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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empir

Footnote 116 See the Topographia Christiana of Cosmas


Christianity was successfully

preached to the Bactrians, the Huns, the Persians, the Indians, the Persarmenians, the Medes, and the Elamites: the Barbaric churches, from the Gulf of Persia to the Caspian Sea, were almost infinite; and their recent faith was conspicuous in the number and sanctity of their monks and martyrs. The pepper coast of Malabar, and the isles of the ocean, Socotora and Ceylon, were peopled with an increasing multitude of Christians; and the bishops and clergy of those sequestered regions derived their ordination from the Catholic of Babylon. In a subsequent age the zeal of the Nestorians overleaped the limits which had confined the ambition and curiosity both of the Greeks and Persians. The missionaries of Balch and Samarcand pursued without fear the footsteps of the roving Tartar, and insinuated themselves into the camps of the valleys of Imaus and the banks of the Selinga. They exposed a metaphysical creed to those illiterate shepherds: to those sanguinary warriors, they recommended humanity and repose. Yet a khan, whose power they vainly magnified, is said to have received at their hands the rites of baptism, and even of ordination; and the fame of Prester or Presbyter John [117] has long amused the credulity of Europe. The royal convert was indulged in the use of a portable altar; but he despatched an embassy to the patriarch, to inquire how, in the season of Lent, he should abstain from animal food, and how he might celebrate the Eucharist in a desert that produced neither corn
nor wine. In their progress by sea and land, the Nestorians entered China by the port of Canton and the northern residence of Sigan. Unlike the senators of Rome, who assumed with a smile the characters of priests and augurs, the mandarins, who affect in public the reason of philosophers, are devoted in private to every mode of popular superstition. They cherished and they confounded the gods of Palestine and of India; but the propagation of Christianity awakened the jealousy of the state, and, after a short vicissitude of favor and persecution, the foreign sect expired in ignorance and oblivion. [118] Under the reign of the caliphs, the Nestorian church was diffused from China to Jerusalem and Cyrus; and their numbers, with those of the Jacobites, were computed to surpass the Greek and Latin communions. [119] Twenty-five metropolitans or archbishops composed their hierarchy; but several of these were dispensed, by the distance and danger of the way, from the duty of personal attendance, on the easy condition that every six years they should testify their faith and obedience to the catholic or patriarch of Babylon, a vague appellation which has been successively applied to the royal seats of Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Bagdad. These remote branches are long since withered; and the old patriarchal trunk [120] is now divided by the Elijahs of Mosul, the representatives almost on lineal descent of the genuine and primitive succession; the Josephs of Amida, who are reconciled to the church of Rome: [121] and the Simeons of Van or Ormia, whose revolt, at the head of forty thousand families, was promoted in the sixteenth century by the Sophis of Persia. The number of three hundred thousand is allowed for the whole body of the Nestorians, who, under the name of Chaldeans or Assyrians, are confounded with the most learned or the most powerful nation of Eastern antiquity.

[Footnote 116: See the Topographia Christiana of Cosmas, surnamed Indicopleustes, or the Indian navigator, l. iii. p. 178, 179, l. xi. p. 337. The entire work, of which some curious extracts may be found in Photius, (cod. xxxvi. p. 9, 10, edit. Hoeschel,) Thevenot, (in the 1st part of his Relation des Voyages, &c.,) and Fabricius, (Bibliot. Graec. l. iii. c. 25, tom. ii. p. 603-617,) has been published by Father Montfaucon at Paris, 1707, in the Nova Collectio Patrum, (tom. ii. p. 113--346.) It was the design of the author to confute the impious heresy of those who maintained that the earth is a globe, and not a flat, oblong table, as it is represented in the Scriptures, (l. ii. p. 138.) But the nonsense of the monk is mingled with the practical knowledge of the traveller, who performed his voyage A.D. 522, and published his book at Alexandria, A.D. 547, (l. ii. p. 140, 141. Montfaucon, Praefat. c. 2.) The Nestorianism of Cosmas, unknown to his learned editor, was detected by La Croze, (Christianisme des Indes, tom. i. p. 40--55,) and is confirmed by Assemanni, (Bibliot. Orient. tom. iv. p. 605, 606.)]


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