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tions, now controverted, of the monuments with which De Rossi has to deal, yet has he, as far as we have observed, the rare merit of stating his facts exactly and impartially, precisely as he finds them, instead of selecting, manipulating, and more or less disguising them, so as to suit a predetermined conclusion.
We greatly regret, on many grounds, that we cannot extend the same praise to the compilers of the volume now before us. Had they confined themselves to questions of archæological research, as does, for the most part, the learned writer whose works they have epitomised; or if, embarking on questions of theology, they had treated of them with the exactness of statement and representation, the fulness of research, the strictness of logical inference, of which his archæological writ. ings at least present an admirable example,-had they made it their one end and aim to present all the facts before them fully and impartially to their readers, as men who believed that facts, as they are in themselves, are far more precious than facts as Dr. Northcote and his coadjutors would wish them to be,-had this been so, we at least should have welcomed heartily the great addition which they might have made to the limited knowledge hitherto attainable of the true history of the early Roman Church. But, as things are, it is impossible to read through their volume, after studying those of De Rossi, without being reminded again and again of the loss we have sustained, in exchanging the guidance of a genuine Roman archæologist for that of an English (and Roman) divine. .
In saying this, let us not be misunderstood. The book edited by Dr. Northcote may be regarded as made up of two parts, and presenting two distinct characters. The greater part of the volume is devoted to questions of historical and antiquarian research concerning the construction of the Catacombs, their relative dates, their pictorial ornamentation, and the like. And in this portion of their work, in which theological questions are only very indirectly and remotely involved, the editors have trodden carefully in De Rossi's steps; and have done their own part, in translation and arrangement, extremely well. And in spite of the defects upon which we are about to dwell, we gladly commend this first part of their book as the best available summary of the facts of chief importance in the history of the Roman Catacombs. It is in the later part of their book, where their subjects are such as to command the interest of a far wider circle of readers, that the present editors have conspicuously failed. How indeed, being what they are,3 should they have done otherwise than fail? For in these later chapters (their Book IV.), they deal with controversial questions, which for many centuries past have been, as they still are, at issue in Christendom. And these are questions upon which (as we shall shortly see) the monuments of primitive Christianity bear a testimony the very reverse of that which a Roman controversialist would desire. And though a layman, such as De Rossi, engaged in arcbæological enquiry, may be content to state facts simply as he finds them, two Englishmen, once, but now no longer, members of the English Church, and one of them President of a Roman Catholic Seminary at Oscott, can hardly be expected, in the nature of things, to be other than mere controversialists, when engaged upon a subject such as theirs. And if men enter upon the study of the Catacombs, as these editors seem to have done, with a primary view to find there testimony in behalf of modern Romanism, they set themselves to a task involving one of two alternatives. Either they must shut up their books, and lay aside their pen, as soon as they have attained to anything like an accurate knowledge of their subject; or they must acquire (as indeed they seem to have done) that peculiar faculty, which was pithily described by one of old time. They must combine the power of being blind to what other men see, with that of seeing that which to all but themselves is invisible. They have to deal with facts of Christian antiquity. But a constraining necessity is upon them that those facts shall be Romanised. Unconsciously, therefore, (of intentional misrepresentation, it is unnecessary to say, we do not for a moment accuse them.) they conceal both from themselves, and from others, all that is out of harmony with Roman prejudices, and they import into what is before them, ideas utterly unknown to the ages with which they have to deal.
? Even when he attempts to prove what, in our judgment, it is impossible to prove (as in his descriptive comment upon the Imagines selectæ Deiparæ Virginis), the fidelity with which he reproduces monuments destructive of his
own conclusions, presents an honourable contrast to the manipulation of ancient pictures of which we have to complain on the part of Dr. Northcote. See below, p. 828.
One of two alternatives, we said. But we were wrong. For yet a third course is possible, and this was actually followed-to his credit be it said-by the author (Mr. Hemans) whose work stands second upon our list. We have no personal knowledge of the writer, and we repeat only what we have heard stated as matter of notoriety, when we say, that at one time, like Dr. Northcote, he became a “convert” (so-called) to Romanism. Having done so, he devoted years of study to the literature and the art monuments of antiquity, with a view to strengthening himself in the new position which he had been led to take up. And he studied with such thoroughness of research (of this his book gives evidence, in spite of many minor defects), and to such unexpected results, that he found himself compelled, by the force of evidence which he could not resist, to recall the verdict which he had already practically pronounced, and to retrace the steps which, when less well informed, he had taken. And this is the more notable, because one cannot read his book without seeing, that all his sentiment, poetical and artistic, is still strongly enlisted on the side of the Roman Church, in many features of her system by which most English Churchmen would be repelled, or even shocked. He condemns upon historical and monumental evidence, but he condemns unwillingly. And the very sympathy he shows for the system which he condemns, proves the more conclusively the strength of the conviction on which his adverse judgment is based.
3 We can hardly suppose that we do wrong in inferring from this book that the "Rev. W. R. Brownlow, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge," does not now hold orders in the English Church.
• An amusing instance of this (a
matter trifling in itself, but like : floating straw indicative of the set of the stream) will be found at p. 138, where the writer speaks of St. Lucius (Bishop of Rome) as reigning at Rome in the year 252 A.D.
Returning now to the “Roma Sotterranea ” of Dr. Northcote, it may be well to say, that the more controversial part of the work is that which will be of the highest interest to our own readers. And, for ourselves, we wish it to be understood, that we intend now to devote our enquiry to such matters only, arising out of our present subject, as have a direct bearing upon ques. tions of Christian doctrine or of discipline. Purely antiquarian discussions may best be examined from a purely antiquarian point of view. And upon these we shall not now enter. But we shall endeavour to carry with us, in our theological enquiries, that spirit of impartial investigation, that scrupulous exactness of statement and representation, in which antiquaries too often carry the palm over theologians. And while we fully admit, that, in dealing controversially with the facts of antiquity, we approach them with the expectation of finding very different conclusions warranted from those to which Dr. Northcote would lead his readers, we shall, at any rate, be careful to give our readers full authority for every fact alleged. And so, even if by any we shall be supposed to write as advocates rather than in a spirit of dispassionate judgment, our readers may at any rate have, between Dr. Northcote and ourselves, the evidence that on both sides is available, and upon that evidence base their own conclusions.
Yet, before embarking upon our own immediate subject, it will be well to set before our readers a brief description of the special sources of testimony to which we are about to appeal, these being of a kind which, up to this time, have attracted far less attention than they deserve.
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In the principal cities of Italy, in Southern France, and here and there in parts of Africa and of the East, there have been preserved to our own time monuments of primitive Christian art, which reflect in a most remarkable manner the prevailing tone, and the distinguishing characteristics, of the successive centuries from which they date. The earliest of these (some few of those in the Roman Catacombs) date, in all probability, from a time but little later than that of the Apostles. And, from that time onward, we possess a series of monuments of the most varied kind, frescoes, mosaic pictures, sepulchral inscriptions, sculptured sarcophagi, carvings in ivory, ornamented glass, illuminated books, coins, medals, works in bronze and other metals, which constitute a pictorial history of Western Christendom, from the earliest ages to the close of the fourteenth century.. Specimens of these will be set before our readers, few in number, but sufficient to indicate their importance as bearing upon questions of the greatest interest to all religious men at the present time.
Of the many and varied works of art of which we speak, none are of greater interest to ourselves, than the series of monuments, either above ground or below it, which are still to be found at Rome. These are of varied kinds. But those, with which mainly we are now concerned, are the rude frescoes upon the walls of the Catacombs, and the mosaic pictures dating from the close of the fourth century onwards, which cover the walls of some of the oldest churches at Rome and Ravenna.
The Catacombs. And first it may be well to say what the Catacombs are,—viz., places of Christian sepulture. That, in very exceptional cases, particular chambers in the Catacombs were either constructed, or adapted, so as to make them available for Divine worship, we have clear evidence. But if we would interpret the earlier pictures of the Catacombs aright, we must constantly bear in mind, what apparently never occurs to Dr. Northcote, that we are contemplating expressions of Christian faith, by primitive believers committing their loved ones to the grave, not entering churches or chapels prepared for modern Roman worship, and therefore inter alia) for the worship of the Virgin Mary. Judging from the way in which Dr. Northcote interprets monuments, it is evident that, in his view, the one thing of which the faithful would think in the hour of their bereavement, was the jurisdiction over other Churches implied by the Papal pallium ! 6 Or again, that, in the eyes of believers then, Christ, our Blessed Lord, the Resurrection and the Life, was of such small esteem, His virgin Mother in such sense all in all, that if she and her Divine Infant appear in the same representation, we may assume that He is represented simply with a view to showing who she is.
6 From this period onward, Christian art in the West has followed its own rules, instead of being subordinated wholly (as in the East it still is) to the direct reproduction of religious ideas
after traditionary forms. Monuments of modern art lose in historical value, as direct expressions of contemporary belief, in proportion to what they have gained in æsthetic beauty.
The actual construction of the Catacombs (or rather the commencement of their construction) dates, in some cases, from the very earliest period of the Roman Church. One consular date (in an inscription which was removed from its place, and whose locality therefore cannot now be determined) is of the year 72 A.D., the third year of Vespasian. And in the cemetery known generally as that of S. Lucina, there are two inscriptions with consular dates belonging to the years 107 and 110 A.D. These older cemeteries were enlarged, and new ones were constructed, as time went on. But, with a few exceptions only, the main construction of the Catacombs dates from the three first centuries; their partial enlargement, and alterations in detail, extend to a further period of about 500 years (circa 850 A.D.), soon after which time they were closed up and forgotten, till the time of their re-discovery in the year 1578.
A separate question altogether, and for our present purpose a more important one, is involved, when we have to assign dates to the various pictures (for the most part very rude, but from their subjects exceedingly interesting) with which the walls, in portions of these cemeteries, are covered. For it is scarcely necessary to say that, in determining the time when some subterranean chamber was first constructed, it by no means follows that we determine also the date of the pictures or of the inscriptions which now appear upon the walls. This question of date can generally be determined only by internal evidence, leaving room for considerable difference of opinion, within certain limits. But there are some general conclusions upon which all investigators are practically agreed, and these we shall take as our guides in investigating such questions as those now before us.
6 This seems scarcely credible even in a Roman controversialist. But the reader may judge for himself by referring to p. 310. He refers to a representation of the ascent of Elias to heaven on a sarcophagus (it may be seen also among the frescoes of the Catacombs, see Aringhi R. S. tom. i.
p. 565), a scene in which Christian mourners would see a pledge of the sure and certain hope of that new life of which their own loved ones were inheritors. His comment is, “It would certainly have reminded Roman Christians of the pallium, the symbol of jurisdiction worn by the bishops of Rome," &c. &c.