The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. II
Edward Gibbon

Part 2 out of 16

so unexpected a case: condemning therefore a few as a warning to
their brethren, he dismissed the multitude with indignation and
contempt. ^97 Notwithstanding this real or affected disdain, the
intrepid constancy of the faithful was productive of more
salutary effects on those minds which nature or grace had
disposed for the easy reception of religious truth. On these
melancholy occasions, there were many among the Gentiles who
pitied, who admired, and who were converted. The generous
enthusiasm was communicated from the sufferer to the spectators;
and the blood of martyrs, according to a well-known observation,
became the seed of the church.

[Footnote 92: Certatim gloriosa in certamina ruebatur; multique
avidius tum martyria gloriosis mortibus quaerebantur, quam nunc
Episcopatus pravis ambitionibus appetuntur. Sulpicius Severus,
l. ii. He might have omitted the word nunc.]

[Footnote 93: See Epist. ad Roman. c. 4, 5, ap. Patres Apostol.
tom. ii. p. 27. It suited the purpose of Bishop Pearson (see
Vindiciae Ignatianae, part ii. c. 9) to justify, by a profusion
of examples and authorities, the sentiments of Ignatius.]

[Footnote 94: The story of Polyeuctes, on which Corneille has
founded a very beautiful tragedy, is one of the most celebrated,
though not perhaps the most authentic, instances of this
excessive zeal. We should observe, that the 60th canon of the
council of Illiberis refuses the title of martyrs to those who
exposed themselves to death, by publicly destroying the idols.]
[Footnote 95: See Epictetus, l. iv. c. 7, (though there is some
doubt whether he alludes to the Christians.) Marcus Antoninus de
Rebus suis, l. xi. c. 3 Lucian in Peregrin.]

[Footnote 96: Tertullian ad Scapul. c. 5. The learned are
divided between three persons of the same name, who were all
proconsuls of Asia. I am inclined to ascribe this story to
Antoninus Pius, who was afterwards emperor; and who may have
governed Asia under the reign of Trajan.]
[Footnote 97: Mosheim, de Rebus Christ, ante Constantin. p. 235.]

But although devotion had raised, and eloquence continued to
inflame, this fever of the mind, it insensibly gave way to the
more natural hopes and fears of the human heart, to the love of
life, the apprehension of pain, and the horror of dissolution.
The more prudent rulers of the church found themselves obliged to
restrain the indiscreet ardor of their followers, and to distrust
a constancy which too often abandoned them in the hour of trial.
^98 As the lives of the faithful became less mortified and
austere, they were every day less ambitious of the honors of
martyrdom; and the soldiers of Christ, instead of distinguishing
themselves by voluntary deeds of heroism, frequently deserted
their post, and fled in confusion before the enemy whom it was
their duty to resist. There were three methods, however, of
escaping the flames of persecution, which were not attended with
an equal degree of guilt: first, indeed, was generally allowed to
be innocent; the second was of a doubtful, or at least of a
venial, nature; but the third implied a direct and criminal
apostasy from the Christian faith.

[Footnote 98: See the Epistle of the Church of Smyrna, ap. Euseb.
Hist. Eccles. Liv. c. 15

Note: The 15th chapter of the 10th book of the Eccles.
History of Eusebius treats principally of the martyrdom of St.
Polycarp, and mentions some other martyrs. A single example of
weakness is related; it is that of a Phrygian named Quintus, who,
appalled at the sight of the wild beasts and the tortures,
renounced his faith. This example proves little against the mass
of Christians, and this chapter of Eusebius furnished much
stronger evidence of their courage than of their timidity. - G

This Quintus had, however, rashly and of his own accord
appeared before the tribunal; and the church of Smyrna condemn
"his indiscreet ardor," coupled as it was with weakness in the
hour of trial. - M.]

I. A modern inquisitor would hear with surprise, that
whenever an information was given to a Roman magistrate of any
person within his jurisdiction who had embraced the sect of the
Christians, the charge was communicated to the party accused, and
that a convenient time was allowed him to settle his domestic
concerns, and to prepare an answer to the crime which was imputed
to him. ^99 If he entertained any doubt of his own constancy,
such a delay afforded him the opportunity of preserving his life
and honor by flight, of withdrawing himself into some obscure
retirement or some distant province, and of patiently expecting
the return of peace and security. A measure so consonant to
reason was soon authorized by the advice and example of the most
holy prelates; and seems to have been censured by few except by
the Montanists, who deviated into heresy by their strict and
obstinate adherence to the rigor of ancient discipline. ^100 II.
The provincial governors, whose zeal was less prevalent than
their avarice, had countenanced the practice of selling
certificates, (or libels, as they were called,) which attested,
that the persons therein mentioned had complied with the laws,
and sacrificed to the Roman deities. By producing these false
declarations, the opulent and timid Christians were enabled to
silence the malice of an informer, and to reconcile in some
measure their safety with their religion. A slight penance atoned
for this profane dissimulation. ^101 ^* III. In every
persecution there were great numbers of unworthy Christians who
publicly disowned or renounced the faith which they had
professed; and who confirmed the sincerity of their abjuration,
by the legal acts of burning incense or of offering sacrifices.
Some of these apostates had yielded on the first menace or
exhortation of the magistrate; whilst the patience of others had
been subdued by the length and repetition of tortures. The
affrighted countenances of some betrayed their inward remorse,
while others advanced with confidence and alacrity to the altars
of the gods. ^102 But the disguise which fear had imposed,
subsisted no longer than the present danger. As soon as the
severity of the persecution was abated, the doors of the churches
were assailed by the returning multitude of penitents who
detested their idolatrous submission, and who solicited with
equal ardor, but with various success, their readmission into the
society of Christians. ^103 ^!

[Footnote 99: In the second apology of Justin, there is a
particular and very curious instance of this legal delay. The
same indulgence was granted to accused Christians, in the
persecution of Decius: and Cyprian (de Lapsis) expressly mentions
the "Dies negantibus praestitutus."

Note: The examples drawn by the historian from Justin Martyr
and Cyprian relate altogether to particular cases, and prove
nothing as to the general practice adopted towards the accused;
it is evident, on the contrary, from the same apology of St.
Justin, that they hardly ever obtained delay. "A man named
Lucius, himself a Christian, present at an unjust sentence passed
against a Christian by the judge Urbicus, asked him why he thus
punished a man who was neither adulterer nor robber, nor guilty
of any other crime but that of avowing himself a Christian."
Urbicus answered only in these words: "Thou also hast the
appearance of being a Christian." "Yes, without doubt," replied
Lucius. The judge ordered that he should be put to death on the
instant. A third, who came up, was condemned to be beaten with
rods. Here, then, are three examples where no delay was granted.

[Surely these acts of a single passionate and irritated judge
prove the general practice as little as those quoted by Gibbon. -
M.] There exist a multitude of others, such as those of Ptolemy,
Marcellus, &c. Justin expressly charges the judges with ordering
the accused to be executed without hearing the cause. The words
of St. Cyprian are as particular, and simply say, that he had
appointed a day by which the Christians must have renounced their
faith; those who had not done it by that time were condemned. -
G. This confirms the statement in the text. - M.]
[Footnote 100: Tertullian considers flight from persecution as an
imperfect, but very criminal, apostasy, as an impious attempt to
elude the will of God, &c., &c. He has written a treatise on
this subject, (see p. 536 - 544, edit. Rigalt.,) which is filled
with the wildest fanaticism and the most incoherent declamation.
It is, however, somewhat remarkable, that Tertullian did not
suffer martyrdom himself.]

[Footnote 101: The libellatici, who are chiefly known by the
writings of Cyprian, are described with the utmost precision, in
the copious commentary of Mosheim, p. 483 - 489.]

[Footnote *: The penance was not so slight, for it was exactly
the same with that of apostates who had sacrificed to idols; it
lasted several years. See Fleun Hist. Ecc. v. ii. p. 171. - G.]

[Footnote 102: Plin. Epist. x. 97. Dionysius Alexandrin. ap.
Euseb. l. vi. c. 41. Ad prima statim verba minantis inimici
maximus fratrum numerus fidem suam prodidit: nec prostratus est
persecutionis impetu, sed voluntario lapsu seipsum prostravit.
Cyprian. Opera, p. 89. Among these deserters were many priests,
and even bishops.]

[Footnote 103: It was on this occasion that Cyprian wrote his
treatise De Lapsis, and many of his epistles. The controversy
concerning the treatment of penitent apostates, does not occur
among the Christians of the preceding century. Shall we ascribe
this to the superiority of their faith and courage, or to our
less intimate knowledge of their history!]

[Footnote !: Pliny says, that the greater part of the Christians
persisted in avowing themselves to be so; the reason for his
consulting Trajan was the periclitantium numerus. Eusebius (l.
vi. c. 41) does not permit us to doubt that the number of those
who renounced their faith was infinitely below the number of
those who boldly confessed it. The prefect, he says and his
assessors present at the council, were alarmed at seeing the
crowd of Christians; the judges themselves trembled. Lastly, St.
Cyprian informs us, that the greater part of those who had
appeared weak brethren in the persecution of Decius, signalized
their courage in that of Gallius. Steterunt fortes, et ipso
dolore poenitentiae facti ad praelium fortiores Epist. lx. p.
142. - G.]

IV. Notwithstanding the general rules established for the
conviction and punishment of the Christians, the fate of those
sectaries, in an extensive and arbitrary government, must still
in a great measure, have depended on their own behavior, the
circumstances of the times, and the temper of their supreme as
well as subordinate rulers. Zeal might sometimes provoke, and
prudence might sometimes avert or assuage, the superstitious fury
of the Pagans. A variety of motives might dispose the provincial
governors either to enforce or to relax the execution of the
laws; and of these motives the most forcible was their regard not
only for the public edicts, but for the secret intentions of the
emperor, a glance from whose eye was sufficient to kindle or to
extinguish the flames of persecution. As often as any occasional
severities were exercised in the different parts of the empire,
the primitive Christians lamented and perhaps magnified their own
sufferings; but the celebrated number of ten persecutions has
been determined by the ecclesiastical writers of the fifth
century, who possessed a more distinct view of the prosperous or
adverse fortunes of the church, from the age of Nero to that of
Diocletian. The ingenious parallels of the ten plagues of Egypt,
and of the ten horns of the Apocalypse, first suggested this
calculation to their minds; and in their application of the faith
of prophecy to the truth of history, they were careful to select
those reigns which were indeed the most hostile to the Christian
cause. ^104 But these transient persecutions served only to
revive the zeal and to restore the discipline of the faithful;
and the moments of extraordinary rigor were compensated by much
longer intervals of peace and security. The indifference of some
princes, and the indulgence of others, permitted the Christians
to enjoy, though not perhaps a legal, yet an actual and public,
toleration of their religion.

[Footnote 104: See Mosheim, p. 97. Sulpicius Severus was the
first author of this computation; though he seemed desirous of
reserving the tenth and greatest persecution for the coming of
the Antichrist.]

Chapter XVI: Conduct Towards The Christians, From Nero To

Part V.

The apology of Tertullian contains two very ancient, very
singular, but at the same time very suspicious, instances of
Imperial clemency; the edicts published by Tiberius, and by
Marcus Antoninus, and designed not only to protect the innocence
of the Christians, but even to proclaim those stupendous miracles
which had attested the truth of their doctrine. The first of
these examples is attended with some difficulties which might
perplex a sceptical mind. ^105 We are required to believe, that
Pontius Pilate informed the emperor of the unjust sentence of
death which he had pronounced against an innocent, and, as it
appeared, a divine, person; and that, without acquiring the
merit, he exposed himself to the danger of martyrdom; that
Tiberius, who avowed his contempt for all religion, immediately
conceived the design of placing the Jewish Messiah among the gods
of Rome; that his servile senate ventured to disobey the commands
of their master; that Tiberius, instead of resenting their
refusal, contented himself with protecting the Christians from
the severity of the laws, many years before such laws were
enacted, or before the church had assumed any distinct name or
existence; and lastly, that the memory of this extraordinary
transaction was preserved in the most public and authentic
records, which escaped the knowledge of the historians of Greece
and Rome, and were only visible to the eyes of an African
Christian, who composed his apology one hundred and sixty years
after the death of Tiberius. The edict of Marcus Antoninus is
supposed to have been the effect of his devotion and gratitude
for the miraculous deliverance which he had obtained in the
Marcomannic war. The distress of the legions, the seasonable
tempest of rain and hail, of thunder and of lightning, and the
dismay and defeat of the barbarians, have been celebrated by the
eloquence of several Pagan writers. If there were any Christians
in that army, it was natural that they should ascribe some merit
to the fervent prayers, which, in the moment of danger, they had
offered up for their own and the public safety. But we are still
assured by monuments of brass and marble, by the Imperial medals,
and by the Antonine column, that neither the prince nor the
people entertained any sense of this signal obligation, since
they unanimously attribute their deliverance to the providence of
Jupiter, and to the interposition of Mercury. During the whole
course of his reign, Marcus despised the Christians as a
philosopher, and punished them as a sovereign. ^106 ^*

[Footnote 105: The testimony given by Pontius Pilate is first
mentioned by Justin. The successive improvements which the story
acquired (as if has passed through the hands of Tertullian,
Eusebius, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Orosius, Gregory of Tours, and
the authors of the several editions of the acts of Pilate) are
very fairly stated by Dom Calmet Dissertat. sur l'Ecriture, tom.
iii. p. 651, &c.]

[Footnote 106: On this miracle, as it is commonly called, of the
thundering legion, see the admirable criticism of Mr. Moyle, in
his Works, vol. ii. p. 81 - 390.]

[Footnote *: Gibbon, with this phrase, and that below, which
admits the injustice of Marcus, has dexterously glossed over one
of the most remarkable facts in the early Christian history, that
the reign of the wisest and most humane of the heathen emperors
was the most fatal to the Christians. Most writers have ascribed
the persecutions under Marcus to the latent bigotry of his
character; Mosheim, to the influence of the philosophic party;
but the fact is admitted by all. A late writer (Mr. Waddington,
Hist. of the Church, p. 47) has not scrupled to assert, that
"this prince polluted every year of a long reign with innocent
blood;" but the causes as well as the date of the persecutions
authorized or permitted by Marcus are equally uncertain.
Of the Asiatic edict recorded by Melito. the date is
unknown, nor is it quite clear that it was an Imperial edict. If
it was the act under which Polycarp suffered, his martyrdom is
placed by Ruinart in the sixth, by Mosheim in the ninth, year of
the reign of Marcus. The martyrs of Vienne and Lyons are
assigned by Dodwell to the seventh, by most writers to the
seventeenth. In fact, the commencement of the persecutions of the
Christians appears to synchronize exactly with the period of the
breaking out of the Marcomannic war, which seems to have alarmed
the whole empire, and the emperor himself, into a paroxysm of
returning piety to their gods, of which the Christians were the
victims. See Jul, Capit. Script. Hist August. p. 181, edit.
1661. It is remarkable that Tertullian [Apologet. c. v.)
distinctly asserts that Verus (M. Aurelius) issued no edicts
against the Christians, and almost positively exempts him from
the charge of persecution. - M.

This remarkable synchronism, which explains the persecutions
under M Aurelius, is shown at length in Milman's History of
Christianity, book ii. v. - M. 1845.]

By a singular fatality, the hardships which they had endured
under the government of a virtuous prince, immediately ceased on
the accession of a tyrant; and as none except themselves had
experienced the injustice of Marcus, so they alone were protected
by the lenity of Commodus. The celebrated Marcia, the most
favored of his concubines, and who at length contrived the murder
of her Imperial lover, entertained a singular affection for the
oppressed church; and though it was impossible that she could
reconcile the practice of vice with the precepts of the gospel,
she might hope to atone for the frailties of her sex and
profession by declaring herself the patroness of the Christians.
^107 Under the gracious protection of Marcia, they passed in
safety the thirteen years of a cruel tyranny; and when the empire
was established in the house of Severus, they formed a domestic
but more honorable connection with the new court. The emperor
was persuaded, that in a dangerous sickness, he had derived some
benefit, either spiritual or physical, from the holy oil, with
which one of his slaves had anointed him. He always treated with
peculiar distinction several persons of both sexes who had
embraced the new religion. The nurse as well as the preceptor of
Caracalla were Christians; ^* and if that young prince ever
betrayed a sentiment of humanity, it was occasioned by an
incident, which, however trifling, bore some relation to the
cause of Christianity. ^108 Under the reign of Severus, the fury
of the populace was checked; the rigor of ancient laws was for
some time suspended; and the provincial governors were satisfied
with receiving an annual present from the churches within their
jurisdiction, as the price, or as the reward, of their
moderation. ^109 The controversy concerning the precise time of
the celebration of Easter, armed the bishops of Asia and Italy
against each other, and was considered as the most important
business of this period of leisure and tranquillity. ^110 Nor was
the peace of the church interrupted, till the increasing numbers
of proselytes seem at length to have attracted the attention, and
to have alienated the mind of Severus. With the design of
restraining the progress of Christianity, he published an edict,
which, though it was designed to affect only the new converts,
could not be carried into strict execution, without exposing to
danger and punishment the most zealous of their teachers and
missionaries. In this mitigated persecution we may still
discover the indulgent spirit of Rome and of Polytheism, which so
readily admitted every excuse in favor of those who practised the
religious ceremonies of their fathers. ^111

[Footnote 107: Dion Cassius, or rather his abbreviator Xiphilin,
l. lxxii. p. 1206. Mr. Moyle (p. 266) has explained the
condition of the church under the reign of Commodus.]

[Footnote *: The Jews and Christians contest the honor of having
furnished a nurse is the fratricide son of Severus Caracalla.
Hist. of Jews, iii. 158. - M.]

[Footnote 108: Compare the life of Caracalla in the Augustan
History, with the epistle of Tertullian to Scapula. Dr. Jortin
(Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii. p. 5, &c.) considers
the cure of Severus by the means of holy oil, with a strong
desire to convert it into a miracle.]
[Footnote 109: Tertullian de Fuga, c. 13. The present was made
during the feast of the Saturnalia; and it is a matter of serious
concern to Tertullian, that the faithful should be confounded
with the most infamous professions which purchased the connivance
of the government.]

[Footnote 110: Euseb. l. v. c. 23, 24. Mosheim, p. 435 - 447.]
[Footnote 111: Judaeos fieri sub gravi poena vetuit. Idem etiam
de Christianis sanxit. Hist. August. p. 70.]

But the laws which Severus had enacted soon expired with the
authority of that emperor; and the Christians, after this
accidental tempest, enjoyed a calm of thirty-eight years. ^112
Till this period they had usually held their assemblies in
private houses and sequestered places. They were now permitted
to erect and consecrate convenient edifices for the purpose of
religious worship; ^113 to purchase lands, even at Rome itself,
for the use of the community; and to conduct the elections of
their ecclesiastical ministers in so public, but at the same time
in so exemplary a manner, as to deserve the respectful attention
of the Gentiles. ^114 This long repose of the church was
accompanied with dignity. The reigns of those princes who
derived their extraction from the Asiatic provinces, proved the
most favorable to the Christians; the eminent persons of the
sect, instead of being reduced to implore the protection of a
slave or concubine, were admitted into the palace in the
honorable characters of priests and philosophers; and their
mysterious doctrines, which were already diffused among the
people, insensibly attracted the curiosity of their sovereign.
When the empress Mammaea passed through Antioch, she expressed a
desire of conversing with the celebrated Origen, the fame of
whose piety and learning was spread over the East. Origen obeyed
so flattering an invitation, and though he could not expect to
succeed in the conversion of an artful and ambitious woman, she
listened with pleasure to his eloquent exhortations, and
honorably dismissed him to his retirement in Palestine. ^115 The
sentiments of Mammaea were adopted by her son Alexander, and the
philosophic devotion of that emperor was marked by a singular but
injudicious regard for the Christian religion. In his domestic
chapel he placed the statues of Abraham, of Orpheus, of
Apollonius, and of Christ, as an honor justly due to those
respectable sages who had instructed mankind in the various modes
of addressing their homage to the supreme and universal Deity.
^116 A purer faith, as well as worship, was openly professed and
practised among his household. Bishops, perhaps for the first
time, were seen at court; and, after the death of Alexander, when
the inhuman Maximin discharged his fury on the favorites and
servants of his unfortunate benefactor, a great number of
Christians of every rank and of both sexes, were involved in the
promiscuous massacre, which, on their account, has improperly
received the name of Persecution. ^117 ^*

[Footnote 112: Sulpicius Severus, l. ii. p. 384. This
computation (allowing for a single exception) is confirmed by the
history of Eusebius, and by the writings of Cyprian.]

[Footnote 113: The antiquity of Christian churches is discussed
by Tillemont, (Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. iii. part ii. p.
68-72,) and by Mr. Moyle, (vol. i. p. 378-398.) The former refers
the first construction of them to the peace of Alexander Severus;
the latter, to the peace of Gallienus.]
[Footnote 114: See the Augustan History, p. 130. The emperor
Alexander adopted their method of publicly proposing the names of
those persons who were candidates for ordination. It is true
that the honor of this practice is likewise attributed to the

[Footnote 115: Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. l. vi. c. 21. Hieronym.
de Script. Eccles. c. 54. Mammaea was styled a holy and pious
woman, both by the Christians and the Pagans. From the former,
therefore, it was impossible that she should deserve that
honorable epithet.]

[Footnote 116: See the Augustan History, p. 123. Mosheim (p.
465) seems to refine too much on the domestic religion of
Alexander. His design of building a public temple to Christ,
(Hist. August. p. 129,) and the objection which was suggested
either to him, or in similar circumstances to Hadrian, appear to
have no other foundation than an improbable report, invented by
the Christians, and credulously adopted by an historian of the
age of Constantine.]

[Footnote 117: Euseb. l. vi. c. 28. It may be presumed that the
success of the Christians had exasperated the increasing bigotry
of the Pagans. Dion Cassius, who composed his history under the
former reign, had most probably intended for the use of his
master those counsels of persecution, which he ascribes to a
better age, and to and to the favorite of Augustus. Concerning
this oration of Maecenas, or rather of Dion, I may refer to my
own unbiased opinion, (vol. i. c. 1, note 25,) and to the Abbe de
la Bleterie (Memoires de l'Academie, tom. xxiv. p. 303 tom xxv.
p. 432.)

Note: If this be the case, Dion Cassius must have known the
Christians they must have been the subject of his particular
attention, since the author supposes that he wished his master to
profit by these "counsels of persecution." How are we to
reconcile this necessary consequence with what Gibbon has said of
the ignorance of Dion Cassius even of the name of the Christians?

(c. xvi. n. 24.) [Gibbon speaks of Dion's silence, not of his
ignorance. - M] The supposition in this note is supported by no
proof; it is probable that Dion Cassius has often designated the
Christians by the name of Jews. See Dion Cassius, l. lxvii. c
14, lxviii. l - G.

On this point I should adopt the view of Gibbon rather than
that of M Guizot. - M]

[Footnote *: It is with good reason that this massacre has been
called a persecution, for it lasted during the whole reign of
Maximin, as may be seen in Eusebius. (l. vi. c. 28.) Rufinus
expressly confirms it: Tribus annis a Maximino persecutione
commota, in quibus finem et persecutionis fecit et vitas Hist. l.
vi. c. 19. - G.]

Notwithstanding the cruel disposition of Maximin, the
effects of his resentment against the Christians were of a very
local and temporary nature, and the pious Origen, who had been
proscribed as a devoted victim, was still reserved to convey the
truths of the gospel to the ear of monarchs. ^118 He addressed
several edifying letters to the emperor Philip, to his wife, and
to his mother; and as soon as that prince, who was born in the
neighborhood of Palestine, had usurped the Imperial sceptre, the
Christians acquired a friend and a protector. The public and
even partial favor of Philip towards the sectaries of the new
religion, and his constant reverence for the ministers of the
church, gave some color to the suspicion, which prevailed in his
own times, that the emperor himself was become a convert to the
faith; ^119 and afforded some grounds for a fable which was
afterwards invented, that he had been purified by confession and
penance from the guilt contracted by the murder of his innocent
predecessor. ^120 The fall of Philip introduced, with the change
of masters, a new system of government, so oppressive to the
Christians, that their former condition, ever since the time of
Domitian, was represented as a state of perfect freedom and
security, if compared with the rigorous treatment which they
experienced under the short reign of Decius. ^121 The virtues of
that prince will scarcely allow us to suspect that he was
actuated by a mean resentment against the favorites of his
predecessor; and it is more reasonable to believe, that in the
prosecution of his general design to restore the purity of Roman
manners, he was desirous of delivering the empire from what he
condemned as a recent and criminal superstition. The bishops of
the most considerable cities were removed by exile or death: the
vigilance of the magistrates prevented the clergy of Rome during
sixteen months from proceeding to a new election; and it was the
opinion of the Christians, that the emperor would more patiently
endure a competitor for the purple, than a bishop in the capital.
^122 Were it possible to suppose that the penetration of Decius
had discovered pride under the disguise of humility, or that he
could foresee the temporal dominion which might insensibly arise
from the claims of spiritual authority, we might be less
surprised, that he should consider the successors of St. Peter,
as the most formidable rivals to those of Augustus.

[Footnote 118: Orosius, l. vii. c. 19, mentions Origen as the
object of Maximin's resentment; and Firmilianus, a Cappadocian
bishop of that age, gives a just and confined idea of this
persecution, (apud Cyprian Epist. 75.)]
[Footnote 119: The mention of those princes who were publicly
supposed to be Christians, as we find it in an epistle of
Dionysius of Alexandria, (ap. Euseb. l. vii. c. 10,) evidently
alludes to Philip and his family, and forms a contemporary
evidence, that such a report had prevailed; but the Egyptian
bishop, who lived at an humble distance from the court of Rome,
expresses himself with a becoming diffidence concerning the truth
of the fact. The epistles of Origen (which were extant in the
time of Eusebius, see l. vi. c. 36) would most probably decide
this curious rather than important question.]
[Footnote 120: Euseb. l. vi. c. 34. The story, as is usual, has
been embellished by succeeding writers, and is confuted, with
much superfluous learning, by Frederick Spanheim, (Opera Varia,
tom. ii. p. 400, &c.)]
[Footnote 121: Lactantius, de Mortibus Persecutorum, c. 3, 4.
After celebrating the felicity and increase of the church, under
a long succession of good princes, he adds, "Extitit post annos
plurimos, execrabile animal, Decius, qui vexaret Ecclesiam."]

[Footnote 122: Euseb. l. vi. c. 39. Cyprian. Epistol. 55. The
see of Rome remained vacant from the martyrdom of Fabianus, the
20th of January, A. D. 259, till the election of Cornelius, the
4th of June, A. D. 251 Decius had probably left Rome, since he
was killed before the end of that year.]
The administration of Valerian was distinguished by a levity
and inconstancy ill suited to the gravity of the Roman Censor.
In the first part of his reign, he surpassed in clemency those
princes who had been suspected of an attachment to the Christian
faith. In the last three years and a half, listening to the
insinuations of a minister addicted to the superstitions of
Egypt, he adopted the maxims, and imitated the severity, of his
predecessor Decius. ^123 The accession of Gallienus, which
increased the calamities of the empire, restored peace to the
church; and the Christians obtained the free exercise of their
religion by an edict addressed to the bishops, and conceived in
such terms as seemed to acknowledge their office and public
character. ^124 The ancient laws, without being formally
repealed, were suffered to sink into oblivion; and (excepting
only some hostile intentions which are attributed to the emperor
Aurelian ^125) the disciples of Christ passed above forty years
in a state of prosperity, far more dangerous to their virtue than
the severest trials of persecution.

[Footnote 123: Euseb. l. vii. c. 10. Mosheim (p. 548) has very
clearly shown that the praefect Macrianus, and the Egyptian
Magus, are one and the same person.]

[Footnote 124: Eusebius (l. vii. c. 13) gives us a Greek version
of this Latin edict, which seems to have been very concise. By
another edict, he directed that the Coemeteria should be restored
to the Christians.]
[Footnote 125: Euseb. l. vii. c. 30. Lactantius de M. P. c. 6.
Hieronym. in Chron. p. 177. Orosius, l. vii. c. 23. Their
language is in general so ambiguous and incorrect, that we are at
a loss to determine how far Aurelian had carried his intentions
before he was assassinated. Most of the moderns (except Dodwell,
Dissertat. Cyprian. vi. 64) have seized the occasion of gaining a
few extraordinary martyrs.

Note: Dr. Lardner has detailed, with his usual impartiality,
all that has come down to us relating to the persecution of
Aurelian, and concludes by saying, "Upon more carefully examining
the words of Eusebius, and observing the accounts of other
authors, learned men have generally, and, as I think, very
judiciously, determined, that Aurelian not only intended, but did
actually persecute: but his persecution was short, he having died
soon after the publication of his edicts." Heathen Test. c.
xxxvi. - Basmage positively pronounces the same opinion: Non
intentatum modo, sed executum quoque brevissimo tempore mandatum,
nobis infixum est in aniasis. Basn. Ann. 275, No. 2 and compare
Pagi Ann. 272, Nos. 4, 12, 27 - G.]

The story of Paul of Samosata, who filled the metropolitan
see of Antioch, while the East was in the hands of Odenathus and
Zenobia, may serve to illustrate the condition and character of
the times. The wealth of that prelate was a sufficient evidence
of his guilt, since it was neither derived from the inheritance
of his fathers, nor acquired by the arts of honest industry. But
Paul considered the service of the church as a very lucrative
profession. ^126 His ecclesiastical jurisdiction was venal and
rapacious; he extorted frequent contributions from the most
opulent of the faithful, and converted to his own use a
considerable part of the public revenue. By his pride and
luxury, the Christian religion was rendered odious in the eyes of
the Gentiles. His council chamber and his throne, the splendor
with which he appeared in public, the suppliant crowd who
solicited his attention, the multitude of letters and petitions
to which he dictated his answers, and the perpetual hurry of
business in which he was involved, were circumstances much better
suited to the state of a civil magistrate, ^127 than to the
humility of a primitive bishop. When he harangued his people
from the pulpit, Paul affected the figurative style and the
theatrical gestures of an Asiatic sophist, while the cathedral
resounded with the loudest and most extravagant acclamations in
the praise of his divine eloquence. Against those who resisted
his power, or refused to flatter his vanity, the prelate of
Antioch was arrogant, rigid, and inexorable; but he relaxed the
discipline, and lavished the treasures of the church on his
dependent clergy, who were permitted to imitate their master in
the gratification of every sensual appetite. For Paul indulged
himself very freely in the pleasures of the table, and he had
received into the episcopal palace two young and beautiful women
as the constant companions of his leisure moments. ^128
[Footnote 126: Paul was better pleased with the title of
Ducenarius, than with that of bishop. The Ducenarius was an
Imperial procurator, so called from his salary of two hundred
Sestertia, or 1600l. a year. (See Salmatius ad Hist. August. p.
124.) Some critics suppose that the bishop of Antioch had
actually obtained such an office from Zenobia, while others
consider it only as a figurative expression of his pomp and

[Footnote 127: Simony was not unknown in those times; and the
clergy some times bought what they intended to sell. It appears
that the bishopric of Carthage was purchased by a wealthy matron,
named Lucilla, for her servant Majorinus. The price was 400
Folles. (Monument. Antiq. ad calcem Optati, p. 263.) Every
Follis contained 125 pieces of silver, and the whole sum may be
computed at about 2400l.]

[Footnote 128: If we are desirous of extenuating the vices of
Paul, we must suspect the assembled bishops of the East of
publishing the most malicious calumnies in circular epistles
addressed to all the churches of the empire, (ap. Euseb. l. vii.
c. 30.)]

Notwithstanding these scandalous vices, if Paul of Samosata
had preserved the purity of the orthodox faith, his reign over
the capital of Syria would have ended only with his life; and had
a seasonable persecution intervened, an effort of courage might
perhaps have placed him in the rank of saints and martyrs. ^*
Some nice and subtle errors, which he imprudently adopted and
obstinately maintained, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity,
excited the zeal and indignation of the Eastern churches. ^129
From Egypt to the Euxine Sea, the bishops were in arms and in
motion. Several councils were held, confutations were published,
excommunications were pronounced, ambiguous explanations were by
turns accepted and refused, treaties were concluded and violated,
and at length Paul of Samosata was degraded from his episcopal
character, by the sentence of seventy or eighty bishops, who
assembled for that purpose at Antioch, and who, without
consulting the rights of the clergy or people, appointed a
successor by their own authority. The manifest irregularity of
this proceeding increased the numbers of the discontented
faction; and as Paul, who was no stranger to the arts of courts,
had insinuated himself into the favor of Zenobia, he maintained
above four years the possession of the episcopal house and
office. ^* The victory of Aurelian changed the face of the East,
and the two contending parties, who applied to each other the
epithets of schism and heresy, were either commanded or permitted
to plead their cause before the tribunal of the conqueror. This
public and very singular trial affords a convincing proof that
the existence, the property, the privileges, and the internal
policy of the Christians, were acknowledged, if not by the laws,
at least by the magistrates, of the empire. As a Pagan and as a
soldier, it could scarcely be expected that Aurelian should enter
into the discussion, whether the sentiments of Paul or those of
his adversaries were most agreeable to the true standard of the
orthodox faith. His determination, however, was founded on the
general principles of equity and reason. He considered the
bishops of Italy as the most impartial and respectable judges
among the Christians, and as soon as he was informed that they
had unanimously approved the sentence of the council, he
acquiesced in their opinion, and immediately gave orders that
Paul should be compelled to relinquish the temporal possessions
belonging to an office, of which, in the judgment of his
brethren, he had been regularly deprived. But while we applaud
the justice, we should not overlook the policy, of Aurelian, who
was desirous of restoring and cementing the dependence of the
provinces on the capital, by every means which could bind the
interest or prejudices of any part of his subjects. ^130

[Footnote *: It appears, nevertheless, that the vices and
immoralities of Paul of Samosata had much weight in the sentence
pronounced against him by the bishops. The object of the letter,
addressed by the synod to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, was
to inform them of the change in the faith of Paul, the
altercations and discussions to which it had given rise, as well
as of his morals and the whole of his conduct. Euseb. Hist.
Eccl. l. vii c. xxx - G.]
[Footnote 129: His heresy (like those of Noetus and Sabellius, in
the same century) tended to confound the mysterious distinction
of the divine persons. See Mosheim, p. 702, &c.]

[Footnote *: "Her favorite, (Zenobia's,) Paul of Samosata, seems
to have entertained some views of attempting a union between
Judaism and Christianity; both parties rejected the unnatural
alliance." Hist. of Jews, iii. 175, and Jost. Geschichte der
Israeliter, iv. 167. The protection of the severe Zenobia is the
only circumstance which may raise a doubt of the notorious
immorality of Paul. - M.]

[Footnote 130: Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiast. l. vii. c. 30. We are
entirely indebted to him for the curious story of Paul of
Amidst the frequent revolutions of the empire, the
Christians still flourished in peace and prosperity; and
notwithstanding a celebrated aera of martyrs has been deduced
from the accession of Diocletian, ^131 the new system of policy,
introduced and maintained by the wisdom of that prince,
continued, during more than eighteen years, to breathe the
mildest and most liberal spirit of religious toleration. The
mind of Diocletian himself was less adapted indeed to speculative
inquiries, than to the active labors of war and government. His
prudence rendered him averse to any great innovation, and though
his temper was not very susceptible of zeal or enthusiasm, he
always maintained an habitual regard for the ancient deities of
the empire. But the leisure of the two empresses, of his wife
Prisca, and of Valeria, his daughter, permitted them to listen
with more attention and respect to the truths of Christianity,
which in every age has acknowledged its important obligations to
female devotion. ^132 The principal eunuchs, Lucian ^133 and
Dorotheus, Gorgonius and Andrew, who attended the person,
possessed the favor, and governed the household of Diocletian,
protected by their powerful influence the faith which they had
embraced. Their example was imitated by many of the most
considerable officers of the palace, who, in their respective
stations, had the care of the Imperial ornaments, of the robes,
of the furniture, of the jewels, and even of the private
treasury; and, though it might sometimes be incumbent on them to
accompany the emperor when he sacrificed in the temple, ^134 they
enjoyed, with their wives, their children, and their slaves, the
free exercise of the Christian religion. Diocletian and his
colleagues frequently conferred the most important offices on
those persons who avowed their abhorrence for the worship of the
gods, but who had displayed abilities proper for the service of
the state. The bishops held an honorable rank in their
respective provinces, and were treated with distinction and
respect, not only by the people, but by the magistrates
themselves. Almost in every city, the ancient churches were
found insufficient to contain the increasing multitude of
proselytes; and in their place more stately and capacious
edifices were erected for the public worship of the faithful.
The corruption of manners and principles, so forcibly lamented by
Eusebius, ^135 may be considered, not only as a consequence, but
as a proof, of the liberty which the Christians enjoyed and
abused under the reign of Diocletian. Prosperity had relaxed the
nerves of discipline. Fraud, envy, and malice prevailed in every
congregation. The presbyters aspired to the episcopal office,
which every day became an object more worthy of their ambition.
The bishops, who contended with each other for ecclesiastical
preeminence, appeared by their conduct to claim a secular and
tyrannical power in the church; and the lively faith which still
distinguished the Christians from the Gentiles, was shown much
less in their lives, than in their controversial writings.

[Footnote 131: The Aera of Martyrs, which is still in use among
the Copts and the Abyssinians, must be reckoned from the 29th of
August, A. D. 284; as the beginning of the Egyptian year was
nineteen days earlier than the real accession of Diocletian. See
Dissertation Preliminaire a l'Art de verifier les Dates.

Note: On the aera of martyrs see the very curious
dissertations of Mons Letronne on some recently discovered
inscriptions in Egypt and Nubis, p. 102, &c. - M.]

[Footnote 132: The expression of Lactantius, (de M. P. c. 15,)
"sacrificio pollui coegit," implies their antecedent conversion
to the faith, but does not seem to justify the assertion of
Mosheim, (p. 912,) that they had been privately baptized.]

[Footnote 133: M. de Tillemont (Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. v.
part i. p. 11, 12) has quoted from the Spicilegium of Dom Luc
d'Archeri a very curious instruction which Bishop Theonas
composed for the use of Lucian.]
[Footnote 134: Lactantius, de M. P. c. 10.]

[Footnote 135: Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. viii. c. 1. The
reader who consults the original will not accuse me of
heightening the picture. Eusebius was about sixteen years of age
at the accession of the emperor Diocletian.]
Notwithstanding this seeming security, an attentive observer
might discern some symptoms that threatened the church with a
more violent persecution than any which she had yet endured. The
zeal and rapid progress of the Christians awakened the
Polytheists from their supine indifference in the cause of those
deities, whom custom and education had taught them to revere.
The mutual provocations of a religious war, which had already
continued above two hundred years, exasperated the animosity of
the contending parties. The Pagans were incensed at the rashness
of a recent and obscure sect, which presumed to accuse their
countrymen of error, and to devote their ancestors to eternal
misery. The habits of justifying the popular mythology against
the invectives of an implacable enemy, produced in their minds
some sentiments of faith and reverence for a system which they
had been accustomed to consider with the most careless levity.
The supernatural powers assumed by the church inspired at the
same time terror and emulation. The followers of the established
religion intrenched themselves behind a similar fortification of
prodigies; invented new modes of sacrifice, of expiation, and of
initiation; ^136 attempted to revive the credit of their expiring
oracles; ^137 and listened with eager credulity to every
impostor, who flattered their prejudices by a tale of wonders.
^138 Both parties seemed to acknowledge the truth of those
miracles which were claimed by their adversaries; and while they
were contented with ascribing them to the arts of magic, and to
the power of daemons, they mutually concurred in restoring and
establishing the reign of superstition. ^139 Philosophy, her most
dangerous enemy, was now converted into her most useful ally.
The groves of the academy, the gardens of Epicurus, and even the
portico of the Stoics, were almost deserted, as so many different
schools of scepticism or impiety; ^140 and many among the Romans
were desirous that the writings of Cicero should be condemned and
suppressed by the authority of the senate. ^141 The prevailing
sect of the new Platonicians judged it prudent to connect
themselves with the priests, whom perhaps they despised, against
the Christians, whom they had reason to fear. These fashionable
Philosophers prosecuted the design of extracting allegorical
wisdom from the fictions of the Greek poets; instituted
mysterious rites of devotion for the use of their chosen
disciples; recommended the worship of the ancient gods as the
emblems or ministers of the Supreme Deity, and composed against
the faith of the gospel many elaborate treatises, ^142 which have
since been committed to the flames by the prudence of orthodox
emperors. ^143
[Footnote 136: We might quote, among a great number of instances,
the mysterious worship of Mythras, and the Taurobolia; the latter
of which became fashionable in the time of the Antonines, (see a
Dissertation of M. de Boze, in the Memoires de l'Academie des
Inscriptions, tom. ii. p. 443.) The romance of Apuleius is as
full of devotion as of satire.

Note: On the extraordinary progress of the Mahriac rites, in
the West, see De Guigniaud's translation of Creuzer, vol. i. p.
365, and Note 9, tom. i. part 2, p. 738, &c. - M.]

[Footnote 137: The impostor Alexander very strongly recommended
the oracle of Trophonius at Mallos, and those of Apollo at Claros
and Miletus, (Lucian, tom. ii. p. 236, edit. Reitz.) The last of
these, whose singular history would furnish a very curious
episode, was consulted by Diocletian before he published his
edicts of persecution, (Lactantius, de M. P. c. 11.)]
[Footnote 138: Besides the ancient stories of Pythagoras and
Aristeas, the cures performed at the shrine of Aesculapius, and
the fables related of Apollonius of Tyana, were frequently
opposed to the miracles of Christ; though I agree with Dr.
Lardner, (see Testimonies, vol. iii. p. 253, 352,) that when
Philostratus composed the life of Apollonius, he had no such
[Footnote 139: It is seriously to be lamented, that the Christian
fathers, by acknowledging the supernatural, or, as they deem it,
the infernal part of Paganism, destroy with their own hands the
great advantage which we might otherwise derive from the liberal
concessions of our adversaries.]
[Footnote 140: Julian (p. 301, edit. Spanheim) expresses a pious
joy, that the providence of the gods had extinguished the impious
sects, and for the most part destroyed the books of the
Pyrrhonians and Epicuraeans, which had been very numerous, since
Epicurus himself composed no less than 300 volumes. See Diogenes
Laertius, l. x. c. 26.]

[Footnote 141: Cumque alios audiam mussitare indignanter, et
dicere opportere statui per Senatum, aboleantur ut haec scripta,
quibus Christiana Religio comprobetur, et vetustatis opprimatur
auctoritas. Arnobius adversus Gentes, l. iii. p. 103, 104. He
adds very properly, Erroris convincite Ciceronem . . . nam
intercipere scripta, et publicatam velle submergere lectionem,
non est Deum defendere sed veritatis testificationem timere.]

[Footnote 142: Lactantius (Divin. Institut. l. v. c. 2, 3) gives
a very clear and spirited account of two of these philosophic
adversaries of the faith. The large treatise of Porphyry against
the Christians consisted of thirty books, and was composed in
Sicily about the year 270.]

[Footnote 143: See Socrates, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. i. c. 9, and
Codex Justinian. l. i. i. l. s.]

Chapter XVI: Conduct Towards The Christians, From Nero To

Part VI.

Although the policy of Diocletian and the humanity of
Constantius inclined them to preserve inviolate the maxims of
toleration, it was soon discovered that their two associates,
Maximian and Galerius, entertained the most implacable aversion
for the name and religion of the Christians. The minds of those
princes had never been enlightened by science; education had
never softened their temper. They owed their greatness to their
swords, and in their most elevated fortune they still retained
their superstitious prejudices of soldiers and peasants. In the
general administration of the provinces they obeyed the laws
which their benefactor had established; but they frequently found
occasions of exercising within their camp and palaces a secret
persecution, ^144 for which the imprudent zeal of the Christians
sometimes offered the most specious pretences. A sentence of
death was executed upon Maximilianus, an African youth, who had
been produced by his own father ^* before the magistrate as a
sufficient and legal recruit, but who obstinately persisted in
declaring, that his conscience would not permit him to embrace
the profession of a soldier. ^145 It could scarcely be expected
that any government should suffer the action of Marcellus the
Centurion to pass with impunity. On the day of a public
festival, that officer threw away his belt, his arms, and the
ensigns of his office, and exclaimed with a loud voice, that he
would obey none but Jesus Christ the eternal King, and that he
renounced forever the use of carnal weapons, and the service of
an idolatrous master. The soldiers, as soon as they recovered
from their astonishment, secured the person of Marcellus. He was
examined in the city of Tingi by the president of that part of
Mauritania; and as he was convicted by his own confession, he was
condemned and beheaded for the crime of desertion. ^146 Examples
of such a nature savor much less of religious persecution than of
martial or even civil law; but they served to alienate the mind
of the emperors, to justify the severity of Galerius, who
dismissed a great number of Christian officers from their
employments; and to authorize the opinion, that a sect of
enthusiastics, which avowed principles so repugnant to the public
safety, must either remain useless, or would soon become
dangerous, subjects of the empire.

[Footnote 144: Eusebius, l. viii. c. 4, c. 17. He limits the
number of military martyrs, by a remarkable expression, of which
neither his Latin nor French translator have rendered the energy.

Notwithstanding the authority of Eusebius, and the silence of
Lactantius, Ambrose, Sulpicius, Orosius, &c., it has been long
believed, that the Thebaean legion, consisting of 6000
Christians, suffered martyrdom by the order of Maximian, in the
valley of the Pennine Alps. The story was first published about
the middle of the 5th century, by Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, who
received it from certain persons, who received it from Isaac,
bishop of Geneva, who is said to have received it from Theodore,
bishop of Octodurum. The abbey of St. Maurice still subsists, a
rich monument of the credulity of Sigismund, king of Burgundy.
See an excellent Dissertation in xxxvith volume of the
Bibliotheque Raisonnee, p. 427-454.]

[Footnote *: M. Guizot criticizes Gibbon's account of this
incident. He supposes that Maximilian was not "produced by his
father as a recruit," but was obliged to appear by the law, which
compelled the sons of soldiers to serve at 21 years old. Was not
this a law of Constantine? Neither does this circumstance appear
in the acts. His father had clearly expected him to serve, as he
had bought him a new dress for the occasion; yet he refused to
force the conscience of his son. and when Maximilian was
condemned to death, the father returned home in joy, blessing God
for having bestowed upon him such a son. - M.]

[Footnote 145: See the Acta Sincera, p. 299. The accounts of his
martyrdom and that of Marcellus, bear every mark of truth and
[Footnote 146: Acta Sincera, p. 302.

Note: M. Guizot here justly observes, that it was the
necessity of sacrificing to the gods, which induced Marcellus to
act in this manner. - M.]
After the success of the Persian war had raised the hopes
and the reputation of Galerius, he passed a winter with
Diocletian in the palace of Nicomedia; and the fate of
Christianity became the object of their secret consultations.
^147 The experienced emperor was still inclined to pursue
measures of lenity; and though he readily consented to exclude
the Christians from holding any employments in the household or
the army, he urged in the strongest terms the danger as well as
cruelty of shedding the blood of those deluded fanatics.
Galerius at length extorted ^!! from him the permission of
summoning a council, composed of a few persons the most
distinguished in the civil and military departments of the state.

The important question was agitated in their presence, and those
ambitious courtiers easily discerned, that it was incumbent on
them to second, by their eloquence, the importunate violence of
the Caesar. It may be presumed, that they insisted on every
topic which might interest the pride, the piety, or the fears, of
their sovereign in the destruction of Christianity. Perhaps they
represented, that the glorious work of the deliverance of the
empire was left imperfect, as long as an independent people was
permitted to subsist and multiply in the heart of the provinces.
The Christians, (it might specially be alleged,) renouncing the
gods and the institutions of Rome, had constituted a distinct
republic, which might yet be suppressed before it had acquired
any military force; but which was already governed by its own
laws and magistrates, was possessed of a public treasure, and was
intimately connected in all its parts by the frequent assemblies
of the bishops, to whose decrees their numerous and opulent
congregations yielded an implicit obedience. Arguments like
these may seem to have determined the reluctant mind of
Diocletian to embrace a new system of persecution; but though we
may suspect, it is not in our power to relate, the secret
intrigues of the palace, the private views and resentments, the
jealousy of women or eunuchs, and all those trifling but decisive
causes which so often influence the fate of empires, and the
councils of the wisest monarchs. ^148

[Footnote 147: De M. P. c. 11. Lactantius (or whoever was the
author of this little treatise) was, at that time, an inhabitant
of Nicomedia; but it seems difficult to conceive how he could
acquire so accurate a knowledge of what passed in the Imperial

Note: Lactantius, who was subsequently chosen by Constantine
to educate Crispus, might easily have learned these details from
Constantine himself, already of sufficient age to interest
himself in the affairs of the government, and in a position to
obtain the best information. - G.
This assumes the doubtful point of the authorship of the
Treatise. - M.]
[Footnote !!: This permission was not extorted from Diocletian;
he took the step of his own accord. Lactantius says, in truth,
Nec tamen deflectere potuit (Diocletianus) praecipitis hominis
insaniam; placuit ergo amicorum sententiam experiri. (De Mort.
Pers. c. 11.) But this measure was in accordance with the
artificial character of Diocletian, who wished to have the
appearance of doing good by his own impulse and evil by the
impulse of others. Nam erat hujus malitiae, cum bonum quid facere
decrevisse sine consilio faciebat, ut ipse laudaretur. Cum autem
malum. quoniam id reprehendendum sciebat, in consilium multos
advocabat, ut alioram culpao adscriberetur quicquid ipse
deliquerat. Lact. ib. Eutropius says likewise, Miratus callide
fuit, sagax praeterea et admodum subtilis ingenio, et qui
severitatem suam aliena invidia vellet explere. Eutrop. ix. c.
26. - G.

The manner in which the coarse and unfriendly pencil of the
author of the Treatise de Mort. Pers. has drawn the character of
Diocletian, seems inconsistent with this profound subtilty. Many
readers will perhaps agree with Gibbon. - M.]

[Footnote 148: The only circumstance which we can discover, is
the devotion and jealousy of the mother of Galerius. She is
described by Lactantius, as Deorum montium cultrix; mulier
admodum superstitiosa. She had a great influence over her son,
and was offended by the disregard of some of her Christian

Note: This disregard consisted in the Christians fasting and
praying instead of participating in the banquets and sacrifices
which she celebrated with the Pagans. Dapibus sacrificabat poene
quotidie ac vicariis suis epulis exhibebat. Christiani
abstinebant, et illa cum gentibus epulante, jejuniis hi et
oratiomibus insisteban; hine concepit odium Lact de Hist. Pers.
c. 11. - G.]

The pleasure of the emperors was at length signified to the
Christians, who, during the course of this melancholy winter, had
expected, with anxiety, the result of so many secret
consultations. The twenty-third of February, which coincided
with the Roman festival of the Terminalia, ^149 was appointed
(whether from accident or design) to set bounds to the progress
of Christianity. At the earliest dawn of day, the Praetorian
praefect, ^150 accompanied by several generals, tribunes, and
officers of the revenue, repaired to the principal church of
Nicomedia, which was situated on an eminence in the most populous
and beautiful part of the city. The doors were instantly broke
open; they rushed into the sanctuary; and as they searched in
vain for some visible object of worship, they were obliged to
content themselves with committing to the flames the volumes of
the holy Scripture. The ministers of Diocletian were followed by
a numerous body of guards and pioneers, who marched in order of
battle, and were provided with all the instruments used in the
destruction of fortified cities. By their incessant labor, a
sacred edifice, which towered above the Imperial palace, and had
long excited the indignation and envy of the Gentiles, was in a
few hours levelled with the ground. ^151

[Footnote 149: The worship and festival of the god Terminus are
elegantly illustrated by M. de Boze, Mem. de l'Academie des
Inscriptions, tom. i. p. 50.]

[Footnote 150: In our only MS. of Lactantius, we read profectus;
but reason, and the authority of all the critics, allow us,
instead of that word, which destroys the sense of the passage, to
substitute proefectus.]
[Footnote 151: Lactantius, de M. P. c. 12, gives a very lively
picture of the destruction of the church.]

The next day the general edict of persecution was published;
^152 and though Diocletian, still averse to the effusion of
blood, had moderated the fury of Galerius, who proposed, that
every one refusing to offer sacrifice should immediately be burnt
alive, the penalties inflicted on the obstinacy of the Christians
might be deemed sufficiently rigorous and effectual. It was
enacted, that their churches, in all the provinces of the empire,
should be demolished to their foundations; and the punishment of
death was denounced against all who should presume to hold any
secret assemblies for the purpose of religious worship. The
philosophers, who now assumed the unworthy office of directing
the blind zeal of persecution, had diligently studied the nature
and genius of the Christian religion; and as they were not
ignorant that the speculative doctrines of the faith were
supposed to be contained in the writings of the prophets, of the
evangelists, and of the apostles, they most probably suggested
the order, that the bishops and presbyters should deliver all
their sacred books into the hands of the magistrates; who were
commanded, under the severest penalties, to burn them in a public
and solemn manner. By the same edict, the property of the church
was at once confiscated; and the several parts of which it might
consist were either sold to the highest bidder, united to the
Imperial domain, bestowed on the cities and corporations, or
granted to the solicitations of rapacious courtiers. After
taking such effectual measures to abolish the worship, and to
dissolve the government of the Christians, it was thought
necessary to subject to the most intolerable hardships the
condition of those perverse individuals who should still reject
the religion of nature, of Rome, and of their ancestors. Persons
of a liberal birth were declared incapable of holding any honors
or employments; slaves were forever deprived of the hopes of
freedom, and the whole body of the people were put out of the
protection of the law. The judges were authorized to hear and to
determine every action that was brought against a Christian. But
the Christians were not permitted to complain of any injury which
they themselves had suffered; and thus those unfortunate
sectaries were exposed to the severity, while they were excluded
from the benefits, of public justice. This new species of
martyrdom, so painful and lingering, so obscure and ignominious,
was, perhaps, the most proper to weary the constancy of the
faithful: nor can it be doubted that the passions and interest of
mankind were disposed on this occasion to second the designs of
the emperors. But the policy of a well-ordered government must
sometimes have interposed in behalf of the oppressed Christians;
^* nor was it possible for the Roman princes entirely to remove
the apprehension of punishment, or to connive at every act of
fraud and violence, without exposing their own authority and the
rest of their subjects to the most alarming dangers. ^153
[Footnote 152: Mosheim, (p. 922 - 926,) from man scattered
passages of Lactantius and Eusebius, has collected a very just
and accurate notion of this edict though he sometimes deviates
into conjecture and refinement.]
[Footnote *: This wants proof. The edict of Diocletian was
executed in all its right during the rest of his reign. Euseb.
Hist. Eccl. l viii. c. 13. - G.]

[Footnote 153: Many ages afterwards, Edward J. practised, with
great success, the same mode of persecution against the clergy of
England. See Hume's History of England, vol. ii. p. 300, last
4to edition.]

This edict was scarcely exhibited to the public view, in the
most conspicuous place of Nicomedia, before it was torn down by
the hands of a Christian, who expressed at the same time, by the
bitterest invectives, his contempt as well as abhorrence for such
impious and tyrannical governors. His offence, according to the
mildest laws, amounted to treason, and deserved death. And if it
be true that he was a person of rank and education, those
circumstances could serve only to aggravate his guilt. He was
burnt, or rather roasted, by a slow fire; and his executioners,
zealous to revenge the personal insult which had been offered to
the emperors, exhausted every refinement of cruelty, without
being able to subdue his patience, or to alter the steady and
insulting smile which in his dying agonies he still preserved in
his countenance. The Christians, though they confessed that his
conduct had not been strictly conformable to the laws of
prudence, admired the divine fervor of his zeal; and the
excessive commendations which they lavished on the memory of
their hero and martyr, contributed to fix a deep impression of
terror and hatred in the mind of Diocletian. ^154

[Footnote 154: Lactantius only calls him quidam, et si non recte,
magno tamer animo, &c., c. 12. Eusebius (l. viii. c. 5) adorns
him with secular honora Neither have condescended to mention his
name; but the Greeks celebrate his memory under that of John.
See Tillemont, Memones Ecclesiastiques, tom. v. part ii. p. 320.]

His fears were soon alarmed by the view of a danger from
which he very narrowly escaped. Within fifteen days the palace
of Nicomedia, and even the bed-chamber of Diocletian, were twice
in flames; and though both times they were extinguished without
any material damage, the singular repetition of the fire was
justly considered as an evident proof that it had not been the
effect of chance or negligence. The suspicion naturally fell on
the Christians; and it was suggested, with some degree of
probability, that those desperate fanatics, provoked by their
present sufferings, and apprehensive of impending calamities, had
entered into a conspiracy with their faithful brethren, the
eunuchs of the palace, against the lives of two emperors, whom
they detested as the irreconcilable enemies of the church of God.

Jealousy and resentment prevailed in every breast, but especially
in that of Diocletian. A great number of persons, distinguished
either by the offices which they had filled, or by the favor
which they had enjoyed, were thrown into prison. Every mode of
torture was put in practice, and the court, as well as city, was
polluted with many bloody executions. ^155 But as it was found
impossible to extort any discovery of this mysterious
transaction, it seems incumbent on us either to presume the
innocence, or to admire the resolution, of the sufferers. A few
days afterwards Galerius hastily withdrew himself from Nicomedia,
declaring, that if he delayed his departure from that devoted
palace, he should fall a sacrifice to the rage of the Christians.

The ecclesiastical historians, from whom alone we derive a
partial and imperfect knowledge of this persecution, are at a
loss how to account for the fears and dangers of the emperors.
Two of these writers, a prince and a rhetorician, were eye-
witnesses of the fire of Nicomedia. The one ascribes it to
lightning, and the divine wrath; the other affirms, that it was
kindled by the malice of Galerius himself. ^156
[Footnote 155: Lactantius de M. P. c. 13, 14. Potentissimi
quondam Eunuchi necati, per quos Palatium et ipse constabat.
Eusebius (l. viii. c. 6) mentions the cruel executions of the
eunuchs, Gorgonius and Dorotheus, and of Anthimius, bishop of
Nicomedia; and both those writers describe, in a vague but
tragical manner, the horrid scenes which were acted even in the
Imperial presence.]

[Footnote 156: See Lactantius, Eusebius, and Constantine, ad
Coetum Sanctorum, c. xxv. Eusebius confesses his ignorance of
the cause of this fire.
Note: As the history of these times affords us no example of
any attempts made by the Christians against their persecutors, we
have no reason, not the slightest probability, to attribute to
them the fire in the palace; and the authority of Constantine and
Lactantius remains to explain it. M. de Tillemont has shown how
they can be reconciled. Hist. des Empereurs, Vie de Diocletian,
xix. - G. Had it been done by a Christian, it would probably
have been a fanatic, who would have avowed and gloried in it.
Tillemont's supposition that the fire was first caused by
lightning, and fed and increased by the malice of Galerius, seems
singularly improbable. - M.]
As the edict against the Christians was designed for a
general law of the whole empire, and as Diocletian and Galerius,
though they might not wait for the consent, were assured of the
concurrence, of the Western princes, it would appear more
consonant to our ideas of policy, that the governors of all the
provinces should have received secret instructions to publish, on
one and the same day, this declaration of war within their
respective departments. It was at least to be expected, that the
convenience of the public highways and established posts would
have enabled the emperors to transmit their orders with the
utmost despatch from the palace of Nicomedia to the extremities
of the Roman world; and that they would not have suffered fifty
days to elapse, before the edict was published in Syria, and near
four months before it was signified to the cities of Africa. ^157
This delay may perhaps be imputed to the cautious temper of
Diocletian, who had yielded a reluctant consent to the measures
of persecution, and who was desirous of trying the experiment
under his more immediate eye, before he gave way to the disorders
and discontent which it must inevitably occasion in the distant
provinces. At first, indeed, the magistrates were restrained
from the effusion of blood; but the use of every other severity
was permitted, and even recommended to their zeal; nor could the
Christians, though they cheerfully resigned the ornaments of
their churches, resolve to interrupt their religious assemblies,
or to deliver their sacred books to the flames. The pious
obstinacy of Felix, an African bishop, appears to have
embarrassed the subordinate ministers of the government. The
curator of his city sent him in chains to the proconsul. The
proconsul transmitted him to the Praetorian praefect of Italy;
and Felix, who disdained even to give an evasive answer, was at
length beheaded at Venusia, in Lucania, a place on which the
birth of Horace has conferred fame. ^158 This precedent, and
perhaps some Imperial rescript, which was issued in consequence
of it, appeared to authorize the governors of provinces, in
punishing with death the refusal of the Christians to deliver up
their sacred books. There were undoubtedly many persons who
embraced this opportunity of obtaining the crown of martyrdom;
but there were likewise too many who purchased an ignominious
life, by discovering and betraying the holy Scripture into the
hands of infidels. A great number even of bishops and presbyters
acquired, by this criminal compliance, the opprobrious epithet of
Traditors; and their offence was productive of much present
scandal and of much future discord in the African church. ^159

[Footnote 157: Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiast. tom. v. part i. p.
[Footnote 158: See the Acta Sincera of Ruinart, p. 353; those of
Felix of Thibara, or Tibiur, appear much less corrupted than in
the other editions, which afford a lively specimen of legendary

[Footnote 159: See the first book of Optatus of Milevis against
the Donatiste, Paris, 1700, edit. Dupin. He lived under the
reign of Valens.]
The copies as well as the versions of Scripture, were
already so multiplied in the empire, that the most severe
inquisition could no longer be attended with any fatal
consequences; and even the sacrifice of those volumes, which, in
every congregation, were preserved for public use, required the
consent of some treacherous and unworthy Christians. But the
ruin of the churches was easily effected by the authority of the
government, and by the labor of the Pagans. In some provinces,
however, the magistrates contented themselves with shutting up
the places of religious worship. In others, they more literally
complied with the terms of the edict; and after taking away the
doors, the benches, and the pulpit, which they burnt as it were
in a funeral pile, they completely demolished the remainder of
the edifice. ^160 It is perhaps to this melancholy occasion that
we should apply a very remarkable story, which is related with so
many circumstances of variety and improbability, that it serves
rather to excite than to satisfy our curiosity. In a small town
in Phrygia, of whose names as well as situation we are left
ignorant, it should seem that the magistrates and the body of the
people had embraced the Christian faith; and as some resistance
might be apprehended to the execution of the edict, the governor
of the province was supported by a numerous detachment of
legionaries. On their approach the citizens threw themselves
into the church, with the resolution either of defending by arms
that sacred edifice, or of perishing in its ruins. They
indignantly rejected the notice and permission which was given
them to retire, till the soldiers, provoked by their obstinate
refusal, set fire to the building on all sides, and consumed, by
this extraordinary kind of martyrdom, a great number of
Phrygians, with their wives and children. ^161

[Footnote 160: The ancient monuments, published at the end of
Optatus, p. 261, &c. describe, in a very circumstantial manner,
the proceedings of the governors in the destruction of churches.
They made a minute inventory of the plate, &c., which they found
in them. That of the church of Cirta, in Numidia, is still
extant. It consisted of two chalices of gold, and six of silver;
six urns, one kettle, seven lamps, all likewise of silver;
besides a large quantity of brass utensils, and wearing apparel.]

[Footnote 161: Lactantius (Institut. Divin. v. 11) confines the
calamity to the conventiculum, with its congregation. Eusebius
(viii. 11) extends it to a whole city, and introduces something
very like a regular siege. His ancient Latin translator, Rufinus,
adds the important circumstance of the permission given to the
inhabitants of retiring from thence. As Phrygia reached to the
confines of Isauria, it is possible that the restless temper of
those independent barbarians may have contributed to this
Note: Universum populum. Lact. Inst. Div. v. 11. - G.]
Some slight disturbances, though they were suppressed almost
as soon as excited, in Syria and the frontiers of Armenia,
afforded the enemies of the church a very plausible occasion to
insinuate, that those troubles had been secretly fomented by the
intrigues of the bishops, who had already forgotten their
ostentatious professions of passive and unlimited obedience. ^162
The resentment, or the fears, of Diocletian, at length
transported him beyond the bounds of moderation, which he had
hitherto preserved, and he declared, in a series of cruel edicts,
^! his intention of abolishing the Christian name. By the first
of these edicts, the governors of the provinces were directed to
apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order; and the
prisons, destined for the vilest criminals, were soon filled with
a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers, and
exorcists. By a second edict, the magistrates were commanded to
employ every method of severity, which might reclaim them from
their odious superstition, and oblige them to return to the
established worship of the gods. This rigorous order was
extended, by a subsequent edict, to the whole body of Christians,
who were exposed to a violent and general persecution. ^163
Instead of those salutary restraints, which had required the
direct and solemn testimony of an accuser, it became the duty as
well as the interest of the Imperial officers to discover, to
pursue, and to torment the most obnoxious among the faithful.
Heavy penalties were denounced against all who should presume to
save a prescribed sectary from the just indignation of the gods,
and of the emperors. Yet, notwithstanding the severity of this
law, the virtuous courage of many of the Pagans, in concealing
their friends or relations, affords an honorable proof, that the
rage of superstition had not extinguished in their minds the
sentiments of nature and humanity. ^164

[Footnote 162: Eusebius, l. viii. c. 6. M. de Valois (with some
probability) thinks that he has discovered the Syrian rebellion
in an oration of Libanius; and that it was a rash attempt of the
tribune Eugenius, who with only five hundred men seized Antioch,
and might perhaps allure the Christians by the promise of
religious toleration. From Eusebius, (l. ix. c. 8,) as well as
from Moses of Chorene, (Hist. Armen. l. ii. 77, &c.,) it may be
inferred, that Christianity was already introduced into Armenia.]

[Footnote !: He had already passed them in his first edict. It
does not appear that resentment or fear had any share in the new
persecutions: perhaps they originated in superstition, and a
specious apparent respect for its ministers. The oracle of
Apollo, consulted by Diocletian, gave no answer; and said that
just men hindered it from speaking. Constantine, who assisted at
the ceremony, affirms, with an oath, that when questioned about
these men, the high priest named the Christians. "The Emperor
eagerly seized on this answer; and drew against the innocent a
sword, destined only to punish the guilty: he instantly issued
edicts, written, if I may use the expression, with a poniard; and
ordered the judges to employ all their skill to invent new modes
of punishment. Euseb. Vit Constant. l. ii c 54." - G.]

[Footnote 163: See Mosheim, p. 938: the text of Eusebius very
plainly shows that the governors, whose powers were enlarged, not
restrained, by the new laws, could punish with death the most
obstinate Christians as an example to their brethren.]

[Footnote 164: Athanasius, p. 833, ap. Tillemont, Mem.
Ecclesiast. tom v part i. 90.]

Chapter XVI: Conduct Towards The Christians, From Nero To

Part VII.

Diocletian had no sooner published his edicts against the
Christians, than, as if he had been desirous of committing to
other hands the work of persecution, he divested himself of the
Imperial purple. The character and situation of his colleagues
and successors sometimes urged them to enforce and sometimes
inclined them to suspend, the execution of these rigorous laws;
nor can we acquire a just and distinct idea of this important
period of ecclesiastical history, unless we separately consider
the state of Christianity, in the different parts of the empire,
during the space of ten years, which elapsed between the first
edicts of Diocletian and the final peace of the church.

The mild and humane temper of Constantius was averse to the
oppression of any part of his subjects. The principal offices of
his palace were exercised by Christians. He loved their persons,
esteemed their fidelity, and entertained not any dislike to their
religious principles. But as long as Constantius remained in the
subordinate station of Caesar, it was not in his power openly to
reject the edicts of Diocletian, or to disobey the commands of
Maximian. His authority contributed, however, to alleviate the
sufferings which he pitied and abhorred. He consented with
reluctance to the ruin of the churches; but he ventured to
protect the Christians themselves from the fury of the populace,
and from the rigor of the laws. The provinces of Gaul (under
which we may probably include those of Britain) were indebted for
the singular tranquillity which they enjoyed, to the gentle
interposition of their sovereign. ^165 But Datianus, the
president or governor of Spain, actuated either by zeal or
policy, chose rather to execute the public edicts of the
emperors, than to understand the secret intentions of
Constantius; and it can scarcely be doubted, that his provincial
administration was stained with the blood of a few martyrs. ^166
The elevation of Constantius to the supreme and independent
dignity of Augustus, gave a free scope to the exercise of his
virtues, and the shortness of his reign did not prevent him from
establishing a system of toleration, of which he left the precept
and the example to his son Constantine. His fortunate son, from
the first moment of his accession, declaring himself the
protector of the church, at length deserved the appellation of
the first emperor who publicly professed and established the
Christian religion. The motives of his conversion, as they may
variously be deduced from benevolence, from policy, from
conviction, or from remorse, and the progress of the revolution,
which, under his powerful influence and that of his sons,
rendered Christianity the reigning religion of the Roman empire,
will form a very interesting and important chapter in the present
volume of this history. At present it may be sufficient to
observe, that every victory of Constantine was productive of some
relief or benefit to the church.
[Footnote 165: Eusebius, l. viii. c. 13. Lactantius de M. P. c.
15. Dodwell (Dissertat. Cyprian. xi. 75) represents them as
inconsistent with each other. But the former evidently speaks of
Constantius in the station of Caesar, and the latter of the same
prince in the rank of Augustus.]

[Footnote 166: Datianus is mentioned, in Gruter's Inscriptions,
as having determined the limits between the territories of Pax
Julia, and those of Ebora, both cities in the southern part of
Lusitania. If we recollect the neighborhood of those places to
Cape St. Vincent, we may suspect that the celebrated deacon and
martyr of that name had been inaccurately assigned by Prudentius,
&c., to Saragossa, or Valentia. See the pompous history of his
sufferings, in the Memoires de Tillemont, tom. v. part ii. p.
58-85. Some critics are of opinion, that the department of
Constantius, as Caesar, did not include Spain, which still
continued under the immediate jurisdiction of Maximian.]

The provinces of Italy and Africa experienced a short but
violent persecution. The rigorous edicts of Diocletian were
strictly and cheerfully executed by his associate Maximian, who
had long hated the Christians, and who delighted in acts of blood
and violence. In the autumn of the first year of the
persecution, the two emperors met at Rome to celebrate their
triumph; several oppressive laws appear to have issued from their
secret consultations, and the diligence of the magistrates was
animated by the presence of their sovereigns. After Diocletian
had divested himself of the purple, Italy and Africa were
administered under the name of Severus, and were exposed, without
defence, to the implacable resentment of his master Galerius.
Among the martyrs of Rome, Adauctus deserves the notice of
posterity. He was of a noble family in Italy, and had raised
himself, through the successive honors of the palace, to the
important office of treasurer of the private Jemesnes. Adauctus
is the more remarkable for being the only person of rank and
distinction who appears to have suffered death, during the whole
course of this general persecution. ^167

[Footnote 167: Eusebius, l. viii. c. 11. Gruter, Inscrip. p.
1171, No. 18. Rufinus has mistaken the office of Adauctus, as
well as the place of his martyrdom.

Note: M. Guizot suggests the powerful cunuchs of the palace.
Dorotheus, Gorgonius, and Andrew, admitted by Gibbon himself to
have been put to death, p. 66.]

The revolt of Maxentius immediately restored peace to the
churches of Italy and Africa; and the same tyrant who oppressed
every other class of his subjects, showed himself just, humane,
and even partial, towards the afflicted Christians. He depended
on their gratitude and affection, and very naturally presumed,
that the injuries which they had suffered, and the dangers which
they still apprehended from his most inveterate enemy, would
secure the fidelity of a party already considerable by their
numbers and opulence. ^168 Even the conduct of Maxentius towards
the bishops of Rome and Carthage may be considered as the proof
of his toleration, since it is probable that the most orthodox
princes would adopt the same measures with regard to their
established clergy. Marcellus, the former of these prelates, had
thrown the capital into confusion, by the severe penance which he
imposed on a great number of Christians, who, during the late
persecution, had renounced or dissembled their religion. The
rage of faction broke out in frequent and violent seditions; the
blood of the faithful was shed by each other's hands, and the
exile of Marcellus, whose prudence seems to have been less
eminent than his zeal, was found to be the only measure capable
of restoring peace to the distracted church of Rome. ^169 The
behavior of Mensurius, bishop of Carthage, appears to have been
still more reprehensible. A deacon of that city had published a
libel against the emperor. The offender took refuge in the
episcopal palace; and though it was somewhat early to advance any
claims of ecclesiastical immunities, the bishop refused to
deliver him up to the officers of justice. For this treasonable
resistance, Mensurius was summoned to court, and instead of
receiving a legal sentence of death or banishment, he was
permitted, after a short examination, to return to his diocese.
^170 Such was the happy condition of the Christian subjects of
Maxentius, that whenever they were desirous of procuring for
their own use any bodies of martyrs, they were obliged to
purchase them from the most distant provinces of the East. A
story is related of Aglae, a Roman lady, descended from a
consular family, and possessed of so ample an estate, that it
required the management of seventy-three stewards. Among these
Boniface was the favorite of his mistress; and as Aglae mixed
love with devotion, it is reported that he was admitted to share
her bed. Her fortune enabled her to gratify the pious desire of
obtaining some sacred relics from the East. She intrusted
Boniface with a considerable sum of gold, and a large quantity of
aromatics; and her lover, attended by twelve horsemen and three
covered chariots, undertook a remote pilgrimage, as far as Tarsus
in Cilicia. ^171

[Footnote 168: Eusebius, l. viii. c. 14. But as Maxentius was
vanquished by Constantine, it suited the purpose of Lactantius to
place his death among those of the persecutors.

Note: M. Guizot directly contradicts this statement of
Gibbon, and appeals to Eusebius. Maxentius, who assumed the
power in Italy, pretended at first to be a Christian, to gain the
favor of the Roman people; he ordered his ministers to cease to
persecute the Christians, affecting a hypocritical piety, in
order to appear more mild than his predecessors; but his actions
soon proved that he was very different from what they had at
first hoped." The actions of Maxentius were those of a cruel
tyrant,but not those of a persecutor: the Christians, like the
rest of his subjects, suffered from his vices, but they were not
oppressed as a sect. Christian females were exposed to his
lusts, as well as to the brutal violence of his colleague
Maximian, but they were not selected as Christians. - M.]

[Footnote 169: The epitaph of Marcellus is to be found in Gruter,
Inscrip. p 1172, No. 3, and it contains all that we know of his
history. Marcellinus and Marcellus, whose names follow in the
list of popes, are supposed by many critics to be different
persons; but the learned Abbe de Longuerue was convinced that
they were one and the same.

Veridicus rector lapsis quia crimina flere
Praedixit miseris, fuit omnibus hostis amarus.
Hinc furor, hinc odium; sequitur discordia, lites,
Seditio, caedes; solvuntur foedera pacis.
Crimen ob alterius, Christum qui in pace negavit
Finibus expulsus patriae est feritate Tyranni.
Haec breviter Damasus voluit comperta referre:
Marcelli populus meritum cognoscere posset.

We may observe that Damasus was made Bishop of Rome, A. D. 366.]
[Footnote 170: Optatus contr. Donatist. l. i. c. 17, 18.

Note: The words of Optatus are, Profectus (Roman) causam
dixit; jussus con reverti Carthaginem; perhaps, in pleading his
cause, he exculpated himself, since he received an order to
return to Carthage. - G.]
[Footnote 171: The Acts of the Passion of St. Boniface, which
abound in miracles and declamation, are published by Ruinart, (p.
283 - 291,) both in Greek and Latin, from the authority of very
ancient manuscripts.
Note: We are ignorant whether Aglae and Boniface were
Christians at the time of their unlawful connection. See
Tillemont. Mem, Eccles. Note on the Persecution of Domitian,
tom. v. note 82. M. de Tillemont proves also that the history is
doubtful. - G.

Sir D. Dalrymple (Lord Hailes) calls the story of Aglae and
Boniface as of equal authority with our popular histories of
Whittington and Hickathrift. Christian Antiquities, ii. 64. - M.]

The sanguinary temper of Galerius, the first and principal
author of the persecution, was formidable to those Christians
whom their misfortunes had placed within the limits of his
dominions; and it may fairly be presumed that many persons of a
middle rank, who were not confined by the chains either of wealth
or of poverty, very frequently deserted their native country, and
sought a refuge in the milder climate of the West. ^! As long as
he commanded only the armies and provinces of Illyricum, he could
with difficulty either find or make a considerable number of
martyrs, in a warlike country, which had entertained the
missionaries of the gospel with more coldness and reluctance than
any other part of the empire. ^172 But when Galerius had obtained
the supreme power, and the government of the East, he indulged in
their fullest extent his zeal and cruelty, not only in the
provinces of Thrace and Asia, which acknowledged his immediate
jurisdiction, but in those of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, where
Maximin gratified his own inclination, by yielding a rigorous
obedience to the stern commands of his benefactor. ^173 The
frequent disappointments of his ambitious views, the experience
of six years of persecution, and the salutary reflections which a
lingering and painful distemper suggested to the mind of
Galerius, at length convinced him that the most violent efforts
of despotism are insufficient to extirpate a whole people, or to
subdue their religious prejudices. Desirous of repairing the
mischief that he had occasioned, he published in his own name,
and in those of Licinius and Constantine, a general edict, which,
after a pompous recital of the Imperial titles, proceeded in the
following manner: -

[Footnote !: A little after this, Christianity was propagated to
the north of the Roman provinces, among the tribes of Germany: a
multitude of Christians, forced by the persecutions of the
Emperors to take refuge among the Barbarians, were received with
kindness. Euseb. de Vit. Constant. ii. 53. Semler Select. cap.
H. E. p. 115. The Goths owed their first knowledge of
Christianity to a young girl, a prisoner of war; she continued in
the midst of them her exercises of piety; she fasted, prayed, and
praised God day and night. When she was asked what good would
come of so much painful trouble she answered, "It is thus that
Christ, the Son of God, is to be honored." Sozomen, ii. c. 6. -

[Footnote 172: During the four first centuries, there exist few
traces of either bishops or bishoprics in the western Illyricum.
It has been thought probable that the primate of Milan extended
his jurisdiction over Sirmium, the capital of that great
province. See the Geographia Sacra of Charles de St. Paul, p.
68-76, with the observations of Lucas Holstenius.]
[Footnote 173: The viiith book of Eusebius, as well as the
supplement concerning the martyrs of Palestine, principally
relate to the persecution of Galerius and Maximin. The general
lamentations with which Lactantius opens the vth book of his
Divine Institutions allude to their cruelty.]
"Among the important cares which have occupied our mind for
the utility and preservation of the empire, it was our intention
to correct and reestablish all things according to the ancient
laws and public discipline of the Romans. We were particularly
desirous of reclaiming into the way of reason and nature, the
deluded Christians who had renounced the religion and ceremonies
instituted by their fathers; and presumptuously despising the
practice of antiquity, had invented extravagant laws and
opinions, according to the dictates of their fancy, and had
collected a various society from the different provinces of our
empire. The edicts, which we have published to enforce the
worship of the gods, having exposed many of the Christians to
danger and distress, many having suffered death, and many more,
who still persist in their impious folly, being left destitute of
any public exercise of religion, we are disposed to extend to
those unhappy men the effects of our wonted clemency. We permit
them therefore freely to profess their private opinions, and to
assemble in their conventicles without fear or molestation,
provided always that they preserve a due respect to the
established laws and government. By another rescript we shall
signify our intentions to the judges and magistrates; and we hope
that our indulgence will engage the Christians to offer up their
prayers to the Deity whom they adore, for our safety and
prosperity for their own, and for that of the republic." ^174 It
is not usually in the language of edicts and manifestos that we
should search for the real character or the secret motives of
princes; but as these were the words of a dying emperor, his
situation, perhaps, may be admitted as a pledge of his sincerity.

[Footnote 174: Eusebius (l. viii. c. 17) has given us a Greek
version, and Lactantius (de M. P. c. 34) the Latin original, of
this memorable edict. Neither of these writers seems to recollect
how directly it contradicts whatever they have just affirmed of
the remorse and repentance of Galerius.
Note: But Gibbon has answered this by his just observation,
that it is not in the language of edicts and manifestos that we
should search * * for the secre motives of princes. - M.]

When Galerius subscribed this edict of toleration, he was
well assured that Licinius would readily comply with the
inclinations of his friend and benefactor, and that any measures
in favor of the Christians would obtain the approbation of
Constantine. But the emperor would not venture to insert in the
preamble the name of Maximin, whose consent was of the greatest
importance, and who succeeded a few days afterwards to the
provinces of Asia. In the first six months, however, of his new
reign, Maximin affected to adopt the prudent counsels of his
predecessor; and though he never condescended to secure the
tranquillity of the church by a public edict, Sabinus, his
Praetorian praefect, addressed a circular letter to all the
governors and magistrates of the provinces, expatiating on the
Imperial clemency, acknowledging the invincible obstinacy of the
Christians, and directing the officers of justice to cease their
ineffectual prosecutions, and to connive at the secret assemblies
of those enthusiasts. In consequence of these orders, great
numbers of Christians were released from prison, or delivered
from the mines. The confessors, singing hymns of triumph,
returned into their own countries; and those who had yielded to
the violence of the tempest, solicited with tears of repentance
their readmission into the bosom of the church. ^175
[Footnote 175: Eusebius, l. ix. c. 1. He inserts the epistle of
the praefect.]

But this treacherous calm was of short duration; nor could
the Christians of the East place any confidence in the character
of their sovereign. Cruelty and superstition were the ruling
passions of the soul of Maximin. The former suggested the means,
the latter pointed out the objects of persecution. The emperor
was devoted to the worship of the gods, to the study of magic,
and to the belief of oracles. The prophets or philosophers, whom
he revered as the favorites of Heaven, were frequently raised to
the government of provinces, and admitted into his most secret
councils. They easily convinced him that the Christians had been
indebted for their victories to their regular discipline, and
that the weakness of polytheism had principally flowed from a
want of union and subordination among the ministers of religion.
A system of government was therefore instituted, which was
evidently copied from the policy of the church. In all the great
cities of the empire, the temples were repaired and beautified by
the order of Maximin, and the officiating priests of the various
deities were subjected to the authority of a superior pontiff
destined to oppose the bishop, and to promote the cause of
paganism. These pontiffs acknowledged, in their turn, the
supreme jurisdiction of the metropolitans or high priests of the
province, who acted as the immediate vicegerents of the emperor
himself. A white robe was the ensign of their dignity; and these
new prelates were carefully selected from the most noble and
opulent families. By the influence of the magistrates, and of
the sacerdotal order, a great number of dutiful addresses were
obtained, particularly from the cities of Nicomedia, Antioch, and
Tyre, which artfully represented the well-known intentions of the
court as the general sense of the people; solicited the emperor
to consult the laws of justice rather than the dictates of his
clemency; expressed their abhorrence of the Christians, and
humbly prayed that those impious sectaries might at least be
excluded from the limits of their respective territories. The
answer of Maximin to the address which he obtained from the
citizens of Tyre is still extant. He praises their zeal and
devotion in terms of the highest satisfaction, descants on the
obstinate impiety of the Christians, and betrays, by the
readiness with which he consents to their banishment, that he
considered himself as receiving, rather than as conferring, an
obligation. The priests as well as the magistrates were
empowered to enforce the execution of his edicts, which were
engraved on tables of brass; and though it was recommended to
them to avoid the effusion of blood, the most cruel and
ignominious punishments were inflicted on the refractory
Christians. ^176

[Footnote 176: See Eusebius, l. viii. c. 14, l. ix. c. 2 - 8.
Lactantius de M. P. c. 36. These writers agree in representing
the arts of Maximin; but the former relates the execution of
several martyrs, while the latter expressly affirms, occidi
servos Dei vetuit.

Note: It is easy to reconcile them; it is sufficient to
quote the entire text of Lactantius: Nam cum clementiam specie
tenus profiteretur, occidi servos Dei vetuit, debilitari jussit.
Itaque confessoribus effodiebantur oculi, amputabantur manus,
nares vel auriculae desecabantur. Haec ille moliens Constantini
litteris deterretur. Dissimulavit ergo, et tamen, si quis
inciderit. mari occulte mergebatur. This detail of torments
inflicted on the Christians easily reconciles Lactantius and
Eusebius. Those who died in consequence of their tortures, those
who were plunged into the sea, might well pass for martyrs. The
mutilation of the words of Lactantius has alone given rise to the
apparent contradiction. - G.

Eusebius. ch. vi., relates the public martyrdom of the aged
bishop of Emesa, with two others, who were thrown to the wild
beasts, the beheading of Peter, bishop of Alexandria, with
several others, and the death of Lucian, presbyter of Antioch,
who was carried to Numidia, and put to death in prison. The
contradiction is direct and undeniable, for although Eusebius may
have misplaced the former martyrdoms, it may be doubted whether
the authority of Maximin extended to Nicomedia till after the
death of Galerius. The last edict of toleration issued by
Maximin and published by Eusebius himself, Eccl. Hist. ix. 9.
confirms the statement of Lactantius. - M.]

The Asiatic Christians had every thing to dread from the
severity of a bigoted monarch who prepared his measures of
violence with such deliberate policy. But a few months had
scarcely elapsed before the edicts published by the two Western
emperors obliged Maximin to suspend the prosecution of his
designs: the civil war which he so rashly undertook against
Licinius employed all his attention; and the defeat and death of
Maximin soon delivered the church from the last and most
implacable of her enemies. ^177
[Footnote 177: A few days before his death, he published a very
ample edict of toleration, in which he imputes all the severities
which the Christians suffered to the judges and governors, who
had misunderstood his intentions.See the edict of Eusebius, l.
ix. c. 10.]

In this general view of the persecution, which was first
authorized by the edicts of Diocletian, I have purposely
refrained from describing the particular sufferings and deaths of
the Christian martyrs. It would have been an easy task, from the
history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, and
from the most ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid
and disgustful pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and
scourges, with iron hooks and red-hot beds, and with all the
variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage beasts, and more
savage executioners, could inflict upon the human body. These
melancholy scenes might be enlivened by a crowd of visions and
miracles destined either to delay the death, to celebrate the
triumph, or to discover the relics of those canonized saints who
suffered for the name of Christ. But I cannot determine what I
ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to
believe. The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius
himself, indirectly confesses, that he has related whatever might
redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could
tend to the disgrace, of religion. ^178 Such an acknowledgment
will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly
violated one of the fundamental laws of history, has not paid a
very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the
suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of
Eusebius, ^* which was less tinctured with credulity, and more
practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his
contemporaries. On some particular occasions, when the
magistrates were exasperated by some personal motives of interest
or resentment, the rules of prudence, and perhaps of decency, to
overturn the altars, to pour out imprecations against the
emperors, or to strike the judge as he sat on his tribunal, it
may be presumed, that every mode of torture which cruelty could
invent, or constancy could endure, was exhausted on those devoted
victims. ^179 Two circumstances, however, have been unwarily
mentioned, which insinuate that the general treatment of the
Christians, who had been apprehended by the officers of justice,
was less intolerable than it is usually imagined to have been.
1. The confessors who were condemned to work in the mines were
permitted by the humanity or the negligence of their keepers to
build chapels, and freely to profess their religion in the midst
of those dreary habitations. ^180 2. The bishops were obliged to
check and to censure the forward zeal of the Christians, who
voluntarily threw themselves into the hands of the magistrates.
Some of these were persons oppressed by poverty and debts, who
blindly sought to terminate a miserable existence by a glorious
death. Others were allured by the hope that a short confinement
would expiate the sins of a whole life; and others again were
actuated by the less honorable motive of deriving a plentiful
subsistence, and perhaps a considerable profit, from the alms
which the charity of the faithful bestowed on the prisoners. ^181
After the church had triumphed over all her enemies, the interest
as well as vanity of the captives prompted them to magnify the
merit of their respective sufferings. A convenient distance of
time or place gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction; and
the frequent instances which might be alleged of holy martyrs,
whose wounds had been instantly healed, whose strength had been
renewed, and whose lost members had miraculously been restored,
were extremely convenient for the purpose of removing every
difficulty, and of silencing every objection. The most
extravagant legends, as they conduced to the honor of the church,
were applauded by the credulous multitude, countenanced by the
power of the clergy, and attested by the suspicious evidence of
ecclesiastical history.

[Footnote 178: Such is the fair deduction from two remarkable
passages in Eusebius, l. viii. c. 2, and de Martyr. Palestin. c.
12. The prudence of the historian has exposed his own character
to censure and suspicion. It was well known that he himself had
been thrown into prison; and it was suggested that he had
purchased his deliverance by some dishonorable compliance. The
reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his presence, at
the council of Tyre. See Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques,
tom. viii. part i. p. 67.]
[Footnote *: Historical criticism does not consist in rejecting
indiscriminately all the facts which do not agree with a
particular system, as Gibbon does in this chapter, in which,
except at the last extremity, he will not consent to believe a
martyrdom. Authorities are to be weighed, not excluded from
examination. Now, the Pagan historians justify in many places
the detail which have been transmitted to us by the historians of
the church, concerning the tortures endured by the Christians.
Celsus reproaches the Christians with holding their assemblies in
secret, on account of the fear inspired by their sufferings, "for
when you are arrested," he says, "you are dragged to punishment:
and, before you are put to death, you have to suffer all kinds of
tortures." Origen cont. Cels. l. i. ii. vi. viii. passing.
Libanius, the panegyrist of Julian, says, while speaking of the
Those who followed a corrupt religion were in continual
apprehensions; they feared lest Julian should invent tortures
still more refined than those to which they had been exposed
before, as mutilation, burning alive, &c.; for the emperors had
inflicted upon them all these barbarities." Lib. Parent in
Julian. ap. Fab. Bib. Graec. No. 9, No. 58, p. 283 - G.]
[Footnote *: This sentence of Gibbon has given rise to several
learned dissertation: Moller, de Fide Eusebii Caesar, &c.,
Havniae, 1813. Danzius, de Eusebio Caes. Hist. Eccl. Scriptore,
ejusque tide historica recte aestimanda, &c., Jenae, 1815.
Kestner Commentatio de Eusebii Hist. Eccles. conditoris
auctoritate et fide, &c. See also Reuterdahl, de Fontibus
Historiae Eccles. Eusebianae, Lond. Goth., 1826. Gibbon's
inference may appear stronger than the text will warrant, yet it
is difficult, after reading the passages, to dismiss all
suspicion of partiality from the mind. - M.]

[Footnote 179: The ancient, and perhaps authentic, account of the
sufferings of Tarachus and his companions, (Acta Sincera Ruinart,
p. 419 - 448,) is filled with strong expressions of resentment
and contempt, which could not fail of irritating the magistrate.
The behavior of Aedesius to Hierocles, praefect of Egypt, was
still more extraordinary. Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 5.

Note: M. Guizot states, that the acts of Tarachus and his
companion contain nothing that appears dictated by violent
feelings, (sentiment outre.) Nothing can be more painful than the
constant attempt of Gibbon throughout this discussion, to find
some flaw in the virtue and heroism of the martyrs, some
extenuation for the cruelty of the persecutors. But truth must
not be sacrificed even to well-grounded moral indignation.
Though the language of these martyrs is in great part that of
calm de fiance, of noble firmness, yet there are many expressions
which betray "resentment and contempt." "Children of Satan,
worshippers of Devils," is their common appellation of the
heathen. One of them calls the judge another, one curses, and
declares that he will curse the Emperors, as pestilential and
bloodthirsty tyrants, whom God will soon visit in his wrath. On
the other hand, though at first they speak the milder language of
persuasion, the cold barbarity of the judges and officers might
surely have called forth one sentence of abhorrence from Gibbon.
On the first unsatisfactory answer, "Break his jaw," is the order
of the judge. They direct and witness the most excruciating
tortures; the people, as M. Guizot observers, were so much
revolted by the cruelty of Maximus that when the martyrs appeared
in the amphitheatre, fear seized on all hearts, and general
murmurs against the unjust judge rank through the assembly. It
is singular, at least, that Gibbon should have quoted "as
probably authentic," acts so much embellished with miracle as
these of Tarachus are, particularly towards the end. - M.

Note: Scarcely were the authorities informed of this, than
the president of the province, a man, says Eusebius, harsh and
cruel, banished the confessors, some to Cyprus, others to
different parts of Palestine, and ordered them to be tormented by
being set to the most painful labors. Four of them, whom he
required to abjure their faith and refused, were burnt alive.
Euseb. de Mart. Palest. c. xiii. - G. Two of these were bishops;
a fifth, Silvanus, bishop of Gaza, was the last martyr; another,
named John was blinded, but used to officiate, and recite from
memory long passages of the sacred writings - M.]

[Footnote 180: Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 13.]

[Footnote 181: Augustin. Collat. Carthagin. Dei, iii. c. 13, ap.
Tillanant, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. v. part i. p. 46. The
controversy with the Donatists, has reflected some, though
perhaps a partial, light on the history of the African church.]

Chapter XVI: Conduct Towards The Christians, From Nero To

Part VIII.

The vague descriptions of exile and imprisonment, of pain
and torture, are so easily exaggerated or softened by the pencil
of an artful orator, ^* that we are naturally induced to inquire
into a fact of a more distinct and stubborn kind; the number of
persons who suffered death in consequence of the edicts published
by Diocletian, his associates, and his successors. The recent
legendaries record whole armies and cities, which were at once
swept away by the undistinguishing rage of persecution. The more
ancient writers content themselves with pouring out a liberal
effusion of loose and tragical invectives, without condescending
to ascertain the precise number of those persons who were
permitted to seal with their blood their belief of the gospel.
From the history of Eusebius, it may, however, be collected, that
only nine bishops were punished with death; and we are assured,
by his particular enumeration of the martyrs of Palestine, that
no more than ninety-two Christians were entitled to that


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