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propounding in their books, or in their schools, doubts concerning the truth of the popular creed, or even avowing their difbelief of it. These philofophers did not go about from place to place to collect profelytes from amongst the common people; to form in the heart of the country societies profeffing their tenets; to provide for the order, inftruction and permanency of thefe focieties; nor did they enjoin their followers to withdraw themfelves from the public worfhip of the temples, or refufe a compliance with rites instituted by the laws*. things are what the Chriftians did, and what the philofophers did not: and in thefe confifted the activity and danger of the enterprife.


Thirdly, it ought also to be confidered,

* The best of the ancient philofophers, Plato, Cicero, and Epictetus, allowed, or rather enjoined, men to worfhip the gods of the country, and in the established form. See paffages to this purpofe, collected from their works by Dr. Clarke, Nat. and Rev. Rel. p. 180, ed. v. Except Socrates, they all thought it wifer to comply with the laws than to contend.


that this danger proceeded not merely from foleinn acts and public refolutions of the ftate, but from fudden burfts of violence at particular places, from the licence of the populace, the rafhnefs of fome magiftrates and the negligence of others; from the influence and inftigation of interested adverfaries, 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 fuffer much from thefe causes, without any general perfecution being denounced against them by imperial authority. Some length of time, I should fuppose, might pass, before the vast machine of the Roman empire would be put in motion, or its attention be obtained to religious controverfy: but, during that time, a great deal of ill ufage might be endured, by a fet of friendlefs, unprotected travellers, telling men, wherever they came, that the religion of their ancestors, the religion in which they had been brought up, the rcligion of


the flate and of the magiftrate, the rites which they frequented, the pomp which they admired, was throughout a fyftem of folly and delufion.

Nor do I think that the teachers of Chrif tianity would find protection in that general difbelief of the popular theology, which is fuppofed to have prevailed amongst the intelligent part of the heathen public. It is by no means true that unbelievers are usually tolerant. They are not difpofed (and why fhould they?) to endanger the present state of things, by fuffering a religion of which they believe nothing, to be disturbed by another of which they believe as little. They are ready themselves to conform to anything; 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 fcepticism, and the magnified liberality of that age, the true


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principles of toleration were understood by the wifeft men amongst them, may be gathered from two eminent and uncontested examples. The younger Pliny, polifhed, as he was, by all the literature of that foft and elegant period, could gravely pronounce this monftrous judgment: "Those who perfifted in declaring themfelves 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 obftinacy ought to be punished." His mafter, Trajan, a mild and accomplished prince, went, nevertheless, no farther in his fentiments of möderation and equity, than what appears in the following refcript: "The Chriftians are not to be fought 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 prefident, that, by the most strict examination, nothing could be discovered in the principles of these perfons, but " a bad and exceffive superstition," accompanied, it feems, with an oath VOL. I.



or mutual federation, "to allow themselves in no crime or immoral conduct whatever." The truth is, the ancient heathens confidered religion entirely as an affair of state, as much under the tuition of the magiftrate as any other part of the police. 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 fenators, confuls and generals. Without difcuffing therefore the truth of the theology, they refented every affront put upon the established worship, as a direct oppofition to the authority of government.

Add to which, that the religious systems of those times, however ill fupported by evidence, had been long established. The ancient religion of a country has always many votaries, and sometimes not the fewer because its origin is hidden in remoteness and obfcurity. Men have a natural veneration for antiquity, efpecially in matters of religion.

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