Abbildungen der Seite

the city was the pretence of the punishment of the Christians, or that they were the Christians of Rome who alone suffered, it is probable that Suetonius refers to some more general persecution than the short and occasional one which Tacitus describes.

Juvenal, a writer of the same age with the two former, and intending, it should seem, to commemorate the cruelties exercised under Nero's government, has the following lines;

“Pone Tigellinum, tædâ lucebis in illâ,
Quâ stantes ardent, qui fixo gutture fumant,

Et latum mediâ sulcum deducit“ arenâ." “ Describe Tigellinus (a creature of Nero), and you shall suffer the same punishment with those who stand burning in their own flame and smoke, their head being held up by a stake fixed to their chin, till they make a long stream of blood and melted sulphur on the ground.”

If this passage were considered by itself, the subject of allusion might be doubtful; but, when connected with the testimony of Suetonius as to the actual punishment of the Christians by Nero, and with the account given by Tacitus of the species of punishment which they were made to undergo, I think it sufficiently probable that these were the executions to which the poet refers.

These things, as has already been observed, took place within thirty-one years after Christ's death, that is, according to the course of nature, in the lifetime, probably, of some of the apostles, and certainly in the lifetime of those who were converted by the apostles, or who were converted in their time. If then the Founder of the religion was put to death in the execu3 Sat, i. ver. 155.

Forsan “ deducis."


tion of his design; if the first race of converts to the religion, many of them, suffered the greatest extremities for their profession; it is hardly credible that those who came between the two, who were companions of the Author of the institution during his life, and the teachers and propagators of the institution after his death, could go about their undertaking with ease and safety.

The testimony of the younger Pliny belongs to a later period; for although he was contemporary with Tacitus and Suetonius, yet his account does not, like theirs, go back to the transactions of Nero's reign, but is confined to the affairs of his own time. His celebrated letter to Trajan was written about seventy years after Christ's death; and the information to be drawn from it, so far as it is connected with our argument, relates principally to two points: first, to the number of Christians in Bithynia and Pontus, which was so considerable as to induce the governor of these provinces to speak of them in the following terms: “Multi, omnis ætatis, utriusque sexûs etiam;--nequi enim civitates tantùm, sed vicos etiam et agros, superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est,

“ There are many of every age and of both sexes; nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but smaller towns also, and the open country.” Great exertions must have been used by the preachers of Christianity to produce this state of things within this time. Secondly, to a point which has been already noticed, and which I think of importance to be observed, namely, the sufferings to which Christians were exposed, without any publie persecution being denounced against them by sovereign authority, For, from Pliny's doubt how he was to act, his silenţe concerning any subsisting law

on the subject, his requesting the emperor's rescript, and the emperor, agreeably to his request, propounding a rule for his direction, without reference to any prior rule, it may be inferred that there was, at that time, no public edict in force against the Christians. Yet from this same epistle of Pliny it appears, “ that accusations, trials, and examinations were, and had been, going on against them in the provinces over which he presided: that schedules were delivered by anonymous informers containing the names of persons who were suspected of holding or of favouring the religion; that in consequence of these informations many had been apprehended, of whom some boldly avowed their profession, and died in the cause; others denied that they were Christians; others acknowledging that they had once been Christians, declared that they had long ceased to be such.” All which demonstrates that the profession of Christianity was at that time (in that country at least) attended with fear and danger; and yet this took place without any edict from the Roman sovereign, commanding or authorizing the persecution of Christians. This observation is further confirmed by a rescript of Adrian to Minucius Fundanus, the proconsul of Asia”: from which rescript it appears that the custom of the people of Asia was to proceed against the Christians with tumult and uproar. This disorderly practice, I say, is recognised in the edict, because the emperor enjoins that, for the future, if the Christians were guilty, they should be legally brought to trial, and not be pursued by importunity and clamour. Martial wrote a few

years before the

younger Pliny; and, as his manner was, made the sufferings of the

s Lard. Heath. Test. vol. ii. p. 110.

Christians the subject of his ridicule. Nothing, however, could show the notoriety of the fact with more certainty than this does. Martial's testimony, as well indeed as Pliny's, goes also to another point, viz. that the deaths of these men were martyrdoms in the strictest sense; that is to say, were so voluntary, that it was in their power, at the time of pronouncing the sentence, to have averted the execution, by consenting to join in heathen sacrifices.

The constancy, and by consequence the sufferings of the Christians of this period, is also referred to by Epictetus, who imputes their intrepidity to madness, or to a kind of fashion or habit; and about fifty years afterwards, by Marcus Aurelius, who ascribes it to obstinacy. “ Is it possible (Epictetus asks) that a man may arrive at this temper, and become indifferent to those things, from madness or from habit as the Galileans??“Let this preparation of the mind (to die) arise from its own judgment, and not from obstinacy like the Christians &.'

6 In matutinâ nuper spectatus arena

Mucius, imposuit qui sua membra focis,
Si patiens fortisque tibi durusque videtur,

Abderitanæ pectora plebis habes;
Nam cum dicatur, tunicâ præsente molestâ,

Ure* manum: plus est dicere, Non facio. ? Epict. 1. iv. c. 7.

8 Marc. Aur. Méd. l. xi. c. 3.

* Forsan" thure manum."

CHAP. III. There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing

to be original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts: and that they also submitted, from the same motives, to new

rules of conduct. Of the primitive condition of Christianity, a distant only and general view can be acquired from heathen writers. It is in our own books that the detail and interior of the transaction must be sought for. And this is nothing different from what might be expected. Who would write a history of Christianity but å Christian? Who was likely to record the travels, sufferings, labours, or successes of the apostles, but one of their own number, or of their followers? Now these books come up in their accounts to the full extent of the proposition which we maintain. We have four histories of Jesus Christ. We have a history taking up the narrative from his death, and carrying on an account of the propagation of the religion, and of some of the most eminent persons engaged in it, for a space of nearly thirty years. We have, what some may think still more original, a collection of letters written by certain principal agents in the business, upon the business, and in the midst of their concern and connexion with it. And we have these writings severally attesting the point which we contend for, viz. the sufferings of the witnesses of the history, and attesting it in every variety of form in which it can be

« ZurückWeiter »