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NYPL RESEARCH LIBRARIES



3 3433 06820216 1



THE LADY ECCLESIA






THE



LADY ECCLESIA



AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY



BY



GEORGE MATHESON, M.A., D.D, F.R.S.E.

MINISTER OF THE PARISH OF ST. BERNARD'S, EDINBURGH



-^



NEW YORK
DODD MEAD 6z CO
149— 151,, FIFTH AVENUE
1897



THE NEW YORK



RY



mmn



ASTOR, LENOX AMD

TILDEN FOUNDATIONS

R 1933 L



PREFACE

IN this narrative, though I have compressed
nations into miles and centuries into weeks,
I have seldom departed from the stream of history,
nowhere, I hope, from the stream of experience.
I do not think the beauty of an allegory is its
puzzle, but its obviousness. As a key therefore
to these pages, let me state that most of the
characters are representative, even when suggested
by individual names. Ecclesia — the New Testa-
ment word for the Church — represents that inner
life of Christianity itself which was originally the
flower of Judaism. Hellenicus represents that
phase of the Greek mind which came into brief
contact with the flower of Judaism. The Lord
of Palatine represents the Roman Emperor, but
not any particular emperor ; Caiaphas, the Jewish
Priesthood, but not any special priest. Phoebe



VI PREFACE

— the letter-carrier of the Apostles — stands for the
ministrant influence of the new faith ; the captain
of the guard figures the imperial system ; while
the " son of the star " in chapter xxiv., though
a real historical character, represents the false
Christ everywhere. I have had some difficulty
in introducing the person of the true Christ. I
have felt that to make Him speak directly in
broad daylight, except in the actual words of
the Gospels, might seem irreverent ; I have
therefore taken frequent refuge under the cover
of the dream. I have only to add that there
has been a designed exclusion of all local colour-
ing, in order to keep the mind from dwelling on
the accidents. The framework is historical, but
the picture ought to be universal — the same
yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.



CONTENTS



CHAP.

I. MY HOME

II. THE LETTER OF HELLENICUS

III. THE CONCLAVE OF THE ISLAND .

IV. THE DECISION OF THE CONCLAVE
V. THE INTERVIEW ....

VI. A VISION OF THE NIGHT .

VII. THE STRUGGLE OF REASON AND FAITH

VIII. IN THE VALLEY .

IX. THE PRIESTHOOD OF HUMANITY

X. THE LAST MADE FIRST

XI. NOT PEACE, BUT A SWORD .

XII. IN FRONT OF THE ACCUSER
vii



TAGE

I

9
17

27

38
46
54
63
75
87
97
T08



Vlll



CONTENTS



CHAP.

XIII. PHCEBE

XIV. THE CONFESSION BEFORE MEN .
XV. INWARD WANDERINGS
XVI. HOURS OF CONVALESCENCE
XVII. A SECRET MEETING .
XVIII, MY NEW CORRESPONDENT .
XIX. ALONE IN THE STORM
XX. THE DAY OF CRISIS .
XXI. THE TRAGEDY OF THE INNER SHRINE
XXII. BEFORE THE DEPARTURE .

XXIII. OUTSIDE THE GATES .

XXIV. THE FIRST WORLDLY TEMPTATION
XXV. THE SECOND WORLDLY TEMPTATION

XXVI. PALATINE HOUSE
X'VII. IN THE HALL OF JUDGMENT
XXVIII. THE JUDGMENT ....
XXIX. THE THIRD WORLDLY TEMPTATION
XXX. CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS .



CHAPTER 1

MV HOME

FROM the shores of our island no man had
ever seen land. Far as the eye could reach,
and far as the memory could travel, there had
never been a hint of anything beyond. From the
dawn of historic time men had looked out on the
sea and beheld nothing more. Generation after
generation had tried to see more. The eye had
peered into the distance, and had come back
without a message. The ear had listened to the
moaning of the waters, and had caught no human
murmur. Ships had gone forth to explore : some
had returned after vain voyaging ; some had sunk
beneath the wave ; none had brought tidings of
land.

The sea was our great problem. Almost the
first question of our childhood was, "What is
opposite ? " and the answer was ever the same, " I
don't know." Frequently we made journeys from



2 THE LADY ECCLESIA

one end of the island to the other ; but it was
ahvays to look at the sea. We often thought that
our pleasure in these journeys lay in the sights
of the island ; but in this we deceived ourselves.
Our search was really for a voice from the sea. It
was the hope that some new angle of the road
might waft a fresh breath from the ocean — a breath
that should bear upon its wings the murmur of the
shells upon another shore.

This is really the answer to a charge which has
often been made against the people of our island.
VVe have been accused of frivolity, of inability to
rest, of perpetual search for the new. After long
experience, I say it is not so. I, Ecclesia, daughter
of the island, born of its rulers, bred in its customs,
recipient of its pleasures, with a full knowledge of
its men and women, and, better still, with an
adequate knowledge of myself, declare that I and
my countrymen, where we have sought at all, have
never sought but one thing — the secret of the sea.
All our search for novelty is our search for the
opposite land. If we flit from flower to flower, it
is because in each flower we fail to find what we
sought. It is not that we have found the new
thing and grown tired of it ; it is that we have
never found it. There are those among us who
climb height after height unsatisfied ; but they



MY HOME 3

are not really changeable. At every height they
seek only one thing — a commanding view of the
sea. If they found it, they would stop.

I have said that I was descended from the rulers
of the island. I have rather expressed a claim
than indicated a possession. My father was Moses
ben-Israel. He professed to be the head of the
oldest clan in the community. He claimed to
have received the island by a deed of gift. He did
so on very peculiar grounds. One of his ancestors,
a namesake of his own, had spent his life in the
long search. His eye had rested on a height
called Pisgah, far above the mist and the haze.
He felt that, if he could get there, he might learn
something of a world beyond the sea. One day,
in a serene sky, he ascended its summit, and re-
turned no more. He was sought for by crag and
stream; but he returned no more. There was
no trace of his living ; there was no trace of his
dying ; only, on a cleft of the hill, there was
found a tablet of stone, on which in clear letters
there was graven this inscription : " Moses, the
man of Pisgah ; unto thee and to thy seed will I
give this land."

My father held this to be a divine bequest — a
deed of gift which committed the island to him
and to his heirs for ever. He had no doubt about



4 THE LADY ECCLESIA

its supernatural origin. Neither had I ; yet to me
the value of the inscription lay in something very
different. What was the land of which this
ancient Moses had received a promise? Was it,
as my father thought, the island on which we
dwelt ? Was it not rather the land for which he
had been seeking ? Did not the tablet say that —
though the outer eye had failed — the inner sight
had been victorious ? Did it not mean to tell
that the vision of faith had seen what the vision
of sense could not, and that beyond the waste
of waters there w^as a home for the spirit of man ?

I remember making the suggestion to my father.
I shall never forget how he received it. It was the
first occasion on which I ever saw him angry — the
only subject on which I have ever seen him ruffled.
" Ecclesia," he said, " let us have no more of these
fancies. It is bad enough to be denuded of one's
rights without having it sanctioned by a theory. I
have lived here all my life in poverty and struggle.
Families but of yesterday have passed me by.
They have patronised me — me who was in flower
before they were in root. I have caught the dust
from their chariot wheels ; I have seen them smile
in benignant pity. But I have been sustained
through all. What is it that has sustained me?
It is the knowledge that this island is mine



MY HOME 5

by right to-day and shall be mine in fact to-
morrow. You speak of a land beyond. If it were
only a romance, I would let it pass ; but it is
a romance that spoils the reality. I have been
striving all day to hit the mark on a tree, and you
tell me that perhaps there is another tree — a tree
beyond the ocean. You are diverting the strength
of my aim, and I want it all. My promised land
is here. My duty has been bequeathed to me by
a hundred sires, and I shall bequeath it to you
by-and-by."

And so I sought to turn my mind from the
great sea — from the mystery of the ocean to the
promise of the land. It seemed more loyal, more
sacred, more religious, to be prosaic. It was
against my nature, and therefore I felt it must
be good. I had always been taught that virtue
lies in doing what we don't wish to do. I had
always been told that the value of a deed was
in proportion to its pain. To me the thought
of religion was inseparable from the thought of
sacrifice. Surely religion was here. My heart
was in the murmur of the shell, and my loathing
in the murmur of the world. Ought not my heart
to yield to my loathing ? Should not the secular
life by its very repugnance become to me the
divine life? Why should I not take up my



6 THE LAr3Y ECCLESIA

father's quarrel — the trampled honour of his family ?
He was only a servant in his own house. He
paid rent for his srr»all estate to the lord of the
island — his island. Who was his master ? Caesar
of Palatine Hill — a man, comparatively, of yester-
day. Did he not well to be angry? ought not I
to be angry too? Was not this to me the first
and great commandment, " Thou shalt revive the
glories of the house of Israel " ?

The greatest events of our lives are the events
that are purely inward. One day something
happened to me — something known only to my-
self. I was in the sitting-room, and I was alone.
I was thinking what I could do to bring back
the fortunes of my race. What could I do ? I
was a girl of eighteen, and had seen little of life.
I was an only child. I had never known a
mother's care ; she had died at my birth. I had
been brought up in much seclusion ; the family
pride and the family poverty had combined to
isolate me. I felt at this moment the burden of
the land to be as heavy as the burden of the sea ;
I was impotent from sheer ignorance. Suddenly
there befell a thing which happens periodically
to old furniture ; there was a crack in the wood
behind the mirror. I rose mechanically and ap-
proached the direction of the sound. I looked



MY HOME 7

mechanically at the polished surface. I had done
so a thousand times before, and seen nothing but
the commonplace. All at once I started. If the
heavens had opened, I could not have been more
surprised. A revelation came to me, unsought,
undreamed of. I was beautiful — distinctly, un-
mistakably beautiful. I stood in the presence of
myself with unveiled face, and I admired.

What boundless conceit! you say. You are
wrong. It was the most impersonal revelation
I ever received in my life. I said, " I am beauti-
ful," as I would have said, " The day is fine," or
"The fields are green." If you ask me why I
said it to-day rather than yesterday, I cannot tell ;
but neither can you tell why you do the same
thing. There is a time in the life of every man
and woman in which he or she first said, " This
is beauty." It is a matter of small consequence
whether the object be one's self or another ; the
point is that there is a definite time for the
revelation. When or how it comes, I know not ;
but this I do know, that in the large majority
of cases the hour of its coming is not the hour
of its first appearing. To-day the child treads
ruthlessly over the flowers ; to-morrow he comes
back to admire them. A few minutes ago the
mirror simply reflected ; it now did more — it



8 THE LADY ECCLESIA

revealed. I took the old step over the old stile,
and in the act there came to me a new world ;
I had stepped from despair into hope.

For, standing before that mirror, there flashed
into my heart a great design. There came to me
an intoxicating moment of self-conscious power.
I lost sight of the shore and the waters. For
the first time in my life there rose before me a
vision of empire. I was not the poor creature I
had deemed. I had a gift ; I had a talisman.
What was wanted to restore the glory of my race ?
Was it not wealth, and wealth alone ? I would
bring back the glory ; I would recall the ancient
splendour. I looked down to the valleys, where
my people were struggling. 1 looked up to the
proud crest of Palatine Hill, where dwelt the lord
of the island. And I said, " I shall draw them
together ; I shall unite the mountain and the
vale." The image of an earthly kingdom swam
before my eyes ; the ambition of a human great-
ness leapt within my heart. Yet I know that
even then it was another form of the old, old
story ; and ever from the lonely beach came up
the low surge of the sea.



CHAPTER II
THE LETTER OF HELLENICUS

THE next scene reproduced by memory is
after three years. I am sitting in the same
room ; I am looking at the same mirror ; I am
beholding the same figure ; and I am again alone.
I have triumphed — beyond all my dreams I have
triumphed. It was no deception, this perilous gift
of beauty. It had led me, like the instinct of the
bee, to the making of a great house. A letter is
before me. It is from Hellenicus, brother of him
who rules the island — Ctesar of Palatine Hill. He
offers me the alliance of his interests — his heart
and his hand. For three years I have been the
magnet of the social circle. I have known my
power ; I have used it. It has been no surprise
to me to receive this letter ; I have seen it coming.
And now it is come, and I have conquered : ought
I not to be glad ?

Am I glad? You, who read these memoirs,



lo THE LADY ECCLESIA

consider the peculiarity of my case. Do you
imagine that at any time my ambition had been
personal ? Do you think that for a single moment
my vision of empire had been a girl's forecast of
individual wealth or power ? Ambition there was
forecast there was ; but for myself, never. It was
for my race, my people, my buried lineage. My
act of worldliness was to me an act of sacrifice.
It was a consecration, a surrender, an altar fire.
Personal joy was out of the question : if I had
wanted personal joy, I would have mused by the
sea. My love was in the mystery of the ocean ;
my duty was in the pleasures of the land. To
me the spirit of the world had become the will
of God. It was the will of God because it was
contrary to my own will. It was the cross which
I had to take up, the penance to which I had
to devote myself. It was my asceticism, my
solitude, my self-denial. I had yielded my indi-
vidual life to the service of my family, and, if
there was any joy for me, it must come in the
glory of my people.

Had I reached this joy ? The letter was before
me. What did it say ? All that was luscious, all
that was gushing. There was a picture in one
of our rooms of a man in a garden who is allowed
to eat of every tree but one, which was consecrated



THE LETTER OF HELLENICUS ii

to the will of God. This letter seemed to me to
go beyond that picture. It offered the trees
without any prohibition and without consecrating
a single spot. The note from beginning to end
was, " Get rid of trouble." Strange to say, it was
this element in the letter which disturbed me. It
ignored the only thing which had been my motive
— the desire to sink myself in my race. As I ran
my eye down the passages I felt annoyance at the
very places where most would have experienced
delight. " Leave these weeping valleys and come
aloft. Come up into the pure air, into the bright
sunshine. Why drag out your days amongst
things beneath you ? On the uplands where I
dwell the heart is ever light. We forget the cares
of the valley ; we toil not, we spin not. Come to
me, and you shall rest Your life shall be one long
summer day. It shall move through the path
where the birds sing, where the flowers bloom. It
shall be fanned by gentle breezes ; it shall be
regaled by sweetest melodies. Its morning shall
be the lark, and its eve the nightingale. No sorrow
shall come near you ; no trouble shall dim your
eye ; no work shall soil your hand. All your
burdens shall be borne by others. They shall
bring you the pearl from the sea and the treasure
from the mine. They shall spread for you the



12 THE LADY ECCLESIA

luxurious couch ; they shall furnish your table ;
they shall row your barge ; they shall drive your
chariot. Your sight shall be veiled from all scenes
of misery. Your ear shall be curtained from all
cries of pain. You shall live in the present ; you
shall neither anticipate nor remember. You shall
never look at a grave, never listen to the word
' death.' Where the shadows gather, you shall
call on the music and the dance to chase them
away. In the forgetfulness of all that is sad you
will learn what it would be to be divine."

So ran the glowing words. Were they glorious
as well as glowing? Did they express my own
ideal of life, of" what it would be to be divine " ? To
me the divine life had always been the life contrary
to nature — the life which did what it did not wish
to do. Here the divine life was nature itself; it
was the love of all outward things, and the power
to gratify that love. " Leave these weeping
valleys " ? They were the very things I wanted
to take with me. They belonged to my father's
grounds ; their inhabitants had been the retainers
of his house for centuries. It was for these
weeping valleys I had taught my eyes to look
upon the hills. It was to lift them up that I
wished myself to be lifted up. I heard them ever
saying in the words of one of my old songs,



THE LETTER OF HELLENICUS 13

" Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from
following after thee." Whoever would take me
must take my burden too. Was it fair that this
man should be deceived ? Was it right he should
think me unencumbered ? Was it well he should
even figure me with an empty heart which he
could fill ? No ; I must speak with him, I must
tell him. He must know what I had, what I had
not, to give. He must take me with my thorn,
knowing it to be a thorn. He must learn that I
could not, dared not live for individual joy. He
must accept me, not for myself alone, but for the
sake of my peopk.

Hark! what was that? Was the storm rising?
Was the surge of the sea becoming more accen-
tuated? My father's house was on the plain
between the valley and the hill. From the region
beneath there began to ascend a strange murmur.
At first I thought it the voice of nature ; by-and-by
it was like the voice of man. It rose and swelled
like a wave, but without its rhythm. There was
no uniformity about it. Sometimes it was quick,
sometimes slow ; now a dirge or wail, and anon a
shout of anger. The noise deepened ; the valleys
seemed to be climbing ; I grew cold in every limb.
Presently I heard the approach of footsteps. The
door was hurriedly opened, and my father came in.



14 THE LADY ECCLESIA

]Ic was deadly pale, though maintaining his
habitual calm.

'' What is wrong, father ? " I said.

" The plague has broken out in the valleys."

" The plague ! What plague ? "

" The old enemy of this island."

" I never heard of it, father."

" Oh ! it is no new thing ; but its outbursts are
only once or twice in a lifetime. The last was
before you were born. We never like to speak of
such things."

" But what is the clamour, father ? Is it pain ?
Is it fear?"

" It is the strangest thing that ever entered into
the mind of man. This plague comes in the form
of a black spot on the heart ; but nobody ever
feels it in himself. The first intimation a man
gets that he is a victim is seeing the black
spot in imagination on the face of another. The
affected men down yonder believe themselves
to be unaffected. They see their own disease on
the bodies of those who have given no sign of
it. They do not want them to come near lest
they catch the pestilence. Some are shrieking in
dismay. Some are shouting threats. Some are
imploring their brethren to leave them. Some are
throwing stones to drive them back into the sea ;



THE LETTER OF HELLENICUS 15

and the children are screaming because they hear
others scream."

" Oh, it is sad, it is heartrending ! " I cried, burst-
ing into tears.

" Sadder than you deem," he said. " How do
you think it will affect your prospects ? Have you
answered Hellenicus ? "

I winced. Of all the salt drops I had shed, not
one had fallen on account of him. " I have not
answered him," I said. " I am glad I have not
answered ; I can release him from any bond on his
honour by simply refusing him. A few minutes
ago I would have given him the alternative of
taking me with my burden or passing me by. But
now I cannot ; I will bring no tarnished blood into
another house."

" Tarnished blood ! " he cried. " And who
tarnished it? He and such as he. If we had
remained as God made us, there is no blood in the
island so pure as ours. It is the * other house'
that has infected us. These people in the valleys
have done as you were about to do — intermarried.
It is from men like Hellenicus that our plague has
come. If you went to him, the sacrifice would be
all on your side."

"Father," I exclaimed, "if I thought that, I
would go. If he had put such a postscript to his



i6 THE LADY ECCLESIA

letter, he would ha\'c had little to fear. It is the
want of sacrifice on my part that drives me from
him. It seems to me that those of us who arc
whole are in debt to those that are sick, whoever
they may be — Hellenicus or another. Is nothing
to be done? Are we to sit here calmly, over-
looking the scene of misery, and beholding man's
inhumanity to man? Are we to allow men to
lacerate one another, exterminate one another,
when a soothing word might save ? Come, let us
go down to them, you and I together. You are
their king by right; you shall be their king in
truth when you have won their hearts."

" Ecclesia," he said, " I cannot, I dare not. A
message has arrived from Palatine Hill, command-
ing that all the gates be shut which lead to the
valleys. There is to be a public meeting to-morrow,
and it will be followed by a more drastic decree
forbidding all contact with the infected district."

" Then," said I, " I must appeal to the pity of
Hellenicus."



CHAPTER III
THE CONCLAVE OF THE ISLAND

THE next day, within the largest hall in
the island, there was gathered the most
august assembly I have ever seen. Never before,
never since, have I witnessed such a meeting
of man with man. It was summoned by a
succession of trumpets, each repeating at the
farthest audible distance the blast of the other,
until the signal became universal. They came
from far and near, the representatives of this
little sea-girt world. They came to consider the
danger in the valleys — the pestilence and the
tumult. They came from the leading families,
from the leading professions. There were soldiers,
lawyers, priests, physicians, landed proprietors.
As I sat beside my father, a spectator of the
scene, I asked myself if there was any interest
unrepresented. Yes, there was one. There was
an extraordinary omission. They had come to



i8 THE LADY ECCLESIA

legislate for the valleys ; but from these valleys
themselves there was no representative. No
trumpet had sounded below. Not a voice had
been summoned from the contaminated district.
There was every testimony but direct testimony ;
all manner of vociferation round the wounded
comrade, but no contact with the comrade's
wounds. Looking on that great assembly, I felt
then, I feel now, that there was a link wanting to
the brotherhood of man.

In the centre of the building, on a golden throne,
sat the president of the council — Ccesar of Palatine
LTill. I knew him personally ; I had met him
in the sphere of social pleasure. But, apart from
that, I think I should have known him by in-
ference. Command was stamped on every linea-
ment ; his eagle aspect would have revealed him
always and anywhere. His keen eye, his firm
mouth, his haughty bearing, his imperative gesture,
would have marked him out in a crowd. Sitting
immediately below him was one whom I had
also reason to know — his brother Hellenicus.
Many men, and most women, would have said
that his face was more beautiful. Looking at
the two, I formed the opposite opinion. In the
relation in which I stood to him, it seemed
disloyal to say so even to myself. I could



THE CONCLAVE OF THE ISLAND 19

not help it. The two kinds of beauty were
radically different. The one was the seriousness
of overhanging crags ; the other was the smiling


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