Page images
[ocr errors]

Princes, and let the example of kings induce subjects "to forgive each other their private wrongs, for, surely, "it is absurd that private laws should be less un"relenting than those which are public. Let tres"passes be forgiven, let bonds be taken off, let "offences be forgotten, let revenge be stifled; that "thus the sacred Feast may, by both divine and human "favours, find us all happy and innocent."1

This christian amnesty was not confined to the Theodosian Code; we find traces of it in the laws of several of our western countries. We may mention France as an example. Under the first race of its kings, St. Eligius, Bishop of Noyon, in a sermon for Maundy Thursday, thus expresses himself: "On "this day, when the Church grants indulgence to "Penitents and absolution to sinners,-Magistrates, also, relent in their severity, and grant pardon to "the guilty. Throughout the whole world, prisons (( are thrown open; Princes show clemency to crimi"nals; Masters forgive their slaves." Under the second Race, we learn, from the Capitularia of Charlemagne, that Bishops had a right to exact from the Judges, for the love of Jesus Christ, (as it is expressed,) that prisoners should be set free on the days preceding Easter, and, should the Magistrates refuse to obey, the Bishops could refuse them admission into the Church. And, lastly, under the third Race, we find Charles the 6th, after quelling the rebellion at Rouen, giving orders, later on, that the prisoners should be set at liberty, because it was Painful Week, and very near to the Easter Feast.5

A last vestige of this merciful legislation was a custom observed by the Parliament of Paris. The ancient christian practice of suspending its sessions

2 Serm. x.

1 Serm xl. de Quadragesima, ii. 3 We learn from the same Capitularia, that this privilege was also extended to Christmas and Pentecost.

Capitular. lib. vi.

5 Jean Juvénal des Ursins, year 1382.

during the whole of Lent, had long been abolished: it was not till the Wednesday of Holy Week that the House was closed, which it continued to be from that day until after Low Sunday. On the Tuesday of Holy Week, which was the last day granted for audiences, the Parliament repaired to the Palace prisons, and there, one of the Grand Presidents, generally the last installed, held a session of the House. The prisoners were questioned; but, without any formal judgment, all those whose case seemed favourable, or who were not guilty of some capital offence, were set at liberty.

The revolutions of the last eighty years have produced in every country in Europe, the secularisation of society, that is to say, the effacing from our national customs and legislation everything which had been introduced by the supernatural element of Christianity. The favourite theory of the last half century or more, has been that all men are equal. The people of the Ages of Faith had something far more convincing than theory, of the sacredness of their rights. At the approach of those solemn anniversaries which so forcibly remind us of the Justice and Mercy of God, they beheld Princes abdicating, as it were, their sceptre, leaving in God's hands the punishment of the guilty, and assisting at the holy Table of Paschal Communion, side by side with those very men, whom, a few days before, they had been keeping chained in prison, for the good of society. There was one thought, which, during these days, was strongly brought before all nations: it was the thought of God, in whose eyes all men are sinners, of God, from whom alone proceed justice and pardon. It was in consequence of this deep christian feeling, that we find so many diplomas and charts of the Ages of Faith speaking of the days of Holy Week as being the Reign of Christ: such an event, they say, happened on such a day, "Under

the Reign of our Lord Jesus Christ:" Regnante Domino nostro Jesu Christo.

When these days of holy and christian equality were over, did subjects refuse submission to their Sovereigns? Did they abuse the humility of their Princes, and take occasion for drawing up what modern times call the Rights of Man? No: that same thought which had inspired human justice to humble itself before the Cross of Jesus, taught the people their duty of obeying the powers established by God. The exercise of power, and submission to that power, both had God for their motive. They who wielded the sceptre might be of various dynasties; the respect for authority was ever the same. Now-a-days, the Liturgy has none of her ancient influence on society; Religion has been driven from the world at large, and her only life and power is now with the consciences of individuals; and as to political institutions, they are but the expression of human pride, seeking to command, or refusing to obey.

And yet, the 4th century, which, in virtue of the christian spirit, produced the laws we have been alluding to, was still rife with the pagan element. How comes it, that we, who live in the full light of Christianity, can give the name of Progress to a system, which tends to separate society from everything that is supernatural? Men may talk as they please, there is but one way to secure order, peace, morality, and security to the world; and that is God's way, the way of Faith, the living in accordance with the teachings and spirit of Faith. All other systems can, at best, but flatter those human passions, which are so strongly at variance with the mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we are now celebrating.

We must mention another law made by the Christian Emperors in reference to Holy Week. If the

spirit of charity, and a desire to imitate Divine Mercy, led them to decree the liberation of prisoners; it was but acting consistently with these principles, that, during these days, when our Saviour shed his blood for the emancipation of the human race, they should interest themselves in what regards Slaves. Slavery, a consequence of sin, and the fundamental institution of the pagan world, had received its death-blow, by the preaching of the Gospel; but its gradual abolition was left to individuals, and to their practical exercise of the principle of Christian Fraternity. As our Lord and his Apostles had not exacted the immediate abolition of Slavery, so, in like manner, the Christian Emperors limited themselves to passing such laws as would give encouragement to its gradual abolition. We have an example of this in the Justinian Code, where this Prince, after having forbidden all law-proceedings during Holy Week and the week following, lays down the following exception: "It "shall, nevertheless, be permitted to give Slaves their liberty; in such manner, that the legal acts necessary for their emancipation shall not be counted as contravening this present enactment." This charitable law of Justinian was but the applying to the fifteen days of Easter the decree passed by Constantine, which forbade all legal proceedings on the Sundays throughout the year, excepting only such acts as had for their object the emancipation of Slaves.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But long before the peace given her by Constantine, the Church had made provision for Slaves, during these days when the mysteries of the world's redemption were accomplished. Christian Masters were obliged to grant them total rest from labour during this holy fortnight. Such is the law laid down in the Apostolic Constitutions, which were compiled

1 Cod. lib. iii. tit. xii. de feriis. Leg. 8.

previously to the 4th century. "During the Great "Week preceding the Day of Easter, and during the "week that follows, Slaves rest from labour, inasmuch as the first is the Week of our Lord's Passion, and the second is that of his Resurrection, and the "Slaves require to be instructed upon these mys'teries."

Another characteristic of the two Weeks, upon which we are now entering, is that of giving more abundant alms, and of greater fervour in the exercise of works of mercy. St. John Chrysostom assures us that such was the practice of his times; he passes an encomium on the Faithful, many of whom redoubled, at this period, their charities to the poor, which they did out of this motive, that they might, in some slight measure, imitate the Divine generosity, which is now so unreservedly pouring out his graces on


1 Constit. Apost. Lib. vii. cap. xxxiii.

« PreviousContinue »