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PART I.

CENT. I. nish ample matter for a history apart; and such an undertaking might be highly useful in many respects. There was, no doubt, as much wisdom as justice in treating with such respect, and investing with such privileges, these christian heroes; since nothing was more adapted to encourage others to suffer with cheerfulness in the cause of Christ. But, as the best and wisest institutions are generally perverted, by the weakness or corruption of men, from their original purpose; so the authority and privileges granted, in the beginning, to martyrs and confessors, became, in process of time, a support to superstition, an incentive to enthusiasm, and a source of innumerable evils and abuses.

Their number.

XI. The first three or four ages of the church were stained with the blood of martyrs, who suffered for the name of Jesus. The greatness of their number is acknowledged by all, who have a competent acquaintance with ancient history, and who have examined that matter with any degree of impartiality. It is true, the learned Dodwell has endeavoured to invalidate this unanimous decision of the ancient historians, and to diminish considerably the number of those that suffered death for the gospel. And after him, several writers have maintained his opinion, and asserted, that whatever may have been the calamities that the christians, in general, suffered for their attachment to the gospel, very few were put to death on that account. This hypothesis has been warmly opposed, as derogating from that divine power which enabled christians to be faithful even unto death, and a contrary one embraced, which augments prodigiously the number of these heroic sufferers. Here, no doubt, it will be wise to avoid both these extremes, and to hold the middle path, which cer

• See Dodwell's dissertation, De paucitate martyrum, in his Dissertationes Cyprianicæ.

PART I.

certainly leads nearest to the truth. The martyrs CENT. I. were less in number than several of the ancient and modern writers have supposed them to be; but much more numerous than Dodwell and his followers are willing to believe. And this medium will be easily admitted by such, as have learned from the ancient writers, that, in the darkest and most calamitous times of the church, all christians were not equally, nor promiscuously disturbed, nor called before the public tribunals. Those who were of the lowest rank of the people, escaped the best; their obscurity, in some measure, screened them from the fury of persecution. The learned and eloquent, the doctors and ministers, and chiefly the rich, after the confiscation of whose fortunes a rapacious magistracy were perpetually gaping, these were the persons the most exposed to the dangers of the times. XII. The actions and sayings of these holy mar- Their lives tyrs, from the moment of their imprisonment to their last gasp, were carefully recorded, in order to be read on certain days, and thus proposed as models to future ages. But few, however, of these ancient acts are come down to our times; the greatest part of them having been destroyed during that dreadful persecution which Diocletian carried on ten years, with such fury, against the christians. For a most diligent search was then made after all their books and papers; and all of them that were found were committed to the flames. From the eighth century downward, several Greek and Latin writers endeavoured to make up this loss, by com. piling, with vast labour, accounts of the lives and actions of the ancient martyrs. But the most of them have given us little else than a series of fables,

Such of those acts as are worthy of credit have been collected by the learned Ruinartus, into one volume in folio, of a moderate size, entitled, Selecta et sincera martyrum acta, Amstelod. 1713. The hypothesis of Dodwell is amply refuted in a laboured preface which the author has prefixed to this work.

and actions.

PART 1.

CENT. 1. adorned with profusion of rhetorical flowers, and striking images, as the wiser, even among the Romish doctors, frankly acknowledge. Nor are those records, that pass under the name of martyrology, worthy of superior credit, since they bear the most evident marks both of ignorance and falsehood. So that, upon the whole, this part of Ecclesiastical History, for want of ancient and authentic monuments, is extremely imperfect, and necessarily attended with much obscurity.

Their persecution under Nero.

XIII. It would have been surprising, if, under such a monster of cruelty as Nero, the christians had enjoyed the sweets of tranquillity and freedom. But this was far from being the case; for this perfidious tyrant accused them of having set fire to the city of Rome, that horrid crime, which he himself had committed with a barbarous pleasure. In avenging this crime upon the innocent christians, he ordered matters so, that the punishment should bear some resemblance to the offence. He, therefore, wrapped up some of them in combustible garments, and ordered fire to be set to them when the darkness came on, that thus, like torches, they might dispel the obscurity of the night; while others were fastened to crosses, or torn in pieces by wild beasts, or put to death in some such dreadful manner. This horrid persecution was set on foot in the month of November," in the 64th. year of Christ, and in it, according to some ancient accounts, St. Paul and St. Peter suffered martyrdom; though this latter fact is contested by many, as

See, for a further illustration of this point of chronology, two French dissertations of the very learned Alphonse de Vignoles, concerning the cause, and the commencement of the persecution under Nero, which are printed in Masson's Histoire critique de la republique des lettres, tom. viii. p. 74-117, tom. ix. p. 172-186. See also Toinard, Ad Lactantium de mortibus persequut. p. 398.

being absolutely irreconcilable with chronology. The death of Nero, who perished miserably in the year 68, put an end to the calamities of this first persecution, under which, during the space of four years, the christians suffered every sort of torment and affliction, which the ingenious cruelty of their enemies could invent.

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CENT.I. PART I.

this persecu

XIV. Learned men are not entirely agreed con- The extent of cerning the extent of this persecution under Nero. tion. Some confine it to the city of Rome, while others represent it as having raged throughout the whole empire. The latter opinion, which is also the most ancient, is undoubtedly to be preferred; as it is certain, that the laws enacted against the christians, were enacted against the whole body, and not against particular churches, and were consequently in force in the remotest provinces. The authority of Tertullian confirms this, who tells us, that Nero and Domitian had enacted laws against the christians, of which Trajan had, in part, taken away the force, and rendered them, in some measure, without effect. We shall not have recourse for a further confirmation of this opinion, to that famous Portuguese or Spanish inscription, in which Nero is praised for having purged that province from the new superstition; since that inscription is justly suspected to be a mere forgery, and the best

w See Tillemont, Histoire des empereurs, tom. i. p. 564. Baratier, De successione Romanor. Pontif. cap. v. p. 60.

This opinion was first defended by Franc. Balduin, in his Comm. ad edicta imperator, in Christianos, p. 27, 28. After him Launoius maintained the same opinion in his Dissert. qua Sulpitii Severi locus de prima martyrum Galliæ epocha vindicatur, § 1, p. 139, 140, tom. ii. part i. opp. This opinion, however, is still more acutely and learnedly defended by Dodwell, in the xith. of his Dissertationes Cyprianicæ.

Y Apologet. cap. iv. p. 46, according to the edition of Havercamp.

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CENT. I. Spanish authors consider it as such. But we may, however, make one observation, which will tend to illustrate the point in question, and that is, that, since the christians were condemned by Nero, not so much on account of their religion, as for the falsely imputed crime of burning the city,a it is scarcely to be imagined, that he would leave unmolested, even beyond the bounds of Rome, a sect whose members were accused of such an abominable deed.

The persecu tion under Domitian.

xv. Though, immediately after the death of Nero, the rage of this first persecution against the christians ceased, yet the flame broke out anew in the year ninety three or ninety four, under Domitian, a prince little inferior to Nero in all sorts of wickedness. This persecution was occasioned, if we may give credit to Hegesippus, by the fears that Domitian was under of losing the empire; for he had been informed, that, among the relations

z This celebrated inscription is published by the learned Gruterus, in the first volume of his inscriptions, p. ccxxxviii. n. 9. It must, however, be observed, that the best Spanish writers dare not venture to defend the genuineness and authority of this inscription, as it has not been seen by any of them, and was first produced by Cyriac of Ancona, a person universally known to be utterly unworthy of the least credit. We shall add here the judgment which the excellent historian of Spain, Jo. de Ferreras, has given of this inscription, in his Histoire generale d'Espagne, tom. i. p. 192. "Je ne puis m'empecher," says he, "d' observer que Cyriac d'Ancone fut le premier qui publia cette inscription, et que c'est de lui que les autres l'ont tiree; mais comme la foi de cet Ecrivain est suspect au jugement de tous les savans, que d'ailleurs il n'y a ni vestige, ni souvenir, de cette inscription dans les places ou l'on dit qu'elle s'est trouvee, et qu'on nescait ou la prendre a present, chacun peut en porter le jugement qu'il voudra."

Set Theod. Ruinart. Præf. ad acta martyrum sincera et selecta, f.

31, &c.

b Idem, Præf. ad acta martyrum, &c. f. 33. Thom. Ittigius, Selectis Histor. Eccl. Capit. Sæc. i. cap. vi. § 11, p. 531.

Euseb. Hist. Eccl. lib. iii. cap. xix. xx.

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