« PreviousContinue »
and, by introducing new customs, contrary to the law, hurried them into all manner of impurity. He not only instituted Grecian games in our metropolis, but abolished the use of the temple, insomuch that the Divine vengeance being provoked, Antiochus was stirred up to make war against the Jews. Being engaged in an expedition against Ptolemy, king of Egypt, and informed, at the same time, that some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had expressed joy at the report of his being dead, he turned his forces that way, and made great havoc among them, publishing withalan edict, forbidding any of them to observe the customs of their country, upon pain of death. Finding this edict had not its intended effect, but that all his severest threatenings and punishments were so far despised, that even the women (who continued the practice of circumcising their children) were cast down headlong from the walls of the city, (though they knew what they were to suffer,) he was so amazed at the little regard shown to his authority, that he came in person, and by torments compelled those that were brought before him, to eat of meats unclean and forbidden by the law, and thus abjure the religion of their country.
WHEN Antiochus, that cursed tyrant, had seated himself upon a tribunal, surrounded by his counsellors, and a strong body of armed men, he commanded many of the Hebrews to be brought by force before him, and compelled them to eat of swine's flesh, and meats offered to idols, upon pain of the torture in case of refusal. After many had been thus barbarously treated, a certain man, named Eleazar, of the family of the priests, by profession a lawyer, far advanced in years, and known to several who stood round the tyrant, was brought before him. Antiochus observing the venerable sage, thus addressed him :
“Before I proceed to use any severity, let me advise thee, reverend old man, to save thy own life, by submitting to eat of swine's flesh; for 1 pay great respect to thy age and gray hairs; and am surprised that the experience of so many years should not have made thee wiser than still to persevere in the Jewish super
stition. It seems to me a most unreasonable thing for men to abridge themselves of any innocent pleasures, and great injustice to themselves, and ingratitude to nature, to refuse any of those enjoyments which her bounty bath provided for us. Why shouldest thou then express such abhorrence of that most delicious of all meats, which seems, in the flesh of swine, to have been designed as our best entertainment, and a singular favour? This may in others seem somewhat more excusable; but in you, who are a person of better judgment, it would be a most unaccountable folly, to be prejudiced by a false and empty notion of religion; and for an idle fancy to contemn my authority, and draw a needless punishment upon your own head: wilt not thou then suffer thine eyes to be opened, and be awakened out of this dream of thy peculiar persuasion, and set thyself free from the bondage of so morose and singular a notion ? Will this friendly expostulation prevail for no deference to be paid my kindness? and the compassion I have for thy age, move thee to no compassion upon thyself? Methinks it should; for though what I have said does not convince thee of the vanity of thy opinion in this point, yet you must needs allow, that if there be a power above, which does, as you suppose, require the observance of this religion, that power bath so much goodness as to pardon the transgression of his laws, when it is not the offender's own act and choice, but the effect of force and pure constraint.”
Eleazar, having duly attended to these words, entreated of the king permission to speak for himself, which being granted, he stood forth, and, in the presence of the whole assembly, spoke to the following effect :
“Know, Sire, that we, who are fully convinced that it is our duty, in all things, to behave ourselves according to the law given us by God, are perfectly persuaded, that no necessity can more oblige as, no force be stronger upon us, than that by which we stand bound to obey his law; and for this reason we think our acting contrary to it, cannot be dispensed with on any terms whatsoever. ; Nay, though our law were not, as you are pleased to suggest, really divine, yet, Sire, I must crave leave to say, that, so long as we continue to believe it divine, that very persuasion ought to be an effectual restraint upon us from violating, or thinking meanly of, any religious ordinances established by it. Do not therefore imagine, if we should submit to defile ourselves by unclean meats, that this would be deemed a small and pardonable fault. For the presumption of the offender is the same, and the authority of the law equally insulted, be the instance in which a man transgresses greater or less. The fact itself makes no difference in point of guilt. You were pleased, Sire, to speak contemptuously of our religion, as an institution unbecoming men of reason and philosophy. But I must be bold to say, it is the best and most consummate pbilosophy; for it teaches us temperance, the conquest of our passions and desires, and sets us above all our pleasures. It trains us up in the exercise of fortitude, and commands us to undergo all manner of pain willingly and cheerfully. It teaches us the most exact justice; and orders us to confine our worship and absolute reverence to the one true God, where alone they are of right due. Upon this account we dare not eat things prohibited and unclean; for we are fully persuaded that God, who created our nature, had due regard to it; that the very institution of this law was so far from a hardship, as in itself to be an act of goodness and mercy, and that the things forbidden are hurtful to our souls; whereas those allowed for food are useful and convenient. It is therefore the very extremity of tyranny to force us not only to sin against our law, but to eat that which is therefore not allowed us because of a quality not fit to be eaten. But this is a sort of triumph which I shall never give you over me. Nor must I falsify the solemn oaths, and only engagements, whereby our ancestors have bound theinselves, and their posterity, to the faithful observance of this law; not though you should command my eyes to be put out, and my bowels to be burnt. Old age hath not so impaired my mind, or enfeebled my hody, but that, when religion and duty call me to it, my reason can yet prove itself youthful and vigorous. If this reply provoke you, prepare your instruments of torture, and heat your furnace hotter still : all that shall not move me to spare my old age, so as, for the saving my person, to violate the law of my country and my God. That holy law, to which I owe my instruction, I will never desert. Thou dearest of all virtues, temperance, by which we preserve our native sovereignty over our appetites, I will never abjure thee; thou
best of all philosophy, I will never disgrace thee. Thou holy order of priesthood, and study of the law, I will neither forego, or be a blemish to you. My ancestors shall find me come to you pure and constant; a soul as free from such a stain as undaunted under all manner of torments, even unto death."
ELEAZAR, having made this noble and spirited reply to the tyrant's exhortation, was dragged by the guards that stood round to the cruelest torments. They pulled off the old man's garment, the venerable habit of his religion, and having bound both his hands behind him, unmercifully scourged him; an officer calling out at every stroke, “ Obey the king's commands.” The brave Eleazar sustained his torment as if he had been in a dream, without deviating a tittle from his profession. The good old man stood with eyes uplifted to heaven, while the blood streamed down from his body to the ground, till, no longer able to sustain the torments, he fell upon the pavement : but this was owing to bodily infirmity; for his mind was as constant and resolute as ever. Upon this one of the guards stamped upon him in order to raise him. Still he bore their barbarous insolence, and, with surprising constancy, suffered their stripes, till his very tormentors stood in admiration of his extraordinary magnanimity, and wondered to find so noble a soul in a body so aged and infirm. At length some of them, touched with compassion at his decrepid age, and moved by remembrance of ancient friendship, thus addressed him :
" Why dost thou thus, for no manner of reason, expose thyself to all these sufferings ? Permit us, Eleazar, to set before thee some lawful and clean meats; and do thou make as though thou didst eat swine's flesh, according to the king's command; so shalt thou save thy life, and yet commit no wickedness.” But Eleazar resolutely answered, “ Far be it from us, who are children of Abraham, to be guilty of such cowardice and wicked subtlety, by so much as seeming to do an act that does not become us. How absurd would it be for me, who have led a life of sincerity and truth hitherto, and preserved my reputation free from blemish, by a strict observation of the law, to change my course now in extreme old age, and set an ill example to others ! to purchase a little remainder of life at the expense of foul dissimulation, and live that little with the scorn and derision of all the world, for my fear and base compliance ?” When they perceived him thus resolute and inflexible, and that their pity could have no influence upon him, they changed their disposition, and brought bim to the fire. There they applied new instruments of torture, threw him upon the fuel, and, as he burnt, poured scalding and nauseous liquors up his nostrils. Burnt to the very bone, and ready to expire, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “ Thou seest, my God, the miseries I endure; and that I choose to die by fire and torment, for the sake of thy law, when it was in my power to preserve my life for transgressing it. Be thou, therefore, gracious, O Lord, to thy own people, and let the vengeance executed on me suffice for what they have deserved. Make thou my blood a purification for them, and accept my life instead of their lives.” With these words this pious man gave up the ghost.
Hence it is evident that reason, improved by religion, has command over the passions; if it were otherwise, it is to them that the praise of this noble testimony to truth and constant virtue ought to be ascribed. But since, from this instance, it appears plain that the former was victorious, we cannot, with truth, deny that reason is the governing principle; and, indeed, it is most equitable to confess the same, after so full a demonstration not only of bodily pains, but likewise of pleasure too, resisted and vanquished : for the undeviating tendency of our passions is to indulge pleasure and decline pain.
OUR reverend father Eleazar may be deemed a skilful pilot, holding the rudder of the ship of piety in the sea of the passions, tossed to and fro with the threatenings of the tyrant, and overwhelmed with the waves of torment. Nevertheless, he changes not the rudder till he reaches the haven of victory by a direct and prosperous course. A city besieged with various engines, never