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said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists. This has indeed been the well-spring of whatever is best and purest in the Christian life. Amid all the sins and failings, amid all the priestcraft and persecution and fanaticism that have defaced the Church, it has preserved, in the character and example of its Founder, an enduring principle of regeneration. Perfect love knows no rights. It creates a boundless, uncalculating self-abnegation that transforms the character, and is the parent of every virtue. Side by side with the terrorism and the superstitions of dogmatism, there have ever existed in Christianity those who would ecbo the wish of St. Theresa, that she could blot out both heaven and hell, to serve God for Himself alone; and the power of the love of Christ has been displayed alike in the most heroic pages of Christian martyrdom, in the most pathetic pages of Christian resignation, in the tenderest pages of Christian charity. It was shown by the martyrs who sank beneath the fangs of wild beasts, extending to the last moment their arms in the form of the cross they loved ;? who ordered their chains to be buried with them as the insignia of their warfare;? who looked with joy upon their ghastly wounds, because they had been received for Christ;3 who welcomed death as the bridegroom welcomes the bride, because it would bring them near to Him. St. Felicitas was seized with the pangs of childbirth as she lay in prison awaiting the hour of martyrdom, and as her sufferings extorted from her a cry, one who stood by said, “If you now suffer so much, what will it be when you are thrown to wild beasts ?' What I now suffer,' she answered, concerns myself alone; but then another will suffer for me, for I will then suffer for Him.'1 When St. Melania had lost both her husband and her two sons, kneeling by the bed where the remains of those she loved were laid, the childless widow exclaimed, ‘Lord, I shall serve Thee more humbly and readily for being eased of the weight Thou hast taken from
į Eusebius, H. E. viii. 7.
to her in the form of a Christian 2 St. Chrysostom tells this of physician, and offered to dress her St. Babylas. See Tillemont, Mém. wounds; but she refused, saying pour servir à l'Hist. eccl. tome iii. that she wished for no physician
but Christ. St. Peter, in the namo 3 In the preface to a very of that Celestial Physician, comancient Milanese missal it is said manded her wounds to close, and of St. Agatha that as she lay in her body became whole as before. the prison cell, torn by the instru- (Tillemont, tome iii. p. 412.) ments of torture, St. Peter came
Christian virtue was described by St. Augustine as the order of love.' 3 Those who know how imperfectly the simple sense of duty can with most men resist the energy of the passions; who have observed how barren Mahommedanism has been in all the higher and more tender virtues, because its noble morality and its pure theism have been united with no living example; who, above all, have traced through the history of the Christian Church the influence of the love of Christ, will be at no loss to estimate the value of this purest and most distinctive source of Christian enthusiasm. In one respect we can scarcely realise its effects upon the early Church. The sense of the fixity of natural laws is now so deeply implanted in the minds of men, that no truly educated person, whatever may be his religious opinions, seriously believes that all the more startling phenomena around him-storms, earthquakes, invasions, or famines— are results of isolated acts of supernatural power, intended to affect some human interest. But by the early Christians all these things were directly traced to the Master they so dearly loved. The result of this conviction was a state of feeling we can now barely understand. A great poet,
i See her acts in Ruinart.
tutis: ordo est amoris.'-De Civ.
in lines which are among the noblest in English literature, has spoken of one who had died as united to the all-pervading soul of nature, the grandeur and the tenderness, the beauty and the passion of his being blending with the kindred elements of the universe, his voice heard in all its melodies, his spirit a presence to be felt and known, a part of the one plastic energy
that permeates and animates the globe. Something of this kind, but of a far more vivid and real character, was the belief of the early Christian world. The universe, to them, was transfigured by love. All its phenomena, all its catastrophes, were read in a new light, were endued with a new significance, acquired a religious sanctity. Christianity offered a deeper consolation than any prospect of endless life, or of millennial glories. It taught the weary, the sorrowing, and the lonely, to look up to heaven and to say, 'Thou, God, carest for me.'
It is not surprising that a religious system which made it a main object to inculcate moral excellence, and which by its doctrine of future retribution, by its organisation, and by its capacity of producing a disinterested enthusiasm, acquired an unexampled supremacy over the human mind, should have raised its disciples to a very high condition of sanctity. There can, indeed, be little doubt that, for nearly two hundred years after its establishment in Europe, the Christian community exhibited a moral purity which, if it has been equalled, has never for any long period been surpassed. Completely separated from the Roman world that was around them, abstaining alike from political life, from appeals to the tribunals, and from military occupations ; looking forward continually to the immediate advent of their Master, and the destruction of the Empire in which they dwelt, and animated by all the fervour of a young religion, the Christians found within themselves a whole order of ideas and feelings sufficiently powerful to guard them from the contamination
In their general bearing towards society, and
of their age.
in the nature and minuteness of their scruples, they probably bore a greater resemblance to the Quakers than to any other existing sect. Some serious signs of moral decadence might, indeed, be detected even before the Decian persecution ; and it was obvious that the triumph of the Church, by introducing numerous nominal Christians into its pale, by exposing it to the temptations of wealth and prosperity, and by forcing it into connection with secular politics, must have damped its zeal and impaired its purity; yet few persons, I think, who had contemplated Christianity as it existed in the first three centuries would have imagined it possible that it should completely supersede the Pagan worship around it; that its teachers should bend the mightiest monarchs to their will, and stamp their influence on every page of legislation, and direct the whole course of civilisation for a thousand years; and yet that the period in which they were so supreme should have been one of the most contemptible in history.
The leading features of that period may be shortly told. From the death of Marcus Aurelius, about which time Christianity assumed an important influence in the Roman world, the decadence of the Empire was rapid and almost uninterrupted. The first Christian emperor transferred his capital to a new city, uncontaminated by the traditions and the glories of Paganism; and he there founded an Empire which derived all its ethics from Christian sources, and which continued in
Besides the obvious points of Tertullian (De Coronâ) about resemblance in the common, though Christians wearing laurel wreaths not universal, belief that Christians in the festivals, because laurel was should abstain from all weapons called after Daphne, the lover of and from all oaths, the whole Apollo, was much of the same kind teaching of the early Christians as that which led the Quakers to about the duty of simplicity, and refuse to speak of Tuesday or Wedthe wickedness of ornaments in nesday, lest they should recognise dress (see especially the writings the gods Tuesco or Woden. On the of Tertullian, Clemens Alexan- other hand, the ecclesiastical asdrinus, and Chrysostom, on this pects and the sacramental doctrines subject), is exceedingly like that of the Church were the extreme of the Quakers. The scruple of opposites of Quakerism.
existence for about eleven hundred years. Of that Byzantine Empire the universal verdict of bistory is that it constitutes, with scarcely an exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed. Though very cruel and very sensual, there have been times when cruelty assumed more ruthless, and sensuality more extravagant, aspects; but there has been no other enduring civilisation so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness, and none to which the epithet mean may be so emphatically applied. The Byzantine Empire was pre-eminently the age of treachery. Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous. Without patriotism, without the fruition or desire of liberty, after the first paroxysms of religious agitation, without genius or intellectual activity; slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtilty, or some rivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them into frantic riots. They exbibited all the externals of advanced civilisation. They possessed knowledge; they had continually before them the noble literature of ancient Greece, instinct with the loftiest heroism ; but that literature, which afterwards did so much to revivify Europe, could fire the degenerate Greeks with no spark or semblance of nobility. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides. After the conversion of Constantine there was no prince in any section of the Roman Empire altogether so depraved, or at least so shameless, as Nero or Heliogabalus; but the Byzantine Empire can show none bearing the faintest resemblance to Antonine or Marcus Aurelius, while the nearest approximation to that character at Rome was furnished by the Emperor Julian, who contemptuously abandoned the Christian faith. At last the