BLTC Press Titles


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Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


Callista, a tale of the third century

by John Henry Newman

Excerpt:

If trial were necessary in order to keep alive the good seed which had been sown in his heart, he found a never-failing supply of that article in the companion of his declining years. In the hey-day of her youth she might have been fitted to throw a sort of sunshine, or rather torchlight, on a military carouse; but now, when poor Strabo, a man well to do in the world, looking for peace, had fallen under her arts, he found he had surrendered his freedom to a malignant, profligate woman, whose passions made her better company for evil spirits than for an invalided soldier. Indeed, as time went on, the popular belief, which she rather encouraged, went to the extent that she actually did hold an intercourse with the unseen world; and certainly she matured in a hatred towards God and man, which would naturally follow, and not unnaturally betoken, such intercourse. The more, then, she inflicted on him her proficiency in these amiable characteristics, the more he looked out for some consolation elsewhere; and the more she involved herself in the guilt or the repute of unlawful arts, the more was he drawn to that religion, where alone to commune with the invisible is to hold intercourse with heaven, not with hell. Whether so great a trial supplied a more human inducement for looking towards Christianity, it is impossible to say. Most men, certainly Eoman soldiers, may be considered to act on mixed motives; but so it was in fact, that, on his becoming in his last years a Christian, he found, perhaps discovered, to his great satisfaction, that the Church did not oblige him to continue or renew a tie which bound him to so much misery, and that he might end his days in a tranquillity which his past life required, and his wife's presence would have precluded. He made a good end; he had been allowed to take the blessed sacrament from the altar to his own home on the last time he had been able to attend a synaxis of the faithful, and thus had communicated at least six months within his decease; and the priest who anointed him at the beginning of his last illness also took his confession. Ho died, begging forgiveness of all whom he Lad injured, and giving large alms to the poor. This was about the year 236, in the midst of that long peace of the Church, which was broken at length by the Decian persecution.

This peace of well-nigh fifty years had necessarily a peculiar, and not a happy effect upon the Christians of the proconsulate. They multiplied in the greater and the maritime cities, and made their way into positions of importance, whether in trade or the governmental departments; they extended their family connections, and were on good terms with the heathen. Whatever jealousy might be still cherished against the Christian name, nevertheless, individual Christians were treated with civility, and recognised as citizens; though among the populace there would be occasions, at the time of the more solemn pagan feasts, when accidental outbursts might be expected of the antipathy latent in the community, as we have hanr^ rfnnr,rling the foregoing chapter. Men of sense, however, began to understand them better, and to be more just to the reasonableness of their faith. This would lead them to scorn Christianity less, but it would lead them to fear it more. It was no longer a matter merely for the populace to insult, but for government deliberately to put down. The prevailing and still growing unbelief among the lower classes of the population did but make a religion more formidable, which, as heathen statesmen felt, was able to wield the weapons of enthusiasm and zeal with a force and success unknown even to the most fortunate impostors among the Oriental or Egyptian hierophants. The philosophical schools were impressed with similar apprehensions, and had now for fifty years been employed in creating and systematising a new intellectual basis for the received paganism.

But, while the signs of the times led to the anticipation that a struggle was impending between the heads of the state religion and of the new worship which was taking its place, the- great body of Christians, laymen and ecclesiastics, were on better and better terms, individually, with the members of society, or what is now called the public; and without losing their faith or those embers of charity which favourable circumstances would promptly rekindle, were, it must be confessed, in a state of considerable relaxation: they often were on the briuk of deplorable sins, and sometimes fell over the brink. And many would join the Church on inferior motives as soon as no great temporal disadvantage attached to the act; or the families of Christian parents might grow up with so little of moral or religious education as to make it difficult to say why they called themselves members of a divine religion. Mixed marriages would increase both the scandal and the confusion.

"A long repose," says St. Cyprian, speaking of this very period, "had corrupted the discipline which had oome down to as. Every one was applying himself to the increase of wealth; and, forgetting both the conduct of the faithful under the Apostles, and what ought to be their conduct in every age, with insatiable eagerness for gain devoted himself to the multiplying of possessions. The priests were wanting in religious devotedness, the ministers in entireness of faith; there was no mercy in works, no discipline in manners. Men wore their beards disfigured, and woman dyed their faces. Their eyes were changed from what God made them, and a lying colour was passed upon the hair. The hearts of the simple were misled by treacherous artifices, and brethren became entangled in seductive snares. Ties of marriage were formed with unbelievers; members of Christ abandoned to the heathen. Not only rash swearing was heard, but even false; persons in high place were swollen with contemptuousness; poisoned reproaches fell from their mouths, and men were sundered by nuabating quarrels. Numerous bishops, who ought to be an encouragement and example to others, despising their sacred calling, engaged themselves in secular vocations, relinquished their sees, deserted their people, strayed among foreign provinces, hunted the markets for mercantile profits, and tried to amass large sums of money, while they had brethren starving within the Church; took possession of estates by fraudulent proceedings, and multiplied their gains by accumulated usuries." 1

The relaxation which would extend the profession of Christianity in the larger cities would contract or extinguish it in remote or country places. There would be little zeal to keep up Churches, which could not be served without an effort or without secular loss. Carthage, Utica, Hippo, Milevis, or Cnrubis, was a more attractive residence than the towns with uncouth African names, which amaze the ecclesiastical student in the Acts of the Councils. Vocations became scarce; sees remained vacant; congregations died out. This was pretty much the case with the Church and see of Sicca. At the time of which we write, history preserves no record of any bishop as exercising his pastoral functions in that city. In matter of fact there was none. The last bishop, an amiable old man, had in the course of years acquired a considerable extent of arable land, and employed himself principally, for lack of more spiritual occupation, in reaping, stacking, Belling, and sending off his wheat for the Roman market. His deacon had been celebrated in early youth for his boldness in the chase, and took part in the capture of lions and panthers (an act of charity 1 Vide Oxford traasl. of St. Cyprian.

towards the peasants round Sicca) for the Roman amphitheatre. No priests were to be found, and the bishop became pwrochus till his death. Afterwards infants and catechumens lost baptism; parents lost faith, or at least love; wanderers lost repentance and conversion. For a while there was a flourishing meeting-house of Tertullianists, who had scared more humble minds by pronouncing the eternal perdition of every Catholic; there liad also been various descriptions of Gnostics, who had carried off the clever youths and restless speculators; and then there had been the lapse of time, gradually consuming the generation which had survived the flourishing old days of the African Church. And the result was, that in the year 250 it was difficult to say of whom the Church of Sicca consisted. There was no bishop, no priest, no deacon. There was the old mansionarius or sacristan; there were two or three pious women, married or single, who owed their religion to good mothers; there were some slaves who kept to their faith, no one knew how or why; there were a vast many persons who ought to be Catholics, but were heretics, or nothing at all, or all but pagans, and sure to become pagans on the asking; there were Agellius and his brother Juba, and how far these two had a claim to the Christian name we now proceed to explain.


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