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to have meant it, hath been thought too uncharitable, and therefore a forgery of the writer: yet, candidly interpreted, it may mean no more than this, May true religion flourish, and impiety cease! and some perhaps will be of opinion that this apostolical father spake prophetically to the wicked and persecuting Jews and Gentiles of Smyrna, who stood round him, impatient to destroy him: for not long after his martyrdom the city of Smyrna was overturned by a very violent earthquake, A. D. 177. in which many of them may be supposed to have perished. Dio 1. lxxi. Áristides Orat. 20, 21, 22. 41.
When Polycarp was urged by the proconsul to renounce Christ, he replied, These eighty-six years do I serve him,' &c.
Hence some have concluded that he was just so many years old. S. Basnage is of another opinion, and says that Polycarp meant, he had been so many years a bishop. Irenæus also represents him as 'extremely and uncommonly old, ἐπιπολὺ γὰρ παρέμεινε καὶ πάνυ γεράλιος.—Hence Basnage concludes that he was about one hundred and twenty years old when he died. Annal. i. p. 792. I think we may suppose that the eighty-six years mentioned by Polycarp were neither those of his life, nor those of his episcopal function, but of his being a Christian; and then, if he was converted at fourteen, he would be a hundred years old at his death. Many other persons have arrived at that age; and amongst Gruter's inscriptions is this:
MORIAE SEX. VIGELLII. AQVINAT. QVI ANNVM ATTIGIT CENTES. SED ALTERVM ET NONAG. PERPET. INOFFENSA VALETVD. EXEGIT.'
Polycarp says to the Philippians (in the old Latin version of his epistle, which supplies the defect of the Greek copy), De vobis enim gloriatur [Paulus] in omnibus ecclesiis, quæ Deum solæ tunc cognoverant: Nos autem nondum noveramus.' Basnage, who, with Usher, thinks that Polycarp means himself by Nos, makes this an argument for his great length of life: but it is not evident that Polycarp speaks of himself; he may mean the Christians of Smyrna, as Cotelerius observes.
Tillemont places his death A. D. 166. See Hist. Eccl. ii. p. 635, &c. S. Basnage dates it 169.
When they would have fastened him with nails to the stake, he desired them to desist. He for whom I suffer, said he, will enable me to stand still, and not to fly from the fire: nor did his resolution fail him.
The miracles at his martyrdom are of the dubious and suspicious kind; and it is possible that the epistle itself, which contains them, might have passed through the hands of interpolators before it came into those of Eusebius. That he suffered martyrdom is unquestionable: besides many other testimonies, we have that of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, in the second century, who says, Пoλúnagros & ἐν Σμύρνῃ καὶ ἐπίσκοπος καὶ μάρτυς• apud Euseb. v. 24.
If any one imagine the relation made by the church of Smyrna, on this occasion, to be just and faithful, he has a right to believe it.' I think so too: and I add, that we have no right to insult him for being of that opinion. But let others also be permitted to suspend their assent.
Whatsoever we determine concerning the wonders, the behaviour of Polycarp and of his contemporaries and fellow-Christians teaches us to determine that God was with them and assisted them. The sufferings of the Christians afforded examples of courage and constancy which seemed more than human; and had an happy effect in converting others. We have authentic accounts of many persons, in the bloom of life, and of the infirmer sex, who received the sentence of condemnation to a cruel death without consternation; and underwent it without a complaint, and sometimes with exultation and joy. When we read that Arria gave her husband the sword from her bleeding breast, with, My dear, it is nothing,' we admire the deed and the speech. In the Pagan lady such resolution is heroism: in the Christian what is it less?
The persecution which the Christians endured was the
Two previous Questions, &c. p. 31.
P In Diocletian's persecution, the Pagans endeavoured to invent the most painful torments, to weary out the patience of the Christians, and to make them recant: and the pious Christians of later ages, who have presided over the Inquisition, have imitated the Pagans in all these cruelties, and used their best endeavours to surpass them in barbarity; and perhaps studied the Acts of the Martyrs, and the ecclesiastical historians for this purpose: though indeed Satan might inspire them without such helps.
completion of Christ's predictions: the fortitude with which they endured it was the completion of his promises. He bequeathed calamities and sufferings to them as a legacy; and he commanded them to die for his sake: a command hard to flesh and blood! But he promised that he would be with them, and make his abode in them; and be their strength and support when all things else should fail and forsake them.
Many were the motives which concurred to animate the antient Christians; motives which might sometimes produce an excess of courage bordering upon rashness and enthu siasm but as the love of life, and the abhorrence of pain, are universal passions, there seems wanted a cause as universal to overcome them in persons of all nations, ages, sexes, and conditions; and there is none which will operate uniformly, besides a divine assistance; none to which we may more reasonably ascribe it, as to the leading and principal cause, since it suits so well with the predictions and the promises of Christ. Some will call the doctrine of divine assistance fanaticism; but let them remember, that many wise Pagans held it, for they will perhaps hearken to a Platonist or a Stoic. To suppose that God takes no care of good men in the violent trials and distresses which they undergo for his sake, is entertaining a mean opinion of Providence. This divine favour was not confined to the three first centuries: it hath been extended to multitudes, who since that time have fallen innocent victims to antichristian tyranny, and have laid down their lives for their religion with as much constancy as the antient Christians.
But it will be said, All Christian sects have had those whom they call martyrs; and shall we bestow that honourable appellation on the schismatical or the erroneous? I see not how we can avoid it. If a person lay down his life for the name of Christ, or for what he takes to be the religion of Christ, when he might prolong his days by renouncing his faith, he must stand for a martyr in every
qui mente novissimus exit,
Dodwell hath treated this subject very well in his dissertation De Fortitudine Martyrum.
reasonable man's calendar, though he may have been much mistaken in some of his opinions.
Unless Driedo had, unawares I think, acquainted me with the provost of Stenelda's Epistle to S. Bernard, I had not known either your [the church of Rome's] cruelty against the Albigenses, or Picards, as I suppose; or their constancy in suffering tortures in themselves most grievous, yet attended with usages as disgraceful; both for the manner or form of proceeding as injuriously inflicted, as the ground or matter of accusations brought against them were unjust and impious. The provost's epistle was to this
"I would gladly be resolved (holy father), might I enjoy your presence, whence it is that in heretics, the devil's members, there should be so great resolution for defence of their heresies, as the like can scarce be found in very religious and faithful Christians. There are (saith he) amongst us, heretics which put no confidence in the suffrages of men deceased, or prayers of saints: fastings and other afflictions of the body usually undertaken for sin, are not, in their opinion, necessary to the righteous: Purgatory after death they acknowledge none: denying the making of our Lord's body in the sacrament of the altar: the church they affirm to be amongst them, having neither fields nor possessions. Of such we have known divers, by the multitude, misled with too much zeal, violently haled against our will unto the flame; whose torments they not only endured with patience, but entertained with joy. I would therefore be resolved by you, holy father, whence so great resolution in the devil's members should spring." Driedo 1. iv. De Ecclesiæ Dog. et Scrip. c. 5.
No question but this provost, which esteemed no better of them than as of heretics or Satan's members, did relate the worst opinions then known to be held by them: and yet he, as I would have the reader note, living in their time, lays no such odious tenets to their charge, as those that lived long after, or were employed by the Romish state to write against Wickliff, Huss, or Jerome of Prague, have charged them and their followers with. Driedo tells us, he finds no direct answer by way of epistle or writing unto this venerable man's demand in particular: but out of S. Bernard's
doctrine, elsewhere delivered concerning like heretics, he finds this resolution, "Nihil simile habet constantia martyrum, et pertinacia hæreticorum, quia in illis pietas, in istis duritia cordis contemptum mortis operatur."-The constancy of martyrs hath no affinity with the stubbornness of heretics; piety breeds contempt of death in the one, hardness of heart in the other.' Homil. 66. in Cant. Such goodminded men as S. Bernard, I think, had least to do in the examination of such men, most obnoxious to misinformation in the particulars of their carriage: with which the civil magistrates of France, though Romish Catholics, better acquainted, have given them laudable testimonies for their honest and religious lives: and whether these mentioned by that provost were such as S. Bernard spake against, in the place last cited, is more than Driedo knew. Howsoever, in matters of this nature, it is most true, "Bernardus non vidit omnia." T. Jackson's Works, vol. i. p. 278.
Mark, bishop of Arethusa, a considerable man in the Arian, or rather in the Semi-Arian party, endured cruel torments from the irritated Pagans with astonishing bravery; and (besides Sozomen) Theodoret, and Gregory Nazianzen, though Athanasians bishops, have highly extolled him for it. He had escaped by flight; but hearing that many Christians were in danger of suffering upon his account, he returned and surrendered himself, to deliver his brethren.
Tillemont's distress on the constancy of this heretic is remarkable, and his diffidence well expressed. This is what St. Gregory, Theodoret, and Sozomen have related concerning the fortitude of Mark of Arethusa. The fact is too well supported to admit of a doubt: but it is no small difficulty to know whether this fortitude were a virtue purely human, like that of the Reguli, the Scævolæ, and other heroes of Paganism, which, in reality, was only an effect of
Chalcidius, a Christian philosopher, who did not admit the creation of matter, was an intimate friend of Hosius of Corduba. Bishops of learning, genius, and abilities (and such Hosius certainly was), did not quarrel with their friends for holding sentiments which caused heretics to be condemned with so much rigor, and to be loaded with so many calumnies. All bishops did not resemble Father Epiphanius. But perhaps they were more tractable in civil and familiar commerce and conversation than in councils, where moderation was hardly ever known, after that of the apostles. Beausobre Hist. de Manich. ii. 238.