THE EXTENSION OF THE GOSPEL, FROM THE
BEGINNING OF THE CENTURY, TO THE DEATH
C***P' Th I s should be the favourite object of a Christian
—J < historian, and glad should I be to answer the most
sanguine wishes of the evangelical reader. But the period before us is far more fruitful in ecclesiastical contentions than remarkable for the extension of Christianity itself; and even the account which we have of the trophies of the Redeemer's death and resurrection, in the barbarous countries, is too mean and defective, to satisfy the laudable curiosity of those who love the progress of vital religion.
About the beginning of the century, a Tyrian philosopher, named Meropius, possessed of the spirit of travelling, explored the interior parts of India*. He took with him two boys, his relations, who understood the Greek tongue. Arriving at a certain
* I follow the narrative of Socrates, B. I. c. 19. But what he calls India, seems to have been the kingdom of Abyssinia, which .at this day calls itself Christian, and glories in the evangelical labours of its first bishop Frumentius; though it appears, from the account of Bruce, in his voyage to discover the source of the Kile, to have long remained in the deepest ignorance and vice.
harbour, the natives murdered the whole company, Cent. except the two boys, who were presented to the king, 1. TM' and finding favour in his eyes, were promoted in his court. Upon the king's death, the queen dowager engaged them to superintend the affairs of the realm, and the education of the young prince. Their names were iEdesius and Frumentius. But the latter was prime minister*. The man, however, had his eyes fixed on higher objects than the politics of the country. He met with some Roman merchants, who traded there, and asked them if they found any Christians in the kingdom. Having discovered some by their means, he encouraged them to associate for the purposes of religious worship, and at length erected a church for their use, and certain natives, instructed in the Gospel, were converted to the faith. On the king's accession to the administration, Frumentius desired leave to return to his own country, which both the king and his mother were very reluctant to allow. He left the country, however, with iEdesius. The latter returned to his relations at Tyre, while Frumentius, arriving at Alexandria, communicated his adventures to Athanasius the bishop, and informed him of the probability of evangelizing the country, if missionaries were sent thither. On mature consideration, Athanasius told him, that none was so fit for the office as himself. He consecrated him therefore the first bishop of the Indians; and this active missionary, returning to a country where his integrity and capacity had already been distinguished, preached the Gospel with much success, and erected many churches. Thus was the Gospel planted in a barbarous kingdom, where the extreme ignorance of the natives would much facilitate its external progress at least, under the
* Bruce would call him the Ras. The whole story carries a strong air of probability, from the resemblance of the customs in this Indian kingdom to those of Abyssinia; which seems to confirm the conjecture, that the India of Socrates was Abyssinia.
Chap, episcopal labours of a man, who had educated their -Y*' „ sovereign; then at least, most probably, there were many real conversions, and a time of copious effusion of the Spirit of God*. And the difficulty of access to this region, which has since proved so prejudicial to the advancement of knowledge among its inhabitants, was at that time a happy preservative to the infant church. It was in vain, that Constantius laboured to poison it with his beloved Arianism. He gave orders that Frumentius should be deposed, and that an Arian successor should be appointed; but the country was happily out of the reach of his imperial bigotry.
The Iberians were a people bordering on the Black Sea, who, in some military excursion, took prisoner a pious Christian woman, whose sanctity of manners engaged the respect of these barbarians. Socrates mentions several miracles which God wrought by her means'f-. The credibility of such divine interpositions much depends on the importance of circumstances. ' Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus,' is a rule of Horace full of good sense, and as applicable to theology as to poetry. What so likely to affect the minds of an ignorant people as miracles? The situation of things rendered it probable, that such divine interpositions might take place; but I shall mention only those,which may seem worthy of some credit. A child of the king's was sent to the women of the country to be cured, if any of them knew a proper method of treating it— a well-known ancient custom. The case baffled the skill of them all, and the child was committed to the captive woman. " Christ, said she, who healed
• The absolute despotism of the Abyssinian princes, and the probability that the Sovereign before us received Christianity, would account for the establishment of the Gospel through the whole country. And the inaccessible situation and profound ignorance of Abyssinia, will account for the continuance of nominal Christianity to this day. f B. 1. C 20.
many, will also heal this infant." She prayed, and he Cent. recovered. In the same manner the queen herself . IJ' was healed of a distemper some time after. " It is not my work, said she, but that of Christ the Son of God, the maker of the world." The king sent her presents in token of his gratitude. But she sent them back, assuring him, that " godliness was her riches, and that she should look on it, as the noblest present, N,^ if he would worship the God whom she adored." The next day the king was lost in hunting in a thick mist, and implored in vain the aid of his gods. In his distress, recollecting the words of the woman, he prayed to the God whom she worshipped. The mist was instantly dispersed, and the king found his way home. In consequence of this event, and of future conferences with the woman, both the king^and queen embraced the Gospel, and exhorted their subjects to receive it. An embassy was sent to Constantine to desire that pastors might be commissioned to instruct them. The emperor gave the ambassadors a very gracious reception.
It is proper to add here, on the authority of Pbilostorgius, that Constantius sent ambassadors to the Sabeans of Arabia Felix, demanding that the Roman navigators and inhabitants might build Christian churches, and that he furnished them with money for the purpose. Theophilus, an Indian, who had long been with Constantine in the capacity of an hostage, was ordained bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and sent among the Sabeans; he erected churches, and spread at least the name of Christianity to a certain degree.
The ecclesiastical accounts of Britain are so fabulous, or at best so scanty, that it is a pleasure to be able to relate any thing that has the marks of historical authenticity. At the council of Ariminum, held on account of the Arian heresy, the emperor Constantius gave orders to supply the expenses of the bishops out of the public treasury.
Chap. While the rest accepted the imperial munificence, „ v*- t the bishops of Gaul and Britain thought it unbecoming the ecclesiastical character to receive secular maintenance, and bore their own expenses. Only three from Britain were so poor, that they were unable to maintain themselves. Their brethren offered by a contribution to supply their wants; but they chose rather to be obliged to the emperor's bounty, than to burthen their brethren. Gavidius, a French bishop, reproached them for this; but Severus, the relater of the story, thinks it was a circumstance much redounding to their credit*. So Iapprehend it will appear to the reader, and we regret that where there are such evident vestiges of primitive and disinterested simplicity, we should know so little of the lives and characters of men quite remote from the scenes of ecclesiastical turbulence and ambition. Probably in our island the Gospel flourished at this time in humble obscurity.
Christianity was spreading itself beyond the Roman empire. The nations bordering on the Rhine, with the remotest parts of France, were now Christian; and the Goths near the Danube, about sixty years before, had been civilized at least, by the Christian religion, through the bishops whom they had carried captive under Gallienus; and most probably the Spirit of God was with their labours. Armenia under its king Tiridates had embraced Christianity *f*, and by means of commerce had conveyed it into Persia, where Christians began to be numerous.
But there they sustained a very grievous persecution * Sulpit. Sev. B. II. c 55.
f Armenia had probably long before been in some measure evangelized. It was not, however, till the commencement of this century that Gregory, surnamed The Enlightener, established the Gospel there. Through his means Tiridates and all his nobles were brought over to the profession of Christianity. He .was consecrated bishop of Armenia by Leontius bishop of Cappadocia. Mosheim, Cent. IV.
from king Sapor, in the time of Constantine; a Cent. long account of which we have in Sozomen*. The . reader has seen many things of the same kind in former persecutions; I shall only observe therefore in general, that thousands chose rather to suffer for the name of Christ, than to pollute themselves with the worship of the sun; that the Magi and the Jews were peculiarly instrumental in this persecution ; and that the people of God suffered here with so much sincerity and fortitude, as to evince that the Lord had many people belonging to himself in Persia.