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theism of ancient nations admitted new objects of worship into the number of their acknowledged divinities, or the patience with which they might entertain proposals of this kind, we can argue nothing as to their toleration of a system, or of the publishers and active propagators of a system, which swept away the very foundation of the existing establishment. The one was nothing more than what it would be, in popish countries, to add a saint to the kalendar; the other was to abolish and tread under foot the kalendar itself.
Secondly, it ought also to be considered, that this was not the case of philosophers propounding in their books, or in their schools, doubts concerning the truth of the popular creed, or even avowing their disbelief of it. These philosophers did not go about from place to place to collect proselytes from amongst the common people ; to form in the heart of the country societies professing their tenets; to provide for the order, instruction, and permanency of these societies; nor did they enjoin their followers to withdraw themselves from the public worship of the temples, or refuse a compliance with rites instituted by the laws* These things are what the Christians did, and what the philosopher did not; and in these consisted the activity and danger of the enterprise.
Thirdly, it ought also to be considered, that this danger proceeded not merely from solemn acts and public resolutions of the state, but from sudden bursts of violence at particular places, from the licence of the populace, the rashness of some magistrates and negligence of others; from the influence and instigation of interested adversaries, and, in general, from the variety and warmth of opinion which an errand so novel and extraordinary could not fail of exciting. I can conceive that the teachers of Christianity might both fear and suffer much from these causes, without any general persecution being denounced against them by imperial authority. Some length of time, I should suppose, might pass, before the vast machine of the Roman empire would be put in motion, or its attention be obtained to religious controversy : but, during that time, a great deal of ill usage might be endured, by a set of friendless, unprotected travellers, telling men, wherever they came, that the religion of their ancestors, the religion in which they had been brought up, the religion of the state, and of the magistrate, the rites which they frequented, the pomp which they admired, was throughout a system of folly and delusion.
* The best of the ancient philosophers, Plato, Ciceroz. and Epictetus, allowed, or rather enjoined, men to worship the gods of the country, and in the established form, Sce passages to this purpose, collected from their works by Dr Clarke, Nat, and Rev. Rel. p. 180, ed. V.-.-Except Socra. tes, they all thought it wiser to comply with the laws than to contend.
Nor do I think that the teachers of Christianity would find protection in that general disbelief of the popular theology, which is supposed to have prevailed amongst the intelligent part of the heathen public. It is by no means true that un believers are usually tolerant. They are not disposed (and why should they ?) to endanger the present state of things, by suffering a religion of which they believe nothing, to be disturbed by another of which they believe as little.
as little. They are ready themselves to conform to any thing; and are, oftentimes, amongst the foremost to procure conformity from others, by any method which they think likely to be efficacious. When was ever a change of religion patronized by infidels? How little, notwithstanding the reigning scepticism, and the magnified liberality of that age, the true principles of toleration were understood by the wisest men amongst them, may be gathered from two eminent and uncontested examples. The younger Pliny: polished as he was by all the literature of that soft and elegant period, could gravely pronounce this monstrous judgment :“ Those who persisted in declaring themselves Christians, I ordered to be led away to punishment (i.e. to execution), for I DID NOT DOUBT, whatever it was that they confessed, that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished." His master, Trajan, a mild and accomplished prince, went, nevertheless, no farther in his sentiments of moderation and equity, than what appears in the following rescript : “ The Christians
are not to be sought for; but if any are brought before you, and convicted, they are to be punished.” And this direction he gives, after it had been reported to him by, his own president, that, by the most strict: examination, nothing could be discovered in the principles of these persons, but : “ a bad and excessive superstition," accompanied, it seems, with an oath or mutual federation, “ to allow themselves in no crime or immoral conduct what
The truth is, the ancient heathens considered religion entirely as an affair of state, as much under the tuition of the magistrate, as any other part of the
pom lice. The religion of that age was not merely allied to the state ; it was incorporated into it. Many of its offices were administered by the magistrate. Its titles of pontiffs, augurs, and flamens, were borne by senators, consuls, and generals. Without discussing, therefore, the truth of the theology, they resented every affront put upon the established worship, as a direct opposition to the authority of government.