« ZurückWeiter »
dated. Through one of the broken arches of that vast pile, the moon always darts a single pure ray of light, which falls like a bright spark upon the wide blackness of the arena. Perhaps it shines upon a spot where a martyred Christian quivered in his last pang. There is more light in the heavens, and that ray came from a source which shall illumine the whole earth.
There are other consecrated localities, solemn and melancholy in their character, and beyond question or dispute in the sanctity attributed to them. Such are the catacombs, which were at once the burial places of the martyrs, and the humble and secret chapels of early Christian worship. Deep beneath the soil of Rome, and winding off into labyrinths of unknown extent, excavations were made in times before the birth of Christ, for a species of earth or sand, now called pozzonala, from which was made the durable cement used by the Romans. As the material ran in narrow veins, rising, dipping, and bending irregularly, it was sought out in galleries of only sufficient size for the operation of procuring it, and when exhausted in one place, the excavation was left to neglect, and forgotten. The galleries are about six feet in height, and three in width; they have been traced for many miles, and there are several entrances to them. As they are not lighted by any air holes or openings, and are very devious and confused in their windings, many persons have perished in them, so that most of the entrances have been closed. The principal access to them now is beneath the church of St. Sebastian, outside of the walls. At intervals are larger spaces, or chambers, for the convenience of the workmen. Under the name of arenariæ, these catacombs are mentioned by Cicero and Suetonius. It has been a matter of heated controversy, whether or not the heathen Romans used these dark and gloomy recesses for the purposes of sepulture. The probability is, that the Christians were the first to put them to this service, and that their example may have been soon followed by their pagan fellow citizens. The Romans burned their dead; the patricians apart, the plebeians in the common field, which is now well defined. The Christians abhorred this practice. Along the sides of these galleries, rising in tiers above each other, are horizontal recesses, of the size of the human body, covered with slabs of marble. On these may now be read the first Christian inscriptions, and within the recesses lie the remains of the early martyrs and disciples of the faith. Many of these slabs remain in the catacombs, but several bave been deposited in the galleries of the Vatican. There is no deception or mistake in the touching mementos of these rude inscriptions. There may be seen in Rome thousands of cinerary urns and tombs, which inclose pagan dust. These are inscribed to many gods, to the deities of the shades, and are ornamented with beautiful, though vain symbols. How impressive the contrast between these stones, which speak of darkened minds and hopeless sorrows, and the first rude sculptures of a Christian faith over the ashes of a martyr or a confessor. The slabs of marble over the Christian tombs, discard the pomp of epitaphs. They merely express the prayer that the sleeper “may rest in peace,” and give the length of his earthly pilgrimage, generally with a monogram, formed from the two letters P. X., “ pro Christo,” or “positum in Christo.' Sometimes there is added a rude representation of a cluster of grapes, a dove of peace, a palm branch, a bow of promise, a fish, or the letters A. 2. Some have supposed that the letters X. and P. are intended to designate the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The following are some of the most simple inscriptions, still to be seen ; — “Domiti in Pace; Lea Fecit," — O Domitius! mayst thou rest in peace ; Lea did this." « Aqgova sv Osw (nons," — “Apthona! mayst thou live in God." 66 Farewell! 0 Sabina! She lived viii. years, viii. months, xxii. days. Mayst thou live sweet in God."
While these recesses served the purpose of graves, a vase by their side often contained the blood of the martyr, and the sponge with which it was gathered up. The larger excavations were the resort of the persecuted worshippers, when only a tomb could conceal them,
Even in these spots, where there is so much of truth, invention and forgery are employed. By some it is pretended that the Christians constructed these immense catacombs for the express purpose of a resting place for the martyrs. An inscription in the Church of St. Sebastian asserts that 174,000 of the sufferers rest beneath it. An immense traffic has been carried on in the bones gathered from these repositories; and the whole Catholic world has been supplied from this store-house, through the
agency of Popes and cardinals. Most of the recesses have been rified to supply with some alleged relic the altars of the faithful, and it is probable, indeed certain, that the bones and ashes of pagans and Christians, martyrs and persecutors, aged
men and still-born infants, plebeian Romans and Christian bishops, have been promiscuously adored.
Yet there is no manner of doubt as to the tradition and the history which distinctly fill out the tale of those simple inscriptions, and assert that in these dark chambers the first Roman Christians worshipped, and in those neglected galleries were laid the mangled remains of the martyrs, and the bodies of early believers. St. Jerome, about the middle of the fourth century, speaks of the catacombs as consecrated antiquities, which he frequently visited on Sundays, while he was pursuing his studies at Rome, with other youths. He regarded them with deep
Prudentius, a Spaniard, in a visit which he made to Rome a few years later, loved to wander amid these solemn testimonials; and he wrote upon them, and the men and scenes associated with them, many beautiful hymns.
Here, then, far from the merriment, impiety, and folly of the proud city, seeking the caverns of the earth for a hiding place, the Christians first uttered the prayers and sang the hymns of that faith, which is now honored over the whole civilized world. There is a scene for which neither history nor romance have a parallel. When the despised faith was slowly making individual, and but partially instructed converts among the humble ranks of Rome, the first conviction of the heart was accompanied by a full apprehension of its cost, and a sense that belief and danger would come together. The abstracted and downcast look of the new convert, as he walked among the monuments of victories and the temples of heathen gods, his ear profaned with unholy oaths, and his heart aching with the constant presence of foul corruption, marked him out for suspicion. He would not worship with the aid of idols; his God had no representative image, nor asked oblations of blood; he could not clasp the hand, nor drain the cup of friendship, if he must accompany his pledge with an appeal to many deities; and, therefore, he was called an atheist. He shared not in the love of conquest, nor in the pride of triumphs, nor in the cruel sports of the amphitheatre, nor in the impure orgies of the pagan year, and, therefore, he was looked upon as a cheerless misanthrope. Even when persecuted, he returned neither threat nor blow, and he was, therefore, regarded as a spiritless coward. The wonderful incidents upon which he based his faith had originated in the despised province of Judea, and thus the Christian was held to be only a sectarian Jew. But with the
3D . VOL. X. NO. III. 43
Jew the Christian would not hold company, and thus he was believed to lack the last redeeming virtue of a knave or a culprit, sympathy with his fellows. Thus regarded, the Christian passed amid the throng, alienated, as it would seem, from the land of his birth, and from the companions of his daily life. Few would risk the pollution of his society, for to speak with him excited suspicion. Then was the time for the first and perfect display of unknown human virtues. Then the inmost soul of man was driven to live upon energies before hidden, and now revealed only as mysteries. What a sincere and blazing testimony was then borne to Christian truth, in the triumph over ancient prejudice, and the unflinching courage of endurance.
There were then no private homes where a beloved hearth could be consecrated by prayer. The household comprised the sternest enemies; kindred and friends were the fiercest persecutors. The parent and the child knew not the same God. Even the worship of the Father was a startling office to those whose knowledge of hiin was but of yesterday; and sympathy of heart, most longed for by every sufferer, was rare. experience of loneliness or sorrow could quench the kindling fire of faith. Those who inherit Christianity by birth and education cannot know the intense estimate in which it was held by its first converts. Here and there it was the loved treasure of one heart, and that heart consecrated to it hope and life. Yet the precepts of the faith, and the desire of the soul that cherished it, alike pointed to the work of conversion. Not only must the Christian
himself to scorn and sorrow, but the business of his life must now be to invite others to share with him his convictions and their cost. Affection, which would designate the first subjects of his labor, would at the same time interpose the strongest argument to damp his zeal. His fondest wish would be to gather the whole circle of home and friendship into the fold of the Saviour ; yet nature would dissuade him for involving in a lot, whose bitter sorrows he best could estimate, the loved and familiar companions of his daily life. But such a work was not given to them without aid from the author of their faith, and from the sensibilities of the hearts to which it was addressed. There were some who would listen to the despised Christians, though the conference was in gloomy darkness. The respect which sincerity inspires would often cower the purpose of a traitor, when conviction did not reach his heart. They did not forget the assembling themselves together. The midnight meeting in the tombs was made known to all who might safely be admitted. The damp and unwholesome sepulchre was loved, as no gorgeous temple has since been. The worshippers often gathered around the mortal remains of a fellow believer who had fallen upon the arena. With the mementos of mortality around them, they thought of heaven. The brief endurance of the body was meditated by its crumbling ashes; the undying energy of the soul was witnessed in the sincerity of its deep trust. Even the fragment of a Gospel or an Epistle was then a dear-bought treasure, and it was read as the last legacy of those who had gone before them in suffering. Infants were offered in baptism ; the prayer and the hymn joined all hearts; the sacramental feast, the oath of constancy, the pledge of fellowship, joined all hearts in one, and they issued from their hiding-place, either to die by violence, or to bear their secret burdens.
Such were the beginnings of the faith in that proud city whither the Apostle was warned to go by a vision of the night. The blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church; sown deep in sorrow and
tears, let it grow and flourish for the healing of the nations. The proud city is in ruins, the faith upon which it trampled lives.
G. E. E.
Art. IV. - Frithiof's Saga, or The Legend of Frithiof.
By Esaias TEGNER. Translated from the Swedish. .
Out of a rational interest in the literature of our own country grows a rational curiosity respecting that of others; and from the gratification of this curiosity spring many important influences. To read much without being affected in intellectual or moral character, in feeling or tastes, is impossible; hence the fine scholar usually rises the wiser and better from his studies; and, if true to his responsibilities, often becomes the channel, through which streams of fresh wisdom and goodness flow in upon his countrymen, blessed with less of leisure and opportunity. How many of the truths and beauties floating in the world's literature of the present century have come