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We must not omit another remarkable discovery of M. de Rossi in these catacombs; the name of one who with many of his readers will rival in interest even martyr Popes. The same kind of authorities which guided M. de Rossi in his adventurous, dare we use the coarse and profane word,
diggings' for buried Popes, led him to expect to find the name of S. Cæcilia in the same hallowed crypt. And so in due time S. Cæcilia reveals herself in distinct letters. We cannot fully trace out in our pages the course of this discovery; we are rather disposed to follow up with M. de Rossi a train of thought which might tend to throw some light on a most interesting question. Of its success we will not absolutely despair, as he does not despair. We would fain know the process hy which some at least of the older and more famous names in Heathen, and Republican or Imperial Rome, passed over into the ranks of the Christians. On the whole it is clear to us, we think that it is beyond doubt, that the old noble families remained in general to the end the most obstinate Pagans. Men with the virtues as well as the birth and descent of old Rome (Milman's · Hist. of Christianity,' iii. 80, 81); men, like Vettius Prætextatus, were the hope and strength of the Pagan party. Paganism in that class did not expire till all the older and nobler families were scattered over the face of the world, after the ruin of Rome by Alaric and by Genseric. But there can be no doubt that many of them had already forsaken the Jove of the Capitol for the Cross of Christ. (Jerome's writings are conclusive for his period.) M. de Rossi observes that Cornelius is the only Pope who bears what he calls the diaoritie name of one of the famous Gentes.
Above the Catacomb of Callistus stands, or rather seems podding to its fall, a huge mound, or ruined structure, manifestly one of the vast and costly monuments which in Heathen days lined the Appian Way. What if this was a monument of the Cæcilii, built on an estate belonging to that noble family? What if S. Cæcilia was descended from this illustrious race ?what if the estate had passed into the hands of Christian Cæcilii, and given a right and title, or at least furnished a free and lawful access to the subjacent catacomb ? All this, we admit, is extremely visionary; but, as an acknowledged vision, may perhaps be indulged, till disproved—it can hardly be fully confirmed by later investigations. No one is more sensible than M. de Rossi of the difficulties which incumber, and which we fear must incumber, such questions :
Ma nelle tenebre che coprono le genealogie durante il secolo dell' impero, nel mescolamento delle stirpi e de' gentilizi, in mezzo a tanti uomini nuovi, innalzati dai principi ai supremi onori, è impossibile di veder chiaro, e dai soli nomi argomentare con sicurezza legami genealogici od ereditarii.
Is there not the further and perhaps more serious difficulty, in the assumption of, or permission to assume, noble and gentilitian names, by Freedmen and Libertini ?
Persecution after the reign of Decius was not unknown, especially under Valerian, in which occurred the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II. ; but it was intermittent, not more than local, till the final conflict under Diocletian. The late Cardinal Wiseman, it is well known, with his characteristic prudence, laid the scene of his romance of · Fabiola' in the reign of Diocletian, when above two centuries had matured and completed all the arrangements for Christian burial in the catacombs ; when the Christians were perhaps driven to take refuge in these vast and unexplored depths, and really became what they have been fondly and foolishly declared, or suggested, or hinted to have been, lucifuga. The Catacombs may in those dark days of calamity have become places of Worship, even worship of martyrs, whose holy example the pious fugitives might at any time be called upon to follow. It is certainly a whimsical sign of the times that a grave Cardinal, in the fulness of his cardinalate, should have bowed to the all-ruling influence of novel-writing, and condescended to cast the doctrines of his Church into this attractive, it should seem almost indispensable, form. A Pope of old, and a very clever Pope, wrote a novel, but it was in his younger days of lay-hood; and if he heartily
repented of the Boccacio tone of his novel, he still hung with parental fondness over the elegance of its Latinity. Let us hasten to say that the Cardinals romance (this is not mere respect for the departed) was not only altogether irreproachable, and in harmony with his stainless and serious character; but, if it had not been too didactic, its avowed but fatal aim, it might have enjoyed a wider and more lasting popularity. But the persecution of Diocletian is far less clearly illustrated than we might have expected from the study of the Catacombs. There is an obscurity which has not yet been dispersed, nor seems likely to be dispersed, over the acts and the fate of the Popes who at that period ruled in Rome. There are no years, from the very earliest in the Papal annals, so utterly obscure as those of Pope Marcellinus, A.D. 296-307. During the reign of Diocletian the great persecution commenced, Feb. 23, A.D. 303. It began and raged most fiercely in the East. Maximian ruled in the West, and in Rome. Diocletian appeared there to celebrate his Vicennalia, but soon departed. For Marcellinus himself, he was arraigned by the earlier Christian writers as an apostate who offered sacrifice to Cæsar. But this, as well as the fable of the Council of 300 Bishops of Sinuessa, is rejected by the later and better writers of the Church of Rome. But Marcellinus, as all agree, was no martyr. Where he was buried we know not. There is of course no vestige of him, nor, we believe, of his successor, Marcellus, in the Catacombs. The whole history in truth is a blank; even legend is modest.
With the cessation of the persecution the Church of Rome resumed, of course, with her other rights or immunities, the possession of her places of sepulture. But it appears that, on the triumph and supremacy of Christianity, the Roman Christians began in some degree and gradually to disdain these secret and hidden places of rest for their dead. M. de Rossi states (we accept his authority from the epigraphs), that from A.D. 338 to 360 the proportion of burials was one-third aboveground, two-thirds in the Catacombs. After the reign of Julian
The use of the subterranean sepulchres visibly declines; the numbers become equal. After 370 there is a sudden but not unexplained reaction. Magnificent churches began to rise over what were believed to be the burying-places of the Martyrs. But while the tomb of the Martyr was preserved inviolate, the altar being usually raised over it, the first or even the second floor was frequently levelled for the foundations and construction of the church. Still the privilege of burial, as near as possible, to the sacred and now worshipped relics of the Martyrs, crowded the crypts below; and subterranean interments in subterranean chamber3, under or close to the altar of the Martyrs, came again into honour and request.—De Rossi, p. 212.
Then came what we presume to call the fatal pontificate of Damasus. This was a great epoch of change, or rather the height and, in one sense, the consummation of a change in Christianity. Among the signs of this change were the strife and frightful massacre at the election of Damasus—the degeneracy of the clergy, so vividly if darkly described in the wellknown passage of the heathen Ammianus Marcellinus, confirmed by many passages in the writings of S. Jerome (these overcharged no doubt by the Saint's natural vehemence and passion for monasticism)—the dominance of that monasticism under the influence and guidance of Jerome. But nowhere was this change more marked than in the Catacombs. Through the irreverent reverence of Damasus, from hidden and secret chambers, where piety might steal down to show its respect or affection for the dead, and make its orisons, which might tremble on the verge of worship, the Catacombs became as it were a great religious spectacle, the scene of devout pilgrimage to hundreds, thousands. They must be opened as far as possible to the light of day; the lucernaria (the light-shafts) were widened, spacious vestibules or halls were hewn out for the kneeling votaries; shrines, chapels, grew up; new and easy steps were made in place of the narrow and winding stairs. We suspect that in many cases the simpler works of art were restored (fatal word in art), brightened, made more vivid, and, as it was thought, more effective. What is worse, we are now in the full blaze or haze of legend. The utmost scope is given
to the inventive and creative imagination; truth fades away, not from intentional repudiation, but because intenser devotion, and what was thought a much higher purpose than knowledge, edification, was the aim and purpose. There was an absolute passion for the multiplication of martyrs; and their lives, which had before been enveloped in a sober and holy twilight, came out into a dazzling glare of marvel—the more marvellous, the more admired and the more readily accepted as veracious. Read the poems of Prudentius, which claim belief as real history. The mythic period, which lasted throughout the middle ages, and which still hovers undisturbed over its chosen sanctuaries, has now commenced. Pope Damasus was, as he esteemed himself no doubt, among the great benefactors, one of the most pious patrons, one who did most honour to and sanctified most deeply the Catacombs of Rome. To us he was one of the worst offenders, the most real enemies to their inherent interest. Inscriptions, in letters of a peculiarly bold and square type, everywhere betray his presence and mark his operations. He aspired to be, in a certain sense, the Poet of the Catacombs. Some, from antiquarian motives, may regret the loss of very many of these flat hexameters: for us, who desire that the privileged and excusable mendacity of poetry should be compensated by some of its graces and harmonies, enough seems to have survived.
After the age of Damasus and his successors, the history of the Catacombs is brief, dark, and melancholy. Barbarians, Heathen barbarians, Christian barbarians, closed around Rome. Siege after siege; Alaric, Genseric, Vitiges, Totila, Belisarius, girt her walls with hostile hordes. Her suburbs lay waste; at least all the extramural churches, raised over the Catacombs, were at the mercy of the spoilers, who, if Heathen, knew no reverent mercy, if Christian, at a later time, became perhaps more cruel enemies. Not only were the stately colossal monuments of republican or imperial Rome, which lined the Appian, Latin, or Flaminian Way, trampled as it were into ruin, made use of for military purposes, their materials krocked or hewn off for any base uses;