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fo, Pliny would 'naturally have begun his letter by informing the emperor, that he had met with a certain set of men in the prorince called Christians.
Here then is a very fignal eridence of the progress of the Christian religion in a short space. It w.19 not fourscore years after the cracifixion of Jesus when Pliny wrote this letter; nor seventy years since the apostles of Jesus began to mention his name to the Gentile world. Bitliynia and Pontus were at -2 great distance from Judea, the centre from which the religion: Apread; yet in these provinces Christianity had long sublifted, and Christians were now in such numbers, as to lead the Roman gov. ernor to report to the emperor, that they were found, not only in cities, but in villages and in open countries.; of all ages,
of every rank and condition ;, that they abounded fo much, as to have produced a visib!c defertion of the temples; that beasts brought to market for victims had few purchasers ; that the sacred solemnities were much neglected ; circumstances noted by Pliny, for the express purpose of showing to the enperor. the effect, and prevalency of the new. inftitution:
No evidence remains, by which it can be proved that the Christians were more numerous in Pontus and Bithynia than: in other parts of the Roman empire ;: nor has any reason been offered to show why they should be fo. Christianity did not begin in these countries, nor' near them. I do not know, there-fore, that we ought to confine the description in Pliny's letter to the state of Christianity ia, those provinces, even if no other account of the fame fubject had came down to us :. but, certain. ly, this letter may fairly be applied in aid'and confirmation of the representations given of the general state of Christianity in the world, by Christian writers of that and the next succeeding; age.
Justin Martyr, who wrote about thirty years after Pliny and one hundred and fix after the ascension, has these remarkable. works :: “ There is not a nation, either of Greek or Barbarian, or of any other name, even of those who wander in tribes, and Jive in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the universe by the name of the crucified Jesus."a. Tertullian, who comes about fifty years aftes. Justin, appeals to the governors of the Roman.em
pire in these terms: “We were but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, iDands, towns and boroughs, the camp, the fenate, and the forum. They (the heathen adverfaries of Christianity) lament, that every fex, age and condition, and persons of every rank also, are converts to that name.'a I do allow that these expressions are loofe, and may be called' der clamatory. But even declamation hath its bounds: this pubi lic boasting upon a subject, which must be known to
reado er, was not only useless but unnatural, unless the trath of the case, in a confiderable degree, corresponded with the description ; at least unless it had been both true and notorious, that great multitudes of Christians, of all ranks and orders, were to be found in most parts of the Roman empire. The same Tertullian, in another pasiage, by way of setting forth the extensive diffusion of Christianity, enumerates as belonging to Christ, bem fide many other countries, the “Moors and Gætulians of Africain the borders of Spain, feveral nations of Erance and parts of Britain inaccessible to the Romans, the Sarmatians, Daci, Germans, and Scythians :'b and, which is more material than the extent of the institution, the number of Christians in the several countries in which it prevailed, is thus expressed by him : "AL though so great a multitude, that in almost every city we form the greater part, we pass our time modestly and in silence." Clement Alexandrinus, who preceded Tertullian by a few years, introduces a comparison between the success of Christianity, and that of the most celebrated philofophical institutions. “The philosophers were confined to Greece, and to their particular retainers : but the do&rine of the Master of Christianity did not remain in Judea, as philosophy did in Greece, but is spread throughout the whole world, in every nation and village and! city, both of Greeks and Barbarians; converting both whole houses and separate individuals, having already brought over to the truth not a few of the philosophers themselves. If the Greek philosophy be prohibited, it immediately vanishes ;: where as, from the first preaching of our doctrine, kings and tyrants governors and presidents, with their whole train, and with the populace on their side, have endeavoured with their whole might to exterminate it, yet doth it flourish more and more. gen, who follows. Tertullian.at the distance of only thirty years, delivers nearly the same account : “In every part of the world, says he) throughout all Greece, and in all other nations, there are innumerable and immense multitudes, who, having left the laws of their country, and those whom they esteemed gods, have given themselves up to the law of Moses, and the religion of Christ'; and this, not without the bitterest Jesentment from the idolators, by whom they were frequently put to torture, and sometimes to death : and it is wonderful to observe, how, in so short a time, the religion has increased, amidst punishment and death, and every kind of torture."a la another paffage Origen draws the following candid comparison between the Itate of Christianity in his time, and the condition of its more primitive ages :-"By the good providence of God the Christian religion has so flourished and increased continually that it is now preached freely without molestation, although there were a thousand obstacles to the spreading of the doctrine of Jesus in the world. But as it was the will of God, that the Gentiles should have the benefit of it, all the councils of men against the Christians were defeated ; and by how much the more em. perors and governors of provinces, and the people every where, Atrove to depress them, lo much the more have they increased and prevailed exceedingly."
a Tertull. Apol. c. 37. Ad. Scap.. C.. III.
b.Ad. Jud. c. 7. Clem. AL Strom. lib, vi: ad finns
It is well known, that within less than eighty years after this, the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine ; and it is probable that Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians because they were the powerful party : for Arnobius, who wrote immediately before Constantine's acceflion, speaks of the whole world as filled with Christ's doctrine, of its diffusion throughout all countries, of an innumerable body of Christians in distant provinces, of the strange revolution of opinion, of men of the greatest genius, orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, having come over to the institution, and that also in the face of threats, executions and tortures.” And not more than twenty years after Constantine's entire possession of the empire, Julius Firmicus Maternus calls upon the emperors Con. ftantius and Constans to extirpate the relics of the ancient relig. ion; the reduction and fallen condition of which is described by our author in the following words :-"Licet'adhue in quibus. dam renivnibus idolatriæ morientia palpitent membra, tamen in
a Or. in. Cell, lib. I.
b Or. Con. Celf. lib. vii. . Aruob, in Gentes, la I. p. 27.924, 42, 44. Ed. Lug. Bat. 165o.
eo res est, ut a Christianis omnibus terris pestiferum hoc malung funditus amputetur;” and in another place,
“ Modicum tantum; fupereft, ut legibus vestris -extincta idolatriæ pereat funefta. -contagio.”a It will not be thought that we quote this writer; in order to recommend his temper or his judgment, but to show the comparative state of Christianity and of heathenism at this period... Fifty years afterwards, Jerome represents the decline. of paganism in language which conveys the same idea of its approaching extinction : "Solitudinem patitur et in urbe gentili. tas. Di quondam nationum, cum bubonibus et noctuis, in solis culminibus remanferunt.” Jerome here indulges a triumph, natural and allowable in a zealous, friend of the cause but which could only be suggested to his mind by the consent and univere fality with which he saw the religion received. “But now (says he) the pasion and resurrection of Christ are celebrated in the discourses and writings of all nations. I need not mention Jews, Greeks and Latins. The Indians, Persians, Goths and Egyptians, philosophise, and firmly believe the immortality of the soul and future recompenses, which, before, the greatest pbilosophers had deoicd, or doubted of, or perplexed with their disputes. The fierceness of Thracians and Scythians is now Softened by the gentle found of the gospel ; and every where Christ is all in all.” Were therefore the motives of Conftan. tine's conversion ever so problematical, the easy eftablishment of Christianity, aod the ruin of heathenism under him and his immediate fucceffors, is of itself a proof of the progress which Christianity had made in the preceding period. It may be added also, “that Maxentius, the rival of Constantine, had shown himself friendly to the Christians. Thereføre, of those who were contending for worldly power and empire, one actually favoured and Hattered them, and another may be suspecte ed to have joined himself to them, partly from consideration of interest ; so considerable were they become, under external disadvantages of all forts.”_
This at least is certain, that throughout the whole transaction hitherto, the great seemed to follow, not to lead the public opinion. It may
help to convey to us fome notion of the extent and progress of Christianity, or rather of the character and quality of
a De Error. Profan. Relig. c. 21. p. 172. Quoted by Lardner, vol. VII, p. 262. b Jer. Lect. ep. 57.
c Jer, ep. 8. ad Heliod. d Lard. vol. III. p. 330.
many early Christians, of their learning and their labours, to notice the number of Christian writers 'who fourished in these ages. St. Jerome's catálogue contains fixiy-fix writers within the three first centuries, and the fix first years of the fourth
; and fifty-four between that time and his own, viz. A. D. 392. Jerome introduces his catalogue with the following just remonItrance :-" Let those, who say the church has had no philofophers, nor eloquent and learned men, observe who and wbat they were, who founded, established and adorned it; let them "cease to accuse our faith of rusticity, and confess their mistake.”. Of these writers, several, as Justin, Irenæus, Clement of Alex:andria, Tertullian, Origen, Bardefanes, Hippolitus, Eusebius, were voluminous writers. Christian writers abounded particularly about the year 178. Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, founded a library in that city A. D. 212. Pamphilus, the friend of Origen, founded a library at Cefarea, A. D. 294. Public defences were also set forth, by various advocates of the religion, in the courfe of its three first centuries.
Within one hundred years after Christ's afcenfion, Quadratus and Aristides, wliose works, except some few fragments of the first, are loft ; and about twenty years afterwards, Justin Martyr, whole works Temain, presented apologies for the Chriftian religion to the Roman emperors ; Quadratus and Ariitides to Adrian, Justin to Antoninus Pius, and a second to Marcus Antoninus. Melito, bishop of Sardis, and Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, and Miltiades, men of great reputation, did the fame to Marcus Antoninus twenty years afterwards :' and ten years after this, Apollonius, who suffered martyrdom under the emperor Com'modus, composed an apology for his faith, which he read in the fenate, and which was afterwards published. Fourteen years after the apology of Apollonius, Tertullian addressed the work, which now remains under that name, to the governors of prove inces in the Roman empire; and, about the fame time, Minnacius Felix compofed a defence of the Christian religion, which is still extant ; and, shortly after the conclusion of this century, copious defences of Christianity were published by Arnobius and Lactantius.
Jer. Prol. in lib. de ser, ecc. b Eufeb. Ion I. iv. c. 6. See allo Lardoer, vol, II. p. 666.
chard, vol. II. p. 037.