SELECTIONS FROM EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITERS: ILLUSTRATIVE OF CHURCH HISTORY TO THE TIME OF CONSTANTINE by Henry Melvill Gwatkin, M.A. First Edition, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1893. Reprinted with additions and corrections, 1897, 1902, 1905. Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram, 2013.
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XXXIV. TERTULLIAN, Apol. 5.


Bad Emperors the only Persecutors


Ut de origine aliquid retractemus eiusmodi legum, vetus erat decretum, ne qui deus ab imperatore consecraretur, nisi a senatu probatus. Scit M. Aemilius de deo suo Alburno. Facit et hoc ad caussam nostram, quod apud vos de humano arbitratu divinitas pensitatur. Nisi homini deus placuerit, deus non erit; homo iam deo propitius esse debebit. Tiberius ergo, cuius tempore nomen Chris-tianum in saeculum introivit, annuntiatum sibi ex Syria Palaestina, quod illic veritatem illius divinitatis revelaverat, detulit ad senatum cum praerogativa suffragii sui. Senatus, quia non ipse probaverat, respuit; Caesar in sententia mansit, comminatus periculum accusatoribus Christianorum. Consulite commentarios vestros; illic reperietis primum Neronem in hane sectam cum maxime Romae orientem Caesariano gladio ferocisse. Sed tali dedicatore damnationis nostrae etiam gloriamur. Qui enim scit illum, intelligere potest, non nisi grande aliquod bonum a Nerone damnatum. Tentaverat et Domitianus, portio Neronis de crudelitate; sed qua et homo, facile coeptum repressit, restitutis etiam quos relegaverat. Tales semper nobis insecutores, iniusti, impii, turpes, quos et ipsi damnare consuestis, et a quibus damnatos restituere soliti estis. Ceterum de tot exinde principibus, usque ad hodiernum divinum humanumque sapientibus, edite aliquem debellatorem Christianorum. At nos e contrario edimus protectorem, si litterae M. Aurelii gravissimi imperatoris requirantur, quibus illam Germanicam sitim Christianorum forte militum precationibus impetrato imbri discussam con-testatur. Qui sicut non palam ab eiusmodi hominibus poenam dimovit, ita alio modo palam dispersit, adiecta etiam accusatoribus damnatione, et quidem tetriore. Quales ergo leges istae, quas adversus nos soli exsequuntur impii, iniusti, turpes, truces, vani, dementes? quas Traianus ex parte frustratus est vetando inquiri Christianorum; quas nullus Hadrianus, quamquam curiositatum omnium explorator, nullus Vespasianus, quamquam Iudaeorum debellator, nullus Pius, nullus Verus impressit.

To say something of the origin of laws of that sort. There was an old decree, that no god should be consecrated by any general without the approval of the Senate. M. Aemilius found it out with his god Alburnus. This too helps our case, that with you divinity depends on human judgement. Unless a god pleases men, he shall not be a god at all – man will positively have to be propitious to his god. Tiberius then, in whose time the Christian name came into the world, referred to the Senate the news which had reached himself from Palestine of the events which had revealed the truth of Christ's divinity, with the recommendation of his own vote in favour of it. The Senate refused, because it had not itself approved. Caesar held to his opinion, and threatened punishment to the accusers of Christians. Consult your own records. There you will find that Nero was the first who raged with the imperial sword against our sect, just when it was coming into notice at Rome. But we are proud indeed of having such a man to inaugurate our condemnation; for any one who knows him can understand that what Nero condemned cannot but have been something very good indeed. Domitian tried it too, another Nero for cruelty; but as having some humanity too, he soon stopped his effort, and even restored those whom he had exiled. Our persecutors are always men of this sort, unrighteous, impious and shameful; men whose memory even you are used to brand with infamy, whose judicial victims it is your custom to restore. However, out of all the emperors from that time to the present who have tasted of divine and human wisdom, name a single one as an antagonist of Christians! Nay, we, on the contrary, name one as a protector, if you will call for the letter of the grave and reverend emperor M. Aurelius, in which he bears witness that the great drought in Germany was removed by a shower of rain obtained by the prayers of Christians who chanced to be serving in the army. As on one side he did not openly free such men from the penalties of law, so on the other he openly made these of none effect, imposing also a sentence, and that a severer one, on their accusers. What sort of laws then are these, which are put in force against us only by the impious, the unrighteous, the shameful, the savage, the senseless, the demented – laws which Trajan partly defeated by forbidding Christians to be sought out, which neither a Hadrian, though so curious a student of every novelty, nor a Vespasian, conqueror of the Jews as he was, nor a Pius, nor a Verus ever enforced?


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