« PreviousContinue »
passionately siding with the latter, so was it in Julian's reign between paganism and Christianity. There were multitudes of his subjects who still worshipped Jupiter and Minerva, and the Emperor did all he could to restore their altars to their former dignity, and thus overturn the (to him) hateful religion of the Nazarene which his uncle Constantine had set up. To this end he did many cruel and foolish things. He not only exercised his personal influence against the Christians, but he wrote books against them, excluded them from all offices of public trust, and even forbade them the perusal of the ancient classics, saying that those who rejected the gods ought not to profit by the learning and genius of those who worshipped them.” But as in the case of Queen Mary so in that of Julian the aspiration and efforts towards a religious reaction were eventually unavailing. England remained Protestant and the empire did not become pagan. In one portion of his reign Julian, we are told, formed the strange idea of re-building the temple of Jerusalem, but was prevented from accomplishing his design by the sight of flames of fire issuing from the ground near to which the builders were at work. Whether these flames were miraculously produced, or were the result of natural causes, is still an open question with Church historians ; but it is certain that something of the sort did occur, that Julian desisted from the work; and it is equally certain that he was unsuccessful in his desire of restoring the power of paganism, and overturning the ecclesiastical work which his uncle Constantine had accomplished. Like all unsuccessful men Julian, of course, received a full measure of criticism and censure, both merited and undeserved. Perhaps one undeserved censure is seen in the stigma which historians have attached to him as “ Julian the Apostate.” There is certainly very little proof that he ever professed to be a Christian, and truly the exhibitions of bigotry, superstition, and immorality which abounded at the imperial court must naturally have had a very strong tendency to prejudice him against the new religion, and to lead him to say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a pagan.” The following quotation from Neander's valuable Church History contains, we think, the right view of the subject, and is certainly the one adopted by the majority of the biographers of the Emperor in modern times
The paganism of Julian admits of an easy explanation, both from the peculiarity of his character and from his course of life and education. In fact a very slight turn seemed all that was necessary to change the peculiar vent manifested by the whole family of Constantines for the outward form and show of religion, from Christianity to paganism; and this turn Julian took from his earliest youth. Having lost, early in life, his nearest relatives, through the jealousy of his uncle, who discarded the natural feelings of kindred, this circumstance would leave on the mind of Julian no very favourable impression of the religion which provailed at the imperial court, and for which Constantius manifested such excessive zeal; although at the time this took place he was too young to be conscious of any such impression. Every pains was taken to keep him away, while a boy and a young man, from the infection of paganism, and to fasten him to Christianity. This was done
as well from
political as from religious motives, since any connection of the prince with the pagan party
might prove dangerous to the State. But the right means were not chosen to secure this end. What was thus forced upon him could not easily take root in a mind which naturally hated constraint. This careful surveillance would only have the natural effect to excite his longing after that wbich they were so anxious to keep from him. And the men, too, whom the court employed as its instruments were not such as would be likely to scatter in the mind of Julian the seeds of a thorough Christianity, and to leave impressions on his heart calculated to give a decided Christian direction to his inner life. It was in a diligent attention to those outward religious forms which busy the imagination that he and his brother Gallus were chiefly exercised while pursuing their education under vigilant masters in the solitude of Macellum, a country seat in Cappadocia. Their very sports were made to wear the colour of devotional exercises, as when they were taught to emulate each other in erecting a chapel over the tomb of Mamas, a pretended martyr, held in special veneration throughout this district. The boys might easily become accustomed to all this; and, unless some mightier reaction took place in the inmost recesses of the mind, the habits thus formed might become fixed, as they actually were in the case of Gallus; but not so, where a mightier 'influence than religious mechanism began to work in an opposite direction, as in the case of Julian.
In the Middle Ages it was the practice of monkish historians, not only to stigmatise the Emperor as“ Julian the Apostate," but also to describe the agonies of his death-bed, and to record the utterance of his despairing cry to Jesus Christ—“O Nazarene, Thou hast conquered !" Upon the theory mentioned above, that Julian was never really a professed Christian, such a dying exclamation seems very improbable, and modern writers reject it as a mere monkish fable. The following quotation from the "Penny Cyclopædia” contains a condensed ard correct account of the last days of this remarkable man.
Julian having resolved on carrying on the war against the Persians, repaired to Antioch, where he resided for several months. His neglected attire, his uncombed beard, and the philosophical austerity of his habits drew down upon him the sarcasms of the corrupt population of the city. The Emperor revenged himself by writing a satire against them, and, what was worse, by giving them a rapacious governor. He set off on his expedition with a brilliant army, reckoned at 65,000 men; crossed the Euphrates, took several fortified towns of Mesopotamia; crossed the Tigris, and took Ctesiphon. But here his progress ended. The close Roman legions were harassed on all sides by the light cavalry of the Persians, and reduced to great distress for want of provisions. Still they presented a formidable front to the enemy; and Sapor, the Persian King, was inclined to come to terms, when, in a skirmish between the advanced posts of both armies, Julian, who had run to head his soldiers, neglecting to put on his cuirass, received a mortal wound from a javelin which pierced his side. Being carried to his tent, he expired the following night, 26th of June, 363. He died with perfect calmness and composure, surrounded by his friends, conversing on philosophical subjects, and expressing his satisfaction at his own past conduct since he had been at the head of the empire. His remains were carried to Tarsus in Cilicia, according to his directions, and his successor, Jovian, erected a monument to his memory.
It is scarcely needful for us to remark that the peacefulness of the Emperor's death is not to be viewed as any proof of the goodness or otherwise of his past life. We call a day bright or gloomy according to its general character, and not according to the complexion of its closing moments; and, in like manner, a man's life is good or bad
according to its predominant texture, independent of its closing scenes. Multitudes of the worst of men have proved the truth of Asaph's words :-“There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm ;” and, on the other hand, many good men, probably through physical disease, have“ died in the dark," as poor Cowper did, whose almost last words were, “I am inexpressibly miserable.”
After the death of Julian it soon became evident that his strenuous and fanatical efforts had availed but little in arresting the progress of Christianity or in diminishing the political power of those who pro-. fessed it. A more dangerous foe than Julian soon arose, to prove the truth of the Saviour's words :-"A man's foes shall be they of his own household.” As years passed on, the old paganism was restored to life, under forms supplied by the Church itself. In St. Peter's at Rome there is a colossal statue of the apostle, the toes of which have been lessened by the kisses of myriads of devotees, the statue being originally an image of Jupiter the Thunderer, and as such was doubtless worshipped at Rome or elsewhere before Popes or Peter were called into being. Thus was it with the state of the Christian Church after the time of Constantine ; its doctrinal purity faded gradually away, and a practical paganism took its place. The worship of idol gods, it is true, no longer existed, but the adoration of martyrs, relics, and images prevailed instead; almost innumerable heresies arose among the so-called Nestorians, Jacobites, Marcionites, and Manichæans, to whom are to be added the strange Collyrideans, who worshipped the mother of Christ, and also adored her as the third person of the blessed Trinity. Year after year the doctrine of the Church declined from bad to worse, until at length a Christian sanctuary differed but little from a pagan temple, and the followers of Christ were almost as spiritually dark as the Arabian worshippers of the black stone of the Caaba. At last a reaction took place, a Nemesis came—Mohammed was born. The Emperor Julian was buried at Tarsus in the year 363, and Mohammed first saw the light at Mecca about the year 570, the intervening two centuries having sufficed to cover the Eastern Church with worse than Egyptian gloom. We omit in this paper sketch of the notable career of the “False Prophet," as it is our intention ere long to dwell at some length upon the incidents of his strange life, and their abiding effects upon the history of the world. The appended account of the dying words of Mohammed is quoted from Gibbon's great historical work, and seems to bring out the strange fact that in some way or other the prophet inanaged to be a believer in himself:
Till the age of sixty-three years the strength of Mohammed was equal to the temporal and spiritual fatigues of his mission. During four years the health of the prophet declined ; his infirmities increased; but his mortal disease was a fever of fourteen days, which deprived him by intervals of the use of reason. He beheld with temperate firmness the approach of death; enfranchised his slaves; minutely directed the order of his funeral; and moderated the lamentations of his weeping friends, on whom he bestowed the benediction of peace. Till the third day before his death he regularly performed the function of public
prayer; the choice of Abubekir to supply his place appeared to mark ' that ancient and faithful friend as his successor in the sacerdotal and regal office, but he prudently declined the risk and envy of a more explicit nomination. If the slightest credit may be afforded to the traditions of his wives and companions, he maintained, in the bosom of his family, and to the last moments of his life, the dignity of an apostle, and the faith of an enthusiast; described the visits of Gabriel, who bid an everlasting farewell to the earth; and expressed his lively confidence, not only in the mercy, but in the favour of the Supreme Being. In a familiar discourse he had mentioned his special prerogative, that the angel of death was not allowed to take his soul till he had respectfully asked the permission of the prophet. The request was granted; and Mohammed immediately fell into the agony of his dissolution; his head was reclined on the lap of Ayesha, the best beloved of all his wives; he fainted with the violence of pain ; recovering his spirits, he raised his eyes towards the roof of the house, and with a steady look, though a faltering voice, uttered the last broken, though articulate words: “O God!
pardon my sins
Yes, I come
among my fellow-citizens on high"; and thus peaceably expired on a carpet spread upon a floor (A.D. 632). He was piously interrod by the hands of his earnest kinsmen, on the same spot on which he expired. Medina has been sanctified by the death and burial of Mohammed ; and the innumerable pilgrims of Mecca often turn aside from the way to bow, in voluntary devotion, before the simple tomb of the prophet.
What a strangely calm conclusion of the life of a man who was certainly, either consciously or unconsciously, the most gigantic and successful impostor whom mankind ever beheld! According to any theory which his critics have formed concerning him, Mohammed is a strange sight, a wonder of wonders, a moral and spiritual problem, as mysterious in many of its elements as he himself is still mighty in affecting the destinies of countless multitudes of his fellow-men.
Mohammed died, as we have seen, in the year 632, and about forty years afterwards was born the eminent Englishman, called the Venerable Beda, or Bede. We are not quite certain as to the meaning of his name; probably it signifies the same as as our word“ prayer, and, if so, it was an unusually appropriate name for one who was as renowned for his piety as for his intellect and learning. remark, in passing, that the word bede or bead has been in use in all ages of English literature, and survives to the present day. It was the usual mode of signature in the time of Henry the Eighth—" As of a prayer-man, or one who prayed for another." For example, Sir Thomas More, in writing to Cardinal Wolsey, ordinarily styles him. self, “ Your humble orator and most bounden beed man, Thomas More;” so also Margaret Bryan, the governess of the “ Lady Elizabeth,” writing to Lord Cromwell, sigus herself, “ Your dayly bede-woman." It is used in the same sense by Shakespeare, who, in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona," act I., scene 1, says
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine. In the same sense almshouses are called bedehouses, because the occupants of them are supposed to pray very much for the repose of the souls of the founders of the charity; in like manner the word beadroll means literally a list of persons to be prayed for; and the well-known toy or ornament called a bead was originally so
termed because of its use in the repetition of prayers. Returning from this digression, we have to say that Bede was born upon some part of the estates which afterwards belonged to the two abbeys of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the bishopric of Durham, at Wearmouth and Jarrow, near the mouth of the River Tyne. At the early age of seven years he was fortunately taken to the monastery of St. Peter, where, till the age of nineteen, he received the best education which the good fathers there were able to give him. He then took deacon's orders, and in his thirtieth year, in accordance with the earnest wish of his abbot, was ordained priest by John of Beverley, then Bishop of Hexham, who had been one of his early tutors. While yet in early manhood, the fame of his learning and piety spread far and wide; so much so, that he was honoured with an earnest invitation from Pope Sergius to visit Rome to assist his Holiness in the settlement and promulgation of certain points of ecclesiastical discipline. Bede, however, declined the flattering request, in order uninterruptedly to pursue those studies which ultimately made him the foremost scholar of the age, and surrounded him with a renown which has reached our own remote times. Bede wrote a goodly number of books on various religious subjects until he was nearly sixty years of age, and then published the greatest of his works, called an “ Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation,” “the materials for which he obtained partly from chronicles, partly from annals preserved in contemporary convents, and partly from the information of prelates with whom he was acquainted. Making allowance for the introduction of legendary matter, which was the fault of the age, few works have supported their credit so long, or been so generally consulted, as authentic sources. From a modern point of view this historical work has, of course, many defects. He is very sparing in his relation of merely secular and political events, the monastery and the church being the main field of his mental vision. “The preferment of an abbot, the canonisation of a martyr, and the importation into England of the shin bone of an apostle were matters of much more importance to him than victories and revolutions.” Bede's history was printed as early as 1474, probably before the printing art was introduced into England, and only two copies of it are known to exist. King Alfred's translation of the history was published at Cambridge, 1641, and the first general collection of his works was published at Paris. Bede is supposed to have been a possessor of a celebrated copy of the Latin Gospels, with an interlineary Saxon gloss, originally kept in the monastery of Lindisfarne, afterwards transferred to Durham, and now preserved in the British Museum. This great and good man died about the year 735, and a record of his last moments, written by Cuthbert, a fellow-monk, has been preserved, the substance of which has been thus translated :
He, our father and master, was much troubled with shortness of breath, yet without pain, before the day of our Lord's resurrection that is, about a fortnight; and afterwards he passed his life, cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks