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occupied with the trade of brokers and usury, did not preach against the ancient religion of the empire, and that the christians, who were all busy in controversy, preached against the public worship, sought to destroy it, often burned the temples, and broke the consecrated statutes, as St. Theodosius did at Amasia, and St. Polyeuctus in Mitylene.
The orthodox christians, sure that their religion was the only true one, did not tolerate any other. In consequence, they themselves were hardly tolerated, Some of them were punished and died for the faithand these were the martyrs.
This name is so respectable, that it ought not to be prodigally bestowed: it is not right to assume the name and arms of a family to which one does not belong. Very heavy penalties have been established against those who have the audacity to decorate themselves with the cross of Malta or of St. Louis, without being chevaliers of those orders.
The learned Dodwell, the dextrous Middleton, the judicious Blondel, the exact Tillemont, the scrutinizing Launoy, and many others, all zealous for the glory of the true martyrs, have excluded from their catalogue an obscure multitude on whom this great title had been lavished. We have remarked, that these learned men were sanctioned by the direct acknowledgment of Origen, who, in his “ Refutation of Celsus," confesses that there are very few martyrs, and those at a great distance of time, and that it is easy to reckon them.
Nevertheless, the benedictine Ruinart—who calls himself Don Ruinart, although he was no Spaniardhas contradicted all these learned persons! He has candidly given us many stories of martyrs which have appeared to the critics very suspicious. Many sensible
persons have doubted various anecdotes relating to the legends recounted by Don Ruinart, from beginning to end.
1. Of Saint Symphorosia and her Seven Children.
Their scruples commence with St. Symphorosia and her seven children who suffered martyrdom with her; which appears, at first sight, too much imitated from the seven Maccabees. It is not known whence this legend comes; and that it is at once a great cause of scepticism.
It is therein related, that the emperor Adrian himself wished to interrogate the unknown Symphorosia, to ascertain if she was a christian. This would have been more extraordinary than if Louis XIV. had subjected a huguenot to an interrogatory. You will further observe, that Adrian, far from being a persecutor of the christians, was their greatest protector.
He had then a long conversation with Symphorosia, and putting himself in a passion, he said to her, “I will sacrifice you to the gods;" as if the Roman emperors sacrificed women in their devotions. In the sequel, he caused her to be thrown into the Anio—which was not an usual mode of immolation. He afterwards had one of her sons cloven in two from the top of his head to his middle;, a second from side to side; a third was broken on the wheel; a fourth was. only stabbed in the stomach; a fifth right to the heart; a sixth had his-throat cut; the seventh died of a parcel of needles thrust into his breast. The emperor Adrian was fond of variety. He commanded that they should be buried near the temple of Hercules, although no one is ever buried in Rome, much less near the temples, which would have been a horrible profanation. The legend adds, that the chief priest of the temple named the place of their interment, “the Seven Biotanates."
H it was extraordinary that a monument should be erected at Rome to persons thus treated, it was no less so that a high priest should concern himself with the inscription;
and further, that this Roman priest should make a Greek epitaph for them. But what is still more strange is, that it is pretended that this word • Biotanates' signifies the seven tortured. • Biotanates' is a fabricated word, which one does not meet with in any author; and this signification can only be given to it by a play upon words, falsely using the word "thenon.' There is scarcely any fable worse constructed. The writers of legends knew how to lie, but none of them knew how to lie skilfully.
The learned Lacroze, librarian to Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, observed—“I know not whether Ruinart is sincere, but I am afraid he is silly.”
2. Of Saint Felicita and seven more Children. It is from Surius that this legend is taken. This Surius is rather notorious for his absurdities. He was a monk of the sixteenth century, who writes about the martyrs of the second as if he had been present.
He pretends, that that wicked man, that tyrant, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius, ordered the prefect of Rome to institute a process against St. Felicita, to have her and her seven children put to death, because there was a rumour that she was a christian.
The prefect held his tribunal in the Campus Martius, ---which however' was at that time used only for the reviewing of troops;--and the first thing the prefect did was, to cause a blow to be given her in full assembly
The long discourses of the magistrate and the accused are worthy of the historian. He finishes by put ting the seven brothers to death by different punishments, like the seven children of St. Symphorosia. This is only a duplicate affair. But as for St. Felicita, he leaves her there, and does not say another word about her.
3. Of Saint Polycarp. Eusebius relates, that St. Polycarp, being informed in a dream, that he should be burnt in three days, made it known to his friends. The legend-maker adds, that the lientenant of police at Smyrna, whose name was Herodius, had him seized by his archers ; that he was abandoned to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre; that the sky opened, and a heavenly voice cried to him—“Be of good courage, Polycarp;” that the hour of letting loose the lions in the amphitheatre having passed, the people went about collecting wood from all the houses to burn him with; that the saint ad
dressed himself to the God of the archangels' (although the word archangel was not then known ;) that the flames formed themselves round him into a triumphal arch without touching him ; that his body had the smell of baked bread; but that having resisted the fire, he could not preserve himself from a sabre-cut; that his blood put out the burning pile, and that there sprung from it a dove which flew straight to heaven. To which planet, is not precisely known.
4.. Of Saint Ptolomais.. We follow the order of Don Ruinart; but we have no wish to call in question the martyrdom of St. Ptolomais, which is extracted from St. Justin's Apology.
We could make some difficulties with regard to the woman who was accused by her husband of being a christian, and who baffled him by giving him a bill of divorce. We might ask why, in this history, there is no further mention of this woman? We might make it manifest, that in the time of Marcus Aurelius, women were not permitted to demand divorce from their husbands; that this permission was only granted them under the emperor Julian; and that this so much repeated story of the christian woman who repudiated her husband (whilst no pagan would have dared to imagine such a thing) cannot well be other than a a fable. But we do not desire to raise unpleasant disputes. As for the little probability there is in compilation of Don Ruinart, we have too much respect for the subject he treats of to start objections.
We have not made any to the Letter of the Churches of Vienna and Lyons, because there is still a great deal of obscurity connected with it ; but we shall be pardoned for defending the memory of the great Marcus Aurelius, thus outraged in the life of St. Symphorian of Autun, who was probably a relation of St. Symphorosia.
5. Of Saint Symphorian of Autun. This legend, the author of which is unknown, begins thus :—"The emperor Marcus Aurelius had just raised a frightful tempest against the church, and his fulminating edicts assailed on all sides the religion of Jesus Christ, at the time when Saint Symphorian lived at Autun in all the splendour that high birth and uncommon virtue can confer. · He was of a christian family, one of the most considerable of the city,” &c.
Marcus Aurelius issued no sanguinary edicts against the christians. It is a very.criminal calumny. Tillemont himself admits, “ that he was the best prince the Romans ever had ; that his reign was a golden age; and that he verified what he often quoted from Plato, that nations would only be happy when kings were philosophers.”
Of all the emperors this was he who promulgated the best laws : he protected the wise, but persecuted no christians, of whom he had a great many in his ser vice.
Th writer of the legend relates, that St. Symphorian having refused to adore Cybele, the city judge enquired, “Who is this man ?" Now it is impossible that the judge of Autun should not have known the most considerable person in Autun.
He was declared by the sentence to be guilty of treason · divine and human. The Romans never en ployed this formula ; and that alone should deprive the pretended martyr of Autun of all credit.
In order the better to refute this calumny against the sacred memory of Marcus Aurelius, let us bring under view the discourse of Meliton, bishop of Sardis, to this best of emperors, reported verbatim by Eusebius :
“ The continual succession of good fortune which has attended the empire, without its happiness being disturbed by a single disgrace, since our religion which was born with it has grown in its bosom, is an evident proof that it contributes eminently to its greatness and glory. Among all the emperors, Nero and Domitian alone, deceived by certain impostors, have spread calumnies against us, which, as usual, have found some partial credence among the people. But your pious
* Eusebius, p. 187, translatiou of Cousin, 4to.