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BELUCTANCE 01 TUE ROMANS [CH. XTI,
both the law and the prophets as the genuine inspirations of the Deity. The Gentile converts, who by a spiritual adoption had been associated to the hope of Israel, were likewise confounded under the garb and appearance of the Jews,* and as the Polytheists paid less regard to articles of faith than to the external worship, the new sect, which carefully concealed, or faintly announced, its future greatness and ambition, was permitted to shelter itself under the general toleration which was granted to an ancient and celebrated people in the Bonuin empire. It was not long, perhaps, before the Jews themselves, animated with a fiercer zeal and a more jealous faith, perceived the gradual separation of their Nazarene brethren from the doctrine of the synagogue; and they would gladly have extinguished the dangerous heresy in the blood of its adherents. But the decrees of heaven had already disarmed their malice; and though they might sometimes exert the licentious privilege of sedition, they no longer possessed the administration of t criminal justice; nor did they find it easy to infuse into the calm breast of a Eoman magistrate the rancour of their own zeal and prejudice. The provincial governors declared themselves ready to listen to any accusation that might affect the public safety; but as soon as they were informed that it was a question not of facts but of words, a dispute relating only to the interpretation of the Jewish laws and prophecies, they deemed it unworthy of the majesty of Borne seriously to discuss the obscure differences which might arise among a barbarous and superstitious people. The innocence of the first Christians was protected by ignorance and contempt; and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate often proved their most assured refuge against the fury of the synagogue.t If, indeed, wre were disposed to adopt the traditions of a too credulous antiquity, wo might [relate the distant peregrination, the wonderful achievements, and the various deaths, of the twelve apostles; but a more accurate inquiry will induce us to doubt, whether any of those persons who had been witnesses to the miracles of Christ were permitted, beyond the limits ot Palestine, to seal with their blood the truth of their testi
* Ad obscure passage of Suetonius (in Claud, c 25) may teem to offer a proof how strangely the Jews and Christians of Rome were confounded with each other. f See in the eighteenth and twenty-fifth
mony.* From the ordinary term of human life, it may yery naturally be presumed that most of them were deceased before the discontent of the Jews broke out into that furious war, which was terminated only by the ruin of Jerusalem. During a long period, from the death of Christ to that memorable rebellion, we cannot discover any traces of Soman intolerance, unless they are to be found in the sudden, the transient, but the cruel, persecution which was exercised by Nero against the Christians of the capital, thirty-five years after the former, and only two years before the latter, of those great events. The character of the philosophic historian, to whom we are principally indebted lor the knowledge of this singular transaction, would alone be sufficient to recommend it to our most attentive consideration^
In the tenth year of the reign of Nero, the capital of the empire was afflicted by a fire which raged beyond the memory
chapters of the Acts of the Apostles the behaviour of Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, and of Festus, procurator of Judea, * In the time of TertuUian and Clemens of Alexandria, the glory of martyrdom was confined to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James. It was gradually bertowed on the rest of the A]x>stlea by the more recent Greeks, who prudently selected for the theatre of their preaching and sufferings «ome remote country beyond the limits of the Roman empire. See Monheirn, p. 81, and Tillemont, Me'moires Ecclesiastiques, torn, i, part. 3. + Gibbon has not considered here how the incomes of the priests, and of all who depended upon, or were in any way employed by them, which had never before been affected, were sensibly diminished by the increasing influence of the new faith. Pliuy, in his letter to Trajan, says, that "the temples were almost deserted, and the lacred victims scarcely found any purchasers." This is the only offence, of which he, their magistrate and judge, could find the Christians guilty; and Trajan, iu hia answer, requires only that they •bould prove their innocence by offering sacrifice, "supplicando diis nostria." The stream of sacred revenue had thus been cut off; aud in ■uch a case, no religion, having the power, has ever yet failed to have recourse to persecution. Members of all the leading families in Rome had employments in the temples, and all were interested in maintaining the perquisites of office. Artists, tradesmen, cultivators of the •oil, all derived pecuniary advantage from what they furnished for the celebration of religious rites. These could easily insinuate into the mind of such a sovereign as Nero, that a sect which treated with contempt his title of Poatifex Maximut, could have no more respect for that of Imperatcrr, and thus make them objects of resentment and suspicion. Calumny is always one of the weapons of persecution, a plea lot uiiing sb-rpor, when they can be wielded, and a substitute for them «bea the- are taken away. Tacitus and Suetonius, who had evi 102
THE CONFLAGBATION OF HOME. [CH. XYI.
or example of former ages.* The monuments of Grecian art and of Soman virtue, the trophies of the Punic and Gallic wars, the most holy temples, and the most splendid palaces, were involved in one common destruction. Of the fourteen regions or quarters into which Home was divided, four only subsisted entire, three were levelled with the ground, and the remaining seven, which had experienced the fury of the flames, displayed a melancholy prospect of ruin and desolation. The vigilance of government appears not to have neglected any of the precautions which might alleviate the sense of so dreadful a calamity. The imperial gardens were thrown open to the distressed multitude, temporary buildings were erected for their accommodation, and a plentiful supply of corn and provisions was distributed at a very moderate price.f The most generous policy seemed to have dictated the edicts which regulated the disposition of the streets and the construction of private houses; and as it usually happens, in an age of prosperity, the conflagration of Rome, in the course of a few years, produced a new city, more regular and more beautiful than the former. But all the prudence and humanity affected by Nero on this occasion were insufficient to preserve him from the popular suspicion. Every crime might be imputed to the assassin of his wife and mother; nor could the prince, who prostituted his person and dignity on the theatre, be deemed incapable of the most extravagant folly. The voice of rumour accused the emperor as the incendiary of his own capital; and as the most incredible stories are the best adapted to the genius of an enraged people, it was gravely reported, and firmly believed, that Nero, enjoying the calamity which he had occasioned, amused himself with singing to his lyre the destruction of ancient Troy .J To divert a suspicion which the power of despotism was unable
dently neither inquired nor ascertained the truth, and only wrote from public report, say no more against the Christians of their time, than even now quarrelling sects will say of each other, or apprehensive hierarchies fulminate against envious rivals.—Ed. * Tacit. AnnaL 15, 38—44. Sueton. in Neron. c. 3S. 1 iou Cassius, lib. 62, p. 1014. Orosius, 7, 7. t The price of wheat (probably of the modivt) ni reduced as low as (erni vummi, which would be equivalent to about fifteen shillings the English quarter. J We may observe, that tils rumour is mentioned by Tacitus with a very becoming distrunt aud hesitation, wlulxt it u greedily transcribed by Suetuuius, and solemnly
to suppress, the emperor resolved to substitute in his own place some fictitious criminals.
"With this view," continues Tacitus, "he inflicted the most exquisite tortures on those men, who, under the vulgar appellation of Christians, were already branded with deserved infamy. They derived their name and orig> a from Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death, by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.* For awhile this dire superstition was checked; but it again burst forth.f and not only spread itself over Judea, the first seat of this mischievous sect, but was even introduced into Rome, the common asylum which receives and protects whatever is impure, whatever is atrocious. The confessions of those who were seized discovered a great multitude of their accomplices, and they were all convicted, not so much for the crime of setting fire to the city, as for their hatred of human kind. J They died in torments, and their torment*
confirmed by I> [According to Tacitus, Nero was at Autium when the fire began.—En.] * This testimony is alone sufficient to expose the anachronism of the Jews, who place the birth of Christ near a century sooner. (Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, lib. 5. c. 14, 15.) We may learn from Josephus (Antiquitat 18, 3) that the procuratorship of Pilate corresponded with the last ten years of Tiberius, A.d. 27—37. As to the prticulaar time of the death of Christ, a very early tradition fixed it to the 25th of March, A.d. 29, under the consulship of the two Gemini. (Tertullian adv. Judseos, c. 8.) This date, which is adopted by Pagi, Cardinal Xorris, and Le Clerc, seems at least as probable tt the vulgar era, which is placed (I know not from what conjectures) four years later. [The chronicle of Eusebius (anuo 2048) is the authority for the date of &.D. 33. See the discussions of this question by Clinton (F. R. i, p. 12—18), who agrees with Tertullian; and by TurnbuU, in the Transactions of the Chronological Institute (part i, p. 15—21), who adopts the later or vulgar era.—Ed.]
+ This single sentence: "Repressa in prsesens, exitiabilis superatitio rursus erumpebat," proves that the Christians had already attracted the notice of the ruling powers, and that Nero was not the first to persecute them. I am surprised that no one has ever shewn hew the Acts of the Apostles are confirmed by these words of Tacitus. —Quizot. [M. Guizot should have pointed out the portions of the Scripture narrative which he considers to be thus corroborated. Instances of judicial proceedings, not very harsh, against individuals, are there recorded; and of the fury of multitudes, stirred up by opposing Jews; but nowhere do we fiud Christianity "repressed" by any general course of magisterial rigor, and coming forth again from beasjath the pressure. Opposition always appears there to be ineffectual, atrd progress constant. The " repressa" of Tacitus is much more corr»ctJv explained by Dean Milman, who refers it to " the expected extir
.' - . 1 ■ ■ I 4 V. J . i e Ll.. i _-].._'» p1 ■*- / 1-7.'.
were imbittered by insult and derieiou. Some were nailed on crosses; others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, w hich was accompanied with a horse race, and honoured with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer. The guilt of the Christians desc rved indeed the most exemplary punishment; but the public abhorrence was changed into commiseration, from the opinion that those unhappy wretches were sacrificed not so much to the public weli'are, as to the cruelty of a jealous tyrant."* Those who survey with a curious eye the revolulutions of mankind may observe, that the gardens and circus of Nero on the Vatican, which were polluted with the blood of the first Christians, have been rendered still more famous bv the triumph and by the abuse of the persecuted religion. C*n the same spot,t a temple, which far surpasses the ancient glories of the Capitol, has been since erected by the Christian pontiffs; who, deriving their claim of universal dominion from a humble fisherman of Galilee, have succeeded to the throne of the Caesars, given laws to the barbarian conquerors of Home, and extended their spiritual jurisdiction from the coast of the Baltic to the shores of the Pacific ocean.
But it would be improper to dismiss this account of Nero's persecution, till we have made some observations, that may serve to remove the difficulties with which it is perplexed, and to throw some light on the subsequent history of the church.
1. The most sceptical criticism is obliged to respect the
hnmani generic conricti. These words may either signify the hatred of mankind towards the Christians, or the hatred of the Christian* towards mankind. I have preferred the latter sense, as the most agreeable to the Btyle of TacituB, and to the popular error, of which a precept of the gospel (see Luke xiv, 26) hn<i been, perhaps, the innocent occasion. My interpretation is justified by the authority of Lipaias; of the Italian, the French, and the English translators of Tacitus; of Hosheim (p. 102); of Le Clerc (Historia Ecclesiast. p. 427); of Dr. Lardner (Testimonies, vol. i, p. 845), and of the Bishop of Gloucester (Divina Legation, vol. iii, p. 38). But as the word conricti does not unite very happily with the rest of the sentence, James Gronovius has preferred the reading of covjuncli, which is authorized by the valuable MS. of Florenoa, * Tacit. Annai. 15, 44. + Nardiui, Homa Aiitioa.