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MethodIST QUARTERLY REVIEW
Art. 1.-PRESSENSÉ'S “MARTYRS AND APOLOGISTS.”
The story of the first three centuries of the Christian era will ever continue to be the most important and most interesting chapter in the history of the race. It was a grand transition period. Old things were passing away, and all things were becoming new. Paganism, like a rotten tree, was hollow at the heart and tottering to its fall. The world, weary with waiting for the healer of its woes, hailed with joy the divine Teacher who brought life and immortality to light. The new and world-agitating ideas of Christianity were every-where renovating society. The old faiths were fading out of the firmament of human thought. The old gods were reeling on their thrones. It was the heroic period of the Christian Church. She was girding herself, like a noble athlete, for the conquest of mankind. She was engaged in deadly struggle with paganism for the possession of the race. On the side of the latter were all the resources of the empire—the victorious legions, the treasures of the East and West, the prestige of power and splendor, a vast hierarchy, an ancient and venerated national religion, and, most potent ally of all, the corruptions and lusts of the evil heart of man. To these Christianity opposed the omnipotence of its divine principles-its fervent love, its sublime virtne, its heroic self-sacrifice-and they proved victorious. In this conflict both evil and good were brought into strongest relief and most striking contrast.
FOURTH SERIES, VOL. XXIV.-34
Persecution was kindled to intensest rage against the new faith; but Christianity nerved itself to suffer with a quietness of spirit all that the wrath of man was able to inflict. Nay, the hour of its sorest trial was that also of its noblest triumph. A moral Hercules even in its infancy, around its cradle were strewn the strangled serpents of heathen superstitions, vain philosophies, and pernicious heresies.
Ever since the revival of learning, this period has been the subject of exhaustive study by successive generations of critical scholars. It has been the battle-ground fought over, inch by inch, by orthodox and skeptical polemics. Its contemporary literature has been the armory which has furnished weapons both for the attack and the defense of the truth. The names of Fabricius, Mosheim, Echard, Bingham, Cave, King, Jortin, Milner, Milman, Neander, Gieseler, Schaff, Killen, Lea, Merivale, Gibbon, Strauss, Baur, Renan, and Lecky, do not exhaust the list of those who liave gleaned rich harvests in these oft-reaped fields. Our author will not suffer by comparison with even the chiefest of these great lights of literature; and for perspicuity and elegance of style, skillin grouping, warinth of coloring, and picturesqueness of detail, he is scarce equaled by any of them. He has proved that, treated by the hand of a master, the interest of the subject is not exhausted. The more accurate processes of inquiry employed by modern criticisin have dissipated many errors and developed many new truths. The recent discovery of long-lost writings of the period, and the study of its monumental evidences in the Catacombs and elsewhere, assists us to rehabilitate the past, and to comprehend its spirit better than modern writers have hitherto been able.
Dr. De Pressensé possesses in the highest degree the qualities requisite for the noble task he has undertaken. He unites, in unusual wedlock, a calm and philosophical judgment with a brilliant and poetical imagination. Instead, therefore, of the mere dry bones of history, he presents the living form and spirit of the times.
The sparkling grace of the French language, and the sprightly quality of the French intellect, make French historical literature a model of its class. Yet we are haunted by the fear, when reading the brilliant pages of Lamartine or Renan, or even the graver volumes of Michelet or Guizot, that historical accuracy is sometimes sacrificed to epigrammatic force. This is not the case when reading Pressensé. While characterized by the highest graces of style, he also gives evidence of that profound and accurate scholarship so essential to the investigation of the many difficulties of the subject. Every important statement is fortified by references to the original authorities, or by citations from their text; and we feel that we are walking on the solid ground of historical fact. The entire work sparkles with beautiful and appropriate imagery, like a royal robe with broidery of gems and gold; but the fabric itself is firmly woven, and would still be rich and strong even if stripped of the ornament.
We cannot too highly praise the fidelity and skill with which the fair translator has accomplished her work. It is no easy matter to translate the vivacious pages of Pressensé into terse and idiomatic English without some of the subtle aroma of style escaping in the process; yet this difficult task Miss Harwood has achieved with signal success.
We can give the merest outline of the scope of this volume, which, while the member of a series, yet possesses a complete ness and unity in itself. Its first part is occupied with the tragic tale of persecution. The world will never tire of the story of those heroic days of the Church's trial and triumph. Like a grand Homeric battle-scene, to use the figure of Baur,* the conflict between the noble " wrestlers of God” and the hosts of paganism passes before us. But an incomparably loftier moral principle inspires the Christian champions than that of the Greek athletes. The Church, in an age of luxury and self-indulgence, may well revert to those days of fiery trial, and catch inspiration from the faith and zeal and lofty courage, unfaltering even in the agonies of death, of the primitive confessors and witnesses for God. Amid dense moral darkness they held aloft the torch of truth, and handed down from age to age the torn yet triumphant banner of the faith, dyed with their heart's best blood. The noble words in which Tertullian flings down the gage of battle to the pagan foe still thrill the soul like the sound of a clarion: “We say, and
* Die Epochen der kirchlichen Geschichtschreibung, p. 20.
before all men we say, and torn and bleeding under your tor-
In a previous volume Pressensé has recorded the atrocities of the Neronian persecution, when, to use the words of Tacitus, some of the Christians were sewed up in the skins of wild beasts and worried to death by dogs; some were crucified; and some, wrapped in garments of pitch, were burned as torches to illumine the night.” In the present volume he describes the more striking events of martyr history in the second and third centuries. Few of these are of higher dramatic interest than the death of the venerable Ignatius of Antioch. An eager multitude fills the vast Coliseum to see the frail old man, bowed with years of toil and worn with travel, “ butchered to make a Roman holiday.” The signal is given; the dens are opened; the fierce Numidian lions, famished with fasting, bound upon their prey, and a few fragments of scattered bones are soon all that remains of the martyr Bishop. His desire is fulfilled. “I am the wheat of God,” he said, “and I shall be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ." S
From the crowded amphitheater of Smyrna ascended, as in a chariot of fire, the soul of the apostolic Bishop Polycarp. The arrowy Rhone ran red with martyrs' blood. The names of the venerable Pothinus, of the youthful Blandina and Ponticus, and of the valiant Symphorianus, will be memories of thrilling power to the end of time. At Rome persecution
* Apologeticus, cc. 21, 30, 50.
+ spol., i.
selected some of its noblest victims. Justin, the Christian philosopher, finding in the Gospels a loftier love than in the teachings of Zeno or Aristotle, of Pythagoras or Plato, became the foremost of the goodly phalanx of apologists and confessors of the faith, and sealed his testimony with his blood.
Still, with intervals of treacherous calm, persecution raged against the Christians; and Paganism, in the death-throes of its mortal agony, wreaked its wrath upon its hapless victims. Non licet esse vos—“It is not lawful for you to exist,” was the stern edict of extirpation pronounced against them. But like the rosemary and thyme, which the more they are bruised give out the richer perfume, Christianity breathed forth the odors of sanctity wbich are fragrant in the world to-day. From the martyrs' blood, more prolific than the fabled dragon's teeth, new hosts of Christian heroes rose, contending for the martyrs’ starry and unwithering crowns.
Like the trump of jubilee, the edict of toleration pealed through the land. It penetrated the gloomy dungeon, the darksome mine, the catacomb's dim labyrinth; and from their somber depths vast processions of “noble wrestlers of religion "* thronged to the long-forsaken churches with grateful songs of praise to God.
Such lavish waste of life and wanton cruelty as the records of martyrdom narrate seem almost incredible; but the pages of the contemporary historians give too minute and circumstantial accounts of the tortures of which they were eyewitnesses to allow us to adopt the complacent theory of Gibbon, that these sufferings were comparatively few and insignificant. “We ourselves have seen,” says Eusebius, “crowds of persons, some beheaded, others burned alive, in a single day, so that the murderous weapons were blunted and broken to pieces, and the executioners, weary with slanghter, were obliged to give over the work of blood.” + Men whose only crime was their love of God were scourged with iron wires, or with plumbato, that is, chains laden with bronze balls, till their flesh hung in shreds, and even their bones were broken; they were bound in chains of red-hot iron and roasted over fires so slow that they lingered for hours, or even days, in mortal agony; the * Euseb., Eccl. Hist., ix, 1.
Ibid., viii, 9.