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The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

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Amsterd. tom. x. part ii. p. 292. Cave's Hist. Lit. p. 92, 93. -

The state of Tertullian's opinions at the particular period
is almost an idle question. "The fiery African" is not at any
time to be considered a fair representative of Christianity. -

Such was the anxious diligence which was required to guard
the chastity of the gospel from the infectious breath of
idolatry. The superstitious observances of public or private
rites were carelessly practised, from education and habit, by the
followers of the established religion. But as often as they
occurred, they afforded the Christians an opportunity of
declaring and confirming their zealous opposition. By these
frequent protestations their attachment to the faith was
continually fortified; and in proportion to the increase of zeal,
they combated with the more ardor and success in the holy war,
which they had undertaken against the empire of the demons.

II. The writings of Cicero ^51 represent in the most lively
colors the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the
ancient philosophers with regard to the immortality of the soul.
When they are desirous of arming their disciples against the fear
of death, they inculcate, as an obvious, though melancholy
position, that the fatal stroke of our dissolution releases us
from the calamities of life; and that those can no longer suffer,
who no longer exist. Yet there were a few sages of Greece and
Rome who had conceived a more exalted, and, in some respects, a
juster idea of human nature, though it must be confessed, that in
the sublime inquiry, their reason had been often guided by their
imagination, and that their imagination had been prompted by
their vanity. When they viewed with complacency the extent of
their own mental powers, when they exercised the various
faculties of memory, of fancy, and of judgment, in the most
profound speculations, or the most important labors, and when
they reflected on the desire of fame, which transported them into
future ages, far beyond the bounds of death and of the grave,
they were unwilling to confound themselves with the beasts of the
field, or to suppose that a being, for whose dignity they
entertained the most sincere admiration, could be limited to a
spot of earth, and to a few years of duration. With this
favorable prepossession they summoned to their aid the science,
or rather the language, of Metaphysics. They soon discovered,
that as none of the properties of matter will apply to the
operations of the mind, the human soul must consequently be a
substance distinct from the body, pure, simple, and spiritual,
incapable of dissolution, and susceptible of a much higher degree
of virtue and happiness after the release from its corporeal
prison. From these specious and noble principles, the
philosophers who trod in the footsteps of Plato deduced a very
unjustifiable conclusion, since they asserted, not only the
future immortality, but the past eternity, of the human soul,
which they were too apt to consider as a portion of the infinite
and self-existing spirit, which pervades and sustains the
universe. ^52 A doctrine thus removed beyond the senses and the
experience of mankind, might serve to amuse the leisure of a
philosophic mind; or, in the silence of solitude, it might
sometimes impart a ray of comfort to desponding virtue; but the
faint impression which had been received in the schools, was soon
obliterated by the commerce and business of active life. We are
sufficiently acquainted with the eminent persons who flourished
in the age of Cicero, and of the first Caesars, with their
actions, their characters, and their motives, to be assured that
their conduct in this life was never regulated by any serious
conviction of the rewards or punishments of a future state. At
the bar and in the senate of Rome the ablest orators were not
apprehensive of giving offence to their hearers, by exposing that
doctrine as an idle and extravagant opinion, which was rejected
with contempt by every man of a liberal education and
understanding. ^53

[Footnote 51: In particular, the first book of the Tusculan
Questions, and the treatise De Senectute, and the Somnium
Scipionis, contain, in the most beautiful language, every thing
that Grecian philosophy, on Roman good sense, could possibly
suggest on this dark but important object.]
[Footnote 52: The preexistence of human souls, so far at least as
that doctrine is compatible with religion, was adopted by many of
the Greek and Latin fathers. See Beausobre, Hist. du
Manicheisme, l. vi. c. 4.]
[Footnote 53: See Cicero pro Cluent. c. 61. Caesar ap. Sallust.
de Bell. Catilis n 50. Juvenal. Satir. ii. 149.

Esse aliquid manes, et subterranea regna,
- - - - - - -
Nec pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum aeree lavantae.]

Since therefore the most sublime efforts of philosophy can
extend no further than feebly to point out the desire, the hope,
or, at most, the probability, of a future state, there is
nothing, except a divine revelation, that can ascertain the
existence, and describe the condition, of the invisible country
which is destined to receive the souls of men after their
separation from the body. But we may perceive several defects
inherent to the popular religions of Greece and Rome, which
rendered them very unequal to so arduous a task. 1. The general
system of their mythology was unsupported by any solid proofs;
and the wisest among the Pagans had already disclaimed its
usurped authority. 2. The description of the infernal regions
had been abandoned to the fancy of painters and of poets, who
peopled them with so many phantoms and monsters, who dispensed
their rewards and punishments with so little equity, that a
solemn truth, the most congenial to the human heart, was opposed
and disgraced by the absurd mixture of the wildest fictions. ^54
3. The doctrine of a future state was scarcely considered among
the devout polytheists of Greece and Rome as a fundamental
article of faith. The providence of the gods, as it related to
public communities rather than to private individuals, was
principally displayed on the visible theatre of the present
world. The petitions which were offered on the altars of Jupiter
or Apollo, expressed the anxiety of their worshippers for
temporal happiness, and their ignorance or indifference
concerning a future life. ^55 The important truth of the of the
immortality of the soul was inculcated with more diligence, as
well as success, in India, in Assyria, in Egypt, and in Gaul; and
since we cannot attribute such a difference to the superior
knowledge of the barbarians, we we must ascribe it to the
influence of an established priesthood, which employed the
motives of virtue as the instrument of ambition. ^56

[Footnote 54: The xith book of the Odyssey gives a very dreary
and incoherent account of the infernal shades. Pindar and Virgil
have embellished the picture; but even those poets, though more
correct than their great model, are guilty of very strange
inconsistencies. See Bayle, Responses aux Questions d'un
Provincial, part iii. c. 22.]

[Footnote 55: See xvith epistle of the first book of Horace, the
xiiith Satire of Juvenal, and the iid Satire of Persius: these
popular discourses express the sentiment and language of the

[Footnote 56: If we confine ourselves to the Gauls, we may
observe, that they intrusted, not only their lives, but even
their money, to the security of another world. Vetus ille mos
Gallorum occurrit (says Valerius Maximus, l. ii. c. 6, p. 10)
quos, memoria proditum est pecunias montuas, quae his apud
inferos redderentur, dare solitos. The same custom is more
darkly insinuated by Mela, l. iii. c. 2. It is almost needless
to add, that the profits of trade hold a just proportion to the
credit of the merchant, and that the Druids derived from their
holy profession a character of responsibility, which could
scarcely be claimed by any other order of men.]
We might naturally expect that a principle so essential to
religion, would have been revealed in the clearest terms to the
chosen people of Palestine, and that it might safely have been
intrusted to the hereditary priesthood of Aaron. It is incumbent
on us to adore the mysterious dispensations of Providence, ^57
when we discover that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul
is omitted in the law of Moses it is darkly insinuated by the
prophets; and during the long period which clasped between the
Egyptian and the Babylonian servitudes, the hopes as well as
fears of the Jews appear to have been confined within the narrow
compass of the present life. ^58 After Cyrus had permitted the
exiled nation to return into the promised land, and after Ezra
had restored the ancient records of their religion, two
celebrated sects, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, insensibly
arose at Jerusalem. ^59 The former, selected from the more
opulent and distinguished ranks of society, were strictly
attached to the literal sense of the Mosaic law, and they piously
rejected the immortality of the soul, as an opinion that received
no countenance from the divine book, which they revered as the
only rule of their faith. To the authority of Scripture the
Pharisees added that of tradition, and they accepted, under the
name of traditions, several speculative tenets from the
philosophy or religion of the eastern nations. The doctrines of
fate or predestination, of angels and spirits, and of a future
state of rewards and punishments, were in the number of these new
articles of belief; and as the Pharisees, by the austerity of
their manners, had drawn into their party the body of the Jewish
people, the immortality of the soul became the prevailing
sentiment of the synagogue, under the reign of the Asmonaean
princes and pontiffs. The temper of the Jews was incapable of
contenting itself with such a cold and languid assent as might
satisfy the mind of a Polytheist; and as soon as they admitted
the idea of a future state, they embraced it with the zeal which
has always formed the characteristic of the nation. Their zeal,
however, added nothing to its evidence, or even probability: and
it was still necessary that the doctrine of life and immortality,
which had been dictated by nature, approved by reason, and
received by superstition, should obtain the sanction of divine
truth from the authority and example of Christ.

[Footnote 57: The right reverend author of the Divine Legation of
Moses as signs a very curious reason for the omission, and most
ingeniously retorts it on the unbelievers.

Note: The hypothesis of Warburton concerning this remarkable
fact, which, as far as the Law of Moses, is unquestionable, made
few disciples; and it is difficult to suppose that it could be
intended by the author himself for more than a display of
intellectual strength. Modern writers have accounted in various
ways for the silence of the Hebrew legislator on the immortality
of the soul. According to Michaelis, "Moses wrote as an
historian and as a lawgiver; he regulated the ecclesiastical
discipline, rather than the religious belief of his people; and
the sanctions of the law being temporal, he had no occasion, and
as a civil legislator could not with propriety, threaten
punishments in another world. See Michaelis, Laws of Moses, art.
272, vol. iv. p. 209, Eng. Trans.; and Syntagma Commentationum,
p. 80, quoted by Guizot. M. Guizot adds, the "ingenious
conjecture of a philosophic theologian," which approximates to an
opinion long entertained by the Editor. That writer believes,
that in the state of civilization at the time of the legislator,
this doctrine, become popular among the Jews, would necessarily
have given birth to a multitude of idolatrous superstitions which
he wished to prevent. His primary object was to establish a firm
theocracy, to make his people the conservators of the doctrine of
the Divine Unity, the basis upon which Christianity was hereafter
to rest. He carefully excluded everything which could obscure or
weaken that doctrine. Other nations had strangely abused their
notions on the immortality of the soul; Moses wished to prevent
this abuse: hence he forbade the Jews from consulting
necromancers, (those who evoke the spirits of the dead.) Deut.
xviii. 11. Those who reflect on the state of the Pagans and the
Jews, and on the facility with which idolatry crept in on every
side, will not be astonished that Moses has not developed a
doctrine of which the influence might be more pernicious than
useful to his people. Orat. Fest. de Vitae Immort. Spe., &c.,
auct. Ph. Alb. Stapfer, p. 12 13, 20. Berne, 1787.

Moses, as well from the intimations scattered in his
writings, the passage relating to the translation of Enoch, (Gen.
v. 24,) the prohibition of necromancy, (Michaelis believes him to
be the author of the Book of Job though this opinion is in
general rejected; other learned writers consider this Book to be
coeval with and known to Moses,) as from his long residence in
Egypt, and his acquaintance with Egyptian wisdom, could not be
ignorant of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But
this doctrine if popularly known among the Jews, must have been
purely Egyptian, and as so, intimately connected with the whole
religious system of that country. It was no doubt moulded up
with the tenet of the transmigration of the soul, perhaps with
notions analogous to the emanation system of India in which the
human soul was an efflux from or indeed a part of, the Deity.
The Mosaic religion drew a wide and impassable interval between
the Creator and created human beings: in this it differed from
the Egyptian and all the Eastern religions. As then the
immortality of the soul was thus inseparably blended with those
foreign religions which were altogether to be effaced from the
minds of the people, and by no means necessary for the
establishment of the theocracy, Moses maintained silence on this
point and a purer notion of it was left to be developed at a more
favorable period in the history of man. - M.]
[Footnote 58: See Le Clerc (Prolegomena ad Hist. Ecclesiast.
sect. 1, c. 8 His authority seems to carry the greater weight, as
he has written a learned and judicious commentary on the books of
the Old Testament.]

[Footnote 59: Joseph. Antiquitat. l. xiii. c. 10. De Bell. Jud.
ii. 8. According to the most natural interpretation of his words,
the Sadducees admitted only the Pentateuch; but it has pleased
some modern critics to add the Prophets to their creed, and to
suppose that they contented themselves with rejecting the
traditions of the Pharisees. Dr. Jortin has argued that point in
his Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii. p. 103.]
When the promise of eternal happiness was proposed to
mankind on condition of adopting the faith, and of observing the
precepts, of the gospel, it is no wonder that so advantageous an
offer should have been accepted by great numbers of every
religion, of every rank, and of every province in the Roman
empire. The ancient Christians were animated by a contempt for
their present existence, and by a just confidence of immortality,
of which the doubtful and imperfect faith of modern ages cannot
give us any adequate notion. In the primitive church, the
influence of truth was very powerfully strengthened by an
opinion, which, however it may deserve respect for its usefulness
and antiquity, has not been found agreeable to experience. It
was universally believed, that the end of the world, and the
kingdom of heaven, were at hand. ^* The near approach of this
wonderful event had been predicted by the apostles; the tradition
of it was preserved by their earliest disciples, and those who
understood in their literal senses the discourse of Christ
himself, were obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of
the Son of Man in the clouds, before that generation was totally
extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition upon earth,
and which might still be witness of the calamities of the Jews
under Vespasian or Hadrian. The revolution of seventeen
centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the
mysterious language of prophecy and revelation; but as long as,
for wise purposes, this error was permitted to subsist in the
church, it was productive of the most salutary effects on the
faith and practice of Christians, who lived in the awful
expectation of that moment, when the globe itself, and all the
various race of mankind, should tremble at the appearance of
their divine Judge. ^60

[Footnote *: This was, in fact, an integral part of the Jewish
notion of the Messiah, from which the minds of the apostles
themselves were but gradually detached. See Bertholdt,
Christologia Judaeorum, concluding chapters - M.]
[Footnote 60: This expectation was countenanced by the
twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew, and by the first epistle of
St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Erasmus removes the difficulty by
the help of allegory and metaphor; and the learned Grotius
ventures to insinuate, that, for wise purposes, the pious
deception was permitted to take place.

Note: Some modern theologians explain it without discovering
either allegory or deception. They say, that Jesus Christ, after
having proclaimed the ruin of Jerusalem and of the Temple, speaks
of his second coming and the sings which were to precede it; but
those who believed that the moment was near deceived themselves
as to the sense of two words, an error which still subsists in
our versions of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, xxiv. 29,
34. In verse 29, we read, "Immediately after the tribulation of
those days shall the sun be darkened," &c. The Greek word
signifies all at once, suddenly, not immediately; so that it
signifies only the sudden appearance of the signs which Jesus
Christ announces not the shortness of the interval which was to
separate them from the "days of tribulation," of which he was
speaking. The verse 34 is this "Verily I say unto you, This
generation shall not pass till all these things shall be
fulfilled." Jesus, speaking to his disciples, uses these words,
which the translators have rendered by this generation, but which
means the race, the filiation of my disciples; that is, he speaks
of a class of men, not of a generation. The true sense then,
according to these learned men, is, In truth I tell you that this
race of men, of which you are the commencement, shall not pass
away till this shall take place; that is to say, the succession
of Christians shall not cease till his coming. See Commentary of
M. Paulus on the New Test., edit. 1802, tom. iii. p. 445, - 446.
- G.
Others, as Rosenmuller and Kuinoel, in loc., confine this
passage to a highly figurative description of the ruins of the
Jewish city and polity. - M.]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part IV.

The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was
intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the
works of the creation had been finished in six days, their
duration in their present state, according to a tradition which
was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand
years. ^61 By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long
period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, ^62
would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and
that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect
who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived,
would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and
general resurrection. So pleasing was this hope to the mind of
believers, that the New Jerusalem, the seat of this blissful
kingdom, was quickly adorned with all the gayest colors of the
imagination. A felicity consisting only of pure and spiritual
pleasure would have appeared too refined for its inhabitants, who
were still supposed to possess their human nature and senses. A
garden of Eden, with the amusements of the pastoral life, was no
longer suited to the advanced state of society which prevailed
under the Roman empire. A city was therefore erected of gold and
precious stones, and a supernatural plenty of corn and wine was
bestowed on the adjacent territory; in the free enjoyment of
whose spontaneous productions, the happy and benevolent people
was never to be restrained by any jealous laws of exclusive
property. ^63 The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully
inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr, ^64 and
Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the
apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of
Constantine. ^65 Though it might not be universally received, it
appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox
believers; and it seems so well adapted to the desires and
apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very
considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith. But
when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the
temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign
upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was
considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was
at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and
fanaticism. ^66 A mysterious prophecy, which still forms a part
of the sacred canon, but which was thought to favor the exploded
sentiment, has very narrowly escaped the proscription of the
church. ^67

[Footnote 61: See Burnet's Sacred Theory, part iii. c. 5. This
tradition may be traced as high as the the author of Epistle of
Barnabas, who wrote in the first century, and who seems to have
been half a Jew.

Note: In fact it is purely Jewish. See Mosheim, De Reb.
Christ. ii. 8. Lightfoot's Works, 8vo. edit. vol. iii. p. 37.
Bertholdt, Christologia Judaeorum ch. 38. - M.]

[Footnote 62: The primitive church of Antioch computed almost
6000 years from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ.

Africanus, Lactantius, and the Greek church, have reduced that
number to 5500, and Eusebius has contented himself with 5200
years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint, which
was universally received during the six first centuries. The
authority of the vulgate and of the Hebrew text has determined
the moderns, Protestants as well as Catholics, to prefer a period
of about 4000 years; though, in the study of profane antiquity,
they often find themselves straitened by those narrow limits.

Note: Most of the more learned modern English Protestants,
Dr. Hales, Mr. Faber, Dr. Russel, as well as the Continental
writers, adopt the larger chronology. There is little doubt that
the narrower system was framed by the Jews of Tiberias; it was
clearly neither that of St. Paul, nor of Josephus, nor of the
Samaritan Text. It is greatly to be regretted that the
chronology of the earlier Scriptures should ever have been made a
religious question - M.]

[Footnote 63: Most of these pictures were borrowed from a
misrepresentation of Isaiah, Daniel, and the Apocalypse. One of
the grossest images may be found in Irenaeus, (l. v. p. 455,) the
disciple of Papias, who had seen the apostle St. John.]

[Footnote 64: See the second dialogue of Justin with Triphon, and
the seventh book of Lactantius. It is unnecessary to allege all
the intermediate fathers, as the fact is not disputed. Yet the
curious reader may consult Daille de Uus Patrum, l. ii. c. 4.]

[Footnote 65: The testimony of Justin of his own faith and that
of his orthodox brethren, in the doctrine of a Millennium, is
delivered in the clearest and most solemn manner, (Dialog. cum
Tryphonte Jud. p. 177, 178, edit. Benedictin.) If in the
beginning of this important passage there is any thing like an
inconsistency, we may impute it, as we think proper, either to
the author or to his transcribers.

Note: The Millenium is described in what once stood as the
XLIst Article of the English Church (see Collier, Eccles. Hist.,
for Articles of Edw. VI.) as "a fable of Jewish dotage." The
whole of these gross and earthly images may be traced in the
works which treat on the Jewish traditions, in Lightfoot,
Schoetgen, and Eisenmenger; "Das enthdeckte Judenthum" t. ii 809;
and briefly in Bertholdt, i. c. 38, 39. - M.]

[Footnote 66: Dupin, Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 223,
tom. ii. p. 366, and Mosheim, p. 720; though the latter of these
learned divines is not altogether candid on this occasion.]

[Footnote 67: In the council of Laodicea, (about the year 360,)
the Apocalypse was tacitly excluded from the sacred canon, by the
same churches of Asia to which it is addressed; and we may learn
from the complaint of Sulpicius Severus, that their sentence had
been ratified by the greater number of Christians of his time.
From what causes then is the Apocalypse at present so generally
received by the Greek, the Roman, and the Protestant churches?
The following ones may be assigned. 1. The Greeks were subdued
by the authority of an impostor, who, in the sixth century,
assumed the character of Dionysius the Areopagite. 2. A just
apprehension that the grammarians might become more important
than the theologians, engaged the council of Trent to fix the
seal of their infallibility on all the books of Scripture
contained in the Latin Vulgate, in the number of which the
Apocalypse was fortunately included. (Fr. Paolo, Istoria del
Concilio Tridentino, l. ii.) 3. The advantage of turning those
mysterious prophecies against the See of Rome, inspired the
Protestants with uncommon veneration for so useful an ally. See
the ingenious and elegant discourses of the present bishop of
Litchfield on that unpromising subject. ^!
Note: The exclusion of the Apocalypse is not improbably
assigned to its obvious unfitness to be read in churches. It is
to be feared that a history of the interpretation of the
Apocalypse would not give a very favorable view either of the
wisdom or the charity of the successive ages of Christianity.
Wetstein's interpretation, differently modified, is adopted by
most Continental scholars. - M.]

Whilst the happiness and glory of a temporal reign were
promised to the disciples of Christ, the most dreadful calamities
were denounced against an unbelieving world. The edification of
a new Jerusalem was to advance by equal steps with the
destruction of the mystic Babylon; and as long as the emperors
who reigned before Constantine persisted in the profession of
idolatry, the epithet of babylon was applied to the city and to
the empire of Rome. A regular series was prepared of all the
moral and physical evils which can afflict a flourishing nation;
intestine discord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians
from the unknown regions of the North; pestilence and famine,
comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations. ^68 All these
were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great
catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and Caesars
should be consumed by a flame from Heaven, and the city of the
seven hills, with her palaces, her temples, and her triumphal
arches, should be buried in a vast lake of fire and brimstone. It
might, however, afford some consolation to Roman vanity, that the
period of their empire would be that of the world itself; which,
as it had once perished by the element of water, was destined to
experience a second and a speedy destruction from the element of
fire. In the opinion of a general conflagration, the faith of
the Christian very happily coincided with the tradition of the
East, the philosophy of the Stoics, and the analogy of Nature;
and even the country, which, from religious motives, had been
chosen for the origin and principal scene of the conflagration,
was the best adapted for that purpose by natural and physical
causes; by its deep caverns, beds of sulphur, and numero is
volcanoes, of which those of Aetna, of Vesuvius, and of Lipari,
exhibit a very imperfect representation. The calmest and most
intrepid sceptic could not refuse to acknowledge that the
destruction of the present system of the world by fire, was in
itself extremely probable. The Christian, who founded his belief
much less on the fallacious arguments of reason than on the
authority of tradition and the interpretation of Scripture,
expected it with terror and confidence as a certain and
approaching event; and as his mind was perpetually filled with
the solemn idea, he considered every disaster that happened to
the empire as an infallible symptom of an expiring world. ^69

[Footnote 68: Lactantius (Institut. Divin. vii. 15, &c.) relates
the dismal talk of futurity with great spirit and eloquence.

Note: Lactantius had a notion of a great Asiatic empire,
which was previously to rise on the ruins of the Roman: quod
Romanum nomen animus dicere, sed dicam. quia futurum est)
tolletur de terra, et impere. Asiam revertetur. - M.]

[Footnote 69: On this subject every reader of taste will be
entertained with the third part of Burnet's Sacred Theory. He
blends philosophy, Scripture, and tradition, into one magnificent
system; in the description of which he displays a strength of
fancy not inferior to that of Milton himself.]
The condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous of the
Pagans, on account of their ignorance or disbelief of the divine
truth, seems to offend the reason and the humanity of the present
age. ^70 But the primitive church, whose faith was of a much
firmer consistence, delivered over, without hesitation, to
eternal torture, the far greater part of the human species. A
charitable hope might perhaps be indulged in favor of Socrates,
or some other sages of antiquity, who had consulted the light of
reason before that of the gospel had arisen. ^71 But it was
unanimously affirmed, that those who, since the birth or the
death of Christ, had obstinately persisted in the worship of the
daemons, neither deserved nor could expect a pardon from the
irritated justice of the Deity. These rigid sentiments, which
had been unknown to the ancient world, appear to have infused a
spirit of bitterness into a system of love and harmony. The ties
of blood and friendship were frequently torn asunder by the
difference of religious faith; and the Christians, who, in this
world, found themselves oppressed by the power of the Pagans,
were sometimes seduced by resentment and spiritual pride to
delight in the prospect of their future triumph. "You are fond
of spectacles," exclaims the stern Tertullian; "expect the
greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgment of the
universe. How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult,
when I behold so many proud monarchs, so many fancied gods,
groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates,
who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires
than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage
philosophers blushing in red-hot flames with their deluded
scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal,
not of Minos, but of Christ; so many tragedians, more tuneful in
the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers." ^* But
the humanity of the reader will permit me to draw a veil over the
rest of this infernal description, which the zealous African
pursues in a long variety of affected and unfeeling witticisms.
^72 ^!
[Footnote 70: And yet whatever may be the language of
individuals, it is still the public doctrine of all the Christian
churches; nor can even our own refuse to admit the conclusions
which must be drawn from the viiith and the xviiith of her
Articles. The Jansenists, who have so diligently studied the
works of the fathers, maintain this sentiment with distinguished
zeal; and the learned M. de Tillemont never dismisses a virtuous
emperor without pronouncing his damnation. Zuinglius is perhaps
the only leader of a party who has ever adopted the milder
sentiment, and he gave no less offence to the Lutherans than to
the Catholics. See Bossuet, Histoire des Variations des Eglises
Protestantes, l. ii. c. 19 - 22.]

[Footnote 71: Justin and Clemens of Alexandria allow that some of
the philosophers were instructed by the Logos; confounding its
double signification of the human reason, and of the Divine
[Footnote *: This translation is not exact: the first sentence is
imperfect. Tertullian says, Ille dies nationibus insperatus, ille
derisus, cum tanta sacculi vetustas et tot ejus nativitates uno
igne haurientur. The text does not authorize the exaggerated
expressions, so many magistrates, so many sago philosophers, so
many poets, &c.; but simply magistrates, philosophers, poets. -

It is not clear that Gibbon's version or paraphrase is
incorrect: Tertullian writes, tot tantosque reges item praesides,
&c. - M.]
[Footnote 72: Tertullian, de Spectaculis, c. 30. In order to
ascertain the degree of authority which the zealous African had
acquired it may be sufficient to allege the testimony of Cyprian,
the doctor and guide of all the western churches. (See Prudent.
Hym. xiii. 100.) As often as he applied himself to his daily
study of the writings of Tertullian, he was accustomed to say,
"Da mihi magistrum, Give me my master." (Hieronym. de Viris
Illustribus, tom. i. p. 284.)]

[Footnote !: The object of Tertullian's vehemence in his
Treatise, was to keep the Christians away from the secular games
celebrated by the Emperor Severus: It has not prevented him from
showing himself in other places full of benevolence and charity
towards unbelievers: the spirit of the gospel has sometimes
prevailed over the violence of human passions: Qui ergo putaveris
nihil nos de salute Caesaris curare (he says in his Apology)
inspice Dei voces, literas nostras. Scitote ex illis praeceptum
esse nobis ad redudantionem, benignitates etiam pro inimicis Deum
orare, et pro persecutoribus cona precari. Sed etiam nominatim
atque manifeste orate inquit (Christus) pro regibus et pro
principibus et potestatibus ut omnia sint tranquilla vobis Tert.
Apol. c. 31. - G.

It would be wiser for Christianity, retreating upon its
genuine records in the New Testament, to disclaim this fierce
African, than to identify itself with his furious invectives by
unsatisfactory apologies for their unchristian fanaticism. - M.]

Doubtless there were many among the primitive Christians of
a temper more suitable to the meekness and charity of their
profession. There were many who felt a sincere compassion for
the danger of their friends and countrymen, and who exerted the
most benevolent zeal to save them from the impending destruction.

The careless Polytheist, assailed by new and unexpected terrors,
against which neither his priests nor his philosophers could
afford him any certain protection, was very frequently terrified
and subdued by the menace of eternal tortures. His fears might
assist the progress of his faith and reason; and if he could once
persuade himself to suspect that the Christian religion might
possibly be true, it became an easy task to convince him that it
was the safest and most prudent party that he could possibly

III. The supernatural gifts, which even in this life were
ascribed to the Christians above the rest of mankind, must have
conduced to their own comfort, and very frequently to the
conviction of infidels. Besides the occasional prodigies, which
might sometimes be effected by the immediate interposition of the
Deity when he suspended the laws of Nature for the service of
religion, the Christian church, from the time of the apostles and
their first disciples, ^73 has claimed an uninterrupted
succession of miraculous powers, the gift of tongues, of vision,
and of prophecy, the power of expelling daemons, of healing the
sick, and of raising the dead. The knowledge of foreign
languages was frequently communicated to the contemporaries of
Irenaeus, though Irenaeus himself was left to struggle with the
difficulties of a barbarous dialect, whilst he preached the
gospel to the natives of Gaul. ^74 The divine inspiration,
whether it was conveyed in the form of a waking or of a sleeping
vision, is described as a favor very liberally bestowed on all
ranks of the faithful, on women as on elders, on boys as well as
upon bishops. When their devout minds were sufficiently prepared
by a course of prayer, of fasting, and of vigils, to receive the
extraordinary impulse, they were transported out of their senses,
and delivered in ecstasy what was inspired, being mere organs of
the Holy Spirit, just as a pipe or flute is of him who blows into
it. ^75 We may add, that the design of these visions was, for the
most part, either to disclose the future history, or to guide the
present administration, of the church. The expulsion of the
daemons from the bodies of those unhappy persons whom they had
been permitted to torment, was considered as a signal though
ordinary triumph of religion, and is repeatedly alleged by the
ancient apoligists, as the most convincing evidence of the truth
of Christianity. The awful ceremony was usually performed in a
public manner, and in the presence of a great number of
spectators; the patient was relieved by the power or skill of the
exorcist, and the vanquished daemon was heard to confess that he
was one of the fabled gods of antiquity, who had impiously
usurped the adoration of mankind. ^76 But the miraculous cure of
diseases of the most inveterate or even preternatural kind, can
no longer occasion any surprise, when we recollect, that in the
days of Iranaeus, about the end of the second century, the
resurrection of the dead was very far from being esteemed an
uncommon event; that the miracle was frequently performed on
necessary occasions, by great fasting and the joint supplication
of the church of the place, and that the persons thus restored to
their prayers had lived afterwards among them many years. ^77 At
such a period, when faith could boast of so many wonderful
victories over death, it seems difficult to account for the
scepticism of those philosophers, who still rejected and derided
the doctrine of the resurrection. A noble Grecian had rested on
this important ground the whole controversy, and promised
Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, that if he could be gratified with
the sight of a single person who had been actually raised from
the dead, he would immediately embrace the Christian religion.
It is somewhat remarkable, that the prelate of the first eastern
church, however anxious for the conversion of his friend, thought
proper to decline this fair and reasonable challenge. ^78

[Footnote 73: Notwithstanding the evasions of Dr. Middleton, it
is impossible to overlook the clear traces of visions and
inspiration, which may be found in the apostolic fathers.

Note: Gibbon should have noticed the distinct and remarkable
passage from Chrysostom, quoted by Middleton, (Works, vol. i. p.
105,) in which he affirms the long discontinuance of miracles as
a notorious fact. - M.]
[Footnote 74: Irenaeus adv. Haeres. Proem. p.3 Dr. Middleton
(Free Inquiry, p. 96, &c.) observes, that as this pretension of
all others was the most difficult to support by art, it was the
soonest given up. The observation suits his hypothesis.

Note: This passage of Irenaeus contains no allusion to the
gift of tongues; it is merely an apology for a rude and
unpolished Greek style, which could not be expected from one who
passed his life in a remote and barbarous province, and was
continually obliged to speak the Celtic language. - M.
Note: Except in the life of Pachomius, an Egyptian monk of
the fourth century. (see Jortin, Ecc. Hist. i. p. 368, edit.
1805,) and the latter (not earlier) lives of Xavier, there is no
claim laid to the gift of tongues since the time of Irenaeus; and
of this claim, Xavier's own letters are profoundly silent. See
Douglas's Criterion, p. 76 edit. 1807. - M.]

[Footnote 75: Athenagoras in Legatione. Justin Martyr, Cohort.
ad Gentes Tertullian advers. Marcionit. l. iv. These
descriptions are not very unlike the prophetic fury, for which
Cicero (de Divinat.ii. 54) expresses so little reverence.]

[Footnote 76: Tertullian (Apolog. c. 23) throws out a bold
defiance to the Pagan magistrates. Of the primitive miracles,
the power of exorcising is the only one which has been assumed by

Note: But by Protestants neither of the most enlightened
ages nor most reasoning minds. - M.]

[Footnote 77: Irenaeus adv. Haereses, l. ii. 56, 57, l. v. c. 6.
Mr. Dodwell (Dissertat. ad Irenaeum, ii. 42) concludes, that the
second century was still more fertile in miracles than the first.

Note: It is difficult to answer Middleton's objection to
this statement of Irenae us: "It is very strange, that from the
time of the apostles there is not a single instance of this
miracle to be found in the three first centuries; except a single
case, slightly intimated in Eusebius, from the Works of Papias;
which he seems to rank among the other fabulous stories delivered
by that weak man." Middleton, Works, vol. i. p. 59. Bp. Douglas
(Criterion, p 389) would consider Irenaeus to speak of what had
"been performed formerly." not in his own time. - M.]

[Footnote 78: Theophilus ad Autolycum, l. i. p. 345. Edit.
Benedictin. Paris, 1742.

Note: A candid sceptic might discern some impropriety in the
Bishop being called upon to perform a miracle on demand. - M.]

The miracles of the primitive church, after obtaining the
sanction of ages, have been lately attacked in a very free and
ingenious inquiry, ^79 which, though it has met with the most
favorable reception from the public, appears to have excited a
general scandal among the divines of our own as well as of the
other Protestant churches of Europe. ^80 Our different sentiments
on this subject will be much less influenced by any particular
arguments, than by our habits of study and reflection; and, above
all, by the degree of evidence which we have accustomed ourselves
to require for the proof of a miraculous event. The duty of an
historian does not call upon him to interpose his private
judgment in this nice and important controversy; but he ought not
to dissemble the difficulty of adopting such a theory as may
reconcile the interest of religion with that of reason, of making
a proper application of that theory, and of defining with
precision the limits of that happy period, exempt from error and
from deceit, to which we might be disposed to extend the gift of
supernatural powers. From the first of the fathers to the last
of the popes, a succession of bishops, of saints, of martyrs, and
of miracles, is continued without interruption; and the progress
of superstition was so gradual, and almost imperceptible, that we
know not in what particular link we should break the chain of
tradition. Every age bears testimony to the wonderful events by
which it was distinguished, and its testimony appears no less
weighty and respectable than that of the preceding generation,
till we are insensibly led on to accuse our own inconsistency, if
in the eighth or in the twelfth century we deny to the venerable
Bede, or to the holy Bernard, the same degree of confidence
which, in the second century, we had so liberally granted to
Justin or to Irenaeus. ^81 If the truth of any of those miracles
is appreciated by their apparent use and propriety, every age had
unbelievers to convince, heretics to confute, and idolatrous
nations to convert; and sufficient motives might always be
produced to justify the interposition of Heaven. And yet, since
every friend to revelation is persuaded of the reality, and every
reasonable man is convinced of the cessation, of miraculous
powers, it is evident that there must have been some period in
which they were either suddenly or gradually withdrawn from the
Christian church. Whatever aera is chosen for that purpose, the
death of the apostles, the conversion of the Roman empire, or the
extinction of the Arian heresy, ^82 the insensibility of the
Christians who lived at that time will equally afford a just
matter of surprise. They still supported their pretensions after
they had lost their power. Credulity performed the office of
faith; fanaticism was permitted to assume the language of
inspiration, and the effects of accident or contrivance were
ascribed to supernatural causes. The recent experience of genuine
miracles should have instructed the Christian world in the ways
of Providence, and habituated their eye (if we may use a very
inadequate expression) to the style of the divine artist. Should
the most skilful painter of modern Italy presume to decorate his
feeble imitations with the name of Raphael or of Correggio, the
insolent fraud would be soon discovered, and indignantly

[Footnote 79: Dr. Middleton sent out his Introduction in the year
1747, published his Free Inquiry in 1749, and before his death,
which happened in 1750, he had prepared a vindication of it
against his numerous adversaries.]
[Footnote 80: The university of Oxford conferred degrees on his
opponents. From the indignation of Mosheim, (p. 221,) we may
discover the sentiments of the Lutheran divines.

Note: Yet many Protestant divines will now without
reluctance confine miracles to the time of the apostles, or at
least to the first century. - M]
[Footnote 81: It may seem somewhat remarkable, that Bernard of
Clairvaux, who records so many miracles of his friend St.
Malachi, never takes any notice of his own, which, in their turn,
however, are carefully related by his companions and disciples.
In the long series of ecclesiastical history, does there exist a
single instance of a saint asserting that he himself possessed
the gift of miracles?]

[Footnote 82: The conversion of Constantine is the aera which is
most usually fixed by Protestants. The more rational divines are
unwilling to admit the miracles of the ivth, whilst the more
credulous are unwilling to reject those of the vth century.

Note: All this appears to proceed on the principle that any
distinct line can be drawn in an unphilosophic age between
wonders and miracles, or between what piety, from their
unexpected and extraordinary nature, the marvellous concurrence
of secondary causes to some remarkable end, may consider
providential interpositions, and miracles strictly so called, in
which the laws of nature are suspended or violated. It is
impossible to assign, on one side, limits to human credulity, on
the other, to the influence of the imagination on the bodily
frame; but some of the miracles recorded in the Gospels are such
palpable impossibilities, according to the known laws and
operations of nature, that if recorded on sufficient evidence,
and the evidence we believe to be that of eye-witnesses, we
cannot reject them, without either asserting, with Hume, that no
evidence can prove a miracle, or that the Author of Nature has no
power of suspending its ordinary laws. But which of the
post-apostolic miracles will bear this test? - M.]
Whatever opinion may be entertained of the miracles of the
primitive church since the time of the apostles, this unresisting
softness of temper, so conspicuous among the believers of the
second and third centuries, proved of some accidental benefit to
the cause of truth and religion. In modern times, a latent and
even involuntary scepticism adheres to the most pious
dispositions. Their admission of supernatural truths is much
less an active consent than a cold and passive acquiescence.
Accustomed long since to observe and to respect the variable
order of Nature, our reason, or at least our imagination, is not
sufficiently prepared to sustain the visible action of the Deity.

But, in the first ages of Christianity, the situation of mankind
was extremely different. The most curious, or the most
credulous, among the Pagans, were often persuaded to enter into a
society which asserted an actual claim of miraculous powers. The
primitive Christians perpetually trod on mystic ground, and their
minds were exercised by the habits of believing the most
extraordinary events. They felt, or they fancied, that on every
side they were incessantly assaulted by daemons, comforted by
visions, instructed by prophecy, and surprisingly delivered from
danger, sickness, and from death itself, by the supplications of
the church. The real or imaginary prodigies, of which they so
frequently conceived themselves to be the objects, the
instruments, or the spectators, very happily disposed them to
adopt with the same ease, but with far greater justice, the
authentic wonders of the evangelic history; and thus miracles
that exceeded not the measure of their own experience, inspired
them with the most lively assurance of mysteries which were
acknowledged to surpass the limits of their understanding. It is
this deep impression of supernatural truths, which has been so
much celebrated under the name of faith; a state of mind
described as the surest pledge of the divine favor and of future
felicity, and recommended as the first, or perhaps the only merit
of a Christian. According to the more rigid doctors, the moral
virtues, which may be equally practised by infidels, are
destitute of any value or efficacy in the work of our

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part V.

IV. But the primitive Christian demonstrated his faith by
his virtues; and it was very justly supposed that the divine
persuasion, which enlightened or subdued the understanding, must,
at the same time, purify the heart, and direct the actions, of
the believer. The first apologists of Christianity who justify
the innocence of their brethren, and the writers of a later
period who celebrate the sanctity of their ancestors, display, in
the most lively colors, the reformation of manners which was
introduced into the world by the preaching of the gospel. As it
is my intention to remark only such human causes as were
permitted to second the influence of revelation, I shall slightly
mention two motives which might naturally render the lives of the
primitive Christians much purer and more austere than those of
their Pagan contemporaries, or their degenerate successors;
repentance for their past sins, and the laudable desire of
supporting the reputation of the society in which they were
engaged. ^*

[Footnote *: These, in the opinion of the editor, are the most
uncandid paragraphs in Gibbon's History. He ought either, with
manly courage, to have denied the moral reformation introduced by
Christianity, or fairly to have investigated all its motives; not
to have confined himself to an insidious and sarcastic
description of the less pure and generous elements of the
Christian character as it appeared even at that early time. - M.]

It is a very ancient reproach, suggested by the ignorance or
the malice of infidelity, that the Christians allured into their
party the most atrocious criminals, who, as soon as they were
touched by a sense of remorse, were easily persuaded to wash
away, in the water of baptism, the guilt of their past conduct,
for which the temples of the gods refused to grant them any
expiation. But this reproach, when it is cleared from
misrepresentation, contributes as much to the honor as it did to
the increase of the church. ^83 The friends of Christianity may
acknowledge without a blush, that many of the most eminent saints
had been before their baptism the most abandoned sinners. Those
persons, who in the world had followed, though in an imperfect
manner, the dictates of benevolence and propriety, derived such a
calm satisfaction from the opinion of their own rectitude, as
rendered them much less susceptible of the sudden emotions of
shame, of grief, and of terror, which have given birth to so many
wonderful conversions. After the example of their divine Master,
the missionaries of the gospel disdained not the society of men,
and especially of women, oppressed by the consciousness, and very
often by the effects, of their vices. As they emerged from sin
and superstition to the glorious hope of immortality, they
resolved to devote themselves to a life, not only of virtue, but
of penitence. The desire of perfection became the ruling passion
of their soul; and it is well known, that while reason embraces a
cold mediocrity, our passions hurry us, with rapid violence, over
the space which lies between the most opposite extremes.
[Footnote 83: The imputations of Celsus and Julian, with the
defence of the fathers, are very fairly stated by Spanheim,
Commentaire sur les Cesars de Julian, p. 468.]

When the new converts had been enrolled in the number of the
faithful, and were admitted to the sacraments of the church, they
found themselves restrained from relapsing into their past
disorders by another consideration of a less spiritual, but of a
very innocent and respectable nature. Any particular society
that has departed from the great body of the nation, or the
religion to which it belonged, immediately becomes the object of
universal as well as invidious observation. In proportion to the
smallness of its numbers, the character of the society may be
affected by the virtues and vices of the persons who compose it;
and every member is engaged to watch with the most vigilant
attention over his own behavior, and over that of his brethren,
since, as he must expect to incur a part of the common disgrace,
he may hope to enjoy a share of the common reputation. When the
Christians of Bithynia were brought before the tribunal of the
younger Pliny, they assured the proconsul, that, far from being
engaged in any unlawful conspiracy, they were bound by a solemn
obligation to abstain from the commission of those crimes which
disturb the private or public peace of society, from theft,
robbery, adultery, perjury, and fraud. ^84 ^* Near a century
afterwards, Tertullian with an honest pride, could boast, that
very few Christians had suffered by the hand of the executioner,
except on account of their religion. ^85 Their serious and
sequestered life, averse to the gay luxury of the age, inured
them to chastity, temperance, economy, and all the sober and
domestic virtues. As the greater number were of some trade or
profession, it was incumbent on them, by the strictest integrity
and the fairest dealing, to remove the suspicions which the
profane are too apt to conceive against the appearances of
sanctity. The contempt of the world exercised them in the habits
of humility, meekness, and patience. The more they were
persecuted, the more closely they adhered to each other. Their
mutual charity and unsuspecting confidence has been remarked by
infidels, and was too often abused by perfidious friends. ^86

[Footnote 84: Plin. Epist. x. 97.

Note: Is not the sense of Tertullian rather, if guilty of
any other offence, be had thereby ceased to be a Christian? - M.]

[Footnote *: And this blamelessness was fully admitted by the
candid and enlightened Roman. - M.]

[Footnote 85: Tertullian, Apolog. c. 44. He adds, however, with
some degree of hesitation, "Aut si aliud, jam non Christianus."

Note: Tertullian says positively no Christian, nemo illic
Christianus; for the rest, the limitation which he himself
subjoins, and which Gibbon quotes in the foregoing note,
diminishes the force of this assertion, and appears to prove that
at least he knew none such. - G.]

[Footnote 86: The philosopher Peregrinus (of whose life and death
Lucian has left us so entertaining an account) imposed, for a
long time, on the credulous simplicity of the Christians of

It is a very honorable circumstance for the morals of the
primitive Christians, that even their faults, or rather errors,
were derived from an excess of virtue. The bishops and doctors
of the church, whose evidence attests, and whose authority might
influence, the professions, the principles, and even the practice
of their contemporaries, had studied the Scriptures with less
skill than devotion; and they often received, in the most literal
sense, those rigid precepts of Christ and the apostles, to which
the prudence of succeeding commentators has applied a looser and
more figurative mode of interpretation. Ambitious to exalt the
perfection of the gospel above the wisdom of philosophy, the
zealous fathers have carried the duties of self-mortification, of
purity, and of patience, to a height which it is scarcely
possible to attain, and much less to preserve, in our present
state of weakness and corruption. A doctrine so extraordinary
and so sublime must inevitably command the veneration of the
people; but it was ill calculated to obtain the suffrage of those
worldly philosophers, who, in the conduct of this transitory
life, consult only the feelings of nature and the interest of
society. ^87

[Footnote 87: See a very judicious treatise of Barbeyrac sur la
Morale des Peres.]

There are two very natural propensities which we may
distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions, the
love of pleasure and the love of action. If the former is
refined by art and learning, improved by the charms of social
intercourse, and corrected by a just regard to economy, to
health, and to reputation, it is productive of the greatest part
of the happiness of private life. The love of action is a
principle of a much stronger and more doubtful nature. It often
leads to anger, to ambition, and to revenge; but when it is
guided by the sense of propriety and benevolence, it becomes the
parent of every virtue, and if those virtues are accompanied with
equal abilities, a family, a state, or an empire, may be indebted
for their safety and prosperity to the undaunted courage of a
single man. To the love of pleasure we may therefore ascribe
most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may attribute
most of the useful and respectable, qualifications. The character
in which both the one and the other should be united and
harmonized, would seem to constitute the most perfect idea of
human nature. The insensible and inactive disposition, which
should be supposed alike destitute of both, would be rejected, by
the common consent of mankind, as utterly incapable of procuring
any happiness to the individual, or any public benefit to the
world. But it was not in this world, that the primitive
Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or
useful. ^*
[Footnote *: El que me fait cette homelie semi-stoicienne,
semi-epicurienne? t'on jamais regarde l'amour du plaisir comme
l'un des principes de la perfection morale? Et de quel droit
faites vous de l'amour de l'action, et de l'amour du plaisir, les
seuls elemens de l'etre humain? Est ce que vous faites
abstraction de la verite en elle-meme, de la conscience et du
sentiment du devoir? Est ce que vous ne sentez point, par
exemple, que le sacrifice du moi a la justice et a la verite, est
aussi dans le coeur de l'homme: que tout n'est pas pour lui
action ou plaisir, et que dans le bien ce n'est pas le mouvement,
mais la verite, qu'il cherche? Et puis * * Thucy dide et Tacite.
ces maitres de l'histoire, ont ils jamais introduits dans leur
recits un fragment de dissertation sur le plaisir et sur
l'action. Villemain Cours de Lit. Franc part ii. Lecon v. - M.]

The acquisition of knowledge, the exercise of our reason or
fancy, and the cheerful flow of unguarded conversation, may
employ the leisure of a liberal mind. Such amusements, however,
were rejected with abhorrence, or admitted with the utmost
caution, by the severity of the fathers, who despised all
knowledge that was not useful to salvation, and who considered
all levity of discours eas a criminal abuse of the gift of
speech. In our present state of existence the body is so
inseparably connected with the soul, that it seems to be our
interest to taste, with innocence and moderation, the enjoyments
of which that faithful companion is susceptible. Very different
was the reasoning of our devout predecessors; vainly aspiring to
imitate the perfection of angels, they disdained, or they
affected to disdain, every earthly and corporeal delight. ^88
Some of our senses indeed are necessary for our preservation,
others for our subsistence, and others again for our information;
and thus far it was impossible to reject the use of them. The
first sensation of pleasure was marked as the first moment of
their abuse. The unfeeling candidate for heaven was instructed,
not only to resist the grosser allurements of the taste or smell,
but even to shut his ears against the profane harmony of sounds,
and to view with indifference the most finished productions of
human art. Gay apparel, magnificent houses, and elegant
furniture, were supposed to unite the double guilt of pride and
of sensuality; a simple and mortified appearance was more
suitable to the Christian who was certain of his sins and
doubtful of his salvation. In their censures of luxury, the
fathers are extremely minute and circumstantial; ^89 and among
the various articles which excite their pious indignation, we may
enumerate false hair, garments of any color except white,
instruments of music, vases of gold or silver, downy pillows, (as
Jacob reposed his head on a stone,) white bread, foreign wines,
public salutations, the use of warm baths, and the practice of
shaving the beard, which, according to the expression of
Tertullian, is a lie against our own faces, and an impious
attempt to improve the works of the Creator. ^90 When
Christianity was introduced among the rich and the polite, the
observation of these singular laws was left, as it would be at
present, to the few who were ambitious of superior sanctity. But
it is always easy, as well as agreeable, for the inferior ranks
of mankind to claim a merit from the contempt of that pomp and
pleasure which fortune has placed beyond their reach. The virtue
of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was
very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance.

[Footnote 88: Lactant. Institut. Divin. l. vi. c. 20, 21, 22.]
[Footnote 89: Consult a work of Clemens of Alexandria, entitled
The Paedagogue, which contains the rudiments of ethics, as they
were taught in the most celebrated of the Christian schools.]

[Footnote 90: Tertullian, de Spectaculis, c. 23. Clemens
Alexandrin. Paedagog. l. iii. c. 8.]

The chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever related to
the commerce of the two sexes, flowed from the same principle;
their abhorrence of every enjoyment which might gratify the
sensual, and degrade the spiritual, nature of man. It was their
favorite opinion, that if Adam had preserved his obedience to the
Creator, he would have lived forever in a state of virgin purity,
and that some harmless mode of vegetation might have peopled
paradise with a race of innocent and immortal beings. ^91 The use
of marriage was permitted only to his fallen posterity, as a
necessary expedient to continue the human species, and as a
restraint, however imperfect, on the natural licentiousness of
desire. The hesitation of the orthodox casuists on this
interesting subject, betrays the perplexity of men, unwilling to
approve an institution which they were compelled to tolerate. ^92
The enumeration of the very whimsical laws, which they most
circumstantially imposed on the marriage-bed, would force a smile
from the young and a blush from the fair. It was their unanimous
sentiment, that a first marriage was adequate to all the purposes
of nature and of society. The sensual connection was refined
into a resemblance of the mystic union of Christ with his church,
and was pronounced to be indissoluble either by divorce or by
death. The practice of second nuptials was branded with the name
of a egal adultery; and the persons who were guilty of so
scandalous an offence against Christian purity, were soon
excluded from the honors, and even from the alms, of the church.
^93 Since desire was imputed as a crime, and marriage was
tolerated as a defect, it was consistent with the same principles
to consider a state of celibacy as the nearest approach to the
divine perfection. It was with the utmost difficulty that
ancient Rome could support the institution of six vestals; ^94
but the primitive church was filled with a great number of
persons of either sex, who had devoted themselves to the
profession of perpetual chastity. ^95 A few of these, among whom
we may reckon the learned Origen, judged it the most prudent to
disarm the tempter. ^96 Some were insensible and some were
invincible against the assaults of the flesh. Disdaining an
ignominious flight, the virgins of the warm climate of Africa
encountered the enemy in the closest engagement; they permitted
priests and deacons to share their bed, and gloried amidst the
flames in their unsullied purity. But insulted Nature sometimes
vindicated her rights, and this new species of martyrdom served
only to introduce a new scandal into the church. ^97 Among the
Christian ascetics, however, (a name which they soon acquired
from their painful exercise,) many, as they were less
presumptuous, were probably more successful. The loss of sensual
pleasure was supplied and compensated by spiritual pride. Even
the multitude of Pagans were inclined to estimate the merit of
the sacrifice by its apparent difficulty; and it was in the
praise of these chaste spouses of Christ that the fathers have
poured forth the troubled stream of their eloquence. ^98 Such are
the early traces of monastic principles and institutions, which,
in a subsequent age, have counterbalanced all the temporal
advantages of Christianity. ^99

[Footnote 91: Beausobro, Hist. Critique du Manicheisme, l. vii.
c. 3. Justin, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustin, &c., strongly incline
to this opinion.
Note: But these were Gnostic or Manichean opinions.
Beausobre distinctly describes Autustine's bias to his recent
escape from Manicheism; and adds that be afterwards changed his
views. - M.]

[Footnote 92: Some of the Gnostic heretics were more consistent;
they rejected the use of marriage.]

[Footnote 93: See a chain of tradition, from Justin Martyr to
Jerome, in the Morale des Peres, c. iv. 6 - 26.]

[Footnote 94: See a very curious Dissertation on the Vestals, in
the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. iv. p. 161 -
227. Notwithstanding the honors and rewards which were bestowed
on those virgins, it was difficult to procure a sufficient
number; nor could the dread of the most horrible death always
restrain their incontinence.]

[Footnote 95: Cupiditatem procreandi aut unam scimus aut nullam.
Minutius Faelix, c. 31. Justin. Apolog. Major. Athenagoras in
Legat. c 28. Tertullian de Cultu Foemin. l. ii.]

[Footnote 96: Eusebius, l. vi. 8. Before the fame of Origen had
excited envy and persecution, this extraordinary action was
rather admired than censured. As it was his general practice to
allegorize Scripture, it seems unfortunate that in this instance
only, he should have adopted the literal sense.]
[Footnote 97: Cyprian. Epist. 4, and Dodwell, Dissertat.
Cyprianic. iii. Something like this rash attempt was long
afterwards imputed to the founder of the order of Fontevrault.
Bayle has amused himself and his readers on that very delicate

[Footnote 98: Dupin (Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 195)
gives a particular account of the dialogue of the ten virgins, as
it was composed by Methodius, Bishop of Tyre. The praises of
virginity are excessive.]
[Footnote 99: The Ascetics (as early as the second century) made
a public profession of mortifying their bodies, and of abstaining
from the use of flesh and wine. Mosheim, p. 310.]

The Christians were not less averse to the business than to
the pleasures of this world. The defence of our persons and
property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine
which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries, and
commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their
simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of
magistracy, and by the active contention of public life; nor
could their humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful on
any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow-creatures, either by
the sword of justice, or by that of war; even though their
criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety
of the whole community. ^100 It was acknowledged, that, under a
less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish constitution had been
exercised, with the approbation of Heaven, by inspired prophets
and by anointed kings. The Christians felt and confessed that
such institutions might be necessary for the present system of
the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of
their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of
passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the
civil administration or the military defence of the empire. Some
indulgence might, perhaps, be allowed to those persons who,
before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and
sanguinary occupations; ^101 but it was impossible that the
Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume
the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes. ^102
This indolent, or even criminal disregard to the public welfare,
exposed them to the contempt and reproaches of the Pagans who
very frequently asked, what must be the fate of the empire,
attacked on every side by the barbarians, if all mankind should
adopt the pusillanimous sentiments of the new sect. ^103 To this
insulting question the Christian apologists returned obscure and
ambiguous answers, as they were unwilling to reveal the secret
cause of their security; the expectation that, before the
conversion of mankind was accomplished, war, government, the
Roman empire, and the world itself, would be no more. It may be
observed, that, in this instance likewise, the situation of the
first Christians coincided very happily with their religious
scruples, and that their aversion to an active life contributed
rather to excuse them from the service, than to exclude them from
the honors, of the state and army.

[Footnote 100: See the Morale des Peres. The same patient
principles have been revived since the Reformation by the
Socinians, the modern Anabaptists, and the Quakers. Barclay, the
Apologist of the Quakers, has protected his brethren by the
authority of the primitive Christian; p. 542 - 549]
[Footnote 101: Tertullian, Apolog. c. 21. De Idololatria, c. 17,
18. Origen contra Celsum, l. v. p. 253, l. vii. p. 348, l. viii.
p. 423 - 428.]
[Footnote 102: Tertullian (de Corona Militis, c. 11) suggested to
them the expedient of deserting; a counsel which, if it had been
generally known, was not very proper to conciliate the favor of
the emperors towards the Christian sect.

Note: There is nothing which ought to astonish us in the
refusal of the primitive Christians to take part in public
affairs; it was the natural consequence of the contrariety of
their principles to the customs, laws, and active life of the
Pagan world. As Christians, they could not enter into the
senate, which, according to Gibbon himself, always assembled in a
temple or consecrated place, and where each senator, before he
took his seat, made a libation of a few drops of wine, and burnt
incense on the altar; as Christians, they could not assist at
festivals and banquets, which always terminated with libations,
&c.; finally, as "the innumerable deities and rites of polytheism
were closely interwoven with every circumstance of public and
private life," the Christians could not participate in them
without incurring, according to their principles, the guilt of
impiety. It was then much less by an effect of their doctrine,
than by the consequence of their situation, that they stood aloof
from public business. Whenever this situation offered no
impediment, they showed as much activity as the Pagans. Proinde,
says Justin Martyr, (Apol. c. 17,) nos solum Deum adoramus, et
vobis in rebus aliis laeti inservimus. - G.

This latter passage, M. Guizot quotes in Latin; if he had
consulted the original, he would have found it to be altogether
irrelevant: it merely relates to the payment of taxes. - M.

Tertullian does not suggest to the soldiers the expedient of
deserting; he says that they ought to be constantly on their
guard to do nothing during their service contrary to the law of
God, and to resolve to suffer martyrdom rather than submit to a
base compliance, or openly to renounce the service. (De Cor. Mil.
ii. p. 127.) He does not positively decide that the military
service is not permitted to Christians; he ends, indeed, by
saying, Puta denique licere militiam usque ad causam coronae. -

M. Guizot is. I think, again unfortunate in his defence of
Tertullian. That father says, that many Christian soldiers had
deserted, aut deserendum statim sit, ut a multis actum. The
latter sentence, Puta, &c, &c., is a concession for the sake of
argument: wha follows is more to the purpose. - M.
Many other passages of Tertullian prove that the army was
full of Christians, Hesterni sumus et vestra omnia implevimus,
urbes, insulas, castella, municipia, conciliabula, castra ipsa.
(Apol. c. 37.) Navigamus et not vobiscum et militamus. (c. 42.)
Origen, in truth, appears to have maintained a more rigid
opinion, (Cont. Cels. l. viii.;) but he has often renounced this
exaggerated severity, perhaps necessary to produce great results,
and be speaks of the profession of arms as an honorable one. (l.
iv. c. 218.) - G.

On these points Christian opinion, it should seem, was much
divided Tertullian, when he wrote the De Cor. Mil., was evidently
inclining to more ascetic opinions, and Origen was of the same
class. See Neander, vol. l part ii. p. 305, edit. 1828. - M.]

[Footnote 103: As well as we can judge from the mutilated
representation of Origen, (1. viii. p. 423,) his adversary,
Celsus, had urged his objection with great force and candor.]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part VI.

V. But the human character, however it may be exalted or
depressed by a temporary enthusiasm, will return by degrees to
its proper and natural level, and will resume those passions that
seem the most adapted to its present condition. The primitive
Christians were dead to the business and pleasures of the world;
but their love of action, which could never be entirely
extinguished, soon revived, and found a new occupation in the
government of the church. A separate society, which attacked the
established religion of the empire, was obliged to adopt some
form of internal policy, and to appoint a sufficient number of
ministers, intrusted not only with the spiritual functions, but
even with the temporal direction of the Christian commonwealth.
The safety of that society, its honor, its aggrandizement, were
productive, even in the most pious minds, of a spirit of
patriotism, such as the first of the Romans had felt for the
republic, and sometimes of a similar indifference, in the use of
whatever means might probably conduce to so desirable an end.
The ambition of raising themselves or their friends to the honors
and offices of the church, was disguised by the laudable
intention of devoting to the public benefit the power and
consideration, which, for that purpose only, it became their duty
to solicit. In the exercise of their functions, they were
frequently called upon to detect the errors of heresy or the arts
of faction, to oppose the designs of perfidious brethren, to
stigmatize their characters with deserved infamy, and to expel
them from the bosom of a society whose peace and happiness they
had attempted to disturb. The ecclesiastical governors of the
Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with
the innocence of the dove; but as the former was refined, so the
latter was insensibly corrupted, by the habits of government. If
the church as well as in the world, the persons who were placed
in any public station rendered themselves considerable by their
eloquence and firmness, by their knowledge of mankind, and by
their dexterity in business; and while they concealed from
others, and perhaps from themselves, the secret motives of their
conduct, they too frequently relapsed into all the turbulent
passions of active life, which were tinctured with an additional
degree of bitterness and obstinacy from the infusion of spiritual

The government of the church has often been the subject, as
well as the prize, of religious contention. The hostile
disputants of Rome, of Paris, of Oxford, and of Geneva, have
alike struggled to reduce the primitive and apostolic model ^104
to the respective standards of their own policy. The few who
have pursued this inquiry with more candor and impartiality, are
of opinion, ^105 that the apostles declined the office of
legislation, and rather chose to endure some partial scandals and
divisions, than to exclude the Christians of a future age from
the liberty of varying their forms of ecclesiastical government
according to the changes of times and circumstances. The scheme
of policy, which, under their approbation, was adopted for the
use of the first century, may be discovered from the practice of
Jerusalem, of Ephesus, or of Corinth. The societies which were
instituted in the cities of the Roman empire, were united only by
the ties of faith and charity. Independence and equality formed
the basis of their internal constitution. The want of discipline
and human learning was supplied by the occasional assistance of
the prophets, ^106 who were called to that function without
distinction of age, of sex, ^* or of natural abilities, and who,
as often as they felt the divine impulse, poured forth the
effusions of the Spirit in the assembly of the faithful. But
these extraordinary gifts were frequently abused or misapplied by
the prophetic teachers. They displayed them at an improper
season, presumptuously disturbed the service of the assembly,
and, by their pride or mistaken zeal, they introduced,
particularly into the apostolic church of Corinth, a long and
melancholy train of disorders. ^107 As the institution of
prophets became useless, and even pernicious, their powers were
withdrawn, and their office abolished. The public functions of
religion were solely intrusted to the established ministers of
the church, the bishops and the presbyters; two appellations
which, in their first origin, appear to have distinguished the
same office and the same order of persons. The name of Presbyter
was expressive of their age, or rather of their gravity and
wisdom. The title of Bishop denoted their inspection over the
faith and manners of the Christians who were committed to their
pastoral care. In proportion to the respective numbers of the
faithful, a larger or smaller number of these episcopal
presbyters guided each infant congregation with equal authority
and with united counsels. ^108
[Footnote 104: The aristocratical party in France, as well as in
England, has strenuously maintained the divine origin of bishops.

But the Calvinistical presbyters were impatient of a superior;
and the Roman Pontiff refused to acknowledge an equal. See Fra

[Footnote 105: In the history of the Christian hierarchy, I have,
for the most part, followed the learned and candid Mosheim.]

[Footnote 106: For the prophets of the primitive church, see
Mosheim, Dissertationes ad Hist. Eccles. pertinentes, tom. ii. p.
132 - 208.]
[Footnote *: St. Paul distinctly reproves the intrusion of
females into the prophets office. 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35. 1 Tim.
ii. 11. - M.]
[Footnote 107: See the epistles of St. Paul, and of Clemens, to
the Corinthians.

Note: The first ministers established in the church were the
deacons, appointed at Jerusalem, seven in number; they were
charged with the distribution of the alms; even females had a
share in this employment. After the deacons came the elders or
priests, charged with the maintenance of order and decorum in the
community, and to act every where in its name. The bishops were
afterwards charged to watch over the faith and the instruction of
the disciples: the apostles themselves appointed several bishops.

Tertullian, (adv. Marium, c. v.,) Clement of Alexandria, and many
fathers of the second and third century, do not permit us to
doubt this fact. The equality of rank between these different
functionaries did not prevent their functions being, even in
their origin, distinct; they became subsequently still more so.
See Plank, Geschichte der Christ. Kirch. Verfassung., vol. i. p.
24. - G.
On this extremely obscure subject, which has been so much
perplexed by passion and interest, it is impossible to justify
any opinion without entering into long and controversial details.

It must be admitted, in opposition to Plank, that in the New
Testament, several words are sometimes indiscriminately used.
(Acts xx. v. 17, comp. with 28 Tit. i. 5 and 7. Philip. i. 1.)
But it is as clear, that as soon as we can discern the form of
church government, at a period closely bordering upon, if not
within, the apostolic age, it appears with a bishop at the head
of each community, holding some superiority over the presbyters.
Whether he was, as Gibbon from Mosheim supposes, merely an
elective head of the College of Presbyters, (for this we have, in
fact, no valid authority,) or whether his distinct functions were
established on apostolic authority, is still contested. The
universal submission to this episcopacy, in every part of the
Christian world appears to me strongly to favor the latter view.
- M.]

[Footnote 108: Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, l. vii.]

But the most perfect equality of freedom requires the
directing hand of a superior magistrate: and the order of public
deliberations soon introduces the office of a president, invested
at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of
executing the resolutions, of the assembly. A regard for the
public tranquillity, which would so frequently have been
interrupted by annual or by occasional elections, induced the
primitive Christians to constitute an honorable and perpetual
magistracy, and to choose one of the wisest and most holy among
their presbyterians to execute, during his life, the duties of
their ecclesiastical governor. It was under these circumstances
that the lofty title of Bishop began to raise itself above the
humble appellation of Presbyter; and while the latter remained
the most natural distinction for the members of every Christian
senate, the former was appropriated to the dignity of its new
president. ^109 The advantages of this episcopal form of
government, which appears to have been introduced before the end
of the first century, ^110 were so obvious, and so important for
the future greatness, as well as the present peace, of
Christianity, that it was adopted without delay by all the
societies which were already scattered over the empire, had
acquired in a very early period the sanction of antiquity, ^111
and is still revered by the most powerful churches, both of the
East and of the West, as a primitive and even as a divine
establishment. ^112 It is needless to observe, that the pious and
humble presbyters, who were first dignified with the episcopal
title, could not possess, and would probably have rejected, the
power and pomp which now encircles the tiara of the Roman
pontiff, or the mitre of a German prelate. But we may define, in
a few words, the narrow limits of their original jurisdiction,
which was chiefly of a spiritual, though in some instances of a
temporal nature. ^113 It consisted in the administration of the
sacraments and discipline of the church, the superintendency of
religious ceremonies, which imperceptibly increased in number and
variety, the consecration of ecclesiastical ministers, to whom
the bishop assigned their respective functions, the management of
the public fund, and the determination of all such differences as
the faithful were unwilling to expose before the tribunal of an
idolatrous judge. These powers, during a short period, were
exercised according to the advice of the presbyteral college, and
with the consent and approbation of the assembly of Christians.
The primitive bishops were considered only as the first of their
equals, and the honorable servants of a free people. Whenever
the episcopal chair became vacant by death, a new president was
chosen among the presbyters by the suffrages of the whole
congregation, every member of which supposed himself invested
with a sacred and sacerdotal character. ^114
[Footnote 109: See Jerome and Titum, c. i. and Epistol. 85, (in
the Benedictine edition, 101,) and the elaborate apology of
Blondel, pro sententia Hieronymi. The ancient state, as it is
described by Jerome, of the bishop and presbyters of Alexandria,
receives a remarkable confirmation from the patriarch Eutychius,
(Annal. tom. i. p. 330, Vers Pocock;) whose testimony I know not
how to reject, in spite of all the objections of the learned
Pearson in his Vindiciae Ignatianae, part i. c. 11.]
[Footnote 110: See the introduction to the Apocalypse. Bishops,
under the name of angels, were already instituted in the seven
cities of Asia. And yet the epistle of Clemens (which is
probably of as ancient a date) does not lead us to discover any
traces of episcopacy either at Corinth or Rome.]
[Footnote 111: Nulla Ecclesia sine Episcopo, has been a fact as
well as a maxim since the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus.]

[Footnote 112: After we have passed the difficulties of the first
century, we find the episcopal government universally
established, till it was interrupted by the republican genius of
the Swiss and German reformers.]
[Footnote 113: See Mosheim in the first and second centuries.
Ignatius (ad Smyrnaeos, c. 3, &c.) is fond of exalting the
episcopal dignity. Le Clerc (Hist. Eccles. p. 569) very bluntly
censures his conduct, Mosheim, with a more critical judgment, (p.
161,) suspects the purity even of the smaller epistles.]

[Footnote 114: Nonne et Laici sacerdotes sumus? Tertullian,
Exhort. ad Castitat. c. 7. As the human heart is still the same,
several of the observations which Mr. Hume has made on
Enthusiasm, (Essays, vol. i. p. 76, quarto edit.) may be applied
even to real inspiration.

Note: This expression was employed by the earlier Christian
writers in the sense used by St. Peter, 1 Ep ii. 9. It was the
sanctity and virtue not the power of priesthood, in which all
Christians were to be equally distinguished. - M.]

Such was the mild and equal constitution by which the
Christians were governed more than a hundred years after the
death of the apostles. Every society formed within itself a
separate and independent republic; and although the most distant
of these little states maintained a mutual as well as friendly
intercourse of letters and deputations, the Christian world was
not yet connected by any supreme authority or legislative
assembly. As the numbers of the faithful were gradually
multiplied, they discovered the advantages that might result from
a closer union of their interest and designs. Towards the end of
the second century, the churches of Greece and Asia adopted the
useful institutions of provincial synods, ^* and they may justly
be supposed to have borrowed the model of a representative
council from the celebrated examples of their own country, the
Amphictyons, the Achaean league, or the assemblies of the Ionian
cities. It was soon established as a custom and as a law, that
the bishops of the independent churches should meet in the
capital of the province at the stated periods of spring and
autumn. Their deliberations were assisted by the advice of a few
distinguished presbyters, and moderated by the presence of a
listening multitude. ^115 Their decrees, which were styled
Canons, regulated every important controversy of faith and
discipline; and it was natural to believe that a liberal effusion
of the Holy Spirit would be poured on the united assembly of the
delegates of the Christian people. The institution of synods was
so well suited to private ambition, and to public interest, that
in the space of a few years it was received throughout the whole
empire. A regular correspondence was established between the
provincial councils, which mutually communicated and approved
their respective proceedings; and the catholic church soon
assumed the form, and acquired the strength, of a great
foederative republic. ^116

[Footnote *: The synods were not the first means taken by the
insulated churches to enter into communion and to assume a
corporate character. The dioceses were first formed by the union
of several country churches with a church in a city: many
churches in one city uniting among themselves, or joining a more
considerable church, became metropolitan. The dioceses were not
formed before the beginning of the second century: before that
time the Christians had not established sufficient churches in
the country to stand in need of that union. It is towards the
middle of the same century that we discover the first traces of
the metropolitan constitution. (Probably the country churches
were founded in general by missionaries from those in the city,
and would preserve a natural connection with the parent church.)
- M.
The provincial synods did not commence till towards the
middle of the third century, and were not the first synods.
History gives us distinct notions of the synods, held towards the
end of the second century, at Ephesus at Jerusalem, at Pontus,
and at Rome, to put an end to the disputes which had arisen
between the Latin and Asiatic churches about the celebration of
Easter. But these synods were not subject to any regular form or
periodical return; this regularity was first established with the
provincial synods, which were formed by a union of the bishops of
a district, subject to a metropolitan. Plank, p. 90. Geschichte
der Christ. Kirch. Verfassung - G]
[Footnote 115: Acta Concil. Carthag. apud Cyprian. edit. Fell,
p. 158. This council was composed of eighty-seven bishops from
the provinces of Mauritania, Numidia, and Africa; some presbyters
and deacons assisted at the assembly; praesente plebis maxima

[Footnote 116: Aguntur praeterea per Graecias illas, certis in
locis concilia, &c Tertullian de Jejuniis, c. 13. The African
mentions it as a recent and foreign institution. The coalition
of the Christian churches is very ably explained by Mosheim, p.
164 170.]

As the legislative authority of the particular churches was
insensibly superseded by the use of councils, the bishops
obtained by their alliance a much larger share of executive and
arbitrary power; and as soon as they were connected by a sense of
their common interest, they were enabled to attack with united
vigor, the original rights of their clergy and people. The
prelates of the third century imperceptibly changed the language
of exhortation into that of command, scattered the seeds of
future usurpations, and supplied, by scripture allegories and
declamatory rhetoric, their deficiency of force and of reason.
They exalted the unity and power of the church, as it was
represented in the Episcopal Office, of which every bishop
enjoyed an equal and undivided portion. ^117 Princes and
magistrates, it was often repeated, might boast an earthly claim
to a transitory dominion; it was the episcopal authority alone
which was derived from the Deity, and extended itself over this
and over another world. The bishops were the vicegerents of
Christ, the successors of the apostles, and the mystic
substitutes of the high priest of the Mosaic law. Their
exclusive privilege of conferring the sacerdotal character,
invaded the freedom both of clerical and of popular elections;
and if, in the administration of the church, they still consulted
the judgment of the presbyters, or the inclination of the people,
they most carefully inculcated the merit of such a voluntary
condescension. The bishops acknowledged the supreme authority
which resided in the assembly of their brethren; but in the
government of his peculiar diocese, each of them exacted from his
flock the same implicit obedience as if that favorite metaphor
had been literally just, and as if the shepherd had been of a
more exalted nature than that of his sheep. ^118 This obedience,
however, was not imposed without some efforts on one side, and
some resistance on the other. The democratical part of the
constitution was, in many places, very warmly supported by the
zealous or interested opposition of the inferior clergy. But
their patriotism received the ignominious epithets of faction and
schism; and the episcopal cause was indebted for its rapid
progress to the labors of many active prelates, who, like Cyprian
of Carthage, could reconcile the arts of the most ambitious
statesman with the Christian virtues which seem adapted to the
character of a saint and martyr. ^119

[Footnote 117: Cyprian, in his admired treatise De Unitate
Ecclesiae. p. 75 - 86]

[Footnote 118: We may appeal to the whole tenor of Cyprian's
conduct, of his doctrine, and of his epistles. Le Clerc, in a
short life of Cyprian, (Bibliotheque Universelle, tom. xii. p.
207 - 378,) has laid him open with great freedom and accuracy.]

[Footnote 119: If Novatus, Felicissimus, &c., whom the Bishop of
Carthage expelled from his church, and from Africa, were not the
most detestable monsters of wickedness, the zeal of Cyprian must
occasionally have prevailed over his veracity. For a very just
account of these obscure quarrels, see Mosheim, p. 497 - 512.]

The same causes which at first had destroyed the equality of
the presbyters introduced among the bishops a preeminence of
rank, and from thence a superiority of jurisdiction. As often as
in the spring and autumn they met in provincial synod, the
difference of personal merit and reputation was very sensibly
felt among the members of the assembly, and the multitude was
governed by the wisdom and eloquence of the few. But the order
of public proceedings required a more regular and less invidious
distinction; the office of perpetual presidents in the councils
of each province was conferred on the bishops of the principal
city; and these aspiring prelates, who soon acquired the lofty
titles of Metropolitans and Primates, secretly prepared
themselves to usurp over their episcopal brethren the same
authority which the bishops had so lately assumed above the
college of presbyters. ^120 Nor was it long before an emulation
of preeminence and power prevailed among the Metropolitans
themselves, each of them affecting to display, in the most
pompous terms, the temporal honors and advantages of the city
over which he presided; the numbers and opulence of the
Christians who were subject to their pastoral care; the saints
and martyrs who had arisen among them; and the purity with which
they preserved the tradition of the faith, as it had been
transmitted through a series of orthodox bishops from the apostle
or the apostolic disciple, to whom the foundation of their church
was ascribed. ^121 From every cause, either of a civil or of an
ecclesiastical nature, it was easy to foresee that Rome must
enjoy the respect, and would soon claim the obedience of the
provinces. The society of the faithful bore a just proportion to
the capital of the empire; and the Roman church was the greatest,
the most numerous, and, in regard to the West, the most ancient
of all the Christian establishments, many of which had received
their religion from the pious labors of her missionaries.
Instead of one apostolic founder, the utmost boast of Antioch, of
Ephesus, or of Corinth, the banks of the Tyber were supposed to
have been honored with the preaching and martyrdom of the two
most eminent among the apostles; ^122 and the bishops of Rome
very prudently claimed the inheritance of whatsoever prerogatives
were attributed either to the person or to the office of St.
Peter. ^123 The bishops of Italy and of the provinces were
disposed to allow them a primacy of order and association (such
was their very accurate expression) in the Christian aristocracy.
^124 But the power of a monarch was rejected with abhorrence, and
the aspiring genius of Rome experienced from the nations of Asia
and Africa a more vigorous resistance to her spiritual, than she
had formerly done to her temporal, dominion. The patriotic
Cyprian, who ruled with the most absolute sway the church of
Carthage and the provincial synods, opposed with resolution and
success the ambition of the Roman pontiff, artfully connected his
own cause with that of the eastern bishops, and, like Hannibal,
sought out new allies in the heart of Asia. ^125 If this Punic
war was carried on without any effusion of blood, it was owing
much less to the moderation than to the weakness of the
contending prelates. Invectives and excommunications were their
only weapons; and these, during the progress of the whole
controversy, they hurled against each other with equal fury and
devotion. The hard necessity of censuring either a pope, or a
saint and martyr, distresses the modern Catholics whenever they
are obliged to relate the particulars of a dispute in which the
champions of religion indulged such passions as seem much more
adapted to the senate or to the camp. ^126
[Footnote 120: Mosheim, p. 269, 574. Dupin, Antiquae Eccles.
Disciplin. p. 19, 20.]

[Footnote 121: Tertullian, in a distinct treatise, has pleaded
against the heretics the right of prescription, as it was held by
the apostolic churches.]

[Footnote 122: The journey of St. Peter to Rome is mentioned by
most of the ancients, (see Eusebius, ii. 25,) maintained by all
the Catholics, allowed by some Protestants, (see Pearson and
Dodwell de Success. Episcop. Roman,) but has been vigorously
attacked by Spanheim, (Miscellanes Sacra, iii. 3.) According to
Father Hardouin, the monks of the thirteenth century, who
composed the Aeneid, represented St. Peter under the allegorical
character of the Trojan hero.

Note: It is quite clear that, strictly speaking, the church
of Rome was not founded by either of these apostles. St. Paul's
Epistle to the Romans proves undeniably the flourishing state of
the church before his visit to the city; and many Roman Catholic
writers have given up the impracticable task of reconciling with
chronology any visit of St. Peter to Rome before the end of the
reign of Claudius, or the beginning of that of Nero. - M.]
[Footnote 123: It is in French only that the famous allusion to
St. Peter's name is exact. Tu es Pierre, et sur cette pierre. -
The same is imperfect in Greek, Latin, Italian, &c., and totally
unintelligible in our Tentonic languages.

Note: It is exact in Syro-Chaldaic, the language in which it
was spoken by Jesus Christ. (St. Matt. xvi. 17.) Peter was
called Cephas; and cepha signifies base, foundation, rock - G.]

[Footnote 124: Irenaeus adv. Haereses, iii. 3. Tertullian de
Praescription. c. 36, and Cyprian, Epistol. 27, 55, 71, 75. Le
Clere (Hist. Eccles. p. 764) and Mosheim (p. 258, 578) labor in
the interpretation of these passages. But the loose and
rhetorical style of the fathers often appears favorable to the
pretensions of Rome.]

[Footnote 125: See the sharp epistle from Firmilianus, bishop of
Caesarea, to Stephen, bishop of Rome, ap. Cyprian, Epistol. 75.]

[Footnote 126: Concerning this dispute of the rebaptism of
heretics, see the epistles of Cyprian, and the seventh book of

The progress of the ecclesiastical authority gave birth to
the memorable distinction of the laity and of the clergy, which
had been unknown to the Greeks and Romans. ^127 The former of
these appellations comprehended the body of the Christian people;
the latter, according to the signification of the word, was
appropriated to the chosen portion that had been set apart for
the service of religion; a celebrated order of men, which has
furnished the most important, though not always the most
edifying, subjects for modern history. Their mutual hostilities
sometimes disturbed the peace of the infant church, but their
zeal and activity were united in the common cause, and the love
of power, which (under the most artful disguises) could insinuate
itself into the breasts of bishops and martyrs, animated them to
increase the number of their subjects, and to enlarge the limits
of the Christian empire. They were destitute of any temporal
force, and they were for a long time discouraged and oppressed,
rather than assisted, by the civil magistrate; but they had
acquired, and they employed within their own society, the two
most efficacious instruments of government, rewards and
punishments; the former derived from the pious liberality, the
latter from the devout apprehensions, of the faithful.

[Footnote 127: For the origin of these words, see Mosheim, p.
141. Spanheim, Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 633. The distinction of
Clerus and Iaicus was established before the time of Tertullian.]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part VII

I. The community of goods, which had so agreeably amused
the imagination of Plato, ^128 and which subsisted in some degree
among the austere sect of the Essenians, ^129 was adopted for a
short time in the primitive church. The fervor of the first
proselytes prompted them to sell those worldly possessions, which
they despised, to lay the price of them at the feet of the
apostles, and to content themselves with receiving an equal share
out of the general distribution. ^130 The progress of the
Christian religion relaxed, and gradually abolished, this
generous institution, which, in hands less pure than those of the
apostles, would too soon have been corrupted and abused by the
returning selfishness of human nature; and the converts who
embraced the new religion were permitted to retain the possession
of their patrimony, to receive legacies and inheritances, and to
increase their separate property by all the lawful means of trade
and industry. Instead of an absolute sacrifice, a moderate
proportion was accepted by the ministers of the gospel; and in
their weekly or monthly assemblies, every believer, according to
the exigency of the occasion, and the measure of his wealth and
piety, presented his voluntary offering for the use of the common
fund. ^131 Nothing, however inconsiderable, was refused; but it
was diligently inculcated; that, in the article of Tithes, the
Mosaic law was still of divine obligation; and that since the
Jews, under a less perfect discipline, had been commanded to pay
a tenth part of all that they possessed, it would become the
disciples of Christ to distinguish themselves by a superior
degree of liberality, ^132 and to acquire some merit by resigning
a superfluous treasure, which must so soon be annihilated with
the world itself. ^133 It is almost unnecessary to observe, that
the revenue of each particular church, which was of so uncertain
and fluctuating a nature, must have varied with the poverty or
the opulence of the faithful, as they were dispersed in obscure
villages, or collected in the great cities of the empire. In the
time of the emperor Decius, it was the opinion of the
magistrates, that the Christians of Rome were possessed of very
considerable wealth; that vessels of gold and silver were used in
their religious worship, and that many among their proselytes had
sold their lands and houses to increase the public riches of the
sect, at the expense, indeed, of their unfortunate children, who
found themselves beggars, because their parents had been saints.
^134 We should listen with distrust to the suspicions of
strangers and enemies: on this occasion, however, they receive a
very specious and probable color from the two following
circumstances, the only ones that have reached our knowledge,
which define any precise sums, or convey any distinct idea.
Almost at the same period, the bishop of Carthage, from a society
less opulent than that of Rome, collected a hundred thousand
sesterces, (above eight hundred and fifty pounds sterling,) on a
sudden call of charity to redeem the brethren of Numidia, who had
been carried away captives by the barbarians of the desert. ^135
About a hundred years before the reign of Decius, the Roman
church had received, in a single donation, the sum of two hundred
thousand sesterces from a stranger of Pontus, who proposed to fix
his residence in the capital. ^136 These oblations, for the most
part, were made in money; nor was the society of Christians
either desirous or capable of acquiring, to any considerable
degree, the encumbrance of landed property. It had been provided
by several laws, which were enacted with the same design as our
statutes of mortmain, that no real estates should be given or
bequeathed to any corporate body, without either a special
privilege or a particular dispensation from the emperor or from
the senate; ^137 who were seldom disposed to grant them in favor
of a sect, at first the object of their contempt, and at last of
their fears and jealousy. A transaction, however, is related
under the reign of Alexander Severus, which discovers that the
restraint was sometimes eluded or suspended, and that the
Christians were permitted to claim and to possess lands within
the limits of Rome itself. ^138 The progress of Christianity, and
the civil confusion of the empire, contributed to relax the
severity of the laws; and before the close of the third century
many considerable estates were bestowed on the opulent churches
of Rome, Milan, Carthage, Antioch, Alexandria, and the other
great cities of Italy and the provinces.

[Footnote 128: The community instituted by Plato is more perfect
than that which Sir Thomas More had imagined for his Utopia. The
community of women, and that of temporal goods, may be considered
as inseparable parts of the same system.]

[Footnote 129: Joseph. Antiquitat. xviii. 2. Philo, de Vit.
[Footnote 130: See the Acts of the Apostles, c. 2, 4, 5, with
Grotius's Commentary. Mosheim, in a particular dissertation,
attacks the common opinion with very inconclusive arguments.

Note: This is not the general judgment on Mosheim's learned
dissertation. There is no trace in the latter part of the New
Testament of this community of goods, and many distinct proofs of
the contrary. All exhortations to almsgiving would have been
unmeaning if property had been in common - M.]
[Footnote 131: Justin Martyr, Apolog. Major, c. 89. Tertullian,
Apolog. c. 39.]

[Footnote 132: Irenaeus ad Haeres. l. iv. c. 27, 34. Origen in
Num. Hom. ii Cyprian de Unitat. Eccles. Constitut. Apostol. l.
ii. c. 34, 35, with the notes of Cotelerius. The Constitutions
introduce this divine precept, by declaring that priests are as
much above kings as the soul is above the body. Among the
tithable articles, they enumerate corn, wine, oil, and wool. On
this interesting subject, consult Prideaux's History of Tithes,
and Fra Paolo delle Materie Beneficiarie; two writers of a very
different character.]
[Footnote 133: The same opinion which prevailed about the year
one thousand, was productive of the same effects. Most of the
Donations express their motive, "appropinquante mundi fine." See
Mosheim's General History of the Church, vol. i. p. 457.]

[Footnote 134: Tum summa cura est fratribus
(Ut sermo testatur loquax.)
Offerre, fundis venditis
Sestertiorum millia.
Addicta avorum praedia
Foedis sub auctionibus,
Successor exheres gemit
Sanctis egens Parentibus.]
Haec occuluntur abditis
Ecclesiarum in angulis.
Et summa pietas creditur
Nudare dulces liberos.

Prudent. Hymn 2.

The subsequent conduct of the deacon Laurence only proves how
proper a use was made of the wealth of the Roman church; it was
undoubtedly very considerable; but Fra Paolo (c. 3) appears to
exaggerate, when he supposes that the successors of Commodus were
urged to persecute the Christians by their own avarice, or that
of their Praetorian praefects.]
[Footnote 135: Cyprian, Epistol. 62.]

[Footnote 136: Tertullian de Praescriptione, c. 30.]

[Footnote 137: Diocletian gave a rescript, which is only a
declaration of the old law; "Collegium, si nullo speciali
privilegio subnixum sit, haereditatem capere non posse, dubium
non est." Fra Paolo (c. 4) thinks that these regulations had been
much neglected since the reign of Valerian.]
[Footnote 138: Hist. August. p. 131. The ground had been public;
and was row disputed between the society of Christians and that
of butchers.
Note *: Carponarii, rather victuallers. - M.]

The bishop was the natural steward of the church; the public
stock was intrusted to his care without account or control; the
presbyters were confined to their spiritual functions, and the
more dependent order of the deacons was solely employed in the
management and distribution of the ecclesiastical revenue. ^139
If we may give credit to the vehement declamations of Cyprian,
there were too many among his African brethren, who, in the
execution of their charge, violated every precept, not only of
evangelical perfection, but even of moral virtue. By some of
these unfaithful stewards the riches of the church were lavished
in sensual pleasures; by others they were perverted to the
purposes of private gain, of fraudulent purchases, and of
rapacious usury. ^140 But as long as the contributions of the
Christian people were free and unconstrained, the abuse of their
confidence could not be very frequent, and the general uses to
which their liberality was applied reflected honor on the
religious society. A decent portion was reserved for the
maintenance of the bishop and his clergy; a sufficient sum was
allotted for the expenses of the public worship, of which the
feasts of love, the agapoe, as they were called, constituted a
very pleasing part. The whole remainder was the sacred patrimony
of the poor. According to the discretion of the bishop, it was
distributed to support widows and orphans, the lame, the sick,
and the aged of the community; to comfort strangers and pilgrims,
and to alleviate the misfortunes of prisoners and captives, more
especially when their sufferings had been occasioned by their
firm attachment to the cause of religion. ^141 A generous
intercourse of charity united the most distant provinces, and the
smaller congregations were cheerfully assisted by the alms of
their more opulent brethren. ^142 Such an institution, which paid
less regard to the merit than to the distress of the object, very
materially conduced to the progress of Christianity. The Pagans,
who were actuated by a sense of humanity, while they derided the
doctrines, acknowledged the benevolence, of the new sect. ^143
The prospect of immediate relief and of future protection allured
into its hospitable bosom many of those unhappy persons whom the
neglect of the world would have abandoned to the miseries of
want, of sickness, and of old age. There is some reason likewise
to believe that great numbers of infants, who, according to the
inhuman practice of the times, had been exposed by their parents,
were frequently rescued from death, baptized, educated, and
maintained by the piety of the Christians, and at the expense of
the public treasure. ^144
[Footnote 139: Constitut. Apostol. ii. 35.]

[Footnote 140: Cyprian de Lapsis, p. 89. Epistol. 65. The
charge is confirmed by the 19th and 20th canon of the council of
[Footnote 141: See the apologies of Justin, Tertullian, &c.]
[Footnote 142: The wealth and liberality of the Romans to their
most distant brethren is gratefully celebrated by Dionysius of
Corinth, ap. Euseb. l. iv. c. 23.]

[Footnote 143: See Lucian iu Peregrin. Julian (Epist. 49) seems
mortified that the Christian charity maintains not only their

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