Page images

worship.' Thus saying, they called out and requested the asiarch Philip to let loose a lion at Polycarp. He said that it was not lawful for him to do so, as the combats of beasts had closed. They then cried out with one accord that Polycarp should be burned alive.”

The account proceeds : “ These things were no sooner said than done, the crowd instantly collecting wood and com. bustibles from the workshops and baths; the Jews especial. ly, as their manner is, lending their willing assistance. But when the fuel was ready, he laid aside his vesture, and loosing his zone, endeavoured to take off his under garments. This he had not been accustomed to do, as all the faithful contended who should first touch his skin; for always, even before his old age, he was universally reverenced for his vir. tue. The materials prepared for the fire were speedily placed around him, and when they would have nailed him to the stake, he said, “Leave me thus; for He who hath given me power to endure the fire, will grant me also to remain stead. fast without your nails ;' and they did not do so, but bound him to it. And he, with his hands bound behind him, like a comely ram chosen from the flock to be a whole burnt-offer. ing to God, said, Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of thee; God of angels, and powers, and of all the creation, and of all the generation of the righteous who live in thy presence; I bless thee, because thou hast thought me worthy of this day and this hour, to take part in the number of thy martyrs, in the cup of Christ, to the resurrection of soul and body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit, to eternal life. Amongst whom may I be received this day into thy presence as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as thou hast be. fore ordained and hast now fulfilled; thou, who art without falsehood, the true God. For this, and for all things I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee; through the eternal Highpriest Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son; through whom be glory

to thee with him, in the Holy Spirit, both now and unto all ages to come. Amen.'

+6 When he had uttered the amen, and finished his prayer, the executioners lighted the fire; but when a great flame burst forth, we, to whom it was permitted to behold, and who were retained that we might relate it to the rest, beheld a wondrous thing; for the fire, affording the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a ship filled with the wind, surrounded in a circle the body of the martyr; and he was in the midst, not like burning flesh, but like gold and silver in the furnace, and we smelt a savour sweet as incense or some other precious perfumes. The wicked, observing that his body could not be consumed by fire, commanded the executioner to approach and pierce him with a sword, which being done, a great quan. tity of blood came forth, insomuch that the fire was extin. guished, and the crowd marvelled because the difference was so great between unbelievers and the elect, of whom, this our apostolic and prophetic teacher, the bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna, was the most admirable in these our times.”

The narrative adds, that their enemies endeavoured to prevent the Christians from obtaining the remains of the martyr. They urged the proconsul that his body should not be given, "Lest, forsaking the crucified (Jesus,) they should begin to adore this man. And this they said by the suggestion and aid of the Jews, who had watched our endeavours to remove him from the fire, being ignorant that we can never forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of those who are saved out of all the world, nor adore any other. For him, as being the Son of God, we worship; but the martyrs, as being dis. ciples and imitators of the Lord, we love as they deserve, on account of their unconquerable love to their King and Master.”

Space will not permit me to cite similar examples of faith and Christian heroism from the martyrdoms of the blessed Si. meon, bishop of Jérusalem ; St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch; Justin Martyr; the martyrs of Lyons; Perpetua and Felicitas; St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage; and others innumerable.



A.D. 30-320.

In these ages the profession of Christianity was attended with such dangers, and involved so perfect a renunciation of this world, that worldly, sinful, insincere, and even irresolute men, were rarely found in the communion of the Church. The mass of Christians were thoroughly in earnest, full of zeal, and concentrating their hopes and their labours in the service of their Creator and Redeemer. If the Church in latter ages seem less

pure and bright, it should be remembered that the world had then ceased to persecute; that it had even attached itself externally to religion; and thus, that a large number of professing Christians were not in reality fol. lowers of our Lord. For what the apostle says "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart-may be applied equally to the case of Christians. The number of the real disciples of Christ, who constitute the soul of the Church, its vital and undying members, has perhaps not been less in later ages than in the times of persecution; but the number of false brethren, and the multitude of scandals, has been greatly increased.

The lives of Christians during the first three centuries exhibited striking evidence of the power of faith, and fulfilled the divine precept, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” To the morality and virtue of their conduct, , frequent appeal was made by the Christian apologists. “We," says Justin Martyr, “who formerly rejoiced in li.

1 Rom. ii. 28, 29.

centiousness, now embrace discretion and chastity; we who resorted to magical arts, now devote ourselves to the unbegotten God, the God of goodness; we who set our affections on wealth and possessions, now bring to the common stock all our property, and share it with the indigent; we who, owing to diversity of customs, would not share the same hearth with a different race, now, since the appearance of Christ, live together, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who unjustly hate us, that by leading a life conformed to the excellent precepts of Christianity, they may be filled with the good hope of obtaining like happiness with ourselves from that God who is Lord above all things.” There were many instances in those times of persons selling their goods, and giving them to the poor, though the practice was not general. It was customary for all Christians to receive the sacrament of the eucharist every Sunday ; in some Churches, indeed, especially in time of persecution, it was administered every day; and it was considered a griev. ous offence to forsake the table of the Lord. The manners and duties of Christians are described by Tertullian in his argument that Christian women ought only to marry believers like themselves. A Christian marriage, he says, “is made by the Church, confirmed by the eucharist, sealed by the blessing, carried by angels to the heavenly Father, and ratified by him. Two believers bear the same yoke; they are but one flesh and one spirit; they pray together, kneel together, fast together, instruct and exhort each other. They are together in the Church, and at the table of God; in persecution and in consolation. They do not conceal their actions from each other, nor inconvenience each other. They may visit the sick, and be present at the sacrifice of prayer without inquietude. They sing psalms and hymns together, and excite one another to praise God.”

Amongst the most illustrious saints and eminent men who adorned the Church in the first three centuries, we may name St. Ignatius, who had been constituted bishop of Antioch by the apostles, and who, on his being carried to

A.D. 107. Rome, to suffer martyrdom, addressed many pious epistles to the Christian Churches, exhorting them to confess the true faith, and to remain united to their bishops, priests, and deacons; St. Justin Martyr who de

A.D. 150. fended the Christian religion against infidels and Jews; St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of the apostle John, whose martyrdom has been described above; St. Irenæus, bishop of Lyons, and disciple of

A.D. 178. Polycarp, who, having proved triumphantly against the Gnostics that there is but one true God, the Creator of the world, and that his Son, our Lord, was both God and man, was at last crowned with martyrdom ;* the learned defenders of Christianity and moralists, Tertullian and Clement, presbyters of Carthage and Alexandria ; Ori. gen, the most learned writer of his time, a translator of the Bible and commentator; Narcissus and Gregory, bishops of Jerusalem and Cæsarea, who are said to have had the gift of miracles; St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage and martyr, a man of ardent piety, zeal, and eloquence; St. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, justly celebrated for his piety and wisdom, and an exile for the faith of Christ in the persecu, tion of Decius.

We learn from Christian writers that miracles were occa. sionally performed in the second and third centuries for the conversion of the heathen, or to confirm the faith of Chris. tians. St. John Chrysostom says that in his time (the end of the fourth century) they had ceased. It seems by no means improbable, however, that God may have permitted some signs to have been wrought in later ages for the conversion of unbelievers.

* [So some think, but without sufficient evidence.--Am. Ed.]

« EelmineJätka »