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of others.

The main object to which he directed the student
was the right understanding and explanation of the
Holy Scriptures. This seems to be viewed as the
chief business of the Christian teacher, and it is to
this end that all other studies are made subordinate.
But first, he was to know those principles to which
all interpretations must be conformed — ^the principles
of Christian Faith, Hope, and Charity. Of Faith, in
the full knowledge and understanding of the Creed ;
of Hope, and of the sum of evangelical morality in the
love of God above all things, and of our brethren in
Him, and for His sake ; and any interpretation which
is inconsistent with these principles, whether as sanc-
tioning immorality, or erroneous doctrine, must be
wrong. Next, presupposing that the student has, by
personal religion, entered on the steps of wisdom, be-
ginning with the fear of the Lord, he is to learn the
rules and principles of literal and spiritual interpreta-
tion, the latter being the chief study of the expositor.
In connexion with this, he is to acquire a knowledge
of Scripture criticism, of the right text, and trans-
lation ; of history, natural science, logic, and all other
subjects which may be useful to him as subsidiary
learning. Lastly, he is to study how to express to
others what he himself has learnt, by acquiring the
art of Christian eloquence. The first and second of
these subjects we may conceive would form the prin-
cipal part of St. Ninian's studies, the doctrines of the
faith and Christian love, and the spiritual interpreta-
tion of Scripture, for both of which he would find so

70 ST. NINIAN's life at ROME,

great assistance in the works of contemporary writers,
or of those who had gone before ; as well as by the
oral teaching of the doctors, of the Roman Church.

So much of apology, if it be needed, for St.
Ninian's living for fifteen years, in what the world
would call a comparatively narrow sphere at Rome,
but really, in a life of labour, thought, and constant
endeavour after improvement.

Every thing here combined for his advancement
in fitness for his great destiny. Rome was the centre
of the Christian world. Errors and disputes were
heard of, examined, and determined there ; each im-
provement in the rules of holy living, each practical
ad^ anceraent in Church discipline and conduct, was
bi'ought into this great resort and emporium of the
Christian world, while the steady orthodoxy of the
Church enabled it to look with discrimination on the
opinions and practices which rose up around it.

The details of St. Ninian's life here are quite un-
known, but general history relates many events, which
must have exercised an important influence upon him.

Within three or foui- years after his arrival, St.
Ninian sustained a heavy loss in the death of his kind
patron, St. Damasus, who died the tenth of December,
in the year 384 ; being then nearly eighty years of
age. He was succeeded by St. Siricius, who, twelve
years after, was to consecrate and send out St. Ninian.
For some time he was unacquainted with him, as was
natural in so large a Church, and when St. Ninian
did not occupy a prominent i)lace. St. Ninian, there-
fore, deprived of the friendship and countenance of St.
Damasus, was left to go on in the ordinary course.

About this time he was, most probably, admitted to
the minor orders as a Reader. For we have the

ST. NINIAN's life at ROME. 71

rules which St. Siricius sent to the Church of Spain,
immediately on his election, February, 385, in which
he determines the regular gradation of offices. One
who from infancy was devoted to the service of the
Church, was to be baptized before he was four-
teen, and placed in the rank of Keaders. If his life
was approved till he was thirty, he was made an
Acolyte and Sub-deacon, and if judged worthy, a
Deacon, after having previously made a promise of
continence. Then, after five years' service, he might be
admitted to the Priesthood, and, after ten more, to the
Episcopate. Such was the long probation and service
for the sacred ministry in those days. And though,
very probably, in St. Ninian's case, as in others, pe-
culiar circumstances might be a ground for departing
from it in some points, we may suppose it observed on
the whole : and that he went through the regular
course of clerical offices in Rome.

Meanwhile important events were occurring around
him ; events in which the Avhole Church has since been
interested. The conversion of St. Augustine and his
baptism at Milan, occurred at Easter, 387 ; and the
latter part of that year, after the death of his mother,
and whole of the following one, he spent at Rome.
It is not unnatural to suppose that he and St. Ninian
might meet ; the more humble talents of the Briton,
being in the eyes of St. Augustine far more than
compensated by that spotless purity of heart which
enjoyed the blessedness of seeing God. The one bap-
tized in infancy had by habitual obedience, kept his
robes unstained. The other, washed from a load of
actual sins, was now at the eleventh hour labouring
more than any, and by his zeal and earnestness making
way beyond them.

72 ST. NINIAn's life at ROME.

About this time, too, the Emperor Theodosius
visited Italy, and great exertions were in vain used
to prevail on him to favour the depressed cause of
paganism ; it was his resolution which led to the en-
tire fall of the ancient superstition. His visit to Rome
in 389, gave the last blow to idolatry. He entered the
city Avith Valentinian, and then it was that the most dis-
tinguished families embraced Chi-istianity, the Anicii,
Probi, Pauli, Gracchi. The people ran in crowds to
the Vatican, to venerate the tombs of the Apostles, or
to the Lateran to be baptized ; but few adhered to
the ancient superstitions. The temples were filled
with cobwebs and soon fell to ruin ; and the idols
were left alone under their roofs with the owls and
the bats.

The time was now approaching when he was to be
called to that work for which the providence of God
had long been training him. Year after year had
passed, and, to himself, it might seem as if he was
doing but little service, and was an unprofitable ser-
vant : but a pi-eparation was going on in the prac-
tice of humble obedience, and in His own good time
God called on him to take his great work in hand.
The duties of the offices he had been placed in, af-
forded an opportunity for his good qualities to be seen
and generally recognized. Purity, wisdom, and cir-
cumspectness, are the points specially mentioned ; and
those of them which may be considered as intellectual
gifts, are just of the kind which would be formed and
developed by religious principles ; the absence of hurry
and excitement, calm considerateness, a fair estimate of
others, are the natural fruits of that confidence in God
which trusts that all will be controlled for good, which
sets their true value on the things of the world and the

ST. ninian's life at kome. 73

events of time, and so is without anxiety ; of charity,
which despises no one, but sympathizes with their
difficulties, puts itself in the place of others, and enters
into their views ; and of honesty and simplicity of aim,
which has no bye ends to entangle, or duplicity to in-
volve it. It is from these qualities that wisdom in
counsel springs. And to be gradually entrusted with
offices of responsibility, in subordination to higher
authority ; the learning practically to rule and to be
ruled, in the successive steps of the lower clerical
offices, was the very means to form the mind of the
future saint to this prudence in judging and circum-
spection in acting. And his excellencies by degrees
became generally matter of remark, and brought him
under the notice and, ultimately, into esteem and fa-
miliar association with St. Siricius.

" AVhile he was spoken of by all as chaste in body,
wise in understanding, provident in counsel, circum-
spect in every word and deed, he rose to the favour and
friendship of the Pope himself."

The advantages to be derived from tliis position
were, we need not say, very great, in fitting him for
the work in Avhich he was to engage ; and the know-
ledge of it gives us peculiar means of ascertaining the
views which St. Ninian entertained on many im-
portant subjects, and wliich he brought into our own
country. For we know those of St. Siricius, and con-
sidering that after this intimate acquaintance with him
the Pope fixed on him as the fittest person to correct
the errors which prevailed among the British Chris-
tians, we cannot doubt that Ninian's views coincided
with his own ; the more so as his professed intention
was to teach in Britain the doctrines of the Roman

74 ST. NINIAN's life at ROME.

The decretals of St. Siricius sent to the Church
of Spain in 385, have ah-eady been referred to ;
they recognize, it need scarcely be said, a monas-
tic system, as an established custom, approved and
encouraged by the Church. A strict penitential dis-
cipline and the celibacy of the Clergy are presup-
posed as right, regulated and enforced. A formal
expression of the same views was elicited by the heresy
of Jovinian, who, amongst other errors, maintained
" that virgins have no more merit than widows or
married women, and, that there is no difference be-
tween abstaining from meats, and using them witli
thanksgiving." With these easy doctrines it is no
wonder he had many followers at Rome ; persons who
had long lived in continence and mortification, married
and returned to a soft and unrestrained life. It did
not, however, number any Bishop among those who
embraced it, and in the year 390 an assembly of the
Roman Clergy was held, and the doctrines declared
to be contrary to the Christian truth ; and by the
unanimous advice of the Priests and Deacons who were
present, and we can scarcely doubt St. Ninian was
among them, Jovinian and his followers were excom-



Si. Ninian's return to Britain.

And now we may pass to the time when the Saint was
called to the high duties of a Bishop and a Missionary.
The activity and vigilance of St. Siricius prompted him
to act upon those feelings of sympathizing interest
which give to every Church which is a healthy mem-
ber of the great Catholic body, a deep concern is the
welfare of every other part. If one member suffer,
all the members suffer with it. Still more should he
feel it who occupied the chief See of Christendom ;
on whom, in an especial manner, it seemed incumbent
to watch and provide for all, to support the weak, to
correct the erring, and to convert the unbelieving ;
and Siricius seems particularly to have felt this in-
terest in our remote and despised country. It was
compassion for half taught and misguided Christians,
for heathens and barbarians, for whom the Son of God
had shed His precious blood — for immortal beings,
who, unrescued, might perish for ever, but by the
power of the Gospel, would be exalted to everlasting
bliss, and swell the ranks of the Angelic choirs. It was
compassion, such as two centuries afterwards moved
his successor, the saintly Gregory, to yearn over the
wi'etchedness of our Saxon ancestors. These feelings
in their case would go beyond the ordinary compassion
which Christians generally would have ; they would
feel with the blessed Apostle that they had the care of
all the Churches, and that the weak and the scanda-
lized were the special objects of their sympathy.

70 ST. NINIAN's return to BRITAIN.

And in tlie case of St. Siricius tliere was happily one
at hand peculiarly suited for the work before him.
St. Ninian had waited long for this call to the office
for which Divine Providence had all along designed,
and been preparing him. Perhaps he would have no
thought of undertaking so great a work, or if ever a
desire had crossed his mind to impart to his country-
men the unspeakable blessings he had himself obtained,
it might be repressed as not to be thought of, till some
guiding of Providence, or obedience to authority should
determine it to be his duty, and sanction his under-
taking it. For it is not to be imagined that Ninian
had forgotten Britain. How should he ? Means of
communication were regular and speedy ; events of
moment were frequently occurring ; his countrymen,
who, as we have heard, made religious visits to the
Holy Land, would often draw to the city, to offer their
devotions at the tombs of the Apostles ; others would
resort among the provincials for the advantages of
the schools ; others again, like himself, for religious
improvement. Of one such we know, St. Piran, the
Cornish Saint, whose Church in the Sand was re-
cently brought to light. He was a native of Ireland,
and born about 352. When about thirty years of
age, and so nearly at the same time as St. Ninian,
having received some imperfect information about the
Christian Faith, he travelled to Kome for more com-
plete instruction. He is supposed by the L'isli writers
to have been consecrated at Kome, and returned home,
accompanied by four Clerics, who were all afterwards
]iishops. AVith them St. Ninian would hold converse,
and hear the language, which, harsh as it may seem
to us, would sound sweet in his ears, as the language
of his home. By these means his information and in-

ST. NINIAN's return to BRITAIN. 77

terest in Britain would be^ kept alive. And when the
holy Father, whose authority and wish would be a
command, called him to this woi'k, we may imagine
that with his deep humility, and shrinking from an
office, to which he would seem quite unequal, there
would be some warm feeling kindled, in the hope that
he might be a blessing to those he loved so well.

In St. Aelred's words, " The Roman Pontiff had
heard that there were in the western part of Britain
some who had not yet embraced the faith of our
Saviour, 1 some also who had heard the word of the
Gospel, but from heretical or ignorant teachers ; and
by the impulse of the Divine Spirit, he, with his own
hands consecrated this man of God to the office of a
Bishop, and sent him with the Apostolic Benediction
to this people."

Tliis event most probably occurred in the spring of
the year 397. The date is determined by a circum-
stance which is on other accounts interesting, and in-
timately connected with the history and future cha-
racter of St. Ninian. It is, that on his way to Britain,

1 It is most probable that attention was drawn to the con-
dition of the British of this district, by the publication of St.
.lerome's work against Jovinian, which occurred in the year
393 or 39i. It was written at the request of some Christians
at Rome, and excited great interest there. In the second book
he mentions, that he had himself, when a youth in Gaul, seen
some of the Attacotti, a British tribe, who ate human flesh ;
and adds still more revolting details as to the habits of their
people. This tribe occupied the country between Loch Lo-
mond and Loch Fine. Such a statement could not fail to ex-
cite enquiry, and lead the Pope to ascertain the real state of
the unconverted people, who, being of the same race, were
within the limits of the empire. The mission of St. Ninian
was the natural result.


he visited St. Martin of Tours, whose name had re-
cently been made known through the whole Church,
by Sulpicius's life of him. Now St. Martin, ac-
cording to the best authorities, died in November, 397.
The life in question was a narrative, written by Sul-
picius, for his friend St. Paulinus of Nola, without any
view to its becoming public. It was however com-
municated by Paulinus to others, and so spread with
unprecedented rapidity. This occurred within a year
before the death of the Saint, for it was after the
death of St. Clare in the previous November. And
the sensation it produced in Rome, and throughout
the Christian Avorld, was incredible. The booksellers
having at command only the slow process of the human
hand, could not have it copied so fast as to meet the
demand, and could sell it at almost any price ; it was
considered the most gainful work they had ever had.
No book was so much read, or so eagerly sought after ;
it was in every one's hands, and every where the sub-
ject of conversation. For it related of a living Bishop
so near them as in France, sanctity almost unequalled ;
and miraculous powers, such as were not then pos-
sessed by any one ; and these recorded in graceful
language, with the Latinity of the purest ages, and
the unaffected simplicity of a friend writing to a
friend of what he had himself seen and known ; and
Avith the deep and affectionate reverence of a disciple,
for one who had guided him by example and instruc-
tion into the Avays of holiness and peace.

From this Avork, St. Ninian, as St. Aelred relates,
ardently desired to see and converse with the holy
man Avhose ways Avere depicted there, and accordingly,
on his way to Britain, diverged to Tours to visit its

ST. NLN'IAN'S return to BRITAIN. 79

"We too have the beautiful picture which Sulpicius
has drawn, and for St. Ninian's sake, that we may know -
the sort of person whom he looked on as a model ; and
for our own, that we may in this way see the Saint
ourselves, we will go along with him to the Hermit
Bishop, whom our northern Churches venerate so highly.

St. Martin had long lived as a recluse, and when
the people of Tours would have him, in spite of his poor
clothes and mean appearance, to be their Bishop, he
kept up his holy soHtude as much as he could, in a
cell adjoining his Church. This however proved more
liable to interruption than he wished, so he went into
a lonely spot a mile or two from the town, where a
sweep of the river left a level grassy plain, which was
shut out from the country on its landward side by a
line of precipitous rocks, and accessible only by difficult
paths. Here he fixed his abode, and to him gathered
others who desired to be under his guidance, and
forsaking the world, to imitate his humble and morti-
fied life. They were about sixty in number ; some
lived in cells built by themselves, many in caves in
the rocks ; and that in solitude, except when they met
for prayers, or at their meals, and labouring, many by
copying books, for their own support. Above all, the
Saint liimself drew the hearts of holy men to him by
his humility, meekness, and deep knowledge of re-
ligious truth. He was quite an illiterate man, yet
readily solved the difiiculties of Scripture. But his
real life was hid with Christ, and he was in continual
communion with Him, unceasingly praying, either by
direct supplication, or the inward lifting up of his
soul to God. His humility was remai'kable ; he judged
no one, he condemned no one ; he was never irri-
tated, never depressed by sorrow, or excited by mirth,


but ever bearing in his looks a kind of heavenly joy-
fulness. Christ only was on his lips, and in his heart
compassion, piety, and peace. Besides all this, there
was an awfulness thrown around him by the visible
tokens of the Divine presence, in the miracles he had
Avrouglit ; miracles which have a degree of evidence
rarely to be met with.

To visit this saint, then, so marked by traits of per-
sonal holiness, and the awful manifestations of Divine
authority accompanying his deeds ; was the object of
St. Ninian on his way to Britain. " He diverged to
Tours, says St. Aelred, filled with the Holy Ghost,
and touched by an eager desire of seeing him."

Meanwhile St. Martin, had been prepared for his
coming. " By the grace of prophetic illumination, the
virtues of the new Bishop were not unknown to him.
He was taught that he was sanctified by the Holy
Ghost, and would be the instrument of the salvation
of many ; and, in consequence, with what joy, devotion,
and affection, did he receive him." Their time was
spent in holy converse and aspirations of divine love ;
Ninian, doubtless, being eager to learn from so great a
saint, and profiting by his readiness to solve the difficul-
ties of Scripture, and to speak of Christ, and the rules
of holy living. He also gained another advantage. His
wish was to introduce religion into his country in its
completeness, to present it before his people, not only
in the statement of doctrines and rules of practice, but
as visibly embodied in the Church, and manifested in
her sacred services ; it was his intention to imitate,
" as the faith, so the customs of the Roman Church
in building Churches and arranging the services ;"
and he requested St. Martin to furnish him with
masons for the work. " In the tabernacle of the Lord


two columns are joined together, and two cherubim
stretching out their wings touch each other ; now
borne up on the wings of virtue they withdraw to
be with God ; now standing and letting them fall
they condescend to their neighboui-s. So these saints
returned from heavenly objects to the things of this
world." At last they parted. " They had feasted on
their mutual conversations as on heavenly banquets,
and separated with embraces, kisses, and tears shed
in common. St. Mai'tin remained in his See. Mnian
hastened to the work for which he had been sent forth
by the Holy Ghost."

Such is the sympathy of holy men ; such their love,
seeming not to need the usual preparations of human
friendsliip ; but as they each have advanced towards
the one model, the image of Christ, enabling them to
understand each other at once.

On his way through France and Belgium, as Came-
rarius reports, St. Ninian was anxious to labour for the
conversion of the people, and great numbers were
the fruit of his preaching. The authority however
is very recent, and though he may be regarded, like
other later writers, as preserving and perpetuating a
tradition of a much earlier date, the evidence is so
slight, that we must leave the matter simply to re-
commend itself by its internal probability.

And now, after an absence of many years, St. Ninian
is again in sight of the shores of Britain, and gazes on
its white cliifs as he nears his native land. But greatly
is he changed. He had gone forth, young, uninformed,
seeking to be taught the truth. He returns in ma-
ture age, with sohd judgment, deep knowledge, con-
firmed faith, commissioned to instruct others, and to
impart to them those true views of doctrine, and those

82 ST. NINIAN's return to BRITAIN.

many lessons of holy living which he had been storing
up. But with how great a responsibility did he come,
and with how little earthly help. In Rome he had
been surrounded by those who sympathized with him,
and were engaged in the sacred pursuits he had been
devoted to ; counsel, consolation, and aid were ever at
hand. Now was he to stand alone, with a half bar-
barous people around him, whom he had to labour to
convert, or to correct, scarcely knowing how they
would receive him, or how he should find access to
their minds.

On the part of his countrymen however the greatest
interest was felt in him. "We know how strongly the
inhabitants of remote districts are interested in those
who have left the seclusion in which they live, to make
their way in the world. There is among such people
a strong feeling of community, which makes each one
a relation as it were to all the rest ; and if one goes out
from his native village to make his way in a larger
sphere, deep interest is felt in his success, and a desire
to hear of him. The old remember him as a child,
and his father and father's father. The young were
the companions of his boyish days. K he becomes
distinguished and honoured, all seem to have a share
in it. And Ninian had been a youth whose goodness
and engaging manners would especially gain their
affections. He was a Briton, the son too of one of their
own princes, to whom it was natural they should cling
with peculiar attachment as associated with the remem-
brance of what their tribes had been ; for amid the im-
provements of Roman civilization, many ardent spirits
would look back on the ■s\41d glories of their un-
civilized days, and cherish the recollection of the re-
nown and independence of their race. We may imagine

ST. ninian's return to britatnt. 83

the interest with which they would hear of the esteem
in which their young countiyxaan was held, the posi-
tion which he occupied even in the chief city of the
world ; and the joy with which they would receive the
news, that he was to be restored to them as their

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 33)