cities of the empire, the temples were repaired and beautified by the order of Maximian; and the officiating priests of the various deities were subjected to the authority of a superior pontiff, destined to oppose the bishop, and to promote the cause of Paganism. These pontiffs acknowledged, in their turn, the supreme jurisdiction of the metropolitans or high-priests of the province, who acted as the immediate vicegerents of the emperor himself. A white robe was the ensign of their dignity; and these new prelates were carefully selected from the most noble and opulent families. By the influence of the magistrates, and of the sacerdotal order, a great number of dutiful addresses were obtained, particularly from the cities of Nicomedia, Antioch, and Tyre, which artfully represented the well-known intentions of the court as the general sense of the people; solicited the emperor to consult the laws of justice rather than the dictates of his clemency; expressed their abhorrence of the Christians, and humbly prayed that those impious sectaries might at least be excluded from the limits of their respective territories. The answer of Maximin to the address which he obtained from the citizens of Tyre is still extant. He praises their zeal and devotion in terms of the highest satisfaction, descants on the obstinate impiety of the Christians, and betrays, by the readiness with which he consents to their banishment, that he considered himself as receiving, rather than as conferring, an obligation. The priests as well as the magistrates were empowered to enforce the execution of his edicts, which were engraved on tables of brass; and though it was recommended to them to avoid the effusion of blood, the most cruel and ignominious punishments were inflicted on the refractory Christians.P

The Asiatic Christians had every thing to persecu- dread from the severity of a bigoted monarch,

who prepared his measures of violence with such

End of the


p See Eusebius, lib. 8. c. 14. lib. 9.c, 2—3. Lactantius de M. P. c. 36. These VOL. II.


account of


deliberate policy. But a few months had scarcely elapsed, before the edicts published by the two western emperors, obliged Maximian to suspend the prosecution of his designs : the civil war which he so rashly undertook against Licinius employed all his attention; and the defeat and death of Maximian soon delivered the church from the last and most implacable of her enemies." Probable In this general view of the persecution, which

was first authorized by the edicts of Diocletian, the sufferings of the I have purposely refrained from describing the and con- particular sufferings and deaths of the Christian

martyrs. It would have been an easy task, from the history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, and from the most ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid and disgustful pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and scourges, with iron hooks, and redhot beds, and with all the variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage beasts, and more savage executioners, could inflict on the human body. These melancholy scenes might be enlivened by a crowd of visions and miracles, destined either to delay the death, to celebrate the triumph, or to discover the relics, of those canonized saints who suffered for the name of Christ. But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe. The gravest of the ecelesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly confesses, that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion." Such an acknowwriters agree in representing the arts of Maximian ; but the former relates the execution of several martyrs, while the latter expressly affirms, occidi servos Dei vetuit.

4 A few days before his death, he published a very ample edict of toleration, in which he impates all the severities which the Christians suffered to the judges and governors, who had misunderstood his intentions. See the edict in Eusebius, lib. 9.

Such is the fair deduction from two remarkable passages in Eusebius, lib. 8. c. 2.and de Martyr. Palestin. c. 12. The prudence of the historian has exposed his own character to censure and suspicion. It is well known that he himself had been thrown into prison ; and it was suggested that he had purchased his deliverance by some dishonourable compliance. The reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his presence, at the council of Tyre. See Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 8. part 1. p. 67.

c. 10.

ledgment will naturally excite a suspicion, that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fundamental laws of history, has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his contemporaries. On some particular occasions, when the magistrates were exasperated by some personal motives of interest or resentment, when the zeal of the martyrs urged them to forget the rules of prudence, and perhaps of decency, to overturn the altars, to pour out imprecations against the emperors, or to strike the judge as he sat on his tribunal, it may be presumed that every

mode of torture which cruelty could invent, or constancy could endure, was exhausted on those devoted victims. Two circumstances, however, have been unwarily mentioned, which insinuate that the general treatment of the Christians, who had been apprehended by the officers of justice, was less intolerable than it is usually imagined to have been. 1. The confessors, who were condemned to work in the mines, were permitted, by the humanity or the negligence of their keepers, to build chapels, and freely to profess their religion, in the midst of those dreary habitations. 2. The bishops were obliged to check and to censure the forward zeal of the Christians, who voluntarily threw themselves into the hands of the magistrates. Some of these were persons oppressed by poverty and debts, who blindly sought to terminate a miserable existence by a glorious death. Others were allured by the hope, that a short confinement would expiate the sins of a whole life ; and others again were

* The ancient, and perhaps authentic, account of the sufferings of Tarachus and his companions, (Acta Sincera Ruinart, p. 419–448.) is filled with strong expressions of resentment aud contempt, which could not fail of irritating the magistrate. The behaviour of Adesius to Hierocles, prefect of Egypt, was still more extraordinary, noyoss Ti nai eppous Tor Senaon ... Wépicada. Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 5.

Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 13.

actuated by the less honourable motives of deriving a plentiful subsistence, and perhaps a considerable profit, from the alms which the charity of the faithful bestowed on the prisoners." After the church had triumphed over all her enemies, the interest as well as vanity of the captives prompted them to magnify the merit of their respective sufferings. A convenient distance of time or place gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction; and the frequent instances which might be alleged of holy martyrs, whose wounds had been instantly healed, whose strength had been renewed, and whose lost members had miraculously been restored, were extremely convenient for the purpose of removing every difficulty, and of silencing every objection. The most extravagant legends, as they conduced to the honour of the church, were applauded by the credulous multitude, countenanced by the power of the clergy, and attested by the suspicious evidence of ecclesiastical history.

The vague descriptions of exile and imprisonment, of pain and torture, are so easily exag

gerated or softened by the pencil of an artful orator, that we are naturally induced to inquire into a fact of a more distinct and stubborn kind; the number of persons who suffered death in consequence of the edicts published by Diocletian, his associates, and his successors. The recent legendaries record whole armies and cities, which were at once swept away by the undistinguishing rage of persecution. The more ancient writers content themselves with pouring out a liberal effusion of loose and tragical invectives, without condescending to ascertain the precise number of those persons who were permitted to seal with their blood their belief of the gospel. From the history of Eusebius, it may however be collected, that only nine bishops were punished with

Number of martyrs.

Augustin. Collat. Carthagin. Dei, 3. c. 13. ap. Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 5. part 1. p. 46. The controversy with the Donatists has reflected some, though perhaps a partial, light on the history of the African church.

death; and we are assured, by his particular enumeration of the martyrs of Palestine, that no more than ninety-two Christians were entitled to that honourable appellation." As we are unacquainted with the degree of episcopal zeal and courage which prevailed at that time, it is not in our power to draw any useful inferences from the former of these facts; but the latter may serve to justify a very important and probable conclusion. According to the distribution of Roman provinces, Palestine may

be considered as the sixteenth part of the eastern empire ;' and since there were some governors, who from a real or affected clemency had preserved their hands unstained with the blood of the faithful,” it is reasonable to believe that the country which had given birth to Christianity, produced at least the sixteenth part of the martyrs who suffered death within the dominions of Galerius and Maximian; the whole might consequently amount to about fifteen hundred, a number, which, if it is equally divided between the ten years of the persecution, will allow an annual consumption of one hundred and fifty martyrs. Allotting the same proportion to the provinces of Italy, Africa, and perhaps Spain, where, at the end of

* Eusebius de Martyr. Palestin. c. 13. He closes his narration, by assuring us, that these were the martyrdoms inflicted in Palestine, during the whole course of the persecution. The fifth chapter of his eighth book, which relates to the province of Thebais in Egypt, may seem to contradict our moderate computation ; but it will only lead us to admire the artful management of the historian. Choosing for the scene of the most exquisite cruelty the most remote and sequestered country of the Roman empire, he relates, that in Thebais from ten to one hundred persons had frequently suffered martyrdom in the same day. But when he proceeds to mention his own journey into Egypt, his language insensibly becomes more cautious and moderate. Instead of a large, but definitive number, he speaks of many Christians (The.Ws); and most artfully selects two ambiguous words (sotopnoapev and UTOLLEIVOVTAS), which may signify either what he bad seen or what he had beard; either the expectation, or the execution, of the punishment. Having thus provided a secure evasion, he commits the equivocal passage to his readers and translators; justly conceiving that their piety would induce them to prefer the most favourable sense. There was perhaps some malice in the remark of Theodorus Metochita, that all who, like Eusebius, had been conversant with the Egyptians, delighted in an obscure and intricate style. (See Valesius ad loc.)

When Palestine was divided into three, the prefecture of the east contained forty-eight provinces. As the ancient distinctions of nations were long since abolished, the Romans distributed the provinces according to a general proportion of their extent and opulence.

• Vt gloriari possint nullum se innocentem peremisse, nam et ipse audivi aliquos gloriantes, quia administratio sua, in bậc parte, fuerit incruenta. Lactant. Institut. Divin. 5. 11.

« ForrigeFortsett »