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and that therefore the perpetrator ends his days by a crime. Of these four arguments, the last cannot, I think, be said to have had any place among the Christian dissuasives from suicide, and the influence of the second was almost imperceptible. The notion of patriotism being a moral duty was habitually discouraged in the early Church; and it was impossible to urge the civic argument against suicide without at the same time condemning the hermit life, which in the third century became the ideal of the Church. The duty a man owes to his family, which a modern moralist would deem the most obvious and, perhaps, the most conclusive proof of the general criminality of suicide, and which may be said to have replaced the civic argument, was scarcely noticed either by the Pagans or the early Christians. The first were accustomed to lay so much stress upon the authority, that they scarcely recognised the duties, of the father; and the latter were too anxious to attach all their ethics to the interests of another world, to do much to supply the omission. The Christian estimate of the duty of humility, and of the degradation of man, rendered appeals to human dignity somewhat uncongenial to the patristic writers; yet these writers frequently dilated upon the true courage of patience, in language to which their own heroism under persecution gave a noble emphasis. To the example of Cato they opposed those of Regulus and Job, the courage that endures suffering to the courage that confronts death. The Platonic doctrine, that we are servants of the Deity, placed upon earth to perform our allotted task in His sight, with His assistance, and by His will, they continually enforced and most deeply realised ; and this doctrine was in itself, in most cases, a sufficient preventive; for, as a great writer has said :
Though there are many crimes of a deeper dye than suicide, there is no other by which appear so formally to renounce the protection of God.'!
1 Mme. de Staël, Réflexions sur le Suicide.
But, in addition to this general teaching, the Christian theologians introduced into the sphere we are considering new elements both of terrorism and of persuasion, which have had a decisive influence upon the judgments of mankind. They carried their doctrine the sanctity of human life to such a point that they maintained dogmatically that a man who destroys his own life has committed a crime similar both in kind and magnitude to that of an ordinary murderer, and they at the same time gave a new character to death by their doctrines concerning its penal nature and concerning the future destinies of the soul. On the other hand, the high position assigned to resignation in the moral scale, the hope of future happiness, which casts a ray of light upon the darkest calamities of life, the deeper and more subtle consolations arising from the feeling of trust and from the outpouring of prayer, and, above all, the Christian doctrine of the remedial and providential character of suffering, have proved sufficient protection against despair. The Christian doctrine, that pain is a good, had in this respect an influence that was never attained by the Pagan doctrine, that pain is not an evil.
There were, however, two forms of suicide which were regarded in the early Church with some tolerance or hesitation. During the frenzy excited by persecution, and under the influence of the belief that martyrdom effaced in a moment the sins of a life, and introduced the sufferer at once into celestial joys, it was not uncommon for men, in a transport of enthusiasm, to rush before the Pagan judges, implor
1 The following became the to the act of Sextius, or she did theological doctrine on the sub- not. In the first case she was an ject: * Est vere homicida et reus adulteress, and should therefore homicidii qui se interficiendo inno- not be admired. In the second centum hominem interfecerit.'- case she was a murderess, because Lisle, Du Suicide, p. 400. St. Au- in killing herself she killed an gustine has much in this strain. innocent and virtuous woman. Lucretia, he says, either consented (De Civ. Dei, i. 19.)
ing or provoking martyrdom; and some of the ecclesiastical writers have spoken of these men with considerable admiration, though the general tone of the patristic writings and the councils of the Church condemned them. A more serious difficulty arose about Christian women who committed suicide to guard their chastity when menaced by the infamous sentences of their persecutors, or more frequently by the lust of emperors, or by barbarian invaders. St. Pelagia, a girl of only fifteen, who has been canonised by the Church, and who was warmly eulogised by St. Ambrose and St. Chrysostom, having been captured by the soldiery, obtained permission to retire to her room for the purpose of robing herself, mounted to the roof of the house, and, flinging herself down, perished by the fall.A. Christian lady of Antioch, named Domnina, had two daughters renowned alike for their beauty and their piety. Being captured during the Diocletian persecu tion, and fearing the loss of their chastity, they agreed by one bold act to free themselves from the danger, and, casting themselves into a river by the way, mother and daughters sank unsullied in the wave.3 The tyrant Maxentius was fascinated by the beauty of a Christian lady, the wife of the Prefect of Rome. Having sought in vain to elude his addresses, having been dragged from her house by the minions of the tyrant, the faithful wife obtained permission, before yielding to her master's embraces, to retire for a moment into her chamber, and she there, with true Roman courage, stabbed herself to the heart.4 Some Protestant
"Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and fica del Suicidio ragionato (Venezia, Cyprian are especially ardent in 1788), pp. 135–140. this respect; but their language 2 Ambrose, De Virginibus, iii. 7. is, I think, in their circumstances, 3 Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. viii. 12. extremely excusable. Compare 4 Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. viii. Barbeyrac, Morale des Pères, ch. ii. 14. Bayle, in his article upon $ 8; ch. viii. $$ 34–39. Donne's Sophronia, appears to be greatly Biathanatos (ed. 1644), pp. 58–67. scandalised at this act, and it seems Cromaziano, Istoria critica e filoso- that among the Catholics it is not
controversialists have been scandalised, and some Catholic controversialists perplexed, by the undisguised admiration with which the early ecclesiastical writers narrate these histories. To those who have not suffered theological opinions to destroy all their natural sense of nobility it will need no defence.
This was the only form of avowed suicide which was in any degree permitted in the early Church. St. Ambrose rather timidly, and St. Jerome more strongly, commended it; but at the time when the capture of Rome by the soldiers of Alaric made the question one of pressing interest, St. Augustine devoted an elaborate examination to the subject, and while expressing his pitying admiration for the virgin suicides, decidedly condemned their act.2 His opinion of the absolute sinfulness of suicide has since been generally adopted by the Catholic theologians, who pretend that Pelagia and Domnina acted under the impulse of a special revelation. At the same time, by a glaring though very natural
considered right to admire this Pelagia, Tillemont finds a strong poor lady as much as her sister argument in support of this view suicides. Tillemont remarks: in the astounding, if not miracu•Comme on ne voit pas que l'église lous, fact that, having thrown herromaine l'ait jamais honorée, nous self from the top of the house, she n'avons pas le mesme droit de jus- was actually killed by the fall! tifier son action.'-Hist. ecclés. Estant montée tout au haut de sa tome v. pp. 404, 405.
maison, fortifiée par le mouvement 1 Especially Barbeyrac in his que J.-C. formoit dans son coeur et Morale des Pères. He was an- par le courage qu'il luy inspiroit, swered by Ceillier, Cromaziano, elle se précipita de là du haut en and others. Matthew of West- bas, et échapa ainsi à tous les minster relates of Ebba, the ab- piéges de ses ennemis. Son corps bess of a Yorkshire convent which en tombant à terre frapa, dit S. was besieged by the Danes, that Chrysostome, les yeux du démon she and all the other nuns, to save plus vivement qu'un éclair. their chastity, deformed themselves Ce qui marque encore que Dieu by cutting off their noses and up- agissoit en tout ceci c'est qu'au per lips. (A.D. 870.)
lieu que ces chutes ne sont pas 2 De Civ. Dei, i. 22–7.
toujours mortelles, ou que souvent 3 This had been suggested by ne brisant que quelques membres, St. Augustine. In the case of elles n'ostent la vie que longtemps
inconsistency, no characters were more enthusiastically extolled than those anchorites who habitually deprived their bodies of the sustenance that was absolutely necessary to health, and thus manifestly abridged their lives. St. Jerome has preserved a curious illustration of the feeling with which these slow suicides were regarded by the outer world, in his account of the life and death of a young nun named Blesilla. This lady had been guilty of what, according to the religious notions of the fourth century, was, at least, the frivolity of marrying, but was left a widow seven months afterwards, having thus 'lost at once the crown of virginity and the pleasure of marriage.' An attack of illness inspired her with strong religious feelings. At the age of twenty she retired to a convent. She attained such a height of devotion that, according to the very characteristic eulogy of her biographer, she was more sorry for the loss of her virginity than for the decease of her husband ;'? and a long succession of atrocious penances preceded, if they did not produce, her death. The conviction that she had been killed by fasting, and the spectacle of the uncontrollable grief of her mother, filled the populace with indignation, and the funeral was disturbed by tumultuous cries that the accursed race of monks should be banished from the city, stoned, or drowned.'4 In the Church itself, however, we find very few traces of any condemnation of the custom of undermining the constitution by austerities, and if we may believe but a small part of
après, ni l'un ni l'autre n'arriva en cordetur viginti annorum adolescette rencontre; mais Dieu retira centulam tam ardenti fide crucis aussitost l'âme de la sainte, en levasse vexillum ut magis amissam sorte que sa mort parut autant virginitatem quam mariti doleret l'effet de la volonté divine que de interitum?'-Ep. xxix. sa chute,'--Hist. ecclés. tome v. * For a description of these pp. 401-402.
penances, see Ep. xxxviii, • Et virginitatis coronam et * Ep. xxxix. nuptiarum perdidit voluptatem.'— 5 St. Jerome gave some sensible Ep. xxii.
advice on this point to one of his ? Quis enim siccis oculis re- admirers. (Ep. cxxv.)