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The characters are drawn from the two religions : these are first introduced to the reader; the recital then displays the state of Christianity throughout the known world at the epocha of the action; the remainder of the work developes this action, which is connected by the catastrophe with the general massacre of the Christians.
I have perhaps suffered myself to be dazzled by my subject: it appeared to me rich and comprehensive. Indeed a single glance will shew, that it gave me a complete control over sacred and profane antiquity. Besides, the narration and the course of events have H enabled me to sketch a view of the various provinces of the Roman Empire. I have conducted the reader among the Franks and the Gauls, to the cradle of our ancestors. Greece, Italy, Judæa, Egypt, Sparta, Athens, Rome, Naples, Jerusalem, Memphis, the valleys of Arcadia, the desarts of the Thebais, are other points of view, or form the back grounds of the picture.
The characters are principally historical. That of the monster Galerius is well known. I have represented Dioclesian as rather better and somewhat greater than he is exhibited to us by contemporary writers. In this I have evinced my impartiality. I have thrown all the odium of the persecution upon Galerius and Hierocles.
Lactantius himself says:
Deinde.......in Hieroclem ex vicario presidem, qui anctor et consiliarius ad faciendam persecutionem fuit.*
* De Mortibus Persecutorum, cap. xvi.
Hierocles who was the instigator and the author of the persecution."
Tillemont, after having spoken of the council in which the question respecting the extermination of the Christians was discussed, adds:
“ Dioclesian consented to refer the matter to the “ council, that the odium of the measure might be re“ moved from him and fastened upon those who had 6 advised it. Several civil and military officers were “ summoned to the assembly, who, either from inclina“ tion or courtesy, supported the views of Galerius. * Hierocles was one of the warmest in commending " the persecution."*
This Governor of Alexandria, according to the uniform testimony of history, exercised the most dreadful cruelties towards the church. Hierocles was a sophist, and whilst encouraging the massacre of the Christians, he published a book against them entitled Philalethes, or the Friend of Truth. Eusebiust has refuted a part of this work in a Treatise which is still extant; it was in reply to this also that Lactantius composed his Institutions.f Piersong believes that Hierocles, the persecutor of the Christians, was the same with the author of the Commentary upon the
* Mem. Eccles. t. 5, p. 20, edit. in 4to. Paris.
+ Eusebii Cæsariensis in Hieroclem liber cum Philostrato editus. Paris, 1608.
Lact. Inst. lib. 5, cap. 2. Ś In his Prolegomena upon the works of Hierocles, printed in 1673. Vol. 2, p. 1, 3, 19.
golden verses of Pythagoras. Tillemont* seems to have adopted the opinion of the learned bishop of Chester; and Jonsius,t who maintains that the Hierocles mentioned in the Bibliotheca of Photius is the same Hierocles who was refuted by Eusebius, serves rather to confirm than to destroy the opinion of Pear
Dacier, who, as Boileau observes, always endeavours to make a sage of the author he translates, s opposes the opinion of the learned Pearson; but his arguments are feeble, and it is probable that Hierocles, the persecutor and the author of Philalethes is also the author of the Commentary.
At first vice-præfect, Hierocles afterwards became governor of Bithynia. The Menæa,|| Saint Epiphanius, T and the acts of the martyr of Holy Edessa, ** prove that Hierocles was governor of Egypt also, where he perpetrated the greatest barbarities.
Fleury, who here follows Lactantius, in speaking of Hierocles, mentions another sophist also, who wrote at the same time against the Christians; the following is the portrait which he gives of this unknown sephist :
* Mem. Eccles. tom. 5, 2d edit. 4to. Paris, 1702.
j De Scriptoribus Historiæ Philosophicæ. Frankfort, 1659. lib. 3, cap. 18.
# To maintain his opinion, Jonsius is compelled to say that this was not Eusebius of Cesarea.
| Epiphanii Panarium adversus hæreses, p. 717. Lutetiæ, 1622.
** De Martyr. Palæst. cap. 4, Euseb.
" At the period in which the Church of Nicomedia was destroyed, there were two authors who publish“ed tracts against the Christian Religion. The one was by profession a philosopher, but whose life was opposed to his doctrine: in public, he preached “ moderation, frugality, poverty; but he loved riches, pleasure and extravagance, and gave more costly entertainments at his own house than were customary at the palace: his vices were all concealed under the
cover of his hair and his mantle ..... He pubto lished three books against the Christian Religion. “ He began with saying, that it was the duty of a phi
losopher to correct the errors of mankind .. " that he wished to exhibit the light of reason to those
by whom it had not yet been seen, and to divest them " of that obstinacy which subjected them to so many " unnecessary evils. At length, however, when the
motives by which he was influenced were discovered, as he launched out into eulogiums upon the princes, exs tolled the piety and wisdom which they had evinced " in the defence of religion, . by their endeavours to "suppress an impious and puerile superstition."*
The baseness of this sophist, who attacked the Christians whilst under the axe of the executioner, disgusted even the Pagans, and he was disappointed of the rewards which he had anticipated from the Emperors.t
* Hist. Eccles. lib. viii, vol. 2, 8vo, p. 420, 8vo. Paris, 1717. † Lact. Instit. lib. 5. cap. 4. p. 470.
This character, drawn by Lactantius, proves, that I have attributed to Hierocles nothing but the manners of his time. Hierocles was himself a sophist, an author, an orator and a persecutor.
“ The author, says Fleury, was of the number of “ the judges, and one of those who had advised the
persecution. He is believed to have been Hiero“ cles, born in a little village of Caria, and afterwards governor
of Alexandria. He wrote two books which “ he entitled Philalethes, that is to say, the Friend of “ Truth, and addressed them to the Christians them-, “selves, that he might appear not to attack, but to give “ them salutary advice. In his endeavours to prove “ the contradictions which he pretended to find in the “ sacred writings, he affected to do violence to his own
feelings, and exhibited at the same time so intimate " an acquaintance with the scriptures as almost proved “ him to have been a Christian."*
I have not therefore calumniated Hierocles. I respect and honour true philosophy. It will even appear that the words philosopher and philosophy are not used in a bad sense throughout the whole of the present work. Every man whose conduct is noble, whose sentiments are elevated and generous, who never descends to base actions, and who cherishes in his bosom a proper spirit of independence, to me appears respectable, whatever may be his opinions upon other subjects. But the sophists of all countries and all ages ought to be despised, for by abusing the best of things,
* Hist. Eccles. lib. viii, vol. 2, 4to.