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patronized by infidels ? How little, notwithstanding the reigning scepticism, and the magnified liberality of that age, the true principles of toleration were understood by the wisest men amongst them, may be gathered from two eminent and uncontested examples. The younger Pliny, polished as he was by all the literature of that soft and elegant period, could gravely pronounce this monstrous judgment:—“Those who persisted in declar. ing themselves Christians, I ordered to be led away to punishment (i.e. to execution), for I DID NOT DOUBT, whatever it was that they confessed, that contumucy and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished.” His master, Trajan, a mild and accomplished prince, went, nevertheless, no further in his sentiments of moderation and equity, than what appears in the following rescript : “ The Christians are not to be sought for ; but if any are brought before you, and convicted, they are to be punished.” And this direction he gives, after it had been reported to him by his own president, that, by the most strict examination nothing could be discovered in the principles of these persons, but “a bad and excessive superstition,” accompanied, it seems, with an oath or mutual federation, “to allow themselves in no crime or immoral conduct whatever." The truth is, the ancient heathens considered religion entirely as an affair of state, as much under the tuition of the magistrate, as any other part of the police. The religion of that age was not merely allied to the state; it was incorporated into it. Many of its offices were admi. nistered by the magistrate. Its titles of pontiffs, augurs, and famens, were borne by senators, consuls, and generals. Without discussing, therefore, the truth of theology, they resented every affront put upon the established worship, as a direct oppositiou to the authority of government.
Add to which, that the religious systems of those times, however ill supported by evidence, had been long established. The ancient religion of a country has always many votaries, and sometimes not the fewer, because its origin is hidden in remoteness and obscurity. Men have a natural veneration for antiquity, especially in matters of religion. What Tacitus says of the Jew
“ It was
ish, was more applicable to the heathen establishment; “ Hi ritus, quoquo modo inducti, antiquitaie defenduntur." It was also a splendid and sumptuous worship. It had its priesthood, its endowments, its temples. Sta tuary, painting, architecture, and music, contributed their effect to its ornament and magnificence. It abound. ed in festival shows and solemnities, to which the common people are greatly addicted, and which were of a nature to engage them much more than any thing of that sort among us. These things would retain great numbers on its side by the fascination of spectacle and pomp, as well as interest many in its preservation by the advantage which they drew from it. moreover interwoven,” as Mr. Gibbon rightly repre. sents it, “ with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or private life, with all the offices and amusements of society.” On the due celebration also of its rites, the people were taught to believe, and did believe, that the prosperity of their country in a great measure depended.
I am willing to accept the account of the matter which is given by Mr. Gibbon: * The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful :" and I would ask from which of these three classes of men were the Christian missionaries to look for protection or impunity ? Could they expect it from the people, “whose acknowledged confidence in the public religion” they subverted from its foundation? From the philosopher, who, “ considering all religions as equally false," would of course rank theirs among the number, with the addition of regarding them as busy and troublesome zealots? Or from the magistrate, who, satisfied with the “ utility' of the subsisting religion, would not be likely to countenance a spirit of proselytism and innovation ;-a system which declared war against every other, and which, if it prevailed, must end in a total rupture of public opinion; an upstart religion, in a word, which was not content with its own authority, but must disgrace all the settled religions of the world ? It was not to be imagined that he
would endure with patience, that the religion of the emperor and of the state should be calumniated and borne down by a company of superstitious and despicable Jews.
Lastly, the nature of the case affords a strong proof, that the original teachers of Christianity, in consequence of their new profession, entered upon a new and singular course of life. We may be allowed to presume, that the institution which they preached to others, they conformed to in their own persons; because this is no more than what every teacher of a new religion both does, and must do, in order to obtain either proselytes or hearers. The change which this would produce was very considerable. It is a change which we do not easily estimate, because, ourselves and all about us being habituated to the institution from our infancy, it is what we neither experience nor observe. After men became Christians, much of their time was spent in prayer and devotion, in religious meetings, in celebrating the eucharist, in conferences, in exhortations, in preaching, in an affectionate intercourse with other societies. Perhaps their mode of life, in its form and habit, was not very unlike the Unitas Fratrum, or the modern Methodists. Think then what it was to become such at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Antioch, or even at Jerusalem. How new ! how alien from all their former habits and ideas, and from those of every body about them! What a revolution there must have been of opinions and prejudices to bring the matter to this !
We know what the precepts of the religion are; how pure, how benevolent, how disinterested a conduct they enjoin ; and that this purity and benevolence are extended to the very thoughts and affections. We are not, perhaps, at liberty to take for granted that the lives of the preachers of Christianity were as perfect as their lessons : but we are entitled to contend, that the observable part of their behaviour must have agreed in a great measure with the duties which they taught. There was, therefore (which is all that we assert), a course of life pursued by them, different from that which they before led. And this is of great importancé. Men are brought to any thing almost sooner than to change their habit of life, especially when the change is either inconvenient, or made against the force of natural inclination, or with the loss of accustomed indulgences. “ It is the most difficult of all things to convert men from vicious habits to virtuous ones, as every one may judge from what he feels in himself, as well as from what he sees in others."* It is almost like making men over again.
Left then to myself, and without any more information than a knowledge of the existence of the religion, of the general story upon which it is founded, and that no act of power, force, and authority, was concerned in its first success, I should conclude, from the very nature and exigency of the case, that the Author of the religion during his life, and his immediate disciples after his death, exerted themselves in spreading and publishing the institution throughout the country in which it began, and into which it was first carried ; that, in the prosecution of this purpose, they underwent the labours and troubles which we observe the propagators of new sects to undergo; that the attempt must necessarily have also been in a high degree dangerous; that, from the subject of the mission, compared with the fixed opinions and prejudices of those to whom the missionaries were to address themselves, they could hardly fail of encountering strong and frequent opposition; that, by the hand of government, as well as from the sudden fury and unbridled license of the people, they would of. tentimes experience injurious and cruel treatment; that, at any rate, they must have always had so much to fear for their personal safety, as to have passed their lives in a state of constant peril and anxiety; and, lastly, that their mode of life and conduct, visibly at least, corres. ponded with the institution which they delivered, and, so far, was both new and required continual self-denial,
* Hartley's Essays on Man, p. 190.
CHAP. II. 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. AFTER thus considering what was likely to happen, we are next to inquire how the transaction is represented in the several accounts that have come down to us. And this inquiry is properly preceded by the other, for as much as the reception of these accounts may depend in part on the credibility of what they contain.
The obscure and distant view of Christianity, which some of the heathen writers of that age had gained, and which a few passages in their remaining works incidentally discover to us, offers itself to our notice in the first place : because, so far as this evidence goes, it is the concession of adversaries; the source from which it is drawn is unsuspected. Under this head, a quotation from Tacitus, well known to every scholar, must be inserted, as deserving particular attention. The reader will bear in mind that this passage was written about seventy years after Christ's death, and that it relates to transactions which took place about thirty years after that event.-Speaking of the fire which happened at Rome in the time of Nero, and of the suspicions which were entertained that the emperor himself was concerned in causing it, the historian proceeds in his narrative and observations thus :
“ But neither these exertions, nor his largesses to the people, nor his offerings to the gods, did away the infamous imputation under which Nero lay, of baving ordered the city to be set on fire. To put an end, there fore, to this report, he laid the guilt, and inflicted the most cruel punishments, upon a set of people who were holden in abhorrence for their crimes, and called by the vulgar, Christians. The founder of that name was Christ, who suffered death in the reign of Tibe. rius, under his procurator Pontius Pilate.—This per