Perhaps, on some future occasion, I may examine the historical character of Eusebius; perhaps I may enquire, how far it appears from his words and actions, that the learned Bishop of Caesarea was averse to the use of fraud, when it was employed in the service of Religion. At present, I am only concerned to defend my own truth and honour, from the reproach of misrepresenting the sense of the Ecclesiastical Historian. Some of the charges of Mr. Davis on this head are so strong, so pointed, so vehemently urged, that he seems to have staked, on the event of the trial, the merits of our respective characters. If his assertions are true, I deserve the contempt of learned, and the abhorrence of good, men. If they are false, *******
I. I had remarked, without any malicious intention, that one of the seventeen Christians who suffered at Alexandria was likewise accused of robbery. (43) Mr. Davis (44) seems enraged because I did not add that he was falsely accused, takes some unnecessary pains to convince me that the Greek word signifies falso accusatus, and "can hardly think that any one who had looked into the original, would dare thus absolutely to contradict the plain testimony of the author he pretends to follow." A simple narrative of this fact, in the relation of which Mr. Davis has really suppressed several material circumstances, will afford the clearest justification.
Eusebius has preserved an original letter from Dionysius Bishop of Alexandria to Fabius Bishop of Antioch, in which the former relates the circumstances of the persecution which had lately afflicted the capital of Egypt. He allows a rank among the martyrs to one Nemesion, an Egyptian, who was falsely or maliciously accused as a companion of robbers. Before the Centurion he justified himself from this calumny, which did not relate to him; but being charged as a Christian, he was brought in chains before the Governor. That unjust magistrate, after inflicting on Nemesion a double measure of stripes and tortures, gave orders that he should be burnt with the robbers. (Dionys. apud Euseb. 1. vi. c. 41.).
It is evident that Dionysius represents the religious sufferer as innocent of the criminal accusation which had been falsely brought against him. It is no less evident, that whatever might be the opinion of the Centurion, the supreme magistrate considered Nemesion as guilty and that he affected to shew, by the measure of his tortures, and by the companions of his execution, that he punished him, not only as a Christian, but as a robber. The evidence against Nemesion, and that which might be produced in his favour, are equally lost; and the question (which fortunately is of little moment) of his guilt or innocence rests solely on the opposite judgments of his ecclesiastical and civil superiors. I could easily perceive that both the Bishop and the Governor were actuated by different passions and prejudices towards the unhappy sufferer; but it was impossible for me to decide which of the two was the most likely to indulge his prejudices and passions at the expense of truth. In this doubtful situation, I conceived that I had acted with the most unexceptionable caution, when I contented myself with observing that Nemesion was accused; a circumstance of a public and authentic nature, in which both parties were agreed.
Mr. Davis will no longer ask, "what possible evasion then can Mr. Gibbon have recourse to, to convince the world that I have falsely accused him of a gross misrepresentation of Eusebius?"
2. Mr. Davis (45) charges me with falsifying (falsifying is a very serious word) the testimony of Eusebius; because it suited my purpose to magnify the humanity and even kindness of Maxentius towards the afflicted Christians. (46) To support this charge, he produces some part of a chapter of Eusebius, the English in his text, the Greek in his notes, and makes the Ecclesiastical Historian express himself in the following terms:
"Although Maxentius at first favoured the Christians with a view of popularity, yet afterwards, being addicted to magic, and every other impiety, HE exerted himself in persecuting the Christians, in a more severe and destructive manner than his predecessors had done before him."
If it were in my power to place the volume and chapter of Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 1. viii. c. 14.) before the eyes of every reader, I should be satisfied and silent. I should not be under the necessity of protesting, that in the passage quoted, or rather abridged, by my adversary, the second member of the period, which alone contradicts my account of Maxentius, has not the most distant reference to that odious tyrant. After distinguishing the mild conduct which he affected towards the Christians, Eusebius proceeds to animadvert with becoming severity on the general vices of his reign; the rapes, the murders, the oppression, the promiscuous massacres, which I had faithfully related in their proper place, and which the Christians, not in their religious, but in their civil capacity, must occasionally have shared with the rest of his unhappy subjects. The Ecclesiastical Historian then makes a transition to another tyrant, the cruel Maximin, who carried away from his friend and ally Maxentius the prize of superior wickedness; for HE was addicted to magic arts, and was a cruel persecutor of the Christians. The evidence of words and facts, the play meaning of Eusebius, the concurring testimony of Caecilius or Lactantius, and the superfluous authority of Versions and Commentators, establish beyond the reach of doubt or cavil, that Maximin, and not Maxentius, is stigmatized as a persecutor, and that Mr. Davis alone has deserved the reproach of falsifying the testimony of Eusebius.
Let him examine the chapter on which he founds his accusation. If in that moment his feelings are not of the most painful and humiliating kind, he must indeed be an object of pity!
3. A gross blunder is imputed to me by this polite antagonist, (47) for quoting under the name of Jerom, the Chronicle which I ought to have described as the work and property of Eusebius, (48) and Mr. Davis kindly points out the occasion of my blunder, That it was the consequence of my looking no farther than Dodwell for this remark, and of not rightly understanding his reference. Perhaps the Historian of the Roman Empire may be credited, when he affirms that he frequently consulted a Latin Chronicle of the affairs of that Empire; and he may the sooner be credited, if he shows that he knows something more of this Chronicle besides the name and the title-page.
Mr. Davis, who talks so familiarly of the Chronicle of Eusebius, will be surprised to hear that the Greek original no longer exists. Some chronological fragments, which had successively passed through the hands of Africanus and Eusebius, are still extant, though in a very corrupt and mutilated state, in the compilations of Syncellus and Cedrenus. They have been collected, and disposed by the labour and ingenuity of Joseph Scaliger; but that proud Critic, always ready to applaud his own success, did not flatter himself, that he had restored the hundredth part of the genuine Chronicle of Eusebius. "Ex eo (Syncello) omnia Eusebiana excerpsimus quae quidem deprehendere potuimus; quae, quanquam ne centesima quidem pars eorum esse videtur quae ab Eusebio relicta sunt, aliquod tamen justum volumen explere possunt. (Jos. Scaliger Animadversiones in Graeca Eusebii in Thesauro Temporum, p. 40 t. Amstelod. 1658.) While the Chronicle of Eusebius was perfect and entire, the second book was translated into Latin by Jerom, with the freedom, or rather licence, which that voluminous Author, as well as his friend or enemy Rufinus, always assumed. "Plurima in vertendo mutat, infulcit, praeterit," says Scaliger himself, in the Prolegomena, p. 22. In the persecution of Aurelian, which has so much offended Mr. Davis, we are able to distinguish the work of Eusebius from that of Jerom, by comparing the expressions of the Ecclesiastical History with those of the Chronicle. The former affirms, that, towards the end of his reign, Aurelian was moved by some councils to excite a persecution against the Christians; that his design occasioned a great and general rumour; but that when the letters were prepared, and as it were signed, Divine Justice dismissed him from the world. Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 1. vii. c. 30.
Whereas the Chronicle relates, that Aurelian was killed after he had excited or moved a persecution against the Christians, "cum adversum nos persecutionem movisset."
From this manifest difference I assume a right to assert; first, that the expression of the Chronicle of Jerom, which is always proper, became in this instance necessary; and secondly, that the language of the Fathers is so ambiguous and incorrect, that we are at a loss how to determine how far Aurelian had carried his intention before he was assassinated. I have neither perverted the fact, nor have I been guilty of a gross blunder.
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