Page images
PDF
EPUB

soon after by king Agrippa the younger, and probably perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. See Tillemont, H. E. i. p. 377, &c.

Nero turned his rage upon the Christians, A. D. 64. Four years after, in his great distress he attempted to kill himself ; but being as mean-spirited and dastardly as he was wicked and cruel, he had not the resolution to do that piece of justice to the world, and was forced to beg help.

Soon after came on the destruction of Jerusalem, and the punishment of that nation and of their rulers for rejecting the Messias.

Domitian persecuted the Christians, A. D. 95. and was killed the next year.

Trajan, Titus Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius, did indeed suffer the Christians to be ill-used, not through cruelty and tyranny, but by mistake and misrepresentations: These emperors had many great and good qualities, and nothing disastrous befel them.

Eusebius hath justly and judiciously represented the state of the Christians in those days: Trajan gave a rescript, in which it was decreed that Christians should not be sought out, but that if they were convicted they should be punished: by which, though the violence of the storm seemed to be in some measure abated, yet ill-disposed persons still found opportunities to exert their malice, whilst sometimes the populace, and sometimes the governors, were contriving ways to oppress us. Thus the persecution, though it was not general, was still kept up in different places, and many of the faithful were exposed to various trials and afflictions, and obtained the honour of martyrdom.' üi. 39.

Severus, who was violent and cruel, oppressed the Christians, A. D. 202. His latter end was calamitous, he was weary of his life, he left behind him a profligate eldest son, whose temper he knew, and whom he ought to have put to death, but had not the heart to do it, for the wicked wretch attempted to kill his father, and afterwards slew his brother. Alī, the family of Severus perished miserably.

Saturninus, proconsul of Afric, in the reign of Severus, persecuted the Christians, and put several of them to death.

He lost his eye-sight some time after, as Tertullian says, Ad Scapulam.

Heliogabalus brought a new deity to Rome, and in. tended to compel all his subjects to adore this god, and no other, or, at least, to give him the preference to all other deities, and to make them no better than his gentlemen ushers, and valets de chambre; which must inevitably have brought on a persecution of the Christians; but this vile monster was slain soon after by his soldiers, A. D. 222. * Heliogabalum consecravit--id agens ne quis Romæ Deus nisi Heliogabalus coleretur. Dicebat præterea, Judæorum et Samaritanorum religionem, et Christianam devotionem illuc transferendam.' Lampridius.

Decius persecuted A. D. 250. He reigned not three years, and died in battle.

Pagan writers speak well of him. He seems to have distressed the Christians partly out of spite to the memory of his predecessor Philip, who had treated them kindly, and who is thought by several to have been himself a Christian, though surely a worthless one, and no credit to us. It is more probable that Philip was a Pagan.

Gallus persecuted A. D. 251, and was killed the next year.

Valerian, who had many good qualities, yet was not only an enemy, but a very cruel enemy, to the Christians, He was taken prisoner by Sapor the Persian king, and used like a slave and a dog, and as no Roman emperor was ever treated, and died a poor miserable captive.

Æmilian, governor of Ægypt, and a violent persecutor of the Christians, set up for emperor, and was taken prisoner, and sent to Gallienus, who ordered him to be strangled, A. D. 263.

• Gallieno jubente dedit pænas : siquidem strangulatus in carcere captivorum veterum more perhibetur.' Treb. Pollio.

Aurelian, just intending to begin a persecution, was killed, A. D. 274.

Maximinus the First, a persecutor, reigned three years, and was killed.

Diocletian, by adopting associates, and sharing the empire and the troops with them, took the most probable method to secure the lives of the emperors from the arbi

trary insolence of the army, which with little ceremony used to kill one and set up another.

• To prevent the continual treasons of the soldiery, the emperors associated to themselves persons in whom they had confidence; and Diocletian, pretending that the weight of affairs required it, ordered that there should always be two Emperors, and two Cæsars. He judged that the four principal armies, being in the hands of those who shared the empire, would check and intimidate each other, and that the other armies not being strong enough to make an emperor of their own choosing, they would lose by slow degrees the custom of electing; and lastly, that the dignity of Cæsar being always subordinate, the power divided between four for the security of the government, would yet be, in its whole extent, and in reality, only in the hands of

two.

* But what kept the military men still more in order, was, that the wealth of private persons and the public revenues being diminished, the emperors could no longer bribe them with such vast presents; so that the profit was not proportionable to the danger of making a new election.

Moreover the prefecti prætorio, who for power and office were in a manner the grand viziers of those times, and caused emperors to be massacred at their own pleasure, that they might take their place, were greatly reduced by Constantine, who left them only civil functions, and instead of two made them four.

• Thus the lives of the emperors began to be better secured, and they died in their beds, like other men,' &c. Considérations sur les Causes de la Grandeur des Romains.

But if this change were advantageous in one respect to the rulers, it was detrimental in another to the poor subjects, who were burdened with an increase of soldiers and taxes.

Hinc denique parti Italiæ invectum tributorum ingens malum;' says Aurelius Victor.

· Tres enim participes regni sui fecit (Diocletianus) in quatuor partes orbe diviso, et multiplicatis exercitibus, cum singuli eorum longe majorem numerum militum habere con. tenderent quam priores principes habuerant cum soli rems publicam gererent. Adeo major esse cceperat numerus VOL. II.

T

accipientium quam dantium, ut enormitate indictionum con. sumtis viribus colonorum, desererentur agri, et culturæ verterentur in silvam,' &c. Lactantius de Morţ. Pers. c. 7.

Yet all these precautions did not protect the emperor and his colleagues from divine vengeance. At this time was the great contest between Christ and the Roman emperors, which should prevail. They were determined to blot out the Christian name from under heaven, and the persecution was far more fierce and brutal than it had ever been, and therefore it was time for Providence to exert itself; and so indeed it did.

Diocletian persecuted A. D. 303, after which nothing prospered with him; he underwent many troubles, his senses were impaired, and he quitted the empire.

Severus, who was raised by Galerius, and therefore, like Galerius, not disposed to spare the Christians, was over. thrown and put to death by Maximianus Herculius, A. D. 307.

About the same time, Urbanus, president of Palæstine, who had signalized himself by tormenting and destroying the Christians, met with his due reward.

• Immediately after the cruelties which he had exercised upon Pamphilus, and whilst he was still in his

government, the divine vengeance overwhelmed him. He who the day before sat in the judgment-seat, exercising dominion, surrounded with guards, and ruler of all Palæstine; he who was the companion, the guest, and the most intimate and honoured friend of the tyrant, suddenly was stripped of all his dignity, and exposed to "public ignominy before the face of those who had feared and reverenced him. The whole nation beheld their governor dejected, dispirited, poorly begging for mercy, and showing the meanest and most unmanly behaviour : whilst Maximinus himself, whose favour had filled him with vanity and insolence, and whose affection he had obtained by his barbarity to the innocent Christians, proved his most barbarous and inexorable enemy, and after having convicted him of many crimes, and openly shamed him at Cæsarea, condemned him to be put to death.' Eusebius de Mart. Pal. vii.

The ecclesiastical historian seems to have taken some pleasure in stigmatizing this inhuman and cowardly go

vernor, in consigning him to everlasting infamy, and in sacrificing his worthless name to the manes of his dear friend Pamphilus.

Firmilianus, another persecuting governor, met with the same fate.

• It is proper to observe here how the governors, as well as the tyrannical emperors, were punished by God's providence: for Firmilianus, who had showed so much insolence and inhumanity to the martyrs of Jesus Christ, was condemned to die with several others, and was beheaded.' Eusebius, Mart. Pal. xi.

Maximianus Herculius, one of the persecuting emperors, was compelled to hang himself, A. D. 310.

Maximianus Galerius, of all the tyrants in his time the most cruel, and the first mover of the persecution, was seized with a grievous and horrible disease, and tormented with ulcers and worms, to such a degree that they who were ordered to attend him could not bear the stench. He then made an edict, preserved by Eusebius, in favour of the Christians, that they might pray to God for him, and he died, A. D. 311.

· The wrath of Heaven fell upon him, and afflicted him with a disease which seized his body and penetrated to his soul. An abscess was suddenly formed about his secret parts, with a fistulous ulcer, which preyed upon his bowels, and an incredible quantity of worms issued thence with an intolerable stink. For before this distemper, he had indulged his voracious appetite, and was grown extremely fat and unwieldy, and the huge mass of flesh being totally corrupted, afforded a most hideous spectacle to those who were about him. Of his physicians, some were put to death because they could not bear the suffocating stench of his body; and others were still more barbarously condemned to the same punishment, because the remedies which they applied to him were ineffectual, and they could not remove an incurable distemper.' Eusebius viii. 16.

Maxentius, an enemy to Christianity, was overthrown in battle by Constantine, and in his flight he fell into the Tiber, and was drowned, A. D. 312. The Christians, who were thus delivered out of the hartie

« PreviousContinue »