terday, and yet we have filled all your towns, cities, islands, castles, boroughs, councils, camps, courts, palaces, senate, forum :- We leave you only your temples. - For what war should we not be ready and well prepared, even though unequal in numbers — we, who die with so much pleasure—were it not thatour religion requires us rather to suffer death than to inflict it? If we were to make a general secession from your dominions, you would be astonished at your solitude. We are dead to all ideas of worldly honour and dignity : nothing is more foreign to us than political concerns. The whole world is our republic.—We are a body united in one bond of religion, discipline, and hope. We meet in our assemblies for prayer. We are compelled to have recourse to the divine oracles for caution and recollection, on all occasions. We nourish our faith by the word of God; we erect our hope, we fix our confidence, we strengthen our discipline, by repeatedly inculcating precepts, exhortations, corrections, and by excommunication, when it is needful. This last, as being in the sight of God, is of great weight; and is a serious warning of future judgment, if any one behave in so scandalous a manner as to be debarred from the holy communion. Those who preside amongst us are elderly persons, not distinguished for opulence, but worthiness of character. Every one pays something into the public chest once a month, or when he pleases, and according to his ability and inclination ; for there is no compulsion. These gifts are, as it were, the deposites of piety. Hence we relieve and bury the needy, support orphans and decrepit persons, those who have suffered shipwreck, and those who, for the word of God, are condemned to the mines or to imprisonment. This very charity of ours has caused us to be noticed by some ; See,' say they, “ how these Christians love one another !” He takes notice of the extreme readiness with which the Christians paid the taxes to the existing government, in opposition to the spirit of fraud and deceit, with which so many acted in these matters'.

This picture of the primitive Christians is highly interesting, yet some allowance must probably be made for the hyperbolical style of the orator, respecting their numbers; but it is a sufficient testimony that religion had been long since propagated in Africa, though this is the first intimation we have of its existence in this part of the empire. The prostration of penitents, and the frequent signing of themselves with the sign of the cross, are mentioned among their traditional customs : something of the former

1 Mr. Milner.


kind, indeed, seems to be alluded to in the practice of the Romani church?.

After the death of the first Severus, the persecution ceased to rage. Alexander is reported to have been a general encourager of all religions; he professed to imitate the example of the Jews and Christians, at their ordination of priests, in publishing the names of those whom he would appoint to be magistrates, that the people, if they had any crime to accuse them of, might come forward, and make it known.

In the Christian writers of these times, whose works have come down to us, we have to lament a most sad declension in the knowledge of the truth. These were, however, of the eclectic school of Alexandria, Clemens Alexandrinus and Origen. We are not to judge, doubtless, of all the teachers of the Gospel, by this school; we shall have to mention an author who appeared about the middle of the century, who was less contaminated : but the admiration in which these philosophical writers soon began to be held in the church, plainly marks the gradual decay of simple truth. The opinions of both these writers may be easily known, from the sketch of the doctrines of their sect already given. Defective in their views of the doctrine of original sin, all the teachers of this school must, of necessity, be unsound ; both when they treat of the doctrine of repentance, which discovers and describes its symptoms, and when they would teach the doctrine of faith, which makes known the remedy, and how to apply the healing medicine.

Origen’ was the disciple of Clemens, and in fame he much exceeded his master. The religious cast of his character was observable from his childhood ; and his profiting under the instructions of his pious parents was thought so remarkable, that, it is said, his father, who afterwards suffered martyrdom, was accustomed to kiss the breast of his child, in fond persuasion that it was the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost. But, alas! it contained not the germs of that knowledge which the Spirit teaches in his holy word. At the age of eighteen, Origen became a teacher in the school of Alexandria, and braved many dangers in the time of the persecution, in his attendance on the martyrs. His study of the Scriptures, and of the “ heavenly philosophy,” as it is called, was most intense day and night. His life exhibited a true practical copy of his theoretical scheme. He denied himself the use of wine ; often slept on the ground; went barefoot ; endured cold and hunger, so much so, indeed, as greatly to endanger his life; and, to avoid temptation, even mutilated his body. All this procured him to be admired as a wonder, and, it is said, won many over to the Christian faith, who suffered in the persecution. Among the Gentiles, he was even accounted a famous philosopher; and philosophy was his interpreter of the book of God. “ He borrowed,” says Porphyry," from Cornutus, the Grecian method of the allegorical interpretation of mysteries, and applied it to the Jewish Scriptures.” He was not as yet in holy orders, and his teaching in the church, in the presence of bishops, was objected to by some ; but certain precedents were quoted in his favour, where laymen had done so, but always at the request of the bishop. He was afterwards ordained to the ministry, when at the age of forty-five, at Cesarea. From this Alexandrian school sprang the monkish recluses, whose mistaken piety peopled, at a subsequent period, the deserts of Egypt and Syria, and some ages afterwards spread over Europe.

I Euseb. v. 25.

2 Boru 185--died about 252.

From the Dialogues of Minucius Felix, however, which pertain to the earlier part of this century, we gather what the main body of Christians still were.

He introduces a pagan saying, “ Is it not deplorable to see the wicked and desperate faction oppose the gods, form an impious conspiracy, and gathering together the dregs even of the meanest and most ignorant of the people, with weak and credulous women ? — an obscure nation, who are enemies to knowledge, mute in public, but fond of speaking in private.” —“ So great is their folly, that they esteem present torments as nothing, being apprehensive of future and uncertain punishments; and for fear of dying after their death, they are not at all afraid to die.”—“ This impious conspiracy spreads throughout the world : they know each other by certain secret tokens, and love each other before they are acquainted ; they all call each other brethren and sisters.” — He reviles them for adoring a man that was crucified. “ What shall we say of their God's threatening to destroy the whole world by fire, as though the order of nature could be overturned?—and not satisfied with this extravagant notion, they add to it old wives' fables, saying, that they shall be born again after they are dead and reduced to ashes.” Upon what foundation is it that they promise to themselves a happy and eternal life after death, and threaten others with eternal punishment ? And yet you ascribe to God whatever we do, as others ascribe it to fate; and say, that those who embrace your sect, do it not of their own mind, but are thereunto chosen ; thus you make an unjust judge; who punisheth for what they do through fate and not choice.”

The knowledge of those doctrines, however, to which these reproaches refer, seems, in a considerable measure, to have departed with this generation. About the middle, or towards the close of this century, as philosophical Christianity advances, we mark the absence of a correct knowledge of sound doctrine, and, at the same time, the manifest decay of Christian piety.


The remaining part of the third century was, perhaps, to the world at large, the most calamitous period in the history of mankind. This era of desolation commenced on the murder of the emperor Alexander Severus’, who was succeeded by Maximin, " a brutal savage."

a brutal savage.” His tyranny was destructive to many thousands of the noblest of the Romans ; nor did the desolation end with his life : the sword was let loose only to rage more widely in the hands of the contending candidates for the supreme authority.

Maximus and Balbanus, the succeeding emperors, were massacred in a sedition at Rome. “ Six princes, in the space of a few months, had been cut off by the sword.” “ The Persians invade the east, — the barbarians boldly attack the provinces of a declining monarchy.” The emperor Gordian met with the same fate* as his predecessors, and was succeeded by Philip, who, after a reign of four years, was also murdered. From this time, to the death of Gallienus“, including the reigns of Decius, Gallus, and Valerian, taken captive by the Persians, “ there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune ; during which calamitous period every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its desolation.” “ The whole period was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity; as the empire was, at the same time and on every side, attacked by the blind fury of foreign invaders, and the wild ambition of domestic usurpers.” Nineteen usurpers to the throne are taken notice of at one time; and it is observed, that “the election of these precarious emperors, their power, and their death, are equally

· Fleury, b. v. 40. ? A.D. 235.

? Foretold in the Fourth Seal, Rev. vi. SA.D. 248.

6 A.D. 268.

A A.D. 244.

destructive to their subjects.” Inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictitious or exaggerated,” the infidel historian tells us, “ decorated this period.' “But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scarcity and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged, without interruption, in every province of the Roman empire. During some time, five thousand persons died daily at Rome, and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians, were entirely depopulated.” Mr. Gibbon, indeed, almost suspects, from a document relating particularly to Alexandria, " that war, pestilence, and famine, had consumed, in a few years, the moiety of the human species?;" insomuch, that the wild beasts of the earth were multiplied. In one instance,“ five hundred wolves together” are reported to “ have entered a city which was deserted of its inhabitants. After the death of Gallienus', the empire began to recover itself: the evils of war were still indeed to be endured ; but within the period of about thirty years, a series of great princes, Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, Dioclesian, and his colleagues, triumphed over the foreign and domestic enemies of the state, and re-established, with military discipline, the strength of the frontiers, and deserved the glorious titles of restorers of the Roman world.” This brings us nearly to the close of the third century.

During this period of more than sixty years, the Christians, of course, suffered in common with their fellow-subjects. Their political situation, with respect to the government, was various. The monster Maximin, Eusebius says, in hatred to the family of Alexander, the late emperor, which harboured many of the faithful, commenced a persecution against them, and issued an order that all the governors of the church should be put to death. The church had then rest from persecution for twelve years. The emperor Philip was even considered as a convert; but it does not appear that he fully relinquished idolatry. Under Decius, who succeeded him, followed the most violent persecution the church had hitherto endured. Vast numbers, it is re

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« VorigeDoorgaan »