Page images
PDF
EPUB

Thus much for Trajan's persecution, for the spirit of christians, so far as it can be collected, at that time, for the martyrdom of Ignatius, and for the signal glory which God was pleased to diffuse around it among the churches.

[blocks in formation]

THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANS DURING THE REIGNS

OF ADRIAN AND ANTONINUS PIUS.

TRA

RAJAN died in the year 117. The latter

part of his reign had been employed in his great military expedition into the East, whence he lived not to return. His exploits and triumphs fall not within my province ; I have no business with him except in that line, in which to a christian he must appear to the greatest disadvantage; and out of which it were heartily to be wished, that he had ever given any evidence of a desire to remove. His successor, Adrian, appears not to have ever issued any persecuting edićts. But the iniquity of his predeceffor survived, and Adrian's filent acquiescence for a time, gave it sufficient scope to exert itself in acts of barbarity.

In the mean time the Gospel spread more and more. A number of Apoftolical persons demonstrated by their conduct, that the Spirit, which had influenced the Apostles, rested upon them. Filled with divine charity, they distributed their substance to the poor, and travelled into regions; which as yet had not heard the sound of the Gospel; and having planted the faith, they ordained other persons as pastors, committing to them the culture of the new ground, and passed themselves to other countries. Hence numbers through grace embraced the do&trine of salvation, at the first hearing, with much alacrity *. It is natural to admire here the power of grace in the production of so pure and charitable a spirit, to contrast it with the illiberal selfishness too prevalent even among the best in our days, and to regrec how little is done for the propagation of the Gospel through the world, by nations whose aids of commerce and navigation are so much superior to those enjoyed by the antients. One advantage these Chriftians poffeffed indeed, which we have not. They were all one body, one church, of one name, and cordially loved one another as Brethren. The attention to fundamentals, to real christianity, was not dissipated by schismatic peculiarities, nor was the body of Christ rent in pieces by factions. There were indeed many heretics, but real christians admitted thein not into their communities; the line of distinction was drawn with sufficient precision, and a dinike of the person or offices of Christ, and of the real spirit of holiness, discriminated the heretics : and separation from them, while it was undoubtedly the best mark of charity to their souls, tended to preserve the faith and love of true christians in genuine purity:

them were * Euseb, book 3. chap. 33. + Euseb, book 4. 22.

Among these holy men Quadratus, was much diftinguished. He succeeded Publius in the Bishopric of Athens, who had suffered martyrdom either in this or the foregoing reign. He found the flock in a dispersed and confused state t, their publick allemblies were deserted, their zeal was grown cold and languid, their lives and manners

N

were corrupted, and they seemed likely to apostatize from christianity. Quadratus laboured to recover them with much zeal and with equal success*. Order and discipline were restored, and with them the holy Aame of godliness. One of the strongest teftimonies of these things, is the account which the famous Origen, (who lived some years after) in the second book of his treatise against Celsus, gives of the Athenian Church. While this great man is demonstrating the admirable efficacy of christian faith on the minds of men, he exemplifies his positions by this very church of Athens, on account of its good order, conftancy, meekness, and quietness, infinitely fuperior to the common political afsembly at Athens, which was factious and tumultuary, and no way to be compared with the christian church in that city; he affirms that it was evident, that the worst parts of the church were better than the best of their popular assemblies. This is a very pleasing testimony to the growth of christianity, since the time that a handful of seed was fown there by St. Paul; and let the testimony of so penetrating and sagacious an observer as Origen be considered, as one of the many proofs that might be given of the happy effect which real christianity has on human society. To'a mind not intoxicated with vain ideas of lecular glory, the christian part of Athens must appear infinitely more happy and more respectable, than that commonwealth ever had been in the meridian of it's glory. But we hope in future pages to give much itronger proofs of the advantages derived to fociety froin the Gospel.

In the sixth year of his reign, Adrian came to Athens, and was initiated in the Eleusinian myf.

teries. * Cave's life of Quadratus.

[ocr errors]

teries. This Prince was remarkably fond of Pagan institutions, and by this very circumstance demonstrated a spirit extremely foreign to christianity. The persecutors proceeded with sanguinary vigour; when Quadratus at length presented an apology to the Emperor, defending the Gospel from the calumnies of it's enemies, in which he particularly took notice of our Saviour's miracles, his curing diseases, and raising the dead, fome instances of which, he says, were alive in his time. •

Aristides, a Chriftian writer at that time in Athens, addressed himself also to Adrian in an apology on the same subject. The good sense of the Emperor at length was rouzed to do justice to his innocent subjects. The apologies of the two writers may be reasonably supposed to have had some effect on his mind. Yet a letter from Serenius Granianus, Proconsul of Asia, may be conceived to have moved him ftill more. He wrote to the Emperor, that it seemed to him unreasonable, that the christians should be put to death, merely to gratify the clamours of the people, without trial, and without any crime proved against them. This seems the first instance of any Roman Governor daring publickly to throw out ideas contradictory to Trajan's iniquitous maxims, which inflicted death on christians as such, abstracted from any moral guilt. And it seems to me a sufficient proof, that the severe sufferings of christians at this period, which appear to have been very remarkable in Asia, were more owing to the active and fanguinary spirit of persecution itself, which, from Trajan's example, was become very fashionable, than to any explicit regard for his Edicts. We have Adrian's Rescript addressed to Minucius Fundanus, the successor of Granianus, whose Government seems to have N 2

been

been nearly expired, when he wrote to the Emperor.

TO Minucius Fundanus. “ I have received a letter written to me by the very illustrious Serenius Granianus, whom you have succeeded. To me then the affair seems by no ineans fit to be Nightly passed over, that men may not be disturbed without cause, and that Sycophants may not be encouraged in their odious practices. If the people of the province

. will appear publickly, and make open charges against the christians, so as to give them an opportunity of answering for themselves, let them proceed in that manner only, and not by rude demands and mere clamours. For it is much more proper, if any will accuse them, that you should take cognizance of these matters. then accuse, and shew that they commit any thing against the laws, do you determine according to the nature of the crime. But, by Hercules *, if the charge be a mere calumny, do you estimate the enormity of the offence, and punish it as it deserves."

Notwithstanding the obscurity, which I find Dr. Jortin and Dr. Lardner suppose to be in this rescript, I cannot but think it clearly shews that it was the intention of the Emperor to prevent christians from being punished as such. The only reason for hesitation which I can see is the inconsistency of it with Trajan's rescript. But it does not appear that Adrian meant the conduct of his predeceffor to be the model of his own, and we shall see in the next reign still clearer proofs of the equity of Adrian's views. It is but a piece of

If any

justice

This is an"Oath, demonstrating only the earneltoefs of the writer in his declarations, according to the usual profaneness of men.

« PreviousContinue »