THE MARTYR OF THE CATACOMBS
A TALE OF ANCIENT ROME
If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?—ST. PAUL
NEW YORK: HUNT & EATON
CINCINNATI: CRANSTON & CURTS
I. THE COLISEUM II. THE PRETORIAN CAMP III. THE APPIAN WAY IV. THE CATACOMBS V. THE CHRISTIAN'S SECRET VI. THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES VII. THE CONFESSION OF FAITH VIII. LIFE IN THE CATACOMBS IX. THE PERSECUTION X. THE ARREST XI. THE OFFER XII. POLLIO'S TRIAL XIII. THE DEATH OF POLLIO XIV. THE TEMPTATION XV. LUCULLUS
THE BOY MARTYR PLAN OF THE CATACOMBS A PASSAGE IN THE CATACOMBS THE COLISEUM
"Butchered to make a Roman holiday."
It was a great festival day in Rome. From all quarters vast numbers of people came pouring forth to one common destination. Over the Capitoline Hill, through the Forum, past the Temple of Peace and the Arch of Titus and the imperial palace; on they went till they reached the Coliseum, where they entered its hundred doors and disappeared within.
There a wonderful scene presented itself. Below, the vast arena spread out, surrounded by the countless rows of seats which rose to the top of the outer wall, over a hundred feet. The whole extent was covered with human beings of every class and every age. So vast an assemblage gathered in such a way, presenting to view long lines of stern faces, ascending far on high in successive rows, formed a spectacle which has never elsewhere been equaled, and which was calculated beyond all others to awe the soul of the beholder. More than one hundred thousand people were gathered here, animated by one common feeling, and incited by one single passion. It was the thirst for blood which drew them hither, and nowhere can we find a sadder commentary on the boasted civilization of ancient Rome than this her own greatest spectacle.
Here were warriors who had fought in foreign wars and were familiar with deeds of valor, yet they felt no indignation at the scenes of cowardly oppression displayed before them; nobles of ancient families were here, but they could find in these brutal shows no stain upon their country's honor. Philosophers, poets, priests, rulers, the highest as well as the lowest in the land, crowded these seats; but the applauding shout of the patrician was as loud and as eager as that of the plebeian. What hope was there for Rome when the hearts of her people were, universally given up to cruelty and brutal oppression?
Upon a raised seat in a conspicuous part of the amphitheater was the Emperor Decius, near whom the chief people among the Romans were gathered. Among these there was a group of officers belonging to the Pretorian guards, who criticised the different points in the scene before them with the air of connoisseurs. Their loud laughter, their gayety, and their splendid attire made them the object of much attention from their neighbors.
Several preliminary spectacles had been introduced, and now the fights began. Several hand-to-hand combats were presented, most of which resulted fatally, and excited different degrees of interest according to the courage or skill of the combatants. Their effect was to whet the appetite of the spectators to a keener relish, and fill them with eager desire for the more exciting events which were to follow.
One man in particular had drawn down the admiration and applause of the multitude. He was an African from Mauritania; of gigantic strength and stature. But his skill seemed equal to his strength. He wielded his short sword with marvelous dexterity, and thus far had slain every opponent.
He was now matched with a gladiator from Batavia, a man fully equal in stature and strength to himself. The contrast which the two presented was striking. The African was tawny, with glossy curling hair and glittering eyes; the Batavian was light in complexion, with blonde hair and keen gray eyes. It was hard to tell which had the advantage, so nearly were they matched in every respect; but as the former had already fought for some time, it was thought that the odds were rather against him. The contest, however, began with great spirit and eagerness on both sides. The Batavian struck tremendous blows, which were parried by the adroitness of the other. The African was quick and furious, but he could do nothing against the cool and wary defense of his vigilant adversary.
At length, at a given signal, the combat was suspended, and the gladiators were led away, not through anything like mercy or admiration, but simply through a shrewd understanding of the best mode of satisfying the Roman public. It was well understood that they would return again.
Now a large number of men were led into the arena. These were still armed with the short sword. In a moment they had begun the attack. It was not a conflict between two sides, but a general fight, in which every man attacked his neighbor. Such scenes were the most bloody, and therefore the most exciting. A conflict of this kind would always destroy the greatest number in the shortest time. The arena presented a scene of dire confusion. Five hundred armed men in the prime of life and strength all struggled confusedly together. Sometimes they would all be interlocked in one dense mass; at other times they would violently separate into widely scattered individuals, with a heap of dead upon the scene of the combat. But these would assail one another again with undiminished fury; separate combats would spring up all around, the victors in these would rush to take part in others, until at last the survivors had once more congregated in one struggling crowd.
At length their struggles became weaker. Out of five hundred but one hundred remained, and these were wearied and wounded. Suddenly a signal was given, and two men leaped into the arena and rushed from opposite sides upon this crowd. They were the African and the Batavian. Fresh from their repose, they fell upon the exhausted wretches before them, who had neither the spirit to combine nor the strength to resist. It became a butchery. These two giants slaughtered right and left without mercy, until they alone stood upright upon the arena, and the applause of the innumerable throng came down in thunder to their ears.
These two again attacked each other, and attracted the attention of the spectators while the bodies of the wounded and slain were being removed. The combat was as fierce as before, and precisely similar. The African was agile, the Batavian cautious. But finally the former made a desperate thrust; the Batavian parried it, and returned a stroke like lightning. The African sprang back and dropped his sword. But he was too late, for the stroke of his foe had pierced his left arm. As he fell a roar of joy arose from one hundred thousand human beings. But this was not to be the end, for even while the conqueror stood over his victim the attendants sprang forward and drew him away. Yet the Romans knew, and the wounded man knew that it was not mercy. He was merely to be reserved for a later but a certain fate.
"The Batavian is a skillful fighter, Marcellus," said one young officer to a companion among the group which has been alluded to.
"He is, indeed, Lucullus," replied the other. "I do not think that I ever saw a better gladiator. Indeed, both of them were much better than common."
"They have a better man than either inside there."
"Ah! who is he?"
"The gladiator Macer. I think he is about the best I have ever seen."
"I have heard of him. Do you think he will be out today?"
"I understood so."
The short conversation was interrupted by a loud roar which came from the vivarium, a place where the wild beasts were confined. It was a fierce and a terrific roar, such as the most savage beasts give when they are at the extremity of hunger and rage.
Soon iron gratings were flung open by men from above, and a tiger stalked forth into the arenas. He was from Africa, whence he had been brought but a few days previously. He had been kept three days without food, and his furious rage, which hunger and confinement had heightened to a terrible degree, was awful to behold. Lashing his tail, he walked round the arena gazing with bloodshot eyes upward at the spectators. But their attention was soon diverted to another object. From the opposite side a man was thrust out into the arena. He had no armor, but was naked like all gladiators, with the simple exception of a cloth around his loins. Bearing in his hand the customary short sword, he advanced with a firm pace toward the center of the scene.
All eyes at once were fixed upon this man. "Macer, Macer," was called around by the innumerable spectators.
The tiger soon saw him, and uttered a short savage growl of fearful import. Macer stood still, with his eyes calmly fixed upon the beast, who, lashing his tail more madly than ever, bounded toward him. Finally the tiger crouched, and then, with one terrific spring, leaped directly upon him. But Macer was prepared. Like a flash he darted to the left, and just as the tiger fell to the earth, he dealt a short sharp blow straight to his heart. It was a fatal stroke. The huge beast shuddered from head to foot, and drawing all his limbs together, he uttered a last howl that sounded almost like the scream of a human being, and fell, dead upon the sand.
Again the applause of the multitude rose like a thunder peal all around.
"Wonderful!" cried Marcellus. "I never saw skill equal to that of Macer!"
"Without doubt he has been fighting all his life," rejoined his friend.
But soon the carcass of the tiger was drawn away, and again the creak of a grating as it swung apart attracted attention. This time it was a lion. He came forth slowly, and looked all around upon the scene as if in surprise. He was the largest of his species, a giant in size, and had long been preserved for some superior antagonist. He seemed capable of encountering two animals like the tiger that had preceded him. Beside him Macer was like a child.
The lion had fasted long, but he showed no fury like that of the tiger. He walked across the arena, and then completely around it in a kind of trot, as though searching for escape. Finding every side closed, he finally retreated to the center, and putting his face close to the ground, he uttered a roar so deep, so loud, and so long, that the ponderous stones of the coliseum itself vibrated at the sound.
Macer stood unmoved. Not a muscle of his face changed. He carried his head erect with the same watchful expression, and held his sword ready. At length the lion turned full upon him. The wild beast and the man stood face to face eyeing one another. But the calm gaze of the man seemed to fill the animal with wrath. He started back with his hair and tail erect, and tossing his mane, he crouched for the dreadful spring.
The vast multitude stood spellbound. Here, indeed, was a sight worthy of their interest.
The dark form of the lion darted forward, but again the form of the gladiator, with his customary maneuver, leaped aside and struck. This time, however, his sword struck a rib, and fell from his hand. The lion was slightly wounded, but the blow served only to rouse his fury to the highest point.
Yet Macer lost not one jot of his coolness in that awful moment. Perfectly unarmed, he stood before the beast waiting his attack. Again and again the lion sprang, but each time he was evaded by the nimble gladiator, who by his own adroit movements contrived to reach the spot where his weapon lay and regain possession of it. Armed with his trusty sword, he waited a final spring. The lion came down as before, but this time Macer's aim was true. The sword pierced his heart. The enormous beast fell, writhing in pain. Rising again to his feet, he ran across the arena, and with a last roar he fell dead by the bars at which he had entered.
Macer was now led away, and the Batavian reappeared. The Romans required variety. A small tiger was let loose upon the Batavian and was vanquished. A lion was then set upon him. He was extremely fierce, although of only ordinary size. It was evident that the Batavian was not at all equal to Macer. The lion made a spring and was wounded, but on making a second attack, he caught his opponent and literally tore him to pieces. Upon this Macer was sent out again, and killed this lion easily.
And now, while Macer stood there the recipient of unbounded applause, a man entered from the opposite side. It was the African. His arm had not been bound up, but hung down by his side covered with blood. He staggered toward Macer with painful steps. The Romans knew that he had been sent out to be killed. The wretch knew it himself also, for as he drew near to his antagonist he dropped his sword, and cried out in a kind of desperation,
"Quick! kill me, and put me out of pain."
To the amazement of all, Macer stepped back and flung down his sword. The spectators stared and wondered. Still more amazed were they when Macer turned toward the emperor and stretched out his hands.
"August Emperor," he cried, "I am a Christian. I will fight wild beasts, but I will not raise my hand against a fellow-man. I can die, but I will not kill."
Whereupon a mighty murmur arose.
"What does he say?" cried Marcellus. "A Christian! when did that happen?"
"I heard," said Lucullus, "that he was visited in his cell by some of these wretched Christians, and joined their contemptible sect. They are made up of the offscouring of man kind. It is very probable that he is a Christian."
"And will he incur death rather than fight?"
"That is the way with these fanatics."
Rage took the place of surprise in the fierce multitude. They were indignant that a mere gladiator should dare to disappoint them. The attendants rushed out to interfere. The fight must go on. If Macer would not fight he should take the consequences.
But he was firm. Unarmed, he advanced toward the African, whom he could have slain even then with a blow of his fist. The face of the African was like that of a fiend. Surprise, joy, and triumph gleamed in his sinister eyes. Seizing his sword in a firm grasp, he struck Macer to the heart.
"Lord Jesus receive my spirit—" The words were drowned in a torrent of blood, and this humble but bold witness for Christ passed away from earth to join the noble army of martyrs.
"Are there many such scenes as this?" asked Marcellus.
"Often. Whenever Christians appear. They will fight any number of beasts. Young girls will come firmly to meet lions and tigers, but not one of the madmen will fight with men. The populace are bitterly disappointed in Macer. He is the very best of all the gladiators, and in becoming a Christian he has acted like a fool."
"It must be a wonderful religion which could make a common gladiator act thus," said Marcellus.
"You'll have a chance to learn more about it."
"Haven't you heard? You are appointed to unearth some of these Christians. They have got down in the Catacombs, and they must be hunted up."
"I should think they have enough already. Fifty were burned this morning."
"And a hundred were beheaded last week. But that is nothing. The city is swarming with them. The emperor has determined to restore the old religion perfectly. Since these Christians have appeared the empire has been declining. He has made up his mind to annihilate them. They are a curse, and must be dealt with accordingly. You will soon understand."
"I haven't been in Rome long enough to know," said Marcellus meekly, "and I do not understand what the Christians really believe. I have heard almost every crime imputed to them. However, if it be as you say I will have a chance of learning."
But now another scene attracted their attention.
An old man entered upon the scene. His form was bowed, and his hair silver white with extreme old age. His appearance was hailed with shouts of derision, although his majestic face and dignified manner were only calculated to excite admiration. As the shouts of laughter and yells of derision came down to his ears he raised his head and uttered a few words.
"Who is he?" asked Marcellus.
"Alexander, a teacher of the abominable Christian sect. He is so obstinate that he will not recant—"
"Hush, he is speaking."
"Romans!" said the old man, "I am a Christian. My God died for me, and I gladly lay down my life for him—"
A loud outburst of yells and execrations from the fierce mob drowned his voice. Before it was over three panthers came bounding toward him. He folded his arms, and looking up to heaven, his lips moved as if murmuring prayers. The savage beasts fell upon him as he stood, and in a few minutes he was torn in pieces.
Other wild animals were now let in. They bounded around the inclosure, they leaped against the barrier, and in their rage assailed one another. It was a hideous scene.
Into the midst of this a helpless band of prisoners were rudely thrust. They were chiefly young girls, who were thus sacrificed to the bloodthirsty passions of the savage Roman mob. The sight would have moved to pity any heart in which all soft feelings had not been blighted. But pity had no place in Rome. Cowering and fearful, the poor young maidens showed the weakness of human nature when just confronted with death in so terrible a form, but after a few moments faith resumed its power, and raised them above all fear. As the beasts became aware of the presence of their prey and began to draw near, these young maidens joined hands, and raising their eyes to heaven, sang out a solemn chant which rose clear and wondrously sweet upward to heaven:
"Unto Him that loved us To Him that washed us from our sins In his own blood; To Him that made us kings and priests, To God and the Father; To Him be glory and dominion Forever and ever. Halleluiah. Amen!"
One by one the voices were hushed in blood, and agony, and death; one by one the shrieks of anguish were mingled with the shouts of praise; and these fair young spirits, so heroic under suffering and faithful unto death, had carried their song to join it with the psalm of the redeemed on high.
THE PRETORIAN CAMP.
"Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feared God."
Marcellus was born in Gades, and had been brought up in the stern discipline of a Roman army. He had been quartered in Africa, in Syria, and in Britain, where he had distinguished himself not only by bravery in the field but also by skill in the camp. For these reasons he had received honors and promotions, and upon his arrival at Rome, to which place he had come as the bearer of dispatches, he had so pleased the emperor that he had been appointed to an honorable station among the Pretorians.
Lucullus had never been out of Italy, scarcely indeed out of the city. He belonged to one of the oldest and most noble Roman families, and enjoyed corresponding wealth and influence. He was charmed by the bold and frank nature of Marcellus, and the two young men had become firm friends. The intimate knowledge of the capital which Lucullus possessed enabled him also to be of service to his friend, and the scene which has been described in the preceding chapter was one of the first visits which Marcellus had made to the renowned Coliseum.
The Pretorian camp was situated close to the city wall, to which it was joined by another wall which inclosed it. The soldiers lived in rooms like cells made in the wall itself. They were a numerous and finely appointed body of men, and their situation at the capital gave them a power and an influence so great that for ages they controlled the government of the capital. A command among the Pretorians was a sure road to fortune, and Marcellus could look forward with well-grounded prospects of future honors.
On the morning of the following day Lucullus entered his room. After the usual salutation he spoke of the fight which they had witnessed.
"Such scenes are not to my taste," said Marcellus. "They are cowardly. I like to see two well-trained men engage in a fair combat, but such butchery as you have in the Coliseum is detestable. Why should Macer be murdered? He was a brave man, and I honor his courage. And why should old men and young children be handed over to wild beasts?"
"It is the law. They are Christians."
"That is always the answer. What have the Christians done? I have seen them in all parts of the world, but have never known them to be engaged in disturbances."
"They are the worst of mankind."
"So it is said, but what proof is there?"
"Proof? It is too well known. Their crime is that they plot in secret against the laws and the religion of the state. So intense is the hatred which they bear toward our institution, that they will die rather than offer sacrifice. They own no king or monarch but the crucified Jew who they believe is alive now. And they show their malevolence to us by asserting that we shall all hereafter be tortured in Hades for ever."
"This may be true. I know not. I know nothing at all about them."
"The city is swarming with them; the empire is overrun. And mark this. The decline of our empire, which all see and lament; the spread of weakness and insubordination, the contraction of our boundaries, all this increases as the Christians increase. To what else are these evils owing if not to them?"
"How have they produced this?"
"By their detestable teachings and practices. They teach that fighting is wrong, that soldiers are the basest of men, that our glorious religion under which we have prospered is a curse, and that the immortal gods are accursed demons. In their teachings they aim to overthrow all morality. In their private practices they perform the darkest and foulest crimes. They always keep by themselves in impenetrable secresy, but sometimes we overhear their evil discourses and lewd songs."
"All this is indeed serious, and if true they deserve severe punishment. But according to your own statement they keep by themselves, and but little is known of them. Tell me, did those who suffered yesterday seem like this? Did that old man look as though he had passed his life in vicious scenes? Did those fair young girls sing lewd songs as they waited for the lions?"
"'Unto Him that loved us; To Him that washed us from our sins:'"
And Marcellus sang in a soft voice the words which he had heard.
"I confess, my friend, that I mourned for them."
"And I," said Marcellus, "could have wept had I not been a Roman soldier. Consider for a moment. You tell me things about these Christians which you confess only to have learned from those who themselves are ignorant. You assert that they are infamous and base, the offscouring of the earth. I see them confronted with a death that tries the highest qualities of the soul. They meet it nobly. They die grandly. In all her history Rome can produce no greater scene of devotion than that of yesterday. You say they detest soldiers, yet they are brave; you tell me that they are traitors, yet they do not resist the laws; you declare that they are impure, yet if purity is on earth it belonged to those maidens who died yesterday."
"You are enthusiastic for those outcasts."
"Not so, Lucullus. I wish to know the truth. All my life I have heard these reports. But yesterday for the first time I suspected that they might be false. I now question you earnestly, and I find that your knowledge is based upon nothing. I now remember that throughout all the world these Christians are peaceable and honest. They are engaged in no riots or disturbances, and none of these crimes with which they are charged can be proved against them. Why, then, should they die?"
"The emperor has good reasons no doubt for his course."
"He may be instigated by ignorant or malicous advisers."
"I think it is entirely his own design."
"The number of those that have been put to death is very large."
"O yes, some thousands; but plenty more remain. These, however, are out of reach, and that reminds me of my errand here. I bring you the imperial commission."
Lucullus drew from the folds of his military mantle a scroll of parchment, which he handed to Marcellus. The latter eagerly examined its contents. It appointed him to a higher grade, and commissioned him to search out and arrest the Christians in their hiding-places, mentioning particularly the Catacombs.
Marcellus read it with a clouded brow, and laid it down.
"You do not seem very glad."
"I confess the task is unpleasant. I am a soldier, and do not like to hunt out old men and weak children for the executioner; yet, as a soldier, I must obey. Tell me something about these Catacombs."
"The Catacombs? It is a subterranean district that extends to unknown bounds underneath the city. The Christians fly to the catacombs whenever there is danger, and they also are in the habit of burying their dead there. Once there, they are beyond the reach of the utmost power of the state."
"Who made the Catacombs?"
"No one knows exactly. They have existed for ages. I believe that they were excavated for the sake of getting building sand for cement. At present all our cement comes from there, and you may see workmen bringing it into the city along any of the great roads. They have to go far away for it now, for in the course of ages they have excavated so much beneath us that this city now rests upon a foundation like a honeycomb."
"Is there any regular entrance?"
"There are innumerable entrances. That is the difficulty. If there were but few, then we might catch the fugitives. But we cannot tell from which direction to advance upon them."
"Is any district suspected?"
"Yes. About two miles down the Appian Way, near the tomb of Caecilia Metella, the large round tower, you know, bodies have frequently been discovered. It is conjectured that these are the bodies of the Christians which have been obtained from the amphitheater and carried away for burial. On the approach of the guards, the Christians have dropped the bodies and fled. But, after all, this gives no assistance, for after you enter the Catacombs you are no nearer your aim than before. No human being can penetrate that infinite labyrinth without assistance from those who live there."
"Who live there?"
"The fossors, who still excavate sand for the builders. They are nearly all Christians, and are always at work cutting out graves for the dead of the Christians. These men have lived there all their lives, and are not only familiar with the passages, but they have a kind of instinct to guide them."
"Were you ever in the Catacombs?"
"Once, long ago, a fossor guided me. I remained but a short time. My impression was that it was the most terrible place in all the world."
"I have heard of the Catacombs, but never before knew anything about them. It is strange that they are so little known. Could not these fossors be engaged to lead the guards through this labyrinth?"
"No. They will not betray the Christians."
"Have they been tried?"
"Certainly. Some comply, and lead the officers of justice through a network of passages till they get bewildered. Their torches become extinguished, and they grow terrified. Then they ask to be led back. The fossor declares that the Christians must have fled, and so takes back the soldiers to the starting point."
"Are none resolute enough to continue on till they find the Christians?"
"If they insist upon continuing the search the fossor will lead them on forever. But he merely leads them through the countless passages which intersect some particular district."
"Are none found who will actually betray the fugitives?"
"Sometimes; but of what use is it? Upon the first alarm, every Christian vanishes through the side ways, which open everywhere."
"My prospect of success seems small."
"Very small, but much is hoped from your boldness and shrewdness. If you succeed in this enterprise it will be your fortune. And now, farewell. You have learned from me all that I know. You will find no difficulty in learning more from any one of the fossors."
So saying, Lucullus departed. Marcellus leaned his head on his hands, and lost himself in thought. But ever amid his meditations came floating the strains of that glorious melody which told of triumph over death:
"Unto Him that loved us, To him that washed us from our sins—"
THE APPIAN WAY.
"Sepulchers in sad array Guard the ashes of the mighty Slumbering on the Appian Way."
Marcellus entered upon the duty that lay before him without delay. Upon the following day he set out upon his investigations. It was merely a journey of inquiry, so he took no soldiers with him. Starting forth from the Pretorian barracks, he walked out of the city and down the Appian Way.
This famous road was lined on both sides with magnificent tombs, all of which were carefully preserved by the families to whom they belonged. Further back from the road lay houses and villas as thickly clustered as in the city. The open country was a long distance away.
At length he reached a huge round tower, which stood about two miles from the gate. It was built with enormous blocks of travertine, and ornamented beautifully yet simply. Its severe style and solid construction gave it an air of bold defiance against the ravages of time.
At this point Marcellus paused and looked back. A stranger in Rome, every view presented something new and interesting. Most remarkable was the long line of tombs. There were the last resting-places of the great, the noble, and the brave of elder days, whose epitaphs announced their claims to honor on earth, and their dim prospects in the unknown life to come. Art and wealth had reared these sumptuous monuments, and the pious affection of ages had preserved them from decay. Here where he stood was the sublime mausoleum of Caecilia Metella; further away were the tombs of Calatinus and the Sarvilii. Still further his eye fell upon the resting-place of the Scipios, the classic architecture of which was hallowed by "the dust of its heroic dwellers."
The words of Cicero recurred to his mind, "When you go out of the Porta Capena, and see the tombs of Calatinus, of the Scipios, the Sarvilii, and the Metelli, can you consider that the buried inmates are unhappy?"
There was the arch of Drusus spanning the road: on one side was the historic grotto of Egeria, and further on the spot where Hannibal once stood and hurled his javelin at the walls of Rome. The long lines of tombs went on till in the distance it was terminated by the lofty pyramid of Caius Cestius, and the whole presented the grandest scene of sepulchral magnificence that could be found on earth.
On every side the habitations of men covered the ground, for the Imperial City had long ago burst the bounds that originally confined it, and sent its houses far away on every side into the country, till the traveler could scarcely tell where the country ended and where the city began.
From afar the deep hum of the city, the roll of innumerable chariots, and the multitudinous tread of its many feet, greeted his ears. Before him rose monuments and temples, the white sheen of the imperial palace, the innumerable domes and columns towering upward like a city in the air, and high above all the lofty Capitoline mount, crowned with the shrine of Jove.
But, more impressive than all the splendor of the home of the living was the solemnity of the city of the dead.
What an array of architectural glory was displayed around him! There arose the proud monuments of the grand old families of Rome. Heroism, genius, valor, pride, wealth, everything that man esteems or admires, here animated the eloquent stone and awakened emotion. Here were the visible forms of the highest influences of the old pagan religion. Yet their effects upon the soul never corresponded with the splendor of their outward forms, or the pomp of their ritual. The epitaphs of the dead showed not faith, but love of life, triumphant; not the assurance of immortal life, but a sad longing after the pleasures of the world.
Such were the thoughts of Marcellus as he mused upon the scene and again recalled the words of Cicero, "Can you think that the buried inmates are unhappy?"
"These Christians," thought he, "whom I am now seeking, seem to have learned more than I can find in all our philosophy. They not only have conquered the fear of death, but have learned to die rejoicing. What secret power have they which can thus inspire even the youngest and the feeblest among them? What is the hidden meaning of their song? My religion can only hope that I may not be unhappy, theirs leads them to death with triumphant songs of joy."
But how was he to prosecute his search after the Christians? Crowds of people passed by, but he saw none who seemed capable of assisting him. Buildings of all sizes, walls, tombs, and temples were all around, but he saw no place that seemed at all connected with the Catacombs. He was quite at a loss what to do.
He went down into the street and walked slowly along, carefully scrutinizing every person whom he met, and examining closely every building. Yet no result was obtained from this beyond the discovery that the outward appearance gave no sign of any connection with subterranean abodes. The day passed on, and it grew late; but Marcellus remembered that there were many entrances to the Catacombs, and still he continued his search, hoping before the close of the day to find some clue.
At length his search was rewarded. He had walked backward and forward and in every direction, often retracing his steps and returning many times to the place of starting. Twilight was coming on, and the sun was near the edge of the horizon, when his quick eye caught sight of a man who was walking in an opposite direction, followed by a boy. The man was dressed in coarse apparel, stained and damp with sand and earth. His complexion was blanched and pallid, like that of one who has long been imprisoned, and his whole appearance at once arrested the glance of the young soldier.
He stepped up to him, and laying his hand upon his shoulder said,
"You are a fossor. Come with me."
The man looked up. He saw a stern face. The sight of the officer's dress terrified him. In an instant he darted away, and before Marcellus could turn to follow he had rushed into a side lane and was out of sight.
But Marcellus secured the boy.
"Come with me," said he.
The poor lad looked up with such an agony of fear that Marcellus was moved.
"Have mercy, for my mother's sake; she will die if I am taken."
The boy fell at his feet murmuring this in broken tones.
"I will not hurt you. Come," and he led him away toward an open space out of the way of the passers-by.
"Now," said he, stopping and confronting the boy, "tell me the truth. Who are you?"
"My name is Pollio," said the boy.
"Where do you live?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I was out on an errand."
"Who was that man?"
"What were you doing with him?"
"He was carrying a bundle for me."
"What was in the bundle?"
"To whom were you carrying it?"
"To a destitute person out here."
"Where does he live?
"Not far from here."
"Now, boy, tell me the truth. Do you know anything about the Catacombs?"
"I have heard about them," said the boy quietly.
"Were you ever in them?"
"I have been in some of them."
"Do you know any body who lives in them?"
"Some people. The fossor stays there."
"You were going to the Catacombs then with him?"
"What business would I have there at such a time as this?" said the boy innocently.
"That is what I want to know. Were you going there?"
"How would I dare to go there when it is forbidden by the laws?"
"It is now evening," said Marcellus abruptly, "come with me to the evening service at yonder temple."
The boy hesitated. "I am in a hurry," said he.
"But you are my prisoner. I never neglect the worship of the gods. You must come and assist me at my devotions."
"I cannot," said the boy firmly.
"I am a Christian."
"I knew it. And you have friends, in the Catacombs, and you are going there now. They are the destitute people to whom you are carrying provisions, and the errand on which you are is for them."
The boy held down his head and was silent. "I want you now to take me to the entrance of the Catacombs."
"O, generous soldier, have mercy! Do not ask me that. I cannot do it!"
"I will not betray my friends."
"You need not. It is nothing to show the entrance among the many thousands that lead down below. Do you think that the guards do not know every one?"
The boy thought for a moment, and at length signified his assent.
Marcellus took his hand and followed his lead. The boy turned away to the right of the Appian Way, when he walked a short distance. Here he came to an uninhabited house. He entered, and went down into the cellar. There was a door which apparently opened into a closet. The boy pointed to this, and stopped.
"I wish to go down," said Marcellus, firmly.
"You would not dare to go down alone surely, would you?"
"The Christians say that they do not commit murder. Why then should I fear? Lead on."
"I have no torches."
"But I have some. I came prepared. Go on."
"Do you refuse?"
"I must refuse," said the boy. "My friends and my relatives are below. Sooner than lead you to them I would die a hundred deaths."
"You are bold. You do not know what death is."
"Do I not? What Christian can fear death? I have seen many of my friends die in agony, and I have helped bury them. I will not lead you there. Take me away to prison."
The boy turned away.
"But if I take you away what will your friends think? Have you a mother?"
The boy bowed his head and burst into a passion of tears. The mention of that dear name had overcome him.
"I see that you have, and that you love her. Lead me down, and you shall join her again."
"I will never betray them. I will die first. Do with me as you wish."
"If I had any evil intentions," said Marcellus, "do you think I would go down unaccompanied?"
"What can a soldier, and a Pretorian, want with the persecuted Christians, if not to destroy them?"
"Boy, I have no evil intentions. If you guide me down below I swear I will not use my knowledge against your friends. When I am below I will be a prisoner, and they can do with me what they like."
"Do you swear that you will not betray them?"
"I do, by the life of Caesar and the immortal gods," said Marcellus, solemnly.
"Come along, then," said the boy. "We do not need torches. Follow me carefully."
And the lad entered the narrow opening.
"No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe, Regions of sorrow, doleful shades."
They went on in utter darkness, until at length the passage widened and they came to steps which led below. Marcellus held the boy's dress and followed him.
It was certainly a situation that might provoke alarm. He was voluntarily placing himself in the power of men whom his class had driven from the upper air into these drear abodes. To them he could only be known as a persecutor. Yet such was the impression which he had formed of their gentleness and meekness that he had no fear of harm. It was in the power of this boy to lead him to death in the thick darkness of these impenetrable labyrinths, but even of this he did not think. It was a desire to know more of these Christians, to get at their secret, that led him on, and as he had sworn, so had he resolved that this visit should not be made use of to their betrayal or injury.
After descending for some time the steps ended, and they walked along the level ground. Soon they turned and entered a small vaulted chamber which was lighted from the faint glow of a furnace. The boy had walked on with the unhesitating step of one perfectly familiar with the way. Arriving at the chamber, he lighted a torch which lay on the floor and resumed his journey.
There is something in the air of a burial place which is unlike that of any other place. It is not altogether the closeness, or the damp, or the sickening smell of earth, but a certain subtle influence which unites with them and intensifies them. The spell of the dead is there, and it rests alike on mind and body. Such was the air of the catacombs. Cold and damp, it struck upon the visitor like the chill atmosphere from the realms of death. The living felt the mysterious power of the dead.
The boy Pollio went on before and Marcellus followed after. The torch but faintly illumined the intense darkness. No beam of day, no ray however weak, could ever enter here to relieve the thickness of the oppressive gloom. It was literally darkness that might be felt. The torchlight shone out but a few paces and then died in the darkness.
The path went winding on with innumerable turnings. Suddenly Pollio stopped and pointed downward. Peering through the gloom, Marcellus saw an opening in the path which led further down. It was a pit to which no bottom appeared.
"Where does this lead to?"
"Are there more passages below?"
"O yes. As many as there are here, and still below that again. I have been in three different stories of these paths, and some of the old fossors say that in certain places they go down to a very great depth."
The passage wound along till all idea of locality was utterly lost. Marcellus could not tell whether he was within a few paces of the entrance or many furlongs off. His bewildered thoughts soon began to turn to other things. The first impressions of gloom departed he looked more particularly upon what he passed, and regarded more closely the many wonders of this strange place. All along the walls were tablets which appeared to cover long and narrow excavations. These cellular niches were ranged on both sides so closely that but little space was left between. The inscriptions that were upon the tablets showed that they were Christian tombs. He had not time to stop and read, but he noticed the frequent recurrence of the same expression, such as,
HONORIA—SHE SLEEPS IN PEACE. FAUSTA—IN PEACE.
On nearly every tablet he saw the same sweet and gentle word. "PEACE," thought Marcellus; "what wonderful people are these Christians, who even amid such scenes as these can cherish their lofty contempt of death!"
His eyes grew more and more accustomed to the gloom as he walked along. Now the passage way grew narrower; the roof drooped, the sides approached; they had to stoop and go along more slowly. The walls were rough and rudely cut as the workmen left them when they drew along here their last load of sand for the edifices above. Subterranean damps and fungous growths overspread them in places, deepening their somber color and filling the air with thick moisture, while the smoke of the torches made the atmosphere still more oppressive.
They passed hundreds of side passages and scores of places where many paths met, all branching off in different directions. These innumerable paths showed Marcellus how hopelessly he was now cut off from the world above. This boy held his life in his hands.
"Do any ever lose their way?"
"What becomes of them?"
"Sometimes they wander till they meet some friends, sometimes they are never heard of again. But at present, most of us know the place so well that if we lose our way we soon wander into familiar paths again."
One thing particularly struck the young soldier, and that was the immense preponderance of small tombs. Pollio told him that they were the graves of children, and thus opened to him thoughts and emotions unfelt before.
"Children!" thought he, "what do they here, the young, the pure, the innocent? Why were they not buried above, where the sun might shine kindly and the flowers bloom sweetly over their graves? Did they tread such dark paths as these on their way through life? Did they bear their part in the sufferings of those that lingered here flying from persecution? Did the noxious air and the never-ending gloom of these drear abodes shorten their fair young lives, and send their stainless spirits out of life before their time?"
"We have been a long time on the way," said Marcellus, "will we soon be there?"
"Very soon," said the boy. Whatever ideas Marcellus might have had about hunting out these fugitives before he entered here, he now saw that all attempts to do so must be in vain. An army of men might enter here and never come in sight of the Christians. The further they went, the more hopeless would be their journey. They could be scattered through the innumerable passages and wander about till they died.
But now a low sound arose from afar which arrested his attention. Sweet beyond all description, low and musical, it came down the long passages and broke upon his charmed senses like a voice from the skies.
As they went on, a light beamed before them which cast forth its rays into the darkness. The sounds grew louder, now swelling into a magnificent chorus, now dying away into a tender wail of supplication.
In a few minutes they reached a turn in the path, and then a scene burst upon their sight.
"Stop," said Pollio, arresting his companion and extinguishing the torch. Marcellus obeyed, and looked earnestly at the spectacle before him. It was a vaulted chamber about fifteen feet in height and thirty feet square. In this place there were crowded about a hundred people, men, women, and children. At one side there was a table, behind which stood a venerable man who appeared to be the leader among them. The walls of the room seemed to have been rudely decorated with coarse pictures. The place was illuminated with the glare of torches which threw a lurid glow upon the assembly. The people were careworn and emaciated, and their faces were characterized by the same pallor which Marcellus had observed in the fossor. But the expression which now rested upon them was not of sorrow, or misery, or despair. Hope illumined their eyes, their upturned faces spoke of joy and triumph. The scene moved the soul of the beholder to its inmost depths, for it confirmed all that he had seen of the Christians, their heroism, their hope, their peace, which rested on something hidden from him. As he listened he heard their song, chanted by the whole congregation:
"Great and marvelous are thy works Lord God Almighty, Just and true are thy ways Thou king of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy. For all nations shall come and worship before thee, For thy judgments are made manifest."
Then there was a pause. The venerable leader read something from a scroll which was new to Marcellus. It was a sublime assertion of the immortality of the soul, and life after death. The congregation seemed to hang upon the words as though they were the words of life. Finally, the reader came to a burst of joyous exclamation which drew murmurs of gratitude and enthusiastic hope from the audience. The words thrilled upon the heart of the listener, though he did not understand their full meaning. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ."
These words seemed to open to his mind a new world with new thoughts. Sin—death—Christ, with all the infinite train of ideas that rested upon them, arose dimly before his awakening soul. The desire for the Christian's secret which he had conceived now burned more eagerly within him.
The leader raised his head, and stretching out his hands, uttered a fervent prayer. Addressing the invisible God, he poured forth a confession of sin and guilt. He plead for pardon through the atoning death of Christ. He prayed for the Spirit from on high, so that they might become holy. Then he enumerated all their sorrows, and prayed for deliverance, asking for faith in life, victory in death, and immortality in heaven for the sake of the Redeemer, Jesus.
After this followed another chant which was sung as before:
"Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, And he will dwell with them, And they shall be his people, And God himself shall be with them And be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, And there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor sighing, Neither shall there be any more pain, For the former things are passed away. Amen. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom. And thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, Be unto our God For ever and ever. Amen."
Now the congregation began to disperse. Pollio walked forward, leading Marcellus. At the sight of his martial figure and glittering armor they all started backward, and would have fled by the different paths. But Marcellus called in a loud voice,
"Fear not, Christians, I am alone and in your power."
Upon this they all turned back, and looked at him with anxious curiosity. The aged man who led the meeting advanced and looked earnestly upon him.
"Who are you, and why do you seek us out in the last resting-place that is left to us on earth?"
"Do not suspect me of evil. I come alone, unattended. I am at your mercy."
"But what can a soldier and a Pretorian wish of us? Are you pursued? Are you a criminal? Is your life in danger?"
"No. I am an officer high in rank and authority. But I have all my life been seeking anxiously after the truth. I have heard much of you Christians, but in these times of persecution it is difficult to find you in Rome. I have sought you here."
At this the aged man requested the assembly to withdraw, that he might converse with the new comer. The others readily did so, and retired by different ways, feeling much relieved. A pale lady advanced eagerly to Pollio and caught him in her arms.
"How long you were, my son!"
"I encountered this officer, dear mother, and was detained."
"Thank God you are safe. But who is he?"
"I think he is an honest man," said the boy, "see how he confides in us."
"Caecilia," said the leader, "do not go away for a little time." The lady remained, and a few others did the same.
"I am Honorius," said the old man, addressing Marcellus, "a humble elder in the Church of Christ. I believe that you are sincere and earnest. Tell us now what you want with us."
"My name is Marcellus, and I am a captain in the Pretorian Guard."
"Alas!" cried Honorius, and clasping his hands he fell back in his seat. The others looked at Marcellus with mournful eyes, and the lady Caecilia cried out in an agony of grief,
"Pollio! how have you betrayed us!"
THE CHRISTIAN'S SECRET.
"The mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh."
The young soldier stood astonished at the effect which his name produced.
"Why do you all tremble so?" said he. "Is it on my account?"
"Alas!" said Honorius, "though we are banished to this place we have constant communication with the city. We have heard that new efforts were making to persecute us more severely, and that Marcellus, a captain in the Pretorians, had been appointed to search us out. We see you here among us, our chief enemy. Have we not cause to fear? Why should you track us here?"
"You have no cause to fear me," cried Marcellus, "even if I were your worst enemy. Am I not in your power? If you chose to detain me could I escape? If you killed me could I resist? I am helpless among you. My situation here, alone among you, is proof that there is no danger from me."
"True," said Honorius, assuming his calm demeanor, "you are right; you could never return without our assistance."
"Hear me, then and I will explain all to you. I am a Roman soldier. I was born in Spain, and was brought up in virtue and morality. I was taught to fear the gods and do my duty.
"I have been in many lands, and have confined myself chiefly to my profession. Yet I have never neglected religion. In my chamber I have studied all the writings of the philosophers of Greece and Rome. The result is that I have learned from them to despise our gods and goddesses, who are no better, and even worse than myself.
"From Plato and Cicero I learn that there is one Supreme Deity whom it is my duty to obey. But how can I know him, and how shall I obey him? I learn, too, that I am immortal, and shall become a spirit when I die. How shall I be then? Shall I be happy or miserable? How shall I secure happiness in that spiritual life? They describe the glories of that immortal life in eloquent language, but they give no directions for common men like me. To learn more of this is the desire of my soul.
"The priests can tell me nothing. They are wedded to old forms and ceremonies in which they do not believe. The old religion is dead, and men care for it no more.
"In different lands I have heard much of Christians. Shut up in the camp, I have not had much opportunity to see them. Indeed, I never cared to know them until lately. I have heard all the usual reports about their immorality, their secret vice, their treasonable doctrines. I believed all this until lately.
"A few days ago I was in the Coliseum. There, first, I learned something about the Christians. I saw the gladiator Macer, a man to whom fear was utterly unknown, lay down his life calmly rather than do what he believed to be wrong. I saw an old man meet death with a peaceful smile; and above all, I saw a band of young girls give themselves up to the wild beasts with a song of triumph on their lip:
"'Unto Him that loved us, That washed us from our sins.'"
As Marcellus spoke a wonderful effect was produced. The eyes of his listeners glistened with eagerness and joy. When he mentioned Macer they looked at each other with meaning glances; when he spoke of the old man, Honorius bowed his head; and when he spoke of the children and murmured the words of their song, they turned away their faces and wept.
"For the first time in my life I saw death conquered. I myself can meet death without terror, and so can every soldier when he comes in the battle-field. It, is our profession. But these people rejoiced in death. Here were not soldiers, but children, who carried the same wonderful feeling in their hearts.
"Since then I have thought of nothing else. Who is he that loved you? Who is he that washes you from your sins? Who is he that causes this sublime courage and hope to arise within you? What is it that supports you here? Who is he to whom you were just now praying?
"I have a commission to lead soldiers against you and destroy you. But I wish to learn more of you first. And I swear by the Supreme that my present visit shall bring no harm to you. Tell me, then, the Christian's secret."
"Your words," said Honorius, "are true and sincere. Now I know that you are no spy or enemy, but an inquiring soul sent here by the Spirit to learn that which you have long been seeking. Rejoice, for he that cometh unto Christ shall be in no wise cast out.
"You see before you men and women who have left friends, and home, and honor, and wealth, to live here in want, and fear, and sorrow, and they count all this as nothing for Christ, yes, they count even their own lives nothing. They give up all for Him who loved them.
"You are right, Marcellus, in thinking that there is some great power which can do all this: It is not fanaticism, nor delusion, nor excitement. It is the knowledge of the truth and love for the great God.
"What you have sought for all your life is our dearest possession. Treasured up in our hearts, it is worth far more to us than all that the world can give. It gives us happiness in life even in this place of gloom, and in death it makes us victorious.
"You wish to know the Supreme Being. Our religion is his revelation, and through this he makes himself known. Infinite in greatness and power, he also is infinite in love and mercy. This religion draws us so closely to him that he is our best friend, our guide, our comfort, our hope, our all, our Creator, our Redeemer, and our final Saviour.
"You wish to know of the immortal life. Our religion tells of this. It shows us that by loving and serving God on earth we shall dwell with him in infinite blessedness in heaven. It shows us how to live so as to please him here, and it makes us know how we shall praise him hereafter. By this we learn that death is no longer a curse, but rather a blessing, since it becomes but the sure passage way unto happiness unspeakable in the presence of Him who loved us."
"O then," cried Marcellus, "if this be so, make known to me this truth. For this I have looked for years; for this I have prayed to that Supreme Being of whom I have heard. You are the possessor of that which I long to know. The end and aim of my life lies here. The whole night is before us. Do not put me off, but at once tell me all. Has God, indeed, made known all this, and have I been ignorant of it?"
Tears of joy glistened in the eyes of the Christians. Honorius murmured a few words of silent thankfulness and prayer. After which he drew forth a manuscript, which he handled with tender care.
"Here," said he, "beloved youth, is the word of life which came from God, which brings such peace and joy to man. In this we can find all that the soul desires. In these divine words we learn that which we can find no where else; and though the mind may brood over it for a lifetime, yet the extent of its glorious truths can never be reached."
Then Honorius opened the book and began to tell of Jesus. He told him of the long succession of prophets which had heralded his coming, of the chosen people of God who had kept alive the knowledge of the truth for so many ages, and of the marvelous works which they had witnessed.
He spoke of his birth, his childhood, his first appearance, his miracles, his teachings. All this he read, with a few comments of his own, from the sacred manuscript.
Then he related the treatment which he received, the scorn, contempt, and persecution which hurried him on to his betrayal.
Finally, he read the story of his death on Calvary.
Upon Marcellus the effect of all this was wonderful. Light seemed to burst upon his mind. The holiness of God, which turned with abhorrence from human sin; his justice, which demanded punishment; his patience, which endured so much; his mercy, which contrived a way to save his creatures from the ruin which they drew on themselves; his amazing love, which brought him down to sacrifice himself for their salvation, all were clear. When Honorius reached the end of the mournful story of Calvary, and came to the cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" he was roused by a sob from Marcellus. Looking up through the tears which dimmed his own eyes, he saw the form of the strong man bowed, and his frame quivering with emotion. "No more, no more now," he murmured, "Let me think of Him:
"'Him who loved us, Who washed us from our sins, In his own blood.'"
And Marcellus buried his face in his hands.
Honorius raised his eyes to heaven and prayed. The two were alone, for their companions had long since departed. The light from a lamp in a niche behind Honorius but dimly illumined the scene. Thus they remained in silence for a long time.
At last Marcellus raised his head.
"I feel," said he, "that I too had a part in causing the death of the Holy One. Read on, more of that word of life, for my own life hangs upon it."
Then Honorius read the story of the burial, the resurrection, the appearance again to the disciples, and the ascension. Nor did he end with this. He sought to give peace to the soul of his friend. He read to him all the words of Jesus which invite the sinner, and assure to him a gracious reception and complete forgiveness.
"It is the word of God," cried Marcellus, "it is a voice from heaven. My heart responds to everything that I have heard, and I know that it must be eternal truth.
"But how can I be a sharer in these blessings? I am a sinner; I seem now to have my eyes cleared of mist. I know myself at last. Before I thought I was a just and a righteous man. But beside the Holy One of whom I have heard I sink down into the dust, I see that I am a sinner before him."
"He has atoned for all."
"But how can I be benefited?"
"He will pardon everything even to the uttermost."
"How can he pardon me?"
"Lift up your soul to him and pray for pardon. If you ask you shall receive."
"O, then, if I may dare to approach, if it be permitted for me to utter a word to him, teach me the words, tell me the way."
In the dimness of the gloomy vault, in solitude and solemn silence, Honorius knelt down, and Marcellus bowed himself by his side.
The venerable Christian lifted up his soul in prayer. Marcellus felt as though his own soul was being lifted up to the courts of heaven, to the presence of the Saviour, by the power of that, fervent and agonizing prayer. The words seemed to find an echo in his own soul. In his deep abasement he rested his wants upon his companion so that he might present them in a more acceptable manner.
But finally his own desires grew stronger. Hope came to him, timidly, tremblingly, yet still it was hope, and his soul grew stronger at her presence. At, last, when Honorius ended, his feelings burst forth. It was the prayer of the publican: "God be merciful unto me a sinner!"
Hours passed on. But who can fittingly describe the progress of a soul on its way to its God? Enough, that when morning dawned on the earth above, a better day had dawned over the soul of Marcellus in the vaults below. His longings were completely satisfied; the load was all removed; the Christians; secret was his; and with rapture unfelt before, he could now sing the song of the Christian:
"Unto Him that loved us, To Him that washed us from our sins In his own blood, To Him be glory and dominion For ever and ever."
THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES.
"These all died in faith."
The new convert soon learned more of the Christians. After a brief repose he rose and was joined by Honorius, who offered to show him the nature of the place where they lived.
Those whom he had seen at the chapel service formed but a small part of the dwellers in the catacombs. Their numbers rose to many thousands, and they were scattered throughout its wide extent in little communities, each of which had its own means of communication with the city.
He walked far on, accompanied by Honorius. He was astonished at the numbers of people whom he encountered; and though he knew that the Christians were numerous, yet he did not suppose that so vast a proportion would have the fortitude to choose a life in the catacombs.
Nor was he less interested in the dead than in the living. As he passed along he read the inscriptions upon their tombs, and found in them all the same strong faith and lofty hope. These he loved to read, and the fond interest which Honorius took in these pious memorials made him a congenial guide.
"There," said Honorius, "lies a witness for the truth."
Marcellus looked where he pointed, and read as follows:
PRIMITIUS, IN PEACE, AFTER MANY TORMENTS, A MOST VALIANT MARTYR. HE LIVED ABOUT THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS. HIS WIFE RAISED THIS TO HER DEAREST HUSBAND, THE WELL-DESERVING.
"These men," said Honorius, "show us how Christians ought to die. Yonder is another who suffered like Primitius."
PAULUS WAS PUT TO DEATH IN TORTURES, IN ORDER THAT HE MIGHT LIVE IN ETERNAL BLISS.
"And there," said Honorius, "is the tomb of a noble lady, who showed that fortitude which Christ can always bestow even to the weakest of his followers in the hour of need."
CLEMENTIA, TORTURED, DEAD, SLEEPS, WILL RISE.
"We do not die," said Honorius; "we but sleep, and when the last trump shall sound we shall awake to be forever with the Lord. Here," he continued, "lies Constans, doubly constant to his God by a double trial. Poison was given to him first, but it was powerless over him, so he was put to the sword:"
THE DEADLY DRAUGHT DARED NOT PRESENT TO CONSTANS THE CROWN WHICH THE STEEL WAS PERMTTED TO OFFER.
Thus they walked along, reading the inscriptions which appeared on every side. New feelings came to Marcellus as he read the glorious catalogue of names. It was to him a history of the Church of Christ. Here were the acts of the martyrs portrayed before him in words that burned. The rude pictures that adorned many of the tombs carried with them a pathos that the finest works of the skillful artist could not produce. The rudely carved letters, the bad spelling and grammatical errors, that characterized many of them, gave a touching proof of the treasure of the Gospel to the poor and lowly. Not many wise, not many mighty are called; but to the poor the Gospel is preached.
On many of them there was a monogram, which was formed of the initial letters of the name of Christ, "X" and "P" being joined so as to form one cypher. Some bore a palm branch, the emblem of victory and immortality, the token of that palm of glory which shall hereafter wave in the hands of the innumerable throng that are to stand around the throne. Others bore other devices.
"What is this?" said Marcellus, pointing to a picture of a ship.
"It shows that the redeemed spirit has sailed from earth to the haven of rest."
"And what is the meaning of this fish that I see represented so often?"
"The fish is used because the letters that form its name in Greek are the initials of words that express the glory and hope of the Christian. 'iota' stands for 'Jesus,' 'chi' for 'Christ,' 'theta' and 'gamma' for 'the Son of God,' and 'sigma' for 'Saviour,' so that the fish symbolizes under its name 'iota chi theta gamma sigma,' 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour.'"
"What means this picture that I see so often—a ship and a huge sea monster?"
"That is Jonah, a prophet of God, of whom as yet you are ignorant." Honorius then related the story of Jonah, and showed him how the escape from the bowels of the fish reminded the Christian of his deliverance from the darkness of the tomb. "This glorious hope of the resurrection is an unspeakable comfort," said he, "and we love to bring it to our thoughts by different symbols. There, too, is another symbol of the same blessed truth—the dove carrying an olive branch to Noah." He related to his companion the story of the flood, so that Marcellus might see the meaning of the representation. "But of all the symbols which are used," said he, "none is so clear as this," and he pointed to a picture of the resurrection of Lazarus.
"There too," said Honorius, "is an anchor, the sign of hope, by which the Christian, while tossing amid the stormy billows of life, holds on to his heavenly home.
"There you see the cock, the symbol for watchfulness; for our Lord has said, 'Watch and pray.' There also is the lamb, the type of innocence and gentleness, which also brings to our mind the Lamb of God, who bore our sins, and by whose sacrifice we receive pardon. There again is the dove, which, like the lamb, represents innocence; and yet again you see it bearing the olive branch of peace.
"There are the letters Alpha and Omega, which represent our Lord; for you know that he said, 'I am Alpha and Omega.' And there is the crown, which reminds of that crown of immortality which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give us. Thus we love to surround ourselves with all that can remind us of the joy that lies before us. Taught by these, we look up from the surrounding gloom and see above us the light of immortal life."
"Here," said Marcellus, pausing, "is something that seems adapted to my condition. It sounds prophetic. Perhaps I too may be called upon to give my testimony for Christ: may I then be found faithful!"
IN CHRIST, IN THE TIME OF THE EMPEROR ADRIAN, MARIUS, A YOUNG MILITARY OFFICER, WHO LIVED LONG ENOUGH, AS HE SHED HIS BLOOD FOR CHRIST, AND DIED IN PEACE. HIS FRIENDS SET UP THIS WITH TEARS AND IN FEAR.
"'In this world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.' Thus Christ assures us; but while he warns us of evil, he consoles us with his promise of support. In him we can find grace sufficient for us."
"May the example of this young officer be for me," said Marcellus. "I may shed my blood for Christ like him. May I die as faithfully! To lie here among my brethren with such an epitaph, would be higher honor for me than a mausoleum like that of Caecilia Metella."
They walked on as before.
"How sweet," said Marcellus, "is the death of the Christian! Its horror has fled. To him it is a blessed sleep, and death, instead of awakening terror, is associated with thoughts of rest or of victory."
THE SLEEPING PLACE OF ELPIS.
ZOTICUS LAID HERE TO SLEEP.
ASELUS SLEEPS IN CHRIST.
MARTYRIA IN PEACE.
VIDALIA IN THE PEACE OF CHRIST.
NICEPHORUS, A SWEET SOUL, IN THE PLACE OF REFRESMENT.
"Some of those inscriptions tell of the characters of the departed brethren," said Honorius. "Look at these."
MAXIMIUS, WHO LIVED TWENTY-THREE YEARS, FRIEND OF ALL MEN.
IN CHRIST, ON THE FIFTH KALENDS OF NOVEMBER, SLEPT GORGONIUS, FRIEND OF ALL, AND ENEMY TO NONE.
"And here too," he continued, "are others which tell of their private lives and domestic experiences."
CAECILIUS THE HUSBAND, TO CAECILIA PLACIDINA, MY WIFE, OF EXCELLETT MEMORY, WITH WHOM I LIVED TEN YEARS WITHOUT ANY QUARREL, IN JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, THE SAVIOUR.
SACRED TO CHRIST THE SUPREME GOD. VITALIS, BURIED ON SATURDAY, KALENDS OF AUGUST, AGED TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AND EIGHT MONTHS. SHE LIVED WITH HER HUSBAND TEN YEARS AND THIRTY DAYS. IN CHRIST THE FIRST AND THE LAST.
TO DOMNINA, MY SWEETEST AND MOST INNOCENT WIFE, WHO LIVED SIXTEEN YEARS AND FOUR MONTHS, AND WAS MARRIED TWO YEARS FOUR MONTHS AND NINE DAYS: WITH WHOM, I WAS NOT ABLE TO LIVE, ON ACCOUNT OF MY TRAVELING, MORE THAN SIX MONTHS, DURING WHICH TIME I SHEWED HER MY LOVE AS I FELT IT. NONE ELSE SO LOVED EACH OTHER. BURIED ON THE FIFTEENTH BEFORE THE KALENDS OF JUNE.
TO CLAUDIUS, THE WELL-DESERVING AND AFFECTIONATE, WHO LOVED ME. HE LIVED ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN CHRIST.
"There is the tribute of a loving father," said Marcellus, as he read the following:
LAURENCE TO HIS SWEETEST SON SEVERUS. BORNE AWAY BY ANGELS ON THE SEVENTH IDES OF JANUARY.
"And here of a wife."
Domitius in peace, Lea erected this.
"Yes," said Honorius, "the religion of Jesus Christ changes the nature of man, and while it awakens within him love to God, it makes him susceptible of more tender affection to his friends and relatives."
Passing on, they found many epitaphs which exhibited this tender love of departed relatives.
CONSTANTIA, OF WONDERFUL BEAUTY AND AMIABILITY, WHO LIVED EIGHTEEN YEARS SIX MONTHS AND SIXTEEN DAYS. CONSTANTIA IN PEACE.
SIMPLICIUS, OF GOOD AND HAPPY MEMORY, WHO LIVED TWENTY-THREE YEARS AND FORTY-THREE DAYS IN PEACE. HIS BROTHER MADE THIS MONUMENT.
TO ADSERTOR OUR SON, DEAR, SWEET MOST INNOCENT, AND INCOMPARABLE, WHO LIVED SEVENTEEN YEARS SIX MONTHS AND EIGHT DAYS. HIS FATHER AND MOTHER SET UP THIS.
TO JANUARIUS, SWEET AND GOOD SON, HONORED AND BELOVED BY ALL: WHO LIVED TWENTY-THREE YEARS FIVE MONTHS AND TWENTY-TWO DAYS.
HIS PARENTS LAURINIA, SWEETER THAN HONEY SLEEPS IN PEACE.
TO THE HOLY SOUL, INNOCENS, WHO LIVED ABOUT THREE YEARS.
DOMITIANUS, AN INNOCENT SOUL, SLEEPS IN PEACE
"Farewell, O Sabina; she lived viii years, viii months and xxii days, Mayst thou live sweet in God."
IN CHRIST: DIED ON THE KALENDS OF SEPTEMBER, POMPEIANUS THE INNOCENT, WHO LIVED SIX YEARS NINE MONTHS EIGHT DAYS AND FOUR HOURS. HE SLEEPS IN PEACE.
TO THEIR DESERVING SON, CALPURNIUS, HIS PARENTS MADE THIS: HE LIVED FIVE YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AND TEN DAYS, AND DEPARTED IN PEACE ON THE THIRTEENTH OF JUNE.
"Unto the epitaph of this child," said Marcellus, "they have added the symbols of peace and of glory." He pointed to a child's tomb, upon the slab of which was engraved a dove and a laurel crown, together with the following inscription:
RESPECTUS, WHO LIVED FIVE YEARS AND EIGHT MONTHS, SLEEPS IN PEACE.
"And this one," continued Marcellus, "has a palm branch, the symbol of victory."
"Yes," said Honorius, "the Saviour has said, 'Suffer little children to come unto me,'" and he read the following inscription:
MACUS, AN INNOCENT BOY. YOU HAVE ALREADY BEGUN TO BE AMONG THE INNOCENT ONES. HOW ENDURING IS SUCH A LIFE TO YOU. HOW GLADLY WILL YOUR MOTHER, THE CHUCH OF GOD, RECEIVE YOU, RETURNING TO THIS WORLD! LET US RESTRAIN OUR GROANS AND CEASE FROM WEEPING.
Their attention was also attracted by epitaphs over the graves of women who had been wives of Christian ministers.
MY WIFE LAURENTIA MADE ME THIS TOMB. SHE WAS EVER SUITED TO MY DISPOSITION, VENERABLE AND FAITHFUL. AT LENGTH DISAPPOINTED ENVY LIES CRUSHED. THE BISHOP LEO SURVIVED HIS EIGHTIETH YEAR.
THE PLACE OF BASIL THE PRESBYTER AND HIS FELICITAS. THEY MADE IT FOR THEMSELVES.
ONCE THE HAPPY DAUGHTER OF THE PRESBYTER GABINUS, HERE LIES SUSANNA, JOINED WITH HER FATHER IN PEACE.
CLAUDIUS ATTICIANUS, A LECTOR, AND CLAUDIA FELICISSIMA HIS WIFE.
"I see here," said Marcellus, "a larger tomb. Are two buried here?"
"Yes, this is a 'bisomum,' and two occupy that cell. Read the inscription:"
THE BISOMUM OF SABINUS. HE MADE IT FOR HIMSELF DURING HIS LIFETIME IN THE CEMETERY OF BALBINA IN THE NEW CRYPT.
"Sometimes," continued Honorius, "three are buried in the same grave. In other places, Marcellus, you will see that large numbers are buried; for when persecution rages it is not always possible to pay to each individual the separate attention that is required. Yonder is a tablet that marks the burial place of many martyrs whose names are unknown, but whose memories are blessed." He pointed to, a slab bearing the following inscription:
MARCELLA AND FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MARTYRS OF CHRIST.
"Here is a longer one," said Marcellus, "and its words may well find an echo in the hearts of all of us." With deep emotion they read the following:
IN CHRIST. ALEXANDER IS NOT DEAD, BUT LIVES ABOVE THE STARS, AND HIS BODY RESTS IN THIS TOMB. HE ENDED HIS LIFE UNDER THE EMPEROR ANTONINE, WHO, ALTHOUGH HE MIGHT HAVE FORESEEN THAT GREAT BENEFIT WOULD RESULT FROM HIS SERVICES, RENDERED UNTO HIM HATRED INSTEAD OF FAVOR. FOR WHILE ON HIS KNEES, AND ABOUT TO SACRIFICE UNTO THE TRUE GOD, HE WAS LED AWAY TO EXECUTION. O SAD TIMES! IN WHICH EVEN AMONG SACRED RITES AND PRAYERS, NOT EVEN IN CAVERNS COULD WE BE SAFE. WHAT CAN BE MORE WRETCHED THAN SUCH A LIFE? AND WHAT THAN SUCH A DEATH? WHERE THEY CANNOT BE BURIED BY THEIR FRIENDS AND RELATIONS! AT LENGTH THEY SPARKLE IN HEAVEN. HE HAS SCARCELY LIVED WHO HAS LIVED IN CHRISTIAN TIMES.
"This," said Honorius, "is the resting place of a well loved brother, whose memory is still cherished in all the Churches. Around this tomb we shall hold the 'Agape' upon the anniversary of his birthday. At this feast the barriers of different classes and ranks, of different kindreds and tribes and tongues and peoples, are all broken down. We are all brethren in Christ Jesus, for we remember that as Christ loved us, so ought we also to love one another."
In this walk Marcellus had ample opportunity to witness the presence of that fraternal love to which Honorius alluded. He encountered men, women, and children of every rank and of every age. Men who had filled the highest stations in Rome associated in friendly intercourse with those who were scarcely above the level of slaves; those who had once been cruel and relentless persecutors, now associated in pleasant union with the former objects of their hate. The Jewish priest, released from the fetters of bigotry and stubborn pride, walked hand in hand with the once hated Gentile. The Greek had beheld the foolishness of the Gospel transformed into infinite wisdom, and the contempt which he had once felt for the followers of Jesus had given place to tender affection. Selfishness and ambition, haughtiness and envy, all the baser passions of human life, seemed to have fled before the almighty power of Christian love. The religion of Christ dwelt in their hearts in all its fullness, and its blessed influences were seen here as they might not be witnessed elsewhere; not because its nature or its power had been changed for their sakes, but because the universal persecution which pressed on all alike had robbed them of earthly possessions, cut them off from earthly temptations, and by the great sympathy of common suffering had forced them closer to one another.
"The worship of the true God," said Honorius, "differs in one respect from all false worship. The heathen must enter into his temple, and there through the medium of the priest offer up his prayers and his sacrifice. But for us Christ has made a sacrifice once for all. Every one of his followers can now approach God for himself, for each one is made, through Jesus, a king and a priest unto God. To us, then, it is a matter of no moment, as far as worship is concerned, whether our chapels are left unto us, or whether we are banished from them out of the sight of earth. Heaven is the throne of God and the universe is his temple, and each one of his children can lift up his voice from any place and at any time to worship the Father."
Marcellus's journey extended for a long time and for a great distance. Prepared as he was to find a great extent, he was still astonished at its vastness. The half had not been told him! and though he had traversed so much, he was told that this was but a fraction of the whole extent. The average height of the passage ways was about eight feet, but in many places it rose to twelve or fifteen feet. Then the frequent chapels and rooms which had been formed by widening the arches gave greater space to the inhabitants, and made it possible for them to live and move in greater freedom. In some places, also, there were narrow openings in the roof, through which faint rays of light passed from the upper air. These were chosen as places for resort, but not for living. The presence of the blessed light of day, however faint, was pleasant beyond expression, and served in some slight degree to mitigate the surrounding gloom.
Marcellus saw some places which had been walled up forming a sudden termination to the passage way, but other paths branched off and encircled them and went on as before. "What is this place which is thus inclosed?" he asked.
"It is a Roman tomb," said Honorius. "On excavating this passage the workmen struck upon it, so they stopped and walled up the place and carried on their excavation around it. It was not from the fear of disturbing the tomb, but because in death, no less than in life, the Christian desires to follow the command of his Lord, and 'come out from among them and be separate.'"
"Persecution rages around us and shuts us in," said Marcellus. "How long shall the people of God be scattered, how long shall the enemy distress us?"
"Such are the cries of many among us," said Honorius, "but it is wrong to complain. The Lord has been good to his people. Throughout the empire they have gone on for many generations protected by the laws and unmolested. True, we have had terrible persecutions, in which thousands have died in agony, but these again have passed away and left the Church in peace.
"All the persecutions which we have yet received have served only to purify the hearts of the people of God and exalt their faith. He knows what is best for us. We are in his hands, and he will give us no more than we can bear. Let us be sober and watch and pray, O Marcellus, for the present storm tells us plainly that the great and terrible day so long expected is at hand."
Thus Marcellus walked about with Honorius, conversing and learning new things every hour about the doctrines of God's truth and the experiences of his people. The sight of their love, their purity, their fortitude, their faith, sank deeply into his soul.
The experience which he too had felt was not transient. Every new sight but strengthened his desire to unite himself with the faith and fortunes of the people of God. Accordingly, before the following Lord's day he was baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
On the morning of the Lord's day he sat around the table of the Lord in company with other Christians. There they held that simple and affecting ceremony by which the Christians showed forth the death of Jesus. Honorius offered up the prayer for blessing on the repast. And for the first time Marcellus partook of the wine and the bread, the sacred symbols of the body and blood of his dying Lord.
"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out."
THE CONFESSION OF FAITH.
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Four days had elapsed since the young soldier had left his chamber. Eventful days they had been to him; days full of infinite importance. Endless weal or woe had hung upon their issue. But the search of this earnest soul after the truth had not been in vain.
His resolution had been taken. On the one side lay fame, honor, and wealth; on the other, poverty, want, and woe; yet he had made his choice, and turned to the latter without a moment's hesitation. He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Upon his return he visited the general and reported himself. He informed him that he had been among the Christians, that he could not execute his commission, and was willing to take the consequences. The general sternly ordered him to his quarters.
Here in the midst of deep meditation, while, conjecturing what might be the issue of all this, he was interrupted by the entrance of Lucullus. His friend greeted him most affectionately, but was evidently full of anxiety.
"I have just seen the general," said he, "who sent for me to give me a message for you. But first tell me what is this that you have done?"
Marcellus then related everything from the time he had left until his return, concealing nothing whatever. His deep earnestness showed how strong and true the impression was that had been made upon him. He then related his interview with his general.
"I entered the room feeling the importance of the step I was taking. I was about to commit an act of virtual treason, a crime which can only be punished with death. Yet I could do nothing else.
"He received me graciously, for he thought that I had met with some important success in my search. I told him that since I left I had been among the Christians, and from what I had seen of them I had been forced to change my feelings toward them. I had thought that they were enemies of the state and worthy of death, but I found that they were loyal subjects of the emperor and virtuous men. I could never use my sword against such as these, and rather than do so I would give it up.
"'A soldier's feelings,' said he, 'have no right to interfere with his duties.'
"'But my duties to the God who made me are stronger than any which I owe to man.'
"'Has your sympathy with the Christians made you mad?' said he. 'Do you not know that this is treason?'
"I bowed, and said that I would take the consequences.
"'Rash youth,' he cried sternly, 'go to your quarters, and I will communicate to you my decision.'
"And so I came here at once, and have been here ever since then, anxiously awaiting my sentence."
Lucullus had listened to the whole of Marcellus's recital without a word or even a gesture. An expression of sad surprise upon his face told what his feelings were. He spoke in a mournful tone as Marcellus ended.
"And what that sentence must be you certainly know as well as I. Roman discipline, even in ordinary times, can never be trifled with, but now the feelings of the government are excited to an unusual degree against these Christians. If you persist in your present course you must fall."
"I have told you all my reasons."
"I know, Marcellus, your pure and sincere nature. You have always been of a devout mind. You have loved the noble teachings of philosophy. Can you not satisfy yourself with these as before? Why should you be attracted by the wretched doctrine of a crucified Jew?"
"I have never been satisfied with the philosophy of which you speak. You yourself know that there is nothing certain in it on which the soul may trust. But the Christian religion is the truth of God, brought down by himself, and sanctified by his own death."
"You have thoroughly explained the whole Christian creed to me. Your own enthusiasm has made it appear attractive, I will confess; and if all its followers were really like yourself my dear Marcellus, it might be adapted to bless the world. But I come not here to argue upon religion. I come to speak about yourself. You are in danger, my dear friend; your station, your honor, your office, your very life is at stake. Consider what you have done. An important commission was intrusted to you, upon the execution of which you set out. It was expected that you would return bringing important information. But instead of this you come back and inform the general that you have gone over to the enemy, that you are one of them in heart, and that you refuse to bear arms against them. If the soldier is free to choose whom he will fight what becomes of discipline? He must obey orders. Am I right?"
"You are, Lucullus."
"The question for you to decide is not whether you will choose philosophy or Christianity, but whether you will be a Christian or a soldier. For as the times are now you see that it is impossible for you to be a soldier and a Christian at the same time. One of the two must be given up. And not only so, but if you decide upon being a Christian you must at once share their fate, for no distinction can be made in favor of you. On the other hand, if you continue a soldier you must fight against the Christians."
"That is no doubt the question."
"You have warm friends who are willing to forget your great offense, Marcellus. I know your enthusiastic nature, and I have pleaded with the general for you. He too respects you for your soldierly qualities. He is willing to forgive you under certain circumstances."
"What are they?"
"The most merciful of all conditions. Let the past four days be forgotten. Banish them from your memory. Resume your commission. Take your soldiers and go at once about your duty in arresting these Christians."
"Lucullus," said Marcellus, rising from his seat with folded arms, "I love you as a friend, I am grateful for your faithful affection. Never can I forget it. But I have that within me to which you are a stranger, which is stronger than all honors of state. It is the love of God. For this I am ready, to give up all, honor, rank, and life itself. My decision is irrevocable. I am a Christian."
For a moment Lucullus sat in astonishment and grief looking at his friend. He was well acquainted with his resolute soul, and saw with pain how completely his persuasions had failed. At length he spoke again. He used every argument that he could think of. He brought forward every motive that might influence him. He told him of the terrible fate that awaited him, and the peculiar vengeance that would be directed against him. But all his words were completely useless. At length he rose in deep sadness.
"Marcellus," he said, "you tempt fate. You are rushing madly upon a terrible destiny. Everything that fortune can bestow is before you, but you turn away from all to cast your lot among wretched outcasts. I have done the duty of a friend in trying to turn you from your folly, but all that I can do is of no avail.
"I have brought you the sentence of the general. You are degraded from office. You are put under arrest as a Christian. To-morrow you will be seized and handed over to punishment. But many hours are yet before you, and I may still have the mournful satisfaction of assisting you to escape. Fly then at once. Hasten, for there is no time to lose. There is only one place in the world where you can be secure from the vengeance of Caesar."
Marcellus heard in silence. Slowly he took off his splendid arms and laid them down, sadly he unfastened his gorgeous armor which he had worn so proudly. He stood in his simple tunic before his friend.
"Lucullus, again I say that I can never forget your faithful friendship. Would we were flying together, that your prayers might ascend with mine to Him whom I serve. But enough, I will go. Farewell."
"Farewell, Marcellus. We may never meet in life again. If you are ever in want or peril you know on whom you can rely."
The two young men embraced, and Marcellus hastily took his departure.
He walked out of the camp and onward until he reached the Forum. All around him were stately marble temples and columns and monuments. There the arch of Titus spanned the Via Sacra; there the imperial palace reared its gigantic form on high, rich in stately architecture, in glorious adornments of precious marbles, and glowing in golden decorations. On one side the lofty walls of the Coliseum arose; beyond, the stupendous dome of the Temple of Peace; and on the other the Capitoline Hill upraised its historic summit, crowned with a cluster of stately temples that stood out in sharp relief against the sky.
To this he directed his steps, and ascended the steep declivity up to the top of the hill. From the summit he looked around upon the scene. The place itself was a spacious square paved with marble, and surrounded with lordly temples. On one side was the Campus Martius bounded afar onward to the Mediterranean. On every other side the city spread its unequaled extent, crowding to the narrow walls, and over-leaping them to throw out its radiating streets far away on every side into the country. Temples and columns and monuments reared their lofty heads. Innumerable statues filled the streets with a population of sculptured forms, fountains dashed into the air, chariots rolled through the streets, the legions of Rome marched to and fro in military array, and on every side surged the restless tide of life in the Imperial city.
Far away the plain extended, dotted with countless villages and houses and palaces, rich in luxuriant verdure, the dwelling-place of peace and plenty. On one side arose the blue outline of the Apennines, crowned with snow; on the other the dark waves of the Mediterranean washed the far distant shore.
Suddenly Marcellus was startled by a shout. He turned. An old man in scant clothing, with emaciated face and frenzied gesticulation, was shouting out a strain of fearful denunciation. His wild glance and fierce manner showed that he was partly insane.
"'Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, And is become the habitation of devils, And the hold of every foul spirit, And a cage of every unclean and hateful bird; For God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, And double unto her double according to her works. How much hath she glorified herself and lived deliciously, Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, Death, and mourning, and famine; And she shall be utterly burned with fire; For strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. The kings of the earth Shall bewail and lament, Seeing the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for fear of her torment, Crying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, That mighty city Babylon, For in one hour is thy judgment come. The merchants of the earth, Standing afar off for fear of her torment, Shall weep and wail. Crying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, That was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet. And decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls. For in one hour so great riches is come to naught! And every shipmaster, and the company in ships, And sailors and traders by sea, Shall cry when they see the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for fear of her torment. 'What city is like unto that great city!' And casting dust on their head they shall cry, Weeping and wailing, Alas, alas, that great city, Wherein were made rich all that had ships at sea, For in one hour is she brought to naught. Rejoice over her thou heaven! And ye holy apostles and prophets, For God hath avenged you on her!"
A vast crowd collected around him in amazement, but scarcely had he ceased when some soldiers appeared and led him away.
"Doubtless it is some poor Christian whose brain has been turned by suffering," thought Marcellus. As the man was led away he still shouted out his terrific denunciations, and a great crowd followed, yelling and deriding. Soon the noise died away in the distance.
"There is no time to lose. I must go," said Marcellus; and he turned away.
LIFE IN THE CATACOMBS.
"O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon. Irrevocably dark, total eclipse, Without all hope of day!"
Upon his return to the Catacombs he was welcomed with tears of joy. Most eagerly they listened to the account of his interview with his superiors; and while they sympathized with his troubles, they rejoiced that he had been found worthy to suffer for Christ.
Amid these new scenes he learned more of the truth every day, and saw what its followers endured. Life in the Catacombs opened around him with all its wondrous variety.
The vast numbers who dwelt below were supplied with provisions by constant communication with the city above. This was done at night. The most resolute and daring of the men volunteered for this dangerous task. Sometimes also women, and even boys, went forth upon this errand, and the lad Pollio was the most acute and successful of all these. Amid the vast population of Rome it was not difficult to pass unnoticed, and consequently the supply was well kept up. Yet sometimes the journey met with a fatal termination, and the bold adventurers never returned.
Of water there was a plentiful supply in the passage ways of the lowermost tier. Wells and fountains here supplied sufficient for all their wants.
At night, too, were made the most mournful expeditions of all. These were in search of the dead which had been torn by the wild beasts or burned at the stake. These loved remains were obtained at the greatest risk, and brought down amid a thousand dangers. Then the friends of the lost would perform the funeral service and hold the burial feast. After this they would deposit their remains in the narrow cell, and close the place up with a marble tablet graven with the name of the occupant.
The ancient Christian, inspired by the glorious doctrine of the resurrection, looked forward with ardent hope to the time when corruption should put on incorruption, and the mortal, immortality. He was unwilling that the body which so sublime a destiny awaited should be reduced to ashes, and thought that even the sacred funeral flames were a dishonor to that temple of God which had been so highly favored of heaven. So the cherished bodies of the dead were brought here out of the sight of man, where no irreverent hand might disturb the solemn stillness of their last repose, to lie until the last trump should give that summons for which the primitive Church waited so eagerly, in daily expectation. In the city above the Christian religion had been increasing for successive generations, and during all this time the dead had been coming here in ever-increasing numbers, so that now the Catacombs formed a vast city of the dead, whose silent population slumbered in endless ranges, rank above rank, waiting till