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ranked the monster Commodus in the number of the gods; instituted festivals to his honor, and appointed a high-priest to preside over the worship of this portentous deity. Of such extravagant instances of deification the christians did not fail to make a proper handle, and to infer triumphantly against idolaters, what kind of gods those also were, whom they had deified in a similar manner in more ancient times.
In the mean while christianity had been diffused through all the provinces of the Roman empire, and among the various nations with which the Romans were in commerce: the temples of false gods were almost totally abandoned, and their sacrifices in great part were interrupted. The
The populace, stirred priests and those whom motives of interest still attached to their pagan superstition, loudly demanded the punishment of the christians; and the magistrates put them to the most cruel deaths. Notwithstanding all this rigor, their numbers daily increased ; and Trajan, to prevent the depopulation of the empire, by a strange and inconsistent policy, forbade the christians to be sought for ; while he directed them to be punished in case they were denounced.
An edict so replete with folly worse than infantile, did not arrest the progress of christianity. The miracles and the zeal of its professors in announcing their religion; the purity of their morals, and that admirable constancy with which they chose to spill their blood rather than prevaricate: the consoling truths which they proposed to the consideration of mankind; that blissful eternity which they held out to those who suffered death for the love of Jesus Christ, and the supernatural helps which they received from heaven in propagating the gospel, increased their numbers beyond all calculation. In effect, what could the infuriated mandates of tyrants do against a religion so divine ; or the fear of death, in regard of those whose sole ambition was to die?
The law which prohibited christians to be sought for, was esteemed by many—a misfortune which deprived them of the crown of martyrdom : they presented themselves before the tribunals of their own accord, and boldly declared that they were followers of Christ. Adrian, though superstitious in the extreme, admired their virtue, and ordered the tumultuary accusations of the populace to be disregarded ; nor would he suffer any to be put to death without the proof of some notorious crime. This edict the pagan priests and a bigotted rabble did their utmost to have repealed. They represented the christians in colours the most odious, and imputed to them the dreadful earthquakes which had desolated many provinces. The states of Asia, and other countries, with pious eagerness, solicited of Antoninus, the permission to search after, and to put to death, the innocent professors of the gospel. Antoninus saw the unreasonableness, and the injustice, of persecuting men for their
religious principles, who had no other crime than that of disa senting from the common opinion in their system of belief. Marcus Aurelius was not quite so delicate in his ideas of justice; nor of principles so liberal and enlightened. He involved the christians, with the various sects of gnostics-men of infamous and abandoned morals, in one common writ of persecution, and regarded them as a set of gloomy fanatics who voluntarily rushed upon their own destruction. However, even under the reign of Commodus christianity enjoyed some intervals of repose; also during the revolutions which convulsed the Roman empire upon the death of Pertinax, and under the rival emperors Julian, Niger and Albinus. But Severus again renewed the persecucution—though with no better success than those who went before him.
While thus the whole power of the empire was employed for the destruction of the christians, their persons and their doctrines were at the same time furiously attacked by a numerous phalanx of philosophers ;-Cynics, Epicureans, Pythagoreans, &c. Among these were – Crescens, Celsus, Fronto and a crowd of sophists; some of whom demanded with unfeeling asperity and malice the death of these pretended enemies of mankind. (Orig. cont. Cels. Justin, Apol. pro Christ. 23. Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 1. 4. Minut. Felix.) În the midst of such alarming obstacles, the christian religion pushed its conquests to the remotest quarters of the globe: it had erected its victorious standard-at Rome, at Athens, at Alexandria ;-and even in the most celebrated schools of each philosophic sect, though supported by the fury of popular commotion, the authority of the laws, and the power of arbitrary rulers.
This amazing growth of christianity is attested by all christian writers, as well as by the pagan authors of the times. Pliny remarked it to the emperor Trajan ; and the impious Lucian is compelled to acknowledge, that all places at that early period, were already filled with christians. Nor were these christians a set of men remarkable for their credulity, or for their love of novelty ; or a superstitious and stupid rabble: they were persons of all ranks and descriptions, whose subtilty of understanding and depth of genius were the terror of impostors: in their presence these se. ducers forbade the pretended mysteries of their vaunted new mythology to be exhibited, for fear of their detection. (Plin. Ep. 1. 10. ep. 97. Lucian Pseudomant. Justin. Tert. Apol.) This, however, did not prevent a vast number of sectaries from propagating their extravagant theories in the second age. Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates ; Valentinus, Cerdo, Marcion and Hermogenes; Hermias, Bardesanes, Appelles; Tatian, and Severus, and Heraclian; the Sethians, the Cainites, the Ophites :--some, in order, as they fancied, more effectually to withdraw their hearts from earthly things, and to fix them more
securely in heaven, absolutely interdicted themselves every kind of pleasure: others on the contrary, looked upon pleasures as a tribute due to the angels whom they imagined to be the creators of this lower world ; or else esteemed them things indifferent in themselves, and of course not apt to contaminate the soul. These indulged in the most scandalous immorality: some went naked, like Adam and Eve in the state of innocency; others, in the opposite extreme; condemned as criminal whatever might have the remotest tendency to excite the passions. All alike notwithstanding, pretended sedulously to practise what Jesus Christ came down to teach mankind, in order to conduct them safe to heaven. Some acknowledged him to be the Son of God; others an angel; others again, supposed him to be a mere human being, upon whom the divinity had lavished his gifts with a more liberal hand than upon any other mortal man.All without exception, acknowledged the truth of the miracles of our Lord; and all had condescended to new-model their original system of philosophy, in order to facilitate their explanation: these miracles, therefore, must have been, in the highest degree, incontestible; since even systematic pride owned itself unable to contest them. Thus were the dogmas of the Pythagorean, the Platonic and the Stoic philosophy combined with the superstitious practices of magic and astrology, all employed in attempting to elucidate the miracles and the doctrines of christianity; and all these fanciful inventors of new sects endeavoured to assert the plausibility of their pretensions, in opposition to their rival empirics of the day. They had every where their respective preachers, who by the affected austerity of their life, or by their loose morality and some fictitious miracles, seduced the people, and communicated to them their own fanaticism. Some of these sectaries found means widely to extend their society. The numerous sects of the Basilidians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites, were distinguished and upheld by the severity of their morals, which tended, they conceived, to restrain the passions, and to rid mankind of the tyranny of the senses. Such was the general enthusiasm of the age.
Among christians this system of morality produced a set of men who carried the spirit of rigorism and mortification far beyond the boundaries which religion and the church prescribed. These men did not in the ardor of their zeal, undertake to form a society apart; but they soon began to conceive themselves to be more perfect than the rest of their christian brethren, and their morality more sublime. Hence Montanus, a proud and self-conceited man, took occasion to style himself the Reformer of that religion taught by Jesus Christ. He pretended, that our blessed Redeemer had promised to send down the Holy Ghost-to teach a religion still more perfect than his own; that he [Montanus] was himself the Holy Ghost, or the prophet by whose mouth the Holy
Spirit caused this more perfect dispensation to be announced to men. The impostor had disciples who affected to be inspired like himself, and formed a numerous sect divided into a variety of branches, which differed from each other only in a few ridicu lous observances. Martyrdom was the watch-word of this sect; and hence we find a multitude of Montanists suffering death in support of their superstition. It survived the storm of
persecution, and continued to exist till the fifth century.
Montanus and his sectaries, notwithstanding their apparent regularity of life, in a council of orthodox bishops had been retrenched from the communion of the faithful. Thus the church, ever incorruptible in its morality as well as in its doctrine, shewed itself equally averse from all extremes and every species of excess: consequently, the establishment of the christian religion is not the result of enthusiasm, as some modern infidels vainly would have us to believe.
Most heresies broached in the two first centuries, were a compound of pagan philosophy with the dogmas of christianity: accordingly, they were combated by christian theologists with philosophic principles, and with those of reason.
The beauty of their writings; their reputation and eventual success, attracted the attention of all to the study of philosophy. Religious subjects began to be treated with the nicest regard to method; and the proofs of the christian doctrine were supported by dint of argument, and the maxims of the most celebrated sages of antiquity. Too servile an adhesion to this rule produced effects the most mischievous in their consequences. Certain christians affected to render the mysteries of our faith more credible by assimulating them with the ideas borrowed exclusively from reason. Religion suffered by the comparison; and its doctrines were modelled according to the fancies of these conceited innovators. Such were—Artemon and Theodotus, who eventually contested the divinity of Jesus Christ; and the Melchisedecians, who pretended that he was inferior to Melchisedec.
Artemon, Theodotus, and the Melchisedecians, were censured by the church, and cut off from the communion of the faithful: their erroneous doctrines were refuted by the concurrent authorities of holy scripture, the hymns and canticles composed at the commencement of christianity, and the writings of ecclesiastical authors, who were more ancient than any of these sectarists : consequently, the divinity of Jesus Christ was distinctly taught in the church as a fundamental article, and recognised as such in the sacred hymns composed in the very infancy of our holy religion.
It taught against Marcion, Cerdo, Saturninus, &c. the unity of the Divine nature, the first cause and great principleof all things; and against Cerinthus, Artemon, Theodotus, &c. that Jesus Christ was true God. Praxeas, who was con
temporary with Theodotus, erroneously concluded, that Jesus Christ could not be a divine person distinct from God the Father; and was himself condemned as Theodotus had been before him; though he did not form any sect.
May I here be allowed to re-assert, that the christian church taught distinctly at this early period: 1, the consubstantiality of the word ; believing, as she did, one only divine substance,eternal, existing necessarily, and infinite in its attributes; and that Jesus Christ was truly God; 2,--that the church then as distinctly proposed the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, and professed it as a fundamental dogma of christianity.
These are undeniable facts, which alone suffice to overturn, and at once triumphantly to do away—the system of Socinus, together with those of Clark, Whiston, and their anti-trinitarian brethren, regarding the most Blessed Trinity, and the consubstantiality of the Son of God.
While thus the infant church had to contend with heresy and persecution, Judea since the death of Herod was become a province of the Roman empire. The Jews, notwithstanding, still preserved the purity of their religion ; and their very intercourse with the idolators, as well as the tyranny of their governors and collectors of the public taxes, confirmed and increased their hatred of the Romans, and their aversion for idolators in general, even to a degree of frenzy. Their expectations of a Deliverer, who was to subdue all the nations of the earth, disposed the minds of the ignorant to insurrection; which, accordingly, did not fail to burst forth into a flame both at Jerusalem, throughout all Judea, in Syria, and in Egypt. Vespasian is sent against them at the head of a Roman army; and his son Titus enters Jerusalem by storm,-demolishes the temple with the greater part of that devoted city,-sells its wretched inhabitants for slaves, and disperses the remainder of the Jewish people over almost the whole habitable world.
With the city and the temple of Jerusalem, the Jewish religion lost whatever was calculated to impress the mind with awe and veneration. The Jews themselves remained in a state of disorganization, intermixed with the inhabitants of the most distant nations of the globe. Still, however, they universally retained an implacable aversion for the rest of mankind; and their hopes of a Messiah, whom they vainly figured to themselves as a mighty conqueror, seemed to increase with their misfortunes. These were circumstances which continually impelled the Jewish people to revolt. Nor were impostors wanting to personate the Messiah, and by some ingenious deception to induce them to believe their mission was from God.
Thus did the torch of rebellion blaze out at Alexandria,---over all Egypt, Thebais and Lydia --in Cyprus, and in Mesopatamia, under the reign of the emperor Trajan. When Adrian his successor