Page images

their pride; or whether it were a Christian virtue, a gift of the grace of our Lord, and an operation of that charity which maketh saints. For the foundation of true virtue is true faith, without which it is impossible to please God: as likewise it is impossible that true virtue should not please him. And history represents to us every where this prelate as engaged in the belief, in the faction, and in the intrigues of the Arians.' H. Eccl. vii. 370. See also in p. 726. the distress of Tillemont, Baronius, and Bollandus, on this grievous difficulty. They know not where to place Mark of Arethusa; whether among the saints, or among the sinners, or in the intermundia of the Epicurean gods.

Mark had demolished a Pagan temple in the reign of Constantius, and had built a church over its ruins; in doing which he seems to have showed more zeal than prudence: but this part of his conduct gives no pain to the Tillemonts and the Baroniuses. The best excuse that can be made for him is, that he had the permission of the emperor for acting as he did, though even that excuse is scarcely satisfactory.

Paul and Silas were severely beaten with rods, and then' cast into a dungeon, and put in the stocks, which was a painful posture. At midnight, when such wounds and torments give the most uneasiness, instead of uttering sighs and groans, instead of praying to God to relieve them, they sang praises to him with a loud voice, Acts xvi. 22. Hence we conclude that they were assisted by God, who alleviated their pain, and gave them not only resignation and patience, but exultation and joy. When a martyr suffers greater torments than these for the same cause, and shows the same undaunted and cheerful spirit, is it not just to suppose that he receives the same assistances? The behaviour of the man, the honour of religion, the promise of Christ, the goodness of God, all lead us to this determination.

[ocr errors]

The far greater part of the martyrologies is indeed so silly and contemptible as to be beneath all notice and censure; and of those which are of a better stamp, some seem to have been drawn up by persons, who, through excessive veneration of the departed saints, and a love of the mar

• Plaustra mendaciorum is the properest name for most of them.' See some conjectures concerning the pious lies in the Legends, in Bayle's Dict. Falerius.

vellous, or other motives, have inserted false embellishments, and then the transcribers have made interpolations of the same kind. The authors of pious frauds are foolish knaves, who do irreparable mischief to the cause which they want to recommend.

The copies which we have of the antient Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas differ considerably. See Tillemont, H. E. iii. 137. and Basnage Ann. ii. p. 224. The African style of these Acts shows their antiquity; and they relate what Perpetua suffered in prison, and some of her dreams, written, if we may believe the author of the Acts, by herself; and also a dream of Saturus, who suffered at the same time. In the dream of Perpetua we see some beginnings of the opinion of purgatory, and of praying for those who are in it, as the commentators have not failed to observe. The question is whether they are really the words of Perpetua, of which it is impossible to be certain. These notions might indeed have been in some measure introduced amongst the common people, and Perpetua might have had a dream conformable to such current notions: but nothing obliges us to believe that all the dreams of martyrs were revelations, or that this in particular was of that kind.' Le Clerc Bibl. Chois. xxvi. 220.

The behaviour of the martyrs related in those Acts, as it is circumstantial and probable, so is it affecting and edifying; but their visions and revelations seem to be partly of the enthusiastic kind, and such as might be expected from the disciples of Montanus. Perhaps the writer, who is supposed by many to have been a Montanist, and the transcribers, enlarged and adulterated that part of the account, either to propagate some favourite notions of their own, or to omit nothing that they had gathered from ru mour and common report. This I am inclined to suppose, in respect and reverence for these holy martyrs; but what we much wish we easily believe; and that perhaps may be

my case.

In some of the antient Acts of the Martyrs, and in ecclesiastical historians, we have well attested examples of heroic faith and fortitude, and of love stronger than death, which would affect even the coldest heart; and which Joseph Scaliger, a man of good taste, a clear judgment, and no

superstition, could never read without being greatly moved. Eorum lectione piorum animus ita afficitur, ut nunquam satur inde recedat: quod quidem ita esse, unusquisque pro captu suo et conscientiæ modo sentire potest. Certe ego nihil unquam in Historia Ecclesiastica vidi, a cujus lectione commotior recedam, ut non amplius meus esse videar.' Anim. in Euseb. p. 121.

Justin Martyr, whilst he was a Pagan, concluded very candidly and reasonably, from the courage and constancy of the persecuted Christians, that they could not be profligate and debauched people; and his Pagan and Platonic judgment on this point was better than the ecclesiastical judgment of several Christian writers. Καὶ γὰρ αὐτὸς ἐγώ, τοῖς Πλάτωνος χαίρων διδάγμασι, διαβαλλομένους ἀκούων Χριστιανοὺς,, ὁρῶν δὲ ἀφόδους πρὸς θάνατον, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἄλλα νομιζόμενα Φοβερά, ἐνενόουν ἀδύνατον εἶναι ἐν κακίᾳ καὶ Φιληδονίᾳ ὑπάρχειν αὐτούς. 'Nam et ego ipse, cum Platonis disciplina delectarer, audiremque criminationes quæ in Christianos jactabantur, mortem autem, cæteraque omnia quæ terribilia putantur, minime eos formidare viderem, statui ipse mecum fieri haudquaquam posse, ut in vitiorum pravitate et voluptatum amore viverent.' Apol. ii.

The Christians, that is, the wise and prudent part of them, were of opinion, that as it was their duty to suffer any torments rather than dissemble or deny their religion, so was it also to avoid persecution, and never to expose themselves uncalled to so hard a trial. Mention is made in the Epistle of the Church of Smyrna, and in other antient records, of some rash and presumptuous Christians, who offered themselves to martyrdom, and who, when they were condemned, lost all courage and deserted their cause, whilst others who had been diffident of themselves and had retired, being discovered and seized, died in a most Christian manner. This also was perfectly suitable to our Saviour's doctrine and promises, who required humility and prudence from his disciples. Peter made bolder professions of fortitude and fidelity than any of the apostles, and therefore he alone fell away in the dark hour of temptation, and denied his Master.

This wonderful behaviour of the antient Christians may justly be accounted a proof of the truth of our religion,

and we should deserve to be blamed and despised, if we parted with it and gave it up tamely upon account of a few objections. Objections may be made even to demonstrations, and

Nihil est tam bonum, quin dicendo malum effici possit.

THE increase of Christianity under all these discouragements, and this cloud of afflictions, is another argument of the same kind, and a subject highly worthy of consideration: Adeone levis res et futilis videtur religio Christiana, aut tam vulgaris tamque similis rerum quotidianarum progressio ejus et propagatio, ut quemvis hominem (non jam Christianum dico, sed vel ab omni religione alienum, vel ab ea alienissimum) exquirere pudeat quales homines essent, qua doctrina, quo ingenio, qua disputandi scientia, qua facultate dicendi instructi, qui gravibus illis et constantibus Romanis persuadere potuerint, relictis et repudiatis Diis suis, quos se nunquam aut impune neglexisse, aut frustra gravissimis reipublicæ temporibus invocasse majores omnibus monumentis proclamabant et testabantur, hominum et barbarorum et a se devictorum et Judæorum deum, hominemque simul Judæum a popularibus suis paulo ante servili supplicio necatum, venerari; qui tot tamque dispares nationes, alias immanitate efferatas, alias moribus et disciplina inflatas, alias horrida quadam et agresti virtute feroces, alias luxu et licentia petulantes, alias victoriis et imperio insolentes, alias diuturna servitute fractas et debilitatas, alias ignorantia et tarditate, alias doctrinæ et ingenii fama indociles, ita flexerint et mutaverint, ut religioni patriæ novam et externam, ut omni licentiæ libertatique vivendi (quicum prioribus fere religionibus summa pax et concordia fuit) vitam rigidam et severam et omnia voluptatis vel confinia anxie fugientem, virtutesque quarum né nomina quidem antea audiverant, ut denique paupertatem divitiis, odium gratiæ, contemtionem honori, exilium patriæ, mortem vitæ anteferrent.' Thirlby, Dedic. Just. M. These reflections are as just as they are elegant; and the inference which the reader ought to make from them is, that a change so happy, so extensive, and so surprising, could have been effected by nothing less than the Divine will and assistance.

"The progress of Christianity,' says Moyle, 'considering its late rise, and the constant opposition it met with, is, even on my moderate computation, prodigious, and to be accounted for by nothing but the Divine Providence, as I may one day show at large on another occasion.' Thunder. Legion, p. $27.


The alteration also which Christianity made in the manners of men, and the stop which it put to polygamy, is very remarkable. Οὔτε οἱ ἐν Παρθίᾳ Χριστιανοὶ πολυγαμοῦσι Πάρθοι ὑπάρχοντες, οὐχ οἱ ἐν Περσίδι γαμοῦσι τὰς θυγατέρας αὐτῶν, Πέρσαι ὄντες· οὐ παρὰ Βάκτροις καὶ Γάλλοις φθείρουσι τοὺς γάμους·--ἀλλ ̓ ὅπου εἰσὶν, οὔτε ὑπὸ τῶν κα κς κειμένων νόμων καὶ ἐξῶν νικῶνται. Nec in Parthia Christiani, Parthi licet, pluribus utuntur uxoribus, nec in Perside, Persæ licet, filias uxores ducunt, nec apud Bactros aut Gallos nuptiarum honestatem et jura contami nant,-Ita ubicumque degunt, nec legum morumque sceleratorum improbitate vincuntur.' Bardesanes, apud Euseb. Præp. Evang. vi. 10. in his Discourse against Astrological Fate. Thus, according to this ingenious philosopher, the Christians of all countries retained the good qualities and rejected the reigning vices of the several nations of which they were natives.

The law which permits only one wife is conformable to the nature of the European, but not to the nature of the Asiatic climate. It is for this reason that Mohammedism found so easy an admission in Asia, and such difficulty to extend itself in Europe; that Christianity hath maintained itself in Europe, and hath been destroyed in Asia; and that the Mohammedans have made so much and the Christians so little progress in China.

In the time of Justinian, many philosophers, uneasy at the restraint laid upon them by Christian laws, retired into Persia, to Chosroes. What induced them most, says Agathias, was that polygamy was there permitted to men who did not abstain even from adultery.


It is hardly possible that Christianity should ever be established in China. Vows of virginity, the assembling of women in churches, their necessary intercourse with the ministers of religion, their participation of the sacraments, auricular confession, extreme unction, the marrying but one

« PreviousContinue »