Page images

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




A.D. 30-320.

[ocr errors]

N these ages the profession of Chris

tianity was attended with such dangers, and involved so perfect a renunciation of this world, that worldly, sinful, in

sincere, 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 later 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 followers 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

| Rom. ii. 28, 29.

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 licentiousness, 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 grievous 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 them

selves. 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 century, we may name St. Clement, who was made bishop of Rome by the apostles, and who sent to the Church of Corinth an epistle exhorting them to mutual love and harmony, which is still extant, and from which some extracts have been already given. St. Ignatius had also been constituted bishop of Antioch by the apostles; and on his being carried to Rome, A.D. 107, to suffer martyrdom, he 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, one of the earliest and most celebrated writers in defence of the Christian religion against heathens and Jews, was a native of Syria; and having vainly sought wisdom, and happiness, and the knowledge of God, amongst the various sects of heathen philosophy, he happened one day to meet an aged Christian of a sweet and grave demeanour, who entered into discourse with Justin, and having quietly reproved him for his preference of knowledge to practice, he proceeded to shew “ that

all the heathen philosophers had erred in principles, that they were ignorant of God; and that the only real sages were the prophets, whom God himself had inspired, as plainly appeared by their predictions and their miracles.” He added, “ that those prophets had instructed us concerning God the Father and Author of all things, and his Son Jesus Christ whom he had sent; and that it was necessary that God should open the gates of light to us, and cause us to know the truth." From this discourse Justin was led, by Divine grace, to an exceeding desire and love for the holy Scriptures, and he was soon convinced that the doctrine of our Saviour was the only sure and certain truth. He then perceived the utter falsehood of the calumnies against Christians: “I understood," he

says, “ that it was impossible they should live in vice and in the love of pleasure. For, said I, where is the voluptuous or intemperate man, who even partakes of human flesh, that would seek death, and thus deprive himself of his pleasures? And who is there that would not rather live always in this world, and conceal himself from the magistrates, far from denouncing himself and being put to death ?" Justin now became a Christian indeed ; and about A.D. 148 he composed an Apology for the Christians, which he dedicated to the emperor Antoninus, and which furnishes an invaluable record of the faith and practice of the Christian Church. This holy man wrote several other books in defence of the truth; and at length testified his faith in Jesus Christ in the presence of all the people, and having been scourged by order of the Roman prefect, he was beheaded.

Of St.POLYCARP, bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of St. John, some account has already been given. In his time some differences having arisen between the Asiatic and other Churches about the time of celebrating Easter, the venerable Polycarp came


from the east to Rome, to confer with Anicetus, bishop of that Church, on the matters in dispute. The conference resulted in an agreement that mutual charity and peace ought not to be broken on account of this difference. Nevertheless Anicetus could not prevail on Polycarp to forsake the Asiatic custom of observing Easter-day at the same time as the Jews; nor could Polycarp prevail on Anicetus to follow that custom; for each party believed themselves bound to continue the same ordinances which had descended to them from their forefathers. These holy bishops received the communion together; and Anicetus, to do honour to Polycarp, requested him to consecrate the eucharist in his church. When St. Polycarp was at Rome, he met the heretic Marcion, (who denied that God was the Creator of the world, and affirmed that the Old Testament was the work of the devil); and when asked by Marcion, “ whether he knew him,” he replied, know thee for the first-born of Satan.” St. Polycarp wrote an epistle to the Church of the Philippians, full of pious exhortations, which is still extant; and suffered martyrdom as we have already seen.

St. IRENÆUS, a most learned and illustrious bishop, was in his early youth a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and afterwards went to France, where he became a presbyter of the Church of Lyons, and was in this office when the dreadful persecution, which has been before described, arose in the time of Antoninus. After the death of Pothinus, he succeeded to the vacant bishopric; and he has obtained immortal fame by his great work “ against heresies,” in which he proves most triumphantly, against the Gnostics, that there is but one true God, the Creator of the world, and that his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was truly both God and man. St. Irenæus was zealous in his endeavours to preserve the peace of the Church,

« EelmineJätka »