Page images
PDF
EPUB

which act of incredulity forms the most striking feature in his history? I mean, his backwardness to believe in the resurrection of our Saviour, as well as his culpable absence from the gathering together of the apostles, on the first Lord's Day after the ascension.

MR. CONSTANCE. From the fact of his being an ignos rant, unlettered man, and the almost overwhelming nature of the announcement that He, who had before been laid lifeless in the grave, should have risen to manifest himself to believers. But, remember and admire the readiness with which Thomas afterwards received conviction, exclaiming : “ My Lord and my God!". at once confessing hiş assurance of the divinity of Christ, and his conviction of what before appeared doubtful. But you have not informed us, William, of the labours of St. Thomas. Into what part of the world did he travel, on the dispersion of the apostles?

WILLIAM. Little is known of his ministry after the ascension of our Saviour ; though no doubt is entertained of his having ultimately penetrated into India, and made many converts. There have been several particulars of this fact collected by the Portuguese, who were the first settlers in that country. They state that he built a church at Malipur, a city not far from the influx of the Ganges into the gulf of Bengala, and converted Sagano, the prince of the country. And that he afterwards suffered martyrdom, through the jealousy which his labours had excited in the minds of the Brahmins. They surprised him while at his devotions, in a retired spot, assailed him with stones, and other missiles, and at length put'an end to his sufferings by piercing his body with a lance. The church which he had erected received his remains, in the year 73 ; they were afterwards discovered, it is said, in the year 1517, and removed to Goa. His festival was instituted in 1130. St. Thomas may be known in the graphic illustrations, by

holding a lance, in token of the manner in which his martyrdom was effected.

CHARLES. . Why is St. Thomas sometimes called Didymus?

Mr. CONSTANCE. Because he assumed to himself that name, when about to enter on his travels. It was customary with the Jews to do this when journeying through foreign countries; and the assumed name generally bore great affinity to their real title : thus Thomas in Hebrew, and Didymus in Greek, both signify “a Twin.”. But the festival of Christmas now claims our notice; please to explain the origin of the term and when the feast was first instituted.

WILLIAM. Its title is composed of the two words Christ and Mass, and so called from the Latin Christi Missa, the Mass of Christ. The word Mass was applied, in early ages, to a particular service appropriated to the Sacrament, but subsequently used as generally expressive of the church service; thus the Mass, and administration of the Eucharist, are synonymous. The precise time of the institution of a feast to celebrate our Saviour's Nativity is not known, but it is supposed that in the year 500 its observation became general in the Catholic church, and since which period a variety of customs, both religious and otherwise, have been observed in commemoration of that important event. Christmas has been styled the “Festival of festivals,” and the “ Chief of all festivals ; ” and certainly if we consider the magnitude of the blessings which have resulted from the incarnation of our Lord, we shall not be surprised to hear it so designated, nor regret to find that it is, of all seasons of joy, the most respected and honoured. Presuming that all in this party are acquainted with the Scripture accounts of the nativity, as also with the circumstances of the life and crucifixion of our blessed Redeemer, I need do

nothing more than notice the particular modes in which the former is celebrated.

MR. CONSTANCE. That is all, William; and let it be remembered, that in the course of our former Conversations, frequent allusion has been made to the origin of these several Christian festivals, and that their institution has been attributed to the policy of the early ministers of Christ, who found it necessary to conform, in some mea sure, to the prejudices and even to the heathenish customs of the people whom they were desirous of converting. Nor was it a circumstance at all surprising, that at the dawn of Christianity, such a method should have been adopted, more than that it should be matter of wonder to learn, that the Jewish, and other converts, could not readily emancipate themselves from the trammels of early impressions. We even find that the apostles themselves were so far tenacious of the Jewish feasts, as to retain those of the Passover and the Pentecost, grafting Easter on one, and Whitsuntide on the other; and that we are also indebted for our Christian sabbath to a similar permutation. But the chief cause of the vast increase of festivals and holydays in the Romish church, is to be traced, I imagine, to the pride inherent in the heart of man. When Christianity had extended itself from the cottage to the palace, and its ministers had succeeded in acquiring power and influence, they used every art to invest their religion with the external marks of pomp and dignity :-every occurrence in the history of their religion was diligently sought for, that its memory might be perpetuated by some festival or parade.

WILLIAM. Do you then suppose, Sir, that the festival of Christmas found its rise in any heathen rite?

Mr. CONSTANCE. There can be little doubt of it, William : Christmas is understood to have superseded the Roman Saturnalia, because the many extravagant ex

hibitions performed on that Pagan festival were unsuited to the precepts of the gospel, but in which the converts to Christianity were compelled, in some measure, to participate. It was therefore a wise ordinance that rendered the same period of festivity typical of the important event of our Saviour's nativity.

ARTHUR. What was the Saturnalia?

Mr. CONSTANCE. It was a feast instituted in honour of Saturn, and the ceremonial was opened on the 19th of December, by the lighting of a profusion of waxen flambeaux in the temple of Saturn, as an expiatory offering to the relenting god, who had, in remoter times, been worshipped with human sacrifices. Boughs and laurel were profusely suspended in every quarter, and presents were interchanged among the people. During its continuance also, it was an epoch of freedom and equality ; the master ceased to be master, and the slave to be slave: the former waited at his own board, while the latter revelled in the luxuries with which it was spread : a custom which was no doubt the occasion of many ludicrous scenes.

CHARLES. I have somewhere read an anecdote of the celebrated Dean Swift, wherein was given a striking practical illustration of the folly of this equal state of master and servant. The facetious dean, it appeared, had determined on holding a Saturnalia at his own house, to which he invited his friends; who, with himself were to wait on the servants, and go through the usual routine of the festival: The Saturnalia commenced, and all went on well till the period of dinner, when a dish of steaks being placed before the servant who filled his master's seat, he thought proper to complain to the dean that they were not done to his satisfaction. A reply from the dean followed, as a matter of course; when the servant immediately seized the steak, and flung it at his master's head. This being an insult which the dean could not brook, he hastily dismissed his company, and closed his Saturnalia.

Mr. CONSTANCE. A very good practical illustration, as you say, Charles, of the absurdity of one feature, at least, of this heathen custom : for whatever might have been the original intent of those with whom the practice originated, whether to teach masters their duty to servants, or servants to masters, still it was a custom so open to abuse, that it is matter of surprise that it should have been so long tolerated. But we shall find, in our notice of the manner in which Christmas was kept in this country some few centuries back, that we continued the practice in a degree, by nominating a “ Lord of Misrule,” and a “ Bishop of Fools," with other characters of licensed extravagance. - Mrs. CONSTANCE. True, we shall so; but still the ancient English Christmas was, I imagine, entirely free from those disgusting features of the Saturnalia, which excited and nourished debasing passions. The early Christians, in giving a new character to the heathen festival, were careful to retain only those parts which were perfectly reconcileable with the bland and cheerful spirit of their religion ; and so much of the heathen custom as could be made typical of the benefits received by the coming of our Saviour, was wisely engrafted on the new festival. And thus we account for the custom common among our ancestors, of lighting up candles of enormous size, on the night preceding Christmas Day; being at once symbolical of the “ eternal light which was born into the world ” by Jesus, and expressive of that effulgence which formerly illuminated the temple of Saturn.

WILLIAM. And the bedecking of our houses and churches with evergreens, as well as the interchange of gifts among friends and relatives, have, I believe, similar double allusions ; for laurels and green boughs in profu

« PreviousContinue »