Page images

favourite monogram,* XMT, accompanies a strange hexameter poem at Shakkah, in Bashan, and is believed to signify Christ the Son of Mary.' At Deir Sambîl another example dates from 399 A.D., accompanied by the cross ; at Dana, also, in Northern Syria, the three letters stand between two crosses on a lintel. With these instances we may compare the text at Refadi, near Antioch, which begins

Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, the Son of God, dwells

It is also clear that the sect while proscribed and persecuted could not have dared to build churches; and, in spite of the legends which speak of churches of the second century, even in England, the Fathers only speak of meetings in private houses. The Christians also met beside the streams and rivers, where baptism in running water was possible. Such a meeting is mentioned early,t and Tertullian $ speaks of the littoral prayers.' The proseuchæ, or places of prayer, are often mentioned ; and the great spring at Philippi, in Macedonia, where, according to the passage in the Acts just mentioned, “prayer was wont to be made,' still bursts from the earth a league and a half from the city. But such rites were tinged with superstition in later times, and Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts his hearers against the

- - - * Ibid. Nos. 2145, 2674, 2663, 2697. This hexameter text (one of several in Eastern Palestine) is believed by M. Waddington to contaiu a veiled allusion to Christian belief under pagan terminology. It may be thus rendered :

* Bassos the shining eye of the far-famed land of his fathers,
Out of savings made in husbandry has built me,
For self and children of self and of his prudent wife too,
Kindly monument. By counsel of God the Eternal
Each at great age I shall hold what time it be that each one
Reaches the goal in turn of the life that is destined for them,
For his own self and his children and for his prudent wife too,
Out of his own possessions haring laboured in all things.
Bassos the mighty pillar of state has built a tomb here,
Ilim old age overtaking, and rejoicing in offspring,
Yet from above to me nigh drawing well he erected,
Far to be seen of the world, a tower exceeding stately.
Bassos son of Abyrios ever wrought joy to the righteous,
But on them who were evil ever griets he inflicted
So, the offspring of him and of his tender consort,
Take thou, O holy nymph, after old age from Hades,

Let their souls be sent beyond by pale Rhadamanthus.' The monument is one of those Roman tomb towers which are common as family mausolea in Bashan and Gilead. † Acts xvi. 13.

I Ad Nationes, xiii.

lighting of lamps or burning of incense by fountains and streams '*ma custom which, however, is even now not quite extinct in Christian lands.

Probably the oldest church now standing in the world is that which Constantine built over the cave stable at Bethlehem. The site itself is the only one connected with the New Testament history, which is mentioned before the fourth century. It was known to Justin and to Origen,f but by the time of Constantine bad been appropriated by the Pagans, who there celebrated the birth of Taminuz. Like all the early churches of East and West, it has the form of the basilica, I copied from the civil hall of justice used by the Romans, of which a fine example occurs at Gerasa in Gilead. The bishop sat behind the holy table in the apse, as the Roman judge sat in the civil building. The term ecclesia is only used in late inscriptions, and the consecrated site was commonly called a Marturion in the fourth century. In Asia the apse of the basilica is on the east, but in countries converted by the Roman Church it is on the west. Thus the ancient church discovered at Silchester, in 1890, has its apse to the west, but otherwise resembles in plan the numerous chapels of the fourth and fifth century in Syria. The English example can hardly be later than 410 A.D., and gives interesting evidence of the existence of a Christian community in this Roman city nearly two centuries before the mission of Augustine; St. Chrysostom and St. Jerome speak of the English Christians in the fourth century.

Some sects called their sacred buildings synagogues. At Deir Aly (the ancient Lebabah), on Mount Hermon, $ a lintelstone built in above a doorway in the Druse village preserves the memory of the famous heretic Marcion. The ‘Synagogueof the Marcionites' was here raised in 318 A.D., five years after the edict of toleration—that of Milan -by Paul the Presbyter, in honour of Jesus Chrēstos. Epiphanius says that in his time this sect existed in Rome and Italy, in Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Syria, in Cyprus and the Thebaid, in Persia and elsewhere. The text is

[ocr errors]

older than any extant church, and terms the place of meeting a 'synagogue.' Against Marcion of Pontus, a disciple of the Syrian Cedron, who was in Rome about 140 A.D., Tertullian penned a famous controversial work. Marcion appears to have been influenced by the contemporary dualism of the Persian religion, and wrote an 'antithesis' of the Old and New Testaments. He believed the God of the Jews to be an evil deity, and criticised the Old Testament as fiercely as any modern writer has done. He denied the Incarnation, and the reality of the body of Christ, which he said was borrowed from the elements. He commanded celibacy, and his followers are said to have practised astrology. He accepted only such parts of the Gospel as accorded with his theory, and cut out the first chapters of Luke, which was the Gospel he preferred. It is strange that a monument of this sect has survived, when those of more orthodox Christians of the age have perished. It is not, however, the only heretical text found in this region. . While the Christian cominunities were small and scattered great diversities of practice and of belief naturally existed. Set forms of liturgy, common to the whole Church, were unknown, and much ihat was extemporary was permitted. The liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions,' even if it existed in the third century, took its present form in the fifth. Cyprian speaks of an African liturgy, but the preparation of liturgies for general adoption was the work of the Church after Christianity was established. To Basil and Chrysostom, Cyril, and other leaders of the same age, the oldest liturgies were due, though Tertullian speaks of one at Rome, and Augustine preserves fragments of the older forms of service. The enthusiasts who yet believe in a liturgy of St. James read little of the contemporary history of the Christian Church. The lately discorered travels of St. Silvia, and the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril, alike show how great were the differences of rite in East and West, in the time of Constantine. The ‘Kyrie Eleison,' then used in Jerusalem, seems to have been unknown to a member of the Church of Gaul.

In the second century—which in many respects was not unlike the nineteenth--opinions and customs were in a condition of solution, and had not crystallised into new forms. Tertullian speaks of the increase of population, of colonies, and of trade open to all. The wise rule of the Antonines gave peace to the Roman world. Communications with East and West were organised, deputations came from India, and

even Chinese travellers came to the West. The Arab trade brought wealth from the Indian Ocean, and from the Zambesi; the geography of Central Asia was almost as well known as that of remote European countries. Foreign religions had become established in Rome, and credulity and scepticism had undermined the ancient beliefs. The sects were innumerable. The impostors, magicians, and wonderworkers, who obtained popular success, followed each other to the capital of the world, where ricbes abounded. Men's minds were set on money-making, and on acquiring positions of power in the State. Yet the brutality of the old savage superstitions, among the rude peasantry, was scarcely softened by prohibitive laws; and the ignorance of natural science was common to all but the few. Pliny, indeed, knew that the world was round, and had observed the fossils in the rocks, but the patristic literature abounds in extraordinary statements, taken from earlier Greek writers on natural history, and even Chrysostom states that some 'indeed said that the earth revolves on its axis-but • because their own heads are turned they say the world turns. It does not turn: it is firm.'*

Three great dangers—three causes of corruption of the early simplicity-threatened the growing systems of Christianity: philosophy, mysticism, and ignorant imposture. From each the Church suffered at the same time, though mysticism, perhaps, left the most marked impress of the three on the established creed. The frightful vices and greed of the great cities served rather to drive men into the Christian fold. The Stoic spirit, existing among the more respectable classes, among wbom the old domestic virtues of the Romans survived --the spirit of kindliness and patience fostered by Stoic teaching, prepared the minds of many for the Gospel. The cold theories of other schools had little effect on the hearts of the people; but the heathen hierarchy, which had failed to stamp out the new teaching, and whose existence depended on their hold over the minds of the people, seem to have compromised with the popular movement, by infusing into the rites and organisations of the Church many of those elements of mystic and sensuous ritual and dogma which attracted the Roman to the worship of Isis and Mithra, or which belonged to the earlier national religion.

Even Christians like Clement of Alexandria sought to

* In Tit. Ilomil. iii. 3.

reconcile religion with philosophy—the simple morality of the earlier communities with that which was regarded as the cultured thought of the day-by the explaining away of ancient things, and the cautious and partial adoption of theories taught in the schools of Athens and of Alexandria. Such theories now appear to us of little value, being speculations founded on most imperfect observation. The schools taught little that was original, being mainly busy with wordy wars as to the criticism of former philosophers. A radical rejection of older systems was beyond the power of academic thought. The question was how Plato was to be understood, not whether Plato was right. Looking back we find these controversies full of life, which now are dead, while the words of the Gospel remain a living force. The Christian teaching of a better life did not need to be reconciled with the Platonic dreams.

But it was among the Gnostics, or higher critics of the age, that this building up of theories as to the unknown flourished most. The Gnostic teachings ranged from philosophical allegory to pure imposture, which deluded the ignorant just as they are deluded in our own times by a Madame Blavatsky, or by some new American apostle. Many of their endless systems presented a syncretism in which the teachings of Buddha and of the Brahmins were mingled with the Persian dualism, with the ancient Egyptian or Chaldæan beliefs, or with the rites and symbols of Eleusis. In such strange works as the “Pamander,' which surrounds the figure of the Son of God with all the symbolism of the later Platonists of Alexandria, or in the Piste Sophia,' which belongs to the latter half of the third century, we encounter Gnosticism in its least degraded forms. In the practices of the Markosians we perhaps reach the lowest depths of conscious imposture. Irenæus* says that the Markosians pretended to consecrate cups of wine, beld by women, which became red, because Charis dropped therein a drop of her own blood, and that the contents of the small cups, poured into one larger held by the priest, effervesced to overflowing. Marcus, he says, devoted himself “especially to women, and 'to such as are well bred, elegantly attired, and of great

wealth. As among the Phrygian Montanists, hysterical revivalist scenes followed, when prophecies were uttered, and vice and license were natural results. These fanatics anticipated the Americans in performing rites of

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »