Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

phan was made to leap for joy by their timely assistance. For, although there was monstrous cruelty in the act, heathen parents, as we collect from the testimony of their own writers, were then addicted to the crime of exposing their infant progeny in the streets; amply meriting by this conduct the sentence which pronounces them to have been " without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” It is further known, that before the spread of Christianity these unfortunate children were mostly suffered to perish, or were rescued from death to be bred up in slavery and sin. How bright the era which now dawned upon them! Forth went in earliest morn the messengers of life, and soft arms transported the forsaken ones to abodes of peace. And, besides, women of the primitive Church were sometimes touched with pity for the slave, and led to redeem him from bondage. To this course they were moved by their solicitude for the salvation of men, no less than by the compassionate feelings which Christianity enkindles and refines. We are told that Callisto, a noble widow of Smyrna, early one morning went to a certain gate of the city, and found a little child of Eastern origin. Learning that he was a slave, and attracted by the intelligence and sweetness of his face, she bought him with her money, adopted him as her son, taught and won him to the Christian faith, trusted him with the management of her property, and finally made him heir of all. But this purchased lad was Polycarp, afterwards for half a century Bishop of the Church in Smyrna, and then immortalized by the testimony for Christ which he bore at his martyrdom. For in presence of an angry crowd, vociferating at intervals, “ Polycarp to the lions !” and solicited again and again by the Pro-Consul to curse Jesus and deliver himself from death, the venerable saint offered this child-like and touching response, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong; how then can I curse my King and my Saviour ?To rescue this man from heathen slavery, and educate him for so useful a life and so sublime a death, was no minor service to Christianity. Yet we are allowed to believe in the occurrence of many similar instances during the first three centuries,

[ocr errors]

when our holy faith was proscribed, and its friends hunted and slain.

Moreover, female servants often introduced the religion of Christ into heathen families. Celsus, who seizes every possible occasion to twit and taunt believers, after saying of the way in which their faith was diffused, “You shall see weavers, tailors, fullers, and the most rustic and illiterate fellows, when before their elders and betters, as mute as fishes; but when they can get a few children and silly women by themselves, they wax eloquent forthwith, and prate marvellous things,”—Celsus then goes on to sneer at the influence of chamber-maids, in favor of Christianity, over Roman matrons and their children ; thus, in the very spleen and bitterness of his heart against the truth, paying a high compliment to the intelligence and fidelity of those servants. He intended to brand the Gospel as a shallow superstition, propagated by ignorance, and fit only to impose upon credulous women, while, at the same time, he lauded polytheism to the skies as accordant with reason and philosophy ; but the civilized world has long since reversed his judgment, cast his argument and belief to the winds, and now attributes a value to his work only in so far as it elucidates the behavior of Christians in that early age.

Above all, mothers infused the principles of genuine virtue into the minds of their children, and prepared many a favorite son, by Christian nurture, to bear the toil and brave the danger then associated with a preacher's life. Accept the following examples from the fourth century in illustration of their faithfulness. For the scanty records of the early Church warn us to consult a later period for personal biography, especially for that of females.

After the death of her husband, Anthusa, though hardly twenty years of age, devoted herself to the education of her son; and the life of that son, whose golden words and enlightened zeal gave him the foremost place in all the East, is the memorial of her worth. The Church was indebted to the influence of Anthusa for the labors of Chrysostom.

Meanwhile in the West a yet mightier intellect and deeper soul was yielding at last, after long conflict with lust and

pride, to the voice of truth, and Monica, whose yearning faith had never faltered in the darkest hour, saw her distinguished son a child of hope and a champion for his Lord. Whenever, therefore, the name of Augustine is pronounced, let there be added also that of Monica, his gentle and heroic teacher. It is impossible to estimate the good received by such men from mothers, who were thus careful to ply them with every loving and pious motive, and to bury deep in the soil of their hearts the seeds of heavenly wisdom.

It has also been truly remarked, that the love of primitive believers to one another was exceedingly great. This resulted in part from the heartiness and depth of their religious sentiments. Few bore the Christian name, in honor, solely, of their intellectual convictions. Only the earnest and sincere would avow the truth when persecution drew her glittering sword before them. And in part it resulted from their sharing in common perils and reproaches. Cast out of pagan society by its cruelty or its vice, they clung more closely to one another. Of females we learn in particular, that their kindness to the suffering was proverbial. They watched over the sick with heroic constancy and tender solicitude. They were hospitable to the stranger, and remembered those in bonds as bound with them. Lucian, the prince of mockers, bears witness to this truly feminine and beautiful trait of character. With the design of ridiculing the simplicity of Christians, he makes them welcome a stranger and hypocrite into their society, advance him rapidly from one office to another, and at last honor him as their chief teacher. Presently, however, he is cast into prison, and Christian women are described as hastening to his relief, and sparing neither labor nor expense to mitigate his sufferings. Tertullian urges this custom as a reason why Christian females should not accept of pagan husbands. What pagan,'' he inquires, “would permit his wife to go about and visit the sick, even in the dwellings of poverty ? or entertain in her house a Christian traveler? or, in times of persecution, steal into the prison and kiss the martyr's chains ?” The fury against Christians was frequently so great, that confessors must be visited, if at all, at the risk

of life. Thrust into close and gloomy cells, they were alternately tortured and starved for the purpose of breaking their spirits, and forcing them to abjure their belief. It was then that woman's tenderness outran the courage of man. Noiselessly she glided into the dungeon, gave to the fainting sufferer a cup of cold water in the name of the Lord, whispered to him a message of peace, and was gone. The gentle hands of wife and mother were busy, even when men's hearts failed them for fear, and for looking after those things which were coming on the earth. There may have been somewhat of superstition, and undue reverence for martyrs, in that kissing of their chains of which Tertullian speaks, but there was far more of fearless virtue and selfforgetting charity in the work of peril which they performed.

Nor should we diminish this praise on the ground of any presumed lenity then shown to females, rendering a course of action well nigh safe for them, which would have been fraught with danger to men. In times of persecution, the “ tender mercies of paganism were cruel.” The

The rage which thirsted for the blood of Polycarp was unrelenting and indiscriminate. Delicate women were many times subjected to tortures and abuses worse than death. A letter from Pliny, the accomplished scholar, and mild governor of Bithynia, to the Emperor of Rome, respecting Christians, may be cited in proof of this statement. In a province thronged with believers of either sex and of every rank, he did not blush to apply the torture to females, and to report their words to his master. They were chosen, it is natural to presume, as less resolute than men, and consequently more likely to testify of crimes imputed to their society. Behold the merciless policy of heathen courts when dealing with Christians! Yet the two women whom Pliny thus examined bore witness to the virtue and harmlessness of believers; and the only crime which he was able to charge upon the friends of Christ, in his letter to Trajan, was a certain inflexible and guilty obstinacy. He was led to exonerate them fully from every accusation of treasonable or immoral conduct.

Perpetua was the daughter of noble parents, who resided

in the rich suburbs of Carthage. She was favored with a superior education, and at length became a Christian. When the persecution under Geta broke out, she had already been married, and was the mother of an infant child. But her father was still a pagan; and although he may have cared but little for her change of belief in times of repose, he was now appalled by the rising storm, and strove to make her renounce Christianity. “Do you see that jar?” she once said in reply, pointing to a vessel before them. We can call it no other than what it is, a jar. So also must I call myself no other than what I am, a Christian." She was soon seized and thrust into prison, to endure excruciating pain. As the time of her trial drew near, her father again entreated her to recant: “My child,” he cried, “pity my gray hairs, have compassion on thy father, if I am still worthy of being called a father by thee. Have I not with these hands led thee up to the bloom of life? Have I not preferred thee to both thy brothers ? O, then, make me not a disgrace among men! Look on thy brother! thy mother! thy son ! who cannot survive thy death. O, dismiss your high notions, and involve us not in ruin !" To strengthen this appeal, he cast himself at her feet, kissed her hand, and called her by every dear and familiar name. It was a sore trial to her faith. But she remembered the paramount claims of her Lord, and replied, “Father, that will take place which God wills. For know, we are not in our own power, but in the hand of God.

When brought before the tribunal, that weeping father was present, hoping to turu her from Christ, but not to soften the heart of her judge. “Have pity on thy child," was his final plea; and the procurator himself admonished her, “Spare the gray hairs of thy father, spare the youth of thy child, and offer sacrifice to the Emperor.” But she answered, “It cannot be !” After confessing herself to be a Christian, she was sentenced to be torn in pieces by wild beasts at the next festival, and was remanded to prison. Once more between her condemnation and her death was the patient sufferer visited by her father, now devoured with sorrow, yet unable to give up the hope of his daughter's yielding. But

« EdellinenJatka »