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I HAVE availed myself of the interval since the last edition, to subject this book to a minute and careful revision, removing such inaccuracies as I have been able myself to discover, as well as those which have been brought under my notice by reviewers or correspondents. I must especially acknowledge the great assistance I have derived in this task from my German translator, Dr. H. Jolowicz - now, unhappily, no more - one of the most conscientious and accurate scholars with whom I have ever been in communication. In the controversial part of the first chapter, which has given rise to a good deal of angry discussion, four or five lines which stood in the former editions have been omitted, and three or four short passages have been inserted, elucidating or supporting positions which have been misunderstood or contested.

January 1877.


THE questions with which an historian of Morals is chiefly concerned are the changes that have taken place in the moral standard and in the moral type. By the first, I understand the degrees in which, in different ages, recognised virtues have been enjoined and practised. By the second, I understand the relative importance that in different ages has been attached to different virtues. Thus, for example, a Roman of the age of Pliny, an Englishman of the age of Henry VIII., and an Englishman of our own day, would all agree in regarding humanity as a virtue, and its opposite as a vice; but their judgments of the acts which are compatible with a humane disposition would be widely different. A humane man of the first period might derive a keen enjoyment from those gladiatorial games, which an Englishman, even in the days of the Tudors, would regard as atrociously barbarous; and this last would, in his turn, acquiesce in many sports


which would now be emphatically condemned. And, in addition to this change of standard, there is a continual change in the order of precedence which is given to virtues. Patriotism, chastity, charity, and humility are examples of virtues, each of which has in some ages been brought forward as of the most supreme and transcendent importance, and the very basis of a virtuous character, and in other ages been thrown into the background, and reckoned among the minor graces of a noble life. The heroic virtues, the amiable virtues, and what are called more especially the religious virtues, form distinct groups, to which, in different periods, different degrees of prominence have been assigned; and the nature, causes, and consequences of these changes in the moral type are among the most important branches of history.

In estimating, however, the moral condition of an age, it is not sufficient to examine the ideal of moralists. It is necessary also to enquire how far that ideal has been realised among the people. The corruption of a nation is often reflected in the indulgent and selfish ethics of its teachers; but it sometimes produces a reaction, and impels the moralist to an asceticism which is the extreme opposite of the prevailing spirit of society. The means which moral teachers possess of acting upon their fellows, vary greatly in their nature and efficacy, and the age of the highest moral teaching is often not that of the highest general


level of practice. Sometimes we find a kind or aristocracy of virtue, exhibiting the most refined excellence in their teaching and in their actions, but exercising scarcely any appreciable influence upon the mass of the community. Sometimes we find moralists of a much less heroic order, whose influence has permeated every section of society. In addition, therefore, to the type and standard of morals inculcated by the teachers, an historian must investigate the realised morals of the people.

The three questions I have now briefly indicated are those which I have especially regarded in examining the moral history of Europe between Augustus and Charlemagne. As a preliminary to this enquiry, I have discussed at some length the rival theories concerning the nature and obligations of morals, and have also endeavoured to show what virtues are especially appropriate to each successive stage of civilisation, in order that we may afterwards ascertain to what extent the natural evolution has been affected by special agencies. I have then followed the moral history of the Pagan Empire, reviewing the Stoical, the Eclectic, and the Egyptian philosophies, that in turn flourished, showing in what respects they were the products or expressions of the general condition of society, tracing their influence in many departments of legislation and literature, and investigating the causes of the deep-seated corruption which baffled all the efforts of


emperors and philosophers. The triumph of the Christian religion in Europe next demands our attention. In treating this subject, I have endeavoured, for the most part, to exclude all considerations of a purely theological or controversial character, all discussions concerning the origin of the faith in Palestine, and concerning the first type of its doctrine, and to regard the Church simply as a moral agent, exercising its influence in Europe. Confining myself within these limits, I have examined the manner in which the circumstances of the Pagan Empire impeded or assisted its growth, the nature of the opposition it had to encounter, the transformations it underwent under the influence of prosperity, of the ascetic enthusiasm, and of the barbarian invasions, and the many ways in which it determined the moral condition of society. The growing sense of the sanctity of human life, the history of charity, the formation of the legends of the hagiology, the effects of asceticism upon civic and domestic virtues, the moral influence of monasteries, the ethics of the intellect, the virtues and vices of the decaying Christian Empire and of the barbarian kingdoms that replaced it, the gradual apotheosis of secular rank, and the first stages of that military Christianity which attained its climax at the Crusades, have been all discussed with more or less detail; and I have concluded my work by reviewing the changes that have taken place in the position of women, and in


the moral questions connected with the relations of the sexes.

In investigating these numerous subjects, it has occasionally, though rarely, happened that my path has intersected that which I had pursued in a former work, and in two or three instances I have not hesitated to repeat facts to which I had there briefly referred. I have thought that such a course was preferable to presenting the subject shorn [!] of some material incident, or to falling into what has always the appearance of an unpleasing egotism, by appealing unnecessarily to my own writings. Although the history of the period I have traced has never, so far as I am aware, been written from exactly the point of view which I have adopted, I have, of course, been for the most part moving over familiar ground, which has been often and ably investigated; and any originality that may be found in this work must lie, not so much in the facts which have been exhumed, as in the manner in which they have been grouped, and in the significance that has been ascribed to them. I have endeavoured to acknowledge the more important works from which I have derived assistance; and if I have not always done so, I trust the reader will ascribe it to the great multitude of the special histories relating to the subjects I have treated, to my unwillingness to overload my pages with too numerous references, and perhaps, in some cases, to the difficulty that all who


have been much occupied with a single department of history must sometimes have, in distinguishing the ideas which have sprung from their own reflections, from those which have been derived from books.

There is one writer, however, whom I must especially mention, for his name occurs continually in the following pages, and his memory has been more frequently, and in these latter months more sadly, present to my mind than any other. Brilliant and numerous as are the works of the late Dean Milman, it was those only who had the great privilege of his friendship, who could fully realise the amazing extent and variety of his knowledge; the calm, luminous, and delicate judgment which he carried into so many spheres; the inimitable grace and tact of his conversation, coruscating with the happiest anecdotes, and the brightest and yet the gentlest humour; and, what was perhaps more remarkable than any single faculty, the admirable harmony and symmetry of his mind and character, so free from all the disproportion, and eccentricity, and exaggeration that sometimes make even genius assume the form of a splendid disease. They can never forget those yet higher attributes, which rendered him so unspeakably reverend to all who knew him well - his fervent love of truth, his wide tolerance, his large, generous, and masculine judg-


ments of men and things; his almost instinctive perception of the good that is latent in each opposing party, his disdain for the noisy triumphs and the fleeting popularity of mere sectarian strife, the fond and touching affection with which he dwelt upon the images of the past, combining, even in extreme old age, with the keenest and most hopeful insight into the progressive movements of his time, and with a rare power of winning the confidence and reading the thoughts of the youngest about him. That such a writer should have devoted himself to the department of history, which more than any other has been distorted by ignorance, puerility, and dishonesty, I conceive to be one of the happiest facts in English literature, and (though sometimes diverging from his views) in many parts of the following work I have largely availed myself of his researches.

I cannot conceal from myself that this book is likely to encounter much, and probably angry, contradiction from different quarters and on different grounds. It is strongly opposed to a school of moral philosophy which is at present extremely influential in England; and, in addition to the many faults that may be found in its execution, its very plan must make it displeasing to many. Its subject necessarily includes questions on which it is exceedingly difficult for an English writer to touch, and the portion of


history with which it is concerned has been obscured by no common measure of misrepresentation and passion. I have endeavoured to carry into it a judicial impartiality, and I trust that the attempt, however imperfect, may not be wholly useless to my readers.

London, March 1869.




Fundamental division of moral theories (1)
Necessity of imputing immoral consequences to false theories (2)

The Utilitarian School

Mandeville (6)
Hobbes and his followers (7)
Theological Utilitarians (14)
Enlargement of the school by the recognition of benevolence (21)
And by Hartley's doctrine of association (22)
How far selfish (30)

Objections to the School

From the common language and feelings of men (33)
From the impossibility of virtue bringing pleasure if practised only with that end (35)
From the separation of morals from all other means to enjoyment (37)
Intuitive moralists do not deny the utility of virtue (39)
The degrees of virtue and vice do not correspond to the degrees of utility or the reverse (40)


Consequence of Acting on Utilitarian Principles Weakness of the doctrine of remote consequences (42)

Secret sins (43)
Sins of imagination (44)
Infanticide (45)
Cruelty to animals (46)
Chastity (49)
Love of truth (50)

Utilitarian Sanction

Theological Utilitarianism makes the goodness of God an unmeaning term (54)
Destroys a chief argument for a future life (54)
Subverts natural religion (54-55)
How far supreme excellence is conducive to happiness (57)
The suffering caused by vice not proportioned to its criminality (61)
The rewards and punishments of conscience (62)
Nature of obligations (64)
The best men seldom the happiest (69)
Summary of objections (69)
Cause of the attraction of Utilitarianism (71)
Ambiguity of the term "inductive" as applied to morals (73)

Intuitive School

Doctrines of Butler, Adam Smith, Cudworth, Clarke, Wollaston, Hutcheson, Henry More, Reid, Home, and Lord Kames (76-77)
The analogies of beauty and virtue (77)
Their differences (82)
Illustrations of the distinction between the higher and lower parts of our nature (88)
Ethical importance of this distinction (91)

Alleged Diversities of Moral Judgment

Are frequently due to intellectual causes. - Usury and abortion (92)
Distinction between natural duties and those resting on positive law (93)
Ancient customs canonised by time. - Of women drinking wine (93)
Confused association of ideas. - Admiration for conquerors. (94)
Calvinistic ethics (96)
Persecution (98)
Antipathy to free enquiry (98)


General moral principles alone revealed by intuition (99)
The moral unity of different ages is therefore a unity not of standard, but of tendency (100)
Application of this to the history of benevolence (100)
Utilitarian objections which it answers (101)
Intuitive morals not unprogressive (102)
Sketch of the history of chastity (108)
Answers to miscellaneous objections (108)
The standard, though not the essence, of virtue determined by the condition of society (109)
Occasional duty of sacrificing higher principles to lower ones. The difficulty of finding a fixed rule for these cases applies to the Utilitarian as well as his opponent (116)
Summary of the relations of virtue and interest (117)
Two senses of the word "natural" (119)
The ethics of savages(120)

Each of the Two Schools of Morals related to the General Condition of Society

Their relations to metaphysical schools (122)
To the Baconian philosophy. - Contrast between ancient and modern civilisation (125)
Practical consequences of each school (127)

The Order in which Moral Feelings are developed

Decline of ascetic and saintly qualities (180)
Growth of the gentler virtues. - Relation of the imagination to benevolence (132)
Callous and vindictive cruelty (134)
Indulgent judgments towards criminals (136)
Moral enthusiasms appropriate to different stages of civilisation (136)
Growth of veracity - industrial, political, and philosophical (137-140)
Theological influences have retarded the last (139)
The thrifty and the speculating character (140)
Forethought (140)
Decline of reverence (141)
Female virtue (143)
Influenced by climate (144)
By large towns (146)
By tardy marriages (146)


Each stage of civilisation is specially appropriate to some virtues (147)
Relations of intellectual to moral progress (149)
The moral standard of most men lower in political than in private judgments (150)
National vices (151)
Qualities of corporations (152)
French and English types ( 153)
The manner in which virtues are grouped (153)
Rudimentary virtues (154)
All characters cannot be moulded into one type (155)
Concluding remarks on moral types (155-160)


Pagan religion had little influence on morals (161)
Greek scepticism (161)
Its extension to Rome - Opinions of the philosophers (162-167)
Roman religion never a source of moral enthusiasm (167)
Inroad of luxury (168)
Growth of astrological fatalism (171)
Philosophers the true moral teachers (171)
Epicureanism and Stoicism the expression of different types of character (172)
Military and patriotic enthusiasm formed in Rome the Stoical type (172)
The predisposition strengthened by the prominence of biography in moral teaching (174)
Epicureanism never became a school of virtue in Rome (176)
Its function destructive (176-177)


Its two essentials. - The unselfish ideal, and the subjugation of the affections to the reason (177)
The first due to patriotism, the most unselfish of enthusiasms (178)
Four possible motives of virtue (178)
Stoicism the best example of the perfect severance of virtue and interest (181)


Stoics disregarded or disbelieved in a future world (181-183)
Taught men to sacrifice reputation (185)
Distinguished the obligation from the attraction of virtue (186)
The second characteristic, the repression of the desires (187)
Deliberate virtue the most estimable - impulsive virtue the most attractive (188)
Doctrine of Seneca concerning Pity (189)
Evil consequences resulting from the suppression of the emotions (191)
Hardness of character (192)
Love of paradox (192)
Many noted Stoics whose lives were very imperfect (193)
Stoicism unfitted for common characters (194)
Its high sense of the natural virtue of man and of the power of his will (195)
Recognition of Providence (198)
The habits of public life saved Stoics from quietism (199)
Contemplation of death. - Bacon's objection to the Stoics (202)
The literature of 'Consolations' (204)
Death not regarded as penal (205)
Pagan death-beds (205)
Distinction between the Pagan and Christian conceptions of death (208)
Suicide (212)
Grandeur of the Stoical ideal (222)
Recapitulation (223)
Contrast between the austerity of Roman Stoicism and the luxury of Roman society (225)

Growth of a Gentler and more Cosmopolitan Spirit in Rome

Due first of all to the union of the Greek and Roman civilisations - Gentleness of the Greek character (227)
Greek cosmopolitanism due to philosophical criticism and to the career of Alexander (229)
Extent of Greek influence at Rome (230)
A cosmopolitan spirit strengthened by the destruction of the power of the aristocracy (231)
And by the aggrandisement of the colonies, the attraction of many foreigners to Rome, and the increased facilities for travelling (233)
Foreigners among the most prominent of Latin writers (434)


Multitude of emancipated slaves (235)
Roman legislators endeavoured to consolidate the Empire by admitting the conquered to the privileges of the conquerors (237)
Stoicism proved quite capable of representing the cosmopolitan spirit (239)
But not equally so of representing the softening spirit of the age (241)

Rise of Eclectic Moralists

Comparison of Plutarch and Seneca (243)
Influence of the new spirit on the Stoics (244)
Stoicism became more religious (245)
And more introspective. - History of the practice of self examination (247)
Marcus Aurelius the best example of later Stoicism. - His life and character (249)

The People still very corrupt - Causes of the Corruption

Decadence of all the conditions of republican virtue (256)
Effects of the Imperial system on morals - the apotheosis of emperors (257)
Moral consequences of slavery. - Increase of idleness and demoralising employments (262)
And of sensuality (263)
Decline of public spirit (264)
Universal empire prevented the political interaction which in modern nations sustains national life (264)
History of the decline of agricultural pursuits and habits (265)
And of military virtue (268)
The gladiatorial shows - their origin and history (271)
Their effects upon the theatre (277)
Nature of their attraction (278)
Horrible excesses they attained (280)
The manner in which their influence pervaded Roman life (282)
How they were regarded by moralists and historians (284)
The passion for them not inconsistent with humanity in other spheres (288)

Effects of Stoicism on the Corruption of Society

It raised up many good emperors (292)
It produced a noble opposition under the worst emperors (292)


It greatly extended Roman law (294)
Roman law adopted the stoical conception of a law to which it must conform (294)
Its principles of equity derived from Stoicism (295)
Change in the relation of Romans to provincials (297)
Changes in domestic legislation (297)
Slavery - its three stages at Rome. - Review of the condition of slaves (300)
Opinions of philosophers about slavery (305)
Laws in favour of slaves (306)
Stoics as consolers of the suffering, advisers young, and popular preachers (308)
The later Cynics an offshoot of Stoicism (309)
Stoical Rhetoricians (310)
Maximus of Tyre (312)
Dion Chrysostom (312)
Aulus Gellius, the best chronicler of the Rhetoricians (313)
Rapid decadence of Stoicism (317)

Passion for Oriental Religions

Mysticism partly a reaction against the disputations of the Rhetoricians. - Modern parallels (318)
Partly due to the increasing prominence given by moralists to the emotions (318)
And partly to the influx of Oriental slaves and the increasing importance of Alexandria (319)
But chiefly to a natural longing for belief (319)
The Platonic and Pythagorean schools (320)
Plutarch's defence of the ancient creeds (321)
Maximus of Tyre pursues the same course (322)
Apuleius (323)
Contrast of the Greek and Egyptian spirits (324)
Difference between the stoical and the Egyptian pantheism (325)


Destroys active virtue and a critical spirit (329)
The doctrine of daemons supersedes the stoical naturalism (330)
New doctrine concerning suicide (331)
Increasing belief in another life (331)
Fusion of philosophy with religion (332)
Summary of the whole chapter (332-335)



Unconsciousness of the moral importance of Christianity manifested by Pagan writers (336)
Due to the separation in antiquity of religion and morals (338)
Three popular errors concerning the conversion of Rome (339)

Examination of the Theory which ascribes Part of the Teaching of the later Pagan Moralists to Christian Influence

Two opinions in the early Church concerning the Pagan writings (343)
The 'seminal logos' (344)
Pagan writings supposed to be plagiarisms from the Old Testament, or to be receptacles of demoniacal traditions (345)
But these theories were applied only to the ancient Greek writers, and not to contemporary moralists (346)

Theory which attributes the Conversion of the Empire to the Evidences of Miracles

To estimate this it is necessary to review the causes of the belief in miracles (346)
Rapid decline of the belief (347)
Miracles not impossible (348)
Established by much evidence (348)
The histories of them naturally fade with education (349)
Illustrated by the belief in fairies (349)
The savage regards the whole world as governed by isolated acts of intervention (350)
Latent fetishism (350)
Feebleness of the imagination a source of legends-myths (350)
Miraculous stories the natural expression of a certain theory of the universe (351)
Education destroys these stories by teaching men to exact greater severity of proof (351)
By strengthening their power of abstraction, and thus closing the age of myths (353)
By physical science, which establishes the reign of law (353)


Three ways in which physical science affects the belief in miracle (354)
Theological notions about rain and epidemics (356)
Sphere of inductive reasoning in theology (357)
Common error in reasoning about miracles (361)
In some states of society this predisposition towards the miraculous is so strong as to accumulate round legends more evidence than is required to establish even improbable natural facts (362)
Illustrations of this from divination, witchcraft, and the king's touch (363)
State of opinion on this subject in the Roman Empire (365)
Extreme credulity even in matters of natural history (369)
Great increase of credulity through the influence of Egyptian philosophy. - Miracles of the Pythagorean school (373)
Attitude of Christians towards the Pagan miracles (374)
Incapacity of the Christians of the third century for judging historic miracles (375)
Or for judging prophecies - the Sibylline books (376)
Contemporary Christian miracles - exorcism (377)
Much despised by the Pagans (383)
On the whole, neither past nor contemporary Christian miracles had much weight with the Pagans (385)
The progress of Christianity due to the disintegration of old religions, and the thirst for belief which was general (386)
Singular adaptation of Christianity to the wants of the time (387)
Heroism it inspired (390)
The conversion of the Roman Empire easily explicable (393)

The Persecution the Church underwent not of a Nature to Crush it

Persecution may have many causes (395)
Review of the religious policy of Rome (398)
Reasons why the Christians were more persecuted than the Jews (407)
The religious motive of persecution was the belief that calamities were a consequence of the neglect of the gods (407)
History of this belief (408)
Political persecutions (412)
Charges of immorality brought against Christians (414)
Due in a great measure to the Jews and heretics (416)


The disturbance of domestic life caused by female conversions (418)
Antipathy of the Romans to every system which employed religious terrorism (420)
Christian intolerance of Pagan worship (422)
And of diversity of belief (427)
These causes fully explain the persecution of the Christians (428)

History of the Persecutions

Persecution by Nero (429)
By Domitian (432)
Condition of the Christians under the Antonines (434)
After Marcus Aurelius, Christianity became a great political power (442)
Attitude of the rulers towards it, from M. Aurelius to Decius (442)
Condition of the Church at the eve of the Decian persecution (449)
Horrors of the persecution (449)
The catacombs (453)
Troubles under Gallus and Valerian. - Gallienus proclaims toleration (454)
Cyprian to Demetrianus (455)
Almost unbroken peace till Diocletian (458)
His character and persecution (458)
Galerius (459)
Close of the persecutions (463)
General considerations on their history (464)




THERE is no fact in the history of the human mind more remarkable than the complete unconsciousness of the importance and the destinies of Christianity, manifested by the Pagan writers before the accession of Constantine. So large an amount of attention has been bestowed on the ten or twelve allusions to it they furnish, that we are sometimes apt to forget how few and meagre those allusions are, and how utterly impossible it is to construct from them, with any degree of certainty, a history of the early Church. Plutarch and the elder Pliny, who probably surpass all other writers of their time in the range of their illustrations, and Seneca, who was certainly the most illustrious moralist of his age, never even mention it. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius have each adverted to it with a passing and contemptuous censure. Tacitus describes in detail the persecution by Nero, but treats the suffering religion merely as 'an execrable superstition;' while Suetonius, employing the same expression, reckons the persecution among the acts of the tyrant that were either laudable or indifferent. Our most important document is the famous letter of the younger Pliny. Lucian throws some light both on the extent of Christian charity, and on the aspect in which Christians were regarded by the religious jugglers of their age, and the long series of Pagans who wrote the lives of the Emperors in that most critical period from the accession of Hadrian, almost to the eve of the triumph of


the Church, among a crowd of details concerning the dresses, games, vices, and follies of the Court, supply us with six or seven short notices of the religion that was transforming the world.

The general silence of the Pagan writers on this subject did not arise from any restrictions imposed upon them by authority, for in this field the widest latitude was conceded, nor yet from the notions of the dignity of history, or the importance of individual exertions, which have induced some historians to resolve their task into a catalogue of the achievements of kings, statesmen, and generals. The conception of history, as the record and explanation of moral revolutions, though of course not developed to the same prominence as among some modern writers, was by no means unknown in antiquity, (1) and in many branches our knowledge of the social changes of the Roman Empire is extremely copious. The dissolution of old beliefs, the decomposition of the entire social and moral system that had arisen under the Republic, engaged in the very highest degree the attention of the literary classes, and they displayed the most commendable diligence in tracing its stages. It is very curious and instructive to contrast the ample information they have furnished us concerning the growth of Roman luxury, with their almost absolute silence concerning the growth of Christianity. The moral importance of the former movement they clearly recognised, and they have accordingly preserved so full a record of all the changes in dress, banquets, buildings, and spectacles, that it would be possible to write with the most minute detail the whole history of Roman luxury, from the day when a censor deprived an elector of his vote because his garden was negli-

(1) We have a remarkable instance of the clearness with which some even of the most insignificant historians recognised the folly of confining history to the biographics of the Emperors, in the opening chapter of Capitolinus, Life of Macrinus. - Tacitus is full of beautiful episodes, describing the manners and religion of the people.


gently cultivated, to the orgies of Nero or Heliogabalus. The moral importance of the other movement they altogether overlooked, and their oversight leaves a chasm in history which can never be supplied.

That the greatest religious change in the history of mankind should have taken place under the eyes of a brilliant galaxy of philosophers and historians, who were profoundly conscious of the decomposition around them, that all of these writers should have utterly failed to predict the issue of the movement they were observing, and that, during the space of three centuries, they should have treated as simply contemptible an agency which all men must now admit to have been, for good or for evil, the most powerful moral lever that has ever been applied to the affairs of man, are facts well worthy of meditation in every period of religious transition. The explanation is to be found in that broad separation between the spheres of morals and of positive religion we have considered in the last chapter. In modern times, men who were examining the probable moral future of the world, would naturally, and in the first place, direct their attention to the relative positions and the probable destinies of religious institutions. In the Stoical period of the Roman Empire, positive religion had come to be regarded as merely an art for obtaining preternatural assistance in the affairs of life, and the moral amelioration of mankind was deemed altogether external to its sphere. Philosophy had become to the educated most literally a religion. It was the rule of life, the exposition of the Divine nature, the source of devotional feeling. The numerous Oriental superstitions that had deluged the city were regarded as peculiarly pernicious and contemptible, and of these none was less likely to attract the favour of the philosophers than that of the Jews, (1) who were noto-

(1) The passages relating to the Jews in Roman literature are collected in Aubertin's Rapports supposés entre Sénèique et St. Paul. Champagny, Rome et Judée, tome i. pp. 134-137.


rious as the most sordid, the most turbulent, (1) and the most unsocial (2) of the Oriental colonists. Of the ignorance of their tenets, displayed even by the most eminent Romans, we have a striking illustration in the long series of grotesque fables concerning their belief, probably derived from some satirical pamphlet, which Tacitus has gravely inserted in his history. (3) Christianity, in the eyes of the philosopher, was simply a sect of Judaism.

Although I am anxious in the present work to avoid, as far as possible, all questions that are purely theological, and to consider Christianity merely in its aspect as a moral agent, it will be necessary to bestow a few preliminary pages upon its triumph in the Roman Empire, in order to ascertain how far that triumph was due to moral causes, and what were its relations to the prevailing philosophy. There are some writers who have been so struck with the conformity between some of the doctrines of the later Stoics and those of Christianity that they have imagined that Christianity had early obtained a decisive influence over philosophy, and that the leading teachers of Rome had been in some measure its disciples. There are others who reduce the conversion of the Roman Empire to a mere question of evidences, to the overwhelming proofs the Christian teachers produced of the authenticity of the Gospel narratives. There are others, again, who deem the triumph of Christianity simply miraculous. Everything, they tell us, was against it. The course of the Church was like that of a ship sailing rapidly and steadily to the goal, in direct defiance of both wind and tide, and the conversion of the Empire was as literally supernatural as the raising of the dead, or the sudden quelling of the storm.

On the first of these theories it will not, I think, be

(1) Cicero, pro Flacco, 28; Sueton. Claudius, 25.
(2) Juvenal, Sat. xiv.
(3) Hist. v.


necessary, after the last chapter, to expatiate at length. It is admitted that the greatest moralists of the Roman Empire either never mentioned Christianity, or mentioned it with contempt; that they habitually disregarded the many religions which had arisen among the ignorant; and that we have no direct evidence of the slightest value of their ever having come in contact with or favoured the Christians. The supposition that they were influenced by Christianity rests mainly upon their enforcement of the Christian duty of self-examination, upon their strong assertion of the universal brotherhood of mankind, and upon the delicate and expansive humanity they at last evinced. But although on all these points the later Stoics approximated much to Christianity, we have already seen that it is easy to discover in each case the cause of the tendency. The duty of self-examination was simply a Pythagorean precept, enforced in that school long before the rise of Christianity, introduced into Stoicism when Pythagoreanism became popular in Rome, and confessedly borrowed from this source. The doctrine of the universal brotherhood of mankind was the manifest expression of those political and social changes which reduced the whole civilised globe to one great empire, threw open to the most distant tribes the right of Roman citizenship, and subverted all those class divisions around which moral theories had been formed. Cicero asserted it as emphatically as Seneca. The theory of pantheism, representing the entire creation as one great body, pervaded by one Divine soul, harmonised with it; and it is a curious fact that the very phraseology concerning the fellow-membership of all things in God, which has been most confidently adduced by some modern writers as proving the connection between Seneca and Christianity, was selected by Lactantius as the clearest illustration of the pantheism of Stoicism. (1) The humane character of the later Stoical teach-

(1) Lact. Inst. Div. vii. 3.


ing was obviously due to the infusion of the Greek element into Roman life, which began before the foundation of the Empire, and received a new impulse in the reign of Hadrian, and also to the softening influence of a luxurious civilisation, and of the long peace of the Antonines. While far inferior to the Greeks in practical and realised humanity, the Romans never surpassed their masters in theoretical humanity except in one respect. The humanity of the Greeks, though very earnest, was confined within a narrow circle. The social and political circumstances of the Roman Empire destroyed the barrier.

The only case in which any plausible arguments have been urged in favour of the notion that the writings of the Stoics were influenced by the New Testament is that of Seneca. This philosopher was regarded by all the medieval writers as a Christian, on the ground of a correspondence with St. Paul, which formed part of a forged account of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, attributed to St. Linus. These letters, which were absolutely unnoticed during the first three centuries, and are first mentioned by St. Jerome, are new almost universally abandoned as forgeries; but many curious coincidences of phraseology have been pointed out between the writings of Seneca and the epistles of St. Paul; and the presumption derived from them has been strengthened by the facts that the brother of Seneca was that Gallio who refused to hear the disputes between St. Paul and the Jews, and that Burrhus, who was the friend and colleague of Seneca, was the officer to whose custody St. Paul had been entrusted at Rome. Into the minute verbal critic-

(1) See their history fully investigated in Aubertin. Augustine followed Jerome in mentioning the letters, but neither of these writers asserted their genuineness. Lactantius, nearly at the same time (Inst. Div. vi. 24), distinctly spoke of Seneca as a Pagan, as Tertullian (Apol. 50) had done before. The immense number of forged documents is one of the most disgraceful features of the Church history of the first few centuries.


ism to which this question had given rise, (1) it is not necessary for me to enter. It has been shown that much of what was deemed Christian phraseology grew out of the pantheistic notion of one great body including, and one Divine mind animating and guiding, all existing things; and many other of the pretended coincidences are so slight as to be altogether worthless as an argument. Still I think most persons who review what has been written on the subject will conclude that it is probable some fragments at least of Christian language had come to the ears of Seneca. But to suppose that his system of morals is in any degree formed after the model or under the influence of Christianity, is to be blind to the most obvious characteristics of both Christianity and Stoicism; for no other moralist could be so aptly selected as representing their extreme divergence. Reverence and humility, a constant sense of the supreme majesty of God and of the weakness and sinfulness of man, and a perpetual reference to another world, were the essential characteristics of Christianity, the source of all its power, the basis of its distinctive type. Of all these, the teaching of Seneca is the direct antithesis. Careless of the future world, and profoundly convinced of "the supreme majesty of man," he laboured to emancipate his disciples "from every fear of God and man;" and the proud language in which he claimed for the sage an equality with the gods represents, perhaps, the highest point to which philosophic arrogance has been carried. The Jews, with whom the Christians were then universally identified, he emphatically describes as "an accursed race." (2) One man, indeed, there was

(1) Fleury has written an elaborate work maintaining the connection between the apostle and the philosopher. Troplong (Influence du Christianisme sur le Droit) has adopted the same view. Aubertin, in the work I have already cited, has maintained the opposite view (which is that of all or nearly all English critics) with masterly skill and learning. The Abbé Dourif (Rapports du Stoïcisme et du Christianisme) has placed side by side the passages from each which are most alike.

(2) Quoted by St. Augustine. De civ. Dei, vi. 11.


among the later Stoics who had almost realised the Christian type, and in whose pure and gentle nature the arrogance of his school can be scarcely traced; but Marcus Aurelius, who of all the Pagan world, if we argued by internal evidence alone, would have been most readily identified with Christianity, was a persecutor of the faith, and he has left on record in his "Meditations" his contempt for the Christian martyrs. (1)

The relation between the Pagan philosophers and the Christian religion was a subject of much discussion and of profound difference of opinion in the early Church. (2) While the writers of one school apologised for the murder of Socrates, described the martyred Greek as the "buffoon of Athens," (3) and attributed his inspiration to diabolical influence; (4) while they designated the writings of the philosophers as "the schools of heretics," and collected with a malicious assiduity all the calumnies that had been heaped upon their memory - there were others who made it a leading object to establish a close affinity between Pagan philosophy and the Christian revelation. Imbued in many instances, almost from childhood, with the noble teaching of Plato, and keenly alive to the analogies between his philosophy and their new faith, these writers found the exhibition of this resemblance at once deeply grateful to themselves and the most successful way of dispelling the prejudices of their Pagan neighbours. The success that had attended the Christian prophecies attributed to the Sibyls and the oracles, the passion for eclecticism, which the social and commercial position of Alexandria had generated, and also the example of the Jew Aristobulus, who had some time before contended that the Jewish

(1) xi. 3.

(2) The history of the two schools has been elaborately traced by Ritter, Pressensé, and many other writers. I would especially refer to the fourth volume of Degerande's most fascinating Histoire de la Philosophie.

(3) "Scurra Atticus," Min. Felix, Octav. This term is said by Cicero to have been given to Socrates by Zeno. (Cic. De Nat. Deor. i. 34.)

(4) Tertull. "De Anima, 39.


writings had been translated into Greek, and had been the source of much of the Pagan wisdom, encouraged them in their course. The most conciliatory, and at the same time the most philosophical school, was the earliest in the Church. Justin Martyr - the first of the Fathers whose writings possess any general philosophical interest - cordially recognises the excellence of many parts of the Pagan philosophy, and even attributes it to a Divine inspiration, to the action of the generative or "seminal Logos," which from the earliest times had existed in the world, had inspired teachers like Socrates and Musonius, who had been persecuted by the daemons, and had received in Christianity its final and perfect manifestation. (1) The same generous and expansive appreciation may be traced in the writings of several later Fathers, although the school was speedily disfigured by some grotesque extravagances. Clement of Alexandria - a writer of wide sympathies, considerable originality, very extensive learning, but of a feeble and fantastic judgment - who immediately succeeded Justin Martyr, attributed all the wisdom of antiquity to two sources. The first source was tradition; for the angels, who had been fascinated by the antediluvian ladies, had endeavoured to ingratiate themselves with their fair companions by giving them an abstract of the metaphysical and other learning which was then current in heaven, and the substance of these conversations, being transmitted by tradition, supplied the Pagan philosophers with their leading notions. The angels did not know everything, and therefore the Greek philosophy was imperfect; but this event formed the first great epoch in literary history. The second and most important source of Pagan wisdom was the Old Testament, (2) the influence of which many of the early Christians traced in every department of ancient wisdom. Plato had

(1) See especially his Apol. ii. 8,12,13. He speaks of the {spermatikos logos}.
(2) See, on all this, Clem. Alex, Strom. v., and also i. 22.


borrowed from it all his philosophy, Homer the noblest conceptions of his poetry, Demosthenes the finest touches of his eloquence. Even Miltiades owed his military skill to an assiduous study of the Pentateuch, and the ambuscade by which he won the battle of Marathon was imitated from the strategy of Moses. (1) Pythagoras, moreover, had been himself a circumcised Jew. (2) Plato had been instructed in Egypt by the prophet Jeremiah. The god Serapis was no other than the patriarch Joseph, his Egyptian name being manifestly derived from his great-grandmother Sarah.(3)

Absurdities of this kind, of which I have given extreme but by no means the only examples, were usually primarily intended to repel arguments against Christianity, and they are illustrations of the tendency which has always existed in an uncritical age to invent, without a shadow of foundation, the most elaborate theories of explanation rather than recognise the smallest force in an objection. Thus, when the Pagans attempted to reduce Christianity to a normal product of the human mind, by pointing to the very numerous Pagan legends which were precisely parallel to the Jewish histories,

(1) St. Clement repeats this twice (Strom. i. 24, v. 14). The writings of this Father are full of curious, and sometimes ingenious, attempts to trace different phases of the great philosophers, orators, and poets to Moses. A vast amount of learning and ingenuity has been expended in the same cause by Eusebius. (Praep. Evan. xii. xiii.) The tradition of the derivation of Pagan philosophy from the Old Testament found in general little favour among the Latin writers. There is some curious information on this subject in Waterland's "Charge to the Clergy of Middlesex, to prove that the wisdom of the ancients was borrowed from revelation; delivered in 1731." It is in the 8th volume of Waterland's works (ed. 1731).

(2) St. Clement (Strom. i.) mentions that some think him to have been Ezekiel, an opinion which St. Clement himself does not hold. See, on the patristic notions about Pythagoras, Legendre, Traité de l'Opinion, tome i. p. 164.

(3) This was the opinion of Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Latin writer of the age of Constantine, "Nam quia Samrae prenepos fuerat ... Serapis dictus est Graeco sermone, hoc est {Saras apo}" - Julius Firmicus Maternus, De Errore Profanarum Religionum, cap. xiv.


it was answered that the daemons were careful students of prophecy, that they foresaw with terror the advent of their Divine Conqueror, and that, in order to prevent men believing in him, they had invented, by anticipation, a series of legends resembling the events which were foretold. (1) More frequently, however, the early Christians retorted the accusations of plagiarism, and by forged writings attributed to Pagan authors, or, by pointing out alleged traces of Jewish influence in genuine Pagan writings, they endeavoured to trace though the past the footsteps of their faith. But this method of assimilation, which culminated in the Gnostics, the Neoplatonists, and especially in Origen, was, directed not to the later Stoics of the Empire, but to the great philosophers who had preceded Christianity. It was in the writings of Plato, not in those of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, that the Fathers of the first three centuries found the influence of the Jewish Scriptures, and at the time when the passion for discovering these connections was most extravagant, the notion of Seneca and his followers being inspired by the Christians was unknown.

Dismissing then, as altogether groundless, the notion that Christianity had obtained a complete or even a partial influence over the philosophic classes during the period of Stoical ascendancy, we come to the opinion of those who suppose that the Roman Empire was converted by a system of evidences - by the miraculous proofs of the divinity of Christianity, submitted to the adjudication of the people. To estimate this view aright, we have to consider both the capacity of the men of that age for judging miracles, and also - which is a different question - the extent to which such evidence would weigh upon their minds. To treat this subject satis-

(1) Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 54; Trypho, 69-70. There is a very curious collection of Pagan legends that were parallel to Jewish incidents, in La Mothe le Vayer, let. xciii.


factorily, it may be advisable to enter at some little length into the broad question of the evidence of the miraculous.

With the exception of a small minority of the priests of the Catholic Church, a general incredulity on the subject of miracles now underlies the opinions of almost all educated men. Nearly every one, however cordially he may admit some one particular class of miracles, as a general rule regards the accounts of such events, which are so frequent in all old historians, as false and incredible, even when he fully believes the natural events that are authenticated by the same testimony. The reason of this incredulity is not altogether the impossibility or even extreme natural improbability of miracles; for, whatever may be the case with some, there is at least one class or conception of them which is perfectly free from logical difficulty. There is no contradiction involved in the belief that spiritual beings, of power end wisdom immeasurably transcending our own, exist, or that, existing, they might, by the normal exercise of their powers, perform feats as far surpassing the understanding of the most gifted of mankind, as the electric telegraph and the prediction of an eclipse surpass the faculties of a savage. Nor does the incredulity arise, I think, as is commonly asserted, from the want of that amount and kind of evidence which in other departments is deemed sufficient. Very few of the minor facts of history are authenticated by as much evidence as the Stigmata of St. Francis, or the miracle of the holy thorn, or those which were said to have been wrought at the tomb of the Abbé Paris. We believe, with tolerable assurance, a crowd of historical events on the testimony of one or two Roman historians; but when Tacitus and Suetonius describe how Vespasian restored a blind man to sight, and a cripple to strength, (1) their deliberate

(1) Suet. Vesp. 7. Tacit. Hist. iv. 81. There ie a slight difference between the two historians about the second miracle. Suetonius says it was the leg, Tacitus that was the hand, that was diseased. The god Serapis was said to have revealed to the patients that they would be cured by the emperor. Tacitus says that Vespasian did not believe in his own power; that it was only after much persuasion he was induced to try the experiment; that the blind man was well known in Alexandria, where the event occurred, and that eyewitnesses who had no motive to lie still attested the miracle.


assertions do not even beget in our minds a suspicion that the narrative may possibly be true. We are quite certain that miracles were not ordinary occurrences in classical or medieval times, but nearly all the contemporary writers from whom we derive our knowledge of those periods were convinced that they were.

If, then, I have correctly interpreted the opinions of ordinary educated people on this subject, it appears that the common attitude towards miracles is not that of doubt, of hesitation, of discontent with the existing evidence, but rather of absolute, derisive, and even unexamining incredulity. Such a fact, when we consider that the antecedent possibility of at least some miracles is usually admitted, and in the face of the vast mass of tradition that may be adduced in their favour, appears at first sight a striking anomaly, and the more so because it can be shown that the belief in miracles had in most cases not been reasoned down, but had simply faded away.

In order to ascertain the process by which this state of mind has been attained, we may take an example in a sphere which is happily removed from controversy. There are very few persons with whom the fictitious character of fairy tales has not ceased to be a question, or who would hesitate to disbelieve or even to ridicule any anecdote of this nature which was told them, without the very smallest examination of its evidence. Yet, if we ask in what respect the existence of fairies is naturally contradictory or absurd, it would be difficult to answer the question. S fairy is simply a being


possessing a moderate share of human intelligence, with little or no moral faculty, with a body pellucid, winged, and volatile, like that of an insect, with a passion for dancing, and, perhaps, with an extraordinary knowledge of the properties of different plants. That such beings should exist, or that existing, they should he able to do many things beyond human power, are propositions which do not present the smallest difficulty. For many centuries their existence was almost universally believed. There is not a country, not a province, scarcely a parish, in which traditions of their appearance were not long preserved. So great a weight of tradition, so many independent trains of evidence attesting statements perfectly free from intrinsic absurdity, or even improbability, might appear sufficient, if not to establish conviction, at least to supply a very strong prima facie case, and ensure a patient and respectful investigation of the subject.

It has not done so, and the reason is sufficiently plain. The question of the credibility of fairy tales has not been resolved by an examination of evidence, but by an observation of the laws of historic development. Wherever we find an ignorant and rustic population, the belief in fairies is found to exist, and circumstantial accounts of their apparitions are circulated. But invariably with increased education this belief passes away. It is not that the fairy tales are refuted or explained away, or even narrowly scrutinised. It is that the fairies cease to appear. From the uniformity of this decline, we infer that fairy tales are the normal product of a certain condition of the imagination; and this position is raised to a moral certainty when we find that the decadence of fairy tales is but one of a long series of similar transformations.

When the savage looks around upon the world and begins to form his theories of existence, he falls at once into three great errors, which become the first principles of his subse-


quent opinions. He believes that this earth is the centre of the universe, and that all the bodies encircling it are intended for its use; that the disturbances and dislocations it presents, and especially the master curse of death, are connected with some event in his history, and also that the numerous phenomena and natural vicissitudes he sees around him are due to direct and isolated volitions, either of spirits presiding ever, or of intelligences inherent in, matter. Around these leading conceptions a crowd of particular legends speedily cluster. If a stone falls beside him, he naturally infers that some one has thrown it. If it be an aërolite, it is attributed to some celestial being. Believing that each comet, tempest, or pestilence results from a direct and isolated act, he proceeds to make theories regarding the motives that have induced his spiritual persecutors to assail him, and the methods by which he may assuage their anger. Finding numerous distinct trains or series of phenomena, be invents for each appropriate presiding spirits. Miracles are to hint neither strange events nor violations of natural law, but simply the unveiling or manifestation of the ordinary government of the world.

With these broad intellectual conceptions several minor influences concur. A latent fetichism, which is betrayed in that love of direct personification, or of applying epithets derived from sentient beings to inanimate nature, which appears so largely in all poetry and eloquence, and especially in those of an early period of society, is the root of a great part of our opinions. If - to employ a very familiar illustration - the most civilised and rational of mankind will observe his own emotions, when by some accident he has struck his head violently against a door-post, he will probably find that his first exclamation was not merely of pain but of anger, and of anger directed against the wood. In a moment reason checks the emotion; but if he observes carefully his own feelings, he may easily convince himself of the uncon-


scious fetichism which is latent in his mind, and which, in the case of a child or a savage, displays itself without reserve. Man instinctively ascribes volition to whatever powerfully affects him. The feebleness of his imagination conspires with other causes to prevent an uncivilised man from rising above the conception of an anthropomorphic Deity, and the capricious or isolated acts of such a king form his exact notion of miracles. The same feebleness of imagination makes him clothe all intellectual tendencies, all conflicting emotions, all forces, passions, or fancies, in material forms. His mind naturally translates the conflict between opposing feelings into a history of the combat between rival spirits. A vast accumulation of myths is spontaneously formed - each legend being merely the material expression of a moral fact. The simple love of the wonderful, and the complete absence of all critical spirit, aid the formation.

In this manner we find that in certain stages of society, and under the action of the influences I have stated, an accretion of miraculous legends is naturally formed around prominent personages or institutions. We look for them as we look for showers in April, or for harvest in autumn. We can very rarely show with any confidence the precise manner in which a particular legend is created or the nucleus of truth it contains, but we can analyse the general causes that have impelled men towards the miraculous; we can show that these causes have never failed to produce the effect, and we can trace the gradual alteration of mental conditions invariably accompanying the decline of the belief. When men are destitute of critical spirit, when the notion of uniform law is yet unborn, and when their imaginations are still incapable of rising to abstract ideas, histories of miracles are always formed and always believed, and they continue to flourish and to multiply until these conditions have altered. Miracles cease when men cease to believe and to expect them. In periods that are equally credulous, they multiply or


diminish in proportion to the intensity with which the imagination is directed to theological topics. A comparison of the histories of the most different nations shows the mythical period to have been common to all; and we may trace in many quarters substantially the same miracles, though varied by national characteristics, and with a certain local cast and colouring. As among the Alps the same shower falls as rain in the sunny valleys, and as snow among the lofty peaks, so the same intellectual conceptions which in one moral latitude take the form of nymphs, or fairies, or sportive legends, appear in another as daemons or appalling apparitions. Sometimes we can discover the precise natural fact which the superstition had misread. Thus, epilepsy, the phenomenon of nightmare, and that form of madness which leads men to imagine themselves transformed into some animal, are, doubtless, the explanation of many tales of demoniacal possession, of incubi, and of lycanthropy. In ether cases we may detect a single error, such as the notion that the sky is close to the earth, or that the sun revolves around the globe, which had suggested the legend. But more frequently we can give only a general explanation, enabling us to assign these legends to their place, as the normal expression of a certain stage of knowledge or intellectual power; and this explanation is their refutation. We do not say that they are impossible, or even that they are net authenticated by as much evidence as many facts we believe. We only say that, in certain conditions of society, illusions of the kind inevitably appear. No one can prove that there are no such things as ghosts; but if a man whose brain is reeling with fever declares that he has seen one, we have no great difficulty in forming an opinion about his assertion.

The gradual decadence of miraculous narratives which accompanies advancing civilisation may be chiefly traced to three causes. The first is that general accuracy of observation and of statement which all education tends more or less to


produce, which checks the amplifications of the undisciplined imagination, and is speedily followed by a much stronger moral feeling on the subject of truth than ever exists in a rude civilisation. The second is an increased power of abstraction, which is likewise a result of general education, and which, by correcting the early habit of personifying all phenomena, destroys one of the most prolific sources of legends, and closes the mythical period of history. The third is the progress of physical science, which gradually dispels that conception of a universe governed by perpetual and arbitrary interference, from which, for the most part, these legends originally sprang. The whole history of physical science is one continued revelation of the reign of law. The same law that governs the motions of a grain of dust, or the light of the glow-worm's lamp, is shown to preside over the march of the most majestic planet or the fire of the most distant sun. Countless phenomena, which were for centuries universally believed to be the results of spiritual agency, portents of calamity, or acts of Divine vengeance, have been one by one explained, have been shown to rise from blind physical causes, to he capable of prediction, or amenable to human remedies. Forms of madness which were for ages supposed to result from possession, are treated successfully in our hospitals. The advent of the comet is predicted. The wire invented by the sceptic Franklin defends the crosses on our churches from the lightning stroke of heaven. Whether we examine the course of the planets or the world of the animalculae to whatever field of physical nature our research is turned, the uniform, invariable result of scientific enquiry is to show that even the most apparently irregular and surprising phenomena are governed by natural antecedents, and are parts of one great connected system. From this vast concurrence of evidence, from this uniformity of experience in so many spheres, there arises in the minds of scientific men a conviction, amounting to absolute moral certainty, that the whole course of physical


nature is governed by law, that the notion of the perpetual interference of the Deity with some particular classes of its phenomena is false and unscientific, and that the theological habit of interpreting the catastrophes of nature as Divine warnings or punishments, or disciplines, is a baseless and a pernicious superstition.

The effects of these discoveries upon miraculous legends are of various ends. In the first place, a vast number which have clustered around the notion of the irregularity of some phenomenon which is proved to be regular - such as the innumerable accounts collected by the ancients to corroborate their opinion of the portentous nature of comets - are directly overthrown. In the next place, the revelation of the interdependence of phenomena greatly increases the improbability of some legends which it does not actually disprove. Thus, when men believed the sun to be simply a lamp revolving around and lighting our world, they had no great difficulty in believing that it was one day literally arrested in its course, to illuminate an army which was engaged in massacring its enemies; but the case became different when it was perceived that the sun was the centre of a vast system of worlds, which a suspension of time earth's motion must have reduced to chaos, without a miracle extending through it all. Thus, again, the old belief that some animals became for the first time carnivorous in consequence of the sin of Adam, appeared tolerably simple so long as this revolution was supposed to be only a change of habits or of tastes; hut it became more difficult of belief when it was shown to involve a change of teeth; and the difficulty was, I suppose, still further aggravated when it was proved that, every animal having digestive organs specially adapted to its food, these also must have been changed.

In the last place, physical science exercises a still wider influence by destroying what I have called the centre ideas out of which countless particular theories were evolved, of


which they were the natural expression, and upon which their permanence depends. Proving that our world is not the centre of the universe, but is a simple planet, revolving with many others around a common sun; proving that the disturbances and sufferings of the world do not result from an event which occurred but 6,000 years ago; that long before that period the earth was dislocated by the most fearful convulsions; that countless generations of sentient animals, and also, as recent discoveries appear conclusively to show, of men, net only lived but died; proving, by an immense accumulation of evidence, that the notion of a universe governed by isolated acts of special intervention is untrue - physical science had given new directions to the currents of the imagination, supplied the judgment with new measures of probability, and thus affected the whole circle of our beliefs.

With most men, however, the transition is as yet but imperfectly accomplished, and that part of physical nature which science has hitherto failed to explain is regarded as a sphere of special interposition. Thus, multitudes who recognise the fact that the celestial phenomena are subject to inflexible law, imagine that the dispensation of rain is in some sense the result of arbitrary interpositions, determined by the conduct of mankind. Near the equator, it is true, it is tolerably constant and capable of prediction; but in proportion as we recede from the equator, the rainfall becomes more variable, and consequently, in the eyes of some, supernatural, and although no scientific man has the faintest doubt that it is governed by laws as inflexible as those which determine the motions of the planets, yet because, owing to the great complexity of the determining causes, we are unable fully to explain them, it is still customary to speak of "plagues of rain and water" sent on account of our sins, and of "scarcity and dearth, which we most justly suffer for our iniquity." Corresponding language is employed about the forms of


disease and death which science has but imperfectly explained. If men are employed in some profession which compels them to inhale steel filings or noxious vapours, or if they live in a pestilential marsh, the diseases that result from these conditions are not regarded as a judgment or a discipline, for the natural cause is obvious and decisive. But if the conditions that produced the disease are very subtle and very complicated; if physicians are incapable of tracing with certainty its nature or its effects; if, above all, it assumes the character of an epidemic, it is continually treated as a Divine judgment. The presumption against this view arises not only from the fact that, in exact proportion as medical science advances, diseases are proved to be the necessary consequence of physical conditions, but also from many characteristics of unexplained disease which unequivocally prove it to be natural. Thus, cholera, which is frequently treated according to the theological method, varies with the conditions of temperature, is engendered by particular forms of diet, follows the course of rivers, yields in some measure to medical treatment, can he aggravated or mitigated by courses of conduct that have no relation to vice or virtue, takes its victims indiscriminately from all grades of morals or opinion. Usually, when definite causes are assigned for a supposed judgment, they lead to consequences of the most grotesque absurdity. Thus, when a deadly and mysterious disease fell upon the cattle of England, some divines, not content with treating it as a judgment, proceeded to trace it to certain popular writings containing what wore deemed heterodox opinions about the Pentateuch, or about the eternity of punishment, it may be true that the disease was imported from a country where such speculations are unknown; that the authors objected to had no cattle; that the farmers, who chiefly suffered by the disease, were for the most part absolutely unconscious of the existence of these books, and if they


knew them would have indignantly repudiated them; that the town populations, who chiefly read them, were only affected indirectly by a rise in the price of food, which falls with perfect impartiality upon the orthodox and upon the heterodox; that particular counties were peculiarly sufferers, without being at all conspicuous for their scepticism; that similar writings appeared in former periods, without cattle being in any respect the worse; and that, at the very period at which the plague was raging, other countries, in which far more audacious speculations were rife, enjoyed an absolute immunity. In the face of all these consequences, the theory has been confidently urged and warmly applauded.

It is not, I think, sufficiently observed how large a proportion of such questions are capable of a strictly inductive method of discussion. If it is said that plagues or pestilences are sent as a punishment of error or of vice, the assertion must be tested by a comprehensive examination of the history of plagues on the one hand, and of periods of great vice and heterodoxy on the other, if it be said that an influence more powerful than any military agency directs the course of battles, the action of this force must be detected as we would detect electricity, or any other force, by experiment. If the attribute of infallibility be ascribed to a particular Church, an inductive reasoner will not be content with enquiring how far an infallible Church would be a desirable thing, or how far certain ancient words may be construed as a prediction of its appearance; he will examine, by a wide and careful survey of ecclesiastical history, whether this Church has actually been immutable and consistent in its teaching; whether it has never been affected by the ignorance or the passion of the age; whether its influence has uniformly been exerted on the side which proved to be true; whether it has never supported by its authority scientific views which were afterwards demonstrated to be false, or countenanced and


consolidated popular errors, or thrown obstacles in the path of those who were afterwards recognised as the enlighteners of mankind. If ecclesiastical deliberations are said to be specially inspired or directed by an illuminating and supernatural power, we should examine whether the councils and convocations of clergymen exhibit a degree and harmony of wisdom that cannot reasonably be accounted for by the play of our unassisted faculties. If institutions are said to owe their growth to special supernatural agencies, distinct from the ordinary system of natural laws, we must examine whether their courses are so striking and so peculiar that natural laws fail to explain them. Whenever, as in the case of a battle, very many influences concur to the result, it will frequently happen that that result will baffle our predictions. It will also happen that strange coincidences, such as the frequent recurrence of the same number in a game of chance, will occur. But there are limits to these variations from what we regard as probable. If, in throwing the dice, we uniformly attained the same number, or if in war the army which was most destitute of all military advantages was uniformly victorious, we should readily infer that some special cause was operating to produce the result. We must remember, too, that in every great historical crisis the prevalence of either side will bring with it a long train of consequences, and that we only see one side of the picture. If Hannibal, after his victory at Cannae, had captured and burnt Rome, the vast series of results that have followed from the ascendancy of the Roman Empire would never have taken place, but the supremacy of a maritime, commercial, and comparatively pacific power would have produced an entirely different series, which would have formed the basis and been the essential condition of all the subsequent progress; a civilisation, the type and character of which it is now impossible to conjecture, would have arisen, and its theologians would probably have regarded the career of Hannibal as one


of the most manifest instances of special interposition on record.

If we would form sound opinions en these matters, we must take a very wide and impartial survey of the phenomena of history. We must examine whether events have tended in a given direction with a uniformity or a persistence that is not naturally explicable. We must examine not only the facts that corroborate our theory, but also those which oppose it.

That such a method is not ordinarily adopted must be manifest to all. As Bacon said, men "mark the hits, but not the misses;" they collect industriously the examples in which many, and sometimes improbable, circumstances have converged to a result which they consider good, and they simply leave out of their consideration the circumstances that tend in the opposite direction. They expatiate with triumph upon the careers of emperors who have been the unconscious pioneers or agents in some great movement of human progress, but they do not dwell upon those whose genius was expended in a hopeless resistance, or upon those who, like Bajazet or Tamerlane, having inflicted incalculable evils upon mankind, passed away, leaving no enduring fruit behind them. A hundred missionaries start upon an enterprise, the success of which appears exceedingly improbable. Ninety-nine perish and are forgotten. One missionary succeeds, and his success is attributed to supernatural interference, because the probabilities were so greatly against him. It is observed that a long train of political or military events ensured the triumph of Protestantism in certain nations and periods. It is forgotten that another train of events destroyed the same faith in other lands, and paralysed the efforts of its noblest martyrs. We are told of showers of rain that followed public prayer; but we are not told how often prayers for rain proved abortive, or how much longer than usual the dry weather had already continued when they were


offered. (1) As the old philosopher observed, the votive tablets of those who escaped are suspended in the temple, while those who were shipwrecked are forgotten.

Unfortunately, these inconsistencies do not arise simply from intellectual causes. A feeling which was intended to be religious, but which was in truth deeply the reverse, once led men to shrink from examining the causes of some of the more terrible of physical phenomena, because it was thought that these should be deemed special instances of Divine interference, and should, therefore, be regarded as too sacred for investigation. (2) In the world of physical science this mode of thought has almost vanished, but a corresponding sentiment may be often detected in the common judgments of history. Very many well-meaning men - censuring the pursuit of truth in the name of the God of Truth - while they regard it as commendable and religious to collect facts illustrating

(1) The following is a good specimen of the language which may still be uttered, apparently without exciting any protest, from the pulpit in one of the great centres of English learning: "But we have prayed, and not been heard, at least in this present visitation. Have we deserved to be heard? In former visitations it was observed commonly how the cholera lessened from the day of the public humiliation. When we dreaded famine from long - continued drought on the morning of our prayers the heaven over our head was of brass; the clear burning sky showed no token of change. Men looked with awe at its unmitigated clearness. In the evening was the cloud like a man's band; the relief was come." (And then the author adds, in a note): "This describes what I myself saw en the Sunday morning in Oxford, on returning from the early communion at St. Mary's at eight. There was no visible change till the evening" - Pusey's Miracles of Prayer, preached at Oxford, 1866.

(2) E.g.: "A master of philosophy, travelling with others on the way, when a fearful thunderstorm arose, checked the fear of his fellows, and discoursed to them of the natural reasons of that uproar in the clouds, and those sudden flashes wherewith they seemed (out of the ignorance of causes) to be too much affrighted: in the midst of his philosophical discourse he was struck dead with the dreadful eruption which he slighted. What could this be but the finger of that God who will have his works rather entertained with wonder and trembling than with curious scanning?" - Bishop Hall, The Invisible World, § vi.


or corroborating the theological theory of life, consider it irreverent and wrong to apply to those facts, and to that theory, the ordinary severity of inductive reasoning.

What I have written is not in any degree inconsistent with the belief that, by the dispensation of Providence, moral causes leave a natural and often overwhelming influence upon happiness and upon success, nor yet with the belief that our moral nature enters into a very real, constant, and immediate contact with a higher power. Nor does it at all disprove the possibility of Divine interference with the order even of physical nature. A world governed by special acts of intervention, such as that which mediaeval theologians imagined, is perfectly conceivable, though it is probable that most impartial enquirers will convince themselves that this is not the system of the planet we inhabit; and if any instance of such interference be sufficiently attested, it should not be rejected as intrinsically impossible. It is, however, the fundamental error of most writers on miracles, that they confine their attention to two points - the possibility of the fact, and the nature of the evidence. There is a third element, which in these questions is of capital importance: the predisposition of men in certain stages of society towards the miraculous, which is so strong that miraculous stories are then invariably circulated and credited, and which makes an amount of evidence that would be quite sufficient to establish a natural fact, altogether inadequate to establish a supernatural one. The positions for which I have been contending are that a perpetual interference of the Deity with the natural course of events is the earliest and simplest notion of miracles, and that this notion, which is implied in so many systems of belief, arose in part from an ignorance of the laws of nature, and in part also from an incapacity for inductive reasoning, which led men merely to collect facts coinciding with their preconceived opinions, without attending to these that were inconsistent with them. By this method there is no super-


stition that could not be defended. Volumes have been written giving perfectly authentic histories of wars, famines, and pestilences that followed the appearance of comets. There is not an omen, not a prognostic, however childish, that has not, in the infinite variety of events, been occasionally verified, and to minds that are under the influence of a superstitious imagination these occasional verifications more than outweigh all the instances of error. Simple knowledge is wholly insufficient to correct the disease. No one is so firmly convinced of the reality of lucky and unlucky days, and of supernatural portents, as the sailor, who has spent his life in watching the deep, and has learnt to read with almost unerring skill the promise of the clouds. No one is more persuaded of the superstitions about fortune than the habitual gambler. Sooner than abandon his theory, there is no extravagance of hypothesis to which the superstitious man will not resort. The ancients were convinced that dreams were usually supernatural. If the dream was verified, this was plainly a prophecy. If the event was the exact opposite of what the dream foreshadowed, the latter was still supernatural, for it was a recognised principle that dreams should sometimes be interpreted by contraries. If the dream bore no relation to subsequent events, unless it were transformed into a fantastic allegory, it was still supernatural, for allegory was one of the most ordinary forms of revelation. If no ingenuity of interpretation could find a prophetic meaning in a dream, its supernatural character was even then not necessarily destroyed; for Homer said there was a special portal through which deceptive visions passed into the mind, and the Fathers declared that it was one of the occupations of the daemons to perplex and bewilder us with unmeaning dreams.

To estimate aright the force of the predisposition to the miraculous should be one of the first tasks of the enquirer into its reality; and no one, I think, can examine the subject with


impartiality without arriving at the conclusion that in many periods of history it has been so strong as to accumulate around pure delusions an amount of evidence far greater than would be sufficient to establish even improbable natural facts. Through the entire duration of Pagan Rome, it was regarded as an unquestionable truth, established by the most ample experience, that prodigies of various kinds announced every memorable event, and that sacrifices had the power of mitigating or arresting calamity. In the Republic, the Senate itself officially verified and explained the prodigies. (1) In the Empire there is not an historian, from Tacitus down to the meanest writer in the Augustan history, who was not convinced that numerous prodigies foreshadowed the accession and death of every sovereign, and every great catastrophe that fell upon the people. Cicero could say with truth that there was not a single nation of antiquity, from the polished Greek to the rudest savage, which did not admit the existence of a real art enabling men to foretell the future, and that the splendid temples of the oracles, which for so many centuries commanded the reverence of mankind, sufficiently attested the intensity of the belief. (2) The reality of the witch miracles was established by a critical tribunal, which, however imperfect, was at least the most searching then existing in the world, by the judicial decisions of the law courts of every European country, supported by the unanimous voice of public opinion, and corroborated by the investigation of some of the ablest men during several centuries. The belief that the king's touch can cure scrofula flourished in the most brilliant periods of English history. (3) It was unshaken by

(1) Sir C. Lewis On the Credibility of Roman Hist. vol. i. p. 50.

(2) Cic. De Divin. lib, i. c. 1.

(3) "The days on which the miracle [of the king's touch] was to be wrought were fixed at sittings of the Privy Council and were solemnly notified by the clergy to all the parish churches of the realm. When the appointed time came, several divines in full canonicals stood round the canopy of state. The surgeon of the royal household introduced the sick. A passage of Mark xvi. was read. When the words "They shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover," had been pronounced, there was a pause and one of the sick was brought to the king. His Majesty stroked the ulcers.
Then came the Epistle, &c. The Service may still be found in the Prayer Books of the reign of Anne. Indeed, it was not until some time after the accession of George I. that the University of Oxford ceased to reprint the office of healing, together with the Liturgy. Theologians of eminent learning, ability, and virtue gave the sanction of their authority to this mummery, and, what is stranger still, medical men of high note believed, or affected to believe, it... Charles II., in the course of his reign, touched near 100,000 persons. ... In 1682 he performed the rite 8,600 times. In 1684 the throng was such that six or seven of the sick were trampled to death. James, in one of his progresses, touched 800 persons in the choir of the cathedral of Chester." - Macaulay's History of England, c. xiv.


the most numerous and public experiments. It was asserted by the privy council, by the bishops of two religions, by the general voice of the clergy in the palmiest days of the English Church, by the University of Oxford, and by the enthusiastic assent of the people. It survived the ages of the Reformation, of Bacon, of Milton, and of Hobbes. It was by no means extinct in the age of Locke, and would probably have lasted still longer, had not the change of dynasty at the Revolution assisted the tardy scepticism. (1) Yet there is new

(1) One of the surgeons of Charles II. named John Brown, whose official duty it was to superintend the ceremony, and who assures us that he has witnessed many thousands touched, has written an extremely curious account of it, called Charisma Basilicon (London, 1684). This miraculous power existed exclusively in the English and French royal families, being derived, in the first, from Edward the Confessor, in the second, from St. Lewis. A surgeon attested the reality of the disease before the miracle was performed. The king hung a riband with a gold coin round the neck of the person touched; but Brown thinks the gold, though possessing great virtue, was not essential to the cure. He had known cases where the cured person had sold, or ceased to wear, the medal, and his disease returned. The gift was unimpaired by the Reformation, and an obdurate Catholic was converted on finding that Elizabeth, after the Pope's excommunication, could cure his scrofula. Francis I. cured many persons when prisoner in Spain. Charles I., when a prisoner, cured a man by his simple benediction, the Puritans not permitting him to touch him. His blood had the same efficacy; and Charles II., when an exile in the Netherlands, still retained it. There were, however, some "Atheists, Sadducees, and ill-conditioned Pharisees" who even then disbelieved it; and Brown gives the letter of one who went, a complete sceptic, to satisfy his friends, and came away cured and converted. It was popularly, but Brown says erroneously, believed that the touch was peculiarly efficacious on Good Friday. An official register was kept, for every month in the reign of Charles II., of the persons touched, but two years and a half appear to be wanting. The smallest number touched in one year was 2,983 (in 1669); the total, in the whole reign, 92,107. Brown gives numbers of specific cases with great detail. Shakspeare has noticed the power (Macbeth, Act iv. Scene 3). Dr. Johnson, when a boy, was touched by Queen Anne; but at that time few persons, except Jacobites, believed the miracle.


scarcely an educated man who will defend these miracles. Considered abstractedly, indeed, it is perfectly conceivable that Providence might have announced coming events by prodigies, or imparted to some one a miraculous power, or permitted evil spirits to exist among mankind and assist them in their enterprises. The evidence establishing these miracles is cumulative, and it is immeasurably greater than the evidence of many natural facts, such as the earthquakes at Antioch, which no one would dream of questioning. We disbelieve the miracles, because an overwhelming experience proves that in certain intellectual conditions, and under the influence of certain errors which we are enabled to trace, superstitions of this order invariably appear and flourish, and that, when these intellectual conditions have passed, the prodigies as invariably cease, and the whole fabric of superstition melts silently away.

It is extremely difficult for an ordinary man, who is little conversant with the writings of the past, and who unconsciously transfers to other ages the critical spirit of his own, to realise the fact that histories of the most grotesquely extravagant nature could, during the space of many centuries, he continually propounded without either provoking the smallest question or possessing the smallest truth. We may, however, understand something of this credulity when we remember the diversion of the ancient mind from physical science to speculative


philosophy; the want of the many checks upon error which printing affords; the complete absence of that habit of cautious, experimental research which Bacon and his contemporaries infused into modern philosophy; and, in Christian times, the theological notion that the spirit of belief is a virtue, and the spirit of scepticism a sin. We must remember, too, that before men had found the key to the motions of the heavenly bodies - before the false theory of the vortices and the true theory of gravitation - when the multitude of apparently capricious phenomena was very great, the notion that the world was governed by distinct and isolated influences was that which appeared most probable even to the most rational intellect. In such a condition of knowledge - which was that of the most enlightened days of the Roman Empire - the hypothesis of universal law was justly regarded as a rash and premature generalisation. Every enquirer was confronted with innumerable phenomena that were deemed plainly miraculous. When Lucretius sought to banish the supernatural from the universe, he was compelled to employ much ingenuity in endeavouring to explain, by a natural law, why a miraculous fountain near the temple of Jupiter Ammon was hot by night and cold by day, and why the temperature of wells was higher in winter than in summer. (1) Eclipses were supposed by the populace to foreshadow calamity; but the Roman soldiers believed that by beating drums and cymbals they could cause the moon's disc to regain its brightness. (2) In obedience to dreams, the great Emperor

(1) Lucretius, lib. vi. The poet says there are certain seeds of fire in the earth, around the water, which the sun attracts to itself, but which the cold of the night represses, and forces back upon the water. The fountain of Jupiter Ammon, and many others that were deemed miraculous, are noticed by Pliny, Hist. Nat. ii. 106.

Fly not yet; the fount that played
In times of old through Ammon's shade,
Though icy cold by day it ran,
Yet still, like souls of mirth, began
To burn when night was near."

(Moore's Melodies)

(2) Tacit. Annal. i. 28. Long afterwards, the people of Turin were accustomed to greet every eclipse with loud cries, and St. Maximus of Turin energetically combated their superstition. (Ceillier, Hist. des Auteurs sacrés, tome xiv. p. 607.)


Augustus went begging money through the streets of Rome, (1) and the historian who records the act himself wrote to Pliny, entreating the postponement of a trial. (2) The stroke of the lightning was an augury, (3) and its menace was directed especially against the great, who cowered in abject terror during a thunder-storm. Augustus used to guard himself against thunder by wearing the skin of a sea-calf. (4) Tiberius, who professed to be a complete freethinker, had greater faith in laurel leaves. (5) Caligula was accustomed during a thunderstorm to creep beneath his bed. (6) During the games in honour of Julius Caesar, a comet appearing for seven days in the sky, the people believed it to be the soul of the dead, (7) and a temple was erected in its honour. (8) Sometimes we find this credulity broken by curious inconsistencies of belief, or semi-rationalistic explanations. Livy, who relates with perfect faith innumerable prodigies, has observed, never-

(1) Suet. Aug. xci.

(2) See the answer of the younger Pliny (Ep. i. 18), suggesting that dreams should often be interpreted by contraries. A great many instances of dreams that were believed to have been verified are given in Cic. (De Divinatione, lib. i.) and Valerius Maximus (lib. i. c. vii.). Marcus Aurelius (Capitolinus) was said to have appeared to many persons after his death in dreams, and predicted the future.

(3) The augurs had noted eleven kinds of lightning with different significations. (Pliny, Hist. Nat. ii. 53.) Pliny says all nations agree in clapping their hands when it lightens (xxviii. 5). Cicero very shrewdly remarked that the Roman considered lightning a good omen when it shone upon his left, while the Greeks and barbarians believed it to be suspicious when it was upon the right. (Cic. De Divinat. ii. 30.) When Constantine prohibited all other forms of magic, he especially authorised that which was intended to avert hail and lightning. (Cod. Theod. lib. ix. tit. xvi. l. 3.)

(4) Suet. Aug. xc.

(5) Ibid. Tiber. lxix. The virtue of laurel leaves, and of the skin of a sea-calf, as preservatives against lightning, are noticed by Pliny (Hist. Nat. ii. 56), who also says (xv. 40) that the laurel leaf is believed to have a natural antipathy to fire, which it shows by its angry crackling when in contact with that element.

(6) Suet. Calig. ii.
(7) Suet. Jul. Caes. lxxxviii.
(8) Plin. Hist. Nat. ii. 23.


theless, that the more prodigies are believed, the more they are announced. (1) Those who admitted most fully the reality of the oracles occasionally represented them as natural contending that a prophetic faculty was innate in all men, though dormant in most; that it might be quickened into action by sleep, by a pure and ascetic life, or in the prostration that precedes death, or in the delirium produced by certain vapours; and that the gradual enfeebling of the last was the cause of the cessation of the oracles. (2) Earthquakes

(1) "Prodigia eo anno multa nuntiata sunt, quae quo magis credebant simplices ac religiosi homines eo plura nuntiabantur" (xxiv. 10). Compare with this the remark of Cicero on the oracles: "Quando autem illa vis evanuit? An postquam homines minus creduli esse coeperunt?" (De Div. ii. 57.)

(2) This theory, which is developed at length by the Stoic, in the first book of the De Divinatione of Cicero, grew out of the pantheistic notion that the human soul is a part of the Deity, and therefore by nature a participator in the Divine attribute of prescience. The soul, however, was crushed by the weight of the body; and there were two ways of evoking its prescience - the ascetic way, which attenuates the body, and the magical way, which stimulates the soul. Apollonius declared that his power of prophecy was not due to magic, but solely to his abstinence from animal food. (Philost. Ap. of Tyana, viii. 5.) Among those who believed the oracles, there were two theories. The first was that they were inspired by daemons or spirits of a degree lower than the gods. The second was, that they were due to the action of certain vapours which emanated from the caverns beneath the temples, and which, by throwing the priestess into a state of delirium, evoked her prophetic powers. The first theory was that of the Platonists, and it was adopted by the Christians, who, however, changed the signification of the word "daemon." The second theory, which appears to be due to Aristotle (Baltus, Réponse à l'Histoire des Oracles, p. 132), is noticed by Cic. De Div. i. 19; Plin. H. N. ii. 95; and others. It is closely allied to the modern belief in clairvoyance. Plutarch, in his treatise on the decline of the oracles, attributes that decline sometimes to the death of the daemons (who were believed to be mortal), and sometimes to the exhaustion of the vapours. The oracles themselves, according to Porphyry (Fontenelle, Hist. des Oracles, pp. 220-222, first ed.), attributed it to the second cause. Iamblichus (De Myst. § iii. c. xi.) combines both theories, and both are very clearly stated in the following curious passage: "Quamquam Platoni credam inter deos atque homines, natura et loco medias quasdam divorum potestates intersitas, easque divinationes cunctas et magorum miracula gubernare. Quin et illud mecum repute, posse animum humanum, praesertim, puerilem et simplicem, seu carminum avocamento, sive odorum delenimento, soporari, et ad oblivionem praesentium externam: et paulisper remota corporis memoria, redigi ac redire ad naturam suam, quae est immortalis scilicet et divina; atque ita veluti quodam sopore, futura rerum praesagire. - Apuleius, Apolog.


were believed to result from supernatural interpositions, and to call for expiatory sacrifices, but at the same time they had direct natural antecedents. The Greeks believed that they were caused by subterranean waters, and they accordingly sacrificed to Poseidon. The Romans were uncertain as to their physical antecedents, and therefore inscribed no name on the altar of expiation. (1) Pythagoras is said to have attributed them to the strugglings of the dead. (2) Pliny, after a long discussion, decided that they were produced by air forcing itself through fissures of the earth, but he immediately proceeds to assert that they are invariably the precursors of calamity. (3) The same writer, having recounted the triumph of astronomers in predicting and explaining eclipses, bursts into an eloquent apostrophe to those great men who had thus reclaimed man from the dominion of superstition, and in high and enthusiastic terms urges them to pursue still further their labour in breaking the thraldom of ignorance. (4) A few chapters later he professes his unhesitating belief in the ominous character of comets. (5) The notions, too, of magic and astrology, were detached from all theological belief, and might be found among many who were absolute atheists. (5)

These few examples will be sufficient to show how fully the Roman soil was prepared for the reception of miraculous histories, even after the writings of Cicero and Seneca, in the

(1) Aul. Gell. Noct. ii. 28. Florus, however (Hist. i. 19), mentions a Roman general appeasing the goddess Earth on the occasion of an earthquake that occurred during a battle.

(2) Aelian, Hist. Var. iv. 17.
(3) Hist. Nat. ii. 81-86.
(4) Ibid. ii. 9.
(5) Ibid. ii. 23.

(6) I have referred in the last chapter to a striking passage of Am. Marcellinus on this combination. The reader may find some curious instances of the superstitions of Roman sceptics in Champagny, Les Antonins, tome iii. p. 46.


brilliant days of Augustus and the Antonines. The feebleness of the uncultivated mind, which cannot rise above material conceptions, had indeed passed away, the legends of the popular theology had lost all power over the educated, but at the same time an absolute ignorance of physical science and of inductive reasoning remained. The facility of belief that was manifested by some of the most eminent men, even on matters that were not deemed supernatural, can only be realised by these who have an intimate acquaintance with their works. Thus, to give but a few examples, that great naturalist whom I have so often cited tells us with the utmost gravity how the fiercest lion trembles at the crowing of a cock; (1) how elephants celebrate their religious ceremonies; (2) how the stag draws serpents by its breath from their holes, and then tramples them to death; (3) how the salamander is so deadly that the food cooked in water, or the fruit grown on trees it has touched, are fatal to man; (4) how, when a ship is flying before so fierce a tempest that no anchors or chains can hold it, if only the remora or echinus fastens on its keel, it is arrested in its course, and remains motionless and rooted among the waves. (5) On matters that would appear the most easily verified, he is equally confident. Thus, the human saliva, he assures us, has many mysterious properties. If a man, especially when fasting, spits into the throat of a serpent, it is said that the animal speedily dies. (6) It is certain that to anoint the eyes with spittle is a sovereign remedy against ophthalmia. (7) If a pugilist, having struck his adversary, spits into his own hand, the pain he caused instantly

(1) viii, 19. This is also mentioned by Lucretius.
(2) viii. 1.
(3) viii. 50. This was one of the reasons why the early Christians sometimes adopted the stag as a symbol of Christ.

(4) xxix. 23.
(5) xxxii. 1.
(6) vii. 2.

(7) xxviii. 7. The blind man restored to sight by Vespasian was cured by anointing his eyes with spittle. (Suet. Vesp. 7; Tacit. Hist. iv. 81.)


ceases. If he spits into his hand before striking, the blow is the more severe. (1) Aristotle, the greatest naturalist of Greece, had observed that it was a curious fact that on the sea-shore no animal ever dies except during the ebbing of the tide. Several centuries later, Pliny, the greatest naturalist of an empire that was washed by many tidal seas, directed his attention to this statement. He declared that, after careful observations which had been made in Gaul, it had been found to he inaccurate, for what Aristotle stated of all animals was in fact only true of man. (2) It was in 1727 and the two following years, that scientific observations made at Rochefort and at Brest finally dissipated the delusion. (3)

Volumes might be filled with illustrations of how readily, in the most enlightened days of the Roman Empire, strange, and especially miraculous, tales were believed, even under circumstances that would appear to give every facility for the detection of the imposture. In the field of the supernatural, however, it should be remembered that a movement, which I have traced in the last chapter, had produced a very exceptional amount of credulity during the century and a half that preceded the conversion of Constantine. Neither the writings of Cicero and Seneca, nor even those of Pliny and Plutarch, can be regarded as fair samples of the belief of the educated. The Epicurean philosophy which rejected, the Academic philosophy which doubted, and the Stoic philosophy which simplified and sublimated superstition, had alike disappeared. The "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius closed the period of Stoical influence, and the "Dialogues" of Lucian were the last solitary protest of expiring scepticism. (4) The aim of the philosophy of Cicero had been to ascertain truth

(1) Ibid. The custom of spitting in the hand before striking still exists among pugilists.
(2) ii. 101.

(3) Legendre, Traité de l'Opinion, tome ii. p. 17. The superstition is, however, said still to linger in many sea-coast towns.

(4) Lucian is believed to have died about two years before Marcus Aurelius.


by the free exercise of the critical powers. The aim of the Pythagorean philosophy was to attain the state of ecstasy, and to purify the mind by religious rites. Every philosopher soon plunged into magical practices, and was encircled, in the eyes of his disciples, with a halo of legend. Apollonius of Tyana, whom the Pagans opposed to Christ, had raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out devils, freed a young man from a lamia or vampire with whom he was enamoured, prophesied, seen in one country events that were occurring in another, and filled the world with the fame of his miracles and of his sanctity. (1) A similar power, notwithstanding his own disclaimer, was popularly attributed to the Platonist Apuleius. (2)

(1) See his very curious Life by Philostratus. This Life was written at the request of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimus Severus, whether or not with the intention of opposing the Gospel narrative is a question still fiercely discussed. Among the most recent Church historians, Pressensé maintains the affirmative, and Neander the negative. Apollonius was born at nearly the same time as Christ, but outlived Domitian. The traces of his influence are widely spread through the literature of the empire. Eunapius calls him "{Apollwnios (o ek Tuanwn, ouketi filosofos all' hn ti Qewn te kai anqrwpou meson.}" - Lives of the Sophists. Xiphilin relates (lxvii. 18) the story, told also by Philostratus, how Apollonius, being at Ephesus, saw the assassination of Domitian at Rome. Alexander Severus placed (Lampridius Severus) the statue of Apollonius with those of Orpheus, Abraham, and Christ, for worship in his oratory. Aurelian was reported to have been diverted from his intention of destroying Tyana by the ghost of the philosopher, who appeared in his tent, rebuked him, and saved the city (Vopiscus, Aurelian); and, lastly, the Pagan philosopher Hierocles wrote a book opposing Apollonius to Christ, which was answered by Eusebius. The Fathers of the fourth century always spoke of him as a great magician. Some curious passages on the subject are collected by M. Chassang, in the introduction to his French translation of the work of Philostratus.

(2) See his defence against the charge of magic. Apuleius, who was at once a brilliant rhetorician, the writer of an extremely curious novel (The Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass), and of many other works, and an indefatigable student of the religious mysteries of his time, lived through the reigns of Hadrian and his two successors. After his death his fame was for about a century apparently eclipsed; and it has been noticed as very remarkable that Tertullian, who lived a generation after Apuleius, and who, like him, was a Carthaginian, has never even mentioned him. During the fourth century his reputation revived, and Lactantius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine relate that many miracles were attributed to him, and that he was placed by the Pagans on a level with Christ, and regarded by some as even a greater magician. See the sketch of his life by M. Bétolaud prefixed to the Panckoucke edition of his works.


Lucian has left us a detailed account of the impostures by which the philosopher Alexander endeavoured to acquire the fame of a miracle-worker. (1) When a magician plotted against Plotinus, his spells recoiled miraculously against himself; and when an Egyptian priest endeavoured by incantations to evoke the guardian daemon of the philosopher, instead of a daemon the temple of Isis was irradiated by the presence of a god. (2) Porphyry was said to have expelled an evil daemon from a bath. (3) It was reported among his disciples that when Iamblichus prayed he was raised (like the saints of another creed) ten cubits from the ground, and that his body and his dress assumed a golden hue. (4) It was well known that he had at Gadara drawn forth from time waters of two fountains their guardian spirits, and exhibited them in bodily form to his disciples. (5) A woman named Sospitra had been visited by two spirits under the form of aged Chaldeans, and had been endowed with a transcendent beauty and with a superhuman knowledge. Raised above all human frailties, save only love and death, she was able to see at once the deeds which were done in every land, and the people, dazzled by her beauty and her wisdom, ascribed to her a share of the omnipresence of the Deity. (6)

Christianity floated into the Roman Empire on the wave of credulity that brought with it this long train of Oriental

(1) Life of Alexander. There is an extremely curious picture of the religions jugglers, who were wandering about the Empire, in the eighth and ninth books of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. See, too, Juvenal, Sat. vi. 510-585.

(2) Porphyry's Life of Plotinus.
(3) Eunapius, Porph.
(4) Ibid. Iamb. Iamblichus himself only laughed at the report.
(5) Eunapius, Iamb.

(6) See her life in Eunapius, Oedescus. Aelian and the rhetorician Aristides are also full of the wildest prodigies. There is an interesting dissertation on this subject in Friedlander (Trad. Franc. tome iv. p. 177-186).


superstitions and legends. In its moral aspect it was broadly distinguished from the systems around it, but its miracles were accepted by both friend and foe as the ordinary accompaniments of religious teaching. The Jews, in the eyes of the Pagans, had long been proverbial for their credulity, (1) and the Christians inherited a double measure of their reputation. Nor is it possible to deny that in the matter of the miraculous the reputation was deserved. Among the Pagans the theory of Euhemerus, who believed the gods to be but deified men, had been the stronghold of the Sceptics, while the Platonic notion of daemons was adopted by the more believing philosophers. The Christian teachers combined both theories, maintaining that deceased kings had originally supplied the names of the deities, but that malevolent daemons had taken their places; and without a single exception the Fathers maintained the reality of the Pagan miracles as fully as their own. (2) The oracles, as we have seen, had been ridiculed and rejected by numbers of the philosophers, but the Christians unanimously admitted their reality. They appealed to a long series of oracles as predictions of their faith; and there is, I believe, no example of the denial of their supernatural character in the Christian Church till 1696, when a Dutch Anabaptist minister named Van Dale, in a remarkable book, (3)

(1) "Credat Judaeus Apella." - Hor. Sat. v. 100.

(2) This appears from all the writings of the Fathers. There were, however, two forms of Pagan miracles about which there was some hesitation in the early Church - the beneficent miracle of healing and the miracle of prophecy. Concerning the first, the common opinion was that the daemons only cured diseases they had themselves caused, or that, at least, if they ever (in order to enthral men more effectually) cured purely natural diseases, they did it by natural means, which their superior knowledge and power placed at their disposal. Concerning prophecy, it was the opinion of some of the Fathers that intuitive prescience was a Divine prerogative, and that the prescience of the daemons was only acquired by observation. Their immense knowledge enabled them to forecast events to a degree far transcending human faculties, and they employed this power in the oracles.

(3) De Origine ac Progressu Idolatriae (Amsterdam).


which was abridged and translated by Fontenelle, asserted, in opposition to the unanimous voice of ecclesiastical authority, that they were simple impostures - a theory which is now almost universally accepted. To suppose that men who held these opinions were capable, in the second or third centuries, of ascertaining with any degree of just confidence whether miracles had taken place in Judaea in the first century, is grossly absurd; nor would the conviction of their reality have made any great impression on their minds at a time when miracles were supposed to be so abundantly diffused.

In truth, the question of the reality of the Jewish miracles must be carefully distinguished from that of the conversion of the Roman Empire. With the light that is furnished to us by modern investigations and habits of thought, we weigh the testimony of the Jewish writers; but most of the more judicious of modern apologists, considering the extreme credulity of the Jewish people, decline to make the question simply one of evidence; and occupy themselves chiefly in endeavouring to show that miracles are possible, that those recorded in the Biblical narratives are related in such a manner, and are so interwoven with the texture of a simple and artless narrative, as to carry with them an internal proof of their reality; that they differ in kind from later miracles, and especially that the character and destinies of Christianity are such as to render its miraculous origin antecedently probable. But in the ages when the Roman Empire was chiefly converted, all sound and discriminating historical investigation of the evidence of the early miracles was impossible, nor was any large use made of those miracles as proofs of the religion. The rhetorician Arnobius is probably the only one of the early apologists who gives, among the evidences of the faith, any prominent place to the miracles of Christ. (1) When

(1) This characteristic of early Christian apology is forcibly exhibited by Pressensé, Hist. Des trois premiers Siècles 2me série, tome ii.


evidential reasoning was employed, it was usually an appeal not to miracles, but to prophecy. But here again the opinions of the patristic age must be pronounced absolutely worthless. To prove that events had taken place in Judaea, accurately corresponding with the prophecies, or that the prophecies were themselves genuine, were both tasks far transcending the critical powers of the Roman converts. The wild extravagance of fantastic allegory, commonly connected with Origen, but which appears at a much earlier date in the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, had thrown the interpretation of prophecy into hopeless confusion, while the deliberate and apparently perfectly unscrupulous forgery of a whole literature, destined to further the propagation either of Christianity as a whole, or of some particular class of tenets that had arisen within its border, (1) made criticism at once pre-eminently difficult and necessary. A long series of oracles were cited, predicting in detail the sufferings of Christ. The prophecies forged by the Christians, and attributed by them to the heathen Sibyls, were accepted as genuine by the entire Church, and were continually appealed to as among the most powerful evidences of the faith. Justin Martyr declared that it was by the instigation of daemons that it had been made a capital offence to read them. (2) Clement of Alexandria preserved the tradition that St. Paul had urged the brethren to study them. (3) Celsus designated the Christians Sibyllists, on account of the pertinacity with which they insisted upon them. (4) Constantine the Great adduced them in a solemn speech before the Council of Nice. (5) St. Augustine notices that the Greek word for a fish, which, containing the initial letters of the name and titles of Christ, had been

(1)The immense number of these forged writings is noticed by all candid historians, and there is, I believe, only one instance of any attempt being made to prevent this pious fraud. A priest was degraded for having forged some voyages of St. Paul and St. Thecla (Tert. De Baptismo, 17.)

(2) Apol. i.
(3) Strom. vi. c. 5.
(4) Origen, Cont. Cels. v.
(5) Oratio (apud Euseb.) xviii.


adopted by the Early Church as its sacred symbol, contains also the initial letters of some prophetic lines ascribed to the Sibyl of Erythra. (1) The Pagans, it is true, accused their opponents of having forged or interpolated these prophecies (2) but there was not a single Christian writer of the patristic period who disputed their authority, and there were very few even of the most illustrious who did not appeal to them. Unanimously admitted by the Church of the Fathers, they were unanimously admitted during the middle ages, and an allusion to them passed into the most beautiful lyric of the Missal. It was only at the period of the Reformation that the great but unhappy Castellio pointed out many passages in them which could not possibly be genuine. He was followed, in the first years of the seventeenth century, by a Jesuit named Possevin, who observed that the Sibyls were known to have lived at a later period than Moses, and that many passages in the Sibylline books purported to have been written before Moses. Those passages, therefore, he said, were interpolated; and he added, with a characteristic sagacity, that they had doubtless been inserted by Satan, for the purpose of throwing suspicion upon the books. (2) It was in 1649 that a French Protestant minister, named Blondel, ventured for the first time in the Christian Church to denounce these writings as deliberate and clumsy forgeries, and after much angry controversy his sentiment has acquired an almost undisputed ascendancy in criticism.

But although the opinion of the Roman converts was extremely worthless, when dealing with past history or with literary criticism, there was one branch of miracles concerning which their position was somewhat different. Contem-

(1) De Civ. Dei, xviii. 23.

(2) Constantine, Oratio xix. "His testimoniis quidam revicti solent eo confugere at aiant non esse illa carmina Sibyllina, sed a nostris conficta atque composita." - Lactant. Div. Inst. iv. 15.

(3) Antonius Possevinus, Apparatus Sacer (1606), verb. "Sibylla."


porary miracles, often of the most extraordinary character, but usually of the nature of visions, exorcisms, or healing the sick, were from the time of Justin Martyr uniformly represented by the Fathers as existing among them, (1) and they continue steadily along the path of history, till in the pages of Evagrius and Theodoret, in the Lives of Hilarion and Paul, by St. Jerome, of Antony, by St. Athanasius, and of Gregory Thaumaturgus, by his namesake of Nyssa, and in the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, they attain as grotesque an extravagance as the wildest mediaeval legends. Few things are more striking than the assertions hazarded on this matter by some of the ablest of the Fathers. Thus, St. Irenaeus assures us that all Christians possessed the power of working miracles; that they prophesied, cast out devils, healed the sick, and sometimes even raised the dead; that some who had been thus resuscitated lived for many years among them, and that it would be impossible to reckon the wonderful acts that were daily performed. (2) St. Epiphanius tells us that some rivers and fountains were annually transformed into wine, in attestation of the miracle of Cana; and he adds that he had himself drunk of one of these fountains, and his brethren of another. (3) St. Augustine notices that miracles were less frequent and less widely known than formerly, but that many still occurred, and some of them he had himself witnessed. Whenever a miracle was reported, he ordered that a special examination into its circumstances should be made, and that the depositions of the witnesses should be read publicly to the people. He tells us, besides many other miracles, that Gamaliel in a dream revealed to a priest named Lucianus the place where the bones of St. Stephen were buried; that those hones, being thus discovered, were brought to Hippo, the diocese of which St. Augustine was bishop; that they raised

(1) This subject is fully treated by Middleton in his Free Enquiry, whom I have closely followed.

(2) Irenaeus, Contr. Haeres. ii. 32.
(3) Epiphan. Adv. Haeres. ii. 30.


five dead persons to life; and that, although only a portion of the miraculous cures they effected had been registered, the certificates drawn up in two years in the diocese, and by the orders of the saint, were nearly seventy. In the adjoining diocese of Calama they were incomparably more numerous. (1) In the height of the great conflict between St. Ambrose and the Arian Empress Justina, the saint declared that it had been revealed to him by an irresistible presentiment - or, as St. Augustine, who was present on the occasion, says, in a dream - that relics were buried in a spot which he indicated. The earth being removed, a tomb was found filled with blood, and containing two gigantic skeletons, with their heads severed from their bodies, which were pronounced to be those of St. Gervasius and St. Protasius, two martyrs of remarkable physical dimensions, who were said to have suffered about 300 years before. To prove that they were genuine relics, the bones were brought in contact with a blind man, who was restored to sight, and with demoniacs, who were cured; the daemons, however, in the first place, acknowledging that the relics were genuine; that St. Ambrose was the deadly enemy of the powers of hell; that the Trinitarian doctrine was true; and that those who rejected it would infallibly be damned. The next day St. Ambrose delivered an invective against all who questioned the miracle. St. Augustine recorded it in his works, and spread the worship of the saints through Africa. The transport of enthusiasm with which the miracles were greeted at Milan enabled St. Ambrose to overcome every obstacle; but the Arians treated them with a derisive incredulity, and declared that the pretended demoniacs had been bribed by the saint. (2)

Statements of this kind, which are selected from very

(1) St. Aug. De Civ. Dei, xxii. 8.

(2) This history is related by St. Ambrose in a letter to his sister Marcellina; by St. Paulinus of Nola, in his Life of Ambrose; and by St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xxii. 8, Confess. ix. 7.


many that are equally positive, though not equally precise, suggest veins of thought of obvious interest and importance. We are now, however, only concerned with the fact, that, with the exception of one or two isolated miracles, such as the last I have noticed, and of one class of miracles which I shall proceed to describe, these prodigies, whether true or false, were wrought for the exclusive edification of confirmed believers. The exceptional miracles were those of exorcism, which occupied a very singular position in the early Church. The belief that certain diseases were inflicted by Divine agency was familiar to the ancients, but among the early Greeks the notion of diabolical possession appears to have been unknown. A daemon, in the philosophy of Plato, though inferior to a deity, was not an evil spirit, and it is extremely doubtful whether the existence of evil daemons was known either to the Greeks or Romans till about the time of the advent of Christ. (1) The belief was introduced with the Oriental superstitions which then poured into Rome, and it brought in its train the notions of possession and exorcism. The Jews, who in their own country appear to have regarded it as a most ordinary occurrence to meet men walking about visibly possessed by devils, and who professed to have learnt from Solomon the means of expelling them, soon became the principal exorcists, accomplishing their feats partly by adjuration, and partly by means of a certain miraculous root named Baaras. Josephus assures us that he had himself, in the reign of Vespasian, seen a Jew named Eleazar drawing by these means a daemon through the nostrils of a possessed person, who fell to the ground on the accomplishment of the miracle; while, upon the command of the magician, the

(1) Plutarch thought they were known by Plato, but this opinion has been much questioned. See a very learned discussion on the subject in Farmer's Dissertation on Miracles odes, pp. 129-140; and Fontenelle, Hist. des Oracles, pp. 26, 27. Porphyry speaks much of evil daemons.


devil, to prove that it had really left his victim, threw down a cup of water which had been placed at a distance. (1) The growth of Neoplatonism and kindred philosophies greatly strengthened the belief, and some of the later philosophers, as well as many religious charlatans, practised exorcism. But, of all classes, the Christians became in this respect the most famous. From the time of Justin Martyr, for about two centuries, there is, I believe, not a single Christian writer who does not solemnly and explicitly assert the reality and frequent employment of this power; (2) and although, after the Council of Laodicea, the instances became less numerous, they by no means ceased. The Christians fully recognised the supernatural power possessed by the Jewish and Gentile exorcists, but they claimed to be in many respects their superiors. By the simple sign of the cross, or by repeating the name of their Master, they professed to be able to cast out devils which had resisted all the enchantments of Pagan

(1) Josephus, Antiq. viii. 2, § 6.

(2) This very curious subject is fully treated by Baltus Réponse à l'Histoire des Oracles, Strasburg, 1707, published anonymously in reply to Van Dale and Fontenelle), who believed in the reality of the Pagan as well its the patristic miracles; by Bingham (Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. i. pp. 316-324), who thinks the Pagan and Jewish exorcists were impostors, but not the Christians; and by Middleton (Free Enquiry, pp. 80-93), who disbelieves in all the exorcists after the apostolic times. It has also been the subject of a special controversy in England, carried on by Dodwell, Church, Farmer, and others. Archdeacon Church says: "If we cannot vindicate them [the Fathers of the first three centuries] on this article, their credit must be lost for ever; and we must be obliged to decline all further defence of them. It is impossible for any words more strongly to express a claim to this miracle than those used by all the best writers of the second and third centuries." - Vindication of the Miracles of the First Three Centuries, p. 199. So, also, Baltus: "De tous les anciens auteurs ecclésiastiques, n'y en ayant pas on qui n'ait parlé de ce pouvoir admirable que les Chrétiens avoient de chasser les demons." (p. 296) Gregory of Tours describes exorcism as sufficiently common in his time, and mentions having himself seen a monk named Julian cure by his words a possessed person. (Hist. iv. 32.)


exorcists, to silence the oracles, to compel the daemons to confess the truth of the Christian faith. Sometimes their power extended still further. Daemons, we are told, were accustomed to enter into animals, and these also were expelled by the Christian adjuration. St. Jerome, in his "Life of St. Hilarion," has given us a graphic account of the courage with which that saint confronted, and the success with which be relieved, a possessed camel. (1) In the reign of Julian, the very bones of the martyr Babylas were sufficient to silence the oracle of Daphne; and when, amid the triumphant chants of the Christians, the relics, by the command of Julian, were removed, the lightning descended from heaven and consumed the temple. (2) St. Gregory Thaumaturgus having expelled the daemons from an idol temple, the priest, finding his means of subsistence destroyed, came to the saint, imploring him to permit the oracles to he renewed. St. Gregory, who was then on his journey, wrote a note containing the words "Satan, return," which was immediately obeyed, and the priest, awe-struck by the miracle, was converted to Christianity. (3) Tertullian, writing to the Pagans in a time of persecution, in language of the most deliberate earnestness, challenges his opponents to bring forth any person who is

(1) Vit. Hilar. Origen notices that cattle were sometimes possessed by devils. See Middleton's Free Enquiry, pp. 88, 89.

(2) The miracle of St. Babylas is the subject of a homily by St. Chrysostom, and is related at length by Theodoret, Sozomen, and Socrates. Libanius mentions that, by command of Julian, the bones of St. Babylas were removed from the temple. The Christians said the temple was destroyed by lightning; the Pagans declared it was burnt by the Christians, and Julian ordered measures of reprisal to be taken. Amm. Marcellinus, however, mentions a report that this fire was caused accidentally by one of the numerous candles employed in the ceremony. The people of Antioch defied the emperor by chanting, as they removed the relics, "Confounded be all they that trust in graven images."

(3) See the Life of Gregory Thaumaturgus, by Gregory of Nyssa. St. Gregory the Great assures us (Dial. iii. 10) that Sabinus, Bishop of Placentia, wrote a letter to the river Po, which had overflowed its banks and flooded some church lands. When the letter was thrown into the stream the waters at once subsided.


possessed by a demon or any of those virgins or prophets who are supposed to be inspired by a divinity. He asserts that, in reply to the interrogation of any Christian, the daemons will be compelled to confess their diabolical character; he invites the Pagans, if it be otherwise, to put the Christian immediately to death; and he proposes this as at once the simplest and most decisive demonstration of the faith. (1) Justin Martyr (2) Origen, (3) Lactantius, (4) Athanasius, (5) and Minucius Felix, (6) all in language equally solemn and explicit, call upon the Pagans to form their opinions from the confessions wrung from their own gods. We hear from them, that when a Christian began to pray, to make the sign of the cross, or to utter the name of his Master in the presence of a possessed or inspired person, the latter, by screams and frightful contortions, exhibited the torture that was inflicted, and by this torture the evil spirit was compelled to avow its nature. Several of the Christian writers declare that this was generally known to the Pagans. In one respect, it was observed, the miracle of exorcism was especially available for evidential purposes; for, as daemons would not expel daemons, it was the only miracle which was necessarily divine.

It would be curious to examine the manner in which the challenge was received by the Pagan writers; but unhappily, the writings which were directed against the faith having been destroyed by the Christian emperors, our means of information on this point are very scanty. Some information,

(1) "Edatur hic aliquis sub tribunalibus vestris, quem daemone agi constet. Jussus a quolibet Christiano loqui spiritus ille, tam se daemonem confitebitur de vero, quam alibi deum de falso. Aeque producatur aliquis ex iis qui de deo pati existimantur, qui aris inhalantes numen de nidore concipiunt ... nisi se daemones confessi fuerint, Christiano mentiri non audentes, ibidem illius Christiani procacissimi sanguinem fundite. Quid isto opere manifestius? quid haec probatione fidelius?" - Tert. Apol. xxiii.

(2) Apol. i.; Trypho.
(3) Cont. Cels. vii.
(4) Inst. Div. iv. 27.
(5) Life of Antony.
(6) Octavius.


however, we possess, and it would appear to show that, among the educated classes at least, these phenomena did not extort any great admiration. The eloquent silence about diabolical possession observed by the early philosophers, when discussing such questions as the nature of the soul and of the spiritual world, decisively show that in their time possession had not assumed any great prominence or acquired any general credence. Plutarch, who admitted the reality of evil daemons, and who was the most strenuous defender of the oracles, treats the whole class of superstitions to which exorcism belongs with much contempt. (1) Marcus Aurelius, in recounting the benefits he had received from different persons with whom he had been connected, acknowledges his debt of gratitude to the philosopher Diognetus for having taught him to give no credence to magicians, jugglers, and expellers of daemons. (2) Lucian declares that every cunning juggler could make his fortune by going over to the Christians and preying upon their simplicity.(3) Celsus described the Christians as jugglers performing their tricks among the young and the credulous. (4) The most decisive evidence, however, we possess, is a law of Ulpian, directed, it is thought, against the Christians, which condemns those "who use incantations or imprecations, or (to employ the common word of impostors) exorcisms." (5) Modern criticism has noted a few facts which may throw some light upon this obscure subject. It has been observed that the

(1) De Superstitione.
(2) i. 6.
(3) De Mort. Peregrin.

(4) Origen, Adv. Cels. vi. Compare the curious letter which Vopiscus (Saturninus) attributes to Hadrian, "Nemo illic [i.e. in Egypt] archisynagogus Judaeorum, nemo Samarites, nemo Christianorum presbyter, non mathematicus, non aruspex, non aliptes."

(5) "Si incantavit, si imprecatus est, si (ut vulgari verbo impostorum utor) exorcizavit." (Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church (Oxf., 1855), vol. i. p. 318. This law is believed to have been directed specially against the Christians, because these were very prominent as exorcists, and because Lactantius (Inst. Div. v. 11) says that Ulpian had collected the laws against them.


symptoms of possession were for the most part identical with those of lunacy or epilepsy; that it is quite possible that the excitement of an imposing religious ceremony might produce or suspend the disorder; that leading questions might in these cases be followed by the desired answers; and that some passages from the Fathers show that the exorcisms were not always successful, or the cures always permanent. It has been observed, too, that at first the power of exorcism was open to all Christians without restraint; that this licence, in an age when religious jugglers were very common, and in a Church whose members were very credulous, gave great facilities to impostors; that when the Laodicean Council, in the fourth century, forbade any one to exorcise, except those who were duly authorised by the bishop, these miracles speedily declined; and that, in the very beginning of the fifth century, a physician named Posidonius denied the existence of possession. (1)

To sum up this whole subject, we may conclude that what is called the evidential system had no prominent place in effecting the conversion of the Roman Empire. Historical criticisms were far too imperfect to make appeals to the miracles of former days of any value, and the notion of the wide diffusion of miraculous or magical powers, as well as the generally private character of the alleged miracles of the Patristic age, made contemporary wonders very unimpressive. The prophecies attributed to the Sibyls, and the practice of exorcism had, however, a certain weight; for the first were connected with a religious authority, long and deeply revered at Rome, and the second had been forced by several circumstances into great prominence. But the effect even of these may be safely regarded as altogether subsidiary; and the main causes of the conversion must be looked for in another and a wider sphere.

(1) Philostorgius, Hist. Eccl. viii. 10.


These causes were the general tendencies of the age. They are to be found in that vast movement of mingled scepticism and credulity, in that amalgamation or dissolution of many creeds, in that profound transformation of habits, of feelings, and of ideals, which I have attempted to paint in the last chapter. Under circumstances more favourable to religious proselytism than the world had ever before known, with the path cleared by a long course of destructive criticism, the religions and philosophies of mankind were struggling for the mastery in that great metropolis where all were amply represented, and in which alone the destinies of the world could be decided. Among the educated a frigid Stoicism, teaching a majestic but unattainable grandeur, and scorning the support of the affections, the hope of another world, and the consolations of worship, had for a time been in the ascendant, and it only terminated its noble and most fruitful career when it had become manifestly inadequate to the religious wants of the age. Among other classes, religion after religion ran its conquering course. The Jews, although a number of causes had made them the most hated of all the Roman subjects, and although their religion, from its intensely national character, seemed peculiarly unsuited for proselytism, had yet, by the force of their monotheism, their charity, and their exorcisms, spread the creed of Moses far and wide. The Empress Poppaea is said to have been a proselyte. The passion of Roman women for Jewish rites was one of the complaints of Juvenal. The Sabbath and the Jewish fasts became familiar facts in all the great cities, and the antiquity of the Jewish law the subject of eager discussion. Other Oriental religions were even more successful. The worship of Mithra, and, above all, of the Egyptian divinities, attracted their thousands, and during more than three centuries the Roman writings are crowded with allusions to their progress. The mysteries of the Bona Dea, (1) the

(1) See Juvenal. Sat. vi. 314-335.


solemn worship of Isis, the expiatory rites that cleansed the guilty soul, excited a very delirium of enthusiasm. Juvenal describes the Roman women, at the dawn of the winter day, breaking the ice of the Tiber to plunge three times into its sacred stream, dragging themselves on bleeding knees in penance around the field of Tarquin, offering to undertake pilgrimages to Egypt to seek the holy water for the shrine of Isis, fondly dreaming that they had heard the voice of the goddess. (1) Apuleius has drawn a graphic picture of the solemn majesty of her processions, and the spell they cast upon the most licentious and the most sceptical. (2) Commodus, Caracalla, and Heliogabalus were passionately devoted to them. (3) The temples of Isis and Serapis, and the statues of Mithra, are among the last prominent works of Roman art. In all other forms the same credulity was manifested. The oracles that had been silent were heard again; the astrologers swarmed in every city; the philosophers were surrounded with an atmosphere of legend; the Pythagorean school had raised credulity into a system. On all sides, and to a degree unparalleled in history, we find men who were no longer satisfied with their old local religion, thirsting for belief, passionately and restlessly seeking for a new faith.

In the midst of this movement, Christianity gained its ascendancy, and we can be at no loss to discover the cause of its triumph. No other religion, under such circumstances, had ever combined so many distinct elements of power and attraction. Unlike the Jewish religion, it was bound by no local ties, and was equally adapted for every nation and for every class. Unlike Stoicism, it appealed in the strongest manner to the affections, and offered all the charm of a sympathetic worship. Unlike the Egyptian religions, it united with its distinctive teaching a pure and noble system of

(1) See Juvenal, Sat. vi. 520-530.
(2) Metamorphoses, book x
(3) See their Lives, by Lampridius and Spartianus.


ethics, and proved itself capable of realising it in action. It proclaimed, amid a vast movement of social and national amalgamation, the universal brotherhood of mankind. Amid the softening influence of philosophy and civilisation, it taught the supreme sanctity of love. To the slave, who had never before exercised so large an influence over Roman religious life, it was the religion of the suffering and the oppressed. To the philosopher it was at once the echo of the highest ethics of the later Stoics, and the expansion of the best teaching of the school of Plato. To a world thirsting for prodigy, it offered a history replete with wonders more strange that those of Apollonius; while the Jew and the Chaldean could scarcely rival its exorcists, and the legends of continual miracles circulated among its followers. To a world deeply conscious of political dissolution, and prying eagerly and anxiously into the future, it proclaimed with a thrilling power the immediate destruction of the globe - the glory of all its friends, and the damnation of all its foes. To a world that had grown very weary gazing on the cold and passionless grandeur which Cato realised, and which Lucan sung, it presented an ideal of compassion and of love - a Teacher who could weep by the sepulchre of His friend, who was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. To a world, in fine, distracted by hostile creeds and colliding philosophies, it taught its doctrines, not as a human speculation, but as a Divine revelation, authenticated much less by reason than by faith. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;" "He that doeth the will of my Father will know the doctrine, whether it be of God;" "Unless you believe you cannot understand;" "A heart naturally Christian;" "The heart makes the theologian," are the phrases which best express the first action of Christianity upon the world. Like all great religions, it was more concerned with modes of feeling than with modes of thought. The chief cause of its success was the congruity of its teaching with the spiritual


nature of mankind. It was because it was true to the moral sentiments of the age, because it represented faithfully the supreme type of excellence to which men were then tending, because it corresponded with their religious wants, aims, and emotions, because the whole spiritual being could then expand and expatiate under its influence, that it planted its roots so deeply in the hearts of men.

To all these elements of attraction, others of a different order must be added. Christianity was not merely a moral influence, or a system of opinions, or an historical record, or a collection of wonder-working men; it was also an institution definitely, elaborately, and skilfully organised, possessing a weight and a stability which isolated or undisciplined teachers could never rival, and evoking, to a degree before unexampled in the world, an enthusiastic devotion to its corporate welfare, analogous to that of the patriot to his country. The many forms of Pagan worship were pliant in their nature. Each offered certain advantages or spiritual gratifications; but there was no reason why all should not exist together, and participation in one by no means implied disrespect to the others. But Christianity was emphatically exclusive; its adherent was bound to detest and abjure the faiths around him as the workmanship of daemons, and to consider himself placed in the world to destroy them. Hence there sprang a stern, aggressive, and at the same time disciplined enthusiasm, wholly unlike any other that had been witnessed upon earth. The duties of public worship; the sacraments, which were represented as the oaths of the Christian warrior; the fasts and penances and commemorative days, which strengthened the Church feeling; the intervention of religion in the most solemn epochs of life, conspired to sustain it. Above all, the doctrine of salvation by belief, which then for the first time flashed upon the world; the persuasion, realised with all the vividness of novelty, that Christianity opened out to its votaries eternal happiness,


while all beyond its pale were doomed to an eternity of torture, supplied a motive of action as powerful as it is perhaps possible to conceive. It struck alike the coarsest chords of hope and fear, and the finest chords of compassion and love. The polytheist, admitting that Christianity might possibly be true, was led by a mere calculation of prudence to embrace it, and the fervent Christian would shrink from no suffering to draw those whom he loved within its pale. Nor were other inducements wanting. To the confessor was granted in the Church a great and venerable authority, such as the bishop could scarcely claim. (1) To the martyr, besides the fruition of heaven, belonged the highest glory on earth. By winning that bloodstained crown, the meanest Christian slave might gain a reputation as glorious as that of a Decius or a Regulus. His body was laid to rest with a sumptuous splendour; (2) his relics, embalmed or shined, were venerated with an almost idolatrous homage. The anniversary of his birth into another life was commemorated in the Church, and before the great assembly of the saints his heroic sufferings were recounted. (3) How, indeed, should he not be envied? He had passed away into eternal bliss. He had left upon earth an abiding name. By the "baptism of blood" the sins of a life had been in a moment effaced.

Those who are accustomed to recognise heroic enthusiasm as a normal product of certain natural conditions, will have no difficulty in understanding that, under such circumstances

(1) The conflict between St. Cyprian and the confessors, concerning the power of remitting penances claimed by the latter, though it ended in the defeat of the confessors, shows clearly the influence they had obtained.

(2) "Thura plane non emimus; si Arabiae queruntur scient Sabaei pluris et carioris suas merces Christianis sepeliendis profligari quam diis fumigandis." - Apol. 42. Sometimes the Pagans burnt the bodies of the martyrs, in order to prevent the Christians venerating their relics.

(3) Many interesting particulars about these commemorative festivals are collected in Cave's Primitive Christianity part i. c. vii. The anniversaries were called "Natalia," or birth-days.


as I have described, a transcendent courage should have been evoked. Men seemed indeed to be in love with death. Believing, with St. Ignatius, that they were "the wheat of God," they panted for the day when they should be "ground by the teeth of wild beasts into the pure bread of Christ!" Beneath this one burning enthusiasm all the ties of earthly love were snapt in twain. Origen, when a boy, being restrained by force from going forth to deliver himself up to the persecutors, wrote to his imprisoned father, imploring him not to let any thought of his family intervene to quench his resolution or to deter him from sealing his faith with his blood. St. Perpetua, an only daughter, a young mother of twenty-two, had embraced the Christian creed, confessed it before her judges, and declared herself ready to endure for it the martyr's death. Again and again her father came to her in a paroxysm of agony, entreating her not to deprive him of the joy and the consolation of his closing years. He appealed to her by the memory of all the tenderness he had lavished upon her - by her infant child - by his own gray hairs, that were soon to be brought down in sorrow to the grave. Forgetting in his deep anguish all the dignity of a parent, he fell upon his knees before his child, covered her hands with kisses, and, with tears streaming from his eyes, implored her to have mercy upon him. But she was unshaken though not untouched; she saw her father, frenzied with grief, dragged from before the tribunal; she saw him tearing his white beard, and lying prostrate and broken-hearted on the prison floor; she went forth to die for a faith she loved more dearly - for a faith that told her that her father would be lost for ever. (1) The desire for martyrdom became at times a form of absolute madness, a kind of epidemic of suicide, and the leading minds of the Church found it necessary to exert all their authority to prevent their followers

(1) See her acts in Ruinart.


from thrusting themselves into the hands of the persecutors. (1) Tertullian mentions how, in a little Asiatic town, the entire population once flocked to the proconsul, declaring themselves to be Christians, and imploring him to execute the decree of the emperor and grant them the privilege of martyrdom. The bewildered functionary asked them whether, if they were so weary of life, there were no precipices or ropes by which they could end their days; and he put to death a small number of the suppliants, and dismissed the others. (2) Two illustrious Pagan moralists and one profane Pagan satirist have noticed this passion with a most unpleasing scorn. "There are some," said Epictetus, "whom madness, there are others, like the Galilaeans, whom custom, makes indifferent to death." (3) "What mind," said Marcus Aurelius, "is prepared, if need be, to go forth from the body, whether it be to be extinguished, or to be dispersed, or to endure? - prepared by deliberate reflection, and not by pure obstinacy, as is the custom of the Christians." (4) "These wretches," said Lucian, speaking of the Christians, "persuade themselves that they are going to be altogether immortal, and to live for ever; wherefore they despise death, and many of their own accord give themselves up to be slain." (5)

"I send against you men who are as greedy of death as you are of pleasures," were the words which, in after days, the

(1) St. Clem. Alex. Strom. iv. 10. There are other passages of the same kind in other Fathers.

(2) Ad Scapul. v. Eusebius (Martyrs of Palestine, ch. iii.) has given a detailed account of six young men, who in the very height of the Galerian persecution, at a time when the most hideous tortures were applied to the Christians, voluntarily gave themselves up as believers. Sulp. Severus (Hist. ii. 32), speaking of the voluntary martyrs under Diocletian, says that Christians then "longed for death as they now long for bishoprics." "Cogi qui potest, nescit mori," was the noble maxim of the Christians.

(3) Arrian, iv. 7. It is not certain, however, that this passage alludes to the Christians. The followers of Judas of Galilee were called Galilaeans, and they were famous for their indifference to death. See Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 1.

(4) xi. 3.
(5) Peregrinus.


Mohammedan chief addressed to the degenerate Christians of Syria, and which were at once the presage and the explanation of his triumph. Such words might with equal propriety have been employed by the early Christian leaders to their Pagan adversaries. The zeal of the Christians and of the Pagans differed alike in degree and in kind. When Constantine made Christianity the religion of the State, it is probable that its adherents were but a minority in Rome. Even in the days of Theodosius the senate was still wedded to Paganism; (1) yet the measures of Constantine were both natural and necessary. The majority were without inflexible belief, without moral enthusiasm, without definite organisation, without any of those principles that inspire the heroism either of resistance or aggression. The minority formed a serried phalanx, animated by every motive that could purify, discipline, and sustain their zeal. When once the Christians had acquired a considerable position, the question of their destiny was a simple one. They must either be crushed or they must reign. The failure of the persecution of Diocletian conducted them inevitably to the throne.

It may indeed be confidently asserted that the conversion of the Roman Empire is so far from being of the nature of a miracle or suspension of the ordinary principles of human nature, that there is scarcely any other great movement on record in which the causes and effects so manifestly correspond. The apparent anomalies of history are not inconsiderable, but they must be sought for in other quarters. That within the narrow limits and scanty population of the Greek States should have arisen men who, in almost every conceivable form of genius, in philosophy, in epic, dramatic and lyric poetry, in written and spoken eloquence, in statesmanship, in sculpture, in painting, and probably also in music, should have

(1) Zosimus.


attained almost or altogether the highest limits of human perfection - that the creed of Mohammed should have preserved its pure monotheism and its freedom from all idolatrous tendencies, when adopted by vast populations in that intellectual condition in which, under all other creeds, a gross and material worship has proved inevitable, both these are facts which we can only very imperfectly explain. Considerations of climate, and still more of political, social, and intellectual customs and institutions, may palliate the first difficulty, and the attitude Mohammed assumed to art may supply us with a partial explanation of the second; but I suppose that, after all has been said, most persons will feel that they are in presence of phenomena very exceptional and astonishing. The first rise of Christianity in Judaea is a subject wholly apart from this book. We are examining only the subsequent movement in the Roman Empire. Of this movement it may be boldly asserted that the assumption of a moral or intellectual miracle is utterly gratuitous. Never before was a religious transformation so manifestly inevitable. No other religion ever combined so many forms of attraction as Christianity, both from its intrinsic excellence, and from its manifest adaptation to the special wants of the time. One great cause of its success was that it produced more heroic actions and formed more upright men than any other creed; but that it should do so was precisely what might have been expected.

To these reasonings, however, those who maintain that the triumph of Christianity in Rome is naturally inexplicable, reply by pointing to the persecutions which Christianity had to encounter. As this subject is one on which many misconceptions exist, and as it is of extreme importance on account of its connection with later persecutions, it will he necessary briefly to discuss it.

It is manifest that the reasons that may induce a ruler to suppress by force some forms of religious worship or opinion,


are very various. He may do so on moral grounds, because they directly or indirectly produce immorality; or en religious grounds, because he believes them to be offensive to the Deity; or on political grounds, because they are injurious either to the State or to the Government; or on corrupt grounds, because he desires to gratify some vindictive or avaricious passion. From the simple fact, therefore, of a religious persecution we cannot at once infer the principles of the persecutor, but must examine in detail by which of the above motives, or by what combination of them, he has been actuated.

Now, the persecution which has taken place at the instigation of the Christian priests differs in some respects broadly from all others. It has been far more sustained, systematic, and unflinching. It has been directed not merely against acts of worship, but also against speculative opinions. It has been supported not merely as a right, but also as a duty. It has been advocated in a whole literature of theology, by the classes that are especially devout, and by the most opposing sects, and it has invariably declined in conjunction with a large portion of theological dogmas.

I have elsewhere examined in great detail the history of persecutions by Christians, and have endeavoured to show that, while exceptional causes have undoubtedly occasionally occurred, they were, in the overwhelming majority of cases, simply the natural, legitimate, and inevitable consequence of a certain portion of the received theology. That portion is the doctrine that correct theological opinions are essential to salvation, and that theological error necessarily involves guilt. To these two opinions may be distinctly traced almost all the sufferings that Christian persecutors have caused, almost all the obstructions they have thrown in the path of human progress; and those sufferings have been so grievous that it may be reasonably questioned whether superstition has not often proved a greater curse then vice,


and that obstruction was so pertinacious, that the contraction of theological influence has been at once the best measure, and the essential condition of intellectual advance. The notion that he might himself be possibly mistaken in his opinions, which alone could cause a man who was thoroughly imbued with these principles to shrink from persecuting, was excluded by the theological virtue of faith, which, whatever else it might involve, implied at least an absolute unbroken certainty, and led the devotee to regard all doubt, and therefore all action based upon doubt, as sin.

To this general cause of Christian persecution I have shown that two subsidiary influences may be joined. A large portion of theological ethics was derived from writings in which religious massacres, on the whole the most ruthless and sanguinary upon record, were said to have been directly enjoined by the Deity, in which the duty of suppressing idolatry by force was given a greater prominence than any article of the moral code, and in which the spirit of intolerance has found its most eloquent and most passionate expressions. (1) Besides this, the destiny theologians represented as awaiting the misbeliever was so ghastly and so appalling as to render it almost childish to lay any stress upon the earthly suffering that might be inflicted in the extirpation of error.

That these are the true causes of the great bulk of Christian persecution, I believe to be one of the most certain as well as one of the most important facts in history. For the detailed proof I can only refer to what I have elsewhere written; but I may here notice that that proof combines every conceivable kind of evidence that in such a question can be demanded. It can be shown that these principles would naturally lead men to persecute. It can be shown that from the time of Constantine to the time when the

(1) "Do I not hate them, 0 Lord, that hate thee? - yea, I hate them with a perfect hatred."


rationalistic spirit wrested the bloodstained sword from the priestly hand, persecution was uniformly defended upon them - defended in long, learned, and elaborate treatises, by the best and greatest men the Church had produced, by sects that differed on almost all other points, by multitudes who proved in every conceivable manner the purity of their zeal. It can be shown, too, that toleration began with the distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental doctrines, expanded in exact proportion to the growing latitudinarianism, and triumphed only when indifference to dogma had become a prevailing sentiment among legislators. It was only when the battle had been won - when the anti-dogmatic party, acting in opposition to the Church, had rendered persecution impossible - that the great body of theologians revised their arguments, and discovered that to punish men for their opinions was wholly at variance with their faith. With the merits of this pleasing though somewhat tardy conversion I am not now concerned; but few persons, I think, can follow the history of Christian persecution without a feeling of extreme astonishment that some modern writers, not content with maintaining that the doctrine of exclusive salvation ought not to have produced persecution, have ventured, in defiance of the unanimous testimony of the theologians of so many centuries, to dispute the plain historical fact that it did produce it. They argue that the Pagans, who did not believe in exclusive salvation, persecuted, and that therefore that doctrine cannot be the cause of persecution. The answer is that no sane man ever maintained that all the persecutions on record were from the same source. We can prove by the clearest evidence that Christian persecutions sprang chiefly from the causes I have alleged. The causes of Pagan persecutions, though different, are equally manifest, and I shall proceed shortly to indicate them.

They were partly political and partly religious. The Governments in most of the ancient States, in the earlier


stages of their existence, undertook the complete education of the people; professed to control and regulate all the detail, of their social life, even to the dresses they wore, or the dishes that were served upon their tables, and, in a word, to mould their whole lives and characters into a uniform type. Hence, all organisations and corporations not connected with the State, and especially all that emanated from foreign countries, were looked upon with distrust or antipathy. But this antipathy was greatly strengthened by a religious consideration. No belief was more deeply rooted in the ancient mind than that good or bad fortune sprang from the intervention of spiritual beings, and that to neglect the sacred rites was to bring down calamity upon the city. In the diminutive Greek States, where the function of the Government was immensely enlarged, a strong intolerance existed, which extended for some time not merely to practices, but to writings and discourses. The well-known persecutions of Anaxagoras, Theodorus, Diagoras, Stilpo, and Socrates; the laws of Plato, which were as opposed to religious as to domestic freedom; and the existence in Athens of an inquisitorial tribunal, (1) sufficiently attested it. But long before the final ruin of Greece, speculative liberty had been fully attained. The Epicurean and the Sceptical schools developed unmolested, and even in the days of Socrates, Aristophanes was able to ridicule the gods upon the stage.

In the earlier days of Rome religion was looked upon at a function of the State; its chief object was to make the gods auspicious to the national policy, (2) and its principal ceremonies were performed at the direct command of the Senate. The national theory on religious matters was that the best religion

(1) See Renan's Apôtres, p. 314.

(2) M. Pressensé very truly says of the Romans, "Leur religion était essentiellement en art - l'art de découvrir les desseins des dieux et d'agir sur eux par des rites variés." - Hist. des Trois premiers Siècles, tome i. p. 192. Montesquieu has written an interesting essay on the political nature of the Roman religion.


is always that of a man's own country. At the same time, the widest tolerance was granted to the religions of conquered nations. The temples of every god were respected by the Roman army. Before besieging a city, the Romans were accustomed to supplicate the presiding deities of that city. With the single exception of the Druids, whose human sacrifices it was thought a matter of humanity to suppress, (1) and whose fierce rebellions it was thought necessary to crush, the teachers of all national religions continued unmolested by the conqueror.

This policy, however, applied specially to religious rites practised in the countries in which they were indigenous. The liberty to be granted to the vast confluence of strangers attracted to Italy during the Empire was another question. In the old Republican days, when the censors regulated with the most despotic authority the minutest affairs of life, and when the national religion was interwoven with every detail of political and even domestic transactions, but little liberty could be expected. When Carneades endeavoured to inculcate his universal scepticism upon the Romans, by arguing alternately for and against the same proposition, Cato immediately urged the Senate to expel him from the city, lest the people should be corrupted by his teaching. (2) For a similar reason all rhetoricians had been banished from the Republic. (3) The most remarkable, however, and at the same time the extreme expression of Roman intolerance that has descended to us, is the advice which Maecenas is represented as having given to Octavius Caesar, before his accession to the throne. "Always," he said, "and everywhere, worship the gods according to the rites of your country, and compel others to the same worship. Pursue with your hatred and with punish

(1) Sueton. Claud. xxv.
(2) Plin. Hist. Nat. vii. 21.

(3) Tacit. De Orat. xxxv.; Aul. Gell. Noct. xv. 11. It would appear, from this last authority, that the rhetoricians were twice expelled.


ments those who introduce foreign religions, not only for the sake of the gods - the despisers of whom can assuredly never do anything great - but also because they who introduce new divinities entice many to use foreign laws. Hence arise conspiracies, societies, and assemblies, things very unsuited to an homogeneous empire. Tolerate no despiser of the gods, and no religious juggler. Divination is necessary, and therefore let the aruspices and augurs by all means be sustained, and let those who will, consult them; but the magicians must be utterly prohibited, who, though they sometimes tell the truth, more frequently, by false promises, urge men on to conspiracies. (1)

This striking passage exhibits very clearly the extent to which in some minds the intolerant spirit was carried in antiquity, and also the blending motives that produced it. We should be, however, widely mistaken if we regarded it as a picture of the actual religious policy of the Empire. In order to realise this, it will be necessary to notice separately liberty of speculation and liberty of worship.

When Asinius Pollio founded the first public library in Rome, he placed it in the Temple of Liberty. The lesson which was thus taught to the literary classes was never forgotten. It is probable that in no other period of the history of the world was speculative freedom so perfect as in the Roman Empire. The fearless scrutiny of all notions of popular belief, displayed in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Lucretius, or Lucian, did not excite an effort of repression. Philosophers were, indeed, persecuted by Domitian and Vespasian for their ardent opposition to the despotism of the throne, (2) but on their own subjects they were wholly untram-

(1) Dion Cassius, lii. 36. Most historians believe that this speech represents the opinions, not of the Augustan age, but of the age of the writer who relates it.

(2) On the hostility of Vespasian to philosophers, see Xiphilin, lxvi. 13; on that of Domitian, the Letters of Pliny and the Agricola of Tacitus.


melled. The Greek writers consoled themselves for the extinction of the independence of their country by the reflection that in the sphere of intellect the meddling policy of the Greek States was replaced by an absolute and a majestic freedom. (1) The fierceness of the opposition of sects faded beneath its influence. Of all the speculative conflicts of antiquity, that which most nearly approached the virulence of later theological controversies was probably that between the Stoics and the Epicureans; but it is well worthy of notice that some of the most emphatic testimonies to the moral goodness of Epicurus have come from the writings of his opponents.

But the policy of the Roman rulers towards religious rites was very different from, and would at first sight appear to be in direct opposition to, their policy towards opinions. An old law, which Cicero mentions, expressly forbade the introduction of new religions, (2) and in the Republican days and the earliest days of the Empire there are many instances of its being enforced. Thus, in A.U.C. 326, a severe drought having led men to seek help from new gods, the Senate charged the aediles to allow none but Roman deities to be worshipped (3) Lutatius, soon after the first Punic war, was forbidden by the Senate to consult foreign gods, "because," said the historian, "it was deemed right the Republic should be administered according to the national auspices, and not according to those of other lands" (4) During the second Punic war, a severe edict of the Senate enjoined the suppression of certain recent innovations. (5) About A.U.C. 615 the praetor Hispalus exiled those who had introduced the worship of the Sabasian Jupiter. (6) The rites of Bacchus, being accompanied by gross and scandalous obscenity, were suppressed,

(1) See a remarkable passage in Dion Chrysostom, Or. lxxx. De Libertate.
(2) Cic. De Legib. ii. 11; Tertull. Apol. v.
(3) Livy, iv. 30.
(4) Val. Maximus, i. 3, § 1.
(5) Livy, xxv. 1.
(6) Val Max. i. 3, § 2.


the consul, in a remarkable speech, calling upon the people to revive the religious policy of their ancestors. (1) The worship of Isis and Serapis only gained its footing after a long struggle, and no small amount of persecution. The gross immorality it sometimes favoured, its wild and abject superstition, so thoroughly alien to the whole character of Roman life and tradition, and also the organisation of its priesthood, rendered it peculiarly obnoxious to the Government. When the first edict of suppression was issued, the people hesitated to destroy a temple which seemed so venerable in their eyes, and the consul Aemilius Paulus dispelled their fears by seizing an axe and striking the first blow himself. (2) During the latter days of the Republic, edicts had commanded the destruction of the Egyptian temples. Octavius, however, in his younger days, favoured the new worship, but, soon after, it was again suppressed. (3) Under Tiberius it had once more crept in; but the priests of Isis having enabled a patrician named Mundus to disguise himself as the god Anubis, and win the favours of a devout worshipper, the temple, by order of the emperor, was destroyed, the images were thrown into the Tiber, the priests were crucified, and the seducer was banished. (4) Under the same emperor four thousand persons were exiled to Sardinia, as affected with Jewish and Egyptian superstitions. They were commissioned to repress robbers; but it was at the same time

(1) See the account of these proceedings, and of the very remarkable speech of Postumius, in Livy, xxxix. 8-19. Postumius notices the old prohibition of foreign rites, and thus explains it: -- "Judicabant enim prudentissimi viri omnis divini humanique juris, nihil aeque dissolvendae religionis esse, quam ubi non patrio sed externo ritu sacrificaretur." The Senate, though suppressing these rites on account of the outrageous immoralities connected with them, decreed, that if any one thought it a matter of religious duty to perform religious ceremonies to Bacchus, he should be allowed to do so on applying for permission to the Senate, provided there were not more than five assistants, no common purse, and no presiding priest.

(2) Val. Max. i. 3.
(3) See Dion Cassius, xl. 47 ; xlii. 26; xlvii. 15; liv. 6.
(4) Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 3.


added, with a characteristic scorn, that if they died through the unhealthiness of the climate, it would be but a "small loss." (1)

These measures represent together a considerable amount of religious repression, but they were produced exclusively by notions of policy or discipline. They grew out of that intense national spirit which sacrificed every other interest to the State, and resisted every form of innovation, whether secular or religious, that could impair the unity of the national type, and dissolve the discipline which the predominance of the military spirit and the stern government of the Republic had formed. They were also, in some cases, the result of moral scandals. When, however, it became evident that the internal condition of the Republic was unsuited for the Empire, the rulers frankly acquiesced in the change, and from the time of Tiberius, with the single exception of the Christians, perfect liberty of worship seems to have been granted to the professors of all religions in Rome. (1) The old law upon the subject was not revoked, but it was not generally enforced. Sometimes the new creeds were expressly authorised. Sometimes they were tacitly permitted. With a single exception, all the religions of the world raised their heads unmolested in the "Holy City." (3)

The liberty, however, of professing and practising a foreign worship did not dispense the Roman from the obligation of performing also the sacrifices or other religious rites of his own land. It was here that whatever religious fanaticism mingled with Pagan persecutions was displayed. Eusebius tells us that religion was divided by the Romans

(1) Tacit. Annal. ii. 85.

(2) Tacitus relates (Ann. xi. 15) that under Claudius a senatus consultus ordered the pontiffs to take care that the old Roman (or, more properly, Etruscan) system of divination was observed, since the influx of foreign superstitions had led to its disuse; but it does not appear that this measure was intended to interfere with any other form of worship.

(3) "Sacrosanctam istam civitatem accedo." - Apuleius, Metam. lib. x. It is said that there were at one time no less than 420 aedes sacrae in Rome. Nieupoort, De Ritibus Romanorum (1716), p. 276.


into three parts - the mythology, or legends that had descended from the poets; the interpretations or theories by which the philosophers endeavoured to rationalise, filter, or explain away these legends; and the ritual or official religious observances. In the first two spheres perfect liberty was accorded, but the ritual was placed under the control of the Government, and was made a matter of compulsion. (1) In order to realise the strength of the feeling that supported it, we must remember that the multitude firmly believed that the prosperity and adversity of the Empire depended chiefly upon the zeal or indifference that was shown in conciliating the national divinities, and also that the philosophers, as I have noticed in the last chapter, for the most part not only practised, but warmly defended, the official observances. The love of truth in many forms was exhibited among the Pagan philosophers to a degree which has never been surpassed; but there was one form in which it was absolutely unknown. The belief that it is wrong for a man in religious matters to act a lie, to sanction by his presence, and by his example what he regards as baseless superstitions, had no plane in the ethics of antiquity. The religious flexibility which polytheism had originally generated, the strong political feeling that pervaded all classes, and also the manifest impossibility of making philosophy the creed of the ignorant, had rendered nearly universal among philosophers a state of feeling which is often exhibited, but rarely openly professed, among ourselves. (3) The religious opinions of men had but

(1) Praep. Evang. iv. 1. Fontenelle says very truly, 'Il y a lieu de croire que chez les payens la religion n'estoit qu'une pratique, dont la speculation estoit indifférente. Elites comme les autres et croyez ce qu'il vous plaira." - Hist. des Oracles, p. 95. It was a saying of Tiberius, that it is for the gods to care for the injuries done to them: "Deorum injurias diis curae." - Tacit. Annal. i. 73.

(2) The most melancholy modern instance I remember is a letter of Hume to a young man who was thinking of taking orders, but who, in the course of his studies, became a complete sceptic. Hume strongly advised him not to allow this consideration to interfere with his career. (Burton, Life of Hume, vol. ii. pp. 187, 188.) The utilitarian principles of the philosopher were doubtless at the root of his judgment.


little influence on their religious practices, and the sceptic considered it not merely lawful, but a duty, to attend the observances of his country. No one did more to scatter the ancient superstitions than Cicero, who was himself an augur, and who strongly asserted the duty of complying with the national rites. (1) Seneca, having recounted in the most derisive terms the absurdities of the popular worship, concludes his enumeration by declaring that "the sage will observe all these things, not as pleasing to the Divinities, but as commanded by the law," and that he should remember "that his worship is due to custom, not to belief." (2) Epictetus, whose austere creed rises to the purest monotheism, teaches as a fundamental religious maxim that every man in his devotions should "conform to the customs of his country." (3) The Jews and Christians, who alone refused to do so, were the representatives of a moral principle that was unknown to the Pagan world.

It should be remembered, too, that the Oriental custom of deifying emperors having been introduced into Rome, to burn incense before their statues had become a kind of test of loyalty. This adoration does not, it is true, appear to have implied any particular article of belief, and it was probably regarded by most men as we regard the application of the term "Sacred Majesty" to a sovereign, and the custom of kneeling in his presence; but it was esteemed inconsistent with Christianity, and the conscientious refusal of the Christians to comply with it aroused a feeling resembling that which was long produced in Christendom by the refusal of Quakers to comply with the usages of courts.

(1) De Divinat. ii. 33; De Nat. Deor.. ii. 3.

(2) "Quae omnia sapiens servabit tanquam legibus jussa non tanquam diis grata ... Meminerimus cultum ejus magis ad morem quam ad rem pertinere." - St. Aug. De Civ. Dei, vi. 10. St. Augustine denounces this view with great power. See, too, Lactantius, Inst. Div. ii. 3.

(3) Enchirid. xxxi.


The obligation to perform the sacred rites of an idolatrous worship, if rigidly enforced, would have amounted, in the case of the Jews and the Christians, to a complete proscription. It does not, however, appear that the Jews were ever persecuted on this ground. (1) They formed a large and influential colony in Rome. They retained undiminished, in the midst of the Pagan population, their exclusive habits, refusing not merely all religious communion, but most social intercourse with the idolaters, occupying a separate quarter of the city, and sedulously practising their distinctive rites. Tiberius, as we have seen, appears to have involved them in his proscription of Egyptian superstitions; but they were usually perfectly unmolested, or were molested only when their riotous conduct had attracted the attention of the rulers. The Government was so far from compelling them to perform acts contrary to their religion, that Augustus expressly changed the day of the distribution of corn, in order that they might not be reduced to the alternative of forfeiting their share, or of breaking the Sabbath. (1)

It appears, then, that the old Republican intolerance had in the Empire been so modified as almost to have disappeared. The liberty of speculation and discussion was entirely unchecked. The liberty of practising foreign religious rites, though ostensibly limited by the law against unauthorised religions, was after Tiberius equally secure. The liberty of abstaining from the official national rites, though more precarious, was fully conceded to the Jews, whose jealousy of idolatry was in no degree inferior to that of the Christians. It remains, then, to examine what were the causes of the very exceptional fanaticism and animosity that were directed against the latter.

The first cause of the persecution of the Christians was the religious notion to which I have already referred. The

(1) This is noticed by Philo.


belief that our world is governed by isolated acts of Divine intervention, and that, in consequence, every great calamity, whether physical, or military, or political, may be regarded as a punishment or a warning, was the basis of the whole religious system of antiquity. (1) In the days of the Republic every famine, pestilence, or drought was followed by a searching investigation of the sacred rites, to ascertain what irregularity or neglect had caused the Divine anger, and two instances are recorded in which vestal virgins were put to death because their unchastity was believed to have provoked a national calamity. (2) It might appear at first sight that the fanaticism which this belief would naturally produce would have been directed against the Jews as strongly as against the Christians; but a moment's reflection is sufficient to explain the difference. The Jewish religion was essentially conservative and unexpansive. Although, in the passion for Oriental religions, many of the Romans had begun to practise its ceremonies, there was no spirit of proselytism in the sect; and it is probable that almost all who followed this religion, to the exclusion of others, were of Hebrew nationality. The Christians, on the other hand, were ardent missionaries; they were, for the most part, Romans who had thrown off the allegiance of their old gods, and their activity was so great that from a very early period the temples were

(1) The ship in which the atheist Diagoras sailed was once nearly wrecked by a tempest, and the sailors declared that it was a just retribution from the gods because they had received the philosopher into their vessel. Diagoras, pointing to the other ships that were tossed by the same storm, asked whether they imagined there was a Diagoras in each. (Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 37.)

(2) The vestal Oppia was put to death because the diviners attributed to her unchastity certain "prodigies in the heavens," that had alarmed the people at the beginning of the war with Veii. (Livy, ii. 42.) The vestal Urbinia was buried alive on account of a plague that had fallen upon the Roman women, which was attributed to her incontinence, and which is said to have ceased suddenly upon her execution. (Dion. Halicar. ix.)


in some districts almost deserted. (1) Besides this, the Jews simply abstained from and despised the religions around them. The Christians denounced them as the worship of daemons, and lost no opportunity of insulting them. It is not, therefore, surprising that the populace should have been firmly convinced that every great catastrophe that occurred was due to the presence of the enemies of the gods. "If the Tiber ascends to the walls," says Tertullian, "or if the Nile does not overflow the fields, if the heaven refuses its rain, if the earth quakes, if famine and pestilence desolate the land, immediately the cry is raised, 'The Christians to the lions!'" (2) "There is no rain - the Christians are the cause," had become a popular proverb in Rome. (3) Earthquakes, which, on account of their peculiarly appalling, and, to ignorant men, mysterious nature, have played a very large part in the history of superstition, were frequent and terrible in the Asiatic provinces, and in three or four instances the persecution of the Christians may be distinctly traced to the fanaticism they produced.

There is no part of ecclesiastical history, more curious than the effects of this belief in alternately assisting or impeding the progress of different Churches. in the first three centuries of Christian history, it was the cause of fearful sufferings to the faith; but even then the Christians usually accepted the theory of their adversaries, though they differed concerning its application. Tertullian and Cyprian strongly maintained, sometimes that the calamities were due to the anger of the Almighty against idolatry, sometimes that they were intended to avenge the persecution of the truth. A collection was early made of men who, having been hostile to the Christian faith, had died by some horrible

(1) Pliny, in his famous letter to Trajan about the Christians, notices that this had been the case in Bithynia.

(2) Tert. Apol. xl. See, too, Cyprian, Contra Demetrian., and Arnobius, Apol. lib. i.
(3) St. Aug. De Civ. Dei, ii. 3.


death, and their deaths were pronounced to be Divine punishments. (1) The victory which established the power of the first Christian emperor, and the sudden death of Arius, were afterwards accepted as decisive proofs of the truth of Christianity, and of the falsehood of Arianism. (2) But soon the manifest signs of the dissolution of the Empire revived the zeal of the Pagans, who began to reproach themselves for their ingratitude to their old gods, and who recognised in the calamities of their country the vengeance of an insulted Heaven. When the altar of Victory was removed contemptuously from the Senate, when the sacred college of the vestals was suppressed, when, above all, the armies of Alaric encircled the imperial city, angry murmurs arose which disturbed the Christians in their triumph. The standing-point of the theologians was then somewhat altered. St. Ambrose dissected with the most unsparing rationalism the theory that ascribed the national decline to the suppression of the vestals, traced it to all its consequences, and exposed all its absurdities. Orosius wrote his history to prove that great misfortunes had befallen the Empire before its conversion. Salvian wrote his treatise on Providence to prove that the

(1) Instances of this kind are given by Tertullian Ad Scapulam, and the whole treatise On the Deaths of the Persecutors, attributed to Lactantius, is a development of the same theory. St. Cyprian's treatise against Demetrianus throws much light on the mode of thought of the Christians of his time. In the later historians, anecdotes of adversaries of the Church dying horrible deaths became very numerous. They were said especially to have been eaten by worms. Many examples of this kind are collected by Jortin. (Remarks on Eccles. Hist. vol. i. p. 432.)

(2) It is remarkable, in all the proclamations and documents which Eusebius assigns to Constantine, some even written by his own hand, how, almost exclusively, he dwells on this worldly superiority of the God adored by the Christians over those of the heathens, and the visible temporal advantages which attend on the worship of Christianity. His own victory, and the disasters of his enemies, are his conclusive evidences of Christianity" - Milman, Hist. of Early Christianity (ed. 1867), vol. ii. p. 327. "It was a standing argument of Athanasius, that the death of Arius was a sufficient refutation of his heresy."- Ibid. p. 382.


barbarian invasions were a Divine judgment on the immorality of the Christians. St. Augustine concentrated all his genius on a great work, written under the impression of the invasion of Alaric, and intended to prove that "the city of God" was not on earth, and that the downfall of the Empire need therefore cause no disquietude to the Christians. St. Gregory the Great continually represented the calamities of Italy as warnings foreboding the destruction of the world. When Rome sank finally before the barbarian hosts, it would seem as though the doctrine that temporal success was the proof of Divine favour must be finally abandoned. But the Christian clergy disengaged their cause from that of the ruined Empire, proclaimed its downfall to be a fulfilment of prophecy and a Divine judgment, confronted the barbarian conquerors in all the majesty of their sacred office, and overawed them in the very moment of their victory. In the conversion of the uncivilised tribes, the doctrine of special intervention occupied a commanding place. The Burgundians, when defeated by the Huns, resolved, as a last resource, to place themselves under the protection of the Roman God whom they vaguely believed to be the most powerful, and the whole nation in consequence embraced Christianity. (1) In a critical moment of a great battle, Clovis invoked the assistance of the God of his wife. The battle was won, and he, with many thousands of Franks, was converted to the faith. (2) In England, the conversion of Northumbria was partly, and the conversion of Mercia was mainly, due to the belief that the Divine interposition had secured the victory of a Christian king. (3) A Bulgarian prince was driven into the Church by the terror of a pestilence, and he speedily effected the conversion of his subjects. (4) The destruction of so many

(1) Socrates, Eccl. Hist., vii. 30.
(2) Greg. Tur., ii. 30, 31. Clovis wrote to St. Avitus, "Your faith is our victory."
(3) Milman's Latin Christianity (ed. 1867), vol. ii. pp. 236-245.
(4) Ibid. vol. iii. p. 248.


shrines, and the defeat of so many Christian armies, by the followers of Mohammed; the disastrous and ignominious overthrow of the Crusaders, who went forth protected by all the blessings of the Church, were unable to impair the belief. All through the middle ages, and for some centuries after the middle ages had passed, every startling catastrophe was regarded as a punishment, or a warning, or a sign of the approaching termination of the world. Churches and monasteries were built. Religious societies were founded. Penances were performed. Jews were massacred, and a long catalogue might be given of the theories by which men attempted to connect every vicissitude of fortune, and every convulsion of nature, with the wranglings of theologians. Thus, to give but a few examples: St. Ambrose confidently asserted that the death of Maximus was a consequence of the crime he had committed in compelling the Christians to rebuild a Jewish synagogue they had destroyed. (1) One of the laws in the Justinian code, directed against the Jews, Samaritans, and Pagans, expressly attributes to them the sterility of the soil, which in an earlier age the Pagans had so often attributed to the Christians. (2) A volcanic eruption that broke out at the commencement of the iconoclastic persecution was adduced as a clear proof that the Divine anger was aroused, according to one party, by the hostility of the emperor to the sacred images; according to the other party, by his sinful hesitation in extirpating idolatry. (3) Bodin, in a later age, considered that the early death of the sovereign

(1) Ep. xl.

(2) An diutius perferimus mutari temporum vices, irata coeli temperie? Quae Paganorum exacerbata perfidia nescit naturae libramenta servare. Unde enim ver solitam gratiam abjuravit? unde aestas, messe jejuna, laboriosum agricolam in spe destituit aristarum? unde hyemis intemperata ferocitas uberitatem terrarum penetrabili frigore sterilitatis laesione damnavit? nisi quod ad impietatis vindictam transit lege sua naturae decretum." - Novell. lii. Tbeodos. De Judaeis, Samaritanis, et Haereticis.

(3) Milman's Latin Christianity, vol. ii. p. 354.


who commanded the massacre of St. Bartholomew was due to what he deemed the master crime of that sovereign's reign. He had spared the life of a famous sorcerer. (1) In the struggles that followed the Reformation, physical calamities ware continually ascribed in one age to the toleration, in another to the endowment, of either heresy or Popery. (2) Sometimes, however, they were traced to the theatre, and sometimes to the writings of freethinkers. But gradually, and almost insensibly, these notions faded away. The old language is often heard, but it is no longer realised and operative, and the doctrine which played so large a part in the history of the world has ceased to exercise any appreciable influence upon the actions of mankind.

In addition to this religious motive, which acted chiefly upon the vulgar, there was a political motive which rendered Christianity obnoxious to the educated. The Church constituted a vast, highly organised, and in many respects secret society, and as such was not only distinctly illegal, but was also in the very highest degree calculated to excite the apprehensions of the Government. There was no principle in the Imperial policy more stubbornly upheld than the suppression of all corporations that might be made the nuclei of revolt. The extent to which this policy was carried is strikingly evinced by a letter from Trajan to Pliny, in which the emperor forbade the formation even of a guild of firemen, on the ground that they would constitute an association and hold meetings. (2) In such a state of feeling, the existence of a vast association, governed by countless functionaries, shrouding its meetings and some of its doctrines in impenetrable obscurity, evoking a degree of attachment and devotion

(1) Démonomanie des Sorciers, p. 152.
(2) See a curious instance in Bayle's Dictionary, art. "Vergerius."

(3) Pliny, Ep. x. 43. Trajan noticed that Nicomedia was peculiarly turbulent. On the edict against the heteriae, or associations, see Ep. x. 97.


greater than could he elicited by the State, ramifying through the whole extent of the empire, and restlessly extending its influence, would naturally arouse the strongest apprehension. That it did so is clearly recognised by the Christian apologists who, however, justly retorted upon the objectors the impossibility of showing a single instance in which, in an age of continual conspiracies, the numerous and persecuted Christians had proved disloyal. Whatever we may think of their doctrine of passive obedience, it is impossible not to admire the constancy with which they clung to it, when all their interests were the other way. But yet the Pagans were not altogether wrong in regarding the new association as fatal to the greatness of the Empire. It consisted of men who regarded the Roman Empire as a manifestation of Antichrist, and who looked forward with passionate longing to its destruction. It substituted a new enthusiasm for that patriotism which was the very life-blood of the national existence. Many of the Christians deemed it wrong to fight for their country. All of them aspired to a type of character, and were actuated by hopes and motives, wholly inconsistent with that proud martial ardour by which the triumphs of Rome had been won, and by which alone her impending ruin could he averted.

The aims and principles of this association were very imperfectly understood. The greatest and best of the Pagans spoke of it as a hateful superstition, and the phrase they most frequently reiterated, when speaking of its members, was "enemies" or "haters of the human race." Such a charge, directed persistently against men whose main principle was the supreme excellence of love, and whose charity unquestionably rose far above that of any other class, was probably due in the first place to the unsocial habits of the converts, who deemed it necessary to abstain from all the forms of public amusement, to refuse to illuminate their houses, or hang garlands from their portals in honour of the national


triumphs, and who somewhat ostentatiously exhibited themselves as separate and alien from their countrymen. It may also have arisen from a knowledge of the popular Christian doctrine about the future destiny of Pagans. When the Roman learnt what fate the Christian assigned to the heroes and sages of his nation, and to the immense mass of his living fellow-countrymen, when be was told that the destruction of the once glorious Empire to which he belonged was one of the most fervent aspirations of the Church, his feelings were very likely to clothe themselves in such language as I have cited.

But, in addition to the general charges, specific accusations (1) of the grossest kind were directed against Christian morals. At a time when the moral standard was very low, they were charged with deeds so atrocious as to scandalise the most corrupt. They were represented as habitually, in their secret assemblies, celebrating the most licentious orgies, feeding on human flesh, and then, the lights having been extinguished, indulging in promiscuous, and especially in incestuous, intercourse. The persistence with which these accusations were made is shown by the great prominence they occupy, both in the writings of the apologists and in the narrations of the persecutions. That these charges were absolutely false will now be questioned by no one. The Fathers were long able to challenge their adversaries to produce a single instance in which any other crime than his faith was proved against a martyr, and they urged with a just and noble pride that whatever doubt there might be of the truth of the Christian doctrines, or of the Divine origin of the Christian miracles, there was at least no doubt that Christianity had transformed the characters of multitudes, vivified the cold heart by a new enthusiasm, redeemed, re

(1) All the apologists are full of these charges. The chief passages have been collected in that very useful and learned work, Kortholt, De Calumniis contra Christianos (Cologne, 1683.)


generated, and emancipated the most depraved of mankind. Noble lives, crowned by heroic deaths, were the best arguments of the infant Church. (1) Their enemies themselves not infrequently acknowledged it. The love shown by the early Christians to their suffering brethren has never been more emphatically attested than by Lucian, (2) or the beautiful simplicity of their worship than by Pliny, (3) or their ardent charity than by Julian. (4) There was, it is true, another side to the picture; but even when the moral standard of Christians was greatly lowered, it was lowered only to that of the community about them.

These calumnies were greatly encouraged by the ecclesiastical rule, which withheld from the unbaptised all knowledge of some of the more mysterious doctrines of the Church, and veiled, at least, one of its ceremonies in great obscurity. Vague rumours about the nature of that sacramental feast, to which none but the baptised Christian was suffered to penetrate, and which no ecclesiastic was permitted to explain either to the catechumens or to the world, were probably the origin of the charge of cannibalism; while the "Agapae" or love feasts, the ceremony of the kiss of love, and the peculiar and, to the Pagans, perhaps unintelligible, language in which the Christians proclaimed themselves one body and fellow-members in Christ, may have suggested the other charges. The eager credulity with which equally baseless accusations against the Jews were for centuries believed, illustrates the readiness with which they were accepted, and the extremely imperfect system of police which rendered the verification of secret crimes very difficult, had no doubt greatly enlarged the sphere of calumny. But, in addition to these considerations, the orthodox were in some respects exceedingly unfortunate. In the eyes of the Pagans they

(1) Justin Martyr tells us it was the brave deaths of the Christians that converted him. (Apol. ii. 12.)
(2) Peregrinus.
(3) Ep. x. 97.
(4)Ep. ii.


were regarded as a sect of Jews; and the Jews, on account of their continual riots, their inextinguishable hatred of the Gentile world, (1) and the atrocities that frequently accompanied their rebellions, had early excited the anger and the contempt of the Pagans. On the other hand, the Jew, who deemed the abandonment of the law the most heinous of crimes, and whose patriotism only shone with a fiercer flame amid the calamities of his nation, regarded the Christian with an implacable hostility. Scorned or hated by those around him, his temple levelled with the dust, and the last vestige of his independence destroyed, he clung with a desperate tenacity to the hopes and privileges of his ancient creed. In his eyes the Christians were at once apostates and traitors. He could not forget that in the last dark hour of his country's agony, when the armies of the Gentile encompassed Jerusalem, and when the hosts of the faithful flocked to its defence, the Christian Jews had abandoned the fortunes of their race, and refused to bear any part in the heroism and the sufferings of the closing scene. They had proclaimed that the promised Messiah, who was to restore the faded glories of Israel, had already come; that the privileges which were so long the monopoly of a single people had passed to the Gentile world; that the race which was once supremely blest was for all future time to be accursed among mankind. It is not, therefore, surprising that there should have arisen between the two creeds an animosity which Paganism could never rival. While the Christians viewed with too much exultation the calamities that fell upon the prostrate people, (2) whose cup of bitterness they were destined

(1) Juvenal describes the popular estimate of the Jews:

Tradidit arcano quodcunque volumine Moses;
Non monstrare vias, eadem nisi sacra colenti,
Quaesitum ad fontem solos deducere verpos."

(Sat. xix. 102-l05.)

It is not true that the Mosaic law contains these precepts.

(2) See Merivale's Hist. of Rome, vol. viii. p. 176.


through long centuries to fill to the brim, the Jews laboured with unwearied hatred to foment by calumnies the passions of the Pagan multitude. (1) On the other hand, the Catholic Christians showed themselves extremely willing to draw down the sword of the persecutor upon the heretical sects. When the Pagans accused the Christians of indulging in orgies of gross licentiousness, the first apologist, while repudiating the charge, was careful to add, of the heretics, "Whether or not these people commit those shameful and fabulous acts, the putting out the lights, indulging in promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh, I know not." (2) In a few years the language of doubt and insinuation was exchanged for that of direct assertion; and, if we may believe St. Irenaeus and St. Clement of Alexandria, the followers of Carpocrates, the Marcionites, and some other Gnostic sects, habitually indulged, in their secret meetings, in acts of impurity and licentiousness as hideous and as monstrous as can be conceived, and their conduct was one of the causes of the persecution of the orthodox. (3) Even the most extravagant charges of the Pagan populace were reiterated by the Fathers in their accusations of the Gnostics. St. Epiphanius, in the fourth century, assures us that some of their sects were accustomed to kill, to dress with spices, and to eat the children born of their promiscuous intercourse. (4) The

(1) See Justin Martyr, Trypho, xvii.
(2) Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 26.

(3 )Eusebius expressly notices that the licentiousness of the sect of Carpocrates occasioned calumnies against the whole of the Christian body. (iv. 7.) A number of passages from the Fathers describing the immorality of these heretics are referred to by Cave, Primitive Christianity, part ii. ch. v.

(4) Epiphanius, Adv. Haer. lib. i. Haer. 26. The charge of murdering children, and especially infants, occupies very prominent place among the recriminations of religionists. The Pagans, as we have seen, brought it against the Christians, and the orthodox against some of the early heretics. The Christians accused Julian of murdering infants for magical purposes, and the bed of the Orontes was said to have been choked with their bodies. The accusation was then commonly directed against the Jews, against the witches, and against the midwives, who were supposed to be in confederation with the witches.


heretics, in their turn, gladly accused the Catholics; (1) while the Roman judge, in whose eyes Judaism, orthodox Christianity, and heresy were but slightly differing modifications of one despicable superstition, doubtless found in this interchange of accusations a corroboration of his prejudices.

Another cause of the peculiar animosity felt against the Christians was the constant interference with domestic life, arising from the great number of female conversions. The Christian teacher was early noted for his unrivalled skill in playing on the chords of a woman's heart. (2) The graphic title of "Earpicker of ladies," (3) which was given to a seductive pontiff of a somewhat later period, might have been applied to many in the days of the persecution; and to the Roman, who regarded the supreme authority of the head of the family, in

(1) See an example in Eusebius, iii. 32. After the triumph of Christianity the Arian heretics appear to have been accustomed to bring accusations of immorality against the Catholics. They procured the deposition of St. Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, by suborning a prostitute to accuse him of being the father of her child. The woman afterwards, on her deathbed, confessed the imposture. (Theodoret, Hist. i. 21-22.) They also accused St. Athanasius of murder and unchastity, both of which charges he most triumphantly repelled. (ibid. i. 30.)

(2) The great exertions and success of the Christians in making female converts is indignantly noticed by Celsus (Origen) and by the Pagan interlocutor in Minucius Felix (Octavius), and a more minute examination of ecclesiastical history amply confirms their statements.
I shall have in a future chapter to revert to this matter. Tertullian graphically describes the anger of a man he knew, at the conversion of his wife, and declares he would rather have had her "a prostitute than a Christian." (Adv. Nationes, i. 4.) He also mentions a governor of Cappadocia, named Herminianus, whose motive for persecuting the Christians was his anger at the conversion of his wife, and who, in consequence of his having persecuted, was devoured by worms. (Ad Scapul. 3.)

(3) "Matronarum Auriscalpius." The title was given to Pope St. Damasus. See Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii. p. 27. Ammianus Marcellinus notices (xxvii. 3) the great wealth the Roman bishops of his time had acquired through the gifts of women. Theodoret (Hist. Eccl. ii. 17) gives a curious account of the energetic proceedings of the Roman ladies upon the exile of Pope Liberius.


all religious matters, as the very foundation of domestic morality, no character could appear more infamous or more revolting. "A wife," said Plutarch, expressing the deepest conviction of the Pagan world, "should have no friends but those of her husband; and, as the gods are the first of friends, she should know no gods but those whom her husband adores. Let her shut the door, then, against idle religions and foreign superstitions. No god can take pleasure in sacrifices offered by a wife without the knowledge of her husband." But these principles, upon which the whole social system of Paganism had rested, were now disregarded. Wives in multitudes deserted their homes to frequent the nocturnal meetings (2) of a sect which was looked upon with the deepest suspicion, and was placed under the ban of the law. Again and again, the husband, as he laid his head on the pillow by his wife, had the bitterness of thinking that all her sympathies were withdrawn from him; that her affections belonged to an alien priesthood and to a foreign creed; that, though she might discharge her duties with a gentle and uncomplaining fidelity, be had for ever lost the power of touch-

(1) Conj. Praecept. This passage has been thought to refer to the Christians; if so, it is the single example of its kind in the writings of Plutarch.

(2) Pliny, in his letter on the Christians, notices that their assemblies were before daybreak. Tertullian and Minucius Felix speak frequently of the "nocturnes convocationes," or "nocturnes congregationes" of the Christians. The following passage, which the last of these writers puts into the mouth of a Pagan, describes forcibly the popular feeling about the Christians: "Qui de ultima faece collectis imperitioribus et mulieribus credulis sexus sui facilitate labentibus, plebem profanae conjurationis instituunt: quae nocturnis congregationibus et jejuniis solennibus et inhumanis cibis non sacro quodam sed piaculo foederantur, latebrosa et lucifugax natio, in publico muta, in angulis garrula; templa ut busta despiciunt, deos dispuunt, rident sacra." - Octavius. Tertullian, in exhorting the Christian women not to intermarry with Pagans, gives as one reason that they would not permit them to attend this "nightly convocation." (Ad Uxorem, ii. 4.) This whole chapter is a graphic but deeply painful picture of the utter impossibility of a Christian woman having any real community of feeling with a "servant of the devil."


tag her heart - he was to her only as an outcast, as a brand prepared for the burning. Even to a Christian mind there is a deep pathos in the picture which St. Augustine has drawn of the broken-hearted husband imploring the assistance of the gods, and receiving from the oracle the bitter answer: "You may more easily write in enduring characters on the wave, or fly with feathers through the air, than purge the mind of a woman when once tainted by the superstition." (1)

I have already noticed the prominence which the practice of exorcism had acquired in the early Church, the contempt with which it was regarded by the more philosophic Pagans, and the law which had been directed against its professors. It is not, however, probable that this practice, though it lowered the Christians in the eyes of the educated as much as it elevated them in the eyes of the populace, had any appreciable influence in provoking persecution. In the crowd of superstitions that were invading the Roman Empire, exorcism had a prominent place; all such practices were popular with the masses; the only form of magic which under the Empire was seriously persecuted was political astrology or divination with a view to discovering the successors to the throne, and of this the Christians were never accused. (2) There was, however, another form of what was deemed superstition connected with the Church, which was regarded by Pagan philosophers with a much deeper feeling of aversion. To agitate the minds of men with religious terrorism, to fill the unknown world with hideous images of suffering, to govern the reason by alarming the imagination, was in the eyes of the Pagan world one of the most heinous of crimes. (1) These fears

(1) De Civ. Dei, xix. 23.

(2) The policy of the Romans with reference to magic has been minutely traced by Maury, Hist. de la Magie. Dr. Jeremie conjectures that the exorcisms of the Christians may have excited the antipathy of Marcus Aurelius, he, as I have already noticed, being a disbeliever on this subject. (Jeremie, Hist. of Church in the Second and Third Cent. p. 26.) But this is mere conjecture.

(3) See the picture of the sentiments of the Pagans on this matter, in Plutarch's noble Treatise on Superstition.


were to the ancients the very definition of superstition, and their destruction was a main object both of the Epicurean and of the Stoic. To men holding such sentiments, it is easy to perceive hew obnoxious must have appeared religious teachers who maintained that an eternity of torture was reserved for the entire human race then existing in the world, beyond the range of their own community, and who made the assertion of this doctrine one of their main instruments of success. (1) Enquiry, among the early theologians, was much less valued than belief, (2) and reason was less appealed to than fear. In philosophy the most comprehensive, but in theology the most intolerant, system is naturally the strongest. To weak women, to the young, the ignorant, and the timid, to all, in a word, who were doubtful of their own judgment, the doctrine of exclusive salvation must have come with an appalling power; and, as no other religion professed it, it supplied the Church with an invaluable vantage-ground, and

(1) Thus Justin Martyr: "Since sensation remains in all men who have been in existence, and everlasting punishment is in store, do not hesitate to believe, and be convinced that what I say is true... - This Gehenna is a place where all will be punished who live unrighteously, and who believe not that what God has taught through Christ will come to pass." - Apol. i. 18-19. Arnobius has stated very forcibly the favourite argument of many later theologians: "Cum ergo haec sit conditio futurorum ut teneri et comprehendi nullius possint anticipationis attactu: nonne purior ratio est, ax duobus incertis et in ambigua expectatione pendentibus, id potius credere quod aliquas spes ferat, quam omnino quod nullas? In illo enim periculi nihil est, si quod dicitur imminere cassum fiat et vacuum. In hoc damnum est maximum." - Adv. Gentes, lib. i.

(2) The continual enforcement of the duty of belief, and the credulity of the Christians, were perpetually dwelt on by Celsus and Julian. According to the first, it was usual for them to say, "Do not examine, but believe only" According to the latter, "the sum of their wisdom was comprised in this single precept, believe." The apologists frequently notice this charge of credulity as brought against the Christians, and some famous sentences of Tertullian go far to justify it. See Middleton's Free Enquiry, Introd. pp. xcii, xciii.


doubtless drove multitudes into its pale. To this doctrine we may also, in a great degree, ascribe the agony of terror that was so often displayed by the apostate, whose flesh shrank from the present torture, but who was convinced that the weakness he could not overcome would be expiated by an eternity of torment. (1) To the indignation excited by such teaching was probably due a law of Marcus Aurelius, which decreed that "if any one shall do anything whereby the weak minds of any may be terrified by superstitious fear, the offender shall be exiled into an island."

There can, indeed, be little doubt that a chief cause of the hostility felt against the Christian Church was the intolerant aspect it at that time displayed. The Romans were prepared to tolerate almost any form of religion that would tolerate others. The Jews, though quite as obstinate as the Christians in refusing to sacrifice to the emperor, were rarely molested, except in the periods immediately following their insurrections, because Judaism, however exclusive and unsocial, was still an unaggressive national faith. But the Christian teachers taught that all religions, except their own and that of the Jews, were constructed by devils, and that all who dissented from their Church must be lost. It was impossible that men strung to the very highest pitch of religious excitement, and imagining they saw in every ceremony and oracle the direct working of a present daemon, could restrain their zeal,

(1) See the graphic picture of the agony of terror manifested by the apostates as they tottered to the altar at Alexandria, in the Decian persecution, in Dionysius apud Eusebius, vi. 41. Miraculous judgments (often, perhaps, the natural consequence of this extreme fear) were said to have frequently fallen upon the apostates. St. Cyprian has preserved a number of these in his treatise De Lapsis. Persons, when excommunicated, were also said to have been sometimes visibly possessed by devils. See Church, On Miraculous Powers in the First Three Centuries, pp. 52-54.

(2) "Si quis aliquid facerit, quo leves hominum animi superstitione numinis terrerentur, Divus Marcus hujusmodi homines in insulam relegari rescripsit," Dig. xlviii. tit. 19, l. 30.


or respect in any degree the feelings of others. Proselytising with an untiring energy, pouring a fierce stream of invective and ridicule upon the gods on whose favour the multitude believed all national prosperity to depend, not unfrequently insulting the worshippers, and defacing the idols, (1) they soon stung the Pagan devotees to madness, and convinced them that every calamity that fell upon the empire was the righteous vengeance of the gods. Nor was the sceptical politician more likely to regard with favour a religion whose development was plainly incompatible with the whole religious policy of the Empire. The new Church, as it was then organised, must have appeared to him essentially, fundamentally, necessarily intolerant. To permit it to triumph was to permit the extinction of religious liberty in an empire which comprised all the leading nations of the world, and tolerated all their creeds. It was indeed true that in the days of their distress the apologists proclaimed, in high and eloquent language, the iniquity of persecution, and the priceless value of a free worship; but it needed no great sagacity to perceive that the language of the dominant Church would be very different. The Pagan philosopher could not foresee the ghastly histories of the inquisition, of the Albigenses, or of St. Bartholomew; but he could scarcely doubt that the Christians, when in the ascendant, would never tolerate rites which they believed to be consecrated to devils, or restrain, in the season of their power, a religious animosity which they scarcely bridled when they were weak. It needed no prophetic inspiration

(1) A number of instances have been recorded, in which the punishment of the Christians was due to their having broken idols, overturned altars, or in other ways insulted the Pagans at their worship. The reader may find many examples of this collected in Cave's Primitive Christianity, part i. c. v.; Kortholt, De Calumniis contra Christianos; Barbeyrac, Morale des pères, c. xvii., Tillemont, Mèm. ecclésiast. tome vii. pp. 354-355; Ceillier, Hist. des Auteurs sacrés, tome iii. pp. 531-533. The Council of Illiberis found it necessary to make a canon refusing the title of "martyr" to those who were executed for these offences.


to anticipate the time, that so speedily arrived, when, amid the wailings of the worshippers, the idols and the temples were shattered, and when all who practised the religious ceremonies of their forefathers were subject to the penalty of death.

There has probably never existed upon earth a community whose members were bound to one another by a deeper or a purer affection than the Christians, in the days of the persecution. There has probably never existed a community which exhibited in its dealings with crime a gentler or more judicious kindness, which combined more happily an unflinching opposition to sin with a boundless charity to the sinner, and which was in consequence more successful in reclaiming and transforming the most vicious of mankind. There has, however, also never existed a community which displayed more clearly the intolerance that would necessarily follow its triumph. Very early tradition has related three anecdotes of the apostle John which illustrate faithfully this triple aspect of the Church. It is said that when the assemblies of the Christians thronged around him to hear some exhortation from his lips, the only words he would utter were, "My little children, love one another;" for in this, he said, is comprised the entire law. It is said that a young man he had once confided to the charge of a bishop, having fallen into the ways of vice, and become the captain of a band of robbers, the apostle, on hearing of it, bitterly reproached the negligence of the pastor, and, though in extreme old age, betook himself to the mountains till he had been captured by the robbers, when, falling with tears on the neck of the chief, he restored him to the path of virtue. It is said that the same apostle, once seeing the heretic Cerinthus in an establishment of baths into which he had entered, immediately rushed forth, fearing lest the roof should fall because a heretic was beneath it. (1) All that fierce hatred

The first of these anecdotes is told by St. Jerome, the second by St. Clement of Alexandria, the third by St. Irenaeus.


which during the Arian and Donatist controversies convulsed the Empire, and which in later times has deluged the world with blood, may be traced in the Church long before the conversion of Constantine. Already, in the second century, it was the rule that the orthodox Christian should hold no conversation, should interchange none of the most ordinary courtesies of life, with the excommunicated or the heretic. (1) Common sufferings were impotent to assuage the animosity, and the purest and fondest relations of life were polluted by the new intolerance. The Decian persecution had scarcely closed, when St. Cyprian wrote his treatise to maintain that it is no more possible to be saved beyond the limits of the Church, than it was during the deluge beyond the limits of the ark; that martyrdom itself has no power to efface the guilt of schism; and that the heretic, who for his master's cause expired in tortures upon the earth, passed at once, by that master's decree, into an eternity of torment in hell! (2) Even

(1) The severe discipline of the early Church on this point has been amply treated in Marshall's Penitential Discipline of the Primitive Church (first published in 1714, but reprinted in the library of Anglo-Catholic theology), and in Bingham's Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. vi. (Oxford, 1855). The later saints continually dwelt upon this duty of separation. Thus, "St. Theodore de Phermé disoit, que quand une personne dont nous étions amis estoit tombée dans la fornication, nous devions luy donner la main et faire notre possible pour le relever; mais que s'il estoit tombé dans quelque erreur contre la foi, et qu'il ne voulust pas s'en corriger après les premières remonstrances, il falloit l'abandonner promptement et rompre toute amitié avec luy, de peur qu'en nous amusant à le vouloir retirer de ce gouffre, il ne nous y entraînast nous-mêmes." - Tillemont, Mém. Ecclés. tome xii. p. 367.

(2) "Habere jam non potest Deum patrem qui ecclesiam non habet matrem. Si potuit evadere quisquam qui extra arcam Noe fuit, at qui extra ecclesiam foris fuerit evadit ... hanc unitatem qui non tenet ... vitam non tenet at salutem ... esse martyr non potest qui in ecclasia non est. ... Cum Deo manere non possunt qui esse in ecclesia Dei unanimes noluerunt. Ardeant licet flammis et ignibus traditi, vel objecti bestiis animas suas ponunt, non erit illa fidei corona, sed poena perfidiae, nec religiosa virtutis exitus gloriosus sed desperationis interitus. Occidi talis potest, coronari non potest. Sic se Christianum esse profitetur quo modo et Christum diabolus saepe mentitur." - Cyprian, De Unit. Eccles.


in the arena the Catholic martyrs withdrew from the Montanists, lest they should be mingled with the heretics in death. (1) At a later period St. Augustine relates that when he was a Manichean, his mother for a time refused even to eat at the same table with her erring child. (2) When St. Ambrose not only defended the act of a Christian bishop, who had burnt down a synagogue of the Jews, but denounced as a deadly crime the decree of the Government which ordered it to be rebuilt; (3) when the same saint, in advocating the plunder of the vestal virgins, maintained the doctrine that it is criminal for a Christian State to grant any endowment to the ministers of any religion but his own, (4) which it has needed all the efforts of modern liberalism to efface from legislation, he was but following in the traces of those earlier Christians, who would not even wear a laurel crown, (5) or join in the most innocent civic festival, lest they should appear in some indirect way to be acquiescing in the Pagan worship. While the apologists were maintaining against the Pagan persecutors the duty of tolerance, the Sibylline books, which were the popular literature of the Christians, were filled with passionate anticipations of the violent destruction of the Pagan temples. (6) And no sooner had Christianity mounted the throne than the policy they foreshadowed became ascendant. The indifference or worldly sagacity of some of the rulers, and the imposing number of the Pagans, delayed, no doubt, the final consummation; but, from the time of Constantine, restrictive laws were put in force, the influence of the ecclesiastics was ceaselessly exerted in their favour, and no sagacious man could fail to anticipate the speedy and

(1) Eusebius, v. 16.

(2) Confess. iii. 11. She was afterwards permitted by a special revelation to sit at the same table with her son!

(3) Ep. xl.
(4) Ep. xviii.
(5) Tertull. De Corona.

(6) Milman's Hist. of Christianity, vol. ii. pp. 116-125. It is remarkable that the Serapeum of Alexandria was, in the Sibylline books, specially menaced with destruction.


absolute proscription of the Pagan worship. It is related of the philosopher Antoninus, the son of the Pagan prophetess Sospitra, that, standing one day with his disciples before that noble temple of Serapis, at Alexandria, which was one of the wonders of ancient art, and which was destined soon after to perish by the rude hands of the Christian monks, the prophetic spirit of his mother fell upon him. Like another prophet before another shrine, he appalled his hearers by the prediction of the approaching ruin. The time would come, he said, when the glorious edifice before them would be overthrown, the carved images would be defaced, the temples of the gods would be turned into the sepulchres of the dead, and a great darkness would fall upon mankind! (1)

And, besides the liberty of worship, the liberty of thought and of expression, which was the supreme attainment of Roman civilisation, was in peril. The new religion, unlike that which was disappearing, claimed to dictate the opinions as well as the actions of men, and its teachers stigmatised as an atrocious crime the free expression of every opinion on religious matters diverging from their own. Of all the forms of liberty, it was this which lasted the longest, and was the most dearly prized. Even after Constantine, the Pagans Libanius, Themistius, Symmachus, and Sallust enforced their views with a freedom that contrasts remarkably with the restraints imposed upon their worship, and the beautiful friendships of St. Basil and Libanius, of Synesius and Hypatia, are among the most touching episodes of their time. But though the traditions of Pagan freedom, and the true catholicism of Justin Martyr and Origen, lingered long, it was inevitable that error, being deemed criminal, should be made penal.

(1) Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists. Eunapius gives an extremely pathetic account of the downfall of this temple. There is a Christian account in Theodoret (v. 22). Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, was the leader of the monks. The Pagans, under the guidance of a philosopher named Olympus, made a desperate effort to defend their temple. The whole story is very finely told by Dean Milman. (Hist. of Christianity, vol. iii. pp. 68-72.)


The dogmatism of Athanasius and Augustine, the increasing power of the clergy, and the fanaticism of the monks, hastened the end. The suppression of all religions but one by Theodosius, the murder of Hypatia at Alexandria by the monks of Cyril, and the closing by Justinian of the schools of Athens, are the three events which mark the decisive overthrow of intellectual freedom. A thousand years had rolled away before that freedom was in part restored.

The considerations I have briefly enumerated should not in the smallest degree detract from the admiration due to the surpassing courage, to the pure, touching, and sacred virtues of the Christian martyrs; but they in some degree palliate the conduct of the persecutors, among whom must be included one emperor, who was probably, on the whole, the best and most humane sovereign who has ever sat upon a throne, and at least two others, who were considerably above the average of virtue. When, combined with the indifference to human suffering, the thirst for blood, which the spectacles of the amphitheatre had engendered, they assuredly make the persecutions abundantly explicable. They show that if it can be proved that Christian persecutions sprang from the doctrine of exclusive salvation, the fact that the Roman Pagans, who did not hold that doctrine, also persecuted, need not cause the slightest perplexity. That the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors, severe as they undoubtedly were, were not of such a continuous nature as wholly to counteract the vast moral, social, and intellectual agencies that were favourable to its spread, a few dates will show.

We have seen that when the Egyptian rites were introduced into Rome, they were met by prompt and energetic measures of repression; that these measures were again and again repeated, but that at last, when they proved ineffectual, the governors desisted from their opposition, and the new worship assumed a recognised place. The history of Christianity, in its relation to the Government, is the reverse of


this. Its first introduction into Rome appears to have been altogether unopposed. Tertullian asserts that Tiberius, on the ground of a report from Pontius Pilate, desired to enrol Christ among the Roman gods, but that the Senate rejected the proposal; but this assertion, which is altogether unsupported by trustworthy evidence, and is, intrinsically, extremely improbable, is now generally recognised as false. (1) An isolated passage of Suetonius states that in the time of Claudius "the Jews, being continually rioting, at the instigation of a certain Chrestus," (2) were expelled from the city; but no Christian writer speaks of his co-religionists being disturbed in this reign, while all, with a perfect unanimity, and with great emphasis, describe Nero as the first persecutor. His persecution began at the close of A.D. 64 (2) It was directed against Christians, not ostensibly on the ground of their religion, but because they were falsely accused of having set fire to Rome, and it is very doubtful whether it extended beyond the city. (4) It had also this peculiarity, that, being

(1) Apology, v. The overwhelming difficulties attending this assertion are well stated by Gibbon, ch. xvi. Traces of this fable may be found in Justin Martyr. The freedom of the Christian worship at Rome appears not only from the unanimity with which Christian writers date their troubles from Nero, but also from the express statement in Acts xxviii. 31.

(2) "Judaeos, impulsore Chresto, assidue tumultuantes, Roma expulit." - Sueton. Claud. xxv. This banishment of the Jews is mentioned in Acts xviii. 2, but is not there connected in any way with Christianity. A passage in Dion Cassius (lx. 6) is supposed to refer to the same transaction. Lactantius notices that the Pagans were accustomed to call Christus Chrestus, "Eum immutata litera Chrestum solent dicere." - Div. Inst. iv. 7.

(3) This persecution is fully described by Tacitus (Annal. xv. 44), and briefly noticed by Suetonius (Nero, xvi.).

(4) This has been a matter of very great controversy. Looking at the question apart from direct testimony, it appears improbable that a persecution directed against the Christians on the charge of having burnt Rome, should have extended to Christians who did not live near Rome. On the other hand, it has been argued that Tacitus speaks of them as "haud perinde in crimine incendii, quam odio humani generis convicti;" and it has been maintained that "hatred of the human race" was treated as a crime, and punished in the provinces. But this is, I think, extrensely far-fetched; and it is evident from the sequel that the Christians at Rome were burnt as incendiaries, and that it was the conviction that they were not guilty of that crime that extorted the pity which Tacitus notices. There is also no reference in Tacitus to any persecution beyond the walls. If we pass to the Christian evidence, a Spanish inscription referring to the Neronian persecution, which was once appealed to as decisive, is now unanimously admitted to be a forgery. In the fourth century, however, Sulp. Severus, (lib. ii.) and Orosius (Hist. vii. 7) declared that general laws condemnatory of Christianity were promulgated by Nero; but the testimony of credulous historians who wrote so long after the event is not of much value. Rossi, however, imagines that a fragment of an inscription found at Pompeii indicates a general law against Christians. See his Bulletino d'Archeologia Cristiana (Roma, Dec. 1865), which, however, should be compared with the very remarkable Compte rendu of M. Aubé, Acad. des Inscrip. et Belles-lettres, Juin 1866. These two papers contain an almost complete discussion of the persecutions of Nero and Domitian. Gibbon thinks it quite certain the persecution was confined to the city; Mosheim, (Eccl. Hist. i. p. 71) adopts the opposite view, and appeals to the passage in Tertullian (Apol. v.), in which he speaks of "leges istae ... quas Trajanus ex parte frustratus est, vitando inquiri Christianos," as implying the existence of special laws against the Christians. This passage, however, may merely refer to the general law against unauthorised religions, which Tertullian notices in this very chapter; and Pliny, in his famous letter, does not show any knowledge of the existence of special legislation about the Christians.


directed against the Christians not as Christians, but as incendiaries, it was impossible to escape from it by apostasy. Within the walls of Rome it raged with great fury. The Christians, who had been for many years (1) proselytising without restraint in the great confluence of nations, and amid the disintegration of old beliefs, had become a formidable body. They were, we learn from Tacitus, profoundly unpopular; but the hideous tortures to which Nero subjected them, and the conviction that, whatever other crimes they might have committed, they were not guilty of setting fire to the city, awoke general pity. Some of them, clad in skins of wild beasts, were torn by dogs. Others, arrayed in shirts of pitch, were burnt alive in

(1) Ecclesiastical historians maintain, but not on very strong evidence, that the Church of Rome was founded by St. Peter, A.D. 42 or 44. St. Paul came to Rome A.D. 61.


Nero's garden. (1) Others were affixed to crosses. Great multitudes perished. The deep impression the persecution made on the Christian mind is shown in the whole literature of the Sibyls, which arose soon after, in which Nero is usually the central figure, and by the belief, that lingered for centuries, that the tyrant was yet alive, and would return once more as the immediate precursor of Antichrist, to inflict the last great persecution upon the Church. (2)

Nero died A.D. 68. From that time, for at least twenty-seven years, the Church enjoyed absolute repose. There is no credible evidence whatever of the smallest interference with its freedom till the last year of the reign of Domitian; and a striking illustration of the fearlessness with which it exhibited itself to the world has been lately furnished in the discovery, near Rome, of a large and handsome porch leading to a Christian catacomb, built above ground between the reigns of Nero and Domitian, in the immediate neighbourhood of one of the principal highways. (3) The long reign of Domitian, though it may have been surpassed in ferocity, was never surpassed in the Roman annals in the skilfulness and the persistence of its tyranny. The Stoics and literary classes, who upheld the traditions of political freedom, and who had

(1) On this horrible punishment see Juvenal, Sat. i. 155-157.

(2) Lactantius, in the fourth century, speaks of this opinion as still held by some "madmen" (De Mort. Persec. cap. ii.); but Sulp. Severus (Hist. lib. ii.) speaks of it as a common notion, and he says that St. Martin, when asked about the end of the world, answered, "Neronem at Antichristum prius esse venturos: Neronem in occidentali plaga regibus subactis decem, in, peraturum, persecutionem autem ab eo hactenus exercendam ut idola gentium coli cogat." - Dial. ii. Among the Pagans, the notion that Nero was yet alive lingered long, and twenty years after his death an adventurer pretending to be Nero was enthusiastically received by the Parthians (Sueton. Nero, lvii.)

(3) See the full description of it in Rossi's Bulletino d'Archeol. Christ. Dec. 1865. Eusebius (iii. 17) and Tertullian (Apol. v.) have expressly noticed the very remarkable fact that Vespasian, who was a bitter enemy to the Jews, and who exiled all the leading Stoical philosophers except Musonius, never troubled the Christians.


already suffered much at the hands of Vespasian, were persecuted with relentless animosity. Metius Modestus, Arulenus Rusticus, Senecio, Helvidius, Dion Chrysostom, the younger Priscus, Junius Mauricus, Artemidorus, Euphrates, Epictetus, Arria, Fannia, and Gratilla were either killed or banished. (1) No measures, however, appear to have been taken against the Christians till A.D. 95, when a short and apparently not very severe persecution, concerning which our information is both scanty and conflicting, was directed against them. Of the special cause that produced it we are left in much doubt. Eusebius mentions, on the not very trustworthy authority of Hegesippus, that the emperor, having heard of the existence of the grandchildren of Judas, the brother of Christ, ordered them to be brought before him, as being of the family of David, and therefore possible pretenders to the throne; but on finding that they were simple peasants, and that the promised kingdom of which they spoke was a spiritual one, he dismissed them in peace, and arrested the persecution he had begun. (2) A Pagan historian states that, the finances of the Empire being exhausted by lavish expenditure in public games, Domitian, in order to replenish his exchequer, resorted to a severe and special taxation of the Jews; that some of these, in order to evade the impost, concealed their worship, while others, who are supposed to have been Christians, are described as following the Jewish rites without being professed Jews. (3) Perhaps, however, the simplest explanation is the truest, and the persecution may be ascribed to the antipathy which a despot like Domitian

(1) See a pathetic letter of Pliny, lib. iii. Ep.. xi. and also lib. i. Ep. v. and the Agricola of Tacitus.

(2) Euseb. iii. 20.

(3) "Praeter caeteros Judaicus fiscus acerbissime actus est. Ad quem deferebantur, qui vel improfessi Judaicam intra urbem viverent vitam, vel dissimulata origine imposita genti tributa nor pependissent." - Sueton. Domit. xii. Suetonius adds that, when a young man, he saw an old man of ninety examined before a large assembly to ascertain whether he was circumcised.


must necessarily have felt to an institution which, though it did not, like Stoicism, resist his policy, at least exercised a vast influence altogether removed from his control. St. John, who was then a very old man, is said to have been at this time exiled to Patmos. Flavius Clemens, a consul, and a relative of the emperor, was put to death. His wife, or, according to another account, his niece Domitilla, was banished, according to one account, to the island of Pontia, according to another, to the island of Pandataria, and many others were compelled to accompany her into exile. (1) Numbers, we are told, "accused of conversion to impiety or Jewish rites," were condemned. Some were killed, and others deprived of their offices. (2) Of the cessation of the persecution there are two different versions. Tertullian (3) and Eusebius (4) say that the tyrant speedily revoked his edict, and restored those who had been banished; but according to Lactantius these measures were not taken till after the death of Domitian, (5) and

(1) Euseb. iii. 18.

(2) See the accounts of these transactions in Xiphilin, the abbreviator of Dion Cassius (lxvii. 14); Euseb. iii. 17-18. Suetonius notices (Domit. xv.) that Flavius Clemens (whom he calls a man "contemptissimu inertia") was killed "ex tenuissima suspicione." The language of Xiphilin, who says he was killed for "impiety and Jewish rites;" the express assertion of Eusebius, that it was for Christianity; and the declaration of Tertullian, that Christians were persecuted at the close of this reign, leave, I think, little doubt that this execution was connected with Christianity, though some writers have questioned it. At the same time, it is very probable, as Mr. Merivale thinks (Hist. of Rome, vol. vii. pp. 381-384), that though the pretext of the execution might have been religious the real motive was political jealousy. Domitian had already put to death the brother of Flavius Clemens on the charge of treason. His sons had been recognised as successors to the throne, and at the time of his execution another leading noble named Glabrio was accused of having fought in the arena. Some ecclesiastical historians have imagined that there may have been two Domitillas - the wife and niece of Flavius Clemens. The islands of Pontia and Pandataria were close to one another.

(3) "Tentaverat et Domitianus, portio Neronis de crudelitate; sed qua et homo facile coeptum repressit, restitutis etiam quos relegaverat." (Apol. 5.) It will be observed that Tertullian makes no mention of any punishment more severe than exile.

(4) Euseb. iii. 20.
(5) De Mort. Persec. iii.


this latter statement is corroborated by the assertion of Dion Cassius, that Nerva, upon his accession, "absolved those who were accused of impiety, and recalled the exiles." (1)

When we consider the very short time during which this persecution lasted, and the very slight notice that was taken of it, we may fairly, I think, conclude that it was not of a nature to check in any appreciable degree a strong religious movement like that of Christianity. The assassination of Domitian introduces us to the golden age of the Roman Empire. In the eyes of the Pagan historian, the period from the accession of Nerva, in A.D. 96, to the death of Marcus Aurelius, in AD. 180, is memorable as a period of uniform good government, of rapidly advancing humanity, of great legislative reforms, and of a peace which was very rarely seriously broken. To the Christian historian it is still more remarkable, as one of the moat critical periods in the history of his faith. The Church entered into it considerable indeed, as a sect, but not large enough to be reckoned an important power in the Empire. It emerged from it so increased in its numbers, and so extended in its ramifications, that it might fairly defy the most formidable assaults. It remains, therefore, to be seen whether the opposition against which, during these eighty-four years, it had so successfully struggled was of such a kind and intensity that the triumph must be regarded as a miracle.

Nearly at the close of this period, during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, St. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, wrote a letter of expostulation to the emperor, in which he explicitly asserts that in Asia the persecution of the pious was an event which "had never before occurred," and was the result of "new and strange decrees;" that the ancestors of the emperor were accustomed to honour the Christian faith

(1) Xiphilin, lxviii. 1. An annotator to Mosheim conjectures that the edict may have been issued just before the death of the emperor, but not acted on till after it.


"like other religions;" and that "Nero and Domitian alone" had been hostile to it. (1) Rather more than twenty years later, Tertullian asserted, in language equally distinct and emphatic, that the two persecutors of the Christians were Nero and Domitian, and that it would be impossible to name a single good sovereign who had molested them. Marcus Aurelius himself, Tertullian refuses to number among the persecutors, and, even relying upon a letter which was falsely imputed to him, enrols him among the protectors of the Church. (2) About a century later, Lactantius, reviewing the history of the persecutions, declared that the good sovereigns who followed Domitian abstained from persecuting, and passes at once from the persecution of Domitian to that of Decius. Having noticed the measures of the former emperor, he proceeds: "The acts of the tyrant being revoked, the Church was not only restored to its former state, but shone forth with a greater splendour and luxuriance; and a period following in which many good sovereigns wielded the Imperial sceptre, it suffered no assaults from its enemies, but stretched out its hands to the east and to the west; ... but at last the long peace was broken. After many years, that hateful monster Decius arose, who troubled the Church." (3)

We have here three separate passages, from which we may conclusively infer that the normal and habitual condition of the Christians during the eighty-four years we are considering, and, if we accept the last two passages, during a much longer period, was a condition of peace, but that peace was not absolutely unbroken. The Christian Church, which was at first regarded simply as a branch of Judaism, had begun to be recognised as a separate body, and the Roman law professedly tolerated only those religions which were

(1) Euseb. iv. 26. The whole of this apology has been recently recovered, and translated into Latin by M. Renan in the Spicilegium Solesmense.

(2) Apol. 5.
(3) Lactant. De Mort. Persec. 3-4.


expressly authorised. It is indeed true that with the extension of the Empire, and especially of the city, the theory, or at least the practice, of religious legislation had been profoundly modified. First of all, certain religions, of which the Jewish was one, were officially recognised, and then many others, without being expressly authorised, were tolerated. In this manner, all attempts to resist the torrent of Oriental superstitions proving vain, the legislator had desisted from his efforts, and every form of wild superstition was practised with publicity and impunity. Still the laws forbidding them were unrevoked, although they were suffered to remain for the most part obsolete, or were at least only put in action on the occasion of some special scandal, or of some real or apprehended political danger. The municipal and provincial independence under the Empire was, however, so large, that very much depended on the character of the local governor; and it continually happened that in one province the Christians were unmolested or favoured, while in the adjoining province they were severely persecuted.

As we have already seen, the Christians had for many reasons become profoundly obnoxious to the people. They shared the unpopularity of the Jews, with whom they were confounded, while the general credence given to the calumnies about the crimes said to have been perpetrated at their secret meetings, their abstinence from public amusements, and the belief that their hostility to the gods was the cause of every physical calamity, were special causes of antipathy. The history of the period of the Antonines continually manifests the desire of the populace to persecute, restrained by the humanity of the rulers. In the short reign of Nerva there appears to have been no persecution, and our knowledge of the official proceedings with reference to the religion is comprised in two sentences of a Pagan historian, who tells us that the emperor "absolved those who had been convicted


of impiety," and "permitted no one to be convicted of impiety or Jewish rites." Under Trajan, however, some serious though purely local disturbances took place. The emperor himself, though one of the most sagacious, and in most respects humane of Roman sovereigns, was nervously jealous of any societies or associations among his subjects, and had propounded a special edict against them; but the persecution of the Christians appears to have been not so much political as popular. If we may believe Eusebius, local persecutions, apparently of the nature of riots, but sometimes countenanced by provincial governors, broke out in several quarters of the Empire. In Bithynia, Pliny the Younger was the governor, and he wrote a very famous letter to Trajan, in which he professed himself absolutely ignorant of the proceedings to be taken against the Christians, who had already so multiplied that the temples were deserted, and who were arraigned in great numbers before his tribunal, lie had, he says, released those who consented to burn incense before the image of the emperor, and to curse Christ, but had caused those to be executed who persisted in their refusal, and who were not Roman citizens, "not doubting that a pertinacious obstinacy deserved punishment." He had questioned the prisoners as to the nature of their faith, and had not hesitated to seek revelations by torturing two maid-servants, but had "discovered nothing but a base and immoderate superstition." He had asked the nature of their secret services, and had been told that they assembled on a certain day before dawn to sing a hymn to Christ as to a god; that they made a vow to abstain from every crime, and that they then, before parting, partook together of a harmless feast, which, however, they had given up since the decree against associations. To this letter Trajan answered that Christians, if brought before the tribunals and convicted, should be punished, but that they should not be sought for; that, if they consented to sacrifice, no inquisition should be made into their past lives,


and that no anonymous accusations should be received against them. (1) In this reign there are two authentic instances of martyrdom? (2) Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, a man, it is said, one hundred and twenty years old, having been accused by the heretics, was tortured during several days, and at last crucified. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, was arrested, brought to Rome, and, by the order of Trajan himself, thrown to wild beasts. Of the cause of this last act of severity we are left in ignorance, but it has been noticed that about this time Antioch had been the scene of one of those violent earthquakes which so frequently produced an outburst of religious excitement, (3) and the character of Ignatius, who was passionately desirous of martyrdom, may have very probably led him to some act of exceptional zeal. The letters of the martyr prove that at Rome the faith was openly and fearlessly professed; the Government during the nineteen years of this reign never appears to have taken any initiative against the Christians, and, in spite of occasional local tumults, there was nothing resembling a general persecution.

During the two following reigns, the Government was more decidedly favourable to the Christians. Hadrian, having heard that the populace at the public games frequently called for their execution, issued an edict in which he commanded that none should be punished simply in obedience to the outcries against them, or without a formal trial and a conviction of some offence against the law, and he ordered that all false accusers should be punished. (4) His disposition towards the Christians was so pacific as to give rise to a legend that he intended to

(1) Pliny, Ep. x. 97-98.
(2) Euseb. lib. iii.

(3) There is a description of this earthquake in Merivale's Hist. of the Romans, vol. viii. pp. 156-156. Orosius (Hist. vii. 12) thought it was a judgment on account of the persecution of the Christians.

(4) Eusebius, iv. 8-9. See, too, Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 68-69.


enrol Christ among the gods; (1) but it is probable that, although curious on religious matters, he regarded Christianity with the indifference of a Roman freethinker; and a letter is ascribed to him in which he confounded it with the worship of Serapis. (2) As far as the Government were concerned, the Christians appear to have been entirely unmolested; but many of them suffered dreadful tortures at the hands of the Jewish insurgents, who in this reign, with a desperate but ill-fated heroism, made one last effort to regain their freedom. (3) The mutual hostility exhibited at this time by the Jews and Christians contributed to separate them in the eyes of the Pagans, and it is said that when Hadrian forbade the Jews ever again to enter Jerusalem, he recognised the distinction by granting a full permission to the Christians. (4)

Antoninus, who succeeded Hadrian, made new efforts to restrain the passions of the people against the Christians. He issued an edict commanding that they should not be molested, and when, as a consequence of some earthquakes in Asia Minor, the popular anger was fiercely roused, he commanded that their accusers should be punished. (5) If we except these riots, the twenty-three years of his reign appear to have been years of absolute peace, which seems also to have continued during several years of the reign of Marcus

(1) This is mentioned incidentally by Lampridius in his Life of A. Severus.
(2)See this very curious letter in Vopiscus, Saturninus
(3) Justin Mart. Apol.. i. 31. Eusebius quotes a passage from Hegesippus to the same effect. (iv. 8.)

(4) "Praecepitque ne cui Judaeo introeundi Hierosolymam esset licentia, Christianis tantum civitate permissa." - Oros. vii. 13.

(5) A letter which Eusebius gives at full (iv. 13), and ascribes to Antoninus Pius, has created a good deal of controversy. Justin Mart. (Apol. i. 71) and Tertullian (Apol. 5) ascribe it to Marcus Aurelius. It is now generally believed to be a forgery by a Christian hand, being more like a Christian apology than the letter of a Pagan emperor. St. Melito, however, writing to Marcus Aurelius, expressly states that Antoninus had written a letter forbidding the persecution of Christians. (Euseb. iv. 26.)


Aurelius; but at last persecuting edicts, of the exact nature of which we have no knowledge, were issued. Of the reasons which induced one of the best men who have ever reigned to persecute the Christians, we know little, or nothing. That it was not any ferocity of disposition or any impatience of resistance may be confidently asserted of one whose only fault was a somewhat excessive gentleness - who, on the death of his wife, asked the Senate, as a single favour, to console him by sparing the lives of those who had rebelled against him. That it was not, as has been strangely urged, a religious fanaticism resembling that which led St. Lewis (*) to persecute, is equally plain. St. Lewis persecuted because he believed that to reject his religious opinions was a heinous crime, and that heresy was the path to hell. Marcus Aurelius had no such belief, and he, the first Roman emperor who made the Stoical philosophy his religion and his comfort, was also the first emperor who endowed the professors of the philosophies that were most hostile to his own. The fact that the Christian Church, existing as a State within a State, with government, ideals, enthusiasms, and hopes wholly different from those of the nation, was incompatible with the existing system of the Empire, had become more evident as the Church increased. The accusations of cannibalism and incestuous impurity had acquired a greater consistency, and the latter are said to have been justly applicable to the Carpocratian heretics, who had recently arisen. The Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius may have revolted from the practices of exorcism or the appeals to the terrors of another world, and the philosophers who surrounded him probably stimulated his hostility, for his master and friend Fronto had written a book against Christianity, (1) while Justin Martyr is said to have perished by the machinations of the Cynic Crescens. (2) It must be added, too, that,

(*) Lecky here speaks of St. Louis IX., king of France (1226-70) [NF]
(1) It is alluded to by Minucius Felix.
(2) Eusebius, iv. 16.


while it is impossible to acquit the emperor of having issued severe edicts against the Christians, (1) the atrocious details of the persecutions in his reign were due to the ferocity of the populace and the weakness of the governors in distant provinces; and it is inconceivable that, if he had been a very bitter enemy of the Christians, Tertullian, writing little more than twenty years later, should have been so ignorant of the fact as to represent him as one of the most conspicuous of their protectors.

But, whatever may be thought on these points, there can, unhappily, be no question that in this reign Rome was stained by the blood of Justin Martyr, the first philosopher, and one of the purest and gentlest natures in the Church, and that persecution was widely extended. In two far distant quarters, at Smyrna and at Lyons, it far exceeded in atrocity any that Christianity had endured since Nero, and in each case a heroism of the most transcendent order was displayed by the martyrs. The persecution at Smyrna, in which St. Polycarp and many others most nobly died, took place on the occasion of the public games, and we may trace the influence of the Jews in stimulating it? The persecution at Lyons, which was one of the most atrocious in the whole compass of ecclesiastical history, and which has supplied the martyrology with some of its grandest and most pathetic figures, derived its worst features from a combination of the fury of the populace and of the subserviency of the governor. (3) Certain servants of the Christians, terrified by the prospect of torture, accused their masters of all the crimes which popular report attributed to them, of incest, of infanticide, of cannibalism, of hideous impurity. A fearful outburst of

(1) St. Melito expressly states that the edicts of Marcus Aurelius produced the Asiatic persecution.

(2) Eusebius, iv. 15.

(3) See the most touching and horrible description of this persecution in a letter written by the Christians of Lyons, in Eusebius, v. 1.


ferocity ensued. Tortures almost too horrible to recount were for hours and even days applied to the bodies of old men and of weak women, who displayed amid their agonies a nobler courage than has ever shone upon a battle-field, and whose memories are immortal among mankind. Blandina and Pothinus wrote in blood the first page of the glorious history of the Church of France. (1) But although, during the closing years of Marcus Aurelius, severe persecutions took place in three or four provinces, there was no general and organised effort to suppress Christianity throughout the Empire. (2)

We may next consider, as a single period, the space of time that elapsed from the death of Marcus Aurelius, in A.D. 180, to the accession of Decius, A.D. 249. During all this time Christianity was a great and powerful body, exercising an important influence, and during a great part of it Christians filled high civil and military positions. The hostility manifested towards them began now to assume a more political complexion than it had previously done,

(1) Sulpicius Severus (who was himself a Gaul) says of their martyrdom (H. E., lib. ii.), "Tum primum intra Gallias Martyria visa, serius trans Alpes Dei religione suscepta." Tradition ascribes Gallic Christianity to the apostles, but the evidence of inscriptions appears to confirm the account of Severus. It is at least certain that Christianity did not acquire a great extension till later. The earliest Christian inscriptions found are (one in each year) of AD. 334, 347, 377, 405, and 409. They do not become common till the middle of the fifth century. See a full discussion of this in the preface of M. Le Blant's admirable and indeed exhaustive work, Inscriptions chrétiennes de to Gaule.

(2) It was alleged among the Christians, that towards the close of his reign Marcus Aurelius issued an edict protecting the Christians, on account of a Christian legion having, in Germany, in a moment of great distress, procured a shower of rain by their prayers. (Tert. Apol. 5.) The shower is mentioned by Pagan as well as Christian writers, and is portrayed on the column of Antoninus. It was "ascribed to the incantations of an Egyptian magician, to the prayers of a legion of Christians, or to the favour of Jove towards the best of mortals, according to the various prejudices of different observers." - Merivale's Hist. of Rome, vol. viii. p. 338.


except perhaps in the later years of Marcus Aurelius. The existence of a vast and rapidly increasing corporation, very alien to the system of the Empire, confronted every ruler. Emperors like Commodus or Heliogabalus were usually too immersed in selfish pleasures to have any distinct policy; but sagacious sovereigns, sincerely desiring the well-being of the Empire, either, like Marcus Aurelius and Diocletian, endeavoured to repress the rising creed, or, like Alexander Severus, and at last Constantine, actively encouraged it. The measures Marcus Aurelius had taken against Christianity were arrested under Commodus, whose favourite mistress, Marcia, supplies one of the very few recorded instances of female influence, which has been the cause of so much persecution, being exerted in behalf of toleration; (1) yet a Christian philosopher named Apollonius, and at the same time, by a curious retribution, his accuser, were in this reign executed at Rome. (2) During the sixty-nine years we are considering, the general peace of the Church was only twice broken. The first occasion was in the reign of Septimus Severus, who was for some time very favourable to the Christians, but who, in A.D. 202 or 203, issued an edict, forbidding any Pagan to join the Christian or Jewish faith; (3) and this edict was followed by a sanguinary persecu-

(1) Xiphilin, lxxii. 4. The most atrocious of the Pagan persecutions was attributed, as we shall see, to the mother of Galerius, and in Christian times the Spanish Inquisition was founded by Isabella the Catholic; the massacre of St. Bartholomew was chiefly due to Catherine of Medicis, and the most horrible English persecution to Mary Tudor.

(2) Euseb. v. 21. The accuser, we learn from St. Jerome, was a slave. On the law condemning slaves who accused their masters, compare Pressensé, Hist. des Trois premiers Siècles (2me série), tome i. pp. 182-183, and Jeremie's Church History of Second and Third Centuries, p. 29. Apollonius was of senatorial rank. It is said that some other martyrs died at the same time.

(3) "Judaeos fieri sub gravi poena vetuit. Idem etiam de Christianis sanxit." - Spartian. S. Severus. The persecution is described by Eusebius, lib. vi. Tertullian says Severus was favourable to the Christians, a Christian named Proculus (whom he, in consequence, retained in the palace till his death) having cured him of an illness by application of oil (Ad Scapul. 4.


lion in Africa and Syria, in which the father of Origen, and also St. Felicitas and St. Perpetua, perished. This persecution does not appear to have extended to the West, and was apparently rather the work of provincial governors, who interpreted the Imperial edict as a sign of hostility to the Christians, than the direct act of the emperor, (1) whose decree applied only to Christians actively proselytising. It is worthy of notice that Origen observed that previous to this time the number of Christian martyrs had been very small. (2) The second persecution was occasioned by the murder of Alexander Severus by Maximinus. The usurper pursued with great bitterness the leading courtiers of the deceased emperor, among whom were some Christian bishops, (3) and about the same time severe earthquakes in Pontus and Cappadocia produced the customary popular ebullitions. But with these exceptions the Christians were undisturbed. Caracalla, Macrinus, and Heliogabalus took no measures against them, while Alexander Severus, who reigned for thirteen years, warmly and steadily supported them. A Pagan historian assures us that this emperor intended to build temples in honour of Christ, but was dissuaded by the priests, who urged that all the other temples would be deserted. He venerated in his private oratory the statues of Apollonius of Tyana, Abraham, Orpheus, and Christ. He decreed that the provincial governors should not be appointed till the people had the opportunity of declaring any crime they had committed, borrowing this rule avowedly from the pro

(1) "Of the persecution under Severus there are few, if any, traces in the West. It is confined to Syria, perhaps to Cappadocia, to Egypt, and to Africa, and in the latter provinces appears as the act of hostile governors proceeding upon the existing laws, rather than the consequence of any recent edict of the emperor." - Milman's Hist. of Christianity, vol. ii. pp. 156-157.

(2) Adv. Cels. iii. See Gibbon, ch. xvi.
(3) Eusebius, vi. 28.


cedure of the Jews and Christians in electing their clergy; he ordered the precept "Do not unto others what you would not that they should do unto you" to be engraven on the palace and other public buildings, and he decided a dispute concerning a piece of ground which the Christians had occupied, and which the owners of certain eating-houses claimed, in favour of the former, on the ground that the worship of a god should be most considered. (1) Philip the Arab, who reigned during the last five years of the period we are considering, was so favourable to the Christians that he was believed, though on no trustworthy evidence, to have been baptised.

We have now reviewed the history of the persecutions to the year A.D. 249, or about two hundred years after the planting of Christianity in Rome. We have seen that, although during that period much suffering was occasionally endured, and much heroism displayed, by the Christians, there was, with the very doubtful exception of the Neronian persecution, no single attempt made to suppress Christianity throughout the Empire. Local persecutions of great severity had taken place at Smyrna and Lyons, under Marcus Aurelius; in Africa and some Asiatic provinces, under Severus; popular tumults, arising in the excitement of the public games, or produced by some earthquake or inundation, or by some calumnious accusation, were not unfrequent; but there was at no time that continuous, organised, and universal persecution by which, in later periods, ecclesiastical tribunals have again and again suppressed opinions repugnant to their own; and there was no part of the Empire in which whole generations did not pass away absolutely undisturbed. No martyr had fallen in Gaul or in great part of Asia Minor till Marcus Aurelius. In Italy, after the death of Nero

(1) Lampridius, A. Severus. The historian adds, "Judaeis privilegia reservavit. Christianos esse passus est."


with the exception of some slight troubles under Domitian and Maximinus, probably due to causes altogether distinct from religion, there were, during the whole period we are considering, only a few isolated instances of martyrdom. The bishops, as the leaders of the Church, were the special objects of hostility, and several in different parts of the world had fallen; but it is extremely questionable whether any Roman bishop perished after the apostolic age, till Fabianus was martyred under Decius. (1) If Christianity was not formally authorised, it was, like many other religions in a similar position, generally acquiesced in, and, during a great part of the time we have reviewed, its professors appear to have found no obstacles to their preferment in the Court or in the army. The emperors were for the most part indifferent or favourable to them. The priests in the Pagan society had but little influence, and do not appear to have taken any prominent part in the persecution till near the time of Diocletian. With the single exception of the Jews, no class held that doctrine of the criminality of error which has been the parent of most modern persecutions; and although the belief that great calamities were the result of neglecting or insulting the gods furnished the Pagans with a religious motive for persecution, this motive only acted on the occasion of some rare and exceptional catastrophe. (2) In Christian times, the first objects

(1) Compare Milman's History of Early Christianity (1867), vol. i. p. 188, and his History of Latin Christianity (1867), vol. i. pp. 26-59. There are only two cases of alleged martyrdom before this time that can excite any reasonable doubt. Irenaeus distinctly asserts that Telesphorus was martyred; but his martyrdom is put in the beginning of the reign of Antoninus Pius (he had assumed the mitre near the end of the reign of Hadrian), and Antoninus is represented, by the general voice of the Church, as perfectly free from the stain of persecution. A tradition, which is in itself sufficiently probable, states that Pontianus, having been exiled by Maximinus, was killed in banishment.

(2) Tacitus has a very ingenious remark on this subject, which illustrates happily the half-scepticism of the Empire. After recounting a number of prodigies that were said to have taken place in the reign of Otho, he remarks that these were things habitually noticed in the ages of ignorance, but now only noticed in periods of terror. "Rudibus saeculis etiam in pace observata, qua nunc tantum in metu audiuntur." - Hist. i. 86.


of the persecutor are to control education, to prevent the publication of any heterodox works, to institute such a minute police inspection as to render impossible the celebration of the worship he desires to suppress. But nothing of this kind was attempted, or indeed was possible, in the period we are considering. With the exception of the body-guard of the emperor, almost the whole army, which was of extremely moderate dimensions, was massed along the vast frontier of the Empire. The police force was of the scantiest kind, sufficient only to keep common order in the streets. The Government had done something to encourage, but absolutely nothing to control, education, and parents or societies were at perfect liberty to educate the young as they pleased. The expansion of literature, by reason of the facilities which slavery gave to transcription, was very great, and it was for the most part entirely uncontrolled. (1) Augustus, it is true, had caused some volumes of forged prophecies to he burnt,(2) and, under the tyranny of Tiberius and Domitian, political writers and historians who eulogised tyrannicide, or vehemently opposed the Empire, were persecuted; but the extreme indignation these acts elicited attests their rarity, and, on matters unconnected with polities, the liberty of

(1) M. de Champagny has devoted an extremely beautiful chapter (Les Antonins, tome ii. pp. 179-200) to the liberty of the Roman Empire. See, too, the fifty-fourth chapter of Mr. Merivale's History. It is the custom of some of the apologists for modern Caesarism to defend it by pointing to the Roman Empire as the happiest period in human history. No apology can be more unfortunate. The first task of a modern despot is to centralise to the highest point, to bring every department of thought and action under a system of police regulation, and, above all, to impose his shackling tyranny upon the human mind. The very perfection of the Roman Empire was, that the municipal and personal liberty it admitted had never been surpassed, and the intellectual liberty had never been equalled.

(2) Sueton. Aug. xxxi. It appears from a passage in Livy (xxxix. 16) that books of oracles had been sometimes burnt in the Republic.


literature was absolute. (1) In a word, the Church proselytised in a society in which toleration was the rule, and at a time when municipal, provincial, and personal independence bad reached the highest point, when the ruling classes were for the most part absolutely indifferent to religious opinions, and when an unprecedented concourse of influences facilitated its progress.

When we reflect that these were the circumstances of the Church till the middle of the third century, we may readily

(1) Tacitus has given us a very remarkable account of the trial of Cremutius Cordus, under Tiberius, for having published a history in which he had praised Brutus and called Cassius the last of Romans. (Annal. iv. 34-35.) He expressly terms this "novo ac tunc primum audito crimine," and he puts a speech in the mouth of the accused, describing the liberty previously accorded to writers. Cordus avoided execution by suicide. His daughter, Marcia, preserved some copies of his work, and published it in the reign and with the approbation of Caligula. (Senec. Ad Marc. 1; Suet. Calig. 16.) There are, however, some traces of an earlier persecution of letters. Under the sanction of a law of the decemvirs against libellers, Augustus exiled the satiric writer Cassius Severus, and he also destroyed the works of an historian named Labienus, on account of their seditious sentiments. These writings were republished with those of Cordus. Generally, however, Augustus was very magnanimous in his dealings with his assailants. He refused the request of Tiberius to punish them (Suet. Aug. 51), and only excluded from his palace Timagenes, who bitterly satirised both him and the empress, and proclaimed himself everywhere the enemy of the emperor. (Senec. De Ira, iii. 23.)
A similar magnanimity was shown by most of the other emperors; among others, by Nero. (Suet. Nero, 39.) Under Vespasian, however, a poet, named Maternus, was obliged to retouch a tragedy on Cato (Tacit. De Or. 2-3), and Domitian allowed no writings opposed to his policy, (Tacit. Agric.) But no attempt appears to have been made in the Empire to control religious writings till the persecution of Diocletian, who ordered the Scriptures to be burnt. The example was speedily followed by the Christian emperors. The writings of Arius were burnt in A.D. 321, those of Porphyry in A.D. 388. Pope Gelasius, in A.D. 496, drew up a list of books which should not be read, and all liberty of publication speedily became extinct. See on this subject Peignot, Essai historique sur la liberté, d'Écrire; Villemaio, Études de Littér. ancienne; Sir C. Lewis on the Credibility of Roman Hist. vol. i. p. 52; Nadal, Mémoirs sur la liberté qu'avoient les soldats romaine de dire des vers satyriques contre ceux qui triumphoient. (Paris 1725)


perceive the absurdity of maintaining that Christianity was propagated in the face of such a fierce and continuous persecution that no opinions could have survived it without a miracle, or of arguing from the history of the early Church that persecution never has any real efficacy in suppressing truth. When, in addition to the circumstances under which it operated, we consider the unexampled means both of attraction and of intimidation that were possessed by the Church, we can have no difficulty in understanding that it should have acquired a magnitude that would enable it to defy the far more serious assaults it was still destined to endure. That it had acquired this extension we have abundant evidence, The language I have quoted from Lactantius is but a feeble echo of the emphatic statements of writers before the Decian persecution. (1) "There is no race of men, whether Greek or barbarian," said Justin Martyr, "among whom prayers and thanks are not offered up in the name of the crucified." (2) "We are but of yesterday," cried Tertullian, "and we fill all your cities, islands, forts, councils, even the camps themselves, the tribes, the decuries, the palaces, the senate, and the forum." (3) Eusebius has preserved a letter of Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, containing a catalogue of the officers of his Church at the time of the Decian persecution. It consisted of one bishop, forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven subdeacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers, and janitors. The Church also supported more than fifteen hundred widows, and poor or suffering persons. (4)

The Decian persecution, which broke out in AD. 249, and was probably begun in hopes of restoring the Empire to its ancient discipline, and eliminating from it all extraneous

(1) See a collection of passages on this point in Pressensé, Hist. des Trois premiers Siécles (2me série), tome i. pp. 3-4.

(2) Trypho.
(3) Apol. xxxvii.
(4) Euseb. vi. 43.


and unpatriotic influences, (1) is the first example of a deliberate attempt, supported by the whole machinery of provincial government, and extending over the entire surface of the Empire, to extirpate Christianity from the world. It would be difficult to find language too strong to paint its horrors. The ferocious instincts of the populace, that were long repressed, burst out anew, and they were not only permitted, but encouraged by the rulers. Far worse than the deaths which menaced those who shrank from the idolatrous sacrifices, were the hideous and prolonged tortures by which the magistrates often sought to subdue the constancy of the martyr, the nameless outrages that were sometimes inflicted on the Christian virgin. (2) The Church, enervated by a long peace, and deeply infected with the vices of the age, tottered beneath the blow. It had long since arrived at the period when men were Christians not by conviction, but through family relationship; when the more opulent Christians vied in luxury with the Pagans among whom they mixed, and when even the bishops were, in many instances, worldly

(1) Eusebius, it is true, ascribes this persecution (vi. 39) to the hatred Decius bore to his predecessor Philip, who was very friendly to the Christians. But although such a motive might account for a persecution like that of Maximin, which was directed chiefly against the bishops who had been about the Court of Severus, it is insufficient to account for a persecution so general and so severe as that of Decius. It is remarkable that this emperor is uniformly represented by the Pagan historians as an eminently wise and humane sovereign. See Dodwell, De Paucitate Martyrum, lii.

(2) St. Cyprian (Ep. vii.) and, at a later period, St. Jerome (Vit. Pauli), both notice that during this persecution the desire of the persecutors was to subdue the constancy of the Christians by torture, without gratifying their desire for martyrdom. The consignment of Christian virgins to houses of ill fame was one of the most common incidents in the later acts of martyrs which were invented in the middle ages. Unhappily, however, it must be acknowledged that there are some undoubted traces of it at an earlier date. Tertullian, in a famous passage, speaks of the cry "Ad Lenonem" as substituted for that of "Ad Leonem;" and St. Ambrose recounts some strange stories on this subject in his treatise De Virginibus.


aspirants after civil offices. It is not therefore, surprising that the defection was very large. The Pagans marked with triumphant ridicule, and the Fathers with a burning indignation, the thousands who thronged to the altars at the very commencement of persecution, the sudden collapse of the most illustrious churches, the eagerness with which the offer of provincial governors to furnish certificates of apostasy, without exacting a compliance with the conditions which those certificates attested, was accepted by multitudes. (1) The question whether those who abandoned the faith should afterwards be readmitted to communion, became the chief question that divided the Novatians, and one of the questions that divided the Montanists from the Catholics, while the pretensions of the confessors to furnish indulgences, remitting the penances imposed by the bishops, led to a conflict which contributed very largely to establish the undisputed ascendancy of the episcopacy. But the Decian persecution, though it exhibits the Church in a somewhat less noble attitude than the persecutions which preceded and which followed it, was adorned by many examples of extreme courage and devotion, displayed in not a few cases by those who were physically among the frailest of mankind. It was of a kind eminently fitted to crush the Church. Had it taken place at an earlier period, had it been continued for a long succession of years, Christianity, without a miracle, must have perished. But the Decian persecution fell upon a Church which had existed for two centuries, and it lasted less than two years. (2) Its

(1) St. Cyprian has drawn a very highly coloured picture of this general corruption, and of the apostasy it produced, in his treaties De Lapsis, a most interesting picture of the society of his time. See, too, the Life of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, by Greg. of Nyssa.

(2) "La persecution de Dèce ne dura qu'environ un an dans sa grande violence. Car S. Cyprien, dans les lettres écrites en 251, dès devant Pasque, et mesme dans quelques-unes écrites apparemment dès la fin de 250, témoigne que son église juissoit déjà de quelque paix, mais d'une paix encore pen affermie, en sorte que le moindre accident eust pu renouveler le trouble et la persecution. Il semble mesme ques l'on n'eust pas encore la liberté d'y tenir les assemblées, et néanmoins il paroist que tons les confesseurs prisonniers à Carthage y avoient esté mis en liberté dès ce temps-là" - Tillemont, Mém. d'Hist. ecclésiastique, tome iii. p. 324.


intensity varied much in different provinces. In Alexandria and the neighbouring towns, where a popular tumult had anticipated the menaces of the Government, it was extremely horrible. (1) In Carthage, at first, the proconsul being absent, no capital sentence was passed, but on the arrival of that functionary the penalty of death, accompanied by dreadful tortures, was substituted for that of exile or imprisonment. (2) The rage of the people was especially directed against the bishop St. Cyprian, who prudently retired till the storm had passed. (3) In general, it was observed that the object of the rulers was much less to slay than to vanquish the Christians.

(1) Dionysius the bishop wrote a full account of it, which Eusebius has preserved (vi. 41-42). In Alexandria, Dionysius says, the persecution produced by popular fanaticism preceded the edict of Decius by an entire year. He has preserved a particular catalogue of all who were put to death in Alexandria during the entire Decian persecution. They were seventeen persons. Several of these were killed by the mob, and their deaths were in nearly all cases accompanied by circumstances of extreme atrocity. Besides these, others (we know not how many) had been put to torture. Many, Dionysius says, perished in other cities or villages of Egypt.

(2) See St. Cyprian, Pp. viii.

(3) There was much controversy at this time as to the propriety of bishops evading persecution by flight. The Montanists maintained that such a conduct was equivalent to apostasy. Tertullian had written a book, De Fuga in Persecutione, maintaining this view; and among the orthodox the conduct of St. Cyprian (who afterwards nobly attested his courage by his death) did not escape animadversion. The more moderate opinion prevailed, but the leading bishops found it necessary to support their conduct by declaring that they had received special revelations exhorting them to fly. St. Cyprian, who constantly appealed to his dreams to justify him in his controversies (see some curious instances collected in Middleton's Free Enquiry, pp. 101-105), declared (Ep. ix.), and his biographer and friend Pontius reasserted (Vit. Cyprianis), that his flight was "by the command of God." Dionysius, the Bishop of Alexandria, asserts the same thing of his own flight, and attests it by an oath (see his own words in Euseb. vi. 40); and the same thing was afterwards related of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. (See his, Life by Gregory of Nyssa.)


Horrible tortures were continually employed to extort an apostasy, and, when those tortures proved vain, great numbers were ultimately released.

The Decian persecution is remarkable in Christian archaeology as being, it is believed, the first occasion in which the Christian catacombs were violated. Those vast subterranean corridors, lined with tombs and expanding very frequently into small chapels adorned with paintings, often of no mean beauty, had for a long period been an inviolable asylum in seasons of persecution. The extreme sanctity which the Romans were accustomed to attach to the place of burial repelled the profane, and as early, it is said, as the very beginning of the third century, the catacombs were recognised as legal possessions of the Church. (1) The Roman legislators, however unfavourable to the formation of guilds or associations, made an exception in favour of burial societies, or associations of men subscribing a certain sum to ensure to each member a decent burial in ground which belonged to the corporation. The Church is believed to have availed itself of this privilege, and to have attained, in this capacity, a legal existence. The tombs, which were originally the properties of distinct families, became in this manner an ecclesiastical domain, and the catacombs were, from perhaps the first, made something more than places of burial. (2) The chapels with which they abound, and which are of the smallest dimensions and utterly unfit for general worship, were probably mortuary chapels, and may have also been employed in the services commemorating the martyrs, while the ordinary worship was probably at first conducted in

(1) E veramente che almeno fino del saecolo terzo i fedeli abbiano posseduto cimiteri a nome commune, e che il loro possessio sia stato riconosciuto dagl'imperatori, è cosa impossibile a negare." -Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, tomo i. p. 103.

(2) This is all fully discussed by Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, tomo i. pp. 101-108. Rossi thinks the Church, in its capacity of burial society, was known by the name of "ecclesia fratrum."


the private houses of the Christians. The decision of Alexander Severus, which I have already noticed, is the earliest notice we possess of the existence of buildings specially devoted to the Christian services; but we cannot tell how long before this time they may have existed in Rome. (1) In serious persecution, however, they would doubtless have to be abandoned; and, as a last resort, the catacombs proved a refuge from the persecutors.

The reign of Decius only lasted about two years, and before its close the persecution had almost ceased. (2) On the accession of his son Gallus, in the last month of A.D. 251, there was for a short time perfect peace; but Gallus resumed the persecution in the spring of the following year, and although apparently not very severe, or very general, it seems to have continued to his death, which took place a year after. (3) Two Roman bishops, Cornelius, who had succeeded the martyred Fabianus, and his successor Lucius, were at this time put to death. (4) Valerian, who ascended the throne

(1) See, on the history of early Christian Churches, Cave's Primitive Christianity, part i. c. vi.

(2) Dodwell (De Paucit. Martyr. lvii.) has collected evidence of the subsidence of the persecution in the last year of the reign of Decius.

(3) This persecution is not noticed by St. Jerome, Orosius, Sulpicius Severus, or Lactantius. The very little we knew about it is derived from the letters of St. Cyprian, and from a short notice by Dionysius of Alexandria, in Eusebius, vii. 1. Dionysius says, Gallus began the persecution when his reign was advancing prosperously, and his affairs succeeding, which probably means, after he had procured the departure of the Goths from the Illyrian province, early in A.D. 252 (see Gibbon, chap. x,). The disastrous position into which affairs had been thrown by the defeat of Decius appears, at first, to have engrossed his attention.

(4) Lucius was at first exiled and then permitted to return, on which occasion St. Cyprian wrote him a letter of congratulation (Ep. lvii.). He was, however, afterwards rearrested and slain, but it is not, I think, clear whether it was under Gallus or Valerian. St. Cyprian speaks (Ep. lxvi.) of both Cornelius and Lucius as martyred. The emperors were probably at this time beginning to realise the power the Bishops of Rome possessed. We know hardly anything of the Decian persecution at Rome except the execution of the bishop; and St. Cyprian says (Ep. li.) that Decius would have preferred a pretender to the throne to a Bishop of Rome.


A.D. 254, at first not only tolerated, but warmly patronised the Christians, and attracted so many to his Court that his house, in the language of a contemporary, appeared "the Church of the Lord." (1) But after rather more than four years his disposition changed. At the persuasion, it is said, of an Egyptian magician, named Macrianus, he signed in A.D. 258 an edict of persecution condemning Christian ecclesiastics and senators to death, and other Christians to exile, or to the forfeiture of their property, and prohibiting them from entering the catacombs. (2) A sanguinary and general persecution ensued. Among the victims were Sixtus, the Bishop of Rome, who perished in the catacombs; (3) and Cyprian, who was exiled, and afterwards beheaded, and was the first Bishop of Carthage who suffered martyrdom. (4) At last, Valerian, having been captured by the Persians, Gallienus, in A.D. 260, ascended the throne, and immediately proclaimed a perfect toleration of the Christians. (5)

The period from the accession of Decius, in A.D. 249, to the accession of Gallienus, in A.D. 260, which I have now very briefly noticed, was by far the most disastrous the Church had yet endured. With the exception of about five years in the reigns of Gallus and Valerian, the persecution was continuous, though it varied much in its intensity and its range. During the first portion, if measured, not by the number of deaths, but by the atrocity of the tortures inflicted, it was probably as severe as any upon record. It was subsequently directed chiefly against the leading clergy, and, as we have seen, four Roman bishops perished. In addition to the political reasons that inspired it, the popular fanaticism

(1) Dionysius, Archbishop of Alexandria; see Euseb. vii. 10.

(2) Eusebius, vii. 10-12; Cyprian, Ep. lxxxi. Lactantius says of Valerian, "Multum quamvis brevi tempore justi sanguinis fudit." - De Mort. Persec. c. v.

(3) Cyprian, Ep. lxxxi.
(4) See his Life by the deacon Pontius, which is repreduced by Gibbon.
(5) Eusebius, vii. 13.


caused by great calamities, which were ascribed to anger of the gods at the neglect of their worship, had in this as in former periods a great influence. Political disasters, which foreshadowed clearly the approaching downfall of the Empire, were followed by fearful and general famines and plagues. St. Cyprian, in a treatise addressed to one of the persecutors who was most confident in ascribing these things to the Christians, presents us with an extremely curious picture both of the general despondency that had fallen upon the Empire, and of the manner in which these calamities were regarded by the Christians. Like most of his co-religionists, the saint was convinced that the closing scene of the earth was at hand. The decrepitude of the world, he said, had arrived, the forces of nature were almost exhausted, the sun had no longer its old lustre, or the soil its old fertility, the spring time had grown less lovely, and the autumn less bounteous, the energy of man had decayed, and all things were moving rapidly to the end. Famines and plagues were the precursors of the day of judgment. They were sent to warn and punish a rebellious world, which, still bowing down before idols, persecuted the believers in the truth. "So true is this, that the Christians are never persecuted without the sky manifesting at once the Divine displeasure." The conception of a converted Empire never appears to have flashed across the mind of the saint; (1) the only triumph he predicted for the Church was that of another world; and to the threats of the persecutors he rejoined by fearful menaces. "A burning, scorching fire will for ever torment those who are condemned; there will be no respite or end to their torments. We shall through eternity contemplate in their agonies those who for a short time contemplated us in tortures, and for the

(1) Tertullian had before, in a curious passage, spoken of the impossibility of Christian Caesars. "Sed et Caesares credidissent super Christo si aut Caesares non essent seculo necessarii, aut si et Christiani potuissent esse Caesares." - Apol. xxi.


brief pleasure which the barbarity of our persecutors took in feasting their eyes upon an inhuman spectacle, they will be themselves exposed as an eternal spectacle of agony." As a last warning, calamity after calamity broke upon the world and, with the solemnity of one on whom the shadow of death had already fallen, St. Cyprian adjured the persecutors to repent and to be saved. (1)

The accession of Gallienus introduced the Church to a new period of perfect peace, which, with a single inconsiderable exception, continued for no less than forty years. The exception was furnished by Aurelian, who during nearly the whole of his reign had been exceedingly favourable to the Christians, and had even been appealed to by the orthodox bishops, who desired him to expel from Antioch a prelate they had excommunicated for heresy, (2) but who, at the close of his reign, intended to persecute. He was assassinated, however, according to one account, when he was just about to sign the decrees; according to another, before they had been sent through the provinces; and if any persecution actually took place, it was altogether inconsiderable. (3) Christianity, during all this time, was not only perfectly free, it was greatly honoured. Christians were appointed governors of the provinces, and were expressly exonerated from the duty of sacrificing. The bishops were treated by the civil authorities with profound respect. The palaces of the emperor were filled with Christian servants, who were authorised freely to profess their religion, and were greatly valued for their fidelity. The popular prejudice seems to have been lulled to rest; and it has been noticed that the rapid progress of the faith excited no tumult or hostility. Spacious churches

(1) Contra Demetrianum.

(2) Eusebius, vii. 30. Aurelian decided that the cathedral at Antioch should be given up to whoever was appointed by the bishops of Italy.

(3) Compare the accounts in Eusebius, vii. 30, and Lactantius, De Mort. c. vi.


were erected in every quarter, and they could scarcely contain the multitude of worshippers. (1) In Rome itself, before the outburst of the Diocletian persecution, there were no less than forty churches. (2) The Christians may still have been outnumbered by the Pagans; but when we consider their organisation, their zeal, and their rapid progress, a speedy triumph appeared inevitable.

But before that triumph was achieved a last and a terrific ordeal was to be undergone. Diocletian, whose name has been somewhat unjustly associated with a persecution, the responsibility of which belongs far more to his colleague Galerius, having left the Christians in perfect peace for nearly eighteen years, suffered himself to be persuaded to make one more effort to eradicate the foreign creed. This emperor, who had risen by his merits from the humblest position, exhibited in all the other actions of his reign a moderate, placable, and conspicuously humane nature, and, although he greatly magnified the Imperial authority, the simplicity of his private life, his voluntary abdication, and, above all, his singularly noble conduct during many years of retirement, displayed a rare magnanimity of character. As a politician, he deserves, I think, to rank very high. Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius had been too fascinated by the traditions of the Republic, and by the austere teaching and retrospective spirit of the Stoics, to realise the necessity of adapting institutions to the wants of a luxurious and highly civilised people, and they therefore had little permanent influence upon the destinies of the Empire. But Diocletian invariably exhibited in his legislation a far-seeing and comprehensive mind, well aware of the condition of the society he ruled, and provident of distant events. Perceiving that Roman corruption was incurable, he attempted to regenerate

(1) See the forcible and very candid description of Eusebius, viii. 1.
(2) This is noticed by Optatus.


the Empire by creating new centres of political life in the great and comparatively unperverted capitals of the provinces; and Nicomedia, which was his habitual residence, Carthage, Milan, and Ravenna, all received abundant tokens of his favour. He swept away or disregarded the obsolete and inefficient institutions of Republican liberty that still remained, and indeed gave his government a somewhat Oriental character; but, at the same time, by the bold, and, it must be admitted, very perilous measure of dividing the Empire into four sections, he abridged the power of each ruler, ensured the better supervision and increased authority of the provinces, and devised the first effectual check to those military revolts which had for some time been threatening the Empire with anarchy. With the same energetic statesmanship, we find him reorganising the whole system of taxation, and attempting, less wisely, to regulate commercial transactions. To such an emperor, the problem presented by the rapid progress and the profoundly anti-national character of Christianity must have been a matter of serious consideration, and the weaknesses of his character were most unfavourable to the Church; for Diocletian, with many noble qualities of heart and head, was yet superstitious, tortuous, nervous, and vacillating, and was too readily swayed by the rude and ferocious soldier, who was impetuously inciting him against the Christians.

The extreme passion which Galerius displayed on this subject is ascribed, in the first instance, to the influence of his mother, who was ardently devoted to the Pagan worship. He is himself painted in dark colours by the Christian writers as a man of boundless and unbridled sensuality, of an imperiousness that rose to fury at opposition, and of a cruelty which had long passed the stage of callousness, and become a fiendish delight, in the infliction and contemplation of suffering. His strong attachment to Paganism made him at

(1) See the vivid pictures in Lact. De Mort. Persec.


length the avowed representative of his party, which several causes had contributed to strengthen. The philosophy of the Empire had by this time fully passed into its Neoplatonic and Pythagorean phases, and was closely connected with religious observances. Hierocles and Porphyry, who were among its most eminent exponents, had - both written books against Christianity, and the Oriental religions fostered much fanaticism among the people. Political interests united with superstition, for the Christians were now a very formidable body in the State. Their interests were supposed to be represented by the Caesar Constantius Chlorus, and the religion was either adopted, or at least warmly favoured, by the wife and daughter of Diocletian (the latter of whom was married to Galerius), and openly professed by some of the leading officials at the Court. A magnificent church crowned the hill facing the palace of the emperor at Nicomedia. The bishops were, in most cities, among the most active and influential citizens, and their influence was not always exercised for good. A few cases, in which an ill-considered zeal led Christians to insult the Pagan worship, one or two instances of Christians refusing to serve in the army, because they believed military life repugnant to their creed, a scandalous relaxation of morals, that had arisen during the long peace, and the fierce and notorious discord displayed by the leaders of the Church, contributed in different ways to accelerate the persecution. (2)

For a considerable time Diocletian resisted all the urgency of Galerius against the Christians, and the only measure taken was the dismissal by the latter sovereign of a number of Christian officers from the army. In A.D. 303; however, Diocletian yielded to the entreaties of his colleague, and a fearful persecution, which many circumstances conspired to stimulate, began. The priests, in one of the public ceremonies

(1) Lactant. De Mort. Persec. 15.
(2) Eusebius, viii.


had declared that the presence of Christians prevented the entrails from showing the accustomed signs. The oracle of Apollo, at Miletus, being consulted by Diocletian, exhorted him to persecute the Christians. A fanatical Christian, who avowed his deed, and expiated it by a fearful death, tore down the first edict of persecution, and replaced it by a bitter taunt against the emperor. Twice, after the outburst of the persecution, the palace at Nicomedia, where Diocletian and Galerius were residing, was set on fire, and the act was ascribed, not without probability, to a Christian hand, as were also some slight disturbances that afterwards arose in Syria. (1) Edict after edict followed in rapid succession. The first ordered the destruction of all Christian churches and of all Bibles, menaced with death the Christians if they assembled in secret for Divine worship, and deprived them of all civil rights. A second edict ordered all ecclesiastics to be thrown into prison, while a third edict ordered that these prisoners, and a fourth edict that all Christians, should be compelled by torture to sacrifice. At first Diocletian refused to permit their lives to be taken, but after the fire at Nicomedia this restriction was removed. Many were burnt alive, and the tortures by which the persecutors sought to shake their resolution were so dreadful that even such a death seemed an act of mercy. The only province of the Empire where the Christians were at peace was Gaul, which had received its baptism of blood under Marcus Aurelius, but was now governed by Constantius Chlorus, who protected them from personal molestation, though he was compelled, in obedience to the emperor, to destroy their churches. In Spain, which was also under the government, but not under the direct inspection, of Constantius, the persecution was moderate, but in all other parts of the Empire it raged with

(1) These incidents are noticed by Eusebius in his History, and in his Life of Constantine, and by Lactantius, De Mort. Persec.


fierceness till the abdication of Diocletian in 305. This event almost immediately restored peace to the Western provinces, (1) but greatly aggravated the misfortunes of the Eastern Christians, who passed under the absolute rule of Galerius. Horrible, varied, and prolonged tortures were employed to quell their fortitude, and their final resistance was crowned by the most dreadful of all deaths, roasting over a slow fire. It was not till A.D. 311, eight years after the commencement of the general persecution, ten years after the first measure against the Christians, that the Eastern persecution ceased. Galerius, the arch-enemy of the Christians, was struck down by a fearful disease. His body, it is said, became a mass of loathsome and foetid sores - a living corpse, devoured by countless worms, and exhaling the odour of the charnel-house. He who had shed so much innocent blood, shrank himself from a Roman death. In his extreme anguish he appealed in turn to physician after physician, and to temple after temple. At last he relented towards the Christians. He issued a proclamation restoring them to liberty, permitting them to rebuild their churches, and asking their prayers for his recovery. (2) The era of persecution now closed. One brief spasm, indeed, due to the Caesar Maximian, shot through the long afflicted Church of Asia Minor; (3) but it was rapidly allayed. The accession of Constantine, the proclamation of Milan, A.D. 313, the defeat of Licinius, and the conversion of

(1) "Italy, Sicily, Gaul, and whatever parts extend towards the West, - Spain, Mauritania, and Africa." - Euseb. Mart. Palest. ch. xiii. But in Gaul, as I have said, the persecution had not extended beyond the destruction of churches; in these provinces the persecution, Eusebius says, lasted not quite two years.

(2) The history of this persecution is given by Eusebius, Hist. lib. viii., in his work on the Martyrs of Palestine, and in Lactantius, De Mort. Persec. The persecution in Palestine was not quite continuous: in A.D. 308 it had almost ceased; it then revived fiercely, but at the close of A.D. 309, and in the beginning of A.D. 310, there was again a short lull, apparently due to political causes. See Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. (edited by Soames), vol. i. pp. 286-287.

(3) Eusebius.


the conqueror, speedily followed, and Christianity became the religion of the Empire.

Such, so far as we can trace it, is the outline of the last and most terrible persecution inflicted en the early Church. Unfortunately we can place little reliance on any information we possess about the number of its victims, the provocations that produced it, or the objects of its authors. The ecclesiastical account of these matters is absolutely unchecked by any Pagan statement, and it is derived almost exclusively from the history of Eusebius, and from the treatise "On the Deaths of the Persecutors,"' which is ascribed to Lactantius. Eusebius was a writer of great learning, and of critical abilities not below the very low level of his time, and he had personal knowledge of some of the events in Palestine which he has recorded; but he had no pretensions whatever to impartiality. He has frankly told us that his principle in writing history was to conceal the facts that were injurious to the reputation of the Church; (1) and although his practice was sometimes better than his principle, the portrait he has drawn of the saintly virtues of his patron Constantine, which we are able to correct from other sources, abundantly proves with how little scruple the courtly bishop could stray into the paths of fiction. The treatise of Lactantius, which has been well termed "a party pamphlet," is much more untrustworthy. It is a hymn of exultation over the disastrous ends of the persecutors, and especially of Galerius, written in a strain of the fiercest and most passionate invective, and bearing on every page unequivocal signs of inaccuracy and exaggeration. The whole history of the early persecution was soon enveloped in a thick cloud of falsehood. A notion, derived from prophecy, that ten great persecutions must precede the day of judgment, at an early period stimulated

(1) See two passages, which Gibbon justly calls remarkable. (H. E. viii.)
Martyrs of Palest. ch. xii.


the imagination of the Christians, who believed that day to be imminent; and it was natural that as time rolled on men should magnify the sufferings that had been endured, and that in credulous and uncritical ages a single real incident should be often multiplied, diversified, and exaggerated in many distinct narratives. Monstrous fictions, such as the crucifixion of ten thousand Christians upon Mount Ararat under Trajan, the letter of Tiberianus to Trajan, complaining that he was weary of ceaselessly killing Christians in Palestine, and the Theban legion of six thousand men, said to have been massacred by Maximilian, were boldly propagated and readily believed. (1) The virtue supposed to attach to the bones of martyrs, and the custom, and, after a decree of the second Council of Nice, in the eighth century, the obligation, of placing saintly remains under every altar, led to an immense multiplication of spurious relics, and a corresponding demand for legends. Almost every hamlet soon required a patron martyr and a local legend, which the nearest monastery was usually ready to supply. The monks occupied their time in composing and disseminating innumerable acts of martyrs, which purported to be strictly historical, but which were, in fact, deliberate, though it was thought edifying, forgeries; and pictures of hideous tortures, enlivened by fantastic miracles, soon became the favourite popular literature. To discriminate accurately the genuine acts of martyrs from the immense mass that were fabricated by the monks, has been

(1) There is one instance of a wholesale massacre which appears to rest on good authority. Eusebius asserts that, during the Diocletian persecution, a village in Phrygia, the name of which he does not mention, being inhabited entirely by Christians who refused to sacrifice, was attacked and burnt with all that were in it by the Pagan soldiery. Lactantius (Inst. Div. v. 11) confines the conflagration to a church in which the entire population was burnt; and an early Latin translation of Eusebius states that the people were first summoned to withdraw, but refused to do so. Gibbon (ch. xvi.) thinks that this tragedy took place when the decree of Diocletian ordered the destruction of the churches.


attempted by Ruinart, but is perhaps impossible. Modern criticism has, however, done much to reduce the ancient persecutions to their true dimensions. The famous essay of Dodwell, which appeared towards the close of the seventeenth century, though written, I think, a little in the spirit of a special pleader, and not free from its own exaggerations, has had a great and abiding influence upon ecclesiastical history, and the still more famous chapter which Gibbon devoted to the subject, rendered the conclusions of Dodwell familiar to the world.

Notwithstanding the great knowledge and critical acumen displayed in this chapter, few persons, I imagine, can rise from its perusal without a feeling both of repulsion and dissatisfaction. The complete absence of all sympathy with the heroic courage manifested by the martyrs, and the frigid and, in truth, most unphilosophical severity with which the historian has weighed the words and actions of men engaged in the agonies of a deadly struggle, must repel every generous nature, while the persistence with which he estimates persecutions by the number of deaths rather than by the amount of suffering, diverts the mind from the really distinctive atrocities of the Pagan persecutions. He has observed, that while the anger of the persecutors was at all times especially directed against the bishops, we know from Eusebius that only nine bishops were put to death in the entire Diocletian persecution, and that the particular enumeration, which the historian made on the spot, of all the martyrs who perished during this persecution in Palestine, which was under the government of Galerius, and was therefore exposed to the full fury of the storm, shows the entire number to have been ninety-two. Starting from this fact, Gibbon, by a well-known process of calculation, has estimated the probable number of martyrs in the whole Empire, during the Diocletian persecution, at about two thousand, which happens to be the number of persons burnt by the Spanish Inquisition during the


presidency of Torquemada alone, (1) and about one twenty-fifth of the number who are said to have suffered for their religion in the Netherlands in the reign of Charles V.(2) But although, if measured by the number of martyrs, the persecutions inflicted by Pagans were less terrible than those inflicted by Christians, there is one aspect in which the former appear by far the more atrocious, and a truthful historian should suffer no false delicacy to prevent him from unflinchingly stating it. The conduct of the provincial governors, even when they were compelled by the Imperial edicts to persecute, was often conspicuously merciful. The Christian records contain several examples of rulers who refused to search out the Christians, who discountenanced or even punished their accusers, who suggested ingenious evasions of the law, who tried by earnest and patient kindness to overcome what they regarded as insane obstinacy, and who, when their efforts had proved vain, mitigated by their own authority the sentence they were compelled to pronounce. It was only on very rare occasions that any, except conspicuous leaders of the Church, and sometimes persons of a servile condition, were in danger; the time that was conceded them before their trials gave them great facilities for escaping, and, even when condemned, Christian women had usually full permission to visit them in their prisons, and to console them by their charity. But on the other hand, Christian writings, which it is impossible to dispute, continually record barbarities inflicted upon converts, so ghastly and so hideous that the worst horrors of the In-

(1) Mariana (De Rebus Hispaniae, xxiv. 17). Llorente thought this number perished in the single year 1482; but the expressions of Mariana, though he speaks of "this beginning," do not necessarily imply this restriction. Besides these martyrs, 17,0OO persons in Spain recanted, and endured punishments less than death, while great numbers fled. There does not appear to have been, in this case, either the provocation or the political danger which stimulated the Diocletian persecution.

(2) This is according to the calculation of Sarpi. Grotius estimates the victims at 100,000. - Gibbon, ch. xvi.


quisition pale before them. It is, indeed, true that burning heretics by a slow fire was one of the accomplishments of the Inquisitors, and that they were among the most consummate masters of torture of their age. It is true that in one Catholic country they introduced the atrocious custom of making the spectacle of men burnt alive for their religious opinions an element in the public festivities. (1) It is true, too, that the immense majority of the acts of the martyrs are the transparent forgeries of lying monks; but it is also true that among the authentic records of Pagan persecutions there are histories which display, perhaps more vividly than any other, both the depth of cruelty to which human nature may sink, and the heroism of resistance it may attain. There was a time when it was the just boast of the Romans, that no refinements of cruelty, no prolongations of torture, were admitted in their stern but simple penal code. But all this was changed. Those hateful games, which made the spectacle of human suffering and death the delight of all classes, had spread their brutalising influence wherever the Roman name was known, had rendered millions absolutely indifferent to the sight of human suffering, had produced in many, in the very centre of an advanced civilisation, a relish and a passion for torture, a rapture and an exultation in watching the spasms of extreme agony, such as an African or an American savage alone can equal. The most horrible recorded instances of torture were usually inflicted, either by the populace, or in their presence, in the arena. (2) We read of Christians bound in chairs of red-hot iron, while the stench of their half-consumed flesh rose in a suffocating cloud to heaven; of others who were torn to the very bone by shells, or hooks of iron;

(1) See some curious information on this in Ticknor's Hist. of Spanish Literature (3rd American edition), vol. iii. pp. 236-237.

(2) This was the case in the persecutions at Lyons and Smyrna, under Marcus Aurelius. In the Diocletian persecution at Alexandria the populace were allowed to torture the Christians as they pleased. (Eusebius, viii. 10.)


of holy virgins given over to the lust of the gladiator, or to the mercies of the pander; of two hundred and twenty-seven converts sent on one occasion to the mines, each with the sinews of one leg severed by a red-hot iron, and with an eye scooped from its socket; of fires so slow that the victims writhed for hours in their agonies; of bodies torn limb from limb, or sprinkled with burning lead; of mingled salt and vinegar poured over the flesh that was bleeding from the rack; of tortures prolonged and varied through entire days. For the love of their Divine Master, for the cause they believed to be true, men, and even weak girls, endured these things without flinching, when one word would have freed them from their sufferings. No opinion we may form of the proceedings of priests in a later age should impair the reverence with which we bend before the martyr's tomb.