William Paley.

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little, notwithstanding the reigning scepticism, and
the magnified liberality of that age, the true prin-
ciples of toleration were understood by the wisest
men amongst them, may be gathered from two
emiirent and uncontested examples. The younger
Pliny, polished as he was by all tlie literature of
that soft and elegant period, could gravely pro-
nounce tliis monstrous judgment: — " Those who
persisted in declaring themselves Christians, I
ordered to be led away to punishment, (i. e. to
execution,) for I did not doubt, whatever it was
that they confessed, that contumacy and injiexi-
hle obstinacy ought to be punished." His master,
Trajan, a mild and accomplished prince, went,
nevertheless, no further in his sentiments of mo-
deration and equity, than what appears in the
following rescript : " The Christians are not to
be sought for; but if any are brought before you,
and convicted, they are to be punished." And
this direction he gives, after it had been reported
to him by his own president, that, by the most
strict examination nothing could be discovered in
the principles of these persons, but " a bad and
excessive superstition," accompanied, it seems,
with an oath or mutual federation, "to allow
themselves in no crime or immoral conduct what-
ever." The truth is, the ancient heathens con-
sidered religion entirely as an affair of state, as
nmch under the tuition of the magistrate, as any
other part of the police. The religion of that age
was not merely allied to the state ; it was incor-
porated into it. Many of its offices were adminis-
tered by the magistrate. Its titles of pontiffs,
augurs, and flamens, were borne by senators,
consuls, and generals. Without discussing, there-
fore, the truth of the theology, they resented every
atlront put upon the established worship, as a
direct opposition to the authority of government.

Add to which, that the religious systems of
those times, however ill supported by evidence,
had been long established. The ancient religion
of a country has always many votaries, and some-
times not the fewer, because its origin is hidden
in remoteness and obscurity. Men have a natu-
ral veneration for antiquity, especially in matters
of religion. What Tacitus says of the Jewish,
was more applicable to the heathen establishment :
" Hi ritus, quoquo modo inducti, sntiquitate de-
fenduntur." It was also a splendid and sumptuous
worship. It had Its priesthood, its endowments,
its temples. Statuary, painting, architecture, and
music, contributed their effect to its ornament and
magnificence. It abounded in festival shows and

solemnities, to which the common people- are
greatly addicted, and which were of a nature to en-
gage them much more than any thing of that sort
among us. These things would retain great num-
bers Oil it.s side by the fascination of spectacle and
pomp, as well as interest many in its preservation
by the advantage which they drew from it. " It
was moreover interwoven," as Mr. Gibbon right-
ly represents it, " with every circumstance of bu-
siness or pleasure, of public or private life, with
all the offices and amusements of society." On
the due celebration also of its rites, the people were
taught to believe, and did believe, that the pros-
perity of their country in a great measure de-

I am willing to accept the account of the matter
which is given by Mr. Gibbon : "The various
modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman
world, were all considered by the people as equally
true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by
the magistrate as equally useful :" and I would
ask from which of these three classes of men were
the Christian missionaries to look for protection or
impunity 1 Could they expect it from the people,
" whose acknowledged confidence in the public
religion" they subverted from its foundation 1
From the philosopher, who, " considering all reli-
gions as equally false," would of course rank theirs
among the number, with the addition of regarding
them as busy and troublesome zealots 1 Or from
the magistrate, who, satisfied with the "utility"
of the subsisting religion, would not be likely to
countenance a spirit of proselytism and innova-
tion ; — a system which declared war against every
other, and which, if it prevailed, must end ir/ a
total rupture of public opinion ; an upstart reli-
gion, in a word, which was not content with its
own authority, but must disgrace all the settled
religions of the world 1 It was not to be imagined
that he would endure with patience, that the reli-
gion of the emperor and of the state should be ca-
kunniated and borne down by a company of
superstitious and despicable Jews.

Lastly, the nature of the case afTords a strong
proof, that the original teachers of Christianity, in
consequence of their new profession, entered upon
a new and singular course of life. We may l)e
allowed to presume, that the institution which
they preached to others, they conformed to in their
own persons ; because this is no more than what
every teacher of a new religion both does, and
must do, in order to obtain either proselytes or
hearers. The change which this would }jroduce
was very considerable. It is a change whiih we
do not easily estimate, because, ourselves and all
about us being habituated to the institutions from
our infancy, it is what we neither experience nor
oliserve. After men became Christians, much of
their time was spent in prayer and devotion, in
religious meetings, in celebrating the eucharist, in
conferences, in exhortations, in preaching, in an
affectionate intercourse with one another, and
correspondence with other societies. Perhaps their
mode of life, in its form and habit, was not very
unlike the Unitas Fratrum, or the modern Metho-.
dists. Think then what it was to become such
at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Antioch. or even at
Jerusalem. How new ! how alien from all their
former habits and ideas, and from those of every
i)ody about them ! What a revolution there must
have been of opinions and prejudices to bring the
matter to this !



We know what the precepts of the religion
are ; how pure, how benevolent, how disinterested
a conduct they enjoin ; and that this purity and
benevolence are extended to the very thoughts
and atiections. We are not, perhaps, at liberty
to take for granted that the lives of the preachers
of Christianity were as perfect as their lessons ;
but we are entitled to contend, that the observable
part of their behaviour must have agreed in a
great measure with the duties which they taught.
There was, therefore, (which is all that we as,sert,)
a course of life pursued by them, ditli^rent from
that which they before led. And this is of great
importance. Men are brought to any thing almost
sooner than to change their habit of life, especial-
ly when the change is either inconvenient, or
made against the force of natural inclination, or
with the loss of accustomed indulgences. " It is
the most difficult of all things to convert men from
vicious habits to virtuous ones, as every one may
judge from what he feels in himself, as well as
from what he sees in others."* It is almost like
making men over again.

Left then to myself, and without any more in-
formation than a knowledge of the existence of
the religion, of the general story upon which it is
founded, and that no act of power, force, and au-
thority, was concerned in its first success, I should
conclude, from the very nature and exigency of
the case, that the Author of the religion, during
his life, and his immediate disciples after his
death, exerted themselves in spreading and pub-
lishing the institution throughout the country in
which it began, and into which it was first car-
ried : that; in the prosecution of this purpose, the}'
undervs'ent the labours and troubles which we ob-
serve the propagators of new sects to undergo ;
that the attempt niust necessarily have also been
in a highJegrctnTangerous ; that, from the sub-
^ect ot the mission, compared with the fixed opi-
nions and prejudices of those to whom the mis-
sionaries were to address themselves, they could
hardly fail of encountering strong and frequent
opposition; that, by the hand of government, as
well as from the sudden fury and unbridled license
of the people, they would oftentimes experience
injurious and cruel treatment ; that, at any rate,
tliey must have always had so much to fear for
their personal safety, as to have passed their lives
ill a state of constant peril and anxiety ; and last-
ly, that their mode of life and conduct, visibly at
least, corresponded with the institution which
they delivered, and, so far, was both new, and re-
quired continual self-denial.


There is satisfactory evidence that viavy 'profess-
ing to be original witnesses of the Christian
miracles. passed their lires in labours, dangers,
and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in at-
testation of the.accounts which they delirered,
and solely in consequence of their belief of
those accounts; and that they also submitted
from the same motives, to new rules of conduct.

After thus considering what was likely to
happen, we are next to inquire how the transac-

* Hartley's Essays on Man, p. 190.

tion is represented in the several accounts that
have come down to us. And this inquiry is pro-
perly preceded by the other, for as much as the
reception of these accounts may depend in part on
the credibility of what they contain.

The obscure and distant view of Christianity,
which some of the heathen writers of that age
had gained, and which a few passages in their re-
maining works incidentally discover to us, otters
itself to our notice in the first place: because, so
far as this evidence goes, it is the concession of
adversaries ; the source from which it is drawn is
unsuspected. Under this head, a quotation from
Tacitus, well known to every scholar, must be
inserted, as deserving particular attention. The
reader will bear in mind that this passage was
written about seventy years after Christ's death,
and that it relates to transactions which took place
about thirty years after that event. — Speaking of
the fire which happened at Rome in the time of
Nero, and of the suspicions which were enter-
tained that the emperor himself was concerned in
causing it, the historian proceeds in his narrative
and observations thus :

" But neither these exertions, nor his largesses
to the people, nor his offerings to the gods, did
away the infamous imputation under which Nero
lay, i>f having ordered the city to be set on fire.
To pi ^ an end, therefore, to this report, he laid
the guilt, and inflicted the most cruel punishments,
upon a set of people, who were holden in abhor-
rence for their crimes, and called by the vulgar,
Christians. The founder of that name was
Christ, who suffered death in the reign of Tibe-
rius, under his procurator Pontius Pilate. This
pernicious superstition, thus checked for a while,
broke out again ; and spread not only over Judea,
where the evil originated, but through Rome also,
whither every thing bad upon the earth finds its
way, and is practised. Some who confessed their
sect, were first seized, and afterwards, by their in-
formation, a vast multitude were apprehended,
who were convicted, not so much of the crime of
burning Rome, as of hatred to mankind. Their
sufferings at their execution were aggravated by
insult and mockery ; for, some were disguised in
the skins of wild beasts, and worried to (ieath by
dogs ; some were crucified ; and others were
wrapt in pitched shirts,* and set on fire when the
day closed, that they might serve as lights to illu-
minate the night. Nero lent his own gardens for
these executions, and exhibited at the same time
a mock Circensian entertainment ; being a spec-
tator of the whole, in the dress of a charioteer,
sometimes mingling with the crowd on foot, and
sometimes viewing the spectacle from his car.
This conduct made the sufferers pitied; and
though they were criminals, and deserving the
severest punishments, yet they were considered as
sacrificed, not so much out of a regard to the pub-
lic good, as to gratify the cruelty of one njan."

Our concern with this passage at present is
only so far as it affords a presunijition in support
of the proposition which we maintain, concerning
the activity and sufferings of the first teachers ot
Christianity. Now considered in this view, it
proves three things: 1st, that the Founder of the

* This is rather a paraphrase, but is justified by what
the Scholiast upon Juvenal says ; " Nero maleficos ho-
mines ta^iia et papyro et cera siipervcstiehat, et sic ad
i^neni adnioveri jubebat." — Laid. Jewish and Keath
Test, vol, i. p. 359. ^ ,



institution was put to death ; 2clly, that in the
same country in which he was put to death, the
religion, after a short check, broke out again and
spread; 3dly, that it so spread, as that, within
thirty-four years from the author's death, a very
great number of Christians (ingens eorum multl-
tudo) were found at Rome. From whicli lact,
the two tbilowing inl'erenccs may be fairly drawn :
iirst, that if, in the space of thirty-four years irom
its conuniMH-ement, the religion had spread through-
out Judea, had extended itself to Rome, and there
had numbered a great multitude of converts, tlie
original teachers and missionaries of the institu-
tion could not have been idle ; secondly, that when
the Author of the undertaking was put to death
as a malefactor for his attempt, the endeavours of
his followers to establish his religion in the same
country, amongst the same people, and in the
same age, could not but be attended with danger.

Suetonius, a writer contemporary with Tacitus,
describing the transactions of the same reign, uses
these words: " Afii?cti suppliciis Christiani, ge-
nus hominum superstitionis nova et malehcoe.*'"
— " The Christians, a set of men of a new and
mischievous (or magical) superstition, were pu-

Since it is not mentioned here that the burning
of the city was the pretence of the punishment ol'
the Christians, or that they were the Christians
of Rome who alone sutiered, it is probable that
Suetonius refers to some more general persecution
than the short and oc(;asional one which Tacitus

Juvenal, a writer of the same age with the two
former, and intending, it should seem, to comme-
morate the cruelties exercised under Nero's go-
vernment, has the following lines ;l

" Pone Tigelliniim, tsda liicebis in ill;'i,
Qiii'i stantes ardent, qui fixo gulture fiimant,
Et latum media sulcum deducitj; arena.

" Describe Tigellinus (a creature of Nero,) and
you shall suffer the same punishment with
who stand burning in their own flame and smoke,
their head being held up by a stake fixed to their
chin, till they make a long stream of blood and
melted sulphur on the ground."

If this passage were considered by itself, the
subject of allusion might be doubtful ; but when
connected with the testimony of Suetonius, as to
the actual punishment of the Christians by Nero,
and with the account given by Tacitus of the
species of punishment which they were made to
undergo, I think it sufficiently probable, that these
were the executions to which the poet refers

These things, as has already been observed,
tix)k place within thirty-one years after Christ's
death, that is, according to the course of nature,
in the life-time, probably, of some of the apostles,
and certainly in the life-time of those who were
converted by the apostles, or who were convert-
ed in their time. If then the Founder of the
religion was ))ut to death in the execution of
his design ; if the first race of converts to the re-
ligion, many of them, suffered the greatest ex-
tremities for their profession ; it is hardly credible,
that those who came hetxceen the two, who were
companions of the Author of the institution dur-
ing his life, and the teachers and propagators of
the in.stitution after his death, could go about their
undertaking with ease and safety.

* Suet. Nero. cap. Hi.
I Forsan " deducis."

t Sat. i. ver. 155.

The testimony of the younger Pliny belongs k
a later period ; for although he was contemporary
with Tacitus and Suetonius, yet his account does
not, like theirs, go back to the transactions of
Nero's reign, but is confined to the affairs of his
own time. His celebrated letter to Trajan was
written about seventy years after Christ's death;
and the information to be drawn from it, so far as
it is connected with our argument, relates princi-
pally to two jjoints ; finst, to the number of Chris-
tians in Bithynia and Pontus, which was so con-
siderable as to induce the governor of these pro-
vinces to speak of them in the following terms ;
" Multi, omnis setatis, utriusque sexus etiam ; —
neque enim civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam ct
agros, superstitionis istius contagio pcrvagata est."
" There are many of every age and of both sexes;
nor has the contagion of this superstition seized
cities only, but smaller towns also, and the open
country." Great exertions must have been used
by the preachers of Christianity to produce this
state of things within this time. Secondly, to a
point which has been already noticed, and which
1 think of impiortance to be observed, namely, the
sufl'erings to which Christians were exposed, loith-
out any public persecution being denounced against
them by sovereign authority. For, from Pliny's
doubt how he was to act, his silence concerning
any subsisting law on the subject, his requesting
the emperor's rescript, and the emperor, agreeably
to his request propounding a rule for his direction,
without reference to any prior rule, it may be in-
ferred, that there was, at that time, no public edict
in force against the Christians. Yet from this
same epistle of Pliny it appears, " that accusations,
trials, and examinations, were and had been,
going on against them in the provinces over which
he presided ; that schedules were delivered by
anonymous infijrmers, containing the names of
persons who were suspected of holding or of fa-
vouring the religion ; that, in consequence of these
informations, many had been ajiprehended, of
whom some boldly avowed their profession, and
died in the cause ; others denied that they were
Christians ; others, acknowledging that they had
once been Christians, declared that they had long
ceased to he such." All which demonstrates, that
the profession of Christianity was at that time (in
that country at least) attended with fear and dan-
ger: and yet this took place without any edict
from the Roman sovereign, commanding or au-
thorising the persecution of Christians. This
observation is further confirmed by a rescript of
Adrian to Miimcius Fundanus, the proconsul
of Asia:* from which rescri[)t it appears that the
custom of the people of Asia was to proceed
against the Christians with tumult and uproar.
"This disorderly practice, I say, is recognised in
the edict, because the emperor enjoins, that, for
the future, if the Christians were guilty, they
should be legally brought to trial, and not be pur-
sued by importunity and clamour.

Martial wrote a few years before the younger
Pliny : and, as his manner was, made the suffer-
ings of the Christians the subject of his ridiculc.-f

^Lard. Heath. Test. vol. ii. p. 110.
I In matutini nupsr spectatus arena

Mucins, imposuit qui sua menihra focis,
Si patiens forlisqiie libi diirusque videtur,

Ab[leiitan;p pectorn plebis liabes ;
Nam cam dicatur, tiinic;! prsescnte molestil,
Ure X man inn : plus est dicere, Non facio.
X Forsan " tliure manum."



Nothing, however, could show the notoriety of the
fact with more certainty than this does. Marti;il's
testimony, as well indeed as Phny's, goes also to
another point, viz. that the deaths of these men
were martyrdoms in the strictest sense, that is to
eay, were so voluntary, that it was in their power,
at the time of pronouncing the sentence, to have
averted the execution by consenting to join in
heathen sacrifices.

The constancy, and by consequence the sufier-
ings of the Christians of this period, is also refer-
red to by Epictetus. who imputes their intrepidity
to madness, or to a kind of fashion or habit, and
about hfty years afterwards, by Marcus Aurelius,
who ascribes it to obstinacy. " Is it possible
(Epictetus asks) that a man may arrive at this
temper, and become indifferent to those things
from madness or from habit, as the Galileans ?'*
" Let this preparation of the mind (to die) arise
from its own judgment, and not from obstinacy
like the Christians.''^


There is satisfactory evidence that many, pro-
Jessing to be original witnesses of the Chris-
tian miracles, passed their lives in labours,
dangers, and sujferiyigs, voluntarily under-
gone in attestation of the accounts which they
delivered, and solely in consequence of their
belief of those accounts ; and that they also
submitted, from tlie same motives, to new rules
of conduct.

Op the primitive condition of Christianity, a
distant only and general view can be acquired from
heathen writers. It is in our own books that the
detail and interior of the transaction must be
sought for. And this is nothing different from
what might be expected. Who would write a
history of Christianity, but a Christian 1 Who
was likely to record the travels, sutlerings, labours,
or successes of the apostles, but one of their
own number, or of their followers 7 Now these
books come up in their accounts to the full extent
of the proposition which we maintain. We have
four histories of Jesus Christ. We have a
history taking up the narrative from his death,
and carrying on an account of the propagation
of the religion, and of some of the most eminent
persons engaged in it, for a space of nearly thirty
years. We have, what some may think still more
original, a collection of letters, written by certain
principal agents in the business, upon the business,
and in the midst of their concern and connexion
with it. And we have these writings severally
attesting the point which we contend for, viz. the
suli'eriniTS of the witnesses of the history, and
attesting it in every variety of form in which it
can be conceived to appear : directly and indirectly,
expressly and incidentally, by assertion, recital,
and allusion, by narratives of facts, and by argu-
ments and discourses built upon these facts, either
referring to them, or necessarily presupposi'ig

I remark this variety, because, in examining
ancient records, or indeed any species of testimo-
ny, it is, in my 0))inion, of the greatest importance
to attend to the information or grounds of ar^u-

* Epicl I. iv. c. 7. t -Marc. Aur. Med. I. .\i. c. 3.

ment which are casually and undesignedly dis-
closed ; forasmuch as this species of proof is, of
all others, the least liable to be corrupted by fraud
or misrepresentation.

I may be allowed therefore, in the inquiry
which is now before us, to suggest some conclu-
sion of this sort, as preparatory to more direct

1. Our books relate, that Jesus Christ, the
founder of the religion, was, in consequence of
his undertaking, put to death, as a malefactor, at
Jerusalem. This point at least will be granted,
because it is no more than what Tacitus has re-
corded. They then proceed to tell us, that tlie
religion was, notwithstanding, set forth at this
same city of Jerusalem, proj)agated thence through-
out Judea, and afterwards preached in other parts
of the Roman empire. These points also are
fully confirmed by Tacitus, who informs us, that
the religion, after a short check, broke out again
in the country where it took its rise ; that it not
only spread throughout Judea, but had reached
Rome, and that it had there great multitudes of
converts ; and all this within thirty years after its
commencement. Now these facts aflbrd a strong
inference in behalf of the proposition which we
maintain. 'What could the disciples of Christ ex-
pect for themselves when they saw their Master
put to death 1 Could they hope to escape the
dangers in which he had perished ] If they have
persecuted me, they will also persecute you, was
the warning of common sense. With this ex-
ample before their eyes, they could not be without
a full sense of the peril of their future enterprise.

2. Secondly, all the histories agree in represent-
ing Christ as foretelling the persecution of his fol-

Online LibraryWilliam PaleyThe works of William Paley ... : containing his life, moral and political philosophy, evidences of christianity, natural theology, tracts, Horae Paulinae, clergyman's companion, and sermons, printed verbatim from the original editions, complete in one volume → online text (page 72 of 161)