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state of endured under the government of a virtuous the Chris- prince, immediately ceased on the accession of a tyrant; and as none except themselves had experienced the injustice of Marcus, so they alone were protected by the lenity of CommoA. D. dus. The celebrated Marcia, the most favoured of his concubines, and who at length contrived the murder of her imperial lover, entertained a singular affection for the oppressed church; and though it was impossible that she could reconcile the practice of vice with the precepts of the gospel, she might hope to atone for the frailties of her sex and profession, by declaring herself the patroness of the Christians.p Under the gracious protection of Marcia, they passed in safety the thirteen years of a cruel tyranny; and when the empire was established in the house of Severus, they formed a domestic but more honourable connexion with the new court. The emperor was persuaded, that in a dangerous sickness, he had derived some benefit, either spiritual or physical, from the holy oil with which one of his slaves had anointed him. He always treated with peculiar distinction several persons of both sexes who had embraced the new religion. The nurse as well as the preceptor of Caracalla were Christians; and if that young prince ever betrayed a sentiment of humanity, it "was occasioned by an incident, which, however trifling, bore some relation to the cause of Christianity .q Under the reign of Severus, the fury of the populace was checked; the rigour of ancient laws was for some time suspended; and the provincial governors were satisfied with receiving an annual present from the churches within their jurisdiction, as the price, or as the reward, of their moderation: The
v Dion Cassius, or rather his abbreviator Xiphilin, lib. 7t. p. 1206. Mr. Moyje (p. 266.) has explained the condition of the church under the reign of Com modus.
i Compare the life of Caracalla in the Augustan History with the epistle of Tertullian to Scapula. Dr. Jortin (Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. 2. p. 5. &c.) considers the cure of Severus, by the means of holy oil, with a strong desire to convert it into a miracle.
'Tertullian de Fugs, c. 13. The present was made during the feast of the Saturnalia; and it is a matter of serious concern to Tertullian, that the faithful should be confounded with the most infamous professions which purchased the connivance of the govemment.
controversy concerning the precise time of the celebration of Easter, armed the bishops of Asia and Italy against each other, and was considered as the most important business of this period of leisure and tranquillity.' 'Nor was the peace of the church interrupted, till the increasing numbers of proselytes seem at length to have attracted the attention, and to have alienated the mind, of Severus. With the design of restraining the progress of Christianity, he published an edict, which, though it was designed to affect only the new converts, could not be carried into strict execution, without exposing to danger and punishment the most zealous of their teachers and missionaries. In this mitigated persecution, we may still discover the indulgent spirit of Rome and of Polytheism, which so readily admitted every excuse in favour of those who practised the religious ceremonies of their fathers.'
Of the But the laws which Severus had enacted soon TMrje0V expired with the authority of that emperor; and Several, the Christians, after this accidental tempest, —249. enjoyed a calm of thirty-eight years." Till this period they had usually held their assemblies in private houses and sequestered places. They were now permitted to erect and consecrate convenient edifices for the purpose of religious worship;" to purchase lands, even at Rome itself, for the use of the community; and to conduct the elections of their ecclesiastical ministers in so public, but, at the same time, in so exemplary, a manner, as to deserve the respectful attention of the Gentiles.1
• Euseb. lib. 5. c. 23, 24. Mosheim, p. 435—447.
'Judaeos fieri sub gravi poen& vetuit. Idem etiam de Christianis sanrit. Hist. August. p. 70.
* Sulpicius Severus, lib. 2. p. 384. This computation (allowing for a single exception) is confirmed by the history of Eusebiue, and by the writings of Cyprian.
* The antiquity of Christian churches is discussed by Tillemont, (Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 3. part 1. p. 68—72.) and by Mr. Moyle, (vol. 1. p. 378— 398.) The former refers the first construction of them to the peace of Alexander Severus; the latter, to the peace of Gallienus.
r See the Augustan History, p. 130. The emperor Alexander adopted their
This long repose of the church was accompanied with dignity. The reigns of those princes who derived their extraction from the Asiatic provinces, proved the most favourable to the Christians; the eminent persons of the sect, instead of being reduced to implore the protection of a slave or concubine, were admitted into the palace in the honourable characters of priests and philosophers; and their mysterious doctrines, which were already diffused among the people, insensibly attracted the curiosity of their sovereign. When the empress Mammaea passed through Antioch, she expressed a desire of conversing with the celebrated Origen, the fame of whose piety and learning was spread over the east. Origen obeyed so flattering an invitation, and though he could not expect to succeed in the conversion of an artful and ambitious woman, she listened with pleasure to his eloquent exhortations, and honourably dismissed him to his retirement in Palestine.2 The sentiments of Mammaea were adopted by her son Alexander; and the philosophic devotion of that emperor was marked by a singular, but injudicious, regard for the Christian religion. In his domestic chapel he placed the statues of Abraham, of Orpheus, of Apollonius, and of Christ, as an honour justly due to those respectable sages, who had instructed mankind in the various modes of addressing their homage to the supreme and universal Deity." A purer faith, as well as worship, was openly professed and practised among his A D ass household. Bishops, perhaps for the first time, were seen at court; and after the death of Alexmethod of publicly proposing the names of those persons who were candidates for ordination. It is true, that the honour of this practice is likewise attributed to the Jews.
» Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. lib. 6. c. 21. Hieronym. de Script Eccles. c. 54. Mamnuea was styled a holy and pious woman, both by the Christians and the Pagans. From the former, therefore, it was impossible that she should deserve that honourable epithet.
* See the Augustan History, p. 123. Mosheim (p. 465.) seems to refine too much on the domestic religion of Alexander. His design of building a public temple to Christ, (Hist. August. p. 1«9.) and the object which was suggested either to him, or in similar circumstances to Hadrian, appear to have no other foundation than an improbable report, invented by the Christians, and credulously adopted by an historian of the age of Constantine.
ander, when the inhuman Maximin discharged his fury on the favourites and servants of his unfortunate benefactor, a great number of Christians, of every rank and of both sexes, were involved in the promiscuous massacre, which, on their account, has improperly received the name of persecution."
Of Maxi- Notwithstanding the cruel disposition of Maximin, the effects of his resentment against the Christians were of a very local and temporary A D nature; and the pious Origen, who had been aw- proscribed as a devoted victim,-was still reserved to convey the truths of the Gospel to the ear of monarchs.0 He addressed several edifying letters to the emperor Philip, to his wife, and to his mother; and as soon as that prince, who was born in the neighbourhood of Palestine, had usurped the imperial sceptre, the Christians acquired a friend and a protector. The public, and even partial, favour of Philip towards the sectaries of the new religion, and his constant reverence for the ministers of the church, gave some colour to the suspicion, which prevailed in his own times, that the emperor himself was become aconvert to thefaith;d and afforded some grounds for a fable which was afterward invented, that he had been purified by confession and penance from the guilt contracted by the murder of his innocent predecessor.* A.D. The fall of Philip introduced, with the change of 249- masters, a new system of government, so oppressive to the Christians, that their former condition, ever since the time of Domitian, was represented as a state of perfect freedom and security, if compared with the rigorous treatment which they experienced under the short reign of Decius/ The virtues of that prince will scarcely allow us to suspect that he was actuated by a mean resentment against the favourites of his predecessor; and it is more reasonable to believe, that in the prosecution of his general design to restore the purity of Roman manners, he was desirous of delivering the empire from what he condemned as a recent and criminal superstition. The bishops of the most considerable cities were removed by exile or death: the vigilance of the magistrates prevented the clergy of Rome, during sixteen months, from proceeding to a new election; and it was the opinion of the Christians, that the emperor would more patiently endure a competitor for the purple, than a bishop in the capital.8 • Were it possible to suppose that the penetration of Decius had discovered pride under the disguise of humility, or that he could foresee the temporal dominion which might insensibly arise from the claims of spiritual authority, we might be less surprised, that he should consider the successors of St. Peter as the most formidable rivals to those of Augustus. Of Va. The administration of Valerian was distinct' gashed by a levity and inconstancy, ill suited nuts,' and to the gravity of the Roman censor. In the first part of his reign, he surpassed in clemency those princes who had been suspected of an attachment 26°- to the Christian faith. In the last three years
b Kusuh. lib. 6. c. 28. It may be presumed, that the success of the Christians had exasperated the increasing bigotry of the Pagan. Dion Cassius, who composed his history under the former reign, had most probably intended for the use of his master those counsels of persecution, which he ascribes to a better age, and to the favourite of Augustus. Concerning this oration of Maecenas, or rather of Dion, I may refer to my own unbiassed opinion, (vol. 1. p. 40, note) and to the abbf; de la Bleterie. (Memoires de I'Academie, tom. 24. p. 503. tom. 45. p. Me.
c Orosius, lib. 7. c. 19. mentions Origen as the object of Maximin's resentment; and Firmilianus, a Cappadocian bishop of that age, gives a just and confined idea of this persecution (apud Cyprian. Epist. 57).
A The mention of those princes who were publicly supposed to be Christians, as we find it in an epistle to Dionysius of Alexandria, (ap. Euseb. lib. 7. c. 10.) evidently alludes to Philip and his family; and forms a contemporary evidence, that such a report had prevailed; bat the Egyptian bishop, who lived at an humble distance from the court of Rome, expresses himself with a becoming diffidence concerning the truth of the fact. The epistles of Origen (which were extant in the time of Eusebius, see lib. 6. c. 36.) would most probably decide this curious, rather than important, question.
'Euseb. lib. 6. c. 34. The story, as is usual, has been embellished by sueceeding writers, and is confined, with much superfluous learning, by Frederick Spanheim. (Opera Taria. tom. 1. p. 400, &r.)
'Lactantius, de Mortibus Peraecutorum, c. 3, 4. After celebrating the felicity and increase of the church, under a long succession of good princes; he adds, "Extitit post annos plurimos, execrabile animal, Decius qui vexavit ecclesiam."
--' Easels, lib. 6. c. 39. Cyprian. Epistol. 55. The see of Rome remained vacant from the martyrdom of Fabianus, the 20th of January, A. D. 250, till the