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OTHO, BISHOP OF BAMBERG.
As a new Christian revival distinguished the close of the eleventh century, missionaries were then sent forth from the reinvigorated Church. We will sketch a portrait of one of these, to whom Pomerania owes its Christianity. It was Otho, bishop of Bamberg, who had already in his pastoral office distinguished himself by his fidelity and his self-sacrificing love. He gladly imposed abstinences on self, in order to be able to give more to the poor. All that was presented to him by princes and nobles in the neighbourhood, or from a distance, he delighted in applying to this purpose. When once, at a season of feasting, when fish were very dear, a very costly fish was brought to his table, he said to his steward: “God forbid that the miserable Otho alone should eat so much money. Take this costly fish to my Christ, who should be dearer to me than myself. Bear it hence, wherever thou canst find one laid on a bed of sickness. Bread will do for me, a healthy man.” Once, a valuable fur robe was presented to him, with the request that he would wear it for the donor’s sake. He sent this message back to the 295donor: “That since this gift was the token of especial love, he would, for his sake who had shown him such love, take care that the gift should be laid up, securely and beyond the reach of harm; where neither moth nor rust could corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.” In which words he played on what our Lord had said about the treasure in heaven. The bishop had an accurate list of all the sick in the town by name, the lame, those who suffered from leprosy or cancer, with a precise description of the nature and duration of each disease. He made use of these notes in order to be able, through his steward, to help all in due time according to their need. He said, therefore, on this occasion, to one of his servants: “Take this beautiful fur, which I value much, and carry it to that lame man who is confined to his bed, whose body is covered with sores.” (The sick man whom he named was an object of derision to the whole neighbourhood.)
Dining a great scarcity, many of the poor people were fed by his love, which shrank from no sacrifice. A man whose heart was so enkindled by the fire of love, was perfectly fitted to bear witness of the Saviour to those who had not heard of him.
There happened to come to him a certain bishop Bernhard, a man of Spanish origin. This man, who on account of some controversy could not enter on the bishopric to which he had been appointed, felt himself constrained to travel with his chaplain to 296the Slavonic tribes in Pomerania. There was in him a genuine missionary zeal, not however tempered by the requisite discretion. Accustomed to a severe ascetic life, he appeared barefoot, in a hermit’s garb. He deemed it necessary, in order to carry on the missionary work in the spirit of Christ, according to the example of the apostles, literally to observe the directions given them by the Lord. (Matt. x, 9, 10.) We see in this that misuse of the Scriptures, by which men of the best intentions are often injured, when the wisdom of the serpent is not united with the simplicity of the dove. It is requisite, in passages such as these, to distinguish between what the Lord prescribes as an universal law for all ages, and What He only says in reference to particular circumstances determined by the peculiar occasion on which it was spoken. With regard to rules of this latter kind, under different circumstances the Lord would have spoken quite differently, and by a literal observance of such rules, under quite different circumstances, we should be acting entirely contrary to the will of Christ. We should not be doing that which Christ himself would, in such cases, have done or have commanded his disciples to to. We ought therefore to extract the general law from such particular directions, in order duly to observe them according to the mind of Christ. Thus, in this instance, the Spanish bishop entirely misunderstood the meaning of Christ. The apostles, by acting as Christ directed them, were to manifest their confidence297 in God, whose Word they had gone forth to preach. Wherever they came, they found souls ready to receive them, who, in return for the bread of spiritual life, supplied them with bodily nourishment, (Luke xxii, 35;) and they were to be content with what each according to his means could afford them. Their not providing themselves with necessaries for their journey made it easier for them to travel. But Bernhard was about to commence his missionary labours under totally different auspices. The inhabitants of Pomerania at that time were a happy and prosperous people, richly blessed with natural gifts; amongst whom there were neither poor nor beggars. The only priests they knew appeared in wealth and splendor. Poverty was held amongst them to be something quite unworthy of the priesthood. From the way in which Bernhard came to them, he could seem to them nothing but a beggar—a man, that is to say, whom they would suspect of self-interested motives. He did not understand how it behoves the true missionary to enter into the position and circumstances of those whom he desires to lead to the Gospel, and to become all things to all men. Amongst the Christian nations of those times, in whom the sense of sin was strongly developed by the yoke of the law, one who appeared like Bernhard, as a strict monk, might obtain great veneration. But it was otherwise with the heathen Pomeranians. When St, Paul says of himself, in Romans vii, “I was alive once without the law,” he describes a particular stage 298of development both with individuals and with nations, in which a man carries sin about with him as something sleeping or dead, in which, as the sense of law, so also the sense of sin has not yet clearly manifested itself, and good and evil, yet undeveloped, lie in the germ beside each other. The man is yet a hidden and unknown being to himself. He has not yet been put to any test which would make him feel the conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the chasm between the requirements of the law and his own lusts. Many good impulses may be perceived in such a state, outbreaks now of the good, then of the evil nature will be seen, and both are mingled together. In such a case a man, following the good inclinations of his heart, may accomplish, as it were instinctively, much that is good:—hospitality, a certain love of family, and of country, and much that makes men amiable may be found in him, as long as natural selfishness is not exposed to any very hard test. But he is yet far from knowing what the nature of the law is, and what the nature of sin. In such a position as this the Pomeranians then were; and from such a position, the inward conflicts, the state of contrition from which monasticism and the ascetic life arose, must have seemed perfectly incomprehensible, and the life which Bernhard led something altogether inexplicable. He was sure to incur their contempt, and they could only deem him a madman. Nevertheless, they did him no harm, until, by another indiscretion of fanatical zeal, he excited the rage of the 299 ignorant heathen,—namely, by destroying an idol, before anything had occurred to destroy idolatry in their hearts; an act which, thus unprepared, could avail nothing, and could only embitter men’s minds. Bernhard was compelled to go on board a ship, and was banished the country. He repaired to Bamberg and sought to gain Bishop Otho for the cause, for which he had been able to accomplish nothing, because he had not set about it in the right way. His example also served to make the bishop on his guard against similar mistakes. He therefore, dearly as he loved everything monastic, divested himself of everything of the kind on his appearance amongst the Pomeranians. He resolved rather to appear in the splendor of his episcopal rank. He not only provided himself in the most abundant way with all that was necessary for the maintenance of himself and his attendants, but he also carried with him costly garments and other things as presents for the people of rank, and also all the requisite ecclesiastical vessels, in order clearly to show that he did not come to gain anything, but rather gave up his own, in order to lead the foreign nation to what he believed highest and best.
In the year 1124, Otho commenced his missionary expedition. After many happy results, but also after having made many vain efforts, and passed through many great perils, he arrived in the metropolis, Stettin. Much depended on the way in which he was received there. Many of the heathen 300awaited, with eager expectation, the decision of their metropolis, and this seemed at first no favourable one. How frequently has Christianity been most injured by the conduct of those who profess it! What men had seen in Stettin of the condition of the neighbouring Christian nations, which were, indeed, far from being truly Christian, did not tend to produce an advantageous idea of Christianity itself. For the Pomeranians, as we have remarked, were still, as it were, in the condition of a happy childhood, and knew not yet the evils through which it was necessary to pass, in order to attain to manhood. They knew nothing of the evils attending a commencement of good morals and civilization, from which man, who is destined not for an easy life on earth in dull unconsciousness, but for the dominion of the world in the image of God, cannot escape. It was yet strange to them, all the misery of the conscious discord which a man must have experienced in order to learn the ruin of his nature, and the only remedy for it. Thus the men of Stettin were disposed to over-estimate the happiness of their own condition, because they judged the effects of Christianity only according to the appearance which presented itself to a superficial observation, according to that which they perceived in the multitude.
While Otho, whose patience was not to be wearied by the first failure, remained many months in Stettin, he laboured, in the most convincing way, to refute these accusations against Christianity by 301the example of his pious life, inspired as it was by the spirit of love. If these heathens had heard of vices as prevalent amongst the Christians, such as attend the transition from barbarism to civilization, and were unknown amongst them, Otho now showed them virtues such as were also quite unknown amongst them,—proofs of that self-sacrificing love which is only found where the Spirit of God overcomes man’s natural selfishness. He ransomed many captives with his gold, and after providing them with clothes and victuals, sent them back to their friends. But the most favourable effect was produced by one especial incident, by which the tender heart of the bishop became more generally known, and by which the minds of the young were drawn towards him.
A rich and distinguished man, in the city, had for his wife a lady who had, in her youth, been carried away captive from a Christian country, and who was secretly a Christian. She had, indeed, ever remained true to her faith, but she had not dared openly to confess it amongst the heathen. So much the more was she rejoiced at the bishop’s arrival; still she did not venture openly to express her joy, and to unite with him. It probably did not happen without her influence, however, that both her sons frequently visited the priests, and questioned them concerning the Christian faith. The bishop availed himself of this, gradually to lay before them the principal doctrines of Christianity. They at length declared themselves convinced, and 302desired to be baptized. After their baptism, they remained eight days with the bishop, in order to spend the first week with him profitably in their white baptismal robes. Meantime, before the time had elapsed, their mother heard of it. Full of joy, she sent to the bishop, saying that she wished to see him and her sons. He awaited her in the open air, seated on the turf, surrounded by his clergy. The sight of her sons, in the white robes of baptism, made so powerful an impression on the mother, who had concealed her faith for so many years, that, overpowered by her feelings, she fell weeping on the ground. The bishop and his clergy, much alarmed, hastened to her, thinking that it was grief at her sons’ having apostatized from the religion of their fathers, which had affected her so strongly. But they found it quite another thing, as soon as the lady was restored to consciousness, and could find words to express her feelings. Her first words were: “I praise Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, Thou fountain of all hope and comfort, that I see my sons consecrated by Thy sacraments, enlightened by faith in Thy Divine truth.” And, kissing and embracing her sons, she added: “For Thou knowest, my Lord Jesus Christ, that, in the secret of my heart, I have not ceased for many years to commit these to Thy mercy, praying Thee to do that for them which Thou hast done for me.” And then she turned to the bishop with these words: “Blessed be your coming to this city; for if ye faint not, ye shall gain a great company here for 303the Lord. But let not the long waiting weary you. See, I myself, who stand before you here,—I confess, by the help of the Almighty God, encouraged, venerable father, by thy presence, and also relying on the help of these my children, that I am a Christian, which hitherto I did not venture openly to do.” And thereupon she related to him her whole history. Deeply moved, the bishop thanked. God for the wonderful guidance of His grace, testified his cordial sympathy with the lady, said many words to her to strengthen her faith, and presented her with a costly mantle of fur. When those eight days had elapsed, and the newly baptized had, according to custom, laid aside their white robes, the signs of the new garment of innocence, he presented them with beautiful and costly clothes, and after administering to them the Holy Supper for the first time, sent them back to their friends.
When the destruction of all the monuments of idolatry was finally resolved upon, and this resolution was carried out, many valuable things were discovered, all of which they wished to bestow upon the bishop. But he would receive nothing, saying: “Far be it from us to seek to enrich ourselves through you. All such things, and yet more beautiful, we have already in abundance at home.” Yet he was also far from desiring to devote all which had once ministered to the idol-worship, on that account, to destruction. He permitted the people to divide amongst themselves all the treasures that had been gained by the destruction of 304the idol-temples, after, in conformity with the ecclesiastical usages of the times, he had signed them with the sign of the cross, and sprinkled them with holy water. From Stettin, Otho’s labours were extended to other parts of the country; yet he could not succeed in laying an indestructible foundation for the Christian Church. His influence on men’s minds had been limited by many things; he had only been able to speak to the people through an interpreter, and the motives which caused the accession of a portion of the people were external and political. Otho was also recalled too soon to his diocese by his official duties, before he could carry on the work, and set it on a firmer basis. The contagion of one-half of the country which adhered to heathenism, necessarily reacted on those in the other half in which the Christian Church had been founded, who were still weak in the faith. Many, in consequence of the abstinences which were laid on them by the strict discipline of the Church, would cast back a longing look to the pleasures of heathen dissipation, and the example of their heathen countrymen would serve to increase this longing. Nevertheless, Otho left in many hearts an incorruptible seed, from which, on the other hand, might proceed a reaction against the reviving power of heathenism. Not seldom, in the history of Missions, may we observe how, after a rapid, and, to the superficial observer, too promising diffusion of Christianity, follows a fresh revival of the power of heathenism, and only after new conflicts, by 305which the true is sifted from the false, can Christianity rise, reconquering, from her defeat.
Gladly would Otho have come sooner to the aid of the oppressed infant Church; but he was hindered three years, by various misfortunes and official engagements, from following the impulse of his heart, and it was not until the spring of the year 1128 that he was able to return. Travelling by a different route from that which he had taken before, he arrived first at the town of Demmind, whose governor was an old acquaintance of his. Here he met Duke Wratislas, of Pomerania, whose heart he had gained on his first mission. He was returning victorious from a war with some neighbouring Slavonic tribes, laden with booty. Here Otho saw sights which deeply pained his affectionate heart. The army of the Duke had carried off many captives, who were to be distributed like the rest of the booty. Amongst these were many of feeble and delicate frames; husbands were threatened, by the lot, with separation from their wives, wives from their husbands, children from their parents. Otho first succeeded in prevailing on the Duke to liberate the feeblest, and not to separate relations from one another. But this was not enough for him; he himself, from his own purse, paid the ransom for many who were still heathens, instructed them in Christianity, baptized them, and so sent them back to their people. It was then decided that the Feast of Pentecost should be chosen for the convening of a diet, in 306which the consent of the States to the foundation of the Christian Church, in all parts of the country, should be sought.
The city of Usedom, in which, by means of the priests whom Otho left behind him on his first missionary journey, the seed of Christianity had already been sown, was chosen as the seat of this Diet. The Diet was composed partly of those who had always continued heathen, and partly of those who had been previously converted by Otho, but during his absence had again sunk into Paganism. The duke presented the bishop to the assembly; he was a man whose whole appearance was calculated to inspire reverence. He called their attention to the fact, that by the appearing of this man amongst them, the old excuse—that the preachers of this religion were poor despicable people, on whom no reliance could be placed, who only sought to gain a livelihood by these means—was removed. They saw before them one of the first princes of the German empire, who in his own home had an abundance of everything, who possessed much gold and silver and many precious stones; of whom, therefore, there could be no suspicion that he was seeking anything for himself; who, on the contrary, had abandoned a life full of honour and comfort, and spent his own property in order to communicate to them what he deemed the best thing. These words prepared the way in men’s hearts for the bishop’s discourse. The Feast of Pentecost gave him occasion to speak of 307the grace and goodness of God, of the forgiveness of sins, of the communication of the Holy Ghost to the redeemed, and of the gifts of the Spirit. His words produced a deep impression—the lapsed testified their repentance, and were readmitted into the Church by the bishop; whilst those who had hitherto remained heathens, were instructed in Christianity and baptized. By a decree of the Diet, the free proclamation of the Gospel was permitted everywhere.
The union of gentleness and firmness was what distinguished bishop Otho. We have seen how he saved the things which had been devoted to idol-worship from destruction, applying them to a better purpose. In other circumstances, however, he acted quite otherwise. Whilst he was labouring in the city of Gietzkow, the people entreated him to spare a new and magnificent temple, which was looked upon as the special ornament of the town. But in vain were large presents offered him with this design. At length they only entreated that the temple might be converted into a Christian church. But the bishop feared, that if this were permitted, it might lead to a confusion of heathenism with Christianity. In order to convince the people that it was for their own good he was compelled to resist their will in this instance, he made use of this comparison: “Would you sow grain,” he said, “in the midst of thorns and thistles? I trow not. If, therefore, you first root out the thorns and thistles from your fields, in 308order that the good seed you scatter there may bring forth fruit; so must I cast out from amongst you all which serves as seed for heathenism, but as thorns for my preaching, that your hearts may, from the good seed of the Gospel, bring forth fruit unto everlasting life.” And by persevering daily in his remonstrances, he at length overcame the opposition of the people, so that they themselves destroyed both the temple and the idols. But, on the other hand, in order to compensate the people for the loss of their temple, Otho zealously promoted the erection of a magnificent church. And as soon as the choir (holy of holies) and the altar were ready, he appointed a consecration-festival. When, therefore, high and low were gathered together to celebrate it, and after all the arrangements ordered by the Church at such consecrations were completed, he explained to the assembled multitude the symbolic meaning of these things; and made use of these to direct their attention from the outward to the inward, and to warn them against placing their trust in outward things. He endeavoured to make it plain to the people that what was here done externally, had reference to the secret things of the soul—that this must become a temple of the Holy Ghost, Christ dwelling therein by faith. Then he turned to the one amongst the great men of the land, who reigned in that part of Pomerania, Nüzlav, who had been baptized by him at the Diet of Usedom: “Thou,” he said to him, “thou, my son, art the true house 309of God. Thou must consecrate thyself to-day to thy God, thy Almighty Creator, in order that thou, being delivered from all the spirits that have taken possession of thy heart, mayst become a dwelling-place and a possession for Him alone. Therefore, my beloved son, hinder not the completion of this consecration; for it profits nothing that this visible house of God should be outwardly consecrated, if that which this consecration signifies does not also take place in thy heart.” Then, as the bishop perceived by the movements of Nüzlav, that he was not untouched by the operations of the Holy Spirit, he added: “In part, my son, thou hast begun to be the house of God. Labour to be so wholly. Already hast thou exchanged idolatry for the faith, and received the grace of baptism. Now must thou adorn thy faith with works of piety,—renouncing robbery, murder, oppression, and deceit. It must become the rule of thy life, not to do to others what thou wouldest not that they should do to thee. Set thy captives free; or, if thou wilt not do that, at least set those at liberty who are Christians, and have one common faith with thee.” Struggling with himself, Nüzlav said: “It is a hard thing for me, O father, to give freedom to all; for some owe me large sums.” Then the bishop replied: “The Word of the Lord tells us to forgive our debtors, that we also may be forgiven. Thus mayest thou obtain absolution for all thy debts from the Lord, if thou absolvest all thy debtors in His name.” Then Nüzlav said with 310deep sighs: “See, in the name of the Lord Jesus, I set them all free, that, according to thy words, this consecration may be completed in me to-day, by the forgiveness of all my sins.” And, calling the servant who had the oversight of the prisoners, be commanded him to set them all free. But he made one exception, of which no one knew anything. This was the son of a Danish nobleman, whom his father, who owed him a very large sum, had left with him as a hostage. He was left under heavy chains in a subterranean dungeon. But by an especial Providence, he also was to be set at liberty.
All were full of joy at Nüzlav’s conduct. The clergy bestirred themselves to get everything ready for the completion of the solemnity, when a necessary ecclesiastical vessel was missed. Whilst a priest was going about in search of it, he came near a subterranean dungeon, and the captive youth succeeded in attracting his observation. He called him to him, and entreated him to obtain his liberation through the bishop. When the bishop heard this, he was moved with compassion; but he could not venture to ask this favour also from one who had already granted so much. He had recourse to fervent prayer; and when le arose from prayer, he called his priests to him, and desired them to take Nüzlav apart, and, with all modesty, to prefer him this petition. It cost the man much to make this sacrifice also, and to renounce so large a sum. But, after some conflict, he overcame himself. He 311 went weeping to the bishop, and said to him: “Yea, for the name of my Lord Jesus, if he calls for it, I will yield up my body, and all I have, in devout obedience.” The example of this powerful man excited many to follow it; so that every one, according to his degree, sought to prove the genuineness of his conversion by his works, itnd the sacrifices which he made.
Bishop Otho would gladly have sacrificed his life for the love of Christ. He longed for the crown of martyrdom, and his fervour may have carried him beyond the bounds of discretion. With longing eyes he looked on the isle of Rügen, situated about two days’ journey off; and an eager desire arose in him to go forth, as a witness for the faith, amongst the warlike inhabitants of that island, who were wholly given to idolatry. But death menaced him there: the people of Rugen had doomed the foe of their gods to death, if he dared to cross their shores. The evident danger could not, however, withhold Bishop Otho. Joyfully would he encounter death for the cause of Christ.
The Duke of Pomerania, and all Otho’s friends, sought to dissuade him from such a step, but in vain; in vain did they represent to him that he ought to preserve his life for further service. He called this weakness of faith, saying that men must seal the Christian faith with works rather than with words. “How,” he said, “can the preachers of the Gospel expect the reward of eternal life, if they shrink from yielding up this present life? And if, 312in proclaiming the Gospel amongst the heathen, we all should die for the name of Christ, would not our preaching be all the more glorious, because sealed with our blood?” But as his friends endeavoured in all possible ways to prevent his going to Rügen, he looked about for some means of departing unobserved, and they were therefore obliged to watch him narrowly. But whilst, by most, Otho’s fervent zeal was blamed as not sufficiently discreet, one of his priests, named Ulrich, felt himself constrained to carry out the thought for which Otho himself was ready to offer up his life. Having received the bishop’s blessing, he took a boat, and carried with him all things necessary for the celebration of the mass. But he had to contend incessantly with wind and weather, and thrice he had to yield to the violence of the elements; yet, as soon as the fury of the tempest abated, he was again prepared to cross over to the island of Rügen. Thus he endured seven days the conflict with winds and waves, and often found himself in great peril. But as the weather remained constantly unfavourable, and the boat already began to leak, the bishop regarded it as an indication of the Divine will, which must be against the fulfilment of the undertaking; and he himself called back his beloved priest from the shore into his own house, thanking God that He had given him such strength of faith and steadfastness. By the free way in which the conduct of the bishop was now discussed by his clergy, and by the manner in which he bore their blame, we 313may see the beautiful relation then still preserved between the chief and the subordinates; the independence of the clergy, and the mildness of the bishop. After their common meal, the clergy began, in the presence of the bishop, to jest about Ulrich’s expedition. “Who,” said they, “would have been guilty of murder if he had perished?” Then another, who had always declared himself strongly against the enterprise, observed, “Who would more justly have borne the guilt of the murder, than he who induced him to throw himself into such danger?” But the bishop, who did not take this amiss, sought to excuse himself from such an accusation. “When,” he said, “the Lord sent His disciples as sheep amongst wolves, and they were torn by the wolves, who was guilty of their death? Is the Lord to blame?” Certainly, this is one of those applications of the words of Christ, in which, as in the instance before adduced, due attention was not paid to the context and the object! Christ did not expose his disciples to certain death amongst the “wolves,” but recommended them to blend the wisdom of the serpent with the simplicity of the dove, in order to escape the danger with which they were threatened. He did not desire them to sacrifice life without aim and without profit, but to preserve it in and for their high vocation, and only then to sacrifice it when fidelity to their calling required it of them. The right understanding of the teaching which Christ gave the apostles in reference to the labours of their calling, 314 would rather have withheld the pious bishop from obeying the impulses of a fanatical zeal.
There was another occasion, however, on which Otho wisely hazarded all, in order to gain a triumph for the Gospel; for, in this instance, he might well expect a happy issue, if relying on the Lord he shrank from no peril. It was the advancement of the work he had commenced, for which he was obliged to risk his life, trusting to the protection of Him to whose service he had consecrated it. The prosperity of the whole Church in Pomerania depended on the fact whether heathenism or Christianity were victorious in Stettin, the metropolis. The power of heathenism had arisen there afresh. Those priests, who at Otho’s first coming had suffered themselves to be baptized, had nevertheless continued heathens in heart, and they lost too much by the change of religion to brook it patiently. It was easy for them to find means of influencing the masses of the barbarous people. A pestilence which spread amongst men and cattle, and of which many died, was indicated by them as a sign of the wrath of their gods, and this was readily believed by the bewildered people. They at length succeeded in exciting the multitude so far, that they rose and gathered together to destroy a Christian church. The most terrible accounts were spread abroad in consequence of the fury of the heathen population of Stettin, and of the imminent danger which beset those who ventured to enter the city in the name of Christianity. Bishop Otho was not 315to be alarmed by these accounts, but his clergy had not the like heroism of faith, and fear kept them back. When Otho found that he could not overcome their opposition by his arguments, he resolved to go thither alone. After having prepared himself by a day’s solitude, he stole away in the dark of the evening with his missal and his sacramental chalice. The clergy first learned his departure when they went to call him for the early morning service. Full of shame, and of anxiety for their spiritual father, they hastened after him, constrained him to return with them, and on the next morning they set out with him, and went by sea to Stettin.
But they knew not how the seed which Otho had scattered there, crushed as it appeared to be, had been germinating and growing in secret. A reaction of Christianity, already deeply implanted in the hearts of many, at length, under various favouring circumstances, led to its final triumph over heathenism. It appears that Christianity had found the readiest welcome amongst the higher and more educated classes. Over these the heathen priests did not possess so much influence; amongst them reviving heathenism found no connecting link. They only dreaded to brave the tumult of the maddened people. But there were some who had been touched by Christianity without having completely renounced heathenism. In them heathenism and Christianity contended with each other, and it depended on many influences which should gain the 316day. At this very insurrection, which had for its object the destruction of a church, it had happened, that one of the insurgents, when he was about to strike with a hammer, was suddenly seized as if with a fit. His hand was, as it were, paralyzed. He let the hammer fall, and sank from the ladder. He may have belonged to the number of the apostate Christians. The faith which was yet by no means extinguished in his heart may again have asserted its power, thence a struggle have arisen in his soul, and terror seized him, arresting his hand, as he was about to join in the destruction of the temple dedicated to the God of the Christians. Heathenism still reigned perhaps in his soul; he could not renounce the worships of the old gods; but, at the same time, the God whose temple they were about to destroy seemed to him One against whom no human power could contend, as was now evidenced; and he advised that, in order to keep on terms with all the gods, they should erect altars to the national gods beside this church. This was often a bridge which led from heathenism to Christianity, when the heathen began to recognise the God of the Christians as a mighty Being beside their own gods. By all these favourable circumstances the way was prepared for the renewed labours of Otho in Stettin, and he found there a zealous friend, who in consequence of the experiences of his life had become a bold confessor of Christianity—that Witstock, of the remarkable incidents in whose life we have spoken before.317
But Otho knew nothing of all this. Not in reliance on human means, and the co-operation of circumstances, but in reliance on God alone and bowing to His will, he went forth to meet the threatened danger, deeming his life to be a small thing in comparison with the holy cause which he served. He first found a refuge with his attendants in a church outside the city. When this became known amongst the people, an armed multitude collected before this church, led on by the priests. They threatened destruction to the church and death to all within it. Here we see how the power of faith gives true presence of mind—true prudence, in those critical moments on the right use of which the whole future often hangs. Had Otho suffered himself to be terrified, and shown fear, the enraged people would have gone farther with their attack; but they were overpowered by his trustful composure and courage. After committing himself and his people to God in prayer, he went forth in his episcopal robes, in the midst of his clergy, chanting hymns and psalms.
The calmness of the bishop who thus dared to despise the fury of the maddened crowd, and the grandeur of such a sight, awed the multitude. A pause ensued; and this was employed by the wiser among them, or those who were more favourable to Christianity, to quiet men’s minds. They told the priests that they should defend their cause, not with violence, but with arguments. Gradually the crowd dispersed. The Saturday following this day, which 318was Friday, Otho spent in preparing himself by prayer and fasting for the approaching events. Witstock, who, since his wonderful deliverance, had never ceased to bear witness for the Lord, to whom he owed so much, was now yet further strengthened by the arrival of his beloved spiritual father. He led his friends and relations to the bishop, and bade him be -of good cheer, and not shrink from the conflict. He assured him of victory, and counselled him what to do.
On the Sunday, Otho caused himself to be led to the market-place by Witstock, in his priestly robes. He ascended the platform from which the heralds and other persons in authority were wont to address the people. When Witstock, by words and gestures, had commanded silence, Otho began to speak. The greater number listened quietly and attentively. But then came forth a tall and handsome priest, a man of powerful frame, and with his strong voice quite drowned the voices of Otho and his interpreter; seeking to inflame the fury of the people against the enemy of their gods, and exhorting them to take this opportunity of revenge. The lances were raised, but no one ventured to undertake anything against a man who stood before them with such calmness of faith. It was the impression of the power of the Divine Presence on the wild crowd, the calm superiority of sober courage to raging passion, to which may also have been added, with a large portion of the assembly, the yet unextinguished influence of the Christianity to 319which they had once yielded themselves. Otho made use of the favourable effect of such an incident on men’s hearts, and proceeded with the assembled band of believers to the church beside which the heathen altar had been erected. He consecrated it afresh, and caused the injuries which had been done it to be repaired at his own cost.
On the next day, an assembly of the people was to decide on the course to be adopted in this religious crisis. This lasted from the early morning until midnight. Some arose and related all that had occurred on the previous day to the assembly in the miraculous light in which it represented itself to them, testifying with enthusiasm to the active and self-sacrificing love of the bishop. Amongst these, Witstock held the first place. It was resolved, that Christianity should be recognised, and all which belonged to heathenism be destroyed. That same night, Witstock hastened to inform the bishop of all that had passed. On the next morning, Otho arose early to praise God for all that His grace had done. He then called an assembly of the people, and addressed to them words of exhortation, which made a deep impression. Many apostates desired to be restored to the communion of the faithful. Thus was the victory won for Christianity. Gladly would Otho, fearless of the martyr’s death, have extended his labours to the island of Rugen, had he not been recalled by duty to his own diocese in the year 1128.320
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