Images de page

the .be



irn, IUS lan ube

in the empire, was preparing to send a colony to Jerusalem, the impostor Barcochebas stepped forth, and was anointed and recognised by the Jewish rabbins for their king and Saviour. The Romans at first despised him ; but when they saw him at the head of a numerous army, and upon the point of being joined by all the Jews, the imperial legions were sent against them; and prodigious numbers on this occasion fell victims to their own infatuation. An edict was issued, forbidding them to enter Jerusalem, or even to reside in any place whence Jerusalem might be seen. This, however, did not discourage them; and whenever circumstances seemed to promise eventual success, they failed not to rise in arms. In the close of the second century, this restless people once more, to their cost, insulted the Roman eagles, during the reign of the emperor Severus.

Such was the forlorn and unsettled state of the Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem. The priests who had survived the fate of this unhappy city, lay concealed in Palestine, and there endeavoured to collect the remnant of their scattered nation. As they were better grounded than the rest of the Jews, in their religion and jurisprudence, to them their exiled countrymen had recourse for instruction. They chose out of their body the person whom they deemed best qualified, to regulate in the different synagogues what regarded the law, the ceremonies, and their solemn worship

This person was at the head of the college of priests who resided in Palestine, and who did not wish to re. move to a greater distance from Jerusalem, where they expected to see their temple re-established. He was the patriarch of the Jews in exile: His duty it was to visit the synagogues ; and these defrayed the expences of his journeys.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors]

The wars of Severus with his rivals Julian, Niger and Albinus; the cruel vengeance which he exercised upon their several friends and adherents; his avarice, his brutal inhumanity, desolated the state, and caused vast numbers of his subjects and of the soldiery to seek protection among barbarians. However, as he was consummately skilled in the art of war, and of superior talents for government, the empire still continued powerful during his reign, and made the surrounding nations tremble.

Severus was succeeded by Caracalla, who with all the vices of his father carried to their utmost excess, joined not one of his better qualities. The seeds of disaffection and revolt which the genius of Severus had stified in the interior of the state, now began on the sudden to develope; and the hereditary hatred which foreigners had imbibed for the Roman name, and which he had hitherto kept at bay, at once burst forth, and was inflamed to a

degree of fury by the unheard of perfidy of Caracalla; while avarice, ambition and voluptuousness, vices which even before his reign had proceeded to an alarming pitch, daily gained ground throughout the whole empire. In the course of this century (such was the anarchy and confusion of the times) more than twenty emperors were raised successively to the throne, chiefly by the hands of faction and seditious influence, or by the murder of their respective predecessors. Hardly, in effect, was an emperor assassinated, when his murderer seized the reigns of government; and four or five competitors at once disputed with him the privilege of reigning. Often when all appeared in profound peace and harmony, would the flame of sedition suddenly blaze forth in four or five different provinces at a time; just as a dreadful storm spreads sudden desolation in its progress over the tracts in which it spends its fury. In these intestine commotions of the state three of the best and greatest emperors that Rome had ever beheld; Alexander, Aurelian and Probus-all shared a similar fate with the monsters Heliogabalus and Caracalla.

Thus torn in pieces by its own hands, the empire was assailed on every side by the Scythians, the Parthians, the Persians, the Goths, the Heruli, the Germans; and by that confused medley of barbarians, distinguished under the appellation of Francs. These furious hordes now penetrated the empire in all directions; and it was compelled to purchase a precarious peace of those very people, to whom heretofore it had been accustomed to grant it upon the most humiliating terms. The booty which they carried off on these occasions, was an allurement too tempting for these savage adventurers to resist; and the hopes of greater plunder perpetuated a destructive war, which terminated in the eventual downfal of the Roman empire. Gross idolatry, with all its attendant horrors, still prevailed, and almost the very idea of virtue and justice seemed extinct in the pagan world. Such was the horrible degeneracy of the Roman senate, that they decreed divine honors and the title of God even to a Caracalla, the murderer of his own father and brother, the bloody executioner of the people, and the terror and execration of all mankind. The champions of paganism, indeed, and the persecutors of the christians, were in general, men of abandoned characters, and notoriously wicked. The palpable absurdity, and the glaring inconsistencies of their own mythology, had been exposed by christian writers in the brightest light of evidence; and their philosophers were reduced to the miserable shift of new-modelling their various systems; in order to reconcile, if possible, the discordant theories of polytheism and the different philosophic sects with some degree of plausibility and harmony in their leading principles. Ammonius was the first devisor of this hodge-podge of philosophism, which became extremely fashionable in the third age, and was termed the eclectic sect.

their cause.

[ocr errors]

The Jews had been dispersed and intermingled with almost every nation of the globe. Thus, wherever the christian religion was announced, it found its mortal enemies ; enemies very capable of convicting it of imposture, had there been a possibility of substantiating the charge. To the Jews many of the Roman emperors had been favourable, and granted them certain privileges, allowing them to establish academies, and to cultivate the sciences. Their school of Tiberias became very famous; and they had some celebrated rabbinical doctors at Babylon. In the beginning of the reign of Severus, both Jews and christians were tolerated; but a cruel policy soon took place, and again subjected the professors of christianity to the rigours of persecution, during the remainder of this emperor's reign. However, Caracalla and Heliogabalus did not oppose the progress of christianism; and Alexander Severus, the best of Heathen princes, patronised its professors, admitted them to his court, and even called them to his privy council

. Maximin Ed renewed the persecution ; but Gordian and Philip befriended

Decius, the murderer of his master Philip, was their implacable enemy:

But Gallus who succeeded him, restored peace to the church ; although eventually he became ad

himself its ruthless persecutor: so did Valerian after him ; whose impiety was quickly arrested by the Divine justice, in the commencement of his rage, as Lactantius remarks; and in his

person was exhibited to the world a striking instance of the inOP

constancy of human things. Gallien beheld with seeming in

difference his father's misery; and whilst he suffered him to he

drag on in captivity a dying life, he put a stop to the persecution raised by him, and caused the christian churches and cemeteries to be restored. After a reign of fifteen years

Gallien was assassinated, and his successor, Claudius II, published his bloody edicts against the true religion ; but his reign was short. Aurelian restored tranquillity to the innocent sufferers; and after his death they were permitted to enjoy a long interval of peace, nearly till the close of this century. Their numbers had prodigiously increased, especially under those emperors who had

allowed them the free exercise of their religion. They practised ; it in the midst of the palace, where they occupied important

charges,--had gained the affection and the confidence of their princes, and possessed considerable interest at court. The bishops, whose character was highly respected in the provinces, were permitted to build churches, and their flocks were astonishingly numerous.

Nor was christianity confined within the precincts of the Ro. man jurisdiction; its zealous disciples propagated its doctrines among the barbarous nations in commerce with the empire. Sometimes the enemies of the Roman name in their hostile de. predations carried off a multitude of captives : some of them

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

were christians, who disseminated among these people the bright example of the sublimest virtues, and the admirable light of the gospel.

While thus the church of Christ continued to flourish, and to increase even under the axe of persecution, it vigorously repressed and condemned every attempt at innovation in its doctrine and the purity of its morals. In the close of the foregoing century, it was fashionable to join the study of philosophy with that of religion. This philosophy was neither Platonism nor Stoicism ; it consisted in adopting whatever in any philosophic system reason discovered to be true; and every one in consequence, thought himself privileged to elucidate the mysteries of religion by those maxims of the ancient sages, which appeared to him best calculated to render them intelligible. In fact, the awful obscurity of our mysteries was ever a great stumbling block to infidels, and to the wise ones of this world.

The grand mysteries of our holy faith are not contrary to reason; but they are exalted infinitely above it. Reason, therefore, is not competent to suggest any idea which may render them obvious to the understanding; and many, not aware of this, in the attempt to explain them by the common principles of reason, altered and adulterated them. Thus did Beryllus, Noetus, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata and Hierax, give explanations regarding the mysteries of the blessed Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God, that tended absolutely to do away the mysteries themselves. The church then condemned these fatal errors, with many others of a tendency equally pernicious ; and excluded their abettors from its pale: thus we see, the Trinity of persons and the Divinity of Jesus Christ,---the spirituality and immortality of the soul, were dogmas clearly established and distinctly taught in the church of God, during the third age; as these sentences of excommunication against their impugners abundantly demonstrate.

Meanwhile, other christian philosophers, more cautious and more discerning than the former, combated with success the various sects of Gnostics who had made their appearance in the preceding ages ; and reclaimed them from their extravagant errors. The church had not yet decided by any positive law, upon what terms the reclaimed should be admitted.

Africa and the East classed them with the Catechumens, and re-baptised them. In the West, on the contrary, they were not re-baptised, but were received barely with the imposition of hands. This diversity of practice gave rise to much contention, and nearly caused a schism in the church. Those, too, who in the times of persecution had renounced their faith, demanded with great earnestness their re-admission to communion: some wished them to be received without the humiliating ceremony of canonical penance; others insisted that this could not be dispensed with :


others again, still more rigidly severe, pretended that they ought not to be re-admitted into the church, on any terms what

This variety of opinions produced party-spirit and division, with some sects. Of this the Novatians are one instance.


to ed

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Almost all the subjugated nations ;--the Persians, the Scythians, the Goths; Francs, Germans, and other barbarous tribes, allured by the hopes of plunder, broke impetuously into the Roman provinces. It was therefore absolutely necessary to entertain and keep embodied a formidable military force, without which the empire could not withstand the efforts of its enemies, and which itself, nevertheless, was capable of annihilating at once both the emperors and the empire. Dioclesian, in order to ward off inconveniences eventually so mischievous to the state, resolved to share the weight of government with Maximus -a warrior consummately qualified for the conduct of armies, as his colleague in the empire ; and with Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, whom he created Cesars or emperors of inferior rank. This system, he thought, would give a check to the spirit of faction in the armies, which, separately, would be too weak to claim the privilege of raising their respective generals to the sovereignty, and would likewise counteract the ambition of commanders, and eyen of the emperors themselves, by deterring them from assuming undue superiority over their colleagues. This policy, however, far from answering the views of Dioclesian, gave the Roman empire four masters: they all aspired equally to absolute authority, formed their several alliances apart, and incessantly waged war against each other, till Constantine became sole master of the empire. On his deathbed, he adopted the impolitic system of Dioclesian, and divided his dominions amongst his children. These did not long remain content with the partition, and made war with one another ; while they were all attacked by ambitious competitors, and perished in the contest, except Constantius, who again re-united in his own person

the sovereignty of the state. During the whole of the fourth century was the empire thus divided and re-united by turns—under Valentinian, Gratian, Theodosius, and his sons Arcadius and Honorius. Meanwhile the barbarians from without harassed the provinces with continual incursions. Incredible were the calamities which attended this unceasing state of warfare; and the loss of blood was immense.

Still, however, the Roman discipline maintained a decided superiority in the tumultuary attacks of these savage invaders, and still nobly asserted the integrity of the empire.

Dioclesian, in the beginning of his reign, had favored the

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« PrécédentContinuer »