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CENTURY IV.

C H A P. I.

THE PERSECUTION OF DIOCLESIAN.

CENT.

IV.

THE

THE last Century concluded with some symp

toms of a storm ready to burst on the Church, which had long been in a state of ease and prosperity, and was at the same time deeply declined from the purity and simplicity of the Gospel. Besides the martyrdom of Marcellus in Africa*, an attempt had been made in a more general, and yet in a covert manner, to corrupt the army. It was put to the option of Christian officers, whether they would offer sacrifice, and enjoy their dignity, or refuse and be deprived. Many were desirous of retiring into private life, to avoid the trial. Many however showed a sincere regard to the kingdom of Christ, and contentedly lost their preferment. Some few were put to death for a terror to the rest. But the general persecution, which afterwards destroyed such numbers, was withheld for some timet. In this prelude, which has been mentioned above, and of which we have only a dark and imperfect account, something of the political maneuvres of Dioclesian seems conspicuous. It is evident that after he had so long favoured the Christians, he had now contracted a prejudice against them, though at first he made use of artifice rather than violence.

* See C. XVII. of last Century, Vol. I.

+ Euseb. B. VIII. C. IV. VOL. İI.

B

CHAP.

I.

Galerius and Constuntius.

pos

A. D.

302.

This emperor had an associate called Maximian, and they had under them two Cæsars, Galerius and Constantius. The last-mentioned only of the four was a person of probity and humanity. The other three were tyrants, though the savageness of Galerius was the most remarkable. He met Dioclesian at Nicomedia, where he usually kept his court, in the winter, in the nineteenth year of his reign, and in the

year of our Lord 302, and determined, if sible, to instigate him to measures against the Christians, still more sanguinary and decisive*. This man had a mother extremely bigotted to paganism, who almost every day employed herself in sacrifices. The Christians about her refused to partake of the idolatrous feasts, and gave themselves up to fasting and prayer. Hence her mind was incensed against the whole body, and she stimulated her son, who was as superstitious as herself, to seek their destruction. A whole winter Dioclesian and Galerius were engaged in secret counsels. The latter proposed a general persecution; the former remonstrated against the impolicy of such sanguinary measures, and was for limiting the persecution to the officers of the court and the soldiers. Finding himself unable to stem the fury of Galerius, he called a council of a few judges and officers. Some gave it as their opinion, that the Christians should in general be put to death ; and others, induced by fear or flattery, assented. Still Dioclesian was averse, and through policy or superstition determined to consult the oracle of Apollo at Miletus. Apollo answered, as it might be expected, in a manner friendly to the views of Galerius. Staggered with repeated importunities, the old emperor still hesitated, and could not be persuaded to attempt the demolition of Christianity by bloodshed ; whereas Galerius was desirous to burn alive those who refused to sacrifice to the heathen gods.

* Lactantius de M. P.

а

The feast of the Terminalia was the day ap- CENT.

IV. pointed to commence the operations against the Christians. Early in the morning, an officer with guards came to the great church at Nicomedia, and bursting open the doors, sought for the image of God. So says my author; though if this be not a mere flourish of rhetoric, they must have been strangely ignorant of the sentiments of the followers of Jesus. The Scriptures which were found were burnt; every thing was given to plunder. While all things were in this confusion, the two emperors, looking at the scene from the palace, were long in doubt whether they should order the edifice to be burnt. The prudent opinion of Dioclesian at length prevailed, who feared the effect of a conflagration on the neighbouring buildings. The Pretorian soldiers were therefore sent with axes and other iron tools, and in a few hours levelled the whole building with the ground.

The next day an Edict appeared, by which men Edict of the Christian religion, of whatever rank or degree, against the were deprived of all honour and dignity; were exposed to torture ; and every one might have justice against them; whilst they were debarred the benefit of the laws in all cases without exception*. Thus was the Christian world at once exposed to all possible insults without redress. The spirit of man

* In a passage, which seems to be misplaced by some mistake, Eusebius observes, that in the 19th year of Dioclesian, edicts were every where suddenly published, by which it was ordered, that churches should be levelled with the ground, the sacred books consumed by fire, persons of dignity disgraced, common people made slaves if they persisted in Christianity. Not long after, says he, other letters were published, by which it was enacted, that all the bishops every wbere should first be cast into bonds, and afterwards be compelled by every method to sacrifice. These measures of the court increasing gradually in asperity and horror, show that it was not without reluctance, that Dioclesian was induced to consent to an universal carnage, though he too well agreed with Galerius in forming a system for the extinction of the Christian name.

CHAP.

I.

The Persecution of Dioclesian

naturally revolts against injustice so flagrant, and a Christian was found hardy enough, under the transports of indignation, to pull down and tear the Edict. He was burned alive for his indiscretion, and bore his sufferings with admirable, and it is to be hoped, with Christian patience.

Some time after, a part of the palace was found to be on fire : the Christians were charged with the fact : and the eunuchs of the house were accused. Dioclesian himself was present, and saw his servants burnt in the flames. It is remarkable, that the servants of Galerius were not put to the torture; while he himself took much pains to keep up the indignation of the old emperor. After fifteen days a second fire brake out, and Galerius left the palace in a hurry, expressing his fear of being burnt alive. Lactantius, without hesitation, charges all this to the artifices of Galerius,

Dioclesian now thoroughly in earnest, raged

against all sorts of men who bore the Christian name, began A.D. and obliged among others his wife and daughter to 303, in the sacrifice. Doubtless he suspected them at least of of this Em- a secret regard for Christianity. Presbyters and

deacons were seized and condemned in a summary way to death. Eunuchs of the greatest power in the palace were slain, and persons of every age and sex were burnt.

It was tedious to destroy men singly; fires were made to burn numbers together, and men with millstones fastened about their necks were thrown into the sea. Judges were every where at work in compelling men to sacrifice. The prisons were full. Unheard-of tortures were invented;

and, to prevent the possibility of Christians obtaining justice, altars were placed in courts, at which plaintiffs were obliged to sacrifice, before their cause could be heard. The other two emperors were directed by letters to proceed in the same violent course.

Maximian, who governed in Italy, obeyed with savage alacrity.

. Constantius with

20th year

peror; and

is the Xth Persecution of the Christians.

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