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“Fatal Vespers in Blackfriars," that is, by the fall of a building in that district, where a congregation of Roman Catholics had met to celebrate mass; upwards of a hundred persons were killed, and the accident was regarded as a judgment upon the hated sect.1
It has been justly enough said of the Comte de Champagny and his book on Rome et la Judée that he would be a better historian could he divest himself of Thwackum’s” propensity to saddle with judgments both Jew and Gentile. In some sense indeed (be it freely allowed) all history on a large scale is · the record of retributive dealings of God with His creatures, making their sins their scourges, and dooming those nations that have already foredoomed themselves by pride, apathy, or luxury. “But though we may lawfully watch the signs of the times, to interpret them demands wary walking and much charity.” The Comte is not content with descrying in events the swift or the tardy justice of Heaven; he traces it equally in their accessories and minor phenomena, and seats himself, like Minos and Rhadamanthus in Plato's Republic, before the folding doors of Orcus, sending nations, principalities, and powers to the left or right, according to his own notions of the fitness of things. But it would be hard, urges his reviewer, “ to persuade us that in the first century of the Christian era even Jerusalem was more wicked than Rome. To be
i The more distinctly so because it was noted by the curious (see Masson's Life of Milton, vol. i., p. 84) that the day of the accident, Oct. 26 (1623), was the 5th of November in the papal reckoning.
2 Thwackum “told his pupil that he ought to look on his broken limb as a judgment from Heaven on his sins. ..For his part, he said, he had often wondered some judgment had not overtaken him before.” So again a latter day Fielding somewhere speaks of those who “had for some time expected the earth to open and swallow up" an obnoxious portion of their fellow creatures ; but which desirable event, he says, had not yet occurred, “in consequence of some reprehensible laxity in the arrangements of the universe.” When Mrs. Tulliver, overtaken by disaster, in George Eliot's story, sends for her sisters, there is much lifting up of hands, and both uncles and aunts see that the ruin of Bessy and her family is as complete as they had ever foreboded it, and there is a general family sense that a judgment has fallen on Mr. Tulliver, which it would be an impiety to counteract by too much kindness.
consistent the Comte should doom both, or show reason why the former was annihilated, and the latter permitted to oppress the earth for full two centuries longer.”
So entirely, observes the historian of Latin Christianity, did the Anglo-Saxon clergy espouse the fierce animosities of the Anglo-Saxons, and even embitter them by their theologic hatred, that the gentle Bedė relates with triumph, as a manifest proof of the Divine wrath against the refractory Britons, a great victory over that wicked race, preceded by 3 massacre of twelve hundred British clergy (chiefly monks of Bangor) who stood aloof on an eminence praying for the success of their countrymen.
The signal “judgments" of universal church history lie thick on the surface. The wicked' priest Florentius tries to poison the holy Benedict,1 and is buried in the ruins of his chamber, which has fallen in, while the rest of the house remains standing. A boy monk, who loves his parents too dearly, and steals forth to visit them, is not merely struck with sudden death, but the holy earth refuses to retain his body, and casts it forth with indignation. Baronius ascribes the death of Charles Martel to his tardiness in marching to the Pope's succour. The death of the Northumbrian king, Aldfrid, following on his refusal of all concession to Wilfrid and the papal party, is attributed to the Divine vengeance. The Emperor Leo the Isaurian beholds in the terrific phenomenon of a volcanic eruption in the Ægean a sure manifestation of the Divine wrath, and attributes it to his patient acquiescence in the image worship of his subjects; while the monks, his implacable foes, behold in it God's fearful rebuke against the sacrilegious imperial edicts. The death of Leo IV. is ascribed to an act of sacrilege. A great admirer of precious stones, he
1 Compare the attempt of the ambitious archdeacon to poison the aged bishop of Canosa. "The bishop drank the cup, having made the sign of the cross, and the archdeacon fell dead, as if the poison had found its way to his stomach.”—Milman, Latin Christianity, i. 419.
2 “How came the Pope to die also at this critical time?” asks Dean Milman.-Ibid., ii. 227.
had taken away and worn a crown, the offering of the Emperor Heraclius to some church: “the fatal fire burned into his head, which broke out into carbuncles, of which he died.” King Astolph being accidentally killed when hunting (A.D. 756), the adherents of the Pope behold the hand of God in his death. The sudden death of William of Utrecht, after excommunicating the Pope, appals all Germany : “ The blasphemer of Hildebrand had perished in an agony of despair ; and God had not only pronounced His awful vengeance against the blasphemer himself, the cathedral which had witnessed the ceremony of Gregory's excommunication had been struck by the lightning of heaven.” The death of Pope Victor III. (A.D. 1087) gives occasion for the historian's remark, that in those times of blind and obstinate mutual hostility no rapid death, common enough, especially in that climate, could take place without suggesting a providential judgment, or something out of the course of nature. In the case of the next Victor, Octavian of St. Cecilia, at the scene of his election, amid tumult and opposition, a Roman senator snatches the cope from his hands; but Octavian's party are prepared for such an accident; his chaplain has another cope ready, in which he is invested with such indecent haste that, “ as it was declared by a manifest Divine judgment,” the front part appears behind, the hinder part before. A fever at Rome in A.D. 1167 resents the invasion of Frederick's German army, and chooses its chief victims from among the partisans of the antipope. Throughout Europe the clergy of the other side raise a cry of awful exultation; it is God manifestly avenging Himself on the enemies of His church; the new Sennacherib (so Barbarossa is styled by Becket) has been smitten in his pride. Throughout the later and darker part of the reign of our Henry II. the clergy take care to inculcate, and the people are prone to adopt, the belief that all his disasters and calamities, the rebellion of his wife and of his sons, are judgments of God for the persecution, if not the murder, of the martyr Thomas; and the strong mind of Henry himself, depressed by misfortune and by the estrangement of his children, acknowledges with super
stitious awe the justice of their conclusions. On Innocents' Day, two years after the condemnation at Oxford, during the celebration of the mass in the church of Lutterworth, Wycliffe has a final stroke of paralysis, and he dies on the last day of the year. In the suddenness of his death, in the day of his death, in the fearful distortions which usually accompany that kind of death, nothing is lost upon his adversaries, who of course hold him to be a victim of Divine wrath.1 That terrible inundation of the Netherlands in 1570, of which Mr. Motley gives so graphic an account, happening to occur on All Saints' day, of course the Spaniards maintain loudly that it is the vengeance of Heaven descending upon the abode of heretics. Just as conscientiously as “it was the common opinion,” says Ælian, “that the earthquake in Sparta was a judgment from the gods upon the Spartan inhumanity to the helots.” Gentile and Jew are alike apt to urge the query of the Christian poet :
“ Is adverse Providence, when pondered well,
So dimly writ or difficult to spell,
Providence adverse in events like these?”. When pondered well—ay, there's the rub. For as Godredud puts it, in Edwin the Fair, the worthy abbot doth excellently well to bid us weigh these miracles and signs : “They signified, doubtless, some untoward events, my lords; but what those untoward events should be, behoves us not too rashly to deliver.” Paracelsus interrupts the “God wills not” of Festus with,
so ..Now, 'tis this I most admire,
1 By one account he died on the day of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and was struck while impiously inveighing against that martyr of the church. See Hist. of Lat. Christ., vi. 134. Cf. ibid., i. 422, 464; ii. 61, 156, 181, 246 ; iii. 156, 208, 428, 494, 524, 533.
Dr. Lingard says that from the doctrine of a superintending Providence the piety of our ancestors drew a rash but very convenient inference, that success is an indication of the Divine will, and that of course to resist a victorious competitor is to resist the judgment of Heaven. Isaac Disraeli makes acidulous mirth of a book by a “crackbrained puritan," whose experience never went beyond his own neighbourhood, but who having a very bad temper, and many whom he considered his enemies, wrote down all the misfortunes which befel them as acts of “particular providences,” and valued his blessedness on the efficacy of his curses. Addison moralises through a whole Spectator on the text, that we cannot be guilty of a greater act of uncharitableness than to interpret the afflictions of our neighbours as punishments and judgments; and he goes on to describe an old maiden gentlewoman, whom he proposes to conceal under the name of Nemesis, as the greatest discoverer of judgments he had ever met with. She could tell you what sin it was that set such a man's house on fire, or blew down his barns; how yonder once fair girl lost her beauty by small pox because she was too fond of her looking-glass; why such an one died childless; why such an one was cut off in the flower of his youth; why another broke his leg on such a particular spot of ground ; and why another was killed with a backsword rather than with any other kind of weapon.3 She
1 Mr. Buckle cites, as the last vestige of this once universal opinion, the expression of “ appealing to the God of battles,” and that, he contended, is gradually falling into disuse. Had he lived to witness certain later wars, he would have owned the decline to be very gradual.
2 The great fire of London made capital for the judgment-mongers. One exercise of their right of private judgment lives in a vigorous couplet of Dryden's on the “blind, unmannered zealots”
“ Who think that fire a judgment on the stage
Which spared not temples in its furious rage.” 3 There is some analogy, so to speak, in these distributive judgments. And that is not always a matter of concern with some judgment saddlers. One of Canon Kingsley's early heroes twits a discourser on judgments with the objection that those judgments of God, “ as you call them,” are often not judgments at all in any fair use of the word, but capricious acts of punishment on the part of Heaven, which have no more reference to the