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HE scene of the following historical tale is laid at a time when, Christianity having become the dominant
religion of the empire, had yet but very imperfectly leavened the great masses of society. The remoter provinces which owned the imperial sway were scarcely touched by the Gospel. In the rural districts idolatry still held its ground openly and defiantly. Throughout the great centres of commerce and civilisation a profession of faith in Christianity was common, but even there the ancient deities had numerous votaries. The “wise of this world” still treated the Gospel with contempt and scorn. The hostility of the Jews was more bitter and unscrupulous than ever. And that large class of the community which, in every age, declares that "the former days were better than these,” resented the introduction of Christianity as a troublesome innovation.
If the Church had enjoyed internal purity and peace it might have encountered these numerous foes with serene and triumphant confidence. But "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” was no longer possessed. Multitudes now assumed the profession of Christianity without renouncing the vices and crimes to which they had been addicted under heathenism. At the same time innumerable heresies sprang vp. rending the Church into sects and parties, and absorbing,
in profitless controversies, those energies which would otherwise have been devoted to the conversion of unbelievers. So bitter and relentless were the hostilities thus excited, that professed Christians were found leaguing themselves with heathens and Jews in the persecution of their brethren. There are few more painful pages in the history of the Church than those which record the sufferings endured by the orthodox believers at the hands of the Arian schismatics.
Yet God has never left himself without a witness. In Israel of old, when the prophet supposed that “he only was left," there were “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” So, in that dark and troubled time, though “the love of many waxed cold,” and multitudes were “entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” there were not a few, faithful amongst the faithless, who stood steadfast amidst wide-spread apostasy. Of the struggles and trials of this little band a picture is given in the following pages.
It is scarcely necessary to remark that Monica, Augustine, and his friend Alypius, who form the central group in the tableau, have been drawn with careful attention to the ample biographical details furnished by Augustine himself. The element of fiction has been used throughout as sparingly as possible: it forms little more than a thread on which to string truthful delineations of the manners and customs of the time.
ALYPIUS OF TAGASTE.
SHE sun rose upon a busy scene in the streets of Alexandria
one glorious summer morning in the latter part of the
fourth century. The great main street, which ran from the eastern extremity of the city to the Necropolis at the western end, a distance of thirty stadia, was thronged already with eager citizens, mostly arrayed in holiday costume, and with an expression of expectation on their animated countenances. Still more crowded was the wide intersecting street which crossed the longer one at right angles, nearly from north to south, and afforded, as it was intended to do, a free passage to the cool northern breezes, for the ventilation of the populous city. Down this street one continuous stream of chariots, and horses, and foot passengers flowed noisily towards the port on the Mareotic Lake, but not for any aquatic purposes. No gailydecked galleys waited to bear these pleasure-seekers over the smooth and glittering waters of the lake. The stream of human beings did not flow down the marble steps which led to the water's edge, but took a southward direction across the plain, and formed an almost unbroken line along the road which led to the Circus, situated about a mile below the city.
The Roman Prefect had proclaimed a holiday for his subjects of all nations and all creeds; for truly Alexandria numbered a vast variety of both among her permanent inhabitants, as well as among the visitors who came from distant provinces on such joyful occasions as that of which we now speak.
And what was that occasion ? And why was Alexander's city now like a hive of bees when the countless swarm pours forth into the sunshine as an escort to their queen? Let some individuals of the human swarm reply to the query.
“It will be a brave show to-day, Julius," said a young man to his friend and fellow-student at the school of rhetoric and philosophy at Alexandria, as they turned together out of a bystreet into the crowded thoroughfare. “My heart beats high at the thought of the deeds that we are about to witness, and I am impatient to reach the Circus, and secure a seat on the front benches. I would see it all; and yet I tremble a little when I picture to myself the ghastly wounds, and the flowing blood, and the dying struggles of man and beast. I hardly know, in this case, which will be the nobler animal of the two.”
Julius laughed somewhat derisively, and replied: quadruped, surely; for the bipeds will only be the hired ruffians, and a herd of Lybian captives, whose doom of death will be executed in this approved manner for the amusement of the good people of Alexandria. Perhaps, by way of a crowning pleasure, we may have two or three of these caitiff Christians brought on the stage, and given up to the sport of the tigers or the gladiators. I know that our good and loyal Prefect has several of the hated sect in his strongholds; and as he has intimated that this is to be a superlatively grand entertainment,