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* charist. They were entirely distinct and independent * things. This may be farther confirmed by observing that • Justin Martyr, in his account of the public worship of the
church, and particularly of the eucharist, does not say one ' word of the agapæ, or love-feasts, as tacked to it, either 6 before or after.
Others represent this in a different manner: “ As the worship of the christians in Bithynia was for some reasons performed early in the morning, they were obliged to have • their love-feast separate; though, at other seasons, when
they had more liberty, this and their solemn worship were * joined together, both by them and by other christians. • The morning was not a time for a meal. This therefore they deferred till noon, or after.' So Mr. Mosheim.
The accounts which Pliny had received of this meal, represented it as harmless, and free from disorder. And it may be reasonably supposed to have been very frugal, and without delicacies, as Tertullian says, and Plinyy seems to intimate.
However, this meal or feast, as Pliny was assured, the christians in Bithynia bad forborne and discontinued, since he published the emperor's order, forbidding fellowships or assemblies. Mr. Dodwell thought that? Trajan's order did not include a prohibition of their meetings for religious worship. But Tillemonta does not assent to this. Whether that opinion be right or not, the christians continued to meet early in the morning for religious worship, to enforce and secure the great design of their institution, but omitted the other assembly.
And, as seems to me, we have here a remarkable instance of that sincere regard which the primitive christians had for
» Hoc igitur [stato] die binos conventus agebant Bithynienses Christiani; alterum ante lucem, Dei colendi, firmandæque pietatis causå : alterum sole lucente, meridiano sine dubio tempore, communis cibi capiendi causâ. Non divellebant hac ratione officia, quæ Deo debebantur, reliqui Christiani; verum uno omnia conventu, quæ cultûs publici lex imperabat, nullo intervallo, peragebant. Bithyniensibus vero cur in duo tempore divisos actûs cultum divinum distribuerent, hæc erat magni momenti ratio. Propter hostium insidias in die ad cultum publicum congregari non poterant, sed ante lucem convenire debebant. Id vero antelucanum tempus cibo capiendo haud commodum erat. Quare differandum erat convivium amoris in illud diei tempus, quo corpora reliqui cives reficere solebant. Mosh. de Reb. Christ. ante C. M. * See before note “, p. 42.
y Promiscuus cibus opponitur hic, ut arbitrer, exquisito et delicato. Moshem. ib. p. 151.
z Sed et 'illud Agapas duntaxat spectavit, non item synaxes ecclesiasticas, quæ quidem Eucharistiæ percipiendæ gratiâ celebrarentur, &c. Diss. Cypr. xi. sect. 25.
a Persecution de l'Eglise sous Trajan. art. v.
the commands of civil magistrates in all things, within the compass of their authority. These love-feasts were of early original, and had been long in use. Nevertheless, they were not considered as a divine command, or an institution of theb gospel. When therefore Pliny published his edict, forbidding assemblies, they omitted them, whilst they continued their other meeting ; forasmuch as the great design of these, the providing for the poor and destitute, might be secured some other way, by private contributions and benefactions.
We may form an idea of the assemblies prohibited in Pliny's edict, by observing another letter of his to Trajan. Therec had been a dreadful fire in Nicomedia, the chief city of Bithynia, whilst Pliny was absent in some distant part of the province. By that fire had been consumed many private houses and two public buildings. Of this Pliny informs the emperor, and makes a proposal to this effect: * You will consider, Sir, whether it may not be advisable 'to institute a college of smiths,' or a company of firemen, ' consisting only of one hundred and fifty.' And he tells Trajan that as this college will consist of so small a num·ber, it will be easy enough to keep them under a proper regulation.'
Nevertheless the emperor did not approve of that proposal; and says, in his answer to Pliny : . Whatever name e • we give them, and for whatever purposes they may be
founded, they will not fail to form themselves into assem• blies, however short their meetings may be.' This is sufficient to show how jealous Trajan was of such societies. I shall refer to two other f letters which have some affinity with these.
By Philo & we are assured that · Flaccus, president of Egypt, near the end of the reign of Tiberius, prohibited * their starptas, fellowships, or assemblies at Alexandria; • which they held under a pretence of religion indeed, but • made use of for drunkenness and other excesses.' How
o Says Mr. Hallett, as before, p. 255. 'I cannot find that the christians · looked upon their love-feasts as religious or divine institutions, like the • Lord's supper. If they had, their councils would no more have banished • them out of the churches, than the Lord's supper itself.'
c Quum diversam partem provinciæ circumirem, Nicomediæ vastissimum incendium, multas privatorum domos, et duo publica opera—absumsit. l. x.
d Tu, Domine, dispice, an instituendum putes collegium fabrorum, duntaxat hominum CL--Non erit difficile custodire tam paucos. Ibid.
Quodcumque nomen, ex quâcunque causâ dederimus iis qui in idem contracti fuerint, hetæriæ quamvis breves fient. Ep. 43. "L. X. ep. 117, 118.
8 Phil. in Flac. p. 965.
ever, such were not the love-feasts of the christians, as we are well assured, but sober and harmless meals.
* After receiving this account, I judged it the more ne* cessary to examine, and that by torture, two maid-servants, 6 which were called ministers. But I have discovered * nothing beside a bad and excessive superstition.'
We may be apt to think that Pliny might have been satisfied with the accounts received from deserters or apostates, who were several in number, who had ceased to be christians, some many years ago, others more lately, at different times; who had all given a clear and an agreeing testimony to the innocence of the Christian worship, and the sobriety of their manners. Nevertheless he is still dissatisfied, and now proceeds to an examination by torture. Surely this governor's moderation is not here very conspicuous ! However he gets into his hands two of the weaker sex, hoping, I presume, that if the christians had among them any
secrets still concealed from him, he should now find them out. One or other of these women must needs give way, and open all, when put to the question.
* Two maid-servants.' Some think that these were chosen because they were slaves. But I suppose, that others, beside slaves, might be legally put to the torture, though Roman citizens might not. I cannot easily believe that deaconesses in christian churches were slaves. Nor do I think it very likely thath they should be domestic or hired ser
We e now all know what is meant by a deaconess in christian writings. But I suspect that Pliny was misled by the ambiguity of the Greek word dakovos, which i is sometimes used for slaves, or such as performed the lowest services, usually appropriated to slaves. I say, I am apt to think that Pliny was not suficiently aware of the different meanings of the word, diakovos, deacon,' in common use, and in the ecclesiastical sense. Rom. xvi. 1, “ I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church which is in Cenchrea.” Ουσαν διακονον της εκκλησιας ons ev Keyxpears. She was a servant of that church: but it does not follow that she was either a slave or a hired servant, to any one member of it.
A thought offers itself here which will aggravate the se
h Ancillas vocat Plinius. Sed vix crediderim Diaconissas servili conditione fuisse, in tanto apud Bithynos Christianorum numero. Cleric. H. E. p. 551. not. 15.
-Και διακονοι ωραιοι,-την εσθητα, και τραπεζας, και εκπωματα, και diakoves, k. A. Lucian. Gall. p. 168. Tom. 2, ed. Græv. Et sic passim apud Græcos auctores.
verity of this torture; for very probably these women were in years ; such only being qualified for the office of dea
see 1 Tim. v. 9. However, Pliny made no scruple to try the torture upon them. For their office and their age would lead him to think that they were thoroughly acquainted with what passed among the christians, in their assemblies, and in their own houses. Lord Orrery, in his Notes upon Pliny's Epistles, Vol. 2. p. 430, says : ' Age ' might have pleaded in defence of these unhappy ancille. • But no circumstance was sufficiently strong to stem the • torrent of religion.'
Well. Pliny put to the question, and examined these two women, deaconesses among the christians in Bithynia. But all he could discover was no more than a bad and
excessive superstition.'. By • bad, pravam,' meaning, I think, absurd, wrong, different from the commonly received religion. And he calls it • excessive, immodicam, because they who embraced it were fond and tenacious of it, and would rather die than deny and forsake it. And many of them were active in propagating it and recommending it to others.
By • bad,' he could mean nothing more than wrong and absurd, and contrary to the prevailing religion. If Pliny in these examinations had discovered any thing vicious, any lewdness, any cruelty, practised in their worship; any seditious principles, any attempts or designs to subvert the government of the province, or the state of the Roman empire; he must have given hints of it—he must have inentioned it distinctly. His regard for the welfare of Roman people, his respect for the emperor, which is well known to have been very great, would have prevented all concealment, and would have obliged and induced him to be very explicit and particular. We may hence therefore absolutely conclude, that the christians held no principles, and were guilty of no practices, that could justly expose them to punishment from civil magistrates. Their only offence was their religion, and that was innocent in all respects; though different from the idolatrous worship of the nations.
Suspending therefore all judicial proceedings, I have recourse to you
for advice. For it has appeared to me a matter highly deserving consideration, especially upon account of the great number of persons who are in dan'ger of suffering : for many of all ages, of every rank, of • both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be accused. • Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country.'
Thus does k Pliny bear witness to the great number of converts to christianity in Pontus and Bithynia, over which he presided. The words of Tertullian, who wrote some while afterwards, representing the great increase of christianity and the multitude of its professors of all ranks and orders of men, are very strong and emphatical. And yet Pliny does in a manner confirm the whole of what he says.
• Nevertheless, it seems to me that it may be restrained 6 and corrected. It is certain that the temples, which were • almost forsaken, begin to be more frequented; and the * sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are revived. • Victims likewise are every where bought up, whereas for
some time there were few purchasers. Whence it is easy to imagine what numbers of men might be reclaimed if pardon were granted to those who shall repent.'
From what Pliny says of the desolation of the temples, and the neglect of the sacred solemnities, and the few purchasers of victims, which there had been for some while, it has been argued, that this m persecution was begun and . fomented by the priests and their adherents, and such * others as had a dependence on the sacred solennities. Which
be true in this as well as some other persecutions.
And I am willing to allow that Pliny here adopts the language of those people who brought these complaints, and who magnified the danger of the downfall of their religion. However, we are hereby assured that the progress, which the christian religion had made in Pontus and Bithynia, was very considerable.
Learned men, I say, observe that this persecution was begun and fomented by the priests; to whom, as I sup
k Hinc liquet, in Bithyniâ ingentem Christianorum jam iis temporibus numerum fuisse ; ac proinde per Asiam longe lateque religionem christianam, invitis Ethnicis et Judæis, solà suâ præstantiâ, propagatam fuisse. Cleric. A. cxi. p. xii. i Obsessam vociferantur civitatem. In agris, in castellis, in insulis, christia
Omnem sexum, ætatem, conditionem, et jam dignitatem transgredi ad hoc nomen quasi detrimento merent. Ap. cap. i.
Hesterni sumus, et vestra omnia complevimus, urbes, insulas, castella, municipia-Sola vobis relinquimus templa. Ib. c. 37. Conf. c. v. et ad Nat. 1. i. c. 1. et alibi.
m Hos vero delatores christianorum sacerdotes fuisse, manifestum esse reor ex his Plinii verbis--Causam hic moti ergo christianos belli clarissime proconsul indicat: “ Templa in Bithyniâ desolata erant, sacra solemnia intermissa,' victimæ raro offerebantur. Hæc vero cuncta nullos tangebant, nisi sacerdotes, sacrorumque antistites, quorum interreat unice, ut templa frequentarentur, et victimæ cæderentur. Questi ergo hi sine dubio apud Plinium erant, religiones deorum in summo discrimine versari; atque populum fortassis etiam incitaverant, ut clamoribus supplicia christianorum posceret. Moshem. ut supr. p. 232, notis.