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The national religion of the Heathen, and their idolatrous worship, as established by their laws and customs, and received by the vulgar, was so strange, absurd, and inconsistent, besides its variety in different countries, that it is not easy to give an account of it. But briefly, and in general, it seems to have been founded on these suppositions :
That there were many gods, one of whom was superior to the rest;
That they were all concerned in the government of the world, and could do good or hurt to men, as they were disposed;
That they were far superior to men in power and knowledge, as also that they were immortal,—but that else they had like passions with men, were capricious, revengeful, and easily provoked 9;
That they only expected to have magnificent temples built for them, adorned with rich gifts, statues erected, and sacrifices offered to them.", hymns sung in their praise, persons dedicated to their service, feasts and solemnities kept in honour of them; that whosoever paid them this outward respect was religious : so that religion and virtue were two things. Add to this, that some solemn rites consisted in cruel, impure, or indecent actions s.
The Gentiles, though they had for the most part mean and false notions of religion, were more wicked than igno
9 The inferior deities.
r Pulchre observat Sam. Pufendorfius Introd. ad Histor. part. 1. c. 12. § 2 apud Ethnicos veteres nullas fuisse sacras conciones sive publicos cætus, in quibus populus de religione sua institueretur, et de virtute ac pietate colenda admoneretur : sed maximam partem cultus deorum constitisse sacrificiis cerimoniisque et dierum festorum solennitate, quæ tamen ludis potius et luxu, quam divinarum rerum contemplatione et pietatis exercitatione, obibatur. Ita ut ex ejusmodi religione Ethi-nica neque per vitam erudiri homo in cognitione Numinis, neque inflammari ad pietatem, neque in morte solatium ac spem de meliore vita concipere posset. Quo magis agnoscenda est nostra Christianorum felicitas, &c. Fabricius, Bibliogr. Antiq. p. 379. The emperor Julian was sensible of this defect in paganism, and intended to redress it, as I observe in another place.
8 Justin xxi. 3. Eusebius de Vit. Const. ii. 55, 58. Orat. de Laud. Const. 9. 13. Socrates Hist. Eccl. iii. 2. Clemens Alex. Cohort, jii p. 36. Le Clerc on Exod. xxxiv. 15. Whitby on Ephes. v. 4.
rant. We need not appeal to the testimony of the first Christians, and to the epistles of St. Paul, for the truth of this : the Heathen writers, their poets, philosophers, and historians, have left sad descriptions or scandalous proofs of the extreme corruption of the age in which they lived'. Such a degeneracy amongst the Gentiles would probably produce in them a dislike of a pure and holy religion, of the disagreeable truths which opposed their favourite inclinations, and of those troublesoine reformers who undertook to show them the necessity of breaking off their bad
The philosophers and other learned Pagans scorned, no less than the Jewish teachers, to be instructed by poor, and obscure, and illiterate men : and as the Jews objected that none of their rulers believed in Christ, so the Gentiles observed with great contempt, that the first proselytes to Christianity were chiefly of the lower sort.
The philosophers, and the more learned amongst the Gentiles, might be ranked under three sorts : Such as worshipped one supreme God, and many
inferior, who under him governed the world ;
Such as thought there was no knowledge and certainty; Such as believed no God, or no providence.
Their pride and high opinion of themselves would not suffer them to condescend to be taught by men of no reading and learning ; and their firm adherence to their several sects, for which they were remarkable, made them obstinate in resisting the best arguments. There were in particular two or three notions much prevailing amongst them, which increased their prejudices against the gospel :
First, that the learned might think as they would, and dispute as much as they thought fit, but that they ought to
Seneca de Benef. i. 9. Velleius Paterculus, speaking of the proscription under the Triumvirate, says, Notandum est fuisse in proscriptos uxorum fidem summam, libertorum mediam, servorum aliquam, filiorum nullam :' a remarkable proof, if it be true, of the bad education and horrible debauchery of the Roman youth. Seneca de Clem. i. 23. obs ves that in the reign of Claud in the space of five years, more parricides were condemned and punished than had ever been known in all past ages.
conform to the religion of their country, and keep it up, as it was delivered to them by their ancestors;
Secondly, that God did not require that all nations should be of the same religion, but was well pleased with the variety of worship which obtained in different places, according to the different notions which men had of the divine nature" ;
Thirdly, which seems to be a consequence of the two opinions before mentioned *, that religion or piety towards the Gods, as it is distinguishable from morality, was a thing of small moment in itself, and to be observed for reasons of state and for political purposes y.
They had no notion of refusing to comply with established rites, under pretence of conscience. They accounted Christians inexcusably obstinate and perverse, when they would not sacrifice to idols ?, and no better than fools and madmen, when they would suffer death rather than submit to the command of the magistrate.
These were the persons who despised and ridiculed the first Christians, who resisted the gospel during its progress, who wrote against it, and were the last defenders of paganism, when under the Christian emperors it was in a very declining condition.
In the heathen world were also many thousands who lived by the superstition of mankind, and who therefore
u Socrates Hist. Eccl. iv. 32. Thenist. Orat. 7. ad Valent. Symmach. apud Prudent. ii. 773.
* Seneca says, concerning the religion of his country, ' Quæ omnia sapiens servabit, tanquam legibus jussa, non tanquam Diis grata.' And • Omnem istam ignobilem Deorum turbam, quam longo ævo, longa superstitio congessit, sic adorabimus, ut meminerimus cultum ejils magis ad moren, quam ad rem pertinere. Apud Augustin. de Civ. Dei, vi. 10.
Hortabaris me] ut--opiniones, quas a majoribus accepimus de Diis immortalibus, sacra, cerimonias, religionesque defenderem. Ego vero eas defendam semper, semperque defendi ; nec me ex ea opinione, quam a majoribus accepi de cultu Deorum immortalium, ullius unquam oratio aut docti aut indocti movebit, &c. Cotta, apud Cicer. de Nais Deor. jii. 2. y But see Grotius de Jure B. ii. xx, 44.
Neque enim dubitabam, qualecunque esset quod faterentur, pervicaciam certe et inflexibilem obstinationem debere puniri. Plin. Epist. X. 97.
would eagerly oppose a new doctrine, which, if it prevailed, would put an end to their gain ; and though, being illiterate, they could not write and dispute for paganism, as the philosophers did, yet they could lie in behalf of it, and denounce the wrath of the Gods, and stir up the popu . lace against the Christians a.
And accordingly, from time to time, oracles were given out, either real or pretended, either by evil spirits or by evil men, complaining of the Christians, as of enemies to the Gods, and exciting the Gentiles against them b.
But the most dangerous enemies to Christianity were magistrates, princes, Roman emperors.
When these were superstitious, or capricious and cruel, or when they thought it prudent to oppose any change in religion, lesť it should hurt the state, the Christians were exposed to the fury of merciless tyrants. Of these emperors, some were remarkable for all wickedness"; they had a will to do any mischief, and nothing to hinder them from doing as they would d. They assumed to themselves divine honours, and hated every thing that looked like goodness, courage, and liberty. Under some of these emperors the Christians
a Haruspices has fabulas, conjectores, arioli, vates, et nunquam non vani concinnavere fanatici ; qui ne suæ artes intereant, ac ne stipes exiguas consultoribus excutiant jam raris, si quando vos velle rem venire in invidiam compererunt, negliguntur Dii, clamitant, &c. Arnobius, 1. i. p. 13.
Lamprid. Alexand. 43. p. 993. in Hist. Aug. Script. Euseb. Vit. Const. ii. 50, 51. Sozomen v. 19.
Chrysost. Homil. de Babyla.
c Dedimus profecto grande patientiæ documentum, et sicut vetus ætas vidit quid ultimum in libertate esset, ita nos quid in servitute, ademto per inquisitiones et loquendi audiendique commercio. Memoriam quoque ipsam cum voce perdidissemus, si tam in nostra potestate esset oblivisci quam tacere. Tacitus Vit. Jul. Agric. 2.
Augustus cuncta discordiis civilibus fessa, nomine Principis, sub imperiuin accepit. Tacitus Ann. i. 1. Lege antiquâ, quz Regia nuncupabatur, omne jus omnisque potestas populi Romani in imperatoriam translata sunt potestatem. Præfat. prima Digest. ad Trib. The same is often repeated in the Institutions, the Digests, and the Code. The emperors λέλυνται των νόμων, says Dio iii. Licet legibus soluti simus, (say Severus and Antoninus) attamen legibus vivimus.' Instit. lib. ii. tit. xvii. Imperatori et ipsas Deus leges subjecit.' Novell. cv. 2. I speak not of the power which the emperors ought to have had, but of the power which they claimed, usurped, and exercised. See Gerard Noodt Orat, in his Oper. Var. and Observ. lib. i. c. 3 & 4.
were treated with great inhumanity and cruelty; and, which seems strange, they met with ill usage
under some who had several good qualities, and from whom better things might have been expected, as Trajan, Titus, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius; but the reasons for it seem to have been partly these :
1. Those emperors who had many virtues, yet had their prejudices, or their superstition, and christianity had been misrepresented to them : nor are any persons more liable than princes to receive bad impressions and false accounts, and to have the truth concealed from them.
The emperor Marcus was prejudiced against the Christians, and in his own book xi. 3. censures, very unreasonably, what he ought to have approved, their readiness and resolution to die for their religion .
2. By the antient Roman laws it was not permitted to introduce any new religion without the leave of the magistrate 5, much less a religion which directly tended to overturn all the established rites and ceremonies.
Le Clerc Bibl. Chois. vol. xvii
. p. 396. Gravina, Orig. Jur. Civ. 1. iii. Huber. Dissert. 1. ii. 1. and particularly Campianus de Officio, &c. Magistratuum Romanorum. The senate retained some authority, or something like it, till Leo abolished all Senatus-consulta. Constit. 78. See also the notes on Digest. I. ix. 1.
e Aliud erat quod maxime gentiles in Christianos commovebat, quod hi scilicet pro bono reipublicæ statu, aut imperatorum, vel patria salute offerri sacrificia improbarent, iisque nec adesse, nec etiam sive per publicos sive per privatos imperatorum genios jurare acquiescerent, Ad hæc, Christiani a festis solemnibus, ludis publicis, aliisque ejusmodi spectaculis quæ pro victoriis adversus hostes partis, aut imperatorum natalitiis fieri consueverant, sese abhorrere testabantur. Hinc mirum non est, si imperatores, etiam, qui religiosiores et mitissimi habiti sunt, Christianos penitus extirpare conati fuerint, quos nempe non religioni solum suæ, sed etiam propriæ saluti adversari existimabant. Ruinart. Præf. in Act. Martyr.
f Le Clerc hath examined and fully confuted those censures, Hist. Eccl. p. 693. See also Remarks on Eccl. Hist. Marcus Aurelius no friend to the Christians.'
& Tertullian and Eusebius say that the Romans had an antient law, which forbad the worship of new deities without the permission of the senate; ne quis consecraretur, nisi a senatu probatus.' Apolog παλαίου νόμου κεκρατηκότος μή αλλως τινα παρα Ρωμαίοις θεοποιείσθαι, μη ουχί ψήφω και δόγματι συγκλήτου. Εccl. H. ii. 2.
Julius Paulus, who lived in the time of the emperor Alexander Severus, has preserved to us an antient law relating to this subject : 'Qui novas, et usu vel ratione incognitas religiones inducunt, ex quibus VOL. I.