« ForrigeFortsæt »
were the eye-witnesses and historians of his crucifixion. and resurrection, were too deeply affected by the saving truths which those two events embodied, to turn their thoughts and attention to the material instrument of death. This silence and indifference on the subject of the cross, on which the death actually took place, were quite natural to men in their situation. The death by the cross was not invented as a special cruelty to Christ; but it was the common mode of execution among the Romans, and almost every people at that period. Indeed, it was the mode of punishment which had always prevailed in the world, and must have had its origin in that primeval state of society, when the trunk and the branch of a tree were the only instruments of the public executioner. And we learn from various allusions, that a tree was used for that purpose in ancient times; and the very historians of the Cross point to the fact, in the expression-" they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre."* But among the Jews themselves, hanging on a tree, and not crucifixion, was the mode of punishment. It was under the Roman law that Christ was crucified. The punishment of the cross was considered so degrading, that freemen would not even touch the instrument. Hence, the sufferer was compelled to bear his own cross to the place of execution; and if he was unable to carry it, slaves were generally employed for the purpose; but, in the case of Jesus, one Simon, a person who happened to be passing, was seized hold of as the cross-bearer. The frequency of the punishment of death by the cross, and the numbers of victims as described in ancient history, are horrible to the modern Christian. History relates some appalling cases of military execution by that
*Acts xiii. 29.
instrument of torture; and those are referred to here, for reasons which will afterwards be mentioned.
Among the calamities that befell Tyre, with its merchant princes, was the crucifixion of two thousand of its inhabitants by Alexander the Macedonian, when he carried by storm that great commercial city-"a sad spectacle even to the conquerors themselves," who arrayed the crucified men along the sea-coast.*
In the domestic wars of the Jews, eighty-six years before the advent of Christ, there occurred a terrible execution of eight hundred men who had fallen prisoners into the hands of Alexander Janneus, who caused them to be crucified altogether in one day; and while the tortured men were hanging on the crosses, their wives and children were put to death before their faces. This took place in the city of Jerusalem.†
In the New Testament history there are very few allusions to the convulsed and almost anarchical state of society in Judea, just preceding, or about, the advent of Christ. That history had transactions of more transcendent importance to relate than the military operations of the Roman armies, or the political revolutions of nations at that time. But woful were the calamities which were then falling on the country of Judea, and the cup of misery was fast filling to the brim. Social convulsions, and the inroads of large bands of robbers, led to severe military execution by the Roman generals in command of the armies. In the interval between the death of Herod, who slew the children in Bethlehem, and the return of his son Archelaus from Rome to take possession of the government of Judea, there occurred some extraordinary
* Quintus Curtius, book iii. chap. iv.
+ Prideaux's "Connection of the Old and New Testaments," vol. iv.
A convulsive effort was made by the Jews, not only in Jerusalem, but in various parts of the country, to free themselves from the Roman yoke, and they arose against the Roman forces. But Varus, the president of Syria, and the commander-in-chief of the legions, marched to quell the insurrection, and after putting it down, he crucified about two thousand of the most tumultuous of the Jews. * Josephus, from whose history we learn these particulars, gives, in his account of the siege and final destruction of Jerusalem, horrifying details of the crucifixion of numbers of wretched beings who escaped from the misery of famine within the city, to fall into tortures outside of it. The unhappy creatures were crucified, after having been scourged, in sight of their countrymen, on the walls of the city. "So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies."+
What a scene of human misery is here presented to the imagination, not space enough for the crosses, nor crosses enough for the victims! These numerous military executions were extreme cases, but they are cited in order to convey an idea of how common the punishment of crucifixion was among the Romans. Crucifixion was a slave punishment, and as the law gave to the master an absolute power, he might scourge or put his slaves to death at his pleasure; but as this power was cruelly exercised in the corrupt age of the Roman republic, laws were made to restrain it. In ordinary
*Josephus, "Wars of the Jews," book ii. chap. v.
+ "Wars," book v. chap. xi.
Kitto's "Cyclopædia;" article, Crucifixion.
circumstances the number of executions must have been great wherever there was a dense population, and a corresponding number of crosses must have been kept ready made, lying in the military arsenals or deposited in prisons. The punishment by crucifixion continued in the Roman empire till the time of Constantine, when it was abolished by the spread of the Christian faith.
The preceding facts and observations are introductory to the consideration of the "Wood of the true Cross" as a sacred relic, believed by the Roman Catholic church to possess miraculous powers. The desire to possess some relic or memorial of a person dearly beloved or deeply reverenced is a sentiment so universal, and so natural to the human mind, that within reasonable bounds no objection can be made to the indulgence of it. But in order to possess a true value, there ought to be undoubted proof that the article presented is genuine in all its parts. The doctrine of the Romish church, of the existence of a miraculous power in a true relic of a saint or holy person, by which disease may be cured and health restored, or even some change effected in the elements of nature, might be put to the test by the exhibition of the relic in its application to the substance to be acted on, in the presence of jury of impartial witnesses, composed of persons learned in chemistry, botany, anatomy, physics, and theology.
Until such an exhibition be made, and the examination and verdict by the jury pronounced, it would be presumptuous in us to enter upon the discussion of this subject of miraculous powers invested in relics of any kind or quality whatever. We will here only confine ourselves to such an investigation as is level with our capacity, and adduce reasons for caution to pious persons to be well satisfied with the grounds of their
faith in the perfect genuineness of any relic offered to their holy contemplation. The wood said to have been that of the true cross has for the last fifteen hundred years been made merchandise of to such amount that the stock must many hundred years ago have been exhausted. About a century since it was said by some writer whose name we do not reme nember, that there was as much wood of the true cross preserved in relics in different countries as would be sufficient to build one of the largest ships of war.
In the writings of the historians of the crucifixion, there is no mention of the cross on which the Redeemer died after he was taken down from it; and in the subsequent history there is no expression or allusion whatever that implies the preservation of the instrument as a sacred object. When Paul wrote, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," it is manifest from the context that he means the faith in the great doctrine of salvation by Christ crucified. From the circumstance of other two persons having been crucified at the same time, an inference may be reasonably drawn for the frequency of those executions; and the presumption is that the crosses were taken back and deposited among the various instruments of torture and punishment used by the Roman military and civil authorities. Or, if they were made for the occasion, they would be immediately broken and the wood used for other purposes. The up, impressions made on the apostles and immediate followers of the Saviour, and indeed on the whole body of Christians of that generation, would not be of a nature to induce them to preserve the material cross. The sorrow and grief for the loss of their Divine Master would have made them rather turn away from an object which caused such painful reminiscences. This view