Imatges de pÓgina
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Pagan priests, who now saw additional cause of alarm, as Constantius Chlorus, one of the junior emperors, had renounced idolatry, were aided by the indefatigable solicitations of the other Cæsar, Galerius, the son-in-law of Diocletian. The enemies of the true faith prevailed. An edict issued by Diocletian, A.D. 303, commanded all the churches to be demolished: and the Christians to be deprived of their sacred writings, and of all their civil privileges and immunities : and occasioned the death of many individuals, who refused to surrender to the magistrates their religious books. A second edict ordered the imprisonment of all bishops and ministers of the Gospel. A third commanded that the most exquisite tortures should be employed to constrain these captives to lead the way in open apostasy. A fourth, promulgated A.D. 304, enjoined all magistrates to exercise these tortures upon all Christians, without distinction of rank or sex, for the purpose of forcing them to renounce their religion. These edicts, which extended over the whole Roman empire, with the exception of the province of Gaul, over which Constantius Chlorus presided, were executed with such active and unrelenting zeal, that the Christian faith was reduced to the extremity of distress. On the resignation of Diocletian, Galerius was advanced to the vacant dignity : and the sufferings of the Christians in the provinces under his control were augmented. Soon afterwards, to his extreme mortification, the vacancy in the imperial throne occasioned by the death of Constantius in Britain, A.D. 306, was filled by Constantine, son of the deceased emperor,

| Two pillars were at this period erected in Spain, one of them bearing an inscription in honour of Diocletian“ for having adopted Galerius, and for having every where abolished the superstition of Christ;" the other commemorating the same emperor, with two of his persecuting associates, “for having extended the Roman Empire in the East and West; and for having extinguished the name of Christians, who brought the republic to ruin.” A medal also of Diocletian, still extant, was struck with this inscription : Nomine Christianorum deleto. See Milner's History of the Church of Christ, vol. ii. pp. 6, 7,

and afterwards denominated the Great. Between Constantine and Galerius a civil war speedily commenced. At length the latter, weighed down to the grave by a horrid distemper accompanied with inconceivable anguish, commanded by a solemn edict, issued A.D. 311, not many days before his death, the persecution against the Christians to cease. It was prolonged, however, by his successors Maximin and Licinius; and by Maxentius who had made himself master of Italy and Africa. The war continuing, and Maxentius having perished in the Tiber, after a defeat from Constantine, A.D. 312; the victorious emperor immediately published, in conjunction with his colleague Licinius, who now saw the propriety or the necessity of acquiescence, an edict which accorded to the Christians the unmolested enjoyment of their religion. In the following year Maximin, being vanquished in a contest with Licinius, ended his own life by poison. And Licinius himself, who, in the second of the civil wars which afterwards broke out between himself and Constantine, renewed his persecution of the Christians, and tortured and slew many of their bishops; being finally defeated and deposed, A.D. 324, left Constantine sole master of the Roman world.

The protection which this emperor granted to the Christians in the early part of his reign does not appear to have flowed from a decided conviction that their faith had an exclusive title to universal recepHis humanity rendered him adverse to persecution. His sound understanding taught him the policy of cultivating the good-will of his Christian subjects. And he appears to have entertained a favourable, though very indistinct, opinion of the claims of their religion to a divine origin. He regarded, however, the ancient religion of the empire as also true and useful ; and professed an impartial desire that the old and the new faith should be equally exercised and honoured. But he who already had even this very defective knowledge of Christianity, and was also desirous of knowing more, could not permanently continue in a state of indifference and suspense. By degrees the emperor perceived that Christianity was true, and that every other religion must necessarily be false. Conformably to this conviction he earnestly exhorted all his subjects, by edicts issued A.D. 334, to receive and embrace the Gospel; and towards the close of his reign proceeded to exert the force of his authority for the abolition of idolatrous sacrifices, and for the destruction of heathen temples. He died A.D. 337.

During the three centuries which had now elapsed since the death of our Saviour, Christianity, upheld by the promised assistance of its Divine Author, and rising with augmented force from the bloody conflicts of persecution, had overspread almost every part of the known world. From the unquestionable testimony of Irenæus it is manifest, that Christ was worshipped in the second century, and worshipped as one of the

I See Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, translated by Yaclaine, 8vo. 1782, vol. i. p. 321. To the same author I refer the enquirer into the controverted subject of the cross, said to have ap

eared to Constantine.

persons of the Godhead, almost throughout the whole East; and likewise among the Germans, the Spaniards, the Gauls, the Britons, and many other nations; among whom Tertullian specifies the Gætulians and the Moors. In the third century, the true faith prevailed more and more in the countries which it had previously reached : and was communicated to the inhabitants of other regions, among whom a tribe of Arabians converted by the labours of Origen, part of the Goths, who occupied Mæsia and Thrace, and part of the neighbouring tribes of Sarmatia, are particularly mentioned. Among the secondary causes which a latel historian enumerates as having conduced to the rapid progress of Christianity; causes to which it is plainly his intention adroitly to lead his readers to transfer the whole effect, to the exclusion of the first cause, and consequently to the exclusion of the truth of the religion; he specifies one, which undoubtedly existed and was considerably efficacious: the virtues of the early Christians. “ Let your light so shine before men,” said Christ to his disciples, “ that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." 2 “ The good works” of the

1 Mr. Gibbon. Youthful readers ought to be apprised that this historian, while continually labouring to undermine the faith of Christians, occasionally by delusive argument, but more frequently by sneering reflections aimed at the doctrines or the professors of Christianity, adopts an insidious and dishonest custom very general among unbelievers ; namely, that of affecting at proper intervals to use language, which seems to imply their belief in the religion they are endeavouring to subvert. If any persons, after reading the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, should still suppose Mr, Gibbon to have been a believer in Christianity; the perusal of his posthumous works cannot fail to remove the mistake.

2 Matt, v. 16.

early Christians, and the superiority in point of rectitude manifested among the professors of the religion of Christ over surrounding Pagans, were undeniable. “ Neither in Parthia do the Christians, though Parthians, use polygamy: nor in Persia, though Persians, do they marry their own daughters: nor among the Bactri, or Galli, do they violate the sanctity of marriage: nor wherever they are, do they suffer themselves to be overcome by ill-constituted laws and manners.” 1

“ We receive and bury the needy,” says Tertullian : “ we support orphans and decrepit persons, those who have suffered shipwreck, and those who for the word of God are condemned to the mines or to imprisonment. This very charity of ours has caused us to be noticed by some • See,' say they, “ how they love one another.'” Is this testimony sušpicious, because it is that of friends of Christian writers ? Hear, then, the confession of enemies. When Pliny enquired of Trajan, in the letter already cited, concerning the future treatment of the Christians; what account does he give of them to the emperor ? He relates that they were accustomed to assemble on an appointed day to sing an hymn to Christ, as a God: and to bind themselves by oath, that they would not be guilty of theft, nor of robbery, nor of adultery; that they would never falsify their word; nor deny a pledge committed to them, when called upon to return it.” Lucian 2

of the Christians, against whom he directed the studied poignancy of his wit, " that their lawgiver, whom they worship, has taught them that they are all brethren : that they have an extreme contempt for all the things of this world : that the expedition which they use when any

says

1 Bardesanes quoted by Eusebius. ? De Morte Peregrini.

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