14. Mosheim
A Vindication by Edward Gibbon

The learning and judgment of Mosheim had been of frequent use in the course of my Historical Inquiry, and I had not been wanting in proper expressions of gratitude. My vexatious Adversary is always ready to start from his ambuscade, and to harass my march by a mode of attack, which cannot easily be reconciled with the laws of honourable war. The greatest part of the Misrepresentations of Mosheim, which Mr. Davis has imputed to me, (64) are of such a nature, that I must indeed be humble, if I could persuade myself to bestow a moment of serious attention on them. Whether Mosheim could prove that an absolute community of goods was not established among the first Christians of Jerusalem; whether he suspected the purity of the Epistles of Ignatius; whether he censured Dr. Middleton with temper or indignation (in this cause I must challenge Mr. Davis as an incompetent judge); whether he corroborates the whole of my description of the prophetic office, whether he speaks with approbation of the humanity of Pliny, and whether he attributed the same sense to the malefica of Suetonius, and the exitiabilis of Tacitus? These questions, even as Mr. Davis has stated them, lie open to the judgment of every reader, and the superfluous observations which I could make, would be an abuse of their time and of my own. As little shall I think of consuming their patience, by examining whether Le Clerc and Mosheim labour in the interpretation of some texts of the Fathers, and particularly of a passage of Irenaeus, which seem to favour the pretensions of the Roman Bishop. The material part of the passage of Irenaeus consists of about four lines; and in order to shew that the interpretations of Le Clerc and Mosheim are not laboured, Mr. Davis abridges them as much as possible in the space of twelve pages.I known not whether the perusal of my History will justify the suspicion of Mr. Davis, that I am secretly inclined to the interest of the Pope: but I cannot discover how the Protestant cause can be affected, if Irenaeus in the second, or Palavicini in the seventeenth century, were tempted, by any private views, to countenance in their writings the system of ecclesiastical dominion, which has been pursued in every age by the aspiring Bishops of the Imperial city. Their conduct was adapted to the revolutions of the Christian Republic, but the same spirit animated the haughty breasts of Victor the First, and of Paul the Fifth.

There still remain one or two of these imputed Misrepresentations, which appear, and indeed only appear, to merit a little more attention. In stating the opinion of Mosheim with regard to the progress of the Gospel, Mr. Davis boldly declares,

"that I have altered the truth of Mosheim's history, that I might have an opportunity of contradicting the belief and wishes of the Fathers." (65)

In other words, I have been guilty of uttering a malicious falsehood.

I had endeavoured to mitigate the sanguine expression of the Fathers of the second century, who had too hastily diffused the light of Christianity over every part of the globe, by observing, as an undoubted fact,

"that the Barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who subverted the Roman Monarchy, were involved in the errors of Paganism; and that even the conquest of Iberia, of Armenia, or of Aethiopia, was not attempted with any degree of success, till the scepter was in the hands of an orthodox Emperor." (66)

I had referred the curious reader to the fourth century of Mosheim's General History of the Church: Now Mr. Davis has discovered, and can prove, from that excellent work,

"that Christianity, not long after its first rise, had been introduced into the less as well as greater Armenia; that part of the Goths, who inhabited Thracia, Maesia, and Dacia, had received the Christian religion long before this century; and that Theophilus, their Bishop, was present at the Council of Nice." (67)

On this occasion, the reference was made to a popular work of Mosheim, for the satisfaction of the reader, that he might obtain the general view of the progress of Christianity in the fourth century, which I had gradually acquired by studying with some care the Ecclesiastic Antiquities of the Nations beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. If I had reasonably supposed that the result of our common inquiries must be the same, should I have deserved a very harsh censure for my unsuspecting confidence? Or if I had declined the invidious task of separating a few immaterial errors, from a just and judicious representation, might not my respect for the name and merit of Mosheim, have claimed some indulgence? But I disdain those excuses, which only a candid adversary would allow. I can meet Mr. Davis on the hard ground of controversy, and retort on his own head the charge of concealing a part of the truth. He himself has dared to suppress the words of my text, which immediately followed his quotation.

"Before that time the various accidents of war and commerce might indeed diffuse an imperfect knowledge of the Gospel among the tribes of Caledonia, and among the borderers of the Rhine, the Danube, and the Euphrates;"

and Mr. Davis has likewise suppressed one of the justificatory Notes on this passage, which expressly points out the time and circumstances of the first Gothic conversions. These exceptions, which I had cautiously inserted, and Mr. Davis has cautiously concealed, are superfluous for the provinces of Thrace, Maesia, and the Lesser Armenia, which were contained within the precincts of the Roman Empire. They allow an ample scope for the more early conversion of some independent districts of Dacia and the Greater Armenia, which bordered on the Danube and Euphrates; and the entire sense of this passage, which Mr. Davis first mutilates and then attacks, is perfectly consistent with the original text of the learned Mosheim.

And yet I will fairly confess, that, after a nicer inquiry into the epoch of the Armenian Church, I am not satisfied with the accuracy of my own expression. The assurance that the first Christian King, and the first Archbishop, Tiridates, and St. Gregory the Illuminator, were still alive several years after the death of Constantine, inclined me to believe, that the conversion of Armenia was posterior to the auspicious Revolution, which had given the scepter of Rome to the hands of an orthodox Emperor. But I had not enough considered the two following circumstances. 1. I might have recollected the dates assigned by Moses of Chorene, who, on this occasion, may be regarded as a competent witness. Tiridates ascended the throne of Armenia in the third year of Diocletian (Hist. Armeniae, 1. ii. c. 79. p. 207.), and St. Gregory, who was invested with the Episcopal character in the seventeenth year of Tiridates, governed almost thirty years the Church of Armenia, and disappeared from the world in the forty-sixth year of the reign of the same Prince. (Hist. Armeniae, 1. ii. c. 88. p. 224, 225.) The consecration of St. Gregory must therefore be placed A.D. 303, and the conversion of the King and kingdom was soon atchieved by that successful missionary. 2. The unjust and inglorious war which Maximin undertook against the Armenians, the ancient faithful allies of the Republic, was evidently derived from a motive of superstitious zeal. The historian Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 1. ix. c. 8. p. 448. edit. Cantab.) considers the pious Armenians as a nation of Christians, who bravely defended themselves from the hostile oppression of an idolatrous tyrant. Instead of maintaining "that the conversion of Armenia was not attempted with any degree of success till the scepter was in the hands of an orthodox Emperor," I ought to have observed, that the seeds of the faith were deeply sown during the season of the last and greatest persecution, that many Roman exiles might assist the labours of Gregory, and that the renowned Tiridates, the hero of the East, may dispute with Constantine the honour of being the first Sovereign who embraced the Christian religion.

In a future edition, I shall rectify an expression which, in strictness, can only be applied to the kingdoms of Iberia and Aethiopia. Had the error been exposed by Mr. Davis himself, I should not have been ashamed to correct it; but I am ashamed at being reduced to contend with an adversary who is unable to discover, or to improve, his own advantages.

But, instead of prosecuting any inquiry from whence the public might have gained instruction, and himself credit, Mr. Davis chooses to perplex his readers with some angry cavils about the progress of the Gospel in the second century. What does he mean to establish or to refute? Have I denied, that before the end of that period Christianity was very widely diffused both in the East and in the West? Has not Justin Martyr affirmed, without exception or limitation, that it was already preached to every nation on the face of the earth? Is that proposition true at present? Could it be true in the time of Justin? Does not Mosheim acknowledge the exaggeration?

"Demus, nec enim quae in oculos incurrunt infitiari audemus, esse in his verbis exaggerationis nonnihil. Certum enim est diu post Justini aetatem, multas orbis terrarum gentes cognitione Christi caruisse." (Mosheim de Rebus Christianis, p. 203.)

Does he not expose (p. 205.), with becoming scorn and indignation, the falsehood and vanity of the hyperboles of Tertullian?

"bonum hominem aestu imaginationis elatum non satis adtendisse ad ea quae litteris consignabat."

The high esteem which Mr. Davis expresses for the writings of Mosheim, would alone convince me how little he has read them, since he must have been perpetually offended and disgusted by a train of thinking, the most repugnant to his own. His jealousy, however, for the honour of Mosheim, provokes him to arraign the boldness of Mr. Gibbon who presumes falsely to charge such an eminent man with unjustifiable assertions. (68) I might observe, that my style, which on this occasion was more modest and moderate, has acquired, perhaps undesignedly, an illiberal cast from the rough hand of Mr. Davis. But as my veracity is impeached, I may be less solicitous about my politeness; and though I have repeatedly declined the fairest opportunities of correcting the errors of my predecessors, yet, as long as I have truth on my side, I am not easily daunted by the names of the most eminent men.

The assertion of Mosheim, which did not seem to be justified (69) by the authority of Lactantius, was, that the wife and daughter of Diocletian, Prisca and Valeria, had been privately baptized. Mr. Davis is sure that the words of Mosheim, "Christianis sacris clam initiata," need not be confined to the rite of baptism; and he is equally sure, that the reference to Mosheim does not lead us to discover even the name of Valeria. In both these assurances he is grossly mistaken; but it is the misfortune of controversy, that an error may be committed in three or four words, which cannot be rectified in less than thirty or forty lines.

1. The true and the sole meaning of the Christian initiation, one of the familiar and favourite allusions of the Fathers of the fourth century, is clearly explained by the exact and laborious Bingham.

"The baptized were also styled Ancient Greek for 'initiati' which the Latins call initiati, the initiated, that is admitted to the use of the sacred offices, and knowledge of the sacred mysteries of the Christian Religion. Hence came that form of speaking so frequently used by St. Chrysostom, and other ancient writers, when they touched upon any doctrines or mysteries which the Catechumens understood not, Ancient Greek, the initiated know what is spoken. St. Ambrose writes a book to these initiati; Isidore of Pelusium and Hesychius call them Ancient Greek and Ancient Greek . Whence the Catechumens have the contrary names, Ancient Greek for unbaptizedthe uninitiated or unbaptized." (Antiquities of the Christian Church, 1. i. c. 4. No 2. vol. i. p. II. fol. edit.)

Had I presumed to suppose that Mosheim was capable of employing a technical expression in a loose and equivocal sense, I should indeed have violated the respect which I have always entertained for his learning and abilities.

2. But Mr. Davis cannot discover in the text of Mosheim the name of Valeria. In that case Mosheim would have suffered another slight inaccuracy to drop from his pen, as the passage of Lactantius, "sacrificio pollui coëgit," on which he founds his assertion, includes the names both of Prisca and Valeria. But I am not reduced to the necessity of accusing another in my own defence. Mosheim has properly and expressly declared that Valeria imitated the pious example of her mother Prisca,

"Gener Diocletiani uxorem habebat Valeriam matris exemplum pietate erga Deum imitantem et a cultu fictorum Numinum alienam." (Mosheim, p. 913.)

Mr. Davis has a bad habit of greedily snapping at the first words of a reference, without giving himself the trouble of going to the end of the page or paragraph.

These trifling and peevish cavils would, perhaps, have been confounded with some criticisms of the same stamp, on which I had bestowed a slight, though sufficient notice, in the beginning of this article of Mosheim; had not my attention been awakened by a peroration worthy of Tertullian himself, if Tertullian had been devoid of eloquence as well as of moderation —

"Much less does the Christian Mosheim give our infidel Historian any pretext for inserting that illiberal malignant insinuation, "That Christianity has, in every age, acknowledged its important obligations to FEMALE devotion;" the remark is truly contemptible." (70)

It is not my design to fill whole pages with a tedious enumeration of the many illustrious examples of female Saints, who, in every age, and almost in every country, have promoted the interest of Christianity. Such instances will readily offer themselves to those who have the slightest knowledge of Ecclesiastical History; nor is it necessary that I should remind them how much the charms, the influence, the devotion of Clotilda, and of her great-grand-daughter Bertha, contributed to the conversion of France and England. Religion may accept, without a blush, the services of the purest and most gentle portion of the human species: but here are some advocates who would disgrace Christianity, if Christianity could be disgraced, by the manner in which they defend her cause.

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