|« Prev||The North African Church Under the Vandals.||Next »|
THE NORTH AFRICAN CHURCH UNDER THE VANDALS.
THE wild tribes of the Vandals—which, although outwardly professing Christianity, yet, instructed and guided by ignorant and fanatical priests, seem to have had no idea of its essence—overran North Africa, under their cruel and despotic king, Geiserich. A fanatical hatred to the confessors of another form of doctrine (the Vandals being the adherents of Arianism) was united with an insatiable avarice, for which it served as an apology. The 14depravity of the nominal Christians in the rich cities of Northern Africa was certainly very great, as is manifest from the frequent complaints of Augustine; nevertheless, there were scattered communities of genuine Christians. Persecutions would, of course, have a contrary effect on these contrary elements of the churches; they acted, indeed, as a process of sifting for them. To many the question was presented, “Wilt thou deny thy faith, in order to obtain the undisturbed enjoyment of earthly things, or wilt thou sacrifice all, and suffer, in order to remain true to thy faith?” And this demand made Christianity a matter of personal concern to many, to whom, without such a necessity for decision, it might not have become so. Shining examples of a faith, prepared joyfully to sacrifice all, and peacefully to suffer all, beam on us from amidst these persecutions. Men of Roman descent had, with Christian loyalty, served the prince of this wild people, whom God had given to be their king: at length, however, he demanded from them, as a proof of obedience, that they would profess the same faith with himself, on which condition he promised them great earthly advantages. But here, where there convictions and their consciences were concerned, obedience had its limit. For their faith they readily yielded up earthly possessions, honours, and freedom; often even, amidst many tortures, life itself.
To one of these confessors, named Arcadius, who had at first been sentenced to exile, the bishop 15of Constantina in Numidia, addressed a striking letter of consolation, in which, amongst other things, he exhorted him thus: “Look to Him to whom thou hast remained faithful, depend on him, cling fast to him, let him not go; look not behind to thy wife, thy wealth, or thy family. Lift up thy heart; the fallen prince of the angels fights against thee, but with thee are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Fear not, he helps thee, that he may crown thee victor. Christ was smitten on the face, spit upon, crowned with thorns. The Holy One was placed side by side with infamous thieves, was pierced with the spear, and died—the Christ of God—and all this on account of our guilt. How much more shouldest thou stand firm for thy soul, that no man rob thee of thy crown of victory! Fear not, for the whole Church prays for thee that thou mayest stand. With thee suffers the Lord Christ—with thee suffers the Church.”
Martinian and Maxima, after severe tortures because they would not deny their faith, were given as bond-slaves to the prince of the wild tribes which peopled the deserts of Northern Africa. They sought by preaching, and by their life, to convert these heathen tribes; and in a district into which before no tidings of the Gospel had spread, through their agency many were gained over. Thereupon they sent messengers through pathless tracts to a city under the Roman dominion, in order to procure teachers and pastors for their new converts. These having arrived, many were baptized, 16and a church was built. But that these outcasts should effect such great things in their misery and bondage, for the propagation of a doctrine which the Vandals regarded as heretical, excited afresh the rage of the fierce Geiserich. His vengeance could reach them even in their exile, as the Moors were, in a measure, dependent on the Vandal king. He commanded that they should be bound in a forest to wild horses, and so dragged to death. Whilst the Moors mourned, the two martyrs with calm countenances bid each other farewell in these words: “Pray for me; God has granted our desire; thus is the kingdom of heaven reached!” And praying and singing they went to meet their death.
Thus did God glorify himself amongst this heathen people, by the power of faith of these sufferers; and even those who were not by their example themselves led to embrace their faith, may yet have been brought by it to recognise him who imparted such strength to those who confessed him, as a mighty God.
When in a later age the hereditary prince of the Moors in the neighbourhood of Tripoli, was at war with the Vandal king Trasamund, he sent some of his people disguised into the districts through which the Vandal army marched; and whilst the Vandals in their passage had desecrated in every way the churches which did not belong to their fellow-believers, these Moors were ordered to pay all honour to them, as well as to the clergy, whom the Vandals 17had ill-treated. “For,” said the Moorish prince, “I do not indeed know who the God of the Christians is; but if he is as mighty as they say, he will certainly take vengeance on those who dishonour Him, and aid those who do Him honour.”
When Geiserich, in 439, plundered Carthage, the great metropolis of northern Africa, many were precipitated from the summit of earthly prosperity into wretchedness. Whole families, who, although they had lost their all, might be thankful to have preserved even their life and liberty, wandered about hopelessly in different countries. Others, men and women of the first families, were carried away captive, and sold .as slaves in various districts. Nevertheless their earthly need became to many the means of spiritual health, and an occasion for the exercise of Christian virtues. Many an one, who, in his prosperity had never troubled himself about religious matters, was, by the pressure of adverse circumstances, directed to that which he lacked. Thus was a senator, who wandered about with his whole family, and who had previously remained an alien to Christianity, now first through his sufferings brought to the faith. The bishop Theodoret wrote, in recommending them to the support of Christian love: “I have been astonished at the disposition of this man, for he; praises the Ruler of his destiny, as if he were still in the midst of earthly prosperity; and he does not think of the heavy storm which haft come upon him, because his misfortunes have brought him the treasure of 18 piety; whilst, during his enjoyment of earthly wealth, he would not listen to the preaching of the Gospel. Now, however, robbed of these riches, he has abandoned heathenism, and has become possessed of the riches of faith, and therefore he sets his misfortunes at defiance.”
A maiden of a distinguished family was sold as a slave; she was bought by Syrian merchants, and thus came into the service of a family of the city of Kyros, on the Euphrates, where Theodoret was bishop. With her was sold one of her former female slaves, and they now shared the same lot. But although the outward bond between herself and her mistress was dissolved, the slave would not dissolve the inward bond of love. After the service of their now common masters, she would wait on her former mistress. This became by degrees known throughout the city, and made a great impression. Some pious soldiers made a collection in order to ransom the unfortunate maiden. The bishop Theodoret, who was absent at the time, on his return charged the deacons of the Church to provide for the maintenance of the ransomed captive. Afterwards, when it became known that her father was still living, and was filling an official situation in the west, Theodoret endeavoured to effect her restoration to him.
Amongst such maidens of rank who had been sold into captivity, was one of the name of Julia. She had for her master a heathen merchant of Palestine, called Eusebius, She fulfilled her duties 19towards him with Christian fidelity, so as to win his esteem both for her person and her religion. Her hour of rest, when her work was finished, she consecrated to devotion—to the reading of the Scriptures, and to prayer. Eusebius took her with him on a commercial journey into France. On the way he landed at Capocorso, a country of Corsica. It so happened that a heathen festival was then being celebrated there. Eusebius took part in it, and offered sacrifices. But the pious Julia remained in the ship, mourning that the heathen should give themselves up without restraint to their passions. The chief of the heathen people, who heard how she alone withdrew herself from the heathen festivities, wished to buy her from her master, in order to compel her to participate in the idolatrous worship. But her master would not part with her at any price. When, however, he had sunk into a deep sleep, in consequence of the intoxication to which he had abandoned himself at the idol feast, the heathens forcibly took Julia out of the ship. The chief promised her freedom if she would sacrifice. She answered: “The service of Christ, whom I daily serve with a pure heart, is my freedom.” She was ill-treated, spit upon, smitten on the face; but said: “My Lord Jesus suffered Himself to be smitten on the face and spit upon for me, and why should not I suffer myself to be smitten and spit upon for His sake?” When they scourged her, she said: “I confess Him who was scourged for me.” And so she bore all things patiently, in faith, 20and in love to her Redeemer, even to the martyr’s death.
Twenty years later, Rome, the ancient metropolis of the world, experienced a similar fate with the metropolis of northern Africa. Only by the influence which the representations of Leo, bishop of Rome, exercised on the minds of the rude Vandals, could Rome be saved from total destruction and ruin. Notwithstanding this, so transient was the impression made by this circumstance on the light-minded Romans, that when a thanksgiving feast was ordered on account of it, Leo found the church empty, whilst the theatre and circus were full. This drew from him an admonitory sermon, in which he said: “Let that saying of our Lord’s touch your hearts, where He says, that of the ten lepers whom He had cleansed through the power of His compassion, only one returned to give thanks; while the thankless nine, on the contrary, whose souls had retained their ungodly dispositions, although their bodies were healed, neglected this pious duty. Lest this rebuke to the thankless should apply to you likewise, return you to the Lord, acknowledge the miracle which God has wrought for us; and ascribe not ye, like the godless, our deliverance to the operations of the stars, but render thanks to the inexpressible compassion of the Almighty God, who has willed to soften the hearts of the furious barbarians.”
One consequence of the capture of Rome by the king of the Vandal army was, that a crowd of captives 21were carried off to Africa. There Deogratias, bishop of Carthage, caused all the golden and silver vessels to be melted down, and employed the profits in purchasing the freedom of the captives, and reuniting the severed members of families. As no other place could be found large enough to contain the great multitude, he gave up two churches for their reception, and provided them with straw and beds. He provided also daily sustenance for each according to his rank. Many having fallen sick, in consequence of the unaccustomed voyage, and hard usage during their captivity, he went amongst them at stated times with a physician. Food was carried after him, which he divided among the sick, according to the prescriptions of the physician. At night he visited them at their bed-sides, in order to satisfy himself about the state of their health. The infirmities of age could not hinder this noble man in his pious activity. The greater the blessing which must have arisen from such a bishop to an oppressed Church, so much the greater must have been the sorrow of his flock when, after three years’ enjoyment of his fatherly guidance, he at length died.
Four-and-twenty years the Church of Carthage remained orphaned; the Vandals refusing to install a new bishop. It was not until the reign of king Hunnerich, who did not at first display so persecuting a spirit, that the eastern emperor, Zeno, obtained permission for the Church to elect a new bishop. But the Vandal king made one condition, 22very perplexing and hard for his Roman subjects, although by no means unreasonable, considering his relations to the Eastern empire: “The Arian congregations must likewise have free toleration for their religion in the East. Also, the Arian bishops in the East must be permitted to preach in whatever language they please;”11 Quibus voluerint lingus populo tractare. which plainly indicates that already, in the East, certain languages only began to be regarded as sacred, and that the German language, used in Ulfilas’ translation of the Bible, was deemed too rude to be employed in the Church. Not so had Chrysostom thought, who, by permitting a Gothic presbyter to preach in the Gothic tongue at Constantinople, designed to show that Christianity is destined and fitted to be the civilizing element for all barbarous nations. If these conditions were not acceded to, all the orthodox bishops and clergy of northern Africa (i. e., all who were not Arian) were to be banished amongst the Moors.
As the clergy of Carthage could easily see that a treaty with such conditions might serve as an excuse for many persecutions of the oppressed party in Africa, they declared that “on such conditions they would accept no bishops, but would trust to Christ, who hitherto had guided the Church, to guide it still.” But the Church was very desirous of having a bishop, and urged that one should be elected. The choice fell upon Eugenius, a man well fitted by his zeal and faith for 23this difficult and dangerous emergency. His consecration was a great festival, especially for the young, who had never before seen a bishop in the Church. We find in him a man qualified to guide the Church in those difficult times, and enabled, by the power of faith and love, to effect great things with small means. Poor as his plundered. Church had been left by the Vandals, he nevertheless contrived to distribute liberal alms among the multitude of the needy. What was daily imparted to him by pious men, he on the same day distributed; and God did not suffer him for one day to lack means for the exercise of his love. Such love was sure to stir up many hearts to give. But the greater the reverence inspired by his life, even among those who differed from his creed,—the more he was thereby enabled to propagate his faith amongst the Vandals,— the more were the jealousy of the Arian clergy, and the hatred of the tyrannical prince, excited against him. It was demanded of him that he should send away all who visited his church in the costume of the Vandals. By this means, not only would the bishop be deprived of all influence over those Vandals whose conversion to the orthodox doctrine was dreaded, but at the same time all those who, although of Roman descent, had accepted an office in the state, and were therefore compelled to adopt the Vandal costume, would be obliged to abandon the old. church. Eugenius replied with Christian manliness: “The house of God is open to all, and no 24man can exclude from it any who wish to enter.”
The oppressors determined, however, to carry out their purpose; they placed guards at the church doors, who were ordered to seize and ill-treat every man and woman in the Vandal costume who sought to enter.
After many harsh and cruel measures had been adopted, four thousand nine hundred and seventy-six of the clergy and laity, who had distinguished themselves by their zeal, were sentenced to banishment into an African desert. Amongst these were many sick; and old men whom age had robbed of sight. When they arrived at Lina, Veneria, and Cares, frontier towns of Numidia, where the Moors were to fetch them, two Vandal officers of rank, in the service of the state, came to them, and endeavoured to persuade them to comply with the will of the king, who would reward them with great honours: but their answer was, “We are Christians; we are orthodox Christians.” Thereupon they were thrown into a narrow prison, where they stood so close together that they could not move, and from which they were not allowed a moment’s absence; so that the confinement in this pestilential cell became the most terrible torture. Nevertheless, their faith gave them steadfastness and joy in the midst of such great sufferings. And when, on Sunday, in the miserable condition into which this painful imprisonment had thrown them, without being allowed any refreshment, 25 they were driven forth by their pitiless Moorish escort, in spite of all kind of threats, they sang the 149th Psalm. Throughout the way, multitudes of their brethren in the faith came to meet them with burning tapers, and testified their grief, and sympathy, and love. “Whom,” they said, “do you leave behind with us, unfortunate ones, now that you go to win the martyr’s crown? Who will baptize these our children (whom they carried in their arms)? Who will administer to us the Holy Supper? Who will accompany us, with prayer and singing, to our last place of rest? O that we might go with you, that the sons might not be severed from the fathers!” But the rough Moors were touched by none of these things, and scarcely allowed the captives time to receive the condolence of those who came to meet them. They drove on the weary old men, and the weak, with their spears and with sharp stones. Those who were unable to walk were, without mercy, dragged along the roughest and most rocky paths, with their feet bound together. Many necessarily sank beneath this inhuman treatment. The rest were reserved for still greater wretchedness in the burning sandwastes, full of poisonous insects, where they had no nourishment but barley.
Meanwhile, the arrival of an ambassador from the Eastern empire procured, at least apparently, milder measures. The king commanded a disputation to be held between the bishops of both parties, which was to commence at Carthage, on 26the first of February, 484. A favourable issue to a theological disputation can only be expected when the contending parties first agree on what is common in their faith; and when, from this common basis, they have acknowledged one another as Christian brethren, converse with one another in the spirit of love, humility, and self-denial on the points about which they differ, ready to be guided in all things by the Spirit of the Lord; then it may be expected that the Lord will actually manifest himself to those who are thus really gathered together in his name. Since, however, the greater number of disputations and negotiations of this kind were not carried on in this manner and spirit, but—if not in the spirit of profane passion—at least in the spirit of self-willed eagerness, their ordinary effect was merely to produce greater hostilities, and bitterer divisions. In this case, with such passions roused on both sides, and with the natural mistrust of the oppressed towards the dominant party, no good result could possibly be expected from a religious conference. And by the dominant party the result was not unforeseen. It was evident from the whole tone of the royal edict, that the conference was intended to give a colour of justice to the total suppression of the other party.
Eugenius, bishop of Carthage, to whom the mandate of the king was first addressed, immediately perceived the danger which threatened his fellow-believers. If they accepted the challenge, it was easy to foresee that the dominant party 27 would not allow them a quiet discussion of their doctrine, but would seek to bear it down by numbers and authority: if they declined it, the accusation would instantly be made that they themselves had pronounced their own condemnation, since they dared not trust themselves to defend their cause. Eugenius chose this way of escape: he declared to the king that they were by no means afraid to give a reason of their faith; but that since this affair concerned not Africa alone, but the whole of Christendom, they must desire that their brethren from beyond the sea, especially from the Roman Church, might be present at this inquiry,—a request which it could not be difficult for the king, whose power was universally recognised, to comply with. The king returned to the bishop this scornful reply: “Make me ruler of the whole world, and I will gladly fulfil your request.” Eugenius answered: “No man can demand what is impossible. I have only said this,—if the king desires to know our faith, which is the only true one, he can write to his friends. I will also write to my brethren in office to come hither and declare to you the faith which they hold in common with us.” The Vandal officer replied to this, “Dost thou make thyself equal with our king?”
Since the Divine power which flows from Christ has been introduced into the lives of men, it is not always easy in the impressions produced by the reflection of his image—that is, by the power of faith, of love, of prayer—to distinguish between the 28natural and the supernatural. And the Spirit of the Lord has his peculiar modes of operation in different times, as determined by the necessities of suffering humanity. Thus it happened that a blind man at Carthage, called Felix, had repeatedly had a dream before the feast of the Epiphany, directing him to go to the bishop at the time when he was engaged in preparing the catechumens for baptism, and telling him that when he touched his eyes they should be cured. When the sick man came to the bishop, he said, as became a Christian, “Depart from me, my brother, I am not worthy to do this; I am the chief sinner of you all, and therefore is it that I survive these mournful times.” Thereupon Eugenius went, accompanied by his clergy, to the place of baptism. As he rose from prayer there, he said to Felix, who had followed him, “I have already told thee, my brother, that I am a sinful man; but may the Lord, who has honoured thee with this especial grace, do to thee according to thy faith, and open thine eyes!” His prayer was heard. His adversaries accused him of having wrought this cure by magic.
The issue of the religious conference at Carthage was, as might have been expected, that the oppressed party was accused of having evaded a quiet investigation, and that king Hunnerich, who regarded them as convicted heretics, issued an edict in which he withdrew from them all toleration of their religion, and sentenced them to similar punishments with those to which the Arians in the 29 Roman empire were liable. The bishops were banished, partly to the island of Corsica, recently subjected to the Vandals, and partly to the African deserts. Eugenius was among the latter number.
These cruel persecutions gave occasion for many beautiful examples of Christian fidelity and constancy. Thus, amongst others, seven monks from the city of Capso, within the province of Byzarene, were banished to Carthage. Their persecutors sought at first to seduce them to apostasy from their faith by promises. When they declared that for no price would they be untrue to their faith, they were loaded with heavy chains, and thrown into a dark cell. But the people bribed the jailors; and day and night the prison was full of visitors, whom the captives, by their conversations, inspired with new courage to endure the worst. As they were led through the streets to the scaffold, they went to meet their death, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” And to the people they cried, “Fear no threats, and no terror of present suffering, but let us rather die for Christ’s sake, as he has died for us.” The Arians tried particularly to shake the faith of a boy who was of the number; but he answered, “No man shall separate me from my father (the abbot Liberatus) and my brothers, who have brought me up in the convent; and with them will I suffer, as I trust also with them to enter into the glory that shall follow.”
To an eminent man of Carthage, who had formerly 30been much esteemed by him, the king made the most brilliant promises in order to tempt him to apostasy; but he replied, “I am assured that Christ is my Lord and my God. If even this present life were all, and we had not, as we most certainly have, an eternal life to hope for; yet would. I not, in order to enjoy a brief honour, be unthankful to my Creator, who has intrusted me with his faith.”
A lady, who, after much ill-treatment, had been banished into a remote desert, replied, when it was proposed to grant her a milder exile, “Abandoned of all earthly consolation, I still find one abundant spring of consolation and joy.”
Bishop Eugenius was, indeed, after some years, recalled from exile by the Vandal king Guntemund; but, in the year 496, he was once more suddenly severed from his people by king Thrasimund. As he knew not what was to become of him, he took leave of his Church in a touching letter. “In order,” he wrote, “not to leave the Church of God in an uncertain state during my absence, or like a faithless shepherd silently to desert the sheep of Christ, I have deemed it necessary, as a compensation for my personal presence, to address this letter to you, by which I pray, exhort, conjure you with tears, to hold fast the true faith. My brothers, sons, and daughters, in the Lord, be not troubled at my absence; for if ye remain faithful to the true doctrine, I will not forget you in the far country, nor suffer even death itself to separate me from 31you. Know then, that which may outwardly separate me from you, will weave for me the crown of victory. If I go into banishment, I have the example of St. John the Evangelist. If I am led to death, Christ is my life, and death my gain. If I return, God grants your desire. If I return not, I shall see you hereafter. Farewell; pray without ceasing. Remember what is written in Matthew x, 28, Fear not them which kill the body.” Eugenius was banished to Albigeois; in France, where, in quiet and seclusion, edifying the people of that district by his life, he passed his last years.
Amongst the men who distinguished themselves by their beneficial activity during these hard times for the North African Church, was Fulgentius. He filled the office of receiver of the taxes (procurator) in the African Vandal dominions, and wail on the high road to preferment. He sought, indeed, to soften the strictness which his office demanded of him by the spirit of love, but notwithstanding this, his gentle and affectionate heart could find no rest in the administration of such an office. This contradiction between his nature and his circumstances, tended the more to develop in him a disgust with the world, and a longing for a quiet spiritual life. “May I not,” he thought, “like Matthew, become from a tax-gatherer a disciple of the Lord, and a preacher of the Gospel?” He became a monk; and afterwards, at a time when king Thrasimund would tolerate no bishop belonging to an orthodox Church, he was, against his will, chosen 32bishop of the orphaned Church of Ruspe, in Byzarene. He defended his faith at once boldly and respectfully against his Arian sovereign. He speaks thus to the king in an apologetic treatise which the monarch himself had called for: “If I freely defend my faith, as far as God enables me, no reproach of obstinacy should be made against me, since I am neither forgetful of my own insignificance nor of the king’s dignity; and I know well that I am to fear God and honour the king, according to Romans xiii, 7; 1 Peter ii, 17. He certainly pays you true honour, who answers your questions as the true faith requires.” After praising the king, in that he, the monarch of a yet uncivilized people, showed so much zeal for the knowledge of Scriptural truth, he says, “You know well, that he who seeks to know the truth, strives for far higher good than he who seeks to extend the limits of a temporal kingdom.” He was banished twice to Sardinia. There he was the spiritual guide of many other exiles, who united themselves to him; from hence he imparted counsel, comfort, and confirmation in the faith to his forsaken Christian friends in Africa, and to those from other countries who sought his advice in spiritual things and in perplexities of the heart.
We will extract some passages from these letters. He thus exhorts a Roman senator: “Direct thy heart to the Holy Scriptures, and learn thence what thou wert, what thou art, and what thou shouldst be. If thou comest with a softened and 33lowly heart to the Holy Scriptures, thou wilt assuredly find in them that grace which raises the fallen, guides them in the right way, and finally brings them to the bliss of the heavenly kingdom.” To a widow, whom he seeks to console for the loss of her husband, he writes thus: “Pray frequently in words, but always with holy thoughts and a holy life. Thus mayest thou fulfil what the Apostle enjoins, (1 Thess. v, 17,) that we should ‘Pray without ceasing;’ for before God every good work is a prayer in which the all-sufficient God delights.” To the same, he writes: “Let your love be ever-living to the Bridegroom who liveth forever, as it was testified after His resurrection by the word of the angel, ‘Why seek ye the living amongst the dead?’ The living One is He, who is the Word of the Father, and he is himself the life of them that believe.” In another letter he says, “Christ came on earth to enkindle the fire of divine love, (Luke iii, 40,) to destroy every germ of pride, and to impart to the humbled heart the glow of holy contrition. Thus it happens that for our sins we justly blame ourselves, and for our good works with true lowliness of heart praise God; giving thanks to him for what his love bestows, and confessing ourselves guilty when our weakness has transgressed against him. Contrition of heart awakens the desire to pray. The lowly mind obtains the Divine assistance. The contrite heart lays bare its wounds. But prayer seeks cure and health. And who is capable of these things? For who can pray aright, 34 unless the Physician himself inspires him with the commencement of spiritual desire? Or who can persevere in prayer, unless God confirms what he began in us, and gives the increase to what he has sown?” Against ascetic pride he writes thus: “In vain dost thou contemn earthly goods, if thou bearest a sinful haughtiness in thy heart. For not alone do they sin who glorify themselves on account of their riches, but more deeply do those sin who glorify themselves on account of their contempt for riches.” In his third letter he writes thus: “The souls of all those who are justified and living by faith, are here sorely weighed down. Indeed, only those know true contrition on whom the Divine light has been outpoured, which enlightens every man who cometh into the world.” He warns at once against despair, false confidence, and security. “Who, by the sin of despair, would hinder the hand of the Divine Physician from effecting the cure of men? The Physician himself says, ‘The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.’ If our Physician is truly skilful, he can heal all manner of sicknesses. If our God is merciful, be can forgive all manner of sins. That is no perfect goodness, by which all evil cannot be overcome. That is no perfect art of healing to which there is a disease incurable. Let none, therefore, in his sickness, distrust the Physician. Let no man perish in the disease of sin, by limiting the mercy of God. The Apostle says (Rom. v, 6) “that Christ died for the ungodly,” and (1 Tim. i, 15) “that Christ 35Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ A sound conversion is two-fold,—contrition in it being not destitute of hope, nor hope of contrition, when with our whole hearts we renounce sin, and with our whole hearts rely on God for forgiveness.”
From his second banishment, Fulgentius was soon recalled by the mild rule of king Hilderich. The return of the persecuted confessors was a festival for the Carthaginian Church. Multitudes poured forth to the harbour to meet them. But the greatest love and reverence were shown to Fulgentius. As he returned from Carthage to his church, great crowds came to welcome him from all directions, with torches and wreaths, pealing forth the praises of God. Nevertheless he who had been steadfast in his faith in affliction, in this change of fortune, when assailed by the subtle and more perilous temptations of pride, continued steadfast in his humility. The honour which was paid him only made him feel the more strongly his inward unworthiness. He had no desire to work miracles, because the performance of marvellous things, he said, “did not give men righteousness, but glory amongst men. But he who is famous amongst men will not, if unjust, escape eternal punishment; whilst, on the other hand, he who, justified by the mercy of God, lives justly in the sight of God, shall, however little known to man, have part in the happiness of the saints.” When he was requested to pray for the sick or suffering, he prayed with this addition:—”Lord, thou knowest what will minister 36to the health of our souls; since therefore we pray to Thee for that which the present need requires, may Thy compassion grant us what will not hinder our spiritual welfare! Let our humble prayer, if it is fit, be so granted, that before all things Thy will be done.” When those who had requested his intercession, rendered him thanks for its success, he answered: “It was not done because of my merit, but on account of your faith. The Lord has granted it not to me, but to you.” His biographer and disciple says of him in his own spirit: “This admirable man would not have the fame of a worker of miracles, although he daily performed greater marvels, in that by his holy exhortations he led many unbelievers to the faith, many heretics to the knowledge of the truth, many who lived in the most corrupt way to a life guided by the laws of temperance; so that the drunkard learned sobriety, the adulterer chastity, the avaricious and the spoiler to distribute all to the poor, humility became sweet to the proud, peace to the contentious, obedience to the rebellious. Such miracles Fulgentius did indeed constantly seek to perform.”
|« Prev||The North African Church Under the Vandals.||Next »|