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The statement ascribed to Suetonius also relates to the times of Nero. He says of Nero, as it is represented, that “many severe regulations and new orders were made in his time. A sumptuary law (to check expense in banquets), was enacted. Public suppers were limited to the sportulæ ; and victualling-houses were restrained from selling any dressed victuals, except pulse and herbs, whereas before they sold all kinds of meat. He likewise inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sort of people who held a new and mischievous superstition. He forbade the revels of the charioteers, who had long assumed a licence to stroll about, and established for themselves a kind of prescriptive right to cheat and thieve, making a jest of it. The partisans of the rival theatrical performers were banished, as well as the actors themselves.” It is clear that the enactments the author referred to related to the habits and amusements of the people which the Roman emperor desired to place under close limitations. He sought to repress extravagance in living, and in public entertainments. The creed and destinies of the Christians had nothing to do with the subject matter in hand. The notice of them has been apparently thrust in by some foreign hand between what relates to victualling-houses and the revels of charioteers. The early Christian writers, embracing Tertullian and Eusebius, knew nothing of this passage; and Melito, an apologist said to be of the latter part of the second century, clears the Roman emperors to his day of any formal acts for the repression of Christianity by violent measures. He says, professedly addressing Marcus Antoninus, “For now the race of the pious is persecuted, an event that never took place before” (Donaldson, Hist. of Christian Lit. III. 230). Mr Neale points out that this writer has a passage showing that Nero and Domitian had “been inclined, through the persuasion of certain envious and malicious persons, to bring our doctrine into hatred.” This, however, is mild language, not involving the diabolical acts attributed to Nero, in the name of Tacitus, at the burning of Rome, nor descriptive of the positive legislation to repress Christianity by punitive measures, of which Suetonius is said to have spoken. Melito may thus be said to bear a testimony rebutting what is imputed to both these authors, supporting thus the conclusion that their evidence has been made up since his day. With this the testimony of Lactantius, who died A.D. 325, accords. He seems to have known of no persecution of Christians earlier than the time of Decius, A.D. 249-251 (Prim. Church Hist., 64-68). “One thing is certain,” observes the author I now cite, “namely, that outside the church there does not appear to be any trace of the Christians prior to the persecution of them, A. 249, ordered by Decius.”
But whatever may be thought of the genuineness of the statements we have been considering attributed to these Roman authors, they do not suffice to support the actual pretensions of Christianity. They merely serve to show that there was such a person as Jesus Christ, who suffered death under Pontius Pilate, and was the founder of a religious sect. Of his divine nativity, his miraculous displays of power, his resurrection and ascension, they say nothing; and by passing over such marvellous circumstances in entire silence, these writers, if they did treat of Christ, effectually disallow that he was an incarnate God, exhibiting himself as such, and openly and outwardly recognized as such by manifestations from heaven.
The learned author of Primitive Church History notices the suspicious gap we have in this branch of the evidence offered for Christianity. “Is it possible,” he asks, “that Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny (junior), and Tacitus, really knew more about Jesus Christ than those early apologists for the Christians” (Tatian, Athenagoras, and Theophilus), “who never name him? Or is it possible, that if 'great multitudes of Christians,' during our first century, attracted the attention of one Jewish and three Pagan writers, who flourished towards the end of that period, that not even one Pagan writer would have taken notice of so remarkable a sect during the whole of our second century.” “ The fact," he observes, “(1), that there is not any Pagan writer of our second century who mentions the Christians; and (2), that those early apologists never mention Jesus or Christ, amount almost to positive proof that the passages regarding the Christians now found in Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny (junior), and Tacitus, are forgeries" (15).
The last branch of testimony to be considered is what may be derivable from the earliest Christians we hear of, apart from the characters figuring in the narratives of the scriptures, with which I do not at present deal. I follow the able revision, in this branch of inquiry, instituted by Dr Donaldson, in his work to which I have already referred.
Dr Donaldson, as I have noticed, refers to Eusebius as “his first, his best, and almost his only authority” for what concerns those we have now to deal with, who are termed the Christian fathers. I have shown how little Eusebius is to be depended on for critical acumen and judgment of fact, and that there are even grounds for believing that he must have placed before us as testimonies what he had reason to know were otherwise than trustworthy. “Jerome,” Dr Donaldson observes, “has often been called the greatest critic of the fathers; ... but there is nowhere in his writings proof of his being acquainted with writers unknown to Eusebius. ... Besides all this, we know ... that if his anger were roused, truth and decency were cast to the winds” (I. 15). Epiphanius, he remarks, is sometimes cited as an authority, and then he gives an instance of this writer's gross ignorance of geography. “ The Pheison,” he says, “is called the Ganges among the Indians and Ethiopians. The Greeks called it Indus. For it : encircles the whole of Elivat, both little and great, even the parts of the Elymeans, and passes through Great Ethiopia, turns to the south, and within Gades flows into the great ocean. Of his historical confusions,” Dr Donaldson adds, “we shall have many instances” (I. 17). “As we advance in time,” Dr Donaldson continues, “our authorities become fewer. ... The chroniclers form a numerous class. They are all more or less dependent on Eusebius" (I. 18). The prospect of anything like true history from these sources is thus the reverse of being encouraging.
We have a class of persons introduced to us as apostolic fathers; that is, they are presumed to be the immediate disciples of those who are the reputed companions of Jesus, to whom he committed the dissemination of his faith. These are Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Barnabas, Hermas, Papias, and Ignatius.
Eusebius designates Clement the third bishop of Rome. His authority is Irenæus, living, as it is thought, a hundred and seventy years after the resurrection. Tertullian, whose time
is placed about ten years earlier, represents Clement to have been the first bishop (Donaldson, I. 93). “The most precise information which we have is in Eusebius. He quotes Irenæus, and elsewhere gives the same succession as he gave, stating that Clement succeeded Anencletus in the twelfth year of the reign of Domitian, 93 A.D., and died in the third year of the reign of Trajan, 101 A.D. On what authority Eusebius assigned these dates we do not know.” Dr Donaldson adds of Eusebius, but on what grounds it is not apparent, that “we can have little doubt that he was tolerably careful;" and then observes, “On the whole, this is the most satisfactory information we can now obtain on the subject” (I. 92, 93). The representations of Irenæus, the authority on whom Eusebius has depended, are these. “The blessed apostles Peter and Paul, having founded and built up the Church, gave the office of oversight to Linus. This Linus Paul has mentioned in his letters to Timothy. He is succeeded by Anencletus. After him, in the third place from the apostles, Clemens obtains the oversight, who also saw the apostles themselves, and conversed with them, and who still had the preaching of the apostles ringing in his ears, and their doctrine before his eyes.” “The minute accuracy of these statements,” Dr Donaldson observes, “ is open to question. Everything must depend on the critical faculty of Irenæus, which unfortunately was not great ” (I. 91, 92). His perceptions would assuredly not be assisted by the vista of a century and a half through which he had to look. Dr Donaldson goes on to point out that the epistle to the Romans shows that Paul was not the founder of the church at Rome, and that Peter's share in the establishment of Christianity there, is a matter greatly disputed. Dr Donaldson furthermore observes, “We see a perverting influence at work in the minds of Irenæus and his contemporaries in their strong wish to be able to trace up their doctrines to the days of the apostles.” For example, “ Clemens Alexandrinus speaks of Clemens as an apostle, and Origen calls him a disciple of the apostles, and identifies him with the person mentioned in Philippians iv. 3 ” (I. 92).
Of the many writings attributed to Clement, Eusebius accepts but one as genuine, which purports to be an epistle from the church at Rome to that of Corinth (Ec. Hist., iii. 16). A vast body of writings, termed the Clementine Recognitions, are universally allowed to be spurious. They are looked upon as “a kind of philosophical and theological romance ” (Antenicene Christian Library, Intr. Notice). The epistle to the Corinthians does not bear the name of its author. It is only by supposition that it is attributed to Clement. The first who mentions the epistle is said to be Hegesippus, stated to be a contemporary of Justin, whose time at the earliest is given as A.D. 138. The first to assign the authorship of the epistle to Clement is Dionysius, who is stated to have lived in A.D. 250 (Donaldson, I. 90, 91). The epistle itself came to light only in A.D. 1628, being found appended to the Alexandrian codex. It is not complete, and there is no assurance that it has not been corrupted. In it the Corinthians are adverted to as an ancient church, and the elders “appointed by the apostles, or afterwards by other illustrious men,” are spoken of “as borne witness to for a long period” (Ibid., I. 99, 102, 108).
There being ample room to question the existence of a church at Rome during the first century, the succession of bishops provided for such a church in that period equally falls to the ground. That Clement stood in such succession there is no reliable testimony. We do not know who the person so named was, or when he had existence. A number of confessedly spurious writings are put forward in this name. The single epistle currently accepted as his does not bear the record of his authorship, and the name of Clement is attached to it by one who lived more than a century and a half after his alleged time. The epistle extant before us as that in question is discovered more than fifteen hundred years after its asserted date. What certainty we have of its identity, or purity, it is vain to inquire. The epistle itself has phrases indicating that it was written at some considerable period after Christianity had been established, and there is no room, therefore, for supposing that it belongs to a very early age, or the alleged apostolic period.
For our introduction to Polycarp we are indebted, equally as for our introduction to Clement, to Irenæus, a man of an uncritical turn of mind, bent, in an age when scrupulosity was ill observed, on bringing before us characters associated with