תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

be carried to the world, and pressed upon their notice by those who possess it; and it will be carried by those only who are constrained by the love of Christ. Had the Church retained her first zeal and love, not a nation or family would long have remained without the Gospel. But her love and zeal subsided, until few efforts were made to bring men to the acknowledgment of Christ, except for purposes of wordly ambition. It is certain, however, that Christ was known and worshipped as God, among the Franks, Germans, Spaniards, Celts, Britons, and throughout the East, before the close of the second century; and that, at the end of the period we are considering, Christianity became the acknowled religion of the whole Roman empire.

As the Church advanced in age, and became widely extended, the means of increase and strength were in some respects changed. The Apostolic office had ceased. The sacred canon being closed, prophets were no more. As the Gospel was received by different nations, among whom preachers were raised up, there was no farther use for the miraculous gift of tongues. And as it was essential that the world should be convinced by miracles that Christ and the first promulgators of truth only, were inspired from Heaven, the power of healing diseases and interrupting the established laws of nature was soon withheld; at what exact period, has been the subject of much dispute, but is of little moment. One thing is certain, that men are converted by the Gospel, by evangelical truth, and not by miracles; and that, as far as true religion was spread, and men were gathered into the kingdom of God, it was by the preaching of Christ and him crucified. This remained the standing means of salvation.

Copies of the sacred Scriptures were multiplied and circulated to as great an extent, as they could be in an age when the art of printing was unknown, and the mass of Christians were neither learned nor wealthy. The Latin versions were chiefly used; because that language was generally spoken throughout the Roman empire.

Most of the emperors who reigned in the second century, were of a mild and lenient character; and, under their administration, the Churches enjoyed many seasons of tranquility, though occasionally they were called to pass through the fire. Before the close of the first century, Nerva had granted toleration to the Church, and restored the Christian exiles. But his successor, Trajan, renowned for his philo

sophic virtues, if he did not issue edicts against the Christians, suffered the populace to wreak their vengeance on them, and destroy them at their pleasure.

A violent persecution raged in Bithynia. Not knowing what course to pursue, Pliny, governor of the province, addressed a letter to the emperor, which, as it gives such an account of the Christians, as a heathen of intelligence and candor would form, and an official relation of the persecutions of the age, deserves, together with the answer of Trajan, a place in every ecclesiastical history. It was probably written in the year 106 or 107, soon after the death of the Apostle John.

C. PLINY TO TRAJAN, EMPEROR. “ Health. It is my usual custom, Sir, to refer all things, of which I harbor any doubt, to you. For who can better direct my judgment in its hesitation, or instruct my understanding in its ignorance? I never had the fortune to be present at any examination of Christians, before I came into this province. I am therefore at a loss to determine what is the usual object of inquiry or of punishment, and to what length either of them is to be carried. It has also been with me a question very problematical-whether any distinction should be made between the young and the old, the tender and the robust; whether any room should be given for repentance, or the guilt of Christianity once incurred, is not to be expiated by the most unequivocal retraction—whether the name itself, abstracted from any flagitiousness of conduct, or the crimes connected with the name, be the object of punishment. In the mean-time, this has been my method, with respect to those who were brought before me as Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians. If they plead guilty, I interrogated them twice afresh, with a menace of capital punishment. In case of obstinate perseverance, I ordered them to be executed. For of this I had no doubt, whatever was the nature of their religion, that a sullen and obstinate inflexibility called for the vengeance of the magistrate. Some were infected with the same madness, whom, on account of their citizenship, I reserved to be sent to Rome, to your tribunal. In the course of this business, informations pouring in as is usual when they are encouraged, more cases occurred. An anonymous libel was exhibited, with a catalogue of names of persons, who yet declared that they were not Christians then, nor ever had been; and they repeated after me an invocation of the gods and of your image, which, for this purpose, I had ordered to be brought with the images of the deities. They performed sacred rites with wine and frankincense, and execrated Christ, which, I am told, no Christian can ever be compelled to do. On this account, I dismissed them. Others named by an informer, first affirmed, and then denied the charge of Christianity; declaring that they had been Christians, but had ceased to be so, some three years ago; others, still longer; some even twenty years ago. All of them worshipped your image, and the statues of the gods, and also execrated Christ. And this was the account which they gave of the nature of the religion they once had professed; whether it deserves the name of crime or error, namelythat they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before day-light, and to repeat among themselves a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, with an obligation of not committing any wickedness; but, on the contrary, of abstaining from thefts, robberies and adulteries; also, of not violating their promise, or denying a pledge; after which it was their custom to separate, and to meet again at a promiscuous, harmless meal, from which last practice, however, they desisted, after the publication of my edict, in which, agreeably to your orders, I forbade any societies of that sort. On which account I judged it the more necessary to inquire, by torture, from two females, who were said to be deaconesses, what is the real truth. But nothing could I collect, except a depraved and excessive superstition. Deferring therefore any farther investigation, I determined to consult you. For the number of culprits is so great, as to call for serious consultation.

Many persons are informed against, of every age and of both sexes; and more still will be in the same situation. The contagion of the superstition hath spread, not only through cities, but even villages in the country. Not that I think it impossible to check and to correct it. The success of my endeavors hitherto forbids such desponding thoughts; for the temples, once almost desolate, begin to be frequented, and the sacred solemnities, which had long been intermitted, are now attended afresh, and the sacrificial victims are now sold every where, which once could scarcely find a purchaser. Whence, I conclude that many might be re claimed, were the hope of impunity on repentance absolutely confirmed."

TRAJAN TO PLINY. “ You have done perfectly right, my dear Pliny, in the inquiry which you have made concerning Christians. For truly, no one general rule can be laid down, which will apply itself to all cases. These people must not be sought after. If they are brought before you and convicted, let them be capitally punished; yet with this restriction, that if any one renounce Christianity, and evidence his sincerity by supplicating our gods, however suspected he may be for the past, he shall obtain pardon for the future on his repentance. But anonymous libels ougḥt, in no case, to be attended to; for the precedent would be of the worst sort, and perfectly incongruous to the maxims of my government."

From this important correspondence, we learn that Christians were then very numerous:— that they every where worshipped Christ as God; that their morals were not only unimpeachable, but of an high character; and that, because of the spirit of Christianity, the heathen temples were almost desolate, and the sacrificial victims could scarce find a purchaser. This is the testimony, not of a Christian, but of a heathen governor. Strange that such men as Trajan and Pliny should not have been allured by a religion which made such good men and peaceable citizens; or, at least, should not have withheld from them entirely the arm of persecution. But there is no coincidence between the religion of a virtuous Pagan, and the gospel of Christ. The one fosters human pride; the other, humbles man in the dust; so that often the bitterest enemies of the cross, are those who have made the greatest attainments, as they, themselves think, in the moral virtues.

The order of Trajan, however, was favorable to the Christians, as it forbade all search to be made after them, and prohibited all anonymous libels and accusations, though it still left the door open for persecution and death.

From this correspondence also, and from the other historical records of the age, we learn that the Christians were looked upon with the utmost contempt. Pliny calls their religion “ a depraved and excessive superstition," and views their attachment to the Gospel, as a sullen and obstinate inflexibility, demanding the vengeance of the magistrate. No epithets could be too debased to be heaped upon them. They were called atheists, magicians, haters of the light, selfmurderers, eaters of human flesh; and were accused of unnatural crimes, which are not to be mentioned. But their accusers could bring nothing against them excepting that they would not invoke the gods and execrate Christ; and when any apostates would do this, they were at once forgiven and admitted into favor, notwithstanding these charges of gross immorality.

Had we correct biographical notices of those who conversed with, and survived the Apostles, we should, no doubt, find many among them who illustriously adorned the doctrine of God their Savior. The writings only of Clement, who presided nine years over the Church of Rome, and whom Paul calls his fellow laborer, whose name is in the book of life,” have come down to us. He wrote an Epistle to the Corinthians, at the close of the first century; which presents him as strongly attached to the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and animated by a truly apostolic spirit; and the Corinthians, as still possessing the faith, and hope, and charity of the Gospel, though tarnished, as in the days of Paul, with pride and a schismatical spirit.

The successor of James, in the pastoral office at Jerusalem, was Simeon. The church had fled to Pella, when the city was encompassed with the Roman armies; but it returned to Judea, about the beginning of Trajan's reign, after quiet was restored, and the city in some measure rebuilt. There Adrian found them worshipping in a small building upon Mount Zion, when he came to repair Jerusalem.Simeon lived to a great age. Being accused before Atticus, the Roman governor, he was scourged many days and then crucified, A. D. 107.

In the same year, Ignatius, who presided in the church of Antioch, suffered martyrdom for the faith of Jesus. He had in his youth been a disciple of John, and had been intimately acquainted with Peter and Paul. Peter, it is said, laid hands on him when he was ordained to the pastoral office. Having continued in the pastoral charge about forty years, be presented himself before Trajan on his way to the Parthian war, hoping to avert a storm which was then ready to burst on the Christians. " What an impious spirit art thou," said Trajan, “both to transgress our commands, and to inveigle others into the same folly to their ruin!” “ Theophorus ought not to be called so," answered Ignatius, “forasmuch as all wicked spirits are departed from the servants of God. But if you call me impious because I am hostile to evil spirits, I own the charge in that respect. For

« הקודםהמשך »