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appointed (whether from accident or design)to set bounds to the progress of Christianity. At the earliest dawn of day, the prætorian prefect,” accompanied by several generals, tribunes, and officers of the revenue, repaired to the principal church of Nicomedia, which was situated on an eminence in the most populous and beautiful part of the city. The doors were instantly broke open; they rushed into the sanctuary; and as they searched in vain for some visible object of worship, they were obliged to content themselves with committing to the flames the volumes of Holy Scripture. The ministers of Diocletian were followed by a numerous body of guards and pioneers, who marched in order of battle, and were provided with all the instruments used in the destruction of -fortified cities. By their incessant labour, a sacred edifice, which towered above the imperial palace, and had long excited the indignation and envy of the Gentiles, was in a few hours levelled with the ground."
The next day the general edict of persecution *The first edict was published;o and though Diocletian, still against the Chris- averse to the effusion of blood, had moderated
the fury of Galerius, who proposed that every February. one refusing to offer sacrifice should immediately be burnt alive, the penalties inflicted on the obstinacy of the Christians might be deemed sufficiently rigorous and effectual. It was enacted, that their churches in all provinces of the empire, should be demolished to their foundations; and the punishment of death was denounced against all who should presume to hold any secret assemblies for the purpose of religious worship. The philosophers, who now assumed the unworthy office of directing the blind zeal of superstition, had diligently stu
m In our only MS. of Lactantius, we read profectus; but reason, and the authority of all the critics, allow us, instead of that word, which destroys the sense of the passage, to substitute præfectus.
n Lactantius de M. P. c. 12. gives a very 'lively picture of the destruction of
• Mosheim (p. 922—926.) from many scattered passages of Lactantius and Eusebius, has collected a very just and accurate notion of this edict; though he sometimes deviates into conjecture and refinement.
tians, 24th of
died the nature and genius of the Christian religion ; and as they were not ignorant that the speculative doctrines of the faith were supposed to be contained in the writings of the prophets, of the evangelists, and of the apostles, they most probably suggested the order, that the bishops and presbyters should deliver all their sacred books into the hands of the magistrates, who were commanded, under the severest penalties, to burn them in a public and solemn manner. By the same edict, the property of the church was at once confiscated; and the several parts of which it might consist were either sold to the highest bidder, united to the imperial domain, bestowed on the cities and corporations, or granted to the solicitations of rapacious courtiers. After taking such effectual measures to abolish the worship, and to dissolve the government, of the Christians, it was thought necessary to subject to the most intolerable hardships the condition of those perverse individuals who should still reject the religion of nature, of Rome, and of their ancestors. Persons of a liberal birth were declared incapable of holding any honours or employments : slaves were for ever deprived of the hopes of freedom : and the whole body of the people were put out of the protection of the law. The judges were authorized to hear and to determine every action that was brought against a Christian; but the Christians were not permitted to complain of any injury which they themselves had suffered ; and thus those unfortunate sectaries were exposed to the seyerity, while they were excluded from the benefits of public justice. This new species of martyrdom, so painfal and lingering, so obscure and ignominious, was, perhaps, the most proper to weary the constancy of the faithful ; nor can it be doubted, that the passions and interest of mankind were disposed on this occasion to second the designs of the emperors. But the policy of a well-ordered government must sometimes have interposed in behalf of the oppressed Christians; nor was it
possible for the Roman princes entirely to remove the apprehension of punishment, or to connive at every act of fraud and violence, without exposing their own authority and the rest of their subjects to the most alarming dangers. Zeal and
This edict was scarcely exhibited to the public punisht view, in the most conspicuous place of Nicomea Chris- dia, before it was torn down by the hands of a
Christian, who expressed at the same time, by the bitterest invectives, his contempt as well as abhorrence for such impious and tyrannical governors. His offences, according to the mildest laws, amounted to treason, and deserved death : and if it be true that he was a person of rank and education, those circumstances could serve only to aggravate his guilt. He was burnt, or rather roasted, before a slow fire; and his executioners, zealous to revenge the personal insult which had been offered to the emperors, exhausted every refinement of cruelty, without being able to subdue his patience, or to alter the steady and insulting smile which in his dying agonies he still preserved in his countenance. The Christians, though they confessed that his conduct had not been strictly conformable to the laws of prudence, admired the divine fervour of his zeal; and the excessive commendations which they lavished on the memory of their hero and martyr, contributed to fix a deep impression of terror and hatred in the mind of Diocletian.. Fire of a
His fears were soon alarmed by the view of a palace of danger from which he very narrowly escaped. Nicomedia im Within fifteen days the palace of Nicomedia, and puted to the Chris. even the bed-chamber of Diocletian, were twice tians.
in flames; and though both times they were exP. Many ages afterwards, Edward 1. practised, with great success, the same mode of persecution against the clergy of England. See Hume's History of England, vol. 2. p. 300. 4to. edition.
4 Lactantius only calls him quidam, etsi non recte, magno tamen animo, &c. c. 12: Eusebius (lib. 8. c. 5.) adorns him with secular honours. Neither has condescended to mention his name; but the Greeks celebrate his memory under that of John. See Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 5. part 2. p. 320.
tinguished without any material damage, the singular repetition of the fire was justly considered as an evident proof that it had not been the effect of chance or negligence. The suspicion naturally fell on the Christians; and it was suggested with some degree of probability, that those desperate fanatics, provoked by their present sufferings, and apprehensive of impending calamities, had entered into a conspiracy with their faithful brethren, the eunuchs of the palace, against the lives of two emperors, whom they detested as the irreconcilable enemies of the church of God. Jealousy and resentment prevailed in every breast, but especially in that of Diocletian. A great number of persons, distinguished either by the offices which they had filled, or by the favour which they had enjoyed, were thrown into prison. Every mode of torture was put in practice, and the court as well as city, was polluted with many bloody executions ;" but as it was found impossible to extort any
discovery of this mysterious transaction, it seems incumbent on us either to presume the innocence, or to admire the resolution of the sufferers. A few days afterward Galerius hastily withdrew himself from Nicomedia, declaring, that if he delayed his departure from that devoted palace, he should fall a sacrifice to the rage of the Christians. The ecclesiastical historians, from whom alone we derive a partial and imperfect knowledge of this persecution, are at a loss how to account for the fears and dangers of the emperors. Two of these writers, a prince and a rhetorician, were eye-witnesses of the fire of Nicomedia. The one ascribes it to lightning, and the divine wrath; the other affirms, that it was kindled by the malice of Galerius himself.
Lactantius de M. P. c. 13, 14. Potentissimi quondam eunuchi necati, per quos palatium, et ipse constabat. Eusebius (lib. 8. c. 6.) mentions the cruel extortions of the eunuchs, Gorgonius and Dorotheus, and of Anthimius, bishop of Nicomedia ; and both those writers describe, in a vague but tragical manner, the horrid scenes which were acted even in the imperial presence.
. See Lactantius, Eusebius, and Constantine, ad Cætum Sanctorum, c. 25. Eusebius confesses bis ignorance of the cause of the fire.
As the edict against the Christians was dethe first signed for a general law of the whole empire, and
as Diocletian and Galerius, though they might not wait for the consent, were assured of the concurrence, of the western princes, it would appear more consonant to our ideas of policy, that the governors of all the provinces should have received secret instructions to publish, on one and the same day, this declaration of war within their respective departments. It was at least to be expected, that the convenience of the public highways and established posts would have enabled the emperors to transmit their orders with the utmost dispatch from the palace of Nicomedia to the extremities of the Roman world; and that they would not have suffered fifty days to elapse before the edict was published in Syria, and near four months before it was signified to the cities of Africa. This delay may perhaps be imputed to the cautious temper of Diocletian, who had yielded a reluctant consent to the measures of persecution, and who was desirous of trying the experiment under his more immediate eye, before he gave way to the disorders and discontent which it must inevitably occasion in the distant provinces. At first, indeed, the magistrates were restrained from the effusion of blood; but the use of every other severity was permitted, and even recommended, to their zeal; nor could the Christians, though they cheerfully resigned the ornaments of their churches, resolve to interrupt their religious assemblies, or to deliver their sacred books to the flames. The pious obstinacy of Felix, an African bishop, appears to have embarrassed the subordinate ministers of the government. The curator of his city sent him in chains to the proconsul. The proconsul transmitted him to the prætorian prefect of Italy; and Felix, who disdained even to give an evasive answer, was at length beheaded at Venusia, in Lucania, a place on which the birth of Horace has
• Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiast. tom. 5. part 1. p. 43.