness of three Passion. hours Even this miraculous event, which ought
'The philosophers, who derided the more ancient predictions of the Sibyb, would easily have detected the Jewish and Christian forgeries which had 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 millenium, were quietly laid aside. The Christian Sibyl had unluckily fixed the ruin of Rome for the year 195, A. U. C. 948.
* The fathers, as they are drawn out in battle array by Dom Calmet, (Dissertations Mir la Bible, tom. 3. p. 295—308.) seem to cover the whole earth with darkness, in which they are followed by most of the modems.
'Origen ad Matt. c. 27. and a few modem critics, Bear, Le Clerc, Lordlier, &c. are desirous of confining it to the land of Judea.
to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history.TM It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect." Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny0 is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular defect of light which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest part of the year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendour. This season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been already celebrated by most of the poetsp and historians of that memorable age.q
The conduct of the Roman government towards the Christians, from the reign of Nero to that of Constantine.
Christian- JF we seriously consider the purity of the Chris
ity perse- . . • . . 1 •
by tian religion, the sanctity ot its moral precepts,
r' The celebrated passage of Pblegon is now wisely abandoned. When Tertullian assures the Pagans that the mention of the prodigy is found in Arranis (not Archicis) feitris, (see his Apology, c. 41.) be probably appeals to the Sibylline verses, which relate it exactly in the words of the gospel.
"Seneca Qmest. Natur. W. 1. 18. 6. 1. 1, It, Plin. Hist. Natur. lib. t. 0 Plin. Hist. Natur. 2. 30.
p Virgil, deorglc. 1.466. Tibullus, lib. 1. Eleg. i. ter. 73. Ovid. Metantotpjl. 15. 783. Lucan. Pharsal. 1. 540. The last of these poets places this prodigy before the civil war.
1 See * public epistle Of M. Antony in Joseph. Antiq. 14. 11. Plutarch in Casear, p. 471. Appian. Bell. Civil, lib. 4. Dion Cassius, lib. 45. p. 431. Julius Obseqnenu, c. 188. His little treatise is an abstract of Lin's prodigies,
the Roman and the innocent, as well as austere, lives of the emperors greater number of those who, during the first ages, embraced the faith of the gospel, we should naturally suppose, that so benevolent a doctrine would have been received with due reverence, even by the unbelieving world; that the learned and the polite, however they might deride the miracles, would have esteemed the virtues, of the new sect; and that the magistrates, instead of persecuting, would have protected an order of men who yielded the most passive obedience to the laws, though they declined the active cares of war and government. If, on the other hand, we recollect the universal toleration of Polytheism, as it was invariably maintained by the faith of the people, the incredulity of philosophers, and the policy of the Roman senate and emperors, we are at a loss to discover what new offence the Christians had committed, what new provocation could exasperate the mild indifference of antiquity, and what new motives could urge the Roman princes, who beheld without concern a thousand forms of religion subsisting in peace under their gentle sway, to inflict a severe punishment on any part of their subjects, who had chosen for themselves a singular, but an inoffensive, mode of faith and worship.
The religious policy of the ancient world seems to have assumed a more stern and intolerant character, to oppose the progress of Christianity. About fourscore years after the death of Christ, his innocent disciples were punished with death by the sentence of a proconsul of the most amiable and philosophic character, and according to the laws of an emperor distinguished by the wisdom and justice of his general administration. The apologies which were repeatedly addressed to the successors of Trajan are filled with the most pathetic complaints, that the Christians who obeyed the dictates, and solicited the liberty, of conscience, were alone, among all the subjects of the Roman empire, excluded from the common benefits of their auspicious government. The deaths of a few eminent martyrs have been recorded with care; and from the time that Christianity was invested with the supreme power, the governors of the church have been no less diligently employed in displaying the cruelty, than in imitating the conduct, of their Pagan adversaries. To separate (if it be possible) a few authentic, as well as interesting, facts from an undigested mass of fiction and error, and to relate in a clear and rational manner, the causes, the extent, the duration, and the most important circumstances of the persecutions to which the first Christians were exposed, is the design of the present chapter.
The sectaries of a persecuted religion, depressed by fear, animated with resentment, and perhaps heated by enthusiasm, are seldom in a proper temper of mind calmly to investigate, or candidly to appreciate, the motives of their enemies, which often escape the impartial and discerning view even of those who are placed at a secure distance from the flames of persecution. A reason has been assigned for the conduct of the emperors towards the primitive Christians, which may appear the more specious and probable, as it is drawn from the acknowledged genius of Polytheism. It has already been observed, that the religious concord of the world was principally supported by the implicit assent and reverence which the nations of antiquity expressed for their respective traditions and ceremonies. It might therefore be expected, that they would unite, with indignation, against any sect of people which should separate itself from the communion of mankind, and, claiming the exclusive possession of divine knowledge, should disdain every form of worship except its own, as impious and idolatrous. The rights of toleration were held by mutual indulgence; they were justly forfeited by a refusal of the accustomed tribute. As the payment of this tribute was inflexibly refused by the Jews, and by