Слике страница
PDF
ePub

sonages. Most of these fragments are characterised by a feature which is not always to be found in brilliant writers. His spirit is almost invariably kindly, and his judgments lean to the mild and charitable side.

Dr Jortin lies buried at Kensington. We have always deemed his epitaph as one of the happiest specimens of lapidary writing : so brief, so worthy of a Christian's grave, and, without absolute quaintness, in its very simplicity so striking

JO: JORTIN

MORTALIS ESSE DESIIT

ANNO SALUTIS, 1770.

ÆTATIS 72.

Cyprian.

Cyprian was made Bishop of Carthage, A.D. 248. It hath been said of him that he was fond of spiritual power, and it cannot entirely be denied; but he had factious ecclesiastics and troublesome schismatics to deal with, which might lead him to insist somewhat the more on his prerogatives; and it is certain that in one point he was for restraining Episcopal encroachments. He highly approved and recommended the method of appealing to the people in the election of bishops, and of asking their consent and approbation, and of allowing them a negative. He thought that the bishops of a province had no right to make a cabal, and elect a bishop secretly by themselves, and obtrude him upon the Church. But after Christianity was the established and the ruling religion, great inconveniences, and tumults, and seditions, and massacres arose from the popular elections of bishops, and ecclesiastical preferments became more lucrative, and were thought more worthy of a battle, or of mean tricks and solicitations.

[blocks in formation]

Cyprian upon all occasions consulted his own clergy and people, and desired their consent. The bishops of Rome at that time began to take upon them and to domineer, and Stephen, dealing about his censures and excommunications, behaved himself with indecency and arrogance towards Cyprian and many others, in the affair of rebaptizing.

In a Council of Carthage, consisting of eighty-seven bishops, Cyprian said to them, “None of us ought to set himself up as a bishop of bishops, or pretend tyrannically to constrain his colleagues, because each bishop hath a liberty and a power to act as he thinks fit, and can no more be judged by another bishop than he can judge another. But we must all wait for the judgment of Jesus Christ, to whom alone belongs the power to set us over the Church, and to judge of our actions." Du Pin inserted these words in his “ Biblioth.” i. p. 164, to buffet the Pope by the hand of Cyprian.

Many passages there are in Cyprian's writings containing high notions of Episcopal authority and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Whilst he strenuously opposed the domination of one pope, he seemed in some manner to make as many popes as bishops, and mere arithmetical noughts of the rest of the Christians; which yet, I believe, was not his intent.

In the persecution under Decius, he fled from Carthage, and was proscribed, and his effects were seized. He was censured by some persons as a deserter of his flock ; but the decent constancy and the Christian piety with which he laid down his life afterwards, afford a presumption that he had not retired for want of courage.

His death was lamented even by many of the Pagans, whose esteem he had gained by his affable and charitable behaviour.

He often talks of his visions and revelations, some of which he had on occasions which in all appearance were small and

1

inconsiderable enough, whilst he had none to guide him and set him right in points of more importance. He appeals to these visions, and makes use of them to justify his conduct. It would be dealing too severely with him, considering his character in other respects, to ascribe this entirely to artifice and policy, and it would be more candid and charitable to suppose that with much piety, he had a mixture of African enthusiasm, and that what he thought upon in the day, he dreamed of at night, and the next morning took his dreams for Divine admonitions. Some perhaps will choose to leave it ambiguous---dum Elias venerit.

In his treatise “ De Lapsis,” he relates some strange miracles, one of which is that the consecrated bread was turned into a cinder in the hands of a profane person, who thus found, according to the proverb, pro thesauro carbones.*

When the Corinthians shewed a want of reverence and decency in receiving the Lord's Supper, what was the consequence ? “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” The correetion was solemn and tremendous. But of these transformations what can we say? and how can we give credit to them ?

* Macarius of Alexandria, a celebrated monk and saint of the fourth century, is said to have related this story, that when the monks approached to the holy communion, and stretched out their hands to receive it, devils under the figure of little ugly Æthiopian boys (who were only visible to Macarius) prevented the officiating priest, and gave to some of them coals instead of the consecrated bread, which bread, though to by-standers it seemed to be given by the priest and received by these monks, returned back again to the altar: whilst other monks, who were more pious and better disposed, when they approached to receive the sacrament, chased the evil spirits away, who fled with great terror and precipitation, because an angel, who assisted at the altar, put his hand upon the hand of the presbyter when he delivered the sacrament to these good men. This account is in the Vitæ Patrum, and inserted, with a thousand more stories of the same kind, in Tillemont, H. E. viii. 641. To such a degree the boldness of feigning miracles, and the facility of admitting them, was carried in those days !

[blocks in formation]

There is a story of the same kind, of bread turned into a stone, related by Sozomen. An heretic of the sect of the Macedonians had a wife of the same sect. The man was converted by Chrysostom, and used many arguments, in vain, to bring over his stubborn spouse.

At last he told her that if she would not receive the Lord's Supper with him at church, he would live with her no longer. She consented, but was resolved to deceive him, and instead of eating the bread which the minister gave her, she took some which she had brought with her; but as she was biting it, it was turned into a stone in her mouth, a stone neither in substance nor colour like other stones, and bearing upon it the impression of her teeth, which made her repent and publicly confess her crime. This happened about the end of the fourth century, and Sozomen can supply us with an hundred miracles as good. His sending unbelievers to the church to look at the stone which was kept there as a rarity was very judicious.

I would willingly have paid a greater deference to the authority and testimony of this pious father and martyr concerning visions and miracles; and if I dissent from him, it is not without some reluctance. I have no notion of differing from worthy persons, living or dead, for the sake of singularity or of contradiction, in which I can discern no charms, and neither pleasure nor profit. To an opinion commonly received, and received by good men, when I cannot assent, I am inclined to say,

“Invitus, Regina, tuo de littore cessi.”

But alas ! Opinion is a queen who will not accept of such Origen and other ancient Christians ascribed to our Saviour this saying—“ Act like skilful bankers, rejecting what is bad, and retaining what is good.” This precept is proper for all who apply themselves to the study of religious antiquities. Good and bad money is offered to them, and they ought to beware of the coin which will not pass current in the republic of letters and in the critical world, and of that which is found light when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary.

excuses :

" Illa solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat;

Nec magis incepto vultum sermone movetur,
Quam si dura silex aut stet Marpesia cautes."

« ПретходнаНастави »