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Death of the Emperor Aurelius.
him in the vilest manner, without the least respect to his age, pelting him with whatever came first to hand, and every one looking upon himself as deficient in zeal if he did not insult him in some way or other ; he was thrown into prison, and after languishing two days, expired.
These few instances, which indeed are but little in comparison of the horrid barbarities detailed in this letter, may however give the reader some idea of this dreadful persecution, which, lamentable to tell, received the express sanction of the philosophic emperor, Marcus Aurelius. “ He sent orders,” says the letter, “ that the confessors of Christ should be put to death; and that the apostates from their divine master should be dismissed." Such proceedings, as Mosheim properly remarks, will be an indelible stain upon the memory of the prince by whose order they were carried on.
His death, however, ivhich took place in the year 180, put a period to this fiery trial, which, with scarcely any intermission, had raged in one quarter or other during a period of eighteen years.
Sketch of the state of Christianity from the death of
Marcus Aurelius to the time of Constantine.
A. D. 180-306.
AURELIUS was succeeded in the government of the empire by his son Commodus, during whose reign of nearly thirteen years, the Christians enjoyed a large portion of external peace, and their numbers were every where multiplied to a vast extent. The character of this young prince formed a contrast to that of his father : he was not
only an epicure, but, as Gibbon allowy,'" he attained the summit of vice and infamy." Historians attribute' the toleration which he granted the Christians, to the initiaence which Marcia, his favourite concubine, had obtained over his mind. She is said to have had a predilection for their religion, and to have employed her interest with Cominodus in their behalf. There is nothing incredible in this, unless, indeed, the character of that lady should be thought incompatible with it. The Lord, in whose hand are the hearts of all men, and who turns them as the rivers of water, frequently sends his people relief in the most unexpected manner, and by means from which they would least apprehend it--thus impressing upon their minds a conviction of his own dominion and sovereignty, and their entire dependence upon him.
In the year 192, Commodus was púť to death, in cotisequence of a conspiracy raised against him by his own domestics ; when the choice of a successor fell on Pertinax, præfect of the city, an ancient senator of consular rank, whose conspicuous merit had broke through the obscurity of his birth, and raised him to the first honours of the state. The reign of this amiable prince, however, proved of short duration ; for on the 28th March, of the same ycar, only eighty-six days after the death of Commodus, a general conspiracy broke out in the Roman camp,
which the officers wanted either the power or inclination to suppress, and the emperor fell a victim to the rebellious fury of the Prætorian guards." .' .,.
On the death of Pertinax the sovereign power devolved upon Severus, who, during the persecution of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, had sustained the rank of governor of that province. In the first years of his reign, he permitted the Christians to enjoy a continuance of that toleration which had been extended to themi by Commodus and Pertinax. But the scene 'changed towards the latter
Søct. 111.] Death of Pertinax and reign of Severus. 173 end of this century, and about the tenth year of his reign, which falls in with the year 202, his native ferocity of temper broke out afresh, and kindled a very severe persecution against the Christians. He was then recently returned from the east, victorious; and the pride of prosperity induced him to forbid the propagation of the gospel. He passed a law by which every subject of the empire was prohibited to change the religion of his ancestors for that of the Christian or Jewish. Christians, however, still thought it right to obey God rather than
Severus, persisted, and exercised the usual cruelties. At this time Asia, Egypt, and the other provinces were deluged with the blood of the martyrs, as appears from the testimonies of Tertullian, Clemens of Alexandria, and other writers. It was this series of calamities, during which Leonides, the father of Origen, and Irenæus, pastor of the church at Lyons, suffered martyrdom, that induced Tertullian to write his Apology, and several other books in defence of the Christians.
The mention of Tertullian naturally directs our attention to the progress of Christianity, in a region which we have hitherto had no occasion to notice, viz. the Roman province of Africa. This whole country, once the scene of Carthaginian greatness, abounded with Christians in the second century, though of the manner in which the gospel was introduced, and of the proceedings of its first preachers there, we have no account. A numerous church existed at Carthage in the latter end of the second and beginning of the third century, of which Tertullian'was one of the pastors. He may be said to have flourished from the
year 194 , correctness of some of our historians," he exhibited a striking instance, how much wisdom and weakness, learning and ignorance, faith and folly, truth and error, goodness and delusion, may be mixed up in the composition
of the same person.
His works, which were written in Latin, have been handed down, to us; and it certainly is matter of regret, that, in general, the subjects on which he wrote, are not more important. Nor can it be denied, that there was much of the ascetic in his composition. He seems to have been deeply impressed with apprehensions that a spirit of lukewarmness and indifference was coming upon the churches, and with the fear of their being infected by the customs of the pagans around them; which he laboured to counteract by enforcing a discipline rigorous in the extreme. It is however due to him to say, that he defended, with great clearness and ability, the doctrine of the revealed distinction in the Godhead, against Praxeas, who had propagated sentiments subversive of the Christian faith. In that work he treats of the Trinity in unity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-yet one God ;-of the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man; as at once the Son of man and the Son of God; and of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and, Sanotifier of bea' lievers; and this he describes as the rule of faith which had obtained from the beginning of the gospel.
But his Apology for the Christians is an invaluable treatise; it exhibits, a most pleasing view of the spirit and behaviour of the disciples of Jesus at that time, and of their adherence to the faith, order, and discipline of the churches planted by the apostles. The reader will not be displeased at my introducing in this place, the following: striking sentences; it is however proper to premise that I give them rather as an abridgement, than as an exact transcript of my author, though his ideas are carefully preserved.
We pray for the safety of the emperors to the eternal God, the true, the living God, whom emperors themselves would desire to be propitious to them, above all others
* Hawies's Charch History, vol. i. p. 192.
who are called gods. We, looking up to heaven, with outstretched hands, because they are harmless, with naked heads, because we are not ashamed, without a prompter, because we pray from the heart; constantly pray for all emperors and kings, that they may have a long life, a secure empire, a safe palace, strong armies, a faithful senate, a well-moralized people, a quiet state of the world; whatever Cæsar would wish for himself in his public or private capacity. I cannot solicit these things from any other than from Him from whom I know I shall obtain them, if I ask agreeably to his will; because he alone can do these things: and I expect them from him, being his servant, who worship him alone, and am ready to lose my life in his service. Thus then let the claws of wild beasts pierće us, or their feet trample on us, while our hands are stretched out to God: let crosses suspend us, let fires consume'us, let swords pierce our breasts-a praying Christian is in a frame for enduring any thing. How is this, ye génerous' rulers ? Will ye kill the good subject who supplicates God for the emperor ? Were we disposed to return evil for evil, it were easy for us to avenge the injuries which we sustain. But God forbid that his people should vindicate themselves by human fire; or be reluctant to endure that by which their sineerity is evinced. Were we disposed to act the part, I will not say of secret assassins, but of open enemies, should we want forces and numbers? It is true we are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all your towns, cities, islands, castles, boroughs, councils, camps, courts, palaces, senate, forum ;* we leave you only your temples.
• I cannot but think that this language of Tertullian is much too strong, and that the reader who would not be misled, should receive it with some degree of qualification. There can be no doubt that the profession of Christianity had spread extensively at the commencemeat of the third century; but paganism was still the religiou of the empire, and if any reliance can be placed upon Gibbon's calculation as it respects this mat.