Page images
PDF
EPUB

of the choir, and then on the other, alternately responding; from whence that particular mode received the name of the Ambrosian chant, while the plain song, introduced by Gregory the Great, and now generally practised, is called the Gregorian or Roman chant.

Maria. I thought that St. Ambrose was the first to introduce any singing, as part of the worship of God.

Mr. Constance. No: music and singing were first practised in the church of Antioch, in the year 347, by order of Flavian; afterwards improved and added to by Ambrose in 390, and ultimately brought to great perfection in 620, by Pope Gregory. But it is impossible, I think, to state, the precise time at which singing was admitted as a part of divine worship. It appears to have been ordained of God ', for we find in the Old Testament frequent mention made of this form being used in gratitude for blessings received. That the Deity is well pleased with such an expression of our feelings, we are led to believe from the Scriptures, wherein it is stated, that such spiritual songs as proceed from a pious heart, are accepted of in heaven. Instrumental music, which is nothing more than an imitation of the sounds of the voice, followed as a matter of course; indeed, the honour of inventing the harp and the organ is attributed to Tubal, seventh only in descent from Adam.

Mrs. Constance. Was not St. Ambrose admired for his firmness of character?

William. He was, ma'am: one circumstance in his life displays this bold decision in an eminent degree. An insurrection breaking out at Thessalonica after the defeat of the tyrant Maximus, several magistrates were stoned to death. Theodosius, the conqueror, exasperated at this base insult to the lawful authorities, commanded that a certain number of citizens, of either sex, should meet the same death. Among the number of innocent persons who fell victims to his unjust rage, were the two sons of a merchant, who had but just arrived in the city, and were evea ignorant of the tumult. When they were seized by the soldiery, their father, frantic with grief, offered the whole of his immense property to save them from their fate; but the utmost mercy he could obtain was the choice to liberate one. In such an afflicting situation, the father felt it impossible to make so dreadful a selection. Failing to comply immediately, both were massacred in his sight. Ambrose, hearing of these cruel deeds, reproached the emperor for his enormity; and upon his afterwards venturing to enter the great church of Milan, refused him admittance, saying, "How can you stretch out those hands which have been defiled by so much innocent blood? How can you receive the holy body of the Lord in such polluted hands, or touch with your lips his precious blood, when you have commanded, in your passion, the blood of so many persons to be unjustly shed? Depart, therefore, and do not aggravate your former, guilt by new provocations."

Angelina. I have somewhere seen an elegant painting, by one of the ancient masters, from that subject: St. Ambrose, surrounded by the dignitaries of his church, is standing at the porch, bidding his sovereign to retire.

William. And he complied, sensibly awakened to a just sense of his enormity. By severe repentance, however, he appeased the wrath of the good bishop, who, at length, admitted him to join in devotion to the Deity.

Mr. Constance. Thus you see, my dears, the ill effects of acting rashly, and how one crime begets another. The slaughter of the magistrates by the mob roused the indignation of the emperor, who, although a man of unblemished character in other respects, allowed his rage to overcome his reason. Theodosius, however, in thesincerity of his repentance, and to prevent the recurrence of such another hasty decision, decreed that no execution should take place until four weeks after sentence was pronounced.

Mrs. Constance. The credit of which humane enactment is of course due to St. Ambrose; for had he not, by his powerful eloquence, made the emperor sensible of his crime, the same rash act might have been repeated. No wonder that his name is held up for imitation. Such firmness of soul; such an exemplary discharge of the sacred duty committed to him; added to the abandonment of all his earthly possessions, doubtless, rendered St. Ambrose the theme of enthusiastic gratitude when living, as well as a bright example to latest posterity.

William. Easter, with all its fasts and festivals, having met with our attention last meeting night, it is only necessary now to observe, that Low Sunday received its name from a custom which prevailed among the primitive Christians, of repeating the service appropriated to the joyful resurrection of Christ, in a low, or abridged form. It therefore receives its name to distinguish it from the high festival of Easter Sunday, which sabbath it immediately follows. The next matter of record is also of little note; a slight mention of it will therefore suffice. It is on the 19th, and called St. Alphege, in honour of a pious and upright man of that name, a native of Gloucestershire, and the descendant of a noble family. His parents, who were Christians, qualified him for the important station he was likely to fill in the world, by instilling principles of piety into his youthful mind, adding thereto an excellent theological education. He first was Abbot of Bath; then Bishop of Winchester, in the year 984; and twelve years after, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the year 1012, the Danes being disappointed of some tribute money which they claimed as due to them, entered Canterbury, and burnt both the city and church; putting the greater part of the inhabitants to the sword. The good bishop, whom no inducement could prompt to retire, fell into the hands of the besiegers, and was also murdered.

Mr. Constance. I am surprised, William, to hear you assert that the character of Alphege is of little note: you have not, in your slight sketch of him, done the worthy archbishop justice, nor made your friends acquainted with his real merits. You should have stated, that, in his youth, he was remarkable for piety, as well as for humility, prudence, and a strict attention to his studies: to which latter quality may, I think, be attributed much of his future fame. So ardent was he in the pursuit of knowledge, that in order to be more at leisure to contemplate the beauties of sacred history, he determined to renounce his fortune, quit his home, and become a recluse. With this determination, he retired to a monastery of Benedictines, at Deerhurst, and soon after took the habit Here he is said to have lived with the utmost temperance, spending great part of his time in prayer ; but not thinking the austerities he underwent were sufficiently severe, he removed to a lonely cell near Bath, and lived in a manner still more rigid. And from this time his public life may be dated; for, some devout persons having discovered his retreat, and admiring his manners and mode of life, solicited him to take them under his pastoral care. He did so; and in the end a monastery was raised on the spot, a community of pupils formed, and a prior elected to preside over them. Afterwards, Alphege prescribed rules for their regulation, and again retired to his cell.

William. Well, Sir, I am surprised to hear this account of the early days of the saint, and acknowledge that I was ignorant of the most striking characteristics of his life; but I believe that I was otherwise correct in stating that he became Bishop of Winchester.

Miu Constance. You were; but neglected to state the particulars: the see of Winchester being vacant by the death of Ethelwald, a dispute arose between the clergy, who had been driven out of the cathedral for their scandalous lives, and the monks who had been introduced in their stead, about the election of a bishop, both parties appearing determined to support their man. The dispute, however, became so high at last, as to compel Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Primate of all England, to interpose,who accordingly consecrated Alphege to the vacant bishopric, to the general satisfaction of all concerned in the election.

Maria. Which, I suppose, ultimately led to his rise to the see of Canterbury.

Mr. Constance. It did so: for he was found equal to the dignity of his vocation. Piety flourished in his diocese; unity was established among his clergy and people; and the conduct of the church of Winchester made the bishop the admiration of the whole kingdom. His patron, Dunstan, also entertained an extraordinary veneration for Alphege, and when at the point of death, made it his ardent request to God that he might succeed him in the see of Canterbury; which accordingly happened, in the year 1006, to the regret of the people of Winchester, who loved him too well to part with him, even though the removal was to the increased honour of their pastor. This, William, is the character of the man, whose day you designated as of little note, and of whom a short mention would suffice.

William. I really feel ashamed; but am happy, Sir, that you have been able to supply so interesting a biography: perhaps you can relate a more circumstantial account of his martyrdom.

Mr. Constance. Your statement was correct as to the main fact, but some particulars are worth stating, if

« PreviousContinue »