Page images
PDF
EPUB

In his last sickness, he was afflicted with a difficulty of breathing for two weeks. His mind, however, was serene and cheerful ; his affections were heavenly; and amidst these infirmities, he daily taught his disciples. A great part of the night was employed in prayer and tanksgiving; and the first employment of the morning was to ruminate on the Scriptures, and to address his God in prayer ;

“ God scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” was frequently in his mouth. Even amidst his bodily weakness, he was employed in writing two little treatises. Perceiving his end to draw near, he said, “ If my Maker please, I will go to him from the flesh, who, when I was not, formed me out of nothing: My soul desires to see Christ, my king, in his beauty. He sang glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and expired with a sedateness, composure, and devotion, that amazed all who saw and heard.

A year before our presbyter's death, he wrote a letter to Egbert, archbishop of York, which deserves to be immortalized for the solid sense it exhibits, a quality with which Bede was very eminently endowed.

“ Above all things,” says he,“ avoid useless discourse, and apply yourself to the Holy Scriptures, especially the epistles to Timothy and Titus ; to Gregory's pastoral care, and his homilies on the gospel. It is inde.cent for him who is dedicated to the service of the church, to give way to actions or discourse unsuitable to his character. Have always those about you who may assist you in temptation ; be not like some bishops, who love to have those about them who love good cheer, and divert them with trifling and facetious conversation.

“ Your diocese is too large to allow you to go through the whole in a year; therefore appoint presbyters in each village, to instruct and administer the sacraments ; and let them be studious, that every one of them may learn by heart the creed and the Lord's prayer; and that if they do not understand Latin, they may repeat them in their own tongue. I have translated them into

English, for the benefit of English presbyters. I am told that there are many villages in our nation, in the mountainous parts, the inhabitants of which have never seen a bishop or pastor ; and yet they are obliged to pay their dues to the bishop.

“ The best means to reform our church, is to increase the number of bishops. Who sees not how much more reasonable it is for numbers to share this burden? Gregory, therefore, directed Augustine to appoint twelve bishops, to be under the archbishop of York, as their metropolitan. I wish you would fill up this number, with the assistance of the king of Northumberland.

“ I know it is not easy to find an empty place for the erection of a bishopric. You may choose some monastery for the purpose. In truth, there are many places which have the name of monasteries without deserving it."

He goes on to show how, for thirty years past, the scandalous abuse of monasteries had prevailed, and how useless many of them were to church and state, as they preserved neither piety nor decency.

He directs Egbert to see that his flock be instructed in Christian faith and practice, and that they frequently attend on the communion. He finds fault with the excessive multiplication of monks, and expresses his fears, lest, in process of time, the state should be destitute of soldiers to repel an invasion.

32. THE DARK AGES. FROM the seventh to the tenth century of the Christian era was a time of universal darkness, ignorance, and superstition, among all classes of people. Pure Christianity was but little known, amidst a multitude of idle ceremonies, external show, and pomp; all ranks of the clergy were characterized by ambition, voluptuousness, and ignorance. The want of an acquaintance with the first rudiments of literature, even among the higher clergy, was general, that it was scarcely

deemed disgraceful to acknowledge it, and many bishops who attended councils, &c, could not even write their names to the acts that were passed, but were obliged to have others sign for them. This time is emphatically called the Dark Ages, especially the tenth century, which all historians, civil and ecclesiastical, agree in describing as the darkest epoch in the annals of mankind. “Every thing sacred in religion,” says a celebrated historian, “ was disfigured by customs the most ridiculous and extravagant. In several churches in France a festival was celebrated in commemoration of the Virgin Mary's flight into Egypt: it was called the Feast of the Ass, A young girl, richly dressed, with a child in her arms, was placed on an ass, superbly decorated with trappings. The ass was led to the altar in solemn procession-high mass was said with great pomp—the ass was taught to kneel at a proper place a hymn no less childish than impious was sung in his praise; and when the ceremony was ended, the priest, instead of the usual words with which he dismissed the people, brayed three times like an ass; and the people, instead of the usual response, brayed three times in re

" The history of the Roman pontiffs that lived in this century,” says Mosheim,“ is a history of so many monsters, and not of men; and exhibits a horrible series of the most flagitious, tremendous, and complicated crimes, as all writers, even those of the Roman community, unanimously confess. Nor was the state of things. much better in the Greek church at this period; Theo phylact, patriarch of Constantinople, sold every ecelesiastical benefice as soon as it became vacant, and had in his stables above two thousand hunting horses, which he fed with pignuts, pistachois, dates, dried grapes, figs, steeped in the most exquisite wines, to all of which he added the richest perfumes.'

The method of propagating Christianity during this

turn."*

* History of Charles V., vol. in.

[ocr errors]

period partook of the character of the age.
nations were compelled, under pain of death, to receive
baptism, and the most cruel methods were used to com-
pel them to receive the Christian faith.

[ocr errors]

33. MASSACRE BY THE SARACENS.

FORTY-TWO persons of Armorian, in Upper Phrygia, were martyred in the year 845, by the Saracens; the circumstances of which are thus related :

“In the reign of Theophilus the Saracens ravaged many parts of the eastern empire, gained considerable advantages over the Christians, and at length-laid siege to the city of Armorian. The garrison bravely defended the place for a considerable time, and would have obliged their enemies to raise the siege, but the place was betrayed by a renegado. Many were put to the sword; and two general officers with some persons of distinction were carried prisoners to Bagdat, where they were loaded with chains and thrown into a dungeon. They continued in prison for some time without seeing any persons but their jailers, having scarcely food enough for their subsistence. At length they were informed that nothing could preserve their lives but renouncing their religion and embracing Mahometanism. To induce them to comply, the caliph pretended zeal for their welfare, and declared he looked upon converts in a more glorious light than conquests. Agreeably to these màxims, he sent some of the most artful of the Mahometans, with money and clothes, and the promise of other advantages that they might secure to themselves by an abjuration of Christianity; which, according to the casuistry of the infidels, might be made without quitting their faith ; but the martyrs rejected the proposal with contempt. After this they were attacked with that fallacious and delusive argument which the Mahometans still use in favour of themselves, and were desired to judge of the merits of the cause by the success of those engaged in it, and choose that religion which

they saw flourished most, and was best rewarded with the good things of this life, which they called the bless ings of heaven. Yet the noble prisoners were proof against all these temptations, and argued strenuously against the authority of the false prophets. This incensed the Mahometans, and drew greater hardships upon the Christians during their confinement, which lasted seven years. Boidizius, the renegado who had betrayed Armorian, then brought them the welcome news that their sufferings would conclude in martyr. dom next day. When taken from their dungeon they were again solicited to embrace the tenets of Mahomet; but neither threats nor promises could induce them to espouse the doctrines of an impostor. Perceiving that their faith could not by any means be shaken, the caliph ordered them to be executed. Theodore, one of the number, had formerly received priest's orders, and officiated as a clergyman; but afterwards quitting the church, he had followed a military life, and raised himself by the sword to some considerable posts, which he enjoyed at the time he was taken prisoner. The officer who attended the execution being apprized of these circumstances, said to Theodore,

You might, indeed, pretend to be ranked amongst the Christians while you served in their church as a priest; but the profession you have taken up, which engages you in bloodshed, is so contrary to your former employment, that you should not now think of passing up one of that religion. When you quitted the altar for the camp you renounced Jesus Christ. Why then will you dissemble any longer ? Would you not act more conformably to your own principles, and make your conduct all of a piece, if you came to a resolution of saving your life by owning our prophet?” Theos dore, covered with religious confusion at this reproach, but still unshaken in his faith, made the following answer : “ It is true," said he, “ I did in some measure abandon my God when I engaged in the army, and scarce deserve the name of a Christian. But th Almighty has given me grace to see myself in a true

[ocr errors]

us for

« PreviousContinue »