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Our concern with this passage at present is only so far as it affords a presumption in support of the proposition which we maintain, concerning the activity and sufferings of the first teachers of Christianity. Now, considered in this view, it proves three things, 1st, that the founder of the institution was put to death : 2dly, that, in the same country in which he was put to death, the religion, after a short check, broke out again and spread; 3dly, that it so spread, as that, within thirty four years from the author's death, a very great number of Christians (ingens eorum multitudo) were found at Rome. From which fact, the two following inferences may be fairly drawn : first, that, if, in the space of thirty four years from its commencement, the religion had spread throughout Judæa, had extended itself to Rome, and there had numbered a great multitude of converts, the original teachers and missionaries of the institution could not have been idle ; secondly, that when the author of the undertaking was put to death as a malefactor for his attempt, the endeavours of his fol. lowers to establish his religion, in the same country, amongst the same people, and in the same age, could not but be attended with danger.
Suetonius, a writer contemporary with Tacitus, describing the transactions of the same reign, uses these words, Affecti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis novæ et maleficæ.”* “ The Christians, a set of men of a new and mischievous (or magical) superstition,
Since it is not mentioned here that the burning of the city was the pretence of the punishment of the Christians, or that they were the Christians of Rome who alone suffered, it is probable that Suetonius refers to some more
* Suet. Nero, cap. 16.
general persecution than the short and occasional one which Tacitus describes.
Juvenal, a writer of the same age with the two former, and intending, it should seem, to commemorate the cruelties exercised under Nero's government, has the following lines*:
“Pone Tigellinum, te:lâ lucebis in illâ
Quâ stantes ardent, qui fixo gutture fumant,
“ Describe Tigellinus (a creature of Nero’s), and you shall suffer the same punishment with those who stand burning in their own flame and smoke, their head being held up by a stake fixed to their chin, till they make a long stream of blood and melted sulphur on the ground.”
If this passage were considered by itself, the subject of the allusion might be doubtful; but when connected with the testimony of Suetonius, as to the actual punishment of the Christians by Nero; and with the account given by Tacitus of the species of punishment which they were made to undergo; I think it sufficiently probable, that these were the executions to which the poet refers.
These things, às hath already been observed, took place within thirty one years after Christ's death, that is, according to the course of nature, in the life-time, probably, of some of the apostles, and certainly in the life-time of those who were converted by the apostles, or who were converted in their time. If then the founder of the religion was put to death in the execution of his design; if the first race of converts to the religion, many of them suffered the greatest extremities for their profession; it is hardly credible, that those who came between the two, who were companions of the author of the institution during his life, and
* Sat. i. ver. 155.
† Forsan “ deducis.”
the teachers and propagators of the institution after his death, could go about their undertaking with ease and safety.
The testimony of the younger Pliny belongs to a later period; for although he was contemporary with Tacitus and Suetonius, yet his account does not, like theirs, go back to the transactions of Nero's reign, but is confined to the affairs of his own time. His celebrated letter to Trajan was written about seventy years after Christ's death ; and the information to be drawn from it, so far as it is connected with our argument, relates principally to two points ; first, to the number of Christians in Bithynia and Pontus, which was so considerable as to induce the governor of these provinces to speak of them in the following terms, “Multi, omnis ætatis utriusque sexûs etiamneque enim civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam et agros, superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est.”
6. There are many
every age and of both sexes-nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but smaller towns also, and the open country.” Great exertions must have been used by the preachers of Christianity to produce this state of things within this time. Secondly, to a point which has been already noticed, and which I think of importance to be observed, namely, the sufferings to which Christians were exposed, without any publick persecution being denounced against them by sovereign authority. For, from Pliny's doubt how he was to act, his silence concerning any subsisting law upon the subject, his requesting the emperour's rescript, and the emperour, agreeably to his request, propounding a rule for his direction, without reference to any prior rule, it may be inferred, that there was, at that time, no publick edict in force against the Christians. Yet from this same epistle of Pliny it appears “ that accusations, trials and exam
inations were, and had been, going on against them in the provinces over which he presided ; that schedules were delivered by anonymous informers, containing the names of persons who were suspected of holding or of favouring the religion ; that, in consequence of these informations, many had been apprehended, of whom some boldly avowed their profession, and died in the cause ; others denied that they were Christians; others, acknowledging that they had once been Christians, declared that they had long ceased to be such." All which demonstrates, that the pro fession of Christianity was at that time (in that country at least) attended with fear and danger; and yet this took place without any edict from the Roman sovereign, commanding or authorizing the persecution of Christians. This observation is further confirmed by a rescript of Adrian to Minutius Fundanus, the pro-consul of Asia* : from which rescript it appears that the custom of the people of Asia was to proceed against the Christians with tumult and uproar. This disorderly practice, I say, is recognized in the edict, because the emperour enjoins, that, for the future, if the Christians were guilty, they should be legally brought to trial, and not be pursued by importunity and clamour.
Martial wrote a few years before the younger Pliny ; and, as his manner was, made the sufferings of the Christians the subject of his ridicule. Nothing however could
* Lard. Heath. Test. vol. ii. p. 110.
f In matutinâ nuper spectatus arenâ
Mucius, iinposuit qui sua membra focis; Si patiens, fortisque tibi, durusque videtur,
Abderitanæ pectora plebis habes. Nam cum dicatur tunicâ præsente molestâ,
Ure & manum : plus est dicere, non facio.
# Forsan " thure manum.
show the notoriety of the fact with more certainty than this does. Martial's testimony, as well indeed as Pliny's, goes also to another point, viz. that the deaths of these men were martyrdoms in the strictest sense, that is to say, were so voluntary, that it was in their power, at the time of pronouncing the sentence, to have averted the execution, by consenting to join in heathen sacrifices.
The constancy, and by consequence the sufferings, of the Christians of this period, is also referred to by Epictetus, who imputes their intrepidity to madness, or to a kind of fashion or habit ; and about fifty years afterwards, by Marcus Aurelius, who ascribes it to obstinacy. “Is it possible” (Epictetus asks) “ that a man may arrive at this temper, and become indifferent to those things, from madness or from habit, as the Galileans*?” “ Let this preparation of the mind (to die) arise from its own judgment, and not from obstinacy like the Christians t."
There is satisfactory evidence, that many, professing to be
original witnesses of the Christian Miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of these accounts ; and that they also submitted from the same mo
tives to new rules of conduct. Of the primitive condition of Christianity, a distant only and general view can be acquired from heathen writers, It is in our own books that the detail and interiour of the
And this is nothing dif
• Epic. 1. iv. c. 7
† Marc. Aur. Med. 1. xi. c. 3.