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Concerning the Civil and Religious State of the
World at the Birth of Christ.



I. A GREAT part of the world was become sub- CENT. ject to the Roman empire, when Jesus Christ made his appearance upon earth. The remoter nations, which had submitted to the yoke of this The state of mighty empire, were ruled, either by Roman go- the Roman vernors, invested with temporary commissions, or empire. by their own princes and laws, in subordination to the republic, whose sovereignty was to be acknow. ledged, and from which the conquered kings that were continued in their dominions, derived their borrowed majesty. At the same time the Roman people and their venerable senate, though they had


CENT. not lost all shadow of liberty, were yet, in reality, I. reduced to a state of servile submission to Augustus Cæsar, who, by artifice, perfidy, and bloodshed, had proceeded to an enormous degree of power, and united in his own person the pompous titles of emperor, sovereign, pontiff, censor, tribune of the people, 'proconsul; in a word, all the great offices of the state [a].

The incon

which pro

II. The Roman government, considered both veniences, with respect to its form and its laws, was cerceeded from tainly mild and equitable [b]. But the injustice. the corrupt and avarice of the prætors and proconsuls, and tion of its the ambitious lust of consequence and dominion, magistrates, which was the predominant passion of the Roman


The advan tages which

people, together with the rapacious proceedings of the publicans, by whom the taxes of the empire were levied, were the occasions of perpetual tumults and unsupportable grievances. And among the many evils that arose from thence, we justly reckon the formidable armies, that were necessary to support these extortions in the provinces, and the civil wars which frequently broke out between the oppressed nations and their haughty


III. It must, at the same time, be acknowtage which ledged, that this supreme dominion of one people, its extent. or rather of one man over so many kingdoms, was attended with many considerable advantages to mankind in general, and to the propagation and advancement of Christianity in particular. For, by the means of this almost universal empire,

[a] See for this purpose the learned work of Augustine Campianus, entitled, De Officio et Potestate Magistratuum Romanorum et Jurisdictione, lib. i. cap. i. p. 3, 4, &c. Geneva, 1725, in quarto.

[b] See Moyle's Essay on the Constitution of the Roman Government, in the posthumous works of that author, vol. i. p. 1-48. as also Scip. Maffaei Verona illustrata, lib. ï.



many nations, different in their language, and in CENT. their manners, were united more intimately together in social intercourse. Hence a passage was opened to the remotest countries, by the communications which the Romans formed be tween the conquered provinces [c]. Hence also the nations, whose manners were savage and barbarous, were civilized by the laws and commerce of the Romans. And by this, in short, the benign influence of letters and philosophy was spread abroad in countries which had lain before under the darkest ignorance. All this contributed, no doubt, in a singular manner, to facilitate the progress of the gospel, and to crown the labours of its first ministers and heralds with success [d].

empire en

IV. The Roman empire, at the birth of The Roman Christ, was less agitated by wars and tumults, jos peacethan it had been for many years before. For though I cannot assent to the opinion of those, who, following the account of Orosius, maintain, that the temple of Janus was then shut, and that wars and discords absolutely ceased through, out the world [e]; yet it is certain, that the period, in which our Saviour descended upon earth, may be justly styled the Pacific Age, if we compare it with the preceding times. And indeed the tranquillity that then reigned was necessary to enable the ministers of Christ to execute, with success, their sublime commission to the human race,

[c] See, for a further illustration of this matter, Histoire des grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain, par Nicol. Bergier, printed in the year 1728. See also the very learned Everard Otto, De Tutela Viarum Publicarum, Part II. P: 314.

[d] Origen, among others, makes particular mention of this, in the second book of his answer to Celsus, p. 79, of the Cambridge edition.

[e] See Jo. Massoni Templum Jani, Christo nascente, reseratam. Roterodami, 1706.



The state of


V. The want of ancient records renders it impossible to say any thing satisfactory or certain concerning the state of those nations, who did not receive the Roman yoke: nor indeed is their the other history essential to our present purpose. It is sufficient to observe, with respect to them, that those who inhabited the eastern regions were strangers to the sweets of liberty, and groaned under the burden of an oppressive yoke. This, their softness and effeminacy, both in point of manners and bodily constitution, contributed to make them support with an unmanly patience; and even the religion they professed rivetted their chains. On the contrary, the northern nations enjoyed, in their frozen dwellings, the blessings of sacred freedom, which their government, their religion, a robust and vigorous frame of body and spirit, derived from the inclemency and severity of their climate, all united to preserve and maintain [f].

All sunk in superstition;

VI. All these nations lived in the practice of the most abominable superstitions. For though the notion of one Supreme Being was not entirely effaced in the human mind, but showed itself frequently, even through the darkness of the grossest idolatry; yet all nations, except that of the Jews, acknowledged a number of governing powers, whom they called gods; and one or more of which they supposed to preside over each particular province or people. They worshipped these fictitious deities with various rites; they considered them as widely different from each other in sex, and power; in their nature, and also in

[f] Fere itaque imperia (says Seneca) penes eos fuere populos, qui mitiore cœlo utuntur: in frigora septemtrionemque vergentibus immansueta ingenia sunt, ut ait poeta, suoque simillima cœlo. Seneca De Ira, lib. ii. cap. xvi. tom. i. Opp. Edit. Gronovii.



their respective offices, and they appeased them CENT. by a multiplicity of ceremonies and offerings, in order to obtain their protection and favour. So that, however different the degrees of enormity might be, with which this absurd and impious theology appeared in different countries; yet there was no nation, whose sacred rites and whose reli gious worship did not discover a manifest abuse of reason, and very striking marks of extravagance and folly.


VII. Every nation then had its respective gods, but not of over which presided one more excellent than the the same rest; yet in such a manner, that this supreme deity was himself controlled by the rigid empire of the fates, or what the philosophers called eternal necessity. The gods of the East were different from those of the Gauls, the Germans, and the other northern nations. The Grecian divinities differed widely from those of the Egyptians, who deified plants, animals, and a great variety of the productions both of nature and art [g]. Each people also had their own particular manner of worshipping and appeasing their respective deities, entirely different from the sacred rites of other countries. In process of time, however, the Greeks and Romans grew as ambitious in their religious pretensions, as in their political claims. They maintained, that their gods, though under different names, were the objects of religious worship in all nations, and therefore they gave the names of their deities to those of other countries [h]. This pretension, whether supported

[9] See the discourses of Athanasius, entitled, Oratio contra Gentes, in the first volume of his works.

[h] This fact renders a satisfactory account of the vast number of gods who bore the name of Jupiter, and the multitudes that passed under those of Mercury, Venus, Hercules, Juno, &c. The Greeks, when they found, in other countries, deities that resembled their own, persuaded the wor

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