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MARTYRDOM OF POLYCARP.
said Polycarp; “it does not become us to turn from good to evil.” But,“ seeing you make so light of wild beasts,” said the magistrate, “I will tame you with the more terrible punishment of fire.” To which Polycarp boldly replied, “You threaten me with a fire that is quickly extinguished, but are yourself ignorant of the eternal fire of God's judgment, reserved for the wicked in the world to come. But why do you delay? order what punishment you please.” Finding him impenetrable either by the arts of seduction or the dread of punishment, the proconsul ordered the fire to be lighted, and the body of Polycarp was consumed to ashes, A. D. 166.
Melito was at this period pastor of the neighbouring church of Sardis. As the rage of persecution grew more violent, he drew up and presented to the emperor, in the year 170, an Apology for the Christians, a fragment of which is still preserved in Eusebius. He complains of it, as an almost unheard-of cruelty, that pious men were now persecuted and greatly distressed by new decrees throughout Asia—that most impudent informers, who were greedy of other people's substance, took occasion from the imperial edicts to plunder the innocent. He therefore humbly entreats the emperor that he would not suffer the Christians to be treated in so unrighteous and cruel a manner—that he would condescend to examine into the charges laid to the account of the Christians, and put a stop to the persecution, by revoking the edict which he had issued agaist them ; reminding him at the same time that Christianity was so far from being inimical to his government, as its enemies insisted, that it had contributed greatly to the strength and establishment of the empire.
I lately mentioned the name of another celebrated Apologist for Christianity, and I must now give you a short account of him.
Justin, surnamed the MARTYR, was born at Neapolis, the ancient Sychar or Shechem, of Palestine, in the country of Samaria, John iv. 5. His father Priscus, being a Græcian, or heathen Greek, trained him up in his own religious profession, and had him educated in all the Grecian learning and philosophy. In order to perfect his studies, Justin went down into Egypt, a country which was then noted as the seat of the more mysterious and recondite literature of his day. Speaking on
this subject, in one of his pieces, he tells us that “ he was shown the remains of those cells where the seventy translators of the Old Testament executed what is called the Septuagint version,” that is, translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, in the times of Ptolemy Philadelphus, A. M. 3717.
From the moment that his attention was first turned to the study of philosophy, Justin took a dislike to the Stoic and Peripatetic, giving a decided preference to the system of Plato, with which he was greatly taken, and of which he resolved to make himself master. While engaged in prosecuting this design, as he was one day taking a solitary walk by the sea-side, and absorbed in contemplation, he was met by a grave and elderly man of a venerable aspect, who, falling into discourse with him upon indifferent subjects, at length turned the conversation, by little and little, from the fancied excellencies of Platonism to the doctrine of the Gospel ; and as Justin, who himself relates the anecdote in his “ Dialogue with Trypho," says, raised such an ardent curiosity in him, as determined him to enquire into the pretensions of Christianity—the result of this, through the blessing of God, was his becoming a convert to the faith of Christ, A. D. 132.
About the commencement of the reign of Antoninus Pius, Justin went to Rome, where he preached the gospel with great boldness and success to the day of his death. But he did not confine himself to preaching, merely; for, finding the heretic Marcion active in propagating his pernicious principles, Justin encountered him both in speech and writing, for he composed a treatise against his sentiments which he allowed to be published. Nor did he rest here; for when his Christian brethren came to be treated with severity, traduced, defamed, and persecuted, Justin took a most decided part with them, and drew up, about the year 160, his first Apology, which I have already mentioned.
Soon after this, Justin took a journey into Asia, and among other cities visited Ephesus. While there he fell into the company of Trypho, a Jew of great note, with whom he held for two whole days a public disputation, of which he afterwards published an account in a tract, still in existence, entitled a “ Dialogue with Trypho.” After this he returned to
JUSTIN MARTYR AND HIS APOLOGIES.
Rome, where he had frequent conferences with one Crescens, a philosopher of some note in that city, who had laboured to traduce the Christians and represent their religious profession under the most infamous character.
The occasion of his presenting his second Apology was somewhat remarkable and deserves to be mentioned. A certain female at Rome, together with her husband, had lived a very dissolute course of life; but, falling in with the Christians, she was reclaimed from her vicious practices. From that time she endeavoured by every prudent and scriptural method to convince her husband of the error of his way, but without effect-and, his manner of life being such that she could no longer live with him, she procured a divorce, and the parties separated. Enraged at this conduct, the husband accused her to the emperor of being a Christian; but, on her putting in a petition for leave to answer the accusation the man relinquished the charge, and falling upon the person who, under God, was the happy means of converting her to the faith, one Ptolemeus, he procured his imprisonment and ultimately his condemnation and death. On that occasion, one of the brethren of the church at Rome, whose name was Lucius, being present, he presumed to represent how unreasonable a thing it was that an innocent and virtuous man, charged with no crime, should be sentenced to death merely for bearing the Christian name—at the same time intimating that it reflected disgrace on the government. But the words were no sooner out of his mouth than he, together with a third person, was sentenced to the same fate. The severity of these proceedings roused the solicitude and care of Justin for his Christian brethren -and prompted him to draw up his second Apology, which he addressed to the emperor and the senate of Rome. He states the case of his Christian brethren-complains of the wickedness and cruelty with which they were every where treated, in being punished merely because they were Christians, without being accused of any thing criminal—he answers the trite objections that were raised against them, and desires no greater favour than that the world might be really acquainted with their case. But Justin's appeal produced no impression on those to whom it was addressed. He and six of his friends were seized and carried before Rusticus, the prefect of the city of Rome, where many
attempts were made to prevail on them to bow the knee to Jupiter and comply with the imperial edicts ; but these entreaties had no effect upon them. “ No man,” says Justin, “who is in his right mind can desert truth to embrace error and impiety." And, when threatened that unless they complied they should be tortured without mercy, they calmly replied, “ Despatch us as soon as you please; we are Christians and cannot turn to idols.” On hearing this, the governor pronounced the following sentence, that “for refusing to sacrifice to the gods, and obey the imperial edicts, they were first to be scourged, and then beheaded according to law,” which was immediately carried into execution.
The reign of this philosophic emperor abounds with instances of unrelenting cruelty towards the Christians, similar to those I have already related. Justin Martyr mentions the martyrdom of Ptolemeus, from whom the only question asked was, “ Are you a Christian?” and, on his confessing that fact, he was instantly put to death. Lucius was also put to death for making the same avowal (as already mentioned) and for asking Urbicus, the prefect of the city, why he condemned Ptolemeus, who was neither convicted of adultery, rape, murder, theft, robbery, nor any other crime, but merely for owning himself to be a Christian. 'Tis manifest, therefore, that under this emperor it was made a capital offence for any one to avow himself a Christian; and these inhuman proceedings were sanctioned by an emperor making great pretensions to reason and philosophy; and they were, moreover, carried on for the purpose of maintaining a system of superstition and idolatry, repugnant to every principle of reason and truth; for these atrocious cruelties were exercised towards persons of the most virtuous character, on account of their adherence to the worship of the one living and true God, the first principle of all rational religion.
I mentioned, in a former Lecture, that there was reason to believe Christianity had obtained a footing in France in the days of the apostles; and this statement is corroborated by the circumstance that towards the close of the reign of this emperor, Marcus Antoninus, A. D. 177, a terrible persecution broke out against the churches of Lyons and Vienne, two cities lying contiguous to each other, in the heart of that country, then called Gallia or Gaul. When the violence of the storm had abated,
PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCHES OF LYONS AND VIENNE. 217
an account of what had transpired was drawn up, in the form of an epistle from the churches of Vienne and Lyons, addressed to their brethren in Asia and Phrygia. It is preserved by Eusebius, and Dr. Lardner pronounces it the “ finest thing of the kind in all antiquity.” I may give you a few extracts. The epistle commences with the following apostolical salutation : “ The servants of Christ sojourning in Vienne and Lyons, to their brethren in Asia Propria and Phrygia, who have the same faith and hope of redemption with us ;—peace, and grace, and glory from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” They then declare themselves unable to express the greatness of the affliction which the saints in those cities had recently undergone, or the intense animosity of the heathen against them. Christians were absolutely prohibited from appearing in any house except their own,-in baths, in the markets, or in any public place. “ The first assault,” say they, “ came from the populace, by means of shouts, blows, dragging their bodies, plundering their goods, pelting them with stones, with all the indignities that might be expected from a fierce and outrageous multitude. These, however, were magnanimously sustained. Being then led into the forum, by the tribune and the magistrates, they were examined before all the people, whether they were Christians; and, on acknowledging the fact, they were committed to prison until the arrival of the governor, before whom they were presently brought, and who treated them with great savageness of beliaviour.”
Vettius Epigathus, one of the brethren, a young man of exemplary piety and unwearied in acts of beneficence, was roused at witnessing such a manifest perversion of justice, and boldly demanded to be heard in behalf of his brethren, pledging himself to prove that there was nothing among them either atheistic or impious. He was a person of quality ; but, however reasonable his demand, it served no other purpose than to excite the clamour of the mob and irritate the governor, who merely asked him if he were a Christian, which he avowed in the most undaunted manner, and for which he was immediately executed. Others imitated his confidence and zeal, and suffered with the same alacrity of mind. In process of time, ten of their number lapsed, “ whose case,” say they, “ filled us with great and un