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Jews, “ ye do always resist the Holy Ghost : as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted ? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.” At this bold accusation, we are told, the Jews “ were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth ;” and ultimately “ cast him out of the city and stoned him."
Maria. I have also remarked, on perusing the chapters you have mentioned, the beautiful contrast afforded of the mild, child-like meekness of St. Stephen's death, with the bold, fearless intrepidity of his life. “ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit !” he said; and “lay not this şin to their charge !” and then, by a beautiful metaphor we are told, that “ he fell asleep.”.
Mrs. ConstaNCE. From which, my dears, we may learn, that no support in the hour of trouble is equal to a firm belief and persuasion of another life. St. Stephen's faith is described in his “ having looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” In a perfect assurance, therefore, of immortality, he “ fell asleep,” secure of a glorious morrow. Another important lesson may also be gleaned from the last words of St. Stephen, namely, forgiveness of injuries; and that, if we would distinguish ourselves as the disciples of Jesus, we must “ love our enemies, bless them that curse us, and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute us." **
WILLIAM. You will understand that St. Stephen is called the “ Proto Martyr," being the “ first witness” of the New Testament; and also that Paul (or Saul) is stated to have assisted in his death. The time is not decidedly known, though it is supposed to have been in the year 33 or 34 of the Christian era.
MR. CONSTANCE. And it is owing to St. Stephen
having been the first sufferer in the cause of Christ, that his festival is ordered by our church to be kept immediately after the feast of Christmas. .
WILLIAM. And a similar cause, is said to govern the festival of St. John the Evangelist, on the 27th; for notwithstanding the particular month of the year in which St. John died is unknown, the reason assigned for keeping his festival so immediately after Christmas, is on account of the pre-eminent love of our Saviour towards him. He was “ the apostle whom Jesus loved, ” — his personal friend ; and between whom a congeniality of feeling appears to have existed. St. John's amiable disposition is particularly displayed throughout his writings; but the regard he showed his heavenly Master during his sojouru on earth, more strikingly evinces the sincerity of his love : he was the last who deserted, and the first who returned to him. From the time of the arrest by the soldiers, to the hour of his death on the cross, St. John attended our Saviour, and gloried in being the friend of one so degraded.
MARIA. Was he not the nominal brother of our Lord ?
WILLIAM. Yes; he was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the younger brother of St. James the Great. He was born at Galilee, and followed the trade of fishing. Ancient writers affirm that he was by far the youngest of the apostles, being under thirty years old when he was first called to that dignity.
MR. CONSTANCE. Among his fellow-labourers St. Peter appears to have enjoyed the particular intimacy of John ; for we learn that on hearing the news of our Saviour's resurrection, they hastened to the sepulchre: and, after his ascension they were seen together going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. They were also both apprehended together, when preaching to the people, and both cast into prison; from which they were called to plead their cause before the Sanhedrim. After the dispersion of the apostles nothing is related of St. John ; but it is generally believed that he continued to preach in Asia, and that his activity in propagating the doctrines of Christ, brought upon him the vengeance of Domitian, which circumstance we mentioned in our Conversation for May (see p. 129). He was ultimately banished to Patmos, where he wrote his Revelation; and on his return to Ephesus, took upon himself the government of that church, the duties of which he assiduously performed until he expired, in the reign of Trajan, at the advanced age of ninety-four, in the year of our Lord 100.
Mrs. Constance. It is related of St. John, that when, through feebleness and debility from age, he was prevented from assisting in the duties of his office, he was daily led to church, and repeated continually, “ Little children, lore one another:" a circumstance which pleasingly assures us that he retained, in the hour of affliction, that lovingkindness for his fellow-creatures, and amiability of heart, which in his younger days had made him so conspicuous.
MR. CONSTANCE. The next festival, Innocents, is of great antiquity, having been ordained by the Holy Fathers. Whatever doubts may be entertained of the propriety of holding a church service to their memories, as being martyrs in deed and not in will, none can regret the commemoration of so striking a particular in the history of Christianity. Can you relate the particulars, William ?
WILLIAM. I can, Sir; but I should presume that it is almost supererogatory, since every one here must be aware, that it is intended to commemorate King Herod's brutal massacre of the children, in the hope of cutting off the promised Messiah ; an act, than which nothing so truly horrible has come under our notice during the course of our investigations."
ARTHUR. How old were the children?
William. Under two years : the “primroses of martyrdom,” so called.
ARTHUR. And how many were murdered, pray ?
WILLIAM. On that point there is happily some difference of opinion; the Greek church, in its calendar, celebrating fourteen thousand, while several writers have contended for a far less number. The Scriptures do not help us out of the difficulty; still, as Herod was but a tributary sovereign, I think we may fairly conclude, that fourteen thousand is an exaggerated number.
ARTHUR. How did he get so great a number together? What mother would let a king murder her child ?
WILLIAM. I do not understand that they were brought together; though it is said that Herod used much cunning in accomplishing his design; and we must therefore suppose, that the parents were deceived by his specious pretences. “ Go,” he said to the wise men, “and search diligently for the young child ; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” But the kind of worship he was desirous of paying, was afterwards, alas ! too evidently displayed. His own child did not escape the carnage, but was bled to death through his order; which circumstance led the emperor Augustus sarcastically to remark, that“ it were better to be his swine than his son :" alluding to the religion of Herod, which prohibited the eating of swine's flesh, and consequently preventing their slaughter. · Charles. I wonder that no particular use has been made by the Catholic church of this very important circumstance.
MR. CONSTANCE. Use has been made of it, Charles, as in many instances before mentioned, to awe the people into idolatrous worship. Thus, we are told, that at the
church of Oseney, the priests “ were wont to bring out upon this day the foot of a child, prepared after their fashion, and put upon with red and black colours, as to signify the dismal part of that day. They put this up in a chest in the vestry, ready to be produced at the time, and to be solemnly carried about the church, to be adored by the people.”
WILLIAM. Aye, and more than that is related as having been practised in the ancient Catholic institutions. “ It has been a custom, and yet is elsewhere,” says Gregory, “to whip up the children upon Innocents’-day morning, that the memory of this murder might stick the closer ; and, in a moderate proportion, to act over the cruelty again in kind.”
ARTHUR. Oh! I cannot believe that.
MR. CONSTANCE. It is not unlikely to be true, Arthur; for, previously, to the Reformation, and before the proclamation of Henry VIII. forbidding the various religious processions of his time, many ceremonies of an extravagant nature were performed on this day. It was then called “ Childermas Day;" and among others a procession of children, decked with flowers, was common. But as we have already paid some attention to these customary rites, we will request of William to favour us with a notice of St. Silvester. .
WILLIAM. To St. Silvester is attributed the authorship of many of those religious rites and ceremonies practised in the Catholic church, and which have, during the past year, received so much of our attention. Of his life little is known, more than that he was born at Rome, educated by Carinas in sacred literature, elected to the pontificate in the year 314, and throughout his career secured the friendship of his followers, by a succession of virtuous and charitable deeds. He died on the 31st of December,