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grateful confessions of the first Christians, that the greatest part of those magistrates who exercised in the provinces the authority of the emperor, or of the senate, and to whose hands alone the jurisdiction of life and death was intrusted, behaved like men of polished manners and liberal education, who respected the rules of justice, and who were conversant with the precepts of philosophy. They frequently declined the odious task of persecution, dismissed the charge with contempt, or suggested to the accused Christian some legal evasion, by which he might elude the severity of the laws.* Whenever they were invested with a discretionary power,' they used it much less for the oppression than for the relief and benefit of the afflicted church. They were far from condemning all the Christians who were convicted of an obstinate adherence to the new superstition. Contenting themselves, for the most part, with the milder chastisements of imprisonment, exile, or slavery in the mines,” they left the unhappy victims of their justice some reason to hope that a prosperous event, the accession, the marriage, or the triumph, of an emperor, might speedily restore them, by a general pardon, to their former state. The martyrs, devoted to immediate execution by the Roman magistrates, appear to have been seInconsi- lected from the most opposite extremes. They number of were either bishops and presbyters, the persons martyrs. the most distinguished among the Christians by their rank and influence, and whose example might strike terror into the whole sect;“ or else they were the
* Tertullian, in his epistle to the governor of Africa, mentions several remarkable instances of lenity and forbearance, which had happened within his knowledge.
y Neque enim in universum aliquid quod quasi certam formam habeat constitui potest : an expression of Trajan, which gave a very great latitude to the governors of provinces.
i In metalla damnamur, in insulas relegamur. Tertullian, Apolog. c. 12. The mines of Numidia contained nine bishops, with a proportionable number of their clergy and people, to whom Cyprian addressed a pious epistle of praise and comfort. See Cyprian. Epistol. 76, 77.
* Though we cannot receive with entire confidence, either the epistles or the acts of Ignatius (they may be found in the second volume of the Apostolic Fathers), yet we may quote that bishop of Antioch as one of these exemplary martyrs. He was
meanest and most abject among them, particularly those of the servile condition, whose lives were esteemed of little value, and whose sufferings were viewed by the ancients with too careless an indifference. The learned Origen, who, from his experience, as well as reading, was intimately acquainted with the history of the Christians, declares in the most express terms, that the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable. His authority would alone be sufficient to annihilate that formidable army of martyrs, whose relics, drawn for the most part from the catacombs of Rome, have replenished so many churches, and whose marvellous achievements have been the subject of so many volumes of holy romance. But the general assertion of Origen may be explained and confirmed by the particular testimony of his friend Dionysius, who, in the immense city of Alexandria, and under the rigorous persecution of Decius, reckons only ten men and seven women who suffered for the profession of the Christian name. sent in chains to Rome as a public spectacle ; and when he arrived at Troas, he received the pleasing intelligence, that the persecution of Antioch was already at an end.
b Among the martyrs of Lyons (Euseb. lib. 5. c. 1.) the slave Bladina was distinguished by more exquisite tortures. Of the five martyrs so much celebrated in the acts of Felicitas and Perpetua, two were of a servile, and two others of a very mean, condition.
• Origen. advers. Celsum, lib. 3. p. 116. His words deserve to be transcribed, « Ολιγοι κατα καιρους, και σφοδρα ευαριθμητοι περι των Χριστιανών θεοσεβειας τεθνηκασι.”
d If we recollect that all the plebeians of Rome were not Christians, and that all the Christians were not saints and martyrs, we may judge with how much safety religious bonours can be ascribed to bones or urns, indiscriminately taken from the public burial place. After ten centuries of a very free and open trade, some suspicions have arisen among the more learned Catholics. They now require as a proof of sanctity and martyrdom, the letters B. M. a phial full of red liquor, supposed to be blood, or the figure of a palm tree. But the two former signs are of little weight, and with regard to the last, it is observed by the critics, 1. That the figure, as it is called, of a palm, is perhaps a cypress, and perhaps only a stop, the flourish of a comma, used in the monumental inscriptions. 2. That the palm was the symbol of victory among the Pagans. 3. That among the Christians it served as the emblem, not only of martyrdom, but in general of a joyful resurrection. See the epistle of P. Mabillon on the worship of unknown saints, and Muratori supra le Antichità Italiane, Dissertat. 58.
e As a specimen of these legends, we may be satisfied with ten thousand Christian soldiers crucified in one day, either by Trajan or Hadrian, on mount Ararat. See Baronius ad Martyrologium Romanum. Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiast. tom. 2. part 2. p. 438, and Geddes's Miscellanies, vol. 2. p. 203. The abbreviation of Mil. which may signify either soldiers or thousands, is said to have occasioned some extraordinary mistakes.
Dionysius ap. Euseb. lib. 6. c. 41. One of the seventeen was likewise accused, of robbery.
During the same period of persecution, the of Cy zealous, the eloquent, the ambitions, Cyprian prian, bishop of governed the church, not only of Carthage, but Carthage. even of Africa.
He possessed every quality which could engage the reverence of the faithful, or provoke the suspicions and resentment of the Pagan magistrates. His character, as well as his station, seemed to mark out that holy prelate as the most distinguished object of envy and of danger. The experience, however, of the life of Cyprian is sufficient to prove, that our fancy has exaggerated the perilous situation of a Christian bishop, and that the dangers to which he was exposed were less imminent than those which temporal ambition is always prepared to encounter in the pursuit of honours. Four Roman emperors, with their families, their favourites, and their adherents, perished by the sword in the space of ten years, during which the bishop of Carthage guided by his authority and eloquence the counsels of the African church. It was only in the third year of his administration, that he had reason, during a few months, to apprehend the severe edicts of Decius, the vigilance of the magistrate, and the clamours of the multitude, who loudly demanded, that Cyprian, the leader of the Christians, should be thrown to the lions.
Prudence suggested the necessity of a temporary
retreat, and the voice of prudence was obeyed. flight.
He withdrew himself into an obscure solitude, from whence he could maintain a constant correspondence with the clergy and people of Carthage; and concealing himself till the tempest was past, he preserved his life, without relinquishing either his power or his reputation. His extreme caution did not, however, escape the censure of the more rigid Christians who lamented, or the reproaches of his personal enemies who
& The letters of Cyprian exhibit a very curious and original picture, both of the man and the times. See likewise the two lives of Cyprian, composed with equal accuracy, though with very different views ; the one by Le Clerc, (Bibliotheque Universelle, tom. 12. p. 208–378.) the other by Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 4. part 1. p. 76—159.
insulted, a conduct which they considered as a pusillanimous and criminal desertion of the most sacred duty." The propriety of reserving himself for the future exigencies of the church, the example of several holy bishops, and the divine admonitions which, as he declares himself, he frequently received in visions and ecstacies, were the reasons alleged in his justification. But his best apology may be found in the cheerful resolution, with which, about eight years afterward he suffered death in the cause of religion. The authentic history of his martyrdom has been recorded with unusual candour and impartiality. A short abstract, therefore, of its most important circumstances, will convey the clearest information of the spirit, and of the forms of the Roman persecutions. A. D. 257.
When Valerian was consul for the third, and His ba- Gallienus for the fourth, time, Paternas, proconnishment.
sul of Africa, summoned Cyprian to appear in his private council-chamber. He there acquainted him with the imperial mandate which he had just received," that those who had abandoned the Roman religion should immediately return to the practice of the ceremonies of their ancestors. Cyprian replied, without hesitation, that he was a Christian and a bishop, devoted to the worship of the true and only Deity, to whom he offered up his daily supplications for the safety and prosperity of the two emperors, his lawful sovereigns. With modest confidence he pleaded the privilege of a citizen,
4 See the polite, but severe, epistles of the clergy of Rome to the bishop of Carthage. (Cyprian, epist. 8, 9.) Pontius labours, with the greatest care and diligence, to justify his master against the general censure.
i In particular those of Dionysius of Alexandria, and Gregory Thaumaturgus of Nero-Cæsarea. See Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. lib. 6. c. 40. and Memoires de Tillemont, tom. 4. part 2. p. 685.
k See Cyprian, epist. 16. and his life by Pontius. I We have an original life of Cyprian by the deacon Pontius, the companion of his exile, and the spectator of his death ; and we likewise possess the ancient proconsular acts of his martyrdom. These two relations are consistent with each other, and with probability; and what is somewhat remarkable, they are both unsullied by any miraculous circumstances.
m It should seem that these were circular orders, sent at the same time to all the governors. Dionysius (ap. Euseb. lib. 7. c. 11.) relates the history of his own bauishment from Alexandria, almost in the same manner. But as he escaped and survived the persecution, we must account him either more or less fortunate than Cyprian.
in refusing to give any answer to some invidious, and indeed illegal, questions which the proconsul had proposed. A sentence of banishment was pronounced as the penalty of Cyprian's disobedience; and he was conducted without delay to Curubis, a free and maritime city of Zeugitania, in a pleasant situation, a fertile territory, and at the distance of about forty miles from Carthage." The exiled bishop enjoyed the conveniences of life and the consciousness of virtue. His reputation was diffused over Africa, and Italy; an account of his behaviour was published for the edification of the Christian world;' and his solitude was frequently interrupted by the letters, the visits, and the congratulations, of the faithful. On the arrival of a new proconsul in the province, the fortune of Cyprian appeared for some time to wear a still more favourable aspect. He was recalled from banishment; and though not yet permitted to return to Carthage, his own gardens in the neighbourhood of the capital were assigned for the place of his residence.
At length, exactly one year after Cyprian was condem- first apprehended, Galerius Maximus, proconsul
of Africa, received the imperial warrant for the execution of the Christian teachers. The bishop of Carthage was sensible that he should be singled out for one of the first victims; and the frailty of nature tempted him to withdraw himself, by a secret flight, from the danger and the honour of martyrdom; but
See Plin. Hist. Natur. 5. 3. Cellarius, Geograph. Antiq. part 3. p. 96. Shaw's Travels, p. 90. and, for the adjacent country (which is terminated by cape Bona, or the promontory of Mercury), l'Afrique de Mormol. tom. 2. p. 494. There are the remains of an aqueduct near Curubis, or Curbis, at present altered into Gurbes; and Dr. Shaw read an inscription which styles that city Colonia Fulvia. The deacon Pontius (in Vit. Cyprian. c. 12.) calls it “Apricum et competentem locum, hospitium pro voluntate secretum, et quicquid apponi eis ante promissum est, qui regnum et justitiam De quærunt.”
• See Cyprian. Epistol. 77. edit. Fell. P Upon his conversion, he had sold those gardens for the benefit of the poor. The indulgence of God (most probably the liberality of some Christian friend) restored them to Cyprian. See Pontius, c. 15.
9 When Cyprian, a twelvemonth before, was sent into exile, he dreamt that he should be put to death the next day. The event made it necessary to explain that word, as signifying a year. Pontius, c. 12.