Hypatia, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter xxx

Every Man to His Own Place

It was near midnight. Raphael had been sitting some three hours in Miriam’s inner chamber, waiting in vain for her return. To recover, if possible, his ancestral wealth; to convey it, without a day’s delay, to Cyrene; and, if possible, to persuade the poor old Jewess to accompany him, and there to soothe, to guide, perhaps to convert her, was his next purpose:— at all events, with or without his wealth, to flee from that accursed city. And he counted impatiently the slow hours and minutes which detained him in an atmosphere which seemed reeking with innocent blood, black with the lowering curse of an avenging God. More than once, unable to bear the thought, he rose to depart, and leave his wealth behind: but he was checked again by the thought of his own past life. How had he added his own sin to the great heap of Alexandrian wickedness! How had he tempted others, pampered others in evil! Good God! how had he not only done evil with all his might, but had pleasure in those who did the same! And now, now he was reaping the fruit of his own devices. For years past, merely to please his lust of power, his misanthropic scorn, he had been malting that wicked Orestes wickeder than he was even by his own base will and nature; and his puppet had avenged itself upon him! He, he had prompted him to ask Hypatia’s hand. . . . He had laid, half in sport, half in envy of her excellence, that foul plot against the only human being whom he loved. . . . and he had destroyed her! He, and not Peter, was the murderer of Hypatia! True, he had never meant her death. . . . No; but had he not meant for her worse than death? He had never foreseen. . . . No; but only because he did not choose to foresee. He had chosen to be a god; to kill and to make alive by his own will and law; and behold, he had become a devil by that very act. Who can — and who dare, even if he could — withdraw the sacred veil from those bitter agonies of inward shame and self-reproach, made all the more intense by his clear and undoubting knowledge that he was forgiven? What dread of punishment, what blank despair, could have pierced that great heart so deeply as did the thought that the God whom he had hated and defied had returned him good for evil, and rewarded him not according to his iniquities? That discovery, as Ezekiel of old had warned his forefathers, filled up the cup of his self-loathing. . . . To have found at last the hated and dreaded name of God: and found that it was Love!. . . . To possess Victoria, a living, human likeness, however imperfect, of that God; and to possess in her a home, a duty, a purpose, a fresh clear life of righteous labour, perhaps of final victory. . . . That was his punishment; that was the brand of Cain upon his forehead; and he felt it greater than he could bear.

But at least there was one thing to be done. Where he had sinned, there he must make amends; not as a propitiation, not even as a restitution; but simply as a confession of the truth which he had found. And as his purpose shaped itself, he longed and prayed that Miriam might return, and make it possible.

And Miriam did return. He heard her pass slowly through the outer room, learn from the girls who was within, order them out of the apartments, close the outer door upon them; at last she entered, and said quietly —

‘Welcome! I have expected you. You could not surprise old Miriam. The teraph told me last night that you would be here. . . . ’

Did she see the smile of incredulity upon Raphael’s face, or was it some sudden pang of conscience which made her cry out —

‘. . . . No! I did not! I never expected you! I am a liar, a miserable old liar, who cannot speak the truth, even if I try! Only look kind! Smile at me, Raphael! — Raphael come back at last to his poor, miserable, villainous old mother! Smile on me but once, my beautiful, my son! my son!’

And springing to him, she clasped him in her arms.

‘Your son?’

‘Yes, my son! Safe at last! Mine at last! I can prove it now! The son of my womb, though not the son of my vows!’ And she laughed hysterically. ‘My child, my heir, for whom I have toiled and hoarded for three-and-thirty years! Quick! here are my keys. In that cabinet are all my papers — all I have is yours. Your jewels are safe — buried with mine. The negro-woman, Eudaimon’s wife, knows where. I made her swear secrecy upon her little wooden idol, and, Christian as she is, she has been honest. Make her rich for life. She hid your poor old mother, and kept her safe to see her boy come home. But give nothing to her little husband: he is a bad fellow, and beats her. — Go, quick! take your riches, and away!. . . . No; stay one moment just one little moment — that the poor old wretch may feast her eyes with the sight of her darling once more before she dies!’

‘Before you die? Your son? God of my fathers, what is the meaning of all this, Miriam? This morning I was the son of Ezra the merchant of Antioch!’

‘His son and heir, his son and heir! He knew all at last. We told him on his death-bed! I swear that we told him, and he adopted you!’

‘We! Who?’

‘His wife and I. He craved for a child, the old miser, and we gave him one — a better one than ever came of his family. But he loved you, accepted you, though he did know all. He was afraid of being laughed at after he was dead — afraid of having it known that he was childless, the old dotard! No — he was right — true Jew in that, after all!’

‘Who was my father, then?’ interrupted Raphael, in utter bewilderment.

The old woman laughed a laugh so long and wild, that Raphael shuddered.

‘Sit down at your mother’s feet. Sit down. . . . just to please the poor old thing! Even if you do not believe her, just play at being her child, her darling, for a minute before she dies; and she will tell you all. . . . perhaps there is time yet!’

And he sat down. . . . ‘What if this incarnation of all wickedness were really my mother?. . . . And yet — why should I shrink thus proudly from the notion? Am I so pure myself as to deserve a purer source?’. . . . And the old woman laid her hand fondly on his head, and her skinny fingers played with his soft locks, as she spoke hurriedly and thick.

‘Of the house of Jesse, of the seed of Solomon; not a rabbi from Babylon to Rome dare deny that! A king’s daughter I am, and a king’s heart I had, and have, like Solomon’s own, my son!. . . . A kingly heart. . . . It made me dread and scorn to be a slave, a plaything, a soul-less doll, such as Jewish women are condemned to be by their tyrants, the men. I craved for wisdom, renown, power — power — power! and my nation refused them to me; because, forsooth, I was a woman! So I left them. I went to the Christian priests. . . . They gave me what I asked. . . . They gave me more. . . . They pampered my woman’s vanity, my pride, my self-will, my scorn of wedded bondage, and bade me be a saint, the judge of angels and archangels, the bride of God! Liars! liars! And so — if you laugh, you kill me, Raphael — and so Miriam, the daughter of Jonathan — Miriam, of the house of David — Miriam, the descendant of Ruth and Rachab, of Rachel and Sara, became a Christian nun, and shut herself up to see visions, and dream dreams, and fattened her own mad self-conceit upon the impious fancy that she was the spouse of the Nazarene, Joshua Bar–Joseph, whom she called Jehovah Ishi — Silence! If you stop me a moment, it may be too late. I hear them calling me already; and I made them promise not to take me before I had told all to my son — the son of my shame!’

‘Who calls you?’ asked Raphael; but after one strong shudder she ran on, unheeding —

‘But they lied, lied, lied! I found them out that day. . . . Do not look up at me, and I will tell you all. There was a riot — a fight between the Christian devils and the Heathen devils — and the convent was sacked, Raphael, my son! — Sacked!. . . . Then I found out their blasphemy. . . . Oh God! I shrieked to Him, Raphael! I called on Him to rend His heavens and come down — to pour out His thunderbolts upon them — to cleave the earth and devour them — to save the wretched helpless girl who adored Him, who had given up father, mother, kinsfolk, wealth, the light of heaven, womanhood itself, for Him — who worshipped, meditated over Him, dreamed of Him night and day. . . . And, Raphael, He did not hear me. . . . He did not hear me! . . . . did not hear the!. . . . And then I knew it all for a lie! a lie!’

‘And you knew it for what it is!’ cried Raphael through his sobs, as he thought of Victoria, and felt every vein burning with righteous wrath.

—‘There was no mistaking that test, was there?. . . . For nine months I was mad. And then your voice, my baby, my joy, my pride that brought me to myself once more! And I shook off the dust of my feet against those Galilean priests, and went back to my own nation, where God had set me from the beginning. I made them — the Rabbis, my father, my kin — I made them all receive me. They could not stand before my eye. I can stake people do what I will, Raphael! I could — I could make you emperor now, if I had but time left! I went back. I palmed you off on Ezra as his son, I and his wife, and made him believe that you had been born to him while he was in Byzantium. . . . And then — to live for you! And I did live for you. For you I travelled from India to Britain, seeking wealth. For you I toiled, hoarded, lied, intrigued, won money by every means, no matter how base — for was it not for you? And I have conquered! You are the richest Jew south of the Mediterranean, you, my son! And you deserve your wealth. You have your mother’s soul in you, my boy! I watched you, gloried in you — in your cunning, your daring, your learning, your contempt for these Gentile hounds. You felt the royal blood of Solomon within you! You felt that you were a young lion of Judah, and they the jackals who followed to feed upon your leavings! And now, now! Your only danger is past! The cunning woman is gone — the sorceress who tried to take my young lion in her pitfall, and has fallen into the midst of it herself; and he is safe, and returned to take the nations for a prey, and grind their bones to powder, as it is written, “He couched like a lion, he lay down like a lioness’s whelp, and who dare rouse him up?”’

‘Stop!’ said Raphael, ‘I must speak! Mother! I must! As you love me, as you expect me to love you, answer! Had you a hand in her death? Speak!’

‘Did I not tell you that I was no more a Christian? Had I remained one — who can tell what I might not have done? All I, the Jewess, dare do was — Fool that I am! I have forgotten all this time the proof — the proof —’

‘I need no proof, mother. Your words are enough,’ said Raphael, as he clasped her hand between his own, and pressed it to his burning forehead. But the old woman hurried on ‘See! See the black agate which you gave her in your madness!’

‘How did you obtain that?’

‘I stole it — stole it, my son; as thieves steal, and are crucified for stealing. What was the chance of the cross to a mother yearning for her child? — to a mother who put round her baby’s neck, three-and-thirty black years ago, that broken agate, and kept the other half next her own heart by day and night? See! See how they fit! Look, and believe your poor old sinful mother! Look, I say!’ and she thrust the talisman into his hands.

‘Now, let me die! I vowed never to tell this secret but to you: never to tell it to you, until the night I died. Farewell, my son! Kiss me but once — once, my child, my joy! Oh, this makes up for all! Makes up even for that day, the last on which I ever dreamed myself the bride of the Nazarene!’

Raphael felt that he must speak, now or never. Though it cost him the loss of all his wealth, and a mother’s curse, he must speak. And not daring to look up, he said gently —

‘Men have lied to you about Him, mother: but has He ever lied to you about Himself? He did not lie to me when He sent me out into the world to find a man, and sent me back again to you with the good news that The Man is born into the world.’

But to his astonishment, instead of the burst of bigoted indignation which he had expected, Miriam answered in a low, confused, abstracted voice —

‘And did He send you hither? Well — that was more like what I used to fancy Him. . . . A grand thought it is after all — a Jew the king of heaven and earth!. . . . Well — I shall know soon. . . . I loved Him once,. . . . and perhaps. . . . perhaps. . . . ’

Why did her head drop heavily upon his shoulder? He turned — a dark stream of blood was flowing from her lips! He sprang to his feet. The girls rushed in. They tore open her shawl, and saw the ghastly wound, which she had hidden with such iron resolution to the last. But it was too late. Miriam the daughter of Solomon was gone to her own place. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Early the next morning, Raphael was standing in Cyril’s anteroom, awaiting an audience. There were loud voices within; and after a while a tribune — whom he knew well hurried out, muttering curses —

‘What brings you here, friend?‘said Raphael.

‘The scoundrel will not give them up,’ answered he, in an undertone.

‘Give up whom?’

‘The murderers. They are in sanctuary now at the Caesareum. Orestes sent me to demand them: and this fellow defies him openly!’ And the tribune hurried out.

Raphael, sickened with disgust, half-turned to follow him: but his better angel conquered, and he obeyed the summons of the deacon who ushered him in.

Cyril was walking up and down, according to his custom, with great strides. When he saw who was his visitor, he stopped short with a look of fierce inquiry. Raphael entered on business at once, with a cold calm voice.

‘You know me, doubtless; and you know what I was. I am now a Christian catechumen. I come to make such restitution as I can for certain past ill-deeds done in this city. You will find among these papers the trust-deeds for such a yearly sum of money as will enable you to hire a house of refuge for a hundred fallen women, and give such dowries to thirty of them yearly as will enable them to find suitable husbands. I have set down every detail of my plan. On its exact fulfilment depends the continuance of my gift.’

Cyril took the document eagerly, and was breaking out with some commonplace about pious benevolence, when the Jew stopped him.

‘Your Holiness’s compliments are unnecessary. It is to your office, not to yourself, that this business relates.’

Cyril, whose conscience was ill enough at ease that morning, felt abashed before Raphael’s dry and quiet manner, which bespoke, as he well knew, reproof more severe than all open upbraidings. So looking down, not without something like a blush, he ran his eye hastily over the paper; and then said, in his blandest tone — ‘My brother will forgive me for remarking, that while I acknowledge his perfect right to dispose of his charities as he will, it is somewhat startling to me, as Metropolitan of Egypt to find not only the Abbot Isidore of Pelusium, but the secular Defender of the Plebs, a civil officer, implicated, too, in the late conspiracy, associated with me as co-trustees.’

‘I have taken the advice of more than one Christian bishop on the matter. I acknowledge your authority by my presence here. If the Scriptures say rightly, the civil magistrates are as much God’s ministers as you; and I am therefore bound to acknowledge their authority also. I should have preferred associating the Prefect with you in the trust: but as your dissensions with the present occupant of that post might have crippled my scheme, I have named the Defender of the Plebs, and have already put into his hands a copy of this document. Another copy has been sent to Isidore, who is empowered to receive all moneys from my Jewish bankers in Pelusium.’

‘You doubt, then, either my ability or my honesty?’ said Cyril, who was becoming somewhat nettled.

‘If your Holiness dislikes my offer, it is easy to omit your name in the deed. One word more. If you deliver up to justice the murderers of my friend Hypatia, I double my bequest on the spot.’

Cyril burst out instantly —

‘Thy money perish with thee! Do you presume to bribe me into delivering up my children to the tyrant?’

‘I offer to give you the means of showing more mercy, provided that you will first do simple justice.’

‘Justice?’ cried Cyril. ‘Justice? If it be just that Peter should die, sir, see first whether it was not just that Hypatia should die. Not that I compassed it. As I live, I would have given my own right hand that this had not happened! But now that it is done — let those who talk of justice look first in which scale of the balance it lies! Do you fancy, sir, that the people do not know their enemies from their friends? Do you fancy that they are to sit with folded hands, while a pedant makes common cause with a profligate, to drag them back again into the very black gulf of outer darkness, ignorance, brutal lust, grinding slavery, from which the Son of God died to free them, from which they are painfully and slowly struggling upward to the light of day? You, sir, if you be a Christian catechumen, should know for yourself what would have been the fate of Alexandria had the devil’s plot of two days since succeeded. What if the people struck too fiercely? They struck in the right place. What if they have given the reins to passions fit only for heathens? Recollect the centuries of heathendom which bred those passions in them, and blame not my teaching, but the teaching of their forefathers. That very Peter. . . . What if he have for once given place to the devil, and avenged where he should have forgiven? Has he no memories which may excuse him for fancying, in a just paroxysm of dread, that idolatry and falsehood must be crushed at any risk? — He who counts back for now three hundred years, in persecution after persecution, martyrs, sir! martyrs — if you know what that word implies — of his own blood and kin; who, when he was but a seven years’ boy, saw his own father made a sightless cripple to this day, and his elder sister, a consecrated nun, devoured alive by swine in the open streets, at the hands of those who supported the very philosophy, the very gods, which Hypatia attempted yesterday to restore. God shall judge such a man; not I, nor you!’

‘Let God judge him, then, by delivering him to God’s minister.’

‘God’s minister? That heathen and apostate Prefect? When he has expiated his apostasy by penance, and returned publicly to the bosom of the Church, it will be time enough to obey him: till then he is the minister of none but the devil. And no ecclesiastic shall suffer at the tribunal of an infidel. Holy Writ forbids us to go to law before the unjust. — Let the world say of me what it will. I defy it and its rulers. I have to establish the kingdom of God in this city, and do it I will, knowing that other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ.’

‘Wherefore you proceed to lay it afresh. A curious method of proving that it is laid already.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Cyril angrily.

‘Simply that God’s kingdom, if it exist at all, must be a sort of kingdom, considering Who is The King of it, which would have established itself without your help some time since; probably, indeed, if the Scriptures of my Jewish forefathers are to be believed, before the foundation of the world; and that your business was to believe that God was King of Alexandria, and had put the Roman law there to crucify all murderers, ecclesiastics included, and that crucified they must be accordingly, as high as Haman himself.’

‘I will hear no more of this, sir! I am responsible to God alone, and not to you: let it be enough that by virtue of the authority committed to me, I shall cut off these men from the Church of God, by solemn excommunication, for three years to come.’

‘They are not cut off, then, it seems, as yet?’

‘I tell you, sir, that I shall cut them off! Do you come here to doubt my word?’

‘Not in the least, most august sir. But I should have fancied that, according to my carnal notions of God’s Kingdom and The Church, they had cut off themselves most effectually already, from the moment when they cast away the Spirit of God, and took to themselves the spirit of murder and cruelty; and that all which your most just and laudable excommunication could effect, would be to inform the public of that fact. However, farewell! My money shall be forthcoming in due time; and that is the most important matter between us at this moment. As for your client Peter and his fellows, perhaps the most fearful punishment which can befall them, is to go on as they have begun. I only hope that you will not follow in the same direction.’

‘I?’ cried Cyril, trembling with rage.

‘Really I wish your Holiness well when I say so. If my notions seem to you somewhat secular, yours — forgive me — seem to the somewhat atheistic; and I advise you honestly to take care lest while you are busy trying to establish God’s kingdom, you forget what it is like, by shutting your eyes to those of its laws which are established already. I have no doubt that with your Holiness’s great powers you will succeed in establishing something. My only dread is, that when it is established, you should discover to your horror that it is the devil’s kingdom and not God’s.’

And without waiting for an answer, Raphael bowed himself out of the august presence, and sailing for Berenice that very day, with Eudaimon and his negro wife, went to his own place; there to labour and to succour, a sad and stern, and yet a loving and a much-loved man, for many a year to come.

And now we will leave Alexandria also, and taking a forward leap of some twenty years, see how all other persons mentioned in this history went, likewise, each to his own place. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A little more than twenty years after, the wisest and holiest man in the East was writing of Cyril, just deceased —

‘His death made those who survived him joyful; but it grieved most probably the dead; and there is cause to fear, lest, finding his presence too troublesome, they should send him back to us. . . . May it come to pass, by your prayers, that he may obtain mercy and forgiveness, that the immeasurable grace of God may prevail over his wickedness!. . . . ’

So wrote Theodoret in days when men had not yet intercalated into Holy Writ that line of an obscure modern hymn, which proclaims to man the good news that ‘There is no repentance in the grave.’ Let that be as it may, Cyril has gone to his own place. What that place is in history is but too well known. What it is in the sight of Him unto whom all live for ever, is no concern of ours. May He whose mercy is over all His works, have mercy upon all, whether orthodox or unorthodox, Papist or Protestant, who, like Cyril, begin by lying for the cause of truth; and setting off upon that evil road, arrive surely, with the Scribes and Pharisees of old, sooner or later at their own place!

True, he and his monks had conquered; but Hypatia did not die unavenged. In the hour of that unrighteous victory, the Church of Alexandria received a deadly wound. It had admitted and sanctioned those habits of doing evil that good may come, of pious intrigue, and at last of open persecution, which are certain to creep in wheresoever men attempt to set up a merely religious empire, independent of human relationships and civil laws; to ‘establish,’ in short, a ‘theocracy,’ and by that very act confess their secret disbelief that God is ruling already. And the Egyptian Church grew, year by year, more lawless and inhuman. Freed from enemies without, and from the union which fear compels, it turned its ferocity inward, to prey on its own vitals, and to tear itself in pieces by a voluntary suicide, with mutual anathemas and exclusions, till it ended as a mere chaos of idolatrous sects, persecuting each other for metaphysical propositions, which, true or false, were equally heretical in their mouths, because they used them only as watch-words of division. Orthodox or unorthodox, they knew not God, for they knew neither righteousness, nor love, nor peace. . . . They ‘hated their brethren, and walked on still in darkness, not knowing whither they were going’. . . . till Amrou and his Mohammedans appeared; and whether they discovered the fact or not, they went to their own place. . . .

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though He stands and waits with patience, with exactness grinds He all —

And so found, in due time, the philosophers as well as the ecclesiastics of Alexandria.

Twenty years after Hypatia’s death, philosophy was flickering down to the very socket. Hypatia’s murder was its death-blow. In language tremendous and unmistakable, philosophers had been informed that mankind had done with them; that they had been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; that if they had no better Gospel than that to preach, they must make way for those who had. And they did make way. We hear little or nothing of them or their wisdom henceforth, except at Athens, where Proclus, Marinus, Isidore, and others kept up ‘the golden chain of the Platonic succession,’ and descended deeper and deeper, one after the other, into the realms of confusion — confusion of the material with the spiritual, of the subject with the object, the moral with the intellectual; self-consistent in one thing only — namely, in their exclusive Pharisaism utterly unable to proclaim any good news for man as man, or even to conceive of the possibility of such, and gradually looking with more and more complacency on all superstitious which did not involve that one idea, which alone they stated — namely, the Incarnation; craving after signs and wonders, dabbling in magic, astrology, and barbarian fetichisms; bemoaning the fallen age, and barking querulously at every form of human thought except their own; writing pompous biographies, full of bad Greek, worse taste, and still worse miracles. . . .

— That last drear mood Of envious sloth, and proud decrepitude; No faith, no art, no king, no priest, no God; While round the freezing founts of life in snarling ring, Crouch’d on the bareworn sod, Babbling about the unreturning spring, And whining for dead gods, who cannot save, The toothless systems shiver to their grave.

The last scene of their tragedy was not without a touch of pathos. . . . In the year 629, Justinian finally closed, by imperial edict, the schools of Athens. They had nothing more to tell the world, but what the world had yawned over a thousand times before: why should they break the blessed silence by any more such noises? The philosophers felt so themselves. They had no mind to be martyrs, for they had nothing for which to testify. They had no message for mankind, and mankind no interest for them. All that was left for them was to take care of their own souls; and fancying that they saw something like Plato’s ideal republic in the pure monotheism of the Guebres, their philosophic emperor the Khozroo, and his holy caste of magi, seven of them set off to Persia, to forget the hateful existence of Christianity in that realised ideal. Alas for the facts! The purest monotheism, they discovered, was perfectly compatible with bigotry and ferocity, luxury and tyranny, serails and bowstrings, incestuous marriages and corpses exposed to the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air; and in reasonable fear for their own necks, the last seven Sages of Greece returned home weary-hearted, into the Christian Empire from which they had fled, fully contented with the permission, which the Khozroo had obtained for them from Justinian, to hold their peace, and die among decent people. So among decent people they died, leaving behind them, as their last legacy to mankind, Simplicius’s Commentaries on Epictetus’s Enchiridion, an essay on the art of egotism, by obeying which, whosoever list may become as perfect a Pharisee as ever darkened the earth of God. Peace be to their ashes!. . . . They are gone to their own place. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wulf, too, had gone to his own place, wheresoever that may be. He died in Spain, full of years and honours, at the court of Adolf and Placidia, having resigned his sovereignty into the hands of his lawful chieftain, and having lived long enough to see Goderic and his younger companions in arms settled with their Alexandrian brides upon the sunny slopes from which they had expelled the Vandals and the Suevi, to be the ancestors of ‘bluest-blooded’ Castilian nobles. Wulf died, as he had lived, a heathen. Placidia, who loved him well, as she loved all righteous and noble souls, had succeeded once in persuading him to accept baptism. Adolf himself acted as one of his sponsors; and the old warrior was in the act of stepping into the font, when he turned suddenly to the bishop, and asked where were the souls of his heathen ancestors? ‘In hell,’ replied the worthy prelate. Wulf drew back from the font, and threw his bearskin cloak around him. . . . ‘He would prefer, if Adolf had no objection, to go to his own people.’ [Footnote: A fact.] And so he died unbaptized, and went to his own place.

Victoria was still alive and busy: but Augustine’s warning had come true-she had found trouble in the flesh. The day of the Lord had come, and Vandal tyrants were now the masters of the fair corn-lands of Africa. Her father and brother were lying by the side of Raphael Aben–Ezra, beneath the ruined walls of Hippo, slain, long years before, in the vain attempt to deliver their country from the invading swarms. But they had died the death of heroes: and Victoria was content. And it was whispered, among the down-trodden Catholics, who clung to her as an angel of mercy, that she, too, had endured strange misery and disgrace; that her delicate limbs bore the scars of fearful tortures; that a room in her house, into which none ever entered but herself, contained a young boy’s grave; and that she passed long nights of prayer upon the spot, where lay her only child, martyred by the hands of Arian persecutors. Nay, some of the few who, having dared to face that fearful storm, had survived its fury, asserted that she herself, amid her own shame and agony, had cheered the shrinking boy on to his glorious death. But though she had found trouble in the flesh, her spirit knew none. Clear-eyed and joyful as when she walked by her father’s side on the field of Ostia, she went to and fro among the victims of Vandal rapine and persecution, spending upon the maimed, the sick, the ruined, the small remnants of her former wealth, and winning, by her purity and her piety, the reverence and favour even of the barbarian conquerors. She had her work to do, and she did it, and was content; and, in good time, she also went to her own place.

Abbot Pambo, as well as Arsenius, had been dead several years; the abbot’s place was filled, by his own dying command, by a hermit from the neighbouring deserts, who had made himself famous for many miles round, by his extraordinary austerities, his ceaseless prayers, his loving wisdom, and, it was rumoured, by various cures which could only be attributed to miraculous powers. While still in the prime of his manhood, he was dragged, against his own entreaties, from a lofty cranny of the cliffs to reside over the Laura of Scetis, and ordained a deacon at the advice of Pambo, by the bishop of the diocese, who, three years afterwards, took on himself to command him to enter the priesthood. The elder monks considered it an indignity to be ruled by so young a man: but the monastery throve and grew rapidly under his government. His sweetness, patience, and humility, and above all, his marvellous understanding of the doubts and temptations of his own generation, soon drew around him all whose sensitiveness or waywardness had made them unmanageable in the neighbouring monasteries. As to David in the mountains, so to him, every one who was discontented, and every one who was oppressed, gathered themselves. The neighbouring abbots were at first inclined to shrink from him, as one who ate and drank with publicans and sinners: but they held their peace, when they saw those whom they had driven out as reprobates labouring peacefully and cheerfully under Philammon. The elder generation of Scetis, too, saw, with some horror, the new influx of sinners: but their abbot had but one answer to their remonstrances —‘Those who are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick.’

Never was the young abbot heard to speak harshly of any human being. ‘When thou halt tried in vain for seven years,’ he used to say, ‘to convert a sinner, then only wilt thou have a right to suspect him of being a worse man than thyself.’ That there is a seed of good in all men, a Divine Word and Spirit striving with all men, a gospel and good news which would turn the hearts of all men, if abbots and priests could but preach it aright, was his favourite doctrine, and one which he used to defend, when, at rare intervals, he allowed himself to discuss any subject from the writings of his favourite theologian, Clement of Alexandria. Above all, he stopped, by stern rebuke, any attempt to revile either heretics or heathens. ‘On the Catholic Church alone,’ he used to say, ‘lies the blame of all heresy and unbelief: for if she were but for one day that which she ought to be, the world would be converted before nightfall.’ To one class of sins, indeed, he was inexorable — all but ferocious; to the sins, namely, of religious persons. In proportion to any man’s reputation for orthodoxy and sanctity, Philammon’s judgment of him was stern and pitiless. More than once events proved him to have been unjust: when he saw himself to be so, none could confess his mistake more frankly, or humiliate himself for it more bitterly: but from his rule he never swerved; and the Pharisees of the Nile dreaded and avoided him, as much as the publicans and sinners loved and followed him.

One thing only in his conduct gave some handle for scandal, among the just persons who needed no repentance. It was well known that in his most solemn devotions, on those long nights of unceasing prayer and self-discipline, which won him a reputation for superhuman sanctity, there mingled always with his prayers the names of two women. And, when some worthy elder, taking courage from his years, dared to hint kindly to him that such conduct caused some scandal to the weaker brethren, ‘It is true,’ answered he; ‘tell my brethren that I pray nightly for two women both of them young; both of them beautiful; both of them beloved by me more than I love my own soul; and tell them, moreover, that one of the two was a harlot, and the other a heathen.’ The old monk laid his hand on his mouth, and retired.

The remainder of his history it seems better to extract from an unpublished fragment of the Hagiologia Nilotica of Graidiocolosyrtus Tabenniticus, the greater part of which valuable work was destroyed at the taking of Alexandria under Amrou, A. D. 640.

‘Now when the said abbot had ruled the monastery of Scetis seven years with uncommon prudence, resplendent in virtue and in miracles, it befell that one morning he was late for the Divine office. Whereon a certain ancient brother, who was also a deacon, being sent to ascertain the cause of so unwonted a defection, found the holy man extended upon the floor of his cell, like Balaam in the flesh, though far differing from him in the spirit, having fallen into a trance, but having his eyes open. Who, not daring to arouse him, sat by him until the hour of noon, judging rightly that something from heaven had befallen him. And at that hour, the saint arising without astonishment, said, “Brother, make ready for me the divine elements, that I may consecrate them.” And he asking the reason wherefore, the saint replied, “That I may partake thereof with all my brethren, ere I depart hence. For know assuredly that, within the seventh day, I shall migrate to the celestial mansions. For this night stood by me in a dream, those two women, whom I love, and for whom I pray; the one clothed in a white, the other in a ruby-coloured garment, and holding each other by the hand; who said to me, ‘That life after death is not such a one as you fancy; come, therefore, and behold with us what it is like.’” Troubled at which words, the deacon went forth yet on account not only of holy obedience, but also of the sanctity of the blessed abbot, did not hesitate to prepare according to his command the divine elements: which the abbot having consecrated, distributed among his brethren, reserving only a portion of the most holy bread and wine; and then, having bestowed on them all the kiss of peace, he took the paten and chalice in his hands, and went forth from the monastery towards the desert; whom the whole fraternity followed weeping, as knowing that they should see his face no more. But he, having arrived at the foot of a certain mountain, stopped, and blessing them, commanded them that they should follow him no farther, and dismissed them with these words: “As ye have been loved, so love. As ye have been judged, so judge. As ye have been forgiven, so forgive.” And so ascending, was taken away from their eyes. Now they, returning astonished, watched three days with prayer and fasting: but at last the eldest brother, being ashamed, like Elisha before the entreaties of Elijah’s disciples, sent two of the young men to seek their master.

‘To whom befell a thing noteworthy and full of miracles. For ascending the same mountain where they had left the abbot, they met with a certain Moorish people, not averse to the Christianity, who declared that certain days before a priest had passed by them, bearing a paten and chalice, and blessing them in silence, proceeded across the desert in the direction of the cave of the holy Amma.

‘And they inquiring who this Amma might be, the Moors answered that some twenty years ago there had arrived in those mountains a woman more beautiful than had ever before been seen in that region, dressed in rich garments; who, after a short sojourn among their tribe, having distributed among them the jewels which she wore, had embraced the eremitic life, and sojourned upon the highest peak of a neighbouring mountain; till, her garments failing her, she became invisible to mankind, saving to a few women of the tribe, who went up from time to time to carry her offerings of fruit and meal, and to ask the blessing of her prayers. To whom she rarely appeared, veiled down to her feet in black hair of exceeding length and splendour.

‘Hearing these things, the two brethren doubted for awhile: but at last, determining to proceed, arrived at sunset upon the summit of the said mountain.

‘Where, behold a great miracle. For above an open grave, freshly dug in the sand, a cloud of vultures and obscene birds hovered, whom two lions, fiercely contending, drove away with their talons, as if from some sacred deposit therein enshrined. Towards whom the two brethren, fortifying themselves with the sign of the holy cross, ascended. Whereupon the lions, as having fulfilled the term of their guardianship, retired; and left to the brethren a sight which they beheld with astonishment, and not without tears.

‘For in the open grave lay the body of Philammon the abbot: and by his side, wrapped in his cloak, the corpse of a woman of exceeding beauty, such as the Moors had described. Whom embracing straitly, as a brother a sister, and joining his lips to hers, he had rendered up his soul to God; not without bestowing on her, as it seemed, the most holy sacrament; for by the grave-side stood the paten and the chalice emptied of their divine contents.

‘Having beheld which things awhile in silence, they considered that the right understanding of such matters pertained to the judgment seat above, and was unnecessary to be comprehended by men consecrated to God. Whereon, filling in the grave with all haste, they returned weeping to the Laura, and declared to them the strange things which they had beheld, and whereof I the writer, having collected these facts from sacrosanct and most trustworthy mouths, can only say that wisdom is justified of all her children.

‘Now, before they returned, one of the brethren searching the cave wherein the holy woman dwelt, found there neither food, furniture, nor other matters; saving one bracelet of gold, of large size and strange workmanship, engraven with foreign characters, which no one could decipher. The which bracelet, being taken home to the Laura of Scetis, and there dedicated in the chapel to the memory of the holy Amma, proved beyond all doubt the sanctity of its former possessor, by the miracles which its virtue worked; the fame whereof spreading abroad throughout the whole Thebaid, drew innumerable crowds of suppliants to that holy relic. But it came to pass, after the Vandalic persecution wherewith Huneric and Genseric the king devastated Africa, and enriched the Catholic Church with innumerable martyrs, that certain wandering barbarians of the Vandalic race, imbued with the Arian pravity, and made insolent by success, boiled over from the parts of Mauritania into the Thebaid region. Who plundering and burning all monasteries, and insulting the consecrated virgins, at last arrived even at the monastery of Scetis, where they not only, according to their impious custom, defiled the altar, and carried off the sacred vessels, but also bore away that most holy relic, the chief glory of the Laura — namely, the bracelet of the holy Amma, impiously pretending that it had belonged to a warrior of their tribe, and thus expounded the writing thereon engraven —

‘For Amalric Amal’s Son Smid Troll’s Son Made Me.

Wherein whether they spoke truth or not, yet their sacrilege did not remain unpunished; for attempting to return homeward toward the sea by way of the Nile, they were set upon while weighed down with wine and sleep, by the country people, and to a man miserably destroyed. But the pious folk, restoring the holy gold to its pristine sanctuary, were not unrewarded: for since that day it grows glorious with ever fresh miracles — as of blind restored to sight, paralytics to strength, demoniacs to sanity — to the honour of the orthodox Catholic Church, and of its ever-blessed saints.’. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So be it. Pelagia and Philammon, like the rest, went to their own place; to the only place where such in such days could find rest; to the desert and the hermit’s cell, and then forward into that fairy land of legend and miracle, wherein all saintly lives were destined to be enveloped for many a century thenceforth.

And now, readers, farewell. I have shown you New Foes under an old face — your own likenesses in toga and tunic, instead of coat and bonnet. One word before we part. The same devil who tempted these old Egyptians tempts you. The same God who would have saved these old Egyptians if they had willed, will save you, if you will. Their sins are yours, their errors yours, their doom yours, their deliverance yours. There is nothing new under the sun. The thing which has been, it is that which shall be. Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone, whether at Hypatia or Pelagia, Miriam or Raphael, Cyril or Philammon.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56