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In the course of this important, though perhaps tedious inquiry, I have attempted to display the secondary causes which so efficaciously assisted the truth of the Christian religion. If among these causes
we have discovered any artificial ornaments, any accidental circumstances, or any mixture of error and passion, it cannot appear
surprising that mankind should be the most sensibly affected by such motives as were suited to their imperfect nature. It was by
the aid of these causes, exclusive zeal, the immediate expectation of another world, the claim of miracles, the practice of rigid
virtue, and the constitution of the primitive church, that Christianity spread itself with so much success in the Roman empire. To
the first of these the Christians were indebted for their invincible valor, which disdained to capitulate with the enemy whom they
were resolved to vanquish. The three succeeding causes supplied their valor with the most formidable arms. The last of these
causes united their courage, directed their arms, and gave their efforts that irresistible weight, which even a small band of
well-trained and intrepid volunteers has so often possessed over an undisciplined multitude, ignorant of the subject, and careless of
the event of the war. In the various religions of Polytheism, some wandering fanatics of Egypt and Syria, who addressed
themselves to the credulous superstition of the populace, were perhaps the only order of priests 150 that derived their whole
support and credit from their sacerdotal profession, and were very deeply affected by a personal concern for the safety or
prosperity of their tutelar deities. The ministers of Polytheism, both in Rome and in the provinces, were, for the most part, men of a
noble birth, and of an affluent fortune, who received, as an honorable distinction, the care of a celebrated temple, or of a public
sacrifice, exhibited, very frequently at their own expense, the sacred games, 151 and with cold indifference performed the ancient
rites, according to the laws and fashion of their country. As they were engaged in the ordinary occupations of life, their zeal and
devotion were seldom animated by a sense of interest, or by the habits of an ecclesiastical character. Confined to their respective
temples and cities, they remained without any connection of discipline or government; and whilst they acknowledged the supreme
jurisdiction of the senate, of the college of pontiffs, and of the emperor, those civil magistrates contented themselves with the easy
task of maintaining in peace and dignity the general worship of mankind. We have already seen how various, how loose, and how
uncertain were the religious sentiments of Polytheists. They were abandoned, almost without control, to the natural workings of a
superstitious fancy. The accidental circumstances of their life and situation determined the object as well as the degree of their
devotion; and as long as their adoration was successively prostituted to a thousand deities, it was scarcely possible that their hearts
could be susceptible of a very sincere or lively passion for any of them.
Footnote 150: The arts, the manners, and the vices of the
priests of the Syrian goddess are very humorously described by Apuleius, in the eighth book of his Metamorphosis.
Footnote 151: The office of Asiarch was of this nature, and it is frequently mentioned in Aristides, the Inscriptions, &c. It was annual and elective. None but the vainest citizens could desire the honor; none but the most wealthy could support the expense.
See, in the Patres Apostol. tom. ii. p. 200, with how much indifference Philip the Asiarch conducted himself in the martyrdom of
Polycarp. There were likewise Bithyniarchs, Lyciarchs, &c.
When Christianity appeared in the world, even these faint and
imperfect impressions had lost much of their original power. Human reason, which by its unassisted strength is incapable of
perceiving the mysteries of faith, had already obtained an easy triumph over the folly of Paganism; and when Tertullian or
Lactantius employ their labors in exposing its falsehood and extravagance, they are obliged to transcribe the eloquence of Cicero
or the wit of Lucian. The contagion of these skeptical writings had been diffused far beyond the number of their readers. The
fashion of incredulity was communicated from the philosopher to the man of pleasure or business, from the noble to the plebeian,
and from the master to the menial slave who waited at his table, and who eagerly listened to the freedom of his conversation. On
public occasions the philosophic part of mankind affected to treat with respect and decency the religious institutions of their
country; but their secret contempt penetrated through the thin and awkward disguise; and even the people, when they discovered
that their deities were rejected and derided by those whose rank or understanding they were accustomed to reverence, were filled
with doubts and apprehensions concerning the truth of those doctrines, to which they had yielded the most implicit belief. The
decline of ancient prejudice exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to the danger of a painful and comfortless situation. A
state of skepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the
multitude, that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvelous and
supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the
limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favored the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the
necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other
mode of superstition. Some deities of a more recent and fashionable cast might soon have occupied the deserted temples of Jupiter
and Apollo, if, in the decisive moment, the wisdom of Providence had not interposed a genuine revelation, fitted to inspire the most
rational esteem and conviction, whilst, at the same time, it was adorned with all that could attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the
veneration of the people. In their actual disposition, as many were almost disengaged from their artificial prejudices, but equally
susceptible and desirous of a devout attachment; an object much less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant place
in their hearts, and to gratify the uncertain eagerness of their passions. Those who are inclined to pursue this reflection, instead of
viewing with astonishment the rapid progress of Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its success was not still more rapid and
still more universal. It has been observed, with truth as well as propriety, that the conquests of Rome prepared and facilitated
those of Christianity. In the second chapter of this work we have attempted to explain in what manner the most civilized provinces
of Europe, Asia, and Africa were united under the dominion of one sovereign, and gradually connected by the most intimate ties of
laws, of manners, and of language. The Jews of Palestine, who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a reception
to the miracles of the divine prophet, that it was found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew gospel. 152
The authentic histories of the actions of Christ were composed in the Greek language, at a considerable distance from Jerusalem,
and after the Gentile converts were grown extremely numerous. 153 As soon as those histories were translated into the Latin
tongue, they were perfectly intelligible to all the subjects of Rome, excepting only to the peasants of Syria and Egypt, for whose
benefit particular versions were afterwards made. The public highways, which had been constructed for the use of the legions,
opened an easy passage for the Christian missionaries from Damascus to Corinth, and from Italy to the extremity of Spain or
Britain; nor did those spiritual conquerors encounter any of the obstacles which usually retard or prevent the introduction of a
foreign religion into a distant country. There is the strongest reason to believe, that before the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine,
the faith of Christ had been preached in every province, and in all the great cities of the empire; but the foundation of the several
congregations, the numbers of the faithful who composed them, and their proportion to the unbelieving multitude, are now buried in
obscurity, or disguised by fiction and declamation. Such imperfect circumstances, however, as have reached our knowledge
concerning the increase of the Christian name in Asia and Greece, in Egypt, in Italy, and in the West, we shall now proceed to
relate, without neglecting the real or imaginary acquisitions which lay beyond the frontiers of the Roman empire.
The modern critics are not disposed to believe what the fathers almost unanimously assert, that St. Matthew composed a Hebrew
gospel, of which only the Greek translation is extant. It seems, however, dangerous to reject their testimony. Papias, contemporary of the Apostle St. John, says positively that Matthew had written the discourses of Jesus Christ in Hebrew, and that each interpreted them as he could. This Hebrew was the Syro-Chaldaic dialect, then in use at Jerusalem: Origen, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, confirm this statement. Jesus Christ preached himself in Syro-Chaldaic, as is proved by many words which he used, and which the Evangelists have taken the
pains to translate. St. Paul, addressing the Jews, used the same language: Acts xxi. 40, xxii. 2, xxvi. 14. The opinions of some
critics prove nothing against such undeniable testimonies. Moreover, their principal objection is, that St. Matthew quotes the Old
Testament according to the Greek version of the LXX., which is inaccurate; for of ten quotations, found in his Gospel, seven are
evidently taken from the Hebrew text; the threo others offer little that differ: moreover, the latter are not literal quotations. St.
Jerome says positively, that, according to a copy which he had seen in the library of Caesarea, the quotations were made in
Hebrew (in Catal.) More modern critics, among others Michaelis, do not entertain a doubt on the subject. The Greek version
appears to have been made in the time of the apostles, as St. Jerome and St. Augustus affirm, perhaps by one of them.
Footnote 153: Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, and in the cities of Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Ephesus. See Mill. Prolegomena ad Nov. Testament, and Dr. Lardner's fair and extensive collection, vol. xv. Note: This question has, it is well
known, been most elaborately discussed since the time of Gibbon. The Preface to the Translation of Schleier Macher's Version of
St. Luke contains a very able summary of the various theories. - M.
The rich provinces that extend from the Euphrates to the Ionian Sea, were the principal theatre on which the apostle of the
Gentiles displayed his zeal and piety. The seeds of the gospel, which he had scattered in a fertile soil, were diligently cultivated by
his disciples; and it should seem that, during the two first centuries, the most considerable body of Christians was contained within
those limits. Among the societies which were instituted in Syria, none were more ancient or more illustrious than those of
Damascus, of Berea or Aleppo, and of Antioch. The prophetic introduction of the Apocalypse has described and immortalized the
seven churches of Asia; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, 154 Sardes, Laodicea and Philadelphia;
and their colonies were soon diffused over that populous country. In a very early period, the islands of Cyprus and Crete, the provinces of Thrace and
Macedonia, gave a favorable reception to the new religion; and Christian republics were soon founded in the cities of Corinth, of
Sparta, and of Athens. 155 The antiquity of the Greek and Asiatic churches allowed a sufficient space of time for their increase
and multiplication; and even the swarms of Gnostics and other heretics serve to display the flourishing condition of the orthodox
church, since the appellation of heretics has always been applied to the less numerous party. To these domestic testimonies we
may add the confession, the complaints, and the apprehensions of the Gentiles themselves. From the writings of Lucian, a
philosopher who had studied mankind, and who describes their manners in the most lively colors, we may learn that, under the
reign of Commodus, his native country of Pontus was filled with Epicureans and Christians. 156 Within fourscore years after the
death of Christ, 157 the humane Pliny laments the magnitude of the evil which he vainly attempted to eradicate. In his very
curious epistle to the emperor Trajan, he affirms, that the temples were almost deserted, that the sacred victims scarcely found
any purchasers, and that the superstition had not only infected the cities, but had even spread itself into the villages and the open
country of Pontus and Bithynia. 158
Footnote 154: The Alogians (Epiphanius de Haeres. 51) disputed the genuineness of the
Apocalypse, because the church of Thyatira was not yet founded. Epiphanius, who allows the fact, extricates himself from the
difficulty by ingeniously supposing that St. John wrote in the spirit of prophecy. See Abauzit, Discours sur l'Apocalypse.
Footnote 155: The epistles of Ignatius and Dionysius (ap. Euseb. iv. 23) point out many churches in Asia and Greece. That of
Athens seems to have been one of the least flourishing.
Footnote 156: Lucian in Alexandro, c. 25. Christianity however, must have been very unequally diffused over Pontus; since, in the
middle of the third century, there was no more than seventeen believers in the extensive diocese of Neo-Caesarea. See M. de
Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiast. tom. iv. p. 675, from Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, who were themselves natives of Cappadocia.
Footnote 157: According to the ancients, Jesus Christ suffered under the consulship of the two Gemini, in the year 29 of our
present aera. Pliny was sent into Bithynia (according to Pagi) in the year 110.
Footnote 158: Plin. Epist. x. 97.
Without descending into a minute scrutiny of the expressions or of the motives of those writers who either celebrate or lament the
progress of Christianity in the East, it may in general be observed, that none of them have left us any grounds from whence a just
estimate might be formed of the real numbers of the faithful in those provinces. One circumstance, however, has been fortunately
preserved, which seems to cast a more distinct light on this obscure but interesting subject. Under the reign of Theodosius, after
Christianity had enjoyed, during more than sixty years, the sunshine of Imperial favor, the ancient and illustrious church of Antioch
consisted of one hundred thousand persons, three thousand of whom were supported out of the public oblations. 159 The splendor
and dignity of the queen of the East, the acknowledged populousness of Caesarea, Seleucia, and Alexandria, and the destruction of
two hundred and fifty thousand souls in the earthquake which afflicted Antioch under the elder Justin, 160 are so many
convincing proofs that the whole number of its inhabitants was not less than half a million, and that the Christians, however
multiplied by zeal and power, did not exceed a fifth part of that great city. How different a proportion must we adopt when we
compare the persecuted with the triumphant church, the West with the East, remote villages with populous towns, and countries
recently converted to the faith with the place where the believers first received the appellation of Christians! It must not, however,
be dissembled, that, in another passage, Chrysostom, to whom we are indebted for this useful information, computes the multitude
of the faithful as even superior to that of the Jews and Pagans. 161 But the solution of this apparent difficulty is easy and
obvious. The eloquent preacher draws a parallel between the civil and the ecclesiastical constitution of Antioch; between the list of
Christians who had acquired heaven by baptism, and the list of citizens who had a right to share the public liberality. Slaves,
strangers, and infants were comprised in the former; they were excluded from the latter.
Footnote 159: Chrysostom. Opera, tom.
vii. p. 658, 810, edit. Savil. ii. 422, 329.
Footnote 160: John Malala, tom. ii. p. 144. He draws the same conclusion with regard to the populousness of Antioch.
Footnote 161: Chrysostom. tom. i. p. 592. I am indebted for these passages, though not for my inference, to the learned Dr.
Lardner. Credibility of the Gospel of History, vol. xii. p. 370.
Note: The statements of Chrysostom with regard to the population of Antioch, whatever may be their accuracy, are perfectly
consistent. In one passage he reckons the population at 200,000. In a second the Christians at 100,000. In a third he states that the
Christians formed more than half the population.
The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion. It was at first
embraced by great numbers of the Theraputae, or Essenian, of the Lake Mareotis, a Jewish sect which had abated much of its
reverence for the Mosaic ceremonies. The austere life of the Essenians, their fasts and excommunications, the community of
goods, the love of celibacy, their zeal for martyrdom, and the warmth though not the purity of their faith, already offered a very
lively image of the primitive discipline. 162 It was in the school of Alexandria that the Christian theology appears to have assumed
a regular and scientific form; and when Hadrian visited Egypt, he found a church composed of Jews and of Greeks, sufficiently
important to attract the notice of that inquisitive prince. 163 But the progress of Christianity was for a long time confined within
the limits of a single city, which was itself a foreign colony, and till the close of the second century the predecessors of Demetrius
were the only prelates of the Egyptian church. Three bishops were consecrated by the hands of Demetrius, and the number was
increased to twenty by his successor Heraclas. 164 The body of the natives, a people distinguished by a sullen inflexibility of
temper, 165 entertained the new doctrine with coldness and reluctance; and even in the time of Origen, it was rare to meet with
an Egyptian who had surmounted his early prejudices in favor of the sacred animals of his country. 166 As soon, indeed, as
Christianity ascended the throne, the zeal of those barbarians obeyed the prevailing impulsion. The cities of Egypt were filled with
bishops and the deserts of Thebais swarmed with hermits.
Footnote 162: Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, l. 2, c. 20, 21, 22, 23, has examined with the most critical accuracy the curious treatise of Philo, which describes the Therapeutae. By proving that it was composed as early as the time of Augustus, Basnage has
demonstrated, in spite of Eusebius (l. ii. c. 17) and a crowd of modern Catholics, that the Therapeutae were neither Christians nor
monks. It still remains probable that they changed their name, preserved their manners, adopted some new articles of faith, and
gradually became the fathers of the Egyptian Ascetics.
Footnote 163: See a letter of Hadrian in the Augustan History, p. 245.
Footnote 164: For the succession of Alexandrian bishops,
consult Renaudot's History, p. 24, &c. This curious fact is preserved by the patriarch Eutychius, Annal. tom. i. p. 334.
Footnote 165: Ammian. Marcellin. xxii. 16.
Footnote 166: Origen contra Celsum, l. i. p. 40.
A perpetual stream of strangers and provincials flowed into the capacious bosom of Rome. Whatever was strange or odious,
whoever was guilty or suspected, might hope, in the obscurity of that immense capital, to elude the vigilance of the law. In such a
various conflux of nations, every teacher, either of truth or falsehood, every founder, whether of a virtuous or a criminal
association, might easily multiply his disciples or accomplices. The Christians of Rome, at the time of the accidental persecution of
Nero, are represented by Tacitus as already amounting to a very great multitude, 167 and the language of that great historian is
almost similar to the style employed by Livy, when he relates the introduction and the suppression of the rites of Bacchus. After
the Bacchanals had awakened the severity of the senate, it was likewise apprehended that a very great multitude, as it were
another people, had been initiated into those abhorred mysteries. A more careful inquiry soon demonstrated, that the offenders did
not exceed seven thousand; a number indeed sufficiently alarming, when considered as the object of public justice. 168 It is with
the same candid allowance that we should interpret the vague expressions of Tacitus, and in a former instance of Pliny, when they
exaggerate the crowds of deluded fanatics who had forsaken the established worship of the gods. The church of Rome was
undoubtedly the first and most populous of the empire; and we are possessed of an authentic record which attests the state of
religion in that city about the middle of the third century, and after a peace of thirty-eight years. The clergy, at that time, consisted
of a bishop, forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, as many sub-deacons, forty-two acolythes, and fifty readers, exorcists, and
porters. The number of widows, of the infirm, and of the poor, who were maintained by the oblations of the faithful, amounted to
fifteen hundred. 169 From reason, as well as from the analogy of Antioch, we may venture to estimate the Christians of Rome at
about fifty thousand. The populousness of that great capital cannot perhaps be exactly ascertained; but the most modest
calculation will not surely reduce it lower than a million of inhabitants, of whom the Christians might constitute at the most a
twentieth part. 170
Footnote 167: Ingens multitudo is the expression of Tacitus, xv. 44.
Footnote 168: T. Liv. xxxix. 13, 15, 16, 17. Nothing could
exceed the horror and consternation of the senate on the discovery of the Bacchanalian, whose depravity is described, and
perhaps exaggerated, by Livy.
Footnote 169: Eusebius, l. vi. c. 43. The Latin translator (M. de Valois) has thought proper to
reduce the number of presbyters to forty-four.
Footnote 170: This proportion of the presbyters and of the poor, to the rest of the
people, was originally fixed by Burnet, (Travels into Italy, p. 168,) and is approved by Moyle, (vol. ii. p. 151.) They were both
unacquainted with the passage of Chrysostom, which converts their conjecture almost into a fact.
The western provincials appeared to have derived the knowledge of Christianity from the same source which had diffused among
them the language, the sentiments, and the manners of Rome. In this more important circumstance, Africa, as well as Gaul, was gradually fashioned to the imitation of the capital. Yet notwithstanding the many favorable occasions which might invite the Roman missionaries to visit their Latin provinces, it was late before they passed either the sea or the Alps; 171 nor can we discover in those great countries any assured traces either of faith or of persecution that ascend higher than the reign of the Antonines. 172 The slow progress of the gospel in the cold climate of
Gaul, was extremely different from the eagerness with which it seems to have been received on the burning sands of Africa. The
African Christians soon formed one of the principal members of the primitive church. The practice introduced into that province of
appointing bishops to the most inconsiderable towns, and very frequently to the most obscure villages, contributed to multiply the
splendor and importance of their religious societies, which during the course of the third century were animated by the zeal of
Tertullian, directed by the abilities of Cyprian, and adorned by the eloquence of Lactantius.
But if, on the contrary, we turn our eyes towards Gaul, we must content ourselves with discovering, in the time of Marcus
Antoninus, the feeble and united congregations of Lyons and Vienna; and even as late as the reign of Decius, we are assured, that
in a few cities only, Arles, Narbonne, Toulouse, Limoges, Claremont, Tours, and Paris, some scattered churches were supported
by the devotion of a small number of Christians. 173 Silence is indeed very consistent with devotion; but it is seldom
compatible with zeal, we may perceive and lament the languid state of Christianity in those provinces which had exchanged the
Celtic for the Latin tongue, since they did not, during the three first centuries, give birth to a single ecclesiastical writer. From Gaul,
which claimed a just preeminence of learning and authority over all the countries on this side of the Alps, the light of the gospel
was more faintly reflected on the remote provinces of Spain and Britain; and if we may credit the vehement assertions of
Tertullian, they had already received the first rays of the faith, when he addressed his apology to the magistrates of the emperor
Severus. 174 But the obscure and imperfect origin of the western churches of Europe has been so negligently recorded, that if
we would relate the time and manner of their foundation, we must supply the silence of antiquity by those legends which avarice
or superstition long afterwards dictated to the monks in the lazy gloom of their convents. 175 Of these holy romances, that of the
apostle St. James can alone, by its singular extravagance, deserve to be mentioned. From a peaceful fisherman of the Lake of
Gennesareth, he was transformed into a valorous knight, who charged at the head of the Spanish chivalry in their battles against
the Moors. The gravest historians have celebrated his exploits; the miraculous shrine of Compostella displayed his power; and the
sword of a military order, assisted by the terrors of the Inquisition, was sufficient to remove every objection of profane criticism.
Footnote 173: There is some reason to believe that in the beginning of the fourth century, the
extensive dioceses of Liege, of Treves, and of Cologne, composed a single bishopric, which had been very recently founded. See
Memoires de Tillemont, tom vi. part i. p. 43, 411.
Footnote 174: The date of Tertullian's Apology is fixed, in a dissertation of
Mosheim, to the year 198.
Footnote 175: In the fifteenth century, there were few who had either inclination or courage to question, whether Joseph of
Arimathea founded the monastery of Glastonbury, and whether Dionysius the Areopagite preferred the residence of Paris to that
Footnote 176: The stupendous metamorphosis was performed in the ninth century. See Mariana, (Hist. Hispan. l. vii. c. 13, tom. i. p. 285, edit. Hag. Com. 1733,) who, in every sense, imitates Livy, and the honest detection of the legend of St. James by Dr.
Geddes, Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 221.
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