Gambar halaman

swerved from the strictest allegiance to its very letter. Nevertheless, he would not that I should trust to him alone, but, as the apostle had sent him forth, so he sent me forth, to read the evidences of the truth of this religion, in the living monuments of Judea. I, too, wandered a pilgrim over the hills and plains of Galilee, I sat in the synagogue at Nazareth, I dwelt in Capernaum, I mused by the shore of the Galilean lake, I haunted the ruins of Jerusalem, and sought out the places where the Saviour of men had passed the last hours of his life. Night after night I wept and prayed upon the Mount of Olives. Wherever I went, and among whomsoever I mingled, I found witnesses, eloquent and loud, and without number, to all the principal facts and events of our sacred history. Ten thousand traditions of the life and acts of Christ and his apostles, all agreeing substantially with the written records, were passing from mouth to mouth, and descending from sire to son. The whole land, in all its length and breadth, was but one vast monument to the truth of Christianity. And for this purpose it was resorted to by the lovers of truth from all parts of the world. Did doubts arise in the mind of a dweller in Rome, or Carthage, or Britain, concerning the whole or any part of the Christian story, he addressed letters to well-known inhabitants of Jewish cities, or he visited them in person, and by a few plain words from another, or by the evidence of his own eyes and ears, every doubt was scattered. When I had stored my mind with knowledge from these original sources, I then betook myself to some of the living oracles of Christian wisdom, with the fame of whose learning and piety the world was filled. From the great Clement, of Rome, from Dionysius, at Alexandria, from Tertullian, at Carthage, from that wonder of human genius, Origen, and his school at Cæsarea, I gathered together what more was needed, to arm me for the Christian warfare; and then went I forth, full of faith, myself, to plant its divine seeds in the hearts of whosoever would receive them. In this good work, my days have been spent. I have lived and taught, but to unfold to others the evidences which have made me a Christian, My children, continued he, why should you not receive my words? why should I desire to deceive you? I am an old man, trembling upon the borders of the grave. Can I have any wish to injure you? Is it conceivable that, standing thus already, as it were, before the bar of God, I could pour false and idle tales into your ears? But if I have spoken truly, can you refuse to believe? But I must not urge. Use your freedom. Inquire for yourselves. Let the leisure and the wealth wbich are yours, carry you to read, with your own eyes, that wide-spread volume, which you will find among the mountains and valleys of the holy land. Princess, my strength is spent, or there is much more I could gladly add.'

"My friends,' said the princess, ' are, I am sure, grateful for wbat you have said, and they have heard.

“«Indeed we are,' said Fausta, “and heartily do we thank you. One thing more would I ask. What think you of the prospects of the Christian faith? Are the common reports of its rapid ascendency to be heeded? Is it making its way, as we are told, even into the palaces of kings? I know, indeed, what happens in Palmyra; but elsewhere, holy father?

“As Fausta spoke these words, the aged man seemed wrapped in thought. His venerable head sank upon his breast ; his beard swept the ground. At length, slowly raising his head, and with eyes lifted upward, he said, in deep and solemn tones, “It cannot, it cannot be difficult to read the future. It must be so. I see it, as if it were already come. The throne, which is red with blood, and he who sits thereon, wielding a sword dropping blood, sinks-sinks—and disappears; and one all white, and he who sits thereon, having upon bis frontlet these words, “Peace on earth, and good-will towards men," rises and fills its place. And I hear a movement of a multitude, which no man can number, coming and worshipping around the throne. God of the whole earth, arise !-visit it with thy salvation! Hasten the coming of the universal kingdom of thy Son, when all shall know thee, and love to God, and love to man, possess and fill every soul.'”-Zenobia, Vol. I, pp. 169-173.

But we must reserve the remaining space for a brief notice of the "Letters from Rome.” In these, though the characters are nearly the same as in the “ Letters from Palmyra," the interest turns almost entirely upon incidents connected with the progress of the Christian religion. Palmyra had fallen a helpless, though not unresisting victim, to the vengeance of Rome, and the proud Zenobia had been carried captive to the imperial city, to grace the triumph of Aurelian, the most splendid and costly that Roman eyes had ever looked upon. The haughty Aurelian had assigned her a palace at Tibur, where, in the midst of her family, and surrounded by a few of her former attendants, she still maintained something of her queenly dignity, and gave herself to the cultivation of letters and philosophy, and to the society of the friends who visited her, in her humiliation and retirement. Piso, having rescued his brother from the captivity of the Persian, had returned to Rome, and was now dwelling in his own palace upon the Cælian hill, the happy husband of the princess Julia, the daughter of Zenobia. Both himself and the princess had openly espoused the faith of the Christians, much to the astonishment of the city, and still more to the scandal of the ancient house of the Pisos. This connexion with the obnoxious sect carries him into intercourse with all classes of its members, leads him to the secret places of their assemblies, both of worship and deliberation, and makes him intimately acquainted with all the events that befal

tercooleret placeand malena

them, in that age of furious persecution. On the other hand, his high rank, and the political standing of his family, as well as his own early personal acquaintance with Aurelian, bring him often to the imperial palace, and furnish him with a thorough knowledge of the designs and motives of the emperor himself. Thus does the author remove the veil through which, both in civil and in ecclesiastical history, we are obliged to look at the events and characters of the age, and introduces us to the secret assemblies and private walks of the Christians, and to the domestic character and familiar conversations of Aurelian and his advisers.

As we turn over the pages of these letters, we see how the degenerate Cæsars of that age,-the creatures of the army and the plebeian rabble,—were urged to the commission of the foulest crimes, by the vilest and meanest of mankind. Their almost boundless empire was made one vast theatre, where was continually exhibited all that could gratify the brutal passions of an idle, ignorant, and sanguinary multitude. In rapid succession, they rose and fell, each wading through slaughter to his throne, and each drenching it with blood, and leaving behind him little else than his name, to distinguish him from those who had gone before, or those who should come after him. If Aurelian was less sensual than Gallienus or Commodus, with scarcely less cruelty, he combined greater talents, and was more sternly bent on accomplishing the bloody purposes of a military ambition. His virtues were such as we should expect from a Pannonian peasant, raised, through the gradations of military rank, to the throne of the world. They were a fearless and unbending energy, a valor, that made him, in battle, worth a hundred ordinary men, and as much magnanimity as could consist with the policy of an unrestrained despotism, and the purposes of a boundless ambition. That such a man, on the throne of the Cæsars, should often have been duped by others, weaker than himself, is not surprising. In these volumes, he is very naturally represented as urged on to his deeds of blood, by the solicitations and deceptions of a crafty and iniquitous priest, of the name of Fronto. In illustration of the manner in which the wily priest works upon the mind of the superstitious emperor, we quote a conversation which was overheard by Piso,

as he was abroad with one of the ladies, in the gardens of the palace:

“* By the gods, his life shall answer it,' said Aurelian, with vehemence, but with suppressed tones; who but he was to observe the omens? Was I to know that to-day is the Ides, and to-morrow the day after? The rites must be postponed.

6. It were better not, in my judgment,' said Fronto; "all the other signs are favorable. Never, Papirius assured me, did the sacred chickens seize so eagerly the crumbs. Many times, as he closely watched, did he observe them, which is rare, drop them from their mouths, over-filled. The times he has exactly recorded. A rite like this put off, when all Rome is in expectation, would, in the opinion of all the world, be of a more unfavorable interpretation, than if more than the day were against us.'

“ *You counsel well, let it go on.'

“ * But to insure a fortunate event, and propitiate the gods, I would early, and before the august ceremonies, offer the most costly and acceptable sacrifice.

“That were well, also. In the prisons, there are captives of Germany, of Gaul, of Egypt, and of Palmyra. Take what, and as many, as you will. If we can make sure of the favor of the gods, it is when we offer freely, that which we hold at the highest price.'

“I would rather they were Christians,' urged Fronto.

«• That cannot be,' said Aurelian. I question if there be a Christian within the prison walls; and, were there hundreds, it is not a criminal I would bring to the altar. I would as soon offer a diseased or ill-sbaped bull.'

“* But it were an easy matter to seize such as we might want. Not, O Aurelian, till this accursed race is exterminated, will the heavens smile, as formerly, upon our country. Why are the altars thus forsaken? Why are the temples no longer thronged, as once ? Why do the great, and the rich, and the learned, silently withhold their aid, or openly scoff and jeer? Why are our sanctuaries crowded only by the scum and refuse of the city ?

““I know not. Question me not thus.'

** Is not the reason palpable and gross to the dullest mind? Is it not because of the daily growth of this blaspheming and atheistical crew, who, by horrid arts, seduce the young, the timid, and, above all, the women, who ever draw the world with them, to join them in their unhallowed orgies, thus stripping the temples of their worshippers, and dragging the gods themselves from their seats?

6"I know not. Say no more.'

4. Is it possible religion or the state should prosper, while he, who is not only vicegerent of the gods, universal monarch, but what is more,-their sworn Pontifex Maximus, connives at their existence and dissemination - '

Thou liest. “ Harboring, even beneath the imperial roof, and feasting at the imperial table, the very beads and chief ministers of this black mischief


“ Hold, I say. I swear, by all the gods, known and unknown, that another word, and thy head shall answer it. Is my soul that of a lamb, that I need this stirring up to deeds of blood ? Am I so lame and backward, when the gods are to be defended, that I am to be thus charged? Let the lion sleep when he will; chafed too much, and he may spring, and slay at random. I love not the Christians, nor any who flout the gods and their worship; that thou knowest well. But I love Piso, Aurelia, and the divine Julia; that thou knowest as well. Now no more.

“* For my life,' said Fronto, 'I hold it cheap, if I may but be faithful to my office and the gods.'

6I believe it, Fronto. The gods will reward thee. Let us on.'

“In the earnestness of their talk, they had paused, and stood just before us, being separated but by a thin screen of shrubs. We continued rooted to our seats, while this conversation went on, held there by the impossibility of withdrawing without observation, and by a desire to hear,-1 confess it,what was thus in a manner forced upon me, and concerned so nearly, not only myself, but thousands of my fellow-Christians.”Probus, Vol. I, pp. 87-89.

The Christians, even before the close of the third century, had wandered widely from the simple faith, and mild, unostentatious virtue, which was taught by the Saviour, and so perfectly exemplified in every page of his history. They had multiplied with a rapidity which they could not but ascribe to the agency of Heaven. They had spread the knowledge of the gospel from Judea, not only over all the East, but to Italy, and even to the shores of the Atlantic. Gaining confidence from the number and standing of their converts, they had come forth from their obscure retreats,-the catacombs and sepulchres, in which they at first held their persecuted worship,—and dared to preach their religion through the streets of Rome, and even in the porches of the temples of the gods. Under the lenient sway of some of the emperors, learning, and rank, and wealth had joined themselves to their cause, until now, their once simple observances were beginning to vie with the costly rites of the heathen worship; and the highest officers of their churches were rivalling, in the magnificence of their dwellings, and the splendor of their equipage, the pampered priesthood of Jupiter and Apollo. Of this character, were the celebrated Paul, of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, and Felix, bishop of Rome; of each of whom, we have occasional glimpses, in the course of these volumes. The author has, however, chosen more fully to portray those differences

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »