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An incident of the campaign against the Quades put Marcus-Aurelius and the Christians face to face in some sort, and caused, at least among the latter, a lively prepossession. The Romans were engaged in the interior of the country; the heats of summer had succeeded a long winter without transition. The Quades found a means of cutting off the invaders’ supplies of water. The army was devoured by thirst, worn out by fatigues, shut in an enclosed spot, where the barbarians attacked it with every advantage. The Romans replied feebly to the blows of the enemy, and one would have feared a disaster, when all at once a terrible storm took place. A tremendous rain fell on the Romans and refreshed them. It was claimed, on the contrary, that the thunder and hail were turned against the Quades and frightened them, so that a part of them threw themselves in desperation into the ranks of the Romans.

Everybody believed it was a miracle. Jupiter had plainly pronounced for the Latin race. Most people attributed the prodigy to the prayers of Marcus-Aurelius. They made pictures, in which were seen the pious emperor supplicating the gods and saying, “Jupiter, I raise towards thee that hand which has never caused bloodshed.” The Antonine column is consecrated to this event. Jupiter Pluvius is shown there under the figure of a winged old man, whose hair, beard, and arms allow torrents of water to escape from them, which the Romans are receiving in their helmets and 158bucklers, while the barbarians are struck and overturned by the lightning. Some believed in the intervention of an Egyptian magician, named Arnonphix, who followed the army, and whose incantations, it was supposed, had made the gods intervene, especially the aerial Hermes.

The legion which had received this mark of heavenly favour took, at least used it for a time, the name of Fulminata. Such an epithet had nothing new about it. Every place touched by lightning was sacred among the Romans; the legion whose encampments had been struck by the celestial bolts came to be looked on as having received a sort of baptism of fire. Fulminata became for it a title of honour. One legion, the twelfth, which, after the siege of Jerusalem, in which it took part, was stationed at Melitene, near the Euphrates, in little Armenia, bore this title from the time of Augustus, without doubt because of some physical accident which made this to he substituted for the surname Antigua which it had borne till then.

There were some Christians around Marcus-Aurelius; there were probably some in the legion engaged against the Quades. This prodigy, admitted by all, excited them. A good miracle could not but be the work of the true God. What a triumph, what an argument to make persecution cease, if the emperor could be persuaded that this miracle came from the believers! For some days after the incident occurred a version of it circulated, according to which the storm favourable to the Romans was the result of the prayers of the Christians. It was while kneeling, according to the custom of the Church, that the pious soldiers had obtained from heaven this mark of protection, which flattered from two points of view the Christian pretensions; first, by showing what might 159come from heaven at the request of a handful of believers; and also by showing that the God of the Christians had some favour for the Roman Empire. Let the empire cease to persecute the saints, and they would see what favour they would obtain from heaven. God, to become the protector of the empire against the barbarians, waited for only one thing, and that was that the empire should cease to show itself pitiless towards a chosen people who were in the world as the leaven of all good.

This manner of representing the facts was very quickly accepted, and went the round of the churches. To each process to each opponent they had this reply to make to the authorities: “We have saved you.” This reply gained a new force when, at the end of the campaign, Marcus-Aurelius received his seventh imperial salutation, and the column, which may be seen to-day in Rome, was raised, by order of the Senate and the people, bearing among its reliefs the representation of the miracle. Occasion was even taken to fabricate an official letter from Marcus-Aurelius to the Senate, in which he forbade the persecution of the Christians, and made their denunciation punishable by death. Not only is the fact of such a letter inadmissible, but it is very probable that Marcus-Aurelius did not know of the claim which the Christians had raised as to being the authors of the miracle. In certain countries, in Egypt for example, the Christian fable does not appear to have been known. Otherwise it did nothing but add to the dangerous reputation for magic which began to attach itself to the Christians.

The legion of the Danube, if it for a while took the name of Fulminata, did not keep it officially. As the twelfth legion resident at Melitene was always designated by this title, and as moreover the legion of Melitene shone soon by its Christian ardour, it 160wrought confusion, and we might suppose it was this last legion which, transported out of all likelihood from the Euphrates to the Danube, obtained the miracle and received the name of Fulminata; it would need to be forgotten that the legion had borne the name two centuries before.

What is in any case certain is that the conduct of Marcus-Aurelius towards the Christians was in no way modified. It has been supposed that the revolt of Avidius Cassius, supported by the sympathy of all Syria, especially Antioch, inclined the emperor against the numerous Christians in these places. This is not very probable. The revolt of Avidius took place in 172, and the breaking out of persecution is specially observable about 176. The Christians held themselves apart from all politics; moreover, as to Avidius, his pardon came from the loving heart of Marcus-Aurelius. The number of the martyrs meanwhile only increased; in three or four years the persecution reached the highest degree of fury which it had known before Decius. In Africa, Vigellius Saturinus drew the sword, and God knows when it was put back into the scabbard. Sardinia was filled with the transported, who were recalled under Commodus by the influence of Marcia. Byzantine saw some horrors. Nearly the whole community was arrested, put to the torture, led to death. Byzantine having been ravaged some years after by Septimus Severus (in 196), the governor, Cæcilius Capella, cried out “What a splendid day for the Christians!”

It was still graver in Asia. Asia was the province in which Christianity had affected social order most deeply. Thus, the proconsuls of Asia were those who, of all provincial governors, were the most bitter in the persecution. Without the emperor having issued new edicts, they alleged certain instructions which obliged them to proceed with 161severity. They applied without mercy a law which, according to its interpretation, might be atrocious or inoffensive. These repeated punishments were a bloody contradiction to an age of humanity. The fanatics, whose gloomy dreams these violences confirmed, did not protest; often they rejoiced. But the moderate bishops dreamed of the possibility of obtaining from the emperor the end of such injustices. Marcus-Aurelius received all the requests, and was supposed to have read them. His reputation as a philosopher and as a Hellenist suggested to those who felt any facility for writing in Greek to address themselves thus to him. The incident of the war of the Quades offered a way of putting the question more clearly than could have been done by Aristides, Quadratus, or St. Justin.

There was produced a series of new apologies, composed by some bishops and writers of Asia, which unfortunately have not been preserved. Claudius Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, shone in the first rank in this campaign. The miracle of Jupiter Pluvius had had so much publicity that Apollinaris dared to recall it to the emperor, connecting the divine intervention with the prayers of the Christians. Miltiades addressed himself also to the Roman authorities, doubtless to the proconsuls of Asia, to defend “his philosophy” against the unjust reproaches which had been addressed to him. Those who could read his apology had not sufficient eulogium for the talent and knowledge he displayed.

Much the most remarkable work which this literary movement produced was the Apology of Melito. The author addressed himself to Marcus-Aurelius in the tongue which the emperor loved: “What has never been seen, the race of pious men in Asia is persecuted and hunted in Asia, in the 162name of new edicts. Some imprudent sycophants, greedy of the spoils of others, making a pretext of the existing legislation, exercise their brigandage before all, watching night and day, to have them seized, people who have done no harm. . . . If all this is executed by thine order, it is well; for a just prince cannot order any unjust thing; willingly then should we accept such a death as the fate we have deserved. We only address to thee one request; it is that, after having examined thyself the case of those whom they represent to thee as seditious, thou wouldest judge if they deserve death, or if they are not rather worthy to live in peace under the protection of the law. But if this new edict and these measures which are not allowed against the most barbarous enemies do not come from thee, we implore thee, as earnestly as we can, not to abandon us henceforth to such a public brigandage.”

We have already seen Melito make in the empire the most singular advances, in the case where he wished to become the protector of the truth. In the Apology these advances were still more accentuated. Melito sets himself to show that Christianity contents itself with the common law, and that it has something in it to make it dear to the heart of a true Roman.

“Yes, it is true our philosophy first took birth among the barbarians; but the moment it commenced to flourish among the peoples of thy State, having coincided with the great reign of Augustus, thy ancestor, that was a happy augury for the empire. It is from that moment, in fact, that is dated the colossal development of that brilliant Roman power of which thou art, and wilt be with thy son, the applauded inheritor of our vows, provided thou wilt well protect this philosophy which has in some sense been the foster-sister of 163the empire, since it was born with its founder, and since thy ancestors have honoured it as the equal of other cults. And what proves that our doctrine has been destined to flourish parallel to the progress of your glorious empire, is that from its appearance everything has succeeded with you to a wonderful degree. Nero and Domitian only, deceived by some calumniators, have shown themselves malevolent to our religion; and these calumnies, as ordinarily happens, were accepted at once without examination. But their error has been corrected by thy pious parents, who, in frequent rescripts, repressed the zeal of those who wished to enter into ways of severity against us. Thus, Hadrian, thy ancestor, wrote of it on various occasions, and especially to the proconsul Fundanus, governor of Asia. And thy father, at the period in which thou wast associated with him in the administration, wrote to the cities to do nothing new as to us, especially to the Lariseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and all the Greeks. As to thee, who hast not for us the same sentiments, with a still more elevated degree of philanthropy and philosophy, we are sure that thou wilt do what we ask.”

The system of the apologists, so warmly maintained by Tertullian, according to whom the good emperors have favoured Christianity and the bad emperors have persecuted it, was already completely begun. Born together, Christianity and Rome had grown greater together, prospered together. Their interests, their sufferings, their fortune, their future, all were in common. The apologists are advocates, and the advocates of all causes are like each other. They have arguments for all occasions and for all tastes. A hundred and fifty years would roll away before these gentle and moderately sincere invitations should be 164listened to. But the simple fact that they were presented under Marcus-Aurelius to the mind of one of the most enlightened leaders of the Church is a prognostic of the future. Christianity and the empire were reconciled; they were made for each other. The shade of Melito might tremble with joy when the empire shall become Christian, and the emperor shall take in hand the cause “of the truth.”

Thus the Church took already more than one step towards the empire. Through politeness no doubt, but also by a consequence quite just from its principle, Melito did not admit that an emperor can make an unjust order. It might be easily believed that certain emperors had not been absolutely hostile to Christianity; people liked to tell how Tiberius had proposed in the Senate to put Jesus into the rank of the gods; it was the Senate who would not have it. The decided preference which Christianity shall show for power, when it can hope for favour, may be imagined by anticipation. They betook themselves to show, against all the facts, that Hadrian and Antoninus had sought to repair the evil caused by Nero and Domitian. Tertullian and his generation will say the same thing of Marcus-Aurelius. Tertullian shall doubt, it is true, if one can at the same time be Cæsar and a Christian; but that incompatibility a century after his time shall strike no one, and Constantine shall charge himself with proving that Melito of Sardis was a very sagacious man the day when he pointed out so well, 132 years in advance, through proconsular persecutions, the possibility of a Christian empire.

A voyage to Greece, to Asia and the East, which the emperor made at that time, did not change his ideas. He went smiling, but without any internal irony, through this world of sophists 165of Athens and Smyrna, listened to all the celebrated professors, founded a great number of new chairs at Athens, saw especially Herod Atticus, Ælius Aristides, and Hadrian of Tyre. At Eleusis he entered alone into the most secret parts of the temple. In Palestine the remnants of the Jewish and Samaritan peoples, plunged into distress by the last revolts, received him with acclamations, and doubtless with complaints. A fetid odour of misery reigned throughout all the land. These unruly crowds from which a stench came forth put his patience to the proof. Once, pushed into a corner, he cried, “O Marcomans, O Quades, O Sarmatians, I have found people at last who are more beastly than you!”

Philosophy, according to Marcus-Aurelius, had all disappeared, except the Roman. He had against Jewish and Syrian piety instinctive prejudices. The Christians, nevertheless, were very near him. His nephew, Ummidius Quadratus, had in his household a eunuch named Hyacinthus, who was an elder of the Church of Rome. To this eunuch was confided the care of a young girl named Marcia, of ravishing beauty, whom Ummidius made his concubine. Later, in 183, Ummidius having been put to death, in connection with the conspiracy of Lucillus, Commodus found this pearl among his spoils. He appropriated her. Eclectos, the attendant, followed the fate of his mistress. By yielding to the caprices of Commodus, sometimes by knowing how to command them, Marcia exercised over him a boundless power. It is not probable that she was baptized, but the eunuch, Hyacinthus, had inspired her with a tender sentiment for the faith. He continued to be near her, and he drew greater favours from her, in particular for the confessors condemned to the mines. Later on, pushed to the point by the monster, 166Marcia was at the head of the plot which took the empire from Commodus. Eclectos was still found at her side at that time. By a singular coincidence, Christianity was mixed up very closely in the final tragedy of the Antonine house, as a hundred years before it was by a Christian medium that the plot was arranged which put an end to the tyranny of the last of the Flavii.

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