"Joy, my dearest," he cried; "you are free! We will leave this loathsome country by the first vessel. I have seen the magistrates already."
The colour came into her wan face, she clasped her hands together, and looked earnestly at Aristo. He proceeded to explain the process of liberation. She would not be called on to sacrifice, but must sign a writing to the effect that she had done so, and there would be an end of the whole matter. On the first statement she saw no difficulty in the proposal, and started up in animation. Presently her countenance fell; how could she say that she had done what it was treason to her inward Guide to do? What was the difference between acknowledging a blasphemy by a signature or by incense? She smiled sorrowfully at him, shook her head, and lay down again upon her rushes. She had anticipated the Church's judgment on the case of the Libellatici.
Aristo could not at first believe he heard aright, that she refused to be saved by what seemed to him a matter of legal form; and his anger grew so high as to eclipse and to shake his affection. "Lost girl," he cried, "I abandon you to the Furies!" and he shook his clenched hand at her. He turned away, and said he would never see her again, and he kept his word. He never came again. He took refuge, with less restraint than was usual to him, in such pleasures as the city could supply, and strove to drive his sister from his mind by dissipation. He mixed in the games of the Campus Martius under the shadow of the mountain; took part with the revellers in the Forum, and ended the evening at the Thermae. Sometimes the image of dear Callista, as once she looked, would rush into his mind with a force which would not be denied, and he would weep for a whole night.
At length he determined to destroy himself, after the example of so many great men. He gave a sumptuous entertainment, expending his means upon it, and invited his friends to partake of it. It passed off with great gaiety; nothing was wanting to make it equal to an occasion so special and singular. He disclosed to his guests his purpose, and they applauded; the last libations were made—the revellers departed—the lights were extinguished. Aristo disappeared that night: Sicca never saw him again. After some time it was found that he was at Carthage, and he had been provident enough to take with him some of his best working tools, and some specimens of his own and poor Callista's skill.
Strange to say, Jucundus proved a truer friend to the poor girl than her brother. In spite of his selfishness and hatred of Christians, he was considerably affected as her case got more and more serious, and it became evident that only one answer could be returned to the magistrates from Carthage. He was quite easy about Agellius, who had, as he considered, successfully made off with himself, and he was reconciled to the thought of never seeing him again. Had it not been for this, one might have fancied that some lurking anxiety about the fate of his nephew might have kept alive the fidget which Callista's dismal situation gave him, for the philosopher tells us, that pity always has something in it of self; but, under the circumstances, it would be rash judgment to have any such suspicion of his motives. He was not a cruel man: even the "hoary-headed Fabian," or Cyprian, or others whom he so roundly abused, would have found, when it came to the point, that his bluster was his worst weapon against them; at any rate he had enough of the "milk of human kindness" to feel considerable distress about that idiotic Callista.
Yet what could he do? He might as well stop the passage of the sun, as the movements of mighty Rome, and a rescript would be coming to a certainty in due time from Carthage, and would just say one thing, which would forthwith be passing into the region of fact. He had no one to consult, and to tell the truth, Callista's fate was more than acquiesced in by the public of Sicca. Her death seemed a solution of various perplexities and troubles into which the edict had brought them; it would be purchasing the praise of loyalty cheaply. Moreover, there were sets of men actually hostile to her and her brother; the companies of statuaries, lapidaries, and goldsmiths, were jealous of foreign artists like them, who showed contempt for Africa, and who were acquainted, or rather intimate, with many of the higher classes, and even high personages in the place. Well, but could not some of those great people help her now? His mind glanced towards Calphurnius, whom he had heard of as in some way or other protecting her on the evening of the riot, and to him he determined to betake himself.
Calphurnius and the soldiery were still in high dudgeon with the populace of Sicca, displeased with the magistrates, and full of sympathy for Callista. Jucundus opened his mind fully to the tribune, and persuaded him to take him to Septimius, his military superior, and in the presence of the latter many good words were uttered both by Calphurnius and Jucundus. Jucundus gave it as his opinion that it was a very great mistake to strike at any but the leaders of the Christian sect; he quoted the story of King Tarquin and the poppies, and assured the great man that it was what he had always said and always prophesied, and that, depend upon it, it was a great mistake not to catch Cyprianus.
"The strong arm of the law," he said, "should not, on the other hand, be put forth against such butterflies as this Callista, a girl who, he knew from her brother, had not yet seen eighteen summers. What harm could such a poor helpless thing possibly do? She could not even defend herself, much less attack anybody else. No," he continued, "your proper policy with these absurd people is a smiling face and an open hand. Recollect the fable of the sun and the wind; which made the traveller lay aside his cloak? Do you fall in with some sour-visaged, stiff-backed worshipper of the Furies? fill his cup for him, crown his head with flowers, bring in the flute-women. Observe him—he relaxes; a smile spreads on his countenance; he laughs at a jest; 'captus est; habet:' he pours a libation. Great Jove has conquered! he is loyal to Rome; what can you desire more? But beat him, kick him, starve him, turn him out of doors; and you have a natural enemy to do you a mischief whenever he can."
Calphurnius took his own line, and a simple one. "If it was some vile slave or scoundrel African," he said, "no harm would have been done; but, by Jupiter Tonans, it's a Greek girl, who sings like a Muse, dances like a Grace, and spouts verses like Minerva. 'Twould be sacrilege to touch a hair of her head; and we forsooth are to let these cowardly dogs of magistrates entrap Fortunianus at Carthage into this solecism."
Septimius said nothing, as became a man in office; but he came to an understanding with his visitors. It was plain that the Duumvirs of Sicca had no legal custody of Callista; in a criminal matter she might seem to fall under the jurisdiction of the military; and Calphurnius gained leave to claim his right at the proper moment. The rest of his plan the tribune kept to himself, nor did Septimius wish to know it. He intended to march a guard into the prison shortly before Callista was brought out for execution, and then to make it believed that she had died under the horrors of the Barathrum. The corpse of another woman could without difficulty be found to be her representative, and she herself would be carried off to the camp.
Meanwhile, to return to the prisoner herself, what was the consolation, what the occupation of Callista in this waiting time, ere the Proconsul had sent his answer? Strange to say, and, we suppose, from a sinful waywardness in her, she had, up to this moment, neglected to avail herself of a treasure, which by a rare favour had been put into her possession. A small parchment, carefully written, elaborately adorned, lay in her bosom, which might already have been the remedy of many a perplexity, many a woe. It is difficult to say under what feelings she had been reluctant to open the Holy Gospel, which Caecilius had intrusted to her care. Whether she was so low and despondent that she could not make the effort, or whether she feared to convince herself further, or whether she professed to be waiting for some calmer time, as if that were possible, or whether her unwillingness was that which makes sick people so averse to eating, or to remedies which they know would be useful to them, cannot well be determined; but there are many of us who may be able, from parallel instances of infirmity, to enter into that state of mind, which led her at least to procrastinate what she might do any minute. However, now left absolutely to herself, Aristo gone, and the answer of the government to the magistracy not having yet come, she recurred to the parchment, and to the Bishop's words, which ran, "Here you will see who it is we love," or language to that effect. It was tightly lodged under her girdle, and so had escaped in the confusion of that terrible evening. She opened it at length and read.
It was the writing of a provincial Greek; elegant, however, and marked with that simplicity which was to her taste the elementary idea of a classic author. It was addressed to one Theophilus, and professed to be a carefully digested and verified account of events which had been already attempted by others. She read a few paragraphs, and became interested, and in no long time she was absorbed in the volume. When she had once taken it up, she did not lay it down. Even at other times she would have prized it, but now, when she was so desolate and lonely, it was simply a gift from an unseen world. It opened a view of a new state and community of beings, which only seemed too beautiful to be possible. But not into a new state of things alone, but into the presence of One who was simply distinct and removed from anything that she had, in her most imaginative moments, ever depicted to her mind as ideal perfection. Here was that to which her intellect tended, though that intellect could not frame it. It could approve and acknowledge, when set before it, what it could not originate. Here was He who spoke to her in her conscience; whose Voice she heard, whose Person she was seeking for. Here was He who kindled a warmth on the cheek of both Chione and Agellius. That image sank deep into her; she felt it to be a reality. She said to herself, "This is no poet's dream; it is the delineation of a real individual. There is too much truth and nature, and life and exactness about it, to be anything else." Yet she shrank from it; it made her feel her own difference from it, and a feeling of humiliation came upon her mind, such as she never had had before. She began to despise herself more thoroughly day by day; yet she recollected various passages in the history which reassured her amid her self-abasement, especially that of His tenderness and love for the poor girl at the feast, who would anoint His feet; and the full tears stood in her eyes, and she fancied she was that sinful child, and that He did not repel her.
O what a new world of thought she had entered! it occupied her mind from its very novelty. Everything looked dull and dim by the side of it; her brother had ever been dinning into her ears that maxim of the heathen, "Enjoy the present, trust nothing to the future." She indeed could not enjoy the present with that relish which he wished, and she had not any trust in the future either; but this volume spoke a different doctrine. There she learned the very opposite to what Aristo taught—viz., that the present must be sacrificed for the future; that what is seen must give way to what is believed. Nay, more, she drank in the teaching which at first seemed so paradoxical, that even present happiness and present greatness lie in relinquishing what at first sight seems to promise them; that the way to true pleasure is, not through self-indulgence, but through mortification; that the way to power is weakness, the way to success failure, the way to wisdom foolishness, the way to glory dishonour. She saw that there was a higher beauty than that which the order and harmony of the natural world revealed, and a deeper peace and calm than that which the exercise, whether of the intellect or of the purest human affection, can supply. She now began to understand that strange, unearthly composure, which had struck her in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius; she understood that they were detached from the world, not because they had not the possession, nor the natural love of its gifts, but because they possessed a higher blessing already, which they loved above everything else. Thus, by degrees, Callista came to walk by a new philosophy; and had ideas, and principles, and a sense of relations and aims, and a susceptibility of arguments, to which before she was an utter stranger. Life and death, action and suffering, fortunes and abilities, all had now a new meaning and application. As the skies speak differently to the philosopher and the peasant, as a book of poems to the imaginative and to the cold and narrow intellect, so now she saw her being, her history, her present condition, her future, in a new light, which no one else could share with her. But the ruling sovereign thought of the whole was He, who exemplified all this wonderful philosophy in Himself.
There were those, however, whom Callista could understand, and who could understand her; there were those who, while Aristo, Cornelius, Jucundus, and Polemo were moving in her behalf, were interesting themselves also in her, and in a more effectual way. Agellius had joined Caecilius, and, if in no other way, by his mouth came to the latter and his companions the news of her imprisonment. On the morning that Agellius had been so strangely let out of confinement by his brother, and found himself seated at the street-door, with his tunic on his arm and his boots on the ground before him, his first business was to recollect where he was, and to dispose of those articles of dress according to their respective uses. What should he do with himself, was of course his second thought. He could not stay there long without encountering the early risers of Sicca, the gates being already open. To attempt to find out where Callista was, and then to see her or rescue her, would have ended at once in his own capture. To go to his own farm would have been nearly as dangerous, and would have had less meaning. Caecilius too had said, that they were not long to be separated, and had given him directions for finding him.
Immediately then he made his way to one of the eastern gates, which led to Thibursicumbur. There was indeed no time to be lost, as he soon had indications; he met several men who knew him by sight, and one of the apparitors of the Duumviri, who happily did not. An apostate Christian, whose zeal for the government was notorious, passed him and looked back after him. However, he would soon be out of pursuit, if he had the start of them until the sun got round the mountains he was seeking. He walked on through a series of rocky and barren hills, till he got some way past the second milestone. Before he had reached the third he had entered a defile in the mountains. Perpendicular rocks rose on each side of him, and the level road, reaching from rock to rock, was not above thirty feet across. He felt that if he was pursued here, there was no escape. The third milestone passed, he came to the country road; he pursued it, counting out his thousand steps, as Caecilius had instructed him. By this time it had left the stony bottom, and was rising up the side of the precipice. Brushwood and dwarf pines covered it, mingled with a few olives and caroubas. He said out his seven pater nosters as he walked, and then looked around. He had just passed a goatherd, and they looked hard at each other. Agellius wished him good morning.
"You are wishing a kid for Bacchus, sir," said the man to him as he was running his eye over the goats. On Agellius answering in the negative, he said in a clownish way, "He who does not sacrifice to Bacchus does not sacrifice goats."
Agellius, bearing in mind Caecilius's directions, saw of course there was something in the words which did not meet the ear, and answered carelessly, "He who does not sacrifice, does not sacrifice to Bacchus."
"True," said the man, "but perhaps you prefer a lamb for a sacrifice."
Agellius replied, "If it is the right one; but the one I mean was slain long since."
The man, without any change of manner, went on to say that there was an acquaintance of his not far up the rock, who could perhaps satisfy him on the point. He said, "Follow those wild olives, though the path seems broken, and you will come to him at the nineteenth."
Agellius set out, and never was path so untrue to its own threats. It seemed ending in abrupt cliffs every turn, but never fulfilled the anticipation; that is, while he kept to the olive-trees. After ascending what was rather a flight of marble steps, washed and polished by the winter torrents, than a series of crags, he fulfilled the number of trees, and looked round at the man sitting under it. O the joy and surprise! it was his old servant Aspar.
"You are safe, then, Aspar," he said, "and I find you here. O what a tender Providence!"
"I have taken my stand here, master," returned Aspar, "day after day, since I got here, in hopes of seeing you. I could not get back to you from Jucundus's that dreadful morning, and so I made my way here. Your uncle sent for you in my presence, but at the time I did not know what it meant. I was able to escape."
"And now for Caecilius," said Agellius.
Behind the olive-tree a torrent's bed descended; the descent being so easy, and yet so natural, that art had evidently interfered with nature, yet concealed its interference. After tracing it some yards, they came to a chasm on the opposite side; and, passing through it, Agellius soon found himself, to his surprise, on a bleak open hill, to which the huge mountain formed merely a sort of facade. Its surface was half rock, half moor, and it was surrounded by precipices. It was such a place as some hermit of the middle ages might have chosen for his solitude. The two walked briskly across it, and at length came to a low, broad yawning opening, branching out into several passages which, if pursued, would have been found to end in nothing. Aspar, however, made straight for what appeared a dead wall of rock, in which, on his making a signal, a door, skilfully hidden, was opened from within, and was shut behind them by the porter. They now stood in a gallery running into the mountain. It was very long, and a stream of cold air came along it. Aspar told him that at the extremity of it they should find Caecilius.
Agellius was indeed in the vestibule of a remarkable specimen of those caves which had been used for religious purposes, first by the aborigines of the country, then by the Phoenician colonists, and in the centuries which had just passed, for the concealment of the Christians. The passage along which they were proceeding might itself be fitly called a cave, but still it was only one of several natural subterraneans, of different shapes, and opening into each other. Some of them lay along the face of a ravine, from which they received light and air; and here in one place there were indications of a fortified front. They were perfectly dry, though the water had at some remote period filtered through the roof, and had formed pendants and pillars of semi-transparent stalactite, of great beauty. It was another and singular advantage that a particular spot in one of the caverns, which bordered on the ravine, was the focus of an immense ear or whispering-gallery, such, that whatever took place in the public road in which the ravine terminated, could be distinctly heard there, and thus they were always kept on guard against the attack of an enemy, if expected. Had either Agellius or Aspar been curious about such a matter, the latter might have pointed out the place where a Punic altar once had been discovered, with a sort of tumulus of bones of mice near at hand, that animal coming into the list of victims in the Phoenician worship.
But the two Christians were engaged, as they first halted, and then walked along the corridor, in other thoughts, than in asking and answering questions about the history of the place of refuge in which they found themselves. We have already remarked on the central position of Sicca for the purpose of missionary work and of retreat in persecution; such a dwelling in the rocks did but increase its advantageousness, and in consequence at this moment many Christians had availed themselves of it. It is an English proverb that three removes are as bad as a fire; and so great were the perils and the hardships of flight in those times, that it was a question, in a merely earthly point of view, whether the risk of being apprehended at home was not a far less evil than the evils which were certain upon leaving it. There was nothing, then, ungenerous in the ecclesiastical rule that they alone should flee, in persecution, who were marked out for death, if they stayed. The laity, private families, and the priests, on whose ministrations they depended, remained; bishops, deacons, and what may be called the staff of the episcopate, notaries, messengers, seminarists, and ascetics, would disappear from the scene of persecution.
Agellius learned from his slave that the cave had been known to him from the time he was a boy, and that it was one of the secrets which all who shared it religiously observed. Holy men, it seemed, had had intimations of the present trial for several years past; and it was the full persuasion of the heads of the Church, that, though it might blow over for a short time, it would recur at intervals for many years, ending in a visitation so heavy and long, that the times of Antichrist would seem to have arrived. However, the impression upon their minds was, that then would come a millennium, or, in some sort, a reign of the saints upon the earth. That, however, was a date which even Agellius himself, young as he was, would not be likely to reach; indeed, who could expect to escape, who might not hope to gain, a Martyr's death, in the interval, in the series of assaults, between which Christianity had to run the gauntlet? Aspar said, moreover, that some martyrs lay in the chapels within, and that various confessors had ended their days there. At the present time there were representatives, there collected, of a large portion of the Churches of the Proconsulate. A post, so to call it, went between them and Carthage every week, and his friend and father, the bishop of that city, was especially busy in correspondence.
Moreover, Agellius learned from him that they had many partisans, well-wishers, and sympathizers, about the country, whom no one suspected; the families of parents who had conformed to the established worship, nay, sometimes the apostates themselves, and that this was the case in Sicca as well as elsewhere. For himself, old and ignorant as he was, the persecution had proved to him an education. He had been brought near great men, and some who, he was confident, would be martyrs in the event. He had learned a great deal about his religion which he did not know before, and had drunk in the spirit of Christianity, with a fulness which he trusted would not turn to his ultimate condemnation. He now too had a consciousness of the size and populousness of the Church, of her diffusion, of the promises made to her, of the essential necessity of what seemed to be misfortune, of the episcopal regimen, and of the power and solidity of the see of Peter afar off in Rome, all which knowledge had made him quite another being. We have put all this into finer language than the good old man used himself, and we have grouped it more exactly, but this is what his words would come to, when explained.
Coming down to sublunary matters, Aspar said the cave was well provisioned; they had bread, oil, figs, dried grapes, and wine. They had vessels and vestments for the Holy Sacrifice. Their serious want was a dearth of water at that season, but they relied on Divine Providence to give them by miracle, if in no other way, a supply. The place was piercingly cold too in the winter.
By this time they had gained the end of the long gallery, and passed through a second apartment, when suddenly the sounds of the ecclesiastical chant burst on the ear of Agellius. How strange, how transporting to him! he was almost for the first time coming home to his father's house, though he had been a Christian from a child, and never, as he trusted, to leave it, now that it was found. He did not know how to behave himself, nor indeed where to go. Aspar conducted him into the seats set apart for the faithful; he knelt down and burst into tears.
It was approaching the third hour, the hour at which the Paraclete originally descended upon the Apostles, and which, when times of persecution were passed, was appointed in the West for the solemn mass of the day. In that early age, indeed, the time of the solemnity was generally midnight, in order to elude observation; but even then such an hour was considered of but temporary arrangement. Pope Telesphorus is said to have prescribed the hour, afterwards in use, as early even as the second century; and in a place of such quiet and security as the cavern in which we just now find ourselves, there was no reason why it should not be selected. At the lower end of the chapel was a rail extending across it, and open in the middle, where its two portions turned up at right angles on each side towards the altar. The enclosure thus made was the place proper for the faithful, into which Agellius had been introduced, and about fifty persons were collected about him. Where the two side-rails which ran up the chapel ceased, there was a broad step; and upon it two pulpits, one on each side. Then came a second elevation, carrying the eye on to the extremity of the upper end.
In the middle of the wall at that upper end is a recess, occupied by a tomb. On the front of it is written the name of some glorious champion of the faith who lies there. It is one of the first bishops of Sicca, and the inscription attests that he slept in the Lord under the Emperor Antoninus. Over the sacred relics is a slab, and on the slab the Divine Mysteries are now to be celebrated. At the back is a painting on the wall, very similar to that in Agellius's cottage. The ever-blessed immaculate Mother of God is exercising her office as the Advocate of sinners, standing by the sacrifice as she stood at the cross itself, and offering up and applying its infinite merits and incommunicable virtue in union with priest and people. So instinctive in the Christian mind is the principle of decoration, as it may be called, that even in times of suffering, and places of banishment, we see it brought into exercise. Not only is the arch which overspans the altar ornamented with an arabesque pattern, but the roof or vault is coloured with paintings. Our Lord is in the centre, with two figures of Moses on each side, on the right unloosing his sandals, on the left striking the rock. Between the centre figure and the altar may be seen the raising of Lazarus; in the opposite partition the healing of the paralytic; at the four angles are men and women alternately in the attitude of prayer.
At this time the altar-stone was covered with a rich crimson silk, with figures of St. Peter and St. Paul worked in gold upon it, the gift of a pious lady of Carthage. Beyond the altar, but not touching it, was a cross; and on one side of the altar a sort of basin or piscina cut in the rock, with a linen cloth hanging up against it. There were no candles upon the altar itself, but wax lights fixed into silver stands were placed at intervals along the edge of the presbytery or elevation.
The mass was in behalf of the confessors for the faith then in prison in Carthage; and the sacred ministers, some half-hour after Agellius's entrance, made their appearance. Their vestments already varied somewhat from the ordinary garments of the day, and bespoke antiquity; and, though not so simply sui generis as they are now, they were so far special, that they were never used on any other occasion, but were reserved for the sacred service. The neck was bare, the amice being as yet unknown; instead of the stole was what was called the orarium, a sort of handkerchief resting on the shoulders, and falling down on each side. The alb had been the inner garment, or camisium, which in civil use was retained at night when the other garments were thrown off; and, as at the present day, it was confined round the waist by a zone or girdle. The maniple was a napkin, supplying the place of a handkerchief; and the chasuble was an ample paenula, such as was worn by the judges, a cloak enveloping the whole person round, when spread out, with an opening in the centre, through which the head might pass. The deacon's dalmatic was much longer than it is now, and the subdeacon's tunicle resembled the alb. All the vestments were of the purest white.
The mass began by the bishop giving his blessing; and then the Lector, a man of venerable age, taking the roll called Lectionarium, and proceeding to a pulpit, read the Prophets to the people, much in the way observed among ourselves still on holy Saturday and the vigil of Pentecost. These being finished, the people chanted the first verse of the Gloria Patri, after which the clergy alternated with the people the Kyrie, pretty much as the custom is now.
Here a fresh roll was brought to the Lector, then or afterwards called Apostolus, from which he read one of the canonical epistles. A psalm followed, which was sung by the people; and, after this, the Lector received the Evangeliarium, and read a portion of the Gospel, at which lights were lighted, and the people stood. When he had finished, the Lector opened the roll wide, and, turning round, presented it to bishop, clergy, and people to kiss.
The deacon then cried out, "Ite in pace, catechumeni," "Depart in peace, catechumens;" and then the kiss of peace was passed round, and the people began to sing some psalms or hymns. While they were so engaged, the deacon received from the acolyte the sindon, or corporal, which was of the length of the altar, and perhaps of greater breadth, and spread it upon the sacred table. Next was placed on the sindon the oblata, that is, the small loaves, according to the number of communicants, with the paten, which was large, and a gold chalice, duly prepared. And then the sindon, or corporal, was turned back over them, to cover them as a pall.
The celebrant then advanced: he stood at the further side of the altar, where the candles are now, with his face to the people, and then began the holy sacrifice. First he incensed the oblata, that is, the loaves and chalice, as an acknowledgment of God's sovereign dominion, and as a token of uplifted prayer to Him. Then the roll of prayers was brought him, while the deacon began what is sometimes called the bidding prayer, being a catalogue of the various subjects for which intercession is to be made, after the manner of the Oremus dilectissimi, now used on Good Friday. This catalogue included all conditions of men, the conversion of the world, the exaltation of Holy Church, the maintenance of the Roman empire, the due ripening and gathering of the fruits of the earth, and other spiritual and temporal blessings,—subjects very much the same as those which are now called the Pope's intentions. The prayers ended with a special reference to those present, that they might persevere in the Lord even to the end. And then the priest began the Sursum corda, and said the Sanctus.
The Canon or Actio seems to have run, in all but a few words, as it does now, and the solemn words of consecration were said secretly. Great stress was laid on the Lord's prayer, which in one sense terminated the function. It was said aloud by the people, and when they said, "Forgive us our trespasses," they beat their breasts.
It is not wonderful that Agellius, assisting for almost the first time at this wonderful solemnity, should have noted everything as it occurred; and we must be considered as giving our account of it from his mouth.
It needs not to enlarge on the joy of the meeting which followed between Caecilius and his young penitent. "O my father," he said, "I come to thee, never to leave thee, to be thy dutiful servant, and to be trained by thee after the pattern of Him who made thee what thou art. Wonderful things have happened; Callista is in prison on the charge of Christianity; I was in a sort of prison myself, or what was worse for my soul; and Juba, my brother, in the strangest of ways, has this morning let me out. Shall she not be saved, my father, in God's own way, as well as I? At least we can all pray for her; but surely we can do more—so precious a soul must not be left to herself and the world. If she has the trials, she may claim the blessings of a Christian. Is she to go back to heathenism? Is she, alas! to suffer without baptism? Shall we not hazard death to bestow on her that grace?"
We have already had occasion to mention that there were many secret well-wishers, or at least protectors, of Christians, as in the world at large, so also in Sicca. There were many persons who had received benefits from their charity, and had experience of the scandalous falsehood of the charges now circulated against them. Others would feel a generosity towards a cruelly persecuted body; others, utterly dead to the subject of religion, or rather believing all religions to be impostures, would not allow it to be assumed that only one was worthy of bad treatment. Others liked what they heard of the religion itself, and thought there was truth in it, though it had no claim to a monopoly of truth. Others felt it to be true, but shrank from the consequences of openly embracing it. Others, who had apostatised through fear of the executioner, intended to come back to it at the last. It must be added that in the African Church confessors in prison had, or were considered to have, the remarkable privilege of gaining the public forgiveness of the Church for those who had lapsed; it was an object, then, for all those who, being in that miserable case, wished some day to be restored, to gain their promise of assistance, or their good-will. To these reasons was added, in Callista's case, the interest which naturally attached to a woman, young and defenceless.
The burning sun of Africa is at the height of its power. The population is prostrated by heat, by scarcity, by pestilence, and by the decimation which their riot brought upon them. They care neither for Christianity, nor for anything else just now. They lie in the porticoes, in the caverns under the city, in the baths. They are more alive at night. The apparitor, in whose dwelling Callista was lodged, who was himself once a Christian, lies in the shade of the great doorway, into which his rooms open, asleep, or stupefied. Two men make their appearance about two hours before sunset, and demand admittance to Callista. The jailor asks if they are not the two Greeks, her brother and the rhetorician, who had visited her before. The junior of the strangers drops a purse heavy with coin into his lap, and passes on with his companion. When the mind is intent on great subjects or aims, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, lose their power of enfeebling it; thus perhaps we must account for the energy now displayed both by the two ecclesiastics and by Callista herself.
She too thought it was the unwelcome philosopher come again; she gave a start and a cry of delight when she saw it was Caecilius. "My father," she said, "I want to be a Christian, if I may; He came to save the lost sheep. I have learnt such things from this book—let me give it you while I can. I am not long for this world. Give me Him who spoke so kindly to that woman. Take from me my load of sin, and then I will gladly go." She knelt at his feet, and gave the roll of parchment into his hand.
"Rise and sit," he answered. "Let us think calmly over the matter."
"I am ready," she insisted. "Deny me not my wish, when time is so urgent—if I may have it."
"Sit down calmly," he said again; "I am not refusing you, but I wish to know about you." He could hardly keep from tears, of pain, or of joy, or of both, when he saw the great change which trial had wrought in her. What touched him most was the utter disappearance of that majesty of mien, which once was hers, a gift, so beautiful, so unsuitable to fallen man. There was instead of it a frank humility, a simplicity without concealment, an unresisting meekness, which seemed as if it would enable her, if trampled on, to smile and to kiss the feet that insulted her. She had lost every vestige of what the world worships under the titles of proper pride and self-respect. Callista was now living, not in the thought of herself, but of Another.
"God has been very good to you," he continued; "but in the volume you have returned to me He bids us 'reckon the charges.' Can you drink of His chalice? Recollect what is before you."
She still continued kneeling, with a touching earnestness of face and demeanour, and with her hands crossed upon her breast.
"I have reckoned," she replied; "heaven and hell: I prefer heaven."
"You are on earth," said Caecilius; "not in heaven or hell. You must bear the pangs of earth before you drink the blessedness of heaven."
"He has given me the firm purpose," she said, "to gain heaven, to escape hell; and He will give me too the power."
"Ah, Callista!" he answered, in a voice broken with distress, "you know not what you will have to bear, if you join yourself to Him."
"He has done great things for me already; I am wonderfully changed; I am not what I was. He will do more still."
"Alas, my child!" said Caecilius, "that feeble frame, ah! how will it bear the strong iron, or the keen flame, or the ruthless beast? My child, what do I feel, who am free, thus handing you over to be the sport of the evil one?"
"Father, I have chosen Him," she answered, "not hastily, but on deliberation. I believe Him most absolutely. Keep me not from Him; give Him to me, if I may ask it; give me my Love."
Presently she added, "I have never forgotten those words of yours since you used them; 'Amor meus crucifixus est.' "
She began again, "I will be a Christian; give me my place among them. Give me my place at the feet of Jesus, Son of Mary, my God. I wish to love Him. I think I can love Him. Make me His."
"He has loved you from eternity," said Caecilius, "and, therefore, you are now beginning to love Him."
She covered her eyes with her hands, and remained in profound meditation. "I am very ignorant—very sinful," she said at length; "but one thing I know, that there is but One to love in the whole world, and I wish to love him. I surrender myself to Him, if He will take me; and He shall teach me about Himself."
"The angry multitude, their fierce voices, the brutal executioner, the prison, the torture, the slow, painful death." He was speaking, not to her, but to himself. She was calm, in spite of her fervour; but he could not contain himself. His heart melted within him; he felt like Abraham, lifting up his hand to slay his child.
"Time passes," she said; "what may happen? you may be discovered. But, perhaps," she added, suddenly changing her tone, "it is a matter of long initiation. Woe is me!"
"We must gird ourselves to the work, Victor," he said to his deacon who was with him. Caecilius fell back and sat down, and Victor came forward. He formally instructed her so far as the circumstances allowed. Not for baptism only, but for confirmation, and Holy Eucharist; for Caecilius determined to give her all three sacraments at once.
It was a sight for angels to look down upon, and they did; when the poor child, rich in this world's gifts, but poor in those of eternity, knelt down to receive that sacred stream upon her brow, which fell upon her with almost sensible sweetness, and suddenly produced a serenity different in kind from anything she had ever before even had the power of conceiving.
The bishop gave her confirmation, and then the Holy Eucharist. It was her first and last communion; in a few days she renewed it, or rather completed it, under the very Face and Form of Him whom she now believed without seeing.
"Farewell, my dearest of children," said Caecilius, "till the hour when we both meet before the throne of God. A few sharp pangs which you can count and measure, and all will be well. You will be carried through joyously, and like a conqueror. I know it. You could face the prospect before you were a Christian, and you will be equal to the actual trial, now that you are."
"Never fear me, father," she said in a clear, low voice. The bishop and his deacon left the prison.
The sun had all but set, when Caecilius and Victor passed the city gate; and it was more than twilight as they crossed the wild hills leading to the precipitous pass. Evil men were not their only peril in this work of charity. They were also in danger from wild beasts in these lone wastes, and, the heathen would have added, from bad spirits. Bad spirits Caecilius recognised too; but he would not have granted that they were perilous. The two went forward, saying prayers lowly, and singing psalms, when a sudden cry was heard, and a strong tall form rushed past them. It might be some robber of the wild, or dangerous outcast, or savage fanatic, who knew and hated their religion; however, while they stopped and looked, he had come, and he was gone. But he came again, more slowly; and from his remarkable shape Caecilius saw that it was the brother of Agellius. He said, "Juba;" Juba started back, and stood at a distance. Caecilius held out his hand, and called him on, again mentioning his name. The poor fellow came nearer: Caecilius's day's work was not at an end.
Since we last heard of him, Juba had dwelt in the mountainous tract over which the two Christians were now passing; roaming to and fro, or beating himself in idle fury against the adamantine rocks, and fighting with the stern necessity of the elements. How he was sustained can hardly be guessed, unless the impulse, which led him on the first accession of his fearful malady, to fly upon the beasts of the desert, served him here also. Roots too and fruits were scattered over the wild; and still more so in the ravines, wherever any quantity of soil had been accumulated. Alas! had the daylight lasted, in him too, as well as in Callista, Caecilius would have found changes, but of a very different nature; yet even in him he would have seen a change for the better, for that old awful expression of pride and defiance was gone. What was the use of parading a self-will, which every moment of his life belied? His actions, his words, his hands, his lips, his feet, his place of abode, his daily course, were in the dominion of another, who inexorably ruled him. It was not the gentle influence which draws and persuades; it was not the power which can be propitiated by prayer; it was a tyranny which acted without reaction, energetic as mind, and impenetrable as matter.
"Juba," said Caecilius a third time. The maniac came nearer, and then again suddenly retreated. He stood at a short distance from Caecilius, as if afraid to come on, and cried out, tossing his hands wildly, "Away, black hypocrite, come not near me! Away! hound of a priest, cross not my path, lest I tear you to shreds!" Such visitations were no novelties to Caecilius; he raised his hand and made the sign of the cross, then he said, "Come." Juba advanced, shrieked, and used some terrible words, and rushed upon Caecilius, as if he would treat him as he had treated the savage wolf. "Come?" he cried, "yes, I come!" and Victor ran up, fearing his teeth would be in Caecilius's throat, if he delayed longer. The latter stood his ground, quailing neither in eye nor in limb; he made the sign of the cross a second time; and in spite of a manifest antagonism within him, the stricken youth, with horrid cries, came dancing after him.
Thus they proceeded, with some signs of insurrection from time to time on Juba's part, but with a successful reduction of it as often on the part of Caecilius, till they got to the ascent by the olive-trees, where careful walking was necessary. Then Caecilius turned round, and beckoned him. He came. He said, "Kneel down." He knelt down. Caecilius put his hand on his head, saying to him, "Follow me close and without any disturbance." The three pursued their journey, and all arrived safe at the cavern. There Caecilius gave Juba in charge to Romanus, who had been intrusted with the energumens at Carthage.
THE IMPERIAL RESCRIPT.
Had the imperial edict been acted on by the magistrates of Sicca, without a reference to Carthage, it is not easy to suppose that Callista would have persevered in her refusal to commit the act of idolatry required of her. But, to speak of second causes, the hesitation of her judges was her salvation. Once baptised, there was no reason she should desire any further delay of her conflict. Come it must, and come it did. While Caecilius was placing her beyond danger, the rescript of the Proconsul had been received at the office of the Duumvirs.
The absence of the Proconsul from Carthage had been the cause of the delay; and then, some investigation was needed to understand the relation of Callista's seizure to the riot on the one hand, and to the strong act of the military on the other, in quelling it. It was thought that something or other might come to light to account for the anomalous and unaccountable position which she had taken up. The imperial government considered it had now a clear view of her case, and its orders were distinct and peremptory. Christianity was to cease to be. It was a subtle foe, sapping the vitals of the state. Rome must perish, or this illegal association. Such evasions as Callista had used were but instances of its craft. Its treason lay, not in its being Christianity, but in its not sacrificing to the gods of Rome. Callista was but throwing dust in their eyes. There had been no blow struck against the treason in inland Africa. Women had often been the most dangerous of conspirators. As she was a stranger, there was more probability of her connection with secret societies, and also less inconvenience in her execution. Whatever happened, she was to be got rid of; but first her resolution was to be broken, for the sake of the example. First, let her be brought before the tribunal and threatened: then thrust into the Tullianum; then put upon the rack, and returned to prison; then scorched over a slow fire; last of all, beheaded, and left for beasts of prey. She would sacrifice ere the last stage was reached. When she had given way, let her be given up to the gladiators. The message ended by saying that the Proconsular Procurator, who came by the same carriages, would preside at the process.
O wisdom of the world! and strength of the world! what are you when matched beside the foolishness and the weakness of the Christian? You are great in resources, manifold in methods, hopeful in prospects; but one thing you have not,—and that is peace. You are always tumultuous, restless, apprehensive. You have nothing you can rely upon. You have no rock under your feet. But the humblest, feeblest Christian has that which is impossible to you. Callista had once felt the misery of maladies akin to yours. She had passed through doubt, anxiety, perplexity, despondency, passion; but now she was in peace. Now she feared the torture or the flame as little as the breeze which arose at nightfall, or the busy chatter of the grasshoppers at the noonday. Nay, rather, she did not think of torture and death at all, but was possessed by a peace which bore her up, as if bodily, on its mighty wings. For hours she remained on her knees, after Caecilius left her: then she lay down on her rushes and slept her last sleep.
She slept sound; she dreamed. She thought she was no longer in Africa, but in her own Greece, more sunny and bright than before; but the inhabitants were gone. Its majestic mountains, its rich plains, its expanse of waters, all silent: no one to converse with, no one to sympathize with. And, as she wandered on and wondered, suddenly its face changed, and its colours were illuminated tenfold by a heavenly glory, and each hue upon the scene was of a beauty she had never known, and seemed strangely to affect all her senses at once, being fragrance and music, as well as light. And there came out of the grottoes and glens and woods, and out of the seas, myriads of bright images, whose forms she could not discern; and these came all around her, and became a sort of scene or landscape, which she could not have described in words, as if it were a world of spirits, not of matter. And as she gazed, she thought she saw before her a well-known face, only glorified. She, who had been a slave, now was arrayed more brilliantly than an oriental queen; and she looked at Callista with a smile so sweet, that Callista felt she could but dance to it.
And as she looked more earnestly, doubting whether she should begin or not, the face changed, and now was more marvellous still. It had an innocence in its look, and also a tenderness, which bespoke both Maid and Mother, and so transported Callista, that she must needs advance towards her, out of love and reverence. And the lady seemed to make signs of encouragement: so she began a solemn measure, unlike all dances of earth, with hands and feet, serenely moving on towards what she heard some of them call a great action and a glorious consummation, though she did not know what they meant. At length she was fain to sing as well as dance; and her words were, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" on which another said, "A good beginning of the sacrifice." And when she had come close to this gracious figure, there was a fresh change. The face, the features were the same; but the light of Divinity now seemed to beam through them, and the hair parted, and hung down long on each side of the forehead; and there was a crown of another fashion than the Lady's round about it, made of what looked like thorns. And the palms of the hands were spread out as if towards her, and there were marks of wounds in them. And the vestment had fallen, and there was a deep opening in the side. And as she stood entranced before Him, and motionless, she felt a consciousness that her own palms were pierced like His, and her feet also. And she looked round, and saw the likeness of His face and of His wounds upon all that company. And now they were suddenly moving on, and bearing something or some one, heavenwards; and they too began to sing, and their words seemed to be, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep," ever repeated. They went up through an avenue or long grotto, with torches of diamonds, and amethysts, and sapphires, which lit up its spars and made them sparkle. And she tried to look, but could not discover what they were carrying, till she heard a very piercing cry, which awoke her.
A GOOD CONFESSION.
The cry came from the keeper's wife, whom we have described as kindly disposed to her. She was a Lybo-Phoenician, and spoke a broken Latin; but the language of sympathy is universal, in spite of Babel. "Callista," she exclaimed; "girl, they have sent for you; you are to die. O frightful! worse than a runaway slave,—the torture! Give in. What's the harm? you are so young: those terrible men with the pincers and hot bars!"
Callista sat up, and passed from her vision to her prison. She smiled and said, "I am ready; I am going home." The woman looked almost frightened, and with some shade of disgust and disappointment. She, as others, might have thought it impossible, as it was unaccountable, that when it came to the point Callista would hold out. "She's crazed," she said. "I am ready, mother," Callista said, and she got up. "You have been very good to me," she continued; "I have been saying many prayers for you, while my prayers were of no good, for then He was not mine. But now I have espoused Him, and am going to be married to-day, and He will hear me." The woman stared at her stupidly, as much as to make it evident that if afterwards a change took place in her, as in Callista, that change too, though in so different a soul, must come of something beyond nature. She had something in her hand, and said, "It's useless to give a mad woman like her the packet, which my man has brought me."
Callista took the packet, which was directed to her, and broke the seal. It was from her brother. The little roll of worn parchment opened; a dagger fell out. Some lines were written on the parchment; they were dated Carthage, and ran as follows:—
"Aristo to his dearest Callista. I write through Cornelius. You have not had it in your power to kill me, but you have taken away half my life. For me, I will cherish the other half, for I love life better than death. But you love annihilation; yet, if so, die not like a slave. Die nobly, mindful of your country; I send you the means."
Callista was beyond reflecting on anything around her, except as in a sort of dream. As common men think and speak of heaven, so she now thought and spoke of earth. "I wish Him to kill me, not myself," she said. "I am His victim. My brother! I have no brother, except One, who is calling me."
She was carried to court, and the examination followed. We have already given a specimen of such a process; here it will be sufficient to make use of two documents, different in kind, as far as they go, which have come down to us. The first is an alto-relief, which once was coloured, not first-rate in art or execution, and of the date of the Emperor Constantius, about a century later. It was lately discovered in the course of excavations made at El Kaf, the modern Sicca, on the ruins of a church or Roman basilica, for the building in question seems to have served each purpose successively. In this sculpture the praetorium is represented, and the tribunal of the president in it. The tribunal is a high throne, with wings curving round on each side, making the whole construction extend to almost a semicircle, and it is ascended by steps between the wings. The curule chair is at the top of the steps; and in the middle and above it are purple curtains, reaching down to the platform, drawn back on each side, and when drawn close together running behind the chair, and constituting what was called the secretarium. On one side of the tribunal is a table covered with carpeting, and looking something like a modern ottoman, only higher, and not level at top; and it has upon it the Book of Mandates, the sign of jurisdiction. The sword too is represented in the sculpture, to show a criminal case is proceeding. The procurator is seated on the chair; he is in purple, and has a gold chain of triple thread. We can also distinguish his lawyers, whether assessors or consiliarii; also his lictors and soldiers. There, too, are the notaries in a line below him; they are writing down the judge's questions and the prisoner's answers: and one of them is turning round to her, as if to make her speak more loudly. She herself is mounted upon a sort of platform, called catasta, like that on which slaves were put up for sale. Two soldiers are by her, who appear to have been dragging her forwards. The executioners are also delineated, naked to the waist, with instruments of torture in their hands.
The second document is a fragment of the Acta Proconsularia of her Passion. If, indeed, it could be trusted to the letter, as containing Callista's answers word for word, it would have a distinctly sacred character, in consequence of our Lord's words, "It shall be given you in that hour what to speak." However, we attach no such special value to this document, since it comes to us through heathen notaries, who may not have been accurate reporters; not to say that before we did so we ought to look very carefully into its genuineness. As it is, we believe it to be as true as any part of our narrative, and not truer. It runs as follows:—
"Cneius Messius Decius Augustus II., and Gratus, Consuls, on the seventh before the Calends of August, in Sicca Veneria, a colony, in the Secretary at the Tribunal, Martianus, procurator, sitting; Callista, a maker of images, was brought up by the Commentariensis on a charge of Christianity, and when she was placed,
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: This folly has been too long; you have made images, and now you will not worship them.
"CALLISTA answered: For I have found my true Love, whom before I knew not.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Your true love is, I ween, your last love; for all were true in their time.
"CALLISTA said: I worship my true Love, who is the Only True; and He is the Son of God, and I know none but Him.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You will not worship the gods, but you are willing to love their sons.
"CALLISTA said: He is the true Son of the True God; and I am His, and He is mine.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Let alone your loves, and swear by the genius of the emperor.
"CALLISTA said: I have but one Lord, the King of kings, the Ruler of all.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, turned to the lictor and said: This folly is madness; take her hand, put incense in it, and hold it over the flame.
"CALLISTA said: You may compel me by your great strength, but my own true Lord and Love is stronger.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You are bewitched; but we must undo the spell. Take her to the Lignum (the prison for criminals).
"CALLISTA said: He has been there before me, and He will come to me there.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: The jailer will see to that. Let her be brought up to-morrow.
"On the day following, Martianus, the procurator, sitting at the tribunal, called up Callista. He said: Honour our lord, and sacrifice to the gods.
"CALLISTA said: Let me alone; I am content with my One and only Lord.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: What? did he come to you in prison, as you hoped?
"CALLISTA said: He came to me amid much pain; and the pain was pleasant, for He came in it.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You have got worn and yellow, and he will leave you.
"CALLISTA said: He loves me the more, for I am beautiful when I am black.
"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Throw her into the Tullianum; perhaps she will find her god there also.
"Then the procurator entered into the Secretary, and drew the veil; and dictated the sentence for the tabella. Then he came out, and the praeco read it:—Callista, a senseless and reprobate woman, is hereby sentenced to be thrown into the Tullianum; then to be stretched on the equuleus; then to be placed on a slow fire; lastly, to be beheaded, and left to the dogs and birds.
"CALLISTA said: Thanks to my Lord and King."
Here the Acta end: and though they seem to want their conclusion, yet they supply nearly every thing which is necessary for our purpose. The one subject on which a comment is needed, is the state prison, which, though so little is said of it in the above Report, is in fact the real medium, as we may call it, for appreciating its information; a few words will suffice for our purpose.
The state prison, then, was arranged on pretty much one and the same plan through the Roman empire, nay, we may say, throughout the ancient world. It was commonly attached to the government buildings, and consisted of two parts. The first was the vestibule, or outward prison, which was a hall, approached from the praetorium, and surrounded by cells, opening into it. The prisoners, who were confined in these cells, had the benefit of the air and light, which the hall admitted. Such was the place of confinement allotted to St. Paul at Caesarea, which is said to be the "praetorium of Herod." And hence, perhaps, it is that, in the touching Passion of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas, St. Perpetua tells us that, when permitted to have her child, though she was in the inner portion, which will next be described, "suddenly the prison seemed to her like the praetorium."
From this vestibule there was a passage into the interior prison, called Robur or Lignum, from the beams of wood, which were the instruments of confinement, or from the character of its floor. It had no window or outlet, except this door, which, when closed, absolutely shut out light and air. Air, indeed, and coolness might be obtained for it by the barathrum, presently to be spoken of, but of what nature we shall then see. The apartment, called Lignum, was the place into which St. Paul and St. Silas were cast at Philippi, before it was known that they were Romans. After scourging them severely, the magistrates, who nevertheless were but the local authorities, and had no proper jurisdiction in criminal cases, "put them in prison, bidding the jailer to keep them carefully; who, on receiving such a command, put them in the inner prison, and fastened them in the lignum." And in the Acts of the Scillitane Martyrs we read of the Proconsul giving sentence, "Let them be thrown into prison, let them be put into the Lignum, till to-morrow."
The utter darkness, the heat, and the stench of this miserable place, in which the inmates were confined day and night, is often dwelt upon by the martyrs and their biographers. "After a few days," says St. Perpetua, "we were taken to the prison, and I was frightened, for I never had known such darkness. O bitter day! the heat was excessive by reason of the crowd there." In the Acts of St. Pionius, and others of Smyrna, we read that the jailers "shut them up in the inner part of the prison, so that, bereaved of all comfort and light, they were forced to sustain extreme torment, from the darkness and stench of the prison." And, in like manner, other martyrs of Africa, about the time of St. Cyprian's martyrdom, that is, eight or ten years later than the date of this story, say, "We were not frightened at the foul darkness of that place; for soon that murky prison was radiant with the brightness of the Spirit. What days, what nights we passed there no words can describe. The torments of that prison no statement can equal."
Yet there was a place of confinement even worse than this. In the floor of this inner prison was a sort of trap-door, or hole, opening into the barathrum, or pit, and called, from the original prison at Rome, the Tullianum. Sometimes prisoners were confined here, sometimes despatched by being cast headlong into it through the opening. It was into this pit at Rome that St. Chrysanthus was cast; and there, and probably in other cities, it was nothing short of the public cesspool.
It may be noticed that the Prophet Jeremiah seems to have had personal acquaintance with Vestibule, Robur, and Barathrum. We read in one place of his being shut up in the "atrium," that is, the vestibule, "of the prison, which was in the house of the king." At another time he is in the "ergastulum," which would seem to be the inner prison. Lastly his enemies let him down by ropes into the lacus or pit, in which "there was no water, but mud."
As to Callista, then, after the first day's examination, she was thrown for nearly twenty-four hours into the stifling Robur, or inner prison. After the sentence, on the second day, she was let down, as the commencement of her punishment, that is, of her martyrdom, into the loathsome Barathrum, lacus, or pit, called Tullianum, there to lie for another twenty hours before she was brought out to the equuleus or rack.
Callista had sighed for the bright and clear atmosphere of Greece, and she was thrown into the Robur and plunged into the Barathrum of Sicca. But in reality, though she called it Greece, she was panting after a better country and a more lasting home, and this country and home she had found. She was now setting out for it.
It was, indeed, no slight marvel that she was not already there. She had been lowered into that pit of death before noon on the day of her second examination, and, excepting some unwholesome bread and water, according to the custom of the prison, had had no food since she came into the custody of the commentariensis the day before. The order came from the magistrates to bring her out earlier in the morning than was intended, or the prison might have really effected that death which Calphurnius had purposed to pretend. When the apparitors attempted to raise her, she neither spoke or moved, nor could well be seen. "Black as Orcus," said one of the fellows, "another torch there! I can't see where she nestles." "There she is, like a bundle of clothes," said another. "Madam gets up late this morning," said a third. "She's used to softer couches," said a fourth. "Ha! ha! 'tis a spoiler of beauty, this hole," said a fifth. "She is the demon of stubbornness, and must be crushed," said the jailer; "she likes it, or she would not choose it." "The plague take the witch," said another; "we shall have better seasons when a few like her are ferreted out."
They got her out like a corpse, and put her on the ground outside the prison. When she still did not move, two of them took her between them on their shoulders and arms, and began to move forward, the instrument of torture preceding her. The fresh air of the morning revived her; she soon sat up. She seemed to drink in life again, and became conscious. "O beautiful Light!" she whispered, "O lovely Light, my light and my life! O my Light and my Life, receive me!" Gradually she became fully alive to all that was going on. She was going to death, and that rather than deny Him who had bought her by His own death. He had suffered for her, and she was to suffer for Him. He had been racked on the Cross, she too was to have her limbs dislocated after His pattern. She scarcely rested on the men's shoulders; and they vowed afterwards that they thought she was going to fly away, vile witch as she was.
"The witch, the witch," the mob screamed out, for she had now come to the place of her conflict. "We'll pay you off for blight and pestilence! Where's our bread, where's the maize and barley, where are the grapes?" And they uttered fierce yells of execration, and seemed disposed to break through the line of apparitors, and to tear her to pieces. Yet, after all, it was not a very hearty uproar, but got up for the occasion. The populace had spent their force, not to say their lives, in the riot in which she was apprehended. The priests and priestesses of the temples had sent the poor wretches and paid them.
The place of execution was on the north-east of the city, outside the walls, and towards the mountain. It was where slaves were buried, and it was as hideous as such spots usually were. The neighbourhood was wild, open to the beasts of prey, who at night used to descend and feast upon the corpses. As Callista approached to the scene of her suffering, the expression of her countenance had so altered that a friend would scarce have known it. There was a tenderness in it and a modesty which never had been there in that old time. Her cheek had upon it a blush, as when the rising sun suddenly touches some grey rock or tower yet it was white and glistening too, so much so that others might have said it was like silver. Her eyes were larger than they had been, and gazed steadfastly, as if at what the multitude did not see. Her lips spoke of sweet peace and deep composure. When at length she came close upon the rabble, who had been screaming and yelling so fiercely, men, women, and boys suddenly held their peace. It was first from curiosity, then from amazement, then from awe. At length a fear smote through them, and a strange pity and reverence. They almost seemed inclined to worship what stirred them so much, they knew not how; a new idea had visited those poor ignorant souls.
A few minutes sufficed to put the rack into working order. She was laid down upon its board in her poor bedimmed tunic, which once flashed so bright in the sun,—she who had been ever so delicate in her apparel. Her wrists and ankles were seized, extended, fastened to the moveable blocks at the extremities of the plank. She spoke her last word, "For Thee, my Lord and Love, for Thee!... Accept me, O my Love, upon this bed of pain! And come to me, O my Love, make haste and come!" The men turned round the wheels rapidly to and fro; the joints were drawn out of their sockets, and then snapped in again. She had fainted. They waited for her coming-to; they still waited; they got impatient.
"Dash some water on her," said one. "Spit in her face, and it will do," said a second. "Prick her with your spike," said a third. "Hold your wild talk," said a fourth; "she's gone to the shades." They gathered round, and looked at her attentively. They could not bring her back. So it was: she had gone to her Lord and her Love.
"Lay her out for the wolves and vultures," said the cornicularius, and he was going to appoint guards till nightfall, when up came the stationarii and Calphurnius in high wrath.
"You dogs!" he cried, "what trick have you been practising against the soldiers of Rome?" However, expostulation and reproach were bootless; nor would it answer here to go into the quarrel which ensued over the dead body. The magistrates, having got scent of Calphurnius's scheme, had outwitted the tribune by assigning an earlier hour than was usual for the execution. Life could not be recalled; nor did the soldiers of course dare publicly to disobey the Proconsul's order for the exposure of the corpse. All that could be done, they did. They took her down with rude reverence from the rack, and placed her on the sand; and then they set guards to keep off the rabble, and to avail themselves of any opportunity which might occur to show consideration towards her.
THE CORPO SANTO.
The sun of Africa has passed over the heavens, but has not dared with one of his fierce rays to profane the sacred relics which lie out before him. The mists of evening rise up, and the heavy dews fall, but they neither bring the poison of decay to that gracious body, nor receive it thence. The beasts of the wild are roaming and roaring at a distance, or nigh at hand: not any one of them presumes to touch her. No vultures may promise themselves a morning meal from such a victim, as they watch through the night upon the high crags which overlook her. The stars have come out on high, and, they too look down upon Callista, as if they were funeral lights in her honour. Next the moon rises up to see what has been going on, and edges the black hangings of the night with silver. Yet mourning and dirge are but of formal observance, when a brave champion has died for her God. The world of ghosts has as little power over such an one as the world of nature. No evil spirit has aught to say to her, who has gone in her baptismal white before the Throne. No penal fire shall be her robe, who has been carried in her bright flammeum to the Bridal Chamber of the Lamb. A divine odour fills the air, issuing from that senseless, motionless, broken frame. A circle of light gleams round her brow, and, even when the daylight comes again, it there is faintly seen. Her features have reassumed their former majesty, but with an expression of childlike innocence and heavenly peace. The thongs have drawn blood at the wrists and ankles, which has run and soaked into the sand; but angels received the body from the soldiers when they took it off the rack, and it lies, sweetly and modestly composed, upon the ground.
Passers-by stand still and gaze; idlers gather round. The report spreads in Sicca that neither sun by day, nor moon by night, nor moist atmosphere, nor beast of prey, has power over the wonderful corpse. Nay, that they cannot come near it without falling under some strange influence, which makes them calm and grave, expels bad passions, and allays commotion of mind. Many come again and again, for the mysterious and soothing effect she exerts upon them. They cannot talk freely about it to each other, and are seized with a sacred fear when they attempt to do so. Those who have merely heard their report without seeing her, say that these men have been in a grove of the Eumenides, or have suddenly encountered the wolf. The popular sensation continues and extends; some say it is magical, others that it is from the great gods. Day sinks again into evening, evening becomes night; the night wears out, and morning is coming again.
It begins to dawn: a glimmer is faintly spread abroad, and, mixing with the dark, makes twilight, which gradually brightens, and the outlines of nature rise dimly out of the night. Gradually the sacred body comes to sight; and, as the light grows stronger around it, gradually too the forms of five men emerge, who had not been there the night before. One is in front; the rest behind with a sort of bier or litter. They stand on the mountain side of her, and must have come from the country. It has been a bold enterprise theirs, to expose themselves to the nightly beasts, and now again to the rabble and the soldiers. The soldiers are at some little distance, silent and watchful; such of the rabble as have passed the night there have had some superstitious object in their stay. They have thought to get portions of the flesh for magical purposes; a finger, or a tooth, or some hair, or a portion of her tunic, or the blood-stained rope which was twisted round her wrist and ankle.
As the light makes her at length quite visible to the youth on the other side, who stands by himself with clasped hands and tearful eyes, he shrinks from the sight. He turns round to his companions who are provided with a large winding-sheet or pall, and with the help of one of them, to the surprise of the populace, he spreads it all over the body. And having done this, he stands again trembling, just for a few seconds, absorbed in his meditations, praying and weeping, and nerving himself for what is to follow. Ah, poor Agellius! you have not risen yet to the pitch of triumph; and other thoughts must be let to range through your breast, other emotions must spend themselves, before you are prepared simply to rejoice, exult, and glory in the lifeless form which lies before you. You are upon a brave work, but your heart is torn while you set hand to it, and you linger before you begin.
It was in the pride of her earthly beauty and the full vigour and elevation of her mind, that he last had seen her. It seemed an age since that morning, as if a chasm ran between the now and the then, when she so fascinated him with her presence, and so majestically rebuked him for bowing to that fascination. Yet on his memory every incident of that interview was fixed, and was indelible. O why should the great Creator shatter one of His most admirable works! If the order of the sun and stars is adorable, if the laws by which earth and sea are kept together mark the Hand of supreme Wisdom and Power, how much nobler perfection of beauty is manifested in man! And of human nature itself here was the supereminent crown, a soul full of gifts, full of greatness, full of intellect, placed in an outward form, equally surpassing in its kind, and still more surpassingly excellent from its intimate union and subordination to the soul, so as almost to be its simple expression; yet this choicest, rarest specimen of Almighty skill, the Almighty had pitilessly shattered, in order that it might inherit a higher, an eternal perfection. O mystery of mysteries, that heaven should not be possibly obtained without such grinding down and breaking up of our original nature! O mysterious, that principle in us, whatever it is, and however it came there, which is so antagonistic to God, which has so spoilt what seems so good, that all must be undone, and must begin anew! "An enemy hath done this;" and, knowing as much as this, and no more, we must leave the awful mystery to that day when all things shall be made light.
Agellius has not been idle while these thoughts pass through his mind. He has stooped down and scooped up such portions of the sand as are moistened with her blood, and has committed them to a small bag which he has taken out of his bosom. Then without delay, looking round to his attendants, and signing to them, with two of the party he resolutely crossed over to the other side of the corpse, covering it from attack, while his two assistants who were left proceeded quickly to lay hold of it. They had raised it, laid it on the bier, and were setting off by an unusual track across the waste, while Agellius, Aspar, and the third were grappling with some ruffians who had rushed upon them. Few, however, were there as yet to take part against them, but their cries of alarm were bringing others up, and the Christians were in growing danger of being worsted and carried off, when suddenly the soldiers interfered. Under pretence of keeping the peace, they laid about them with their heavy maces; and so it was, the blows took effect on the heads and shoulders of the rabble, with but slight injury to Agellius and his companions. The latter took instant advantage of the diversion, and vanished out of view by the same misleading track which their comrades had already chosen. If they, or the party who had preceded them, came within the range of sight of any goatherds upon the mountains, we must suppose that angels held those heathen eyes that they should not recognise them.
LUX PERPETUA SANCTIS TUIS, DOMINE.
The bier and its bearers, and its protectors, have reached the cave in safety, and pace down the gallery, preceded by its Christian hosts, with lighted tapers, singing psalms. They place the sacred body before the altar, and the mass begins. St. Cyprian celebrates, and after the Gospel, he adds a few words of his own.
He said that they were engaged in praising, blessing, and exalting the adorable Grace of God, which had snatched so marvellously a brand out of the furnace. Benedicamus Patrem et Filium cum Sancto Spiritu. Benedictus, et laudabilis, et gloriosus, et superexaltatus in saecula. Every day doing marvels and exceeding all that seemed possible in power and love, by new and still newer manifestations. A Greek had come to Africa to embellish the shrines of heathenism, to minister to the usurpation of the evil one, and to strengthen the old ties which connected genius with sin; and she had suddenly found salvation. But yesterday a poor child of earth, and to-day an inhabitant of the heavens. But yesterday without God and without hope; and to-day a martyr with a green palm and golden vestment, worshipping before the Throne. But yesterday the slave of Satan, and spending herself on the vanities of time; and to-day drinking of the never-cloying torrents of bliss everlasting. But yesterday one of a number, a grain of a vast heap, destined indiscriminately for the flame; to-day one of the elect souls, written from eternity in the book of life, and predestined to glory. But yesterday, hungry and thirsty, and restless for some object worthy an immortal spirit; to-day enjoying the ineffable ecstasy of the Marriage Feast and the espousals of Emmanuel. But yesterday tossed about on a sea of opinion; and to-day entranced in the vision of infallible truth and immutable sanctity. And yet what was she but only one instance out of ten thousand, of the Almighty and All-manifold Grace of the Redeemer? And who was there of all of them, there assembled, from the most heroic down to the humblest beginner, from the authoritative preacher down to the slave or peasant, but was equally, though in his own way, a miracle of mercy, and a vessel, once of wrath, if now of glory? Only might he and all who heard him persevere as they had begun, so that if (as was so probable) their trial was to be like hers, its issue might be like hers also.
St. Cyprian ceased; and, while the deacon opened the sindon for the offertory, the faithful took up alternately the verses of a hymn, which we here insert in a most unworthy translation:—
"The number of Thine own complete, Sum up and make an end; Sift clean the chaff, and house the wheat,— And then, O Lord, descend.
"Descend, and solve by that descent, This mystery of life; Where good and ill, together blent, Wage an undying strife.
"For rivers twain are gushing still, And pour a mingled flood; Good in the very depths of ill— Ill in the heart of good.
"The last are first, the first are last, As angel eyes behold; These from the sheepcote sternly cast, Those welcomed to the fold.
"No Christian home, no pastor's eye, No preacher's vocal zeal, Moved Thy dear martyr to defy The prison and the wheel.
"Forth from the heathen ranks she stepped The forfeit throne to claim Of Christian souls who had not kept Their birthright and their name.
"Grace formed her out of sinful dust; She knelt a soul defiled; She rose in all the faith and trust And sweetness of a child.
"And in the freshness of that love She preached by word and deed, The mysteries of the world above— Her new-found glorious creed.
"And running, in a little hour, Of life the course complete, She reached the throne of endless power, And sits at Jesus' feet.
"Her spirit there, her body here, Make one the earth and sky; We use her name, we touch her bier, We know her God is nigh."
The last sentiment of the yet unfinished hymn was receiving an answer while they sang it. Juba had been brought into the chapel in the hands of his brother and the exorcists. Since he had been under their care, he had been, on the whole, calm and manageable, with intervals of wild tempest and mad terror. He spoke, at times, of an awful incubus weighing on his chest, which he could not throw off, and said he hoped that they would not think all the blasphemies he uttered were his own. On this occasion, he struggled most violently, and shook with distress; and, as they brought him towards the sacred relics, a thick, cold dew stood upon his brow, and his features shrank and collapsed. He held back, and exerted himself with all his might to escape, foaming at the mouth, and from time to time uttering loud shrieks and horrible words, which disturbed, though they could not interrupt, the hymn. His bearers persevered; they brought him close to Callista, and made him touch her feet with his hands. Immediately he screamed fearfully, and was sent up into the air with such force that he seemed discharged from some engine of war: then he fell back upon the earth apparently lifeless.
The long prayer was ended; the Sursum corda was uttered. Juba raised himself from the ground. When the words of consecration had been said, he adored with the faithful. After the mass, his attendants came to him; he was quite changed; he was quiet, harmless, and silent: the evil spirit had gone out; but he was an idiot.
This wonderful deliverance was but the beginning of the miracles which followed the martyrdom of St. Callista. It may be said to have been the resurrection of the Church at Sicca. In not many months Decius was killed, and the persecution ceased there. Castus was appointed bishop, and numbers began to pour into the fold. The lapsed asked for peace, or at least such blessings as they could have. Heathens sought to be received. When asked for their reason, they could only say that Callista's history and death had affected them with constraining force, and that they could not help following her steps. Increasing in boldness, as well as numbers, the Christians cowed both magistrates and mob. The spirit of the populace had been already broken; and the continual change of masters, and measures with them, in the imperial government, inflicted a chronic timidity on the magistracy. A handsome church was soon built, to which Callista's body was brought, and which remained till the time of the Diocletian persecution.
Juba attached himself to this church; and, though he could not be taught even to sweep the sacred pavement, still he never was troublesome or mischievous. He continued in this state for about ten years. At the end of that time, one morning, after mass, which he always attended in the church porch, he suddenly went to the bishop, and asked for baptism. He said that Callista had appeared to him, and had restored to him his mind. On conversing with him, the holy Castus found that his recovery was beyond all doubt: and not knowing how long his lucid state would last, he had no hesitation, with such instruction as the time admitted, in administering the sacred rite, as Juba wished. After receiving it, he proceeded to the tomb, within which lay St. Callista, and remained on his knees before his benefactress till nightfall. Not even then was he disposed to rise; and so he was left there for the night. Next morning he was found still in the attitude of prayer, but lifeless. He had been taken away in his baptismal robe.
As to Agellius, if he be the bishop of that name who suffered at Sicca in his old age, in the persecution of Diocletian, we are possessed in this circumstance of a most interesting fact to terminate his history withal. What makes this more likely is, that this bishop is recorded to have removed the body of St. Callista from its original position, and placed it under the high altar, at which he said mass daily. After his own martyrdom, St. Agellius was placed under the high altar also.
THE ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY PRESS LIMITED
1 Vide Oxford transl. of St. Cyprian.
2 Here is an anachronism, as regards Arnobius and Lactantius of some twenty or thirty years.
The author's footnotes have been moved to the end of the volume.
The following typographical errors were corrected:
page 10, single quote changed to double quote after "pilum," page 34, "off?" changed to "off!" page 42, "tomatos" changed to "tomatoes" page 69, comma removed after "spirit" page 135, "lees" changed to "less" page 137, "do!" changed to "do?" page 157, single quote changed to double quote after "stronger," page 181, "aud" changed to "and" page 201, period changed to question mark after "Carthage" page 207, "throughont" changed to "throughout" page 228, "Saturu" changed to "Saturn" page 230, period added after "best" page 232, period added after "again" page 239, "ou" changed to "on" page 240, "be" changed to "he" page 248, "you" changed to "your" page 255, "to" changed to "too" page 256, "n" changed to "in" page 263, period changed to comma after "said" page 278, period changed to question mark after "it" page 300, period added after "gods" page 303, single quote added after "do?" page 310, quote removed before "If", added before "it" page 313, comma changed to period after "was" page 333, "corrider" changed to "corridor" page 347, comma changed to period after "initiation" page 348, period added after "voice" page 379, "Jesu's" changed to "Jesus'"
Variations in spelling (like "jailer" and "jailor", "Asper" and "Aspar", "Phenician" and "Phoenician", "Thibursicumber" and "Thibursicumbur") and hyphenation (e.g. "farm-house" and "farmhouse", "goodwill" and "good-will") were not changed.