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much censure; but that was all.
Tertullian, vindicating the Christians on this head, says-" Hæc coitio Christianorum merito sane illicita, si illicitis par; merito damnanda, si quis de ea queritur eo titulo quod de factionibus querela est." * The passage is remarkable; and shews, not only that the Christians were never brought into condemnation for nocturnal meetings; but, why they were not; namely, because nothing bad or even suspicious could be proved against them. The law of the twelve tables says, "Si qui in urbe cœtus nocturnos agitassit, capital esto;" meaning, if celebrated without the licence of the magistrate. The Christians applied for this licence: it was denied them. They assembled: and such assemblies are only liable to animadversion, if any thing criminal or immoral be committed in them. Crimes were indeed pretended; but on enquiry, as we find by Pliny, they could not be proved. This I take to be the true explanation of Tertullian's argument: by which we understand that the Christians were not persecuted, but only calumniated, for their nocturnal assemblies.
Maximus, a pagan Philosopher of Madaura, desires to know of AUSTIN Why the Christians so much affected mystery. To which the answer is, "That, without doubt, this idolater did not mean, the meetings in caverns and sepulchres, in which the faithful were wont to assemble during the heat of persecution-but their mysteries of Baptism and the Lord's Supper." St. Austin supposes Maximus did not intend to object to their clandestine meetings: however, if he did, he is ready to justify them on the plea of necessity, and to avoid persecution. Another sad discredit to the converse proposition.
But since our Civil Judge is so eager to have the primitive Christians found guilty of a crime of state, at his tribunal; I will, out of tenderness to his credit, and deference to his authority, consent to give them up; and fairly confess, they were not only accused, but even punished for high treason, the crimen læsæ majestatis. The process was thus carried on. Christians refused to worship the Gods of Rome. Sacrificing for the safety of the empire, and for the life of the emperor, made part of that worship. If the Christians could not worship, they could not sacrifice: But this sacrifice was esteemed a necessary part of civil obedience. The omission of it, therefore, was a crime of state, and amounted to high treason. Tertullian sums up
Apologia, cap. xxxviii.
+ This appears to be the true sense of the Law, from a passage in Cicero's dialogue De Legibus. Atticus thought him too severe upon nocturnal assemblies: he vindicates himself by observing, that, even in the midst of Greece, Diagondas, the Theban, totally abolished them.-"Ne nos duriores forte videamur, in media Græcia, Diagondas Thebanus lege perpetua sustulit." From hence I infer these two things; That, were not the Law of the twelve tables to be understood in the sense here given to it, Cicero needed not have gone so far as Thebes for his justification and secondly, that his laying so much stress upon the abolition's being made in the midst of Greece, shews how strongly, in his opinion, that country was attached to nocturnal assemblies. 1 Ep. xliv.
the charge, and pleads guilty to it. "Deos inquitis" (says he, repeating the pagan accusation) "non colitis, et pro imperatoribus sacrificia non impenditis :-sacrilegii et majestatis rei convenimur. SUMMA HÆC CAUSA, IMO TOTA EST." Here again we see, Antiquity gives the exclusion to the converse proposition: for if this was the only cause of persecution, certainly nocturnal assemblies was not one. I could wish therefore, by this crime of state, to save the learned Doctor's credit and authority. But I am afraid, on examination, it will prove no more than their refusal to communicate in pagan worship. Tertullian himself, in the passage quoted above, makes it amount to no more. However, it was esteemed to be the crimen læsæ majestatis and this we are not to wonder at; for one of the greatest ornaments of Paganism, long before the moving this question, had declared, that even the exclusive worship of one God came pretty near the matter. MAJESTATEM IMPERII NON DECUISSE UT UNUS TANTUM DEUS COLATUR, says Cicero, in his oration for Flaccus.
You see then, at length, to what our Critic's discovery amounts. No marvel he triumphs in it. "And now" (says he) can any one doubt that the considerations I have mentioned, were those which GAVE AN EDGE to the Roman persecutions? The professors of Christianity had NO REASON to be apprehensive of any severities upon the score of religion, any more than the professors of ANY OTHER RELIGION besides. Antiquity, in its public capacity, was generally very indulgent to all who dissented from the established worship: persecution for DIFFERENCE OF BELIEF ALONE owes its nativity to more modern ages, and Spain was its country; where Priscillian, by some, is held to be the first sufferer for mere opinion." -Pp. 579, 580.
-And now can any one doubt that the considerations I have mentioned were those which GAVE AN EDGE to the Roman persecutions? -For a trusty Guide, allow me to recommend him to the reader; whom he is ready to mislead, the very first step he makes. The question is, and so he himself has stated it, What oCCASIONED the Roman persecutions? Here, he changes it to-What GAVE AN EDGE to them?-Nocturnal assemblies might give an edge to the persecutions, and yet all be true that his Adversary affirms, and the persecutions be occasioned by a very different thing. But our Critic is so highly figurative, and often so sublime, as to transcend the common liberties of speech. Thus he speaks of Antiquity in its public capacity, meaning, I suppose, the civil states of Greece and Rome; though in the mode of ordinary language it would be no inelegant periphrasis for the NEW INCORPORATED SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES: again he talks of the nativity of persecution, and of its being a native of Spain; and yet he seems not to mean, as you would fancy, its birth, but its edu
cation. For he tells us (p. 583) it was born long before, in Egypt; where it occasioned, what he calls, their holy wars; which, by his own account, were persecutions for difference of belief alone. However, as this Egyptian intrigue was but a miscarriage, and a kind of coming before it's time, he forces it to enter again into the womb of Fate, and to be born, we see, a second time for the honour of Christianity. Since, then, our Critic's figures are so new, and of so transcendent a kind, why may we not suppose that, the giving an edge to persecution, may signify the giving a sword to it, and then all will be right.
-The professors of Christianity (says he) had no reason to be apprehensive of any severities upon the score of Religion.-The more fools they; when their Master had pointed out so many. If they had no reason, it must be because no reason would make an impression. For they were frequently reminded by him, of what they were to suffer, not indeed for assembling in the night-time, but for his NAME'S SAKE, and because of the WORD.* St. Paul too had expressly assured the churches, that all who live godly in Jesus Christ shall suffer persecution. But where was the wonder, that they, who paid so little attention to their Master, should pay still less to their Fellow-servant?
-Hear me out, however, cries our learned Critic: I affirm that the professors of Christianity had no reason to be apprehensive of any severities upon the score of Religion, ANY MORE than the professors of any other sect or religion besides. On my word, he has mended matters greatly! What, had the professors of other sects or religions any PROPHECIES OF REVELATIONS of severities upon the score of religion?
But, from this essential difference in the external circumstances of these two sets of Professors, the Pagan and the Christian, we will turn to the internal: and, under this head, let me ask another question. The Professors of the faith held it to be unlawful, and a deadly sin, to have communion or fellowship with the Gods of the Heathen. But had the Professors of Idolatry any of these scruples, or did they hold any thing analogous to them? On the contrary, did not the Professors of Gaul, of Greece, of Asia, and of Egypt, join heartily with the Professors of Rome, to pay all due honours to the established religion? while those masters of the world as heartily joined communion with these strangers: nay, were ready to do the same honours to the Gospel, had they found the same disposition towards mutual civilities among its followers.
And was this so trifling a difference as to deserve no notice either of the Critic or the Civilian? Had the Christians, who damned Paganism in the lump, and reprobated the established religion of Rome, as the work of evil demons and evil men, no more reason to be † 2 Tim. iii. 12.
Matt. xxiv. 9; xiii. 21.
apprehensive of any severities from this antiquity in its public capacity, than the professors of any other religion besides, all of which not only acknowledged the Gods of Rome, but, to make a good weight, added Rome itself to the number of her Divinities? This public capacitied antiquity must have been of an odd paste, and strangely composed, to use those, who attempted the destruction of its Gods, in the same gentle way it treated those who revered and honoured them.
But, as this public capacitied antiquity is, after all, no more than a fantom, and owes its nativity to our Critic's brain, it is no wonder, it should have something of the perversity of its parent; who, searching for the CAUSE of Persecution, could not find it in a circumstance in which idolatry and Christianity differed, namely, exclusive worship, a principle most abhorred by paganism; and yet can see it in a circumstance where both agreed, namely, nocturnal worship, a practice most venerated by paganism.
But antiquity (says he) in its public capacity was generally very indulgent to all who dissented from the established worship. This, he had many ways of learning: but the cause of the indulgence, if it be yet unknown to him, he will owe to the author of The Divine Legation, who hath shewn that it was entirely owing to the absurdity of its religious systems, just as the want of this indulgence, under Christianity, was occasioned by the reasonableness of its system, unreasonably indeed enforced upon the mistaken principles of Judaism. So that the indulgence of Paganism had continued to this day, had not Christianity come boisterously in, and broken the peace. Then arose an exception, unfavourable to the new Comer: For why was the established religion so indulgent to every strange sect, but because every strange sect was as indulgent to the established? So that, in this commerce of mutual civilities, while the national worship enjoyed the civil rights of an Establishment, it was content, the stranger should still possess the natural rights of a Toleration. But all this good harmony, the Christian faith disturbed and violated. It condemned paganism in the gross, whether established or tolerated: and, under pain of damnation, required all men, both Greeks and Barbarians, to forsake their ancient absurdities, and profess their faith in a crucified Saviour. A circumstance, sufficient, one would think, without nocturnal assemblies, to sour this sweet-tempered Antiquity in its public capacity.
But he goes on-Persecution for DIFFERENCE OF BELIEF ALONE owes its nativity to more modern ages; and Spain was its country, where Priscillian, by some, is held to be the first sufferer for mere opinion.
Here we have another cast of his office. The question between us is, "Whether the Christians were first persecuted for their faith in general, or for their nocturnal assemblies.” I hold the former: he
contends for the latter and to confute my opinion, observes "that persecution for DIFFERENCE of belief alone, was of later date, and began with Priscillian :" that is, persecution for MODES OF FAITH began at that time. Well, and if it did, what then? What is this to the dispute between us? I never held, because Jesus and his Apostles never foretold, that the first Christians should be persecuted by the Pagans for modes of Faith; but on the contrary, for the very genius of that Faith, so opposite to the idolatrous world.
Paganism had no dogmatic theology, or, what we call Religion : and not having the thing, it was no wonder they had not the word: neither the Greeks nor Romans, with all their abundance, had a word for that moral mode; the Latin word Religio, when it comes nearest to it, signifies only a set of ceremonies. However, though they were without a dogmatic theology, yet they had their general principles; but these principles regarded utility rather than truth; the chief of which was that of intercommunity; which the principle of Christianity directly opposing, they rose against this principle, and so began a persecution. Pagans therefore, having no modes of faith, could not persecute for any but Christians, who had, might and did persecute for them.
Again, when the persecution is for modes of faith, their truth or falshood comes in question: when for the common genius of a religion, its harmlessness or malignity is the only matter of inquiry. Now the pagan persecutors were so far from regarding Christianity as a false religion, that they were ready,* according to their general indulgence to all who dissented from the established worship, to put the professors of the Faith on a footing with other foreign sects: but this would not serve their turn. The Christians believed their Religion to be the only true; and therefore, that it should be the only one professed. This PARADOX brought on persecution. But for what? not for the profession of a falsehood; but for a practised hatred to the whole race of mankind.
Here then, we find, the learned Critic has shuffled in one question for another; and again put the change upon his reader; and perhaps, upon himself.
But to let his reasoning pass, and come to his fact: which, as a Critic, he is much more concerned, in honour, to support.—Priscillian (it seems) was the first sufferer for mere opinion. But how shall we reconcile him to himself in this matter? for as he goes on to display
Cæcilius, the Pagan, in Minucius Felix, draws the following extraordinary character of the genius of the Roman Religion-" Dum obsessi, et citra solum capitolium capti, colunt deos, quos alius jam sprevisset iratos-dum captis hostilibus mœnibus, adhuc ferociente victoria, numina victa venerantur: dum undique hospites deos quærunt, et suos faciunt: dum aras extruunt etiam ignotis numinibus et manibus. Sic dum universarum gentium sacra suscipiunt, etiam regna meruerunt."