« PreviousContinue »
Fabius Clemens; and, among the banished, the wife and niece of the latter, both named Flaviæ Domitillæ. At this time, the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos, from whence he wrote his epistles to the seven churches in Asia. He is said to have survived the persecution of Domitian, though it is uncertain how long ; and to have died at Ephesus in the reign of Nerva or Trajan, at wbich city he was buried. The crime alleged against the Christians at this period, and which drew down upon them the cruel hand of persecution, was that of Atheism, by which is to be understood, that they refused to throw a grain of incense on the altars of the heathen deities. The storm, however, was of short duration; for both Eusebius and Tertullian inform us, that Domitian revoked the edict which he had issued against the Christians, and recalled from banishment those who had been driven away. Having caused the earth to groan under his cruelties and excesses, he was at length assassinated, in the sixteenth year of his reign, and was succeeded in the empire by
Narva, a prince of a most gentle and humane disposition, under whom the Romans lived as happy as during the former reign they had been miserable. He pardoned all that were imprisoned for treason, called home such as had been banished, restored the sequestrated estates, punished informers, redressed grievances to the utmost of his power, and acted with universal beneficence towards all descriptions of his subjects. According to Dio Cassius, he forbade the persecution of any persons either for Judaism, or for impiety ; by which is to be understood Christianity; for so the Heathens termed the latter, on account of its being hostile to their worship; and because Christians, having neither temples, altars, nor sacrifices, were generally considered by them to be also without religion. After a short but brilliant reign
of sixteen months and eight days, Nerva died, A. D. 98, and was succeeded by Trajan, whom he had previously nominated as his heir, a man well skilled in martial and cabinet affairs. In his deportment courteous, affable, humane, and just; and, perhaps, not undeservedly esteemed one of the best princes with which Rome had ever been favoured.
HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH FROM THE CLOSE
OF THE FIRST CENTURY, TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY UNDER CONSTANTINE, A. D. 315.
The state of the Christian profession under the reign
A. D. 93 to 117.
THERE is more truth than would at first strike the mind of a superficial observer, in Dr. Jortin's remark, that Christianity was, at the beginning, more likely to prosper under bad than under good emperors; especially if the latter were tenacious of their religious rites and ceremonies. Accordingly, from the death of Christ to the reign of Vespasian, a period of about thirty-seven years, the Romans paid little regard to the progress of the gospel. They were ruled by weak or frantic and vicious emperors; the magistrates and senators, and every worthy man of any note, stood in continual fear for their own lives, and the empire was a scene of confusion, desolation, and misery. *
Gibbon, in one short paragraph, has sketched a tolerably correct picture of the state of the Roman government during the times of which we are now treating, and the reader cannot be displeased at my transplanting it into these pages.
* Jortin's Remarks, vol. i. p. 50.
“ The annals of the emperors," says he, “ exhibit a strong and various picture of human nature, which we should vainly seek among the mixed and doubtful characters of modern history. In the conduct of these monarchs, we may trace the utmost lines of vice and virtue; the most exalted perfection, and the meanest degeneracy of our own species. The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successors of Augustus. Their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius,* and the timid, inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years (excepting only the short and donbtfal respite of Vespasian's reign) Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families, and was fatal to almost every virtue, and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.”+
We have already traced the progress of Christianity through our author's age of iron, and are now entering upon what he terms the golden age of Trajan and the Antonines.
“ If a man were called to fix,” says the same elegant historian, “ the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance
Vitellius consnmed in mere eating, at least six millions of our money in about seven months. It is not easy to express his vices with dignity or even (lecency. Tacitus fairly cails him “ a hog."
+ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. i. ch. S.
of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully governed by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws."* Such a state of things as this, many would imagine could be little inferior to a millennium, as it respected Christians—but how far the opinion would be consonant to truth, will appear in the sequel.
Trajan ascended the throne of the Cæsars in the year 98, and soon afterwards conferred the government of the prorince of Bithynia upon his friend the ingenious and celebrated Pliny. The character of the latter is one of the most amiable in all pagan antiquity. In the exercise of his office as proconsul, the Christians, against whom the severe edicts which had been issued by preceding emperors seem to be still in force, were brought before his tribunal. Having never had occasion to be present at any such examinations before, the multitude of the criminals, and the severity of the laws against them, seem to hare greatly struck him, and caused him to hesitate how far it was proper to carry them into execution, without first consulting the emperor upon the subject. The letter which he wrote to Trajan upon this occasion, as well as the answer of the latter, are happily preserved, and are among the most valuable monuments of antiquity, on account of the light which they throw upon the state of the Christian profession at this splendid epoch. The letter of Pliny seems to have been written in the Fear 106 or 107, and is as follows.
“ C. PLINY, to the EMPEROR TRAJAN, wishes health.
• Gibbon, rol. i. ch. s.