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

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own, but likewise the heathen poor.]

[Footnote 144: Such, at least, has been the laudable conduct of
more modern missionaries, under the same circumstances. Above
three thousand new-born infants are annually exposed in the
streets of Pekin. See Le Comte, Memoires sur la Chine, and the
Recherches sur les Chinois et les Egyptians, tom. i. p. 61.]
II. It is the undoubted right of every society to exclude
from its communion and benefits such among its members as reject
or violate those regulations which have been established by
general consent. In the exercise of this power, the censures of
the Christian church were chiefly directed against scandalous
sinners, and particularly those who were guilty of murder, of
fraud, or of incontinence; against the authors or the followers
of any heretical opinions which had been condemned by the
judgment of the episcopal order; and against those unhappy
persons, who, whether from choice or compulsion, had polluted
themselves after their baptism by any act of idolatrous worship.
The consequences of excommunication were of a temporal as well as
a spiritual nature. The Christian against whom it was
pronounced, was deprived of any part in the oblations of the
faithful. The ties both of religious and of private friendship
were dissolved: he found himself a profane object of abhorrence
to the persons whom he the most esteemed, or by whom he had been
the most tenderly beloved; and as far as an expulsion from a
respectable society could imprint on his character a mark of
disgrace, he was shunned or suspected by the generality of
mankind. The situation of these unfortunate exiles was in itself
very painful and melancholy; but, as it usually happens, their
apprehensions far exceeded their sufferings. The benefits of the
Christian communion were those of eternal life; nor could they
erase from their minds the awful opinion, that to those
ecclesiastical governors by whom they were condemned, the Deity
had committed the keys of Hell and of Paradise. The heretics,
indeed, who might be supported by the consciousness of their
intentions, and by the flattering hope that they alone had
discovered the true path of salvation, endeavored to regain, in
their separate assemblies, those comforts, temporal as well as
spiritual, which they no longer derived from the great society of
Christians. But almost all those who had reluctantly yielded to
the power of vice or idolatry were sensible of their fallen
condition, and anxiously desirous of being restored to the
benefits of the Christian communion.

With regard to the treatment of these penitents, two
opposite opinions, the one of justice, the other of mercy,
divided the primitive church. The more rigid and inflexible
casuists refused them forever, and without exception, the meanest
place in the holy community, which they had disgraced or
deserted; and leaving them to the remorse of a guilty conscience,
indulged them only with a faint ray of hope that the contrition
of their life and death might possibly be accepted by the Supreme
Being. ^145 A milder sentiment was embraced in practice as well
as in theory, by the purest and most respectable of the Christian
churches. ^146 The gates of reconciliation and of heaven were
seldom shut against the returning penitent; but a severe and
solemn form of discipline was instituted, which, while it served
to expiate his crime, might powerfully deter the spectators from
the imitation of his example. Humbled by a public confession,
emaciated by fasting and clothed in sackcloth, the penitent lay
prostrate at the door of the assembly, imploring with tears the
pardon of his offences, and soliciting the prayers of the
faithful. ^147 If the fault was of a very heinous nature, whole
years of penance were esteemed an inadequate satisfaction to the
divine justice; and it was always by slow and painful gradations
that the sinner, the heretic, or the apostate, was readmitted
into the bosom of the church. A sentence of perpetual
excommunication was, however, reserved for some crimes of an
extraordinary magnitude, and particularly for the inexcusable
relapses of those penitents who had already experienced and
abused the clemency of their ecclesiastical superiors. According
to the circumstances or the number of the guilty, the exercise of
the Christian discipline was varied by the discretion of the
bishops. The councils of Ancyra and Illiberis were held about
the same time, the one in Galatia, the other in Spain; but their
respective canons, which are still extant, seem to breathe a very
different spirit. The Galatian, who after his baptism had
repeatedly sacrificed to idols, might obtain his pardon by a
penance of seven years; and if he had seduced others to imitate
his example, only three years more were added to the term of his
exile. But the unhappy Spaniard, who had committed the same
offence, was deprived of the hope of reconciliation, even in the
article of death; and his idolatry was placed at the head of a
list of seventeen other crimes, against which a sentence no less
terrible was pronounced. Among these we may distinguish the
inexpiable guilt of calumniating a bishop, a presbyter, or even a
deacon. ^148

[Footnote 145: The Montanists and the Novatians, who adhered to
this opinion with the greatest rigor and obstinacy, found
themselves at last in the number of excommunicated heretics. See
the learned and copious Mosheim, Secul. ii. and iii.]

[Footnote 146: Dionysius ap. Euseb. iv. 23. Cyprian, de Lapsis.]

[Footnote 147: Cave's Primitive Christianity, part iii. c. 5.
The admirers of antiquity regret the loss of this public

[Footnote 148: See in Dupin, Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom.
ii. p. 304 - 313, a short but rational exposition of the canons
of those councils, which were assembled in the first moments of
tranquillity, after the persecution of Diocletian. This
persecution had been much less severely felt in Spain than in
Galatia; a difference which may, in some measure account for the
contrast of their regulations.]

The well-tempered mixture of liberality and rigor, the
judicious dispensation of rewards and punishments, according to
the maxims of policy as well as justice, constituted the human
strength of the church. The Bishops, whose paternal care
extended itself to the government of both worlds, were sensible
of the importance of these prerogatives; and covering their
ambition with the fair pretence of the love of order, they were
jealous of any rival in the exercise of a discipline so necessary
to prevent the desertion of those troops which had enlisted
themselves under the banner of the cross, and whose numbers every
day became more considerable. From the imperious declamations of
Cyprian, we should naturally conclude that the doctrines of
excommunication and penance formed the most essential part of
religion; and that it was much less dangerous for the disciples
of Christ to neglect the observance of the moral duties, than to
despise the censures and authority of their bishops. Sometimes
we might imagine that we were listening to the voice of Moses,
when he commanded the earth to open, and to swallow up, in
consuming flames, the rebellious race which refused obedience to
the priesthood of Aaron; and we should sometimes suppose that we
hear a Roman consul asserting the majesty of the republic, and
declaring his inflexible resolution to enforce the rigor of the
laws. ^* "If such irregularities are suffered with impunity," (it
is thus that the bishop of Carthage chides the lenity of his
colleague,) "if such irregularities are suffered, there is an end
of Episcopal Vigor; ^149 an end of the sublime and divine power
of governing the Church, an end of Christianity itself." Cyprian
had renounced those temporal honors, which it is probable he
would never have obtained; ^* but the acquisition of such
absolute command over the consciences and understanding of a
congregation, however obscure or despised by the world, is more
truly grateful to the pride of the human heart, than the
possession of the most despotic power, imposed by arms and
conquest on a reluctant people.
[Footnote *: Gibbon has been accused of injustice to the
character of Cyprian, as exalting the "censures and authority of
the church above the observance of the moral duties."
Felicissimus had been condemned by a synod of bishops, (non
tantum mea, sed plurimorum coepiscorum, sententia condemnatum,)
on the charge not only of schism, but of embezzlement of public
money, the debauching of virgins, and frequent acts of adultery.
His violent menaces had extorted his readmission into the church,
against which Cyprian protests with much vehemence: ne pecuniae
commissae sibi fraudator, ne stuprator virginum, ne matrimoniorum
multorum depopulator et corruptor, ultra adhuc sponsam Christi
incorruptam praesentiae suae dedecore, et impudica atque incesta
contagione, violaret. See Chelsum's Remarks, p. 134. If these
charges against Felicissimus were true, they were something more
than "irregularities," A Roman censor would have been a fairer
subject of comparison than a consul. On the other hand, it must
be admitted that the charge of adultery deepens very rapidly as
the controversy becomes more violent. It is first represented as
a single act, recently detected, and which men of character were
prepared to substantiate: adulterii etiam crimen accedit. quod
patres nostri graves viri deprehendisse se nuntiaverunt, et
probaturos se asseverarunt. Epist. xxxviii. The heretic has now
darkened into a man of notorious and general profligacy. Nor can
it be denied that of the whole long epistle, very far the larger
and the more passionate part dwells on the breach of
ecclesiastical unity rather than on the violation of Christian
holiness. - M.]

[Footnote 149: Cyprian Epist. 69.]

[Footnote *: This supposition appears unfounded: the birth and
the talents of Cyprian might make us presume the contrary.
Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, Carthaginensis, artis oratoriae
professione clarus, magnam sibi gloriam, opes, honores
acquisivit, epularibus caenis et largis dapibus assuetus,
pretiosa veste conspicuus, auro atque purpura fulgens, fascibus
oblectatus et honoribus, stipatus clientium cuneis, frequentiore
comitatu officii agminis honestatus, ut ipse de se loquitur in
Epistola ad Donatum. See De Cave, Hist. Liter. b. i. p. 87. - G.

Cave has rather embellished Cyprian's language. - M.]
In the course of this important, though perhaps tedious
inquiry, I have attempted to display the secondary causes which
so efficaciously assisted the truth of the Christian religion.
If among these causes we have discovered any artificial
ornaments, any accidental circumstances, or any mixture of error
and passion, it cannot appear surprising that mankind should be
the most sensibly affected by such motives as were suited to
their imperfect nature. It was by the aid of these causes,
exclusive zeal, the immediate expectation of another world, the
claim of miracles, the practice of rigid virtue, and the
constitution of the primitive church, that Christianity spread
itself with so much success in the Roman empire. To the first of
these the Christians were indebted for their invincible valor,
which disdained to capitulate with the enemy whom they were
resolved to vanquish. The three succeeding causes supplied their
valor with the most formidable arms. The last of these causes
united their courage, directed their arms, and gave their efforts
that irresistible weight, which even a small band of well-trained
and intrepid volunteers has so often possessed over an
undisciplined multitude, ignorant of the subject, and careless of
the event of the war. In the various religions of Polytheism,
some wandering fanatics of Egypt and Syria, who addressed
themselves to the credulous superstition of the populace, were
perhaps the only order of priests ^150 that derived their whole
support and credit from their sacerdotal profession, and were
very deeply affected by a personal concern for the safety or
prosperity of their tutelar deities. The ministers of
Polytheism, both in Rome and in the provinces, were, for the most
part, men of a noble birth, and of an affluent fortune, who
received, as an honorable distinction, the care of a celebrated
temple, or of a public sacrifice, exhibited, very frequently at
their own expense, the sacred games, ^151 and with cold
indifference performed the ancient rites, according to the laws
and fashion of their country. As they were engaged in the
ordinary occupations of life, their zeal and devotion were seldom
animated by a sense of interest, or by the habits of an
ecclesiastical character. Confined to their respective temples
and cities, they remained without any connection of discipline or
government; and whilst they acknowledged the supreme jurisdiction
of the senate, of the college of pontiffs, and of the emperor,
those civil magistrates contented themselves with the easy task
of maintaining in peace and dignity the general worship of
mankind. We have already seen how various, how loose, and how
uncertain were the religious sentiments of Polytheists. They
were abandoned, almost without control, to the natural workings
of a superstitious fancy. The accidental circumstances of their
life and situation determined the object as well as the degree of
their devotion; and as long as their adoration was successively
prostituted to a thousand deities, it was scarcely possible that
their hearts could be susceptible of a very sincere or lively
passion for any of them.
[Footnote 150: The arts, the manners, and the vices of the
priests of the Syrian goddess are very humorously described by
Apuleius, in the eighth book of his Metamorphosis.]

[Footnote 151: The office of Asiarch was of this nature, and it
is frequently mentioned in Aristides, the Inscriptions, &c. It
was annual and elective. None but the vainest citizens could
desire the honor; none but the most wealthy could support the
expense. See, in the Patres Apostol. tom. ii. p. 200, with how
much indifference Philip the Asiarch conducted himself in the
martyrdom of Polycarp. There were likewise Bithyniarchs,
Lyciarchs, &c.]
When Christianity appeared in the world, even these faint
and imperfect impressions had lost much of their original power.
Human reason, which by its unassisted strength is incapable of
perceiving the mysteries of faith, had already obtained an easy
triumph over the folly of Paganism; and when Tertullian or
Lactantius employ their labors in exposing its falsehood and
extravagance, they are obliged to transcribe the eloquence of
Cicero or the wit of Lucian. The contagion of these sceptical
writings had been diffused far beyond the number of their
readers. The fashion of incredulity was communicated from the
philosopher to the man of pleasure or business, from the noble to
the plebeian, and from the master to the menial slave who waited
at his table, and who eagerly listened to the freedom of his
conversation. On public occasions the philosophic part of mankind
affected to treat with respect and decency the religious
institutions of their country; but their secret contempt
penetrated through the thin and awkward disguise; and even the
people, when they discovered that their deities were rejected and
derided by those whose rank or understanding they were accustomed
to reverence, were filled with doubts and apprehensions
concerning the truth of those doctrines, to which they had
yielded the most implicit belief. The decline of ancient
prejudice exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to the
danger of a painful and comfortless situation. A state of
scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But
the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude,
that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of
their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and
supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and
their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond
the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which
favored the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar
is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of
mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of
some other mode of superstition. Some deities of a more recent
and fashionable cast might soon have occupied the deserted
temples of Jupiter and Apollo, if, in the decisive moment, the
wisdom of Providence had not interposed a genuine revelation,
fitted to inspire the most rational esteem and conviction,
whilst, at the same time, it was adorned with all that could
attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the veneration of the
people. In their actual disposition, as many were almost
disengaged from their artificial prejudices, but equally
susceptible and desirous of a devout attachment; an object much
less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant
place in their hearts, and to gratify the uncertain eagerness of
their passions. Those who are inclined to pursue this
reflection, instead of viewing with astonishment the rapid
progress of Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its
success was not still more rapid and still more universal.
It has been observed, with truth as well as propriety, that
the conquests of Rome prepared and facilitated those of
Christianity. In the second chapter of this work we have
attempted to explain in what manner the most civilized provinces
of Europe, Asia, and Africa were united under the dominion of one
sovereign, and gradually connected by the most intimate ties of
laws, of manners, and of language. The Jews of Palestine, who
had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a
reception to the miracles of the divine prophet, that it was
found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew
gospel. ^152 The authentic histories of the actions of Christ
were composed in the Greek language, at a considerable distance
from Jerusalem, and after the Gentile converts were grown
extremely numerous. ^153 As soon as those histories were
translated into the Latin tongue, they were perfectly
intelligible to all the subjects of Rome, excepting only to the
peasants of Syria and Egypt, for whose benefit particular
versions were afterwards made. The public highways, which had
been constructed for the use of the legions, opened an easy
passage for the Christian missionaries from Damascus to Corinth,
and from Italy to the extremity of Spain or Britain; nor did
those spiritual conquerors encounter any of the obstacles which
usually retard or prevent the introduction of a foreign religion
into a distant country. There is the strongest reason to
believe, that before the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine,
the faith of Christ had been preached in every province, and in
all the great cities of the empire; but the foundation of the
several congregations, the numbers of the faithful who composed
them, and their proportion to the unbelieving multitude, are now
buried in obscurity, or disguised by fiction and declamation.
Such imperfect circumstances, however, as have reached our
knowledge concerning the increase of the Christian name in Asia
and Greece, in Egypt, in Italy, and in the West, we shall now
proceed to relate, without neglecting the real or imaginary
acquisitions which lay beyond the frontiers of the Roman empire.
[Footnote 152: The modern critics are not disposed to believe
what the fathers almost unanimously assert, that St. Matthew
composed a Hebrew gospel, of which only the Greek translation is
extant. It seems, however, dangerous to reject their testimony.

Note: Strong reasons appear to confirm this testimony.
Papias, contemporary of the Apostle St. John, says positively
that Matthew had written the discourses of Jesus Christ in
Hebrew, and that each interpreted them as he could. This Hebrew
was the Syro-Chaldaic dialect, then in use at Jerusalem: Origen,
Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, confirm this statement.
Jesus Christ preached himself in Syro-Chaldaic, as is proved by
many words which he used, and which the Evangelists have taken
the pains to translate. St. Paul, addressing the Jews, used the
same language: Acts xxi. 40, xxii. 2, xxvi. 14. The opinions of
some critics prove nothing against such undeniable testimonies.
Moreover, their principal objection is, that St. Matthew quotes
the Old Testament according to the Greek version of the LXX.,
which is inaccurate; for of ten quotations, found in his Gospel,
seven are evidently taken from the Hebrew text; the threo others
offer little that differ: moreover, the latter are not literal
quotations. St. Jerome says positively, that, according to a
copy which he had seen in the library of Caesarea, the quotations
were made in Hebrew (in Catal.) More modern critics, among others
Michaelis, do not entertain a doubt on the subject. The Greek
version appears to have been made in the time of the apostles, as
St. Jerome and St. Augustus affirm, perhaps by one of them. - G.

Among modern critics, Dr. Hug has asserted the Greek
original of St. Matthew, but the general opinion of the most
learned biblical writer, supports the view of M. Guizot. - M.]

[Footnote 153: Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, and in the
cities of Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Ephesus. See Mill.
Prolegomena ad Nov. Testament, and Dr. Lardner's fair and
extensive collection, vol. xv.
Note: This question has, it is well known, been most
elaborately discussed since the time of Gibbon. The Preface to
the Translation of Schleier Macher's Version of St. Luke contains
a very able summary of the various theories. - M.]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part VIII.

The rich provinces that extend from the Euphrates to the
Ionian Sea, were the principal theatre on which the apostle of
the Gentiles displayed his zeal and piety. The seeds of the
gospel, which he had scattered in a fertile soil, were diligently
cultivated by his disciples; and it should seem that, during the
two first centuries, the most considerable body of Christians was
contained within those limits. Among the societies which were
instituted in Syria, none were more ancient or more illustrious
than those of Damascus, of Berea or Aleppo, and of Antioch. The
prophetic introduction of the Apocalypse has described and
immortalized the seven churches of Asia; Ephesus, Smyrna,
Pergamus, Thyatira, ^154 Sardes, Laodicea and Philadelphia; and
their colonies were soon diffused over that populous country. In
a very early period, the islands of Cyprus and Crete, the
provinces of Thrace and Macedonia, gave a favorable reception to
the new religion; and Christian republics were soon founded in
the cities of Corinth, of Sparta, and of Athens. ^155 The
antiquity of the Greek and Asiatic churches allowed a sufficient
space of time for their increase and multiplication; and even the
swarms of Gnostics and other heretics serve to display the
flourishing condition of the orthodox church, since the
appellation of hereties has always been applied to the less
numerous party. To these domestic testimonies we may add the
confession, the complaints, and the apprehensions of the Gentiles
themselves. From the writings of Lucian, a philosopher who had
studied mankind, and who describes their manners in the most
lively colors, we may learn that, under the reign of Commodus,
his native country of Pontus was filled with Epicureans and
Christians. ^156 Within fourscore years after the death of
Christ, ^157 the humane Pliny laments the magnitude of the evil
which he vainly attempted to eradicate. In his very curious
epistle to the emperor Trajan, he affirms, that the temples were
almost deserted, that the sacred victims scarcely found any
purchasers, and that the superstition had not only infected the
cities, but had even spread itself into the villages and the open
country of Pontus and Bithynia. ^158
[Footnote 154: The Alogians (Epiphanius de Haeres. 51) disputed
the genuineness of the Apocalypse, because the church of Thyatira
was not yet founded. Epiphanius, who allows the fact, extricates
himself from the difficulty by ingeniously supposing that St.
John wrote in the spirit of prophecy. See Abauzit, Discours sur

[Footnote 155: The epistles of Ignatius and Dionysius (ap. Euseb.
iv. 23) point out many churches in Asia and Greece. That of
Athens seems to have been one of the least flourishing.]

[Footnote 156: Lucian in Alexandro, c. 25. Christianity however,
must have been very unequally diffused over Pontus; since, in the
middle of the third century, there was no more than seventeen
believers in the extensive diocese of Neo-Caesarea. See M. de
Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiast. tom. iv. p. 675, from Basil and
Gregory of Nyssa, who were themselves natives of Cappadocia.
Note: Gibbon forgot the conclusion of this story, that
Gregory left only seventeen heathens in his diocese. The
antithesis is suspicious, and both numbers may have been chosen
to magnify the spiritual fame of the wonder-worker. - M.]

[Footnote 157: According to the ancients, Jesus Christ suffered
under the consulship of the two Gemini, in the year 29 of our
present aera. Pliny was sent into Bithynia (according to Pagi)
in the year 110.]

[Footnote 158: Plin. Epist. x. 97.]

Without descending into a minute scrutiny of the expressions
or of the motives of those writers who either celebrate or lament
the progress of Christianity in the East, it may in general be
observed, that none of them have left us any grounds from whence
a just estimate might be formed of the real numbers of the
faithful in those provinces. One circumstance, however, has been
fortunately preserved, which seems to cast a more distinct light
on this obscure but interesting subject. Under the reign of
Theodosius, after Christianity had enjoyed, during more than
sixty years, the sunshine of Imperial favor, the ancient and
illustrious church of Antioch consisted of one hundred thousand
persons, three thousand of whom were supported out of the public
oblations. ^159 The splendor and dignity of the queen of the
East, the acknowledged populousness of Caesarea, Seleucia, and
Alexandria, and the destruction of two hundred and fifty thousand
souls in the earthquake which afflicted Antioch under the elder
Justin, ^160 are so many convincing proofs that the whole number
of its inhabitants was not less than half a million, and that the
Christians, however multiplied by zeal and power, did not exceed
a fifth part of that great city. How different a proportion must
we adopt when we compare the persecuted with the triumphant
church, the West with the East, remote villages with populous
towns, and countries recently converted to the faith with the
place where the believers first received the appellation of
Christians! It must not, however, be dissembled, that, in
another passage, Chrysostom, to whom we are indebted for this
useful information, computes the multitude of the faithful as
even superior to that of the Jews and Pagans. ^161 But the
solution of this apparent difficulty is easy and obvious. The
eloquent preacher draws a parallel between the civil and the
ecclesiastical constitution of Antioch; between the list of
Christians who had acquired heaven by baptism, and the list of
citizens who had a right to share the public liberality. Slaves,
strangers, and infants were comprised in the former; they were
excluded from the latter.
[Footnote 159: Chrysostom. Opera, tom. vii. p. 658, 810, [edit.
Savil. ii. 422, 329.]

[Footnote 160: John Malala, tom. ii. p. 144. He draws the same
conclusion with regard to the populousness of antioch.]

[Footnote 161: Chrysostom. tom. i. p. 592. I am indebted for
these passages, though not for my inference, to the learned Dr.
Lardner. Credibility of the Gospel of History, vol. xii. p. 370.

Note: The statements of Chrysostom with regard to the
population of Antioch, whatever may be their accuracy, are
perfectly consistent. In one passage he reckons the population
at 200,000. In a second the Christians at 100,000. In a third
he states that the Christians formed more than half the
population. Gibbon has neglected to notice the first passage,
and has drawn by estimate of the population of Antioch from other
sources. The 8000 maintained by alms were widows and virgins
alone - M.]

The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to
Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion. It was at
first embraced by great numbers of the Theraputae, or Essenians,
of the Lake Mareotis, a Jewish sect which had abated much of its
reverence for the Mosaic ceremonies. The austere life of the
Essenians, their fasts and excommunications, the community of
goods, the love of celibacy, their zeal for martyrdom, and the
warmth though not the purity of their faith, already offered a
very lively image of the primitive discipline. ^162 It was in the
school of Alexandria that the Christian theology appears to have
assumed a regular and scientific form; and when Hadrian visited
Egypt, he found a church composed of Jews and of Greeks,
sufficiently important to attract the notice of that inquisitive
prince. ^163 But the progress of Christianity was for a long time
confined within the limits of a single city, which was itself a
foreign colony, and till the close of the second century the
predecessors of Demetrius were the only prelates of the Egyptian
church. Three bishops were consecrated by the hands of
Demetrius, and the number was increased to twenty by his
successor Heraclas. ^164 The body of the natives, a people
distinguished by a sullen inflexibility of temper, ^165
entertained the new doctrine with coldness and reluctance; and
even in the time of Origen, it was rare to meet with an Egyptian
who had surmounted his early prejudices in favor of the sacred
animals of his country. ^166 As soon, indeed, as Christianity
ascended the throne, the zeal of those barbarians obeyed the
prevailing impulsion; the cities of Egypt were filled with
bishops, and the deserts of Thebais swarmed with hermits.

[Footnote 162: Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, l. 2, c. 20, 21, 22,
23, has examined with the most critical accuracy the curious
treatise of Philo, which describes the Therapeutae. By proving
that it was composed as early as the time of Augustus, Basnage
has demonstrated, in spite of Eusebius (l. ii. c. 17) and a crowd
of modern Catholics, that the Therapeutae were neither Christians
nor monks. It still remains probable that they changed their
name, preserved their manners, adopted some new articles of
faith, and gradually became the fathers of the Egyptian

[Footnote 163: See a letter of Hadrian in the Augustan History,
p. 245.]
[Footnote 164: For the succession of Alexandrian bishops, consult
Renaudot's History, p. 24, &c. This curious fact is preserved by
the patriarch Eutychius, Annal. tom. i. p. 334, Vers. Pocock,)
and its internal evidence would alone be a sufficient answer to
all the objections which Bishop Pearson has urged in the
Vindiciae Ignatianae.]

[Footnote 165: Ammian. Marcellin. xxii. 16.]

[Footnote 166: Origen contra Celsum, l. i. p. 40.]

A perpetual stream of strangers and provincials flowed into
the capacious bosom of Rome. Whatever was strange or odious,
whoever was guilty or suspected, might hope, in the obscurity of
that immense capital, to elude the vigilance of the law. In such
a various conflux of nations, every teacher, either of truth or
falsehood, every founder, whether of a virtuous or a criminal
association, might easily multiply his disciples or accomplices.
The Christians of Rome, at the time of the accidental persecution
of Nero, are represented by Tacitus as already amounting to a
very great multitude, ^167 and the language of that great
historian is almost similar to the style employed by Livy, when
he relates the introduction and the suppression of the rites of
Bacchus. After the Bacchanals had awakened the severity of the
senate, it was likewise apprehended that a very great multitude,
as it were another people, had been initiated into those abhorred
mysteries. A more careful inquiry soon demonstrated, that the
offenders did not exceed seven thousand; a number indeed
sufficiently alarming, when considered as the object of public
justice. ^168 It is with the same candid allowance that we should
interpret the vague expressions of Tacitus, and in a former
instance of Pliny, when they exaggerate the crowds of deluded
fanatics who had forsaken the established worship of the gods.
The church of Rome was undoubtedly the first and most populous of
the empire; and we are possessed of an authentic record which
attests the state of religion in that city about the middle of
the third century, and after a peace of thirty-eight years. The
clergy, at that time, consisted of a bishop, forty-six
presbyters, seven deacons, as many sub-deacons, forty-two
acolythes, and fifty readers, exorcists, and porters. The number
of widows, of the infirm, and of the poor, who were maintained by
the oblations of the faithful, amounted to fifteen hundred. ^169
From reason, as well as from the analogy of Antioch, we may
venture to estimate the Christians of Rome at about fifty
thousand. The populousness of that great capital cannot perhaps
be exactly ascertained; but the most modest calculation will not
surely reduce it lower than a million of inhabitants, of whom the
Christians might constitute at the most a twentieth part. ^170

[Footnote 167: Ingens multitudo is the expression of Tacitus, xv.
[Footnote 168: T. Liv. xxxix. 13, 15, 16, 17. Nothing could
exceed the horror and consternation of the senate on the
discovery of the Bacchanalians, whose depravity is described, and
perhaps exaggerated, by Livy.]
[Footnote 169: Eusebius, l. vi. c. 43. The Latin translator (M.
de Valois) has thought proper to reduce the number of presbyters
to forty-four.]
[Footnote 170: This proportion of the presbyters and of the poor,
to the rest of the people, was originally fixed by Burnet,
(Travels into Italy, p. 168,) and is approved by Moyle, (vol. ii.
p. 151.) They were both unacquainted with the passage of
Chrysostom, which converts their conjecture almost into a fact.]

The western provincials appeared to have derived the
knowledge of Christianity from the same source which had diffused
among them the language, the sentiments, and the manners of Rome.

In this more important circumstance, Africa, as well as Gaul, was
gradually fashioned to the imitation of the capital. Yet
notwithstanding the many favorable occasions which might invite
the Roman missionaries to visit their Latin provinces, it was
late before they passed either the sea or the Alps; ^171 nor can
we discover in those great countries any assured traces either of
faith or of persecution that ascend higher than the reign of the
Antonines. ^172 The slow progress of the gospel in the cold
climate of Gaul, was extremely different from the eagerness with
which it seems to have been received on the burning sands of
Africa. The African Christians soon formed one of the principal
members of the primitive church. The practice introduced into
that province of appointing bishops to the most inconsiderable
towns, and very frequently to the most obscure villages,
contributed to multiply the splendor and importance of their
religious societies, which during the course of the third century
were animated by the zeal of Tertullian, directed by the
abilities of Cyprian, and adorned by the eloquence of Lactantius.

But if, on the contrary, we turn our eyes towards Gaul, we must
content ourselves with discovering, in the time of Marcus
Antoninus, the feeble and united congregations of Lyons and
Vienna; and even as late as the reign of Decius, we are assured,
that in a few cities only, Arles, Narbonne, Thoulouse, Limoges,
Clermont, Tours, and Paris, some scattered churches were
supported by the devotion of a small number of Christians. ^173
Silence is indeed very consistent with devotion; but as it is
seldom compatible with zeal, we may perceive and lament the
languid state of Christianity in those provinces which had
exchanged the Celtic for the Latin tongue, since they did not,
during the three first centuries, give birth to a single
ecclesiastical writer. From Gaul, which claimed a just
preeminence of learning and authority over all the countries on
this side of the Alps, the light of the gospel was more faintly
reflected on the remote provinces of Spain and Britain; and if we
may credit the vehement assertions of Tertullian, they had
already received the first rays of the faith, when he addressed
his apology to the magistrates of the emperor Severus. ^174 But
the obscure and imperfect origin of the western churches of
Europe has been so negligently recorded, that if we would relate
the time and manner of their foundation, we must supply the
silence of antiquity by those legends which avarice or
superstition long afterwards dictated to the monks in the lazy
gloom of their convents. ^175 Of these holy romances, that of the
apostle St. James can alone, by its singular extravagance,
deserve to be mentioned. From a peaceful fisherman of the Lake
of Gennesareth, he was transformed into a valorous knight, who
charged at the head of the Spanish chivalry in their battles
against the Moors. The gravest historians have celebrated his
exploits; the miraculous shrine of Compostella displayed his
power; and the sword of a military order, assisted by the terrors
of the Inquisition, was sufficient to remove every objection of
profane criticism. ^176
[Footnote 171: Serius trans Alpes, religione Dei suscepta.
Sulpicius Severus, l. ii. With regard to Africa, see Tertullian
ad Scapulam, c. 3. It is imagined that the Scyllitan martyrs
were the first, (Acta Sincera Rumart. p. 34.) One of the
adversaries of Apuleius seems to have been a Christian. Apolog.
p. 496, 497, edit. Delphin.]

[Footnote 172: Tum primum intra Gallias martyria visa. Sulp.
Severus, l. ii. These were the celebrated martyrs of Lyons. See
Eusebius, v. i. Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiast. tom. ii. p. 316.
According to the Donatists, whose assertion is confirmed by the
tacit acknowledgment of Augustin, Africa was the last of the
provinces which received the gospel. Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiast.
tom. i. p. 754.]

[Footnote 173: Rarae in aliquibus civitatibus ecclesiae, paucorum
Christianorum devotione, resurgerent. Acta Sincera, p. 130.
Gregory of Tours, l i. c. 28. Mosheim, p. 207, 449. There is
some reason to believe that in the beginning of the fourth
century, the extensive dioceses of Liege, of Treves, and of
Cologne, composed a single bishopric, which had been very
recently founded. See Memoires de Tillemont, tom vi. part i. p.
43, 411.]
[Footnote 174: The date of Tertullian's Apology is fixed, in a
dissertation of Mosheim, to the year 198.]

[Footnote 175: In the fifteenth century, there were few who had
either inclination or courage to question, whether Joseph of
Arimathea founded the monastery of Glastonbury, and whether
Dionysius the Areopagite preferred the residence of Paris to that
of Athens.]

[Footnote 176: The stupendous metamorphosis was performed in the
ninth century. See Mariana, (Hist. Hispan. l. vii. c. 13, tom.
i. p. 285, edit. Hag. Com. 1733,) who, in every sense, imitates
Livy, and the honest detection of the legend of St. James by Dr.
Geddes, Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 221.]
The progress of Christianity was not confined to the Roman
empire; and according to the primitive fathers, who interpret
facts by prophecy, the new religion, within a century after the
death of its divine Author, had already visited every part of the
globe. "There exists not," says Justin Martyr, "a people,
whether Greek or Barbarian, or any other race of men, by
whatsoever appellation or manners they may be distinguished,
however ignorant of arts or agriculture, whether they dwell under
tents, or wander about in covered wagons, among whom prayers are
not offered up in the name of a crucified Jesus to the Father and
Creator of all things." ^177 But this splendid exaggeration,
which even at present it would be extremely difficult to
reconcile with the real state of mankind, can be considered only
as the rash sally of a devout but careless writer, the measure of
whose belief was regulated by that of his wishes. But neither
the belief nor the wishes of the fathers can alter the truth of
history. It will still remain an undoubted fact, that the
barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who afterwards subverted the
Roman monarchy, were involved in the darkness of paganism; and
that even the conversion of Iberia, of Armenia, or of Aethiopia,
was not attempted with any degree of success till the sceptre was
in the hands of an orthodox emperor. ^178 Before that time, the
various accidents of war and commerce might indeed diffuse an
imperfect knowledge of the gospel among the tribes of Caledonia,
^179 and among the borderers of the Rhine, the Danube, and the
Euphrates. ^180 Beyond the last-mentioned river, Edessa was
distinguished by a firm and early adherence to the faith. ^181
From Edessa the principles of Christianity were easily introduced
into the Greek and Syrian cities which obeyed the successors of
Artaxerxes; but they do not appear to have made any deep
impression on the minds of the Persians, whose religious system,
by the labors of a well disciplined order of priests, had been
constructed with much more art and solidity than the uncertain
mythology of Greece and Rome. ^182

[Footnote 177: Justin Martyr, Dialog. cum Tryphon. p. 341.
Irenaeus adv. Haeres. l. i. c. 10. Tertullian adv. Jud. c. 7.
See Mosheim, p. 203.]
[Footnote 178: See the fourth century of Mosheim's History of the
Church. Many, though very confused circumstances, that relate to
the conversion of Iberia and Armenia, may be found in Moses of
Chorene, l. ii. c. 78 - 89.
Note: Mons. St. Martin has shown that Armenia was the first
nation that embraced Christianity. Memoires sur l'Armenie, vol.
i. p. 306, and notes to Le Beae. Gibbon, indeed had expressed
his intention of withdrawing the words "of Armenia" from the text
of future editions. (Vindication, Works, iv. 577.) He was
bitterly taunted by Person for neglecting or declining to fulfil
his promise. Preface to Letters to Travis. - M.]

[Footnote 179: According to Tertullian, the Christian faith had
penetrated into parts of Britain inaccessible to the Roman arms.
About a century afterwards, Ossian, the son of Fingal, is said to
have disputed, in his extreme old age, with one of the foreign
missionaries, and the dispute is still extant, in verse, and in
the Erse language. See Mr. Macpher son's Dissertation on the
Antiquity of Ossian's Poems, p. 10.]

[Footnote 180: The Goths, who ravaged Asia in the reign of
Gallienus, carried away great numbers of captives; some of whom
were Christians, and became missionaries. See Tillemont,
Memoires Ecclesiast. tom. iv. p. 44.]
[Footnote 181: The legends of Abgarus, fabulous as it is, affords
a decisive proof, that many years before Eusebius wrote his
history, the greatest part of the inhabitants of Edessa had
embraced Christianity. Their rivals, the citizens of Carrhae,
adhered, on the contrary, to the cause of Paganism, as late as
the sixth century.]

[Footnote 182: According to Bardesanes (ap. Euseb. Praepar.
Evangel.) there were some Christians in Persia before the end of
the second century. In the time of Constantine (see his epistle
to Sapor, Vit. l. iv. c. 13) they composed a flourishing church.
Consult Beausobre, Hist. Cristique du Manicheisme, tom. i. p.
180, and the Bibliotheca Orietalis of Assemani.]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part IX.

From this impartial though imperfect survey of the progress
of Christianity, it may perhaps seem probable, that the number of
its proselytes has been excessively magnified by fear on the one
side, and by devotion on the other. According to the
irreproachable testimony of Origen, ^183 the proportion of the
faithful was very inconsiderable, when compared with the
multitude of an unbelieving world; but, as we are left without
any distinct information, it is impossible to determine, and it
is difficult even to conjecture, the real numbers of the
primitive Christians. The most favorable calculation, however,
that can be deduced from the examples of Antioch and of Rome,
will not permit us to imagine that more than a themselves under
the banner of the cross before the important conversion of
Constantine. But their habits of faith, of zeal, and of union,
seemed to multiply their numbers; and the same causes which
contributed to their future increase, served to render their
actual strength more apparent and more formidable.
[Footnote 183: Origen contra Celsum, l. viii. p. 424.]

Such is the constitution of civil society, that whilst a few
persons are distinguished by riches, by honors, and by knowledge,
the body of the people is condemned to obscurity, ignorance and
poverty. The Christian religion, which addressed itself to the
whole human race, must consequently collect a far greater number
of proselytes from the lower than from the superior ranks of
life. This innocent and natural circumstance has been improved
into a very odious imputation, which seems to be less strenuously
denied by the apologists, than it is urged by the adversaries, of
the faith; that the new sect of Christians was almost entirely
composed of the dregs of the populace, of peasants and mechanics,
of boys and women, of beggars and slaves, the last of whom might
sometimes introduce the missionaries into the rich and noble
families to which they belonged. These obscure teachers (such
was the charge of malice and infidelity) are as mute in public as
they are loquacious and dogmatical in private. Whilst they
cautiously avoid the dangerous encounter of philosophers, they
mingle with the rude and illiterate crowd, and insinuate
themselves into those minds, whom their age, their sex, or their
education, has the best disposed to receive the impression of
superstitious terrors. ^184

[Footnote 184: Minucius Felix, c. 8, with Wowerus's notes.
Celsus ap. Origen, l. iii. p. 138, 142. Julian ap. Cyril. l. vi.
p. 206, edit. Spanheim.]

This unfavorable picture, though not devoid of a faint
resemblance, betrays, by its dark coloring and distorted
features, the pencil of an enemy. As the humble faith of Christ
diffused itself through the world, it was embraced by several
persons who derived some consequence from the advantages of
nature or fortune. Aristides, who presented an eloquent apology
to the emperor Hadrian, was an Athenian philosopher. ^185 Justin
Martyr had sought divine knowledge in the schools of Zeno, of
Aristotle, of Pythagoras, and of Plato, before he fortunately was
accosted by the old man, or rather the angel, who turned his
attention to the study of the Jewish prophets. ^186 Clemens of
Alexandria had acquired much various reading in the Greek, and
Tertullian in the Latin, language. Julius Africanus and Origen
possessed a very considerable share of the learning of their
times; and although the style of Cyprian is very different from
that of Lactantius, we might almost discover that both those
writers had been public teachers of rhetoric. Even the study of
philosophy was at length introduced among the Christians, but it
was not always productive of the most salutary effects; knowledge
was as often the parent of heresy as of devotion, and the
description which was designed for the followers of Artemon, may,
with equal propriety, be applied to the various sects that
resisted the successors of the apostles. "They presume to alter
the Holy Scriptures, to abandon the ancient rule of faith, and to
form their opinions according to the subtile precepts of logic.
The science of the church is neglected for the study of geometry,
and they lose sight of heaven while they are employed in
measuring the earth. Euclid is perpetually in their hands.
Aristotle and Theophrastus are the objects of their admiration;
and they express an uncommon reverence for the works of Galen.
Their errors are derived from the abuse of the arts and sciences
of the infidels, and they corrupt the simplicity of the gospel by
the refinements of human reason." ^187

[Footnote 185: Euseb. Hist. Eccles. iv. 3. Hieronym. Epist. 83.]

[Footnote 186: The story is prettily told in Justin's Dialogues.
Tillemont, (Mem Ecclesiast. tom. ii. p. 384,) who relates it
after him is sure that the old man was a disguised angel.]

[Footnote 187: Eusebius, v. 28. It may be hoped, that none,
except the heretics, gave occasion to the complaint of Celsus,
(ap. Origen, l. ii. p. 77,) that the Christians were perpetually
correcting and altering their Gospels.

Note: Origen states in reply, that he knows of none who had
altered the Gospels except the Marcionites, the Valentinians, and
perhaps some followers of Lucanus. - M.]

Nor can it be affirmed with truth, that the advantages of
birth and fortune were always separated from the profession of
Christianity. Several Roman citizens were brought before the
tribunal of Pliny, and he soon discovered, that a great number of
persons of every order of men in Bithynia had deserted the
religion of their ancestors. ^188 His unsuspected testimony may,
in this instance, obtain more credit than the bold challenge of
Tertullian, when he addresses himself to the fears as well as the
humanity of the proconsul of Africa, by assuring him, that if he
persists in his cruel intentions, he must decimate Carthage, and
that he will find among the guilty many persons of his own rank,
senators and matrons of nobles' extraction, and the friends or
relations of his most intimate friends. ^189 It appears, however,
that about forty years afterwards the emperor Valerian was
persuaded of the truth of this assertion, since in one of his
rescripts he evidently supposes, that senators, Roman knights,
and ladies of quality, were engaged in the Christian sect. ^190
The church still continued to increase its outward splendor as it
lost its internal purity; and, in the reign of Diocletian, the
palace, the courts of justice, and even the army, concealed a
multitude of Christians, who endeavored to reconcile the
interests of the present with those of a future life.

[Footnote 188: Plin. Epist. x. 97. Fuerunt alii similis
amentiae, cives Romani - - Multi enim omnis aetatis, omnis
ordinis, utriusque sexus, etiam vocuntur in periculum et

[Footnote 189: Tertullian ad Scapulum. Yet even his rhetoric
rises no higher than to claim a tenth part of Carthage.]

[Footnote 190: Cyprian. Epist. 70.]

And yet these exceptions are either too few in number, or
too recent in time, entirely to remove the imputation of
ignorance and obscurity which has been so arrogantly cast on the
first proselytes of Christianity. ^* Instead of employing in our
defence the fictions of later ages, it will be more prudent to
convert the occasion of scandal into a subject of edification.
Our serious thoughts will suggest to us, that the apostles
themselves were chosen by Providence among the fishermen of
Galilee, and that the lower we depress the temporal condition of
the first Christians, the more reason we shall find to admire
their merit and success. It is incumbent on us diligently to
remember, that the kingdom of heaven was promised to the poor in
spirit, and that minds afflicted by calamity and the contempt of
mankind, cheerfully listen to the divine promise of future
happiness; while, on the contrary, the fortunate are satisfied
with the possession of this world; and the wise abuse in doubt
and dispute their vain superiority of reason and knowledge.

[Footnote *: This incomplete enumeration ought to be increased by
the names of several Pagans converted at the dawn of
Christianity, and whose conversion weakens the reproach which the
historian appears to support. Such are, the Proconsul Sergius
Paulus, converted at Paphos, (Acts xiii. 7 - 12.) Dionysius,
member of the Areopagus, converted with several others, al
Athens, (Acts xvii. 34;) several persons at the court of Nero,
(Philip. iv 22;) Erastus, receiver at Corinth, (Rom. xvi.23;)
some Asiarchs, (Acts xix. 31) As to the philosophers, we may add
Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Hegesippus, Melito,
Miltiades, Pantaenus, Ammenius, all distinguished for their
genius and learning. - G.]

We stand in need of such reflections to comfort us for the
loss of some illustrious characters, which in our eyes might have
seemed the most worthy of the heavenly present. The names of
Seneca, of the elder and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus, of
Plutarch, of Galen, of the slave Epictetus, and of the emperor
Marcus Antoninus, adorn the age in which they flourished, and
exalt the dignity of human nature. They filled with glory their
respective stations, either in active or contemplative life;
their excellent understandings were improved by study; Philosophy
had purified their minds from the prejudices of the popular
superstition; and their days were spent in the pursuit of truth
and the practice of virtue. Yet all these sages (it is no less
an object of surprise than of concern) overlooked or rejected the
perfection of the Christian system. Their language or their
silence equally discover their contempt for the growing sect,
which in their time had diffused itself over the Roman empire.
Those among them who condescended to mention the Christians,
consider them only as obstinate and perverse enthusiasts, who
exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious doctrines,
without being able to produce a single argument that could engage
the attention of men of sense and learning. ^191

[Footnote 191: Dr. Lardner, in his first and second volumes of
Jewish and Christian testimonies, collects and illustrates those
of Pliny the younger, of Tacitus, of Galen, of Marcus Antoninus,
and perhaps of Epictetus, (for it is doubtful whether that
philosopher means to speak of the Christians.) The new sect is
totally unnoticed by Seneca, the elder Pliny, and Plutarch.]
It is at least doubtful whether any of these philosophers
perused the apologies ^* which the primitive Christians
repeatedly published in behalf of themselves and of their
religion; but it is much to be lamented that such a cause was not
defended by abler advocates. They expose with superfluous with
and eloquence the extravagance of Polytheism. They interest our
compassion by displaying the innocence and sufferings of their
injured brethren. But when they would demonstrate the divine
origin of Christianity, they insist much more strongly on the
predictions which announced, than on the miracles which
accompanied, the appearance of the Messiah. Their favorite
argument might serve to edify a Christian or to convert a Jew,
since both the one and the other acknowledge the authority of
those prophecies, and both are obliged, with devout reverence, to
search for their sense and their accomplishment. But this mode
of persuasion loses much of its weight and influence, when it is
addressed to those who neither understand nor respect the Mosaic
dispensation and the prophetic style. ^192 In the unskilful hands
of Justin and of the succeeding apologists, the sublime meaning
of the Hebrew oracles evaporates in distant types, affected
conceits, and cold allegories; and even their authenticity was
rendered suspicious to an unenlightened Gentile, by the mixture
of pious forgeries, which, under the names of Orpheus, Hermes,
and the Sibyls, ^193 were obtruded on him as of equal value with
the genuine inspirations of Heaven. The adoption of fraud and
sophistry in the defence of revelation too often reminds us of
the injudicious conduct of those poets who load their
invulnerable heroes with a useless weight of cumbersome and
brittle armor.

[Footnote *: The emperors Hadrian, Antoninus &c., read with
astonishment the apologies of Justin Martyr, of Aristides, of
Melito, &c. (See St. Hieron. ad mag. orat. Orosius, lviii. c.
13.) Eusebius says expressly, that the cause of Christianity was
defended before the senate, in a very elegant discourse, by
Apollonius the Martyr. - G.

Gibbon, in his severer spirit of criticism, may have
questioned the authority of Jerome and Eusebius. There are some
difficulties about Apollonius, which Heinichen (note in loc.
Eusebii) would solve, by suppose lag him to have been, as Jerome
states, a senator. - M.]
[Footnote 192: If the famous prophecy of the Seventy Weeks had
been alleged to a Roman philosopher, would he not have replied in
the words of Cicero, "Quae tandem ista auguratio est, annorum
potius quam aut raensium aut dierum?" De Divinatione, ii. 30.
Observe with what irreverence Lucian, (in Alexandro, c. 13.) and
his friend Celsus ap. Origen, (l. vii. p. 327,) express
themselves concerning the Hebrew prophets.]

[Footnote 193: The philosophers who derided the more ancient
predictions of the Sibyls, would easily have detected the Jewish
and Christian forgeries, which have been so triumphantly quoted
by the fathers, from Justin Martyr to Lactantius. When the
Sibylline verses had performed their appointed task, they, like
the system of the millennium, were quietly laid aside. The
Christian Sybil had unluckily fixed the ruin of Rome for the year
195, A. U. C. 948.]

But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan
and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented
by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their
senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their
first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed
by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the
sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled,
and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit
of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside
from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations
of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the
moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of
Tiberius, the whole earth, ^194 or at least a celebrated province
of the Roman empire, ^195 was involved in a preternatural
darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought
to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of
mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history.
^196 It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder
Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or
received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these
philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great
phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses,
which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. ^197 Both the
one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon
to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of
the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny ^198 is designed for
eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he
contents himself with describing the singular defect of light
which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest
part of a year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without
splendor. The season of obscurity, which cannot surely be
compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been
already celebrated by most of the poets ^199 and historians of
that memorable age. ^200

[Footnote 194: The fathers, as they are drawn out in battle array
by Dom Calmet, (Dissertations sur la Bible, tom. iii. p. 295 -
308,) seem to cover the whole earth with darkness, in which they
are followed by most of the moderns.]

[Footnote 195: Origen ad Matth. c. 27, and a few modern critics,
Beza, Le Clerc, Lardner, &c., are desirous of confining it to the
land of Judea.]
[Footnote 196: The celebrated passage of Phlegon is now wisely
abandoned. When Tertullian assures the Pagans that the mention of
the prodigy is found in Arcanis (not Archivis) vestris, (see his
Apology, c. 21,) he probably appeals to the Sibylline verses,
which relate it exactly in the words of the Gospel.

Note: According to some learned theologians a
misunderstanding of the text in the Gospel has given rise to this
mistake, which has employed and wearied so many laborious
commentators, though Origen had already taken the pains to
preinform them. The expression does not mean, they assert, an
eclipse, but any kind of obscurity occasioned in the atmosphere,
whether by clouds or any other cause. As this obscuration of the
sun rarely took place in Palestine, where in the middle of April
the sky was usually clear, it assumed, in the eyes of the Jews
and Christians, an importance conformable to the received notion,
that the sun concealed at midday was a sinister presage. See Amos
viii. 9, 10. The word is often taken in this sense by
contemporary writers; the Apocalypse says the sun was concealed,
when speaking of an obscuration caused by smoke and dust.
(Revel. ix. 2.) Moreover, the Hebrew word ophal, which in the
LXX. answers to the Greek, signifies any darkness; and the
Evangelists, who have modelled the sense of their expressions by
those of the LXX., must have taken it in the same latitude. This
darkening of the sky usually precedes earthquakes. (Matt. xxvii.
51.) The Heathen authors furnish us a number of examples, of
which a miraculous explanation was given at the time. See Ovid.
ii. v. 33, l. xv. v. 785. Pliny, Hist. Nat. l. ii. c 30.
Wetstein has collected all these examples in his edition of the
New Testament.

We need not, then, be astonished at the silence of the Pagan
authors concerning a phenomenon which did not extend beyond
Jerusalem, and which might have nothing contrary to the laws of
nature; although the Christians and the Jews may have regarded it
as a sinister presage. See Michaelia Notes on New Testament, v.
i. p. 290. Paulus, Commentary on New Testament, iii. p. 760. -

[Footnote 197: Seneca, Quaest. Natur. l. i. 15, vi. l. vii. 17.
Plin. Hist. Natur. l. ii.]

[Footnote 198: Plin. Hist. Natur. ii. 30.]

[Footnote 199: Virgil. Georgic. i. 466. Tibullus, l. i. Eleg. v.
ver. 75. Ovid Metamorph. xv. 782. Lucan. Pharsal. i. 540. The
last of these poets places this prodigy before the civil war.]

[Footnote 200: See a public epistle of M. Antony in Joseph.
Antiquit. xiv. 12. Plutarch in Caesar. p. 471. Appian. Bell.
Civil. l. iv. Dion Cassius, l. xlv. p. 431. Julius Obsequens,
c. 128. His little treatise is an abstract of Livy's prodigies.]

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