Chapter 32. The Imperial Rescript

{352} HAD the imperial edict been acted on by the magistrates of Sicca, without a reference to Carthage, it is not easy to suppose that Callista would have persevered in her refusal to commit the act of idolatry required of her. But, to speak of second causes, the hesitation of her judges was her salvation. Once baptised, there was no reason she should desire any further delay of her conflict. Come it must, and come it did. While Cęcilius was placing her beyond danger, the rescript of the Proconsul had been received at the office of the Duumvirs.

The absence of the Proconsul from Carthage had been the cause of the delay; and then, some investigation was needed to understand the relation of Callista's seizure to the riot on the one hand, and to the strong act of the military on the other, in quelling it. It was thought that something or other might come to light to account for the anomalous and unaccountable position which she had taken up. The imperial government considered it had now a clear view of her case, and its orders were distinct and peremptory. Christianity was to cease to be. It was a subtle foe, {353} sapping the vitals of the state. Rome must perish, or this illegal association. Such evasions as Callista had used were but instances of its craft. Its treason lay, not in its being Christianity, but in its not sacrificing to the gods of Rome. Callista was but throwing dust in their eyes. There had been no blow struck against the treason in inland Africa. Women had often been the most dangerous of conspirators. As she was a stranger, there was more probability of her connection with secret societies, and also less inconvenience in her execution. Whatever happened, she was to be got rid of; but first her resolution was to be broken, for the sake of the example. First, let her be brought before the tribunal and threatened; then thrust into the Tullianum; then put upon the rack, and returned to prison; then scorched over a slow fire; last of all, beheaded, and left for beasts of prey. She would sacrifice ere the last stage was reached. When she had given way, let her be given up to the gladiators. The message ended by saying that the Proconsular Procurator, who came by the same carriages, would preside at the process.

O wisdom of the world! and strength of the world! what are you when matched beside the foolishness and the weakness of the Christian? You are great in resources, manifold in methods, hopeful in prospects; but one thing you have not,—and that is peace. You are always tumultuous, restless, apprehensive. You have nothing you can rely upon. You have no rock under your feet. But the humblest, feeblest Christian {354} has that which is impossible to you. Callista had once felt the misery of maladies akin to yours. She had passed through doubt, anxiety, perplexity, despondency, passion; but now she was in peace. Now she feared the torture or the flame as little as the breeze which arose at nightfall, or the busy chatter of the grasshoppers at the noonday. Nay, rather, she did not think of torture and death at all, but was possessed by a peace which bore her up, as if bodily, on its mighty wings. For hours she remained on her knees, after Cęcilius left her: then she lay down on her rushes and slept her last sleep.

She slept sound; she dreamed. She thought she was no longer in Africa, but in her own Greece, more sunny and bright than before; but the inhabitants were gone. Its majestic mountains, its rich plains, its expanse of waters, all silent: no one to converse with, no one to sympathize with. And, as she wandered on and wondered, suddenly its face changed, and its colours were illuminated tenfold by a heavenly glory, and each hue upon the scene was of a beauty she had never known, and seemed strangely to affect all her senses at once, being fragrance and music, as well as light. And there came out of the grottoes and glens and woods, and out of the seas, myriads of bright images, whose forms she could not discern; and these came all around her, and became a sort of scene or landscape, which she could not have described in words, as if it were a world of spirits, not of matter. And as she gazed, she thought she saw before her a {355} well-known face, only glorified. She, who had been a slave, now was arrayed more brilliantly than an oriental queen; and she looked at Callista with a smile so sweet, that Callista felt she could but dance to it.

And as she looked more earnestly, doubting whether she should begin or not, the face changed, and now was more marvellous still. It had an innocence in its look, and also a tenderness, which bespoke both Maid and Mother, and so transported Callista, that she must needs advance towards her, out of love and reverence. And the lady seemed to make signs of encouragement: so she began a solemn measure, unlike all dances of earth, with hands and feet, serenely moving on towards what she heard some of them call a great action and a glorious consummation, though she did not know what they meant. At length she was fain to sing as well as dance; and her words were, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" on which another said, "A good beginning of the sacrifice." And when she had come close to this gracious figure, there was a fresh change. The face, the features were the same; but the light of Divinity now seemed to beam through them, and the hair parted, and hung down long on each side of the forehead; and there was a crown of another fashion than the Lady's round about it, made of what looked like thorns. And the palms of the hands were spread out as if towards her, and there were marks of wounds in them. And the {356} vestment had fallen, and there was a deep opening in the side. And as she stood entranced before Him, and motionless, she felt a consciousness that her own palms were pierced like His, and her feet also. And she looked round, and saw the likeness of His face and of His wounds upon all that company. And now they were suddenly moving on, and bearing something or some one, heavenwards; and they too began to sing, and their words seemed to be, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep," ever repeated. They went up through an avenue or long grotto, with torches of diamonds, and amethysts, and sapphires, which lit up its spars and made them sparkle. And she tried to look, but could not discover what they were carrying, till she heard a very piercing cry, which awoke her.

Chapter 33

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