In stating the toleration of Christianity during the greatest part of the reign of Diocletian, I had observed, (51) that the principal officers of the palace, whose names and functions were particularly specified, enjoyed, with their wives and children, the free exercise of the Christian religion. Mr. Davis twice affirms, (52) in the most deliberate manner, that this pretended fact, which is asserted on the sole authority, is contradicted by the positive evidence, of Lactantius. In both these affirmations Mr. Davis is inexcusably mistaken.
1. When the storms of persecution arose, the Priests, who were offended by the sign of the Cross, obtained an order from the Emperor, that the profane, the Christians, who accompanied him to the Temple, should be compelled to offer sacrifice; and this incident is mentioned by the Rhetorician, to whom I shall not at present refuse the name of Lactantius. The act of idolatry, which, at the expiration of eighteen years, was required of the officers of Diocletian, is a manifest proof that their religious freedom had hitherto been inviolate, except in the single instance of waiting on their master to the Temple; a service less criminal than the profane compliance for which the Minister of the King of Syria solicited the permission of the Prophet of Israel.
2. The reference which I made to Lactantius expressly pointed out this exception to their freedom. But the proof of the toleration was built on a different testimony, which my disingenuous adversary has concealed; an ancient and curious instruction, composed by Bishop Theonas, for the use of Lucian, and the other Christian eunuchs of the palace of Diocletian. This authentic piece was published in the Spicilegium of Dom Luc d'Acheri; as I had not the opportunity of consulting the original, I was contented with quoting it on the faith of Tillemont, and the reference to it immediately precedes (ch. xvi. note 133.) the citation of Lactantius (note 134).
Mr. Davis may now answer his own question,
"What apology can be made for thus asserting, on the sole authority of Lactantius, facts which Lactantius so expressly denies?"
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