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part of the letter which indicate the same thing; one, in which he declares that he had “never been present at any trials of Christians, and therefore knew not whạt was the usual subject of inquiry and punishment, or how far either was wont to be urged.” The second clause is the following: “ Others were named by an informer, who, at first, confessed themselves Christians, and afterwards denied it: the rest said, they had been Christians, some three years ago, some longer, and some about twenty years.” It is also apparent, that Pliny speaks of the Christians as a description of men well known to the person to whom he writes. His first sentence concerning them is, “I have never been present at the trials of Christians.” This mention of the name of Christians, without any preparatory explanation, shows that it was a term familiar both to the writer of the letter, and to the person to whom it was addressed. Had it not been so, Pliny would naturally have begun his letter by informing the emperor that he had met with a certain set of men in the province called Christians.
Here then is a very singular evidence of the progress of the Christian religion in a short space. It was not fourscore years after the crucifixion of Jesus, when Pliny wrote this letter;. nor seventy years since the apostles of Jesus began to mention his name to the Gentile world. Bithynia and Pontus. were at a great distance from Judea, the centre 'from which the reli- . gion spread; yet in these provinces. Christianity had long subsisted, and Christians were now in such numbers as to lead the Roman governor to report to the emperor, that they were found not only in cities, but in villages and in open countries; of all ages, of every rank and condition; that they abounded so much as
to have produced a visible desertion of the temples ; that beasts brought to market for victims had few purchasers; that the sacred solemnities were much neglect ed;---circumstances noted by Pliny, for the express purpose of showing to the emperor the effect and prevalency of the new institution. .
No evidence remains by which it can be proved that the Christians were more numerous in Pontus and Bithynia than in other parts of the Roman empire; nor has any reason been offered to show why they should be so. Christianity did not begin in these countries, nor near them. I do not know, therefore, that we ought to confine the description in Pliny's letter to the state of Christianity in those provinces, even if no other account of the same subject had come down to us; but, certainly, this letter may fairly be applied in aid and confirmation of the representations given of the general state of Christianity in the world, by Christian writers of that and the next succeeding age. .
Justin Martyr, who wrote about thirty years after Pliny, and one hundred and six after the Ascension, has these remarkable words: “ There is not a nation, either of Greek or Barbarian, or of any other name, even of those who wander in tribes and live in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the Universe by the name of the crucified Jesus 86.” Tertullian, who comes about fifty years after Justin, appeals to the governors of the Roman empire in these terms:-“We were but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, islands, towns, and boroughs, the camp, the senate, and the forum. They (the heathen adversaries of Christianity) lament, that every sex, age, and con
36. Dial. cum. Tryph...
dition, and persons of every rank also, are converts to that name 37.” I do allow that these expressions are loose, and may be called declamatory. But even declamation hath its bounds; this public boasting upon a subject which must be known to every reader, was not only useless but unnatural, unless the truth of the case, in a considerable degree, correspond with the description; at least, unless it had been both true and notorious, that great multitudes of Christians, of all ranks and orders, were to be found in most parts of the Roman empire. The same Tertullian, in another passage, by way of setting forth the extensive diffusion of Christianity, enumerates as belonging to Christ, beside many other countries, the “ Moors and Gætulians of Africa, the borders of Spain, several nations of France, and parts of Britain inaccessible to the Romans, the Sarmatians, Daci, Germans, and Scythians:38.” And, which is more material than the extent of the institution, the number of Christians in the several countries in which it prevailed, is thus expressed by him: “ Although so great a multitude that in almost every city we form the great part, we pass our time modestly and in silence 39.” Clemens Alexandrinus, who preceded Tertullian by a few years, introduces a comparison between the success of Christianity and that of the most celebrated philosophical institutions : “ The philosophers were confined to Greece, and to their particular retainers; but the doctrine of the Master of Christianity did not remain in Judea, as philosophy did in Greece, but is spread throughout the whole world, in every nation, and village, and city, both of Greeks and Barbarians, converting both whole houses and separate individuals, having already
37 Tertull. Apol. c. 37. 38 Ad Jud. c. 7. 59 Ad Scap. c. 111.
brought over to the truth not a few of the philosophers themselves. If the Greek philosophy be prohibited, it immediately vanishes; whereas, from the first preaching of our doctrine, kings and tyrants, governors and presidents, with their whole train, and with the populace on their side, have endeavoured with their whole might to exterminate it, yet doth it flourish more and more 40." Origen, who follows Tertullian at the distance of only thirty years, delivers nearly the same account: “In every part of the world,” says he, " throughout all Greece, and in all other nations, there are innumerable and immense multitudes, who, having left the laws of their country, and those whom they esteemed gods, have given themselves up to the law of Moses, and the religion of Christ: and this not without the bitterest resentment from the idolators, hy whom they were frequently put to torture, and sometimes to death : and it is wonderful to observe, how, in so short a time, the religion has increased, amidst punishment and death, and every kind of torture 41. " In another passage, Origen draws the following candid comparison between the state of Christianity in his time, and the condition of its more primitive ages: “ By the good providence of God, the Christian religion has so flourished and increased continually, that it is now preached freely without molestation, although there was a thousand obstacles to the spreading of the doctrine of Jesus in the world. But as it was the will of God that the Gentiles should have the benefit of it, all the counsels of men against the Christians were defeated : and by how much the more emperors and governors of provinces, and the people everywhere,
40 Clem. Al. Strom. lib. vi. ad fin. 41 Orig. in Cels. lib. i.
strove to depress them, so much the more have they increased, and prevailed exceedingly 42."
It is well known, that within less than eighty years after this, the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine: and it is probable that Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians, because they were the powerful party; for Arnobius, who wrote immediately before Constantine's accession, speaks of the whole world as filled with Christ's doctrine, of its diffusion throughout all countries, of an innumerable body of Christians in distant provinces, of the strange revolution of opinion of men of the greatest genius-orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, having come over to the institution, and that also in the face of threats, executions, and tortures 43.”—And not more than twenty years after Constantine's entire possession of the empire, Julius Firmicus Maternus calls upon the emperors Constantius and Constans to extirpate the relics of the ancient religion; the reduced and fallen condition of which is described by our author in the following words: “ Licèt adhuc in quibusdam regionibus idololatriæ morientia palpitent membra; tamen in eo res est, ut à Christianis omnibus terris pestiferum hoc malum funditùs amputetur:” and in another place, « Modicum tantum superest, ut legibus vestris—extincta idololatriæ pereat funesta contagio 44.” It will not be thought that we quote this writer in order to recommend his temper or his judgment, but to show the comparative state of Christianity and of Heathenism
43 Orig. cont. Cels. lib. vii. 43 Arnob. in Gentes, l. i. p. 27. 9. 24. 42. 44, edit. Lug. Bat. 1650.
44 De Error. Profan. Relig. c. xxi. p. 172, quoted by Lardner, vol. viii. p. 262.