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father Hadrian, to whom he returned this answer :* That they should not be molested unless they appeared to attempt something against the Roman government. Many also have signified to me their opinions concerning these men, to whom I have returned an answer agreeable to the maxims of my father. But if any person will still persist in accusing the Christians, merely as such, let the accused be acquitted, though he appear to be a Christian, and let the accuser be punished.”.
12. This edict was ordered (A.D. 141) to be set up in the common assembly of Asia, at Ephesus; and the Emperor wrote to the same effect to the Larisseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and to all the Greeks. As the Emperor reigned twenty-three years, and this edict was probably published in the third year of his reign, the benefits of this toleration of the Christian faith must have been widely and sensibly felt during the comparatively long period in which Christianity was secured from oppression, and its followers were permitted to practise their religion, and to carry out its principles without disturbance. That it now rapidly increased its ranks, is rendered evident from the language which Tertullian uses, about forty years after the death of Antoninus. He writes thus to the Emperor Severus, respecting the number of the Christian proselytes:“We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all your towns, cities, islands, castles, camps, courts, palaces, the senate, the forum. If we were to make a general secession from your dominions, you would be astonished at your solitude; we should leave you only your temples.”*
13. The tolerant spirit of this Emperor, to whatever cause it was owing, cannot entirely be ascribed to the maxims of the philosophy or the religion which he professed; for Marcus Aurelius, who succeeded (A.D. 161), and who had jointly carried on the affairs of government with him, was animated by a different spirit, though he has the reputation of a just and beneficent prince, and was a professed philosopher of the sect of the Stoics. During nineteen years he persecuted the Christians with great severity, and one of the victims of his reign was Justin, styled the martyr, to whom we have before alluded, who suffered now at Rome (A.D. 164), unshielded by the philosophic garb, from the malice of an emperor who piqued himself upon belonging to this order of men, and receiving the surname which they bore. Another also of those who were distinguished in the ranks of the martyrs about this period (A.D. 167), was Polycarp, the venerable Bishop of Smyrna, who is supposed to have been ordained by St. John, to that office. At Lyons, and Vienne also, a nuinber
* In his Apology, written about A.D. 201.
a of both sexes perished by a variety of tortures (A.D. 178).
14. The conduct of Antoninus is therefore the more singular, offering as it does, so striking a contrast with those who ruled before him, and those who immediately followed after him. None of them seem to have profited by his example of forbearance towards the Christians, or to have understood that lesson above all others, which it was so well fitted to teach, the duty of a good sovereign, which is to protect the lives and civil liberties of all classes of his subjects, without reference to their religious creeds.
15. It is needless to dwell further upon the virtues of this Emperor, of whom it has been said by a Christian critic and historian, that scarcely a fault can be imputed to him in his private or public administration of affairs. His death, which took place in the 75th of his age (A.D. 161), was attended by no remarkable circumstances, except that of depriving the world of one of the rarest specimens which human nature has ever exhibited- -a Roman emperor possessed of despotic power, and a heathen, adorned with the virtues that form a perfect statesman, philosopher, and sovereign.
SUMMARY OF ERA THE FOURTH.
1. Sketch of the Roman emperors from the death of Titus Vespasian to the time of Antoninus Pius.—Nerva, Trajan-Hadrian.-2. Antoninus reigns unitedly with Marcus Aurelius; Era, a remarkable one for the peace and happiness of the Roman empire.-3. Antoninus compared with Numa; his superiority; general excellence of his character.— 4. His conduct especially remarkable for his toleration of Christianity; sketch of the persecution under Nero.-5. Under Domitian and Trajan ; Pliny's letter to the Emperor, and Trajan's reply referred to.-6. The profession of Christianity a crime.—7. The persecution under Hadrian ; his letter on the subject to the Proconsul of Asia. -8. Miseries which Christians were exposed to by this state of the law.-9. Antoninus stops the persecution ; Justin and his apology.-10. The Christians of Asia send a petition to the Emperor against the injuries and calumnies to which they were exposed.—11. The Emperor's admirable reply.-12. The effects of the edict in their favour felt for a long period; Tertullian's testimony to the number of Christians in the empire.—13. The tolerant spirit of the empire not to be ascribed to philosophy or paganism; the conduct of Marcus Aurelius contrasted with it; Justin suffers as a martyr under his reign ; Polycarp; the persecution in France.—14. The character of Antoninus a singular exception to that of the pagan emperors; a model of a good sovereign in this particular.–15. His death ; his example one of extraordinary perfection in a Roman emperor.
ERA THE FIFTH.
THE LIFE OF DIOCLETIAN.
THE PARTITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE ; AND THE LAST,
OR TENTH GENERAL PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.
1. “Like Augustus, Diocletian may be considered as the founder of a new empire.”
Such is the observation of the historian of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” This reign may therefore be selected as one of the most remarkable eras of the world's history. Lest the reader should entirely lose sight of the interval between this era and that of Marcus Aurelius, a sketch is here given of those who carried on the succession of the imperial power during so important a period. From the death of this Emperor (A.D. 180) to the accession of Diocletian (A.D. 284), 104 years intervened, which are to be distributed among at least twenty reigns, so that the average of these would scarcely exceed five years, a few of them being longer, but the greater part less.
2. After a peaceful, and, but for the persecution of his Christian subjects, a happy sway, Marcus Aurelius left the empire to Commodus, a son who inherited none of his father's virtues. His reign, though protracted to twelve years, was marked by follies of the most contemptible kind, and by vices which the pens of modern historians dare not describe. He was at last murdered by some of the inmates of the palace (A.D. 192), and Pertinax, an aged senator of consular rank, whose virtues formed a pleasing contrast with the character of his predecessor, was called to the empire. He reigned only a few months, falling & sacrifice to the Prætorian soldiers, the guards of the capital, who at