Moi, Constance, Princesse dAntioche (Hors collection littérature française) (French Edition)


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The extreme destitution, which was one of its most fertile causes, was met by Christian charity. Many exposed children appear to have been educated by individual Christians. This form of charity grew up gradually in the early part of the middle ages.

It is probable that they were brought up among Edition: current; Page: [ 33 ] the numerous slaves or serfs attached to the ecclesiastical properties; for a decree of the Council of Arles, in the fifth century, and afterwards a law of Charlemagne, had echoed the enactment of Constantine, declaring that exposed children should be the slaves of their protectors. The strong sense always evinced in the Church of the enormity of unchastity probably rendered the ecclesiastics more cautious in this than in other forms of charity, for institutions especially intended for deserted children advanced but slowly.

Even Rome, the mother of many charities, could boast of none till the beginning of the thirteenth century. Towards the close of the same century, a monk of Montpellier, whose very name is doubtful, but who is commonly spoken of as Brother Guy, founded a confraternity called by the name of the Holy Ghost, and devoted to the protection and education of children; and this society in the two following centuries ramified over a great part of Europe. At last, after many complaints of the frequency of infanticide, St.

Vincent de Paul arose, and gave so great an impulse to that branch of charity that he may be regarded as its second author, and his influence was felt not only in private charities, but in legislative enactments. Into the effects of these measures— the encouragement of the vice of incontinence by institutions that were designed to suppress the crime of infanticide, and the serious moral controversies suggested by this apparent conflict between the interests of humanity and of chastity— it is not necessary for me to enter. We are at present concerned with the principles that actuated Christian charity, not with the wisdom of its organisations.

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Whatever mistakes may have been made, the entire movement I have traced displays an anxiety not only for the life, but also for the moral well-being, of the castaways of society, such as the most humane nations of antiquity had never reached. This minute and scrupulous care for human life and human virtue in the humblest forms, in the slave, the gladiator, the savage, or the infant, was indeed wholly foreign to the genius of Paganism.

It was produced by the Christian doctrine of the inestimable value of each immortal soul. It is the distinguishing and transcendent characteristic of every society into which the spirit of Christianity has passed. The influence of Christianity in the protection of infant life, though very real, may be, and I think often has been, exaggerated.

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It would be difficult to overrate its influence in the sphere we have next to examine. There is scarcely any other single reform so important in the moral history of mankind as the suppression of the gladiatorial shows, and this feat must be almost exclusively ascribed to the Christian Church. When we remember how extremely few of the best and greatest men of the Roman world had absolutely Edition: current; Page: [ 35 ] condemned the games of the amphitheatre, it is impossible to regard, without the deepest admiration, the unwavering and uncompromising consistency of the patristic denunciations.

And even comparing the Fathers with the most enlightened Pagan moralists in their treatment of this matter, we shall usually find one most significant difference. The Pagan, in the spirit of philosophy, denounced these games as inhuman, or demoralising, or degrading, or brutal. The Christian, in the spirit of the Church, represented them as a definite sin, the sin of murder, for which the spectators as well as the actors were directly responsible before Heaven.

In the very latest days of the Pagan Empire, magnificent amphitheatres were still arising, 1 and Constantine himself had condemned numerous barbarian captives to combat with wild beasts. Constantine, in A. Honorius prohibited any slave who had been a gladiator passing into the service of a senator; but the real object of this last measure was, I imagine, not so much to stigmatise the gladiator, as to guard against the danger of an armed nobility.

At Rome, though they became less numerous, they do not appear to have been suspended until their final suppression. The passion for gladiators was the worst, while religious liberty was probably the best, feature of the old Pagan society; and it is a melancholy fact that of these two it was the nobler part that in the Christian Empire was first destroyed.

Theodosius the Great, who suppressed all diversity of worship throughout the Empire, and who showed himself on many occasions the docile slave of the clergy, won the applause of the Pagan Symmachus by compelling his barbarian prisoners to fight as gladiators. But althorgh the suppression of the gladiatorial shows was not effected in the metropolis of the Empire till nearly ninety years after Christianity had been the State religion, the distinction between the teaching of the Christians and Pagans on the subject remained unimpaired. To the last, Edition: current; Page: [ 37 ] the most estimable of the Pagans appear to have regarded them with favour or indifference.

Julian, it is true, with a rare magnanimity, refused persistently, in his conflict with Christianity, to avail himself, as he might most easily have done, of the popular passion for games which the Church condemned; but Libanius has noticed them with some approbation. But the Christians steadily refused to admit any professional gladiator to baptism till he had pledged himself to abandon his calling, and every Christian who attended the games was excluded from communion.

The preachers and writers of the Church denounced them with the most unqualified vehemence, and the poet Prudentius made a direct and earnest appeal to the emperor to suppress them. In the East, where they had never taken very firm root, they appear to have ceased about the time of Theodosius, and a passion for chariot races, which rose to the most extravagant height at Constantinople and in many other cities, took their place. In the West, the last gladiatorial show was celebrated at Rome, under Honorius, in A. He perished beneath a shower of stones flung by the angry spectators; but his death led to the final abolition of the games.

The difficulty of procuring wild animals, amid the general poverty, contributed, with other causes, to their decline. They sank, at last, into games of cruelty to animals, but of little danger to men, and were finally condemned, at the end of the seventh century, by the Council of Trullo. The extinction of the gladiatorial spectacles is, of all the results of early Christian influence, that upon which the historian can look with the deepest and most unmingled satisfaction. Horrible as was the bloodshed they directly caused, these games were perhaps still more perniciout on account of the callousness of feeling they diffused through all classes, the fatal obstacle they presented to any general elevation of the standard of humanity.

Christianity alone was powerful enough to tear this evil plant from the Roman soil. The Christian custom of legacies for the relief of the indigent and suffering replaced the Pagan custom of bequeathing sums of money for games in honour of the dead; and the month of December, which was looked forward to with eagerness through all the Roman world, as the special season of the gladiatorial spectacles, was consecrated in the Church by another festival commemorative of the advent of Christ.

The notion of the sanctity of human life, which led the early Christians to combat and at last to overthrow the Edition: current; Page: [ 39 ] gladiatorial games, was carried by some of them to an extent altogether irreconcilable with national independence, and with the prevailing penal system. Many of them taught that no Christian might lawfully take away life, either as a soldier, or by bringing a capital charge, or by acting as an exeoutioner.

The first of these questions it will be convenient to reserve for a later period of this chapter, when I propose to examine the relations of Christianity to the military spirit, and a very few words will be sufficient to dispose of the others. The notion that there is something impure and defiling, even in a just execution, is one which may be traced through many ages; and executioners, as the ministers of the law, have been from very ancient times regarded as unholy.

In both Greece and Rome the law compelled them to live outside the walls, and at Rhodes they were never permitted even to enter the city. The opinions of the Christians of the first three centuries were usually formed without any regard to the necessities of civil or political life; but when the Church obtained an ascendancy, it was found necessary speedily to modify them; and although Lactantius, in the fourth century, maintained the unlawfulness of all bloodshed, 2 as strongly as Origen in the third, and Tertullian in the second, the common doctrine was simply that no priest or bishop must take any part in a capital charge.

From this exceptional position of the clergy they speedily acquired the position of official intercessors for Edition: current; Page: [ 40 ] criminals, ambassadors of merey, when, from some act of sedition or other cause, their city or neighbourhood was menaced with a bloody invasion. The right of sanctuary, which was before possessed by the Imperial statues and by the Pagan temples, was accorded to the churches.

During the holy seasons of Lent and Easter, no criminal trials could be held, and no criminal could be tortured or executed. All this had an importance much beyond its immediate effect in tempering the administration of the law. It contributed largely to associate in the popular imagination the ideas of sanctity and of mercy, and to increase the reverence for human life.

It had also another remarkable effect, to which I have adverted in another work. The belief that it was wrong for a priest to bring any charge that could give rise to a capital sentence caused the leading clergy to shrink from persecuting heresy to death, at a time when in all other respects the theory of persecution had been fully matured.

When it was readily admitted that heresy was in the highest degree criminal, and ought to be made penal, when laws banishing, fining, or imprisoning heretics filled the statute-book, and when every vestige of religious liberty was suppressed at Edition: current; Page: [ 41 ] the instigation of the clergy, these still shrank from the last and inevitable step, not because it was an atrocious violation of the rights of conscience, but because it was contrary to the acclesiastical discipline for a bishop, under any circumstances, to countenance bloodshed.

It was on this ground that St. Augustine, while eagerly advocating the persecution of the Donatists, more than once expressed a wish that they should not be punished with death, and that St. Ambrose, and St. Martin of Tours, who were both energetic persecutors, expressed their abhorrence of the Spanish bishops, who had caused some Priscillianists to be executed.

Plutarch suggests that one of the reasons for burying unchaste vestals alive was that they were so sacred that it was unlawful to lay violent hands upon them, 2 and among the Donatists the Circumcelliones were for a time accustomed to abstain, in obedience to the evangelical command, from the use of the sword, while they beat to death those who differed from their theological opinions with massive clubs, to which they gave the very significant name of Israelites.

The time came when the Christian priests shed blood enough. The extreme scrupulosity, however, which they at first displayed, is not only exceedingly curious when contrasted with their later history; it was also, by the association of ideas which it promoted, very favourable to humanity Edition: current; Page: [ 42 ] It is remarkable, however, that while some of the early Fathers were the undoubted precursors of Beccaria, their teaching, unlike that of the philosophers in the eighteenth century, had little or no appreciable influence in mitigating the severity of the penal code.

Indeed, the more carefully the Christian legislation of the Empire is examined, and the more fully it is compared with what had been done under the influence of Stoicism by the Pagan legislators, the more evident, I think, it will appear that the golden age of Roman law was not Christian, but Pagan. Great works of codification were accomplished under the younger Theodosius, and under Justinian; but it was in the reign of Pagan emperors, and especially of Hadrian and Alexander Severus, that nearly all the most important measures were taken, redressing injustices, elevating oppressed classes, and making the doctrine of the natural equality and fraternity of mankind the basis of legal enactments.

Receiving the heritage of these laws, the Christians, no doubt, added something; but a careful examination will show that it was surprisingly little.

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In no respect is the greatness of the Stoic philosophers more conspicuous than in the contrast between the gigantic steps of legal reform made in a few years under their influence, and the almost insignificant steps taken when Christianity had obtained an ascendancy in the Empire, not to speak of the long period of decrepitude that followed. In the way of mitigating the severity of punishments, Constantine made, it is true, three important laws prohibiting the custom of branding criminals upon the face, the condemnation of criminals as gladiators, and the continuance of the once degrading but now sacred punishment of crucifixion, which had been very commonly employed; but these measures were more than counterbalanced by the extreme severity with which the Christian emperors punished infanticide, adultery, seduction, rape, and several other crimes, and the number of capital offences became considerably greater Edition: current; Page: [ 43 ] than before.

It is the immense mass of legislation, intended on the one hand to elevate the clergy into a separate and sacred caste, and on the other to persecute in every form, and with every degree of violence, all who deviated from the fine line of Catholic orthodoxy.


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The last consequence of the Christian estimate of human life was a very emphatic condemnation of suicide. We have already seen that the arguments of the Pagan moralists, who were opposed to this act, were of four kinds. The religious argument of Pythagoras and Plato was, that we are all soldiers of God, placed in an appointed post of duty, which it is a rebellion against our Maker to desert.

The civic argument of Aristotle and the Greek legislators was that we owe our services to the State, and that therefore voluntarily to abandon life is to abandon our duty to our country. The argument which Plutarch and other writers derived from human dignity was that true courage is shown in the manful endurance of suffering, while suicide, being an act of flight, is an act of cowardice, and therefore unworthy of man.

The mystical or Quietist argument of the Nooplatonists was that all perturbation is a pollution of the soul; that the act of suicide is accompanied by, and springs from, perturbation, Edition: current; Page: [ 44 ] and that therefore the perpetrator ends his days by a crime Of these four arguments, the last cannot, I think, be said to have had any place among the Christian dissuasives from suicide, and the influence of the second was almost imperceptible.

The notion of patriotism being a moral duty was habitually discouraged in the early Church; and it was impossible to urge the civic argument against suicide without at the same time condemning the hermit life, which in the third century became the ideal of the Church. The duty a man owes to his family, which a modern moralist would deem the most obvious and, perhaps, the most conclusive proof of the general criminality of suicide, and which may be said to have replaced the civic argument, was scarcely noticed either by the Pagans or the early Christians.

The first were accustomed to lay so much stress upon the authority, that they scarcely recognised the duties, of the father; and the latter were too anxious to attach all their ethics to the interests of another world, to do much to supply the omission. The Christian estimate of the duty of humility, and of the degradation of man, rendered appeals to human dignity somewhat uncongenial to the patristic writers; yet these writers frequently dilated upon the true courage of patience, in language to which their own heroism under persecution gave a noble emphasis.

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To the example of Cato they opposed those of Regulus and Job, the courage that endures suffering to the courage that confronts death. But, in addition to this general teaching, the Christian theologians introduced into the sphere we are considering new elements both of terrorism and of persuasion, which have had a decisive influence upon the judgments of mankind They carried their doctrine of the sanctity of human life to such a point that they maintained dogmatically that a man who destroys his own life has committed a crime similar both in kind and magnitude to that of an ordinary murderer, 1 and they at the same time gave a new character to death by their doctrines concerning its penal nature and concerning the future destinies of the soul.

On the other hand, the high position assigned to resignation in the moral scale, the hope of future happiness, which casts a ray of light upon the darkest calamities of life, the deeper and more subtle consolations arising from the feeling of trust and from the outpouring of prayer, and, above all, the Christian doctrine of the remedial and providential character of suffering, have proved sufficient protection against despair.

The Christian doctrine, that pain is a good, had in this respect an influence that was never attained by the Pagan doctrine, that pain is not an evil. There were, however, two forms of suicide which were regarded in the early Church with some tolerance or hesitation. During the frenzy excited by persecution, and under the influence of the belief that martyrdom effaced in a moment the sins of a life, and introduced the sufferer at once into celestial joys, it was not uncommon for men, in a transport of enthusiasm, to rush before the Pagan judges, imploring Edition: current; Page: [ 46 ] or provoking martyrdom; and some of the ecclesiastical writers have spoken of these men with considerable admiration, 1 though the general tone of the patristic writings and the councils of the Church condemned them.

A more serious difficulty arose about Christian women who committed suicide to guard their chastity when menaced by the infamous sentences of their persecutors, or more frequently by the lust of emperors, or by barbarian invaders. Pelagia, a girl of only fifteen, who has been canonised by the Church, and who was warmly eulogised by St. Ambrose and St. Chrysostom, having been captured by the soldiery, obtained permission to retire to her room for the purpose of robing herself, mounted to the roof of the house, and, flinging herself down, perished by the fall.

Being captured during the Diocletian persecution, and fearing the loss of their chastity, they agreed by one bold act to free themselves from the danger, and, casting themselves into a river by the way, mother and daughters sank unsullied in the wave. Having sought in vain to elude his addresses, having been dragged from her house by the minions of the tyrant, the faithful wife obtained permission, before yielding to her master's embraces, to retire for a moment into her chamber, and she there, with true Roman courage, stabbed herself to the heart.

To those who have not suffered theological opinions to destroy all their natural sense of nobility it will need no defence.

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This was the only form of avowed suicide which was in any degree permitted in the early Church. Ambrose rather timidly, and St. Jerome more strongly, commended it; bit at the time when the capture of Rome by the soldiers of Alaric made the question one of pressing interest, St. Le Couronnement Renart. Renart le Nouvel.

Moi, Constance, Princesse dAntioche (Hors collection littérature française) (French Edition) Moi, Constance, Princesse dAntioche (Hors collection littérature française) (French Edition)
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