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Beacon Lights of History, Volume IV by John Lord

Part 2 out of 4

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Marcus Aurelius is immortal, not so much for what he _did_ as for what
he _was_. His services to the State were considerable, but not
transcendent. He was a great man, but not pre-eminently a great emperor.
He was a meditative sage rather than a man of action; although he
successfully fought the Germanic barbarians, and repelled their fearful
incursions. He did not materially extend the limits of the Empire, but
he preserved and protected its provinces. He reigned wisely and ably,
but made mistakes. His greatness was in his character; his influence for
good was in his noble example. When we consider his circumstances and
temptations, as the supreme master of a vast Empire, and in a wicked and
sensual age, he is a greater moral phenomenon than Socrates or
Epictetus. He was one of the best men of Pagan antiquity. History
furnishes no example of an absolute monarch so pure and spotless and
lofty as he was, unless it be Alfred the Great or St. Louis. But the
sphere of the Roman emperor was far greater than that of the Mediaeval
kings. Marcus Aurelius ruled over one hundred and twenty millions of
people, without check or hindrance or Constitutional restraint. He could
do what he pleased with their persons and their property. Most
sovereigns, exalted to such lofty dignity and power, have been either
cruel, or vindictive, or self-indulgent, or selfish, or proud, or hard,
or ambitious,--men who have been stained by crimes, whatever may have
been their services to civilization. Most of them have yielded to their
great temptations. But Marcus Aurelius, on the throne of the civilized
world, was modest, virtuous, affable, accessible, considerate, gentle,
studious, contemplative, stained by novices,--a model of human virtue.
Hence he is one of the favorite characters of history. No Roman emperor
was so revered and loved as he, and of no one have so many monuments
been preserved. Everybody had his picture or statue in his house. He was
more than venerated in his day, and his fame as a wise and good man has
increased with the flight of ages.

This illustrious emperor did not belong to the family of the great
Caesar. That family became extinct with Nero, the sixth emperor. Like
Trajan and Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius derived his remote origin from
Spain, although he was born in Rome. His great-grandfather was a
Spaniard, and yet attained the praetorian rank. His grandfather reached
the consulate. His father died while praetor, and when he himself was a
child. He was adopted by his grandfather Annius Verus. But his
marvellous moral beauty, even as a child, attracted the attention of the
Emperor Hadrian, who bestowed upon him the honor of the aequestrian
rank, at the age of six. At fifteen he was adopted by Antoninus Pius,
then, as we might say, "Crown Prince." Had he been older, he would have
been adopted by Hadrian himself. He thus, a mere youth, became the heir
of the Roman world. His education was most excellent. From Fronto, the
greatest rhetorician of the day, he learned rhetoric; from Herodes
Atticus he acquired a knowledge of the world; from Diognotus he learned
to despise superstition; from Apollonius, undeviating steadiness of
purpose; from Sextus of Chaeronea, toleration of human infirmities; from
Maximus, sweetness and dignity; from Alexander, allegiance to duty; from
Rusticus, contempt of sophistry and display. This stoical philosopher
created in him a new intellectual life, and opened to him a new world of
thought. But the person to whom he was most indebted was his adopted
father and father-in-law, the Emperor Antoninus Pius. For him he seems
to have had the greatest reverence. "In him," said he, "I noticed
mildness of manner with firmness of resolution, contempt of vain-glory,
industry in business, and accessibility of person. From him I learned
to acquiesce in every fortune, to exercise foresight in public affairs,
to rise superior to vulgar praises, to serve mankind without ambition,
to be sober and steadfast, to be content with little, to be practical
and active, to be no dreamy bookworm, to be temperate, modest in dress,
and not to be led away by novelties." What a picture of an emperor! What
a contrast to such a man as Louis XIV!

We might draw a parallel between Marcus Aurelius and David, when he was
young and innocent. But the person in history whom he most resembled was
St. Anselm. He was a St. Anselm on the throne. Philosophical meditations
seem to have been his delight and recreation; and yet he could issue
from his retirement and engage in active pursuits. He was an able
general as well as a meditative sage,--heroic like David, capable of
enduring great fatigue, and willing to expose himself to great dangers.

While his fame rests on his "Meditations," as that of David rests upon
his Psalms, he yet rendered great military services to the Empire. He
put down a dangerous revolt under Avidius Cassius in Asia, and did not
punish the rebellious provinces. Not one person suffered death in
consequence of this rebellion. Even the papers of Cassius, who aimed to
be emperor, were burned, that a revelation of enemies might not be
made,--a signal instance of magnanimity. Cassius, it seems, was
assassinated by his own officers, which assassination Marcus Aurelius
regretted, because it deprived him of granting a free pardon to a very
able but dangerous man.

But the most signal service he rendered the Empire was a successful
resistance to the barbarians of Germany, who had formed a general union
for the invasion of the Roman world. They threatened the security of the
Empire, as the Teutons did in the time of Marius, and the Gauls and
Germans in the time of Julius Caesar. It took him twenty years to subdue
these fierce warriors. He made successive campaigns against them, as
Charlemagne did against the Saxons. It cost him the best years of his
life to conquer them, which he did under difficulties as great as Julius
surmounted in Gaul. He was the savior and deliverer of his country, as
much as Marius or Scipio or Julius. The public dangers were from the
West and not the East. Yet he succeeded in erecting a barrier against
barbaric inundations, so that for nearly two hundred years the Romans
were not seriously molested. There still stands in "the Eternal City"
the column which commemorates his victories,--not so beautiful as that
of Trajan, which furnished the model for Napoleon's column in the Place
Vendome, but still greatly admired. Were he not better known for his
writings, he would be famous as one of the great military emperors,
like Vespasian, Diocletian, and Constantine. Perhaps he did not add to
the art of war; that was perfected by Julius Caesar. It was with the
mechanism of former generals that he withstood most dangerous enemies,
for in his day the legions were still well disciplined and irresistible.

The only stains on the reign of this good and great emperor--for there
were none on his character--were in allowing the elevation of his son
Commodus as his successor, and his persecution of the Christians.

In regard to the first, it was a blunder rather than a fault. Peter the
Great caused _his_ heir to be tried and sentenced to death, because he
was a sot, a liar, and a fool. He dared not intrust the interests of his
Empire to so unworthy a son; the welfare of Russia was more to him than
the interest of his family. In that respect this stern and iron man was
a greater prince than Marcus Aurelius; for the law of succession was not
established at Rome any more than in Russia. There was no danger of
civil war should the natural succession be set aside, as might happen in
the feudal monarchies of Europe. The Emperor of Rome could adopt or
elect his successor. It would have been wise for Aurelius to have
selected one of the ablest of his generals, or one of the wisest of his
senators, as Hadrian did, for so great and responsible a position,
rather than a wicked, cruel, dissolute son. But Commodus was the son of
Faustina also,--an intriguing and wicked woman, whose influence over her
husband was unfortunately great; and, what is common in this world, the
son was more like the mother than the father. (I think the wife of Eli
the high-priest must have been a bad woman.) All his teachings and
virtues were lost on such a reprobate. She, as an unscrupulous and
ambitious woman, had no idea of seeing her son supplanted in the
imperial dignity; and, like Catherine de'Medici and Agrippina, probably
she connived at and even encouraged the vices of her children, in order
more easily to bear rule. At any rate, the succession of Commodus to the
throne was the greatest calamity that could have happened. For five
reigns the Empire had enjoyed peace and prosperity; for five reigns the
tide of corruption had been stayed: but the flood of corruption swept
all barriers away with the accession of Commodus, and from that day the
decline of the Empire was rapid and fatal. Still, probably nothing could
have long arrested ruin. The Empire was doomed.

The other fact which obscured the glory of Marcus Aurelius as a
sovereign was his persecution of the Christians,--for which it is hard
to account, when the beneficent character of the emperor is considered.
His reign was signalized for an imperial persecution, in which Justin at
Rome, Polycarp at Smyrna, and Ponthinus at Lyons, suffered martyrdom. It
was not the first persecution. Under Nero the Christians had been
cruelly tortured, nor did the virtuous Trajan change the policy of the
government. Hadrian and Antoninus Pius permitted the laws to be enforced
against the Christians, and Marcus Aurelius saw no reason to alter them.
But to the mind of the Stoic on the throne, says Arnold, the Christians
were "philosophically contemptible, politically subversive, and morally
abominable." They were regarded as statesmen looked upon the Jesuits in
the reign of Louis XV., as we look upon the Mormons,--as dangerous to
free institutions. Moreover, the Christians were everywhere
misunderstood and misrepresented. It was impossible for Marcus Aurelius
to see the Christians except through a mist of prejudices. "Christianity
grew up in the Catacombs, not on the Palatine." In allowing the laws to
take their course against a body of men who were regarded with distrust
and aversion as enemies of the State, the Emperor was simply
unfortunate. So wise and good a man, perhaps, ought to have known the
Christians better; but, not knowing them, he cannot be stigmatized as a
cruel man. How different the fortunes of the Church had Aurelius been
the first Christian emperor instead of Constantine! Or, had his wife
Faustina known the Christians as well as Marcia the mistress of
Commodus, perhaps the persecution might not have happened,--and perhaps
it might. Earnest and sincere men have often proved intolerant when
their peculiar doctrines have been assailed,--like Athanasius and St.
Bernard. A Stoical philosopher was trained, like a doctor of the Jewish
Sandhedrim, in a certain intellectual pride.

The fame of Marcus Aurelius rests, as it has been said, on his
philosophical reflections, as his "Meditations" attest. This remarkable
book has come down to us, while most of the annals of the age have
perished; so that even Niebuhr confesses that he knows less of the reign
of Marcus Aurelius than of the early kings of Rome. Perhaps that is one
reason why Gibbon begins his history with later emperors. But the
"Meditations" of the good emperor survive, like the writings of
Epictetus, St. Augustine, and Thomas a Kempis: one of the few immortal
books,--immortal, in this case, not for artistic excellence, like the
writings of Thucydides and Tacitus, but for the loftiness of thoughts
alone; so precious that the saints of the Middle Ages secretly preserved
them as in accord with their own experiences. It is from these
"Meditations" that we derive our best knowledge of Marcus Aurelius. They
reveal the man,--and a man of sorrows, as the truly great are apt to be,
when brought in contact with a world of wickedness, as were Alfred
and Dante.

In these "Meditations" there is a striking resemblance to the discourses
of Epictetus, which alike reveal the lofty and yet sorrowful soul, and
are among the most valuable fragments which have come down from Pagan
antiquity; and this is remarkable, since Epictetus was a Phrygian slave,
of the lowest parentage. He belonged to the secretary and companion of
Nero, whose name was Epaphroditus, and who treated this poor Phrygian
with great cruelty. And yet, what is very singular, the master caused
the slave to be indoctrinated in the Stoical philosophy, on account of a
rare intelligence which commanded respect. He was finally manumitted,
but lived all his life in the deepest poverty, to which he attached no
more importance than Socrates did at Athens. In his miserable cottage he
had no other furniture than a straw pallet and an iron lamp, which last
somebody stole. His sole remark on the loss of the only property he
possessed was, that when the thief came again he would be disappointed
to find only an earthen lamp instead of an iron one. This earthen lamp
was subsequently purchased by a hero-worshipper for three thousand
drachmas ($150). Epictetus, much as he despised riches and display and
luxury and hypocrisy and pedantry and all phariseeism, living in the
depths of poverty, was yet admired by eminent men, among whom was the
Emperor Hadrian himself; and he found a disciple in Arrian, who was to
him what Xenophon was to Socrates, committing his precious thoughts to
writing; and these thoughts were to antiquity what the "Imitation of
Christ" was to the Middle Ages,--accepted by Christians as well as by
pagans, and even to-day regarded as one of the most beautiful treatises
on morals ever composed by man. The great peculiarity of the "Manual"
and the "Discourses" is the elevation of the soul over external evils,
the duty of resignation to whatever God sends, and the obligation to do
right because it is right. Epictetus did not go into the dreary
dialectics of the schools, but, like Socrates, confined himself to
practical life,--to the practice of virtue as the greatest good,--and
valued the joys of true intellectual independence. To him his mind was
his fortune, and he desired no better. We do not find in the stoicism of
the Phrygian slave the devout and lofty spiritualism of
Plato,--thirsting for God and immortality; it may be doubted whether he
believed in immortality at all: but he did recognize what is most noble
in human life,--the subservience of the passions to reason, the power of
endurance, patience, charity, and disinterested action. He did recognize
the necessity of divine aid in the struggles of life, the glory of
friendship, the tenderness of compassion, the power of sympathy. His
philosophy was human, and it was cheerful; since he did not believe in
misfortune, and exalted gentleness and philanthropy. Above everything,
he sought inward approval, not the praises of the world,--that happiness
which lies within one's self, in the absence of all ignoble fears, in
contentment, in that peace of the mind which can face poverty, disease,
exile, and death.

Such were the lofty views which, embodied in the discourses of
Epictetus, fell into the hands of Marcus Aurelius in the progress of his
education, and exercised such a great influence on his whole subsequent
life. The slave became the teacher of the emperor,--which it is
impossible to conceive of unless their souls were in harmony. As a
Stoic, the emperor would not be less on his throne than the slave in his
cottage. The trappings and pomps of imperial state became indifferent to
him, since they were external, and were of small moment compared with
that high spiritual life which he desired to lead. If poverty and pain
were nothing to Epictetus, so grandeur and power and luxury should be
nothing to him,--both alike being merely outward things, like the
clothes which cover a man. And the fewer the impediments in the march
after happiness and truth the better. Does a really great and
preoccupied man care what he wears? "A shocking bad hat" was perhaps as
indifferent to Gladstone as a dirty old cloak was to Socrates. I suppose
if a man is known to be brainless, it is necessary for him to wear a
disguise,--even as instinct prompts a frivolous and empty woman to put
on jewels. But who expects a person recognized as a philosopher to use
a mental crutch or wear a moral mask? Who expects an old man, compelling
attention by his wisdom, to dress like a dandy? It is out of place; it
is not even artistic,--it is ridiculous. That only is an evil which
shackles the soul. Aurelius aspired to its complete emancipation. Not
for the joys of a future heaven did he long, but for the realities and
certitudes of earth,--the placidity and harmony and peace of his soul,
so long as it was doomed to the trials and temptations of the world, and
a world, too, which he did not despise, but which he sought to benefit.

So, what was contentment in the slave became philanthropy in the
emperor. He would be a benefactor, not by building baths and theatres,
but by promoting peace, prosperity, and virtue. He would endure
cheerfully the fatigue of winter campaigns upon the frozen Danube, if
the Empire could be saved from violence. To extend its boundaries, like
Julius, he cared nothing; but to preserve what he had was a supreme
duty. His watchword was duty,--to himself, his country, and God. He
lived only for the happiness of his subjects. Benevolence became the law
of his life. Self-abnegation destroyed self-indulgence. For what was he
placed by Providence in the highest position in the world, except to
benefit the world? The happiness of one hundred and twenty millions was
greater than the joys of any individual existence. And what were any
pleasures which ended in vanity to the sublime placidity of an
emancipated soul? Stoicism, if it did not soar to God and immortality,
yet aspired to the freedom and triumph of what is most precious in man.
And it equally despised, with haughty scorn, those things which
corrupted and degraded this higher nature,--the glorious dignity of
unfettered intellect. The accidents of earth were nothing in his
eyes,--neither the purple of kings nor the rags of poverty. It was the
soul, in its transcendent dignity, which alone was to be preserved
and purified.

This was the exalted realism which appears in the "Meditations" of
Marcus Aurelius, and which he had learned from the inspirations of a
slave. Yet such was the inborn, almost supernatural, loftiness of
Aurelius, that, had he been the slave and Epictetus the emperor, the
same moral wisdom would have shone in the teachings and life of each;
for they both were God's witnesses of truth in an age of wickedness and
shame. It was He who chose them both, and sent them out as teachers of
righteousness,--the one from the humblest cottage, the other from the
most magnificent palace of the capital of the world. In station they
were immeasurably apart; in aim and similarity of ideas they were
kindred spirits,--one of the phenomena of the moral history of our race;
for the slave, in his physical degradation, had all the freedom and
grandeur of an aspiring soul, and the emperor, on his lofty throne, had
all the humility and simplicity of a peasant in the lowliest state of
poverty and suffering. Surely circumstances had nothing to do with this
marvellous exhibition. It was either the mind and soul triumphant over
and superior to all outward circumstances, or it was God imparting an
extraordinary moral power.

I believe it was the inscrutable design of the Supreme Governor of the
universe to show, perhaps, what lessons of moral wisdom could be taught
by men under the most diverse influences and under the greatest
contrasts of rank and power, and also to what heights the souls of both
slave and king could rise, with His aid, in the most corrupt period of
human history. Noah, Abraham, and Moses did not stand more isolated
amidst universal wickedness than did the Phrygian slave and the imperial
master of the world. And as the piety of Noah could not save the
antediluvian empires, as the faith of Abraham could not convert
idolatrous nations, as the wisdom of Moses could not prevent the
sensualism of emancipated slaves, so the lofty philosophy of Aurelius
could not save the Empire which he ruled. And yet the piety of Noah, the
faith of Abraham, the wisdom of Moses, and the stoicism of Aurelius have
proved alike a spiritual power,--the precious salt which was to preserve
humanity from the putrefaction of almost universal selfishness and vice,
until the new revelation should arouse the human soul to a more serious
contemplation of its immortal destiny.

The imperial "Meditations" are without art or arrangement,--a sort of
diary, valuable solely for their precious thoughts; not lofty soarings
in philosophical and religious contemplation, which tax the brain to
comprehend, like the thoughts of Pascal, but plain maxims for the daily
intercourse of life, showing great purity of character and extraordinary
natural piety, blended with pithy moral wisdom and a strong sense of
duty. "Men exist for each other: teach them or bear with them," said he.
"Benevolence is invincible, if it be not an affected smile." "When thou
risest in the morning unwillingly, say, 'I am rising to the work of a
human being; why, then, should I be dissatisfied if I am going to do the
things for which I was brought into the world?'" "Since it is possible
that thou mayest depart from this life this very moment, regulate every
act and thought accordingly (... for death hangs over thee whilst thou
livest), while it is in thy power to be good." "What has become of all
great and famous men, and all they desired and loved? They are smoke and
ashes, and a tale." "If thou findest in human life anything better than
justice, temperance, fortitude, turn to it with all thy soul; but if
thou findest anything else smaller (and of no value) than this, give
place to nothing else." "Men seek retreats for themselves,--houses in
the country, seashores, and mountains; but it is always in thy power to
retire within thyself, for nowhere does a man retire with more quiet or
freedom than into his own soul." Think of such sayings, written down in
his diary on the evenings of the very days of battle with the barbarians
on the Danube or in Hungarian marshes! Think of a man, O ye Napoleons,
ye conquerors, who can thus muse and meditate in his silent tent, and by
the light of his solitary lamp, after a day of carnage and of victory!
Think of such a man,--not master of a little barbaric island or a
half-established throne in a country no bigger than a small province,
but the supreme sovereign of a vast empire, at the time of its greatest
splendor and prosperity, with no mortal power to keep his will in
check,--nothing but the voice within him; nothing but the sense of duty;
nothing but the desire of promoting the happiness of others: and this
man a Pagan!

But the state of that Empire, with all its prosperity, needed such a man
to arise. If anything or anybody could save it, it was that succession
of good emperors of whom Marcus Aurelius was the last, in the latter
part of the second century. Let us glance, in closing, at the real
condition of the Empire at that time. I take leave of the man,--this
"laurelled hero and crowned philosopher," stretching out his hands to
the God he but dimly saw, and yet enunciating moral truths which for
wisdom have been surpassed only by the sacred writers of the Bible, to
whom the Almighty gave his special inspiration. I turn reluctantly from
him to the Empire he governed.

Gibbon says, in his immortal History, "If a man were called to fix the
period in the history of the world during which the condition of the
human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation,
name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of

This is the view that Gibbon takes of the prosperity of the old Roman
world under such princes as the Antonines. Niebuhr, however, a greater
critic, though not so great an artist, takes a different view; and both
are great authorities. If Gibbon meant simply that this period was the
happiest and most prosperous during the imperial reigns, he may not have
been far from the truth, according to his standpoint of what human
happiness consists in,--that external prosperity which was the blessing
of the Old Testament, and which Macaulay exalts as proudly as Gibbon
before him. There _was_ this external prosperity, so far as we know, and
we know but little aside from monuments and medals. Even Tacitus shrank
from writing contemporaneous history, and the period he could have
painted is to us dark, mysterious, and unknown. Still, it is generally
supposed and conceded that the Empire at this time was outwardly
splendid and prosperous. Certainly there was a period of peace, when no
wars troubled the State but those which were distant,--on the very
confines of the Empire, and that with rude barbarians, no more
formidable in the eyes of the luxurious citizens of the capital than a
revolt of the Sepoys to the eyes of the citizens of London, or Indian
raids among the Rocky Mountains to the eyes of the people of New York.
And there was the reign of law and order, a most grateful thing to those
who had read of the conspiracy of Catiline and the tumults of Clodius,
two hundred and fifty years before. And there was doubtless a
magnificent material civilization which promised to be eternal, and of
which every Roman was proud. There was a centralization of power in the
Eternal City such as had never been seen before and has never been seen
since,--a solid Empire so large that the Mediterranean, which it
enclosed, was a mere central lake, around the vast circuit of whose
shores were temples and palaces and villas of unspeakable beauty, and
where a busy population pursued unmolested its various trades. There was
commerce on every river which empties itself into this vast basin; there
were manufactures in every town, and there were agricultural skill and
abundance in every province. The plains of Egypt and Mesopotamia
rejoiced in the richest harvests of wheat; the hills of Syria and Gaul,
and Spain and Italy, were covered with grape-vines and olives. Italy
boasted of fifty kinds of wine, and Gaul produced the same vegetables
that are known at the present day. All kinds of fruit were plenty and
luscious in every province. There were game-preserves and fish-ponds and
groves. There were magnificent roads between all the great cities,--an
uninterrupted highway, mostly paved, from York to Jerusalem. The
productions of the East were consumed in the West, for ships whitened
the sea, bearing their precious gems, and ivory, and spices, and
perfumes, and silken fabrics, and carpets, and costly vessels of gold
and silver, and variegated marbles; and all the provinces of an empire
which extended fifteen hundred miles from north to south and three
thousand from east to west were dotted with cities, some of which almost
rivalled the imperial capital in size and magnificence. The little
island of Rhodes contained twenty-three thousand statues, and Antioch
had a street four miles in length, with double colonnades throughout its
whole extent. The temple of Ephesus covered as much ground as does the
cathedral of Cologne, and the library of Alexandria numbered seven
hundred thousand volumes. Rome, the proud metropolis, had a diameter of
eleven miles, and was forty-five miles in circuit, with a population,
according to Lipsius, larger than modern London. It had seventeen
thousand palaces, thirty theatres, nine thousand baths, and eleven
amphitheatres,--one of which could seat eighty-seven thousand
spectators. The gilding of the roof of the capitol cost fifteen millions
of our money. The palace of Nero was more extensive than Versailles. The
mausoleum of Hadrian became the most formidable fortress of Mediaeval
times. And then, what gold and silver vessels ornamented every palace,
what pictures and statues enriched every room, what costly and gilded
and carved furniture was the admiration of every guest, what rich
dresses decorated the women who supped at gorgeous tables of solid
silver, whose very sandals were ornamented with precious stones, and
whose necks were hung with priceless pearls and rubies and diamonds!
Paulina wore a pearl which, it is said, cost two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars of our money. All the masterpieces of antiquity were
collected in this centre of luxury and pride,--all those arts which made
Greece immortal, and which we can only copy. What vast structures,
ornamented with pillars and marble statues, were crowded together near
the Forum and Capitoline Hill! The museums of Italy contain to-day
twenty thousand specimens of ancient sculpture, which no modern artist
could improve. More than a million of dollars were paid for a single
picture for the imperial bed-chamber,--for painting was carried to as
great perfection as sculpture.

Such were the arts of the Pagan city, such the material civilization in
all the cities; and these cities were guarded by soldiers who were
trained to the utmost perfection of military discipline, and presided
over by governors as elegant, as polished, and as intelligent as the
courtiers of Louis XIV. The genius for war was only equalled by genius
for government. How well administered were all the provinces! The Romans
spread their laws, their language, and their institutions everywhere
without serious opposition. They were great civilizers, as the English
have been. "Law" became as great an idea as "glory;" and so perfect was
the mechanism of government that the happiness of the people was
scarcely affected by the character of the emperors. Jurisprudence, the
indigenous science of the Romans, is still studied and adopted for its
political wisdom.

Such was the civilization of the Roman world in the time of Marcus
Aurelius,--that external grandeur, that outward prosperity, to which
Gibbon points with such admiration and pride, and to which he ascribed
the highest happiness which the world has ever enjoyed. Far different,
probably, would have been the verdict of the good and contemplative
emperor who then ruled the civilized world, when he saw the luxury, the
pride, the sensuality, the selfishness, the irreligion, the worldliness,
which marked all classes; producing vices too horrible to be even
named, and undermining the moral health, and secretly and surely
preparing the way for approaching violence and ruin.

What, then, is the reverse of the picture which Gibbon admired? What
established facts have we as an offset to these gilded material glories?
What should be the true judgment of mankind as to this lauded period?

The historian speaks of peace, and the prosperity which naturally flowed
from it in the uninterrupted pursuit of the ordinary occupations of
life. This is indisputable. There was the increase of wealth, the
enjoyment of security, the absence of fears, and the reign of law. Life
and property were guarded. A man could travel from one part of the
Empire to the other without fear of robbers or assassins. All these
things are great blessings. Materially we have no higher civilization.
But with peace and prosperity were idleness, luxury, gambling,
dissipation, extravagance, and looseness of morals of which we have no
conception, and which no subsequent age of the world has seen. It was
the age of most scandalous monopolies, and disproportionate fortunes,
and abandonment to the pleasures of sense. Any Roman governor could make
a fortune in a year; and his fortune was spent in banquets and fetes and
races and costly wines, and enormous retinues of slaves. The theatres,
the chariot races, the gladiatorial shows, the circus, and the sports
of the amphitheatre were then at their height. The central spring of
society was money, since it purchased everything which Epicureanism
valued. No dignitary was respected for his office,--only for the salary
or gains which his office brought. All professions which were not
lucrative gradually fell into disrepute; and provided they were
lucrative, it was of no consequence whether or not they were infamous.
Dancers, cooks, and play-actors received the highest consideration,
since their earnings were large. Scholars, poets, and philosophers--what
few there were--pined in attics. Epictetus lived in a miserable cottage
with only a straw pallet and a single lamp. Women had no education, and
were disgracefully profligate; even the wife of Marcus Aurelius (the
daughter of Antoninus Pius) was one of the most abandoned women of the
age, notwithstanding all the influence of their teachings and example.
Slavery was so great an institution that half of the population were
slaves. There were sixty millions of them in the Empire, and they were
generally treated with brutal cruelty. The master of Epictetus, himself
a scholar and philosopher, broke wantonly the leg of his illustrious
slave to see how well he could bear pain. There were no public
charities. The poor and miserable and sick were left to perish unheeded
and unrelieved. Even the free citizens were fed at the public expense,
not as a charity, but to prevent revolts. About two thousand people
owned the whole civilized world, and their fortunes were spent in
demoralizing it. What if their palaces were grand, and their villas
beautiful, and their dresses magnificent, and their furniture costly, if
their lives were spent in ignoble and enervating pleasures, as is
generally admitted. There was a low religious life, almost no religion
at all, and what there was was degrading by its superstition.
Everywhere were seen the rites of magical incantations, the pretended
virtue of amulets and charms, soothsayers laughing at their own
predictions,--nowhere the worship of the _one God_ who created the
heaven and the earth, nor even a genuine worship of the Pagan deities,
but a general spirit of cynicism and atheism. What does St. Paul say of
the Romans when he was a prisoner in the precincts of the imperial
palace, and at a time of no greater demoralization? We talk of the
glories of jurisprudence; but what was the practical operation of laws
when such a harmless man as Paul could be brought to trial, and perhaps
execution! What shall we say of the boasted justice, when judgments were
rendered on technical points, and generally in favor of those who had
the longest purses; so that it was not only expensive to go to law, but
so expensive that it was ruinous? What could be hoped of laws, however
good, when they were made the channels of extortion, when the
occupation of the Bench itself was the great instrument by which
powerful men protected their monopolies? We speak of the glories of art;
but art was prostituted to please the lower tastes and inflame the
passions. The most costly pictures were hung up in the baths, and were
disgracefully indecent. Even literature was directed to the flattery of
tyrants and rich men. There was no manly protest from literary men
against the increasing vices of society,--not even from the
philosophers. Philosophy continually declined, like literature and art.
Nothing strikes us more forcibly than the absence of genius in the
second century. There was no reward for genius except when it flattered
and pandered to what was demoralizing. Who dared to utter manly protests
in the Senate? Who discussed the principles of government? Who would
venture to utter anything displeasing to the imperial masters of the
world? In this age of boundless prosperity, where were the great poets,
where the historians, where the writers on political economy, where the
moralists? For one hundred years there were scarcely ten eminent men in
any department of literature whose writings have come down to us. There
was the most marked decay in all branches of knowledge, except in that
knowledge which could be utilized for making money. The imperial regime
cast a dismal shadow over all the efforts of independent genius, on all
lofty aspirations, on all individual freedom. Architects, painters, and
sculptors there were in abundance, and they were employed and well paid;
but where were poets, scholars, sages?--where were politicians even? The
great and honored men were the tools of emperors,--the prefects of their
guards, the generals of their armies, the architects of their palaces,
the purveyors of their banquets. If the emperor happened to be a good
administrator of this complicated despotism, he was sustained, like
Tiberius, whatever his character. If he was weak or frivolous, he was
removed by assassination. It was a government of absolute physical
forces, and it is most marvellous that such a man as Marcus Aurelius
could have been its representative. And what could he have done with his
philosophical inquiries had he not also been a great general and a
practical administrator,--a man of business as well as a man of thought?

But I cannot enumerate the evils which coexisted with all the boasted
prosperity of the Empire, and which were preparing the way for
ruin,--evils so disgraceful and universal that Christianity made no
impression at all on society at large, and did not modify a law or
remove a single object of scandal. Do you call that state of society
prosperous and happy when half of the population was in base bondage to
cruel masters; when women generally were degraded and slighted; when
money was the object of universal idolatry; when the only pleasures
were in banquets and races and other demoralizing sports; when no value
was placed upon the soul, and infinite value on the body; when there was
no charity, no compassion, no tenderness; when no poor man could go to
law; when no genius was encouraged unless for utilitarian ends; when
genius was not even appreciated or understood, still less rewarded; when
no man dared to lift up his voice against any crying evil, especially of
a political character; when the whole civilized world was fettered,
deceived, and mocked, and made to contribute to the power, pleasure, and
pride of a single man and the minions upon whom he smiled? Is all this
to be overlooked in our estimate of human happiness? Is there nothing to
be considered but external glories which appeal to the senses alone?
Shall our eyes be diverted from the operation of moral law and the
inevitable consequences of its violation? Shall we blind ourselves to
the future condition of our families and our country in our estimate of
happiness? Shall we ignore, in the dazzling life of a few favored
extortioners, monopolists, and successful gamblers all that Christianity
points out as the hope and solace and glory of mankind? Not thus would
we estimate human felicity. Not thus would Marcus Aurelius, as he cast
his sad and prophetic eye down the vistas of succeeding reigns, and saw
the future miseries and wars and violence which were the natural result
of egotism and vice, have given his austere judgment on the happiness of
his Empire. In all his sweetness and serenity, he penetrated the veil
which the eye of the worldly Gibbon could not pierce. _He_ declares that
"those things which are most valued are empty, rotten, and
trifling,"--these are his very words; and that the real _life_ of the
people, even in the days of Trajan, had ceased to exist,--that
everything truly precious was lost in the senseless grasp after what can
give no true happiness or permanent prosperity.


The "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius; Epictetus should be read in
connection. Renan's Life of Marcus Aurelius. Farrar's Seekers after God.
Arnold has also written some interesting things about this emperor. In
Smith's Dictionary there is an able article. Gibbon says something, but
not so much as we could wish. Tillemont, in his History of the Emperors,
says more. I would also refer my readers to my "Old Roman World," to
Sismondi's Fall of the Roman Empire, and to Montesquieu's treatise on
the Decadence of the Romans. The original Roman authorities which have
come down to us are meagre and few.


* * * * *

A.D. 272-337.


One of the links in the history of civilization is the reign of
Constantine, not unworthily called the Great, since it would be
difficult to find a greater than he among the Roman emperors, after
Julius Caesar, while his labors were by far more beneficent. A new era
began with his illustrious reign,--the triumph of Christianity as the
established religion of the crumbling Empire. Under his enlightened
protection the Church, persecuted from the time of Nero, and never
fashionable or popular, or even powerful as an institution, arose
triumphant, defiant, almost militant, with new passions and interests;
ambitious, full of enthusiasm, and with unbounded hope,--a great
spiritual power, whose authority even princes and nobles were at last
unable to withstand. No longer did the Christians live in catacombs and
hiding-places; no longer did they sing their mournful songs over the
bleeding and burning bodies of the saints, but arose in the majesty of
a new and irresistible power,--temporal as well as spiritual,--breathing
vengeance on ancient foes, grasping great dignities, seizing the
revenues of princes, and proclaiming the sovereignty of their invisible
King. In defence of their own doctrines they became fierce, arrogant,
dogmatic, contentious,--not with sword in one hand and crucifix in the
other, like the warlike popes and bishops of mediaeval Europe, but with
intense theological hatreds, and austere contempt of those luxuries and
pleasures which had demoralized society.

The last great act of Diocletian--one of the ablest and most warlike of
the emperors--was an unrelenting and desperate persecution of the
Christians, whose religion had been steadily gaining ground for two
centuries, in spite of martyrdoms and anathemas; and this was so severe
and universal that it seemed to be successful. But he had no sooner
retired from the government of the world (A.D. 305) than the faith he
supposed he had suppressed forever sprung up with new force, and defied
any future attempt to crush it.

The vitality of the new religion had been preserved in ages of
unparalleled vices by two things especially,--by martyrdom and by
austerities; the one a noble attestation of faith in an age of unbelief,
and the other a lofty, almost stoical, disdain of those pleasures which
centre in the body.

The martyrs cheerfully and heroically endured physical sufferings in
view of the glorious crown of which they were assured in the future
world. They lived in the firm conviction of immortality, and that
eternal happiness was connected indissolubly with their courage,
intrepidity, and patience in bearing testimony to the divine character
and mission of Him who had shed his blood for the remission of sins. No
sufferings were of any account in comparison with those of Him who died
for them. Filled with transports of love for the divine Redeemer, who
rescued them from the despair of Paganism, and bound with ties of
supreme allegiance to Him as the Conqueror and Saviour of the world,
they were ready to meet death in any form for his sake. They had become,
by professing Him as their Lord and Sovereign, soldiers of the Cross,
ready to endure any sacrifices for his sacred cause.

Thus enthusiasm was kindled in a despairing and unbelieving world. And
probably the world never saw, in any age, such devotion and zeal for an
invisible power. It was animated by the hope of a glorious immortality,
of which Christianity alone, of all ancient religions, inspired a firm
conviction. In this future existence were victory and blessedness
everlasting,--not to be had unless one was faithful unto death. This
sublime faith--this glorious assurance of future happiness, this
devotion to an unseen King--made a strong impression on those who
witnessed the physical torments which the sufferers bore with
unspeakable triumph. There must be, they thought, something in a
religion which could take away the sting of death and rob the grave of
its victory. The noble attestation of faith in Jesus did perhaps more
than any theological teachings towards the conversion of men to
Christianity. And persecution and isolation bound the Christians
together in bonds of love and harmony, and kept them from the
temptations of life There was a sort of moral Freemasonry among the
despised and neglected followers of Christ, such as has not been seen
before or since. They were _in_ the world but not _of_ the world. They
were the precious salt to preserve what was worth preserving in a
rapidly dissolving Empire. They formed a new power, which would be
triumphant amid the universal destruction of old institutions; for the
soul would be saved, and Christianity taught that the soul was
everything,--that nothing could be given in exchange for it.

The other influence which seemed to preserve the early Christians from
the overwhelming materialism of the times was the asceticism which so
early became prevalent. It had not been taught by Jesus, but seemed to
arise from the necessities of the times. It was a fierce protest against
the luxuries of an enervated age. The passion for dress and ornament,
and the indulgence of the appetites and other pleasures which pampered
the body, and which were universal, were a hindrance to the enjoyment of
that spiritual life which Christianity unfolded. As the soul was
immortal and the body was mortal, that which was an impediment to the
welfare of what was most precious was early denounced. In order to
preserve the soul from the pollution of material pleasures, a strenuous
protest was made. Hence that defiance of the pleasures of sense which
gave loftiness and independence of character soon became a recognized
and cardinal virtue. The Christian stood aloof from the banquets and
luxuries which undermined the virtues on which the strength of man is
based. The characteristic vices of the Pagan world were unchastity and
fondness for the pleasures of the table. To these were added the lesser
vices of display and ornaments in dress. From these the Christian fled
as fatal enemies to his spiritual elevation. I do not believe it was the
ascetic ideas imported from India, such as marked the Brahmins, nor the
visionary ideas of the Sufis and the Buddhists, and of other Oriental
religionists, which gave the impulse to monastic life and led to the
austerities of the Church in the second and third centuries, so much as
the practical evils with which every one was conversant, and which were
plainly antagonistic to the doctrine that the life is more than meat.
The triumph of the mind over the body excited an admiration scarcely
less marked than the voluntary sacrifice of life to a sacred cause.
Asceticism, repulsive in many of its aspects, and even unnatural and
inhuman, drew a cordon around the Christians, and separated them from
the sensualities of ordinary life. It was a reproof as well as a
protest. It attacked Epicureanism in its most vulnerable point. "How
hardly shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God?" Hence
the voluntary poverty, the giving away of inherited wealth to the poor,
the extreme simplicity of living, and even retirement from the
habitations of men, which marked the more earnest of the new believers.
Hence celibacy, and avoidance of the society of women,--all to resist
most dangerous temptation. Hence the vows of poverty and chastity which
early entered monastic life,--a life favorable to ascetic virtues. These
were indeed perverted. Everything good is perverted in this world.
Self-expiations, flagellations, sheepskin cloaks, root dinners,
repulsive austerities, followed. But these grew out of the noble desire
to keep unspotted from the world. And unless this desire had been
encouraged by the leaders of the Church, the Christian would soon have
been contaminated with the vices of Paganism, especially such as were
fashionable,--as is deplorably the case in our modern times, when it is
so difficult to draw the line between those who do not and those who do
openly profess the Christian faith. It is quite probable that
Christianity would not have triumphed over Paganism, had not
Christianity made so strong a protest against those vices and fashions
which were peculiar to an Epicurean age and an Epicurean philosophy.

It was at this period, when Christianity was a great spiritual power,
that Constantine arose. He was born at Naissus, in Dacia, A.D. 274, his
father being a soldier of fortune, and his mother the daughter of an
innkeeper. He was eighteen when his father, Constantius, was promoted by
the Emperor Diocletian to the dignity of Caesar,--a sort of
lieutenant-emperor,--and early distinguished himself in the Egyptian and
Persian wars. He was thirty-one when he joined his father in Britain,
whom he succeeded, soon after, in the imperial dignity. Like Theodosius,
he was tall, and majestic in manners; gracious, affable, and accessible,
like Julius; prudent, cautious, reticent, like Fabius; insensible to the
allurements of pleasure, and incredibly active and bold, like Hannibal,
Charlemagne, and Napoleon; a politic man, disposed to ally himself with
the rising party. The first few years of his reign, which began in A.D.
306, were devoted to the establishment of his power in Britain, where
the flower of the Western army was concentrated,--foreseeing a desperate
contest with the five rivals who shared between them the Empire which
Diocletian had divided; which division, though possibly a necessity in
those turbulent times, would yet seem to have been an unwise thing,
since it led to civil wars and rivalries, and struggles for supremacy.
It is a mistake to divide a great empire, unless mechanism is worn out,
and a central power is impossible. The tendency of modern civilization
is to a union of States, when their language and interests and
institutions are identical. Yet Diocletian was wearied and oppressed by
the burdens of State, and retired disgusted, dividing the Empire into
two parts, the Eastern and Western. But there were subdivisions in
consequence, and civil wars; and had the policy of Diocletian been
continued, the Empire might have been subdivided, like Charlemagne's,
until central power would have been destroyed, as in the Middle Ages.
But Constantine aimed at a general union of the East and West once
again, partly from the desire of centralization, and partly from
ambition. The military career of Constantine for about seventeen years
was directed to the establishment of his power in Britain, to the
reunion of the Empire, and the subjugation of his colleagues,--a long
series of disastrous civil wars. These wars are without poetic
interest,--in this respect unlike the wars between Caesar and Pompey,
and that between Octavius and Antony. The wars of Caesar inaugurated the
imperial regime when the Empire was young and in full vigor, and when
military discipline was carried to perfection; those of Constantine
were in the latter days of the Empire, when it was impossible to
reanimate it, and all things were tending rapidly to dissolution,--an
exceedingly gloomy period, when there were neither statesmen nor
philosophers nor poets nor men of genius, of historic fame, outside the
Church. Therefore I shall not dwell on these uninteresting wars, brought
about by the ambition of six different emperors, all of whom were aiming
for undivided sovereignty. There were in the West Maximian, the old
colleague of Diocletian, who had resigned with him, but who had
reassumed the purple; his son, Maxentius, elevated by the Roman Senate
and the Praetorian Guard,--a dissolute and imbecile young man, who
reigned over Italy; and Constantine, who possessed Gaul and Britain. In
the East were Galerius, who had married the daughter of Diocletian, and
who was a general of considerable ability; Licinius, who had the
province of Illyricum; and Maximin, who reigned over Syria and Egypt.

The first of these emperors who was disposed of was Maximian, the father
of Maxentius and father-in-law of Constantine. He was regarded as a
usurper, and on the capture of Marseilles, he under pressure of
Constantine committed suicide by strangulation, A.D. 310. Galerius did
not long survive, being afflicted with a loathsome disease, the result
of intemperance and gluttony, and died in his palace in Nicomedia, in
Bithynia, the capital of the Eastern provinces. The next emperor who
fell was Maxentius, after a desperate struggle in Italy with
Constantine,--whose passage over the Alps, and successive victories at
Susa (at the foot of Mont Cenis, on the plains of Turin), at Verona, and
Saxa Rubra, nine miles from Rome, from which Maxentius fled, only to
perish in the Tiber, remind us of the campaigns of Hannibal and
Napoleon. The triumphal arch which the victor erected at Rome to
commemorate his victories still remains as a monument of the decline of
Art in the fourth century. As a result of the conquest over Maxentius,
the Praetorian guards were finally abolished, which gave a fatal blow to
the Senate, and left the capital disarmed and exposed to future insults
and dangers.

The next emperor who disappeared from the field was Maximin, who had
embarked in a civil war with Licinius. He died at Tarsus, after an
unsuccessful contest, A.D. 313; and there were left only Licinius and
Constantine,--the former of whom reigned in the East and the latter in
the West. Scarcely a year elapsed before these two emperors embarked in
a bloody contest for the sovereignty of the world. Licinius was beaten,
but was allowed the possession of Thrace, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.
A hollow reconciliation was made between them, which lasted eight years,
during which Constantine was engaged in the defence of his empire from
the hostile attacks of the Goths in Illyricum. He gained great
victories over these barbarians, and chased them beyond the Danube. He
then turned against Licinius, and the bloody battle of Adrianople, A.D.
323, when three hundred thousand combatants were engaged, followed by a
still more bloody one on the heights of Chrysopolis, A.D. 324, made
Constantine supreme master of the Empire thirty-seven years after
Diocletian had divided his power with Maximian.

The great events of his reign as sole emperor, with enormous prestige as
a general, second only to that of Julius Caesar, were the foundation of
Constantinople and the establishment of Christianity as the religion of
the Empire.

The ancient Byzantium, which Constantine selected as the new capital of
his Empire, had been no inconsiderable city for nearly one thousand
years, being founded only ninety-seven years after Rome itself. Yet,
notwithstanding its magnificent site,--equally favorable for commerce
and dominion,--its advantages were not appreciated until the genius of
Constantine selected it as the one place in his vast dominions which
combined a central position and capacities for defence against invaders.
It was also a healthy locality, being exposed to no malarial poisons,
like the "Eternal City." It was delightfully situated, on the confines
of Europe and Asia, between the Euxine and the Mediterranean, on a
narrow peninsula washed by the Sea of Marmora and the beautiful harbor
called the Golden Horn, inaccessible from Asia except by water, while it
could be made impregnable on the west. The narrow waters of the
Hellespont and the Bosporus, the natural gates of the city, could be
easily defended against hostile fleets both from the Euxine and the
Mediterranean, leaving the Propontis (the deep, well-harbored body of
water lying between the two straits, in modern times called the Sea of
Marmora) with an inexhaustible supply of fish, and its shores lined with
vineyards and gardens. Doubtless this city is more favored by nature for
commerce, for safety, and for dominion, than any other spot on the face
of the earth; and we cannot wonder that Russia should cast greedy eyes
upon it as one of the centres of its rapidly increasing Empire. This
beautiful site soon rivalled the old capital of the Empire in riches and
population, for Constantine promised great privileges to those who would
settle in it; and he ransacked and despoiled the cities of Italy,
Greece, and Asia Minor of what was most precious in Art to make his new
capital attractive, and to ornament his new palaces, churches, and
theatres. In this Grecian city he surrounded himself with Asiatic pomp
and ceremonies. He assumed the titles of Eastern monarchs. His palace
was served and guarded with a legion of functionaries that made access
to his person difficult. He created a new nobility, and made infinite
gradations of rank, perpetuated by the feudal monarchs of Europe. He
gave pompous names to his officers, both civil and military, using
expressions still in vogue in European courts, like "Your Excellency,"
"Your Highness," and "Your Majesty,"--names which the emperors who had
reigned at Rome had uniformly disdained. He cut himself loose from all
the traditions of the past, especially all relics of republicanism. He
divided the civil government of the Empire into thirteen great dioceses,
and these he subdivided into one hundred and sixteen provinces. He
separated the civil from the military functions of governors. He
installed eunuchs in his palace, to wait upon his person and perform
menial offices. He made his chamberlain one of the highest officers of
State. He guarded his person by bodies of cavalry and infantry. He
clothed himself in imposing robes; elaborately arranged his hair; wore a
costly diadem; ornamented his person with gems and pearls, with collars
and bracelets. He lived, in short, more like a Heliogabalus than a
Trajan or an Aurelian. All traces of popular liberty were effaced. All
dignities and honors and offices emanated from him. The Caesars had been
absolute monarchs, but disguised their power. Constantine made an
ostentatious display of his. Moreover he increased the burden of
taxation throughout the Empire. The last fourteen years of his reign
was a period of apparent prosperity, but the internal strength of the
Empire and the character of the emperor sadly degenerated. He became
effeminate, and committed crimes which sullied his fame. He executed his
oldest son on mere suspicion of crime, and on a charge of infidelity
even put to death the wife with whom he had lived for twenty years, and
who was the mother of future emperors.

But if he had great faults he had also great virtues. No emperor since
Augustus had a more enlightened mind, and no one ever reigned at Rome
who, in one important respect, did so much for the cause of
civilization. Constantine is most lauded as the friend and promoter of
Christianity. It is by his service to the Church that he has won the
name of the first Christian emperor. His efforts in behalf of the Church
throw into the shade all the glory he won as a general and as a
statesman. The real interest of his reign centres in his Christian
legislation, and in those theological controversies in which he
interfered. With Constantine began the enthronement of Christianity, and
for one thousand years what is most vital in European history is
connected with Christian institutions and doctrines.

It was when he was marching against Maxentius that his conversion to
Christianity took place, A.D. 312, when he was thirty-eight, in the
sixth year of his reign. Up to this period he was a zealous Pagan, and
made magnificent offerings to the gods of his ancestors, and erected
splendid temples, especially in honor of Apollo. The turn of his mind
was religious, or, as we are taught by modern science to say,
superstitious. He believed in omens, dreams, visions, and supernatural

Now it was in a very critical period of his campaign against his Pagan
rival, on the eve of an important battle, as he was approaching Rome for
the first time, filled with awe of its greatness and its recollections,
that he saw--or fancied he saw--a little after noon, just above the sun
which he worshipped, a bright Cross, with this inscription, [Greek: En
touto nika]--"In this conquer;" and in the following night, when sleep
had overtaken him, he dreamed that Christ appeared to him, and enjoined
him to make a banner in the shape of the celestial sign which he had
seen. Such is the legend, unhesitatingly received for centuries, yet
which modern critics are not disposed to accept as a miracle, although
attested by Eusebius, and confirmed by the emperor himself on oath.
Whether some supernatural sign really appeared or not, or whether some
natural phenomenon appeared in the heavens in the form of an illuminated
Cross, it is not worth while to discuss. We know this, however, that if
the greatest religious revolution of antiquity was worthy to be
announced by special signs and wonders, it was when a Roman emperor of
extraordinary force of character declared his intention to acknowledge
and serve the God of the persecuted Christians. The miracle rests on the
authority of a single bishop, as sacredly attested by the emperor, in
whom he saw no fault; but the fact of the conversion remains as one of
the most signal triumphs of Christianity, and the conversion itself was
the most noted and important in its results since that of Saul of
Tarsus. It may have been from conviction, and it may have been from
policy. It may have been merely that he saw, in the vigorous vitality of
the Christian principle of devotion to a single Person, a healthier
force for the unification of his great empire than in the disintegrating
vices of Paganism. But, whatever his motive, his action stirred up the
enthusiasm of a body of men which gave the victory of the Milvian
Bridge. All that was vital in the Empire was found among the
Christians,--already a powerful and rising party, that persecution could
not put down. Constantine became the head and leader of this party,
whose watchword ever since has been "Conquer," until all powers and
principalities and institutions are brought under the influence of the
gospel. So far as we know, no one has ever doubted the sincerity of
Constantine. Whatever were his faults, especially that of gluttony,
which he was never able to overcome, he was ever afterwards strict and
fervent in his devotions. He employed his evenings in the study of the
Scriptures, as Marcus Aurelius meditated on the verities of a spiritual
life after the fatigues and dangers of the day. He was not so good a man
as was the pious Antoninus, who would, had _he_ been converted to
Christianity, have given to it a purer and loftier legislation. It may
be doubted whether Aurelius would have made popes of bishops, or would
have invested metaphysical distinctions in theology with so great an
authority. But the magnificent patronage which Constantine gave to the
clergy was followed by greater and more enlightened sovereigns than
he,--by Theodosius, by Charlemagne, and by Alfred; while the dogmas
which were defended by Athanasius with such transcendent ability at the
council where the emperor presided in person, formed an anchor to the
faith in the long and dreary period when barbarism filled Europe with
desolation and fear.

Constantine, as a Roman emperor, exercised the supreme right of
legislation,--the highest prerogative of men in power. So that his acts
as legislator naturally claim our first notice. His edicts were laws
which could not be gainsaid or resisted. They were like the laws of the
Medes and Persians, except that they could be repealed or modified.

One of the first things he did after his conversion was to issue an
edict of toleration, which secured the Christians from any further
persecution,--an act of immeasurable benefit to humanity, yet what any
man would naturally have done in his circumstances. If he could have
inaugurated the reign of toleration for all religious opinions, he would
have been a still greater benefactor. But it was something to free a
persecuted body of believers who had been obliged to hide or suffer for
two hundred years. By the edict of Milan, A.D. 313, he secured the
revenues as well as the privileges of the Church, and restored to the
Christians the lands and houses of which they had been stripped by the
persecution of Diocletian. Eight years later he allowed persons to
bequeath property to Christian institutions and churches. He assigned in
every city an allowance of corn in behalf of charities to the poor. He
confirmed the clergy in the right of being tried in their own courts and
by their peers, when accused of crime,--a great privilege in the fourth
century, but a great abuse in the fourteenth. The arbitration of bishops
had the force of positive law, and judges were instructed to execute the
episcopal decrees. He transferred to the churches the privilege of
sanctuary granted to those fleeing from justice in the Mosaic
legislation. He ordained that Sunday should be set apart for religious
observances in all the towns and cities of the Empire. He abolished
crucifixion as a punishment. He prohibited gladiatorial games. He
discouraged slavery, infanticide, and easy divorces. He allowed the
people to choose their own ministers, nor did he interfere in the
election of bishops. He exempted the clergy from all services to the
State, from all personal taxes, and all municipal duties. He seems to
have stood in awe of bishops, and to have treated them with great
veneration and respect, giving to them lands and privileges, enriching
their churches with ornaments, and securing to the clergy an ample
support. So prosperous was the Church under his beneficence, that the
average individual income of the eighteen hundred bishops of the Empire
has been estimated by Gibbon at three thousand dollars a year, when
money was much more valuable than it is in our times.

In addition to his munificent patronage of the clergy, Constantine was
himself deeply interested in all theological affairs and discussions. He
convened and presided over the celebrated Council of Nicaea, or Nice, as
it is usually called, composed of three hundred and eighteen bishops,
and of two thousand and forty-eight ecclesiastics of lesser note,
listening to their debates and following their suggestions. The
Christian world never saw a more imposing spectacle than this great
council, which was convened to settle the creed of the Church. It met in
a spacious basilica, where the emperor, arrayed in his purple and silk
robes, with a diadem of precious jewels on his head, and a voice of
gentleness and softness, and an air of supreme majesty, exhorted the
assembled theologians to unity and concord.

The vital question discussed by this magnificent and august assembly
was metaphysical as well as religious; yet it was the question of the
age, on which everybody talked, in public and in private, and which was
deemed of far greater importance than any war or any affair of State.
The interest in this subject seems strange to many, in an age when
positive science and material interests have so largely crowded out
theological discussions. But the doctrine of the Trinity was as vital
and important in the eyes of the divines of the fourth century as that
of Justification by Faith was to the Germans when they assembled in the
great hall of the Electoral palace of Leipsic to hear Luther and Dr. Eck
advocate their separate sides.

In the time of Constantine everything pertaining to Christianity and the
affairs of the Church became invested with supreme importance. All other
subjects and interests were secondary, certainly among the Christians
themselves. As redemption is the central point of Christianity, public
preaching and teaching had been directed chiefly, at first, to the
passion, death, and resurrection of the Saviour of the world. Then came
discussions and controversies, naturally, about the person of Christ and
his relation to the Godhead. Among the early followers of our Lord there
had been no pride of reason and a very simple creed. Least of all did
they seek to explain the mysteries of their faith by metaphysical
reasoning. Their doctrines were not brought to the test of philosophy.
It was enough for these simple and usually unimportant and unlettered
people to accept generally accredited facts. It was enough that Christ
had suffered and died for them, in his boundless love, and that their
souls would be saved in consequence. And as to doctrines, all they
sought to know was what our Lord and his apostles said. Hence there was
among them no system of theology, as we understand it, beyond the
Apostles' Creed. But in the early part of the second century Justin
Martyr, a converted philosopher, devoted much labor to a metaphysical
development of the doctrine drawn from the expressions of the Apostle
John in reference to the Logos, or Word, as identical with the Son.

In the third century the whole Church was agitated by the questions
which grew out of the relations between the Father and the Son. From the
person of Christ--so dear to the Church--the discussion naturally passed
to the Trinity. Then arose the great Alexandrian school of theology,
which attempted to explain and harmonize the revealed truths of the
Bible by Grecian dialectics. Hence interminable disputes among divines
and scholars, as to whether the Father and the Logos were one; whether
the Son was created or uncreated; whether or not he was subordinate to
the Father; whether the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were distinct, or
one in essence. Origen, Clement, and Dionysius were the most famous of
the doctors who discussed these points. All classes of Christians were
soon attracted by them. They formed the favorite subjects of
conversation, as well as of public teaching. Zeal in discussion created
acrimony and partisan animosity. Things were lost sight of, and words
alone prevailed. Sects and parties arose. The sublime efforts of such
men as Justin and Clement to soar to a knowledge of God were perverted
to vain disputations in reference to the relations between the three
persons of the Godhead.

Alexandria was the centre of these theological agitations, being then,
perhaps, the most intellectual city in the Empire. It was filled with
Greek philosophers and scholars and artists, and had the largest library
in the world. It had the most famous school of theology, the learned and
acute professors of which claimed to make theology a science. Philosophy
became wedded to theology, and brought the aid of reason to explain the
subjects of faith.

Among the noted theologians of this Christian capital was a presbyter
who preached in the principal church. His name was Arius, and he was the
most popular preacher of the city. He was a tall, spare man, handsome,
eloquent, with a musical voice and earnest manner. He was the idol of
fashionable women and cultivated men. He was also a poet, like Abelard,
and popularized his speculations on the Trinity. He was as reproachless
in morals as Dr. Channing or Theodore Parker; ascetic in habits and
dress; bold, acute, and plausible; but he shocked the orthodox party by
such sayings as these: "God was not always Father; once he was not
Father; afterwards he became Father." He affirmed, in substance, that
the Son was created by the Father, and hence was inferior in power and
dignity. He did not deny the Trinity, any more than Abelard did in after
times; but his doctrines, pushed out to their logical sequence, were a
virtual denial of the divinity of Christ. If he were created, he was a
creature, and, of course, not God. A created being cannot be the Supreme
Creator. He may be commissioned as a divine and inspired teacher, but he
cannot be God himself. Now his bishop, Alexander, maintained that the
Son (Logos, or Word) is eternally of the same essence as the Father,
uncreated, and therefore equal with the Father. Seeing the foundation of
the faith, as generally accepted, undermined, he caused Arius to be
deposed by a synod of bishops. But the daring presbyter was not
silenced, and obtained powerful and numerous adherents. Men of
influence--like Eusebius the historian--tried to compromise the
difficulties for the sake of unity; and some looked on the discussion as
a war of words, which did not affect salvation. In time the bitterness
of the dispute became a scandal. It was deemed disgraceful for
Christians to persecute each other for dogmas which could not be settled
except by authority, and in the discussion of which metaphysics so
strongly entered. Alexander thought otherwise. He regarded the
speculations of Arius as heretical, as derogating from the supreme
allegiance which was due to Christ. He thought that the very foundations
of Christianity were being undermined.

No one was more disturbed by these theological controversies than the
Emperor himself. He was a soldier, and not a metaphysician; and, as
Emperor, he was Pontifex Maximus,--head of the Church. He hated these
contentions between good and learned men. He felt that they compromised
the interests of the Church universal, of which he was the protector.
Therefore he despatched Hosius, Bishop of Cordova, in Spain,--in whom he
had great confidence, who was in fact his ecclesiastical adviser,--to
both Alexander and Arius, to bring about a reconciliation. As well
reconcile Luther with Dr. Eck, or Pascal with the Jesuits! The divisions
widened. The party animosities increased. The Church was rent in twain.
Metaphysical divinity destroyed Christian union and charity. So
Constantine summoned the first general council in Church history to
settle the disputed points, and restore harmony and unity. It convened
at Nicaea, or Nice, in Asia Minor, not far from Constantinople.

Arius, as the author of all the troubles, was of course present at the
council. As a presbyter he could speak, but not vote. He was sixty years
of age, and in the height of his power and fame, and he was able
in debate.

But there was one man in the assembly on whom all eyes were soon riveted
as the greatest theologian and logician that had arisen in the Church
since the apostolic age. He was archdeacon to the bishop of Alexandria,
--a lean, attenuated man, small in stature, with fiery eye, haughty air,
and impetuous eloquence. His name was Athanasius,--neither Greek nor
Roman, but a Coptic African. He was bitterly opposed to Arius and his
doctrines. No one could withstand his fervor and his logic. He was like
Bernard at the council of Soissons. He was not a cold, dry,
unimpassioned impersonation of mere intellect, like Thomas Aquinas or
Calvin, but more like St. Augustine,--another African, warm, religious,
profound, with human passions, but lofty soul. He also had that
intellectual pride and dogmatism which afterward marked Bossuet. For two
months he appealed to the assembly, and presented the consequences of
the new heresy. With his slight figure, his commanding intellectual
force, his conservative tendencies, his clearness of statement, his
logical exactness and fascinating persuasiveness, he was to churchmen
what Alexander Hamilton was to statesmen. He gave a constitution to the
Church, and became a theological authority scarcely less than Augustine
in the next generation, or Lainez at the Council of Trent.

And the result of the deliberations of that famous council led by
Athanasius,--although both Hosius and Eusebius of Caesarea had more
prelatic authority and dignity than he,--was the Nicene Creed. Who can
estimate the influence of those formulated doctrines? They have been
accepted for fifteen hundred years as the standard of the orthodox
faith, in both Catholic and Protestant churches,--not universally
accepted, for Arianism still has its advocates, under new names, and
probably will have so long as the received doctrines of Christianity are
subjected to the test of reason. Outward unity was, however, restored to
the Church, both by prelatic and imperial authority, although learned
and intellectual men continued to speculate and to doubt. The human mind
cannot be chained. But it was a great thing to establish a creed which
the Christian world could accept in the rude and ignorant ages which
succeeded the destruction of the old civilization. That creed was the
anchor of religious faith in the Middle Ages. It is still retained in
the liturgies of Christendom.

It is not my province to criticise the Nicene Creed, which is virtually
the old Apostles' Creed, with the addition of the Trinity, as defined by
Athanasius. The subject is too complicated and metaphysical. It is
allied with questions concerning which men have always differed and ever
will differ. Although the Alexandrian divines invoked the aid of reason,
it is a matter which reason cannot settle. It is a matter to be
received, if received at all, as a mystery which is insoluble. It
belongs to the realm of faith and authority. And the realms of faith and
reason are eternally distinct. As metaphysics cannot solve material
phenomena, so reason cannot explain subjects which do not appeal to
consciousness. Bacon was a great benefactor when he separated the world
of physical Nature from the world of Mind; and Pascal was equally a
profound philosopher when he showed that faith could not take cognizance
of science, nor science of faith. The blending of distinct realms has
ever been attended with scepticism. "Canst thou by searching find out
God?" What He has revealed for our acceptance should not be confounded
with truths to be settled by inquiry. It is a legitimate yet underrated
department of Christian inquiry to establish the authenticity and
meaning of texts of Scripture from which deductions are made. If the
premises are wrong, confusion and error are the result. We must be sure
of the premises on which theological dogmas are based. If as much time
and genius and learning had been expended in unravelling the meaning of
Scripture declarations as have been spent in theological deductions and
metaphysical distinctions, we should have had a more universally
accepted faith. Happily, in our day, the aspirations and ambitions of
exact scholarship are more and more directed to the elucidation of the
sacred Scriptures of Christianity. Exegesis and philosophy alike appeal
to the intellect; but the one can be so aided by learning that the truth
can be reached, while the other pushes the inquirer into an unfathomable
sea of difficulties. All moral truths are so bounded and involved with
other moral truths that they seem to qualify the meaning of each other.
Almost any assumed truth in religion, when pushed to its utmost logical
sequence, appears to involve absurdities. The "divine justice" of
theologians ends, by severe logical sequences, in apparent injustice,
and "divine mercy" in the sweeping away of all retribution.

It may not unreasonably be asked, Has not theology attempted too much?
Has it solved the truths for the solution of which it borrowed the aid
of reason, and has it not often made a religion which is based on
deductions and metaphysical distinctions as imperative as a religion
based on simple declarations? Has it not appealed to the head, when it
should have appealed to the heart and conscience; and thus has not
religion often been cold and dry and polemical, when it should have been
warm, fervent, and simple? Such seem to have been some of the effects of
the Trinitarian controversy between Athanasius and Arius, and their
respective followers even to our own times. A belief in the unity of
God, as distinguished from polytheism, has been made no more imperative
than a belief in the supposed relations between the Father and the Son.
The real mission of Christ, to save souls, with all the glorious peace
which salvation procures, has often been lost sight of in the covenant
supposed to have been made between the Father and the Son. Nothing could
exceed the acrimony of the Nicene Fathers in their opposition to those
who could not accept their deductions. And the more subtile the
distinctions the more violent were the disputes; until at last religious
persecution marked the conduct of Christians towards each other,--as
fierce almost as the persecutions they had suffered from the Pagans. And
so furious was the strife between those theological disputants,
estimable in other respects as were their characters, that even the
Emperor Constantine at last lost all patience and banished Athanasius
himself to a Gaulish city, after he had promoted him to the great See of
Alexandria as a reward for his services to the Church at the Council of
Nice. To Constantine the great episcopal theologian was simply
"turbulent," "haughty," "intractable."

With the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity by the Council of
Nice, the interest in the reign of Constantine ceases, although he lived
twelve years after it. His great work as a Christian emperor was to
unite the Church with the State. He did not elevate the Church above the
State; that was the work of the Mediaeval Popes. But he gave external
dignity to the clergy, of whom he was as great a patron as Charlemagne.
He himself was a sort of imperial Pope, attending to things spiritual as
well as to things temporal. His generosity to the Church made him an
object of universal admiration to prelates and abbots and ecclesiastical
writers. In this munificent patronage he doubtless secularized the
Church, and gave to the clergy privileges they afterwards abused,
especially in the ecclesiastical courts. But when the condition of the
Teutonic races in barbaric times is considered, his policy may have
proved beneficent. Most historians consider that the elevation of the
clergy to an equality with barons promoted order and law, especially in
the absence of central governments. If Constantine made a mistake in
enriching and exalting the clergy, it was endorsed by Charlemagne
and Alfred.

After a prosperous and brilliant reign of thirty-one years, the emperor
died in the year 337, in the suburbs of Nicomedia, which Diocletian had
selected as the capital of the East. In great pomp, and amid expressions
of universal grief, his body was transferred to the city he had built
and called by his name; it was adorned with every symbol of grandeur and
power, deposited on a golden bed, and buried in a consecrated church,
which was made the sepulchre of the Greek emperors until the city was
taken by the Turks. The sacred rite of baptism by which Constantine was
united with the visible Church, strange to say, was not administered
until within a few days before his death.

No emperor has received more praises than Constantine. He was fortunate
in his biographers, who saw nothing to condemn in a prince who made
Christianity the established religion of the Empire. If not the
greatest, he was one of the greatest, of all the absolute monarchs who
controlled the destinies of over one hundred millions of subjects. If
not the best of the emperors, he was one of the best, as sovereigns are
judged. I do not see in his character any extraordinary magnanimity or
elevation of sentiment, or gentleness, or warmth of affection. He had
great faults and great virtues, as strong men are apt to have. If he was
addicted to the pleasures of the table, he was chaste and continent in
his marital relations. He had no mistresses, like Julius Caesar and
Louis XIV. He had a great reverence for the ordinances of the Christian
religion. His life, in the main, was as decorous as it was useful. He
was a very successful man, but he was also a very ambitious man; and an
ambitious man is apt to be unscrupulous and cruel. Though he had to deal
with bigots, he was not himself fanatical. He was tolerant and
enlightened. His most striking characteristic was policy. He was one of
the most politic sovereigns that ever lived,--like Henry IV. of France,
forecasting the future, as well as balancing the present. He could not
have decreed such a massacre as that of Thessalonica, or have revoked
such an edict as that of Nantes. Nor could he have stooped to such a
penance as Ambrose inflicted on Theodosius, or given his conscience to a
Father Le Tellier. He tried to do right, not because it was right, like
Marcus Aurelius, but because it was wise and expedient; he was a
Christian, because he saw that Christianity was a better religion than
Paganism, not because he craved a lofty religious life; he was a
theologian, after the pattern of Queen Elizabeth, because theological
inquiries and disputations were the fashion of the day; but when
theologians became rampant and arrogant he put them down, and dictated
what they should believe. He was comparatively indifferent to slaughter,
else he would not have spent seventeen years of his life in civil war,
in order to be himself supreme. He cared little for the traditions of
the Empire, else he would not have transferred his capital to the banks
of the Bosporus. He was more like Peter the Great than like Napoleon
I.; yet he was a better man than either, and bestowed more benefits on
the world than both together, and is to be classed among the greatest
benefactors that ever sat upon the throne.


The original authorities of the life of Constantine are Eusebius, Bishop
of Caesarea, his friend and admirer; also Hosius, of Cordova. The
ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Theodoret, Zosimus, and Sozomen
are dry, but the best we have of that age. The lives of Athanasius and
Arius should be read in connection. Gibbon is very full and exhaustive
on this period. So is Tillemont, who was an authority to Gibbon. Milman
has written, in his interesting history of the Church, a fine notice of
Constantine, and so has Stanley. The German Church histories, especially
that of Neander, should be read; also, Cardinal Newman's History of the
Arians. I need not remind the reader of the innumerable tracts and
treatises on the doctrine of the Trinity. They comprise half the
literature of the Middle Ages as well as of the Fathers. In a lecture I
can only glance at some of the vital points.


* * * * *

A.D. 347-404.


The subject of this lecture is Paula, an illustrious Roman lady of rank
and wealth, whose remarkable friendship for Saint Jerome, in the latter
part of the fourth century, has made her historical. If to her we do not
date the first great change in the social relations of man with woman,
yet she is the most memorable example that I can find of that exalted
sentiment which Christianity called out in the intercourse of the sexes,
and which has done more for the elevation of society than any other
sentiment except that of religion itself.

Female friendship, however, must ever have adorned and cheered the
world; it naturally springs from the depths of a woman's soul. However
dark and dismal society may have been under the withering influences of
Paganism, it is probable that glorious instances could be chronicled of
the devotion of woman to man and of man to woman, which was not
intensified by the passion of love. Nevertheless, the condition of
women in the Pagan world, even with all the influences of civilization,
was unfavorable to that sentiment which is such a charm in social life.

The Pagan woman belonged to her husband or her father rather than to
herself. As more fully shown in the discussion of Cleopatra, she was
universally regarded as inferior to man, and made to be his slave. She
was miserably educated; she was secluded from intercourse with
strangers; she was shut up in her home; she was given in marriage
without her consent; she was guarded by female slaves; she was valued
chiefly as a domestic servant, or as an animal to prevent the extinction
of families; she was seldom honored; she was doomed to household
drudgeries as if she were capable of nothing higher; in short, her lot
was hard, because it was unequal, humiliating, and sometimes degrading,
making her to be either timorous, frivolous, or artful. Her amusements
were trivial, her taste vitiated, her education neglected, her rights
violated, her aspirations scorned. The poets represented her as
capricious, fickle, and false. She rose only to fall; she lived only to
die. She was a victim, a toy, or a slave. Bedizened or burdened, she was
either an object of degrading admiration or of cold neglect.

The Jewish women seem to have been more favored and honored than women
were in Greece or Rome, even in the highest periods of their
civilization. But in Jewish history woman was the coy maiden, or the
vigilant housekeeper, or the ambitious mother, or the intriguing wife,
or the obedient daughter, or the patriotic song-stress, rather than the
sympathetic friend. Though we admire the beautiful Rachel, or the heroic
Deborah, or the virtuous Abigail, or the affectionate Ruth, or the
fortunate Esther, or the brave Judith, or the generous Shunamite, we do
not find in the Rachels and Esthers the hallowed ministrations of the
Marys, the Marthas and the Phoebes, until Christianity had developed the
virtues of the heart and kindled the loftier sentiments of the soul.
Then woman became not merely the gentle nurse and the prudent housewife
and the disinterested lover, but a _friend_, an angel of consolation,
the equal of man in character, and his superior in the virtues of the
heart and soul. It was not till then that she was seen to have those
qualities which extort veneration, and call out the deepest sympathy,
whenever life is divested of its demoralizing egotisms. The original
beatitudes of the Garden of Eden returned, and man awoke from the deep
sleep of four thousand years, to discover, with Adam, that woman was a
partner for whom he should resign all the other attachments of life; and
she became his star of worship and his guardian angel amid the
entanglements of sin and cares of toil.

I would not assert that there were not noble exceptions to the
frivolities and slaveries to which women were generally doomed in Pagan
Greece and Rome. Paganism records the fascinations of famous women who
could allure the greatest statesmen and the wisest moralists to their
charmed circle of admirers,--of women who united high intellectual
culture with physical beauty. It tells us of Artemisia, who erected to
her husband a mausoleum which was one of the wonders of the world; of
Telesilla, the poetess, who saved Argos by her courage; of Hipparchia,
who married a deformed and ugly cynic, in order that she might make
attainments in learning and philosophy; of Phantasia, who wrote a poem
on the Trojan war, which Homer himself did not disdain to utilize; of
Sappho, who invented a new measure in lyric poetry, and who was so
highly esteemed that her countrymen stamped their money with her image;
of Volumnia, screening Rome from the vengeance of her angry son; of
Servilia, parting with her jewels to secure her father's liberty; of
Sulpicia, who fled from the luxuries of Rome to be a partner of the
exile of her husband; of Hortensia, pleading for justice before the
triumvirs in the market-place; of Octavia, protecting the children of
her rival Cleopatra; of Lucretia, destroying herself rather than survive
the dishonor of her house; of Cornelia, inciting her sons, the Gracchi,
to deeds of patriotism; and many other illustrious women. We read of
courage, fortitude, patriotism, conjugal and parental love; but how
seldom do we read of those who were capable of an exalted friendship for
men, without provoking scandal or exciting rude suspicion? Who among the
poets paint friendship without love; who among them extol women, unless
they couple with their praises of mental and moral qualities a mention
of the delights of sensual charms and of the joys of wine and banquets?
Poets represent the sentiments of an age or people; and the poets of
Greece and Rome have almost libelled humanity itself by their bitter
sarcasms, showing how degraded the condition of woman was under Pagan

Now, I select Paula, to show that friendship--the noblest sentiment in
woman--was not common until Christianity had greatly modified the
opinions and habits of society; and to illustrate how indissolubly
connected this noble sentiment is with the highest triumphs of an
emancipating religion. Paula was a highly favored as well as a highly
gifted woman. She was a descendant of the Scipios and the Gracchi, and
was born A.D. 347, at Rome, ten years after the death of the Great
Constantine who enthroned Christianity, but while yet the social forces
of the empire were entangled in the meshes of Paganism. She was married
at seventeen to Toxotius, of the still more illustrious Julian family.
She lived on Mount Aventine, in great magnificence. She owned, it is
said, a whole city in Italy. She was one of the richest women of
antiquity, and belonged to the very highest rank of society in an
aristocratic age. Until her husband died, she was not distinguished from
other Roman ladies of rank, except for the splendor of her palace and
the elegance of her life. It seems that she was first won to
Christianity by the virtues of the celebrated Marcella, and she hastened
to enroll herself, with her five daughters, as pupils of this learned
woman, at the same time giving up those habits of luxury which thus far
had characterized her, together with most ladies of her class. On her
conversion, she distributed to the poor the quarter part of her immense
income,--charity being one of the forms which religion took in the early
ages of Christianity. Nor was she contented to part with the splendor of
her ordinary life. She became a nurse of the miserable and the sick; and
when they died she buried them at her own expense. She sought out and
relieved distress wherever it was to be found.

But her piety could not escape the asceticism of the age; she lived on
bread and a little oil, wasted her body with fastings, dressed like a
servant, slept on a mat of straw, covered herself with haircloth, and
denied herself the pleasures to which she had been accustomed; she
would not even take a bath. The Catholic historians have unduly
magnified these virtues; but it was the type which piety then assumed,
arising in part from a too literal interpretation of the injunctions of
Christ. We are more enlightened in these times, since modern Christian
civilization seeks to solve the problem how far the pleasures of this
world may be reconciled with the pleasures of the world to come. But the
Christians of the fourth century were more austere, like the original
Puritans, and made but little account of pleasures which weaned them
from the contemplation of God and divine truth, and chained them to the
triumphal car of a material and infidel philosophy. As the great and
besetting sin of the Jews before the Captivity was idolatry, which thus
was the principal subject of rebuke from the messengers of
Omnipotence,--the one thing which the Jews were warned to avoid; as
hypocrisy and Pharisaism and a technical and legal piety were the
greatest vices to be avoided when Christ began his teachings,--so
Epicureanism in life and philosophy was the greatest evil with which the
early Christians had to contend, and which the more eminent among them
sought to shun, like Athanasius, Basil, and Chrysostom. The asceticism
of the early Church was simply the protest against that materialism
which was undermining society and preparing the way to ruin; and hence
the loftiest type of piety assumed the form of deadly antagonism to the
luxuries and self-indulgence which pervaded every city of the empire.

This antagonism may have been carried too far, even as the Puritan made
war on many innocent pleasures; but the spectacle of a self-indulgent
and pleasure-seeking Christian was abhorrent to the piety of those
saints who controlled the opinions of the Christian world. The world was
full of misery and poverty, and it was these evils they sought to
relieve. The leaders of Pagan society were abandoned to gains and
pleasures, which the Christians would fain rebuke by a lofty
self-denial,--even as Stoicism, the noblest remonstrance of the Pagan
intellect, had its greatest example in an illustrious Roman emperor, who
vainly sought to stem the vices which he saw were preparing the way for
the conquests of the barbarians. The historian who does not take
cognizance of the great necessities of nations, and of the remedies with
which good men seek to meet these necessities, is neither philosophical
nor just; and instead of railing at the saints,--so justly venerated and
powerful,--because they were austere and ascetic, he should remember
that only an indifference to the pleasures and luxuries which were the
fatal evils of their day could make a powerful impression even on the
masses, and make Christianity stand out in bold contrast with the
fashionable, perverse, and false doctrines which Paganism indorsed. And
I venture to predict, that if the increasing and unblushing materialism
of our times shall at last call for such scathing rebukes as the Jewish
prophets launched against the sin of idolatry, or such as Christ himself
employed when he exposed the hollowness of the piety of the men who took
the lead in religious instruction in his day, then the loftiest
characters--those whose example is most revered--will again disdain and
shun a style of life which seriously conflicts with the triumphs of a
spiritual Christianity.

Paula was an ascetic Roman matron on her conversion, or else her
conversion would then have seemed nominal. But her nature was not
austere. She was a woman of great humanity, and distinguished for those
generous traits which have endeared Augustine to the heart of the world.
Her hospitalities were boundless; her palace was the resort of all who
were famous, when they visited the great capital of the empire. Nor did
her asceticism extinguish the natural affections of her heart. When one
of her daughters died, her grief was as immoderate as that of Bernard on
the loss of his brother. The woman was never lost in the saint. Another
interesting circumstance was her enjoyment of cultivated society, and
even of those literary treasures which imperishable art had bequeathed.
She spoke the Greek language as an English or Russian nobleman speaks
French, as a theological student understands German. Her companions were
gifted and learned women. Intimately associated with her in Christian
labors was Marcella,--a lady who refused the hand of the reigning
Consul, and yet, in spite of her duties as a leader of Christian
benevolence, so learned that she could explain intricate passages of the
Scriptures; versed equally in Greek and Hebrew; and so revered, that,
when Rome was taken by the Goths, her splendid palace on Mount Aventine
was left unmolested by the barbaric spoliators. Paula was also the
friend and companion of Albina and Marcellina, sisters of the great
Ambrose, whose father was governor of Gaul. Felicita, Principia, and
Feliciana also belonged to her circle,--all of noble birth and great
possessions. Her own daughter, Blessella, was married to a descendant of
Camillus; and even the illustrious Fabiola, whose life is so charmingly
portrayed by Cardinal Wiseman, was also a member of this chosen circle.

It was when Rome was the field of her charities and the scene of her
virtues, when she equally blazed as a queen of society and a saint of
the most self-sacrificing duties, that Paula fell under the influence of
Saint Jerome, at that time secretary of Pope Damasus,--the most austere
and the most learned man of Christian antiquity, the great oracle of the
Latin Church, sharing with Augustine the reverence bestowed by
succeeding ages, whose translation of the Scriptures into Latin has made
him an immortal benefactor. Nor was Jerome a plebeian; he was a man of
rank and fortune,--like the more famous of the Fathers,--but gave away
his possessions to the poor, as did so many others of his day. Nothing
had been spared on his education by his wealthy Illyrian parents. At
eighteen he was sent to Rome to complete his studies. He became deeply
imbued with classic literature, and was more interested in the great
authors of Greece and Rome than in the material glories of the empire.
He lived in their ideas so completely, that in after times his
acquaintance with even the writings of Cicero was a matter of
self-reproach. Disgusted, however, with the pomps and vanities around
him, he sought peace in the consolations of Christianity. His ardent
nature impelled him to embrace the ascetic doctrines which were so
highly esteemed and venerated; he buried himself in the catacombs, and
lived like a monk. Then his inquiring nature compelled him to travel for
knowledge, and he visited whatever was interesting in Italy, Greece, and
Asia Minor, and especially Palestine, finally fixing upon Chalcis, on
the confines of Syria, as his abode. There he gave himself up to
contemplation and study, and to the writing of letters to all parts of
Christendom. These letters and his learned treatises, and especially the
fame of his sanctity, excited so much interest that Pope Damasus
summoned him back to Rome to become his counsellor and secretary. More
austere than Bossuet or Fenelon at the court of Louis XIV., he was as
accomplished, and even more learned than they. They were courtiers; he
was a spiritual dictator, ruling, not like Dunstan, by an appeal to
superstitious fears, but by learning and sanctity. In his coarse
garments he maintained his equality with princes and nobles. To the
great he appeared proud and repulsive. To the poor he was affable,
gentle, and sympathetic; they thought him as humble as the rich thought
him arrogant.

Such a man--so learned and pious, so courtly in his manners, so eloquent
in his teachings, so independent and fearless in his spirit, so
brilliant in conversation, although tinged with bitterness and
sarcasm--became a favorite in those high circles where rank was adorned
by piety and culture. The spiritual director became a friend, and his
friendship was especially valued by Paula and her illustrious circle.
Among those brilliant and religious women he was at home, for by birth
and education he was their equal. At the house of Paula he was like
Whitefield at the Countess of Huntingdon's, or Michael Angelo in the
palace of Vittoria Colonna,--a friend, a teacher, and an oracle.

So, in the midst of a chosen and favored circle did Jerome live, with
the bishops and the doctors who equally sought the exalted privilege of
its courtesies and its kindness. And the friendship, based on sympathy
with Christian labors, became strengthened every day by mutual
appreciation, and by that frank and genial intercourse which can exist
only with cultivated and honest people. Those high-born ladies listened
to his teachings with enthusiasm, entered into all his schemes, and gave
him most generous co-operation; not because his literary successes had
been blazed throughout the world, but because, like them, he concealed
under his coarse garments and his austere habits an ardent, earnest,
eloquent soul, with intense longings after truth, and with noble
aspirations to extend that religion which was the only hope of the
decaying empire. Like them, he had a boundless contempt for empty and
passing pleasures, for all the plaudits of the devotees to fashion; and
he appreciated their trials and temptations, and pointed out, with more
than fraternal tenderness, those insidious enemies that came in the
disguise of angels of light. Only a man of his intuitions could have
understood the disinterested generosity of those noble women, and the
passionless serenity with which they contemplated the demons they had by
grace exorcised; and it was only they, with their more delicate
organization and their innate insight, who could have entered upon his
sorrows, and penetrated the secrets he did not seek to reveal. He gave
to them his choicest hours, explained to them the mysteries, revealed
his own experiences, animated their hopes, removed their
stumbling-blocks, encouraged them in missions of charity, ignored their
mistakes, gloried in their sacrifices, and held out to them the promised
joys of the endless future. In return, they consoled him in
disappointment, shared his resentments, exulted in his triumphs, soothed
him in his toils, administered to his wants, guarded his infirmities,
relieved him from irksome details, and inspired him to exalted labors by
increasing his self-respect. Not with empty flatteries, nor idle
dalliances, nor frivolous arts did they mutually encourage and assist
each other. Sincerity and truthfulness were the first conditions of
their holy intercourse,--"the communion of saints," in which they
believed, the sympathies of earth purified by the aspirations of heaven;
and neither he nor they were ashamed to feel that such a friendship was
more precious than rubies, being sanctioned by apostles and martyrs;
nay, without which a Bethany would have been as dreary as the stalls and
tables of money-changers in the precincts of the Temple.

A mere worldly life could not have produced such a friendship, for it
would have been ostentatious, or prodigal, or vain; allied with
sumptuous banquets, with intellectual tournaments, with selfish aims,
with foolish presents, with emotions which degenerate into passions
_Ennui_, disappointment, burdensome obligation, ultimate disgust, are
the result of what is based on the finite and the worldly, allied with
the gifts which come from a selfish heart, with the urbanities which are
equally showered on the evil and on the good, with the graces which
sometimes conceal the poison of asps. How unsatisfactory and mournful
the friendship between Voltaire and Frederic the Great, with all their
brilliant qualities and mutual flatteries! How unmeaning would have been
a friendship between Chesterfield and Dr. Johnson, even had the latter
stooped to all the arts of sycophancy! The world can only inspire its
votaries with its own idolatries. Whatever is born of vanity will end in
vanity. "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that
mirth is heaviness." But when we seek in friends that which can
perpetually refresh and never satiate,--the counsel which maketh wise,
the voice of truth and not the voice of flattery; that which will
instruct and never degrade, the influences which banish envy and
mistrust,--then there is a precious life in it which survives all
change. In the atmosphere of admiration, respect, and sympathy suspicion
dies, and base desires pass away for lack of their accustomed
nourishment; we see defects through the glass of our own charity, with
eyes of love and pity, while all that is beautiful is rendered radiant;
a halo surrounds the mortal form, like the glory which mediaeval
artists aspired to paint in the faces of Madonnas; and adoration
succeeds to sympathy, since the excellences we admire are akin to the
perfections we adore. "The occult elements" and "latent affinities," of
which material pursuits never take cognizance, are "influences as potent
in adding a charm to labor or repose as dew or air, in the natural
world, in giving a tint to flowers or sap to vegetation."

In that charmed circle, in which it would be difficult to say whether
Jerome or Paula presided, the aesthetic mission of woman was seen
fully,--perhaps for the first time,--which is never recognized when love
of admiration, or intellectual hardihood, or frivolous employments, or
usurped prerogatives blunt original sensibilities and sap the elements
of inward life. Sentiment proved its superiority over all the claims of
intellect,--as when Flora Macdonald effected the escape of Charles
Stuart after the fatal battle of Culloden, or when Mary poured the
spikenard on Jesus' head, and wiped his feet with the hairs of her head.
The glory of the mind yielded to the superior radiance of an admiring
soul, and equals stood out in each other's eyes as gifted superiors whom
it was no sin to venerate. Radiant in the innocence of conscious virtue,
capable of appreciating any flights of genius, holding their riches of
no account except to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, these friends
lived only to repair the evils which unbridled sin inflicted on
mankind,--glorious examples of the support which our frail nature needs,
the sun and joy of social life, perpetual benedictions, the sweet rest
of a harassed soul.

Strange it is that such a friendship was found in the most corrupt,
conventional, luxurious city of the empire. It is not in cities that
friendships are supposed to thrive. People in great towns are too
preoccupied, too busy, too distracted to shine in those amenities which
require peace and rest and leisure. Bacon quotes the Latin adage, _Magna
civitas, magna solitudo_. It is in cities where real solitude dwells,
since friends are scattered, "and crowds are not company, and faces are
only as a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where
there is no love."

The history of Jerome and Paula suggests another reflection,--that the
friendship which would have immortalized them, had they not other and
higher claims to the remembrance and gratitude of mankind, rarely exists
except with equals. There must be sympathy in the outward relations of
life, as we are constituted, in order for men and women to understand
each other. Friendship is not philanthropy: it is a refined and subtile
sentiment which binds hearts together in similar labors and experiences.
It must be confessed it is exclusive, esoteric,--a sort of moral
freemasonry. Jerome, and the great bishops, and the illustrious ladies
to whom I allude, all belonged to the same social ranks. They spent
their leisure hours together, read the same books, and kindled at the
same sentiments. In their charmed circle they unbent; indulged,
perchance, in ironical sallies on the follies they alike despised. They
freed their minds, as Cicero did to Atticus; they said things to each
other which they might have hesitated to say in public, or among fools
and dunces. I can conceive that those austere people were sometimes even
merry and jocose. The ignorant would not have understood their learned
allusions; the narrow-minded might have been shocked at the treatment of
their shibboleths; the vulgar would have repelled them by coarseness;
the sensual would have disgusted them by their lower tastes.

There can be no true harmony among friends when their sensibilities are
shocked, or their views are discrepant. How could Jerome or Paula have
discoursed with enthusiasm of the fascinations of Eastern travel to
those who had no desire to see the sacred places; or of the charms of
Grecian literature to those who could talk only in Latin; or of the
corrupting music of the poets to people of perverted taste; or of the
sublimity of the Hebrew prophets to those who despised the Jews; or of
the luxury of charity to those who had no superfluities; or of the
beatitudes of the passive virtues to soldiers; or of the mysteries of
faith to speculating rationalists; or of the greatness of the infinite
to those who lived in passing events? A Jewish prophet must have seemed
a rhapsodist to Athenian critics, and a Grecian philosopher a conceited
cynic to a converted fisherman of Galilee,--even as a boastful Darwinite
would be repulsive to a believer in the active interference of the moral
Governor of the universe. Even Luther might not have admired Michael
Angelo, any more than the great artist did the courtiers of Julius II.;
and John Knox might have denounced Lord Bacon as a Gallio for advocating
moderate measures of reform. The courtly Bossuet would not probably have
sympathized with Baxter, even when both discoursed on the eternal gulf
between reason and faith. Jesus--the wandering, weary Man of
Sorrows--loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus; but Jesus, in the hour of
supreme grief, allowed the most spiritual and intellectual of his
disciples to lean on his bosom. It was the son of a king whom David
cherished with a love surpassing the love of woman. It was to Plato that
Socrates communicated his moral wisdom; it was with cultivated youth
that Augustine surrounded himself in the gardens of Como; Caesar walked
with Antony, and Cassius with Brutus; it was to Madame de Maintenon that
Fenelon poured out the riches of his intellect, and the lofty Saint
Cyran opened to Mere Angelique the sorrows of his soul. We associate
Aspasia with Pericles; Cicero with Atticus; Heloise with Abelard;
Hildebrand with the Countess Matilda; Michael Angelo with Vittoria
Colonna; Cardinal de Retz with the Duchess de Longueville; Dr. Johnson
with Hannah More.

Those who have no friends delight most in the plaudits of a plebeian
crowd. A philosopher who associates with the vulgar is neither an oracle
nor a guide. A rich man's son who fraternizes with hostlers will not
long grace a party of ladies and gentlemen. A politician who shakes
hands with the rabble will lose as much in influence as he gains in
power. In spite of envy, poets cling to poets and artists to artists.
Genius, like a magnet, draws only congenial natures to itself. Had a
well-bred and titled fool been admitted into the Turk's-Head Club, he
might have been the butt of good-natured irony; but he would have been
endured, since gentlemen must live with gentlemen and scholars with
scholars, and the rivalries which alienate are not so destructive as the
grossness which repels. More genial were the festivities of a feudal
castle than any banquet between Jews and Samaritans. Had not Mrs. Thrale
been a woman of intellect and sensibility, the hospitalities she
extended to Johnson would have been as irksome as the dinners given to
Robert Hall by his plebeian parishioners; and had not Mrs. Unwin been as
refined as she was sympathetic, she would never have soothed the morbid
melancholy of Cowper, while the attentions of a fussy, fidgety,
talkative, busy wife of a London shopkeeper would have driven him
absolutely mad, even if her disposition had been as kind as that of
Dorcas, and her piety as warm as that of Phoebe. Paula was to Jerome
what Arbella Johnson was to John Winthrop, because their tastes, their
habits, their associations, and their studies were the same,--they were
equals in rank, in culture, and perhaps in intellect.

But I would not give the impression that congenial tastes and habits and
associations formed the basis of the holy friendship between Paula and
Jerome. The fountain and life of it was that love which radiated from
the Cross,--an absorbing desire to extend the religion which saves the
world. Without this foundation, their friendship might have been
transient, subject to caprice and circumstances,--like the gay
intercourse between the wits who assembled at the Hotel de Rambouillet,
or the sentimental affinities which bind together young men at college
or young girls at school, when their vows of undying attachment are so
often forgotten in the hard struggles or empty vanities of subsequent
life. Circumstances and affinities produced those friendships, and
circumstances or time dissolved them,--like the merry meetings of Prince
Hal and Falstaff; like the companionship of curious or _ennuied_
travellers on the heights of Righi or in the galleries of Florence. The
cord which binds together the selfish and the worldly in the quest for
pleasure, in the search for gain, in the toil for honors, at a
bacchanalian feast, in a Presidential canvass, on a journey to
Niagara,--is a rope of sand; a truth which the experienced know, yet
which is so bitter to learn. It is profound philosophy, as well as
religious experience, which confirms this solemn truth. The soul can
repose only on the certitudes of heaven; those who are joined together
by the gospel feel alike the misery of the fall and the glory of the
restoration. The impressive earnestness which overpowers the mind when
eternal and momentous truths are the subjects of discourse binds people
together with a force of sympathy which cannot be produced by the
sublimity of a mountain or the beauty of a picture. And this enables
them to bear each other's burdens, and hide each other's faults, and
soothe each other's resentments; to praise without hypocrisy, rebuke
without malice, rejoice without envy, and assist without ostentation.
This divine sympathy alone can break up selfishness, vanity, and pride.
It produces sincerity, truthfulness, disinterestedness,--without which
any friendship will die. It is not the remembrance of pleasure which
keeps alive a friendship, but the perception of virtues. How can that
live which is based on corruption or a falsehood? Anything sensual in
friendship passes away, and leaves a residuum of self-reproach, or
undermines esteem. That which preserves undying beauty and sacred
harmony and celestial glory is wholly based on the spiritual in man, on
moral excellence, on the joys of an emancipated soul. It is not easy, in
the giddy hours of temptation or folly, to keep this truth in mind, but
it can be demonstrated by the experience of every struggling character.
The soul that seeks the infinite and imperishable can be firmly knit
only to those who live in the realm of adoration,--the adoration of
beauty, or truth, or love; and unless a man or woman _does_ prefer the
infinite to the finite, the permanent to the transient, the true to the
false, the incorruptible to the corruptible there is not even the
capacity of friendship, unless a low view be taken of it to advance our
interests, or enjoy passing pleasures which finally end in bitter
disappointments and deep disgusts.

Moreover, there must be in lofty friendship not only congenial tastes,
and an aspiration after the imperishable and true, but some common end
which both parties strive to secure, and which they love better than
they love themselves. Without this common end, friendship might wear
itself out, or expend itself in things unworthy of an exalted purpose.
Neither brilliant conversation, nor mutual courtesies, nor active
sympathies will make social intercourse a perpetual charm. We tire of
everything, at times, except the felicities of a pure and fervid love.
But even husband and wife might tire without the common guardianship of
children, or kindred zeal in some practical aims which both alike seek
to secure; for they are helpmates as well as companions. Much more is it
necessary for those who are not tied together in connubial bonds to have
some common purpose in education, in philanthropy, in art, in religion.
Such was pre-eminently the case with Paula and Jerome. They were equally
devoted to a cause which was greater than themselves.

And this was the extension of monastic life, which in their day was the
object of boundless veneration,--the darling scheme of the Church,
indorsed by the authority of sainted doctors and martyrs, and
resplendent in the glories of self-sacrifice and religious
contemplation. At that time its subtile contradictions were not
perceived, nor its practical evils developed. It was not a withered and
cunning hag, but a chaste and enthusiastic virgin, rejoicing in poverty
and self-denial, jubilant with songs of adoration, seeking the solution
of mysteries, wrapt in celestial reveries, yet going forth from dreary
cells to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and still more, to give
spiritual consolations to the poor and miserable. It was a great scheme
of philanthropy, as well as a haven of rest. It was always sombre in its
attire, ascetic in its habits, intolerant in its dogmas, secluded in
its life, narrow in its views, and repulsive in its austerities; but its
leaders and dignitaries did not then conceal under their coarse raiments
either ambition, or avarice, or gluttony. They did not live in stately
abbeys, nor ride on mules with gilded bridles, nor entertain people of
rank and fashion, nor hunt heretics with fire and sword, nor dictate to
princes in affairs of state, nor fill the world with spies, nor extort
from wives the secrets of their husbands, nor peddle indulgences for
sin, nor undermine morality by a specious casuistry, nor incite to
massacres, insurrections, and wars. This complicated system of
despotism, this Protean diversified institution of beggars and
tyrants, this strange contradiction of glory in debasement and
debasement in glory (type of the greatness and littleness of man),
was not then matured, but was resplendent with virtues which extort
esteem,--chastity, poverty, and obedience, devotion to the miserable, a
lofty faith which spurned the finite, an unbounded charity amid the
wreck of the dissolving world. As I have before said, it was a protest
which perhaps the age demanded. The vow of poverty was a rebuke to that
venal and grasping spirit which made riches the end of life; the vow of
chastity was the resolution to escape that degrading sensuality which
was one of the greatest evils of the times; and the vow of obedience was
the recognition of authority amid the disintegrations of society. The
monks would show that a cell could be the blessed retreat of learning
and philosophy, and that even in a desert the soul could rise triumphant
above the privations of the body, to the contemplation of immortal

For this exalted life, as it seemed to the saints of the fourth
century,--seclusion from a wicked world, leisure for study and repose,
and a state favorable to Christian perfection,--both Paula and Jerome
panted: he, that he might be more free to translate the Scriptures and
write his commentaries, and to commune with God; she, to minister to his
wants, stimulate his labors, enjoy the beatific visions, and set a proud
example of the happiness to be enjoyed amid barren rocks or scorching
sands. At Rome, Jerome was interrupted, diverted, disgusted. What was a
Vanity Fair, a Babel of jargons, a school for scandals, a mart of lies,
an arena of passions, an atmosphere of poisons, such as that city was,
in spite of wonders of art and trophies of victory and contributions of
genius, to a man who loved the certitudes of heaven, and sought to
escape from the entangling influences which were a hindrance to his
studies and his friendships? And what was Rome to an emancipated woman,
who scorned luxuries and demoralizing pleasure, and who was perpetually
shocked by the degradation of her sex even amid intoxicating social
triumphs, by their devotion to frivolous pleasures, love of dress and
ornament, elaborate hair-dressings, idle gossipings, dangerous
dalliances, inglorious pursuits, silly trifles, emptiness, vanity, and
sin? "But in the country," writes Jerome, "it is true our bread will be
coarse, our drink water, and our vegetables we must raise with our own
hands; but sleep will not snatch us from agreeable discourse, nor
satiety from the pleasures of study. In the summer the shade of the
trees will give us shelter, and in the autumn the falling leaves a place
of repose. The fields will be painted with flowers, and amid the
warbling of birds we will more cheerfully chant our songs of praise."

So, filled with such desires, and possessing such simplicity of
tastes,--an enigma, I grant, to an age like ours, as indeed it may have
been to his,--Jerome bade adieu to the honors and luxuries and
excitements of the great city (without which even a Cicero languished),
and embarked at Ostia, A.D. 385, for those regions consecrated by the
sufferings of Christ. Two years afterwards, Paula, with her daughter,
joined him at Antioch, and with a numerous party of friends made an
extensive tour in the East, previous to a final settlement in Bethlehem.
They were everywhere received with the honors usually bestowed on
princes and conquerors. At Cyprus, Sidon, Ptolemais, Caesarea, and
Jerusalem these distinguished travellers were entertained by Christian
bishops, and crowds pressed forward to receive their benediction. The
Proconsul of Palestine prepared his palace for their reception, and the
rulers of every great city besought the honor of a visit. But they did
not tarry until they reached the Holy Sepulchre, until they had kissed
the stone which covered the remains of the Saviour of the world. Then
they continued their journey, ascending the heights of Hebron, visiting
the house of Mary and Martha, passing through Samaria, sailing on the
lake Tiberias, crossing the brook Cedron, and ascending the Mount of
Transfiguration. Nor did they rest with a visit to the sacred places
hallowed by associations with kings and prophets and patriarchs. They
journeyed into Egypt, and, by the route taken by Joseph and Mary in
their flight, entered the sacred schools of Alexandria, visited the
cells of Nitria, and stood beside the ruins of the temples of
the Pharaohs.

A whole year was thus consumed by this illustrious party,--learning more
than they could in ten years from books, since every monument and relic
was explained to them by the most learned men on earth. Finally they
returned to Bethlehem, the spot which Jerome had selected for his final
resting-place, and there Paula built a convent near to the cell of her
friend, which she caused to be excavated from the solid rock. It was
there that he performed his mighty literary labors, and it was there
that his happiest days were spent. Paula was near, to supply _his_
simple wants, and give, with other pious recluses, all the society he
required. He lived in a cave, it is true, but in a way afterwards
imitated by the penitent heroes of the Fronde in the vale of Chevreuse;
and it was not disagreeable to a man sickened with the world, absorbed
in literary labors, and whose solitude was relieved by visits from
accomplished women and illustrious bishops and scholars. Fabiola, with a
splendid train, came from Rome to listen to his wisdom. Not only did he
translate the Bible and write commentaries, but he resumed his pious and
learned correspondence with devout scholars throughout the Christian
world. Nor was he too busy to find time to superintend the studies of
Paula in Greek and Hebrew, and read to her his most precious
compositions; while she, on her part, controlled a convent, entertained
travellers from all parts of the world, and diffused a boundless
charity,--for it does not seem that she had parted with the means of
benefiting both the poor and the rich.

Nor was this life at Bethlehem without its charms. That beautiful and
fertile town,--as it then seems to have been,--shaded with sycamores and
olives, luxurious with grapes and figs, abounding in wells of the purest
water, enriched with the splendid church that Helena had built, and
consecrated by so many associations, from David to the destruction of
Jerusalem, was no dull retreat, and presented far more attractions than
did the vale of Port Royal, where Saint Cyran and Arnauld discoursed
with the Mere Angelique on the greatness and misery of man; or the sunny
slopes of Cluny, where Peter the Venerable sheltered and consoled the
persecuted Abelard. No man can be dull when his faculties are stimulated
to their utmost stretch, if he does live in a cell; but many a man is
bored and _ennuied_ in a palace, when he abandons himself to luxury and
frivolities. It is not to animals, but to angels, that the higher
life is given.

Nor during those eighteen years which Paula passed in Bethlehem, or the
previous sixteen years at Rome, did ever a scandal rise or a base
suspicion exist in reference to the friendship which has made her
immortal. There was nothing in it of that Platonic sentimentality which
marked the mediaeval courts of love; nor was it like the chivalrous
idolatry of flesh and blood bestowed on queens of beauty at a
tournament or tilt; nor was it poetic adoration kindled by the
contemplation of ideal excellence, such as Dante saw in his lamented and
departed Beatrice; nor was it mere intellectual admiration which bright
and enthusiastic women sometimes feel for those who dazzle their brains,
or who enjoy a great _eclat_; still less was it that impassioned ardor,
that wild infatuation, that tempestuous frenzy, that dire unrest, that
mad conflict between sense and reason, that sad forgetfulness sometimes
of fame and duty, that reckless defiance of the future, that selfish,
exacting, ungovernable, transient impulse which ignores God and law and
punishment, treading happiness and heaven beneath the feet,--such as
doomed the greatest genius of the Middle Ages to agonies more bitter
than scorpions' stings, and shame that made the light of heaven a
burden; to futile expiations and undying ignominies. No, it was none of
these things,--not even the consecrated endearments of a plighted troth,
the sweet rest of trust and hope, in the bliss of which we defy poverty,
neglect, and hardship; it was not even this, the highest bliss of earth,
but a sentiment perhaps more rare and scarcely less exalted,--that which
the apostle recognized in the holy salutation, and which the Gospel
chronicles as the highest grace of those who believed in Jesus, the
blessed balm of Bethany, the courageous vigilance which watched
beside the tomb.

But the time came--as it always must--for the sundering of all earthly
ties; austerities and labors accomplished too soon their work. Even
saints are not exempted from the penalty of violated physical laws.
Pascal died at thirty-seven. Paula lingered to her fifty-seventh year,
worn out with cares and vigils. Her death was as serene as her life was
lofty; repeating, as she passed away, the aspirations of the
prophet-king for his eternal home. Not ecstasies, but a serene
tranquillity, marked her closing hours. Raising her finger to her lip,
she impressed upon it the sign of the cross, and yielded up her spirit
without a groan. And the icy hand of death neither changed the freshness
of her countenance nor robbed it of its celestial loveliness; it seemed
as if she were in a trance, listening to the music of angelic hosts, and
glowing with their boundless love. The Bishop of Jerusalem and the

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