C H A P. I.
THE PERSECUTION OF DIOCLESIAN.
THE last Century concluded with some symp- Cent.
toms of a storm ready to burst on the Church, . ^
which had long been in a state of ease and prospe-
rity, and was at the same time deeply declined from
the purity and simplicity of the Gospel. Besides
the martyrdom of Marcellus in Africa*, an attempt
had been made in a more general, and yet in a
covert manner, to corrupt the army. It was put
to the option of Christian officers, whether they
would offer sacrifice, and enjoy their dignity, or
refuse and be deprived. Many were desirous of
retiring into private life, to avoid the trial. Many
however showed a sincere regard to the kingdom
of Christ, and contentedly lost their preferment.
Some few were put to death for a terror to the rest.
But the general persecution, which afterwards de-
stroyed such numbers, was withheld for some timet.
In this prelude, which has been mentioned above,
and of which we have only a dark and imperfect
account, something of the political manoeuvres of
Dioclesian seems conspicuous. It is evident that
after he had so long favoured the Christians, he had
now contracted a prejudice against them, though
at first he made use of artifice rather than violence.
• See C. XVII. of last Century, Vol. I. t Euseb. B. VIII. C. IV. VOL. II. B
This emperor had an associate called Maximian, and they had under them two Caesars, Galerius and Constantius. The last-mentioned only of the four was a person of probity and humanity. The other three were tyrants, though the savageness of Galerius was the most remarkable. He met Dioclesian at Nicomedia, where he usually kept his court, in the winter, in the nineteenth year of his reign, and in the year of our Lord 302, and determined, if possible, to instigate him to measures against the Christians, still more sanguinary and decisive*. This man had a mother extremely bigotted to paganism, who almost every day employed herself in sacrifices. The Christians about her refused to partake of the idolatrous feasts, and gave themselves up to fasting and prayer. Hence her mind was incensed against the whole body, and she stimulated her son, who was as superstitious as herself, to seek their destruction. A whole winter Dioclesian and Galerius were engaged in secret counsels. The latter proposed a general persecution; the former remonstrated against the impolicy of such sanguinary measures, and was for limiting the persecution to the officers of the court and the soldiers. Finding himself unable to stem the fury of Galerius, he called a council of a few judges and officers. Some gave it as their opinion, that the Christians should in general be put to death; and others, induced by fear or flattery, assented. Still Dioclesian was averse, and through policy or superstition determined to consult the oracle of Apollo at Miletus. Apollo answered, as it might be expected, in a manner friendly to the views of Galerius. Staggered with repeated importunities, the old emperor still hesitated, and could not be persuaded to attempt the demolition of Christianity by bloodshed ; whereas Galerius was desirous to burn alive those who refused to sacrifice to the heathen gods. • Lactantius de M. P.
The feast of the Terminalia was the day ap- Cent. pointed to commence the operations against the * TM' * Christians. Early in the morning, an officer with guards came to the great church at Nicomedia, and bursting open the doors, sought for the image of God. So says my author; though if this be not a mere flourish of rhetoric, they must have been strangely ignorant of the sentiments of the followers of Jesus. The Scriptures which were found were burnt; every thing was given to plunder. While all things were in this confusion, the two emperors, looking at the scene from the palace, were long in doubt whether they should order the edifice to be burnt. The prudent opinion of Dioclesian at length prevailed, who feared the effect of a conflagration on the neighbouring buildings. The Pretorian soldiers were therefore sent with axes and other iron tools, and in a few hours levelled the whole building with the ground.
The next day an Edict appeared, by which men Edict of the Christian religion, of whatever rank or degree, c^TMt^j£ were deprived of all honour and dignity; were exposed to torture ; and everyone might have justice against them ; whilst they were debarred the benefit of the laws in all cases without exception*. Thus was the Christian world at once exposed to all possible insults without redress. The spirit of man
* In a passage, which seems to be misplaced by some mistake, Eusebiua observes, that in the 19th year of Dioclesian, edicts were every where suddenly published, by which it was ordered, that churches should be levelled with the ground, the sacred books consumed by fire, persons of dignity disgraced, common people made slaves if they persisted in Christianity. Not long after, says he, other letters were published, by which it was enacted, that all the bishops every where should first be cast into bonds, and afterwards be compelled by every method to sacrifice. These measures of the court increasing gradually in asperity and horror, show that it was not without reluctance, that Dioclesian was induced to consent to an uersal carnage, though he too well agreed with Galerius in forming a system for the extinction of the Christian name.
Chap- naturally revolts against injustice so flagrant, and a . *- Christian was found hardy enough, under the transports of indignation, to pull down and tear the Edict . He was burned alive for his indiscretion, and bore his sufferings with admirable, and it is to be hoped, with Christian patience.
Some time after, a part of the palace was found to be on fire: the Christians were charged with the fact: and the eunuchs of the house were accused. Dioclesian himself was present, and saw his servants burnt in the flames. It is remarkable, that the servants of Galerius were not put to the torture; while he himself took much pains to keep up the indignation of the old emperor. After fifteen days a second fire brake out, and Galerius left the palace in a hurry, expressing his fear of being burnt alive. Lactantius, without hesitation, charges all this to the artifices of Galerius. The Perse- Dioclesian now thoroughly in earnest, raged
Diodes!TM aSamst sor*s °f men wno Dore the Christian name, began A. D. and obliged among others his wife and daughter to ao?h 'year* sacrifice. Doubtless he suspected them at least of of this Em- a secret regard for Christianity. Presbyters and f^IhVxJj, deacons were seized and condemned in a summary persecu- way to death. Eunuchs of the greatest power in Christians. the palace were slain, and persons of every age and sex were burnt. It was tedious to destroy men singly ; fires were made to burn numbers together, and men with millstones fastened about their necks were thrown into the sea. Judges were every where at work in compelling men to sacrifice. The prisons were full. Unheard-of tortures were invented ; and, to prevent the possibility of Christians obtaining justice, altars were placed in courts, at which plaintiff's were obliged to sacrifice, before their cause could be heard. The other two emperors were directed by letters to proceed in the same violent course. Maximian, who governed in Italy, obeyed with savage alacrity. Constantius with reluctance demolished the churches, while he preserved the persons of Christians.
The persecution pervaded the whole Roman world, except France, where the mild Constantius ruled ; and from east to west, to use the language of Lactantius, three monsters of horrible ferocity raged.
I am aware, that a laborious attempt has been made to depreciate the accounts of this persecution. If I think it needless to relate distinctly all the sufferings of Christians under it, I must not however be supposed to countenance such attempts. The agreement of Lactantius and Eusebius, both contemporary authors of credit, is apparent. That such edicts were published, that they were strictly enforced, that a systematical and serious design of extinguishing the Gospel was formed, these things are certain. Even if we had no particular martyrologies extant, we might be assured from circumstances, that much blood must have been spilt, and much misery endured, not only in a regular and legal way, but also by tumultuary violence, and by the malice of men combined against a set of persons deprived uersally of the protection of the laws. There wanted not some instances of humanity and generosity in Pagans towards their Christian friends and relations. But whoever knows, what the passions of men are capable of, when set afloat and suffered to act without check or control, will not doubt, that the sufferings of Christians in this period must have been far greater than can be related by any historian. Thus did God at once punish their sins, revive his work in their hearts by sanctified affliction, evidence the extreme depravity of mankind, and above all, illustrate his own power and wisdom in baffling the rage of Satan*, and in defending and delivering
* Let not the reader startle, because I ascribe the persecutions of the Church to Satanic influence. The following Scriptures
CHAP, his Church, when every thing seemed combined for . *- its destruction. Should any be inclined to pay more regard to the testimonies of heathens than of Christians, let them hear Libanius, the friend of Julian the apostate, who thus speaks in his funeral oration on that emperor. " They who adhered to a corrupt religion (he means the Christian) were in great terrors, and expected that their eyes would be plucked out, that their heads would be cut off, and that rivers of their blood would flow from the multitude of slaughters. They apprehended their new Master would invent new kinds of torments, in comparison of which, mutilation, sword, fire, drowning, being buried alive, would appear but slight pains. For the preceding emperors had employed against them all these kinds of punishments." He goes on to commend Julian, for using milder methods. Two pillars in Spain were also monuments of the systematic cruelty of this persecution, on one of which was this inscription : " Dioclesian, Jovian, Maximian Herculeus, Caesares Augusti, for having extended the Roman empire in the East and West, and for having extinguished the name of Christians, who brought the Republic to ruin." On the other this : " Dioclesian, &c. for having adopted Galerius in the East, for having every where abolished the superstition of Christ, for having extended the worship of the gods." And to name only one more evidence, the cruelty must have been egregious, which could have induced the persecutors to strike the medal of Dioclesian,
carefully compared together, seem abundantly to warrant such a sentiment. John viii. 38—44. 1 Thess. ii. 18.1 Pet. v. 8, 9. 1 John iii. 8—13. Revel- throughout. To these the evangelical reader may easily add many more. Moreover, as the description of the influences of the Holy Spirit form an essential part of this History, it seems to fall in with my plan, to bring into view from time to time, the counterpart of the said influences, which is undoubtedly the agency of Satan.
which still remains, with this inscription, " The name of Christians being extinguished*."
Supported by such authorities against the unreasonableness of modern scepticism, we may proceed in the detail of facts. There were some ministers of the palace of the highest rank and nobility, who were yet found to prefer the reproach of Christ to all worldly grandeur. The martyrdom of Peter, one of the emperor's household, is very remarkable. He was brought before the emperor in Nicodemia, and was scourged with excessive severity. As he refused to sacrifice, though his bones were made bare by the stripes, a mixture of vinegar and salt was poured on his limbs ; and this being still to no purpose, he was gradually burnt to death. Dorotheus, Gorgonius, and many others, who served in thepalace, aftera variety of sufferings,were strangled. Anthimus, the Bishop of Nicomedia, was beheaded, and with him a great multitude of martyrs suffered. Men and women leaped on the funeral piles with alacrity : With the persecution the spirit of martyrdom was revived in the church. In every place the prisons were filled with bishops and other Christian ministers, and no room was reserved for felons. Martyrs were put to death in every province. Africa and Mauritania, Thebais, and Egypt throughout, abounded with them. Five persons of this last country Eusebius speaks of, whom he had known in Palestine and Phoenicia. He himself saw them suffering under the scourge, or exposed to enraged wild beasts, and celebrates their admirable patience. One of them, scarcely twenty years of age, stood without bonds, with his hands stretched out in a praying posture, exposed to bears and leopards, which were backward to perform the bloody task assigned them.
' Nomine Christianorum delete See Bullet's Establishment, &c. Euseb. B. VIII.
Chap. A bull which had been stimulated by hot iron . x' applied to him, tossed with his horns and tore his employers; and it was with some difficulty that beasts were found to execute the purposes of the persecution.
Penecu- Egypt suffered extremely. Whole families were Egypt" Pu* to var'ous kinds of death ; some by fire, others by water, others by decollation, after horrible tortures. Some perished by famine, others by crucifixion, and of these, some in the common manner, others were fastened with their heads downward, and preserved alive, that they might die by hunger. But the torments in Thebais exceed all description. Women tied by one foot, were raised up on high, and exposed naked, monuments at once of the inhumanity and indecency of the persecution. Others were torn by the distorted boughs of trees; and these scenes continued some years. Sometimes ten, at other times, thirty, and sixty, and once a hundred men and women with their little ones, in one day, were murdered by various torments.
Our author himself, while in Egypt, saw many executed* in one day, some beheaded, others burnt; so that both the executioners were quite fatigued, and their weapons were blunted. The Christians suffered (he speaks what he saw himself) with the greatest faith and patience. There was even the strongest appearance of joy and triumph among them, and to their last breath they employed themselves in psalms and thanksgiving. Philoromus, a person of great dignity at Alexandria, and a man of wealth and eloquence, is recorded as one, who died cheerfully for Christ at this time. Phileas also, bishop of the Thmutitae, a man of eminence in, his country, suffered in Thebais. In vain did relations, friends, magistrates, even the judge himself, exhort them to pity themselves, their wives and
children. They loved Christ above all, and were Cent. beheaded*.
Undoubtedly these scenes demonstrate in the highest manner the strength of grace, and the reality of that divine influence which attended Christians. And when I see Mr. Gibbon, in his notes toward the conclusion of his first volume, quibbling and cavilling against the text of Eusebius, though any reader of Plutarch could have told him that the Greek word »fofKrce/*", signifies vve saw, and the still plainer word <rw«afw/*ii» leaves no room for doubt, methinks I see Stephen in the glory of his martyrdom, and the Jews gnashing upon him with their teeth.
Phileas, some time before his own martyrdom, Epistle of beino; at Alexandria in prison, wrote an epistle to Vm^*' the Thmutitae, his own church, concerning the sufferings of the Christians there. A fragment of which, Eusebius has preserved to us, which may not only illustrate the nature of the persecution, but also the spirit and views of the writer and other good men of that time. " The martyrs fixing sincerely the eye of their mind on the supreme God, and cheerfully embracing death for the sake of godliness, held immoveably their calling, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ was made man for us, that he might cut down all sin, and might afford us the neces
• Phileas being asked, How he wa? persuaded that Jesus Christ was God ? replied, He made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, cleansed the lepers, and raised the dead. Being asked, U a crucified person God ? lie answered, He was crucified for our salvation. The Governor said, You are rich, and able to maintain almost all the province, 1 spare you, and advise you to acrifice. It seems the liberality of Phileas was great toward toe poor. The Governor added, Thy poor -wife looks on thee. Phileas answered, Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all our spirits, hs hath called me to the inheritance of his glory, and he may alio call her to it. A little before his execution, My dear children, said he, ye that seek God, watch over your hearts. My dear children, stick fast to the precepts of Jesus Christ.—Acta Sincere. Fleury.
sary preparatives for an entrance into eternal life." (He then quotes the well-known passage concerning the proper Deity and humiliation of Christ, in the second chapter to the Philippians.) Coveting the best gifts, the martyrs, who carried Christ within, underwent all sorts of tortures once and again. And while the guards insulted them in word and deed, they were preserved serene and unbroken in spirit, because " perfect love casteth out fear." But what eloquence can do justice to their fortitude ? Free leave was given to any to injure them ; some beat them with clubs, others with rods; some scourged them with thongs of leather, others with ropes. Some, having their hands behind them, were hung about a wooden engine, and every limb of their bodies was distended by certain machines. The torturers rent their whole bodies with iron nails, which were applied, not only to the sides, as in the case of murderers, but also to their bellies, their legs, and their cheeks ; others were suspended by one hand to a portico, and underwent the most severe distention of all their joints; others were bound to pillars, face to face, their feet being raised above ground, that their bonds being distended by the weight of their bodies, might be the closer drawn together, and this they endured almost a whole day without intermission.—The Governor ordered them to be bound with the greatest severity, and when they breathed their last, to be dragged on the ground. No care, said he, ought to be taken of these Christians ; let all treat them as unworthy of the nameof men. Some, after they had been scourged, lay in the stocks, both their feet being stretched to the fourth hole; so that they were obliged to lie with their faces upward, unable to stand on account of the wounds caused by the stripes. Some expired under their tortures. Others having been recovered by methods taken to heal them, and being reduced to the alternative of sacrificing or dying, cheerfully preferred the latter. For they knew what was Cent. written, " Whosoever sacriticeth to other gods, , ly- , shall be destroyed," and " Thou shalt have none other gods but me."
Such, says Eusebius, are the words of a martyr, a true lover of wisdom and of God, which, before the definitive sentence of his execution, he sent to the brethren of his own Church.
One city in Phrygia, being generally Christian, was beseiged by armed men, and set on fire. The men with their wives and children were burnt to death, calling upon Christ, the God over all *. All the inhabitants, magistrates and people, nobles and plebians, professing Christianity, were ordered to sacrifice, and for refusing suffered in this manner f.
One Adauctus, a Christian, of the highest dig- Martyrdom nity, who held at that time an office of great im- °^Adauc' portance, was honoured also with the crown of martyrdom. Some were slain by axes, as in Arabia; some by breaking the legs, as in Cappadocia ; some suspended by the feet, with the head downward, overaslow fire, were suffocated, as in Mesopotamia; some were mutilated, and cut in pieces, as at Alexandria. Some were burnt to death, in a very gradual manner, at Antioch. Some, to avoid falling into the hands of their enemies, committed suicide, by throwing themselves down from the tops of houses : lamentable instances of impatience ! But the reader will remember, that the decline had been very great from Christian purity: that so many should suffer like Christians in so dull a time, can scarcely be accounted for, but on the idea of the
• Gibbon observes, that there was an important circumstance, which lias been noticed by Ruffinus, the Latin translator of Eusebius ; that the gates were opened to permit them to depart, if they pleased. The remark is worthy of his own malignity. Is it to be supposed, that this permission was unconditional ? Eusebius tells is, that it was expected from them, that they should sacrifice.
-t Euseb. B. VIII. C. XI.
Lord's reviving his work and ministering the Holy Spirit amidst their afflictions. I cannot commend the conduct of a lady of Antioch, or that of her two daughters, who, to avoid the licentious brutality of the soldiers, drowned themselves. Two other virgins in the same city of Antioch, persons of quality, and of great piety, died in a much more Christian manner, being thrown into the sea by the persecutors.
In Pontus, sharp reeds were thrust under the nails into the fingers of some; the backs of others were scorched by melted lead ; some in their bowels and privy parts suffered inexpressible torments; the judges exercising ingenious malice in the daily invention of new punishments.
Wearied at length with murder, and affecting to praise the clemency of the emperors, who were desirous to save life, they contented themselves with plucking out eyes, and cutting off one of the legs. The number of those who suffered in this way was inexpressible ; and they were afterwards condemned to work in the mines.
Lucian, a holy and exemplary presbyter of Antioch, had the honour to apologise for Christianity at Nicomedia, in the presence of the emperor, and afterwards to suffer. Tyrannio, bishop of Tyre, was thrown into the sea. Zenobius, a presbyter of Sidon, and an excellent physician, expired serene in tortures. Sylvanus, bishop of Emesa, with some others, was exposed to the wild beasts. Peleus and Nilus, Egyptian bishops, with others were burnt to death. Peter, bishop of Alexandria, suffered also together with Faustus, Dius, and Ammonius, his presbyters. Other Egyptian bishops are mentioned also by Eusebius, who leaves the celebration of the rest to those who saw their sufferings, contenting himself with a more particular account of those whom he knew, and of those facts' of which he had ocular demonstration.
As infidel writers have taken pains to depreciate the authenticity of these facts, it seemed proper to give the reader a just picture of them from Eusebius, and to submit to his determination, whether there be any internal evidences of falsehood in his narrative. In addition to what has been shown already from Lactantius, and ancient memorials, it may with justice be said, in favour of the credibility of the writer, whose character as a historian of veracity is before us, that he is large and circumstantial in scenes of which he was a spectator ; succinct and general, where he had no opportunity of knowing the circumstances. Of the martyrs of Palestine, his own country, he has given us a copious narrative, a specimen of which must now be delivered, containing those whose martyrdom fell within the period of Dioclesian's reign. The rest must be considered hereafter. Procopius was the first of these martyrs, who being brought before the tribunal, and ordered to sacrifice to the gods, declared that he knew only one God, to whom he ought to sacrifice in the manner which he has appointed. Being then ordered to make libations to the four emperors, he repeated a verse of Homer, which by no means pleased the persecutors, as implying a censure of the present government*. Upon this, he was beheaded immediately. Whether the empire was benefited by the appointment of four emperors instead of one, is a question of politics, which it certainly became not the martyr to enter upon, especially on that occasion. And it is the only instance of deviation into secular matters, which I remember to have seen in primitive Christians as yet. It might be only a sally of imprudent vivacity, but even so it was extremely ill-timed. Galerius, in whose dominions he said this, would probably hear of it; and this fiercest of all the per
Chap- secutors, needed not the addition of such an incen
»_J; , tive, to inflame his wrath against the Christians.
After him, in the same city, Caesarea of Palestine, very many bishops of the neighbouring churches, suffered grievous torments : others through fear recanted at the first onset. The rest underwent a variety of punishments. Yet some pains were taken to save the reputation of the gods, and to preserve the lives of Christians at the same time.
One was dismissed, as if he had sacrificed, though he was dragged to the altar, and a sacrifice was put into his hand by violence. Another went away in silence, some persons, with a humane falsehood, testifying that he had complied. One was thrown out as dead, after he had been tortured, though yet alive. Another protesting against what was exacted of him, many beating him in the mouth, with a view to compel him to silence, was thrust out of the court. ' Alpheus and Zacchaeus alone of all these bishops of Palestina, suffered death at this time. Tortured for twenty-four hours, after having undergone excessive severities before, they manfully confessed one only God, and one only Saviour Christ, and were at last beheaded. Martyrdom On the same day at Antioch, Romanus, a deacon ofRomanus. Gf the church of Ca?sarea, was martyred. Happening to enter Antioch at the very time when the churches were demolished, he saw many men and women with their little ones, crowding to the temples and sacrifices, most probably Christian apostates*. The same spirit which moved Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, on a like occasion, was felt by Romanus, but exerted in a manner more agreeable to the Christian dispensation, He cried aloud and rebuked their cowardice and perfidy. But being seized immediately, and condemned to the flames,
* So a discourse of Eusebins on the Resurrection teaches us. See B. on the Martyrs of Palestine, C. II. Valesius in the notes.
and fastened to the stake, while the executioners expected the definitive order from the emperor then present, (Galerius most probably) he asked cheerfully, Where is the fire for me? Caesar, provoked at his boldness, ordered his tongue to be cut out. He put out his tongue with great readiness. After this punishment he was thrown into prison, and suffered there a considerable time. His feet were exposed to an unnatural distention, and in the end he was dismissed out of life by strangling. This happened during the first year of the persecution, while it raged only against the governors of the church.
In the second year, when the persecution grew hotter, Imperial letters were sent into Palestine, commanding all men, without exception, to sacrifice. At Gaza, Timotheus, after many sufferings, was consumed by a slow fire; Agapius and Thecla. were condemned to the wild beasts. At this time, when many apostatized to save their lives, there wanted not also some instances of an excessive forwardness. Six persons at Caesarea, with their hands bound, ran to Urbanus the Judge, and offered themselves for martyrdom. They suffered in conjunction with two others, whose spirit and circumstances in the manner of their departure out of life, were more conformable to the rules of the Gospel.
Power being now communicated to the governors of the different provinces to punish the Christians freely, each exercised it, as his particular temper dictated. Some, for fear of displeasing, did even more than they were ordered. Some felt the impulse of their own enmity against godliness; others indulged a natural savageness of disposition: there were who saw, that to shed blood profusely, was the high road to preferment. There were those, (and Lactantius* looks on them as of the worst sort), «ho determined to torment, and not to kill. Such
Chap, persons studied those arts of torture, which might l' . keep life still in being amidst the keenest sensations of pain. Eusebius tells us, that he himself heard some of this sort boasting, that their administration was not polluted with blood, and that he saw a Bithynian governor exulting, as if he had subdued a nation of Barbarians, because one person, after two years resistance, had yielded to the force of torments. Much pains were taken also with the tortured, to recover them, thatthey might be strengthened to endure new punishments. A considerable part of Roman jurisprudence was now employed on this subject. The constitutions of the law on this head had been published and commented on by the famous lawyer Ulpian, and were considered as serious objects of study by civilians.
At no time since the beginning of Christianity, was so systematical and so laboured an effort made to. extinguish the Gospel of Christ. Satan had great wrath, as if he had foreseen that he should have but short time; and when we consider how poorly provided the Church was for this fiercest of all the invasions she had ever met with, we shall see cause to admire the grace of God, who yet furnished out a noble army of martyrs in a time of so great Evangelical declension; and in the end, more effectually than ever, baffled the designs of Satan.
In addition to other methods of persecution, the powers of genius and the arts of eloquence were introduced. Cyprian alone of the Latin writers was capable of pleasing the taste of the learned among the Pagans. A certain person of taste among them was heard by Lactantius, to call him Coprianus*, because he employed an elegant genius, adapted to better things, in the support of old wives' fables. In so contemptible a light did the Gospel appear to
Lactan. B. V. i, a, the allusion is to utwfi», dung.
the learned of that day, even when clothed in the dress of the eloquent Cyprian ! but how much more contemptible in the hands of the generality of Christian teachers, who were destitute of the powers of argument and of language.
Encouraged by the favour of the emperors, and the apparently ruined state of Christendom, at the very time when the persecution raged in Bithynia, two writers appeared who insulted the Christians. One, whose name Lactantius does not give us, was a philosopher, and like many preachers of morality in all ages, a defender of virtue, and a practitioner of vice, a flatterer of the court, very rich, and very corrupt, one who condemned his own practice by his moral writings, and who dealt largely in the praises of the emperors, on account of their great piety in supporting the religion of the gods. Yet all men condemned his meanness in choosing that time particularly to write against Christians, nor did he obtain the favour at court which he expected.
The other writer, Hierocles, was doubtless a man of parts and talents. He was a virulent enemy of the Gospel, had great influence in promoting the persecution; and from being a judge in Nicomedia was promoted to the government of Alexandria. He attempted to compare the feigned miracles of Apollonius Tyanaeus with those of Jesus Christ. This man wrote with an air of candour and humanity to the Christians, while his actions against them were fierce and bloody.
In France alone, and its neighbourhood, the people of God found some shelter. Yet was the mild Constantius, to save appearances with his superior Maximian, induced to persecute, not only by destroying the temples, as was mentioned, but also by dismissing those of his own household who would not renounce Christianity. The Christians of his family were tried by such means. But the event was contrary to their expectations. Constantius
Vol. u. c
retained the faithful, and dismissed the apostates, judging that those who were unfaithful to their God would also be disloyal to their prince.
At Cirta in Numidia, Paul, the bishop, ordered a sub-deacon to deliver up the treasures of the church to a Roman officer. The Holy Scriptures and the moveables of this society of Christians were surrendered by the perfidy or cowardice of those who ought to have protected them. But God reserved some, who were endowed with courage and zeal, at the hazard of their lives, to take care of the sacred writings, and baffle the intention of the persecutors, which doubtless was to destroy all records of Christianity among men. Felix of Tibiura, in Africa, being asked to deliver up the Scriptures, answered, I have them, but will not part with them. He was condemned to be beheaded. " I thank thee,
0 Lord," says this honest martyr, " that I have lived fifty-six years, have kept my virginity, have preserved the Gospel, and have preached faith and truth. O my Lord Jesus Christ, the God of heaven and earth, I bow my head to be sacrificed to thee, who livest to all eternity." I judge it not amiss to distinguish this man in the narrative. The preservation of civil liberty is valuable, and the names of men who have suffered for it with integrity are recorded with honour. But how much below the name of Felix of Tibiura should these be accounted! He is one of those heroes who have preserved to us the precious wprd of God itself. In Abitina, in Africa, forty-nine manfully perished through hunger and ill treatment. In Sicily*, Euplius a martyr being asked, " Why do you keep the Scriptures, forbidden by the emperors ?" answered, Because
1 am a Christian. Life eternal is in them ; he that gives them up loses life eternal." Let his name be remembered with honour, together with that of Felix. He suffered also in the same cause. Various
• Acta Sincera. Fleury.
martyrs suffered in Italy. For Maximian was to the full as much disposed to persecute as Dioclesian.
In the year 304 or 30--;, a civil change took place in the empire, which paved the way for very important changes in the Church, though the persecution continued still for some time. Dioclesian resigned the Resignation empire, and Maximian followed his example, though sian. 'oc c* with no great cordiality. They were succeeded by A DGalerius in the East, (who ruled in the room of 304or3°5Dioclesian, and put Maximin his nephew, in his own place,) and in the West by Constantius.
Maximin inherited the savageness and the prejudices of his uncle ; and in Palestine and in the more eastern parts, over w hich Galerius had ruled, he still continued the horrors of the persecution. Let us now attend to the remaining part of Eusebius's account of the martyrs of Palestine, who suffered under the authority of this tyrant at different times.
Apphian, a young person under twenty, who had Martyrdom received a very polite education at Bery tus, and could of APPh,annot bear to live with his father and relations at Pagae in Lycia, because of their aversion to the Gospel, left all his secular emoluments and hopes for the love of Christ, and came to Coesarea ; where he was so transported with zeal as to run up to Urbanus the governor, then making a libation, to seize him by the right hand, to stop his religious employment, and exhort him to forsake idolatry, and turn to the true God. The consequence was, what might be expected in the natural course of things. He was arrested, ordered to sacrifice ; and, after he had sustained most dreadful tortures by fire and otherwise, which Eusebius* describes with an exactness of detial that needs not be repeated, he was thrown into the sea. His imprudence was great, and his zeal very irregular and extravagant; but who will not admire the sincerity of that love of Christ, which • C. IV.
Chap- carried this ardent youth through all hardsh ips: who , would not prefer his disposition, with all his faults, to the cowardice and love of the world, which in our times prevent such numbers from daring to show true regard for the divine Saviour ?
This Apphian had a brother called iEdesius, who had advanced farther in the philosophical studies than himself, and who likewise embraced the faith of Christ. Prisons, bonds, and the drudgery of the mines of Palestine, he endured with great patience and fortitude; at length he came to Alexandria, and there saw the judge raging with frantic fury against Christians, treating the men with various abuses, and giving up chaste virgins, who had devoted themselves to a single life, to pimps, to be treated in the vilest manner. Fired at the sight, he lost all patience, rebuked the magistrate, and struck him. Upon which he was exposed to a variety of torture, and thrown into the sea. He seems to have possessed both the excellencies and the faults of his brother. It is proper to add*, that the inhuman magistrate was no other than the philosophical Hierocles, whose affected humanity and candour we have celebrated above. A remark or two may be proper in this place, before we proceed.
l. The persecution we are reviewing found the Church in the lowest state of Christian wisdom and piety. In addition to what I have saidf on the ungenerous remarks of Mr. Gibbon, concerning the behaviour of ^Edesius, it should be observed, that amidst the great dearth of instruction in which he had learned Christianity, it is not to be wondered at that he should know his duty so imperfectly. I compare the piety of him and of Apphian to that of Jephthah and of Sampson; sincere, but irregular and injudicious. They lived under similar circumstances, in times of great ignorance. The Spirit of God, when he creates a new heart, and a new spirit, and
* See Valesius' notes on Euseb.
f Milner's remarks on Gibbon.
furnishes a man with dispositions for obedience, supersedes not the use of pastoral instruction. Where this is much wanted, even divine love itself, though strong, is blind, comparatively speaking, and will mistake the rule of duty continually. It is in vain that I look out in all this period for judicious and discreet pastors, and for clear evangelical views. No Cyprian or Dionysius now appeared, to check, to regulate, to control the spirits of Christians, and to dicipline them by Scripture rules. The persecution found vast numbers perfidious and cowardly; some chosen spirits, humble and faithful to death, but of these many, it is to be feared, poorly informed of their duty both to God and man, and mixing with the love of Christ the intemperance and precipitation of blind self-will. The best use to be made of this observation, after teaching us to be candid to the faults of these good men, is this, that those who enjoy the advantage of better instruction and of wise pastors, should thankfully improve their privileges, and not by the want of just subordination deprive themselves of the opportunity of exhibitng more regular and edifying examples of holiness. That knowledge was thus low among Christians, is evident from Eusebius, one of the most learned of those times- who extols a conduct in these brethren, which every Christian of common light and capacity now would condemn.
2. I see also the prevalence both of the monastic and of the philosophic spirit. Devotees were increasing in numbers among serious persons; and Origenism had made philosophy more and more reputable. Under this influence, the two brothers, whose story we have seen, imbibed too much of Platonism, knew too little of Christianity, and though sincere enough to become martyrs for Christ, attained not the praise of Christian simplicity. The doctrines of Christ had ceased to be explicitly unfolded; and it was in sufferings chiefly, endured
Chap- with patient faith and cheerful hope, that we can . *- now see, that Christ had yet a church in the world.
The bush was burning indeed in a fire the most dreadful, yet it was not consumed. Martyrdom In the fourth year of the persecution happened ofAgapms. martyrdom of Agapius at Ca-sarea. Maximin Caesar was there exhibiting spectacles in honour of his birth-day. The ferociousness of pagans was doubtless much augmented by the usual barbarous sports ; and the native enmity of the mind against godliness met not with so many checks of humanity, in times of persecution, as it would in our days of civilization. Hut it should be remembered, that it was not philosophy, but the Gospel, which improved, in this as well as other respects, the morality of the Roman empire. Agapius, who had been thrice before brought on the stage, and had thrice been respited by the compassion of the judge, was now brought before the emperor, to fulfil, says Eusebius, that word of Christ, "ye shall be brought before kings for my name's sake." A slave who had murdered his master was produced at the same time, and condemned to the wild beasts. The emperor, with a view to distinguish his birth-day by an act of generosity, both pardoned and gave freedom to the murderer. The whole amphitheatre rang with acclamations in praise of his clemency. But it was perfectly to act in character for Maximin to punish the innocent and to spare the guilty. lie asked Agapius if he would renounce Christianity, promising him liberty on that condition. The martyr expressed his cheerful readiness to undergo any punishment, not for any crime committed by him, but for piety toward the Lord of the uerse. He was condemned to be torn by a bear, and still breathing, was carried back to prison ; where after he had lived a day, he was sunk in the sea with weights fastened to his feet. The exclamation of the Jews, in the history of our Saviour, !< Not this man, but Barabbas," naturally occurs to Eusebius on this Cent. occasion. . [Jj
In the fifth year of the persecution, a Tyrian vir- Aiwof gin, Theodosia, not quite eighteen years old, was Theoilo*,a put to death for owning and countenancing some Christian prisoners. The judge, Urbanus, afterwards condemned them to the mines of Palestine. Silvanus a presbyter, afterwards a bishop, with some others, was doomed to the labour of the brass mines, the joints of their feet being first weakened by the application of hot iron.
Few persecutors exceeded Urbanus in malice and activity. He doomed three to fight with one another; Auxentius, a venerable old saint, he condemned to the beasts. Some of them he condemned to the mines, after he had made them eunuchs. Others, after bitter torments, he threw into prison again.
If any be still inclined to regard the calculation of those, who represent the number of the martyrs as small, let him consider, that it was evidently very much the policy of this, and most probably of the former persecutions, to torment Christians without destroying them. The emperors did not wish to rob themselves of such a number of subjects, but to subdue them to their will. Yet in many instances the human frame must have sunk under these hardships ; and the multitude of Christian sufferers on this account, in addition to the evils of poverty and flight, must exceed all powers of calculation.
Urbanus tortured, among others, the famous Pamphilus, the friend of Eusebius; but lived not to see his martyrdom. Being himself convicted of crimes, Urbanus was capitally punished in Caesarea, the scene of his cruelties, and by the same Maximin, of whose imperial savageness he had been the minister.
In the sixth year of the persecution, of the great multitude of Christian sufferers in Thebais near a hundred were selected to be sent to Palestine, and were adjudged by Firmilian, the successor of Urbanus, to be lamed in the left foot, and to lose the right eye, and in that state to be condemned to the mines. The three persons also, who had bten condemned to fight with one another, for refusing to learn the new business of a gladiator imposed on them, were doomed by Maximin himself, with some others, to the same punishments as the persons transported from Thebais. Some persons were apprehended at Gaza for meeting together to hear the Scripture read, and were punished with the loss of a limb, and an eye, or in a still more cruel manner. Two women, after sustaining horrible torments, were put to death. The former being menaced with the loss of chastity, burst out into expressions of indignation against the tyrant Maximin, for employing such judges. The latter being dragged by force to an altar threw it down What was said before of iEdesius and Apphian may be applied to these. But there were Christians of a higher class, better informed in their duty, and more possessed of the mind of Christ. A person, named Paul, being sentenced to lose his head, begged to be allowed a short space of time. His request being granted, he prayed with a loud voice for the whole Christian world, that God would forgive them, remove the present heavy scourge of their iniquities, and restore them to peace and liberty : he then prayed for the Jews, that they might come to God and find access to him through Christ. In the next place, he prayed that the same blessings might be vouchsafed to the Samaritans. The Gentiles, who lived in error and in ignorance of God, were the next objects of his charitable petitions, that they might *be brought to know God and to serve him: nor did he omit to mention the crowd about him, the judge who had sentenced him the emperors, and the executioner, and in the hearing of all he prayed that their sins might not be laid to their charge.
The whole company was moved, and tears were Cent. shed. Hie martyr composed himself to suffer, and . TM~ offering his neck to the sword, he w^s beheaded : An admirable Christian hero ! in whom divine love breathed in conjunction with resignation and serenity. The Lord's hand was not shortened : His grace appeared in him in a manner worthy of the Apostolic age. Soon after a hundred and thirty Egyptian chieftains, suffering the same mutilations which have been mentioned above, were sentenced by Maximin to the mines of Palestine and Cilicia.
After the persecution had paused some time, it EHicnof was renewed with fresh violence by the Edicts of Ma»iminMaximin*. The temples were repaired ; men were compelled to sacrifice every where; all things sold in the markets were polluted with libations ; and persons were placed at the public baths to force men to idolatrous compliances. Three believers, Antoninus, Zebinus, and Germanus, threw themselves into the hands of Firmilian, and were capitally punished. Eusebius, in his usual manner, commends their over-forward zeal. With them a virgin called Ennathus was dragged by violence to the judge, whipped, and burned to death. Their bodies were left exposed to the beasts of prey, and particular care was taken to prevent their interment. Some time after, certain Egyptians, coming to minister to the confessors of their own country, who had been condemned to the mines in Cilicia, one of them was burned, two were beheaded, and several were associated with the confessors in their afflictions, mutilation, and the drudgery of the mines. Peter the monk, having in vain been solicited by the judge to save his life, gave it up cheerfully for the sake of Christ. With him suffered Asclepius, bishop of the Marcionites, being burned on the same funeral pile, " animated with zeal,"
Chap- says my author, " but not according to knowledge*."
. , This however might be more than Eusebius knew.
The heretical form, in which he appeared, might be consistent with the pure love of Christ; in a history, which undertakes impartially to celebrate the people of God, it does not become us to be blinded by the idea of a rigorous and exclusive uniformity of denomination.
b^d'd* Pamphilus the presbyter and friend of Eusebius is highly commended by him for his contempt of secular grandeur, to which he might have aspired ; for his great liberality to the poor ; for that which may seem more likely to cloud than to adorn his Christian excellencies, his philosophic life ; above all, for his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, in which his panegyrist thinks he excelled all men of that time ; and for his benevolence to all who came to him. An excellent Christian he undoubtedly was, though a moderate degree of Evangelical knowledge in that age would easily be esteemed prodigious. Eirmilian asking him when brought before him, what was his country, received for answer, " Jerusalem." Not understanding what he meant by this, he tortured him for an explanation. Pamphilus persisted that he had spoken truth. " Where is this country of yours?" " It belongs to those alone who worship the true God." The judge, at once incensed and perplexed, after various torments, ordered him to be beheaded. Twelve martyrs suffered with him. One of them, Porphyrius, a servant of Pamphilus, begging the favour of interment for the deceased, was ordered to be burned ; and was heard for the last time, when the flame began to reach him, calling upon Jesus the Son of God as his helper. It is remarkable, that Firmilian also himself, after having trodden in the steps of Urbanus in shedding Christian
blood, like him also suffered capitally by the Cent. sentence of the emperor. , Iv-
Toward the end of the seventh year the persecution relaxing in some degree, the multitude of the confessors in the mines of Palestine enjoyed some liberty, and even erected some places of public worship. The president of the province coming among them, envied them the small cessation of their miseries, and wrote to the emperor in their prejudice. Afterwards the master of the mines coming thither, as if by an imperial rescript, divided the sufferers into classes. Some he ordered to dwell in Cyprus, others in Libanus ; the rest he dispersed and harassed with various drudgeries in different parts of Palestine. Four he singled out for the examination of the military commander, who burnt them to death. Silvanus, a bishop of great piety, John, an Egyptian, and thirty-seven others, were the same day beheaded by the order of Maximin. Of John it is remarked, that though blind, he had been, like the rest, cauterized and debilitated in one leg- by a hot iron. The strength of his memory was admired among the Christians: he could at pleasure repeat from the Old or New Testament many passages in Christian assemblies. But the fact proves something more than what Eusebius mentions, namely, that he had made the best use of his eyes while he was possessed of them.
And here we close the account from Eusebius, of the martyrs of Palestine. For eight years the East, with little intermission, groaned under the most heavy persecution. In the West, their sufferings abated after two years. The political changes of the empire account for the difference. But, both in the Fast and the West, Satan was permitted to exert his malice in the keenest manner during this last of the Pagan persecutions. And the Divine power and wisdom, in still preserving a real Church on earth, was never more conspicuously displayed, since
Chap- the days of the Apostles The time of an external *- triumph of the Church, under Constantine, was at hand. Those, who look at outward things alone, may be tempted to think how much more glorious would the Church have appeared at that time, without the previous desolations of Dioclesians persecution. But when it is considered how much Christian doctrine had decayed, and how low holy practice had fallen, the necessity of so sharp a trial to purify the Church, and fit her at all for a state of prosperity, is evident. Otherwise, the difference between Christians and Pagans might probably have been little more than a name.
I know it is common for authors to represent the great declension of Christianity to have taken place only after its external establishment under Constantine. I3ut the evidence of history has compelled me to dissent from this view of things. In fact we have seen, that for a whole generation previous to the persecution, few marks of superior piety appeared. Scarce a luminary of godliness existed; and it is not common in any age for a great work of the Spirit of Cod to be exhibited, but under the conduct of some remarkable Saints, Pastors, and Reformers. This whole period, as well as the whole scene of the persecution, is very barren of such characters. Not but that many precious children of God suffered in much patience and charity. But those who suffered with very much of a different spirit found no pastor to discountenance their selfwill and false zeal; a sure sign that the true spirit of martyrdom was less pure than it had formerly been. Moreover, the prevalence of superstition on the one hand, and the decay of Evangelical knowledge on the other, are equally apparent. Christ crucified, justification purely by faith, and the effectual influences of the Holy Ghost, together with humbling views of man's total apostasy and corruption, these were ideas at least very faintly impressed at that day on Christian minds. It is vain to expect Christian faith to abound withoutChristian doctrine. Moral, and philosophical, and monastical instructions, will not effect for men what is to be expected from Evangelical doctrine. And if the faith of Christ was so much declined, (and its decayed state ought to be dated from about the year 270), we need not wonder that such scenes as Hccay of Eusebius hints at without any circumstantial details, S"^,vJ>ru* took place in the Christian world*. He observes, A. d. that pastors of churches were condemned to take 2~o. care of camels, and to feed the emperor's horses. Even he, who was far from seeing in a due light the cause of the declension of piety in their departure from the faith, was struck with the moral effects, and could not but revere the Divine justice, in giving unworthy ministers a punishment adapted to their crimes. He speaks also of the ambitious spirit of many, in aspiring to the offices of the Church, the ill-judged and unlawful ordinations, the quarrels among confessors themselves, and the contentions excited by young demagogues in the very relics of the persecuted Church, and the multiplied evils which their vices excited among Christians. How sadly must the Christian world have declined, which could thus conduct itself under the very rod of Divine vengeance? Yet let not the infidel or profane world triumph. It was not Christianity, but the departure from it, which brought on these evils; and even in this low state of the Church there was much more moral virtue than could be found any where else ; and the charitable spirit of many in suffering, showed that God had yet a Church upon earth. The reader is however now prepared to conceive aright of the state of the Church, when Constantine took it under his protection, and to judge how far a national establishment was beneficial or prejudicial to it in future.
• C. XII. Martyr, of Pal.
c Hap. Of this he could scarcely judge with any propriety, i *- - unless well informed of its previous spiritual condition. But before we enter upon this, some facts, more or less connected with the persecution, with the civil state of the Empire, so far as it may throw light on the history of the Church, and with the manner how the persecution closed, will call for our attention.
Martyrs in Of all the martyrologies of this persecution, none care more replete with horror than those which describe the sufferings of Taracus, Probus, and Andronicus, at Tarsus in Cilicia. But I suppose by this time, the reader has seen a sufficient specimen of scenes which admit of no entertainment, no colouring, no embellishment. One of the best lessons to be learnt from them is, that here human nature is discovered in the height of its enmity against God: and any man may see of what malignity he is capable, if left at large to his own dark designs. I looked over the acts of these martyrdoms, which are rather tedious*; I suppose Mr. Gibbon also did the same, and his remark on what he had read, is this, that there was an asperity of behaviour in the martyrs, which might irritate the magistrates. But are words to be compared to deeds? What if torments so terrible, so unprovoked, inflicted on innocent and worthy citizens, did extort a few passionate complaints and indignant speeches? Tins was the case I see with Andronicus, and it is the only thing blameworthy which appears on the face of the narrative : Is this an apology, or even an extenuation for such barbarous persecutions ? Taracus firmly owned the truth. On being asked, whether he did not worship two gods, because he worshipped Christ, he confessed that "Christ was God, being the Son of the living God; he is the hope of Christians; he saves us by his sufferings." Probus, on being required to sacrifice to Jupiter, • See Fleury, B. IX.
says, " What to him who married his sister, that Cent. adulterer, that unchaste person, as all the poets ^_}^' testify ? In such testimonies as these, truth was delivered without violation of decorum. It was not so in the whole of these scenes. But enmity knows not what candour means ; and lest such bigots to infidelity as Mr. Gibbon should misconstrue what I have said of the great decline of godliness in the Christians of these times, it ought in justice to be owned in their favour, that a persecution, which intended their total destruction, was carried on against a race of men, who were even then, with all their faults, the most loyal, peaceable, and worthy citizens in the whole Empire.
But Providence was raising up a Protector for the Church. The emperor Constantius lying at the point of death, desired his partner in the East, Galerius, to send him home his son Constantine. The eastern emperor, having delayed as long as possible, sent him at last, and the son arrived in Britain just in time to see his father alive, who was interred at Eboracum*. Constantine succeed- Comtaning, gave the most perfect toleration to Christians, gj^1^ through the whole extent of his dominions. Pro- ce«is Con vidence was still with him in enlarsrin<r his kino-- ,,a""1"
dom, that, like another Cyrus, he might give peace and liberty to the Church. Rome and Italy were for some time under the power of Maxentius, the son of Dioclesian's colleague Maximian. This prince attempted the chastity of a Roman matron, who by suicide prevented his base designs. Had she been a Pag?n, as Lucretia, her impatience under the hand of God was not to be wondered at; but she professed Christianity; yet her action is highly praised by Eusebius ;—fresh proof of the taste of the times in religion. But Maxentius, though a tyrant of the basest characfer, never seems to have been, strictly speaking,
• Now York.
a persecutor of the Christians. Constantine, however, at length, coming from France into Italy, subverted his kingdom, and became sole master of the Western world. It was in his expedition against Maxentius that he is said to have seen the miracle of the Cross, the consideration of which will more properly excite our attention, when we come to consider the religious character and proceedings of this emperor. Maximian also, whose daughter Constantine had married, after various attempts to recover the power which by the influence of Dioclesian he had resigned, was put to death by his son-in-law for attempting his destruction.
Galerius himself in the year 310 was smitten with an incurable disease : all his lower parts were corrupted : physicians and idols were applied to in vain : an intolerable stench spread itself over the palace of Sardis, where he resided: he was devoured by worms: and in a situation the most dreadful he continued a whole year. Softened at length by his sufferings, he published, in the year 311, an Edict, by which he took off the persecution from the Christians, allowed them to rebuild their places of worship, and entreated them to pray for his health. Thus did God himself subdue this haughty tyrant. Prisons were opened, and among others Donatus, the friend of Lactantius*, who had been confined six years, recovered his liberty.
Galerius had exceeded all emperors in hostility to Christ; but who can fix the limit of human passions? His nephew Maximin, who reigned in a subordinate capacity in the East, was even his superior in the arts of persecution. Paganism was expiring, and it behoved the prince of darkness to find or qualify an agent, who should dispute every inch of ground with persevering assiduity.
Maximin, equally unmoved by the example of Constantine on the one hand, and the extorted clemency of Galerius on the other, suppressed the * De Mort. persecut.
ei\\ct of the latter, and contented himself with giving verbal orders to stop the persecution. The praetorian prefect Sabinus, however, declared the will of the emperor in favour of toleration, which had all the effect his humanity wished. The prisoners were released, the confessors were freed from the mines, the highways were full of Christians, singing psalms and hymns to God, as they returned to their friends, and Christendom at length wore a cheerful aspect. Even Pagans were melted; and many who had joined in the attempt to extinguish the Christian name, began to be convinced, that a religion, which had sustained such repeated and such formidable attacks, was divine and invincible.
But this calm lasted not six whole months*. Galerius, a few days after his edict, expired, his body being altogether corrupted. Without entering into a minute description of his sufferings, which are particularized by Eusebius and Lactantius, it is perfectly right to observe, that he who delighted so long to make men feel the most exquisite misery, might say at last with Adoni-bezekf, " As I have done, so God hath requited me." Maximin attempted to succeed him in all his eastern dominions; but was prevented by Licinius, whom Galerius had nominated Augustus, and who took possession of Asia Minor. But Syria and Egypt with their dependencies remained still under Maximin. Here he renewed the persecution with much malevolence and artifice. Under certain pretences, he forbad Christians to assemble in their churchyards, and then he privately procured petitions from various cities, which desired that the Christians might not be encouraged in their precincts. This was a refined species of policy, in which he was assisted by Theotecnus, the governor of Antioch. This man had hunted the Christians from their places of con
• Euseb. B. IX. C. II. &c. t Judges, i. 7. VOL. II. D
finement, and had caused the deaths of many. He now set up an oracle of Jupiter, and consecrated the idol at Antioch, with new ceremonies. Jupiter gave out, that the Christians ought to be banished from the city, and Maximin was informed, that it was his duty, both on motives of piety and of policy, to persecute the Christians. All the other magistrates of the cities, subject to Maximin, acted the same part as Theotecnus, and petitions were sent by the Pagan inhabitants begging the expulsion of Christians.
Maximin, furnished with plausible pretences for renewing the persecution, commenced it again. Through every city and village, idolatrous priests were appointed, and over them high-priests of a new institution, who applied themselves with great diligence to the support of declining paganism. They offered sacrifices with great assiduity. Persons of quality filled the highest offices of idolatry ; and pains were taken to prevent Christians from building places of worship, or from following their religion in public or private; and the former method of compelling them to sacrifice was renewed. To render his new priests more respectable, Maximin clothed them with white mantles, such as were worn by the ministers of the palace. Incited by the example of the tyrant, all the Pagans in his dominions exerted themselves to contrive the ruin of Christians ; and human ingenuity was put to the stretch, to invent calumnies in support of the kingdom of darkness.
When falsehood and slander are paid for by governments, they will not want employers.
Certain fictitious acts of Pilate and our Saviour, full of blasphemy, were, by Maximin's approbation, circulated through his dominions, with orders to facilitate the publication of them in all places, and to direct schoolmasters to deliver them to youth, that they might commit them to memory. A certain officer at Damascus also engaged some Cent.
infamous women to confess that they had been , ,
Christians, andprivytothe lascivious practices which were committed on the Lord's day in their assemblies. These and other slanders were registered, copied, and sent to the emperor, as the authenticated confession of these women, and he circulated them through his dominions. The officer who invented this calumny, destroyed himself some time after by his own hand. But a specious pretence was now given for augmenting the persecution. Maximin, affecting still the praise of clemency, gave orders to the prefects not to take away the lives of Christians, but to punish them with loss of eyes, and various amputations. The other abominations of this tyrant, dreadful and uncommon as they were, come not within our province. His labours against Christianity only belong to our subject. Nor did he strictly abstain from shedding blood at this season, though one would think the experience of so many years should have taught him, as well as the other tyrants, that the "blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church."
There appears, however, a plan of polite refine- Cruellies of merit in this renewed persecution, beyond any thing Maxm""which had yet been practised. Maximin did not now, as he had done formerly under Galerius, slay indiscriminately, or put to death numbers with exquisite torture. A few bishops and persons of Christian renown were deprived of life, the rest were harassed by every other kind of suffering short of death, and no arts were left unemployed to root Christianity out of the mind, and educate the next generation in a confirmed aversion to it. The decrees of cities against Christians, and besides these, the copies of imperial edicts engraved in brazen tables, were nailed up and seen in every town. Nothing like this had been done before. The persecution, in this its last stage, had arrived at the
perfection of diabolical ingenuity. Children in their schools daily sounded Jesus and Pilate, and other things, invented to asperse the Gospel.
A rescript of the emperor's, nailed to a post at Tyre, manifests with what pleasure and joy he had received the petition of that city against the Christians. It venerates Jupiter and the rest of the gods, as the authors of all good ; appeals to the experience of the inhabitants how happily their affairs had proceeded since the worship of the antients had been restored, howthey were now blest with good harvests, had no plagues, earthquakes and tempests, and enjoyed peace through the empire, and how opposite to all this the case had been, while Christendom prevailed. He desires that such as persisted still in their error should be banished from Tyre, according to the prayer of the petition. This rescript was a specimen of the rest, and it cannot be denied, that either Maximin, or some persons about him, were men of capacity, industry, and activity, though surely a worse cause was never found for the exertion of these talents.
Never were Christian minds so clouded and dispirited. Thus low did God surfer his Church to fall, to try its faith, and to purify it in the furnace. Art was more poisonous than rage, and the deceptions seemed calculated to impose (if it were possible) even on the elect. Very remarkable, however, was the Divine testimony to his Church; at this time, man's extremity was the opportunity in which the truth and goodness of God appeared most conspicuous. There were doubtless many true Christians at that time wrestling with their God, to appear for his Church, and He did so, in this manner. While the messengers were on the road with rescripts similar to that at Tyre, a drought commenced, famine unexpected oppressed the dominions of Maximin ; then followed a plague with inflamed ulcers. The sores spread over the body, but chiefly affected the eyes and blinded many. And the Ar- Cknt. menians, the allies and neighbours of the Eastern Iv empire, entered into a war with Maximin; they were w~v—' disposed to favour the Gospel, and Maximin, by extending his persecution to them, drew on their hosti lity. Thus were the boasts of Maximin confounded. The plague and famine raged in the most dreadful manner, and multitudes lay unburied. TheChristians, whose piety and fear of God were stirred up on this occasion, were the only persons who employed themselves in doing good, every day busying themselves in taking care of the sick, and burying the dead, whereas numbers of Pagans were neglected by their own friends; they gathered together also multitude* of the famished poor, and distributed bread to all; thus imitating their heavenly Father, who sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. Christians still appeared to be superior to all others ; and the Church was known still to exist, by fruits peculiarly her own, to the praise of her God and Saviour.
Toward the end of the year 312, died the empe- i>»iht.r ror Dioclesian, who had reigned prosperously for l)lude",'"twenty years; in the latter part of which time he A* D* commenced the persecution, and abdicating the 312throne not long after, he lived seven years a private life: happy, had he done so on motives of piety. But the mischiefs which his authority introduced continued under tyrants more ferocious than himself; and he lived not only to see these mischiefs, without power to check them, had he been so disposed, but also, what more probably afflicted his mind, to find his daughter Valeria, the widow of Galerius, and her mother, his own wife Prisca, treated with great injustice by his successors, and to solicit their release in vain. Worn out with grief and vexation, he ended his days at length, a monument of the instability of all human greatness. He lived not to see the catastrophe of his wife and daughter, who, after a long course of sufferings, were put to death by Licinius.
Cit\p. It is foreign to the design of this history to particui* larize their story, which, after all, is very mysterious. Why they should be so much persecuted, first by Maximin and then by Licinius, we know not. A conjecture may be made, but it must be considered only as a conjecture. The two princesses had doubtless favoured the Gospel in the days of their grandeur, and had defiled themselves with sacrifices to appease Dioclesian. Might they not afterwards suffer for the sake of the Gospel itself, though their persecutors might not chuse to represent them as suffering on account of Christianity ? If so, the princesses sustained the cross with more fidelity than formerly. Maximin was surely capable of all this inhumanity, and that Licinius also was so, though for some time a friend of Christians, will appear hereafter.
A. D. In the year 313, there was a war between Lici313. nius and Maximin, who contended each for the complete sovereignty of the East. Before the decisive battle, Maximin vowed to Jupiter, that if he obtained the victory, he would abolish the Christian name. Licinius, in a dream*, was directed to supplicate, with all his army, the supreme God, in a solemn manner. He gave directions to his soldiers to do so, and they prayed in the field of battle, using the very words which he had received in his dream. In all this the reader will see nothing suspicious, nothing but what is in its own nature very credible, when he considers that the contest between Jehovah and Jupiter was now at its height, and drawing to a crisis. Victory decided in favour of Licinius. Maximin, in consequence of thisf, published a cautious decree, in which he forbad the molestation of Christians, but did not allow them the liberty of public worship. Warned by former experience of his enmity, the Christians in his dominions dared not to assemble themselves together.
• Lact. de M. T. t E"»eb. 13. X. C. IX.
Whilst the rest of the Christian world, under the Endofiim auspices of Constantine and Licinius, who published ^0„"se' a complete toleration of Christianity, together with that of all other religions, enjoyed peace and tranquillity.
It was the will of God to lay his hand still more Death of heavily on the tyrant. Struck with rage at his disappointments, in the sad reverse of his affairs he slew many priests and prophets of his gods, by whose enchantments he had been seduced with false hopes of uersal empire in the East; and finding most probably that he gained no friends among Christians by his late edict, he published another in their favour as full and complete as that of Constantine and Licinius. So amazingly were affairs now changed, that contending emperors courted the favour of the poor persecuted Christians. After this he was struck with a sudden plague over his whole body, pined away with hunger, fell down from his bed, his flesh being so wasted away by a secret fire, that it consumed and dropped off from his bones ; his eyes started out of their sockets; and in his distress he began to see God passing judgment on him *. Frantic in his agonies, he cried out, " It was not I, but others who did it." At length, by the increasing force of torment, he owned his guilt, and every now and then implored Christ, that he would compassionate his misery. He confessed himself vanquished, and gave up the ghost f.
* Lactantius tells us, that the immediate cause of his death was poison, which he drank in his fury. But I think Eusebius's account more probable, because Lactantius allows that he lived four days under torture.
f It is remarkable, that all the associates of Maximin in his crimes, partook also of his punishments. Among these Qulcian, tbe bloody governor of Thebais, and Theotecnus, are distinguished. His enchanters were, by torments under the authority of Licinius, compelled to lay open the frauds of their employers, and he and they, with all the children and relations of the tyrant, : destroyed.
Chap. Thus closed the most memorable of all the attacks
v J- , of Satan on the Christian Church. Since that time
he has never been able to persecute Christians, assuch, within the limits of Roman civilization in Europe. I thought the account of the most violent attempt to eradicate the Gospel, ever known, deserved to be distinctly related. If some things happened more approaching to the nature of miracles, than ordinary history knows, the greatness of the contest shows at once the propriety of such signal divine interpositions, and renders them more credible. The present age affects a scepticism more daring than any preceding one; but in every age before this, all pious and considerate persons have agreed that the arm of God was lifted up in a wonderful manner, at once to chastise and to purify his Church, and also to demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion to the proudest and the fiercest of his enemies, till they were obliged to confess that the Gospel was divine, and must stand in the earth invincible; that the most High ruleth, and that he will have a Church in the world, which will glorify him, in spite of earth and hell united, and that this Church contains in it all that deserves the name of true wisdom and true virtue.