Representative Men


In a full catalogue of the distinguished men of the era it would be appropriate to mention Didymus, who, in spite of blindness, became a distinguished teacher in the theological school of Alexandria; Cyril of Jerusalem, a theologian of more than average fruitfulness; Ephræm, the leading poet and divine of Syria in the fourth century, whose mystical piety and enthusiastic asceticism had much influence upon the people of that region; and Hilary of Poitiers, one of the most prominent and steadfast champions of the orthodox faith which the Latin Church supplied against Arianism. But we pass by these, and many others, and limit our attention to those whose character and influence in a special degree summon to an interested attention.

ATHANASIUS. -- "The victorious Athanasius, who had acquired as many crowns as he had engaged in conflicts," --such was the verdict of Theodoret as he reviewed his career. Alert, incisive, eloquent, possessed of indomitable perseverance, great in soul (though small in body), Athanasius was well fitted to make a deep impress upon his own and upon succeeding ages.

As a theologian and a controversialist, the great Alexandrian was not altogether above the faulty polemics of the age. He applied harsh and contemptuous epithets to his Arian opponents. But that may be said of him which cannot be said of some of those opponents; namely, that his violence was confined to words, and did not pass on into deeds. He showed himself, however, abundantly capable of calm argumentation; and, if he sometimes used fiery words, there was, at least, back of them the fire of a great conviction. He believed that the divinity of Christ was the sacred ark of Christianity; that no perfect mediation can be secured, that Christianity cannot claim to be the absolute religion, unless the divine essence was truly in Christ. "From this point of view," says Baur, "Athanasius apprehended the gist of the controversy; always finally summing up all his objections to the Arian doctrine with the chief argument, that the whole substance of Christianity, all reality of redemption, every thing which makes Christianity the perfect salvation, would be utterly null and meaningless if He who is supposed to unite man with God in real unity of being were not Himself absolute God, or of one substance with the absolute God, but only a creature among creatures." 1 Kirchengeschichte, ii. 97.

As an administrator, Athanasius was possessed of eminent tact. Few men could have steered with a firmer hand through such a seething whirlpool of agitation and passion as was Alexandria in his time. Gibbon, while he sees in his dogmatic zeal a token of fanaticism, emphatically acknowledges his capacity to rule. "Athanasius," he says, "displayed a superiority of character and abilities, which would have qualified him, far better than the degenerate sons of Constantine, for the government of a great monarchy." 2 Chap. xxi.

Athanasius may also be viewed as the hero of perilous encounters and romantic adventures. A mark for slanderous accusations, five times exiled from his charge, pursued even with murderous intent by his foes, he had abundant occasion to employ all the resources of a versatile genius. A noted example of his skill in foiling a plot appears in his answer to a council of bishops at Tyre. This council was bent upon his overthrow, and charged him with having murdered a certain Arsenius; also with having atrociously mutilated his body by cutting off the right hand. Fortunately for the accused bishop, Arsenius was discovered, and held subject to the order of Athanasius. Having obtained the testimony of certain in the council that they knew the mutilated man, he brought him into their presence, and obtained their reluctant acknowledgment that this seemed to be the very person in question. "Then, turning back the cloak of Arsenius on one side, Athanasius shows one of the man's hands; again, while some were supposing that the other hand was wanting, after permitting them to remain a short time in doubt, he turned back the cloak on the other side and exposed the other hand. Then, addressing himself to those present, he said, "Arsenius, as you see, is found to have two hands; let my accusers show the place where the third was cut off.'" 1 Socrates, Hist. Eccl., i. 29. The fertility of Athanasius in expedients suited to the emergency is evidenced, among other things, by his reputation for magic, as implying the belief that his own wit was supplemented by that of the devil. No doubt his own wit was effectually aided, but the aid came from the invincible fidelity of his many friends. "No fugitive Stuart in the Scottish Highlands," says Stanley, "could count more securely on the loyalty of his subjects, than did Athanasius, in his hiding-places in Egypt, count upon the faithfulness and secrecy of his countrymen. His whole course was that of an adventurous and wandering prince, rather than of a persecuted theologian; and when, in the brief intervals of triumph, he was enabled to return to his native city, his entrance was like that of a sovereign rather than of a prelate." 2 History of the Eastern Church, Lect. vii.

BASIL AND THE TWO GREGORIES.--These three contemporaries may well be grouped together, not only on account of their intimate relations to each other, but also in view of their moral and intellectual kinship.

Basil, who like Athanasius was honored by later generations with the title Great, was born about the year 329. As his death occurred in 379, his whole life was passed in the intense era of the Arian struggle. However, it was only in the last nine of his fifty years, the time of his episcopate, that he was a prominent figure in the great controversy. Up to middle life he was occupied with the labors of the school and the cloister.

The best of literary advantages fell to the lot of Basil. From the tuition of his father, who was a rhetorician, he passed under that of Libanius at Constantinople, and then studied for several years at Athens. These advantages were well improved. Contact with classic culture had no such effect upon him as upon his fellow-student at Athens, the prince Julian. Leaving his Christian devotion undiminished, his liberal studies were transmuted into an aid and ornament to the Christian calling. They supplied polish and edge to the sword which he wielded for the truth of the gospel. "The style of Basil," says Milman, "did no discredit to his Athenian education; in purity and perspicuity he surpassed most of the heathen, as well as the Christian writers of his age."1 History of Christianity, Book III., chap, ix. Basil did not forget his obligations to the classics. We find him in later years commending the study of the ancient poets and philosophers. He is careful, indeed, to warn against the infection which might be drawn from the less judicious of their sayings; at the same time, he gives full credit to the healthy stimulus and development which may be derived from the masters of classic literature. 2 Sermo de Legendis Libris Gentilium.

In Basil generally we recognize the man of breadth and liberality. There is somewhat in the tone of his writings which reminds of Origen. He did not have the genius or speculative daring of Origen; but we may discern in him something of the same poise, magnanimity, and gentleness, which attract us toward the distinguished Alexandrian. He was a man of more than ordinary fineness of sensibility. One token of this appears in his sympathetic feeling for the beauties of nature, 1 See Epist., xiv. -- a trait which we should hardly expect to find in the age of controversialists and monks.

Considerable celebrity attaches to the name of Basil in connection with monasticism. Several ascetic writings, among them a rule for the cloistral life, came from his hand. The rule prescribes a sufficiently severe régime; at the same time, it falls short of the extreme of monastic austerity, and exhibits special touches of enlightened piety. In one of its specifications, strong emphasis is given to the idea that the life of the solitary is far less compatible with the cultivation of Christian virtue than life in society. 2 Regulæ Fusius Tractatæ, vii.

Basil, as bishop of Cæsarea and metropolitan of Cappadocia, displayed eminent abilities for administration. His steadfastness against the demands of Valens is numbered among the celebrated episodes of the Arian controversy. The Emperor was making use of a tour through the East to depose the orthodox bishops. The prætorian prefect Modestus, who traveled ahead, was instructed to present to such the alternative of communicating with the Arians or the penalty of deposition. Having tried in vain to flatter Basil into acquiescence, he at last rose up in anger, and asked him if he did not fear his power.

Basil. -- Fear what consequences ? what sufferings ?
Modestus. -- One of those many pains which a prefect can inflict.
Basil. -- Let me know them.
Modestus. -- Confiscation, exile, tortures, death.
Basil. -Think of some other threat. These have no influence upon me. He runs no risk of confiscation who has nothing to lose except these mean garments and a few books. Nor does he care for exile who is not circumscribed by place, who does not make a home of the spot he dwells in, but everywhere a home whithersoever he be cast, or rather everywhere God's home, whose pilgrim he is and wanderer. Nor can tortures harm a frame so frail as to break under the first blow. You could but strike once, and death would be gain. It would but send me the sooner to Him for whom I live and labor, for whom I am dead rather than alive, to whom I have long been journeying. 1 See J. H. Newman, Historical Sketches, vol. iii.

In describing Basil, we have also to a large extent described the two Gregories. Probably neither of them was the equal of Basil in administrative talents. But in other respects they were nearly akin, possessed with the same scholarly affinities, the same poetic sensibility and love of nature, the same appreciation of the monastic ideal.

Gregory Nazianzen, like others of the eminent men of this age,-a Chrysostom, a Theodoret, an Augustine, - enjoyed in childhood and youth the sanctifying impress of a mother's fervent piety. A dream of his early days, in which purity and sobriety took the form of angelic visitants, indicates the thoughts which mere then in his mind, as well as the ideal that was before him in maturer years. Like Basil, Gregory availed himself of the best literary advantages of his age, visiting, among other renowned seats of learning, the schools of Athens. His most conspicuous positions in the Church were those which he occupied as pastor of an orthodox congregation in Constantinople, at a time when the city was overrun with Arianism, and later as patriarch of the same metropolis. The latter position, however, was very soon resigned, owing to exhibitions of jealousy and captious opposition. He figured to some extent as a poet, but won his greatest distinction as a pulpit orator. He cannot be excused from a certain rhetorical extravagance, but may be ranked, nevertheless, after Chrysostom, among the principal lights of sacred oratory in the Greek Church.

Gregory of Nyssa, a younger brother of Basil, is known chiefly for his literary productiveness. In this field he served as a champion of trinitarianism; but his thinking was not always in the line of orthodoxy. His bent to idealism reminds of Origen, some of whose peculiar opinions he imbibed.

CHRYSOSTOM. -- John, surnamed Chrysostom, or the Golden-mouthed, was born at Antioch in 347. His mother, Anthusa, was left a widow soon after his birth, and made it henceforth the chief object of her life to perfect the intellectual and religious education of her son. His literary training was conducted under no less a master than the renowned Libanius. As being a mode of life well suited to his rhetorical proficiency, he first chose the calling of an advocate. But he was not long in deciding that this was an uncongenial sphere; and, following the bent of his heart, he dedicated himself wholly to the service of religion. The persuasions of his mother detained him at Antioch till her death, after which he fulfilled a cherished desire, and sought a refuge among the monks dwelling on the mountains near the city. Six years devoted to study and meditation were spent in this retreat, when loss of health gave him a pressing occasion to return to Antioch. Here he was ordained presbyter, and in this office became at once a great light of the pulpit. In 397 the fame of his eloquence caused his election to the office of patriarch of Constantinople. To this elevated position he brought the same simple and abstinent mode of life to which he had previously adhered, and was alert to promote every interest commended to his superintendence. "John," says Theodoret, "had no sooner received the helm of the Church, than he began to rebuke crime with much boldness. He gave many useful counsels to the emperor and the empress; he obliged the priests to observe the canons of the Church, and prohibited those who violated them from approaching the altar." 1 Hist. Eccl., v. 28. His fidelity to his responsibilities was rewarded with the fervent attachment of the better part of the clergy, monks, and people. But, on the other hand, it aroused a relentless opposition. The proud and headstrong empress was offended by the admonitions of the courageous bishop; the more worldly among the clergy disliked his moral strictness; the envious bishop of Alexandria took occasion of the Origenistic controversy to begin a crusade against him; and so it resulted that gross injustice triumphed, and Chrysostom, in 404, was banished to Cucusus, an inhospitable region on the borders of Isauria, Cilicia, and Armenia. Not content with inflicting this banishment, envy and malice sought to drive him into the grave, and succeeded. An attempt to transfer him to Pityus, situated in the neighborhood of Colchis, and upon the very verge of the Empire, proved fatal to the enfeebled prelate, and he died upon the way (407). His remains were deposited at Comana in Pontus. Fourteen centuries later the same place received the remains of the Protestant missionary Henry Martyn, in like manner worn out by sickness and by journeying beyond his strength. 1 J. R. Newman, Historical Sketches. Newman adds: "Let us trust that that zealous preacher came under the shadow of the Catholic doctor, that he touched the bones of Eliseus, and that, all errors forgiven, he lives to God through the intercession of the Confessor, to whom in place and manner of death he was united." We can appreciate the benevolent intent of this comment, but we protest that the Romanist herein does honor neither to Chrysostom nor to Christianity. According to a broad and spiritual View, the union of each of the two men in heart and purpose with Christ is a sufficient guaranty, without the intervention of a human shadow or intercession, of their union in the fruition of the immortal life.

The justice which was denied to the living was soon rendered to the dead. We find, indeed, several years after his decease, that most unsaintly saint, Cyril of Alexandria, still railing against Chrysostom. "He did not hesitate, in a letter still extant, to compare the great Confessor to Judas, and to affirm that the restoration of his name to the episcopal roll would be like paying honor to the traitor instead of recognizing Matthias." 2 Ibid. Cyril, however, lived to see the day when the remains of Chrysostom were brought in state to Constantinople, and when the Emperor, with his face laid upon the coffin, acknowledged and deplored the sin of his parents in having persecuted the noble bishop.

In the domain of doctrine, Chrysostom exhibits in their purity the peculiarities of the Greek type. The freedom of the individual, and his ability to meet and to co-operate with God in the work of personal reformation, are prominent ideas in his system. He appears strongly impressed with the need, as well as with the glorious fruits, of divine grace, but still makes room for the human factor. He stands in clear contrast with the Latin-type as represented by Augustine, in that he does not predicate such a sharp antagonism between nature and grace, is less impressed with the moral solidarity of the race, and does not concede such an overwhelming weight to divine sovereignty.

In the field of exegesis, Chrysostom stands as an eminent representative of the Syrian or Antiochian school, the school of his teacher Diodorus, of his early associate Theodore of Mopsuestia, and of his warm admirer Theodoret. The grand characteristic of this school was its comparative freedom from allegorical interpretations, and its careful attention to grammar and history as the great essentials in exegesis.

The chief distinction of Chrysostom, however, pertains to him as the exponent and advocate of practical Christianity; and in this line of effort the pulpit was his throne. He was one of the great preachers of righteousness. "Chrysostom," says Milman, "was the model of a preacher for a great capital. Clear, rather than profound, his dogmatic is essentially moulded upon his moral teaching. He is the champion, not so exclusively of any system of doctrines, as of Christian holiness against the vices, the dissolute manners, the engrossing love of amusement, which prevailed in the New Rome of the East. His doctrines flow naturally from his subject, or from the passage of Scripture under discussion; his illustrations are copious and happy; his style, free and fluent; while he is an unrivalled master in that rapid and forcible application of incidental occurrences, which gives such life and reality to eloquence. He is at times, in the highest sense, dramatic in his manner." 1 History of Christianity, Book III., chap. ix.

An earnest purpose lay back of the words of Chrysostom; "I am always," says Photius, "in admiration of that thrice-blessed man, because he ever, in all his writings, puts before him, as his object, to be useful." It was his constant endeavor to lead the people to a genuine imitation of Christ, and not merely to a formal and ritualistic Christianity. Purity in heart and in deed was his chosen theme. The surest way to correct in error of the head was, in his view, a good life, since such a life would draw down the favor and special guidance of God. An oft-repeated maxim of his was that nothing outward can by itself work any harm to the man of steadfast faith and purpose; and, in his courageous fidelity to his convictions, he lived as if he believed his maxim. The principle which in one connection he brought forward, and supported by reference to the arts of war and medicine,--namely, that peculiar circumstances may justify, in view of a holy and benevolent aim, a species of accommodation, or departure from the truth,--is rather to be esteemed a piece of ill-advised casuistry than an index of the spirit of the man. The whole bent of Chrysostom was toward an open, fearless, unflinching adherence to the truth, regardless of consequences. The words uttered by him upon the eve of his banishment were no empty boast. "There are many waves," he said, "and a violent flood; but we are not afraid of being overwhelmed, for we stand upon the rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock in pieces; let the waves mount up, the ship of Jesus cannot go down. Tell me, what is there to fear? Is it death? Christ is my life, and dying is my gain. Is it banishment? The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. Is it the loss of earthly goods? We have brought nothing into the world, and we can carry nothing out. I regard not the fearful things of this world, and look with disdain upon its glory." 1 Quoted in Neander's Chrysostomus. In a like tone of steadfastness and religious confidence, he wrote from his place of exile to Olympias: "I do not despair of happier times, considering that He is at the helm of the universe who overcomes the storm, not by human skill, but by His fiat. If He does not do so at once, this is because it is His rule to take this course; and when evils have increased and reached their fullness, and a change is despaired of by the many, then to work His marvelous and strange work, manifesting the power which is His prerogative, while exercising withal the endurance of the afflicted. Never be cast down, then; for one thing alone is fearful, that is sin." 2 Quoted in Newman's Historical Sketches.

THEODORET was born at Antioch about 390. In early manhood he became bishop of Cyros in Syria. His death occurred a few years after the council of Chalcedon. During a large part of his public life, he was an object of bitter attack because of his friendly attitude toward Nestorius. He had, indeed, no favor for the heresy ascribed to Nestorius; but he did not believe that Nestorius entertained that heresy. It was first at Chalcedon, where the furious tide of passion and invective whelmed every attempt to save one's own reputation for orthodoxy, while showing any consideration for the persecuted and exiled patriarch, that he consented to join in the anathema against Nestorius. This ace looks like a trespass against conviction. It is possible, however, that Theodoret finally came to doubt the orthodoxy of Nestorius. If a certain passage in his "Heretical Fables" is genuine, such a conclusion cannot well be avoided.

In principles and character, Theodoret exhibited a certain kinship with Chrysostom. He had much the same elasticity of spirit. Unlike Basil and the Gregories, in whom there was a vein of sedate meditation, or even of sadness, he impresses one as a man of cheerful confidence and restless endeavor. Less intense and eloquent than Chrysostom, he was more versatile. As bishop, preacher, historian, and commentator, he was almost equally eminent. The transformation which he wrought in his diocese is a signal testimony to his ability and industry. As he himself recounted, when compelled by the tongue of the slanderer to speak of himself, he greatly forwarded the material interests of the people, building porticoes, bridges, baths, and an aqueduct. At the same time he pushed the work of Christian instruction with such vigor that thousands of heretics were gained for the Church. "I brought over to the truth," he says, "eight villages of Marcionites, and others in their neighborhood, and with their free consent. Another village filled with Eunomians, another filled with Arians, I led into the light of divine knowledge. And, by God's grace, not even one blade of heretical cockle is left among us. Nor have I accomplished this without personal danger. Often have I shed my blood; often have I been stoned by them, nay, brought down before my time to the very gates of death." Epist. lxxxi., quoted by Newman.

In the credulity which Theodoret exhibits in some of his writings, he shared the infirmity of his age. In his moderation and regard for fair dealing, he was honorably distinguished among the men of his age. "He had large sympathies," says Newman, "keen sensibilities, an indignation at the sight of tyranny, an impatience at wrong, a will of his own, a zeal for the triumph of the truth. He was as genuine a saint as some of those whose names are in the calendar."

AMBR0SE, Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, might be termed the Cyprian of the fourth century. He was an able and resolute administrator, who nobly sustained the episcopal dignity. The majesty of his righteous dealing with the Emperor Theodosius has already engaged our attention. Another instance of inflexible bearing toward the great of the world appears in his relations to the Empress Justina. To her persistent demand that one of the churches of Milan should be given over to an Arian service, he opposed an uncompromising refusal. He also declared to the usurper Maximus that he could not receive him into the communion of the Church till he had done penance for the murder of the Emperor Gratian. Ambrose knew well the limits of his authority. He had no wish to interfere with the secular power in its own domain. At the same time he had high conceptions of the prerogatives of the spiritual power, and was not deterred by purple robes and jeweled crowns from asserting them. In this sense we may accept the words of Milman: "Ambrose was the spiritual ancestor of the Hildebrands and Innocents." 1 History of Christianity, Book III., chap, x.

As a thinker and writer, Ambrose was not distinguished by originality or by superiority to the current of his age. In some of his productions his liberal borrowing from the Greek Fathers is decidedly perceptible. He came by a sudden transition from the secular to the ecclesiastical sphere, and took opinions in the latter pretty much as he found them. "It would seem," says Robertson, "that on his sudden elevation he yielded himself without suspicion or reserve to the tendencies of that fashion of religion which he found prevailing; and from the combination of this with his naturally lofty and energetic character resulted a mixture of qualities which might almost seem incompatible,--of manliness, commanding dignity, and strong practical sense, with a fanciful mysticism and a zealous readiness to encourage and forward the growing superstitions of the age." 1 History of the Church, Book II., chap, v. As an organizer of church music and a writer of hymns, Ambrose undoubtedly rendered a very valuable service. He marks an era in Latin hymnology.

JEROME was born about the year 340, in Dalmatia. His education was conducted under competent masters at Rome. In early manhood, monastic zeal led him to the desert of Chalcis in Syria. Here he studied Hebrew and Chaldee. Proceeding thence, he visited Antioch, where he was ordained priest; Constantinople, where he listened to the eloquence of Gregory Nazianzen; and, finally, Rome, where he became secretary of the bishop Damasus. Leaving Rome in 385, after a tour through Palestine and Egypt, he took up his abode in a monastery at Bethlehem. Here he remained till his death, in 419 or 420.

An experience of Jerome in the early part of his monastic life indicates the bent of his taste and genius. He dreamed that he was suddenly caught up and ushered through the midst of shining immortals into the presence of the Judge. Being asked concerning his state, he replied, "I am a Christian." "Thou liest," said the Judge: "thou art a Ciceronian." And with that he commanded the terror-stricken culprit to be scourged. He, on his part, ceased not to cry for mercy, till at length the heavenly attendants interceded in his behalf. He was released on his solemn promise to keep clear henceforth of secular literature. 2 Epist. xxii. 30, Ad Eustochium. The imaginary ordeal made a vivid impression upon Jerome for the time being. He believed that it was a visitation from God. Indeed, he claimed that he still felt, after he awoke, the painful impress of the scourge upon his body. In later years, however, he found it very convenient to treat the matter as a simple dream. He remained to the end a Ciceronian. Mastery of words, rhetorical skill, a fondness and an aptitude for brilliant paragraphs, continued to be distinguishing features of his genius.

In learning, Jerome surpassed all the Latin Fathers of the period. He was especially proficient in linguistic studies, and so was prepared for the extensive tasks which he accomplished as a commentator, and, above all, as the author of the standard Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate. As a thinker, he must be assigned a less eminent rank. The quality of his mind is better described as alertness or smartness, than as profundity.

The character of Jerome cannot endure well a close inspection. To say nothing of the outrageous profanation of taste which appears in his communications to Roman ladies, and which, perhaps, argues rather a mental than a moral infirmity, he gave many and most unwholesome manifestations of passion and self-conceit. In dealing with an opponent, he knew nothing of the claims of charity. He was sure to push criticism into savage abuse where he was not confronted by one whom he felt to be a match for himself. So glaring are the flaws in his record, that Newman does not shun to intimate that nothing short of the verdict of an infallible Church could warrant belief in his saintship. 1

1 Historical Sketches, iii. 173. His words are: "I do not scruple to say, that, were he not a saint, there are words and ideas in his writings from which I should shrink; but, as he is a saint, I shrink with greater reason from putting myself in opposition, even in minor matters and points of detail, to one who has the magisterium of the Church pledged to his saintly perfection. I cannot, indeed, force myself to approve or like these particulars on my private judgment or feeling; but I can receive things on faith against both the one and the other. And I readily and heartily do take on faith these characteristics, words, or acts of this great doctor of the universal Church, and think it not less acceptable to God or to him to give him my religious homage than my human praise." A peculiar illustration, surely, of that broad and roomy freedom which Newman invites his Protestant readers to expect in the Romish Church ! A peculiar specimen, too, of a voluntary abasement of moral judgment ! If one is to compel himself to call that white which his native moral sense emphatically declares to be black, then farewell to moral clearness and health !

AUGUSTINE belonged to that class of men whom the march of centuries and of civilizations never leaves behind. Probably among all who have followed the apostles, no one has exercised a wider influence. The scholastics of the Middle Ages paid homage to him as the great theological master. The foremost leaders of the Protestant Reformation drew from his writings as from no other ancient treasury, the Scriptures alone excepted. Those who disagree with him on some points are glad to appeal to him upon others, and he is still frequently quoted both by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Such breadth of influence argues, of course, a corresponding breadth and fertility of nature. Augustine was a man of extraordinary endowments. Deep thought in him was united with deep sentiment, the head of iron with the heart of flame, high intellectuality with consecrated emotion. The tone of his writings is a prominent element in their worth, as well as the thousand gems of philosophical and theological wisdom which they contain. In the broad circle of his ideas, very serious errors, it is true, were included; and the homage commanded before the majesty and riches of his great mind have often prevented these from being duly considered. Nevertheless, his works remain a source both of valuable instruction and healthful inspiration for every serious reader.

As a Christian, Augustine commands interest, as being one of that class who could refer to an experience positive, profound, and transforming. He was born about 353, at the village of Taoist in Numidia. His father was an adherent of the heathen religion until near his death; his mother, Monica, was a devoted Christian, whose prayers for the salvation of her son were ever fresh upon the divine altar until she obtained the pledge of their acceptance. For many years there was little token of a gracious response. Augustine appeared absorbed in the study and practice of the rhetorician's are, or, still worse, bound by the chain of illicit pleasures. "I was," he said, in subsequent utterances of self-condemnation, "far from Thy face through my darkened affections. I was become deaf by the rattling of the chains of my mortality. ... Behold with what companions I walked the streets of Babylon, in whose filth I was rolled as if in cinnamon and precious ointments....I befouled the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and dimmed its lustre with the hell of lustfulness; and yet, foul and dishonorable as I was, I craved, through an excess of vanity, to be thought elegant; and urbane." 1 Confessions. Very likely, in these strong accusations against his former life, Augustine acted as an unsparing critic, and judged his course from the stand-point of the most sensitive conscience; but we know from his own explicit statement, that the partner with whom he lived for years, and by whom he had a son, was not his by lawful wedlock. The age of manhood came to Augustine without definite indications of religious awakening, except of an abnormal and fruitless kind. From his nineteenth to his twenty-eighth year he adhered to the sect of the Manichæans, not passing, however, beyond the rank of a hearer. "Nearly nine years paused," he says, "in which I wallowed in the slime of that deep pit and the darkness of falsehood, striving often to rise, but being all the more heavily dashed down."

Meanwhile, the power of a mother's prayers, and the cravings of a nature robbed of its proper food, were drawing him toward the true spiritual goal. An inner discontent proved the truthfulness of the maxim which he afterwards placed upon the opening page of his Confessions: "Thou best formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." As he came to Milan, as teacher of rhetoric, a deeper feeling than mere discontent finally took hold of his heart. The agony of poignant conviction was felt. "Thou didst set me," he writes, "face to face with myself, that I might behold how foul I was, and how crooked and sordid, bespotted and ulcerous. And I beheld, and loathed myself." While thus cast down with a sense of personal degradation and longing for deliverance, the voice of a child, which seemed to come from a neighboring house, directed him to the Scriptures. He opened and read, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." No sooner was the sentence finished, than "a11 the gloom of doubt vanished away." Augustine was now a new man. The chains of sinful delights had been snapped asunder. "How sweet," he exclaims, "did it suddenly become to me to be without the delights of trifles! And what at one time I feared to lose, it was now a joy to me to put away. For Thou didst cast them away from me, Thou true and highest sweetness, and instead of them didst enter in Thyself, -- sweeter than all pleasure, brighter than all light. ... He loves Thee too little who loves aught with Thee, which he loves not for Thee, O love, who ever burnest, and art never quenched!" A joy in God rising to the verge of ecstasy, but at the same time chastened by a feeling of personal unworthiness, was henceforth a principal factor in the inner life of the son of Monica. Augustine was converted in 386. In 395 he became bishop of the Numidian city Hippo, a position retained till his death, in 430. He died as the shadow of the invasion by the Vandals was upon his country. But we may well believe that his faith rose above the outward shadow, and that his departure was lighted by visions of that supernal beauty, toward which his desire had ardently reached, as his own words testify: " 0, how wonderful, how beautiful and lovely are the dwellings of Thy house, Almighty God ! I burn with longing to behold Thy beauty in Thy bridal chamber."

No comments:

Post a Comment