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CHAP. sensibly assuaged the stern temper of the Jews. XV. Awakened from their dream of prophecy and conquest,
they assumed the behaviour of peaceable and industrious subjects. Their irreconcileable hatred of mankind, instead of flaming out in acts of blood and vio. lence, evaporated in less dangerous gratifications. They embraced every opportunity of over-reaching
the idolaters in trade; and they pronounced secret and in ambiguous imprecations against the haughty kingdom
of Edom? The Jew's Since the Jews who rejected with abhorrence the
a deities adored by their sovereign and by their fellowpeople which fol- subjects, enjoyed however the free exercise of their Christians
the unsocial religion ; there must have existed some other a sect cause, which exposed the disciples of Christ to those which de severities from which the posterity of Abraham was serted, the religion of exempt. The difference between them is simple and their fa- obvious; but, according to the sentiments of antiqui
ty, it was of the highest importance. The Jews were a nation; the Christians were a sect: and if it was na. tural for every community to respect the sacred institutions of their neighbours, it was incumbent on them to persevere in those of their ancestors. The voice of oracles, the precepts of philosophers, and the autho. rity of the laws, unanimously enforced this national obligation. By their lofty claim of superior sanctity, the Jews might provoke the Polytheists to consider them as an odious and impure race. By disdaining the intercourse of other nations they might deserve their contempt. 'The laws of Moses might be for the most part frivolous or absurd; yet since they had been received during many ages by a large society, his fol. lowers were justified by the example of mankind; and it was universally acknowledged, that they had a right to practise what it would have been criminal in thein to neglect. But this principle which protected the Jewish synagogue, afforded not any favour or security
7 According to the false Josephus, Tsepbo, the grandson of Esati, conducted into Italy the army of Æneas, king of Carthage. Another colony of Idumeans, flying from the sword of David, took refuge in the dominions of Romulus. For these, or for other reasons of equal weight, the name of Edom was applied by the Jews to the Roman empire.
to the primitive church. By embracing the faith of the char. Gospel, the Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and uopardonable offence. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred. Nor was this apostacy (if we may use the expression) merely of a partial or local kind; since the pious deserter who withdrew himself from the temples of Egypt or Syria, would equally disdain to seek an asylum in those of Athens or Carthage. Every Christian reject. ed with contempt the superstitions of his family, his city, and his province. The whole body of Christians unanimously refused to hold any communion with the gods of Rome, of the empire and of mankind. It was in vain that the oppressed believer asserted the inalienable rights of conscience and private judgment.Though his situation might excite the pity, his arguments could never reach the understanding, either of the philosophic or of the believing part of the Pagan world. To their apprehensions, it was no less a matter of surprise, that any individuals should entertain scruples against complying with the established mode of worship, than if they had conceived a sudden abhorrence to the manners, the dress, or the language of their native country.
The surprise of the Pagans was soon succeeded by Christiaresentment; and the most pious of men were exposed to the unjust but dangerous imputation of impiety, ism, and Malice and prejudice concurred in representing the Christians as a society of atheists, who, by the most people and daring attack on the religious constitution of the em-philoso
phers. pire, had merited the severest animadversion of the civil magistrate. They had separated themselves, (they gloried in the confession) from every mode of
8 From the arguments of Celsus, as they are represented and refutech by Origen (1. v.p. 247-259.), we may clearly discover the distinction that was made between the Jewish people and the Christian sect. See in the Dialogue of Minucius Fælis (c. 5, 6.) a fair and not inelegant description of the popular sentiments, with regard to the desertion of the established worship.
CHAP. superstition which was received in any part of the XVI.
globe by the various temper of polytheism : but it was not altogether so evident what deity, or what form of worship, they had substituted to the gods and temples of antiquity. The pure and sublime idea which they entertained of the Supreme Being escaped the gross conception of the Pagan multitude, who were at a loss to discover a spiritual and solitary God, that was neither represented under any corporeal figure or visible symbol, nor was adored with the accustomed pomp of libations and festivals, of altars and sacrifices". The sages of Greece and Rome, who had elevated their minds to the contemplation of the existence and attributes of the First Cause, were induced by reason or by vanity to reserve for themselves and their chosen disciples the privilege of this philosophical devotion. They were far from admitting the prejudices of mankind as the standard of truth, but they considered them as flowing from the original disposition of human nature; and they supposed that any popular mode of faith and worship which presumed to disclaim the as. sistance of the senses, would in proportion as it reced. ed from superstition, find itself incapable of retraining the wanderings of the fancy and the visions of fanaticism. The careless glance which men of wit and learning condescended to cast on the Christian revelation, served only to confirm their hasty opinion, and to per suade them, that the principle, which they might have revered, of the divine unity, was defaced by the wild enthusiasm, and annibilated by the airy speculations, of the new sectaries. The author of a celebrated diaJoge, which has been attributed to Lucian, whilst he affects to treat the mysterious subject of the Trinity in a style of ridicicule and contempt, betrays his own is:
9 Cur nollas aras habent? templa nulla? nulla nota simulacra ? -Unde autem, vel quis ille, aut ubi, Deus unicus, solitarins, destitutus? Minucius Fælix, c. 10. The Pagan interlocutor goes on to make a distinction in fa vour of the Jews, who had once a temple, altars, victims, &c.
10 It is difficult (says Plato) to attain, and dangerous to publish, the knowledge of the true God. See the Theologies des Philosophes, in the Abbé d'Olivet's French translation of Tully de Naturâ Deorum, tom. i. p. 275.
porance of the weakness of human reason, and of the CHAP. inscrutable nature of the Divine perfections".
It might appear less surprising, that the founder of Christianity should not only be revered by his disciples as a sage and a prophet, but that he should be adored as a God. The Polytheists were disposed to adopt every article of faith, which seemed to offer any resemblance, however distant or imperfect, with the popular mythology; and the legends of Bacchus, of Hercules, and of Æsculapius, had, in some measure, prepared their imagination for the appearance of the Son of God under a human form'?. But they were as. tonished that the Christians should abandon the temples of those ancient heroes, who, in the infancy of the world, had invented arts, instituted laws, and vanquished the tyrants or monsters who infested the earth; iu order to choose for the exclusive object of their religious worship, an obscure teacher, who, in a recent age, and among a barbarous people, had fallen a sacrifice either to the malice of his own countrymen, or to the jealousy of the Roman government. The Pagan inultitude, reserving their gratitude for temporal benefits alone, rejected the inestimable present of life and immortality, which was offered to mankind by Jesus of Nazareth. His mild constancy in the midst of cruel and voluntary sufferings, his universal benevolence, and the sublime simplicity of his actions and character, were insufficient, in the opinion of those carnal men, to compensate for the want of fame, of empire,
11 The author of the Philopatris perpetually treats the Christians as a company of dreaming enthusiasts, datuoniol, arbeproi, mitspo 6&T8YTIS, aspora T8785, &c. and in one place, manifestly alludes to the vision, in which St. Paul was transported to the third heaven. In another place, Triephon, who personates a Christian, after deriding the gods of Pagan. ism, proposes a mysterious oath.
I fouedoria Seev, Megav, a je polov, xqxyard,
Ev exoplay, x41 SE SYG Tpld.
12 According to Justin Martyr (Apolog. Major. c. 70–35,), the dæ. mon, who had gained some imperfect knowledge of the prophecies, purposely contrived this resemblance, which might ceter, though by different means, both the people and the philosopliers from embracing the faith of Chirist.
sonal guerring liis pled in a
CHAP. and of success; and whilst they refused to acknow.
ledge bis stupendous triumph over the powers of darkness and of the grave, they misrepresented, or they insulted, the equivocal birth, wandering life, and igno
minious death of the divine Author of Christianity:3. The union The personal guilt which every Christian had con
es tracted, in thus preferring his private sentiment to the semblies of the national religion, was aggravated in a very high de
in& gree by the number and union of the criminals. It is ed as a well known, and has been already observed, that Rodangerous man policy viewed with the utmost jealousy and disconspira. cy.
trust any association among its subjects; and that the privileges of private corporations, though formed for the most harmless or beneficial purposes, were bestowed with a very sparing hand44. The religious assemblies of the Christians, who had separated themselves from the public worship, appeared of a much less innocent nature : they were illegal in their principle, and in their consequences might become dangerous; nor were the emperors conscious that they violated the laws of justice, when, for the peace of society, they prohibited those secret and sometimes nocturnal meetings15. The pious disobedience of the Christians made their conduct, or perhaps their designs, appear in a much more serious and criminal light; and the Roman princes, who might perhaps have suffered themselves to be disarmed by a ready submission, deeming their honour concerned in the execution of their commands, sometimes attempted, by rigorous punishments, to subdue this independent spirit, which boldly acknowledged an authority superior to that of the magistrate. The extent and duration of this spiritual conspiracy seem
13 In the first and second books of Origen, Celsus treats the birth and character of our Saviour with the most impious contempt. The orator Libanius praises Porphyry and Julian for confuting the folly of a sect, which styled a dead man of Palestine, God, and the son of God. Socrates, Hist. Ecclesiast. iii. 23.
14 The emperor Trajan refused to incorporale a company of 150 fire. men, for the use of the city of Nicomedia. He disliked all associations. See Plin. Epist. x. 42, 43.
15 The proconsul Pliny had published a general edict against unlawful meetings. The prudence of the Christians suspended their Agapæ; but it was impossible for them to omit the exercise of public worship.