John Henry Newman.

Lives of the English saints (Volume 2) online

. (page 5 of 33)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rity ; — or of St. Peter, full of love for his Lord, of hu-
mility, of readiness to die and to prefer a death of pain
for His sake. It was the belief that their spirit and
doctrine were preserved here which brought St. Ninian
from his distant home. Rome had killed them — Rome
for which they had laboured and interceded ; and the
blood of Martyrs, like that of their Lord, cries for mercy
on their persecutors, and brings blessings on the Church
for which they had shed their blood. So they became
the life of Rome. Persons taking a mere external
view saw this. Rome went to decay, and "like Thebes,
Babylon, or Carthage," says the historian of her fall,
" its name might have been erased from the earth, if
the city had not been animated by a vital principle
which again restored her to honour and dominion.
Two Jewish teachers," (so he speaks) "a tentmaker
and a fisherman, had been executed in the circus of
Nero, and five hundred years after their relics were
adored as the Palladium of Christian Rome :" and
a glory and a kingdom were given to it before which
the ancient empire sank into inferiority.

To these slirines St. Ninian came, with a heart full
of devout sentiments ; with gratitude that he should
have been brought to this great object of his desire ;
that he, a Briton, from almost another world, might
approach the very remains of the Apostles ; and with

56 ST. NINIAn'S life at ROME,

earnest prayers for the furtherance of his designs.
" He shed tears," as the simple narrative proceeds,
" before the holy relics of the Apostles, as pledges of
his devotion, and with many prayers commended his
desii'e to their patronage."


St. JVinian's Life at Home.

After having thus performed his devotions at the
tombs of the Apostles, St. Ninian sought tlie Pope,
and laid before him the object of his journey. It had
long been usual for Christians, in travelling from one
part of the Church to another, to take with them com-
mendatory letters from the Bishop of their own Church,
which should be an evidence of their being in the
Catholic Communion, and a recommendation to the
Churches wliich they might visit. Such we suppose
St. Ninian to have brought and to have presented to
St. Damasus, who had now for nearly twenty years
occupied the holy See, having been elected at sixty
years of age, in 3fi6. By this aged saint he was most
kindly received, and the object of his leaving his home
and seeking the Church of Rome, heartily entered
into and approved. St. Damasus, himself, was a
man of taste and learning. Some of his sacred poems
and official letters have come down to us. He was also
a great encourager of learned men, and prompted
them to undertake works for the service of religion ;
one especially, the Translation and Commentaries on
the Scriptures by St. Jerome, was the fruit of his

ST. NINIAN's life at ROME. 57

suggestions, for which alone he deserves our gratitude.
This saint was probably with him about the time St.
Ninian came : he resided at Rome for two years, at
the wish of the Pope ; and assisted liim in these last
years of his life in writing those important letters, on
many nice and important points of doctrine and ecclesi-
astical rules, which the See of Rome, consulted and
appealed to from every part of Christendom, had
continually to send out. And it may throw light on
the real character of St. Damasus, who is said to
have wrought miracles in life and after death, to con-
sider him as supporting under strong unpopularity the
austere and simple mannered Jerome, and selecting
him as his confidential adviser ; and as entering, with
the kindness and interest of a father, (for he embraced
him, it is said, as his own son,) into the views of the
devout Ninian, who, from a simple desire after the
knowledge of Christian Truth, had given up all the
world had to oifer him. For, outwardly, St. Damasus
lived in a splendour which emperors might envy, and
had a mind which delighted in great and magnificent
works. "Whilst Christian Bishops in general lived
with simplicity, external humility, and often in po-
verty, the Bishops of Rome were surrounded by pomp
and grandeur. But under this external splendour how
often in every age has there been concealed a true
poverty of spirit and a self-denying life. St. Jerome,
who knew well the character of the Pope, and whose
sincerity and severe standard of Christian holiness
renders his testimony most valuable, designates him as
" of holy memory."

St. Ninian was received by him with the utmost kind-
ness, Avith, as has been said, the affection of a father.
He laid open the object for which he had come to Rome ;

58 ST. NIXIAN's life at ROME.

and how highly does it speak for the deeply devout
character of the Pope, now nearly eighty years of age,
that he should enter into and approve a course which
had about it so much which in other matters we should
call romantic. How rarely do we find the aged capable
of entering into the feelings of the young, in cases
especially, where worldly interests are concerned, and
the usual course of action is departed from. The mere
natural disposition of old men leads them to look on the
self-forgetfulness of the young as a kind of folly, which
experience and sobriety of spirit will wean them from.
Such is the temper to which intercourse with the
world, and the downward and hardening tendencies of
our evil nature, incline us, even towards what is right,
and good, and noble, in the temperament of the young.
But not such is the aged Christian. He has learnt by
experience the true value of that Pearl of great price,
and the worthlessness of the woi'ld's best treasures.
In him love has been warmed and deej^ened ; and self-
sacrifice become a practical and habitual principle.
So that, whilst he has the discriminating eye which
sees the true path of duty, and distinguishes between a
course suggested by mere emotion or self-will, and
that to wliich the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads
the youthful scholar in the saintly life, he yet is not
wanting in the fullest sympathy with all that is no-
ble and disinterested in his spirit. The Christian mind
is one in all, and produces a mutual sym})athy in
those in whom it exists. Diversities of race and
climate, of station, age, emplo}'ment, which swallow
up the whole character in others, are but an outside
clothing to Christians, and fade away before the
unity of that in which the moral being really consists.

ST. NINIAN's life at ROME. 59

And age and youth love to dwell together in sympa-
thy and peace.

N^inian was placed by St. Damasus under the care of
teachers, who instructed him systematically in the doc-
trines of the Faith. He was, as Bede expresses it,
regular'iter doctus. We do not, indeed, know what
provision was made for the teaching of Christian doc-
trine to individuals. It would seem as if, as yet, it
had not assumed any very systematic shape. From
the first, the teachers (Doctors) formed one class of
the Christian ministry. They whose gifts, extraor-
dinary or ordinary, qualified them more especially for
the office of instructing others in the Faith, would be
employed in preparing converts and catechumens for
bajjtism ; and it seems most probable that they would
themselves advance in the study of Holy Scripture,
and the Christian writers, and in the further training
up of others. And this was one use of the JNIinor
Orders of the clergy, in which, according to the rule
of the apostle, they served a sort of probation for the
diaconate; and under the eye of the bishop, and the
teaching of the Doctors, prepared themselves for the
higher offices. At Alexandria the Church taught all
learning, human and divine. In other Churches, sec-
ular and preparatory knowledge of the arts and
sciences, was learnt from the established heathen insti-
tutions ; and Christian knowledge from their own Clergy.

Under the care of his present teachers St. Ninian
had every reason to rejoice in the step he had taken.
" The youth, full of the spirit of God, perceived that he
had not run or laboured in vain, as he now understood
that from their unskilful teachers, he and his country-
men had believed many things opposed to sound doc-
trine." He met with that satisfaction which the mind

60 ST. ninian's life at home.

feels in the consistency of the truths put before it ; and
still more the peace resulting from the confidence
wliich such harmony inspires, that it is indeed the truth
itself respecting the Supreme Object of his desire, love,
and reverence ; and not a shadow Avhich it grasps in-
stead. And the Holy Scriptures, now explained in
their true sense, harmonized with the doctrines incul-

The advantages he enjoyed, in this respect, were
very great. The Roman church was indeed the school
of the true faith, and in its atmosphere heretical teach-
ing was at once discovered. The controvercies of the
day had caused the truth on the most essential Doc-
trines to be elicited and defined ; and for the interpre-
tation of Scripture, the learning, and deep and clear
understanding of the Sacred writers, possessed by St.
Jerome, if not directly engaged in teaching St. Ninian,
must yet, without doubt, have had their influence on
those to whom St. Damasus committed him for instruc-
tion. It was the time, too, when the spiritual under-
standing of Scripture was being brought out so much
by St. Ambrose. And all the teacliing he then ob-
tained, whether from the lips of his instructers or the
writings of the great teachers of the Church, was
eagerly learnt and carefully stored up by St. Ninian
for his present comfort, and to be brought out in future
years for the instruction of others. In St. Aelred's
words. " Applying himself Avith entire eagerness to
the AVord of God, he drew from the views of different
teachers, as the laden bee from various flowers, the
rich honey with which he filled the cells of wisdom, and
stored them in the hive of his heart, to be kept there,
to be meditated on, and afterwards brought out for the

ST. NIMAN's life at ROME. 61

refreshment and support of his inner man, and the con-
solation of many others."

It was indeed a worthy recompense, that he, who
for the love of the truth had thought lightly of home,
country, wealth, and pleasures, should, so to say, be led
into the innermost shrine of truth, and admitted to
the very treasures of wisdom and knowledge ; should
receive for carnal, spiritual ; for earthly, heavenly ; for
temporal, eternal goods. He was happy. For he had
now found a home ; for what is a home but a place
where we meet with abiding sympathy — where we feel
we can repose on those who love us, and whom we love.
He had left a home which was dear to him ; one
which he might well and holily love ; but he had
found another, where he had what his own home could
not give, the knowledge of his Saviour. He had a new
father in the holy Damasus, and guides and directors in
his wise teachers, and doubtless many brethren, for not
in vain would he pray, " Let such as fear Thee, and
have known Thy testimonies, be turned unto me. And
Rome was full of objects for a Christian to admire and

It so happens that, cliiefly from St. Jerome's let-
ters, we know much of the spiritual history of the
Roman Church, and of what occurred there about this
time, and as St. Ninian must have been influenced by
what was going on, and our estimate of what he was
must be to a greater degree formed by knoAving the
characters held in esteem at that day, some longer
reference to them may be excused.

For the first two or three years of his stay St.
Jerome was residing there, beloved and esteemed by
the good for the holiness of his life, his humility, and
learning. Intimately associated as he was with St.

62 ST. NINIAK's life at ROME.

Damasus, particularly in his theological studies, it is
not unnatural to suppose that the young enquirer after
truth had opportunities of drinking in the lessons of
wisdom from his lips. For the Saint suffered, it is said,
from sore eyes, and so was led to spend more time in
oral teaching and conversation. One of his chief em-
ployments was to answer the enquiries of those who
consulted him on the interpretation of Holy Scripture,
and he was ever ready to afford the benefits of his in-
struction to those who sought it. There can be little
doubt that St. Ninian would earnestly desire to hear
him, or that opportunities would be given him.

Not long after his arrival another event occurred
which must have been most interesting to him, and
have made him feel as in the very metropolis of the
Church. In the year 382, a council was held in Rome,
at which Bishops were assembled, whose names have
ever been honoured, and whom St. Ninian through
life might remember. St. Ascholius, Bishop of Thes-
salonica, was here, the intimate friend of St. Atha-
nasius, one who had laboured in the conversion of
the Goths, a work like that to which the latter part
of St. Ninian's own life was to be devoted. St. P^pi-
phanius, too, the aged Bishop of Salamis, and Pau-
linus, of Antioch, had come with St. Jerome, and
spent the winter of 382-3 in Rome, lodging in the house
of the holy w^dow St. Paula. Epiphanius, now above
seventy years of age, had lived through the troubled
times of Arianism. He was the scholar and the dear
friend of the sainted hermit, Hilarion, and his own life
had for many years been spent in religious solitude,
whence he had derived a severe and unbending charac-
ter, and was now higlily lionoured in the Church. St.
Ambrose was here, and lodged in the house of his


sister, St. Marcellina, to Avhom he was indebted for the
blessings of a religious education, and for a bright ex-
ample of sincere piety. She had thirty years before
put on the religious habit, and devoted herself to a life
of singular holiness in retirement, silence, and prayer,
— the secret cause, it may be, in some degree of that
glory which shone forth in her brother.

It was a time when many Roman ladies of high rank
and wealth retired from the world, and devoted them-
selves in their own homes, and with their near relations,
to the exercises of religion and works of charity. Each
house was a little monastery, where prayer and praise,
and fasting and watching, dwelt with love and abun-
dant almsgiving, and works of mercy for the souls and
bodies of others — widowed mothers, with their daugh-
ters, giving up the enjoyment of wealth and station,
and withdrawing to be nearer God. Such was the natu-
ral way in which, before the systematic introduction of
monastic rules, pious Christians adopted a mode of life
which enabled them to serve God without distraction,
in prayer and the practice of charity.

Such was St. Marcella, whom St. Jerome calls the
glory of the Roman ladies. She had, after losing her
husband, early endeavoured to imitate the ascetics of
the East, of whom she had heard from St. Athanasius,
She refused to marry again, and employed herself in
works of devotion and charity. Her example was
followed by many noble maidens, who placed them-
selves under her care, and many religious societies
were formed in consequence.

One of the most distinguished of her spiritual chil-
dren was St. Paula, whom she had comforted on the
death of her husband, and induced to forsake the
world. St. Paula was descended from one of the


noblest Roman families, and had given up great riches
and a high place in society, to seek consolation in God.
She had now adopted a life of retirement and poverty
in the possession of wealth, enquiring out the poor and
relieving them with her own hand. " She could make,"
she said, " no better provision for her children than by
dra^ving on them by her alms, the blessings of heaven."
Her time Avas cliiefly spent in religious reading and
prayer. She avoided the distractions of society, seek-
ing only the edifying conversation of religious people.
At her house, as was said, St. Epiphanius and Paulinus
were lodged, and St. Jerome was lier spiritual guide
during his stay in Rome. There were many others, some
of whom, in the society of their own families, formed
religious retreats ; others united together, under the
guidance of a holy and experienced matron. It is
most interesting to see the way in which these asso-
ciations sprung up. The spontaneous growth, as it
were, of a deep sense of the truths of religion, and of
love to God and man. The example of the solitaries of
Egypt had but to be set before them, and they whose
hearts were prepared followed it. A few were in-
fluenced at first, and from them it spread to greater
numbers. They were possessed with the desire of
leading a heavenly life on earth, and embraced it
under such forms as naturally suggested themselves.
We call their houses monasteries, but they are so differ-
ent from what we usually associate with the name that
it is apt to mislead us. They were simple and natural
associations of religious persons, living in ordinary
dwellings, and devoting themselves to a strict life of
silence, abstinence, and prayer, to labour and works of
love ; and tliey might rise up spontaneously in any

ST. NINIAN'S life at ROME. 65

Church where there was the spirit which at first gave
them birth.

The monasteries of Rome, as being religious commu-
nities formed in the very heart of the city, are highly
commended by St. Augustine. ' The religious lived
together, under the care of a virtuous and learned
priest, maintaining themselves by their own labour,
ordinarily having but one meal each day, and that
towards night ; some fasting for longer periods, even
for three or more days, but no one being forced to un-
dergo austerities he could not bear.' It was most
natural for St. Ninian to join some such body ; for he
was separated from his country, without any ties in the
world, or any home but what the Church oifered, and
so to unite himself to a body of like minded brethren,
in a society of religious men, living together under
some rule, was the obvious course by which to seek for
support, sympathy, and improvement. Here he was
free from the wretchedness and the sights of evil which
a life in the city would bring. He might live in
silent study, or laborious occupation, enjoying the
blessing of undistracted attention to Divine things,
without the chill of solitude, the presence of his
brethren assisting him to realize that of those unseen
Beings who are ever around us. The examples of
holy men, seen in their daily round of employments,
their humility, recollection, patience, industry, and
self-denial, how great a privilege to one who was en-
deavouring himself to grow in grace, and to learn to
copy what was good and profitable in others. And
that he adopted this course, which was what the most
religious people of his time would do, is confirmed by
the circumstance, that St. Sii'icius, who chose him to be

66 ST. NLNIAn'S life at ROME.

a Bishop, particularly favoured the practice of selecting
the Clergy from such monastic bodies.

Thus St. Ninian lived for the next fifteen years,
fifteen years of what is called the best part of a man's
life, gradually advancing in that holiness which was
afterwards manifested in his works on earth, and his
availing power with heaven; growing in gentleness,
self-devotion, and recollection, and meanwhile making
progress in the depth and accm-acy of his views of
Divine truth, and in the understanding of Holy Scrip-
ture. It was, according to men's present views, a long
time to spend in comparative inactivity, where the
missionary life was that for which he was destined.
It was, as they say, shutting up in a cloister, power,
and energy, and goodness, which might have been more
usefully engaged in doing good to others. But very
different from the hurried eagerness of men for imme-
diate visible results, is the calm majestic march of
the Divine dispensations, and the course of those of His
servants in whom they are imitated. He waited four
thousand years before He undertook His work. He
would have his servants well matured in knowledge
and love before they take in hand the offices they are
designed for, and is willing that there should be a long
and seemingly unprofitable toil, in preparing deep and
strong foundations for the structure He would raise.
One well prepared and sanctified character exercises
far more influence for good, than many ordinary ones.
Such an one is a true standard of what we should aim
to be, and as such attracts the hearts of those who
are prepared to receive the truth. He is fit to guide,
and by his deep practical wisdom, and weight of
character, has a constraining power over even unwill-
ing minds. St. Ninian might have engaged early in

ST. NINIAN'S life at ROME. 67

missionary labours, and have been as others are. He
waited, growing more and more in holiness ; and he
went forth to work miracles, and to convert the

Nor should it surprise us, that so long a time should
be spent in the study of Divine truth. Nearly as long
a time given exclusively to that highest object of the
human mind, was not of old thought too much for pre-
paring one who was to teach others. It is our low
standard of theological attainments, which makes a
few months seem enough to prepare for expounding
the mysteries of the Gospel ; and it is our diversion
into matters only accidentally connected with Theology
proper, which leads us to conceive the knowledge of
the divine unnecessary, if not prejudicial to his practical
usefulness in influencing the hearts of men. Criticism
and Antiquities, Church History and Evidences, viewed
externally, and by themselves, are thought, and rightly
so, to be of little use to one who has the care of souls.
But such is not the case with Theology, properly so
called, that is the knowledge of what we are to believe,
and what we are to do ; the more exact knowledge of
Him, Whom truly to know is everlasting life ; the true
vision of Whom keeps the soul and its affections in
their right position, whilst errors and false views distort
and deprave them ; this is real Theology. It is Dog-
matic Theology which contemplates, defines, and gives
exactness to our views of that truth by which we are
sanctified : Controversial Theology, which enables us
to guard the truth from corruption, and to watch
against the first inroads of error. Surely, to a holy
mind such contemplations are alike the highest em-
ployment of the understanding, and tend most to his
own sanctification, and his power of teaching others.

68 ST. NINIAn's life at ROME.

St. Thomas, the most profound of schoolmen, was the
most devout of Saints, and the most powerful preacher.
His prayers are among the choicest treasures of the
Church. His sermons awakened and converted the
most ignorant and hardened sinners.

And as regards Moral Theology, with its handmaids,
Casuistical and Ascetic, contemplating what we ought
to be, and to do, in principle and detail, and how we
may attain to a saintly temper ; what time and thought
can be too much for attaining to exactness of know-
ledo-e here, by one who is really to be a guide to
others ? How many nice points are to be determined !
How many difficult questions in the treatment of the
souls of men in their varied spiritual conditions ! "What
grave consideration of duties and principles ! It be-
tokens indeed that men have fallen into a low religious
condition, when they cannot even estimate the value of
deep and long continued study on such subjects. If it
be kept in mind that Theology, rightly so called, is
the knowledge of God, and how we may please Him,
it will be evident, that as the one great requisite for
the study of it is a holy life, so it is the first business of
the Clergy to attain proficiency in it, and that no ex-
tent of real attainment can be too mucli — they ought
to draw all their care and study this way. This will
be the guide of their course of study, and will arrange
in due subordination the various other branches of
knowledge, and enable them to derive from each what
it can minister to their highest end. It will secure
the knowledge of those trutlis which are essential, will
determine the extent and the end for which we should
pursue the rest. No subject of human knowledge will
then be without its use and due position.

Of the course of study St. Ninian would go through,

ST. NINIAN'S life at ROME. 69

we may form probably a very fair notion from a Trea-
tise of St. Augustine, written not long after, designed
to direct the studies of those who were to be teachers

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 33)