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Accusations of a similar kind were retorted upon the church by the schismatics who had departed from its communion ;y and it was confessed on all sides, that the most scandalous licentiousness of manners prevailed among great numbers of those who affected the name of Christians. A Pagan magistrate, who possessed neither leisure nor abilities to discern the almost imperceptible line which divides the orthodox faith from heretical depravity, might easily have imagined that their mutual animosity had extorted the discovery of their common guilt. It was fortunate for the repose, or at least for the reputation, of the first Christians, that the magistrates sometimes proceeded with more temper and moderation than is usually consistent with religious zeal; and that they reported, as the impartial result of their judicial inquiry, that the sectaries, who had deserted the established worship, appeared to them sincere in their professions, and blameless in their manners; however they might incur, by their absurd and excessive superstition, the censure of the laws/
idea of the History, which undertakes to record the transthe em- 0 actions of the past, for the instruction of future, wards the aSes» would ill deserve that honourable office, Christians, if sne condescended to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims of persecution. It must, however, be acknowledged, that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the least favourable to the primitive church, is by no means so criminal as that of modern sovereigns, who have employed the arm of violence and terror against the religious opinions of any part of their subjects. From their reflections, or even from their own feelings, a Charles V. or a Louis XIV. might have acquired a just knowledge of the rights of conscience, of the obligation of faith, and of the innocence of error. But the princes and magistrates of ancient Rome were strangers to those principles which inspired and authorized the inflexible obstinacy of the Christians in the cause of truth; nor could they themselves discover, in their own breasts, any motive which would have prompted them to refuse a legal, and as it were a natural, submission to the sacred institutions of their country. The same reason which contributes to alleviate the guilt, must have tended to abate the rigour, of their persecutions. As they were actuated, not by the furious zeal of bigots, but by the temperate policy of legislators, contempt must often have relaxed, and humanity must frequently have suspended, the execution of those laws which they enacted against the humble and obscure followers of Christ. From the general view of their character and motives, we might naturally conclude: I. That a considerable time elapsed before they considered the new sectaries as an object deserving of the attention of government. II. That in the conviction of any of their subjects who were accused of so very singular a crime, they proceeded with caution and reluctance. III. That they were moderate in the use of punishments; and, IV. That the afflicted church enjoyed many intervals of peace and tranquillity. Notwithstanding the careless indifference which the most copious and the most minute of Pagan writers have shewn to the affairs of the Christians," it may still be in our power to confirm each of these probable suppositions, by the evidence of authentic facts.
gusting to relate all that the succeeding writers have imagined, all that Epiphanius has received, and all that Tillemont has copied. M. tic Beausobre (Hist. du Manicheiame, lib. 9. c. 8, 9.) has exposed, with great spirit, the disingenuous arts of August in and pope Leo I.
1 When Tertullian became a Montanist, he aspersed the morals of the church which he had so resolutely defended. "Sed majoris est agape, quia per hanc adolescentes tui cum sororibus domnunt, appendices scilicet guiae lascivia et luxun;i." De Jejuniis, c. 17. The thirty-fifth canon of the council of Illiberis provides against the scandals which too often polluted the vigils of the church, and disgraced the Christian name in the eyes of the unbelievers.
• Tertullian (Apolog. c. 2.) expatiates on the fair and honourable testimony of Pliny, with much reason, and some declamation.
* In the various compilation of the Augustan History (a part of which was competed under the reign of Constantine), there are not six lines which relate to the
VOL. II. . P
Theyneg- I. By the wise dispensation of Providence, a Chrises raysterious veil was cast over the infancy of the as a sect church, which, till the faith of the Christians was matured, and their numbers were multiplied, served to protect them not only from the malice, but even from the knowledge, of the Pagan world. The slow and gradual abolition of the Mosaic ceremonies afforded a safe and innocent disguise to the more early proselytes of the gospel. As they were far the greater part of the race of Abraham, they were distinguished by the peculiar mark of circumcision, offered up their devotions in the temple of Jerusalem till its final destruction, and received both the law and the prophets as the genuine inspirations of the Deity. The Gentile converts, who by a spiritual adoption had been associated to the hope of Israel, were likewise confounded under the garb and appearance of the Jews,band as the Polytheists paid less regard to articles of faith than to the external worship, the new sect, which carefully concealed, or faintly announced, its future greatness and ambition, was permitted to shelter itself under the general toleration which was granted to an ancient and celebrated people in the Roman empire. It was not long, perhaps, before the Jews themselves, animated with a fiercer zeal and a more jealous faith, perceived the gradual separation of their Nazarene brethren from the doctrine of the synagogue; and they would gladly have extinguished the dangerous heresy in the blood of its adherents. But the decrees of heaven had already disarmed their malice; and though they might sometimes exert the licentious privilege of sedition, they no longer possessed the administration of criminal justice; nor did they find it easy to infuse into the calm breast of a Roman magistrate the rancour of their own zeal and prejudice. The provin
Christians; nor has the diligence of Xiphilin discovered their name in the large history of Dion Cassius.
b An obscure passage of Suetonius (in Claud, c. 25.) may seem to offer a proof now strangely the Jews and Christians of Rome were confounded with each other.
cial governors declared themselves ready to listen to any accusation that might affect the public safety; but as soon as they were informed that it was a question not of facts but of words, a dispute relating only to the interpretation of the Jewish laws and prophecies, they deemed it unworthy of the majesty of Rome seriously to discuss the obscure differences which might arise among a barbarous and superstitious people. The innocence of the first Christians was protected by ignorance and contempt; and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate often proved their most assured refuge against the fury of the synagogue." If indeed we were disposed to adopt the traditions of a too credulous antiquity, we might relate the distant peregrination, the wonderful achievements, and the various deaths, of the twelve apostles; but a more accurate inquiry will induce us to doubt, whether any of those persons who had been witnesses to the miracles of Christ were permitted, beyond the limits of Palestine, to seal with their blood the truth of their testimony.11 From the ordinary term of human life, it may very naturally be presumed that most of them were deceased before the discontent of the Jews broke out into that furious war, which was terminated only by the ruin of Jerusalem. During a long period, from the death of Christ to that memorable rebellion, we cannot discover any traces of Roman intolerance, unless they are to be found in the sudden, the transient, but the cruel, persecution which was exercised by Nero against the Christians of the capital, thirty-five years after the former, and only two years before the latter, of those great events. The character of the philosophic historian, to whom we are principally indebted for the knowledge of this sin
i See in the eighteenth and twenty-fifth chapters of the Acts of the Apostles the behaviour of Gallic, proconsul of Achaia, and of Festus, procurator of Judea.
4 In the time of Tertullian and Clemens of Alexandria, the glory of martyrdom was confined to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James. It was gradually bestowed on the rest of the apostles, by the more recent Greeks, who prudently selected for the theatre of their preaching and sufferings some remote country beyond the limits of the Roman empire. See Monheim, p. 81. and Tillemont, Memoircs Ecclesiastiquen, tom. 1. parts.
gular transaction, would alone be sufficient to recommend it to our most attentive consideration. The fire of 'n the tentn year of tue reign of Nero, the caJ10?16 , pital of the empire was afflicted by a fire which
under the r ~\ ice
reign of raged beyond the memory or example 01 former Ner0' ages.e The monuments of Grecian art and of Roman virtue, the trophies of the Punic and Gallic wars, the most holy temples, and the most splendid palaces, were involved is one common destruction. Of the fourteen regions or quarters into which Rome was divided, four only subsisted entire, three were levelled with the ground, and the remaining seven, which had experienced the fury of the flames, displayed a melancholy prospect of ruin and desolation. The vigilance of government appears not to have neglected any of the precautions which might alleviate the sense of so dreadful a calamity. The imperial gardens were thrown open to the distressed multitude, temporary buildings were erected for their accommodation, and a plentiful supply of corn and provisions was distributed at a very moderate price.' The most generous policy seemed to have dictated the edicts which regulated the disposition of the streets and the construction of private houses; and as it usually happens, in an age of prosperity, the conflagration of Rome, in the course of a few years, produced a new city, more regular and more beautiful than the former. But all the prudence and humanity affected by Nero on this occasion were insufficient to preserve him from the popular suspicion. Every crime might be imputed to the assassin of his wife and mother; nor could the prince, who prostituted his person and dignity on the theatre, be deemed incapable of the most extravagant folly. The voice of rumour accused the emperor as the incendiary of his own capital; and as the most incredible stories
1 Tacit Annal. 15. 38—44. Sueton. in Neron. c. 58. Dion Cassius, lib. 64. p. 1014. Orosius, 7.7.
'The price of wheat (probably of the madias) was reduced as low as tcni nummi; which would be equivalent to about fifteen shillings the English quarter.