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Titus Antoninus, though there were then no laws against them except the edict of Trajan ; and though there were some laws in their favour, particularly the " Rescript of Adrian to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia, which was also to be a rule to other governors of provinces, and the K Letter of Titus Antoninus to the states of Asia, and other y letters to the Larisseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and all the Greeks.
We may do well to recollect here the history of Apollonius, a Roman senator, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Commodus, in the year of our Lord 186, or 187, or thereabout; of which I gave some account * formerly, but shall now transcribe more distinctly that chapter of Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History: where, after having given an account of the sufferings of christians in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, and then of the works of Irenaeus, and some other christian writers, he says: “At" that time, in the reign of Commodus, there was a happy change in our affairs, and by the divine favour the churches enjoyed peace and tranquillity throughout the whole world. And by the same word of the gospel, many of all ranks were converted to the worship of the God of the universe: so that at Rome itself, many who were eminent for their riches, and for their descent, did with their whole families, and their kindred, embrace the way of salvation. But that was a thing not to be borne by the evil daemon, envious of the happiness of men, and an enemy to all goodness. He therefore arms himself again, and sets his instruments to work against us; and he brings before the judgmentseat Apollonius, one of the faithful, a man celebrated for learning and philosophy. A wicked wretch, one of his ministers, well fitted for such a purpose, is stirred up to accuse him : but that miserable man having brought his accusation unseasonably, when there was an imperial edict" appointing capital punishment for such things, had his legs broke, and was put to death by order of Perennis the judge. And the admirable man," the martyr of whom I am speaking, being desired by the judge to give an account of himself to the senate, complied, and delivered an elegant apology for the faith for which he suffered, before the senate: and then, as by decree of the senate, was condemned to die; there being, as it seems, an ancient law, that if any christian were accused in a court of justice he * P. 94, 95. P. 126, 127. y P. 128. * See Vol. ii. p. 323, 324. * Euseb. H. E. l. v. cap. 21. p. 189. * See before, p. 127. • ‘O 65 ye ŞsoptAssaroc paprug——
‘should be punished, unless he denied himself to be a ‘ christian.” Eusebius then adds, “ that they who are de“sirous to read what Apollonius said before the judge, and ‘ his answers to the interrogatories of Perennis, [praefect of ‘the praetorium, and his whole apology in the senate, they “might see them in the collection which he had made of “ the ancient martyrdoms.” But that is entirely lost, to our great grief: for those Acts of the martyrdom of Apollonius, if they were extant, we may reasonably think, would be instructive as well as entertaining. This shows, that in times called times of ‘peace and tranquillity, for the churches, some might suffer capital punishment as christians. The ancient law to which Eusebius here refers, probably is Trajan's edict concerning the christians, and is so understood by " Walesius. . The edict of Severus against the christians was not published before the year of our Lord 202; but from TertulJian’s apology, published in the year 198, or thereabout, it plainly appears, that the christians had suffered persecution for some while before the publication of that edict. Indeed it appears to have been a day of heavy affliction to the christians, as may be seen in what we have already written in this “ volume. And by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, we are fully assured, that f there was in that city a persecution under the emperor Philip, and that for a whole year the christians in that place underwent a great variety of heavy sufferings, before the publication of the edict of Decius. And my readers will here recollect the remarkable history of Marinus before related in this volume,” who suffered martyrdom at Caesarea, after that Valerian's persecuting edict had been revoked by his son Gallienus. These things are sufficient to assure us, that the christians in this period were generally in suffering circumstances, and were always liable to suffer. Nevertheless, after all, it is not to be supposed, that persecution was always violent and uninterrupted; there might be some abatements of those troubles, and some seasons of rest and peace; what they were, may be collected from what we have seen in this and the preceding volume; and I shall here reckon them up in a summary manner. We reckon, that Nerva was favourable to them, who, when he repealed the other acts of Domitian, repealed also his law against the christians. His successor Trajan published an edict against the christians, which, as has been often hinted already, never was abrogated, but continued in force as long as heathenism subsisted in the Roman empire. Nevertheless we can perceive, that in the reigns of Adrian and Titus Antoninus, there were some edicts, or rescripts, which were favourable to them; though during those very reigns many christians still suffered in almost every part of the empire. They also received some favour and indulgence from Alexander Severus and Philip. They might also enjoy peace and tranquillity in the reigns of Commodus and Caracalla, who did not much concern themselves about the affairs of religion. The first years of Valerian, and the reign of Gallienus, after Valerian's captivity, were favourable to them ; as likewise the former part of the reign of Dioclesian, when the" Roman empire was disturbed by enemies on every side. In such seasons as these, it is reasonable to believe that the christians would exert themselves, and considerable accessions of new converts might be made to them. So it is said, Acts ix. 31, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria:” occasioned by the consternation into which the Jewish people were thrown by Caligula's order to have his statue set up in the temple at Jerusalem: “ and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” When therefore I say, that all this while ‘ christianity ‘ was in a state of persecution;’ I am willing that proposition should be understood in a mild and qualified sense: We now proceed. 2. “Nevertheless it prevailed.” Of this we have seen good evidence in heathen as well as in christian writers; which must be reckoned" very wonderful, admitting all the softenings and qualifications in
* Legem igitur, seu rescriptum Trajani ad Plinium secundum intelligo, in quo cavetur, christianos quidem inquirendos non esse, oblatos vero puniri oportere. Wales. in loc.
* See p. 314, 315. f P. 357. & P. 370, 371.
* Ita cum per omnem orbem terrarum res turbatae essent, et Carausius in Britanniis rebellaret, Achilleus in AEgypto, Africam Quinquegentiami infestarent, Narseus Orienti bellum inferret; Diocletianus Maximianum Herculium ex Caesare fecit Augustum, Constantium et Maximinum Caesares, &c. Eutrop. l. ix. cap. 22. Conf. Victor. de Caesar. et Epitome. c. 39.
Igitur per omnes Romani Imperii fines subitarum turbationum fragores concrepuerunt. Carausio rebellante in Brittanniä, Achilleo in ABgypto, cum et Africam Quinquegentiani infestarent, Narseus etiam rex Persarum Orientem bello premeret. Hoc periculo Diocletianus permotus, Maximianum Herculeum ex Caesare fecit Augustum, &c. Oros. l. vii. c. 25.
i See Vol. i. p. 101–104. * Hoc temporum fractu, mirum est, quantum invaluerit religio christiana. Sulp. Sever. l. ii, cap. 33. al. 49.
the fore-mentioned proposition, that can be asked or desired. From small beginnings it had mightily prevailed and increased in a short time : and christians were very numerous, in every part of the empire, before the conversion of Constantine. Though they never had the princes of this world on their side, and from their first original they had endured a variety of difficulties, and several open persecutions, and now were under a severe persecution, which had raged with great violence for several years in most parts of the empire; some have imagined it a suspicion not altogether without foundation, that a great prince may have joined himself to them from considerations of" interest. . At least he perceived that he might do it, without dreading any bad consequences from the gentile people in the einpire. Nor were they considerable only for their numbers: they were also respectable for their quality. There now were among them, and always had been, men eminent for their skill in every part of literature, who wrote some in the Greek, others in the Roman language, and with uncommon purity and elegance: as appears from their works still remaining. 3, and lastly. “This is honourable to the religion of Jesus, and to the professors of it at that time.” The contention was between God and idols: and the cause of God prevailed. Many in every part of the empire “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven, even Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come,” I Thess. i. 9, 10. ‘'The design of whose coming is to bring men to repent‘ance, and reclaim them from idolatry, and all other evil ‘practices, and thereby to deliver, his faithful followers ‘ from the future misery, which will be the portion of all ‘wicked and impenitent men, and to bestow upon them “everlasting happiness and salvation.’
I Now were fulfilled those prophetic parables of the first founder of this religion: Matt. xiii. 31–33, “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and hid in his field : which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them : The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. Compare Mark iv. 30–32; Luke xiii. 18–21.
* Avant que trois siècles se soient écoulées depuis la mort de J. C. le parti des chrétiensest déjà si fort, qu'un empereur l'embrasse sans craindre celui des payens. Il semble même, que, loin d'affoiblin par lä sa puissance, il l'augmenta et la fortifia par ce moien. Sermons de S. Werenfels. p. 27. 1723.
That passage is quoted, Vol. iv. p. 27, where are other like observations.
Many there were at that time who were inquisitive, and open to conviction, they therefore seriously attended to what was proposed to them, and impartially weighed the evidences of what was said. They forsook the error of their past way of worship; they embraced, and professed the christian doctrine, notwithstanding many difficulties and discouragements, and then recommended it to others. Our blessed Lord, in one of his beautiful parables, has expressed himself after this manner: “ The kingdom of heaven,” the state of things under the gospel dispensation, “ is like unto a certain king, who made a marriage for his son ; and he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding, and they would not come. Again he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready : come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandize: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully and slew them,” Matt. xxii. 1–6. This parable may have been primarily intended to represent the conduct of the Jewish people in the time of our Saviour, and his apostles; but it is a just description of the temper and conduct of gentiles also, and of all men in general. The things of this world are preferred to those of another, and secular affairs are more minded than the things of religion. Few only are engaged in the search of truth: religious truth is the least regarded, and the most opposed of any. This truth may be hard to be found; when it is discerned, and obtained by impartial inquiries and serious meditation, it may be dangerous to own and profess it. The blessed Jesus therefore, our divine Master, says again, Matt. xiii. 44–46, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field : the which when a man has found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” In the first ages of christianity truth bore a high price; nevertheless there were those who bought it, and would not part with it upon any consideration whatever. Prov, xxiii. 23. Nor was this distraction or obstinacy, as through mistake it is called by the propraetor" Pliny, and the emperor • Marcus Antoninus. It was a just and reasonable resolu" See before, p. 23. o P. 135.