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We have already discussed (pp. 57 f.) the first systematic opposition offered to Christianity and its progress, viz., the Jewish counter-mission initiated from Jerusalem. This expired with the fall of Jerusalem, or rather, as it would seem, not earlier than the reign of Hadrian. Yet its influence continued operate for long throughout the empire, in the shape of malicious charges levelled by the Jews against the Christians. The synagogues, together with individual Jews, carried on the struggle against Christianity by acts of hostility and by inciting hostility.836836Cp. the martyrdom of Polycarp or of Pionius. In the Martyr. Cononis the magistrate says to the accused: τί πλανᾶσθε, ἄνθρωπον θεὸν λέγοντες, καὶ τοῦτον βιοθανῆ; ὡς ἔμαθον παρὰ Ἰουδαίων ἀκριβῶς, καὶ τί τὸ γένος αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσα ἐνεδείξατο τῷ ἔθνει αὐτῶν καὶ πῶς ἀπέθανεν σταυρωθείς· προκομίσαντεσ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὰ ὑπομνήματα [??] ἐπανέγνωσάν μοι (von Gebhardt's Acta Mart. Selecta, p, 131) “Why do ye err, calling a man God, and that too a man who died a violent death? For so have I learnt accurately from the Jews, both as to his race and his manifestation to their nation and his death by crucifixion. They brought forward his memoirs and read them out to me.” In his polemical treatise, Celsus makes a Jew come forward against the Christians—and this reflected the actual state of matters. Any pagans who wished to examine Christianity closely and critically, had first of all to get information from the Jews. On the other hand, as has been already shown (pp. 66 f.), the Christians did not fail to condemn the Jews most severely. The instance narrated by Hippolytus (Philos, ix. 12) apropos of the Roman Christian Callistus, is certainly remarkable, but none the less symptomatic. In order to secure a genuine martyrdom, Callistus posted himself on Sabbath at a synagogue and derided the Jews.

We cannot depict in detail the counter-movements on the part of the state, as these appear in its persecutions of the 488church.837837See Neumann's Der römische Staat und die allg. Kirche, i. 1890; Mommsen, “Der Religionsfrevel nach röm. Recht” (in the Hist. Zeitschr., vol. lxiv. [N.S. vol. xxviii.], part 3, pp. 389-429; Harnack on “Christenverfolgung” in the Prot. Real-Encykl. III.3; Weiss, Christenverfolgungen (1899); and Linsenmayer's Die Bekämpfung des Christentums durch den röm. Staat (1905). All that need be done here is to bring out some of the leading points, with particular reference to the significance, both negative and positive, which the persecutions possessed for the Christian mission.

Once Christianity presented itself in the eyes of the law and the authorities as a religion distinct from that of Judaism, its character as a religio illicita was assured. No express decree was needed to make this plain. In fact, the “non licet” was rather the presupposition underlying all the imperial rescripts against Christianity. After the Neronic persecution, which was probably838838Without this hypothesis it is scarcely possible, in my opinion, to understand the persecution. Cp. my essay in Texte u. Unters., xxviii. 2 (1905). instigated by the Jews (see above, p. 58), though it neither extended beyond Rome nor involved further consequences, Trajan enacted that provincial governors were to use their own discretion, repressing any given case,839839Trajan approves Pliny's procedure in executing Christians who, upon being charged before him, persistently refused to sacrifice. But he adds, “nothing can be laid down as a general principle, to serve as a fixed rule of procedure” (“in universum aliquid quod quasi certam formam habeat constitui non potest”). but declining to ferret Christians out.840840This did not, of course, exclude criminal procedure in certain cases at the discretion of the governor. Even during the second century special regulations were enacted for the treatment of Christians. For a true appreciation of the repressive and the criminal procedure, cp. Augar in Texte u. Unters., xxviii. 4 (1905). Execution was their fate if, when suspected of lèse-majesté as well as of sacrilege841841“Atheism”; cp. my essay in Texte u. Unters. (ibid.). they stubbornly refused to sacrifice before the images of the gods of the emperor, thereby avowing themselves guilty of the former crime. On the cultus of the Cæsars, and on this point alone, the state and the church came into collision.842842Tert., Apol. x.: “Sacrilegii et majestatis rei convenimur, summa haec causa, immo tots est” (“We are arraigned for sacrilege and treason; that is the head and front, nay, the sum total of our offence”). But the “sacrilegium” was hardly to be distinguished practically from “majestas.” The apologists are really incorrect in asserting that the Name itself (“nomen ipsum”) was visited with death. At least, the statement only becomes correct when 489we add the corollary that this judicial principle was adopted simply because the authorities found that no true adherent of his sect would ever offer sacrifice.843843Pliny (Ep. xcvi. 5): “Quorum nihil posse cogi dicuntur qui sunt re vera Christiani” (“Things which no real Christian, it is said, can be made to do”). He was therefore an atheist and an enemy of the state.

Down to the closing year of the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the imperial rescripts with which we are acquainted were designed, not to protect the Christians, but to safeguard the administration of justice and the police against the encroachments of an anti-Christian mob,844844Observe that society and the populace down to about Caracalla's reign (and during that reign) were keenly opposed to Christianity; the state had actually to curb their zeal. Thereafter, the fanaticism of the rabble and the aversion of a section of society steadily declined. People likely began to get accustomed to the fact of the new religion's existence. Tertullian (Scorp. i) says that the “ethnici de melioribus” (the better sort of pagans) asked: “Siccine tractari sectam nemini molestam? perire homines sine causa?” (“Is a harmless sect to be treated thus? Are men to die for no reason?”). This meant that Roman emperors and governors of pagan disposition had to redouble their vigilance. as well as against the excesses of local councils who desired to evince their loyalty in a cheap fashion by taking measures against Christians. Anonymous accusations had been already prohibited by Trajan. Hadrian had rejected the attempts of the Asiatic diet, by means of popular petitions, to press governors into severe measures against the Christians. Pius in a number of rescripts interdicted all “novelties” in procedure; beyond the injunctions that Christians were not to be sought out (“quaerendi non sunt”), and that those who abjured their faith were to go scot-free, no step was to be taken. During this period, accusations preferred by private individuals came to be more and more restricted, both in criminal procedure as a whole, and in trials for treason. Even public opinion845845Tertullian does declare (Apol. ii.) that “every man is a soldier against traitors and public enemies” (“in reos majestatis et publicos hostes omnis homo miles est”), but he is referring to open criminals, not to suspected persons. was becoming more and more adverse to them. And all this told in favour of Christianity. Most governors or magistrates recognized that there was no occasion for them to interfere with Christians; convinced of their real harmlessness, they let them go their own way. Naturally, the higher any person stood in public life, the greater risk he ran 490of coming into collision with the authorities on the score of his Christian faith. Only on the lowest level of society, in fact, did this danger become at all equally grave, since life was not really of very much account to people of that class. People belonging to the middle classes, again, were left unmolested upon the whole; that is, unless any conspiracy succeeded in haling them before a magistrate. Down to the middle of the third century, this large middle class furnished but a very small number of martyrs. Irenæus writes (about 185 A.D.; see above: p. 369): “Mundus pacem habet per Romanos, et nos [Christiani] sine timore in via ambulamus et navigamus quocumque voluerimus.” Soldiers, again, were promptly detected whenever they made any use of their Christian faith in public. So were all Christians who belonged to the numerous domains of the emperors.

Apart from the keen anti-Christian temper of a few proconsuls and the stricter surveillance of the city-prefects, this continued to be the prevailing attitude of the state down to the days of Decius, i.e., to the year 249. During this long interval, however, three attempts at a more stringent policy were made. “Attempts” is the only term we can use in this connection, for all three lost their effect comparatively soon. Marcus Aurelius impressed upon magistrates and governors the duty of looking more strictly after extravagances in religion, including those of Christianity. The results of this rescript appear in the persecution of 176-180 A.D.; but when Commodus came to the throne, the edict fell into abeyance.—Then, in 202 A.D., Septimius Severus forbade conversions to Christianity, which of course involved orders to keep a stricter watch on Christians in general. As the persecutions of the neophytes and catechumens in 202-203 attest, the rescript was not issued idly; yet before long it too was relaxed. Finally, Maximinus Thrax ordered the clergy to be executed, which implied the duty of hunting them out—in itself a fundamental innovation in the imperial policy. Outside Rome, however, it is unlikely that this order was put into practice, save in a few provinces, although we do not know what were the obstacles to its enforcement. Down to the days of Maximinus Thrax 491the clergy do not appear to have attracted much more notice than the laity, and the edict of Maximinus did not strike many of them down. Still, it was significant. Plainly, the state had now become alive to the influential position occupied by the Christian clergy.

These attempts at severity were of brief duration. But the comparative favour shown to Christianity, upon the other hand, by Commodus, Alexander Severus, and Philip the Arabian led to a steady improvement in the prospects of Christianity with the passage of every decade.

Viewed externally, then, the persecutions up to the middle of the third century were not so grave as is commonly represented. Origen expressly states that the number of the martyrs during this period was small; they could easily be counted.846846Cp. c. Cels. III. viii. It is also significant that he expressly declares the last days would be heralded by general persecutions, whereas hitherto there had been only partial persecutions: “Nunquam quidem consenserunt omnes gentes adversus Christianos; cum autem contigerint quae Christus praedixit, tunc quasi succendendi sunt omnes a quibusdam gentilibus incipientibus Christianos culpare, ut tunc fiant persecutiones iam non ex parte sicut ante, sed generaliter ubique adversus populum dei” (Comment. Ser. in Matt. xxxix., vol. iv. p. 270, ed. Lommatzsch) = “Never, indeed, have all nations combined against Christians. But when the events predicted by Christ come to pass, then all must be as it were inflamed by some of the heathen who begin to charge Christians, so that persecutions then occur universally against all God's people, instead of here and there, as hitherto has been the case” (cp. also p. 271). Not to exaggerate Origen's remark about the small number of the martyrs, cp. Iren. iv. 33. 9: “Ecclesia omni in loco multitudinem martyrum in omni tempore praemittit ad patrem” (“The church in every place and at all times sends on a multitude of martyrs before her to the Father”). A glance at Carthage and Northern Africa (as seen in the writings of Tertullian) bears out this observation. Up till 180 A.D. there were no local martyrs at all; up to the time of Tertullian's death there were hardly more than a couple of dozen, even when Numidia and Mauretania are included in the survey. And these were always people whom the authorities simply made an example of. Yet it would be a grave error to imagine that the position of Christians was quite tolerable. No doubt they were able, as a matter of fact, to settle down within the empire, but the sword of Damocles hung over every Christian's neck, and at any given moment he was sorely tempted to deny 492his faith, since denial meant freedom from all molestation. The Christian apologists complained most of the latter evil, and their complaint was just. The premium set by the state upon denial of one's faith was proof positive, to their mind, that the administration of justice was controlled by demonic influence.

Despite the small number of martyrs, we are not to underrate the courage requisite for becoming a Christian and behaving as a Christian. We are specially bound to extol the staunch adherence of the martyrs to their principles. By the word or the deed of a moment, they might have secured exemption from their punishment, but they preferred death to a base immunity.847847Martyrs and confessors, of course, were extravagantly honored in the churches, and the prospect of “eternal” glory might allure several (Marcus Aurelius condemns the readiness of Christians for martyrdom as pure fanaticism and vainglory; cp. also Lucian's Proteus Peregrinas). The confessors were assigned a special relationship to Christ. As they had attached themselves to him, so he had thereby attached himself to them. They were already accepted, already saved; Christ gave utterance through their lips henceforth. Furthermore, they had a claim to be admitted into the ranks of the clergy (oldest passage on this in Tertullian, de Fuga, xi.); and on important ecclesiastical occasions, especially on all matters relating to penitence, their decision had to be accepted (cp., e.g., Tert., ad Mart. i., where they restore the excommunicated). It was not easy to differ from them. The blood shed by martyrs was held to possess an expiatory value like the blood of Christ (cp., e.g., Origen, Hom. xxiv. 1 in Num. vol. x. p. 293, Hom. vii. 2. in Judic. vol. xi. p. 267). Even in Tertullian's day there were hymns to the martyrs (cp. de Scorp. vii.: “cantatur et exitus martyrum”). On the other hand, we must not forget how the Christians themselves depreciated martyrdom when the martyrs did not belong to their own party in the church. How the opponents of the Montanists scoffed and sneered at the Montanist confessors! And how meanly Tertullian speaks (e.g., in de Ieiun. xii.), towards the end of his life, about the catholic martyrs! Think of Tertullian on Praxeas the confessor, of Hippolytus on Callistus the confessor, of Cyprian on martyrs who were disagreeable to him! And sneers were not all. They spoke of vainglory in this connection, just as Marcus Aurelius did.

The illicit nature of Christianity unquestionably constituted a serious impediment to its propaganda, and it is difficult to say whether the attractiveness of all forbidden objects and the heroic bearing of the martyrs compensated for this drawback. It is an obstacle which the Christians themselves rarely mention; they dwell all the more upon the growth which accrued to them ever and anon from the martyrdoms.848848Cp., e.g., Justin, Apol. ii. 12 (where he admits that the Christian martyrdoms helped to convert him), Dial. cx.; Tert., Apol. l.; Lact., Inst., v. 19; and August., Epist. iii. All over, indeed, history 493shows us that it is the “religio pressa” which invariably waxes strong and large. Persecution serves as an excellent means of promoting expansion.849849Reference must be made, however, to the fact that even among Christians there were certain circles which eschewed open confession and martyrdom for good reasons. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian (Scorp. i.) mention the Valentinians and some other gnostics in this connection. But obviously there were, some in the church who shared this view. “Nesciunt simplices animae,” they held, “quid quomodo scriptum sit, ubi et quando et coram quibus confitendum, nisi quod nec simplicitas ista, sed vanitas, immo dementia pro deo mori, ut qui me salvum faciat. sic is occidet, qui salvum facere debebit? semel Christus pro nobis obiit, semel occisus est, ne occideremur. si vicem repetit, num et ille salutem de mea nece expectat? an deus hominum sanguinem flagitat, maxime si taurorum et hircorum recusat? certe peccatoris paenitentiam mavult quam mortem” (“The simple souls do not know what is written, or the meaning of what is written, about where and when and before whom we must make confession; all they know is that to die for God, who preserves me, is not simple artlessness but folly and madness! Shall he slay me, who ought to preserve me? Christ died once for us, was killed once, that we should not die. If he requires this in return, does he look for salvation from my death? Or does God, who refuses the blood of bulls and goats, demand the blood of men? Assuredly he would rather have the sinner repent than die.”) They also said (ch. xv.) that the word of Jesus about confessing him does not apply to a human tribunal but to that of the heavenly ones (æons) through whose sphere the soul rises up after death (“Non in terris confitendum apud homines, minus vero, ne deus humanum sanguinem sitiat nec Christus vicem passionis, quasi et ipse de ea salutem consecuturus, exposcat”).

From the standpoint of morals, the position of living under a sword which fell but rarely, constituted a serious peril. Christians could go on feeling that they were a persecuted flock. Yet as a rule they were nothing of the kind. Theoretically, they could credit themselves with all the virtues of heroism, and yet these were seldom put to the proof. They could represent themselves as raised above the world, and yet they were constantly bending before it. As the early Christian literature shows, this unhealthy state of matters led to undesirable consequences.850850This does not even take into account the clandestine arrangements made with local authorities, or the intrigues and corruption that went on. From Tertullian's treatise de Fuga we learn that Christian churches in Africa frequently paid moneys to the local funds—i.e., of course, to the local authorities—to ensure that their members were left unmolested. The authorities themselves often advised this. Cp. Tert., Apol. xxvii.: “Datis consilium, quo vobis abutamur” (“You advise us to take unfair advantage of you”); and ad Scap. iv.: “Cincus Severus [the proconsul] Thysdri ipse dedit remedium, quomodo responderent Christiani, ut dimitti possent” (“Cincius Severus himself pointed out the remedy at Thysdrus, showing how Christians should answer so as to get acquitted”).


The development went on apace between 259 and 303. From the days when Gallienus ruled alone, Gallienus who restored to Christianity the very lands and churches which Valerian had confiscated, down to the nineteenth year of Diocletian, Christians enjoyed a halcyon immunity which was almost equivalent to a manifesto of toleration.851851From the fragments of Porphyry's polemical treatise, and indeed from his writings as a whole, we see how Christians were recognized (in contemporary society) as a well-known party which had no longer to fear any violence. Aurelian's attempt at repression never got further than a beginning, and no one followed it up; the emperor and his officials, like Diocletian the reformer subsequently, had other business to attend to. It was during this period that the great expansion of the Christian religion took place. For a considerable period Christians had held property and estates (in the name, I presume, of men of straw); now they could come before the public fearlessly,852852We do not know under what title they came forward. as if they were a recognized body.853853Cp. the pagan (Porphyry) in Macar. Magnes., iv. 21: οἱ Χριστιανοὶ μιμούμενοι τὰς κατασκευὰς τῶν ναῶν μεγίστους οἴκους οἰκοδομοῦσιν (“The Christians erect large buildings, in imitation of the temple-fabrics”). So previously Cæcilius, Minuc. ix: “Per universum orbem sacraria ista taeterrima impiae coitionis adolescunt” (“All over the world the utterly foul rites of that impious union are flourishing apace”). For details on church-building, see below.—The epithet of Χριστιανός occurs quite openly for the first time, so far as I am aware, in the year 279 upon a tomb in Asia Minor (see Cumont, Les Inscr, chrét. de l'Asie mineure, p. 11 ).

Between 249 and 258, however, two chief and severe persecutions of Christians took place, those under Decius and Valerian, while the last and fiercest began in February of 303. The former lasted only for a year, but they sufficed to spread fearful havoc among the churches. The number of the apostates was much larger, very much larger indeed, than the number of the martyrs. The rescript of Decius, a brutal stroke which was quite unworthy of any statesman, compelled at one blow all Christians, including even women and children, to return to their old religion or else forfeit their lives. Valerian's rescripts were the work of a statesman. They dealt merely with the clergy, with people of good position, and with members of the court; all other Christians were let alone, provided that they refrained from worship. Their lands and churches were, 495however, confiscated.854854The state never attacked the religion of private individuals. All it waged war upon was the refusal to perform the ceremonies of the cultus. Cp. the pregnant statement of the Acta Cypriani, i.: “Sacratissimi imperatores praeceperunt, eos qui Romanam religionem non colunt, debere Romanas caerimonias recognoscere” (“The most sacred Roman emperors enjoined that those who did not adhere to the Roman religion should recognize the Roman rites”). It was on principle therefore that Valerian and Diocletian attempted to stamp out Christian worship. The tragic fate of both emperors “mortes persecutorum!”) put a stop to their persecutions. Both had essayed the extirpation of the Christian church, the one by the shortest possible means, the other by more indirect methods.855855Obviously, they saw that the procedure hitherto adopted was absurd, and that it had failed to harm the church. They rightly judged that Christians must be exterminated, if they were not to be let alone. “They must be sought out and punished” (“Quaerendi et puniendi sunt”). But in both cases the repair of the church was effected promptly and smoothly, while the wide gaps in its membership were soon filled up again, once the rule was laid down that even apostates could be reinstated.

The most severe and prolonged of all the persecutions was the last, the so-called persecution under Diocletian. It lasted longest and raged most fiercely in the east and south-east throughout the domain of Maximinus Daza; it burned with equal fierceness, but for a shorter period, throughout the jurisdiction of Galerius; while over the domain of Maximianus and his successors its vigour was less marked, though it was still very grievous. Throughout the West it came to little. It began with imperial rescripts, modelled upon the statesman like edict of Valerian, but even surpassing it in adroitness. Presently, however, these degenerated into quite a different form, which, although covered by the previous edicts of Decius, outdid them in pitiless ferocity throughout the East. Daza alone had recourse to preventive measures of a positive character. He had Acts of Pilate fabricated and circulated in all directions (especially throughout schools), which were drawn up in order to misrepresent Jesus;856856“Even the school teachers were to lecture on these zealously to their pupils, instead of upon the usual scholastic subjects; they were also to see that they were learnt by heart.” “Children at school repeated the names of Jesus and of Pilate, very day, and also recited the Acts of Pilate, which were composed in order to deride us.” on the strength of confessions extorted 496from Christians, he revived the old, abominable charges brought against them, and had these published far and wide in every city by the authorities (Eus., H.E., i. 9; ix. 5. 7); he got a high official of the state to compose a polemical treatise against Christianity;857857The emperor himself is probably concealed behind Hierocles. he invited cities to bring before him anti-Christian petitions;858858The cities were subservient to this command; cp, the inscription of Arycanda and Eus., H.E., ix. 7. finally—and this was the keenest stroke of all—he attempted to revive and reorganize all the cults, headed of course by that of the Cæsars, upon the basis of the new classification of the provinces, in order to render them a stronger and more attractive counterpoise to Christianity.859859Julian simply copied him in all these measures. The moving spirit of the whole policy was Theoteknus (Eus., H.E., ix. 2 f.), for we cannot attribute it to an emperor who was himself a barbarian and abandoned to the most debased forms of excess. “He ordered temples to be built in every city, and enacted the careful restoration of such as had collapsed through age; he also established idolatrous priests in all districts and towns, placing a high priest over them in every province, some official who had distinguished himself in some line of public service. This man was also furnished with a military guard of honor.” Eus., H.E., viii. 14; see ix. 4: “Idolatrous priests were now appointed in every town, and Maximinus further appointed high priests himself. For the latter position he chose men of distinction in public life, who had gained high credit in all the offices they had filled. They showed great zeal, too, for the worship of those gods.” Ever since the close of the second century the synodal organization of the church, with its metropolitans, had been moulded on the provincial diets of the empire—i.e., the latter formed the pattern of the former. But so much more thoroughly had it been worked out, that now, after the lapse of a century, the state attempted itself to copy this synodal organization with its priesthood so firmly centralized and so distinguished for moral character. Perhaps this was the greatest, at any rate it was the most conspicuous, triumph of the church prior to Constantine.

The extent of the apostasy which immediately ensued is 497unknown, but it must have been extremely large. When Constantine conquered Maxentius, however, and when Daza succumbed before Constantine and Licinius, as did Licinius in the end before Constantine, the persecution was over.860860Licinius was driven in the end to become a persecutor of the Christians, by his opposition to Constantine (cp. the conclusion of Eusebius's Church History and his Vita Const., i. ad fin., ii. ad init.). Among his laws, that bearing upon the management of prisons (to which allusion has been made already; cp. p. 164) deserves notice (cp. Eus., H.E., x. 8), as do the rescripts against the mutual intercourse of bishops, the holding of synods, the promiscuous attendance of men and women at worship, and the instruction of women by the bishops (Vita Const. i. 51. 53). During its closing years the churches had everywhere recovered from their initial panic; both inwardly and outwardly they had gained in strength. Thus when Constantine stretched out his royal hand, he found a church which was not prostrate and despondent but well-knit, with a priesthood which the persecution had only served to purify. He had not to raise the church from the dust, otherwise that politician would have hardly stirred a finger: on the contrary, the church confronted him, bleeding from many a wound, but unbent and vigorous. All the counteractive measures of the state had proved of no avail besides, of course, these were no longer supported by public opinion at the opening of the fourth century, as they had been during the second. Then, the state had to curb the fanaticism of public feeling against the Christians; now, few were to be found who countenanced hard measures of the state against the church. Gallienus himself had, on his deathbed, to revoke the edicts of persecution, and his rescript, which was unkindly phrased (Eus., H.E., viii. 17), was ultimately replaced by Constantine's great and gracious decree of toleration (Eus., H.E., x. 5; Lact., de Mort. xlviii.).


Several examples have been already given (in Book II., Chapters IV. And VI.) of the way in which Christians were thought of by Greek and Roman society and by the common people during the second century.861861A complete survey is given in my Gesch. der altchristl. Litt., i. pp. 865 f. Opinions of a more friendly nature were not common. No doubt, remarks like these were 498to be heard: “Gaius Seius is a capital fellow. Only, he's a Christian!”—“I'm astonished that Lucius Titius, for all his knowledge, has suddenly turned Christian” (Tert., Apol. iii.).—“So-and-so thinks of life and of God just as we do, but he mingles Greek ideas with foreign fables” (Eus., H.E., vi. 19).862862This is Porphyry's opinion of Origen. It deserves to be quoted in full, for its unique character. “Some Christians, . . . . instead of abandoning the Jewish scriptures, have addressed themselves to the task of explaining them. These explanations are neither coherent and consistent, nor do they harmonize with the text; instead of furnishing us with a defence of these foreign sects they rather give us praise and approbation of their doctrines. They produce expositions which boast of what Moses says unambiguously, as if it were obscure and intricate, and attach thereto divine influence as to oracles full of hidden mysteries. . . . . This sort of absurdity can be seen in the case of a man whom I met in my youth [at Cæsarea], and who at that time was very famous, as he still is by his writings. I mean Origen, whose fame is widely spread among the teachers of these doctrines, He was a pupil of Ammonius, the greatest philosopher of our day, and—so far as knowledge was concerned— he had gained much from the instruction of his teacher. But in the right conduct of life he went directly against Ammonius. . . . . Educated as a Greek among Greeks, he diverged to barbarous impudence. To this he devoted himself and his attainments; for while he lived outwardly like a Christian, in this irregular fashion, he was a Greek in his conception of life and of God, mixing Greek ideas with foreign fables. Plato was his constant companion. He had also the works of Numenius, Cronius, Apollophanes, Longinus, Moderatus, Nikomachus, and the most eminent Pythagoreans constantly in his hands, He also used the writings of the Stoic Chæremon and of Cornutus. Thence he derived the allegorical method of exegesis common in the Greek mysteries, and applied it to the Jewish scriptures.” They were reproached with being inconceivably credulous and absolutely devoid of judgment, with being detestably idle (“contemptissma inertia”) and useless for practical affairs (“infructuositas in negotiis”).863863Cp. the charge brought against the consul, T. Flavius Clemens (in Suetonius). Tert., Apol. xlii.: “Infructuosi in negotiis dicimur.” What Tertullian makes the cloak say (de Pallio, v.; cp. above, p. 306) is to be understood as a Christian's utterance. The heathen retorted that this was “ignavia.” These, however, were the least serious charges brought against them. The general opinion was that Christian doctrine and ethics, with their absurdities and pretensions,864864Cp. Tert., de Scorp. vii.: “funesta religio, lugubres ritus, ara rogus, pollinctor sacerdos” (the deadly religion, the mournful ceremonies, the altar-pyre, and the undertaker-priest). were unworthy of any one who was free and cultured (so Porphyry especially).865865No one takes the trouble, the apologists complain, to find out what Christianity really is (Tert., Apol, i. f.); even a pagan thinker would be condemned forthwith if he propounded ideas which agree with those of Christianity. Cp. Tert., de Testim. i. “Ne suis quidem magistris alias probatissimis atque lectissimis fidem inclinavit humana de incredulitate duritia, sicubi in argumenta Christianae defensionis impingunt. tunc vani poetae . . . . tunc philosophi duri, cum veritates fores pulsant. hactenus sapiens et prudens habebitur qui prope Christianum pronuntiaverit, cum, si quid prudentiae aut sapientiae affectaverit seu caerimonias despuens seu saeculum revincens pro Christiano denotetur” [“The hardness of the human heart in its unbelief prevents them even from crediting their own teachers (who otherwise are highly approved and most excellent), whenever they touch upon any arguments which favour Christianity. Then are the poets vain, . . . . then are the philosophers senseless, when they knock at the gates of truth. Anyone who goes the length of almost proclaiming Christian ideas will be held to be wise and sagacious so far; he will be branded as a Christian if he affect wisdom and knowledge in order to scoff at their rites or to expose the age”). Christian writings were not read. “Tanto abest ut nostris literis annuant homines, ad quas nemo venit nisi iam Christianus” (Tert., loc. cit.: “Far less do men assent to our writings; nay, none comes to them unless he is a Christian already”). 499The majority, educated and uneducated alike, were still more hostile in the second century. In the foreground of their calumnies stood the two charges of Œdipodean incest and Thyestean banquets, together with that of foreign, outlandish customs, and also of high treason. Moreover, there were clouds of other accusations in the air. Christians,866866Christ himself was held to be a magician; cp. evidence on this point from Justin to Commodian. it, was reported, were magicians and atheists; they worshipped a god with an ass's head, and adored the cross, the sun, or the genitalia of their priests (Tert., Apol. xvi., and the parallels in Minucius).867867It is not difficult to trace the origin of these calumnies. The ass's head came, as Tertullian himself was aware, from the Histories of Tacitus, and referred originally to the Jews. They were doubtless worshippers of the sun, because they turned to the east in prayer. The third libel was of course based upon the attitude assumed at confession. It was firmly believed that they were magicians, that they had control over wind and weather, that they commanded plagues and famines, and had influence over the sacrifices.868868Emphasis was often laid also upon the empty and terrible chimeras circulated by Christians (Minuc. v.). Origen (Comment. Ser. in Matth. xxxix., vol. iv. p. 270, Lomm.): “Scimus et apud nos terrae motum factum in locis quibusdam et factas fuisse quasdam ruinas, ita ut, qui erant impii extra fidem, causam terrae motus dicerent Christianos, propter quod et persecutiones passae sunt ecclesiae et incensae sunt; non solum autem illi, sed et qui videbantur prudentes, talia in publico dicerent quia propter Christianos fiunt gravissimi terrae motus” (“We know, too, that there have been earthquakes in our midst, with several ruinous results, so that the impious unbelievers declared that Christians were to blame for the earthquakes. Hence the churches have suffered persecutions and been burnt. And not only such people, but others who seemed really sensible gave open expression to the opinion that Christians are the cause of the fearful earthquakes”). Similar allusions often occur in Tertullian. The fear of Christians influencing the sacrifices played some part in the initial persecution of Diocletian. “Christians to the lions”—this was the cry of 500the mob.869869“Christianos ad leones!” Tertullian recalls this fearful shout no fewer than four times (Apol. xl., de Spectac. xxvii., de Exhort. xii., de Resurr. xxiii.). And even when people were less rash and cruel, they could not get over the fact that it seemed mere pride and madness to abandon the religion of one's ancestors.870870Cp. Clem. Alex., Protrept., x. 89: ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ πατέρων, φατέ, παραδεδομένον ἡμῖν ἔθος ἀνατρέπειν οὐκ εὔλογον (“But, you say, it is discreditable to overturn the custom handed down to us from our fathers”). The author of the pseudo-Justin Cohort. ad Græcos goes into this argument with particular thoroughness (cp. i., xiv., xxxv.-xxxvi.). Treatises against Christianity were not common in the second or even in the third century, but there may have been controversial debates. A Cynic philosopher named Crescens attacked Justin in public, though he seems to have done no more than echo the popular charges against Christianity. Fronto's attack moved almost entirely upon the same level, if it be the case that his arguments have been borrowed in part by the pagan Cæcilius in Minucius Felix. Lucian merely trifled with the question of Christianity. He was no more than a reckless, though an acute, journalist. The orator Aristides, again, wrote upon Christianity with ardent contempt,871871Orat. xlvi. He defends “the Greek nationality against the Christian and philosophic cosmopolitanism.” To him, Christians are despisers of Hellenism (cp. Bernays, Ges. Abhandl., ii. p. 364). How a man like Tatian must have irritated him! Neumann (Der röm. Staat u. die allgem. Kirche, p. 36) thus recapitulates the charge of Aristides (though Lightfoot, in his Ignatius, vol. i. p. 517, thinks that it is the Cynics who are pilloried); “People who themselves are simply of no account venture to slander a Demosthenes, while solecisms at least, if nothing more, are to be found in every one of their own words. Despicable creatures themselves, they despise others; they pride themselves on their virtues, but never practise them; they preach self-control, and are lustful. Community of interests is their name for robbery, philosophy for ill-will, and poverty for an indifference to the good things of life. Moreover, they degrade themselves by their avarice. Impudence is dubbed freedom by them, malicious talk becomes openness forsooth, the acceptance of charity is humanity. Like the godless folk in Palestine, they combine servility with sauciness. They have severed themselves deliberately from the Greeks, or rather from all that is good in the world. Incapable of cooperating for any useful end whatsoever, they yet are masters of the art of undermining a household and setting its members by the ears. Not a word, not an idea, not a deed of theirs has ever borne fruit. They take no part in organizing festivals, nor do they pay honor to the gods. They occupy no seats on civic councils, they never comfort the sad, they never reconcile those who are at variance, they do nothing for the advancement of the young, or indeed of anybody. They take no thought for style, but creep into a corner and talk stupidly. They are venturing already on the cream of Greece and calling themselves ‘philosophers'! As if changing the name meant anything! As if that could of itself turn a Thersites into a Hyacinthus or a Narcissus!” while the treatise of 501Hierocles, which is no longer extant, is described by Eusebius as extremely trivial. Celsus and Porphyry alone remain, of Christianity's opponents.872872Lactantius professes to know that “plurimi et multi” wrote in Greek and Latin against the Christians in Diocletian's reign (Instit., v. 4), but even he adduces only one anonymous writer besides Hierocles. Occasionally a single litterateur who was hostile to Christianity stirred up a local persecution, as, e.g., was probably the case with Crescens the Cynic philosopher at Rome. Even before the edict of Decius a persecution had broken out in Alexandria, of which Dionysius (in Eus., H.E., vi. 41. 1) writes as follows: οὐκ ἀπὸ τοῦ βασιλικοῦ προστάγματος ὁ διωγμὸς παρ᾽ ἡμῖν ἤρξατο, ἀλλὰ γὰρ ὅλον ἐνιαυτὸν προὔλαβε, καὶ φθάσας ὁ κακῶν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ μάντις καὶ ποιητής, ὅστις ἐκεῖνος ἦν, ἐκίνησε καὶ παρώρμησε καθ᾽ ἡμῶν τὰ πλ̥ηθη τῶν ἐθνῶν, εἰς τὴν ἐπιχώριον αὐτοὺς δεισιδαιμονίαν ἀναρριπίσας (“Our persecution did not begin with the imperial decree, but preceded that decree by a whole year. The prophet and framer of evil for this city, whoever he was, previously stirred up and aroused against us the pagan multitude, reviving in them the superstition of their country”). Only two men; but they were a host in themselves.

They resembled one another in the seriousness with which they undertook their task, in the pains they spent on it, in the loftiness of their designs, and in their literary skill. The great difference between them lay in their religious standpoint. Celsus's interest centres at bottom in the Roman Empire.873873We can only surmise about his personality and circumstances. He represented the noble, patriotic, and intelligent bureaucracy of Rome, about which we know so little otherwise. He is a religious man because the empire needs religion, and also because every educated man is responsible for its religion. It is hard to say what his own conception of the world amounts to. But for all the hues it assumes, it is never coloured like that of Cicero or of Seneca. For Celsus is an agnostic above all things,874874The same sort of attitude is adopted by the pagan Cæcilius (in Min. Felix, 5. f.), a sceptic who approves of religion in general, but who entertains grave doubts about a universal providence. “Amid all this uncertainty, your best and noblest course is to accept the teaching of your forebears, to honor the religious customs which have been handed down to you, and humbly to adore the deities whom your fathers taught you not to know but, first and foremost, to fear.” Chap. vii. then runs in quite a pious current. 502so that he appreciates the relative validity of idealism apart from any stiffening of Stoicism, just as he appreciates the relative validity of every national religion, and even of mythology itself. Porphyry,875875Born at Tyre. His original name was Malchus, so that he was a Semite (for Malchus as a Christian name in the vicinity of Cæsarea (Pal.) during Valerian's reign, cp. Eus., H.E., vii. 12) on the other hand, is a thinker pure and simple, as well as a distinguished critic. And he is not merely a religious philosopher of the Platonic school, but a man of deeply religious temperament, for whom all thought tends to pass into the knowledge of God, and in that knowledge to gain its goal.

Our first impression is that Celsus has not a single good word to say for Christianity. He re-occupies the position taken by its opponents in the second century; only, he is too fair and noble an adversary to repeat their abominable charges. To him Christianity, this bastard progeny of Judaism876876Like Porphyry and Julian at a later period, however, Celsus lets Judaism alone, because it was a national religion. Apropos of an oracle of Apollo against the Christians, Porphyry observes: “In his quidem irremediabile sententiae Christianorum manifestavit Apollo, quoniam Judaei suscipiunt deum magis quam isti” (“In these verses Apollo exposed the incurable corruption of Christians, since it is the Jews, said he, more than the Christians, who recognize God”), Aug., de Civit. Dei, xix. 26.—itself the basest of all national religions—appears to have been nothing but an absurd and sorry tragedy from its birth down to his own day. He is perfectly aware of the internal differences between Christians, and he is familiar with the various stages of development in the history of their religion. These are cleverly employed in order to heighten the impression of its instability. He plays off the sects against the Catholic Church, the primitive age against the present, Christ against the apostles, the various revisions of the Bible against the trustworthiness of the text, and so forth, although, of course, he admits that the whole thing was quite as bad at first as it is at present. Even Christ is not exempted from this criticism. What is valuable in his teaching was borrowed from the philosophers; the rest, i.e., whatever is characteristic of himself, is error and deception, so much futile 503mythology. In the hands of those deceived deceivers, the apostles, this was still further exaggerated; faith in the resurrection rests upon nothing better than the evidence of a deranged woman, and from that day to this the mad folly has gone on increasing and exercising its power—for the assertion, which is flung out at one place, that it would speedily be swept out of existence, is retracted on a later page. Christianity, in short, is an anthropomorphic myth of the very worst type. Christian belief in providence is a shameless insult to the Deity—a chorus of frogs, forsooth, squatting in a bog and croaking, “For our sakes was the world created”!

But there is another side to all this. The criticism of Celsus brings out some elements of truth which deserve to be considered; and further, wherever the critic bethinks himself of religion, he betrays throughout his volume an undercurrent of feeling which far from being consonant with his fierce verdict. For although he shuts his eyes to it, apparently unwilling to admit that Christianity could be, and had already been, stated reasonably, he cannot get round that fact; indeed—unless we are quite deceived—he has no intention whatever of concealing it from the penetrating, reader. Since there has really to be such a thing as religion, since it is really a necessity, the agnosticism of Celsus leads him to make a concession which does not differ materially from the Christian conception of God. He cannot take objection to much in the ethical counsels of Jesus—his censure of them as a plagiarism being simply the result of perplexity. And when Christians assert that the Logos is the Son of God, what can Celsus do but express his own agreement with this dictum? Finally, the whole book culminates in a warm patriotic appeal to Christians not to withdraw from the common regime, but to lend their aid in order to enable the emperor to maintain the vigour of the empire with all its ideal benefits.877877In several of the proceedings against Christians the magistrate expresses his concern lest the exclusiveness of Christians excite anarchy; cp., e.g., the Acta Fructuosi Tarrac. ii.: “Qui audiuntur, qui timentur, qui adorantur, si dii non coluntur nec imperatorum vultus adorantur?” Law and piety must be upheld against their inward and external foes! Surely we can read between 504the lines. Claim no special position for yourselves, says Celsus, in effect, to Christians! Don't rank yourselves on the same level as the empire! On these terms we are willing to tolerate you and your religion. At bottom, in fact, the “True Word” of Celsus is nothing more than a political pamphlet, a thinly disguised overture for peace.878878Cæcilius, too, was in the last resort a politician and a patriot, since he defended the old religion by asserting that “by means of it Rome has won the world” (Min. Felix vi.).

A hundred years later, when Porphyry wrote against the Christians, a great change had come over the situation. Christianity had become a power. It had taken a Greek shape, but “the foreign myths” were still retained, of course, while in most cases at least it had preserved its sharp distinction between the creator and the creation, or between God and nature, as well as its doctrine of the incarnation and its paradoxical assertions of an end for the world and of the resurrection. This was where Porphyry struck in, that great philosopher of the ancient world. He was a pupil of Plotinus and Longinus. For years he had been engaged in keen controversy at Rome with teachers of the church and gnostics, realizing to the full that the matter at stake was God himself and the treasure possessed by mankind, viz., rational religious truth. Porphyry knew nothing of political ideals. The empire had indeed ceased to fill many people with enthusiasm. Its restorer had not yet arrived upon the scene, and religious philosophy was living meanwhile in a State which it wished to begin and rebuild. Porphyry himself retired to Sicily, where he wrote his fifteen books “Against the Christians.” This work, which was “answered” by four leading teachers of the church (Methodius, Eusebius, Apollinarius, and Philostorgius), perished, together with his other polemical treatises, owing to the victory of the church and by order of the emperor. All that we possess is a number of fragments, of which the most numerous and important occur in Macarius Magnes. For I have no doubt whatever that Porphyry is the pagan philosopher in that author's “Apocriticus.”879879At best we must leave it an open question whether a plagiarism has been perpetrated upon Porphyry.


This work of Porphyry is perhaps the most ample and thoroughgoing treatise which has ever been written against Christianity. It earned for its author the titles of πάντων δυσμενέστατος καὶ πολεμώτατος (“most malicious and hostile of all”), “hostis dei, veritatis inimicus, sceleratarum artium magister” (God's enemy, a foe to truth, a master of accursed arts), and so forth.880880Augustine, however, called him “the noble philosopher, the great philosopher of the Gentiles, the most learned of philosophers, although the keenest foe to Christians” (“philosophus nobilis, magnus gentilium philosophus, doctissimus philosophorum, quamvis Christianorum acerrimus inimicus,” de Civit. Dei, xix. 22) Compare the adjectives showered on him by Jerome: “Fool, impious, blasphemer, mad, shameless, a sycophant, a calumniator of the church, a mad dog attacking Christ” (“Stultus, impius, blasphemus, vesanus, impudens, sycophantes, calumniator ecclesiae, rabidus adversus Christum canis”). But, although our estimate can only be based on fragments, it is not too much to say that the controversy between the philosophy of religion and Christianity lies to-day in the very position in which Porphyry placed it. Even at this time of day Porphyry remains unanswered. Really he is unanswerable, unless one is prepared first of all to agree with him and proceed accordingly to reduce Christianity to its quintessence. In the majority of his positive statements he was correct, while in his negative criticism of what represented itself in the third century to be Christian doctrine, he was certainly as often right as wrong. In matters of detail he betrays a good deal of ignorance, and he forgets standards of criticism which elsewhere he has at his command.

The weight which thus attaches to his work is due to the fact that it was based upon a series of very thoroughgoing studies of the Bible, and that it was undertaken from the religious standpoint. Moreover, it must be conceded that the author's aim was neither to be impressive nor to persuade or take the reader by surprise, but to give a serious and accurate refutation of Christianity. He wrought in the bitter sweat of his brow—this idealist, who was convinced that whatever was refuted would collapse. Accordingly, he confined his attention to what he deemed the cardinal points of the controversy. These four points were as follows:—He desired to demolish the myths of Christianity, i.e., to prove that, in so far as they 506were derived from the Old and New Testaments, they were historically untenable, since these sources were themselves turbid and full of contradictions. He did not reject the Bible in toto as a volume of lies. On the contrary, he valued a great deal of it as both true and divine. Nor did he identify the Christ of the gospels with the historical Christ.881881It is only in a modified sense, therefore, that he can be described as an “opponent” of Christianity. As Wendland very truly puts it, in his Christentum u. Hellenismus (1902), p. 12, “The fine remarks of Porphyry in the third book of his περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας (pp. 180 f., Wolff), remarks to which theologians have not paid attention, show how from the side of Neoplatonism also attempts were made to bring about a mutual understanding and reconciliation.” “Praeter opinionem,” says Porphyry (cp. August., de Civit. Dei, xix. 23), “profecto quibusdam videatur esse quod dicturi sumus. Christum enim dii piissimum pronuntiaverunt et immortalem factum et cum bona praedicatione eius merninerunt, Christianos vero pollutos et contaminatos et errore implicatos esse dicunt” (“What I am going to say may indeed appear extraordinary to some people. The gods have declared Christ to have been most pious; he has become immortal, and by them his memory is cherished. Whereas the Christians are a polluted sect, contaminated and enmeshed in error”). Origen (Cels., I. xv., IV. li) tells how Numenius, the Pythagorean philosopher, quoted the Jewish scriptures with deep respect, interpreting them allegorically (Clem. Alex., Strom., i. 22. 150, indeed ascribes to him the well-known saying that Plato is simply Moses Atticizing—τί γάρ ἐστι Πλάτων ἢ Μωυσῆς ἀττικίζων; cp. also Hesych. Miles. in Müller's Fragm. Hist. Gr., iv. 171, and Suidas, s. v. “Νουμήνιος,” with the more cautious remarks of Eusebius in his Præp., xi. 9. 8-18, 25). Amelius the Platonist, a contemporary of Origen, quoted the gospel of John with respect (Eus., Præp., xi. 19. 1); cp. August., de Civit. Dei, x. 29: “Initium evangelii secundum Johannem quidam Platonicus aureis litteris conscribendum et per omnes ecclesias in locis eminentissimis proponendum esse dicebat” (“A certain Platonist used to say that the opening of John's gospel should be inscribed in golden letters and set up in the most prominent places of every church”). For the latter he entertained a deep regard, which rose to the pitch of a religion. But with relentless powers of criticism he showed in scores of cases that if certain traits in the gospels were held to be historical, they could not possibly be genuine, and that they blurred and distorted the figure of Christ. He dealt similarly with the ample materials which the church put together from the Old Testament as “prophecies of Christ.” But the most interesting part of his criticism is unquestionably that passed upon Paul. If there are any lingering doubts in the mind as to whether the apostle should be credited, in the last instance, to Jewish instead of to Hellenistic Christianity, these doubts may be laid to rest by a study of Porphyry. This 507critic, a Hellenist of the first water, feels keener antipathy to Paul than to any other Christian. Paul's dialectic is totally unintelligible to him, and he therefore deems it both sophistical and deceitful. Paul's proofs resolve themselves for him into flat contradictions, whilst in the apostle's personal testimonies he sees merely an unstable, rude, and insincere rhetorician, who is a foe to all noble and liberal culture. It is from the hostile criticism of Porphyry that we learn for the first time what highly cultured Greeks found so obnoxious in the idiosyncrasies of Paul. In matters of detail he pointed to much that was really offensive; but although the offence in Paul almost always vanishes so soon as the critic adopts a different standpoint, Porphyry never lighted upon that standpoint.882882The apostle Paul began to engage the attention of pagans as well. This comes e.g., in the cross-examinations of the Egyptian governor Culcianus (shortly after 303 A.D.), as is confirmed by the two discussions between him and Phileas and Dioscorus (cp. Quentin, “Passio S. Dioscuri” in Anal. Boll., vol. xxv., 1905, pp. 321 f.), discussions which otherwise are quite independent of each other. In the latter Culcianus asks, “Was Paul a god?” In the former he asks, “He did not immolate himself” Further, “Paul was not a persecutor?” “Paul was not an uneducated person? He was not a Syrian? He did not dispute in Syriac?” (To which Phileas replies, “He was a Hebrew; he disputed in Greek, and held wisdom to be the chief thing.”) Finally, “Perhaps you are going to claim that he excelled Plato?” I know of nothing like this in other cross-examinations, and I can only conjecture, with Quentin, that it is an authentic trait. At that period, about the beginning of the Diocletian persecution, the Scriptures were ordered to be given up. The very fact of this order shows that the state had come to recognize their importance, and this in turn presupposes, as it promoted, a certain acquaintance with their contents.

Negative criticism upon the historical character of the Christian religion, however, merely paved the way for Porphyry's full critical onset upon the three doctrines of the, faith which he regarded as its most heinous errors. The first of these was the Christian doctrine of creation, which separated the world from God, maintained its origin within time, and excluded any reverent, religious view of the universe as a whole. In rejecting this he also rejected the doctrine of the world's overthrow as alike irrational and irreligious; the one was involved in the other. He then directed his fire against the doctrine of the Incarnation, arguing that the Christians made a false separation (by their doctrine of a creation in time) and 508a false union (by their doctrine of the incarnation) between God and the world. Finally, there was the opposition he offered; to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

On these points Porphyry was inexorable, warring against Christianity as against the worst of mankind's foes; but in every other respect he was quite at one with the Christian philosophy of religion, and was perfectly conscious of this unity. And in his day the Christian philosophy of religion was no longer entirely inexorable on the points just mentioned; it made great efforts to tone down its positions for the benefit of Neoplatonism, as well as to vindicate its scientific (and therefore its genuinely Hellenic) character.

How close883883This is particularly clear from the Neoplatonic works which were translated into Latin, and which came into the possession of Augustine (Confess., vii. 9). He owed a great deal to them, although he naturally conceals part of his debt. He admits frankly that the ideas of John i.1-5, 9, 10, 13, 16, and Phil. ii. 6, were contained in these volumes. the opposing forces already stood to one another! Indeed, towards the end of his life Porphyry seems to have laid greater emphasis upon the points which he held in common with the speculations of Christianity;884884The magical, thaumaturgic element which Porphyry, for all his clear, scientific intellect, held in honor, was probably allowed to fall into the background while he attacked the Christians. But his Christian opponents took note of it. Here, indeed, was one point on which they were the more enlightened of the two parties, so far as they were not already engulfed themselves in the cult of relics and bones. The characterization of Porphyry which Augustine gives in the de Civit. Dei (x. 9) is admirable: “Nam et Porphyrius quandam quasi purgationem animae per theurgian, cunctanter tamen et pudibunda quodam modo disputatione, promittit, reversionem vero ad deum hanc artem praestare cuiquam negat, ut videas eum inter vitium sacrilegae curiositatis et philosophiae professionem sententiis alternantibus fluctuare” (“For even Porphyry holds out the prospect of some kind of purgation of the soul by aid of theurgy; though he does so with some hesitation and shame, denying that this art can secure for anyone a return to God. Thus you can detect his judgment vacillating between the profession of philosophy and an art which he feels to be both sacrilegious and presumptuous “). the letter he addressed to his wife Marcella might almost have been written by a Christian.885885The Christian charm of the letter comes from the pagan basis of the Sextus sayings which are preserved in the Christian recension; cp. my Chronologie, ii. 2, pp. 190 f.

In the work of Porphyry Hellenism wrote its testament with regard to Christianity—for Julian's polemical treatise savoured 509more of a retrograde movement. The church managed to get the testament ignored and invalidated, but not until she had four times answered its contentions. It is an irreparable loss that these replies have not come down to us, though it is hardly a loss so far as their authors are concerned. We have no information regarding the effect produced by the work, beyond what may be gathered from the horror displayed by the fathers of the church. Yet even a literary work of superior excellence could hardly have won the day. The religion of the church had become a world-religion by the time, that Porphyry wrote, and no professor can wage war successfully against such religions, unless his hand grasps the sword of the reformer as well as the author's pen.

The daily intercourse of Christians and pagans is not to be estimated, even in Tertullian's age, from the evidence supplied by episodes of persecution. It is unnecessary to read between the lines of his ascetic treatises, for numerous passages show, involuntarily but unmistakably, that as a rule everything went on smoothly in their mutual relationships. People lived together, bought and sold, entertained each other, and even intermarried. In later days it was certainly not easy to distinguish absolutely between a Christian and a non-Christian in daily life. Many a Christian belonged to “society” (see Book IV. Chap. II.), and the number of those who took umbrage at the faith steadily diminished. Julius Africanus was the friend of Alexander Severus and Abgar. Hippolytus corresponded with the empress. Origen had a position in the world of scholarship, where he enjoyed great repute. Paul of Samosata, who was a bishop, formed an influential and familar figure in the city of Antioch. The leading citizens of Carthage—who do not seem to have been Christians—were friends of Cyprian, according to the latter's biography (ch. xiv.), and even when he lay in prison they were true to him. “Meantime a large number of eminent people assembled, people, too, of high rank and good family as well as of excellent position in this world. All of these, for the sake of their old friendship with Cyprian, advised him to beat a retreat. And to make their advice substantial, they further offered him 510places to which he might retire” (“Conveniebant interim plures egregii et clarissimi ordinis et sanguinis, sed et saeculi nobilitate generosi, qui propter amicitiam eius antiquam secessum subinde suaderent, et ne parum esset nuda suadela, etiam loca in quae secederet offerebant”). Arnobius, Lactantius, and several others were philosophers and teachers of repute. Yet all this cannot obscure the fact that, even by the opening of the fourth century, Christianity still found the learning of the ancient world, so far as that survived, in opposition to itself. One swallow does not make a summer. One Origen, for all his following, could not avail to change the real posture of affairs. Origen's Christianity was passed over as an idiosyncrasy; it commended itself to but a small section of contemporary scholars; and while people learned criticism, erudition, and philosophy from him, they shut their eyes to his religion. Nor were matters otherwise till the middle of the fourth century. Learning continued to be “pagan.” It was the great theologians of Cappadocia and, to a more limited extent, those of Antioch (though the latter, judged by modern standards, were more scientific than the former), who were the first to inaugurate a change in this respect, albeit within well-defined limits. They were followed in this by Augustine. Throughout the East, ancient learning really never came to terms at all with Christianity, not even by the opening of the fifth century; but, on the other hand, it was too weak to be capable of maintaining itself side by side with the church in her position of privilege, and consequently it perished by degrees. By the time that it died, however, Christianity had secured possession of a segment, which was by no means inconsiderable, of the circle of human learning.


Hergenröther (Handbuch der allgem. Kirchengesch., i. pp. 109 f.) has drawn up, with care and judgment, a note of twenty causes for the expansion of Christianity, together with as many causes which must have operated against it. The survey is not without value, but it does not clear up the problem. If the missionary preaching of Christianity in word and deed embraced 511all that we have attempted to state in Book II., and if it was allied to forces such as those which have come under our notice in Book III., then it is hardly possible to name the collective reasons for the success, or for the retardation, of the movement. Still less can one think of grading them, or of determining their relative importance one by one. Finally, one has always to recollect not only the variety of human aptitudes and needs and culture, but also the development which the missionary preaching of Christianity itself passed through, between the initial stage and the close of the third century.

Reflecting more closely upon this last-named consideration, one realizes that the question here has not been correctly put, and also that it does not admit of any simple, single answer. At the opening of the mission we have Paul and some anonymous apostles. They preach the unity of God and the near advent of judgment, bringing tidings to mankind of Jesus Christ, who ad recently been crucified, as the Son of God, the Judge, the Saviour. Almost every statement here seems paradoxical and upsetting. Towards the close of our epoch, there was probably hardly one regular missionary at work. The scene was occupied by a powerful church with an impressive cultus of its own, with priests, and with sacraments, embracing a system of doctrine and a philosophy of religion which were capable of competing on successful terms with any of their rivals. This church exerted a missionary influence in virtue of her very existence, inasmuch as she came forward to represent the consummation of all previous movements in the history of religion. And to this church the human race round the basin of the Mediterranean belonged without exception, about the year 300, in so far as the religion, morals, and higher attainments of these nations were of any consequence. The paradoxical, the staggering elements in Christianity were still there. Only, they were set in a broad frame of what was familiar and desirable and “natural”; they were clothed in a vesture of mysteries which made people either glad to welcome any strange, astonishing item in the religion, or at least able to put up with it.886886Alongside of the church in its developed form, one man may perhaps be mentioned who did more than all the rest put together for the mission of Christianity among the learned classes, not only during his lifetime, but still more after his death. I mean Origen. He was the “Synzygus” of the Eastern Church in the third century. The abiding influence of the man may be gathered, two centuries after he died, from the pages of Socrates the church historian. He domiciled the religion of the church in Hellenism (for thinkers and cultured people), so far as such a domicile was possible.


Thus, in the first instance at any rate, our question must not run, “How did Christianity win over so many Greeks and Romans as to become ultimately the strongest religion in point of numbers?” The proper form of our query must be, “How did Christianity express itself, so as inevitably to become the religion for the world, tending more and more to displace other religions, and drawing men to itself as to a magnet?” For an answer to this question we must look partly to the history of Christian dogma and of the Christian cultus. For the problem does not lie solely within the bounds of the history of Christian missions, and although we have kept it in view throughout the present work, it is impossible within these pages to treat it exhaustively.

One must first of all answer this question by getting some idea of the particular shape assumed by Christianity as missionary force about the year 50, the year 100, the year 150, the year 200, the year 250, and the year 300 respectively before we can think of raising the further question as to what, forces may have been dominant in the Christian propaganda at any one of these six epochs. Neither, of course, must we overlook the difference between the state of matters in the East and in the West, as well as in several groups of provinces. And even were one to fulfil all these preliminary conditions, one could not proceed to refer to definite passages as authoritative for a solution of the problem. All over, one has to deal with considerations which are of a purely general character. I must leave it to others to exhibit these considerations—with the caveat that it is easy to disguise the inevitable uncertainties that meet us in this field by means of the pedantry which falls back on rubrical headings. The results of any survey will be trustworthy only in so far as they amount to such commonplaces as, e.g., that the distinctively religious element was a stronger factor in the mission at the outset than at a later period, that a similar remark applies to the charitable 513and economic element in Christianity, that the conflict with polytheism attracted some people and offended others, that the same tray be said of the rigid morality, and so forth.

From the very outset Christianity came forward with a spirit of universalism, by dint of which it laid hold of the entire life of man in all its functions, throughout its heights and depths, in all its feelings, thoughts, and actions. This guaranteed its triumph. In and with its universalism, it also declared that the Jesus whom it preached was the Logos. To him it referred everything that could possibly be deemed of human value and from him it carefully excluded whatever belonged to the purely natural sphere. From the very first it embraced humanity and he world, despite the small number of the elect whom it contemplated. Hence it was that those very powers of attraction, by means of which it was enabled at once to absorb and to subordinate the whole of Hellenism, had a new light thrown upon them. They appeared almost in the light of a necessary feature in that age. Sin and foulness it put far from itself. But otherwise it built itself up by the aid of any element whatsoever that was still capable of vitality (above all, by means of a powerful organization). Such elements it crushed as rivals and conserved as materials of its own life. It could do so for one reason—a reason which no one voiced, and of which no one was conscious, yet which every truly pious member of the church expressed in his own life. The reason was that Christianity, viewed in its essence, was something simple, something which could blend with coefficients of the most diverse nature, something which, in fact, sought out all such coefficients. For Christianity, in its simplest terms, meant God as the Father, the Judge and the Redeemer of men, revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

And was not this religion bound to conquer? Alongside of other religions it could not hold its own for any length of time; still less could it succumb. Yes, victory was inevitable. It had to prevail. All the motives which operated in its extension are as nothing when taken one by one, in face of the propaganda which it exercised by means of its own development from Paul to Origen, a development which maintained withal an exclusive attitude towards polytheism and idolatry of every kind.



P. 57, note 2, adds: “We cannot at this point enter into the very complicated question of Paul's reputation in the Gentile church. The highest estimate of him prevailed among the Marcionites. Origen, after declaring that they held that Paul sat on Christ's right hand in heaven, with Marcion on his left, adds: ‘Porro alii legentes: Mittam vobis advocatum spiritum veritatis, volunt intellegere apostolum Paulum' ( Hom. xxv. in Lucam, vol. v. pp. 181 f., ed. Lomm.). Even were these people supposed to belong to the Catholic Church—which I think unlikely—this conception would not be characteristic of the great church. It would be rather abnormal.”

P. 57, line 5 from top, add the following note: “The persecution of king Herod now began. It was directed against the twelve (Acts xii.). He made an example of James the son of Zebedee, whom he caused to be executed (why, we do not know). Then he had Peter put in prison, and, although the latter escaped death, he had to leave Jerusalem. This took place in the twelfth year after the death of Christ. Thereafter only individual apostles are to be found at Jerusalem. Peter was again there at the Apostolic Council (so called). Paul makes his agreement not with the eleven, however, but simply with Peter, James the Lord's brother, and John. Where were the rest? Were they no longer in Jerusalem? or did they not count on such an occasion?”

P. 355, line 23 from top, after “Hermas” add: “A whole series of teachers is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, in a passage (Strom., i. 11) which also shows how international they were: ‘My work is meant to give a simple outline and sketch of those clear, vital discourses and of those blessed and truly notable men whom I have been privileged to hear. Of these, one, an Ionian, was in Greece; two others were in Magna Græcia—one of them came from Cœle-Syria, the other from Egypt. Others, again, I met in the East: one came from Assyria; the other was a Hebrew by birth, in Palestine. When I came across the last (though in importance he was first of all), I found rest. I found him concealed in Egypt, that Sicilian bee.'”

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