網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

He certainly was most unreasonable in saying, that their obstinacy ought to be punished, whether their opinions were right or wrong. Besides putting some to death, which he had not a shadow of right to do, he tore others from their homes, who claimed the privileges of Roman citizens, and subjected them to the suffering of being sent to the capital. What became of them we can only conjecture; probably they might as well have met their fate at home. It seems that by secret accusation many were wrongfully charged as Christians, and escaped by acknowledging the Emperor as a god. Perhaps such persons had been heard to speak against the persecution of the Christians. However, when the prætor had them in his power, he proceeded rigidly with them, obliging them to follow him in a prescribed form of invoking the gods. Some acknowledged their profession when first asked, but being intimidated by threats, denied it when the question was repeated. The timid, the half-convinced, acted then just as they would act now. Some too had apostatized after a long profession, either through disappointment, interest, or fear. If any evidence were needed to verify the authenticity of this letter, it would be found abundantly in the enumeration of such natural particulars as these, concerning the various dispositions of a large multitude of professed Christians.. Pliny says that under solemn oath the Christians affirmed, that their whole crime or error lay in their meeting upon the Lord's day, before it was light, for the sake of being quiet and unmolested, when they sung and prayed in the name of Christ, and bound themselves not in any pledge of wickedness, but under a sacred agreement to abstain from the sins prevailing around them. sentation is precisely in accordance with the idea of a Christian assembly, which Pliny would have been likely to form from what he could hear. He adds that after this service they separated - and after a time came together again to a common meal ; but that since the publication of his edict they had given up this latter meeting. He refers, not to the observance of the Lord's Supper, which generally accompanied the morning service, but to a common friendly meeting of the rich and poor, called a Love Feast, which was in general prevalence among the early Christians, and highly advantageous to their sympathy and mutual affection. This feast, however, was not enjoined in the New Testament, and by omitting it, when it was probibited, the Christians, as they were bound to do, showed a

This repre

proper respect for the civil authority of the magistrate, and took some other method of providing for the poor and destitute. The great jealousy then entertained, of any assembly of the people, is proved to us by another letter of Pliny to the Emperor, with his answer. A destructive conflagration had occurred in Bithynia, and Pliny asked permission to establish a company of one hundred and fifty firemen; but the Emperor refused, on the plea that they would not fail to form themselves into assemblies. The Christians then gave up their social feasts. But Pliny was not satisfied with simple judicial evidence;

he put two aged deaconesses to the torture; yet even then he discovered nothing, except a devoted adherence to their belief, which he calls a bad and excessive superstition, deeming it alike absurd and immoderate. He admits the great numbers of the converts, of both sexes, of every age and rank, in city, village, and open country ; yet his success in working upon the timid, and the unstable, leads him to hope he can fully extirpate the faith. Though the temple and sacrificial rites had been greatly neglected, and but few victims had of late been sold in the public shambles, he catches at the appearance of a return to former usages. There is in these statements evidence, that popular feelings were enlisted both for and against the Christian faith. Pliny himself was a priest; and he writes to the Emperor who was likewise the high priest of the empire. Both were concerned for the Pagan worship.

Have we not reason to feel proud of the high and honorable testimonies to our religion, thus unwittingly given by a learned heathen ? We should cherish with gratitute and reverence the resolute constancy, the guiltless perseverance of that community of early Eastern Christians. See 1 Peter, i. 1, and iv.12, &c. A few remarks may likwise be added

upon

the
answer,

which the Emperor Trajan returned to Pliny. He uses few words, but is distinct and lawyer-like. He approves the proceedings of his official agent, instituted in the deficiency of any legal precedents, and thus shows his own opinion, that Christianity was only a temporary effervescence. He admits that there should be a difference in the treatment of women, children, and responsible men. He allows forgiveness upon good proof of repentance. He decides that the name alone, without any crime attached to it, is to be punished. He forbids their being sought after, or apprehended by anonymous accusation. Those who acknowledge having been Christians, and are willing to

more severe.

even

recant, are to show their sincerity by supplicating the heathen gods. This imperial edict, though addressed particularly to Pliny, of course indicated the mode of proceeding against the Christians, which all provincial officers were to adopt. There is no proof that Trajan ever revoked it. It was inhuman and cruel, and all we can say in its favor is, that it might have been

These Letters exhibit to us the first effects of Christianity, apparent to those who were not its disciples; its secret and mysterious meetings, its prayers and sacraments in the name of an unknown deity, drawing its disciples away from the sacred rites and the public spectacles of heathenism. There was a remarkable desertion of the temples, and of the market for bestial victims. Large multitudes of every age and rank, even some Roman citizens, professed the religion retired hamlets, and isolated country dwellings contained its disciples. They had long prosessed iheir faith, and no threat or punishment would lead them to revile a man, who they knew had suffered an ignominious death, after a lowly birth and life. Why had they this intensity of faith, save that they knew in whom they believed ? Their faithi was very simple, free from abstruse speculations, and within the capacity of all sorts of men. Above all their innocence is attested. No crime could be charged upon them; even deserters and traitors could not implicate them. Their name, as it brought them to suspicion, served for their condemnation. It is likewise interesting to observe the haughty indifference of Pliny to the Christian faith. He cared no more about it than to observe the forms of law against its disciples. He speaks of them and of their superstition, as we might suppose he would do, when compelled to turn aside, for a moment, from the usual tenor of his correspondence with the elegant and refined companions of his city life.

In concluding our remarks upon these heathen testimonies, we will only add, that they are full and abundant specimens of what we should have, if we were in possession of a large library of works from that age.

Were there an hundred more such testimonies, they would only offer a more extended commentary upon the expression of the apostle, that the doctrine of Jesus Christ was to the Gentiles - foolishness.

G. E. E.

[ocr errors][merged small]

The substance of this article will consist of a translation from the treatise of Tertullian against Praxeas, on the Trinity. We offer it, in some sort a mere curiosity, as being the most ancient Trinitarian Tract now extant. As a mere curiosity, perhaps, it would not be worth the trouble of translation, nor worthy of a place in so grave a journal as this. But it may answer other and higher purposes, than to be shown as a literary antique. It is a specimen of the theological composition of the early. church, and of the modes of reasoning which were then thought legitimate. It shows how much knowledge of the fountains of theological knowledge it was then thought necessary to possess, in order to settle points of faith.

The works of Tertullian, it appears to us, merit more attention than has usually been given to them by scholars. They have usually been mainly searched for arguments to sustain one side or the other of the various controversies, which have sprung up in the church. Their true value, it seems to us, is rather ethical than theological. They show us the effect which Christianity bad then produced, in modifying the moral sentiments of the Roman world. What they were under the sway of Paganism we learn through the classics. In the works of Virgil and Horace, Cicero and Tacitus, we learn very nearly what was the standard of right and wrong, what

constituted a good and what a bad man. In the works of Tertullian, the classical scholar first finds the language of the stern conquerors of the world used to express the new moral and religious ideas introduced by Christianity. He finds the Latin language greatly degenerated from its classic purity, new words introduced, and old ones used in new senses. He is more sensible than ever of its inferiority to the Greek, in richness, flexibility, and precision. It appears clumsy and awkward, when set to the task of nice definition. Its fingers are found to be all thumbs, when he attempts to pick up with them the minute points of ethical and theological controversy.

From the writings of Tertullian alone, almost a perfectosystem might be made out of the ethics of Christianity pat that period. We see, indeed, in him, that the sternness of the RO man temper assimilated most readily with de ascetic features

of Christianity, and the readiness, with which he fell in with the Montanist doctrines and discipline, was more likely to have been caused by the bent of his disposition, than any disappointment of his ambition, as is sometimes asserted, in not obtaining the See of Carthage or Rome.

Tertullian was a native of Carthage, and flourished in the latter part of the second, and the beginning of the third century. He was a man of strong native powers of mind, and had received that measure of early education which was bestowed upon the middle classes of Roman society. At what time he was converted, we are not informed. He became a voluminous writer at an early age. And if we were to judge from what is now extant, as well as what has perished, we cannot conceive how he could have done much else than write and publish. He had a reputation for orthodoxy, until past the middle age, when he became acquainted with the pretensions of Montanus, an enthusiast of Asia Minor, who with his two companions, Priscilla and Maximilla, professed to have the gift of prophecy, and preached various uncommanded austerities as indispensable to salvation. This alienated bim from the body of the church, and he afterwards spoke of his old associates in terms of contempt, calling them Naturalists, meaning by it, sensualists.

Most of bis writinys are ethical in their character. But he was always ready for a controversy, and when engaged in one, he never spared his adversary, but heaped upon him, as the reader will see, in the following translation, every species of abuse. To attribute his actions to the devil, to say that he is suborned by the devil to lie, and to hint that it would have been well if God had annibilated him, is with our author very moderate language. Who this Praxeas was, against whom Tertullian composed this treatise, we have scarce any means of knowing. What we do know about him is chiefly gathered from this very composition. Other ecclesiastical writers say, that he was a native of Africa. What had raised the ire of Tertullian against him, seems to have been his conduct concerning Montanus and his associates. It appears that the Bishop of Rome had become, to some extent, persuaded of the reality of the pretensions of Montanus, and was about to write letters to the churches of Asia Minor, to effect a reconciliation between them and Montanus, with whom they had been at

Praxeas, it would seem, made the Bishop acquainted with the true nature of this new prophecy, and was the

variance.

« 上一頁繼續 »