Page images

unprofitable citizen : he brought no offerings to the Pagan temples, and contributed nothing towards defraying the expenses of the public games, or to the support of those trades which were more immediately connected with the pomps and ceremonies of idolatry. In reply to this complaint, Tertullian affirms that the Christians, in his day, did not affect a life of solitude and abstraction; but dwelt in the world, and laboured in their respective callings and occupations, like other men. In like manner they disclaimed all singularity of dress or diet, freely using the gifts of Providence, but careful not to abuse them. They indeed,” says Tertullian, “ who minister to the vicious and criminal

passions of mankind-pimps, assassins, and fortune-tellers, may with truth complain that the Christians are unprofitable to them ; but all who think that the best man is the most useful citizen must admit the claim of the Christian to that character, whose religion teaches him that, not only his actions, but his very thoughts must be pure; and who regulates his conduct by a reference, not to the imperfect laws of man, the penalties of which he might hope to evade, but to the perfect law of that God from whom nothing can be hid, and whose vengeance it is impossible to escape.”

Unable either to fix any stain upon the morals of the Christians, or to substantiate the charges of irreligion or disloyalty against them, their enemies proceeded, in the last place, to undervalue Christianity itself, and to represent it as a mere species of philosophy. “ The philosophers," they said, “inculcate innocence, justice, patience, sobriety, charity; and what do the Christians more ?' “Be it so,” says Tertullian; “ why then do you deny to us alone the indulgence which you extend to every other sect? But look at the effects of Christianity, and you will be forced to confess that it is something more than a species of philosophy; how otherwise can you account for the altered lives and morals of its professors ? a change which philosophy has never yet produced in its votaries.”

The conclusion of the Apology points out to us one cause of the extensive spread of Christianity which some writers have overlooked, and that is the astonishing courage and constancy with which the Christians of those days bore the torments inflicted upon them by their persecutors. Proceed,” says Tertullian, to the provincial governors—“ proceed in your career of cruelty; but do not imagine that you will-thus accomplish your purpose, of extinguishing the hated sect. We are like the grass, which grows the more luxuriantly the oftener it is mown. The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity. Your philosophers taught men by words to despise pain and death; but how few are their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example! The very obstinacy with which you upbraid us is the great propagator of our doctrines. For who can witness it and not enquire into the nature of that faith which inspires such supernatural courage? Who can enquire into that faith and not embrace it? Who can embrace it, and not desire himself to undergo the same sufferings, in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fulness of the divine fayour r?So much for Tertullian's masterly Apology. On his other. numerous pieces I can only offer a few cursory remarks and of those on a selection of them.

One of them is a tract on Repentance, or penitence, in which he states the requirements of the divine law, and contends that acknowledgment of guilt is necessary for every deviation in thought, word, will, or deed, and speaks of some who abused the doctrine. He shows that, though men may impose upon their fellow-creatures, they cannot impose upon God, who never extends forgiveness to a sinner but in the way of confessing and forsaking his sins.

He has a treatise on Prayer, in which he highly extols the Lord's prayer, explains each separate petition, and then proceeds to blame several superstitions which had crept into the churches. Another of his pieces is on Idolatry, in which a number of cases of conscience are handled. Many believed that idolatry consisted only in burning incense before the idol, in sacrificing, or in being initiated into the heathen mysteries. But Tertullian shows that making objects of worship, no matter of what substance, or in what form, was idolatry; and that building their temples, or altars, or adorning their shrines, though done to gain a livelihood, was idolatry also.

In the 17th chapter of his Apology, Tertullian had affirmed that the belief of a Supreme Being was natural to man, and he endeavoured to prove it from expressions uttered under ex

citement, such as, O God ! good God ! and so forth: and their appealing to God as the judge of the world ; saying God sees every thing,” and “ I recommend myself to God,” and “ God will recompense me.” “ What are all these sayings,” says he, “ but the writings of God upon the heart—what, but the testimonies of the soul, thus far by nature Christian !” To illustrate this principle more at large, Tertullian wrote a small tract, entitled “the Testimony of the Soul,” in which he adduces additional proofs of man’s being naturally a religious animal, designed for immortality. He argues the point, from his fear of death ; his love of life ; his desire for even posthumous fame; his anxiety to survive in his offspring, &c.; and sums up the whole with declaring, that “this testimony of the soul is as true as it is simple, as simple as it is common, as common as it is universal, as universal as it is natural, and as natural as it is divinely implanted.”

The following attestation to the learning and talents of Tertullian is given by Vincentius Lirinensis, a writer of the fifth century, and deserves to be introduced in this place. He tells us that what Origen was in the Greek that Tertullian in the Latin church; without dispute, the most considerable writer of his age. “ For," he asks, “what more learned than this man ? Who more skilful either in divine or human literature ? Truly, every branch of philosophy, and every sect of philosophers—the founders and followers of those sectsall their several institutions, with all the variety of history and law—all this huge store of learning he comprised in the wonderful capacity of his mind. So admirable was his satire, and at the same time such was the solidity of his judgment, that he rarely laid siege to any thing but he soon made it to yield, either by the penetration of his wit or the cogency of his reasoning. Nay, where is the man that is possessed of sufficient learning to do justice to his learning? His discourses are so thickly strewed with powerful reasons, that those whom he cannot. persuade by his eloquence he compels by arguments. He has nearly as many sentences as words; and every sentence is sure of victory."

It seems to have been during the reign of Severus that the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, with that of their companions, took place, at Carthage, in Africa, the residence of Tertul


lian, about the year 202. The account is too interesting to be omitted ; and it will serve, in addition to the history already given of the transactions at Lyons and Vienne, to give a clear idea of the manner in which these ancient persecutions were wont to be conducted. Augustine refers to the case of Perpetua, in his works, vol. vii. p. 304, and the abbé Fleury has also given a copious account of the subject, vol. i. b. vi. The narrative is supposed by Dr. Lardner to have been drawn up by Tertullian.

On this occasion, three young men, whose names were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Revocatus, were apprehended on a charge of being Christians (probably occasioned by its being rumoured that they were all of them about to be baptized and added to the church), and, along with them, two females of the names of Felicitas and Perpetua; the latter a widow of the age of two and twenty, of a good family and well educated, having a father and mother living, two brothers, and an infant at the breast. The father of Perpetua, who alone of all the family continued a heathen, no sooner heard that his daughter was informed against, than he had recourse to every method of persuasion and even of compulsion to induce her to desist from her purpose of suffering martyrdom; so that she rejoiced when he left her; and in this interval she and the rest were baptized. Some days after this they were all thrown into prison, where the treatment she met with very much affected her at first, as the darkness of the place, the heat occasioned by the number of prisoners, the rudeness of the soldiers, and especially her anxiety about her child. Two of the deacons of the church, however, Tertius and Pomponius, who ministered to their wants, procured by means of money the removal of them all into a more airy part of the prison, where Perpetua had the opportunity of suckling her child, which was ready to die for want of it. In this situation she comforted her mother-encouraged her brother, to whom she confided the care of her infant son--and was, according to her own expression, as happy as if she had been in a palace. At this time she had a remarkable dream, from which she inferred that she should certainly suffer, but by which she was nevertheless greatly encouraged in her resolution.

A few days after this, a report was prevalent that these Christian prisoners would soon be called before the governor

on which her father, overwhelmed with grief, came to her, entreating her to have compassion on his grey hairs, and on her mother, brothers, and especially her child, which he said could not survive her. This he did, kissing her hands, and, throwing himelf at her feet, evinced stronger affection for her than he had before done. This much increased her concern; add to which, that he was the only relative she had who would not think themselves, in reality, honoured by her conduct. To all his entreaties, however, she uniformly returned this answer, that she was not at her own disposal, but at that of God.

On the ensuing day, while she and her friends were dining, they were summoned to an audience in the public forum, where à prodigious crowd was assembled. Here all her fellow-prisoners confessed that they were Christians; but, before Perpetua had an opportunity of doing it in the customary form, her father presented himself, holding her child in his arms, and supplicating her to have compassion upon him. In these entreaties he was joined by Hilarianus, the procurator, who besought her to think of her aged father and her own child, and to sacrifice for the safety of the emperor. She only answered that she was a Christian, and could not do it.

After this the father was commanded to desist ; but, showing a reluctance to retire, one of the lictors struck him with a rod, which affected her, she said, as much as if she had herself been struck. However, having all made their confession, they were sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts ; notwithstanding which they returned to the prison filled with joy. Perpetua now sent Pomponius, the deacon, to request that her child might be sent to her, that, as heretofore, she might have the privilege of suckling it; but that indulgence was denied her. She bore the disappointment, however, with fortitude, even greater than she herself could have expected.

After a few days, Pudeus, the jailor, being favourably inclined towards them, gave permission to their friends to visit them, and, when the time of exhibition drew near, the father of Perpetua also renewed his visit. He now threw himself upon the ground, tore his beard, leaving nothing either to be said or done which he thought could tend to move her; but without any other effect than to excite her pity towards him.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »