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PART 1.

the ancient history of the church. For if, by these CENT. I. persecutions, such only are meant as were singularly severe and universal throughout the empire, then it is certain, that these amount not to the number above mentioned. And, if we take the provincial and less remarkable persecutions into the account, they far exceed it. In the fifth century, certain christians were led by some passages of the holy scriptures, and by one especially in the Revelations, to imagine that the church was to suffer ten calamities of a most grievous nature. To this notion, therefore, they endeavoured, though not all in the same way, to accommodate the language of history, even against the testimony of those ancient records, from whence alone history can speak with authority.i

against the

v. Nero was the first emperor who enacted laws Laws made against the christians. In this he was followed christians. by Domitian, Marcus Antoninus the philosopher, Severus, and the other emperors who indulged the prejudices they had imbibed against the disciples of Jesus. All the edicts of these different princes were not, however, equally unjust, nor made with the same views, and for the same reasons. Were they now extant, as they were collected by the celebrated lawyer Domitius, in his book concerning the duty of a proconsul, they would undoubtedly cast a great light upon the history of the church, under the persecuting emperors. At present we

h Revel. xvii. 14.

k

* See Sulpitius Severus, book ii. chap. xxxiii. As also Austin, De civitate Dei, book xviii. chap. lii.

The collection of the imperial edicts against the christians, made by Domitius, and now lost, is mentioned by Lactantius, in his Divine Institutes, book v. chap. xi. Such of these edicts, as have escaped the ruins of time, are learnedly illustrated by Franc. Balduinus, in a small treatise, entitled, Commentarium ad edicta veterum principum Romanorum de Christianis. Of which a second edition was published by Mr. Gundling, at Hall, 1727.

VOL. I.

10

PART I.

must, in many cases, be satisfied with probable conjectures for want of more certain evidence. The causes of VL. Before we proceed further in this part of our history, a very natural curiosity calls us to inquire the Romans. how it happened, that the Romans, who were

the persecu tion of the

troublesome to no nation on account of their religion, and who suffered even the Jews to live under their own laws, and follow their own method of worship, treated the christians alone with such severity? This important question seems still more difficult to be solved, when we consider that the excellent nature of the christian religion, and its admirable tendency to promote both the public welfare of the state, and the private felicity of the individual, entitled it, in a singular manner, to the favour and protection of the reigning powers. One of the principal reasons of the severity with which the Romans persecuted the christians, notwithstanding these considerations, seems to have been the abhorrence and contempt with which the latter regarded the religion of the empire, which was so intimately connected with the form, and, indeed, with the very essence of its political constitution. For, though the Romans gave an unlimited toleration to all religions which had nothing in their tenets dangerous to the commonwealth, yet they would not permit that of their ancestors, which was established by the laws of the state, to be turned into derision, nor the people to be drawn away from their attachment to it. These, however, were the two things which the christians were charged with, and that justly, though to their honour. They dared to ridicule the absurdities of the pagan superstition, and they were ardent and assiduous in gaining proselytes to the truth. Nor did they only attack the religion of Rome, but also all the different shapes and forms under which superstition appeared in the various countries where they exercised their ministry. From hence the Romans

PART I.

concluded, that the christian sect was not only un- CENT. L supportably daring and arrogant, but, moreover, an enemy to the public tranquillity, and every way proper to excite civil wars and commotions in the empire. It is, probably, on this account, that Tacitus reproaches them with the odious character of haters of mankind,' and styles the religion of Jesus a destructive superstition; and that Suetonius speaks of the christians, and their doctrine, in terms of the same kind.m

VII. Another circumstance that irritated the Romans against the christians, was the simplicity of their worship, which resembled in nothing the sacred rites of any other people. The christians had neither sacrifices, nor temples, nor images, nor oracles, nor sacerdotal orders; and this was sufficient to bring upon them the reproaches of an ignorant multitude, who imagined that there could be no religion without these. Thus they were looked upon as a sort of atheists; and, by the Roman laws, those who were chargeable with atheism were declared the pests of human society. But this was not all; the sordid interests of a multitude of lazy and selfish priests were immediately connected with the ruin and oppression of the christian cause. The public worship of such an immense number of deities was a source of subsistence, and even of riches, to the whole rabble of priests and augurs, and also to a multitude of merchants and artists. And as the progress of the

1 Annal. lib. xv. cap. xliv.

m In Nerone, cap. xvi. These odious epithets, which Tacitus gives to the christians and their religion, as likewise the language of Suetonius, who calls Christianity a poisonous or malignant superstition, malefica superstitio, are founded upon the same reasons. A sect, which not only could not endure, but even laboured to abolish, the religious systems of the Romans, and also those of all the other nations of the universe, appeared to the short sighted and superficial observers of religious matters, as enemies of mankind, and persons possessed with a mortal hatred of all the human race.

Other causes

of these perse

cutions.

PART I.

CENT. I. gospel threatened the ruin of this religious traffic, and the profits it produced, this raised up new enemies to the christians, and armed the rage of mercenary superstition against their lives and their

The most odi

against the

christians.

cause."

VIII. To accomplish more speedily the ruin of the spread abroad christians, those, whose interests were incompatible with the progress of the gospel, loaded them with the most opprobrious calumnies, which were too easily received as truth, by the credulous and unthinking multitude, among whom they were dispersed with the utmost industry. We find a large account of these perfidious and ill grounded reproaches in the writings of the first defenders of the christian cause. And these, indeed, were the only arms they had to oppose the truth; since the excellence of the gospel, and the virtue of its ministers and followers, left its enemies no resources but calumny and persecution. Nothing can be imagined, in point of virulence and fury, that they did not employ for the ruin of the christians. They even went so far as to persuade the multitude, that all the calamities, wars, tempests, and diseases, that afflicted mankind, were judgments sent down by the angry gods, because the christians, who contemned their authority, were suffered in the empire."

The punishments and ju

IX. The various kinds of punishments, both capdicial forins ital and corrective, which were employed against the christians. the christians, are particularly described by learned

used against

This observation is verified by the story of Demetrius the silversmith, Acts xix. 25, and by the following passage in the 97th. letter of the xth. book of Pliny's epistles; "the temples, which were almost deserted, begin to be frequented again; and the sacred rites, which have been long neglected, are again performed. The victims, which have had hitherto few purchasers, begin to come again to the market," &c.

• See the laborious work of Christ. Kortholt, entitled, Paganus obtrectator, seu de calumniis Gentilium in Christianos; to which may be added, Jo. Jac. Huldricus, De calumniis Gentilium in Christianos, published at Zurich, in 8vo. in the year 1744.

? See Arnobius Contra gentes.

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men who have written professedly upon that sub- CENT.L ject. The forms of proceeding, used in their condemnation, may be seen in the Acts of the Martyrs, in the letters of Pliny and Trajan, and other ancient monuments." These judicial forms were very different, at different times, and changed naturally according to the mildness or severity of the laws enacted by the different emperors against the christians. Thus, at one time, we see the most diligent search made after the followers of Christ; at another, all perquisition suspended, and positive accusation and information only allowed. Under one reign we see them, upon their being proved christians, or their confessing themselves such, immediately dragged away to execution, unless they prevent their punishment by apostacy; under another, we see inhuman magistrates endeavouring to compel them, by all sorts of tortures, to renounce their profession.

confessors.

x. They who, in the perilous times of the church, Martyrs and fell by the hand of bloody persecution, and expired in the cause of the divine Saviour, were called martyrs; a term borrowed from the sacred writings, which signifies witnesses, and thus expresses the glorious testimony which these magnanimous believers bore to the truth. The title of confessors was given to such, as, in the face of death, and at the expense of honours, fortune, and all the other advantages of the world, had confessed with fortitude, before the Roman tribunals, their firm attachment to the religion of Jesus. The veneration that was paid to both martyrs and confessors is hardly credible. The distinguishing honours and privileges they enjoyed, the authority with which their counsels and decisions were attended, would fur

See for this purpose Ant. Gallonius and Gasp. Sagittarius, De cruciatibus martyrum.

See Bohmer, Juris Eccles. Protestant. tom. iv. lib. v. Decretal. tit. 1. § 32. p. 617.

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