Page images

Quadratus drew up an apology for the Christian Religion, which he addressed and delivered to the emperor; as did also Aristides, a Christian writer at that time in Athens. Unfortunately these apologies are lost, and it is greatly to be regretted; for had they survived the wreck of time, they would, in all probability, have thrown much light upon the state of the Christian profession at that period. Nor have we any certain information what effect they produced upon the mind of the emperor. “The pagan priests," says Mosheim, “set the populace in motion to demand from the magistrates, with one voice, during the public games, the destruction of the Christians; and the magistrates fearing that a sedition might be the consequence of despising or opposing these popular clamours, were too much disposed to indulge them in their requests.” During these commotions, Serenus Granianus, proconsul of Asia, 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 being convicted of any crime." This seems the first instance of any Roman governor publicly daring to question the propriety and justice of Trajan's edict, which, independent of any. moral guilt, inflicted death on Christians, merely because they were Christians. Serenus, at the time of writing his letter, was probably about to quit his office, but Adrian addressed the following rescript to his successor.


“ I have received a letter written to me by the very illustrious Serenus Granianus, whom you have succeeded, To me then the affair seems by no means fit to be slightly 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 publicly, and make open charges against the Christians, so as to give them an opportunity of answeting for themselves, let them proceed in that manner only, and pot by rude demands and mere clamours. For it is much more proper, if any person will accuse them, that you should take cognizance of these matters. If therefore any accuse, and shew that they actually break the laws, do you determine according to the nature of the crime. But, by Hercules, if the charge be a mere calamny, do you estimate the enormity of such calomny and punish as it deserves."*

This rescript seems to have somewhat abated the fury of the persecution, though not wholly to have put an end to it. Tertullian, in reference to these times, informes us that Arrius Antoninus, then proconsul of Asia, when the Christians came in a body before his tribunal, ordered some of them to be put to death; and said to others, “ You wretches! If ye will die, ye have precipices and halters.” He adds, that several other governors of provinces, punished some few Christians, and dismissed the rest, so that the persecution was peither so general DOT so severe as it had been under Trajan.

During the reign of Adrian, the Jews once more attempted to free themselves from the Roman yoke. A rebellious chief arose among them, of the name of Barchocbebas, who assumed the title “ king of the Jews," and prevailed upon these deluded people, thinned as they were by slaughter, and dispersed througbout the different provinces, to rally round his standard, and contend with the Romans for empire. While the rebellion was in progress, the Christians, refusing to join the standard of this fctitious Messiah, suffered the most atrocious indig

Easebios, b. 4. c 9. and Justin Martyr's first A polozs, ad fina.

nities, and were massacred without mercy, until the fall of their leader, and the destruction of his adherents put an end to the sedition. The issue of the rebellion was the entire exclusion of the Jews from the territory of Judea.

After a reign of twenty-one years, Adrian was succeeded, in the year 138, by Titus Antoninus Pius, a senator about fifty years of age, whom he declared his successor, only on the condition that he himself should immediately adopt Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, a youth of about seventeen, and by these two Antonines the Roman world was governed forty years. Their united reigns, says Gibbon, are possibly the only period of history, in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government.*

The elder Antoninus appears to have been a most amiable prince.

He diffused order and tranquillity throughout the empire; and, in his own personal character and intentions, was guiltless of Christian blood. The disciples of Jesus were nevertheless cruelly treated in some of the provinces of Asia, and it occasioned Justin Martyr to write his first apology, which was presented to the emperor. The crimes they were accused of by their enemies were impiety and atheism, which are refuted by Justin in his apology. In several of the former edicts, the word crime had not been sufficiently determined in its signification. Hence the pagan priests, and even the Roman magistrates, frequently applied this term to the profession of Christianity itself. But Antoninus issued an edict, in which he decided the point on the side of humanity and justice. He addressed a letter to the province of Asia, in favour of the persecuted Christians, which is of too much importance to be here omitted.

• Decline and Fall, vol. i. ch. 3.


I am clearly of opinion, that the gods will take care to discover such persons (as those to whom you refer). For it much more concerns them to punish those who refuse to worship them, than you, if they be able. But you harass and vex the Christians, and accuse them of atheism and other crimes, which you can by no means prove. To them it appears an advantage to die for their religion, and they gain their point, while they throw away their lives, rather than comply with your injunctions. As to the earthquakes, which have happened in times past or more recently, is it not proper to remind you of your own despondency, when they happen; and to desire you to compare your spirit with theirs, and observe how serenely they confide in God? In such seasons you seem to be ignorant of the gods, and to neglect their worship. You live in the practical ignorance of the supreme God himself, and you harass and persecute to death those who do worship him. Concerning these same men, some others of the provincial governors wrote to our divine father Adrian, to whom he returned for answer, “That they should not be molested, unless they appeared to attempt something against the Roman government.” Many also have made application to me concerning these men, to whom I have returned an answer agreeable to the maxims of my father. But if any person will still persist in accusing the Christians merely as such, let the accused be acquitted, though he appear to be a Christian, and let the accuser be punished.”

Set up at Ephesus in the Common Assembly of Asia.

Letters of similar import were also written to the Larisseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and all the Greeks, as we are informed by Eusebius; and the bu

mane emperor took care that his edicts were carried into effect. He reigned three and twenty years, and it seems reasonable to conclude that during the greater part of this time, Christians were permitted to worship God in peace. This must have been a halcyon season to the poor afflicted disciples of Jesus, when they were permitted to sit under their own vine and fig-tree, without fear or molestation; but it terminated with the life of the elder Antoninus, about the year 162, at which time the government of the empire devolved wholly upon his late colleague, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

This prince, at the age of twelve years, embraced the rigid system of the stoical philosophy, which he also laboured to inculcate upon the minds of his subjects. He even condescended to read lectures of philosophy to tho Roman people, in a manner, says Gibbon, who nevertheless eulogises his character, more public than was consistent with the modesty of a sage or the dignity of an emperor. Under his reign commenced, what is generally accounted the fourth persecution of the Christians. It is not improbable that he had beheld with an anxious eye, the lenity which had been shewn them by his predecessors, and that the occasional interruptions that had been given them, were, at least, with his connivance, Certain it is, that no sooner had be attained to the full exercise of power, than he completely discarded the wole rant principles of Antoninus Pius, and threw open once more the flood-rates of persecution.

The churches of Asia appear to have suffered dreadfully at this period. Polycarp was pastor of the church in Smyrna, an office which he had beld for more than eighty years, and s bieb be bad filed up with bonour to himself, to the edifcation of his Christian brethren, and the glory of his disine Maxtor. It only retraiud for him now to seal bis testimon) with bus biood. Tt eminence


« PreviousContinue »