CHAPTER 1 - ORIGIN OF THE WORSHIP OF RELICS AND IMAGES IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
HERO-WORSHIP is innate to human nature, and it is founded on some of our noblest feelings, — gratitude, love, and admiration, — but which, like all other feelings, when uncontrolled by principle and reason, may easily degenerate into the wildest exaggerations, and lead to most dangerous consequences. It was by such an exaggeration of these noble feelings that Paganism filled the Olympus with gods and demigods, — elevating to this rank men who have often deserved the gratitude of their fellow-creatures, by some signal services rendered to the community, or their admiration, by having performed some deeds which required a more than usual degree of mental and physical powers. The same cause obtained for the Christian martyrs the gratitude and admiration of their fellow-Christians, and finally converted them into a kind of demi-gods. This was more particularly the case when the church began to be corrupted by her compromise with Paganism, which having been baptized without being converted, rapidly introduced into the Christian church, not only many of its rites and ceremonies, but even its polytheism, with this difference, that the divinities of Greece and Rome were replaced by Christian saints, many of whom received the offices of their Pagan predecessors. F4 The church in the beginning tolerated these abuses, as a temporary evil, but was afterwards unable to remove them; and they became so strong, particularly during the prevailing ignorance of the middle ages, that the church ended by legalizing, through her decrees, that at which she did nothing but wink at first. I shall endeavor to give my readers a rapid sketch of the rise, progress, and final establishment of the Pagan practices which not only continue to prevail in the Western as well as in the Eastern church, but have been of late, notwithstanding the boasted progress of intellect in our days, manifested in as bold as successful a manner.
Nothing, indeed, can be more deserving of our admiration than the conduct of the Christian martyrs, who cheerfully submitted to an ignominious death, inflicted by the most atrocious torments, rather than deny their faith even by the mere performance of an apparently insignificant rite of Paganism. Their persecutors were often affected by seeing examples of an heroic fortitude, such as they admired in a Scaevola or a Regulus, displayed not only by men, but by women, and even children, and became converted to a faith which could inspire its confessors with such a devotion to its tenets. It has been justly said that the blood of the martyrs was the glory and the seed of the church, because the constancy of her confessors has, perhaps, given her more converts than the eloquence and learning of her doctors. It was, therefore, very natural that the memory of those noble champions of Christianity should be held in great veneration by their brethren in the faith. The bodies of the martyrs, or their remnants, were always, whenever it was possible, purchased from their judges or executioners, and decently buried by the Christians. The day on which the martyr had suffered was generally marked in the registers of his church, in order to commemorate this glorious event on its anniversaries. These commemorations usually consisted in the eulogy of the martyr, delivered in an assembly of the church, for the edification of the faithful, the strengthening of the weak, and the stimulating of the lukewarm, by setting before them the noble example of the above-mentioned martyr. It was very natural that the objects of the commemoration received on such an occasion the greatest praises, not infrequently expressed in the most exaggerated terms, but there was no question about invoking the aid or intercession of the confessors whose example was thus held out for the imitation of the church.
We know from the Acts that neither St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, nor St James, who was killed by Herod, were invoked in any manner by the apostolic church, because, had this been the case, the inspired writer of this first record of the ancient church would not have omitted such an important circumstance, having mentioned facts of much lesser consequence. Had such a practice been in conformity with the apostolic doctrine, it would have certainly been brought forward in the epistles of St. Paul, or in those of other apostles. There is also sufficient evidence that the fathers of the primitive church knew nothing of the invocation, or any other kind of worship rendered to departed saints. The limits of this essay allow me not to adduce evidences of this fact, which may be abundantly drawn from the writings of those fathers, and I shall content myself with the following few but conclusive instances of this kind.
St. Clement, bishop of Rome, who is supposed to have been instituted by St. Paul, and to be the same of whom he speaks in his Epistle to the Philippians 4:3, addressed a letter to the Corinthians on account of certain dissensions by which their church was disturbed. He recommends to them, with great praises, the Epistles of St. Paul, who had suffered martyrdom under Nero, but he does not say a word about invoking the aid or intercession of the martyr, who was the founder of their church, and which would have been most suitable on that occasion, if such a practice had already been admitted by the Christians of his time. On the contrary, he prays God for. them, “because it is He who gives to the soul that invokes Him, faith, grace, peace, patience, and wisdom.” St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who lived in the second century, addressed a letter to the Philippians, but he says nothing in it to recommend the invocation of St. Paul, who was the founder of their church, and as such would have been considered as its patron saint, had the worship of the saints been at that time already introduced amongst the Christians. The most important and positive proof that the primitive Christians, not only did not pay any adoration to the martyrs, but decidedly rejected it, is the epistle which was issued by the church of Smyrna after the martyrdom of its bishop; whom I have just mentioned. It states that the Pagans had, at the instigation of the Jews, closely watched the Christians, imagining that they would endeavor to carry away the ashes of Polycarp in order to worship him after his death, because these idolaters knew not that the Christians cannot abandon Jesus Christ, or worship any one else. “We worship,” says the same document, “Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God; but with regard to the martyrs, the disciples of Christ and imitators of his virtues, we love them, as they deserve it, on account of the unconquerable love which they had for their Master and King; and would to God that we would become their disciples and partakers of their zeal.” I could multiply proofs of this kind without end, but I shall only observe, that even in the fourth century the orthodox Christians considered the worship of every created being as idolatry, because the opponents of the Arians, who considered Jesus Christ as created and not co-essential with God the Father, employed the following argument to combat this dogma: — “If you consider Jesus Christ a created being, you commit idolatry by worshipping him.”
Admiration is, however, akin to adoration, and it was no wonder that those whose memory was constantly praised, and frequently in the most exaggerated terms, gradually began to be considered as something more than simple mortals, and treated accordingly. It was also very natural that various objects which had belonged to the martyrs were carefully preserved as interesting mementos, since it is continually done with persons who have acquired some kind of celebrity, and that this should be the case with their bodies, which have often been embalmed. It is, however, impossible, as Calvin has justly observed, F5 to preserve such objects without honoring them in a certain manner, and this must soon degenerate into adoration. This was the origin of the worship of relics, which went on increasing in the same ratio as the purity of Christian doctrines was giving way to the superstitions of Paganism The worship of images is intimately connected with that of the saints.
They were rejected by the primitive Christians; but St. Irenaeus, who lived in the second century, relates that there was a sect of heretics, the Carpocratians, who worshipped, in the manner of Pagans, different images representing Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and others. The Gnostics had also images; but the church rejected their use in a positive manner, and a Christian writer of the third century, Minutius Felix, says that “the Pagans reproached the Christians for having neither temples nor simulachres;” and I could quote many other evidences that the primitive Christians entertained a great horror against every kind of images, considering them as the work of demons.
It appears, however, that the use of pictures was creeping into the church already in the third century, because the council of Elvira in Spain, held in 305, especially forbids to have any picture in the Christian churches.
These pictures were generally representations of some events, either of the New or of the Old Testament, and their object was to instruct the common and illiterate people in sacred history, whilst others were emblems, representing some ideas connected with the doctrines of Christianity. It was certainly a powerful means of producing an impression upon the senses and the imagination of the vulgar, who believe without reasoning, and admit without reflection; it was also the most easy way of converting rude and ignorant nations, because, looking constantly on the representations of some fact, people usually end by believing it. This iconographic teaching was, therefore, recommended by the rulers of the church, as being useful to the ignorant, who had only the understanding of eyes, and could not read writings. F6 Such a practice was, however, fraught with the greatest danger, as experience has but too much proved. It was replacing intellect by sight. F7 Instead of elevating man towards God, it was bringing down the Deity to the level of his finite intellect, and it could not but powerfully contribute to the rapid spread of a pagan anthropomorphism in the church.
There was also another cause which seems to have greatly contributed to the propagation of the above-mentioned anthropomorphism amongst the Christians, namely, the contemplative life of the hermits, particularly of those who inhabited the burning deserts of Egypt. It has been observed of these monks, by Zimmerman, in his celebrated work on Solitude, that “men of extraordinary characters, and actuated by strange and uncommon passions, have shrunk from the pleasures of the world into joyless gloom and desolation. In savage and dreary deserts they have lived a solitary and destitute life, subjecting themselves to voluntary self-denials and mortifications almost incredible; sometimes exposed in nakedness to the chilling blasts of the winter cold, or the scorching breath of summer’s heat, till their brains, distempered by the joint operation of tortured senses and overstrained imagination, swarmed with the wildest and most frantic visions.” F8 The same writer relates, on the authority of Sulpicius Severus, that an individual had been roving about Mount Sinai nearly during fifty years, entirely naked, and avoiding all intercourse with men. Once, however, being inquired about the motives of his strange conduct, he answered, that, enjoying as he did the society of seraphim and cherubim, he felt aversion to intercourse with men. F9 Many of these enthusiasts imagined, in their hallucinations, they had a direct intercourse with God himself, who, as well as the subordinate spirits, appeared to them in a human shape. The monks of Egypt were, indeed, the most zealous defenders of the corporeality of God. They violently hated Origines for his maintaining that He was spiritual.
Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, opposed this error; but the monks assembled in great force, with the intention of murdering him; and he escaped this danger by addressing them in the words which Jacob used to Esau, “I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God.” ( Genesis 33:10.)
This compliment, which could be interpreted as an acknowledgment of a corporeal God, appeased the wrath of the monks, but they compelled Theophilus to anathematise the writings of Origines.
The following anecdote is characteristic of the strong tendency of human nature towards anthro-pomorphism. An old monk, called Scrapion, having been convinced by the arguments of a friend that it was an error to believe God corporeal, exclaimed, weeping, “Alas, my God was taken from me, and I do not know whom I am now worshipping!” F10 I shall have, in the course of this essay, opportunities to show that the monks have always been the most zealous and efficient promoters of image-worship.
The following rapid sketch of the introduction of image-worship into the Christian church, and of its consequences, has been drawn by a French living writer, whose religious views I do not share, but whose profound erudition, fairness, and sincerity, are deserving of the greatest praise: — “The aversion of the first Christians to the images, inspired by the Pagan simulachres, made room, during the centuries which followed the period of the persecutions, to a feeling of an entirely different kind, and the images gradually gained their favor. Reappearing at the end of the fourth and during the course of the fifth centuries, simply as emblems, they soon became images, in the true acceptation of this word; and the respect which was entertained by the Christians for the persons and ideas represented by those images, was afterwards converted into a real worship.
Representations of the sufferings which the Christians had endured for the sake of their religion, were at first exhibited to the people in order to stimulate by such a sight the faith of the masses, always lukewarm and indifferent. With regard to the images of divine persons of entirely immaterial beings, it must be remarked,, that they did not originate from the most spiritualized and pure doctrines of the Christian society, but were rejected by the severe orthodoxy of the primitive church. These simulachres appear to have been spread at first by the Gnostics, — i.e., by those Christian sects which adopted the most of the beliefs of Persia and India. Thus it was a Christianity which was not purified by its contact with the school of Plato, — a Christianity which entirely rejected the Mosaic tradition, in order to attach itself to the most strange and attractive myths of Persia and India, — that gave birth to the images. And it was a return to the Spiritualism of the first ages, and a revival of the spirit of aversion to what has a tendency of lowering Divinity to the narrow proportions of a human creature, that produced war against those images. But the manners and the beliefs had been changed. Whole nations had received Christianity, when it was already escorted by that idolatrous train of carved and painted images. Only those populations amongst whom the ancient traditions were preserved could favor this reaction. The clergy were, moreover, interested in maintaining one of their most powerful means of teaching. The long and persevering efforts of the Iconoclasts proved therefore ineffective; and the Waldenses were not more fortunate. Wickliffe, the Hussites, and Carlostad, attacked the images; but it was reserved only to the Calvinists to establish in some parts of Europe the triumph of the ideas of the Iconoclasts. The shock was terrible. The Religionists frequently committed acts of a fanatical and senseless vandalism; and art had many losses to deplore. But the idolatrous tendency was struck at its very root; and Catholicism itself found, after the struggle, more purity and idealism in its own worship. F11 The Reformed perceived afterwards the exaggeration of their principles; and though they continued to defend the entrance of their temples to the simulachres, condemned by God on Mount Sinai, they spared those which had been bequeathed by the less severe and more material faith of their fathers.” F12 The principal cause of the corruption of the Christian church, by the introduction of the Pagan ideas and practices alluded to above, was, however, chiefly the lamentable policy of compromise with Paganism which that church adopted soon after her sudden triumph by the conversion of Constantine. The object of this policy was to lead into her pale the Pagans as rapidly as possible; and, therefore, instead of making them enter by the strait gate, she widened it in such a manner, that the rush of Paganism had almost driven Christianity out of her pale. The example of the emperors, who, professing Christianity, were, or considered themselves to be, obliged, by the necessities of their position, to act on some occasions as Pagans, may have been not without influence on the church. I shall endeavor to develop this important subject in the following chapters; and, in order to remove every suspicion of partiality, I shall do it almost entirely on the authority of an eminent Roman Catholic writer of our day.
CHAPTER 2 - COMPROMISE OF THE CHURCH WITH PAGANSIM.
IHAVE described, in the preceding chapter, the causes which made Christian worship gradually to deviate from its primitive purity, and to assume a character more adapted to the ideas of the heathen population, — numbers of whom were continually joining the church. It was, particularly since the time of Constantine, because its festivals, becoming every day more numerous, and its sanctuaries more solemn, spacious, and adorned with greater splendor, — its ceremonies more complicated, — its emblems more diversified, — offered to the Pagans an ample compensation for the artistic pomp of their ancient worship. “The frankincense,” says an eminent Roman Catholic writer of our time, “the flowers, the golden and silver vessels, the lamps, the crowns, the luminaries, the linen, the silk, the chaunts, the processions, the festivals, recurring at certain fixed days, passed from the vanquished altars to the triumphant one. Paganism tried to borrow from Christianity its dogmas and its morals; Christianity took from Paganism its ornaments.” F13 Christianity would have become triumphant without these transformations. It would have done it later than it did, but its triumph would have been of a different kind from that which it has obtained by the assistance of these auxiliaries. “Christianity,” says the author quoted above, “retrograded; but it was this which made its force.” It would be more correct to say, that it advanced its external progress at the expense of its purity; it gained thus the favor of the crowd, but it was by other means that it obtained the approbation of the cultivated minds. F14 The church made a compromise with Paganism in order to convert more easily its adherents, — forgetting the precepts of the apostle, to beware of philosophy and vain traditions, ( Colossians 2:8,) as well as to refuse profane and old wives’ fables, ( 1 Timothy 4:7.) And it cannot be doubted that St Paul knew well that a toleration of these things would have rapidly extended the new churches, had the quantity of the converts been more important than the quality of their belief and morals.
This subject has been amply developed by one of the most distinguished French Writers of our day, who, belonging himself to the Roman Catholic Church, seeks to justify her conduct in this respect, though he admits with the greatest sincerity that she had introduced into her polity a large share of Pagan elements. I shall give my readers this curious piece of special pleading in favor of the line of policy which the church had followed on that occasion, as it forms a precious document, proving, in an unanswerable manner, the extent of Pagan rites and ideas contained in the Roman Catholic Church, particularly as it proceeds, not from an opponent of that church, but from a dutiful son of hers. The work from which I am making this extract is, moreover, considered as one of the master-pieces of modern French literature, and it was crowned by one of the most learned bodies of Europe — the Academic des Inscriptions et des Belles Lettres of Paris. F15 “The fundamental idea of Christianity,” says our author, “was a new, powerful idea, and independent of all those by which it had been preceded. However, the men by whom the Christian system was extended and developed, having been formed in the school of Paganism, could not resist the desire of connecting it with the former systems. St. Justin, St. Clement (of Alexandria), Athenagoras, Tatian, Origenes, Synesius, etc., considered Pagan philosophy as a preparation to Christianity. It was, indeed, making a large concession to the spirit of the ancient times; but they believed that they could conceal its inconveniences by maintaining in all its purity the form of Christian worship, and rejecting with disdain the usages and ceremonies of polytheism. When Christianity became the dominant religion, its doctors perceived that they would be compelled to give way equally in respect to the external form of worship, and that they would not be sufficiently strong to constrain the multitude of Pagans, who were embracing Christianity with a kind of enthusiasm as unreasoning as it was of little duration, to forget a system of acts, ceremonies, and festivals, which had such an immense power over their ideas and manners.
The church admitted, therefore, into her discipline, many usages evidently pagan. She undoubtedly has endeavored to purify them, but she never could obliterate the impression of their original stamp. “This new spirit of Christianity — this eclectism, which extended even to material things — has in modern times given rise to passionate discussions; these borrowings from the old religion were condemned, as having been suggested to the Christians of the fourth and fifth centuries by the remnants of that old love of idolatry which was lurking at the bottom of their hearts. It was easy for the modem reformers to condemn, by an unjust blame, the leaders of the church; they should, however, have acknowledged, that the principal interest of Christianity was to wrest from error the greatest number of its partisans, and that it was impossible to attain this object without providing for the obstinate adherents of the false gods an easy passage from the temple to the church. If we consider that, notwithstanding all these concessions, the ruin of Paganism was accomplished only by degrees and imperceptibly, — that during more than two centuries it was necessary to combat, over the whole of Europe, an error which, although continually overthrown, was incessantly rising again, — we shall understand that the conciliatory spirit of the leaders of the church was true wisdom. “St. John Chrysostom says, that the devil, having perceived that he could gain nothing with the Christians by pushing them in a direct way into idolatry, adopted for the purpose an indirect one.
F16 If the devil, that is to say, the pagan spirit, was changing its plan of attack, the church was also obliged to modify her system of defense, and not to affect an inflexibility which would have kept from her a great number of people whose irresolute conscience was fluctuating between falsehood and truth. “Already, at the beginning of the fifth century, some haughty spirits, Christians who were making a display of the rigidity of their virtues, and who were raising an outcry against the profanation of holy things, began to preach a pretended reform; they were recalling the Christians to the apostolic doctrine; they demanded what they were calling a true Christianity. Vigilantius, a Spanish priest, sustained on this subject an animated contest with St. Jerome. He opposed the worship of the saints and the custom of placing candles on their sepulchres; he condemned, as a source of scandal, the vigils in the basilics of the martyrs, F17 and many other usages, which were, it is true, derived from the ancient worship. We may judge by the warmth with which St. Jerome refuted the doctrines of this heresiarch of the importance which he attached to those usages. F18 He foresaw that the mission of the Christian doctrine would be to adapt itself to the manners of all times, and to oppose them only when they would tend towards depravity. Far from desiring to deprive the Romans of certain ceremonial practices which were dear to them, and whose influence had nothing dangerous to the Christian dogmas, he openly took their part, and his conduct was approved by the whole church. “If St. Jerome and St. Augustinus had shared the opinions of Vigilantius, would they have had the necessary power successfully to oppose the introduction of pagan usages into the ceremonies of the Christian church? I don’t believe that they would. After the fall of Rome, whole populations passed under the standards of Christianity, but they did it with their baggage of senseless beliefs and superstitious practices. The church could not repulse this crowd of self-styled Christians, and still less summon them immediately to abandon all their ancient errors; she therefore made concessions to circumstances, concessions which were not entirely voluntary. They may be considered as calculations full of wisdom on the part of the leaders of the church, as well as the consequence of that kind of irruption which was made at the beginning of the fifth century into the Christian society by populations, who, notwithstanding their abjuration, were Pagans by their manners, their tastes, their prejudices, and their ignorance. F19 “Let us now calculate the extent of these concessions, and examine whether it was right to say that they injured the purity of the Christian dogmas. “The Romans had derived from their religion an excessive love of public festivals. They were unable to conceive a worship without the pompous apparel of ceremonies. They considered the long processions, the harmonious chaunts, the splendor of dresses, the light of tapers, the perfume of frankincense, as the essential part of religion. Christianity, far from opposing a disposition which required only to be directed with more wisdom, adopted a part of the. ceremonial system of the ancient worship. It changed the object of its ceremonies, it cleansed them from their old impurities, but it preserved the days upon which many of them were celebrated, and the multitude found thus in the new religion, as much as in the old one, the means of satisfying its dominant passion. F20 “The neophytes felt for the pagan temples all involuntary respect. They could not pass at once from veneration to a contempt for the monuments of their ancestors’ piety; and in ascending the steps of the church, they were casting a longing look on those temples which a short time before had been resplendent with magnificence, but were now deserted. Christianity understood the power of this feeling, and desired to appropriate it to its own service; it consented, therefore, to establish the solemnities of its worship in the edifices which it had disdained for a long time. F21 Its care not to offend pagan habits was such, that it often respected even the pagan names of those edifices. F22 In short, its policy, which, since the times of Constantine, was always to facilitate the conversion of the Pagans, assumed, after the fall of Rome, a more decided character, and the system of useful concessions became general in all the churches of Europe; and it cannot be doubted that its results have been favorable to the propagation of Christian ideas. F23 “There is, moreover, a peculiar cause to which the rapid decline of the pagan doctrines in the west must be ascribed, and I shall endeavor to place this powerful cause in its true light, carefully avoiding mixing up with a subject of this importance all considerations foreign to the object of my researches. “Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, after having defended a long time the true faith, strayed from it on a subject which proved a stumbling-stone to so many theologians — I mean, the nature of Jesus Christ. Nestorius distinguished in the Son of God two natures, a divine and a human one; and he maintained that the Virgin Mary was not the mother of God ( Qeoteokov ), but the mother of the man (ajnqrwpotokov ). This doctrine, which was a new and bolder form given to Arianism, spread in the two empires, and gained a great number of partisans amongst the monasteries of Egypt. Many monks could not almost suffer that Jesus Christ should be acknowledged as God, and considered him only as an instrument of the Divinity, or a vessel which bore it ( Qeoforov ). “The celebrated St. Cyrillius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote an epistle to those monks, in order to call them back to respect for the traditions established in the church, if not by the apostles — who, in speaking of the holy virgin, never made use of the expression, mother of God — at least by the fathers who succeeded them. The quarrel became general and violent; the Christians came to blows everywhere. Nestorius seemingly wished to draw back, being frightened by the storm which he had himself raised. ‘I have found,’ said he, ‘the church a prey to dissensions. Some call the holy virgin the mother of God; others only the mother of a man. In order to reunite them, I have called her the mother of Christ.
Remain, therefore, at peace about this question, and be convinced that my sentiments on the true faith are always the same.’ But his obstinacy and the ardor of his partisans did not allow him to go beyond this false retraction. The necessity of a general council was felt, and the Emperor Theodosius II ordered in 431 its convocation at Ephesus. On the 21st June 431, two hundred bishops condemned Nestorius, and declared that the Virgin Mary should be honored as the mother of God. This decision was accepted, notwithstanding some vain protestations, by the universal church.
The fathers of the council of Ephesus had no thought of introducing into the church a new dogma or worship. The Virgin Mary had always been considered by them as the mother of God, and they made now a solemn declaration of this belief, in order to reply to the attack of Nestorius, and to remove every incertitude about a dogma which had not hitherto been opposed. But these great assemblies of Christians, notwithstanding the particular motive of their meeting, were always produced by some general necessity which was felt by the Christian society, and the results of their decrees went often beyond the provisions of those by whom they were framed. “Though I am far from believing that it is allowable to weigh in the scales of human reason the dogmas of Christianity, I do not think that it is prohibited to examine which of these dogmas has the most instrumental in detaching the Pagans from their errors. “We have several times penetrated, in the course of our researches, into the conscience of the leaders of Paganism, and we have always found that it was entirely under the influence of political views and interests. These interests, which so powerfully acted upon the politician’s mind, had but a feeble hold upon that of the inhabitants of the country. And, indeed, what interest could the agriculturists, the artisans, and the proletarians, have in maintaining the integrity of the Roman constitution, or in preserving the rights of the senate, as well as the privileges, honors, and riches of the aristocracy?
Being destined, as they were under any religion whatever, for a life of labor and privation, they might choose between Christianity and Paganism, without having their choice actuated by any personal interest. It is therefore necessary to seek for another cause of that obstinate attachment which the lower classes of the town and country population showed for the practices of a worship whose existence was for a century reduced to such a miserable state. “I shall not dwell on what has been said about the tyranny of habit, which is always more severe wherever minds are less enlightened. I shall indicate another cause of the obstinacy of the Pagans, which was founded at least upon an operation of the mind — upon a judgment — and was, consequently, more deserving of fixing the attention of the church than that respect of custom against which the weapons of reason are powerless. “The Christian dogmas, penetrating into a soul corrupted and weakened by idolatry, must have, in the first moment, filled it with a kind of terror. And, indeed, how was it possible that the Pagans, accustomed as they were to their profligate gods and goddesses, should not have trembled when they heard for the first time the voice of God, the just but inexorable rewarder of good and evil?
Should not a solemn and grave worship, whose ceremonies were a constant and direct excitation to the practice of every virtue, appear an intolerable yoke to men who were accustomed to find in their sacred rites a legitimate occasion to indulge in every kind of debauchery? The fear of submitting their lives to the rule of a too rigid morality, and to bow their heads before a God whose greatness terrified them, kept for many years a multitude of Pagans from the church. “If it has entered the designs of Providence to temper the severe dogmas of Christianity by the consecration of some mild, tender, and consoling ideas, and by the same adapted to the fragile human nature, it is evident that, whatever may have been their aim, they must have assisted in detaching the last Pagans from their errors.
The worship of Mary, the mother of God, seems to have been the means which Providence has employed for completing Christianity. F24 “After the council of Ephesus the churches of the East and of the West offered the worship of the faithful to the Virgin Mary, who had victoriously issued from a violent attack. The nations were as if dazzled by the image of this divine mother, who united in her person the two most tender feelings of nature, the pudicity of the virgin and the love of the mother; an emblem of mildness, of resignation, and of all that is sublime in virtue; one who weeps with the afflicted, intercedes for the guilty, and never appears otherwise than as the messenger of pardon or of assistance. They accepted this new worship with an enthusiasm sometimes too great, because with many Christians it became the whole Christianity. The Pagans did not even try to defend their altars against the progress of the worship of the mother of God; they opened to Mary the temples which they kept closed to Jesus Christ, and confessed their defeat. F25 It is true, that they often mixed with the worship of Mary those pagan ideas, those vain practices, those ridiculous supersitions, from which they seemed unable to detach themselves; but the church rejoiced, nevertheless, at their entering into her pale, because she well knew that it would be easy to her to purge of its alloy, with the help of time, a worship whose essence was purity itself. F26 Thus, some prudent concessions, temporarily made to the pagan manners and the worship of Mary, were two elements of force which the church employed in order to conquer the resistance of the last Pagans, — a resistance which was feeble enough in Italy, but violent beyond the Alps.” F27
CHAPTER 3 - POSITION OF THE FIRST CHRISTIAN EMPERORS TOWARDS PAGANISM, AND THEIR POLICY IN THIS RESPECT.
IHAVE given in the preceding chapter a description, traced by one of the most learned Roman Catholic writers of our day, of the compromise between Christianity and Paganism, by which the church has endeavored to establish her dominion over the adherents of the latter. I shall now try to give a rapid sketch of the circumstances which undoubtedly have influenced the church, to a considerable degree, in the adoption of a line of policy which, though it certainly has much contributed to the extension of her external dominion, has introduced into her pale those very errors and superstitions which it was her mission to destroy, and to deliver mankind from their baneful influence.
There is a widely-spread but erroneous opinion, that the conversion of Constantine was followed by an immediate destruction of Paganism in the Roman empire. This opinion originated from the incorrect statements of some ecclesiastical writers; but historical criticism has proved, beyond every doubt, that, even a century after the conversion of that monarch, Paganism was by no means extinct, and counted many adherents, even amongst the highest classes of Roman society.
When Constantine proclaimed his conversion to the religion of the Cross, its adherents formed but a minority of the population of the Roman empire. F28 The deficiency of their numbers was, however, compensated by their moral advantages; for they were united by the worship of the one true God, and ardently devoted to a religion which they had voluntarily embraced, and for which they had suffered so much. The Pagans were, on the contrary, disunited, and in a great measure indifferent to a religion whose doctrines were derided by the more enlightened of them, though, considering it as a political institution necessary for the maintenance of the empire, they often displayed great zeal in its defense. The Christians of that time may be compared to the Greeks when they combated the Persians on the field of Marathon and at Thermopylm; but, alas! their victory under Constantine proved as fatal to the purity of their religion as that of the Greeks under Alexander to their political and military virtues.
Both of them became corrupted by adopting the ideas and manners of their conquered adversaries.
Some writers have suspected that the conversion of Constantine was more due to political than religious motives; but though great and many were the faults of that monarch, his sincerity in embracing the Christian religion cannot be doubted, because it was a step more contrary than favorable to his political interests. The Christians formed, as I have said above, only a minority of the population of the empire, and particularly so in its western provinces. There was not a single Christian in the Roman senate; and the aristocracy of Rome, whose privileges and interests were intimately connected with the religious institutions of the empire, were most zealous in their defense. The municipal bodies of the principal cities were also blindly devoted to the national religion, whose existence was considered by many as inseparable from that of the empire itself; and these bodies were generally the chief promoters of those terrible persecutions to which the Christians had been so many times subjected.
The Pagan clergy, rich, powerful, and numerous, were ever zealous in exciting public hatred against the Christians; and the legions were chiefly commanded by those officers who had united with Galerius in compelling Diocletian to persecute the Christians. The capital of the empire was the particular stronghold of the ancient creed. “Rome,” says Beuguot, in the work from which I have so largely drawn, “was the cradle and the focus of the national belief. Many traditions, elevated to the rank of dogmas, were born within her pale, and impressed upon her a religious character, which still was vividly shining in the times of Constantine. The Pagans of the west considered Rome as the sacred city, the sanctuary of their hopes, the poiny towards which all their thoughts were to be directed; and the Greeks, in their usual exaggeration, acknowledged in her, not a part of the earth, but of heaven.” — (Libanii Eloistolae, epist. 1083, p. 816.) “The aristocracy, endowed with its many sacerdotal dignities, and dragging in its train a crowd of clients and freedmen, to whom it imparted its passions and its attachment to the error, furnished, by the help of its immense riches, the means of subsistence to a greedy, turbulent, and superstitious populace, amongst whom it could easily maintain the most odious prejudices against Christianity. The hope of acquiring a name, a fortune, or simply to take a part in the public distributions, attracted to that city from the provinces all those who had no condition, or, what is still worse, those who were dissatisfied with theirs. Italy, Spain, Africa, and Gallia sent to Rome the elite of their children, in order to be instructed in a school, the principal merit of whose professors was, an envious hatred of every new idea, and who had acquired a melancholy reputation during the persecutions of the Christians. The standard of Paganism was waving in full liberty on the walls of the Capitol. Public and private sacrifices, sacred and the consultation of the augurs, were prevailing the utmost in that sink of all the superstitions. F29 (The name of Christ was cursed, and the speedy ruin of his worshippers announced, in every part of that place, whilst the glory of the gods was celebrated, and their assistance invoked. How cruel must have been the situation of the Christians, left in the midst of that city, where, at every step, a temple, an altar, a statue, and horrible blasphemies were revealing to them the ever active power of the Lie! They dared not either to found churches, to open schools, or even publicly to reply to what was spoken against them, at the theatres, at the forum, or at the baths: so that they seemed to exist at Rome only in order to give a greater eclat to the dominion of idolatry.” — (Volume 1, p. 75.) It was no wonder that such a religious disposition of Rome had placed it in a continual and strenuous opposition to Constantine, and his Christian successors; and this circumstance may be considered as an additional motive which induced Constantine to transfer the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium, though this measure may have been chiefly brought about by political considerations. In removing his residence to a more central point of the empire, he at the same time drew nearer to the eastern provinces, where Christianity had many devoted adherents.
Constantinople became the capital of the Christian party, whence it gradually developed its sway over the other parts of the empire, but the Pagans maintained meanwhile their ground at Rome, in such a manner, that it seems to have been uninhabitable to the Christian emperors; because we see even those of them who ruled the western provinces fixing their residence either at Milan or Ravenna, and visiting only on some occasions the city of the Caesars, which had become, since the foundation of Constantinople, the fortified camp of Paganism. F30 Constantine proclaimed full religious liberty to all his subjects. This measure, dictated by a sound policy, and in perfect harmony with the true spirit of his new religion, was not, however, sufficient to relieve him from the difficulties of his personal position, as he united in his person two characters diametrically opposed one to another. Being a Christian, he was at the same time, as the emperor of Rome, the head and the representant, not only of its political, but also of its religious institutions. This circumstance forced him into a double line of policy, which I shall describe in the words of H. Beugnot: — “There were in Constantine, so to say, two persons, — the Christian and the emperor. If that monarch had not been endowed with a rare intellect, he would have, by confounding these two characters, raised in his way obstacles which he could not overcome. As a Christian, he showed everywhere his contempt for the vain superstitions of the ancient worship, and his enthusiasm for the new ideas. He conferred with the bishops; he assisted standing at their long homilies; he presided at the councils; he deeply meditated the mysteries of Christianity; and he struggled against the heresiarchs with the ardor of a Christian soldier and the grief of a profoundly convinced soul. As emperor, he submitted to the necessities of a difficult position, and conformed, in all grave matters, to the manners and beliefs which he did not feel sufficiently strong openly to shock. On endowing the purple, he became the heir of that long series of emperors who had all remained faithful to the worship of the father-land; and he wrapt himself, so to say, in the ancient traditions and recollections of pagan Rome; for it was an inheritance which he could not renounce, without danger to himself as well as to the empire. “When we observe some actions of Constantine, evidently tinged with Paganism, we must consider less their external form than the relation in which they stood towards the constitution of Rome, which that emperor had no desire to destroy. We shall then become convinced that his conduct was the result of necessity, and not that of a crooked policy. As an individual, he was free; as an emperor, he was a slave; and his greatest merit, according to our opinion, was to have soundly judged the embarrassments of this situation.
Animated as he was with a lively zeal for the truths of Christianity, it was very natural that he should employ the imperial power in order to break down all the obstacles to its progress. But this would have involved him in an open war with a nation, the majority of whom were composed of Pagans; and it is very likely that he would have succumbed in such a contest. He understood this; and it prevented him giving way to the entreaties, and even complaints, of over-zealous Christians.” — Volume 1, p. 88.
Constantine was, notwithstanding his conversion to Christianity, the supreme pontiff of pagan Rome. The title of this dignity was given him on the public monuments, and he performed its functions on several occasions; as, for instance, in 321, several years after his conversion, he wrote to Maximus, prefect of Rome, as follows: — “If our palace or any public monument shall be struck by lightning, the auguries are to be consulted, according to the ancient rites (retento more veteris observantiae), in order to know what this event indicates; and the accounts of these proceedings are immediately to be sent to us. Private individuals may make similar consultations, provided they abstain from secret sacrifices, which are particularly prohibited. With regard to the accounts stating that the amphitheater was recently struck by lightning, and which thou hast sent to Heraclianus the tribune, and master of offices, know that they must be delivered to us.”
This is undoubtedly a very strange document for a Christian monarch, who officially commands to consult the Pagan oracles, and, as its concluding words seem to imply, is anxious to maintain, on similar occasions, his rights as the supreme pontiff of Paganism.
It was also in his quality of supreme pontiff that Constantine instituted, soon after his accession, the Francic games, for the commemoration of his victory over the Franks, and which were celebrated, during a considerable time, on the 18th of the calends of August; and, in 321, the Sarmatic games, on the occasion of his victory over the Sarmatians, and celebrated on the 6th of the same month. These games were real Pagan ceremonies, and reprobated on this account by the Christian writers of that time. F31 I could quote other instances of a similar kind; but I shall conclude this subject by observing, that a medal has been preserved, upon which Constantine is represented in the dress of the supreme pontiff, — i.e., with a veil covering his head.
Constantine was, indeed, very anxious not to offend the Pagan party. In 319 he published a very severe law against the soothsayers; expressing, however, that this prohibition did not extend to the public consultations of the Haruspices, according to the established rites. And a short time afterwards he proclaimed another law on the same subject, in which he still more explicitly declares that he does not interfere with the rites of the Pagan worship. F32 It must be observed, that the Romans, as well as the Greeks, had two kinds of divination: the public, which were considered as legitimate; and the secret, which were generally forbidden. This last had been prohibited by some former emperors; and the laws of the Twelve Tables declared them punishable with death. Constantine seems to have been very anxious that his intention on this subject should not be mistaken; and he published in 321 an edict, by which he positively allows the practice of a certain kind of magic, by the following remarkable expressions: — “It is right to repress and to punish, by laws justly severe, those who practice, or try to practice, the magical arts, and seek to seduce pure souls into profligacy; but those who employ this art. in order to find remedies against diseases, or who, in the country, make use of it in order to prevent the snow, the wind, and the hall from destroying the crops, must not be prosecuted. Neither the welfare nor the reputation of any one are endangered by acts whose object is to insure to men the benefits of the divinity and the fruits of their labor.” — Codex Theodosiasus, lib. ix., f. 16, apud Beugnot.
This was, undoubtedly, a very large concession to the, superstitions of Paganism made by a Christian monarch, and from which he was, perhaps, himself not entirely free. It is well known that Constantine, after his public declaration of Christianity, introduced the labarum, F33 as a sign of the dominion of the new faith; but it was generally placed on his coins in the hands of the winged statue of the Pagan goddess of Victory. Besides these coins of Constantine, there are many others of the same monarch, having inscriptions in honor of Jupiter, Mars, and other Pagan divinities, The Pagan aristocracy of Rome seem to have been resolved to ignore the fact that the head of the empire had become a Christian, and to consider him, in spite of himself, as one of their own. Thus, after his death, the senate placed him, according to the usual custom, among the gods; and a calendar has been preserved where the festivals in honor of this strange divinity are indicated. The name of Divus is given to him on several coins; and, what is very odd, this Pagan god is represented on the abovementioned medals holding in his hand the Christian sign of the labarum.
We thus see that Constantine, instead of persecuting the adherents of the national Paganism, was following a policy of compromise between the two characters united in his person, that of a Christian and of a Roman emperor. This did not, however, prevent him from heaping favors of every kind upon the Christian church, — favors which proved to her much more injurious than all the persecutions of the former emperors. And, indeed, the Christians, who had nobly stood the test of adversity, were not proof against the more dangerous trial of a sudden and unexpected prosperity.
The first favor granted by Constantine to the Christians, and which he did even before his public confession of their faith, was the extension to their clergy of the exemption from various municipal charges enjoyed by the Pagan priests, on account of their being obliged to give at their expense certain public games: The Christian clergy were thus placed in a more favorable position than the Pagan priests, because, though admitted to equal immunities, they were not subjected to the same charges; and thus, for the first time, a bribe was offered for conversion to a religion which had hitherto generally exposedits disciples to persecution. “Numbers of people, actuated less by conviction than by the hope of a reward, were crowding from all parts to the churches, and the first favor granted to the Christians introduced amongst them guilty passions, to which they had hitherto remained strangers, and whose action was so rapid and so melancholy. The complaints of the municipal bodies, and the disorder which it was producing in the provincial administration, induced Constantine to put some restrictions on a favor which, being granted perhaps somewhat inconsiderately, did more harm than good to the interests of the Christian religion.” — Beugnot, volume I, p. 78.
Constantine increased his favors to the Christians after he had publicly embraced their faith. “The ecclesiastical historians,” says the author whom we have just quoted, “enumerate with a feeling of pride, the proofs of his generosity. They say, that the revenues of the empire were employed to erect everywhere magnificent churches, and to enrich the bishops. They cannot be, on this occasion, accused of exaggeration. Constantine introduced amongst the Christians a taste for riches and luxury; and the disappearance of their frugal and simple manners, which had been the glory of the church during the three preceding centuries, may be dated from his reign.” — Ibid ., p. 87.
The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, a great admirer of Constantine, whose personal friend he was, admits himself, that the favors shown by that monarch to the church have not been always conducive to her purity.
In short, the sudden triumph of the church under Constantine was one of the principal causes of her corruption, and the beginning of that compromise with Paganism, described in the preceding chapter. Paganism, though weakened through its abandonment by the head of the state, was by no means broken down at the time of Constantine’s death. Many of its zealous adherents were occupying the principal dignities of the state, as well as the most important civil and military offices; but its chief stronghold was Rome, where its partisans were so powerful, that the unfortunate dissensions which divided the Christians were publicly exposed to ridicule in the theatres of that city. The Arian writer Philostorgus says that Constantine was worshipped after his death, not as a saint, but as a god, by the orthodox Christians, who offered sacrifices to the statue of that monarch placed upon a column of porphyry, and addressed prayers to him as to God himself. It is impossible to ascertain whether examples of such mad extravagance had ever taken place amongst Christians or not; but the Western church has not bestowed upon his memory the honors of saintship, though she has been generally very lavish of them. F34 Thus the first Christian emperor was canonized only by the Pagans.
The sons of Constantine followed the religious policy of their father; and the facility with which his nephew, Julian the Apostate, had restored Paganism to the rank of the dominant religion, twenty-four years after his death, proves how strong its party was even at that time. Julian’s reign of eighteen months was too short to produce any considerable effect upon the religious parties into which the Roman empire was then divided. After his death, the imperial crown was offered by the army to Sallust, a Pagan general, who having refused it on account of his great age, it was bestowed upon Jovian, a Christian, who reigned only three months. The legions elected, after Jovian’s death, Valentinian, who, though a sincere Christian, strictly maintained the religious liberty of his subjects; and the same policy was followed by his brother and colleague Valens, who governed the eastern part of the empire, and was an Arian. Valentinian’s son and successor, Gratian, though educated by the celebrated poet Ausonius, who adhered to the ancient worship, was a zealous Christian. He published, immediately after his accession, an edict allowing perfect religious liberty to all his subjects, with the exception of the Manicheans and some other sects. He granted several new privileges to Christians, but he continued to conform for some time to the duties inherited from his Pagan predecessors, of which the most remarkable instance was, that he caused his father to be placed amongst the gods, according to the general custom followed at the death of the Roman emperors. F35 Though greatly enfeebled by the continual advance of Christianity, Paganism was still the established religion of the state. Its rites were still observed with their wonted solemnity, and its power was still so great at Rome, that a vestal virgin was executed in that city for the breach of her vow of chastity, subsequently to the reign of Gratian. These circumstances induced, probably, the above-mentioned emperor to respect the religious institutions of Rome during the first years of his reign, but (382), acting under the advice of St. Ambrose, he confiscated the property belonging to the Pagan temples, and the incomes of which served for the maintenance of priests and the celebration of sacrifices. He abolished, at the same time, all the privileges and immunities of the Pagan priests, and ordered the altar and statue of the goddess of Victory to be removed from the hall of the senate, the presence of which gave to that assembly, though it already contained many Christian members, the character of a Pagan institution.
The senate sent a deputation to Gallia, where Gratian was at that time, in order to remonstrate against these measures, and to present to him, at the same time, the insignia of the supreme pontificate of Rome, which none of his Christian predecessors had yet refused. But Oratian rejected these emblems of Paganism, saying that it was not meet for a Christian to accept them. This would have been probably followed by other more decided measures, had he not perished a short time afterwards in a rebellion.
Theodosius the Great, whom Gratian had associated with him, adopted a decidedly hostile policy towards Paganism, and proclaimed a series of laws against it. Thus, in 381, he ordered that those Christians returned to Paganism should forfeit the right of making wills; but as these apostasies continued, he ordered, in 383, that the apostates should not inherit any kind of property, either left by will or descended by natural order or succession, unless it were left by their parents or a brother.
In 385 he proclaimed the penalty of death against all those who should inquire into futurity by consulting the entrails of the victims, or try to obtain the same object by execrable and magic consultations, which evidently referred to those secret divinations that had been prohibited by Constantine, as well as his Pagan predecessors. In the course of the year 391, he published a series of edicts, prohibiting under pain of death every immolation, and all other acts of idolatry under that of confiscation of the houses or lands where they had been performed.
Theodosius died in 395, but had his life been prolonged, he would probably have developed still farther his policy against Paganism, which was greatly weakened in the course of his reign. Many Pagan temples, particularly in the Eastern provinces, were destroyed during his reign by the Christians, acting without the orders of the emperor, but not punished by him for these acts of violence. He did not, however, constrain the Pagans to embrace Christianity; and, notwithstanding that he proclaimed several laws against their worship, he employed many of them even in the highest offices of the state. F36 Notwithstanding the severe laws published by Theodosius against idolatry, Rome still contained a great number of pagan temples, and the polytheist party continued to be strong in the senate, as well as in the army, which is evident from the two following facts. When Alaric elected in 409 Attalus emperor of Rome, the new monarch distributed the first dignities of the state to Pagans, and restored the public solemnities of the ancient worship, in order to maintain himself on the throne by the support of the Pagan party; which proves that, though a century had already elapsed since the conversion of Constantine, this party was not yet considered quite insignificant. About the same time, Honorius having proclaimed a law which excluded from the offices of the imperial palace all those who did not profess his religion, was obliged to revoke it, because it gave offense to the Pagan officers of the army.
Arcadius, who succeeded Theodosius on the throne of the Eastern empire, proclaimed, immediately after his accession in 398, that he would strictly enforce the laws of his father against Paganism, and he issued in the following year new and more severe ordinances of the same kind. The blow which may be said to have overturned Paganism in the Roman empire did not, however, come from its Christian monarchs, but from the same hand which destroyed its ancient capital, and inflicted upon the Western empire a mortal wound which it did not survive many years.
The Goths, whom the energy and wise policy of Theodosius had maintained in their allegiance to the empire, being offended by Arcadius, revolted, and invaded his dominions under Alaric, in 396. They ravaged the provinces situated between the Adriatic and the Black Seas, and penetrated into Greece, where Paganism, notwithstanding all the enactments of Theodosius, was still prevailing to a very great extent.
The principal cities of Greece were devastated by the Goths, who recently converted to Arianism, and having no taste for arts, destroyed all the temples, statues, and other pagan monuments, with which they met.
Athens escaped the fury of the invaders, but the celebrated temple of Eleusis, whose mysteries continued in full rigor in spite of all the laws which had been published against polytheism, was destroyed, whilst its priests either perished or fled. This catastrophe was so much felt by the adherents of the ancient worship in Greece, that many of them are said to have committed suicide from grief. “Since the defeat of Cheronea, and the capture of Corinth, the Greek nationality had never experienced a severer blow than the destruction of its temples and of its gods by Alaric,” says an eminent German writer of our day. F37 It was, indeed, a mortal blow to a religion which maintained its sway by acting upon the senses and the imagination, as well as upon the feelings of national pride or vanity, because it destroyed all the means by which such feelings were produced.
Alaric and his Goths seem to have been destined by Providence to precipitate the fall of Paganism at Rome, as well as in Greece, because the capture and sack of the eternal city by these barbarians, in 410, accelerated the ruin of its ancient worship more than all the laws proclaimed against it by the Christian emperors. The particulars of this terrible catastrophe have been amply described by Gibbon, and I shall only observe, that though Christians had suffered on that occasion as much as Pagans, the worship of the latter was struck at the very root of its existence by the complete ruin of the Roman aristocracy, who, although frequently indifferent about the tenets of the national polytheism, supported it with all their influence as a political institution, which could not be abolished without injuring the most vital interests of their order. F38 The decline of Paganism from that time was very rapid. It is true that we have sufficient historical evidence to show that pagan temples were still to be found at Rome after its sack by the Goths, and that many Pagans were employed, in the Western as well as in the Eastern empires, in some of the most important offices of the state; but their number was fast disappearing, and the exercise of their religion was generally confined to the domestic hearth, to the worship of the Lares and Penates . It seems to have been particularly prevalent amongst the rustic population of the provinces, and it was not entirely extinct in Italy even at the beginning of the sixth century; because the Goth, Theodoric the Great, who reigned over that country from 493 to 526, published an edict forbidding, under pain of death, to sacrifice according to the Pagan rites, as well as other superstitious practices remaining from the ancient polytheism, I have given this sketch of the state of Paganism after the conversion of Constantine, and of the policy which was followed towards it by the first Christian emperors, because it seems to explain, at least to a certain degree, the manner in which Christianity was rapidly corrupted in the fourth and fifth centuries by the Pagan ideas and practices which I shall endeavor to trace in my next chapter.
CHAPTER 4 - INFECTION OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH BY PAGAN IDEAS AND PRACTICES DURING THE FOURTH AND FIFTH CENTURIES
— General State of Christian Society During That Period — Opposition to the Worship of Angles, Saints, Images, and Relics — Vigilantius.
IHAVE said that the council of Elvira, in Spain, held in 305, prohibited the use of images in the churches. Other canons of the same council show that even then Christians were but too prone to relapse into the practices and customs of Paganism; because they enact very severe ecclesiastical penances against those Christians who took part in the rites and festivals of the Pagan worship. F39 If such enactments were required to maintain the purity of Christian doctrine, at a time when its converts, instead of expecting any worldly advantages, were often exposed to severe persecution, and consequently had no other motives for embracing it than a more conviction of its truth, how much more was this purity endangered when conversion to Christianity led to the favor of the sovereign, and when the church, instead of severely repressing the idolatrous propensities of her children, endeavored to facilitate as much as possible the entrance of the Pagans into her pale! Let me add, that the mixture of Christianity with Paganism in various public acts of the first Christian emperors, which I have described in the preceding chapter, could not but contribute to the general confusion of ideas amongst those Christian’s whom the church was continually receiving into her pale, with all their pagan notions. I have described, in the second chapter of this essay, the policy of compromise adopted by the church after the conversion of Constantine. I shall now describe the consequences of this policy, by giving a sketch of the Christian society which it produced, and which has been drawn, on the authority of ecclesiastical writers, by the same author whose description and defense of that policy I have given in the above-mentioned chapter. “Towards the beginning of the fifth century, the propagation of Christianity amongst the upper classes of Roman society met still with many obstacles; but the influential persons who had broken with the error, remained at least faithful to their new creed, and did not scandalize society by their apostasy. The senatorial families which had embraced Christianity gave, at Rome, the unfortunately too rare example of piety and of all the Christian virtues; the case was different with the converts belonging to the lower, and even the middle classes of Roman society. The corruption of manners had made rapid progress amongst them during the last fifty years of the fourth century; and things arrived at such a pass, that the choice of a religion was considered by the people as an act of the greatest indifference. The new religion was embraced from interest, from curiosity, or by fashion, and afterwards abandoned on the first occasion. It was, in fact, not indifference, because indifference induces people to remain in the religion in which they were born; it was a complete atheism, a revolting depravity, an openlyexpressed contempt of all that, is most sacred. How many times the church, which struggled, but in vain, against the progress of the evil, had occasion to lament the too easy recruits whom she was making amongst the inferior ranks of society! F40 People disgracefully ignorant, without honor, without a shadow of piety, polluted by their presence the assemblies of the faithful. They are those whom the fathers of the church designated by the name of the mali Christiani — ficti Christiani, and against whom their eloquent voices were often resounding. The heretics, the promoters of troubles and seditions, always counted upon those men, who seemed to enter the church only in order to disturb her by their turbulent spirit, or who consented to remain in the true faith only on condition of introducing into the usages of Christian worship, a crowd of superstitions whose influence was felt but too long; F41 whilst the slightest sign of Paganism was sufficient to call back to it those servants of all the parties. “It was then, unfortunately, a too common thing to see men who made a profession of passing, without any difficulty, from one religion to another, ag many times as it was required by their interests. The principle of that inconceivable corruption in the bosom of a religion which was not yet completely developed, dated from a period anterior to that which we are describing. F42 The councils and the emperors had struggled in vain against apostasy, which the multitude of heresics, and the vices of the times, had placed amongst legitimate actions. “Theodosius began in 381 to punish the apostates by depriving them of the right to make wills. In 383, he modified this law in respect to the apostate catechumens; but the general principle maintained all the apostates absque jure Romano. Valentinian II followed the example of his colleague, and applied the beforementioned dispositions to those Christians who became Jews or Manicheans. We know, from a law of 391, that the nobility was infected by the general spirit of the age, because Valentinian enacted, by this law, that those nobles who became apostates were to be degraded in such a manner that they should not count even in vulgi ignobilis parte. In 396, Arcadius deprived again of the right to make wills those Christians qui se idolorum superstitione impia maculaverint. F43 The political authorities, therefore, cannot be accused of having remained indifferent to the progress of the evil.
We must now show how little power the laws had in a time like that which we are describing. “One day, St. Augustinius presented to the assembly of the Christians of Hippona, a man who was to become celebrated amongst renegades; born a Pagan, he embraced Christianity, but returned again to the idols, and exercised the lucrative profession of an astrologer; he now demanded to be readmittcd into the church, that is to say, to change for the third time his religion. St Augustinus addressed, on that occasion, the above-mentioned assembly in the following manner: — “‘This former Christian, terrified by the power of God, is now repenting. In the days of his faithfulness, he was enticed by the enemy, and became an astrologer; seduced and deceived himself, he was seducing and deceiving others; he uttered many lies against God, who gave men the power to do good, and to do no evil; he said that it was not the will of men which made men adulterers, but Venus; that it was Mars who rendered people murderers; that justice was not inspired by God, but by Jupiter; and he added to it many other sacrileges. How much money he has swindled from self-styled Christians! How many people have purchased the lie from him! But now, if we are to believe him, he hates the error, he laments the loss of many souls; and feeling himself caught by the demon, he returns toward God full of repentance. Let us believe, brethren, that it is fear which produces the change. What shall we say? perhaps we must not rejoice so much at the conversion of this pagan, astrologer, because once being converted, he may seek to obtain the clerical once; he is penitent, brethren, and asks only for mercy. I recommend him to your hearts, and to your eyes. Let your hearts love him, but let your eyes watch him. Mark him well; and wherever you shall meet him, show him to those of your brethren who are not present here. This will be an act of mercy, because we, must fear that his seductive soul should change again, and recommence to do mischief. Watch him; know what he says, and where he goes, in order that your testimony may confirm us in the opinion that he is really converted. He was perishing, but now he is found again. He has brought with him the books which have burnt him, in order to throw them into the fire; he wishes to be refreshed by the flames which shall consume them. You must know, brethren, that he had knocked at the door of the church before Easter, but that the profession which he had followed, he was kept back, but shortly afterwards received. We are afraid of leaving him exposed to new temptations. Pray to Christ for him.’ “Socrates F44 speaks of a sophist of Constantinople, called Ecebolus, who conformed with a marvellous facility to all the changes of fortune which Christianity was undergoing. During the reign of Constantine, he affected the greatest zeal for the new belief; but when Julian became emperor, he resumed his ancient devotion to the gods of Paganism. After the death of that monarch, he gave great publicity to his repentance, and protrasted himself before the churches, crying to the Christians, ‘Tread me under your feet, as the salt which has lost its savor!’ Socrates adds: — ‘Ecebolus remained what he has always been, — i.e., a fickle and inconstant man.’ St. Augustinus could certainly say the same of his astrologer. Is it not surprising to find apostasy still prevalent at a time when no sensible man could believe in the restoration of the ancient worship? The appearance of Julian must have upset many a wind, shaken many a conscience, and given to the triumph of Christianity the character of a transitory event. But, at the end of the fourth century, it was impossible to abandon the church and return to the idols, except by a feeling which could not but excite profound pity. I therefore understand why St. Augustine had consented to plead with the Christians in favor of a wretch already charged with three apostasies: he wished, above all, to take from him the name of a Pagan, being convinced that whosoever consented no longer to sacrifice to the false gods would finally belong to the true religion. A neophyte, restrained by the leaven of all the pagan passions, might remain more or less time on the threshold, might remain more or less time on the threshold of the church, but sooner or later he was sure to cross it. F45 The leaders of the church considered it always a favorable presumption when a citizen consented to call himself no longer a Pagan. This first victory appeared to them a sure presage of a true conversion; and they recommended to the Christians that they should not apply the dangerous epithet of Pagan to those of their brethren who had failed, but simply to call them sinners. They endeavored, in short, to make them forget Paganism; and in order to attain this object, they even forbade to pronounce its name. F46 “The ancient worship was not only obstructing the development of Christianity by covert and insidious attacks, but it was vitiating the discipline of the church, because its sway upon the manners of the converts was something more like a real tyranny than the natural remnant of its former influence. It is, indeed, surprising with what facility it introduced into the sanctuary of the true God its superstitious spirit, its relaxed morals, and its love of disorder. How little the church was then — i.e., seventy years after the conversion of Constantine, — resembling what she ought to have been, or what she became afterwards! F47 St. Jerome had intended, towards the end of his life, to write an ecclesiastical history; but it was in order to show that the church, under the Christian emperors, went on continually declining. Greater in wealth, smaller in virtue), was the severe sentence which St. Jerome must have pronounced with regret, but the justice of which is proved by all the historical documents of that period. This illustrious leader of Christianity, whose mind was more inclined to enthusiasm than dejection, frequently lost all energy, by reflecting on the deplorable condition of the church, declaring that he felt no longer any power to write.
A sufficient number of historians have represented in vivid colors the excessive luxury of the bishops during that time, as well as the greediness, the ignorance, and the misconduct of the clergy; I shall therefore choose from this melancholy picture only those parts which refer to the history of Paganism. “All the arts of divination remained still in the highest favor amongst Christians, even when the grave men of the Pagan party had been, for a long time, showing for these practices of idolatry either a conventional respect or an open contempt. F48 They swore by the false gods, — they observed the fifth day, dedicated to Jupiter, — and they took a part in the sacred games, feats, and festivals of the Pagans. Christian ceremonies did not preserve almost any thing of their ancient majesty. It was not a rare occurrence to hear pagan hymns chanted at Christian solemnities, or to see Christians dancing before their churches, according to the custom of Paganism. There was no more decency observed in the interior of those churches: people went there to speak about business, or to amuse themselves; the noise was so great, and the bursts of laughter so loud, that it was impossible to hear the reading of the Scriptures; the congregation quarreled, fought and sometimes interfered with the officiating priest, pressing him to end, or compelling him to sing, according to their taste. St.
Augustinus was therefore warranted in calling this so powerful influence of the ancient worship a persecution of the demon, more covert and insidious than that which the primitive church had suffered. “All these scandalous facts are attested by the bishop of Hippona (St. Augustinus) and by that of Milan (St. Ambrose); it is therefore impossible to doubt their authenticity. It may, however, be said, that such a state of corruption was local, and peculiar to the churches of Africa and Milan; I must therefore produce new evidence, in order to show that the calamitous effects of the pagan manners was felt in all the provinces. “St. Gaudentius, bishop of Brescia, a contemporary of St.
Augustinus, vigorously combated idolatry in his diocese; and the following is an extract from one of his sermons: — “‘You neophytes, who have been called to the feast of this salutary and mystical Easter, look how you preserve your souls from those aliments which have been defiled by the superstition of the Pagans. It is not enough for a true Christian to reject the poisoned food of the demons; he must also fly from all the abominations of the Pagans, — from all the frauds of the idolaters, as from venom ejected by the serpent of the devil. Idolatry is composed of poisonings, of enchantments, ligatures, presages, augurs, sorceries, as well as of all kinds of vain observances, and, moreover, of the festival called Parentales; by means of which idolatry is reanimating error; and indeed men, giving way to their gluttony, began to eat the viands which had been prepared for the dead; afterwards they were not afraid of celebrating in their honor sacrilegious sacrifices, although it is difficult to believe that a duty towards their dead is discharged by those who, with a hand shaking from the effects of drunkenness, place tables on sepulchres, and say, with an unintelligible voice, The spirit is thirsty. F49 I beseech you, take heed of these things, in case God should deliver to the flames of hell his contemners and enemies, who have refused to wear his yoke.’ “Who may wonder that such Christians allowed the pagan idols, temples, and altars to remain, and to be honored on their estates, as is attested by the same bishop? St. Augustinus, whom I am not tired of quoting, because no other doctor of that time expressed so vividly the true Christian ideas, lamented this monstrous worship, which was neither Paganism nor Christianity. ‘Many a man,’ says he, ‘who enters the church a Christian, leaves it a Pagan.’ However, far from despairing, he wrote to the virgin Felicia, ‘I advise thee not to be affected too much by these offenses; they were predicted, in order that, when they should come, we might remember that they had been announced, and consequently not be hurt by them.’ But the Pagans, for whom this premature corruption of Christianity was not a predicted thing, rejoiced in contemplating the extent of its progress; they would not believe the duration of a worship which had so rapidly arrived at the period of its decline, and they were repeating in their delusion this celebrated saying, ‘Christians are only for awhile; they will afterwards perish, and the idols will return.’” — Beugnot, vol 2, p. 97, et seq.
This melancholy picture of Christian society, at the beginning of the fifth century, drawn by M. Beugnot, on the authority of the ecclesiastical writers, is, indeed, as gloomy as that of Roman society in general, which had been so graphically described about the same time by the pagan author Ammianus Marcellinus, and reproduced by Gibbon. It was very natural that such a corrupted soil should produce the rankest growth of superstition, and rapidly bring about that melancholy reaction which was not inaptly styled by Gibbon, “the revival of polytheism in the Christian church.” This wretched state of things was, as I have said before, chiefly due to that policy of compromise by which the leaders of the church sought to get as many Pagans as possible into her pale, and who consequently were baptised without being converted. This compromise with Paganism was often carried to great extremes; and the history of the conversion of Florence, which I have extracted from M. Beugnot’s work, gives one of the most striking instances of those unprincipled proceedings: — “Florence paid particular honors to the god Mars. It was not without regret that it abandoned the worship of this divinity. The time of its conversion had been assigned to the second or the third century, but the vagueness of this date deprives it of all authority.
Yet, whatever may have been the century in which the conversion of Florence took place, it could not be a subject of edification and joy to the Christians. The traditions of that city predicted to it great calamities if the statue of Mars was either sullied, or put into a place unworthy of it. The Florentines stipulated, therefore, on accepting the new religion, that Mars should be respected. His statue was consequently neither broken nor sullied, but it was carefully taken from his temple, and placed on a pedestal near the river, which flows through the city. Many years after this, the new Christians feared and invoked that god who was dethroned only by halves. When almost all the pagan temples had fallen either by the stroke of time, or under the blows of the Christians, the heathen palladium of Florence stood still erect on the banks of the Arno; and, according to one of the most enlightened historians that Italy has produced during the middle ages (G. Villani, lib. 1, cap. 60), the demon who had remained in the statue realized, in the thirteenth century, the old prediction of the Etruscans. F50 Compromises of the kind which took place at Florence became very common during the fifth century, and when, at a later period, Christianity wished to annul them, it met with great obstacles.” — (BEUGNOT, volume 1, p. 286.)
The Jews had been brought up in the knowledge of the true God, and their faith could not but be strengthened by the miracles with which their exodus from Egypt was accompanied, and yet a short absence of Moses from their camp was sufficient to make them call for gods that would go before them, and to induce them to worship an image evidently borrowed from the idolatry of those very Egyptians by whom they had been so much oppressed. It was, therefore, no wonder that society, educated for many centuries under the influence of Paganism, were continually returning to their ancient rites, superstitions, and manners, though under a new name, and in a modified form. If we consider further, that such a man as Aaron had not sufficient strength to resist the senseless demands of the multitude, and even consented to mould an object for their idolatry, how could the leaders of the church oppose the pressure of Paganism, which they had incautiously admitted into her pale, and which, under the assumed name of Christianity, was establishing its dominion over the church? There was no inspired prophet amongst the Christians of that time, to restore the purity of their faith in the same manner as Moses did amongst the Jews, after his return from Mount Sinai. The Christian church was therefore left for centuries under the oppression of pagan superstitions, from which, as yet, only a small portion of her has been emancipated, though I firmly believe that she will be one day entirely restored to her pristine purity. This hope, however, is not founded upon the mere advance of human intellect, because, in spite of its boasted progress, it seems now to be powerless against the daily growing reaction of the above-mentioned superstitions, even in places whence they apparently had been banished for ever, but because Christianity is of a divine and not human origin.
There was no lack of opposition to this universal corruption of the church on the part of several true Christians, and there were undoubtedly many more instances of this noble conduct than those which have reached us, but the records of them ,were probably either lost in the lapse of ages, or destroyed by their opponents. I have already mentioned the prohibition of the use of images in the churches by the council of Elyira in 305. The council of Laodicea, held about 363, declared, in its seventy-fifth canon, “That Christians ought not to abandon the church, and retire elsewhere in order to invoke angels, and form private assemblies, because it is prohibited. If, therefore, any one is attached to this secret idolatry, let him be anathema, because he has left our Lord Jesus Christ, and has become an idolater.” It is therefore evident that this superstition, expressly prohibited by St Paul, Colossians 2:18, was then secretly practiced in some private assemblies, though it was afterwards introduced into the Western as well as the Eastern church. The council of Carthage, held towards the end of the fourth century, condemned the abuse of the honors which were paid to the memory of the martyrs by the Christians of Africa, and ordered the bishops to repress them, if the thing might be done, but if it could not be done on account of the popular emotions, to warn at least the people. This proves how weak the bishops felt their authority to be against the prevailing superstitions amongst their flocks, and that they preferred suffering the latter to risking the former.
There were, however, Christians who opposed, in a bold and uncompromising manner, the pagan errors and abuses which had infected the church. St. Epiphanius, archbishop of Salamis, in the fourth century, celebrated for his learning, and whose virtues St. Jerome extols in the most glowing terms, explicitly condemned the worship of created beings, “because,” he observed, “the devil was creeping into men’s minds under the pretense of devotion and justice, and, consecrating human nature by divine honors, presented to their eyes various fine images, in order to separate the mind from the one God by an infamous adultery. Therefore, though those who are worshipped are dead, people adore their images, which never had any life in them.” He further remarked, “that there was not a prophet who would have suffered a man or a woman to be worshipped; that neither the prophet Elias, nor St. John the beloved disciple of the Lord, nor St. Thecla (who had received the most extravagant praises from the fathers), were ever worshipped; and that, consequently, the virgin was neither to be invoked nor worshipped.” “The old superstition,” says he, “shall not have such power over us as to oblige us to abandon the living God, and worship his creature.” F51 The same St. Epiphanius relates, in a letter addressed to John, bishop of Jerusalem, that having arrived during a journey at a village called Anablatta, he found in its church a veil suspended over the door, with a figure representing Christ or some saint. He was so indignant at this sight that he immediately tore the veil to pieces, and advised the wardens of that church to employ it as a shroud to bury a dead body. As the people of the place complained that the veil of their church was destroyed, without giving them in its place another, Epiphanius sent them one; but he exhorted in his letter the above-mentioned bishop of Jerusalem, in whose diocese Anablatta was situated, to order the priests of that place not to suspend any more such veils in the church of Christ, because they are contrary to our religion.
The authenticity of this letter, which bears such strong evidence against the use of images in churches, was rejected by Bellarmine and the ecclesiastical historian Baronius, but it has been admitted by Petau and some of the ablest writers of the Roman Catholic Church. It was translated into Latin by St. Jerome, and is found in all the collections of his works.
The most celebrated opponent of the abuses with which the church had been already infected at that time was Vigilantius. His writings have not been preserved, and we know his opinions only from their refutation by St. Jerome, and from which we may conclude that this reformer of the fifth century maintained the same doctrines which were afterwards defended by the Waldensians, Wycliffe, the Hussites, and which are now professed by the Protestant Christians. He was born at Calagorris in Gallia; he became a priest at Barcelona, and contracted in that place an intimate friendship with St. Paulinus, afterwards bishop of Nola. Vigilantius went to Italy in order to see this friend of his, and having an intention to visit Palestine and Egypt, took from him an introduction to St Jerome. They became great friends with St. Jerome, who was much pleased with the marks of approbation shown by Vigilantius during a sermon which he preached. He also acknowledges that he, as well as several others, would have died from starvation, if Vigilantius had not assisted them with his own and his friends’ money; and he says, in his answer to Paulinns, “You will learn from the mouth of the holy priest, Vigilantius, with what affection I have received him.” This affection disappeared, however, as soon as Jerome learned that Vigilantius had accused him in Egypt of being too partial to Origenes, and the holy priest became an impertinent, whose silly speeches he had observed during their first interview. He made use of several injurious expressions in speaking of the former object of his admiration, and Which do not well accord with the gravity of his character, as, for instance, calling him often Dormitantius instead of Vigilantius. His indignation knew no bounds when he heard, in 404, that Vigilantius, who was then in Gallia, had attacked several practices which had crept into the church, and he dictated in one single night a vehement answer to the opinions of Vigilantius, who, according to this writer, taught as follows: — That the honors paid to the rotten bones and dust of the saints and martyrs, by adoring, kissing, wrapping them in silver, and enclosing them in vessels of gold, placing them in churches, and lighting wax candles before them, was idolatry.
That the celibacy of the clergy was heresy, and their vows of chastity a seminary of lewdness.
That to pray for the dead, or desire their prayers, was superstition, and that we can pray one for another only as long as we are alive.
That the souls of the departed apostles and martyrs were at rest in some particular place, and could not leave it, in order to be present in various places, for hearing the prayers addressed to them.
That the sepulchres of the martyrs should not be venerated; that vigils held in churches should be abolished , with the exception of that at Easter; that to enter monastic life was to become useless to society, etc. etc.
The answer of Jerome to the above-mentioned opinions of Vigilantius is a curious mixture of violence and casuistry. He declared his quondam friend and holy priest, Vigilantius, a greater monster than all those which nature had ever produced, the Centaurs, the Behemoths, the Syrens, the triplebodies Gerion of Spain; that he was a most detestable heretic, venting foul blasphemies against the relics of the martyrs, who were working miracles everyday. “Go,” says he to Vigilantius, “into the churches of those martyrs, and thou shalt be cleansed from the evil spirit by which thou art now possessed, and feel thyself burning, not by those wax candles which offend thee, but by invisible flames, which will force that demon who talks wihin thee to confess that he is the same as that who had personated, perhaps a Mercury, a Bacchus, or some other of the heathen gods, amongst their followers,” etc. He is unable, however, to produce any other argument in support of the worship of relics than the example of those who had practiced it. “Was it wrong,” he exclaims,” of the bishops of Rome to celebrate divine service on the graves containing the bones of St.
Peter and St. Paul, which, according to Vigilantius, were nothing better than dust? The Emperor Constantius must then have committed a sacrilege by translating the holy relics of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy, to Constantinople; the Emperor Arcadius must then be also considered sacrilegious, as he has translated the bones of the blessed Samuel from Judea to Thrace; then all those bishops who consented to preserve mere dust in vessels of gold or wrapt in silk, were not only sacrilegious, but were fools; and, finally, that all these people must have been fools who went out to meet these relics, and received them with as much joy as if they were the prophet himself alive, because the procession which carried them was attended by crowds of people from Palestine to Chalcedon, singing the praises of Christ, whose servant Samuel was.”
There is no abuse in the world which cannot be justified, if the example of persons occupying a high station or that of great numbers is sufficient for it. The advocates of the adoration of relics in our own days may defend it by the fact that about half a million of people went in 1845 to worship the holy coat of Treves, and that still more recently great honors were paid to the relics of St. Theodosia at Amiens, by a number of distinguished persons, — bishops, archbishops, and even cardinals. The autos de fa of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions could not be wrong, since kings, queens, and the most eminent persons of the state, approved them by their presence. Idolatry cannot be an error, since so many monarchs, statesmen, and learned men, had conformed to its rites; whilst, on the other side, the same reason may be pleaded for the penal laws of Ireland, and other enactments against the Roman Catholics, because they were established and maintained by so many parliaments. Jerome maintained that it was a calumny of Vigilantius to say that the Christians burnt candles in daylight, though he admitted that it was done by some men and women in order to honor the martyrs. He did not approve of it, because their zeal was without knowledge; but he thought that on account of their good intention, they would be rewarded according to their faith, like the woman who had anointed the feet of our Lord. He also tried to justify the use of candles by those passages of the Scriptures where an allusion was made to lamps and lights; as, for instance, the parable of the virgins, the expression of the <19B9105> Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
The rest of the arguments which St. Jerome employs in refuting what he calls the errors and heresics of Vigilantius are of a similar nature to those which have been given above; and it is really astonishing to see that a man like this celebrated father, who is generally considered as one of the great luminaries of the church, not only by Roman Catholics, but also by some Protestants, could descend to such miserable shifts, and indulge in such violent language as he did, in his answer to Vigilantius, which bears a strong mark of having been dictated more by his personal feelings against his former friend and benefactor, than by a conviction of the justice of the cause which he was defending on that occasion. It is, however, evident from the other writings of the same father of the church, that his imagination was much more powerful than his reasoning hcultics, and that he had entirely forgotten the precept of St. Paul, to “refuse profane and old wives’ fables” — ( 1 Timothy 4:7) — because no one has ever indulged in more absurd fables than this good father did, in his lives of St.
Hilarion and St. Paul, two celebrated monks, and of which the following is a fair specimen: — “A Christian citizen of Majuma, called Italicus, kept horses for racing, but was continually beaten by his rival, a pagan ducumvir of Gaza, who, by using certain charms and diabolical incantations, contrived always to damp the spirits of the Christian’s horses, and to give rigor to his own, Italicus applied, therefore, for help to St.
Hilarion, who, thinking that it was improper to make prayers for such a frivolous object, advised Italicus to sell his horses, and to give their price to the poor, for the salvation of his soul. Italicus represented, however, that he was discharging against his inclination the duties of a public office, and that as a Christian could not resort to magical means, he addressed himself to a servant of God, particularly as it was important to defeat the inhabitants of Gaza, who were known as enemies of Christ, and that it was not so much for his own interests as for those of the church that he wished to overcome his rival Hilarion, convinced by these reasons, filled with water an earthen vessel, from which he usually drank, and delivered it to Italicus, who sprinkled with the water his horses, his chariots and charioteers, his stables, and even the barriers of the racing ground. The whole city was in a great excitement, the idolaters deriding the Christians, who loudly expressed their confidence of victory. The signal being given, the Christian’s horses flew with an extreme rapidity, and left those of his rival far behind. This miracle produced a very great effect upon the spectators, and many persons, including the beaten party, became converts to Christianity.”
The above-mentioned work is filled with fables still more extravagant than the one which I have related, and which entirely throw into the shade the celebrated tales of Munchausen. Jerome complained that many people, whom, in his Christian meekness, he calls Scyllean dogs, were laughing at the stories related in those works, and which he begins by invoking the assistance of the Holy Ghost. Was it then a wonder that a Christianity, defended by such wretched superstitions, was frequently abandoned by individuals, who, comparing the Christian legends of the kind quoted above with the fictions of Pagan mythology, preferred the latter as being more poetical? and, indeed, we have instances of the ridicule which the Pagans attempted to throw upon Christianity, by comparing its saints with their own gods and demigods.
I must, however, return once more to Vigilantius. F52 The Roman Catholic historian of the church, Baronius, who calls him “a horned beast, a fool, and furious, who had reached the last degree of folly and fury,” etc., etc, maintains that his heresy was solemnly condemned by the Pope Innocent I, whom the bishops of Gallia had addressed on this subject. He also says that the same heresy produced terrible consequences; because two years after Vigilantius had spread his doctrines, the Vandals and other barbarians invaded Gallia, and destroyed all his adherents. Admitting even with Baronius that Vigilantius was a damnable heretic, it cannot be denied that this learned historian had a very strange notion of divine justice, because the barbarians alluded to above destroyed a great number of churches and relics, as well as those who prayed at their shrines, whilst Vigilantius died quietly, and, notwithstanding the assertion of Baronius, never was excluded from the communion of the church, or even condemned by her legal authorities.
We know from Vigilantius’ opponents that his opinions were approved by many, and there can be no doubt that there was, not only in his days, but long after him, a good nmnber of witnesses for the truth, who opposed the rapid spread of Pagan ideas and practices in the church. Thus, at the end of the sixth century, Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, removed all the images from his church, because the people worshipped them. This produced a great discontent amongst many people of his diocese, who appealed to Pope Gregory I in favor of the images. The Pope advised a middle course, i.e., that the images should remain in the church, but that it should not be allowed to worship them. Serenus, however, who well knew that the one infallibly led to the other, refused to comply with the papal injunctions, upon which Gregory wrote to him again, saying that he praised his zeal in not suffering the worship of any thing that was made by the hand of man; but that images should not be destroyed, because pictures were used in churches to teach the ignorant by sight what they could not read in books, etc. F53 We therefore see that at the end of the sixth century, the celebrated Pope Gregory I, surnamed the Great, considered the worship of images as an abuse to be prohibited, but which was afterwards legalized by his successors, and an opposition to it declared heresy.
I could produce other evidences to show that the worship of images was condemned by many bishops and priests of the period which I have described, though they approved their use as a means of teaching the illiterate, or tolerated them as an unavoidable evil. The limits of this essay allow me not, however, to extend my researches on this subject, and I shall endeavor to give in the next chapter a rapid sketch of the violent reaction against the worship of images in the east by the iconoclast emperors, and of the more moderate, but no less decided, opposition to the same practice in the west by Charlemagne.
CHAPTER 5 - REACTION AGAINST THE WORSHIP OF IMAGES AND OTHER SUPERSTITIOUS PRACTICES BY THE ICONOCLAST EMPORORS OF THE EAST
Opposition to the Same Worship by Charlemagne. THE worship of images, as well as other Pagan practices, introduced into the church during the fourth and fifth centuries, were prevailing in the east as much as in the west; and I have mentioned, that the monks, particularly those of Egypt, had greatly contributed to the introduction of anthropomorphism into the Christian church. A great, blow to imageworship was given in the east by the rise and rapid progress of Mahometanism, whose followers, considering it as idolatry, destroyed many objects to which certain miraculous virtues had been ascribed, and they constantly taunted the Christians with their belief in such superstitions. The Jews addressed the same reproaches to the Christians; “yet,” as Gibbon has justly obscrved, “their servitude might curb their zeal and depreciate their authority; but the triumphant Mussulman, who reigned at Damascus, and threatened Constantinople, cast into the scale of reproach the accumulated weight of truth and victory.” F54 And, indeed, there could not be a stronger argument against the efficacy of images than the rapid conquest by the Mahometans of many Christian cities which relied upon a miraculous defense by some images preserved in their churches. This circumstance could not but produce, in the minds of many thinking Christians, a conviction of the absurdity of image-worship, and the spread of such opinions must have been promoted by congregations who had preserved the purity of primitive worship, and of whom it appears that there were several still extant in the eighth century, as well as by the influence of Armenia, a country with which the eastern empire had frequent intercourse of a political and commercial nature, and whose church rejected at that time the worship of images. This party wanted only a leader and favorable circumstances in order publicly to assert their condemnation of the prevailing practice, which they considered as sinful idolatry. The accession of Leo III, the Isaurian, in 717, who, from an inferior condition, rose by his talents and military prowess to the imperial throne, gave to that party what they required, for he shared their opinions, and was a man of great energy and ability. The troublcs of the state, which the valor and political wisdom of Leo saved from impending ruin, occupied too much the first years of that emperor’s reign to allow him to undertake a reform of the church. But in 727 he assembled a council of senators and bishops, and decided, with their consent, that all the images should be removed in the churches from the sanchlary and the altar, to a height where they might be seen, but not worshipped, by the congregation. F55 It was, however, impossible to follow long this middle course, as the adherents of the images contrived to worship them in spite of their elevation, while their opponents taxed the emperor with want of zeal, holding out to him the example of the Jewish monarch, who had caused the brazen serpent to be broken. Leo therefore ordered all kinds of images to be destroyed; and though his edict met with some opposition, F56 it was put into execution throughout the whole empire, with the exception of the Italian provinces, which, instigated by Pope Gregory II, a zealous defender of images, revolted against the emperor, and resisted all his efforts to regain his dominion over them. This monarch died in 741, after a not inglorious reign of twenty-four years, and was succeeded on the throne by his son Constantine VIII, surnamed Copronymus. All the information which we possess about this monarch, as well as the other iconoclast emperors, is derived from his-torians violently opposed to their religious views. These writers represent Constantine VIII as one of the greatest monsters that ever disgraced humanity, stained by every imaginable vice; and having exhausted all the usual terms of opprobrium,they invent some such ridiculous expressions as a “leopard generated by a lion, an aspic born from the seeds of a serpent, a flying dragon,” etc.; but they do not adduce in confirmation of these epithets any of those criminal acts which have disgraced the reigns of many Byzantine emperors, whose piety is extolled by the same writers. We know, moreover, by the evidence of those very historians who have bespattered with all those opprobrious terms the memory of Constantine, that he was a brave and skilful leader, who defeated the Arabs, the most formidable enemies of the empire, and restored several of its lost provinces, and that the country was prosperous under his reign of thirty-four years — 741 to 775.The beginning of Constantine’s reign was dis-turbed by his own brother-in-law, Artabasdes, who,supported by the adherents of the images, competed for the imperial throne, but was defeated, and his party crushed. Constantine, desiring to abolish the abuse, which he regarded as idolatry, by a solemn decision of the church declared, in 753, his intention to convoke for this object a general council; and in order that the question at issue should be thoroughly sifted, he enjoined all the bishops of the empire to assemble local synods, and to examine the subject, previously to its being debated by the general council. This council, composed of three hundred and thirty-eight bishops, met at Constantinople in 754, and, after having deliberated for six months, decided that, conformably to Holy Writ and the testimony of the fathers, all images were to be removed from the churches, and whoever would dare to make an image, in order to place it in a church, to worship it, or to keep it concealed in his house, was, if a clerk, to be deposed, if a layman, to be anathematized. The council added, that those who adhered to the images were to be punished by the imperial authorities as enemies of the doctrine of the fathers, and breakers of the law of God. This decision was pronounced by the assembled bishops unanimously, and without a single dissentient voice, which had never been the case before. This assembly took the title of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and the emperor ordered its decision to be put into execution throughout all his dominions. The images were removed from the churches, and those which were painted on the walls covered with whitewash. The principal opposition to the imperial order was offered by the monks, who were always the chief promoters of image-worship; and Constantine is accused of having repressed this opposition with a violence common to that barbarous age. He is said to have entertained the greatest hatred against these monks, calling them idolaters, and their dresses the dress of darkness — an opinion with which many persons will be found to chime, I think, even in our own time. Constantine died in 775, and was followed on the throne by his son, Leo IV, who inherited the religious views of his father; whilst his wife, Irene, a beautiful and talented, but ambitious and unprincipled woman, was a secret worshipper of images. Leo, who was of a weak constitution, died after a reign of five years, appointing Irene the guardian of his minor son Constantine, who was then ten years old. Irene governed the empire with great ability, but was too fond of power to surrender it to her son at his coming of age, and he tried to obtain by force what was due to him by right. The party of Irene proved, however, the stronger; and young Constantine was taken prisoner, and his mother caused him to be deprived of sight. Irene’s orders were executed in such an atrocious manner, that the unfortunate prince died in consequence. F57 Irene governed the empire with great splendor, but her first object was to restore the worship of images; and the machinations by which she accomplished this object have been so well related by Gibbon, that I cannot do better than copy his account of them: — “Under the reign of Constantine VIII, the union of the civil and ecclesiastical power had overthrown the tree, without extirpating the root of superstition. The idols, for such they were now held, were secretly cherished by the order and the sex most prone to devotion; and the fond alliance of the monks and females obtained a final victory over the reason and authority of mail. Leo IV maintained with less rigor the religion of his father and grandfather, but his wife, the fair and ambitious Irene, had imbibed the zeal of the Athenians, F58 the heirs of the idolatry rather than philosophy of their ancestors. During the life of her husband, these sentiments were inflamed by danger and dissimulation, and she could only labor to protect and promote some favorite monks, whom she drew from their caverns, and seated on the metropolitan thrones of the east. But as soon as she reigned in her own name, and in that of her son, Irene more seriously undertook the ruin of the iconoclasts, and the first step of her future persecution was a general edict for liberty of conscience. In the restoration of the monks, a thousand images were exposed to the public veneration; a thousand legends were invented of their sufferings and miracles. By the opportunities of death and removal, the episcopal seats were judiciously filled; the most eager competitors for celestial or earthly favor anticipated and flattered the judgment of their sovereign; and the promotion of her secretary Tarasius gave Irene the patriarch of Constantinople, and the command of the Oriental church. But the decrees of a general council could only be repealed by a similar assembly; the iconoclasts, whom she convened, were bold in possession, and averse to debate; and the feeble voice of the bishops was re-echoed by the more formidable clamor of the soldiers and the people of Constantinople. The delay and intrigues of a year, the separation of the disaffected troops, and the choice of Nice for a second orthodox synod, removed these obstacles; and the episcopal conscience was again, after the Greek fashion, in the hands of the prince.” — Gibbon’s Roman Empire, chapter 49.
This council, held in 786, restored the worship of images by the unanimous sentence of three hundred and fifty bishops. The acts of this synod have been preserved, and they are stated by Gibbon to be “a curious mohument of superstition and ignorance, of falsehood and folly.” I am afraid that there is but too much truth in this severe judgment of Gibbon; and the following passage relating to the same council, which I have extracted, not from Gibbon, or any writer of the school to which he belonged, but from the celebrated Roman Catholic historian of the church, Abbe Fleury, will enable the reader to form his own judgment on this subject.
After describing the confession of faith signed by that council, which declared that the images of the saints are to be worshipped, because they remind us of those whom they represent, and make us participators in their merits, he says: — “The last passages showed that God was making miracles by means of images; and in order to confirm it, a discourse, ascribed to St. Athanasius, was read. It contained the account of a pretended miracle, which happened at Beryt, with an image of Christ, which, having been pierced by the Jews, emitted blood, which healed many sick persons. The fathers of the council were so much moved by this account that they shed tears. It is, however, certain, that this discourse is not by St. Athanasius, and it is even very doubtful whether the story which it contains is true. Thus it appears that amongst all the bishops present at this council, there was not a single one versed in the science of criticism, because many other false documents were produced in that assembly. This proves nothing against the decision of the council, because it is sufficiently supported by true documents. It only proves the ignorance of the times, as well as the necessity of knowing history, chronology, the difference of manners and styles, in order to discern real documents from spurious ones.” F59 Thus, according to the authority of one of the most eminent writers of the Roman Catholic Church, the second Council of Nice, the first synod which has even an explicit and solemn sanction to one of the most important tenets of the Western and the Eastern churches, was composed of such ignorant and silly prelates, that an absurd fable, contained in a forged paper, could sway their minds and hearts in such a manner as to make them shed tears of emotion, and that there was not a single individual amongst these venerable fathers sufficiently informed to be able to discover a fabrication so gross that it did not escape the attention of scholars who lived many centuries afterwards.
Irene rigorously enforced the decrees of this council against the opponents of images; and that woman, guilty of the death of her own son, and suspected of that of her husband, is extolled by ecclesiastical writers as a most pious princess. A contemporary Greek writer, and a zealous defender of image-worship, the monk Theodore Studites, places her above Moses, and says that “she had delivered the people from the Egyptian bondage of impiety;” and the historian of the Roman Catholic Church, Baronius, justifies her conduct by the following argument: that the hands of the fathers were raised by a just command of God against their children, who followed strange gods, and that Moses had ordered them to consecrate themselves to the Lord, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother, Exodus 32:29, so that it was a high degree of piety to be cruel to one’s own son; consequently Irene deserved on this account the first crown of paradise; and that if she had committed the murder of her son from motives of ambition, she would be worse than Agrippius, mother of Nero; but if she did it through zeal for religion, as it appears by the encomium which she had received from very holy men who lived at that time, she deserves to be praised for her piety.
Irene’s piety, shown by the restoration of images, and the persecution of their opponents, was indeed so much appreciated by the church, that she received a place amongst the saints of the Greek calendar. She was, however, less fortunate in her worldly affairs; because she was deposed in 802 by Nicephorus, who occupied the imperial throne, and exiled to Lesbos, where she died in great poverty. He did not abolish the images, nor allow the persecution of their opponents; and the ecclesiastical writers represent him, on account of this liberal policy, as a perfect monster.
Blicephorus perished in a battle against the Bulgarians in 811, and his successor Michael, who persecuted the iconoclasts, unable to maintain himself on the throne, retired into a convent, after a reign of about two years, and the imperial crown was assumed by Leo V, a native of Armenia, and one of the most eminent leaders of the army, which elevated him to this dignity.
Though all that we know about Leo V is derived from authors zealously opposed to his religious views, yet, notwithstanding all their odium theologicum, they are obliged to admit that he was gallant in the field, and just and careful in the administration of civil affairs. Being the native of a country whose church still resisted the introduction of images, he was naturally adverse to their worship, and the manner in which he abolished it in his empire deserves a particular notice; because, though related by his enemies, it proves that he was a sincere scriptural Christian.
According to their relation, Leo believed that the victories obtained by the barbarians, and other calamities to which the empire was exposed, were a visitation of God in punishment of the worship of images; that he demanded that a precept for adoring the images should be shown to him in the gospels, and as the thing was impossible, he rejected them as idols condemned by the Word of God. They also say, that the attention of Leo being once drawn to this passage of the prophet Isaiah, “To whom then will you liken God? or what likeness will you compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold and casteth silver chains,” ( Isaiah 40:18, 19,) this circumstance irritated him more than any thing else against the images.
He communicated his sentiments to the patriarch, and requested him either to remove the images, or to show a reason why they were worshipped, since the Scriptures did not order it. The patriarch, who was an adherent of the images, tried to elude this demand by various sophisms, which, not having satisfied the emperor, he ordered divines of both parties to assemble in his palace, and represented to them that Moses, who had received the law, written with the hand of God, condemned, in the most explicit terms, those who adored the works of men’s hands; that it was idolatry to worship them, and great folly to attempt to confine the Infinite in a picture of the size of an ell. It is said that the defenders of the images refused to speak for the three following reasons: — 1. That the canons prohibited to doubt what had been determined by the second Council of Nice; 2. That the clergy could not deliberate upon such matters in the imperial palace, but in a church; and, 3. That the emperor was not a competent judge on this occasion, because he was resolved to abolish the images.
The emperor deposed the patriarch, who defended the images, replacing him by another who shared his own sentiments, and convened a council, which, with the exception of a few of its members, decided for the abolition of the images. The emperor ordered their removal, and sent several of their defenders into exile; he soon, however, allowed them to return, and only some few of the most zealous of them died in exile. The most celebrated of these sufferers was Theodore Studites; and as he has obtained on this account the honor of saintship, his opinions on the nature of images deserve a particular notice. He maintained that as the shadow cannot be separated from the body, as the rays of the sun are inseparable from that planet, so the images are inseparable from the subjects which they represent. He pretended that an image of Christ should be treated as if it were Christ himself, saying, “The image is nothing else than Christ himself, except the difference of their essence; therefore, the worship of the image is the worship of Jesus Christ.” He considered those who were removing images as “destroyers of the incarnation of Christ, because he does not exist if he cannot be painted. We renounce Christ if we reject his image; and refuse to worship him, if we refuse to adore his image.” F60 This defense of image-worship is, I think, a faithful exposition of the anthropomorphistic ideas, which, as I have mentioned before, had been chiefly generated by the morbid imagination of the Egyptian monks, and were supported by that numerous class, which formed the most zealous and efficient defenders of the imagea Leo V was murdered in a church in 820; and Michael II, surnamed the Stammerer, whom the conspirators placed on the throne, did not allow the images to be restored, though he was moderate in his religious views. He recalled the defenders of the images from exile, and seemed to steer a middle course between the enemies and the defenders of images, though he shared the opinions of the former. He was succeeded in 829 by his son, Theophilus, — a most decided opponent of images, — and whose valor and love of justice are acknowledged by his religious adversaries, he died in 841, leaving a minor son, Michael III, under the regency of his wife, Theodora. This princess, whose personal character was irreproachable, governed the empire during thirteen years, with considerable wisdom; but being an adherent of images, she restored their worship, F61 which has since that time continued in the Greek Church in perhaps even a more exaggerated form than in the Roman Catholic one, and which can be without any impropriety called iconolatry, since idolatry may be perhaps considered as an expression too strong for ears polite.
The struggle between the iconoclasts and the iconolaters, of which I have given a mere outline, but which agitated the Eastern empire for nearly a century and a half, ending in the complete triumph of the latter, deserves the particular attention of all thinking Protestants; because it is virtually the same contest that has been waged for more than three centuries between Protestantism and Rome, F62 and which seems now to assume a new phasis. I do not think that the ignorance of those times may be considered as the principal cause of the triumph of the iconolatric party, and that the spread of knowledge in our own day is a sufficient safeguard against the recurrence of a similar contingency. There was in the eighth and ninth centuries a considerable amount of learning at Constantinople, where the treasures of classical literature, many of which have since been lost, were preserved and studied. F63 The Greeks of that time, though no doubt greatly inferior to the modern Europeans in physical science, were not so in metaphysics and letters, whilst the gospel could be read by all the educated classes in its original tongue, which was the official, literary, and ecclesiastical language of the Eastern empire. The Byzantine art was, moreover, very inferior to that of modern Europe, and could not produce, except on some coarse and rustic intellects, that bewitching effect, which the works of great modern painters and sculptors often produce upon many refined and imaginative minda It has been justly remarked, by an accomplished writer of our day, that “the all-emancipating press is occasionally neutralized by the soul-subduing miracles of art.” F64 The Roman Catholic Church perfectly understands this soul-subduing power of art, and the following is the exposition of her views on this subject by one of her own writers, whom I have already quoted on a similar subject. “That picturcs and images in churches are, particularly serviceable in informing the minds of the humbler classes, and for such a purpose possess a superiority over words themselves, is certain. “Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem, quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus et quae Ipse sibi tradit spectator.” — Horace de Arte Poetica, v. 180. “What’s through the ear conveyed will never find Its way with so much quickness to the mind, As that, when faithful eyes are messengers, Unto himself the fixed spectator beats.” “The remark of a heathen poet is corroborated by the observations of the most celebrated amongst ancient and modern Christian writers. So persuaded was St. Paulinus of Nola, fourteen hundred years ago, of the efficacy possessed by paintings for conveying useful lessons of instruction, that he adorned with a variety of sacred subjects the walls of a church which he erected, and dedicated to God in honor of St. Felix. “Prudentius assures us how much his devotion was enkindled, as he gazed upon the sufferings of martyrs, so feelingly depicted around their tombs and in their churches on his way to Rome, about the year 405, the poet paid a visit to the shrine of St.
Cassianus, at Forum Cornelii, the modern Imola, where the body of that Christian hero reposed, under a splendid altar, over which were represented, in an expressive picture, all the sufferings of his cruel martyrdom. F65 So moved was Prudentius, that he threw himself upon the pavement, kissed the altar with religious reverence, and numbering up with many a tear those wounds that sin had inflicted upon his soul, concluded by exhorting every one to unite with himself in intrusting their petitions for the divine clemency to the solicitude of the holy martyr Cassianus, who will not only hear our request, but will afford us the benefit of his patronage.” F66 The anecdote of Prudentius evidently proves that what originally had been intended for the instruction of the people, may very easily become an object of their adoration. If a man of a superior education, like Prudentius, F67 could be carried away by his feelings in such a manner as to address his prayers to a dead man, how much greater must be the effect of images upon less cultivated minds! and I have related, on the authority of the great Roman Catholic historian, Fleury, that the fathers of the second Council of Nice, who, according to the same authority, were a very ignorant set, shed tears at the sight of an image represented in au absurd and fictitious story.
Such are the effects produced in teaching religion by means of images.
There can be no doubt about the truth of the observations contained in the lines of Horace, which the author of “Hierurgia” quotes in defense of images; but these observations refer to the theater, and it appears to me that the application of purely scenic precepts to the house of God is something very like converting divine service into a comedy.
The limits of this essay allow me not to discuss the chances of an iconolatric reaction in our days. I shall only observe, that in several countries where the iconoclasts of the Reformation had gained a predominant position, they were entirely crushed by the iconolatric reaction, and that a fond alliance of females and monks, supported by the ruling powers of the state, achieved in these parts as great a victory as that which it obtained in the east under Irene and Theodora, not only over the reason of man, but even over the authority of the Word of God; and I believe that the only human means of preventing similar contingencies are free institutions, which allow the fullest liberty of discussion in regard to all religious opinions.
I have said before, that the Pope opposed the abolition of images proclaimed by the Emperor Leo III, and that this opposition was shared by the imperial provinces of Italy, which revolted on that occasion against their sovereign, and separated from the Byzantine empire. It was therefore natural that the second Council of Nice, which restored the worship of images, should obtain the approbation of Pope Hadrian I; but his desire to impose the enactments of that council upon the churches of the West met with a decided opposition on the part of Charlemagne. This great monarch, who is so celebrated by his efforts to convert the Pagan Saxons, prosecuted with all the barbarity of his age, and whom the church has placed amongst her saints, was so offended by the enactments of the second Council of Nice in favor of the worship of images, that he composed, or what is more probable, ordered to be composed in his name, a book against that worship, and sent it to Pope Hadrian I, as an exposition of his own sentiments, as well as of those of his bishops, on the subject in question. This work, though written in violent language, contains many very rational views about images, and unanswerable arguments against all kinds of adoration offered to them. The substance of this celebrated protest is as follows: — Charlemagne says, that there is no harm in having images in a church, provided they are not worshipped; and that the Greeks had fallen into two extremes, one of which was to destroy the images, as had been ordained by the Council of Constantinople under Constantine Copronymus, and the other to worship them, as was decided by the second Council of Nice under Irene. He censures much more severely this latter extreme than the former, because those who destroyed images had merely acted with levity and ignorance, whilst it was a wicked and profane action to worship them.
He compared the first to such as mix water with wine, and the others to those who infuse a deadly poison into it; in short, there could be no comparison between the two cases. He marks, with great precision, the different kinds of worship offered to the images, rejecting all of them. The second Council of Nice decided that this worship should consist of kisses and genuflexions, as well as of burning incense and wax candles before them. All these practices are condemned by Charlemagne, as so many acts of worship offered to a created being. He addresses the defenders of the worship of images in the following manner: — “You who establish the purity of your faith upon images, go, if you like, and fall upon your knees and burn incense before them; but with regard to ourselves we shall seek the precepts of God in his Holy Writ. Light luminaries before your pictures, whilst we shall read the Scriptures. Venerate, if you like, colors; but we shall worship divine mysteries. Enjoy the agreeable sight of your pictures; but we shall find our delight in the Word of God. Seek after figures which cannot either see, or hear, or taste; but, we shall diligently seek after the law of God, which is irreprehensible.”
He further says: — “I see images which have such inscriptions, as for instance St. Paul, and I ask, therefore, those who are involved in this great error, why they do call images holy (sanctus), and wily they do not say, conformably to the tradition of the fathers, that these are images of the saints? Let them say in what consists the sanctity of the images? Is it in the wood which had been brought from a forest in order to make them? Is it in the colors with which they are painted, and which are often composed of impure substances? Is it in the wax, which gets dirty?”
He taunts the worshippers of images, pointing out an abuse which even now is as inevitable as it was then. “If,” says he, “two pictures perfectly alike, but of which one is meant for the Virgin and the other for Venus, are presented to you, you will inquire which of them is the image of the Virgin and which is that of Venus, because you cannot distinguish them. The painter will call one of these pictures the image of the Virgin, and it will be immediately put up in a high place, honored, and kissed; whilst the other, representing Venus, will be thrown away with horror. These two pictures are, however, made by the same hand, with the same brush, with the same colors; they have the same features, and the whole difference between them lies in their inscriptions. Why is the one received and the other rejected? It is not on account of the sanctity which one of them has, and the other has not; it is, then, on account of its inscription; and yet certain letters attached to a picture cannot give it a sanctity which it otherwise had not.”
This work was published for the first time in 1549, by Tillet, Roman Catholic bishop of Meaux in France, though under an assumed name, and it has been reprinted several times. Its authenticity, which had been at first impugned by some Roman Catholic writers, was finally established beyond every dispute, and acknowledged by the most eminent writers of the Roman Catholic Church, such as Mabillon, Sirmond, etc. It is a very remarkable production, for it most positively rejects every kind of worship offered to images, without making any difference between Latvia and Dulia, and I think that its republication might be of considerable service at the present time. F68 The Pope sent a long letter in answer to the protest of Charlemagne, which did not, however, satisfy that monarch, because he convened in 794 a council at Frankfort, at which he presided himself. This synod, composed of three hundred bishops of France, Germany, and Spain, and at which two legates of the Pope were present, condemned the enactment of the second Council of Nice respecting the worship of images. This decree of the Council of Frankfort is very important, because it not only condemned the worship of images, but it virtually rejected the infallibility of the Popes, as well as of the General Councils, since it condemned what they had established.
The opposition to the worship of images continued amongst the Western churches for some time after the death of Charlemagne. Thus an assembly of the French clergy, held at Paris in 825, condemned the decree of the second Council of Nice as decidedly as it was done by the work of Charlemagne and the Council of Frankfort. Claudius, bishop of Turin, who lived about that time, opposed the worship of images, which he removed from his churches, calling those idolaters who adhered to this practice; he also condemned the adoration of relics, of the figure of the cross, etc; and he was not inaptly called, on this account, by the Jesuit historian Maimbourg, the first Protestant minister.
There are other traces of a similar opposition during the ninth century, but it seems to have entirely disappeared in the tenth, and it was again renewed by the Albigenses in the eleventh century. Their history, however, is foreign to the object of the present essay; and I shall endeavor to give in my next chapter a short sketch of the legends of the saints, composed during the middle ages.
CHAPTER 6 - ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE PIOUS LEGENDS, OR LIVES OF SAINTS, DURING THE MIDDLE AGES.
ACOLLECTION of the lives of the saints of the Roman Catholic calendar has been accomplished by the Jesuits, and is well known as that of the Bollandisis, from the name of its first originator Bollandus. It extends to fifty-three huge folios, though it has reached only to the middle of October, F69 each day having a number of saints assigned to it for commemoration. It contains, among a mass of the greatest absurdities, a good deal of valuable information relating to the history of the middle ages, particularly in respect to the customs and prevailing ideas of that period.
A great, if not the greatest part of the saints whose lives are described in that collection have never existed, except in the imagination of their biographers; and the best proof of this is that the learned Benedictine monk, Dom Ruinart, an intimate friend and collaborator of the celebrated Mabillon, has reduced the acts of martyrs, whom he considers as true, to one moderate quarto, though the same work contains a refutation of the Protestant Dodwell, who maintained that the number of the primitive martyrs had been greatly exaggerated by their historians. F70 The Christian church was already, at an early period of her existence, disturbed by a great number of forgeries, relating to the history and doctrine of our Lord and his disciples; F71 but the spirit in which they were written, so contrary to that of the true Gospel, and the gross absurdities which they contain, were convincing proofs of the apocryphal character of those writings, which, consequently, were rejected as such from the canon of Scripture. If the church could not escape such abuses at a time when she was not yet infected by Pagan ideas and practices, she became still more exposed to them after the above-mentioned corruptions, and when, as has already been said, the Christian society was invaded by whole populations, who, notwithstanding their abjuration of heathenism, were Pagans in their manners, their tastes, their prejudices, and their ignorance.
There were, moreover, very great difficulties in obtaining authentic information about the lives of the martyrs. I have said, that their memory was usually preserved in the churches to which they had belonged. This was, however, entirely a local affair, and though the report of such events had undoubtedly circulated amongst other Christian congregations, there was no general register of martyrs preserved by the whole church, which had no central point of union. The means of communication between various places were, moreover, at that time very imperfect, and this difficulty was increased by the persecutions to which the primitive churches were often exposed. These persecutions dispersed many churches, destroying their registers and other documents belonging to them, whilst even a much greater number of them experienced a similar calamity from the barbarian nations who successively invaded the Roman empire. The accounts of the sufferings and death of the martyrs rest, therefore, with the exception of some comparatively few wellauthenticated cases, upon the authority of vague and uncertain traditions.
These traditions were generally collected and put in writing only centuries after the time when the event to which they relate had, or is supposed to have taken place. It was therefore no wonder that the subjects of many such accounts are purely imaginary. The nature of the generality of these legends, or lives of martyrs and other saints, may be judged of best from the following opinion expressed on this subject by a Roman Catholic clergyman of unsuspected orthodoxy: — “What shall I say of those saints of whose life we don’t know either the beginning or the progress, — of those saints to whom so many praises are given, though nobody knows anything about their end? Who may pray to them to intercede for him, when it is impossible to know what degree of credit they enjoy with God?
We shall be obliged, indeed, to consider the most part of the acts of martyrs, which are now produced with so much confidence, as so many fables, and reject them as nothing better than romance? It is true that their lives are written, like that of St Ovidius, St Felicissimus, and St Victor! But, O God! what lives! what libels! lives deserving a place in the Index of the Prohibited Books, since they are filled with falsehoods, vain conjectures, or, to say the least, are ascribing to unknown and apocryphal saints the true acts of the most illustrious martyrs. Such things cannot but bring about a great confusion in the history of the church, not to say in religion itself. It is in this manner that the actions of St. Felicissimus, who is generally believed to have been a deacon to St. Sixtus, are ascribed to a new Felicissimus; and the virtues of St. Victor of Milan are now given to a new Victor, who has been recently brought to Paris. As regards the life of St. Ovidius, is there anything in it more than words and words? and can we find in it anything solid? This little book speaks of a leaden plate upon which the senatorial dignity and the year of this saint’s martyrdom are inscribed. Why is not this inscription given? Why is not at least the precise date of his martyrdom named? It is said that St.
Ovidius suffered towards the end of the second century; is this the manner of fixing the year of his death? No, no; the ancients did not mark the time in such a manner; they did not take an uncertain century for the certain epoch of a year. I am much afraid that this inscription is by no means so authentic as people wish to persuade us. But there was found in his grave a little glass vessel; a palm is engraved upon his sepulchre; and his skull has the appearance of being pierced with a lance. Well, these marks may prove that St.
Ovidius was a martyr; but are they sufficient to establish the truth of his life, such as it has been published?” F72 I would, however, observe, that many writers of the lives of saints, without excepting those who are considered legitimate, have rendered themselves guilty of something worse than the plagiarism of which the learned Mabillon complains in the passage given above. They may be accused of having blasphemously parodied the Scriptures, and particularly the Gospels, by ascribing many of the miracles recorded in the Bible to the subjects of their biographies. M. Maury, the French savant whom I have already quoted, has traced a great number of miracles ascribed to various saints, which are nothing but imitations of this kind. This sacrilegious plagiarism is not confined to the middle ages, but has been practiced in modern times, as is evident from the two following miracles ascribed to the celebrated Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who died in 1552. It is said that during his residence in Japan a woman of his acquaintance lost her daughter, after having sought in vain during her illness for St. Francis, who was absent on some journey. At his return the bereaved mother fell at his feet, and said, weeping, like Martha to our Savior, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my daughter had not died.” — ( John 11:21.)
The saint, moved by the entreaties of the mother, ordered her to open the grave of her daughter, and restored her to life. Another time the same saint said to a father whose daughter had died, in the same manner as Jesus Christ said to the centurion whose servant was sick, “Go thy way; thy daughter is healed.” F73 Had these miracles been performed in our part of the world, they would have converted crowds of Protestants, and thus greatly advanced the principal object of the order to which St. Francis Xavier belonged; but the air of Europe seems to have been unfavorable for such wonderful experiments, since the good saint was obliged to betake himself to Japan in order successfully to perform them.
It is true that the legend writers make no attempt at concealing these imitations, but, on the contrary, insist upon the likeness of the miracles performed by their saint to those of our Savior, as a proof of the high degree of sanctity attained by the former. No saint, however, of the Roman Catholic or Graeco-Russian calendar had so many miracles ascribed to him, particularly of the kind mentioned above, as St. Francis of Assisi, the celebrated founder of the mendicant monks, and who, considering the immense influence which his disciples have exercised on the Catholic world, was perhaps one of the most extraordinary characters which the middle ages produced.
It has been frequently observed, that genius is akin to madness, and that the partition by which the two are separated is so thin that it occasionally becomes quite imperceptible. Such a condition of the human mind has perhaps never been exemplified in a more striking manner than by the life of this famous saint, which presents a strange mixture of the noblest acts of charity and self-devotion, the wildest freaks of a madman, and of genial conceptions worthy of the most eminent statesman and philosopher. The best proof of his genius is the great influence which the order instituted by him has exercised during several centuries in many countries, and which even now has not yet lost its vitality. It must also be admitted, that neither St Francis nor his disciples can be charged with any of those atrocities by which the life of his contemporary St Dominic, of bloody memory, the founder of the inquisition, and the preacher of the crusade against the Albigenses, as well as the annals of his order, are stained.
Neither can it be denied that Francis, as well as his followers, have on many occasions mitigated the barbarity of their age. His immense popularity is, however, as I think, chiefly due to the circumstance that his order, principally destined to act upon the lower classes, was recruited from the most numerous and most ignorant part of the population; and is it necessary to observe that the less men are educated, the more they are prone to credulity and exaggeration? Much learning was not required for the admission to this democratic order, and its ranks were increased by the creation of a class whose members remained in the world, binding themselves only to the observation of some devotional practices and moral precepts. All this contributed to spread the order of St Francis, to which both sexes are admitted, with a marvellous rapidity over many countries; at the same time its members were extolling the virtues and supposed miracles of their founder in the most exaggerated and often ludicrous manner, of which the following anecdote may serve as a specimen: — A Franciscan monk, who was one day preaching about the merits of the founder of his order, began his sermon in the following manner: “Where shall I place the great St Francis? Amongst the saints? This is not enough for his merits. Amongst the angels? no, ‘tis not enough. Amongst the archangels? ‘tis not enough. Amongst the scraphims? ‘tis not enough.
Amongst the cherubims? ‘tis not enough.” He was, however, on a sudden released, by one of his hearers, from his perplexity about a proper location for his saint who, rising from his seat, said, “Reverend father, as I see that you cannot find for St Francis a proper place in heaven, I shall give up to him mine on this bench;” which having said, he left the church.
The story does not say whether this good monk was satisfied with the place so unexpectedly offered to his saint, or where he would have stopped without this timely interruption; but we know, from many other cases, that St Francis was compared by his disciples to our Savior. Thus, in a work published by the Father Bartholomeus of Pisa, and entitled “The Golden Book of the Conformities of the Life of St Francis with that of Jesus Christ,” F74 the author maintains that the birth of St Francis was announced by prophets; that he had twelve disciples, one of whom, called John Capella, was rejected by him, like Judas Iscariot by our Lord; that he had been tempted by the devil, but without success; that he was transfigured; that he had suffered the same passion as our Savior, though he never was subject to any persecution or ill-usage, but died quietly, in 1218, amidst his devoted admirers. Other writers pushed even farther the blasphemous comparison, boasting that St Francis had performed many more miracles than our Lord, because Christ changed water into wine but once, whilst St Francis did it thrice; and that instead of the few miraculous cures mentioned in the Gospels, St Francis and his disciples had opened the eyes of more than a thousand blind, cured more than a thousand lame, and restored to life more than a thousand dead.
The greatest miracle, however, that has ever been wrought by St Francis has taken place in our own days, and its authenticity admits of no doubt whatever. It is a life of this famous saint, published by M. Chavin de Malan; and my readers may form an adequate idea of its contents by the following extract from an admirable article in the “Edinburgh Review” for July 1847: — “Though amongst the most passionate and uncompromising devotees of the Church of Rome, M. Chavin de Malan also is in one sense a Protestant. He protests against any exercise of human reason in examining any dogma which that church inculcates, or any fact which she alleges. The most merciless of her cruelties affect him with no indignation, the silliest of her prodigies with no shame, the basest of her superstitions with no contempt. Her veriest dotage is venerable in his eyes. Even the atrocities of Innocent III seem to this all-extolling eulogist but to augment the triumph and the glories of his reign. If the soul of the confessor of Simon de Moatfort, retaining all the passions and all the prejudices of that era, shouhl transmigrate into a doctor of the Sorbonne, conversant with the arts and literature of our own tithes, the result might be the production of such an ecclesiastical history as that of which we have here a specimen, — elaborate in research, glowing in style, vivid in portraiture, utterly reckless and indiscriminate in belief, extravagant up to the very verge of idolatry in applause, and familiar far beyond the verge of indecorum with the most awful topics and objects of the Christian faith.” — (Pp. 1, 2.) F75 Now, I ask my reader whether the publication of such a work, in the year of grace 1845, at Paris, is not a perfect miracle, and undoubtedly much more genuine than all those which it describes?
We live indeed in an age of wonders, physical as well as moral, and neither of them have escaped the all-powerful influence of the great moving spring of our time, and the principal cause of its rapid advance, — i.e., competition. England, which is foremost in many, and not behind in any, inventions and discoveries of the day, has maintained her rank, and even perhaps gone ahead, in the production of such moral miracles as that of which I have given a specimen above. And, indeed, the lives of the English saints, published in the years 1844 and 1845, in the capital of this Protestant country, may fearlessly challenge a comparison with the work of M. Chavin de Malan. They are, moreover, ascribed to a clergyman of the Church of England, who, though he has since gone over to Rome, was at that time receiving the wages of the Protestant Establishment of this country as one of its servants and defenders. F76 The few following extracts from this curious work will enable my readers to judge whether I have over-estimated the capabilities of this work for a successful competition with its French rival: — “Many of these (legends) are so well fitted to illustrate certain principles which should be borne in mind in considering medimval miracles, that they deserve some attention. Not that any thing here said is intended to prove that the stories of miracles, said to be wrought in the middle ages, are true. Men will always believe or disbelieve their truth, in proportion as theyare disposed to admit or reject the antecedent probability of the existence of a perpetual church, endowed with unfailing divine powers. And the reason of this is plain. Ecclesiastical miracles presuppose Catholic faith, just as Scripture miracles, and Scripture itself, presuppose the existence of God. Men, therefore, who disbelieve the faith, will of course disbelieve the story of the miracles, which, if it is not appealed to as a proof of the faith, at least takes it for granted. For instance, the real reason for rejecting the account of the vision which appeared to St Waltheof in the holy Eucharist, must be disbelief of the Catholic doctrine.” F77 The miracle alluded to above, and which cannot be rejected without disbelief in the Catholic doctrine, is as follows: — “On Christmas-day, when the convent was celebrating the nativity of our Lord, as the friar was elevating the host, in the blessed sacrifice of the mass, he saw in his hand a child fairer than the children of men, having on his head a crown of gold studded with jewels. His eyes beamed with light, and his face was more radiant than the whitest snow; and so ineffably sweet was his countenance, that the friar kissed the feet and the hands of the heavenly child. After this the divine vision disappeared, and Waltheof found in his hands the consecrated water.” F78 The whole collection is full of similar stories, some of which are really outrageous; as, for instance, that which it relates about St Augustine, the great apostle of England.
This saint was, during his peregrinations about the country, received with great honors in the north of England; “but,” says the work in question, “very different from this are the accounts of his travels in Dorsetshire.
While there, we hear of his having come to one village, where he was received with every species of insult. The wretched people, not content with heaping abusive words upon the holy visitors, assailed them with missiles, in which work, the place being probably a sea-port, the sellers of fish are related to have been peculiarly active. Hands, too, were laid upon the archbishop and his company. Finding all efforts useless, the godly company shook the dust from their feet, and withdrew. The inhabitants are said to have suffered the penalty of their impieties, even to distant generations. All the children born from that time bore and transmitted the traces of their parents’ sins in the shape of a loathsome deformity.” F79 The writer who relates this story had not the courage or the honesty of M.
Chavin de Malan to tell that the insult offered to the holy visitors consisted in attaching tails of fish to their robes, and that the loathsome deformity, with which the children of the perpetrators of that insult were born during many generations, was a tail.
Absurd as this monkish story is, it is nevertheless characteristic of the spirit of the sacerdotal pride and vindictiveness which would punish a silly joke, by which the dignity of the priestly order was offended, with a heavy calamity, entailed upon the innocent descendants of its perpetrators through many generations; and yet the fables of this modern mythology cannot be, according to our author, rejected without disbelief of the Catholic doctrine. This is not, however, his personal opinion; and he has only asserted, in a more decisive manner than it has been done for a considerable time, a principle which the Roman Catholic Church cannot disavow, though it may place her in an embarrassing position; and as an illustration of this, I shall give the following anecdote: — Under the reign of Frederic II, a Prussian soldier stole a costly ornament from an image of the Virgin, which enjoyed a great reputation for its miraculous powers. The theft being discovered, the culprit pleaded in his defense that, having addressed a fervent prayer to the above-mentioned image for help in his poverty, it gave him this ornament to relieve him from his distress. This affair was reported to the king, who, being much amused by the soldier’s device, required the Roman Catholic bishop in whose diocese this theft was committed to give a positive opinion whether the image in question could work miracles of this kind or not? The bishop could not, without showing disbelief is the Catholic doctrine, deny the possibility of the miracle, and was therefore obliged to give an affirmative reply. The king, therefore, pardoned the soldier, on condition of never accepting presents from this or any other image or saint whatever.
The author of this essay, though a firm believer in the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures, has not the advantage of being inspired with faith in the Catholic doctrine; he therefore will continue his researdles in the same manner as before.
Many legends originated from misunderstanding the emblematic character of some pictures. Thus the celebrated Spanish lady saint and authoress, St Theresa, was, on account of her eloquent and impassioned effusions of love addressed to the Deity, painted by a Spanish artist having her heart pierced with an arrow, in allusion to the words of the Psalmist, “For thine arrows stick fast in me,” etc. — ( Psalm 38:2.)
She died quietly in her convent towards the end of the sixteenth century, and though the particulars of her life and death are generally known, there were some legend writers who related that she died a martyr, pierced by an arrow. If such confusion of ideas could happen in a time when literature and science had made considerable progress, and when the art of printing was already universally known, how much more frequently such things must have occurred during the prevailing ignorance of the middle ages!
And, indeed, there are many wild legends which have originated from a similar source, and of which the most celebrated is that of St Denis, which has been also related of other saints. This martyr, supposed to have been beheaded, was represented holding his head in his hand, as an emblem of the manner of his death. The writer of his legend took this emblem for the representation of a real fact, and loosening the reins of his imagination, related that the saint, after having been beheaded, took up his head, kissed it, and walked away with it. F80 It is a general tendency of a gross and unenlightened mind to materialize the most abstract and spiritual ideas, and then what is simply an allegory becomes with him a reality. It was this tendency which, during the mediaeval ignorance, gave often a literal sense to what is only typical, and it was carried so far that even the parables of our Lord were constructed into real stories. Thus, Lazarus was a poor saint who lived in great want, and was made after his death the patron of beggars and lepers. The parable of the prodigal son has furnished materials for many a legend; and to crown all these pious parodies, a monk has shown to the well-known Eastern traveler Hasselquist, the very spot upon which the good Samaritan assisted the wounded man, who had been left unheeded by the priest and the Levite. Future rewards and punishments, heaven and hell, were also represented in a grossly material manner, that gave rise to many absurd legends, generally invented with the object of supporting the pretensions of the church, to have the power of sending at pleasure the souls of the departed to either of these places. F81 I have already spoken of the effects which the solitary and ascetic life of the early monks produced upon their imagination. The same thing took place amongst the recluses of the convents, but particularly nunneries. “The imaginations of women,” says a celebrated author whom I have already quoted, “as their feelings are more keen and exquisite, are more susceptible and ungovernable than those of men; more obnoxious to the injurious influence of solitude; more easily won upon by the arts of delusion, and inflamed by the contagion of the passions. Hence we may account for the rapidity with which in orphan houses, cloisters, and other institutions, where numbers of the sex are intimately connected with each other, the sickness, humor, habits, of one, if conspicuous and distinguished, become those of all. I remember to have read in a medical writer of considerable merit, that in a French convent of nuns, of more than common magnitude, one of the sisters was seized with a strange impulse to mew like a cat, in which singular propensity she was shortly imitated by several other sisters, and finally, without a solitary exception, by the whole convent, who all joined at regular periods in a general mew that lasted several hours. The neighborhood heard, with more astonishment than edification, the daily return of this celestial symphony, which was silenced, after many ineffectual measures, by terrifying the modesty of the sex with the menace, that, on any future repetition of their concert, a body of soldiers, pretended to be stationed at the gates of the monastery, would be called in to inflict upon them a discipline at once shameful and severe. “Among all the epidemic fancies of the sex I have found upon record, none equals that related by Cardan to have displayed itself in the fifteenth century, — which forcibly illustrates what has been remarked of the intuitive contagion by which fantastic affection is propagated among women. A nun in a certain German convent was urged by an unaccountable impulse to bite all her companions; and her strange caprice gradually spread to others, till the whole body was infected by the same fury. Nor did the evil confine itself within these limits: the report of this strange mania traveled from one province to another, and every where conveyed with it the infectious folly, from cloister to cloister, through the German empire; from thence extending itself on each side to Holland and Italy, the nuns at length worried one another from Rome to Amsterdam. “Numberless instances might be quoted to demonstrate the force with which the strangest and most wild propensities fasten themselves on the imagination, and conquer and tyrannise over the will, when the soul is debarred from a free intercourse with its species, and left too uninterruptedly to its own unbridled musings.
But those which we have related may be sufficient to show the danger into which he runs who delivers himself unconditionally to the custody of solitude, and does not arm himself against its faithless hospitality. Shut up in a barren and monotonous leisure, without studies to occupy curiosity, without objects to amuse the senses, or to interest and to attract the affections to any thing human, fancy will escape into the worlds of chimerical existence, there to seek amusement and exercise. How fondly does it then embrace and cherish angelical visions, or infernal phantoms, prodigies, or miracles! or should its reveries take another direction, with what increasing eagerness and confidence do its hopes hunt after the delusions of alchemy, the fictions of philosophy, and the delirium of metaphysics! In cases where the mind is less capacious, and its stores less copious, it will attach itself to some absurd notion, the child of its languid and exhausted powers; and bestowing its fondest confidence on this darling of its dotage, will abandon reason and outrage common sense.” F82 I have given this lengthened extract from Zimmerman, because I think it satisfactorily explains those mystic visions as well as infernal phantoms, with which the medimval legends and chronicles, generally composed by monks, abound, and which are often uniustly ascribed to fraud and wilful deception. Medical science, as well as all the branches of natural philosophy, being then in a very imperfect condition, such phenomena as those of nuns moewing like cats or biting like dogs, which are mentioned by Zimmerman, were not explained as nervous diseases, but ascribed to the possession of evil spirits; and I frankly confess that I am by no means sure, that if cases like those mentioned above were to happen in our enlightened age, there would not be found many good folks ascribing them to a similar agency. It must be also remembered that, if notwithstanding the extreme rapidity and regularity of communications in our own time, reports of various events are often exaggerated and even completely altered in passing from one place to another; how much more must it have been the case during the time of such defective communication as existed previous to the invention of printing and the introduction of the post! It was therefore no wonder if occurrences of such an extraordinary nature as those alluded to were immensely magnified by report, and if it had, at least in many places, converted the roewing and biting nuns into as many cats and dogs. It is, moreover, now generally admitted that what is called mesmerism, but whose real nature science has not yet explained, was known and practiced during the middle ages, as well as in remote antiquity, and that many thaumaturgic operations, described by the medieeval legends, as well as by ancient writers, were produced by means of this still mysterious agency.
I have dwelt perhaps too long on this subject, because I am afraid that the observations relating to it are not confined to a distant period, but may become but too often applicable to our own times. And, indeed, when we reflect on the rapid increase of convents and nunneries, particularly in this country, and that notwithstanding the present state of civilization these establishments must be filled chiefly by individuals whoso imaginations aro stronger than their reasoning powers, there can be little doubt that they may again become the stage of those extraordinary manifestations, the cause of which had been too exclusively ascribed to mediaeval darkness. It cannot be doubted, that designing individuals of both sexes, possessed of superior talents and knowledge, but particularly endowed with a strong will, may exercise not only an undue influence, but even an absolute power over the inmates of the above-mentioned monastic establishments; and that a skilful application of mesmerism may efficiently promote such unlawful ends.
Many local superstitious remains of Paganism, — as, for instance, miraculous powers ascribed to certain wells, stones, caverns, — stories about various kinds of fairies, etc. — have furnished ample materials to the mediaeval legend writers, who arranged them according to their own views.
They generally retained the miraculous part of the story, frequently embellishing it by their own additions, but substituting the agency of the Christian saint, the hero of their tale, for that of the Pagan deity, to whom it had originally been ascribed. It was thus that the localities considered by the Pagans as possessed of some supernatural properties, and resorted to by them on this account, were converted into places of Christian pilgrimages, with the only difference that the Pagan genius loci was baptised with the name of a Christian saint, whose existence can often be no more proved than that of his heathen predecessor. Many hagiographers seem to have indulged their humor as much as their fancy in composing these legends, which appears from such ludicrous stories as, for instance, that of St Fechin, whose piety was so fervent that when he was bathing in cold water it became almost boiling hot. This warm-hearted or hot-headed saint is said to have belonged to the Emerald isle, though, considering that his ardent piety was so very much like a manifestation of the perfervidum Scotorum ingenium in a somewhat exaggerated form, I am much inclined to believe him a native of the north country. There are many instances of such humorous miracles, but I shall quote only that of Laurenthios a famous Greek saint, and worker of miracles. Having one day some business with the Patriarch of Constantinople, he was kept waiting in the prelate’s ante-chamber, and feeling very warm he wanted to take off his cloak. But as there was not any piece of furniture in the room, nor even a peg on its walls, St Laurenthies, embarrassed what to do with his cloak, threw it upon a ray of the sun, which was entering the room through a hole in the shutter, and which immediately acquired the firmness of a rope, so that the saint’s cloak remained hanging upon it. It must not, however, be believed that the hot sun and fervid imagination of Greece were absolutely requisite for the performance of such wonderful tricks; for we have sufficient legendary evidence to prove that they were successfully reproduced under the less brilliant sky of Germany and France, because St Goar of Treves suspended his cap, and St Aicadrus, abbot of Jumieges, his gloves upon the same piece of furniture that had been used by St Laurenthios to hang his cloak, though probably, considering that the sun is not so powerful in those countries as it is at Constantinople, the western saints did not venture to try its rays with such a heavy lead, as had been successfully done by their eastern colleague.
Some miracles were invented in order to inculcate implicit obedience to the ecclesiastical authorities, which is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as one of, if not the most important virtue to be practiced by her children. Thus it is related that when the Spanish Dominican monk, St Vincent Ferrerius, celebrated for the great number of his miracles, was one day walking along a street in Barcelona, a mason, falling from a high roof, called for his assistance. The saint answered that he could not perform a miracle without the permission of his superior, but that he would go and ask for it. The mason remained, therefore, suspended in the air until St Vincent, returning with the permission, got him safely down on the ground.
It must be admitted, that many saints, whose lives are disfigured by absurd stories of their miracles, were men of great piety, adorned with the noblest virtues, and who gave proofs of the most exalted charity and selfdevotion.
Unfortunately the honors of saintship have been often bestowed upon such sanguinary monsters as St Dominic, whose shrine would be the most appropriately placed in a temple where human sacrifices are offered, or upon madmen who have outraged every feeling of humanity. Thus it is related that St Alexius left his home on the day of his wedding, and, having exchanged his clothes for the rags of a beggar, adopted his mode of life.
After some time, when his appearance had become so wretched that he could no longer be recognized by his friends, he returned to his parental house, asking for shelter. He obtained a place under the staircase, and lived there by alms for seventeen years, continually witnessing the distress and lamentations of his wife, mother, and aged father about his loss and was recognised only after his death by a book of prayers which had been given him by his mother. And it was for this unfeeling and even cruel treatment of his own family that he was canonized! It is supposed, however, that all this story is but a fiction, and, for the sake of humanity, I sincerely hope that it is so.
The limits of this essay allow me not farther to extend my researches about the legends of mediaeval saints, and their miracles; and I shall try to give in my next chapter a short analysis of several practices which the Roman Catholic as well as the Graeco-Russian Church have retained from Paganism.
CHAPTER 7 - ANALYSIS OF THE PAGAN RITES AND PRACTICES WHICH HAVE BEEN RETAINED BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC AS WELL AS THE GRAECO-RUSSIAN CHURCH.
I HAVE given the opinion of an eminent Roman Catholic modern author (Chateaubriand) about the introduction of Pagan usages into the Christian worship, and a long extract from another no less distinguished Roman Catholic writer of our day, describing the cause of this corruption. The Roman Catholic writers of this country do not, however, treat this subject with the same sincerity as the illustrious author of the “Genie du Christianisme,” and the learned French Academician from whose work I have so largely drawn; but they try hard to deny that many usages of their church bear the stamp of Paganism. F83 This is particularly the case with the author of “Hierurgia,” a work which I have already quoted, and which may be considered as the fairest expression of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches on the subject in question. Thus the use of images in churches is represented as being authorized by Scripture, by the following curious arguments: — “The practice of employing images as ornaments and memorials to decorate the temple of the Lord is in a most especial manner approved by the Word of God himself Moses was commanded to place two cherubim upon the ark, and to set up a brazen figure of the fiery serpent, that those of the murmuring Israelites who had been bitten might recover, from the poison of their wounds by looking on the image. In the description of Solomon’s temple, we read of that prince, not only that he made in the oracle two cherubim of olive tree, of ten cubits in height, but that ‘all the walls of the temple round about he carved with divers figures and carvings.’ “In the first book of Paralipomenon (Chronicles) we observe that when David imposed his injunction upon Solomon to realise his intention of building a house to the Lord, he delivered to him a description of the porch and temple, and concluded by thus assuring him: ‘All these things came to me written by the hand of the Lord, that I may understand the works of the pattern.’ “The isolated fact that images were not only directed by the Almighty God to be placed in the Mosaic tabernacle, and in the more sumptuous temple of Jerusalem, but that he himself exhibited the pattern of them, will be alone sufficient to authorize the practice of the Catholic Church in regard to a similar observance.” — (Hierurgia, p. 371.)
All this may be briefly answered. There was no representation of the Jewish patriarchs or saints either in the tabernacle or in the temple of Solomon, as is the case with the Christian saints in the Roman Catholic and Graeco-Russian Churches; and the brazen serpent, to which the author alludes, was broken into pieces by order of King Hezekiah as soon as the Israelites began to worship it.
The author tries to prove, with considerable learning and ingenuity, that the primitive Christians ornamented their churches with images, and I have already given, his explanation of the Council of Elvira; but his assertions are completely disproved by every direct evidence which we have about the places of worship of those Christians. I have already quoted, the testimony of Minutius Felix, that the Christians had no kind of simulachres in their temples, as well as the indignation of St Epiphanius at an attempt to introduce them into the churches, and for which there would have been no occasion if it had been an established custom.
The most important part of his defense of the use of images is, however, the paragraph entitled, “No virtue resident in images themselves,” containing what follows: — “Not only are Catholics not exposed to such dangers (i.e., idolatry), but they are expressly prohibited by the church (Concilium Tridentinum, sess. 25.) to believe that there is any divinity or virtue resident in images for which they should be reverenced, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence placed in them, but that the honor given should be referred to those whom they represent; and so particular are their religious instructors in impressing this truth upon the minds of their congregations, that if a Catholic child, who had learned its first catechism, were asked if it were permitted to pray to images, the child would answer, ‘No, by no means; for they have no life nor sense to help us;’ and the pastor who discovered any one rendering any portion of the respect which belongs to God alone to a crucifix or to a picture, would have no hesitation in breaking the one and tearing the other into shreds, and throwing the fragments into the flames, in imitation of Ezechias, who broke the brazen serpent on account of the superstitious reverence which the Israelites manifested towards it.” — (Hierurgia, p. 382.)
It is perfectly true that the Council of Trent has declared that the images of Christ, of the virgin, and of other saints, are to be honored and venerated, not because it is believed that there is any divinity or virtue inherent in them, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence placed in images, as had been done by Pagans, who put their trust in idols ( <19D515> Psalm 135:15-18), but that “the honor given should be referred to those whom they represent, so that by the images which we kiss, before which we uncover our heads, or prostrate ourselves (procumbimus), we worship Christ and the saints whose likeness those images represent.” F84 But if there is “no divinity or virtue resident in images,” as is declared by the Council of Trent, what is to become of all those miraculous images which are the subject of pilgrimage in so many Roman Catholic countries, and the existence of whose miraculous powers has been solemnly acknowledged by the highest ecclesiastical authorities? I shall not attempt to enumerate those miraculous images, because their number is legion, but I shall only ask the rev. doctor whether he considers the image of the virgin of Loretto, which is the object of so many pilgrimages, and to which so many miracles are ascribed, as having some virtue resident in it or not? and would he break it in pieces on account of the miraculous powers ascribed to it? Is he prepared to act in such a manner with the celebrated Bambino F85 of Rome? and are the miraculous powers ascribed to it, as well as to the virgin of Loretie, and other images of this kind, a reality or an imposture? and, finally, what will he do with the winking Madonna of Rimini, which has lately made so much noise, and which, instead of being broken to pieces or torn to shreds by the priests or the bishop of the place, has been approved by ecclesiastical authority? I can assure the rev. doctor, that by breaking into pieces the miraculous images, carved as well as painted, he will break down many barriers which now separate the Protestant Christians from those who belong to his own church. I am, however, afraid that he will find many difficulties in attempting such a thing; and I must remind him, that in quoting the abovementioned canon of the Council of Trent, he forgot an essential part of it, which greatly modifies the declaration that there is no divinity or virtue resident in images, saying, “That the holy synod ordains that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image F86 in any place or church, howsoever exempted, except that the image be approved by the bishop: also, that no new miracles are to be acknowledged or new relics recognised, unless the said bishop has taken cognizance and approved thereof, who, as soon as he has obtained certain information in regard to these matters, shall, after having taken the advice of theologians and of other pious men, act therein as he shall judge to be consonant with truth and piety.” — (Session 28, etc.)
The real meaning of the above-mentioned canon of the Council of Trent is therefore, I think, that there is no divinity or virtue resident in the images which are not authorised by the bishop to work miracles, and that unlicensed images are not allowed to have any such divinity or virtue in them, but that such unusual carved or painted images, as those which I have mentioned above, having obtained the required authorization, may work as many miracles as they please, or as their worshippers will believe.
It has been observed by a writer, who certainly cannot be accused of violent opinions, the learned and pious Melancthon, “that it was impious and idolatrous to address statues or bones, and to suppose that either the Divinity or the saints were attached to a certain place or to a certain statue more than to other places; and that there was no difference between the prayers which are addressed to the Virgin of Aix la Chapelle, or to that of Ratisbon, and the Pagan invocations of the Ephesian Diana, or the Platean Juno, or any other statue.” F87 To these observations I shall only add those of M. Beugnot, which I have given, on the marvellous facility with which the worship of the virgin, established by the Council of Ephesus, 431, has superseded that of the Pagan deities in many countries.
There is scarcely any ceremony in the Western as well as in the Eastern church, the origin of which cannot be traced to the Pagan worship. I shall limit my observations on this subject to the three following objects, which constitute the most important elements in the divine service performed in those churches, namely, — 1. The consecrated water; 2. Lamps and candles; and, 3. Incense; Giving the Roman Catholic explanation of their origin, as well as that which I believe to be true.With regard to the consecrated water, it is described by the author of “Hierurgia” in the following manner: — “The ordinance of Almighty God, promulgated by the lips of Moses, concerning the water of separation and the mode of sprinkling it, are minutely noticed in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Numbers. In the book of Exodus, we read that the Lord issued the following declarations to Moses: — ‘Thou shalt make a brazen laver, with its foot, to wash in; and thou shalt set it between the tabernacle of the testimony and the altar.
And the water being put into it, Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet in it when they are going into the tabernacle of the testimony, and when they are to come to the altar to offer incense on it to the Lord.’ — ( Exodus 30:18-20.) “That it was a practice with the Jews, not only peculiar to the members of the priesthood, but observed amongst the people, for each individual to wash his hands before he presumed to pray, is a well-attested fact. The church adopted this as well as several other Jewish ceremonies, which she engrafted on her ritual; and St Paul apparently borrows from such ablution the metaphor which he employs while thus admonishing his disciple Timothy: — ‘I will that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands.’ — ( 1 Timothy 2:8.)
That in the early ages the faithful used to wash their hands at the threshold of the church before they entered, is expressly mentioned by a number of writers.”
As to the use of holy water being of apostolic origin, he says: — “The introduction of holy or blessed water must be referred to the times of the apostles. That it was the custom, in the very first ages of the church, not only to deposit vessels of water at the entrance of those places where the Christians assembled for the celebration of divine worship, but also to have vases containing water mingled with salt, both of which had been separated from common use, and blessed by the prayers and invocations of the priest, is certain. A particular mention of it is made in the constitution of the apostles; and the pontiff Alexander, the first of that name, but the sixth in succession from St Peter, whose chair he mounted in the year 109, issued a decree by which the use of holy water was permitted tothe faithful in their houses.” — (Hierurgia, pp. 461-463.)
It is rather a strange thing for Christians to imitate the religious rites of the Jews, whose ceremonial law, — “which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” ( Hebrews 9:10) — was abolished by the New Testament. However, if this is to be done, why is not the holy water adopted by the Roman Catholic Church prepared in the same manner, and used for the same object, as the Jewish water of separation, described in Numbers 19, but, on the contrary, composed in the same manner, and employed for the same purpose, as the lustral water of the Pagans? The fact is, that it has been borrowed from the Pagan worship and not from the Jewish ceremonial law, the truth of which is honestly acknowledged by the Jesuit La Cerda, who, in a note all the following passage of Virgil, — “Idem ter socios pura circumtulit unda, Spargens rore levi, et ramo fdicis olivae, Lustravitque viros” — AEneid, lib. 6:229 — says, “Hence was derived the custotn of the holy church to provide purifying or holy water at the entrance of their churches.” F88 The same custom was observed in the Pagan temples, at the entrance of which there was a vase containing the holy or lustral water, for the people to sprinkle themselves with, just as is now done at the entrance of the Roman Catholic churches. The author of “Hierurgia” mentions, as quoted above, that Pope Alexander I authorized, in the beginning of the second century, the use of holy water; and yet Justin Martyr, who wrote about that time, says “that it was invented by demons, in imitation of the true baptism signified by the prophets, that their vataries might also have their pretended purification by water.” F89 And the Emperor Julian, in order to vex the Christians, caused the victuals in the markets to be sprinkled with holy water, with the intention of either starving them or compelling them to eat what they considered as impure. F90 To these evidences of the abomination in which the primitive Christians hold the Pagan rite of sprinkling with holy water, I may add the following anecdote, characteristic of the intensity of this feeling: — When Julian the Apostate was one day going to sacrifice in the temple of Fortune, accompanied by the usual train of the emperors, the Pagan priests, standing on both sides of the temple gate, sprinkled those who were entering it with the lustral or holy water, in order to purify them according to the rites of their worship. A Christian tribune, or superior officer of the imperial guards (scutarii), who, being on duty, preceded the monarch, received some drops of this holy water on his chlamys or coat, which made him so indignant, that, notwithstanding the presence of the emperor, he struck the priest who had thus sprinkled him, exclaiming that he did not purify but pollute him. Julian ordered the arrest of the officer who had thus insulted the rites of his religion, giving him the choice either to sacrifice to the gods or to leave the army. The bold Christian chose the latter, but was soon restored to his rank on account of his great military talents, and raised, after the death of Julian and the short reign of Jovian, to the imperial throne as Valentinian I. F91 This monarch was, however, by no means a bigot; on the contrary, we have the unsuspected testimony of the contemporary Pagan writer Ammianus Marcellinus that he maintained a strict impartiality between the Christians and Pagans, and did not trouble any one on account of his religion. He even regulated and confirmed, by a law in 391, the privileges of the Pagan clergy in a more favorable manner than had been done by many of his predecessors;and yet this monarch, who treated his Pagan subjects with such an extreme liberality, committed, when a private individual, an act of violence against their worship which exposed him to considerable danger. This, I think, is a strong proof of the horror which the Christians felt for a rite which constitutes now an indispensable part of the service in the Western as well as in the Eastern churches, and is most profusely used by them.
With regard to the candles and lamps, which form a no less important and indispensable part of the worship adopted by the above-mentioned churches, the author of “Hierurgia” defends their use in the following manner: — After having described the candlesticks employed in the Jewish temple, he says: — “But without referring to the ceremonial of the Jewish temple, we have an authority for the employment of light in the functions of religion presented to us in the Apocalypse. In the first chapter of that mystic book, St John particularly mentions the: golden candlesticks which he beheld in his prophetic vision in the isle of Patmos. By commentators on the sacred Scripture, it is generally supposed that the Evangelist, in his book of the Apocalypse, adopted the imagery with which he represents his mystic revelations from the ceremonial observed in his days by the church for offering up the mass, or eucharistic sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus. “That the use of lights was adopted by the church, especially at the celebration of the sacred mysteries, as early as the times of the apostles, may likewise, with much probability, be inferred from that passage in their Acts which records the preaching and miracles of St Paul at Troas: — ‘And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, being to depart on the morrow, and he continued his speech until midnight. And there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where we were assembled.’ — ( Acts 20:7,8.)
That the many lamps, so particularly noticed in this passage, were not suspended merely for the purpose of illuminating, during the night-time, this upper chamber, in which the faithful had assembled on the first day of the week to break bread, but also to increase the solemnity of that function and betoken a spiritual joy, may be lawfully inferred from every thing we know about the manners of the ancient Jews, from whom the church borrowed the use of lights in celebrating her various rites and festivals.” — (Hierurgia, p. 372.)
It is really difficult seriously to answer such extraordinary suppositions as that the seven candlesticks, expressly mentioned as types of the seven churches, should be an allusion to the physical lights used in the worship of those churches, and not to the moral and spiritual light which they were spreading amongst Jews and Gentiles. Such an explanation appears to me nothing better than that tendency to materialize the most abstract and spiritual ideas to which I have alluded above. With regard to the passage in the Acts 20:7,8, which says that there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where St Paul was preaching, I think that this circumstance might have been considered as a religious rite if the apostle had been preaching at noon; but as it is expressly said that he did it at night, nothing can be more simple than the lighting of the upper chamber with lamps. It was also very natural that there should be many of them, because as St Paul was undoubtedly often referring to the Scriptures, his hearers, or at least many of them, being either real Jews or Hellenists, must have been continually looking to copies of the Bible in order to verify his quotations. It was, therefore, necessary to have the room well lighted, and consequently to employ many lamps. It is, indeed, curious to see to what far-fetched suppositions a writer of so much learning and ingenuity as Dr Rock is obliged to recur, in order to defend a purely Pagan rite which has been adopted by his church, giving the simplest and clearest things a nonnatural sense, similar to that which some Romanizing clergymen have been giving to the precepts of a church which they were betraying whilst in her service and pay.
The same author maintains that lights were employed from primitive times at divine service, saying: — “The custom of employing lights, in the earlier ages of the church, during the celebration of the eucharist, and other religious offices, is authenticated by those venerable records of primitive discipline which are usually denominated Apostolic Canona” — (Hierurgia, p. 393.)
Now, what is the authenticity of these canons? The author himself gives us the best answer to it, saying: — “Though these canons be apocryphal, and by consequence not genuine, inasmuch as they were neither committed to writing by the apostles themselves, nor penned by St Clement, to whom some authors have attributed them; still, however, this does not prevent them from being true and authentic, since they embody the traditions descended from the apostles and the apostolic fathers, and bear a faithful testimony that the discipline which prevailed during the first and second centuries was established by the apostles.” — (p. 394.)
I shall not enter into a discussion about the value of evidence furnished by a work which is acknowledged to bc apocryphal, and not to have been written by those to whom its defenders had ascribed its authorship; F92 but I shall only remark, that one of the most eminent fathers of the church, the learned Lactantius, who flourished in the fourth century, and consequently long after the time when the Apostolic Canons are supposed to have been composed, takes a very different view from them in regard to this practice, because he positively says, in attacking the use of lights by the Pagans, they light up candles to God as if he lived in the dark, and do they not deserve to pass for madmen who offer lamps to the Author and Giver of light? F93 And is it probable that he could approve of a practice in the Christian church which he condemns in the Pagan?
And, indeed, can there be any thing more heathenish than the custom of burning lights before images or relics, which is nothing else than sacrifices which the Pagans offered to their idols I have described above, the manner in which St Jerome defended the use of lights in the churches against Vigilantius. This defense of St Jerome is adduced by our author in a rather extraordinary manner. “It happens not unfrequently that those very calumnies which have been propagated, and the attacks which were so furiously directed by the enemies of our holy faith in ancient times, against certain practices of discipline then followed by the church, are the most triumphant testimonies which can be adduced at the present day, both to establish the venerable origin of such observances, and to warrant a continuation of them. In the present instance, the remark is strikingly observable; for the strictures which Vigilantius passed in the fourth age, on the use of lights in churches, as well as on the shrines of the martyrs, and the energetic refutation of St Jerome of the charge of superstition preferred against such a pious usage by that apostate, may be noticed as an irrefragable argument, in the nineteenth century, to establish the remote antiquity of the religious custom. After mentioning as a fact of public notoriety, and in a manner which defied contradiction, that the Christians, at the time when he was actually writing, which was about the year 376 F94 were accustomed to illumine their torches during mid-day with a profusion of wax tapers, Vigilantius proceeds to turn such a devotion into ridicule. But he met with a learned and victorious opponent, who, while he vindicated this practice of the church against the objection of her enemy, took occasion to assign those reasons which induced her to adopt it. That holy father observes: — ‘Throughout all the churches of the East, whenever the Gospel is to be recited, they bring forth lights, though it be at noonday; not certainly to shine among darkness, but to manifest some sign of joy, that under the type of corporeal light may be indicated that light of which we read in the Psalms, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”’” — (Hierurgia, p. 298.)
Now, I would observe to the learned doctor, that St Jerome, in answering Vigilantius, maintained, as I have shown above, that it was calumny to say that the Christians burnt candles in the daylight, and that it was done only by some people, whose zeal was without knowledge. Consequently, the church which has adopted this practice shows, according to the authority of that “holy and learned father,” that her zeal is without knowledge. With regard to the argument in support of the above-mentioned practices given by St Jerome, and reproduced by our author, that the Eastern churches make use of lights, I admit that it is unanswerable, because it is an undoubted fact that the Graeco-Russian Church makes an immense consumption of wax candles, chiefly burnt before the images, and it remains for me only to congratulate the advocates of this practice on the support which they derive from such an imperative authority as that of the Graeco-Russian Church.
It remains for me now only to say a few words about the incense, which forms a constituent part of the service of the Roman Catholic and Graeco- Russian Churches, as much as the holy water and lights, and which is defended by the author of “Hierurgia” in the following manner. After having described the use of incense in the Jewish temples, he says — “It was from this religious custom of employing incense in the ancient temple, that the royal prophet drew that beautiful simile of his, when he petitioned that his prayers might ascend before the Lord like incense. It was while ‘all the multitude were praying without at the hour of incense, that there appeared to Zachary an angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar of incense.’ — ( Luke 1:10,11).
That the oriental nations attached a meaning not only of personal reverence, but also of religious homage to an offering of incense, is demonstrable from the instance of the magi, who, having fallen down to adore the newborn Jesus, and recognize his divinity, presented him with gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. That he might be more intelligible to those who read his book of the Apocalypse, it is very probable that St John adapted his lanaiage to the ceremonial of the liturgy then followed by the Christians in celebrating the eucharistic sacrifice, at the period the evangelist was committing to writing his mysterious revelations. In depicting, therefore, the scene which took place in the sanctuary of heaven, where he was given to behold in vision the mystic sacrifice of the Lamb, we are warranted to suppose that he borrowed the imagery, and selected several of his expressions, from the ritual then actually in use, and has in consequence bequeathed to us an outline of the ceremonial which the church employed in the apostolic ages of offering up the unbloody sacrifice of the same divine Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, in her sanctuary upon earth. Now, St John particularly notices how the ‘angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne of God; and the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from the hand of the angel.’ — Revelation 8:3-5.” — (Hierurgia, p. 518.)
To this explanation of the use of incense in the churches, I may answer by the same observation which I have made, on a similar defense of the use of lights, namely, that it is a strange materialization of spiritual ideas by embodying into a tangible shape what is simply typical, and which is not warranted by any direct evidence. Such far-fetched and fanciful conjectures cannot be refuted by serious arguments; but as regards the Jewish origin of the use of incense, as well as of many other ceremonies common to the Roman Catholic and Greek Churches, I shall give the observation of the celebrated Dr Middleton, on an answer made by a Roman Catholic to his well-known Letter from Rome, and who, defending the ceremonies of his Church in nearly the same manner as the author of “Hierurgia,” says, “That Dr Middleton was mistaken in thinking every ceremony used by the heathens to be heathenish, since the greatest part of them were borrowed from the worship of the true God, in imitation of which the devil affected to have his temples, altars, priests, and sacrifices, and all other things which were used in the true worship.” This he applied to the case of incense, lamps, holy water, and processions, adding, “that if Middleton had been as well read in the Scriptures as he seemed to be in the heathen poets, he would have found the use of all these in the temple of God, and that by God’s appointment.” “I shall not dispute with him,” says Middleton, “about the origin of these rites, whether they were first instituted by Moses, or were of prior use and antiquity amongst the Egyptians. The Scriptures favor the last, which our Spenser strongly asserts, and their Calmet and Huetius allow; but should we grant him all that he can infer from his argument, what will he gain by it? Were not all those beggarly elements wiped away by the spiritual worship of the Gospel? Were they not all annulled, on account of their weakness and unprofitableness, by the more perfect revelation of Jesus Christ? ( Galatians 4:9; Hebrews 7:18.) If, then, I should acknowledge my mistake, and recall my words, and instead of Pagan, call them Jewish ceremonies, would not the use of Jewish rites be abominable still in a Christian church, where they are expressly abolished and prohibited by God himself? “But to pursue his argument a little farther. While the Mosaic worship subsisted by divine appointment in Jerusalem, the devil likewise, as he tells us, had temples and ceremonies of the same kind, in order to draw vetaries to his idolatrous worship, which, after the abolition of the Jewish service, was carried on still with great pomp and splendor, and above all places, in Rome, the principal seat of his worldly empire. Now, it is certain that in the early times of the Gospel, the Christians of Rome were celebrated for their zealous adherence to the faith of Christ, as it was delivered to them by the apostles, pure from every mixture either of Jewish or heathenish superstition, till, after a succession of ages, as they began gradually to deviate from that apostolic simplicity, they introduced at different times into the church the particular ceremonies in question. Whence, then, can we think it probable that they should borrow them from the Jewish or the Pagan ritual?
From a temple remote, despised and demolished by the Romans themselves, or from temples and altars perpetually in their view, and subsisting in their streets, in which their ancestors and fellowcitizens have constantly worshipped? F95 The question can hardly admit any dispute; the humor of the people, as well as the interest of a corrupted priesthood, would invite them to adopt such rites as were native to the soil, and found upon the place, and which long experience had shown to be useful to the acquisition both of wealth and power. Thus, by the most candid construction of this author’s reasoning, we must necessarily call their ceremonies Jewish, or by pushing it to its full length, shall be obliged to call them devilish. “He observes that I begin my charge with the use of incense as the most notorious proof of their Paganism, and like an artful rhetorician, place my strongest argument in the front. Yet he knows I have assigned a different reason for offering that the first; because it is the first thing that strikes the sense, and surprises a stranger upon his entrance into their churches. But it shall be my strongest proof, if he will have it so, since he has brought nothing, I am sure, to weaken the force of it. He tells us that there was an altar of incense in the temple of Jerusalem, and is surprised, therefore, how I can call it heathenish; yet, it is evident, from the nature of that institution, that it was never designed to be perpetual, and that during its continuance, God would have never approved any other altar, either in Jerusalem or any where else.
But let, him answer directly to this plain question: Was there ever a temple in the world, not strictly heathenish, in which there were several altars, all smoking with incense, within our view, and at one and the same time? It is certain that he must answer in the negative; yet it is as certain that there were many such temples in Pagan Rome, and are as many in Christian Rome; and since there never was an example of it, but what was Paganish, before the time of Popery, how is it possible that it could be derived to them from any other source? or when we see so exact a resemblance in the copy, how can there be any doubt about the original? “What he alleges, therefore, in favor of incense is nothing to the purpose: ‘That it was used in the Jewish, and is of great antiquity in the Christian churches, and that it is mentioned with honor in the Scriptures,’ which frequently compare it to prayer, and speak of its sweet odors ascending tip to God, etc., which figurative expressions, he says, ‘would never have been borrowed by sacred penmen from heathenish superstition;’ as if such allusions were less proper, or the thing itself less sweet, for its being applied to the purposes of idolatry, as it constantly was in the time of the same penmen, and, according to their own accounts, on the altars of Baal, and the other heathen idols: and when Jeremiah rebukes the people of Judah for burningincense to the queen of heaven ( Jeremiah 44:17), one can hardly help imagining that he is prophetically pointing out the worship paid now to the virgin, to whom they actually burn incense at this day under that very title.
F96 “But if it be a just ground for retaining a practice in the Christian church, because it was enjoined to the Jews, what will our Catholic say for those usages which were actually prohibited to the Jews, and never practiced by any but by the heathens and papists? All the Egyptian priests, as Herodotus informs us, had their heads shaved, and kept continually bald. F97 Thus the Emperor Commodus, that he might be admitted into that order, got himself shaved, and carried the god Anubis in procession. And it was on this account, most probably, that the Jewish priests were commanded not to shave their heads, nor to make any baldness upon them. — ( Leviticus 21:5; Ezekiel 44:20). Yet this Pagan rasure, or tonsure, as they choose to call it, on the crown of the head, has long been the distinguishing mark of the Romish priesthood. It was on the same account, we may imagine, that the Jewish priests were forbidden to make any cuttings in their flesh ( Leviticus 19:28, 21:5), since that was likewise the common practice of certain priests and devotees among the heathens, in order to acquire the fame of a more exalted sanctity.
Yet the same discipline, as I have shown in my Letter, F98 is constantly practiced at Rome in some of their solemn seasons and processions, in imitation of these Pagan enthusiasts, as if they searched the Scriptures to learn, not so much what was enjoined by true religion, as what had been useful at any time in a false one, to delude the multitude, and support an imposture.” — (Middleton’s Miscellaneous Works, volume 5, p. 11, et seq.) The same author justly observes, that “under the Pagan emperors the use of incense for any purpose of religion was thought so contrary to the obligations of Christianity, that in their persecutions, the very method of trying and converting a Christian was by requiring him only to throw the least grain of it into the censer or on the altar.” “Under the Christian emperors, on the other hand, it was looked upon as a rite so peculiarly heathenish, that the very places or houses where it could be proved to have been done, were, by a law of Theodosius, confiscated to the government.” F99 17 — (Ibid., p. 95.)
I shall conclude this essay by a short sketch of the superstitious practices prevailing in the Graeco-Russian Church, which will be the subject of my next and last chapter.
CHAPTER 8 - IMAGE-WORSHIP AND OTHER SUPERSTITIOUS PRACTICES OF THE GRAECO-RUSSIAN CHURCH.
THE Graeco-Russian Church is perhaps the most important element of the politico-religious complications in which Europe is at present involved. It is, moreover, not a fortuitous cause of these complications, but has been growing during centuries, until it has reached its present magnitude, though its action upon Turkey may have been prematurely brought into play by accidental circumstances. It comprehends within its pale about 50,000,000 of souls, whilst it exercises an immense influence upon 13,000,000 of Turkish, and a considerable one upon more than 3,000,000 of Austrian subjects, professing the tenets of that church, though governed by separate hierarchies. To this number must be added the population of the kingdom of Greece, amounting to about 1,000,000: so that the whole of the followers of the Eastern Church may be computed in round numbers at 66,000,000 or 67,000,000 of souls. F100 The Russian Church differs from other Greek churches, not in her tenets, but in her government. From the establishment of Christianity in Russia, towards the end of the tenth century, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the Russian Church was governed by a metropolitan, consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople. After this event, the metropolitans were consecrated by the Russian bishops till 1588, when a patriarch of Russia was instituted by that of Constantinople, who had arrived at Moscow, in order to obtain pecuniary assistance for his church.
The patriarch enjoyed considerable influence, which modified in some respects the despotic authority of the Czar. It was Peter the Great who abolished this dignity in 1702, after the death of the Patriarch Adrian, and declared himself the head of the Russian Church.
He introduced several regulations to restrict the power of the clergy, and to improve their education. It appears that the violent reforms by which that monarch tried to introduce the civilization of western Europe amongst his subjects, had produced an intellectual movement in their church, but which, not squaring with the views of the imperial reformer, was violently suppressed by him. Thus, in 1713, a physician called Demetrius Tveritinoff, and some other persons, began to attack the worship of images, and to explain the sacrament of communion in the same sense as has been done by Calvin.
The reformers were anathematized by the order of the Czar, and one of them was executed in 1714. F101 Next year, 1715, a Russian priest, called Thomas, probably a disciple of the above-mentioned reformers, began publicly to inveigh against the worship of saints and other practices of his church, and went even so far as to break the images placed in the churches.
He was burnt alive, and nothing more was heard afterwards of such reformers. The Russian clergy regained their influence under the reign of the Empress Elizabeth, 1742-62, a weak-minded, bigoted woman, who was continually making pilgrimages to the shrines of various Russian saints and miraculous images, displaying on those occasions such a splendor and such munificence to the objects of her devotion, that the finances of her state were injured by it. F102 Elizabeth’s nephew and successor, Peter III, Duke of Holstein, who, for the sake of the throne, had passed from the Lutheran communion to the Greek Church, entertained the greatest contempt for his new religion. This half-crazy, unfortunate prince, instead of trying to reform the Russian Church by promoting a superior information amongst her clergy, offended the religious prejudices of his subjects by an open disregard of the ordinances of that church, and his projects of violent reforms. He not only did away with all the fasts at his court, but he wished to abolish them throughout all his empire, to remove the images and candles from the churches, and, finally, that the clergy should shave their beards and dress like the Lutheran pastors. 1te also confiscated the landed property of the church. Catherine II, who observed with the greatest diligence those religious rites which her husband treated with such contempt, and who greatly owed to this conduct her elevation to the throne, confirmed, however, the confiscation of the church estates, assigning salaries to the clergy and convents who had been supported by that property. She made use of the influence of the Graeco- Russian Church for the promotion of her political schemes in Poland and in Turkey; yet, as her religious opinions were those of the school of Voltaire and Diderot, which believed that Christianity would soon cease to have any hold upon the human mind, she seems not to have been fully aware of that immense increase of power at home and influence abroad which a skillful action upon the religious feelings of the followers of that church may give to the Russian monarchs. This policy has been formed into a complete system by the present Emperor, and it was in consequence of it that several millions of the inhabitants of the ancient Polish provinces, who belonged to the Greek United Church, i.e., who had acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope by accepting the union concluded at Florence in 1438, were forced to give up that union, and to pass from the spiritual dominion of the Pope to that of the Czar. This wholesale conversion was necessarily accompanied with a good deal of persecution. These clergymen who had refused to adopt the imperial ukase for their rule of conscience were banished to Siberia, and many other acts of oppression were committed on that occasion, but of which only the case of the nuns of Minsk has produced a sensation in western Europe.
The same system of religious centralization has also been applied to the Protestant peasantry of the Baltic provinces, many of whom were seduced by various means to join the Russian Church; and this policy continues to be vigorously prosecuted in the same quarter, as may be seen by the following extract from the Berlin Gazette of Voss, reprinted in the Allgemeine Zeitung of the 12th March of this year, 1854: — “Emissaries travelling about the country succeeded by every kind of cunning, and by holding out prospects of gain and other advantages, to convert people from Lutheranism to the Greek Church. All the children under seventeen years must follow the religion of their father as soon as he has entered the orthodox church. Whoever has received the anointment F103 can no longer return to his former creed, and those who would try to persuade him to do it would be severely punished. It is even forbidden to the Protestant clergy to warn their congregations from going over to the Greek Church by drawing their attention to the difference which exists between the two religions. A great number of Greek churches have been built in the Baltic provinces, and already, in 1845, it was ordered that the converts to the Greek Church should be admitted into every town; that those peasants who would leave their places of residence in order to join a Greek congregation should be allowed by their landowners to do so; F104 and, finally, that the landowners and Protestant clergymen who would oppose in any way the conversion to the Greek Church of their peasantry and congregations, should be visited with severe penalties. These penalties, directed against those who would attempt to induce any one, either by speeches or writings, to pass from the Greek Church to any other communion, have been specified in a new criminal code. They prescribe for certain cases of such a proselytism corporal chastisement, the knout, and transportation to Siberia.”
It is also well known that the Protestant missionaries, who had been laboring in various parts of the Russian empire for the conversion of Mahometans and heathens, have been prohibited from continuing their pious exertions. And yet, strange to say, there is a not uninfluential party in Prussia, which, pretending to be zealously Protestant, supports with all its might the politico-religious policy of Russia, and is as hostile to Protestant England as it is favorable to the power which is persecuting Protestantism in its dominions. On the other hand, it is curious to observe in this country some persons of that High Church party which affects to repudiate the name of Protestant, and with whom churchianity seems to have more weight than Christianity, showing an inclination to unite with the Graeco-Russian Church; and I have seen a pamphlet, ascribed to a clergyman of the Scotch Episcopal Church, positively recommending such a union, and containing the formulary of a petition to be addressed by the Episcopalians of Great Britain to the most holy Synod of St Petersburg, praying for admission into the communion of its church. I would, however, observe to these exaggerated Anglo-catholics, who chiefly object to the ecclesiastical establishment of England on account of its being a State Church, that the Russian Church is still more so, and that the most holy synod which administers tlmt church though composed of prelates and other clergymen, can do nothing without the assent of its lay member, the imperial procurator, and that a colonel of hussars was lately intrusted with this important function. The Greek Church being opposed to Rome, some Protestants sought to conclude a union with her in the sixteenth century; and the Lutheran divines of Tubingen had for this purpose a correspondence with the Patriarch of Constantinople, between the years 1575 and 1581, but which did not lead to any result, as the Patriarch insisted upon their simply joining his church. The Protestants of Poland attempted in 1599 a union with the Greek Church of their country, and the delegates of both parties met for this purpose at Vilna; their object was, however, frustrated by the same cause which rendered nugatory the efforts that had been made by the divines of Tubingen for this purpose, the Greek Church insisting upon their entire submission to her authority. It is true that some learned ecclesiastics of the Graeco-Russian Church are supposed to entertain Protestant opinions, but this is entirely personal, and has no influence whatever on the systematic policy of their Church, which hates Rome as a rival, but Protestantism as a revolutionary principle. One of the ablest and most zealous defenders of the Roman Catholic Church in our times, and whom a long residence in Russia had made thoroughly acquainted with her church, Count Joseph Demaistre, is of opinion that this church must finally give way to the influence of Protestantism; F105 and I think that this might be really the case if the Russian Church enjoyed perfect liberty of discussion, which she is very far at present from possessing. I believe, however, that such a contingency is very possible with those Eastern churches that are not under the dominion of Russia, if they were once entirely liberated from Russian influence and brought into contact with Protestant learning. Such a revolution would be most dangerous, not only to the external influence of Russia, but even to her despotism at home, because a Protestant. movement amongst the Greek churches of Turkey would sever every connection between them and Russia, and very likely extend to the lastnamed country. It is therefore most probable, as has been observed by the celebrated explorer of Nineveh, Layard, that the movement alluded to above, which has recently begun to spread amongst the Armenian churches of Turkey, was not without influence on the mission of Prince Menschikoff and its consequences.
I have said above that the mutual position of the Graeco-Russian and Roman Catholic Churches towards one another is that of two rivals. The dogmatic difference between them turns upon some abstruse tenets, which are generally little understood by the great mass of their followers, whilst the essential ground of divergence, the real question at issue, is, whether the headship of the church is to be vested in the Pope, in the Patriarch of Constantinople, or in the Czar. The Pope has allowed that portion of the Greek Church which submitted to his supremacy at the council of Florence in 1438, to retain its ritual and discipline, with some insignificant modifications. The Roman Catholic Church considers the Graeco-Russian one in about the same light as she is regarded herself by that of England.
She acknowledges her to be a church, though a schismatic one, whose sacraments and ordination are valid, so that a Greek or Russian priest becomes, on signing the union of Florence, a clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church exactly as is the case in the Anglican Church with a Roman Catholic priest who renounces the pope. The Graeco-Russian Church does not, however, return the compliment to the Roman Catholic one, any more than the Catholic does it to that of England; because a Roman Catholic priest who enters the Graeco-Russian Church not only loses his sacerdotal character, just as is the case with an Anglican clergyman who goes over to the communion of Rome, but he must be even baptised anew, as is done with Christians of every denomination who join that church, whether Jews or Gentiles.
The system of reaction which the Roman Catholic Church has been pursuing for many years, with a consistency, perseverance, and zeal worthy of a better cause, and not withoutconsiderable success, hascreated just alarm in the minds of many friends of religious and civil liberty. This feeling is but too well warranted by the open hostility which the promoters of that reaction, having thrown away the mask of liberalism, are manifesting to the above-mentioned liberties. I shall, moreover, add, that the political complications in which Europe is now involved may be taken advantage of by the reactionary party in order to advance its schemes, whilst the public attention, particularly of this country, will be absorbed by the events of the present war; and therefore I think that all true Protestants should, instead of relaxing, increase their vigilance, in respect to the movements of the ecclesiastical reactionists. But the dangers which threaten from that quarter are, at least in this country, of a purely literal character, though they are doing much mischief in families, and may throw some obstruction into the legislative action of the government. They must therefore be comhated with moral and intellectual means, — with spiritual, and not carnal weapons, — and they may be completely annihilated by a vigorous and skillful application of such means. The Pope of Rome, though claiming a spiritual authority over many countries, cannot maintain himself in his own temporal dominion without the assistance of foreign powers, and is obliged to court the favor of secular potentates, instead of commanding them as has been done by his predecessors. The case is quite different with the Imperial Pope of Russia, who commands a million of bayonets, and whose authority is supported, not by canon, but by cannon law, and not by bulls, but by bullets. The material force which he has at his disposal is immensely strengthened by his spiritual authority over the ignorant masses of the Russian population, upon whose religious feelings he may act with great facility, because his orders to the clergy are as blindly obeyed as his commands to the army; and it is with the object of extending and consolidating this authority over all his subjects without exception that those measures of persecution and seduction against the Roman Catholics and Protestants, which I have mentioned above, have been adopted. The probable consequence of this religious centralization, and the condition of the church whose exclusive dominion it is sought to establish in Russia, have been sketched in the following graphic manner by an accomplished German writer, who, having resided many years in Russia, and being thoroughly acquainted with the language of that country, may be considered as one of the most competent judges on this subject: — “He who, with attentive ear and eye, travels through the wide empire of the Czar, surrounding three parts of the world with its snares, and then traces the sum of his contemplations, will tremble in thought at the destiny which the Colossus of nations has yet to fulfill. He who doubts of the impending fulfillment of this destiny knows not history, and knows not Russia. “However different in origin and interest the strangely mixed hordes may be which constitute this giant realm, there exists one mighty bond which holds them all together, — the Byzantine Church. Whoever remains out of it will soon be forced into it; and ere the coming century begins, all the inhabitants of Russia will be of one faith. “Already that great net, whose meshes the Neva and the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper, the Kyros and Araxes, form, enclose a preponderating Christian population, in whose midst the scattered Islamitish race, the descendants of the Golden Horde, are lost like drops in the ocean. What a marvellous disposition of things that the Russian empire, whose governing principle is the diametrically opposite of the Christian law, should be the very one to make of Christianity the corner, the keystone of its might! And a no less marvellous disposition of things is it that the Czar, in whatever direction he stretches his far-grasping arms, should find Christian points of support whereon to knit the threads of fate for the followers of Islam, artfully scattered by him — that he should find Armenians at the foot of Ararat, and Georgians at the foot of Caucasus! “But of what kind is this Christianity, that masses together so many millions of human beings into one great whole, and uses them as moving springs to the manifestations of a power that will sooner or later give the old world a new transformation? “Follow me for a moment into the Russian motherland, and throw a flying glance at the religious state of things prevailing there. “See that poor soldier, who, tired and hungry from his long march, is just performing his sacred exercises, ere he takes his meal and seeks repose. “He draws a little image of the virgin from his pocket, spits on it, and wipes it with his coat sleeve: then he sets it down on the ground, kneels before it, and crosses himself, and kisses it in pious devotion. “Or enter with me on a Sunday one of the gloomy image-adorned Russian churches. If the dress of those present is not already sufficient to indicate their difference of station, you may readily distinguish them by the manner in which each person makes the sign of the cross. Consider first that man of rank, as he stands before a miracle-working image of a Kazanshian mother of God, bows slightly before it, and crosses himself notably. Translated into our vernacular the language of this personage’s face would run in something like the following strain: — ‘I know that all this is a pious farce, but one must give no offense to the people, else all respect would be lost.. Would the people continue to toil for us, if they were to lose their trust in the assurances we cause to be made to them of the joys of heaven?’ “Now look at that cartan-clad fat merchant, as, with crafty glance and confident step, he makes up to the priest to get his soul freed from the trafficking sins of the past week. “He knows the priest, and is sure that a good piece of money will meet with a good reception from him; that is why he goes so carelessly, in the consciousness of being aide to settle in the lump the whole of his sinful account; and when the absolution is over, he takes his position in front of the miraculous image, and makes so prodigious a sign of the cross, that before this act all the remaining scruples of his soul must vanish away. “Consider, in fine, that poor countryman, who steals in humbly at the door, and gazes slyly round the in the incense-beclouded spaces. The pomp and the splendor are too much for the poor fellow. “‘God,’ he thinks, ‘but what a gracious lord the Emperor is, that he causes such fine churches to be built for us poor devils! God bless the Emperor!’ And then he slips timidly up to some image where the golden ground and the dark colors form the most glaring contrast, and throws himself down before it, and crosses the floor with his forehead, so that his long hair falls right over his face, and thus he wearies himself with prostrations and enormous crossings, until he can do no more for exhaustion. For the poorer the man in Russia, the larger the cross he signs and wears.” F106 This description of the religious state of the Russian people, given by a writer who is not very partial to their country, may be perhaps suspected of exaggeration, or considered as being too much of a caricature; I shall therefore give my readers the observations which have been made on the same subject by another German author, Baron Haxthausen, a great admirer of Russia, who traveled over that country in 1843, under the patronage of the Emperor, in order to study the state of its agriculture and industry, as well as the social condition of the working-classes. “A foreigner is struck,” says the Baron, “by the deep devotion and the strict observance of the ordinances and customs of the church shown by Russians of rank and superior education. I had already, at Moscow, an opportunity of seeing it. Prince T., a young, elegant Muscovite dandy, conducted me about the churches of the Kremlin, and almost in every one of them he knelt down before some particularly venerated object, — as the coffin of a saint, the image of a Madonna, — and touched the ground with his forehead, and devoutly kissed the object in question. I observed the same thing at Yaroslaf. Madame Bariatynski (the wife of the governor) and another lady conducted me about the churches of that city, and as soon as we entered one of them, both these ladies approached an image of the Virgin, fell down before it, without any regard to their dresses, touched wifh their foreheads the ground, and kissed the image, making signs of the cross; and these were ladies belonging to the highest society, and of the most refined manners. Madame Bariatynski had been a lady of the court, and the ornament of the first drawing-rooms of St Petersburg. Her mind is uncommonly cultivated, and she has a thorough knowledge of French and German literature; and, indeed, when we were walking to see these churches, along the banks of the Volga, she discussed, in an animated and ingenious manner, the matchless beauty of Goethe’s songs, and recited from memory his Fisherman. Even in the strictest Roman Catholic countries, as, for instance, Bavaria, Belgium, Rome, Munster, such public demonstrations of piety are not to be met, except in some exceedingly rare cases, with women, but never with men. The educated classes have in this respect separated from the lower ones. Even people who are very devout consider such excessive manifestations of piety as not quite decent, nay, though they dare not confess it, they are in some measure ashamed of them. In Russia the case is different. There are perhaps as many freethinkers, and even atheists, as in western Europe, but even they submit, at least in public, and when they are in their own country, unconditionally, and almost involuntarily, to the customs of their church. In this respect, no difference whatever may be observed between the highest and the commonest Russian; the unity of the national church and of the national worship predominates everywhere.” F107 It is almost superfluous to observe that a church which has such a hold on the national mind of Russia must be a powerful engine in the hands of her Imperial Pope, whose political authority is thus immensely strengthened by the influence of religion. But I think it will be, perhaps, not uninteresting to my readers to compare this baptized idolatry of the modern Russians with that which had been practiced by their unbaptised ancestors about a thousand years ago, and the following account of which is given by Ibn Foslan, an Arabian traveler of the tenth century, who saw Russian merchants iu the country of the Bulgars, a Mahometan nation who lived on the banks of the Volga, and the ruins of whose capital may be seen not far from the town of Kazan: — “As soon as their (Russian) vessels arrive at the anchoring place, every one of them goes on shore, taking with him bread, meat, milk, onions, and intoxicating liquors, and repairs to a high wooden post, which has the likeness of a human face carved upon it, standing surrounded with small statues of a similar description, and some high ones erected behind it. He prostrates himself before this wooden figure, and says, ‘O Lord, I have arrived from a distant country; I have brought with me so and so many girls, F108 so and so many sable skins;’ and when he has enumerated all his merchandise, he lays before the idol the things which he has brought with him, and continues his prayer, saying, ‘Here is a present which I have brought thee, and I wish thou wouldst send me a customcr who has plenty of gold and silver, who will not bargain with me, but purchase all that I have to sell at my own price.’ When his commerce does not prosper, he brings new presents to the idol, and when he meets with some new difficulties he makes gifts also to the small statues, but when he is successful he offers oxen and sheep.” F109 Kissing constitutes the principal part of the Russian worship of images and relics, and is most liberally bestowed on those objects of adoration, whilst I believe that the Roman Catholic Madonnas maintain a more dignified state, and do not allow such familiarities to their worshippers, unless on some particular occasions or to some privileged persons. The Emperor himself sets the example of this pious osculation, a striking instance of which occurred in the summer of last year, 1853, under circumstances which deserve a particular notice.
I have said above, that several millions of the followers of the Greek United Church had been forced by the present emperor to transfer their spiritual allegiance from the Pope to himself. Several of their churches contain miraculous images of the Virgin, of more or less repute, and which were obliged to share the fate of their worshippers, and to become schismatics as much as the latter. Their vested rights have not been, however, injured in any way by this revolution, because they continue to be worshipped, and to work miracles as they did before, or, what is the same thing, they are fully authorized to do so. The Russian government followed on this occasion its usual line of policy, which is to promote those who have joined it, forsaking their former party; and thus one of the most distinguished of these miracle-working converts, the Madonna of Pochayoff, a little town in Wolhynia, was transferred from her provincial station to Warsaw, and placed there in a newly built Russian cathedral, probably with the object of inducing the Roman Catholic inhabitants of that capital to imitate an example set to them in such a high quarter, and to acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Czar as much as they are obliged to submit to his temporal dominion. When the emperor was going last year to Olmutz, in order to persuade the Austrian court to support his policy in Turkey, he passed through Warsaw, and repairing, immediately after his arrival in that city, to the Russian cathedral, kissed the abovementioned miraculous image of the Madonna of Pochayoff with such fervor that it produced quite a sensation upon all those who were present, and was noticed in the newspapers as a proof of the autocrat’s piety. Yet whether this Madonna, notwithstanding her outward conversion to the Graeco-Russian Church, remains a Romanist at heart, or whether, for some other reason, she could or would not support the views of her imperial worshipper, the result of the Czar’s voyage to Olmutz proved that the caresses which he had bestowed upon the Madonna in question were love’s labors lost. It may be also observed, that the emperor himself seems not to have been quite sure of the effects of his pious addresses to the now schismatic Madonna of Pochayoff, because it is well known that this man, who, as I have said above, had torn from the spiritual authority of the Pope, by a violent persecution, many millions of souls, knelt during his visit to Olmutz, with all the marks of deep devotion, at a Roman Catholic high mass; whilst the Prince of Prussia, who was also present on that occasion, stood by without taking a hypocritical part in a worship which was contrary to his religion.
This image-kissing propensity of the Russians was the cause of a tragical event during the plague at Moscow in 1771. It usually happens during a public calamity that rumors of a wild and absurd nature are circulated amongst the ignorant part of the population, and it was thus that, when the pestilence was raging in the above-mentioned capital, a report was spread that an image of the Virgin, placed at the entrance of a church, had the power of preventing infection. Thousands of people repaired to the miraculous image, and endless processions were wending along the streets towards the same object of adoration, which was overloaded with rich offerings by its worshippers, and adorned with costly jewels. As was to be expected, this superstitious practice, instead of preventing the infection, powerfully contributed to its increase; because the kisses which the crowd lavishly bestowed on the miraculous image could not but propagate the disease. The Archbishop of Moscow, Ambrose, an enlightened prelate, in order to stop this mischief, removed the image from the place where it had been exposed into the interior of the church; but this wise measure produced a violent riot, and an infuriated mob rushed into the sanctuary and murdered the venerable old man at the foot of the altar, where he was officiating, dressed in his pontificals.
It is probably the same image of which Bodenstedt, whose account of the Russian Church I have quoted above, relates the following anecdote. After having spoken of the usurpations of Russia beyond the Caucasus, under pretense of protecting the Christian population of those parts, he says: — “The Russian policy, which conceals its grasping claws under the cloak of religion, may be not inaptly compared to a lady well known at Moscow, who, to the great edification of the bystanders, kissed the miraculous Madonna, situated close to the Kremlin, with so much fervor, that the most costly diamond of the jewels with which this image is covered remained in her mouth.” And he adds, in a note, “The thing was afterwards discovered, and the writer of this was himself present when this lady, the wife of a Russian general, was obliged publicly to crave the forgiveness of the image for this act of desecration. It is said that when this noble lady was judicially examined about this affair, she pleaded in her defense that having loved and worshipped the image in question devoutly during many years, she believed herself entitled to a little souvenir from the Madonna.”
F110 The Russian lady of rank seems not to have been so ingenious as the Prussian soldier, whose story I have related on. And it must be remarked that the Russian images expose their worshippers to the temptations of mammon much more than the Roman Catholic ones; because, whilst the latter are often valuable as objects of art, the former have usually silver or golden garments, often set with precious stones, which entirely cover the painting except the face, generally by no means a model of beauty. The gifts which the Russians bestow on their images are immense, and the most celebrated place for the accumulation of such treasures is the convent of Troitza, or Trinity, situated about fifty English miles from Moscow, and considered as a kind of national sanctuary of Russia. F111 Baron Haxthausen, whom I have quoted on, says that the value of sacred vases and ornaments accumulated in that place surpasses all that may be seen of this kind ally where else, without even excepting Rome and Loretto; and he thinks that the quantity of pearls contained in those ornaments is perhaps greater than is to be found in the whole of Europe. F112 The grave of St Sergius, the founder of that convent in the fourteenth century, is adorned with gold and precious stones, and the silver canopy over it is said to weigh 1200 pounds. The most remarkable object contained in that convent is, however, the image of that saint which accompanied Peter the Great during all his campaigns, and on which are inscribed the names of all the battles and stormings of towns at which it had been present. I do not know whether this image had a part in other expeditions of the Russian army, but I have read this year in the newspapers that when a division of grenadiers was passing through Moscow, on their way to Turkey, the Archbishop of that capital addressed them, firing their zeal for the religious war in which they were going to take part, and after having blessed them with the image of St Sergius, the same to which I alluded above, gave it them as a companion of their expedition. The allied troops must therefore be prepared to encounter that bellicose saint somewhere on the Danube, unless he has been ordered to the shores of the Baltic for the defense of the capital. The custom of taking with them images considered as miraculous, during a campaign, was followed by the generals of the Greek empire on many occasions. Thus it is related by a Byzantine writer, F113 that in 590 Philippicus, a general of the Emperor Mauritius, when going to engage the Persians in battle, took an image which was not made by the hands of man, and carried it about the ranks of his army, in order to purify his soldiers, and that he gained, after this ceremony, a complete victory. It must, however, be remarked that when Philippicus was replaced by another general, called Priscus, the latter, relying too much on the protection of the image which was not made by the hands of man, diminished the rations of the soldiers, and gave them other causes of offense; they revolted, and when Priscus, in order to subdue the riot, paraded the image in question, the mutineers threw stones at it. I don’t know exactly how this business ended, but it is said that the Greek generals usually liked to have an image of the kind alluded to, in order to appease their troops in cases of mutiny and discontent; and I believe that, considering the gross ignorance and superstition of the Russian soldiers, the image of St Sergius may do good service in similar cases, and for which these soldiers have but too many reasons. The Greek emperors also sometimes provided with miraculous images the ambassadors who were sent on important missions. I don’t know whether the Russian diplomacy, which has performed so many wonders, has ever had recourse to the assistance of such images, or to that of any supernatural agency.
The miraculous images of the Graeco-Russian Church are generally considered as not made by the hands of man, whilst those of the Roman Catholic Church are usually believed to be painted by St Luke. The most celebrated Madonnas of Russia, as those of Kazan, Korennaya, Akhtyrka, etc., are believed to have dropt from heaven, in the same manner as the Diana of Ephesus, and other Greek idols of repute. They are called yavlenneeye icony, i.e., revealed images, and their number is considerable, though all of them do not enjoy an equal reputation for miraculous powers. The number of images of various descriptions is, I think, much greater in Russia than in any other country, and they are called by the common people, not images, icony, but gods, boghi; and many of their worshippers are so ignorant, that they take every kind of picture or engraving for the boghi, and devoutly cross themselves before them. A German officer of engineers, in the Russian service, related to the author that he had a Russian servant, a young lad of a very devout disposition, who pasted every engraving which he could lay hold on, upon the wall over his bed, in order to address his prayers to them. This officer once missed some plates, containing matlmmatical figures, which had dropt from a book of geometry, and he found afterwards that his pious servant, having picked them up, gave them a place in his pantheon. If this strange divinity had been found amongst the objects worshipped by that poor lad by some very profound foreign traveler, unacquainted with the Russian people, it is more than probable that he would have taken it for a mystical object of adoration, and written a learned dissertation to explain its emblematic sense.
Every household in Russia has its own little sanctuary, consisting of one or more images, ornamented according to the means of the owner, and placed in a corner opposite to the principal door. Every one who enters the room makes a sign of the cross, bowing to these penates, the place under whose shrine is considered as the seat of honor, reserved at meals for the father of the family, or the most respected guest.
The Russians are great exclusives in respect to their images, and every believer has at least one of them stuck on the wall near his sleeping place, for his especial use and comfort; whilst people who are continually moving about, as carriers, pedlars, soldiers, etc., have their pocket divinities with them; and the description of the devotional exercises of a Russian soldier, is by no means a caricature. This exclusiveness was much greater before the reforms introduced by the Patriarch Nicon in the seventeenth century than it is at present. F114 Contemporary travelers relate that people brought into the churches their own images, trying to get for them on the walls of the church the place which they considered the best; and thus it often happened that these images, being placed opposite to the altar, people in praying to them turned their backs to the officiating priest, which generally produced great confusion, and disturbed the performance of divine service. There was a very great competition amongst those people in ornamenting their images as showily as possible; and as the sanctity of an image was increased, according to the opinion of those baptized idolaters, in proportion to the richness of its ornaments, it often happened that a poor man, who could not afford to trim up smartly his own image, addressed his prayers to that of his richer neighbor. Such an adoration, however, was considered as contraband; and when the lawful owner of the image caught one of those pious interlopers, he not only sharply rebuked him, but frequently gave him a sound thrashing, saying that he did not go to the expense of decorating his image that another should obtain its favors. F115 Scandalous scenes of this description have been abolished in the established church by the reforms of the Patriarch Nicon, alluded to above, but something very like it may still be witnessed in the churches of the Raskolniks, who have separated from the established church on account of those reforms. These people often bring their own images to the churches to pray before them, and it frequently happens amongst the boys who worship in this way, that some of them, perceiving that their neighbor has a finer image than their own, they steal it from him, substituting that which belongs to them. This produces quarrels and fighting amongst these boys, who reproach one another, saying, You So-and-so, you have stolen my fine image which cost my father two roubles, and left me this wretched one, which is not worth fifty copecs, i.e., half a rouble. These scenes would be ludicrous if they were not positively blasphemous, because these images are called on such occasions, as is always done, by the name of gods, boghi.
It has been observed by some travelers in Russia that the image-dealers of that country do not sell their wares, but, by a kind of legal fiction, exchange them for a certain sum, and that consequently they are disposed of at a fixed price. This is, however, not the case, and the image-dealers of Russia make no exception to the other merchants of that country, who generally ask for their goods the treble of their value, and a reasonable price can only be obtained by hard bargaining. Only consecrated images, i.e., those which have been sprinkled by a priest with holy water, cannot be, I think, made an object of traffic.
The orthodox Russians have no less veneration for fine churches than for splendidly adorned images, and the well-known German dramatic writer Kotzebue gives in the relation of his forced voyage to Siberia, F116 under the Emperor Paul, a characteristic trait of this disposition. The titulary counsellor F117 Shchekatikhin, who conducted him to the place of his exile, Kurghan, in the south of Siberia, showed a great reverence to all the churches which they passed by. Whenever they passed a fine church constructed of solid masonry, he doffed his cap and crossed himself most fervently, whilst he treated very cavalierly all those which were built of wood, making a hardly perceptible sign of the cross in their honor. This national propensity to treat respectfully the great and disdainfully the little, of which M. Shehekatikhin’s piety was such a characteristic exemplification, has been, in its application to churches, described by the great admirer of Russia, Baron Haxthausen, whose account of the devotional practices observed by the upper classes of that country I have given above, in the following manner: — “We saw, in most part of the villages on our road, fine new churches built of stone or brick; but in one of them, called Novaya, I saw for the first time an old wooden church, built of logs, and covered with boards and shingles, such as they generally had been every where in Russia. These wooden churches continually disappear, being replaced by those constructed of masonry. The Russian peasantry consider it a particular honor to have in their village a church of stone or brick. To leave a village with a church of stone in order to settle in a place which has but a wooden one, is considered as a degradation, and the inhabitants of the former would. hardly intermarry with those of the latter. The villages which have only a wooden church, therefore, do all that they can in order to rise to an equal grade with those who have one of stone or brick. This shows how the pride of rank pervades the mind of the Russians in every form of life, and in every class of the population.
In cases of this kind, no promotion but only a sum of money is required in order to obtain the desired rank. It may be purchased by constructing a church of stone or brick. Such a church costs ten, twenty, or thirty thousand silver roubles (six roubles equal to one pound); but nothing is more easy than to get this sum. A dozen of stout fellows disperse in various directions, to collect by begging the sum required for the construction of the projected church, which is done without any expense, as the collectors are hospitably received in every house. As soon as the necessary sum is obtained, the village petitions the government for a plan and for an architect, because the plan of every such church must be approved at St Petersburg. Thus, in a few years, a fine church is built, constructed in the modern style, and the rank of the village rises in its own and in its neighbors’ opinion. “Such things cannot be done in western Europe, partly because an active religious feeling amongst the people disappears more and more, F118 and partly on account of the great fluctuation of their ideas, and want of stability in their opinions. With the Russian it is quite otherwise. This nation has no political ideas: but two sentiments pervade its whole being — a common feeling of nationality, and a fervent attachment to the national church.
Whenever these two feelings take hold of the Russian’s mind, he is ready willingly to sacrifice without a moment’s hesitation his life and property.” F119 It is these two national feelings that the Emperor Nicholas is now trying to excite to the utmost pitch, and there can be little doubt that if he succeeds in his object there will be a hard struggle between barbarity and civilization, though the final triumph of the latter, to the advantage not only of the victors, but also of the vanquished, cannot be doubted for a moment. I must, however, return to Baron Haxthausen, who continues his account of the Russian village churches, saying, — “It must not be forgotten, in order to understand how such large collections for a church of some obscure village, and made for the most part amongst the peasants, are obtained, that giving is as much in the Russian character as taking. Nowhere property hangs upon such loose threads and changes hands with such rapidity as in Russia. Today rich, tomorrow poor. People earn and squander away almost simultaneously; they cheat and are cheated; they steal with one hand, and give away with the other. The common Russian sets not his heart on any kind of property; he loses with perfect equanimity what he had just earned, in the hope of getting it again tomorrow. “The Russian is, moreover, naturally good-hearted, charitable, and liberal. A shopkeeper who had perhaps just cheated his neighbor of the value of 20 copecs, without feeling any qualms of conscience on the subject, will give one moment after it a rouble for the construction of a church in some village to which he is a perfect stranger.” F120 Thus, what Cicero said of Catiline, Sui profusus alieni cupiens, is applicable, not only to individuals, but also to nations, whose actions are swayed by feeling without being regulated by principle. It is almost superfluous to observe that a nation thus disposed, and with whom superstitious practices have a greater weight than religious principles, may be easily precipitated into the most violent and dangerous courses, which to accomplish seems now to be the object of the Emperor of Russia.
The Graeco-Russian Church has an immense number of relics of saints, to which air that Calvin has said of those of the Roman Catholic Church is applicable. I have given, in a note to his treatise on this subject, an account of St Anthony’s relics in Russia, as a counterpart to those which the same saint possesses in western Europe. There are, indeed, many relics to the exclusive possession of which both these churches lay an equal claim, each of them representing her own as the only genuine, and that of her rival as a spurious one. The most celebrated of these disputed relics is the holy coat of Treves, and that of Moscow. It is well known what a noise the former of these produced in 1844, when an immense number of pilgrims came to worship it; and it is pretended that it had been found by the Empress Helena, with the true cross, and presented by her to the town of Treves.
The coat of Moscow was given as a present to the Czar by a Shah of Persia, and its genuineness was established by a Russian archbishop, who asserted that, when he passed through Georgia on his return from Jerusalem, he saw in a church of that country a golden box placed upon a column, and which, as it was told to him, contained the coat without a seam of our Lord. This statement was corroborated by an eastern monk, then at Moscow, who related that it was generally believed in Palestine, that when the soldiers cast lots for the possession of that coat, it fell to the part of one of them, who, being a native of Georgia, took it with him to his native land. These statements were sufficient to establish the authenticity of the relic, which consequently was licensed to work miracles and worked them. F121 The most celebrated collection of relics in Russia is found in the town of Kioff, on the Dnieper, and where the bodies of many hundreds of saints are deposited in a kind of crypt called Piechary, i.e., caverns. The chronicles relate that the digging of this sacred cavern was commenced in the eleventh century by two monks called Anthony and Theodosius, who had come from the Mount Athos, for their own and their disciples’ abode. It was gradually extended, but the living established themselves afterwards in a convent above ground, leaving to the dead the part under it. This statement is considered to be authentic, but the numerous bodies of the saints with which the long subterranean galleries of that cavern are filled, have never been satisfactorily accounted for. It is the opinion of many, that the nature of the soil is so dry, that, absorbing all the moisture, it keeps the dead bodies which are deposited there in a more or less perfect state of preservation; and it is said that an enlightened archbishop of Kioff proved it by a successful experiment, putting into that place the bodies of two women, who had been confined as prisoners in a nunnery for their many vices. Be it as it may, Kioff is the resort of an immense number of pilgrims, who arrive from all parts of Russia, to worship the bodies of the saints, and the riches accumulated by their pious donations at that place are only second to those of Troitza.
The shrines of Jerusalem, which attract crowds of pilgrims from all parts of the Christian world, had been for a long time a subject of dispute between the Latins and the Greeks, and it is well known that the politicoreligious complications in which Europe is at present involved have arisen from the claims of Russia relating to those shrines. It will, therefore, I think, be not uninteresting to my readers to see the devout manner in which these shrines are worshipped by the pilgrims of the Graeco-Russian Church; and I subjoin the two following accounts of this subject, written at an interval of a century and a half, in order that my readers may be able to judge for themselves whether the progress of civilization during this period has had much influence on the pilgrims alluded to above.
The first of these accounts is an extract from the diary of an English clergyman, the Revelation Henry Maundrell, a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and chaplain to the English factory at Aleppo, who visited Jerusalem in the year 1697: — “Saturday, April 3d. — We went about mid-day to see the function of the holy fire. This is a ceremony kept by the Greeks and Armenians, upon a persuasion that every Easter Eve there is a miraculous tlame dcscends from hcaven into the Holy Sepulchre, and kindles all the lamps and candles there, as the sacrifice was burnt at the prayer of Elijah. — ( 1 Kings 18.) “Coming to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, we found it crowded with a numerous and distracted mob, making a hideous clamor, very unfit for that sacred place, and better becoming bacchanals than Christians. Getting, with some struggle, through this crowd, we went up into the gallery, on that side of the church next the Latin convent, whence we couhl discern all that passed in this religious frenzy. “They began their disorders by running round the Holy Sepulchre with all their might and swiftness, crying out as they went, ‘Huia!’ which signifies ‘This is he,’ or, ‘This is it,’ an expression by which they assert the verity of the Christian religion. After they had by their vertiginous circulations and clamors turned their heads, and inflamed their madness, they began to act the most antic tricks and postures, in a thousand shapes of distraction. Sometimes they dragged one another along the floor, all around the sepulcher; sometimes they set one man upright on another’s shoulders, and in this posture marched round; sometimes they turned men with their heels upwards, and hurried them about in such an indecent manner as to expose their nudities; sometimes they tumbled round the sepulcher, after the manner of tumblers on the stage. In a word, nothing can be imagined more rude or extravagant than what was acted upon this occasion. “In this tumultous frantic humor they continued from twelve to four of the clock, the reason of which delay was because of a suit that was then in debate before the cadi betwixt the Greeks and Armenians, the former endeavoring to exclude the latter from having any share in this miracle. Both parties having expended (as I was informed) five thousand dollars between them in this foolish controversy, the cadi at last gave sentence that they should enter the Holy Sepulchre together, as had been usual at former times.
Sentence being thus given, at four of the clock both nations went on with their ceremony. The Greeks first set out in a procession round the Holy Sepulchre, and immediately at their heels followed the Armenians. In this order they cornpassed the Holy Sepulchre thrice, having produced all their gallantry of standards, streamers, crucifixes, and embroidered habits on this occasion. “Toward the end of this procession, there was a pigeon came fluttering into the cupola over the sepulcher, at the sight of which there was a greater shout and clamor than before. This bird, the Latins told us, was purposely let fly by the Greeks to deceive the people into an opinion that it was a visible descent of the Holy Ghost. “The procession being over, the suffragan of the Greek patriarch (he being himself at Constantinople), and the principal Armenian bishop, approached to the door of the sepulcher, and cutting the string with which it was fastened and sealed, entered in, shutting the door after them, all the candles and lamps without having been before extinguished in the presence of the Turks and other witnesses. The exclamations were doubled as the miracle drew nearer its accomplishment, and the people pressed with such vehemence towards the door of the Sepulchre, that it was not in the power of the Turks set to guard it with the severest checks to keep them oft The cause of their pressing in this manner is the great desire they have to light their candles at the holy flame, as soon as it is first brought out of the Sepulchre, it being esteemed the most sacred and pure, as conling immediately from heaven. “The two miracle-mongers had not been above a minute in the Holy Sepulchre when the glimmering of the holy fire was seen, or imagined to appear, through some chinks of the door, and certainly Bedlam itself never saw such an unruly transport as was produced in the mob at this sight. Immediately after came out the two priests, with blazing torches in their hands, which they held up at the door of the Sepulchre, while the people thronged about with inexpressible ardor, every one striving to obtain a part of the first and purest flame. The Turks in the meantime, with huge clubs, laid on them without mercy; but all this could not repel them, the excess of their transport making them insensible of pain. Those that got the fire applied it immediately to their beards, faces, and bosoms, pretending that it would not burn like an earthly flame; but I plainly saw none of them could endure this experiment long enough to make good that pretension. “So many hands being employed, you may be sure it could not be long before innumerable tapers were lighted. The whole church, galleries and every place, seemed instantly to be in a flame, and with this illumination the ceremony ended. “It must be owned that those two within the sepulcher performed their part with great quickness and dexterity; but the behavior of the rabble without very much discredited the miracle. The Latins take a great deal of pains to expose this ceremony as a most shameful imposture, and a scandal to the Christian religion, perhaps out of envy that others should be masters of so gainful a business; but the Greeks and Armenians pin their faith upon it, and make their pilgrimages chiefly upon this motive; and it is the deplorable unhappiness of their priests, that having acted the cheat so long already, they are forced now to stand to it, for fear of endangering the apostasy of their people. “Going out of the church after the event was over, we saw several people gathered about the stone of unction, who, having got a good store of candles lighted with the holy fire, were employed in daubing pieces of linen with the wicks of them and the melting wax, which pieces of linen were designed for winding sheets; and it is the opinion of these poor people that if they can but have the happiness to be buried in a shroud smutted with this celestial fire, it will certainly secure them from the flames of hell.” — (p. 127, et seq., eighth edition, 1810.)
Many people may, however, believe that scenes of such an outrageous description as that witnessed by Maundrell might have happened in his time, viz., 1697, but that their repetition is quite impossible in our own enlightened age. The following account of the same scenes by Mr Calman, whose veracity is attested by a high authority, and who had an opportunity of seeing it only a few years ago, which has been reproduced in a little, and now particularly interesting book, “The Shrines of the Holy Land,” F122 may enable my readers to judge of the influence which the boasted march of intellect has produced on the Graeco-Russian pilgrims, who assemble every Easter at Jerusalem. “To notice all that was passing,” says Mr Calman, “within the church of the Holy Sepulchre during the space of twenty-four hours, would be next to impossible, because it was one continuation of shameless madness and rioting, which would have been a disgrace to Greenwich and Smithfield. Only suppose for a moment the mighty edifice crowded to excess with fanatic pilgrims of all the Eastern Churches, who, instead of lifting pure hands to God, without wrath and quarrelling, are led, by the petty jealousy about precedency which they should maintain in the order of their processions, into tumults and fighting, which can only be quelled by the scourge and whip of the followers of the false prophet. “Suppose, farther, those thousands of devotees running from one extreme to the other, from the extreme of savage irritation to that of savage enjoyment, of mutual revellings and feastings, like Israel of old, who, when they made the golden calf, were eating and drinking, and rising to play. Suppose troops of men stripped half naked, to facilitate their actions, running, trotting, jumping, galloping to and fro, the breadth and length of the church, walking on their hands with their feet aloft in the air, mounting on one another’s shoulders, some in a riding and some in a standing position, and by the slightest push are all sent to the ground in one confused heap, which made one fear for their safety. “Suppose, farther, many of the pilgrims dressed in fur caps, like the Polish Jews, whom they reigned to represent, and whom the mob met with all manner of insult, hurrying them through the church as criminals who had been condemned, amid loud execrations and shouts of laughter, which indicated that Israel is still a derision amongst these heathens, by whom they are still counted as sheep for the slaughter. “About two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the preparations for the miraculous fire commenced. The multitude, who had been hitherto in a state of frenzy and madness, became a little more quiet, but it proved a quiet that precedes a thunderstorm. Bishops and priests, in full canonicals, then issued forth from their respective quarters, with flags and banners, crucifixes and crosses, lighted candles and smoking censers, to join or rather to lead a procession, which moved thrice round the church, invoking every picture, altar, and relic in their way to aid them in obtaining the miraculous fire. “The procession then returned to the place from whence it started, and two grey-headed bishops, the one of the Greek and the other of the Armenian Church, were hurled by the soldiers through the crowd, into the apartment which communicated with that of the Holy Sepulchre, where they locked themselves in; there the marvellous fire was to make its first appearance, and from thence issue through the small circular windows and the daor, for the use of the multitude. The eyes of all — men, women, and children — were now directed towards the Holy Sepulchre with an anxious expression, awaiting the issue of their expectation. The mixed multitude, each in his or her own language, were pouring forth their clamorous prayers to the Virgin and the saints to intercede for them on behalf of the object for which they were assembled, and the same were tenfold increased by the fanatic gestures and the waving of the garments by the priests of their respective communions, who were interested in the holy fire, and who were watching by the above-mentioned door and circular windows, with torches in their hands, ready to receive the virgin flame of the heavenly fire, and carry it to their flocks. “In about twenty minutes from the time the bishops locked themselves in the apartment of the Holy Sepulchre, the miraculous fire made its appearance through the door and the two small windows, as expected. The priests were the first who lighted their torches, and they set out on a gallop in the direction of their lay brethren; but some of these errandless and profitless messengers had the misfortune to be knocked down by the crowd, and had their firebrands wrested out of their hands, but some were more fortunate, and safely reached their destination, around whom the people flocked like bees, to have their candles lighted. Others, however, were not satisfied at having the holy fire second hand, but rushed furiously towards the Holy Sepulchre, regardless of their own safety, and that of those who obstructed their way, though it has frequently happened that persons have been trampled to death on such occasions. “Those who were in the galleries let down their candles by cords, and drew them up when they had succeeded in their purpose. In a few miraires thousands of flames were ascending, the smoke and the heat of which rendered the church like the bottomless pit. To satisfy themselves, as well as to convince the Latins, the pilgrims, women as well as men, shamefully exposed their bare bosoms to the action of the flame of their lighted candles, to make their adversaries believe the miraculous fire differs from an ordinary one in being perfectly harmless. “The two bishops, who a little while before locked themselves in the apartment of the Holy Sepulchre, now sallied forth out of it.
When the whole multitude had their candles lighted, the bishops were caught by the crowd, lifted upon their shoulders, and carried to their chapels, amidst loud and triumphant acclamations. They soon, however, reappeared at the head of a similar procession to the one before, as a pretended thank-offering to the Almighty for the miraculous fire vouchsafed.” — (p. 121, et seq.) It appears, by comparing these two narratives of one and the same thing, though separated by a distance of a hundred and fifty years, that the only difference which will be found between them is, that in the time of Maundrell, 1697, the miraculous fire was produced in about one minute’s time, whilst the performance of the same trick required twenty when it was observed by Mr Calman. And, indeed, it has been justly observed by both these writers, that the exhibitors of the miraculous fire, having continued so long to practice this imposture, cannot leave it off without ruining their authority and influence over those whom they have thus been cheating for many centuries. This circumstance has been most pointedly expressed by the author of the work from which I have extracted Mr Calman’s description of this pious, or rather impious, fraud, and who says: — “Had it been an occasional miracle, as time had rolled on, and truth had more and more illuminated the human mind, the practice might have been gradually discontinued. As the priests had grown more honest, and the people more enlightened, they might have mutually consigned these pious frauds to the oblivion of the darker ages; and if the blush of shame had risen up at the memories of the past, the world would have respected them the more for their honesty of purpose. “But an annual miracle, always of the same specific kind, exhibited on the same spot, and at the same hour, — an annual miracle, — at what point of time should this be discontinued? and, if discontinued, would it not be manifest either that heaven had forsaken its favorites, or that all the past had been delusion and imposture?”
And it is the authority of a church supported by such impious and shameful impostures as this miraculous fire that a number of Anglicans, including several dignitaries of the church, are anxious of preserving against Protestant encroachments, and protest against the existence of the Protestant bishopric of Jerusalem, for fear that it might injure the faith of the pilgrims, and put an end to such sacred juggleries as the one described above, which out-rivals the most superstitious practices of ancient or modern Paganism! And it is for the predominance of this same church that the autocrat of Russia has now plunged Europe into a war which may prove one of the bloodiest that modern times have witnessed, and proclaimed a Graeco-Russian crusade against the Ottoman Porte and its Christian allies! This last-named circumstance may, I think, render it not uninteresting to my readers to know the manner in which this question is viewed by Russians of elevated rank and superior education. I would therefore recommend to their attention a little pamphlet F123 recently published in English by an accomplished Russian, who had studied at the University of Edinburgh, and had enjoyed friendly intercourse with the most eminent characters of that learned body, leaving with all those who had known him a most favorable impression of his personal character and talents. His opinions, therefore, are not those of an ignorant fanatic, or a hireling of the Government, but must be considered as an expression of those entertained by the upper classes of Russian society. He compares in this pamphlet the position of Russia towards the followers of the Eastern Church in Turkey, to that of England towards the Protestants of other countries, saying: — “You translate the Bible into all living languages, not excluding the Turkish idiom, and you distribute the holy volumes to the shopkeeper of Constantinople, and to the shepherd who tends his camels amidst the ruins of Ephesus. We are not as laborious propagators of the faith; but yet we would fain intercede in favor of the Turk when your copy of the Bible has converted him to the Christian faith, and who, by the law of the land, must have his head cut off for this transgression. Mark that the obligation is much more binding on us than it is on you, and not the less binding from the job having been begun by yourselves. The Turks are spread amongst the Greeks and surrounded by them. There are ten thousand chances to one, that if the Moslem be converted at all, it is to that creed of which the church stands in his immediate eye, and that creed is ours. But, strange to say, it is because of that very chance that we are to be prohibited from meddling in the matter.
With the French and with the English the case is far different.
They, indeed, we are told, claim the right of protection only over thousands; but you claim that same right over millions, and, therefore, you shall not have it. The question you may, however, say, is not fairly put, for should a Turk be converted, and on the point of losing his head, we are ready to interpose with our authority, even though it be to the Greek Church that he should have turned. Well! but place yourselves for a moment in our situation. Are we to leave to you the work which has been done in our vineyard, and not stand up for those who have embraced the cross, merely because there are millions in that realm who embrace it? The case stands equally the same with regard to the far greater number of human beings who are born and have grown up in the profession of our faith. Without attempting to prove that they are exposed to constant cruelty and oppression, a fact which has been strenuously denied without the denial having ever been proved, it is abundantly known, and an indisputable fact, that the Greeks are in a state of continual bondage, deprived of the dearest rights of men, condemned, in a religious point of view, to a state of thraldom such as exists in no other part of the world, inasmuch as the supreme head of their church is installed in his dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to his own. Is such a state of things to be tolerated by those who are its victims? and is not this in itself a hardship greater than any other that can be imagined? The English have given us, in a period, it is true, of greater zeal for their faith, an example of active sympathy manifested by them towards their brothers in belief, subjects of a neighboring and powerful sovereign. The case was not as urgent as the one to which I compare it, inasmuch as the Huguenots of France were not the subjects of a Mussulman sovereign. But this, perhaps, will be brought home as an argument against me, for such is the hatred of sects proceeding from the same faith, that England would, perhaps, have borne more meekly the hardships endured by the Calvinistic brethren, if they had been subjected thereunto by a Soliman, and not by him who styled himself the most Christian king of France. However this may be, it is said at present that, whether oppressed or no, the Greeks never solicited our intervention. To this it may be answered, that the whole difficulty would have been solved by the very fact of the solicitation, for had they had the courage and the means to send a similar and unanimous message to the Emperor of Russia, they would have had the strength and unanimity required themselves to strike the blow, and make all intervention useless. The fact of their having not risen as a man in their own cause, is a sufficient explanation for their want of boldness in soliciting their deliverance at the hands of a foreign state. But laying aside the question of the subjects of the Ottoman empire professing the Greek faith, to speak of the much more vital interest of the faith itself, professed as it is by ourselves, let it be permitted to me to submit to your candid decision, if the work of defending that faith does not belong pre-eminently to us, and neither to the English nor the French. We tolerate in the whole extent of our empire both the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran communions of faith; we have millions of subjects professing both creeds; we build churches for them. Long before the Roman Catholics were emancipated in England, the posts of the highest honor, of the greatest confidence, and of the largest perquisites in the army, the senate, and the supreme council of the empire, were opened indiscriminately by us to men professing the Greek, Roman, or Lutheran creeds. Is it because of our tolerance with respect to sects not our own, that we are condemned to be indifferent to the hardships of those of our own faith? Are we not only to allow your church to stand unmolested within our own realm, but also to allow our own church to fall in ruins within the limits of a neighboring state? If so, you condemn our toleration, you call it indifference and disbelief.” — (p. 9, et seq.) It is perfectly true that there are in Russia several millions of Protestants and Roman Catholics, and that many of the highest offices, civil as well as military, are occupied by them; for it is well known that the most efficient servants of the Russian government are chiefly foreigners, either by birth or extraction. This tolerance, however, is always getting more and more restricted; and I have alluded above, on, to the persecution of the Greeks united with Rome, as well as the systematical proselytism by force and fraud amongst the Protestants of the Baltic provinces. The author says that a Mahometan who becomes a convert to Christianity must lose his head by the laws of Turkey, but he does not tell us what fate awaits a follower of the Greek Church in Russia who would become a Roman Catholic or a Protestant. M. de Custine relates, in his well-known work on Russia, F124 that a Russian gentleman, who enjoyed a high social position at Moscow, published a work, which the censor allowed in an unaccountable manner to pass, maintaining that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church is much more favorable to the progress of civilization than that of the Greece-Russian one, and that the social condition of Russia would have been much mere advanced by the former than it has been by the latter. This work produced a great sensation, and the punishment of the author of such a blasphemy was loudly demanded by the orthodox Russians. This affair being submitted to the Emperor, he declared that the author was insane, and ordered to treat him accordingly. The unfortunate individual consequently was put into a madhouse, and though perfectly sane, was subjected to the most rigorous treatment as a lunatic, so that he nearly became in reality what he was officially declared to be, and it was only after several years of this moral and physical torture that he was permitted to have a little more liberty, though still retained in confinement.
I do not know what has become of this unfortunate man, but the truth of this nameless act of tyranny has been fully admitted by Mr Gretsch, who wrote, by the order of the Russian Government, an answer to the work of Custine. He says that the individual in question, a Mr Chadayeff, having committed an action which the laws of Russia punish with great severity, the Emperor Nicholas, desiring to save the culprit from the penalty which he had incurred, ordered, by an act of mercy, to treat him simply as a madman.
Now, I think that the penalty of physical death, inflicted by the Turkish law on the converts from Mahometanism to Christianity, may be considered as humane, if compared to the murder of soul and intellect by the slow process of a moral and physical torture, to which a man has been subjected in Russia for his religious opinions; and if such an atrocious punishment was inflicted by an act of imperial mercy, as a mitigation of the severity of the law, what would it have been if the letter of that law had been fulfilled? “Ferrea jura, insanumque forum.” If, according to the opinion of the Russian writer, his countrymen have a right of interfering in behalf of the followers of their church in Turkey, on account of the community of their faith, the same right is possessed by Great Britain and other Protestant States, as well as by France and other Roman Oatholic powers, to interfere in behalf of their brethren in the faith who are oppressed by Russia. With regard to the observation of the same author, “that the Greeks are in a continual state of bondage, deprived of the dearest rights of men, condemned, in a religious point of view, to a state of thraldom such as exists in no other part of the world, inasmuch as the supreme head of their church is installed in his dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed, by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to his own,” I must remark that he has forgotten, in saying that such a state of thraldom exists not in any other part of the world, to add, except in Russia, because all the Roman Catholic bishops and other dignitaries of their church, as well as the Protestant superintendents, presidents of consistories, etc., “are installed in their dignity, maintained in the same, or deposed, by a sovereign professing a faith hostile to their own.” And his question, “Is such a state of things to be tolerated by its victims? and is it not in itself a hardship greater than any other that can be imagined?” is as much applicable to the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Russia as it is to the Christians of Turkey.
The “Russian, Quondam Civis Bibliothecae Edinensis,” carries his zeal for the orthodox Greek Church so far as to recommend its adoption to the English: — “Do you not see every day, in your own country, the encroaching action of the See of Rome? And here I cannot refrain from exclaiming, how strange it is to see every day converts in crowds passing from the Protestant to the Roman faith, and not pausing for a moment to reflect if they have not a smaller space to cross, and a safer haven to come to in the bosom of the Graeco-Catholic Church, the same as that of Rome, minus the anti-apostolic double procession of the Holy Ghost, minus an infallible pope, minus the sale of indulgences, and last, though not least, minus the arbitrary exclusion of the blood of Christ from the holy communion given to laymen! Is it not strange, that on the moment of abjuring your reformations, you should fly into the arms of a church which has introduced reformations of its own, and not appeal to that one church which professes with evident truth to have admitted no changes at all, and kept intact the purity of her tradition? But, again, this is no theological disquisition. Witnessing, however, as I said above, in your own kingdom, the daily increasing influence of the Roman See, you can surely understand how legitimately jealous we must be of the same influence extending within the precincts of our sheepfold. And, therefore, not only is our faith to be preserved unmolested, but the saving deed is to be done by us, and not through the agency of English and French ambassadors or fleets, to be achieved in the name of the faith we profess in common with our Greek brethren, and by no means stipulated in the name of universal freedom of thought. I think I,have said enough to prove the vital and cordial interest which Russia cannot but take in the cause of her own church, and of those who profess it in Turkey, and the paramount necessity she is under of making that cause her own.” — (p. 12, et seq.) If the Russian author is so anxious to convert the British Protestants to the Graeco-Russian, or, as he calls her, “Graeco-Catholic” Church, he may translate her controversial works into English, and build places of worship where image-kissing, prostration, incense, and holy water, may be exhibited for the edification of the British heretics, ad libitum. Nobody will interfere with their ceremonies, not even with their preachings against Protestantism, because its disciples in Great Britain are satisfied with defending their religion by spiritual weapons, and do not resort to material arms, except in repressing either public or private acts of violence. As regards the dogmatic pre-eminence of his church over that of Rome, — her rejection of the “anti-apostolic double procession of the Holy Ghost,” — which has been, I think, retained by the English Church, etc., I leave this subject to the decision of theologians, but shall only observe that the worship of images, relics, and other pagan practices, which I have described in this chapter, do not prove much in favor of the purity of her traditions. I would also ask whether it is in accordance with this tradition that the Russian clergy, notwithstanding all their cldmls to apostolic succession, are governed by the Czar, who sometimes delegates for this purpose a colonel of hussars, F125 which office, I believe, was never known, even in the most militant of churches? It has been, indeed, well said by the Marquis de Custine, that the Russian clergy are but an army wearing regimentals somewhat different from the dress of the regular troops of the empire. The papas and their bishops are under the direction of the emperor, a regiment of clerics, and that is all. F126 It is in order to extend the advantages of this military organization to the Christians of Turkey that Russia, according to the opinion of our author, “is under the paramount necessity of making their cause her own.” All that I say is, that she felt the same necessity of making the cause of the Greeks and Protestants of Poland her own, and that she ended by making the same thing with their country.
The politico-religious complications into which Europe has now been thrown by the ambition of Russia have induced me particularly to dwell upon the means which the church of that country offers for the promotion of the political schemes of its rulers. With regard to the superstitious practices borrowed from Paganism, and peculiar to that church, the most remarkable is, perhaps, that heathen custom called parentales, mentioned before, and which may be found in different parts of Russia. People assemble on Monday, after the Easter week, in churchyards, where they eat and drink to great excess, in commemoration of their deceased relatives.
There are many other similar practices, as, for instance, that of providing the dead body with a kind of passport or written testimony of his religious conduct, etc., probably imported with the Christian religion by the Greek Church, because at the time of the conversion of Russia, this church had already introduced painted though not carved F127 images, to which allusion has been made on of this Essay.