General Tone of Christian Life


The preceding pages have given more than one unfavorable suggestion as to the moral and religious state of the people; and additions might be made to the adverse record, such as a notice of the excesses occurring at the feasts of martyrs, as deplored by Augustine, or a reference to the senseless fervors of the populace over the races of the circus, which divided Constantinople and other cities into warring factions. The evidences of a sad declension from the moral standard of the martyr age are plain and decisive.

Nevertheless, there are features of relief in the outlook. An exaggerated impression may easily be formed by dwelling upon the crudities and corruptions of the times. It was a mixed age. If the popular superstitions infected in a measure even those who stood highest, these in their turn gave back much, both in the may of teaching and example, that was lofty and ennobling. What a healthy tone, for example, in Chrysostom's repeated exhortations to the devout study of the Scriptures! Commenting on the language of Paul (Col. iii. 16, 17), he says, "Hearken ye, as many as are engaged in the affairs of the world, and have the charge of wife and children: how to you, too, he commits especially the reading of the Scriptures; and that not to be done lightly, nor in any sort of way, but with much earnestness." [Hom. in Colos., ix.] "We ought not," he says in another place, "as soon as we retire from the communion, to plunge into business unsuited to the communion; but, as soon as ever we get home, to take our Bible into our hands, and call our wife and children to job us in putting together what we have heard, and then, not before, engage in the business of life." [Hom. in Matt., v.] Again, how aptly he warns against the mercenary and ostentatious style of piety! "The secure storehouse of good works," he urges, "is to forget our good works. And as with regard to raiment and gold, when we ex-pose them in a market-place, we attract many ill-meaning persons; but if we put them by at home, and hide them, we shall deposit them all in security: even so with respect to our good deeds; if we are continually keeping them in memory, we provoke the Lord, we arm the enemy, we invite him to steal them away; but, if no one know of them besides Him who alone ought to know, they will lie in safety." [Ibid., iii.] Augustine, too, abounds in passages savoring of the highest spirituality. Take, as a single example, his description of the Christian sacrifice: "Our heart when it rises to Him is His altar; the priest who intercedes for us is His Only-begotten we sacrifice to Him bleeding victims when we contend for His truth even unto blood; to Him we offer the sweetest incense when we come before Him burning with holy and pious love; to Him we devote and surrender ourselves and His gifts in us. For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires. Being attached to Him, or rather let me say re-attached, --for we had detached ourselves and lost hold of Him, being, I say, re-attached to Him, we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end. For our good, about which philosophers have so keenly contended, is nothing else than to be united to God." [De Civ. Dei, x. 3.] Despite the adverse tendencies of the age, truths such as these, faithfully inculcated by many earnest teachers, must have borne much good fruit.

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