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A review of the foregoing period, from the beginning of the
third century to the conversion of Constantine : with some general observations upon the state of christianity under heathen emperors.
1. I HAVE now given an account of the heathen writers of the third century, who have taken notice of the christians : and I have made large extracts out of them, and transcribed many passages at length. It may be worth the while to recollect here what we have met with.
In Dion Cassius's noble work, The History of the Romans, published about the year 230, we have seen a another testimony to that important event, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of the Jewish people in Judea by Vespasian and Titus. In bim also we have seen b another testimony to Domitian's persecution of the christians. From him also we learn Nerva's favourable regard to them.
In Amelius, a Platonic philosopher, disciple of Plotinus, about the year 263, we have seen a very distinct and honourable testimony to St. John's gospel."
That eminent critic Longinus, about the year 264, in his work, of the Sublime, has made very honourable mention of Moses, the Jewish lawgiver, and commends the style, in which he represents the creation of the world. There is also a Fragment f ascribed to him, where the apostle Paul is mentioned to advantage.
And we have met with a passage in Diogenes Laërtius : about the year 210, which gives great light to St. Paul's discourse at Athens, where he puts the Athenians in mind of an “ altar” of theirs, “ with an inscription to the Unknown God.”
The saying of Numenius, - what is Plato, but Moses in * Greek ? is well known, and recorded in divers ancient h writers. But the time of Numenius appears to me uncertain. Nor is it clear, that he has at all referred to the affairs of christians, or their scriptures.
The emperor Alexander Severus, whose reign began in the year 222, as we learn from Lampridius, one of the
3 In this volume, p. 339–342.
c P. 345.
d P. 373–375.
e P. 379. h P. 381. ·P 330-333.
Augustan writers, was favourable both to Jews and christians, and had a respect for the Lord Jesus Christ. He had two private chapels, one more honourable tban the other. In the first were placed the deified emperors, and also some eminently good men, and among them Christ, and Abraham, and Orpheus. Some other things of a like kind may be seen in his chapter, which need not be recollected bere ; but they are of use to show that the christians were then well known, and that their innocence, or freedom from licentious principles and great crimes, was manifest. And this emperor deserves to be commended for his moderation, and for the justness of his sentiments.
The emperor Philip, whose reign began in 244, and ended in 249, has been by some supposed to be a christian. We have examined that question, and now refer our readers to what has been said upon it by divers learned k men.
The emperor Aurelian reigned from 270 to 275. Flavius Vopiscus, one of the Augustan writers, has preserved a part of a letter written by him to the senate at the beginning of his reign, in which the christians are expressly' mentioned : which shows that the christians were then well known to the Roman emperors, and to the Roman senate, and to all men.
A like observation may be made upon a story told by the same writer m concerning Heliogabalus, whose reign began in 218.
In this period were several learned men, who wrote against the christians, and the christian religion : one of whom is n Porphyry. He was born about the year 233. We have placed him as flourishing in the year 270. He was disciple of the celebrated Plotinus, and was himself a learned man, and a philosopher of the first rank. He published many books, some of which are still extant. His work against the christians consisted of fifteen books, and seems to have been prolix, and carefully studied, and filled with a great deal of learning, and the quotations of divers authors not now extant. Rufinuso calls him a determined k P. 349--356. P. 386, 387. m P. 470. n See his chapter, p. 390, &c.
Si nihil aliud est, vel de Porphyrio silere debuerat, qui specialis hostis Christi est, qui religionem christianam, quantum in se fuit, penitus subvertere conatus est scriptis suis. Rufin. in Hieron. Invectiv. lib. ii. ap. Hieron. T. 4.
Nam Porphyrius tuus, dic, quæso, quid te docuit ; qui adversum christianos, et adversum religionem nostram blasphemiæ volumina conscripsit ? &c. Ib. p. 424.
-ipsum Porphyrium sequendo, qui adversum Christum, et adversus Deum libros impios ac sacrilegos scripsit. Id. ib. p. 422.
enemy of Christ, and says he did his utmost to overthrow the christian religion by his writings. His objections against christianity were in esteem with beathen people for a great while, as we learn from Augustine and others; and his memory was in abhorrence with christians, for the bitterness with which he had opposed them. His work was a violent attack upon our scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament; as we can perceive by the fragments of his work still remaining in christian writers, who have quoted him ; at the same time they are a testimony to them; they bear witness to their antiquity, and to the great esteem which they were in with christians; and if his work were still extant, it might be of farther rise to us in that respect, and upon some other accounts. I have made a large collection of the remaining fragments of bis work, to which I refer my readers, without adding any more observations here. But the work called The Philosophy of Oracles, p which has been quoted by some as his, I take to be a forgery; and I have assigned my reasons at large for that opinion.
At the beginning of Dioclesian's persecution, about the year 303, another published a work against the christians. We do not know his name, but he likewise was by profession a philosopher. His work was written in an insinuating manner, making fair pretences of good-will to the christians, that he might recover them from error, and deliver them from the sufferings to which they were exposed by a worship contrary to the laws. It seems to have been a large volume, for it consisted of three books; Lactantius slights it; but this philosopher's objections may have been sufficient to affect many of the common people among the Gentiles, and if it were now extant, it would be a great curiosity.
About the same time another work was written against the christians by. Hierocles, a man of learning, and a person of authority and influence, as he was a magistrate ; it was in two books. Nor did he take upon him the character of an enemy to the christians; he aimed rather to be esteemed a kind and friendly counsellor and adviser. He was well acquainted with our scriptures, and made many objections against them; thereby bearing testimony to their antiquity, and to the great respect which was shown to them by the christians: for he has referred to both parts of the New Testament, the gospels and the epistles.
Aud by Dioclesian's edict, the christian scriptures were ordered to be burnt when their temples were demolished: p P. 444, &c. 9 P. 471, &c.
I P. 474, &c.
it was the first order of the kind; it shows, that our scriptures were then well known, and that the Gentile people were sensible of their importance : whether Hierocles was the adviser of that order we cannot say.
He did not deny the truth of our Saviour's miracles; but in order to weaken the argument which the christians formed from them, in proof of our Saviour's divine authority and mission, le set up Apollonius Tyanæus as a rival, or superior to him: but it was ā vain effort. We still have the Life of Apollonius, which Hierocles made use of, written by Philostratus; we are therefore able to pass a judgment upon bis argument, and we can discern it to be very weak : for the works there ascribed to Apollonius are not equal to our Saviour's miracles, nor comparable with them : nor are the things ascribed to Apollonius written in a credible manner. And moreover, the history of him which Hierocles made use of, was not written till more than an hundred years after his death.
By Lactantius we are informed, thats the famous lawyer Domitius Ulpian, about the year 222, in his book of the Duty of Proconsul, made a collection of all the edicts of former emperors against the christians.
And we have now in this volume seen an account of all the persecutions endured by the christians, from the year of our Lord 202, when the emperor Severus published his edict against the christians, to the year 312, or 313, when Constantine and Licinius put an end to the persecution begun by Dioclesian.
The progress of the christian religion in this period is abundantly attested: every thing bears witness to it. Porphyry says, that there t were many christians and others who - censured Plato, against whom Plotinus [about the year • 260 and before] often argued in his disputations, and also ' wrote a little book, which was entitled, Against the Gnos* tics.' Porphyry complained also, that' since u Jesus had
been honoured, none had received any public benefit ' from the gods.' I presume, it could not be a very small number of christians, in some obscure' place, which so disgusted the gods, as to induce them to withhold their gracious influences from the whole Roman empire. From his reflections upon Origen,' who, as he says, 'had many ad' mirers and followers,' it appears, that the christians were then a numerous body of men.
If the number of the professors of the christian religion had not been increased and multiplied, there would have
v P. 396, &c.
& P. 334.
u P. 439,
been no persecutions, nor any adversary writers: those learned men and philosophers would have spared the labour of composing voluminous works against the christian religion if it had few or no votaries. Persecutions likewise bear witness to the growing number of the christians. Says the Author of the book of the Deaths of Persecutors, near the beginning of his work: In the time of Nero, Peter * came to Rome, and having wrought divers miracles by the
power of God, he converted many to righteousness. Nero • being informed of this, and bearing, likewise, that not only • at Rome, but every where else, many forsook the worship * of idols, and, slighting antiquity, went over to the new re·ligion, he resolved to extirpate that doctrine, and was the ' first who persecuted the servants of God. At which time, by his order, Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded.'
Sulpicius Severus has expressed himself much after the same manner: I shall place a part of what he says below, without trapslating bim.
And Maximin, one of the last persecuting emperors, in his letter to Sabinus above y quoted, speaks to this purpose : • It is, I am persuaded, well known to yourself, and to all
men, how that our lords and fathers, Dioclesian and Max• iiian, when they saw that almost all mankind were forsaking the worship of the gods, and going over to the sect of the christians, did wisely ordain, that all men, who had forsaken the worship of their immortal gods, should • be brought back to the worship of the gods by public
pains and penalties. Where the great increase of men professing christianity is expressly assigned as the reason of inflicting pains and penalties upon them at that time: that
they might be brought back to the old religion.' And what is here so clearly owned, must be supposed to have always been the real occasion of those violent methods, which
Cumque jam Nero imperaret, Petrus Romam advenit, et editis quibusdam miraculis, quæ virtute ipsius Dei, datâ sibi ab eo potestate, faciebat, convertit multos ad justitiam, Deoque templum fidele ac stabile collocavit. Quâ re ad Neronem delatâ, cum animadverteret, non modo Romæ, sed ubique quotidie magnam multitudinem deficere a cultu idolorum, et ad religionem novam, damnatâ vetustate, transire, ut erat exsecrabilis ac nocens tyrannus, prosilivit ad excidendum cæleste templum, delendamque justitiam, et primus omnium persecutus Dei servos, Petrum cruci adfixit, et Paulum interfecit, &c. De Mortib. Persec. cap. 2.
* Interea, abundante jam christianorum multitudine, accidit, ut Roma incendio conflagraret, Nerone apud Antium constituto Hoc initio in christianos sæviri cæptum. Post etiam datis legibus religio vetabatur : palamque edictis propositis christianum esse non licebat. Tum Paulus ac Petrus capitis damnati; quorum uni cervix gladio desecta, Petrus in crucem sublatus est. Sulp. Sever. 1. ii. cap. 29.
y See p. 340, 341.