Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IV by John Lord

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

neighboring clergy stood around her bed, and Jerome closed her eyes. For
three days numerous choirs of virgins alternated in Greek, Latin, and
Syriac their mournful but triumphant chants. Six bishops bore her body
to the grave, followed by the clergy of the surrounding country. Jerome
wrote her epitaph in Latin, but was too much unnerved to preach her
funeral sermon. Inhabitants from all parts of Palestine came to her
funeral: the poor showed the garments which they had received from her
charity; while the whole multitude, by their sighs and tears, evinced
that they had lost a nursing mother. The Church received the sad
intelligence of her death with profound grief, and has ever since
cherished her memory, and erected shrines and monuments to her honor. In
that wonderful painting of Saint Jerome by Domenichino,--perhaps the
greatest ornament of the Vatican, next to that miracle of art, the
"Transfiguration" of Raphael,--the saint is represented in repulsive
aspects as his soul was leaving his body, ministered unto by the
faithful Paula. But Jerome survived his friend for fifteen years, at
Bethlehem, still engrossed with those astonishing labors which made him
one of the greatest benefactors of the Church, yet austere and bitter,
revealing in his sarcastic letters how much he needed the soothing
influences of that sister of mercy whom God had removed to the choir of
angels, and to whom the Middle Ages looked as an intercessor, like Mary
herself, with the Father of all, for the pardon of sin.

But I need not linger on Paula's deeds of fame. We see in her life,
pre-eminently, that noble sentiment which was the first development in
woman's progress from the time that Christianity snatched her from the
pollution of Paganism. She is made capable of friendship for man without
sullying her soul, or giving occasion for reproach. Rare and difficult
as this sentiment is, yet her example has proved both its possibility
and its radiance. It is the choicest flower which a man finds in the
path of his earthly pilgrimage. The coarse-minded interpreter of a
woman's soul may pronounce that rash or dangerous in the intercourse of
life which seeks to cheer and assist her male associates by an endearing
sympathy; but who that has had any great literary or artistic success
cannot trace it, in part, to the appreciation and encouragement of those
cultivated women who were proud to be his friends? Who that has written
poetry that future ages will sing; who that has sculptured a marble that
seems to live; who that has declared the saving truths of an
unfashionable religion,--has not been stimulated to labor and duty by
women with whom he lived in esoteric intimacy, with mutual admiration
and respect?

Whatever the heights to which woman is destined to rise, and however
exalted the spheres she may learn to fill, she must remember that it was
friendship which first distinguished her from Pagan women, and which
will ever constitute one of her most peerless charms. Long and dreary
has been her progress from the obscurity to which even the Middle Ages
doomed her, with all the boasted admiration of chivalry, to her present
free and exalted state. She is now recognized to be the equal of man in
her intellectual gifts, and is sought out everywhere as teacher and as
writer. She may become whatever she pleases,--actress, singer, painter,
novelist, poet, or queen of society, sharing with man the great prizes
bestowed on genius and learning. But her nature cannot be half
developed, her capacities cannot be known, even to herself, until she
has learned to mingle with man in the free interchange of those
sentiments which keep the soul alive, and which stimulate the noblest
powers. Then only does she realize her aesthetic mission. Then only can
she rise in the dignity of a guardian angel, an educator of the heart, a
dispenser of the blessings by which she would atone for the evil
originally brought upon mankind. Now, to administer this antidote to
evil, by which labor is made sweet, and pain assuaged, and courage
fortified, and truth made beautiful, and duty sacred,--this is the true
mission and destiny of woman. She made a great advance from the
pollutions and slaveries of the ancient world when she proved herself,
like Paula, capable of a pure and lofty friendship, without becoming
entangled in the snares and labyrinths of an earthly love; but she will
make a still greater advance when our cynical world shall comprehend
that it is not for the gratification of passing vanity, or foolish
pleasure, or matrimonial ends that she extends her hand of generous
courtesy to man, but that he may be aided by the strength she gives in
weakness, encouraged by the smiles she bestows in sympathy, and
enlightened by the wisdom she has gained by inspiration.


Butler's Lives of the Saints; Epistles of Saint Jerome; Cave's Lives of
the Fathers; Dolci's De Rebus Gestis Hieronymi; Tillemont's
Ecclesiastical History; Gibbon's Decline and Fall; Neander's Church
History. See also Henry and Dupin. One must go to the Catholic
historians, especially the French, to know the details of the lives of
those saints whom the Catholic Church has canonized. Of nothing is
Protestant ecclesiastical history more barren than the heroism,
sufferings, and struggles of those great characters who adorned the
fourth and fifth centuries, as if the early ages of the Church have no
interest except to Catholics.


* * * * *

A.D. 347-407.


The first great moral force, after martyrdom, which aroused the
degenerate people of the old Roman world from the torpor and egotism and
sensuality which were preparing the way for violence and ruin, was the
Christian pulpit. Sacred eloquence, then, as impersonated in Chrysostom,
"the golden-mouthed," will be the subject of this Lecture, for it was by
the "foolishness of preaching" that a new spiritual influence went forth
to save a dying world. Chrysostom was not, indeed, the first great
preacher of the new doctrines which were destined to win such mighty
triumphs, but he was the most distinguished of the pulpit orators of the
early Church. Yet even he is buried in his magnificent cause. Who can
estimate the influence of the pulpit for fifteen hundred years in the
various countries of Christendom? Who can grasp the range of its
subjects and the dignity of its appeals? In ages even of ignorance and
superstition it has been eloquent with themes of redemption and of a
glorious immortality.

Eloquence has ever been admired and honored among all nations,
especially among the Greeks. It was the handmaid of music and poetry
when the divinity of mind was adored--perhaps with Pagan instincts, but
still adored--as a birthright of genius, upon which no material estimate
could be placed, since it came from the Gods, like physical beauty, and
could neither be bought nor acquired. Long before Christianity declared
its inspiring themes and brought peace and hope to oppressed millions,
eloquence was a mighty power. But then it was secular and mundane; it
pertained to the political and social aspects of States; it belonged to
the Forum or the Senate; it was employed to save culprits, to kindle
patriotic devotion, or to stimulate the sentiments of freedom and public
virtue. Eloquence certainly did not belong to the priest. It was his
province to propitiate the Deity with sacrifices, to surround himself
with mysteries, to inspire awe by dazzling rites and emblems, to work on
the imagination by symbols, splendid dresses, smoking incense,
slaughtered beasts, grand temples. He was a man to conjure, not to
fascinate; to kindle superstitious fears, not to inspire by thoughts
which burn. The gift of tongues was reserved for rhetoricians,
politicians, lawyers, and Sophists.

Now Christianity at once seized and appropriated the arts of eloquence
as a means of spreading divine truth. Christianity ever has made use of
all the arts and gifts and inventions of men to carry out the concealed
purposes of the Deity. It was not intended that Christianity should
always work by miracles, but also by appeals to the reason and
conscience of mankind, and through the truths which had been
supernaturally declared,--the required means to accomplish an end.
Therefore, she enriched and dignified an art already admired and
honored. She carried away in triumph the brightest ornament of the Pagan
schools and placed it in the hands of her chosen ministers. So that the
Christian pulpit soon began to rival the Forum in an eloquence which may
be called artistic,--a natural power of moving men, allied with learning
and culture and experience. Young men of family and fortune at last,
like Gregory Nazianzen and Basil, prepared themselves in celebrated
schools; for eloquence, though a gift, is impotent without study. See
the labors of the most accomplished of the orators of Pagan antiquity.
It was not enough for an ancient Greek to have natural gifts; he must
train himself by the severest culture, mastering all knowledge, and
learning how he could best adapt himself to those he designed to move.
So when the gospel was left to do its own work on people's hearts, after
supernatural influence is supposed to have been withdrawn, the
Christian preachers, especially in the Grecian cities, found it
expedient to avail themselves of that culture which the Greeks ever
valued, even in degenerate times. Indeed, when has Christianity rejected
learning and refinement? Paul, the most successful of the apostles, was
also the most accomplished,--even as Moses, the most gifted man among
the ancient Jews, was also the most learned. It is a great mistake to
suppose that those venerated Fathers, who swayed by their learning and
eloquence the Christian world, were merely saints. They were the
intellectual giants of their day, living in courts, and associating with
the wise, the mighty, and the noble. And nearly all of them were great
preachers: Cyprian, Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose, and even Leo, if
they yielded to Origen and Jerome in learning, were yet very polished,
cultivated men, accustomed to all the refinements which grace and
dignify society.

But the eloquence of these bishops and orators was rendered potent by
vastly grander themes than those which had been dwelt upon by Pericles,
or Demosthenes, or Cicero, and enlarged by an amazing depth of new
subjects, transcending in dignity all and everything on which the
ancient orators had discoursed or discussed. The bishop, while he
baptized believers, and administered the symbolic bread and wine, also
taught the people, explained to them the mysteries, enforced upon them
their duties, appealed to their intellects and hearts and consciences,
consoled them in their afflictions, stimulated their hopes, aroused
their fears, and kindled their devotions. He plunged fearlessly into
every subject which had a bearing on religious life. While he stood
before them clad in the robes of priestly office, holding in his hands
the consecrated elements which told of their redemption, and offering up
to God before the altar prayers in their behalf, he also ascended the
pulpit to speak of life and death in all their sublime relations. "There
was nothing touching," says Talfourd, "in the instability of fortune, in
the fragility of loveliness, in the mutability of mortal friendship, or
the decay of systems, nor in the fall of States and empires, which he
did not present, to give humiliating ideas of worldly grandeur. Nor was
there anything heroic in sacrifice, or grand in conflict, or sublime in
danger,--nothing in the loftiness of the soul's aspirations, nothing of
the glorious promises of everlasting life,--which he did not dwell upon
to stimulate the transported crowds who hung upon his lips. It was his
duty and his privilege," continues this eloquent and Christian lawyer,
"to dwell on the older history of the world, on the beautiful
simplicities of patriarchal life, on the stern and marvellous story of
the Hebrews, on the glorious visions of the prophets, on the songs of
the inspired melodists, on the countless beauties of the Scriptures, on
the character and teachings and mission of the Saviour. It was his to
trace the Spirit of the boundless and the eternal, faintly breathing in
every part of the mystic circle of superstition,--unquenched even amidst
the most barbarous rites of savage tribes, and in the cold and beautiful
shapes of Grecian mould."

How different this eloquence from that of the expiring nations! Their
eloquence is sad, sounding like the tocsin of departed glories,
protesting earnestly--but without effect--against those corruptions
which it was too late to heal. How touching the eloquence of
Demosthenes, pointing out the dangers of the State, and appealing to
liberty, when liberty had fled. In vain his impassioned appeals to men
insensible to elevated sentiments. He sang the death-song of departed
greatness without the possibility of a new creation. He spoke to
audiences cultivated indeed, but divided, enervated, embittered,
infatuated, incapable of self-sacrifice, among whom liberty was a mere
tradition and patriotism a dream; and he spoke in vain. Nor could
Cicero--still more accomplished, if not so impassioned--kindle among the
degenerate Romans the ancient spirit which had fled when demagogues
began their reign. How mournful was the eloquence of this great patriot,
this experienced statesman, this wise philosopher, who, in spite of all
his weaknesses, was admired and honored by all who spoke the Latin
tongue. But had he spoken with the tongue of an archangel it would have
been all the same, on any worldly or political subject. The old
sentiments had died out. Faith was extinguished amid universal
scepticism and indifference. He had no material to work on. The
birthright of ancient heroes had been sold for a mess of pottage, and
this he knew; and therefore with his last philippics he bowed his
venerable head, and prepared himself for the sword of the executioner,
which he accepted as an inevitable necessity.

These great orators appealed to traditions, to sentiments which had
passed away, to glories which could not possibly return; and they spoke
in vain. All they could do was to utter their manly and noble protests,
and die, with the dispiriting and hopeless feeling that the seeds of
ruin, planted in a soil of corruption, would soon bear their wretched
fruits,--even violence and destruction.

But the orators who preached a new religion of regenerating forces were
more cheerful. They knew that these forces would save the world,
whatever the depth of ignominy, wretchedness, and despair. Their
eloquence was never sad and hopeless, but triumphant, jubilant,
overpowering. It kindled the fires of an intense enthusiasm. It kindled
an enthusiasm not based on the conquest of the earth, but on the
conquests of the soul, on the never-fading glories of immortality, on
the ever-increasing power of the kingdom of Christ. The new orators did
not preach liberty, or the glories of material life, or the majesty of
man, or even patriotism, but Salvation,--the future destinies of the
soul. A new arena of eloquence was entered; a new class of orators
arose, who discoursed on subjects of transcending comfort to the poor
and miserable. They made political slavery of no account in comparison
with the eternal redemption and happiness promised in the future state.
The old institutions could not be saved: perhaps the orators did not
care to save them; they were not worth saving; they were rotten to the
core. But new institutions should arise upon their ruins; creation
should succeed destruction; melodious birth-songs should be heard above
the despairing death-songs. There should be a new heaven and a new
earth, in which should dwell righteousness; and the Prince of Peace--
Prophet, Priest, and King--should reign therein forever and ever.

Of the great preachers who appeared in thousands of pulpits in the
fourth century,--after Christianity was seated on the throne of the
Roman world, and before it had sunk into the eclipse which barbaric
spoliations and papal usurpations, and general ignorance, madness, and
violence produced,--there was one at Antioch (the seat of the old
Greco-Asiatic civilization, alike refined, voluptuous, and intellectual)
who was making a mighty stir and creating a mighty fame. This was
Chrysostom, whose name has been a synonym of eloquence for more than
fifteen hundred years. His father, named Secundus, was a man of high
military rank; his mother, Anthusa, was a woman of rare Christian
graces,--as endeared to the Church as Monica, the sainted mother of
Augustine; or Nonna, the mother of Gregory Nazianzen. And it is a
pleasing fact to record, that most of the great Fathers received the
first impulse to their memorable careers from the influence of pious
mothers; thereby showing the true destiny and glory of women, as the
guardians and instructors of their children, more eager for their
salvation than ambitious of worldly distinction. Buried in the blessed
sanctities and certitudes of home,--if this can be called a
burial,--those Christian women could forego the dangerous fascination of
society and the vanity of being enrolled among its leaders. Anthusa so
fortified the faith of her yet unconverted son by her wise and
affectionate counsels, that she did not fear to intrust him to the
teachings of Libanius, the Pagan rhetorician, deeming an accomplished
education as great an ornament to a Christian gentleman as were the good
principles she had instilled a support in dangerous temptation. Her son
John--for that was his baptismal and only name--was trained in all the
learning of the schools, and, like so many of the illustrious of our
world, made in his youth a wonderful proficiency. He was precocious,
like Cicero, like Abelard, like Pascal, like Pitt, like Macaulay, and
Stuart Mill; and like them he panted for distinction and fame. The most
common path to greatness for high-born youth, then as now, was the
profession of the law. But the practice of this honorable profession did
not, unfortunately, at least in Antioch, correspond with its theory.
Chrysostom (as we will call him, though he did not receive this
appellation until some centuries after his death) was soon disgusted and
disappointed with the ordinary avocations of the Forum,--its low
standard of virtue, and its diversion of what is ennobling in the pure
fountains of natural justice into the turbid and polluted channels of
deceit, chicanery, and fraud; its abandonment to usurious calculations
and tricks of learned and legalized jugglery, by which the end of law
itself was baffled and its advocates alone enriched. But what else could
be expected of lawyers in those days and in that wicked city, or even in
any city of the whole Empire, when justice was practically a marketable
commodity; when one half of the whole population were slaves; when the
circus and the theatre were as necessary as the bath; when only the rich
and fortunate were held in honor; when provincial governments were sold
to the highest bidder; when effeminate favorites were the grand
chamberlains of emperors; when fanatical mobs rendered all order a
mockery; when the greed for money was the master passion of the people;
when utility was the watchword of philosophy, and material gains the end
and object of education; when public misfortunes were treated with the
levity of atheistic science; when private sorrows, miseries, and
sufferings had no retreat and no shelter; when conjugal infelicities
were scarcely a reproach; when divorces were granted on the most
frivolous pretexts; when men became monks from despair of finding women
of virtue for wives; and when everything indicated a rapid approach of
some grand catastrophe which should mingle, in indiscriminate ruin, the
masters and the slaves of a corrupt and prostrate world?

Such was society, and such the signs of the times, when Chrysostom began
the practice of the law at Antioch,--perhaps the wickedest city of the
whole Empire. His eyes speedily were opened. He could not sleep, for
grief and disgust; he could not embark on a profession which then, at
least, added to the evils it professed to cure; he began to tremble for
his higher interests; he abandoned the Forum forever; he fled as from a
city of destruction; he sought solitude, meditation, and prayer, and
joined those monks who lived in cells, beyond the precincts of the
doomed city. The ardent, the enthusiastic, the cultivated, the
conscientious, the lofty Chrysostom fraternized with the visionary
inhabitants of the desert, speculated with them on the mystic
theogonies of the East, discoursed with them on the origin of evil,
studied with them the Christian mysteries, fasted with them, prayed with
them, slept like them on a bed of straw, denied himself his accustomed
luxuries, abandoning himself to alternate transports of grief and
sublime enthusiasm, now contending with the demons who sought his
destruction; then soaring to comprehend the Man-God,--the Word made
flesh, the incarnation of the divine Logos,--and the still more subtile
questions pertaining to the nature and distinctions of the Trinity.

Such were the forms and modes of his conversion,--somewhat different
from the experience of Augustine or of Luther, yet not less real and
permanent. Those days were the happiest of his life. He had leisure and
he had enthusiasm. He desired neither riches nor honors, but the peace
of a forgiven soul He was a monk without losing his humanity; a
philosopher without losing his taste for the Bible; a Christian without
repudiating the learning of the schools. But the influence of early
education, his practical yet speculative intellect, his inextinguishable
sympathies, his desire for usefulness, and possibly an unsubdued
ambition to exert a greater influence would not allow him wholly to bury
himself. He made long visits to the friends and habitations he had left,
in order to stimulate their faith, relieve their necessities, and
encourage them in works of benevolence; leading a life of alternate
study and active philanthropy,--learning from the accomplished Diodorus
the historical mode of interpreting the Scriptures, and from the
profound Theodorus the systems of ancient philosophy. Thus did he train
himself for his future labors, and lay the foundation for his future
greatness. It was thus he accumulated those intellectual treasures which
he afterwards lavished at the imperial court.

But his health at last gave way; and who can wonder? Who can long thrive
amid exhausting studies on root dinners and ascetic severities? He was
obliged to leave his cave, where he had dwelt six blessed years; and the
bishop of Antioch, who knew his merits, pressed him into the active
service of the Church, and ordained him deacon,--for the hierarchy of
the Church was then established, whatever may have been the original
distinctions of the clergy. With these we have nothing to do. But it
does not appear that he preached as yet to the people, but performed
like other deacons the humble office of reader, leaving to priests and
bishops the higher duties of a public teacher. It was impossible,
however, for a man of his piety and his gifts, his melodious voice, his
extensive learning, and his impressive manners long to remain in a
subordinate post. He was accordingly ordained a presbyter, A.D. 381, by
Bishop Flavian, in the spacious basilica of Antioch, and the active
labors of his life began at the age of thirty-four.

Many were the priests associated with him in that great central
metropolitan church; "but upon him was laid the duty of especially
preaching to the people,--the most important function recognized by the
early Church. He generally preached twice in the week, on Saturday and
Sunday mornings, often at break of day, in consequence of the heat of
the sun. And such was his popularity and unrivalled power, that the
bishop, it is said, often allowed him to finish what he had himself
begun. His listeners would crowd around his pulpit, and even interrupt
his teachings by their applause. They were unwearied, though they stood
generally beyond an hour. His elocution, his gestures, and his matter
were alike enchanting." Like Bernard, his very voice would melt to
tears. It was music singing divine philosophy; it was harmony clothing
the richest moral wisdom with the most glowing style. Never, since the
palmy days of Greece, had her astonishing language been wielded by such
a master. He was an artist, if sacred eloquence does not disdain that
word. The people were electrified by the invectives of an Athenian
orator, and moved by the exhortations of a Christian apostle. In majesty
and solemnity the ascetic preacher was a Jewish prophet delivering to
kings the unwelcome messages of divine Omnipotence. In grace of manner
and elegance of language he was the persuasive advocate of the ancient
Forum; in earnestness and unction he has been rivalled only by
Savonarola; in dignity and learning he may remind us of Bossuet; in his
simplicity and orthodoxy he was the worthy successor of him who preached
at the day of Pentecost. He realized the perfection which sacred
eloquence attained, but to which Pagan art has vainly aspired,--a charm
and a wonder to both learned and unlearned,--the precursor of the
Bourdaloues and Lacordaires of the Roman Catholic Church, but especially
the model for "all preachers who set above all worldly wisdom those
divine revelations which alone can save the world."

Everything combined to make Chrysostom the pride and the glory of the
ancient Church,--the doctrines which he did not hesitate to proclaim to
unwilling ears, and the matchless manner in which he enforced
them,--perhaps the most remarkable preacher, on the whole, that ever
swayed an audience; uniting all things,--voice, language, figure,
passion, learning, taste, art, piety, occasion, motive, prestige, and
material to work upon. He left to posterity more than a thousand
sermons, and the printed edition of all his works numbers twelve folio
volumes. Much as we are inclined to underrate the genius and learning of
other days in this our age of more advanced utilities, of progressive
and ever-developing civilization,--when Sabbath-school children know
more than sages knew two thousand years ago, and socialistic
philanthropists and scientific _savans_ could put to blush Moses and
Solomon and David, to say nothing of Paul and Peter, and other reputed
oracles of the ancient world, inasmuch as they were so weak and
credulous as to believe in miracles, and a special Providence, and a
personal God,--yet we find in the sermons of Chrysostom, preached even
to voluptuous Syrians, no commonplace exhortations, such as we sometimes
hear addressed to the thinkers of this generation, when poverty of
thought is hidden in pretty expressions, and the waters of life are
measured out in tiny gill cups, and even then diluted by weak platitudes
to suit the taste of the languid and bedizened and frivolous slaves of
society, whose only intellectual struggle is to reconcile the pleasures
of material and sensual life with the joys and glories of the world to
come. He dwelt, boldly and earnestly, and with masculine power, on the
majesty of God and the comparative littleness of man, on moral
accountability to Him, on human degeneracy, on the mysterious power of
evil, by force of which good people in this dispensation are in a small
minority, on the certainty of future retribution; yet also on the
never-fading glories of immortality which Christ has brought to light by
his sufferings and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and
the promised influences of the Holy Spirit. These truths, so solemn and
so grand, he preached, not with tricks of rhetoric, but simply and
urgently, as an ambassador of Heaven to lost and guilty man. And can you
wonder at the effect? When preachers throw themselves on the cardinal
truths of Christianity, and preach with earnestness as if they believed
them, they carry the people with them, producing a lasting impression,
and growing broader and more dignified every day. When they seek
novelties, and appeal purely to the intellect, or attempt to be
philosophical or learned, they fail, whatever their talents. It is the
divine truth which saves, not genius and learning,--especially the
masses, and even the learned and rich, when their eyes are opened to the
delusions of life.

For twelve years Chrysostom preached at Antioch, the oracle and the
friend of all classes whether high or low, rich or poor, so that he
became a great moral force, and his fame extended to all parts of the
Empire. Senators and generals and governors came to hear his eloquence.
And when, to his vast gifts, he added the graces and virtues of the
humblest of his flock,--parting with a splendid patrimony to feed the
hungry and clothe the naked, utterly despising riches except as a means
of usefulness, living most abstemiously, shunning the society of
idolaters, indefatigable in labor, accessible to those who needed
spiritual consolation, healing dissensions, calming mobs, befriending
the persecuted, rebuking sin in high places; a man acquainted with grief
in the midst of intoxicating intellectual triumphs,--reverence and love
were added to admiration, and no limits could be fixed to the moral
influence he exerted.

There are few incidents in his troubled age more impressive than when
this great preacher sheltered Antioch from the vengeance of Theodosius.
That thoughtless and turbulent city had been disgraced by an outrageous
insult to the emperor. A mob, a very common thing in that age, had
rebelled against the majesty of the law, and murdered the officers of
the Government. The anger of Theodosius knew no bounds, but was
fortunately averted by the entreaties of the bishop, and the emperor
abstained from inflicting on the guilty city the punishment he
afterwards sent upon Thessalonica for a less crime. Moreover the
repentance of the people was open and profound. Chrysostom had moved and
melted them. It was the season of Lent. Every day the vast church was
crowded. The shops were closed; the Forum was deserted; the theatre was
shut; the entire day was consumed with public prayers; all pleasures
were forsaken; fear and anguish sat on every countenance, as in a
Mediaeval city after an excommunication. Chrysostom improved the
occasion; and perhaps the most remarkable Lenten sermons ever preached,
subdued the fierce spirits of the city, and Antioch was saved. It was
certainly a sublime spectacle to see a simple priest, unclothed even
with episcopal functions, surrounded for weeks by the entire population
of a great city, ready to obey his word, and looking to him alone as
their deliverer from temporal calamities, as well as their guide in
fleeing from the wrath to come.

And here we have a noted example of the power as well as the dignity of
the pulpit,--a power which never passed away even in ages of
superstition, never disdained by abbots or prelates or popes in the
plenitude of their secular magnificence (as we know from the sermons of
Gregory and Bernard); a sacred force even in the hands of monks, as when
Savonarola ruled the city of Florence, and Bourdaloue awed the court of
France; but a still greater force among the Reformers, like Luther and
Knox and Latimer, yea in all the crises and changes of both the Catholic
and Protestant churches; and not to be disdained even in our utilitarian
times, when from more than two hundred thousand pulpits in various
countries of Christendom, every Sunday, there go forth voices, weak or
strong, from gifted or from shallow men, urging upon the people their
duties, and presenting to them the hopes of the life to come. Oh, what a
power is this! How few realize its greatness, as a whole! What a power
it is, even in its weaker forms, when the clergy abdicate their
prerogatives and turn themselves into lecturers, or bury themselves in
liturgies! But when they preach without egotism or vanity, scorning
sensationalism and vulgarity and cant, and falling back on the great
truths which save the world, then sacredness is added to dignity. And
especially when the preacher is fearless and earnest, declaring most
momentous truths, and to people who respond in their hearts to those
truths, who are filled with the same enthusiasm as he is himself, and
who catch eagerly his words of life, and follow his directions as if he
were indeed a messenger of Jehovah,--then I know of no moral power which
can be compared with the pulpit. Worldly men talk of the power of the
press, and it is indeed an influence not to be disdained,--it is a great
leaven; but the teachings of its writers, when not superficial, are
contradictory, and are often mere echoes of public sentiment in
reference to mere passing movements and fashions and politics and
spoils. But the declarations of the clergy, for the most part, are all
in unison, in all the various churches--Catholic and Protestant,
Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist--which accept God
Almighty as the moral governor of the universe, the great master of our
destinies, whose eternal voice speaketh to the conscience of mankind.
And hence their teachings, if they are true to their calling, have
reference to interests and duties and aspirations and hopes as far
removed in importance from mere temporal matters as the heaven is
higher than the earth. Oh, what high treason to the deity whom the
preacher invokes, what stupidity, what frivolity, what insincerity, what
incapacity of realizing what is truly great, when he descends from the
lofty themes of salvation and moral accountability, to dwell on the
platitudes of aesthetic culture, the beauties and glories of Nature, or
the wonders of a material civilization, and then with not half the force
of those books and periodicals which are scattered in every hamlet of
civilized Europe and America!

Now it was to the glory of Chrysostom that he felt the dignity of his
calling and aspired to nothing higher, satisfied with his great
vocation,--a vocation which can never be measured by the lustre of a
church or the wealth of a congregation. Gregory Nazianzen, whether
preaching in his paternal village or in the cathedral of Constantinople,
was equally the creator of those opinion-makers who settle the verdicts
of men. Augustine, in a little African town, wielded ten times the
influence of a bishop of Rome, and his sermons to the people of the town
of Hippo furnished a thesaurus of divinity to the clergy for a
thousand years.

Nevertheless, Antioch was not great enough to hold such a preacher as
Chrysostom. He was summoned by imperial authority to the capital of the
Eastern Empire. One of the ministers of Arcadius, the son of the great
Theodosius, had heard him preach, and greatly admired his eloquence, and
perhaps craved the excitement of his discourses,--as the people of Rome
hankered after the eloquence of Cicero when he was sent into exile.
Chrysostom reluctantly resigned his post in a provincial city to become
the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was a great change in his outward
dignity. His situation as the highest prelate of the East was rarely
conferred except on the favorites of emperors, as the episcopal sees of
Mediaeval Europe were rarely given to men but of noble birth. Yet being
forced, as it were, to accept what he did not seek or perhaps desire, he
resolved to be true to himself and his master. Scarcely was he
consecrated by Theophilus of Alexandria before he launched out his
indignant invectives against the patron who had elevated him, the court
which admired him, and the imperial family which sustained him. Still
the preacher, when raised to the government of the Eastern church,
regarding his sphere in the pulpit as the loftiest which mortal genius
could fill. He feared no one, and he spared no one. None could rob a man
who had parted with a princely fortune for the sake of Christ; none
could bribe a man who had no favors to ask, and who could live on a
crust of bread; none could silence a man who felt himself to be the
minister of divine Omnipotence, and who scattered before his altar the
dust of worldly grandeur.

It seems that Chrysostom regarded his first duty, even as the
Metropolitan of the East, to preach the gospel. He subordinated the
bishop to the preacher. True, he was the almoner of his church and the
director of its revenues; but he felt that the church of Christ had a
higher vocation for a bishop to fill than to be a good business man.
Amid all the distractions of his great office he preached as often and
as fervently as he did at Antioch. Though possessed of enormous
revenues, he curtailed the expenses of his household, and surrounded
himself with the pious and the learned. He lived retired within his
palace; he dined alone on simple food, and always at home. The great
were displeased that he would not honor with his presence their
sumptuous banquets; but rich dinners did not agree with his weak
digestion, and perhaps he valued too highly his precious time to waste
himself, body and soul, for the enjoyment of even admiring courtiers.
His power was not at the dinner-table but in the pulpit, and he feared
to weaken the effects of his discourses by the exhibition of weaknesses
which nearly every man displays amid the excitements of social

Perhaps, however, Chrysostom was too ascetic. Christ dined with
publicans and sinners; and a man must unbend somewhere, or he loses the
elasticity of his mind, and becomes a formula or a mechanism. The
convivial enjoyments of Luther enabled him to bear his burden. Had
Thomas a Becket shown the same humanity as archbishop that he did as
chancellor, he might not have quarrelled with his royal master. So
Chrysostom might have retained his favor with the court and his see
until he died, had he been less austere and censorious. Yet we should
remember that the asceticism which is so repulsive to us, and with
reason, and which marked the illustrious saints of the fourth century,
was simply the protest against the almost universal materialism of the
day,--that dreadful moral blight which was undermining society. As
luxury and extravagance and material pleasures were the prominent evils
of the old Roman world in its decline, it was natural that the protest
against these evils should assume the greatest outward antagonism.
Luxury and a worldly life were deemed utterly inconsistent with a
preacher of righteousness, and were disdained with haughty scorn by the
prophets of the Lord, as they were by Elijah and Elisha in the days of
Ahab. "What went ye out in the wilderness to see?" said our Lord, with
disdainful irony,--"a man clothed in soft raiment? They that wear soft
clothing are in king's houses,"--as much as to say, My prophets, my
ministers, rejoice not in such things.

So Chrysostom could never forget that he was a minister of Christ, and
was willing to forego the trappings and pleasures of material life
sooner than abdicate his position as a spiritual dictator. The secular
historians of our day would call him arrogant, like the courtiers of
Arcadius, who detested his plain speaking and his austere piety; but the
poor and unimportant thought him as humble as the rich and great thought
him proud. Moreover, he was a foe to idleness, and sent away from court
to their distant sees a host of bishops who wished to bask in the
sunshine of court favor, or revel in the excitements of a great city;
and they became his enemies. He deposed others for simony, and they
became still more hostile. Others again complained that he was
inhospitable, since he would not give up his time to everybody, even
while he scattered his revenues to the poor. And still others
entertained towards him the passion of envy,--that which gives rancor to
the _odium theologicum_, that fatal passion which caused Daniel to be
cast into the lions' den, and Haman to plot the ruin of Mordecai; a
passion which turns beautiful women into serpents, and learned
theologians into fiends. So that even Chrysostom was assailed with
danger. Even he was not too high to fall.

The first to turn against the archbishop was the Lord High
Chamberlain,--Eutropius,--the minister who had brought him to
Constantinople. This vulgar-minded man expected to find in the preacher
he had elevated a flatterer and a tool. He was as much deceived as was
Henry II. when he made Thomas a Becket archbishop of Canterbury. The
rigid and fearless metropolitan, instead of telling stories at his
table and winking at his infamies, openly rebuked his extortions and
exposed his robberies. The disappointed minister of Arcadius then bent
his energies to compass the ruin of the prelate; but, before he could
effect his purpose, he was himself disgraced at court. The army in
revolt had demanded his head, and Eutropius fled to the metropolitan
church of Saint Sophia. Chrysostom seized the occasion to impress his
hearers with the instability of human greatness, and preached a sort of
funeral oration for the man before he was dead. As the fallen and
wretched minister of the emperor lay crouching in an agony of shame and
fear beneath the table of the altar, the preacher burst out: "Oh, vanity
of vanities, where is now the glory of this man? Where the splendor of
the light which surrounded him; where the jubilee of the multitude which
applauded him; where the friends who worshipped his power; where the
incense offered to his image? All gone! It was a dream: it has fled like
a shadow; it has burst like a bubble! Oh, vanity of vanity of vanities!
Write it on all walls and garments and streets and houses: write it on
your consciences. Let every one cry aloud to his neighbor, Behold, all
is vanity! And thou, O wretched man," turning to the fallen chamberlain,
"did I not say unto thee that money is a thankless servant? Said I not
that wealth is a most treacherous friend? The theatre, on which thou
hast bestowed honor, has betrayed thee; the race-course, after
devouring thy gains, has sharpened the sword of those whom thou hast
labored to amuse. But our sanctuary, which thou hast so often assailed,
now opens her bosom to receive thee, and covers thee with her wings."

But even the sacred cathedral did not protect him. He was dragged out
and slain.

A more relentless foe now appeared against the prelate,--no less a
personage than Theophilus, the very bishop who had consecrated him.
Jealousy was the cause, and heresy the pretext,--that most convenient
cry of theologians, often indeed just, as when Bernard accused Abelard,
and Calvin complained of Servetus; but oftener, the most effectual way
of bringing ruin on a hated man, as when the partisans of Alexander VI.
brought Savonarola to the tribunal of the Inquisition. It seems that
Theophilus had driven out of Egypt a body of monks because they would
not assent to the condemnation of Origen's writings; and the poor men,
not knowing where to go, fled to Constantinople and implored the
protection of the Patriarch. He compassionately gave them shelter, and
permission to say their prayers in one of his churches. Therefore he was
a heretic, like them,--a follower of Origen.

Under common circumstances such an accusation would have been treated
with contempt. But, unfortunately, Chrysostom had alienated other
bishops also. Yet their hostility would not have been heeded had not
the empress herself, the beautiful and the artful Eudoxia, sided against
him. This proud, ambitious, pleasure-seeking, malignant princess--in
passion a Jezebel, in policy a Catherine de Medici, in personal
fascination a Mary Queen of Scots--hated the archbishop, as Mary hated
John Knox, because he had ventured to reprove her levities and follies;
and through her influence (and how great is the influence of a beautiful
woman on an irresponsible monarch!) the emperor, a weak man, allowed
Theophilus to summon and preside over a council for the trial of
Chrysostom. It assembled at a place called the Oaks, in the suburbs of
Chalcedon, and was composed entirely of the enemies of the Patriarch.
Nothing, however, was said about his heresy: that charge was ridiculous.
But he was accused of slandering the clergy--he had called them corrupt;
of having neglected the duties of hospitality, for he dined generally
alone; of having used expressions unbecoming of the house of God, for he
was severe and sarcastic; of having encroached on the jurisdiction of
foreign bishops in having shielded a few excommunicated monks; and of
being guilty of high treason, since he had preached against the sins of
the empress. On these charges, which he disdained to answer, and before
a council which he deemed illegal, he was condemned; and the emperor
accepted the sentence, and sent him into exile.

But the people of Constantinople would not let him go. They drove away
his enemies from the city; they raised a sedition and a seasonable
earthquake, as Gibbon might call it, and having excited superstitious
fears, the empress caused him to be recalled. His return, of course, was
a triumph. The people spread their garments in his way, and conducted
him in pomp to his archiepiscopal throne. Sixty bishops assembled and
annulled the sentence of the Council of the Oaks. He was now more
popular and powerful than before. But not more prudent. For a silver
statue of the empress having been erected so near to the cathedral that
the games instituted to its honor disturbed the services of the church,
the bishop in great indignation ascended the pulpit, and declaimed
against female vices. The empress at this was furious, and threatened
another council. Chrysostom, still undaunted, then delivered that
celebrated sermon, commencing thus: "Again Herodias raves; again she
dances; again she demands the head of John in a basin." This defiance,
which was regarded as an insult, closed the career of Chrysostom in the
capital of the Empire. Both the emperor and empress determined to
silence him. A new council was convened, and the Patriarch was accused
of violating the canons of the Church. It seems he ventured to preach
before he was formally restored, and for this technical offence he was
again deposed. No second earthquake or popular sedition saved him. He
had sailed too long against the stream. What genius and what fame can
protect a man who mocks or defies the powers that be, whether kings or
people? If Socrates could not be endured at Athens, if Cicero was
banished from Rome, how could this unarmed priest expect immunity from
the possessors of absolute power whom he had offended? It is the fate of
prophets to be stoned. The bold expounders of unpalatable truth ever
have been martyrs, in some form or other.

But Chrysostom met his fate with fortitude, and the only favor which he
asked was to reside in Cyzicus, near Nicomedia. This was refused, and
the place of his exile was fixed at Cucusus,--a remote and desolate city
amid the ridges of Mount Taurus; a distance of seventy days' journey,
which he was compelled to make in the heat of summer.

But he lived to reach this dreary resting-place, and immediately devoted
himself to the charms of literary composition and letters to his
friends. No murmurs escaped him. He did not languish, as Cicero did in
his exile, or even like Thiers in Switzerland. Banishment was not
dreaded by a man who disdained the luxuries of a great capital, and who
was not ambitious of power and rank. Retirement he had sought, even in
his youth, and it was no martyrdom to him so long as he could study,
meditate, and write.

So Chrysostom was serene, even cheerful, amid the blasts of a cold and
cheerless climate. It was there he wrote those noble and interesting
letters, of which two hundred and forty still remain. Indeed, his
influence seemed to increase with his absence from the capital; and this
his enemies beheld with the rage which Napoleon felt for Madame de Stael
when he had banished her to within forty leagues of Paris. So a fresh
order from the Government doomed him to a still more dreary solitude, on
the utmost confines of the Roman Empire, on the coast of the Euxine,
even the desert of Pityus. But his feeble body could not sustain the
fatigues of this second journey. He was worn out with disease, labors,
and austerities; and he died at Comono, in Pontus,--near the place where
Henry Martin died,--in the sixtieth year of his age, a martyr, like
greater men than he.

Nevertheless this martyrdom, and at the hands of a Christian emperor,
filled the world with grief. It was only equalled in intensity by the
martyrdom of Becket in after ages. The voice of envy was at last hushed;
one of the greatest lights of the Church was extinguished forever.
Another generation, however, transported his remains to the banks of the
Bosporus, and the emperor--the second Theodosius--himself advanced to
receive them as far as Chalcedon, and devoutly kneeling before his
coffin, even as Henry II. kneeled at the shrine of Becket, invoked the
forgiveness of the departed saint for the injustice and injuries he had
received. His bones were interred with extraordinary pomp in the tomb of
the apostles, and were afterwards removed to Rome, and deposited, still
later, beneath a marble mausoleum in a chapel of Saint Peter, where they
still remain.

Such were the life and death of the greatest pulpit orator of Christian
antiquity. And how can I describe his influence? His sermons, indeed,
remain; but since we have given up the Fathers to the Catholics, as if
they had a better right to them than we, their writings are not so well
known as they ought to be,--as they will be, when we become broader in
our views and more modest of our own attainments. Few of the Protestant
divines, whom we so justly honor, surpassed Chrysostom in the soundness
of his theology, and in the learning with which he adorned his sermons.
Certainly no one of them has equalled him in his fervid, impassioned,
and classic eloquence. He belongs to the Church universal. The great
divines of the seventeenth century made him the subject of their
admiring study. In the Middle Ages he was one of the great lights of the
reviving schools. Jeremy Taylor, not less than Bossuet, acknowledged his
matchless services. One of his prayers has entered into the beautiful
liturgy of Cranmer. He was a Bernard, a Bourdaloue, and a Whitefield
combined, speaking in the language of Pericles, and on themes which
Paganism never comprehended and the Middle Ages but imperfectly

The permanent influence of such a man can only be measured by the
dignity and power of the pulpit itself in all countries and in all
ages. So far as pulpit eloquence is an art, its greatest master still
speaketh. But greater than his art was the truth which he unfolded and
adorned. It is not because he held the most cultivated audiences of his
age spell-bound by his eloquence, but because he did not fear to deliver
his message, and because he magnified his office, and preached to
emperors and princes as if they were ordinary men, and regarded himself
as the bearer of most momentous truth, and soared beyond human praises,
and forgot himself in his cause, and that cause the salvation of
souls,--it is for these things that I most honor him, and believe that
his name will be held more and more in reverence, as Christianity
becomes more and more the mighty power of the world.


Theodoret; Socrates; Sozomen; Gregory Nazianzen's Orations; the Works of
Chrysostom; Baronius's Annals; Epistle of Saint Jerome; Tillemont's
Ecclesiastical History; Mabillon; Fleury's Ecclesiastical History; Life
of Chrysostom by Monard,--also a Life, by Frederic M. Perthes,
translated by Professor Hovey; Neander's Church History; Gibbon; Milman;
Du Pin; Stanley's Lectures on the Eastern Church. The Lives of the
Fathers have been best written by Frenchmen, and by Catholic historians.


* * * * *

A.D. 340-397.


Of the great Fathers, few are dearer to the Church than Ambrose,
Archbishop of Milan, both on account of his virtues and the dignity he
gave to the episcopal office.

Nearly all the great Fathers were bishops, but I select Ambrose as the
representative of their order, because he was more illustrious as a
prelate than as a theologian or orator, although he stood high as both.
He contributed more than any man who preceded him to raise the power of
bishops as one of the controlling agencies of society for more than a
thousand years.

The episcopal office, aside from its spiritual aspects, had become a
great worldly dignity as early as the fourth century. It gave its
possessor rank, power, wealth,--a superb social position, even in the
eyes of worldly men. "Make me but bishop of Rome," said a great Pagan
general, "and I too would become a Christian." As archbishop of Milan,
the second city of Italy, Ambrose found himself one of the highest
dignitaries of the Empire.

Whence this great power of bishops? How happened it that the humble
ministers of a new and persecuted religion became princes of the earth?
What a change from the outward condition of Paul and Peter to that of
Ambrose and Leo!

It would be unpleasant to present this subject on controversial and
sectarian grounds. Let those people--and they are numerous--who believe
in the divine right of bishops, enjoy their opinion; it is not for me to
assail them. Let any party in the Church universal advocate the divine
institution of their own form of government. But I do not believe that
any particular form of government is laid down in the Bible; and yet I
admit that church government is as essential and fundamental a matter as
a worldly government. Government, then, must be in both Church and
State. This _is_ recognized in the Scriptures. No institution or State
can live without it. Men are exhorted by apostles to obey it, as a
Christian duty. But they do not prescribe the form,--leaving that to be
settled by the circumstances of the times, the wants of nations, the
exigencies of the religious world. And whatever form of government
arises, and is confirmed by the wisest and best men, is to be sustained,
is to be obeyed. The people of Germany recognize imperial authority: it
may be the best government for them. England is practically ruled by an
aristocracy,--for the House of Commons is virtually as aristocratic in
sympathies as the House of Lords. In this country we have a
representation of the people, chosen by the people, and ruling for the
people. We think this is the best form of government for us,--just now.
In Athens there was a pure democracy. Which of these forms of civil
government did God appoint?

So in the Church. For four centuries the bishops controlled the infant
Church. For ten centuries afterwards the Popes ruled the Christian
world, and claimed a divine right. The government of the Church assumed
the theocratic form. At the Reformation numerous sects arose, most of
them claiming the indorsement of the Scriptures. Some of these sects
became very high-church; that is, they based their organization on the
supposed authority of the Bible. All these sects are sincere; but they
differ, and they have a right to differ. Probably the day never will
come when there will be uniformity of opinion on church government, any
more than on doctrines in theology.

Now it seems to me that episcopal power arose, like all other powers,
from the circumstances of society,--the wants of the age. One thing
cannot be disputed, that the early bishop--or presbyter, or elder,
whatever name you choose to call him--was a very humble and unimportant
person in the eyes of the world. He lived in no state, in no dignity; he
had no wealth, and no social position outside his flock. He preached in
an upper chamber or in catacombs. Saint Paul preached at Rome with
chains on his arms or legs. The apostles preached to plain people, to
common people, and lived sometimes by the work of their own hands. In a
century or two, although the Church was still hunted and persecuted,
there were nevertheless many converts. These converts contributed from
their small means to the support of the poor. At first the deacons, who
seem to have been laymen, had charge of this money. Paul was too busy a
man himself to serve tables. Gradually there arose the need of a
superintendent, or overseer; and that is the meaning of the Greek word
[Greek: episkopos], from which we get our term _bishop_. Soon,
therefore, the superintendent or bishop of the local church had the
control of the public funds, the expenditure of which he directed. This
was necessary. As converts multiplied and wealth increased, it became
indispensable for the clergy of a city to have a head; this officer
became presiding elder, or bishop,--whose great duty, however, was to
preach. In another century these bishops had become influential; and
when Christianity was established by Constantine as the religion of the
Empire, they added power to influence, for they disbursed great
revenues and ruled a large body of inferior clergy. They were looked up
to; they became honored and revered; and deserved to be, for they were
good men, and some of them learned. Then they sought a warrant for their
power outside the circumstances to which they were indebted for their
elevation. It was easy to find it. What sect cannot find it? They
strained texts of Scripture,--as that great and good man, Moses Stuart,
of Andover, in his zeal for the temperance cause, strained texts to
prove that the wine of Palestine did not intoxicate.

But whatever were the causes which led to the elevation and ascendency
of bishops, the fact is clear enough that episcopal authority began at
an early date; and that bishops were influential in the third century
and powerful in the fourth,--a most fortunate thing, as I conceive, for
the Church at that time. As early as the third century we read of so
great a man as the martyr Cyprian declaring "that bishops had the same
rights as apostles, whose successors they were." In the fourth century,
such illustrious men as Eusebius of Emesa, Athanasius of Alexandria,
Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Martin of Tours, Chrysostom of
Constantinople, and Augustine of Hippo, and sundry other great men whose
writings swayed the human mind until the Reformation, advocated equally
high-church pretensions. The bishops of that day lived in a state of
worldly grandeur, reduced the power of presbyters to a shadow, seated
themselves on thrones, surrounded themselves with the insignia of
princes, claimed the right of judging in civil matters, multiplied the
offices of the Church, and controlled revenues greater than the incomes
of senators and patricians. As for the bishoprics of Rome,
Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Milan, they were great
governments, and required men of great executive ability to rule them.
Preaching gave way to the multiplied duties and cares of an exalted
station. A bishop was then not often selected because he could preach
well, but because he knew how to govern. Who, even in our times, would
think of filling the See of London, although it is Protestant, with a
man whose chief merit is in his eloquence? They want a business man for
such a post. Eloquence is no objection, but executive ability is the
thing most needed.

So Providence imposed great duties on the bishops of the fourth century,
especially in large cities; and very able as well as good men were
required for this position, equally one of honor and authority.

The See of Milan was then one of the most important in the Empire. It
was the seat of imperial government. Valentinian, an able general, bore
the sceptre of the West; for the Empire was then divided,--Valentinian
ruling the eastern, and his brother Gratian the western, portion of
it,--and, as the Goths were overrunning the civilized world and
threatening Italy, Valentinian fixed his seat of government at Milan. It
was a turbulent city, disgraced by mobs and religious factions. The
Arian party, headed by the Empress Justina, mother of the young emperor,
was exceedingly powerful. It was a critical period, and even orthodoxy
was in danger of being subverted. I might dwell on the miseries of that
period, immediately preceding the fall of the Empire; but all I will say
is, that the See of Milan needed a very able, conscientious, and
wise prelate.

Hence Ambrose was selected, not by the emperor but by the people, in
whom was vested the right of election. He was then governor of that part
of Italy now embraced by the archbishoprics of Milan, Turin, Genoa,
Ravenna, and Bologna,--the greater part of Lombardy and Sardinia. He
belonged to an illustrious Roman family. His father had been praetorian
prefect of Gaul, which embraced not only Gaul, but Britain and
Africa,--about a third of the Roman Empire. The seat of this great
prefecture was Treves; and here Ambrose was born in the year 340. His
early days were of course passed in luxury and pomp. On the death of his
father he retired to Rome to complete his education, and soon
outstripped his noble companions in learning and accomplishments. Such
was his character and position that he was selected, at the age of
thirty-four, for the government of Northern Italy. Nothing eventful
marked his rule as governor, except that he was just, humane, and able.
Had he continued governor, his name would not have passed down in
history; he would have been forgotten like other provincial governors.

But he was destined to a higher sphere and a more exalted position than
that of governor of an important province. On the death of Archbishop
Auxentius, A.D. 374, the See of Milan became vacant. A great
man was required for the archbishopric in that age of factions,
heresies, and tumults. The whole city was thrown into the wildest
excitement. The emperor wisely declined to interfere with the election.
Rival parties could not agree on a candidate. A tumult arose. The
governor--Ambrose--proceeded to the cathedral church, where the election
was going on, to appease the tumult. His appearance produced a momentary
calm, when a little child cried out, "Let Ambrose our governor be our
bishop!" That cry was regarded as a voice from heaven,--as the voice of
inspiration. The people caught the words, re-echoed the cry, and
tumultuously shouted, "Yes! let Ambrose our governor be our bishop!"

And the governor of a great province became archbishop of Milan. This is
a very significant fact. It shows the great dignity and power of the
episcopal office at that time: it transcended in influence and power the
governorship of a province. It also shows the enormous strides which the
Church had made as one of the mighty powers of the world since
Constantine, only about sixty years before, had opened to organized
Christianity the possibilities of influence. It shows how much more
already was thought of a bishop than of a governor.

And what is very remarkable, Ambrose had not even been baptized. He was
a layman. There is no evidence that he was a Christian except in name.
He had passed through no deep experience such as Augustine did, shortly
after this. It was a more remarkable appointment than when Henry II.
made his chancellor, Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Why was Ambrose
elevated to that great ecclesiastical post? What had he done for the
Church? Did he feel the responsibility of his priestly office? Did he
realize that he was raised in his social position, even in the eye of an
emperor? Why did he not shrink from such an office, on the grounds of

The fact is, as proved by his subsequent administration, he was the
ablest man for that post to be found in Italy. He was really the most
fitting man. If ever a man was called to be a priest, he was called. He
had the confidence of both the emperor and the people. Such confidence
can be based only on transcendent character. He was not selected because
he was learned or eloquent, but because he had administrative ability;
and because he was just and virtuous.

A great outward change in his life marked his elevation, as in Becket
afterwards. As soon as he was baptized, he parted with his princely
fortune and scattered it among the poor, like Cyprian and Chrysostom.
This was in accordance with one of the great ideas of the early Church,
almost impossible to resist. Charity unbounded, allied with poverty, was
the great test of practical Christianity. It was afterwards lost sight
of by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and never was recognized
by Protestantism at all, not even in theory. Thrift has been one of the
watchwords of Protestantism for three hundred years. One of the boasts
of Protestantism has been its superior material prosperity. Travellers
have harped on the worldly thrift of Protestant countries. The Puritans,
full of the Old Testament, like the Jews, rejoiced in an outward
prosperity as one of the evidences of the favor of God. The Catholics
accuse the Protestants, of not only giving birth to rationalism, in
their desire to extend liberality of mind, but of fostering a material
life in their ambition to be outwardly prosperous. I make no comment on
this fact; I only state it, for everybody knows the accusation to be
true, and most people rejoice in it. One of the chief arguments I used
to hear for the observance of public worship was, that it would raise
the value of property and improve the temporal condition of the
worshippers,--so that temporal thrift was made to be indissolubly
connected with public worship. "Go to church, and you will thrive in
business. Become a Sabbath-school teacher, and you will gain social
position." Such arguments logically grow out from linking the kingdom of
heaven with success in life, and worldly prosperity with the outward
performance of religious duties,--all of which may be true, and
certainly marks Protestantism, but is somewhat different from the ideas
of the Church eighteen hundred years ago. But those were unenlightened
times, when men said, "How hardly shall they who have riches enter into
the kingdom of God."

I pass now to consider the services which Ambrose rendered to the
Church, and which have given him a name in history.

One of these was the zealous conservation of the truths he received on
authority. To guard the purity of the faith was one of the most
important functions of a primitive bishop. The last thing the Church
would tolerate in one of her overseers was a Gallio in religion. She
scorned those philosophical dignitaries who would sit in the seats of
Moses and Paul, and use the speculations of the Greeks to build up the
orthodox faith. The last thing which a primitive bishop thought of was
to advance against Goliath, not with the sling of David, but with the
weapons of Pagan Grecian schools. It was incumbent on the watchman who
stood on the walls of Zion, to see that no suspicious enemy entered her
hallowed gates. The Church gave to him that trust, and reposed in his
fidelity. Now Ambrose was not a great scholar, nor a subtle theologian.
Nor was he dexterous in the use of dialectical weapons, like Athanasius,
Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas. But he was sufficiently intelligent to
know what the authorities declared to be orthodox. He knew that the
fashionable speculations about the Trinity were not the doctrines of
Paul. He knew that self-expiation was not the expiation of the cross;
that the mission of Christ was something more than to set a good
example; that faith was not estimation merely; that regeneration was not
a mere external change of life; that the Divine government was a
perpetual interference to bring good out of evil, even if it were in
accordance with natural law. He knew that the boastful philosophy by
which some sought to bolster up Christianity was that against which the
apostles had warned the faithful. He knew that the Church was attacked
in her most vital points, even in doctrines,--for "as a man thinketh,
so is he."

So he fearlessly entered the lists against the heretics, most of whom
were enrolled among the Manicheans, Pelagians, and Arians.

The Manicheans were not the most dangerous, but they were the most
offensive. Their doctrines were too absurd to gain a lasting foothold in
the West. But they made great pretensions to advanced thought, and
engrafted on Christianity the speculations of the East as to the origin
of evil and the nature of God. They were not only dreamy theosophists,
but materialists under the disguise of spiritualism. I shall have more
to say of these people in the next Lecture, on Augustine, since one of
his great fights was against the Manichean heresy. So I pass them by
with only a brief allusion to their opinions.

The Arians were the most powerful and numerous body of heretics,--if I
may use the language of historians,--and it was against these that
Ambrose chiefly contended. The great battle against them had been fought
by Athanasius two generations before; but they had not been put down.
Their doctrines extensively prevailed among many of the barbaric
chieftains, and the empress herself was an Arian, as well as many
distinguished bishops. Ambrose did not deny the great intellectual
ability of Arius, nor the purity of his morals; but he saw in his
doctrines the virtual denial of Christ's divinity and atonement, and a
glorification of the reason, and an exaltation of the will, which
rendered special divine grace unnecessary. The Arian controversy, which
lasted one hundred years, and has been repeatedly revived, was not a
mere dialectical display, not a war of words, but the most important
controversy in which theologians ever enlisted, and the most vital in
its logical deductions. Macaulay sneers at the _homoousian_ and the
_homoiousian_; and when viewed in a technical point of view, it may seem
to many frivolous and vain. But the distinctions of the Trinity, which
Arius sought to sweep away, are essential to the unity and completeness
of the whole scheme of salvation, as held by the Church to have been
revealed in the Scriptures; for if Christ is a mere creature of God,--a
creation, and not one with Him in essence,--then his death would avail
nothing for the efficacy of salvation; or,--to use the language of
theologians, who have ever unfortunately blended the declarations and
facts of Scripture with dialectical formularies, which are deductions
made by reason and logic from accepted truths, yet not so binding as the
plain truths themselves,--Christ's death would be insufficient for an
infinite redemption. No propitiation of a created being could atone for
the sins of all other creatures. Thus by the Arian theory the Christ of
the orthodox church was blotted out, and a man was substituted, who was
divine only in the matchless purity of his life and the transcendent
wisdom of his utterances; so that Christ, logically, was a pattern and
teacher, and not a redeemer. Now, historically, everybody knows that for
three hundred years Christ was viewed and worshipped as the Son of
God,--a divine, uncreated being, who assumed a mortal form to make an
atonement or propitiation for the sins of the world. Hence the doctrines
of Arius undermined, so far as they were received, the whole theology of
the early Church, and obscured the light of faith itself. I am compelled
to say this, if I speak at all of the Arians, which I do historically
rather than controversially. If I eliminated theology and political
theories and changes from my Lectures altogether, there would be nothing
left but commonplace matter.

But Ambrose had powerful enemies to contend with in his defence of the
received doctrines of the Church. The Empress Faustina was herself an
Arian, and the patroness of the sect. Milan was filled with its
defenders, turbulent and insolent under the shield of the court. It was
the headquarters of the sect at that time. Arianism was fashionable; and
the empress had caused an edict to be passed, in the name of her son
Valentinian, by which liberty of conscience and worship was granted to
the Arians. She also caused a bishop of her nomination and creed to
challenge Ambrose to a public disputation in her palace on the points in
question. Now what course did Ambrose pursue? Nothing could be fairer,
apparently, than the proposal of the empress,--nothing more just than
her demands. We should say that she had enlightened reason on her side,
for heresy can never be exterminated by force, unless the force is
overwhelming,--as in the persecution of the Huguenots by Louis XIV.,
or the slaughter of the Albigenses by Innocent III. or the princes
he incited to that cruel act. Ambrose, however, did not regard
the edict as suggested by the love of toleration, but as the
desire for ascendency,--as an advanced post to be taken in the
conflict,--introductory to the triumph of the Arian doctrines in the
West, and which the Arian emperor and his bishops intended should
ultimately be the established religion of the Western nations. It was
not a fight for toleration, but for ascendency. Moreover Ambrose saw in
Arianism a hostile creed,--a dangerous error, subversive of what is most
vital in Christianity. So he determined to make no concessions at all,
to give no foothold to the enemy in a desperate fight. The least
concession, he thought, would be followed by the demand for new
concessions, and would be a cause of rejoicing to his enemies and of
humiliation to his friends; and in accordance with the everlasting
principles of all successful warfare he resolved to yield not one jot or
tittle. The slightest concession was a compromise, and a compromise
might lead to defeat. There could be no compromise on such a vital
question as the divinity of our Lord. He might have conceded the wisdom
of compromise in some quarrel about temporal matters. Had he, as
governor of a province, been required to make some concession to
conquering barbarians,--had he been a modern statesman devising a
constitution, a matter of government,--he might have acted differently.
A policy about tariffs and revenues, all resting on unsettled principles
of political economy, may have been a matter of compromise,--not the
fundamental principles of the Christian religion, as declared by
inspiration, and which he was bound to accept as they were revealed and
declared, whether they could be reconciled with his reason or not. There
is great moral grandeur in the conflict of fundamental principles of
religion; and there is equal grandeur in the conflict between principles
and principalities, between combatants armed with spiritual weapons and
combatants armed with the temporal sword, between defenceless priests
and powerful emperors, between subjects and the powers that be, between
men speaking in the name of God Almighty and men at the head of
armies,--the former strong in the invisible power of truth; the latter
resplendent with material forces.

Ambrose did not shun the conflict and the danger. Never before had a
priest dared to confront an emperor, except to offer up his life as a
martyr. Who could resist Caesar on his own ground? In the approaching
conflict we see the precursor of the Hildebrands and the Beckets. One of
the claims of Luther as a hero was his open defiance of the Pope, when
no person in his condition had ever before ventured on such a step. But
a Roman emperor, in his own capital, was greater than a distant Pope,
especially when the defiant monk was protected by a powerful prince.
Ambrose had the exalted merit of being the first to resist his emperor,
not as a martyr willing to die for his cause, but as a prelate in a
desperate and open fight,--as a prelate seeking to conquer. He was the
first notable man to raise the standard of independent spiritual
authority. Consider, for a moment, what a tremendous step that was,--how
pregnant with future consequences. He was the first of all the heroes of
the Church who dared to contend with the temporal powers, not as a man
uttering a protest, but as an equal adversary,--as a warrior bent on
victory. Therefore has his name great historical importance. I know of
no man who equalled him in intrepidity, and in a far-reaching policy. I
fancy him looking down the vista of the ages, and deliberately laying
the foundation of an arrogant spiritual power. What an example did he
set for the popes and bishops of the Middle Ages! Here was a just and
equal law, as we should say,--a beneficent law of religious toleration,
as it would outwardly appear,--which Ambrose, as a subject of the
emperor, was required to obey. True, it was in reference to a spiritual
matter, but emperors, from Caesar downwards, as Pontifex Maximus, had
believed it their right and province to meddle in such matters. See what
a hand Constantine had in the organization of the Church, even in the
discussion of religious doctrines. He presided at the Council of Nice,
where the great subject of discussion was the Trinity. But the
Archbishop of Milan dares to say, virtually, to the emperor, "This
law-making about our church matters is none of your concern.
Christianity has abrogated your power as High Priest. In spiritual
things we will not obey you. Your enactments conflict with the divine
laws,--higher than yours; and we, in this matter of conscience, defy
your authority. We will obey God rather than you." See in this defiance
the rise of a new power,--the power of the Middle Ages,--the reign of
the clergy.

In the first place, Ambrose refused to take part in a religious
disputation held in the palace of his enemy,--in any palace where a
monarch sat as umpire. The Church was the true place for a religious
controversy, and the umpire, if such were needed, should be a priest and
not a layman. The idea of temporal lords settling a disputed point of
theology seemed to him preposterous. So, with blended indignation and
haughtiness, he declared it was against the usages of the Church for the
laity to sit as judges in theological discussions; that in all spiritual
matters emperors were subordinate to bishops, not bishops to emperors.
Oh, how great is the posthumous influence of original heroes!
Contemplate those fiery remonstrances of Ambrose,--the first on
record,--when prelates and emperors contended for the mastery, and you
will see why the Archbishop of Milan is so great a favorite of the
Catholic Church.

And what was the response of the empress, who ruled in the name of her
son, in view of this disobedience and defiance? Chrysostom dared to
reprove female vices; he did not rebel against imperial power. But
Ambrose raised an issue with his sovereign. And this angry sovereign
sent forth her soldiers to eject Ambrose from the city. The haughty and
insolent priest should be exiled, should be imprisoned, should die.
Shall he be permitted to disobey an imperial command? Where would then
be the imperial authority?--a mere shadow in an age of anarchy.

Ambrose did not oppose force by force. His warfare was not carnal, but
spiritual. He would not, if he could, have braved the soldiers of the
Government by rallying his adherents in the streets. That would have
been a mob, a sedition, a rebellion.

But he seeks the shelter of his church, and prays to Almighty God. And
his friends and admirers--the people to whom he preached, to whom he is
an oracle--also follow him to his sanctuary. The church is crowded with
his adherents, but they are unarmed. Their trust is not in the armor of
Goliath, nor even in the sling of David, but in that power which
protected Daniel in the lions' den. The soldiers are armed, and they
surround the spacious basilica, the form which the church then assumed.
And yet though they surround the church in battle array, they dare not
force the doors,--they dare not enter. Why? Because the church had
become a sacred place. It was consecrated to the worship of Jehovah. The
soldiers were afraid of the wrath of God more than of the wrath of
Faustina or Valentinian. What do you see in this fact? You see how
religious ideas had permeated the minds even of soldiers. They were not
strong enough or brave enough to fight the ideas of their age. Why did
not the troops of Louis XVI. defend the Bastille? They were strong
enough; its cannon could have demolished the whole Faubourg St. Antoine.
Alas! the soldiers who defended that fortress had caught the ideas of
the people. They fraternized with them, rather than with the Government;
they were afraid of opposing the ideas which shook France to its centre.
So the soldiers of the imperial government at Milan, converted to the
ideas of Christianity, or sympathizing with them, or afraid of them,
dared not assail the church to which Ambrose fled for refuge. Behold in
this fact the majestic power of ideas when they reach the people.

But if the soldiers dared not attack Ambrose and his followers in a
consecrated place, they might starve him out, or frighten him into a
surrender. At this point appears the intrepidity of the Christian hero.
Day after day, and night after night, the bishop maintained his post.
The time was spent in religious exercises. The people listened to
exhortation; they prayed; they sang psalms. Then was instituted, amid
that long-protracted religious meeting that beautiful antiphonal chant
of Ambrose, which afterwards, modified and simplified by Pope Gregory,
became the great attraction of religious worship in all the cathedrals
and abbeys and churches of Europe for more than one thousand years. It
was true congregational singing, in which all took part; simple and
religious as the songs of Methodists, both to drive away fear and ennui,
and fortify the soul by inspiring melodies,--not artistic music borrowed
from the opera and oratorio, and sung by four people, in a distant loft,
for the amusement of the rich pew-holders of a fashionable congregation,
and calculated to make it forget the truths which the preacher has
declared; but more like the hymns and anthems of the son of Jesse, when
sung by the whole synagogue, making the vaulted roof and lofty pillars
of the Medieval church re-echo the paeans of the transported

At last there were signs of rebellion among the soldiers. The new
spiritual power was felt, even among them. They were tired of their
work; they hated it, since Ambrose was the representative of ideas that
claimed obedience no less than the temporal powers. The spiritual and
temporal powers were, in fact, arrayed against each other,--an unarmed
clergy, declaring principles, against an armed soldiery with swords and
lances. What an unequal fight! Why, the very weapons of the soldier are
in defence of ideas! The soldier himself is very strong in defence of
universally recognized principles, like law and government, whose
servant he is. In the case of Ambrose, it was the supposed law of God
against the laws of man. What soldier dares to fight against
Omnipotence, if he believes at all in the God to whom he is as
personally responsible as he is to a ruler?

Ambrose thus remained the victor. The empress was defeated. But she was
a woman, and had persistency; she had no intention of succumbing to a
priest, and that priest her subject. With subtle dexterity she would
change the mode of attack, not relinquish the fight. She sought to
compromise. She promised to molest Ambrose no more if he would allow
_one_ church for the Arians. If the powerful metropolitan would concede
that, he might return to his palace in safety; she would withdraw the
soldiers. But this he refused. Not one church, declared he, should the
detractors of our Lord possess in the city over which he presided as
bishop. The Government might take his revenues, might take his life; but
he would be true to his cause. With his last breath he would defend the
Church, and the doctrines on which it rested.

The angry empress then renewed her attack more fiercely. She commanded
the troops to seize by force one of the churches of the city for the use
of the Arians; and the bishop was celebrating the sacred mysteries on
Palm Sunday when news was brought to him of this outrage,--of this
encroachment on the episcopal authority. The whole city was thrown into
confusion. Every man armed himself; some siding with the empress, and
others with the bishop. The magistrates were in despair, since they
could not maintain law and order. They appealed to Ambrose to yield for
the sake of peace and public order. To whom he replied, in substance,
"What is that to me? My kingdom is not of this world. I will not
interfere in civil matters. The responsibility of maintaining order in
the streets does not rest on me, but on you. See you to that. It is only
by prayer that I am strong."

Again the furious empress--baffled, not conquered--ordered the soldiers
to seize the person of Ambrose in his church. But they were
terror-stricken. Seize the minister at the altar of Omnipotence! It was
not to be thought of. They refused to obey. They sent word to the
imperial palace that they would only take possession of the church on
the sole condition that the emperor (who was controlled by his mother)
should abandon Arianism. How angry must have been the Court! Soldiers
not only disobedient, but audaciously dictating in matters of religion!
But this treason on the part of the defenders of the throne was a very
serious matter. The Court now became alarmed in its turn. And this alarm
was increased when the officers of the palace sided with the bishop. "I
perceive," said the crestfallen and defeated monarch, and in words of
bitterness, "that I am only the shadow of an emperor, to whom you dare
dictate my religious belief."

Valentinian was at last aroused to a sense of his danger. He might be
dragged from his throne and assassinated. He saw that his throne was
undermined by a priest, who used only these simple words, "It is my duty
to obey God rather than man." A rebellious mob, an indignant court, a
superstitious soldiery, and angry factions compelled him to recall his
guards. It was a great triumph for the archbishop. Face to face he had
defeated the emperor. The temporal power had yielded to the spiritual.
Six hundred years before Henry IV. stooped to beg the favor and
forgiveness of Hildebrand, at the fortress of Canossa, the State had
conceded the supremacy of the Church in the person of the
fearless Ambrose.

Not only was Ambrose an intrepid champion of the Church and the orthodox
faith, but he was often sent, in critical crises, as an ambassador to
the barbaric courts. Such was the force and dignity of his personal
character. This is one of the first examples on record of a priest
being employed by kings in the difficult art of negotiation in State
matters; but it became very common in the Middle Ages for prelates and
abbots to be ambassadors of princes, since they were not only the most
powerful but most intelligent and learned personages of their times.
They had, moreover, the most tact and the most agreeable manners.

When Maximus revolted against the feeble Gratian (emperor of the West),
subdued his forces, took his life, and established himself in Gaul,
Spain, and Britain, the Emperor Valentinian sent Ambrose to the
barbarian's court to demand the body of his murdered brother. Arriving
at Treves, the seat of the prefecture, where his father had been
governor, he repaired at once to the palace of the usurper, and demanded
an interview with Maximus. The lord chamberlain informed him he could
only be heard before council. Led to the council chamber, the usurper
arose to give him the accustomed kiss of salutation among the Teutonic
kings. But Ambrose refused it, and upbraided the potentate for
compelling him to appear in the council chamber. "But," replied Maximus,
"on a former mission you came to this chamber." "True," replied the
prelate, "but then I came to sue for peace, as a suppliant; now I come
to demand, as an equal, the body of Gratian." "An equal, are you?"
replied the usurper; "from whom have you received this rank?" "From God
Almighty," replied the prelate, "who preserves to Valentinian the empire
he has given him." On this, the angry Maximus threatened the life of the
ambassador, who, rising in wrath, in his turn thus addressed him, before
all his councillors: "Since you have robbed an anointed prince of his
throne, at least restore his ashes to his kindred. Do _you_ fear a
tumult when the soldiers shall see the dead body of their murdered
emperor? What have you to fear from a corpse whose death you ordered? Do
you say you only destroyed your enemy? Alas! he was not _your_ enemy,
but you were _his_. If some one had possessed himself of your provinces,
as you seized those of Gratian, would not he--instead of you--be the
enemy? Can you call him an enemy who only sought to preserve what was
his own? Who is the lawful sovereign,--he who seeks to keep together his
legitimate provinces, or he who has succeeded in wresting them away? Oh,
thou successful usurper! God himself shall smite thee. Thou shalt be
delivered into the hands of Theodosius. Thou shalt lose thy kingdom and
thy life." How the prelate reminds us of a Jewish prophet giving to
kings unwelcome messages,--of Daniel pointing out to Belshazzar the
handwriting on the wall! He was not a Priam begging the dead body of his
son, or hurling impotent weapons amid the crackling ruins of Troy, but
an Elijah at the court of Ahab. But this fearlessness was surpassed by
the boldness of rebuke which later he dared to give to Theodosius, when
this great general had defeated the Goths, and postponed for a time the
ruin of the Empire, of which he became the supreme and only emperor.
Theodosius was in fact one of the greatest of the emperors, and the last
great man who swayed the sceptre of Trajan, his ancestor. On him the
vulgar and the high-born equally gazed with admiration,--and yet he was
not great enough to be free from vices, patron as he was of the Church
and her institutions.

It seems that this illustrious emperor, in a fit of passion, ordered the
slaughter of the people of Thessalonica, because they had arisen and
killed some half-a-dozen of the officers of the government, in a
sedition, on account of the imprisonment of a favorite circus-rider. The
wrath of Theodosius knew no bounds. He had once before forgiven the
people of Antioch for a more outrageous insult to imperial authority;
but he would not pardon the people of Thessalonica, and caused some
seven thousand of them to be executed,--an outrageous vengeance, a crime
against humanity. The severity of this punishment filled the whole
Empire with consternation. Ambrose himself was so overwhelmed with grief
and indignation that he retired into the country in order to avoid all
intercourse with his sovereign. And there he remained, until the emperor
came to himself and comprehended the enormity of his crime. But Ambrose
wrote a letter to the emperor, in which he insisted on his repentance
and expiation. The emperor was so touched by the fidelity and eloquence
of the prelate that he came to the cathedral to offer up his customary
oblations. But the bishop, in his episcopal robes, met him at the porch
and forbade his entrance. "Do not think, O Emperor, to atone for the
enormity of your offence by merely presenting yourself in the church.
Dream not of entering these sacred precincts with your hands stained
with blood. Receive with submission the sentence of the Church." Then
Theodosius attempted to justify himself by the example of David. "But,"
retorted the bishop, "if you imitate David in his crime, imitate David
in his repentance. Insult not the Church by a double crime." So the
emperor, in spite of his elevated rank and power, was obliged to return.
The festival of Christmas approached, the great holiday of the Church,
and then was seen one of the rarest spectacles which history records.
The great emperor, now with undivided authority, penetrated with grief
and shame and penitence, again approached the sacred edifice, and openly
made a full confession of his sins; and not till then was he received
into the communion of the Church.

I think this scene is grand; worthy of a great painter,--of a painter
who knows history as well as art, which so few painters do know; yet
ought to know if they would produce immortal pictures. Nor do I know
which to admire the more,--the penitent emperor offering public penance
for his abuse of imperial authority, or the brave and conscientious
prelate who dared to rebuke his sin. When has such a thing happened in
modern times? Bossuet had the courage to dictate, in the royal chapel,
the duties of a king, and Bourdaloue once ventured to reprove his royal
hearer for an outrageous scandal. These instances of priestly boldness
and fidelity are cited as remarkable. And they were remarkable, when we
consider what an egotistical, haughty, exacting, voluptuous monarch
Louis XIV. was,--a monarch who killed Racine by an angry glance. But
what bishop presumed to insist on public penance for the persecutions of
the Huguenots, or the lavish expenditures and imperious tyranny of the
court mistresses, who scandalized France? I read of no churchman who, in
more recent times, has dared to reprove and openly rebuke a sovereign,
in the style of Ambrose, except John Knox. Ambrose not merely reproved,
but he punished, and brought the greatest emperor, since Constantine, to
the stool of penitence.

It was by such acts, as prelate, that Ambrose won immortal fame, and set
an example to future ages. His whole career is full of such deeds of
intrepidity. Once he refused to offer the customary oblation of the
altar until Theodosius had consented to remit an unjust fine. He battled
all enemies alike,--infidels, emperors, and Pagans. It was his mission
to act, rather than to talk. His greatness was in his character, like
that of our Washington, who was not a man of words or genius. What a
failure is a man in an exalted post without character!

But he had also other qualities which did him honor,--for which we
reverence him. See his laborious life, his assiduity in the discharge of
every duty, his charity, his broad humanity, soaring beyond mere
conventional and technical and legal piety. See him breaking in pieces
the consecrated vessels of the cathedral, and turning them into money to
redeem Illyrian captives; and when reproached for this apparent
desecration replying thus: "Whether is it better to preserve our gold or
the souls of men? Has the Church no higher mission to fulfil than to
guard the ornaments made by men's hands, while the faithful are
suffering exile and bonds? Do the blessed sacraments need silver and
gold, to be efficacious? What greater service to the Church can we
render than charities to the unfortunate, in obedience to that eternal
test, 'I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat'"? See this venerated
prelate giving away his private fortune to the poor; see him refusing
even to handle money, knowing the temptation to avarice or greed. What
a low estimate he placed on what was so universally valued, measuring
money by the standard of eternal weights! See this good bishop, always
surrounded with the pious and the learned, attending to all their wants,
evincing with his charities the greatest capacity of friendship. His
affections went out to all the world, and his chamber was open to
everybody. The companion and Mentor of emperors, the prelate charged
with the most pressing duties finds time for all who seek his advice or

One of the most striking facts which attest his goodness was his
generous and affectionate treatment of Saint Augustine, at that time an
unconverted teacher of rhetoric. It was Ambrose who was instrumental in
his conversion; and only a man of broad experience, and deep
convictions, and profound knowledge, and exquisite tact, could have had
influence over the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity. Augustine
not only praises the private life of Ambrose, but the eloquence of his
sermons; and I suppose that Augustine was a judge in such matters.
"For," says Augustine, "while I opened my heart to admire how eloquently
he spoke, I also felt how truly he spoke." Everybody equally admired and
loved this great metropolitan, because his piety was enlightened,
because he was above all religious tricks and pious frauds. He even
refused money for the Church when given grudgingly, or extorted by
plausible sophistries. He remitted to a poor woman a legacy which her
brother had given to the Church, leaving her penniless and dependent;
declaring that "if the Church is to be enriched at the expense of
fraternal friendships, if family ties are to be sundered, the cause of
Christ would be dishonored rather than advanced." We see here not only a
broad humanity, but a profound sense of justice,--a practical piety,
showing an enlightened and generous soul. He was not the man to allow a
family to be starved because a conscience-stricken husband or father
wished, under ghostly influences and in face of death, to make a
propitiation for a life of greediness and usurious grindings, by an
unjust disposition of his fortune to the Church. Possibly he had doubts
whether any money would benefit the Church which was obtained by wicked
arts, or had been originally gained by injustice and hard-heartedness.

Thus does Saint Ambrose come down to us from antiquity,--great in his
feats of heroism, great as an executive ruler of the Church, great in
deeds of benevolence, rather than as orator, theologian, or student.
Yet, like Chrysostom, he preached every Sunday, and often in the week
besides, and his sermons had great power on his generation. When he died
in 397 he left behind him even a rich legacy of theological treatises,
as well as some fervid, inspiring hymns, and an influence for the better
in the modes of church music, which was the beginning of the modern
development of that great element in public worship. As a defender of
the faith by his pen, he may have yielded to greater geniuses than he;
but as the guardian of the interests of the Church, as a stalwart giant,
who prostrated the kings of the earth before him and gained the first
great battles of the spiritual over the temporal power, Ambrose is
worthy to be ranked among the great Fathers, and will continue to
receive the praises of enlightened Christendom.


Life of Ambrose, by his deacon, Paulinus; Theodoret; Tillemont's
Memoires Ecclesiastique, tom. x; Baronius; Zosimus; the Epistles of
Ambrose; Butler's Lives of the Saints; Biographie Universelle; Gibbon's
Decline and Fall. Milman has only a very brief notice of this great
bishop, the founder of sacerdotalism in the Latin Church. Neander's and
the standard Church Histories. There are some popular biographical
sketches in the encyclopedias, but no classical history of this prelate,
in English, with which I am acquainted. The French writers are the best.


* * * * *

A.D. 354-430.


The most intellectual of all the Fathers of the Church was doubtless
Saint Augustine. He is the great oracle of the Latin Church. He directed
the thinking of the Christian world for a thousand years. He was not
perhaps so learned as Origen, nor so critical as Jerome; but he was
broader, profounder, and more original than they, or any other of the
great lights who shed the radiance of genius on the crumbling fabric of
the ancient civilization. He is the sainted doctor of the Church,
equally an authority with both Catholics and Protestants. His
penetrating genius, his comprehensive views of all systems of ancient
thought, and his marvellous powers as a systematizer of Christian
doctrines place him among the immortal benefactors of mankind; while his
humanity, his breadth, his charity, and his piety have endeared him to
the heart of the Christian world.

Let me present, as well as I can, his history, his services, and his
personal character, all of which form no small part of the inheritance
bequeathed to us by the giants of the fourth and fifth centuries,--that
which we call the Patristic literature,--the only literature worthy of
preservation in the declining days of the old Roman world.

Augustine was born at Tagaste, or Tagastum, near Carthage, in the
Numidian province of the Roman Empire, in the year 354,--a province
rich, cultivated, luxurious, where the people (at least the educated
classes) spoke the Latin language, and had adopted the Roman laws and
institutions. They were not black, like negroes, though probably
swarthy, being descended from Tyrians and Greeks, as well as Numidians.
They were as civilized as the Spaniards or the Gauls or the Syrians.
Carthage then rivalled Alexandria, which was a Grecian city. If
Augustine was not as white as Ptolemy or Cleopatra, he was probably no
darker than Athanasius.

Unlike most of the great Fathers, his parentage was humble. He owed
nothing to the circumstances of wealth and rank. His father was a
heathen, and lived, as Augustine tells us, in "heathenish sin." But his
mother was a woman of remarkable piety and strength of mind, who devoted
herself to the education of her son. Augustine never alludes to her
except with veneration; and his history adds additional confirmation to
the fact that nearly all the remarkable men of our world have had
remarkable mothers. No woman is dearer to the Church than Monica, the
sainted mother of Augustine, and chiefly in view of her intense
solicitude for his spiritual interests, and her extraordinary faith in
his future conversion, in spite of his youthful follies and
excesses,--encouraged by that good bishop who told her "that it was
impossible that the child of so many prayers could be lost."

Augustine, in his "Confessions,"--that remarkable book which has lasted
fifteen hundred years, and is still prized for its intensity, its
candor, and its profound acquaintance with the human heart, as well as
evangelical truth; not an egotistical parade of morbid sentimentalities,
like the "Confessions" of Rousseau, but a mirror of Christian
experience,--tells us that until he was sixteen he was obstinate, lazy,
neglectful of his studies, indifferent to reproach, and abandoned to
heathenish sports. He even committed petty thefts, was quarrelsome, and
indulged in demoralizing pleasures. At nineteen he was sent to Carthage
to be educated, where he went still further astray; was a follower of
stage-players (then all but infamous), and gave himself up to unholy
loves. But his intellect was inquiring, his nature genial, and his
habits as studious as could be reconciled with a life of pleasure,--a
sort of Alcibiades, without his wealth and rank, willing to listen to
any Socrates who would stimulate his mind. With all his excesses and
vanities, he was not frivolous, and seemed at an early age to be a
sincere inquirer after truth. The first work which had a marked effect
on him was the "Hortensius" of Cicero,--a lost book, which contained an
eloquent exhortation to philosophy, or the love of wisdom. From that he
turned to the Holy Scriptures, but they seemed to him then very poor,
compared with the stateliness of Tully, nor could his sharp wit
penetrate their meaning. Those who seemed to have the greatest influence
over him were the Manicheans,--a transcendental, oracular, indefinite,
illogical, pretentious set of philosophers, who claimed superior wisdom,
and were not unlike (at least in spirit) those modern _savans_ in the
Christian commonwealth, who make a mockery of what is most sacred in
Christianity while themselves propounding the most absurd theories.

The Manicheans claimed to be a Christian sect, but were Oriental in
their origin and Pagan in their ideas. They derived their doctrines from
Manes, or Mani, who flourished in Persia in the second half of the third
century, and who engrafted some Christian doctrines on his system, which
was essentially the dualism of Zoroaster and the pantheism of Buddha. He
assumed two original substances,--God and Hyle, light and darkness,
good and evil,--which were opposed to each other. Matter, which is
neither good nor evil, was regarded as bad in itself, and identified
with darkness, the prince of which overthrew the primitive man. Among
the descendants of the fallen man light and darkness have struggled for
supremacy, but matter, or darkness, conquered; and Christ, who was
confounded with the sun, came to break the dominion. But the light of
his essential being could not unite with darkness; therefore he was not
born of a woman, nor did he die to rise again. Christ had thus no
personal existence. As the body, being matter, was thought to be
essentially evil, it was the aim of the Manicheans to set the soul free
from matter; hence abstinence, and the various forms of asceticism which
early entered into the pietism of the Oriental monks. That which gave
the Manicheans a hold on the mind of Augustine, seeking after truth, was
their arrogant claim to the solution of mysteries, especially the origin
of evil, and their affectation of superior knowledge. Their watchwords
were Reason, Science, Philosophy. Moreover, like the Sophists in the
time of Socrates, they were assuming, specious, and rhetorical.
Augustine--ardent, imaginative, credulous--was attracted by them, and he
enrolled himself in their esoteric circle.

The coarser forms of sin he now abandoned, only to resign himself to the
emptiness of dreamy speculations and the praises of admirers. He won
prizes and laurels in the schools. For nine years he was much flattered
for his philosophical attainments. I can almost see this enthusiastic
youth scandalizing and shocking his mother and her friends by his bold
advocacy of doctrines at war with the gospel, but which he supposed to
be very philosophical. Pert and bright young men in these times often
talk as he did, but do not know enough to see their own shallowness.

"Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."

The mind of Augustine, however, was logical, and naturally profound; and
at last he became dissatisfied with the nonsense with which plausible
pretenders ensnared him. He was then what we should call a schoolmaster,
or what some would call a professor, and taught rhetoric for his
support, which was a lucrative and honorable calling. He became a master
of words. From words he ascended to definitions, and like all true
inquirers began to love the definite, the precise. He wanted a basis to
stand upon. He sought certitudes,--elemental truths which sophistry
could not cover up. Then the Manicheans could no longer satisfy him. He
had doubts, difficulties, which no Manichean could explain, not even Dr.
Faustus of Mileve, the great oracle and leader of the sect,--a subtle
dialectician and brilliant orator, but without depth or
earnestness,--whom he compares to a cup-bearer presenting a costly
goblet, but without anything in it. And when it became clear that this
high-priest of pretended wisdom was ignorant of the things in which he
was supposed to excel, but which Augustine himself had already learned,
his disappointment was so great that he lost faith both in the teacher
and his doctrines. Thus this Faustus, "neither willing nor witting it,"
was the very man who loosened the net which had ensnared Augustine for
so many years.

He was now thirty years of age, and had taught rhetoric in Carthage, the
capital of Northern Africa, with brilliant success, for three years; but
panting for new honors or for new truth, he removed to Rome, to pursue
both his profession and his philosophical studies. He entered the
capital of the world in the height of its material glories, but in the
decline of its political importance, when Damasus occupied the episcopal
throne, and Saint Jerome was explaining the Scriptures to the high-born
ladies of Mount Aventine, who grouped around him,--women like Paula,
Fabiola, and Marcella. Augustine knew none of these illustrious people.
He lodged with a Manichean, and still frequented the meetings of the
sect; convinced, indeed, that the truth was not with them, but
despairing to find it elsewhere. In this state of mind he was drawn to
the doctrines of the New Academy,--or, as Augustine in his
"Confessions" calls them, the Academics,--whose representatives,
Arcesilaus and Carneades, also made great pretensions, but denied the
possibility of arriving at absolute truth,--aiming only at probability.
However lofty the speculations of these philosophers, they were
sceptical in their tendency. They furnished no anchor for such an
earnest thinker as Augustine. They gave him no consolation. Yet his
dislike of Christianity remained.

Moreover, he was disappointed with Rome. He did not find there the great
men he sought, or if great men were there he could not get access to
them. He found himself in a moral desert, without friends and congenial
companions. He found everybody so immersed in pleasure, or gain, or
frivolity, that they had no time or inclination for the quest for truth,
except in those circles he despised. "Truth," they cynically said, "what
_is_ truth? Will truth enable us to make eligible matches with rich
women? Will it give us luxurious banquets, or build palaces, or procure
chariots of silver, or robes of silk, or oysters of the Lucrine lake, or
Falernian wines? Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Inasmuch
as the arts of rhetoric enabled men to rise at the bar or shine in
fashionable circles, he had plenty of scholars; but they left his
lecture-room when required to pay. At Carthage his pupils were
boisterous and turbulent; at Rome they were tricky and mean. The
professor was not only disappointed,--he was disgusted. He found
neither truth nor money. Still, he was not wholly unknown or
unsuccessful. His great abilities were seen and admired; so that when
the people of Milan sent to Symmachus, the prefect of the city, to
procure for them an able teacher of rhetoric, he sent Augustine,--a
providential thing, since in the second capital of Italy he heard the
great Ambrose preach; he found one Christian whom he respected, whom he
admired,--and him he sought. And Ambrose found time to show him an
episcopal kindness. At first Augustine listened as a critic, trying the
eloquence of Ambrose, whether it answered the fame thereof, or flowed
fuller or lower than was reported; "but of the matter I was," says
Augustine, "a scornful and careless looker-on, being delighted with the
sweetness of his discourse. Yet I was, though by little and little,
gradually drawing nearer and nearer to truth; for though I took no pains
to learn _what_ he spoke, only to hear _how_ he spoke, yet, together
with the words which I would choose, came into my mind the things I
would refuse; and while I opened my heart to admire how eloquently he
spoke, I also felt how truly he spoke. And so by degrees I resolved to
abandon forever the Manicheans, whose falsehoods I detested, and
determined to be a catechumen of the Catholic Church."

This was the great crisis of his life. He had renounced a false
philosophy; he sought truth from a Christian bishop; he put himself
under Christian influences. Fortunately at this time his mother Monica,
to whom he had lied and from whom he had run away, joined him; also his
son Adeodatus,--the son of the woman with whom he had lived in illicit
intercourse for fifteen years. But his conversion was not accomplished.
He purposed marriage, sent away his concubine to Africa, and yet fell
again into the mazes of another unlawful and entangling love. It was not
easy to overcome the loose habits of his life. Sensuality ever robs a
man of the power of will. He had a double nature,--a strong sensual
body, with a lofty and inquiring soul. And awful were his conflicts, not
with an unfettered imagination, like Jerome in the wilderness, but with
positive sin. The evil that he would not, that he did, followed with
remorse and shame; still a slave to his senses, and perhaps to his
imagination, for though he had broken away from the materialism of the
Manicheans, he had not abandoned philosophy. He read the books of Plato,
which had a good effect, since he saw, what he had not seen before, that
true realities are purely intellectual, and that God, who occupies the
summit of the world of intelligence, is a pure spirit, inaccessible to
the senses; so that Platonism to him, in an important sense, was the
vestibule of Christianity. Platonism, the loftiest development of pagan
thought, however, did not emancipate him. He comprehended the Logos of
the Athenian sage; but he did not comprehend the Word made flesh, the
Word attached to the Cross. The mystery of the Incarnation offended his
pride of reason.

At length light beamed in upon him from another source, whose simplicity
he had despised. He read Saint Paul. No longer did the apostle's style
seem barbarous, as it did to Cardinal Bembo,--it was a fountain of life.
He was taught two things he had not read in the books of the
Platonists,--the lost state of man, and the need of divine grace. The
Incarnation appeared in a new light. Jesus Christ was revealed to him as
the restorer of fallen humanity.

He was now "rationally convinced." He accepted the theology of Saint
Paul; but he could not break away from his sins. And yet the awful
truths he accepted filled him with anguish, and produced dreadful
conflicts. The law of his members warred against the law of his mind. In
agonies he cried, "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from
this body of death?" He shunned all intercourse. He withdrew to his
garden, reclined under a fig-tree, and gave vent to bitter tears. He
wrestled with the angel, and his deliverance was at hand. It was under
the fig-tree of his garden that he fancied he heard a voice of boy or
girl, he could not tell, chanting and often repeating, "Take up and
read; take up and read." He opened the Scriptures, and his eye alighted
not on the text which had converted Antony the monk, "Go and sell all
that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in
heaven," but on this: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in
rioting, drunkenness, and wantonness, but put ye on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and not make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts
thereof." That text decided him, and broke his fetters. His conversion
was accomplished. He poured forth his soul in thanksgiving and praise.

He was now in the thirty-second year of his age, and resolved to
renounce his profession,--or, to use his language, "to withdraw from the
marts of lip-labor and the selling of words,"--and enter the service of
the new master who had called him to prepare himself for a higher
vocation. He retired to a country house, near Milan, which belonged to
his friend Veracundus, and he was accompanied in his retreat by his
mother, his brother Navigius, his son Adeodatus, Alypius his confidant,
Trigentius and Licentius his scholars, and his cousins Lastidianus and
Rusticus. I should like to describe those blissful and enchanting days,
when without asceticism and without fanaticism, surrounded with admiring
friends and relatives, he discoursed on the highest truths which can
elevate the human mind. Amid the rich olive-groves and dark waving
chesnuts which skirted the loveliest of Italian lakes, in sight of both
Alps and Apennines, did this great master of Christian philosophy
prepare himself for his future labors, and forge the weapons with which
he overthrew the high-priests who assailed the integrity of the
Christian faith. The hand of opulent friendship supplied his wants, as
Paula ministered to Jerome in Bethlehem. Often were discussions with his
pupils and friends prolonged into the night and continued until the
morning. Plato and Saint Paul reappeared in the gardens of Como. Thus
three more glorious years were passed in study, in retirement, and in
profitable discourse, without scandal and without vanity. The proud
philosopher was changed into a humble Christian, thirsting for a living
union with God. The Psalms of David, next to the Epistles of Saint Paul,
were his favorite study,--that pure and lofty poetry "which strips away
the curtains of the skies, and approaches boldly but meekly into the
presence of Him who dwells in boundless and inaccessible majesty." In
the year 387, at the age of thirty-three, he received the rite of
baptism from the great archbishop who was so instrumental in his
conversion, and was admitted into the ranks of the visible Church, and
prepared to return to Africa. But before he could embark, his beloved
mother died at Ostia, feeling, with Simeon, that she could now depart in
peace, having seen the salvation of the Lord,--but to the immoderate
grief of Augustine who made no effort to dry his tears. It was not till
the following year that he sailed for Carthage, not long tarrying there,
but retiring to Tagaste, to his paternal estate, where he spent three
years more in study and meditation, giving away all he possessed to
religion and charity, living with his friends in a complete community of
goods. It was there that some of his best works were composed. In the
year 391, on a visit to Hippo, a Numidian seaport, he was forced into
more active duties. Entering the church, the people clamored for his
ordination; and such was his power as a pulpit orator, and so
universally was he revered, that in two years after he became coadjutor
bishop, and his great career began.

As a bishop he won universal admiration. Councils could do nothing
without his presence. Emperors condescended to sue for his advice. He
wrote letters to all parts of Christendom. He was alike saint, oracle,
prelate, and preacher. He labored day and night, living simply, but
without monkish austerity. At table, reading and literary conferences
were preferred to secular conversation. His person was accessible. He
interested himself in everybody's troubles, and visited the forlorn and
miserable. He was indefatigable in reclaiming those who had strayed from
the fold. He won every heart by charity, and captivated every mind with
his eloquence; so that Hippo, a little African town, was no longer
"least among the cities of Judah," since her prelate was consulted from
the extremities of the earth, and his influence went forth throughout
the crumbling Empire, to heal division and establish the faith of the
wavering,--a Father of the Church universal.

Yet it is not as bishop, but as doctor, that he is immortal. It was his
mission to head off the dissensions and heresies of his age, and to
establish the faith of Paul even among the Germanic barbarians. He is
the great theologian of the Church, and his system of divinity not only
was the creed of the Middle Ages, but is still an authority in the
schools, both Catholic and Protestant.

Let us, then, turn to his services as theologian and philosopher. He
wrote over a thousand treatises, and on almost every subject that has
interested the human mind; but his labors were chiefly confined to the
prevailing and more subtle and dangerous errors of his day. Nor was it
by dry dialectics that he refuted these heresies, although the most
logical and acute of men, but by his profound insight into the cardinal
principles of Christianity, which he discoursed upon with the most
extraordinary affluence of thought and language, disdaining all
sophistries and speculations. He went to the very core,--a realist of
the most exalted type, permeated with the spirit of Plato, yet bowing
down to Paul.

We first find him combating the opinions which had originally enthralled
him, and which he understood better than any theologian who ever lived.

But I need not repeat what I have already said of the
Manicheans,--those arrogant and shallow philosophers who made such high
pretension to superior wisdom; men who adored the divinity of mind, and
the inherent evil of matter; men who sought to emancipate the soul,
which in their view needed no regeneration from all the influences of
the body. That this soul, purified by asceticism, might be reunited to
the great spirit of the universe from which it had originally emanated,
was the hopeless aim and dream of these theosophists,--not the control
of passions and appetites, which God commands, but their eradication;
not the worship of a Creator who made the heaven and the earth, but a
vague worship of the creation itself. They little dreamed that it is not
the body (neither good nor evil in itself) which is sinful, but the
perverted mind and soul, the wicked imagination of the heart, out of
which proceeds that which defileth a man, and which can only be
controlled and purified by Divine assistance. Augustine showed that
purity was an inward virtue, not the crucifixion of the body; that its
passions and appetites are made to be subservient to reason and duty;
that the law of temperance is self-restraint; that the soul was not an
emanation or evolution from eternal light, but a distinct creation of
Almighty God, which He has the power to destroy, as well as the body
itself; that nothing in the universe can live without His pleasure; that
His intervention is a logical sequence of His moral government. But his
most withering denunciation of the Manicheans was directed against
their pride of reason, against their darkened understanding, which led
them not only to believe a lie, but to glory in it,--the utter
perverseness of the mind when in rebellion to divine authority, in view
of which it is almost vain to argue, since truth will neither be
admitted nor accepted.

There was another class of Christians who provoked the controversial
genius of Augustine, and these were the Donatists. These men were not
heretics, but bigots. They made the rite of baptism to depend on the
character of the officiating priest; and hence they insisted on
rebaptism, if the priest who had baptized proved unworthy. They seemed
to forget that no clergyman ever baptized from his own authority or
worthiness, but only in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the
Holy Ghost. Nobody knows who baptized Paul, and he felt under certain
circumstances even that he was sent not to baptize, but to preach the
gospel. Lay baptism has always been held valid. Hence, such reformers as
Calvin and Knox did not deem it necessary to rebaptize those who had
been converted from the Roman Catholic faith; and, if I do not mistake,
even Roman Catholics do not insist on rebaptizing Protestants. But the
Donatists so magnified, not the rite, but the form of it, that they lost
the spirit of it, and became seceders, and created a mournful division
in the Church,--a schism which gave rise to bitter animosities. The
churches of Africa were rent by their implacable feuds, and on so small
a matter,--even as the ranks of the reformers under Luther were so soon
divided by the Anabaptists. In proportion to the unimportance of the
shibboleth was tenacity to it,--a mark which has ever characterized
narrow and illiberal minds. It is not because a man accepts a shibboleth
that he is narrow and small, but because he fights for it. As a minute
critic would cast out from the fraternity of scholars him who cannot
tell the difference between _ac_ and _et_, so the Donatist would expel
from the true fold of Christ those who accepted baptism from an unworthy
priest. Augustine at first showed great moderation and patience and
gentleness in dealing with these narrow-minded and fierce sectarians,
who carried their animosity so far as to forbid bread to be baked for
the use of the Catholics in Carthage, when they had the ascendency; but
at last he became indignant, and implored the aid of secular

Augustine's controversy with the Donatists led to two remarkable
tracts,--one on the evil of suppressing heresy by the sword, and the
other on the unity of the Church.

In the first he showed a spirit of toleration beyond his age; and this
is more remarkable because his temper was naturally ardent and fiery.
But he protested in his writings, and before councils, against violence
in forcing religious convictions, and advocated a liberality worthy of
John Locke.

In the second tract he advocated a principle which had a prodigious
influence on the minds of his generation, and greatly contributed to
establish the polity of the Roman Catholic Church. He argued the
necessity of unity in government as well as unity in faith, like Cyprian
before him; and this has endeared him to the Roman Catholic Church, I
apprehend, even more than his glorious defence of the Pauline theology.
There are some who think that all governments arise out of the
circumstances and the necessities of the times, and that there are no
rules laid down in the Bible for any particular form or polity, since a
government which may be adapted to one age or people may not be fitted
for another;--even as a monarchy would not succeed in New England any
more than a democracy in China. But the most powerful sects among
Protestants, as well as among the Catholics themselves, insist on the
divine authority for their several forms of government, and all would
have insisted, at different periods, on producing conformity with their
notions. The high-church Episcopalian and the high-church Presbyterian
equally insist on the divine authority for their respective
institutions. The Catholics simply do the same, when they make Saint
Peter the rock on which the supremacy of their Church is based. In the
time of Augustine there was only one form of the visible Church,--there
were no Protestants; and he naturally wished, like any bishop, to
strengthen and establish its unity,--a government of bishops, of which
the bishop of Rome was the acknowledged head. But he did not
anticipate--and I believe he would not have indorsed--their future
encroachments and their ambitious schemes for enthralling the mind of
the world, to say nothing of personal aggrandizement and the usurpation
of temporal authority. And yet the central power they established on the
banks of the Tiber was, with all its corruptions, fitted to conserve the
interests of Christendom in rude ages of barbarism and ignorance; and
possibly Augustine, with his profound intuitions, and in view of the
approaching desolations of the Christian world, wished to give to the
clergy and to their head all the moral power and prestige possible, to
awe and control the barbaric chieftains, for in his day the Empire was
crumbling to pieces, and the old civilization was being trampled under
foot. If there was a man in the whole Empire capable of taking
comprehensive views of the necessities of society, that man was the
Bishop of Hippo; so that if we do not agree with his views of church
government, let us bear in mind the age in which he lived, and its
peculiar dangers and necessities. And let us also remember that his idea

Book of the day: