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and live in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the Universe by the name of the crucified Jesus.* Tertullian, who comes about fifty years after Justin, appeals to the governors of the Roman empire in these terms; “We were but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, islands, towns, and boroughs, the camp, the senate, and the forum They (the heathen adversaries of Christianity) lament, that every sex, age, and condition, and persons of every rank also, are converts to that name." I do allow, that these expressions are loose, and may be called declamatory. But even declamation hath its bounds; this public boasting upon a subject which must be known to every reader was not only useless but unnatural, unless the truth of the case, in a considerable degree, correspond with the description ; at least, unless it had been both true and notorious, that great multitudes of Christians, of all ranks and orders, were to be found in most parts of the Roman empire. The same Tertullian, in another passage, by way of setting forth the extensive diffusion of Christianity, enumerates as belonging to Christ, beside many other countries, the “Moors and Gætulians of Africa, the borders of Spain, several nations of France, and parts of Britain, inaccessible to the Romans, the Samaritans, Daci, Germans, and Scythians;"I and, which is more material than the extent of the institution, the number of Christians in the several countries in which it prevailed, is thus expressed by him : “Although so great a multitude that in almost every city we form the greater part,
we pass our time modestly and in silence.”|| Clemens Alexandrinus, who preceded Tertullian by a few years, introduces a comparison between the success of Christianity, and that of the most celebrated philosophical institutions : “ The philosophers were confined to Greece, and to their particular retainers; but the doctrine of the Master of Chris. tianity did not remain in Judea, as philosophy did in Greece, but it spread throughout the whole
* Dial, cum Tryph.
Ad Jud. c. 7.
Tertull. Apol. c. 37. | Ad Scap. c. llI.
world, in every nation, and village, and city, both of Greeks and Barbarians, converting both whole houses and separate individuals, huiving already brought over to the truth not a few of the philosophers themselves. If the Greek philosophy be prohibited, it immediately vanishes; whereas, from ihe first preaching of our doctrine, kings and ty. rants, governors and presidents, with their whole train, and with the populace on their side, have endeavoured with their whole might to exterminate it, yet doth it flourish more and more."* Origen, who follows Tertullian at the distance of only thirty years, delivers nearly the same account: “ In every part of the world, (says he,) throughout all Greece, and in all other nations, there are innumerable and immense multitudes, who, having left the laws of their country, and those whom they esteemed gods, have given themselves up to the law of Moses, and the religion of Christ : 'and this not without the bitterest resentment from the idolaters, by whom they were frequently put to torture, and sometimes to death : and it is wonderful to observe, how, in so short a time, the religion has increased, amidst punishment and death, and every kind of torture.?! In another passage, Origen draws the following candid comparison between the state of Christianity in his time, and the condition of its more primitive ages : “ By the good providence of God, the Christian religion has so fourished and increased continually, that it is now preached freely without molestation, although ihere were a thousand obstacles to the spreading of the doctrine of Jesus in the world. But as it was the will of God that the Gentiles should have the benefit of it, all the counsels of men against the Christians were defeated : and by how much the more emperors and governors of provinces, and the people every where, strove to depress them ; so much the more have they increased, and prevailed exceedingly."#
It is well known, that within less than eighty years after this, the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine : and it is probable that Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians, because they were the powerful party : for Arnobius, who wrote immediately before Constantine's accession, speaks of the whole world as filled with Christ's doctrine, of its diffusion throughout all countries, of an innumerable body of Christians in distant provinces, of the strange revolution of opinion of men of the greatest geniuş, orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, having come over to the institution, and that also in the face of threats, executions, and tortures.* And not more than twenty years after Constantine's entire possession of the empire, Julius Firmicus Maternus calls upon the emperors Constantius and Constans to extirpate the relics of the ancient religion; the reduced and fallen condition of which is described by our author in the following words : “Licet adhuc in quibusdam regionibus idololatriæ morientia palpitent membra; tamen in eo res est, ut a Christianis omnibus terris pestiferum hoc malum funditus amputetur:” and in another place, “ Modicum tantum superest, ut legibus vestrisextincta idololatriæ pereat funesta contagio.”+ It will not be thought that we quote this writer in order to recommend his temper or his judgment, but to show the comparative state of Christianity and of Heathenism at this period. Fifty years afterward, Jerome represents the decline of Paganism in language which conveys the same idea of its approaching extinction : "Solitudinem patitur et in urbe gentilitas. Dii quondam nationum, cum bubonibus et noctuis, in solis culminibus remanserunt.”+ Jerome here indulges a triumph, natural and allowable in a zealous friend of the cause, but which could only be suggested to his mind by the consent and universality with which he saw the religion received. “But now (says he,) the passion and resurrection of Christ are celebrated in the discourses and writings of all nations. I need not
* Clem. Al, Stromn. lib. vi. ad fin. Orig. in Cels. lib. is
Orig. cout. Cels. lib. fi.
Arnob. in Gentes, l. i. p. 27. 9. 24. 42. 44. edit. Lug. Bat. 165). é De Error. Profen. Relig. c. xi p. 172, quoted by Lardner, 1o'. viii. p. 262.
Jer. ad Lect. ep. 5. 7.
mention Jews, Greeks, and Latins. The Indians, Persians, Goths, and Egyptians, philosophize, and -nly believe the immortality of the soul, and fin ture recompenses, which, before, the greatest philosophers had denied, or doubted of, or perplexed with their disputes. The fierceness of 'Thracians and Scythians is now softened by the gentle sound of the Gospel; and every where Christ is all and in all."*
Were therefore the motives of Constantine's conversion ever so problematical, the easy establishment of Christianity, and the ruin of Heathenism, under him and his immediate successors, is of itself a proof of the progress which Christianity had made in the preceding period. It may be added also, “that Maxentius, the rival of Constantine, had shown himself friendly to the Christians. Therefore of those who were contending for worldly power and empire, one actually favoured and flattered them, and another may be suspected to have joined himself to them, partly from consideration of interest : so considerable were they become, under external disadvantages of all sorts.”This at least is certain, that throughout the whole transaction hitherto, the great seemed to follow, not to lead, the public opinion.
It may help to convey to us some notion of the extent and progress of Christianity, or rather of the character and quality of many early Christians, of their learning and their labours, to notice the number of Christian writers who flourished in these ages. Saint Jerome's catalogue contains sixty-six writers within the first three centuries, and the first six years of the fourth; and fifty-four between that time and his own, viz. A. D. 392. Jerome introduces his catalogue with the following just remonstrance :-"Let those who say the church has had no philosophers, nor eloquent and learned men, otserve who and what they were who founded, established, and adorned it: let them cease to accuse ol!r faith of rusticity, and confess their mistake."! Of these writers, several, as Justin, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Bardesanes, * Jer. ep. 8. ad Heliod.
† Lardner, sol, sii. Jer. Prol. in Lib. de Scr. Eccl.
Hippolitus, Eusebius, were voluminous writers. Christian writers abounded particularly about the year 178. Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, a library in that city, A. D. 212. Pampht
he friend of Origen, founded a library at Cesarea, A.v. 294. Public defences were also set forth, by various advocates of the religion, in the course of its first three centuries. Within one hundred years after Christ's ascension, Quadratus and Aristides, whose works, except some few fragments of the first, are lost; and, about twenty years afterward, Justin Martyr, whose works remain, presented apologies for the Christian religion, to the Roman emperors ; Quadratus and Aristides to Adrian, Justin to Antonius Pius, and a second to Marcus Antoninus. Melito, bishop of Sardis, and Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, and Miltiades, men of great reputation, did the same to Marcus Antoninus, twenty years afterward :* and ten years after this, Apollonius, who suffered martyrdom under the emperor Commodus, composed an apology for his faith, which he read in the Senate, and which was afterward published.t Fourteen years after the apology of Apollonius, Tertullian addressed the work which now remains under that name to the governors of provinces in the Roman empire; and, about the same time, Minucius Felix composed a defence of the Christian religion, which is still extant; and, shortly after the conclusion of this century, copious defences of Christianity were published by Arnobius and Lactantius.
SECT. II. Reflections upon the preceding account. In viewing the progress of Christianity, our first attention is due to the number of converts at Jerusalem, immediately after its Founder's death ; beause this success was a success at the time, and
Easeb. Hist. lib. iv. c. 26. See also Lardner, vol. ii. p. 668.
Lardner, vol. ii. p. 687.