Page images
PDF
EPUB

ART. VIII.-1. The Church in the Roman Empire. By W. M.

RAMSAY. London: 1893. 2. Inscriptions Grecques et Latines de la Syrie. By W. H.

WADDINGTON. Paris : 1870. 3. Epigraphes Hébraïques et Grecques. By M. C. CLERMONT

GANNEAU. Revue Archéologique, May, June, 1882. IN N seeking to penetrate into the dimness that surrounds

Christian history during the two centuries and a half which intervene between the destruction of Jerusalem and the toleration of the faith by Constantine, great importance naturally attaches to monumental evidence, and to newly recovered Christian books. The advocates of Christianity were so busy in theological controversy, in attacking the follies and vices of pagans, and in refuting the errors of Gnostics, that they very rarely give us any exact information as to the customs and rites familiar to themselves and to their readers. Every new fragment that can cast light on the subject is eagerly discussed and criticised at length. Every inscription, however brief and vague, is zealously collected; and even the tattered fragments of works of little value--such as the Gospel of Peter–become the subject of innumerable learned papers, while the recovery of the • Teaching of the Apostles,' the Diatessaron,' or the “ Apology of Aristides,'* is hailed as a triumph of research.

Yet, as regards monumental remains, we have rather to ask the reason why they are so few and often so difficult to distinguish from non-Christian texts, and why the great movement which revolutionised the beliefs of the civilised world has not left more marked traces of its growth in inscriptions and works of art, than to paint the picture of an organised and united Church, with a fully developed symbolism and sacred art. The inscriptions of the age are numerous. In the Roman catacombs four thousand epitaphs are earlier than 324 A.D. In Syria, some two thousand texts in Greek and Latin have been copied, ranging from the second century B.c. to the seventh century A.D. Asia Minor has yielded a rich harvest of late, as well as Italy, or Greece,

* Renan (Église Chrétienne, pp. vi. 42) denounces the letters of Aristides, published in 1878 at Venice, from the Armenian, as being a work of the fourth century and not the apology noticed by Eusebius and Jerome.

or Egypt. Nevertheless, texts clearly Christian are few and far between in the times that precede the Council of Nicæa.

The reason is, of course, easily found. The Christians were at first few and poor. They were fiercely persecuted at times, and obliged to conceal their faith. They could not parade their sacred emblems, or publicly record their beliefs. The riches of the world belonged to those who hated and despised them : the art of the age glorified the established worship of heathen gods. Their own teachers exhorted them to live a humble and inoffensive life, and to shun the temptations of the world. Their simple fainily affection finds expression in the touching words, written over the numberless graves which lie among those of Jews and Mithra worshippers : “My sweetest child,” My sweetest wife,'My dearest husband, My innocent dove, My welldeserving father,' 'My innocent little lamb, They who • lived together without complaint or quarrel, without taking

or giving offence'—these were the words that they wrote over the tomb, in the mazes of dark catacombs; and even there they placed no cross to mark their religion, but on almost every epitaph they added the words 'In peace. Only about 330 A.D. do we find the sentences · Vivas in Deo,' Vive in * Deo,' « Vive in Bono. The frescoes which represent such subjects as the Good Shepherd, the Raising of Lazarus, or Jonah and the Whale, are mingled with others depicting Orpheus, Cupid and Psyche, or the Three Graces. The Crux Ansata is not a distinct Christian sign, having been in use at Troy in 1500 B.C. The palm, the fish, the anchor, the dove, and the phoenix were as little distinctive of belief as were the signs which Clement of Alexandria * recommends for Christian signet rings. Paulus Pastor does not appear till the fourth century, and there is no early representation of the Resurrection or Crucifixion.

The simplicity of early Christian life is attested by wellknown passages from contemporary works, referring to communities widely separated from each other. Thus when, in 112 A.D., Pliny wrote to Trajan concerning the Christians of Amastris in Pontus, to ask whether it was the name,' or the crimes inseparable from the name,' that should be punished, his victims—the poor maidservants (* Ancillæ quæ

ministræ dicebantur')-represented that all their fault or all their error was limited to meeting together, on fixed days before sunrise, to sing a hymn to Christ as a God, and to

* Pædagogus, III. xi.

swear--not such or such a crime, but, not to steal, or rob, or commit adultery, or fail in sworn faith, or withhold a trust when asked. That then they were wont to retire, and again to meet to share a meal, but a meal which was usual and quite innocent. That even this they had ceased to do since the edict whereby, according to your orders, I had forbidden heresies.'

Yet the Christians of Pontus were already numerous, for Pliny adds :

• For, indeed, a great number of persons of all ages, all sorts, both sexes, are called to justice, or will be so called : they are found, not only in the towns, but in the villages and the country, which are invaded by the contagion of this superstition. I think one might stop it and remedy it. For it is already stated that the temples, which were almost deserted, have begun to be again frequented ; that the solemn feasts, which had been long interrupted, have been resumed; and that they display for sale the flesh of sacrifices, for which very few buyers were found. Whence it is easy to suppose that men might be ied back, if one gave them room for repentance.'

The Christians so savagely persecuted_by Nero and Domitian were already gaining ground. Trajan ordained that they were not to be sought out,' nor any anonymous accusation noticed. All who would show their submission by cursing Christ were to be pardoned for former acts. Roman citizens were sent to Rome for punishment. Even such outward concession as offering incense to the Emperor's statue would seem to have been willingly accepted as an excuse for staying the law.

Equally simple were the rites of Syrian Christians, as described by Justin Martyr.† The little congregations met

on the day called that of the sun,' gathering in cities, or in the country, 'at one place;' the President of the Brethren'

* Epist. x. 96, 97.

+ 1 Apol. ch. Ixvi. Dr. A. Harnack (* Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,' Band vii. Heft 2, Leipzig, 1891) considers that the word kpápatos was inserted by a copyist, and argues that the Sacrament is intended by Justin Martyr to be described as consisting of water only ; this is well known to have been the practice of certain Gnostic sects, but was severely condemned by Cyprian and Tertullian. The usual Christian rite of the cup is stated by the Fathers to have consisted of wine and water, That wine was used at the Last Supper, as well as at the Passover, in the time of Christ (Mishna, ' Pesachim,' x. 2) is, of course, not denied by any. In the Jewish rite they are said to have 'mixed’ (1270) the wine. The word is, however, used of spiced wine' (Cant. vii. 2). The water noticed besides the wine and water' may have been used for washing before prayer.

listened to the reader, who recited the Memoirs of the • Apostles,' or the writings of the Prophets, as long as time permitted, and then exhorted to the imitation of these

good things. When prayer was ended, 'food and drink, ' water and wine mingled with water ' (aptos kai motýplov Üdatos kai kpápatos) were brought to the president, who offered prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability,' and the people answered . Amen. When all had partaken the deacons carried portions to those who were absent, and a collection was made for the poor.

In such a description we seem to recognise the rites of Huguenots and Lutherans rather than the mystic ritual of the Roman Church. No liturgy, no Church, no sacrificia) act, not even the repetition of a creed is mentioned. The leader (TPOEOTÒS Tôv ådenpôv) is not called a presbyter.

The little church of Pella in the Jordan valley, founded at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, survived in the obscure sect of the Ebionites or poor,' who were condemned for heresy when Christianity became established. Irenæus and Epiphanius inform us that they rejected the account of the Nativity in the Gospels, together with the Epistles of Paul, and maintained the Jewish customs of circumcision, and of turning to Jerusalem in prayer as to the sacred city.* They claimed that the brothers of Jesus had lived among them, and regarded Him as a human prophet. The now famous Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles to

the Gentiles,' discovered in 1884, while it shows acquaintance with the Gospels, and includes the Lord's Prayer, seems, in its conception of the nature of Christ, to express the Ebionite belief. The ‘Prayer of the Cup' presents us with the simplest possible belief as connected with the Sacrament :

6“We thank thee, O Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy servant, which thou madest known by Jesus thy servant. For the broken bread. We thank thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou madest known to us by Jesus thy servant. To thee be glory for ever. As this broken bread was scattered on the mountains, and being brought together became one, so let thy Church be gathered together, from the ends of the earth, into thy Kingdom. For thine is the glory and the power, by Jesus Christ for ever.” But let no man eat or drink of your Eucharist, except those baptized into the name of the Lord: for respecting this the Lord hath said, “ Give not that which is holy to the dogs." After being satisfied give thanks thus, “We thank thee, O Holy Father, for

• Irenæus, Ixxvi.; Epiphanius, Hæres. xxx. 13. VOL. CLXXXI. NO. CCCLXXI.

P

thy Holy Name, which thou hast enshrined in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou hast made known to us by Jesus thy servant. To thee be glory for ever. . . . Hosanna to the Son of David. . . . Maranatha," But permit the prophets to give thanks as much as they wish. (Ch. ix. and x.)

The rites so described were hardly formulated, and allowed of extemporary additions. Baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was to be, if possible, in running water (ch. vii.). The first fruits were to be given to the prophet, or if there was no prophet to the poor (ch. xiii.). Bishops and deacons, 'meek men,' are noticed (ch. xv.); but there is no reference to presbyters. The sacred day (Kupiakń) appears to have been Sunday, as among other Christians of the second century. The exhortations to Christian life, which rest on the Gospels and recall the Epistle of James,

mingled with warnings against the way of death, the vices of the age, and the superstitions of the omen-watcher,' the enchanter,''the astrologer,' and 'the purifier.'

The Ebionite Church in Bashan succeeded in converting even Arab princes, and the Beni Ghassan are said to have built churches very early; but the Orthodox Greek Church stamped out this small Hebrew sect; and hardly a trace of its existance is monumentally found. Among the boxes of bones found in the caves of the Mount of Olives, which are inscribed with Hebrew names, more than one is thought to have been of Christian origin. The bones were brought from elsewhere, for interment near the expected site of the Last Judgement; and one osteophagus bears the name of Judah' in Hebrew, with a square cross marked below. On another is the Greek word IEEOTS (apparently for 'Indovs) with a doubtful cross. These epitaphs belong to about the second century A.D., and perhaps indicate the presence of Jewish converts to Christianity. The remarkable Christian text in Greek and Cufic, found at Harrån, east of Damascus, which bears witness to the conversion of a rich Arab chief, belongs, however, to a much later period (585 A.D.). Asrael, son of Talmu, here built a chapel (Maptúplov) to St. John, and prays in his native Arabic that the day of his death may be delayed. The numerous Christian inscriptions of Bashan, like those of Northern Syria and of Western Palestine, belong almost exclusively to the fourth century and to those following down to the seventh and even later. A few which are early must be noticed more particularly in speaking of the early Churches and early symbolism.

Christianity in Egypt—if we may trust as genuine the

« PreviousContinue »