Page images

were wrapt in pitched fhirts, and fet cri fire when the day clofed, that they might ferve as lights to illuminate the night. Nero lent his own gardens for thefe executions; and exhibited at the fame time a mock Circenfian entertainment, being a fpectator of the whole in the drefs of a charioteer, fometimes mingling with the crowd on foot, and sometimes viewing the fpectacles from his car. This conduct made the fufferers pitied; and though they were criminals, and deferving the fevereft punishment, yet they were confidered as facrificed, not fo much out of a regard to the public good, as to gratify the cruelty of one man.


[ocr errors]

Our concern with this paffage at present

only fo far as it affords a prefumption in fupport of the propofition which we maintain, concerning the activity and sufferings

*This is rather a paraphrafe, but is juftified by what the Scholiaft upon Juvenal fays-" Nero maleficos homines tedâ et papyro et cerâ fuperveftiebat, et fic ad ignem admoveri jubebat." Lard. Jewish and Heath. Teft. vol. i. p. 359.


of the first teachers of Christianity. Now, confidered in this view, it proves three things: ift, that the founder of the inftitution was put to death; 2dly, that in the fame country in which he was put to death, the religion, after a fhort check, broke out again and spread; 3dly, that it so spread, as that, within thirty-four years from the author's death, a very great number of Chriftians (ingens eorum multitudo) were found at Rome. From which fact, the two following inferences may be fairly drawn: first, that, if, in the space of thirty-four years from its commencement, the religion had fpread throughout Judea, had extended itfelf to Rome, and there had numbered a great multitude of converts, the original teachers and miffionaries of the inftitution could not have been idle; fecondly, that when the author of the undertaking was put to death as a malefactor for his attempt, the endeavours of his followers to establish his religion, in the fame country, amongst the fame people, and in the fame age, could not but be attended with danger.


Suetonius, a writer contemporary with Tacitus, defcribing the tranfactions of the same reign, uses these words, " Affecti suppliciis Chriftiani, genus hominum fuperftitionis novæ et maleficæ*. The Chriftians, a fet of men, of a new and mischievous (or magical) fuperftition, were punished."

Since it is not mentioned here that the burning of the city was the pretence of the punishment of the Chriftians, or that they were the Chriftians of Rome who alone fuffered, it is probable that Suetonius refers to fome more general perfecution than the short and occasional one which Tacitus defcribes.

Juvenal, a writer of the fame age with the two former, and intending, as it should seem, to commemorate the cruelties exercifed under Nero's government, has the following lines † :

*Suet. Nero. cap. 16.

+ Sat. 1, ver. 155.


Pone Tigellinum, tedâ lucebis in illâ,
Quâ stantes ardent, qui fixo gutture fumant;
Et latum mediâ fulcum deducit * arenâ.”

"Defcribe Tigellinus (a creature of Nero's), and you shall suffer the same punishment with those who ftand burning in their own flame and smoke, their head being held up by a ftake fixed to their chin, till they make a long ftream of blood and melted fulphur on the ground."

If this paffage were confidered by itself, the subject of the allufion might be doubtful; but when connected with the teftimony of Suetonius, as to the actual punishment of the Christians by Nero'; and with the account given by Tacitus of the Species of punishment which they were made to undergo; I think it fufficiently probable, that these were the executions to which the poet refers.

These things, as hath already been ob

Forfan" deducis."


ferved, took place within thirty-one years after Chrift's death, that is, according to the course of nature, in the life-time, probably, of fome of the apoftles, and certainly in the life-time of those who were converted by the apostles, or who were converted in their time. If then the founder of the religion was put to death in the execution of his defign; if the first race of converts to the religion, many of them, fuffered the greatest extremities for their profeffion; it is hardly credible, that thofe who came between the two, who were companions of the author of the inftitution during his life, and the teachers and propagators of the inftitution after his death, could go about their undertaking with ease and fafety.

The teftimony of the younger Pliny belongs to a later period; for although he was contemporary with Tacitus and Suetonius, yet his account does not, like theirs, go back to the tranfactions of Nero's reign, but is confined to the affairs of his own time. His celebrated letter to Trajan was written


[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »