Herod thus became King of the Jews, B.C. 37. He married Mariamne, who was very beautiful and amiable, and thus he hoped to please the Jews who were attached to the old line; but as he was an Idumean, and therefore could not be High Priest, he gave the holy office to her brother, until becoming fearful of the young prince's just rights to the crown, he caused his attendants to drown him while bathing, and afterwards appointed High Priests, as he chose, from the chief priests of the Sanhedrim. Indeed Herod lived in constant fear and hatred of every Asmonean, and at last even turned against his own wife, Mariamne. He caused her to be put to death, and then nearly broke his heart with grief for her; and afterwards the same dread of the old royal stock led him to kill the two sons she had left to him.
The seventy weeks of Daniel were drawing to a close, and everyone expected that the long-promised Deliverer and King would appear. Some flatterers said it was Herod himself, the blood-stained Edomite, and he did all in his power to maintain the notion, by repairing the Temple with great care and cost, making restorations there that were forty-six years in progress, and spreading a golden vine over the front of the Sanctuary.
There were others who said the one great King, whom even the heathen expected, was coming to Rome. Augustus Caesar had gained all the power; he had beaten Antony and Cleopatra in a sea-fight, and following them to Egypt, found that they had both killed themselves, Antony with his sword, Cleopatra by the bite of an asp, in order to save themselves from being made prisoners. Augustus was welcomed at Rome with a great triumph, and was called Emperor, the name always given to a victorious general; the Romans gave him all their offices of state, and he ruled over all their great dominions without anyone to dispute his power, any enemy to conquer at home or abroad. There was a great lull and hush all over the world, for the time was come at last. But the King was neither Herod in Judea, nor Augustus at Rome! Nay Herod, as a son of Edom, was but proving that the Sceptre had departed from Judah; and the reign of Augustus was a time when darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, for the Greeks and Romans had lost all the good that had been left in them, and were given up to wicked cruelty and foul self-indulgence; when one of their own heathen oracles was caused to announce to Augustus that the greatest foe of the Roman power should be a child born among the Hebrews.
"It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel."—Gen. iii. 15.
It was in the 4004th year of the world, the 30th of the empire of Caesar Augustus, the 37th of the reign of Herod the Edomite, that Augustus, wishing to know the number of his subjects, so as to regulate the taxes paid by the conquered countries, to provide corn for the poorer Roman citizens, sent out an edict that each person should enroll his name at his native place, and there pay a piece of money. Thus the Divine Power brought it to pass, that the Blessed Virgin, who was about to bring forth a son, should travel with her betrothed husband to the home of their fathers, Rachel's burial place, Bethlehem, the little city, whence David had once been called away from the sheepfolds.
There the stable of the ox and ass received, the Master of Heaven and earth, when His people considered Him not, and shut their doors when, "Unto us a Child was born, unto us a Son was given." There, the shepherds on the hills heard the angels sing their song of peace on earth, good will to men; there, on the eighth day of His Life on earth, that Child was circumcised, and received the Greek form of the Divine name, Jehovah the Saviour, the same which had been borne before by the Captain and by the Priest, who had led His people to their inheritance. Thence the Desire of all nations was carried to His presentation in the Temple. He was truly the first-born of all creation, but He was only known to the aged Simeon and devout Anna, as the messenger of the covenant, the Lord for whom they had waited. To Bethlehem came the mysterious wise men from the east. They had been led by the star to Jerusalem, and were there directed on by the scribes, learned in the prophecies; but their inquiries had alarmed Herod's jealousy, and he sent forth the savage order, that the babes of Bethlehem should all be murdered, in hopes of cutting off the new-born King of the Jews; but while the mothers wept for the children who should come again to them in a better inheritance, the Holy One was safe in Egypt, whither Joseph had carried Him, by the warning of God.
This massacre was well nigh the last of Herod's cruelties. He was already in failing health, and after having killed his innocent sons because of their Asmonean blood, he was obliged to put to death the son of another of his wives for rebelling against him. A terrible disease came on, and fearing that the Jews would rejoice at his death, he declared they should have something to mourn for; and sending for all the chief men to Jericho, where he lay sick, he shut them all up in the circus, or place for Roman games, and made his sister promise that the moment he expired, soldiers should be sent in to kill them all. In this devil-like frame, Herod died, in the seventieth year of his age, and the thirty-fourth of his reign, the first year of our Lord;[A] and his sister at once released the captives. He had had nine wives, and many children, of whom he had himself put three to death. Archelaus and Herod Antipas were the sons of one mother, Herod Philip of another, and the murdered son of Mariamne had left two children, named Herod Agrippa and Herodias. Archelaus took the kingdom, but had not power to control either the people or the army. Three thousand Jews were massacred by the soldiers in the Temple, and Archelaus went to Rome to beg to be confirmed on his throne, and assisted in keeping his people in order; but his brother, Herod Antipas, was there already, begging for a share in the kingdom, and the Jews sent after Archelaus, saying, "We will not have this man to reign over us!" Augustus thereupon refused to give to either the title of King, but split Palestine into four divisions called tetrarchies, from tetra, the Greek word for four, giving to Archelaus Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; to Antipas, Galilee; to Philip, Iturea, the part beyond the Jordan; and to a Greek named Lysanias, Abilene, in the north, near Mount Hermon. After this, Joseph returned from Egypt, but avoided the dominions of the cruel Archelaus, by going to his former abode in Galilee.
[Footnote A: From the Birth of our Lord, time is counted onwards, and the years marked as A.D., Anno Domini, Year of the Lord.]
Archelaus grew so wicked, that in the year 12 A.D. an accusation against him was sent to Rome by the Jews and Samaritans; and Augustus deposed him, sending him into banishment to Vienne, in Gaul. His brothers did not obtain his domain, but it was joined to the province of Syria, and put under the charge of a Roman procurator or governor, who kept down disturbances by the strong hand; but this made the Pharisees very discontented, as they fancied it was against the Divine Law to pay tribute to strangers. Augustus had been all his life busy in setting his empire in order, and making laws for it. It stretched from the Atlantic Ocean nearly to the river Euphrates, and bordered the Mediterranean Sea on both sides, the Alps shutting it in to the north, and the deserts of Africa to the south. The Roman citizens considered themselves the lords of all this space; and though at first only the true-born Romans were citizens, Augustus gave the honour to many persons of the subject nations. It freed them from being taxed, gave them a right to vote for magistrates, and saved them from being under the authority of the governors of the provinces. Every educated person spoke Latin and Greek, but the latter tongue was most used in the east, as the Romans themselves learnt it as an accomplishment. Augustus died, A.D. 17, leaving his power to his step-son, Tiberius, whom he had adopted as his own son, and thus given him the name of Caesar. Tiberius had not been kindly treated in his youth, and he was gloomy and harsh, and exceedingly disliked by the Romans. Under him, Pontius Pilate was made Procurator of Judea, and took up his abode in Caesarea, a city built by Herod and him son Philip, on the coast, and named after the emperors. Pilate set up shields with idolatrous inscriptions in Jerusalem; but the Jews petitioned Tiberius, who ordered them to be removed, and there was much hatred between the Procurator and the Jews. The thirty years of silent bearing of the common lot of man were now nearly over; and six months ere the Messiah began to make Himself known, His messenger, John, the Desert Priest, began to prepare His way by preaching repentance in the spirit and power of the great Elijah, and then baptizing in the Jordan unto repentance. Such washing was the manner in which the Jews accepted their proselytes, as they called the strangers who embraced the Law. The great purpose of the Old Covenant was accomplished when John, having made his followers feel all the weight of their sins against the Commandments, pointed out Him whom he had already baptized, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" A few faithful Galileans followed and believed, and miracles began to testify that here was indeed the Christ, the Prophet like to Moses, giving bread to the hungry, eyes to the blind, feet to the lame. Decreasing as He increased, John offended Herod Antipas by "boldly rebuking vice." This Antipas had forsaken his own wife, the daughter of an Arabian king, and had taken in her stead, his niece Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; and for bearing witness against this crime, John was thrown into prison, and afterwards beheaded, to gratify the wicked woman and her daughter, Salome. The Arab King avenged his daughter's wrongs by a war, in which Antipas met with a great defeat.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees and Sadducees, their heads full of the prophecies of greatness and deliverance, to which their minds gave a temporal, not a spiritual meaning, grew more and more enraged at every token that the lowly Nazarene was indeed the Saviour, the Hope of the whole world. Each token of perfection, each saying too pure for them, each undoubted miracle, only made them more furious, and for once they made common cause together. The Passover came. Herod Antipas came to Jerusalem to observe the feast, Pilate to keep the peace among the Jews; and Jerusalem saw her King coming, meek, and riding on an ass, and amid the Hosannas of the children, weeping at the vengeance that He foresaw for the favoured city where He had been despised and rejected, and where He was Himself about to become the true Passover, which should purchase everlasting Redemption.
The traitor sold Him to the Sanhedrim, or council, in which the last words of the prophecy through the Priesthood had declared that one man must die for the people; and a band of Roman soldiers was obtained from Pilate. Meanwhile, our blessed Lord instituted the new Passover, the Communion by which all the faithful should be enabled to partake of the great Sacrifice; then He went out to the garden, among the grey olives which still stand beside the brook Kedron, and there, after His night of Agony, He was betrayed by a kiss, and dragged before the High Priest, under an accusation of blasphemy; but as the Sanhedrim had not power of life and death, and such a charge would have mattered little to a Roman, a political offence was invented to bring before Pilate. The procurator perceived the innocence of the Holy One, but feared to befriend Him because of the raging multitude; and after vainly trying to shift the responsibility on Herod Antipas, he washed his hands, to show that it was no affair of his own, and gave the Victim up to the murderers. They chose the most shameful death of Roman slaves, that they might show their hatred and contempt, unwitting that each act and each word had been foretold and foreshown in their own Law and Prophets. For six hours He hung on His Cross, while the sun was dark, and awe crept on the most ignorant hearts. Then came the cry, "It is finished;" and the work was done; the sinless Sacrifice had died; the price of Adam's sin was paid; the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, to show that the way to the true Mercy-Seat was opened. The rich man buried Him—the women watched; and when the Sabbath was over, the Tomb was broken through, and the First-fruits of them that slept arose, wondrously visited His followers for forty days, gave them His last charges, and then ascended into Heaven, carrying manhood to the bosom of the Father. Satan was for ever conquered.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH.
"Ten men shall take hold, out of all language of all nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."—Zech. viii. 23.
By the coming of Him who had been so long promised, in His human Body, and the completion of His sacrifice, all the objects of the old ceremonial Law were fulfilled; the shadows passed away and substance took their place, so that the comers thereunto might be made perfect. Instead of being admitted to the covenant by circumcision, which was only a type of putting away the uncleanness of the flesh, the believers were washed from sin in the now fully revealed Name of the Holy Trinity, in the Fountain of Christ's Blood, open for all sin and uncleanness, and the penitent had a right to be constantly purified in the living cleansing streams of grace and pardon. The one great Passover had been offered, to redeem the chosen from the slavery of Satan, and the highway was opened for the ransomed to pass over with songs of joy, keeping the Resurrection Day instead of the Sabbath. Means had been given of their constantly partaking of that Passover, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and thus tasting of the Eternal Sacrifice, in right of which they prayed to the Father, to whom they were united as members of His Son. The one great Day of Atonement was over, and the true High Priest had entered for ever into the Holy Place, opening a way where all might follow to the Mercy Seat, there offering His own Sacrifice, and presenting their prayers. And even in Heaven, He still was the Shepherd of the little flock, to whom it was His good pleasure to give the Kingdom; feeding them, appointing under shepherds, and guarding them gently from His Throne above. The sealed Book of type and prophecy was open and clear at His touch; and the Old Testament found full explanation and fulfilment in the New; and now it, remained to make known the good tidings, and gather in all nations, Jew and Gentile alike, to the Lord's Flock, the Church or House of the Lord, as it was called.
One hundred and twenty believers in their risen Lord awaited together the coming of the promised Comforter, who should abide with them for ever, to guide them into all truth, and to enable them to proclaim the accomplishment of all the promises. The eleven Apostles, who, as their name implied, had been sent forth by their Lord, added to their number Matthias, in the place of the traitor Judas, laying hands on him in order to carry on the Gift that the Saviour had breathed upon them. Besides these, there were the seventy whom our Lord had sent out in pairs, and whose order was afterwards called the elders, presbyters, or priests.
They were all gathered in the upper room to keep the Feast of Weeks, in memory of the giving the Law, when He came upon them Who could enable that Law to be kept, bringing the Divine Presence, which is the pervading Life of the whole Body. His coming was marked by such open signs, as to draw the attention of all the pilgrim Jews, who had come from their distant homes to keep the feast. St. Peter expounded to them that the time of fulfilment was come, and that Jesus, crucified and risen, was their Salvation. 3,000 at once accepted the New Covenant, and were baptized; and thus, on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33, the Church of Christ sprang into full life. Many of the converts sold their goods, and brought the price to the Apostles, all living on one common stock, and giving bounteous alms; but the new converts of Greek education, found their poor less well provided than the native Jews, and to supply them, seven deacons, or ministers, were set apart as the serving order of the ministry. Foremost of these was Stephen, who, about two years after the Ascension, bore the first witness through death to the doctrine which he taught,
[Footnote 1: Apostle—one sent] being stoned by the people in a sudden fit of fury, at his showing how the whole course of their history was but a preparation for Him whom they had crucified.
In the year 37, Pilate was recalled to Rome to answer the many charges against him. He was sentenced to banishment in Gaul, and there suffered so much from remorse, that he killed himself. At the time of his deposition, the Caesar, Tiberius, was dying, hated by all, and leaving his empire to his nephew, Caligula, who had been a youth of great promise; but he lost his senses in a fever, and did all sorts of strange wild things—made his horse a consul, tried to make him eat gilded oats, and once, at a wild beast show, turned the lions in on the spectators. Shortly before his illness, Herod Agrippa, the son of Herod the Great's murdered son, Aristobulus, while driving in a chariot with him, had said how glad everyone would be to see him reigning. The charioteer reported the speech, and Tiberius punished it by keeping Herod in prison, chained to a soldier; but to make up for his sufferings, Caligula no sooner became emperor than he set him free, gave him a crown, made him King of Trachonitis and Abilene, and presented him with a gold chain of the same weight as the fetters which he had worn in prison. This chain Herod hung up in the Temple, for he was a zealous Jew, although such a friend of heathen princes, and he seems to have been greatly puffed up with admiration of his own good management. His sister Herodias, envious of his crown, persuaded her husband, Herod Antipas, to go and sue for another at Rome; but all he gained by his journey was an inquiry into his conduct, which ended in his being exiled to Gaul, and his domain being given to Herod Agrippa. In A.D. 41, the miserable madman Caligula, was killed, but Herod Agrippa continued in high favour with the next emperor, the moody Claudius, and under him the Jews had again the power of giving sentence of death. They used it to persecute the disciples; and this led to many leaving Jerusalem, and carrying the knowledge of the faith to more distant parts. Saul, or Paul, a Benjamite, born at Tarsus, in Asia Minor, a place where the inhabitants were reckoned as Roman citizens, was learned in Greek philosophy, and deeply versed in the Jewish doctrines: he was a zealous Pharisee, and a vehement persecutor, till he was called by the Lord Himself from Heaven, and told that his special mission should be to the Gentiles; and about the same time, it was revealed to St. Peter in a vision, that the hedge of the ceremonial Law was taken down, and no distinction should henceforth be made between the nations, who had been all alike cleansed by the Blood of Redemption. The Roman soldier, Cornelius, was the first-fruits of a mighty harvest; and the Greeks and Romans in general, gave far more ready audience to the Apostles, than did the Jews.
The hatred of the Jews moved Herod Agrippa to put to death James the son of Zebedee, the first Apostle to drink of his Master's Cup; and he would likewise have slain Peter, had not the Angel delivered that Saint out of prison, in answer to the prayers of the Church. The pride of Herod had come to a height. He celebrated games at Caesarea in honour of the emperor, and in the midst came forth in a robe of cloth of silver, to give audience to an embassy from Tyre and Zidon. At his speech, the people shouted, "It is the voice of a god, not the voice of a man!" But while Herod listened and took the glory to himself, he felt a deadly stroke, which made him cry, "Your god is dying!" and in five days he was dead. His son, Agrippa, was too young to take the government, and a Roman procurator was appointed.
About this time the Apostles departed on their several missions. It is said that ere doing so, they agreed on the Creed or watchword of the Church; but it was not written down till more than three hundred years later, lest the heathen should learn it and blaspheme it. Wherever they went they ordained elders and deacons, and in most cities they left one to whom they had conveyed their own apostolic powers. These were not called Apostles, as that name was kept for those sent by our Lord in person, but sometimes angels or messengers, and usually bishops, or overlookers of the shepherds. St. James, the cousin of our Lord, remained as Apostle of Jerusalem, while his brothers, Sts. Simon and Jude, went into Mesopotamia, St. Andrew to Arabia, his brother, St. Peter, to the dispersed Jews; St. John and St. Philip to Asia Minor, Sts. Thomas and Bartholomew to India, Sts. Matthew and Matthias to Ethiopia, but not till the former had written his Gospel, which several of the Apostles carried with them, and which has been found in possession of the most ancient Churches by them converted.
Little is known of their labours, as from this time the Acts of the Apostles chiefly dwell on the history of St. Paul; but it seems certain that everywhere they began by preaching to the dispersed Jews; and when these rejected the offer of Salvation, they turned to the heathen, by whom in general it was far more readily received. The Romans, heeding this world's greatness more than any spiritual matter, were not inclined to interfere with any one's religion, and only fancied the Church a sect of the Jews. They usually gave the Apostles their protection if the Jews raged against them; and their ships, their roads, and the universality of their dominion, made the spread of the Gospel much more easy, so that they were made to prepare the way of the Lord, even while seeking only their own grandeur. It was about this time that the Emperor Claudius came to Britain, and his generals won all the southern part of the island, rooting out the cruel worship of the Druids in their groves of oak, and circles of huge stones. He died in the year 55, and was succeeded by his step-son, Nero, a half-mad tyrant, who used to show off like a gladiator; racing in a chariot before all the Romans at the games, collecting them all to listen to his verses, and putting those to death who showed their weariness. He was so jealous and afraid of plots on his life, that he killed almost all his relations, even his mother, for fear they should conspire against him; and all the richer and nobler Romans lived in terror under him, though the common people liked him for being open-handed, and amusing them with the cruel gladiator shows.
THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES.
"Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him, and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders."—Deut. xxxiii. 12.
After Saul's marvellous call from Heaven, he spent three years in solitude in Arabia, ere entering on his work. Then returning to Damascus, he began to set forth the Gospel. The Jews were so angry at his change, that they stirred up the soldiers of the Arabian king, Aretas, and he only escaped them by being let down over the wall in a basket. Coming to Jerusalem, the gentle Levite, Barnabas, was the first to welcome him, and present him to the company of the Apostles; but he spent some years in retirement at his home at Tarsus, before Barnabas summoned him to come and aid in his preaching at Antioch. There the Word was heartily received, and the precious title of Christians was first bestowed upon the disciples; there, too, on the occasion of a famine in Judea, the first collection of alms for brethren at a distance was made.
At Antioch, a heavenly revelation signified that Paul and Barnabas were to be set apart for a special mission; and after prayer and consecration they set out on their mission, accompanied by the nephew of Barnabas, John, surnamed Mark. Barnabas had once had great possessions in the isle of Cyprus, and thither they first repaired, preaching in all the chief places; and then going into Asia Minor, where they showed such power from on high, that the rude people of Lycaonia fancied them gods in the likeness of men, and had well-nigh done sacrifice to them, though afterwards the spiteful Jews led the same men to draw Paul out of the city, stone him, and leave him for dead. In such perils, Mark's heart failed him, and he departed from them.
Returning to Antioch, they found the Church in doubt whether the Christians of Greek birth were bound to obey the rites of the Jewish Law. To decide this, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, after fourteen years' absence, taking with them a Greek, named Titus; and here was held the First General Council of the Church, a meeting of her Apostles and elders, in the full certainty that the Divine grace would inspire a right judgment, according to the promise that Christ would be with those who should meet in His Name. St. James presided, and St. Peter spoke; and it was decided that the whole object of these rites had been fulfilled, therefore that they were among the old things that had passed away; and that no such rule need be imposed on the Gentiles, save that given to Noah ere the parting of the nations. It was agreed that St. Paul should go especially to the Gentiles, and St. Peter and St. John to the scattered Jews, while St. James remained at Jerusalem. Two Jewish Christians, Silas and Barsabas, went back with the two Apostles, to notify the resolution to the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter shortly followed them; but there continued to be a great tendency among the Christians of Jewish blood to avoid their Gentile brethren, and St. Peter was drawn in to do the same, so that St. Paul, always more stedfast, was forced to rebuke him. Paul and Barnabas intended to set out on a second journey, and Barnabas wished again to take his now repentant nephew, but Paul would not trust him a second time; and after a dispute on the subject, Barnabas left him, and took Mark to Cyprus, where it is believed that the "Son of Consolation" was at length martyred.
Paul, taking Silas as his companion, went over the former ground in Asia Minor, and at Iconium ordained a disciple, named Timothy, whose father was a Greek, but whose Jewish mother and grandmother had faithfully bred him up in the knowledge of the Scriptures. A Greek physician, named Luke, likewise at this time joined him; and with these faithful companions, he obeyed a call sent him in a dream, and crossed over into Macedon, where he gained many souls at Philippi and Thessalonica, but the Jews stirred up such persecution, that he was forced to go southward into Greece. Athens was no longer a powerful city, but it served as a sort of college for all the youths of the Roman Empire who wished to be highly educated; and it was full of philosophers, who spent their time in the porticos and groves, arguing on questions of their own—such as whether, this life being all of which they were sure, it was best to live well or to live in pleasure. The Stoics were the philosophers who upheld the love of virtue and honour; the Epicureans said that it was of no use to vex themselves in this life, but that they might as well enjoy themselves while they had time. St. Paul was well learned in all these questions, and set forth to the Athenian students, in glorious words, that the truth was come for which they had so long yearned, and declared to them the Unknown God Whom they already worshipped in ignorance. Some few believed, but the others were too fond of their own empty reasonings, and Athens long continued the stronghold of heathenism. He had better success at Corinth, where he spent eighteen months, working at his trade as a tent-maker, and whence he wrote his two Epistles to his Thessalonian converts, about the time that St. Luke was writing his Gospel, it is thought by direct revelation, since neither he nor St. Paul had been with our Lord. The Jews hunted them away at last; after a short stay at Jerusalem, they went back to Asia Minor, and passed three years at Ephesus, whence were written the Epistle to the Galatians, against the Jewish practices, and the First to the Corinthians, on some disorders in their Church. Ephesus was the chief city in Asia Minor, and contained an image of the Greek goddess of the moon, Diana, placed in a temple so beautiful, that it was esteemed one of the seven wonders of the world, and thither came a great concourse of worshippers. There was a silversmith who made great gain by selling small models of her temple; and he, growing, afraid that his trade would be ruined if idols were deserted, stirred up the mechanics to such a frenzy of rage, that for two hours they shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" and they would have torn Paul to pieces, had they not been with much difficulty appeased. He was obliged to leave the city, and go to Macedonia, whence he again wrote to the Corinthians, to console them in their repentance, and he also wrote to the Church at Rome, which he had never yet seen. After visiting the Greek Churches, a Divine summons called him back to keep the feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem, though well knowing that bonds and imprisonment awaited him there; and on his way he had a most touching meeting at Miletus, with the elders of Ephesus, who sorrowed grievously that they should see his face no more. His beloved Timothy was left with them as their bishop.
At Jerusalem, a terrible tumult arose against him for having, as the Jews fancied, brought Greeks into the Temple, and he was only rescued by the Roman garrison, who treated him well on finding that he was a citizen. Then the Jews laid a plot to murder him, and to prevent this he was sent to the seat of government at Caesarea, where he was brought before the procurator, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla, a daughter of Herod Agrippa. His words made Felix tremble, but the time-server put them aside, and neither released him nor sent him to Rome for judgment, but on going out of office left him in prison. Festus, the new procurator, could not understand his case, and asked the young Agrippa and his sister Bernice, to help him to find out under what accusation to send him to Rome. Again St. Paul's speech struck his hearers with awe, and Agrippa declared himself almost persuaded to be a Christian, but he loved too well the favour of the Jews and Romans, and his petty tetrarchy of Trachonitis, to become one of the despised sect. The noble captive would have been set free, but that he had sent his appeal to Rome, and therefore could only be tried there.
On his way, coasting along as sailors did before the compass was known, came his shipwreck at Malta, when the life of his shipmates was granted to him. The Emperor Nero was so much more disposed to amusement than business, that St. Paul's cause was not heard, but he lived in his own hired house, under charge of a soldier seeing the Christians freely, and writing three beautiful epistles, full of hope and encouragement, to his children at Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi, also a friendly intercession for a runaway slave to Philemon, and letters of pastoral counsel to Timothy at Ephesus, and to Titus, who was Bishop of Crete. It is thought that the Epistle to the Hebrews, which shows how the Old Covenant points throughout to the New, must be also of this date; but we have no longer the inspired pen of St. Luke to tell of St. Paul's history, and it is not certain whether he were ever at liberty again, though some think that he was free for a short time, and went to Spain, Gaul, and even to Britain. St. Peter had likewise come to Rome. He had met with St. Mark, and taken him as his companion, and, as it is believed, assisted in composing his Gospel. St. Peter likewise wrote two epistles to the Jews dispersed abroad. But dark times were coming on the Church. St. James, who left an epistle, was, in his old age, slain by the Jews, who cast him from the top of the Temple, and then beat out his brains. The Emperor Nero had also broken out in sudden rage. In a fit of folly, he set Rome on fire to see how the flames would look, and then persuaded the citizens that it was done by the Christians. St. Peter, who is considered as the first Bishop of Rome, and St. Paul, were thrown into a dungeon; and about that time Paul wrote his last letter, to call to his side Timothy, and also the once weak Mark, now profitable to the ministry, even as the ever faithful Luke. The fight was over, the crown was ready, and on the same day, the two Apostles went to receive it; the Roman citizen by the sword, the Jewish fisherman by the cross, esteemed dishonour by the Romans, but over-much glory by the saint, who begged to suffer with his head downwards, so as not to presume on the very same death as that of his Master. Many Christians likewise perished; thrown to wild beasts, or smeared with grease, and then slowly burnt, to light the Romans at their horrible sports; but to them death was gain, and the Church was only strengthened. St. Timothy went back to his post at Ephesus, and St. Mark founded a Church at Alexandria, where, many years later, he was martyred by being dragged to death through the streets.
THE FALL OF JERUSALEM.
"The Lord hath accomplished His fury; He hath poured out His fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof"—Lam. iv. 11.
In His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, oar Lord had wept for the woes of the city which would not own Him, and had foretold that the present generation should not pass away until His mournful words had been fulfilled. One alone of His Apostles was left to tarry until this coming for vengeance; the rest had all gone through the pains of martyrdom to their thrones in Heaven. St. Andrew died in Greece, bound on a cross shaped like the letter X, and preaching to the last. His friend, St. Philip, had likewise received the glory of the Cross in Asia; and the last of the Bethsaida band, St. Bartholomew, was tied to a tree and flayed alive, in Armenia. St. Matthew and St. Matthias died in Ethiopia or Abyssinia, leaving a Church which is still in existence; and St. Thomas was slain by the Brahmins in India, where the Christians of St. Thomas ever after kept up their faith among the heathen around. St. Jude died in Mesopotamia, after writing an epistle to his flock; and his brother, St. Simon Zelotes, also went by the same path to his rest; but their deaths only strengthened the Church, and their successors carried out the same work.
The judgments of God were darkening around Jerusalem. A procurator named Florus was more cruel and insulting than usual, and a tumult broke out against him. Agrippa tried to appease it, but the Jews pelted him with stones, and drove him out of Jerusalem; they afterwards burnt down his palace, and rose in rebellion all over Judea, imagining that the prophesied time of deliverance was come, and that the warlike Messiah of their imagination was at hand. Nero was much enraged at the tidings, and sent an army, under a plain blunt general, named Vespasian, to punish the revolt. This army subdued Galilee and Samaria, and was already surrounding Jerusalem, when Vespasian heard that there had been a great rebellion at home, and that Nero had been killed. He therefore turned back from the siege, to wait and see what would happen, having thus given the token promised by our Lord, of the time when the desolation of Jerusalem should be at hand, when the faithful were to flee. Accordingly, in this pause, all the Christians, marking well the signs of coming wrath, took refuge in the hills while the way was still open. Armies were seen fighting in the clouds; a voice was heard in the Holy of Holies saying, "Let us depart hence!" the heavily-barred gate of the Temple flew open of its own accord; and a man wandered up and down the streets day and night, crying, "Woe to Jerusalem! Woe! woe!" The Jews were hardened against all warning; they had no lawful head, but there were three parties under different chiefs, who equally hated the Romans and one another. They fought in the streets, so that the city was full of blood; and fires consumed a great quantity of the food laid up against the siege; yet still the blind Jews came pressing into it in multitudes, to keep the now unmeaning Feast of the Passover, even at the time when Vespasian's son, Titus, was leading his forces to the siege.
It was the year 70, thirty-seven years since that true Passover, when the Jews had slain the true Lamb, and had cried, "His Blood be on us and our children!" What a Passover was that, when one raging multitude pursued another into the Temple, and stained the courts with the blood of numbers! Meanwhile, Titus came up to the valleys around the crowned hill, and shut the city in on every side, digging a trench, and guarding it closely, that no food might be carried in, and hunger might waste away the strength of those within. Then began the utmost fulfilment of the curses laid up in the Law for the miserable race. The chiefs and their parties tore each other to pieces whenever they were not fighting with the enemy; blood flowed everywhere, and robbers rushed through the streets, snatching away every fragment of food from the weak. The famine was so deadly, that the miserable creatures preyed on the carcases of the dead; nay, "the tender and delicate woman" was found who, in the straits of hunger, killed her own babe, roasted, and fed upon him. So many corpses were thrown over the walls, that the narrow valleys were choked, and Titus, in horror, cried out that the Jews, not himself, must be accountable for this destruction.
For the sake of the Christian fugitives in the mountains, these dreadful days were shortened, and were not in the winter; and in August Titus's soldiers were enabled to make an entrance into the Temple. For the sake of its glorious beauty, he bade that the building should be spared; but it was under the sentence of our Lord, and his command was in vain. A soldier threw a torch through a golden window, and the flames spread fast while the fight raged; the space round the Altar was heaped with corpses, and streams of blood flowed like rivers. Ere the flames reached the Sanctuary, Titus went into it, and was so much struck with its beauty, that he did his utmost to save it, but all in vain; and the whole was burnt, with 6,000 poor creatures, whom a false prophet had led to the Temple, promising that a wonder should there be worked for their deliverance. The city still held out for twenty more days of untold misery; but at last the Romans broke in amid flames quenched in blood, and slaughter raged everywhere. Yet it was a still sadder sight to find the upper rooms of the houses filled with corpses of women and children, dead of hunger; and indeed, no less than a million of persons had perished in the siege, while there were 97,000 miserable captives, 12,000 of whom died at once from hunger. As Titus looked at the walls and towers, he cried out that God Himself must have been against the Jews, since he himself could never have driven them from such fortresses. He commanded the whole, especially the Temple, to be leveled with the ground, no two stones left standing, and the foundation to be sown with salt; and he carried off the Candlestick, Shewbread Table, and other sacred ornaments, to be displayed in his triumph. An arch was set up at Rome in honour of his victory, with the likeness of these treasures sculptured on it. It is still standing, and the figures there carved are the chief means we have of knowing what these holy ornaments were really like. He gave the Jews, some to work in the Egyptian mines, some to fight with wild beasts to amuse the Romans, and many more to be sold as slaves. Other people thus dispersed had become fused into other nations; but it was not so with the Jews. "Slay them not, lest my people forget it, but scatter them abroad among the heathen," had been the prophecy of the Psalmist; and thus it has remained even to the present day. The piteous words of Moses have been literally fulfilled, and among the nations they have found no ease, neither has the sole of their foot found any rest; but the trembling heart, and failing eye, and sorrowful mind, have always been theirs. They have ever been loathed and persecuted by the nations where their lot has been cast, ever craving for their lost home, ever hoping for the Messiah of their own fancy. Still they keep their Sabbath on the seventh day; still they follow the rules of clean and unclean; and on each Friday, such as still live at Jerusalem sit with their faces to the wall, and lift up their voice in mournful wailing for their desolation. Their goodly land lies waste, the sky above like brass, the earth beneath like iron; her fruitfulness is over, and from end to end she is a country of ruins, a sign to all nations! Some there are who read in the prophecies hopes for the Jews, that they may yet return and learn Who is the Saviour. Others doubt whether this means that they will ever be restored as a nation; and still the Jews stand as a witness that God keeps His word in wrath as well as in mercy—a warning that the children of the free New Covenant must fear while they are thankful.
THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH.
"I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high mountain and eminent."—Ezekiel, xvii. 22.
In the year 70, the same in which Jerusalem was destroyed, happened the first great eruption of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in which was killed Drusilla, the wife of Felix. Her brother, Agrippa, ruled by favour of the Romans for many years in the little domain of Chalcis. Titus was emperor after his father. He was a very kind-hearted man, and used to say he had lost a day whenever he had spent one without doing a good action; but he was soon poisoned by his wicked brother, Domitian, who succeeded to his throne in 81. Domitian was a savage tyrant, cruel to all, because he was afraid of all. He hated the Jews; and hearing that some persons of royal blood still existed among them, he caused search to be made for them, and two sons of St. Jude were brought before him. They owned that they came of the line of David; but they told him they were poor simple men, and showed him their hands hardened with toil; and he thought they could do him so little harm, that he let them go. He also laid hands on the aged St. John, and caused him to be put into a caldron of boiling oil; but the martyr in will, though not in deed, felt no hurt, and was thereupon banished to the little Greek Isle of Patmos. Here was vouchsafed to him a wonderful vision, answering to those of Daniel, his likeness among the prophets. He saw the true heavenly courts, such as Moses had shadowed in the Tabernacle, and which Ezekiel had described so minutely; he saw the same fourfold Cherubim, and listened to the same threefold chant of praise, as Isaiah had heard; he saw the seven lamps of fire, and the rainbow of mercy round about the Throne; and in the midst, in the eternal glory of His priestly robes, he beheld Him on Whose bosom be had lain, and Who had called him beloved. From His lips he wrote messages of counsel and warning to the angels, or Bishops, of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor; and then came a succession of wonderful visions, each opening with the Church in Heaven and in earth constantly glorifying Him that sitteth on the Throne, and the Lamb, for ever and ever; but going on to show the crimes in the world beneath, and the judgments one after another poured out by the Angels; the true remnant of the Church persecuted; and the world partly curbed by, partly corrupting, the visible Church; then the destruction of the wicked world, under the type of Babylon; the last judgment; the eternal punishment of the sinful; the final union of Christ and His Church; and the eternal blessedness of the faithful in the heavenly Jerusalem, with the Tree of Life restored.
When Domitian was killed, in 86, St. John went back to Ephesus, and there wrote his Gospel, to fill up what had been left out by the other three Evangelists, and especially dwelling on the discourses of the Lord of Life and Love. That same sweet sound of love rings through his three Epistles; and yet that heart-whole love of his Master made him severe, for he started away from a house he had entered, and would not go near it while it contained a former believer who had blasphemed Christ. A young man whom he had once converted fell into evil courses in his absence, and even became a tobber. St. John, like the Good Shepherd, himself went out into the wilderness to find him, and was taken by the thieves When his convert saw him, he would have fled in shame and terror; but St. John held out his arms, called him back, and rested not till he had won him to repentance. So gentle was he to all living things, that he was seen nursing a partridge in his hands, and when he became too old to preach to the people, he used to hold out his hands in blessing, and say, "Little children, love one another." He died in the year 100, just before the first great storm which was to try the Church.
The Emperor Trajan had found out that the iron of the Roman temper had become mixed with miry clay, and that the men of his time were very different from their fathers, and much less brave and public spirited. He fancied this was the fault of new ways, and that Christianity was one of these. There were Christians everywhere, in every town of every province, nobles, soldiers, women, slaves, rich and poor; all feeling themselves members of one body, all with the same faith, the same prayers and Sacraments. All day they did their daily tasks, only refusing to show any honour to idols, such as pouring out wine to the gods before partaking of food, or paying adoration to the figures of the Caesars, which were carried with the eagle standards of the army; and so close was the brotherhood between them, that the heathen used to say, "See how these Christians love one another!" At night they endeavoured to meet in some secret chamber, or underground cave. At Rome, the usual place was the Catacombs, great vaults, whence the soft stone for building the city had been dug out, and where the quarry-men alone knew the way through the long winding passages. Here, in the very early morning of Lord's Day, the Christians made every effort to assemble, for they were sure of meeting their Bishop, and of receiving the Holy Communion to strengthen them for the trials of the week. The Christian men and women stood on opposite sides; a little further off were the learners, as yet unbaptized, who might only hear the prayers and instructions; and beyond them was any person who had been forbidden to receive the Holy Eucharist on account of some sin, and who was waiting to be taken back again. The heathen knew nothing of what happened in these meetings, and fancied that a great deal that was shocking was done there; and Trajan ordered that Christians should be put to the torture, if they would not confess what were their ceremonies. Very few would betray anything, and what they said, the heathen could not understand; but the emperor imagining that these rites would destroy the old Roman spirit, forbade them, and persecuted the Christians, because they obeyed God rather than man. The Bishop of Antioch was an old man named Ignatius, who is believed to have been the little child whom our blessed Lord had set in the midst of His disciples as an example of lowliness. He had been St. John's pupil, and always walked in his steps, and he is the first Father of the Church, that is, the first of the great wise men in those early days, whose writings have come down to us. As Trajan was going through Antioch, he saw this holy man, and sentenced him to be carried to Rome, there to be thrown to the lions for the amusement of the bloody-minded Romans. As has been said, from early days the favourite sport of this nation had been to sit round on galleries, built up within a round building called an amphitheatre, to watch the gladiators fight with each other, or with savage beasts. Many of these buildings are still to be found ruined in different parts of the empire, and one in especial at Rome, named the Coliseum, where it is most likely that the death of St. Ignatius took place, when, as he said, he was the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of the lions. He is reckoned as one of the Fathers of the Church. His great friend was Polycarp, Bishop or Angel of Smyrna, the same, as it is believed, to whom St. John had written in the Revelation, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
The Emperor Antoninus began a persecution, which was carried on by his successor, Marcus Aurelius; and in 167, St. Polycarp, who was a very aged man, and had ruled the Church of Smyrna towards seventy years, was led before the tribunal. The governor had pity on his grey hairs, and entreated him to save his life by swearing by the fortunes of Caesar, and denying Christ. "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has never done me a wrong; how could I then blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?" said Polycarp; and all the threats of the governor did but make him glad to be so near glorifying God by his death. He was taken out to be burnt alive, and as he stood bound to the stake, he cried aloud, "Lord God Almighty, Father of the blessed and well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, by Whom we have received the grace to know Thee; God of angels and of powers, God of all creatures, and of the just who live in Thy Presence, I thank Thee that Thou hast brought me to this day and hour, when I may take part in the number of the martyrs in the Cup of Thy Christ, to rise to the eternal life of soul and body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit. May I be received into Thy Presence with them as an acceptable offering, as Thou hast prepared and foretold, Thou the true God Who canst not lie. Therefore I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee by the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, to Whom, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be glory now and for ever and ever. Amen." The fire was kindled, and to the wonder of the beholders, it rose into a bright vault of flame, like a glory around the martyr, without touching him; whereupon the governor became impatient, and caused him to be slain with the sword. He was the last of the companions of the Apostles; but there was no lessening of the grace bestowed on the Church. Even when Aurelius's army was suffering from a terrible drought in an expedition to Germany, a legion who were nearly all Christians, prayed aloud for rain, a shower descended in floods of refreshment. The emperor said that his god Jupiter sent it, and caused his triumphal arch to be carved with figures of soldiers, some praying, others catching rain in their helmets and shields; but the band was ever afterwards called the Thundering Legion. This unbelieving emperor persecuted frightfully, and great numbers suffered at Vienne in Gaul, many dying of the damp of their prison, and many more tortured to death. Of these was the Bishop Pothinus of Lyons, ninety years old, who died of the torments; and those who lived through them were thrown to wild beasts, till the animals were so glutted as to turn from the prey; but no pain was so great as not to be counted joy by the Christians; and the more they were slain, the more persons were convinced that the hope must be precious for which they endured so much; and the more the Word of God prevailed. Aurelius Caesar died in 180, and the Church was left at rest for a little while,
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven."—Matt v. 10
It had been revealed to St. John that the Church should have tribulation for ten days; and accordingly, in her first three hundred years, ten emperors tried to put out her light. Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Antoninus, and Aurelius, have been mentioned; and the next persecutor was Severus, an emperor who went to Britain, firmly established the Roman power over England, and built the great wall to keep the Scots from injuring the northern settlers.
In his time died the glorious band of martyrs of Carthage—five young converts, two men, named Satur and Saturninus, a noble young married lady, called Perpetua, who had a young infant, and two slaves, Revocatus and Felicitas, the last of whom gave birth to a daughter in the prison. But not even love to their babes could lead these faithful women to dissemble their belief; Perpetua left her child with her family; Felicitas gave hers to a Christian woman to bring up; and the lady and the slave went out singing, hand in hand, to the amphitheatre, where they were to be torn by beasts. A wild cow was let loose on them, and threw down the two women; but Perpetua at once sat up again, covered herself with her garments, and helped up Felicitas, but as if in a dream, for she did not remember that the cow had been loosed on her. Satur had an especial horror of a bear, which was intended to be the means of his death, and a good soldier named Pudens put meat in front of the den, that the beast might not come out. A leopard then flew at him, and tore him; Satur asked the soldier for his ring, dipped it in his own blood, and gave it back as a memorial, just before he died under the teeth and claws of the animal. The others were all killed by soldiers in the middle of the amphitheatre, Perpetua guiding the sword to her own throat.
The persecution of the Emperor Decius was one of the worst of all, for the heathen grew more ingenious by practice in inventing horrible deaths.
Under the Emperor Valerian died St. Lawrence, a young deacon at Rome, whom the judge commanded to produce the treasures of the Church. He called together all the aged widows and poor cripples who were maintained by the alms of the faithful, "These," he said, "are the treasures of the Church." In the rage of the persecutors, he was roasted to death on bars of iron over a fire. St. Cyprian, the great Bishop of Carthage, was beheaded; and one hundred and fifty martyrs at Utica were thrown alive into a pit of quick-lime. At Antioch one man failed; Sapricius, a priest, was being led out to die, when a Christian named Nicephorus, with whom he had a quarrel, came to beg his forgiveness ere his death. Sapricius would not pardon, and Nicephorus went on humbly entreating, amid the mockery of the guards, until the spot of execution was reached, and the prisoner was bidden to kneel down to have his bead cut off. Then it appeared that he who had not the heart to forgive, had not the heart to die; Sapricius's courage failed him, and he promised to sacrifice to the idols; and Nicephorus was put to death, receiving the crown of martyrdom in his stead. The persecuting Valerian himself came to a miserable end, for he was made prisoner in a battle, in 258, with the Persians, and their king for many years forced the unhappy captive to bow down on his hands and knees so as to be a step by which to climb on his elephant, and when he died, his skin was taken off, dyed red, and hung up in a temple. After his captivity, the Church enjoyed greater tranquillity; many more persons ventured to avow themselves Christians, and their worship was carried on without so much concealment as formerly.
But the troublous times were not yet over, and the rage of the prince of this world moved the Romans to make a yet more violent effort than any before to put down the kingdom of the Prince of Peace. Two emperors began to reign together, named Diocletian and Maximian, dividing the whole empire between them into two parts, the East and the West. After a few years' rule, they both of them fell savagely upon the Christians. In Switzerland, a whole division of the army, called the Theban Legion, 6,000 in number, with the leader, St. Maurice, all were cut to pieces together rather than deny their faith. In Egypt the Christians were mangled with potsherds, and every torture was invented that could shake their constancy. Each tribunal was provided with a little altar to some idol, and if the Christians would but scatter a few grains of incense upon it, they were free; but this was a denying of their Lord, and the few who yielded in the fear of them who could kill the body, grieved all their lives afterwards for the act, and were not restored to their place in the Church until after long years of penance, or until they had atoned for their fall by witnessing a good confession. Sometimes they were not allowed to receive the Holy Communion again till they were on their dying beds. But these were the exceptions; in general, God's strength was made perfect in weakness, and not only grown men, but timid women, tender maidens, and little children, would bear the utmost torture with glad faith, and trust that it was working for them an exceeding 'weight of glory. St. Margaret of Antioch was but fifteen years old, St. Agnes of Rome only twelve, and at Merida, in Spain, Eulalia, at the same age, went out in search of martyrdom, insulting the idols, until she was seized and put to death full of joy; but in general, the Christians were advised not needlessly to run into the way of danger.
This was the first persecution that reached to Britain, There a kind-hearted Roman soldier, named Alban, received into his house a priest who was fleeing from his persecutors, and while he was there, learnt from him the true faith. When search was made for his guest, Alban threw on the dress of the priest, and was taken in his stead; he was carried to the tribunal, and there declaring himself a Christian, was sentenced to be beheaded. The city where he suffered is called after him St. Alban's, and a beautiful church was afterwards built in memory of him. These cruelties did not long continue in Britain, for the governor, Constantius, had married a Christian British lady, named Helena; and as soon as he ventured to interfere, he stopped the persecution.
Diocletian became tired of reigning, and persuaded his comrade, Maximian, to resign their thrones to Constantius and to another prince named Galerius. Constantius forbade all persecution in the West, but Galerius and his son-in-law, Maximin, were very violent in the East; and Maximin is counted as the last of the ten persecuting emperors. Under him a great many Christians were blinded, scarred with hot iron, or had their fingers and ears cut off. Some were sent to the deserts to keep the emperor's cattle; some were driven in chains to work in the mines. These, who suffered bravely everything except death, were called confessors instead of martyrs. Galerius died in great misery in 311, of the same horrible disease as the persecutor of the Jews, Antiochus Epiphanes; and like him, he at last owned too late the God whom he had rejected, and sent entreaties that prayers might be offered up for him.
THE CONVERSION OF CONSTANTINE.
"The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ."—Rev. xi, 15.
The son of Constantius, Constantine, became emperor in 307. He was in doubt between the two religions; he saw that Christianity made people good, and yet he could not quite leave off believing in the heathen gods, and was afraid of neglecting them. As he was passing the Alps to put down a very powerful and cruel tyrant, who had made himself master of Italy, he and all his army suddenly beheld in the sky, at mid-day, a bright light shaped like a cross, and in glorious letters round it, the Latin words meaning, "In this sign thou shalt conquer." This wonderful sight made Constantine believe that the cross was truly the sign of salvation, and that He who could show such marvels in heaven, must be the true God. He set the cross on his standards instead of the Roman Eagle; and such great victories were vouchsafed to him, that by-and-by he became the only emperor, and put down all his enemies.
He was not as yet baptized, but he was a hearty believer, and he tried in everything to make the Church prosperous, and to govern by Christian rules. From that time all the chief powers of this world have professed to be Christian, and the Church has been owned as the great means appointed by God of leading His people to Himself. Constantine's mother, Helena, though in her eightieth year, set off to the ruins of Jerusalem to try to trace out the places hallowed by our Saviour's suffering. All was waste and desolate, and no one lived there save a few very poor Jews and Christians in wretched huts. The latter had never lost the memory of the places where the holy events of the Passion had taken place; and the empress set men to dig among the ruins on Mount Calvary, till she found the Holy Sepulchre, and not far from it, three crosses, and the nails belonging to them. She built a most beautiful church, so large as to cover the whole of Golgotha. The sepulchre itself formed a round vault within, crusted over with marble, and lighted with silver lamps. The true Cross was kept in the church, but the nails she brought home as the most precious gift she could carry to her son. She also beautified and made into a church the cave of the Nativity at Bethlehem, and she built another church on Mount Carmel in memory of Elijah. From her time it became a habit with devout persons to go on pilgrimage, to worship at the holy tomb and in the Cave of Bethlehem; and a new city of Jerusalem rose upon the ruins of the old one, though, of course, without a Temple. Rome was so fall of the tokens of heathenism, that Constantine feared that his court would never be heartily Christian till he took it to a fresh place; so he resolved to build a new capital city for his empire. This was the city called after him, Constantinople, the city of Constantine, on the banks of the Bosphorus, just where Europe and Asia nearly meet. The chief building there was a most beautiful church, dedicated to the holy Wisdom of God, and named in Greek St. Sophia. The Bishop there was termed the Patriarch of Constantinople. There were already five patriarchs, or great Father Bishops, to rule over divisions of the Church at Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. The Patriarch of Rome was called the Pope. All was peace and prosperity, and the Christians were so much at their ease, that some finding that they missed the life of hardness, which they used to think a great blessing, went apart from men, and lived in caves, quite alone, working hard for very scanty food, and praying constantly. These were called hermits. But there soon were troubles enough rising up within the Church herself, for a man named Arius, a priest at Alexandria, began wickedly to teach that our blessed Lord was not from all eternity, nor equal with God the Father. So many persons were led away by this blasphemous heresy, (which means a denial of the faith,) that it was resolved to call together as many Bishops as possible from the entire Church, to hold a General Council, and declare the truth.
The emperor came to Nicea, in Asia Minor, in the year 325, and there met three hundred and eighteen bishops from every quarter, many of them still scarred by the injuries they had received in the persecutions, and many learned priests and deacons, among whom the most noted was Athanasius of Alexandria. Together, they drew up the two first paragraphs of the confession of faith called the Nicene Creed, and three hundred of the bishops set their sign and seal to it, declaring it was the truth, as they had been charged to hold and teach it fast, the Catholic or universal faith. Arius was put out of the Communion of the Church, and all his followers with him. But they were many and powerful; and in after times, Constantine became confused by their representations. He ought to have seen that he who was not even baptized ought not to interfere in Church matters; but instead of this, he wrote to Athanasius, who had just been made Patriarch of Alexandria, telling him to preserve peace by receiving Arius back to Communion. Athanasius refused to do what would have tainted the whole Church, so Constantine banished him, and allowed Arius to come to Constantinople. There the heretic deceived him so completely, that he desired that he should be received back on the next Sunday. While the faithful clergy wept and prayed that the Church might be kept clear from the man who denied honour to the Lord who bought him, Arius went through the streets in triumph; but in the midst he was smitten by a sudden disease, and died in a few moments. This judgment convinced Constantine, and he held to the Catholic faith for the rest of his life. He was baptized, and received his first Communion on his death-bed, when sixty-four years old, and is remembered as the first believing monarch.
After him came worse times, for his son, Constantius, was an Arian, and persecuted the Catholics, though not to the death. St. Athanasius was driven to hide among the hermits in Egypt, and a great part of the Eastern Church fell into the heresy. Then, in 361, reigned his cousin, Julian the Apostate, who, from being a Christian, had turned back to be a heathen, and wanted to have the old gods worshipped. In hopes to show that the prophecies were untrue, he tried to build up the Temple at Jerusalem, and the foundations were being dug out, when balls of fire came bursting out of the ground; and thus God's will and power were made known, so that the workmen were forced to leave off. Julian was very severe towards the Catholics, and it seemed as though the old times of persecution were coming back; but after three years he was killed in battle, and the next emperor brought back better days. St. Athanasius finished this life in peace, and left behind him writings, whence was taken the glorious Creed that bears his name.
"The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel"—Isa. lx. 14.
The empire was again divided into two parts, which were held by two brothers. Valentinian, who had the eastern half, was an Arian; and Valens, who ruled at Rome, was a Catholic. Though all the empire was Christian, still there were sad disputes; for many had fallen away into the heresy, and there was so great a love of arguing in a light careless manner in market-places, baths, feasts, and places of common resort, that it was a great distress to the truly devout to hear the most sacred mysteries discoursed of so freely.
The great and learned Saint Jerome hid himself away from this strife of tongues, to pray and study in a hermitage at Bethlehem. By the desire of the Pope, he did the same work for the New Testament as Simon the Great had done for the Old Testament: he examined into the history of all the writings that professed to have come down from the Apostles' time, and proved clearly which had been really written under the inspiration of God, and had been always held as Holy Scriptures by the Church. Then he translated the whole Bible into Latin, and wrote an account of each book, setting apart those old writings of the Jews that are called the Apocrypha, and are read as wise instruction, though they be not certainly known to be the Word of God, in the same manner as the Holy Scriptures themselves. St. Jerome is counted as one of the chief Fathers or doctors of the Church.
Another great Father of the Church who lived at the same time, was Ambrose. He was the Governor of the Italian city of Milan; and though a devout believer, was still unbaptized, when the clergy and the people, as was then the custom, met to choose their Bishop. A little child in the crowd cried out, "Ambrose Bishop!" and everyone took up the cry with one voice, and thought that the choice was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ambrose was very unwilling to accept the office, but at last he submitted; he was baptized, and a week after was first confirmed, and then ordained priest, and consecrated Bishop. He was one of the most kind and gentle of men, but he had a hard struggle to fight for the truth. The Emperor, Valens, died, and his widow, Justina, who ruled for her little son, was an Arian. She wanted a church for her friends, but Ambrose would allow none to be profaned by a service where the blessed Saviour would be robbed of His honour. He knew his duty as a subject too well to lift a hand against the empress, but he filled up the Church with his faithful flock, and there they prayed, and sang psalms and hymns without ceasing; and when Justina sent soldiers to turn them out, they were so firm, that only one woman ran away. Instead of offering violence, the soldiers joined and prayed with them, and thus Justina was obliged to give up her attempt in despair.
A very good emperor named Theodosius had begun to reign in the east, and assisted Justina's young son to govern the west. He was a thorough Catholic, and loved the Church with all his heart. Some fresh heretics had risen up, who taught falsehoods respecting the Third Person of the most Holy Trinity; and to put them down, Theodosius called another General Council to meet at Constantinople, and there the following addition was made to the Nicene Creed: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified—" and so on to the end. Thus each heresy was made the occasion of giving the faithful a beautiful watchword.
Though good and religious, Theodosius was hasty and violent by nature, and could be very severe. He had laid a tax on the people of Antioch, which made them so angry that they rose up in a rage, knocked down the statues of the emperor and his wife which adorned their public places, and dragged them about the streets; but as soon as they came to their senses, they were dreadfully alarmed, knowing that this was an act of high treason. They, therefore, sent off messengers to entreat the emperor's pardon; and in the meantime they met constantly in the churches, fasting and praying that his wrath might be turned away. John, called Chrysostom, or Golden Mouth, from his beautiful language, was a Deacon of Antioch, and he preached to the people every day during this time of suspense, telling them of the sins that had moved God to give them up to their foolish passion, so as to put them in fear, and lead them to repentance. One of these sins was vanity, and love of finery and pleasure; and another was their irreverent behaviour at church. They did repent heartily; and before the emperor's men had time to do more than begin to try some of the ringleaders, there came other messengers at full speed, bringing his promise of pardon.
Love of the sight of chariot races was a great snare to the Greeks. At Thessalonica, one of the favourite drivers behaved ill, and was imprisoned by the governor, upon which the people flew out in a fury, and actually stoned the magistrate to death. In his passion at their crime, Theodosius sent off soldiers with orders to put them all to death; and when he grew cool, and despatched orders to stop the execution of his terrible command, they came too late—the city was in flames, and the unhappy people, innocent and guilty alike, all lay slain in the streets. Theodosius was at Milan; and St. Ambrose thought it right to shut him out from the congregation while he was so deeply stained with blood. The emperor came to the church door and begged to be admitted; but the Bishop met him sternly, and turned him back. Theodosius pleaded that David had sinned, and had been forgiven. "If you have been like him in sin, be like him in repentance!" said the Bishop; and this great prince turned humbly away, and went weeping home. Easter was the regular time for reconciling penitents; and at Christmas the emperor stayed praying and weeping in his palace till a courtier advised him to try whether the Bishop would relent. He came to the church, but Ambrose told him that he could not transgress the laws in his behalf. At last, however, when he saw the emperor so truly contrite and broken-hearted, he gave him leave to come in again; and there the first thing Theodosius did was to fall down on his face, weeping bitterly, and crying out in David's words, "My soul cleaveth to the dust, quicken Thou me according to Thy word!" He lay thus humbly through all the service; nor did he once wear his crown and purple robes till after several months of patient penitence he was admitted to the blessed Feast of Pardon. He made a decree that no sentence of death should be executed till thirty days after it was spoken, so that no more deeds of hasty passion might be done.
One great happiness of St. Ambrose's life was the conversion of Augustine. This youth was the son of a good and holy mother, St. Monica; but he had not been baptized, and he grew up wise in his own conceit, and loving idle follies and vicious pleasures. For many years he was led astray by heretical and heathenish fancies; but his faithful mother prayed for him all the time, and at last had the joy of seeing him repent with all his heart. He was baptized at Milan; and it is said that the glorious hymn Te Deum was written by St. Ambrose, and first sung at his baptism. The hymn, "Veni Creator," which is sung in the Ordination Service, is also said to be by St. Ambrose. Monica and her son spent a short and peaceful space together; and then she died in great thankfulness that he had been given to her prayers. He spent many years as Bishop of Hippo, in Africa, and wrote numerous books, which have come down to our day. One is called the City of God, so as exactly to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah, that the Church should so be called by the descendants of those who had afflicted her. St. Martin, a soldier, who once gave half his cloak to a beggar, and afterwards became a Bishop, completed the conversion of Gaul at this time, and was buried at Tours. St. Chrysostom likewise left many sermons and comments on the Holy Scripture. He was made Patriarch of Constantinople, but he suffered many things there, for the wife of the Emperor Arcadius, son of the good Theodosius, hated him for rebuking her love of finery, and her passion for racing shows, and persuaded her husband to send him into exile in his old age, to a climate so cold, that he died in consequence. The beautiful collect called by his name comes from the Liturgy which was used in his time in his Church at Constantinople; but it is not certain whether he actually was the author thereof.
THE TEUTON NATIONS.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened."—Matt. xiii. 33.
The miry clay which Nebuchadnezzar saw mixed with the iron of Rome, had by the end of the fourth century nearly overcome the strong metal, and the time had come when the great horn of the devouring beast was to be broken off, and give place to ten others. The Romans for the last two hundred years had been growing more and more selfish and easy in their habits; and instead of fighting their own battles, had called in strangers to fight for them, till these strangers became too strong for them. The nations to whom these hired soldiers belonged, were the forefathers of most of the present people of Europe. They were called Teutons altogether, and lived in the northern parts of Europe. They were tall, fair, large people, very brave and spirited, with much honour and truth, though apt to be savage and violent; and they showed more respect to their women than any of the heathens did. They had many gods, of whom Odin, who left his name to the fourth day of the week, was the chief and father. Freya, the Earth, was his wife, and Thor was Thunder. There was a story of Baldur, a good and perfect one, who died by the craft of Lok the Destroyer, and yet still lived. This seemed like a copy of the truth; and so did the story of Lok himself, the power of evil, with a serpent on his brow, who lay chained, and yet could walk forth over the earth, and whose pale daughter, Hela, was the gaoler of the unworthy dead. They thought the brave who died in battle had the happiest lot their rude fancies could devise; they lived in the Hall of Odin, hunting all day, feasting all night, and drinking mead from the skulls of their conquered enemies.
The tribe called Goths, who lived near the Romans, and who took their pay and entered their armies, learnt the Christian faith readily; but unfortunately, it was through Arians that they received it, and those farther off continued to worship Odin. The great Theodosius left his empire parted between his two sons, Arcadius in the east, Honorius in the west. Both were young, weak, and foolish. They quarrelled with the great Gothic chief, Alaric, who began to overrun their dominions, and at last threatened Rome so much, that Honorius was forced to call home all his soldiers to protect himself.
The first province thus left bare of troops, was Britain, which remained a prey to the savage Scots, and then was conquered by the Saxons and Angles, two of the heathen tribes of Teutons, who seemed for a time quite to have put out the light of Christianity in their part of the island. The Britons in the Welsh hills, however, still continued a free and Christian people; and Patrick, a noble young Roman, who had once been made captive by the wild Irish, and set to feed their sheep, no sooner grew up than he went back to preach the Gospel to them, and deliver them from a worse bondage than they had made him suffer. So many did he convert, and such zealous Christians were they, that Ireland used to be called the Isle of Saints; and it has never forgotten the trefoil, or shamrock leaf, by which St. Patrick taught his converts to enter into the great mystery, how Three could yet be One.
In the meantime Alaric marched against Rome. Once he was beaten back, and Honorius celebrated the victory by the last Roman triumph ever held, and after it, by the last of the shows of righting slaves. A monk sprung into the amphitheatre while it was going on, and, in the name of Christ, forbade the death of a gladiator who had been wounded, and was to have been killed. The people, in a rage, stoned the good man; but they were so much ashamed, that these shocking entertainments were given up for ever. Rome never won another victory. Alaric came on again; and though he honoured the noble city so much, that he could not bear to let loose his wild troops on it, the false dealing of Honorius at last made him so angry, that he led his Goths into the city; but he was very merciful, he ordered that no one should be killed, and no church injured nor plundered; and he led his army out again at the end of six days. Honorius had fled to Ravenna, and though a few more weak and foolish men called themselves Emperors of the West, the very title soon passed away, and the chief part of Italy was held by the Goths and other Teuton tribes; but they seldom came to Rome, where the chief power gradually fell into the hands of the Pope.
Gaul was conquered by another Teuton race called Franks, who were very fierce heathen at first, but were afterwards converted. Their great leader, Clovis, married a Teuton lady named Clotilda, a Catholic Christian. She was very anxious to lead him to the truth; and at last, in a great battle, he called out in prayer to Clotilda's God; and when the victory was given to him, he took it as a sign from Heaven, and on coming home was baptized, and built the Church of Notre Dame at Paris, which is said to be just as long as the distance to which King Clovis could pitch an axe.
Spain was conquered by a set of Arian Goths; but a Frank princess, great grandchild to Clotilda, brought her husband, the young prince, to a better way of thinking; and though they were persecuted, even to the death, their influence told upon the rest of the family; and the younger brother, who came to the throne afterwards, brought all Spain to be Catholic.
It was something like this with England, where Bertha, another Frank princess, worked upon her husband, Ethelbert, King of Kent, to listen to Augustin, whom Pope Gregory the Great had sent to preach the Word to the Saxons, recollecting how he had once been struck by the angel faces of the little Angle children, whom he had found waiting to be sold for slaves in the marketplace. From Kent, the sound of the Gospel spread out throughout England; and before one hundred years had passed, all the Saxons and Angles were hearty Christians, and sent out the missionary, St. Boniface, who first converted the Teutons in Germany. So, though it would have seemed that the great rush of heathen savages must have stifled the Christian faith, it came working up through them, till at last it moulded their whole state and guided their laws; but this was long in coming to pass, and for many centuries they were very savage and fierce.
St. Gregory the Great was one of the very best of the Popes, very self-denying, and earnestly pious, and doing his utmost to train the Romans in self-discipline, and to soften the Teutons. He put together a book of seven services, to be used by devout people in the course of each day; and he arranged the chants which are still called by his name, though both they and the services are much older. A little before his time, St. Benedict had made rules for the persons who wished to serve God, and to live apart from the world. They lived in buildings named monasteries, or convents; the men, who were called monks, under the rule of an abbot, the women, nuns, under an abbess. They took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience; lived and worked as hard as possible, and spent much time in prayer and doing good, teaching the young, giving medicine to the sick, and feeding the poor. They would fix their home in a waste land, and bring it into good order, and they went out preaching and convening the heathen near. Everyone honoured them; and in the worst times, they were left unhurt; their lands were not robbed, and in those savage days, little that was gentle or good would have been safe but for the honour paid to the Church.