Chapter 33. A Good Confession

{357} THE cry came from the keeper's wife, whom we have described as kindly disposed to her. She was a Lybo-Phoenician, and spoke a broken Latin; but the language of sympathy is universal, in spite of Babel, "Callista," she exclaimed; "girl, they have sent for you; you are to die. O frightful! worse than a runaway slave,—the torture! Give in. What's the harm? you are so young: those terrible men with the pincers and hot bars!"

Callista sat up, and passed from her vision to her prison. She smiled and said, "I am ready; I am going home." The woman looked almost frightened, and with some shade of disgust and disappointment. She, as others, might have thought it impossible, as it was unaccountable, that when it came to the point Callista would hold out. "She's crazed," she said. "I am ready, mother," Callista said, and she got up. "You have been very good to me," she continued; "I have been saying many prayers for you, while my prayers were of no good, for then He was not mine. But now I have espoused Him, and am going to be married today, and He will hear me." The woman {358} stared at her stupidly, as much as to make it evident that if afterwards a change took place in her, as in Callista, that change too, though in so different a soul, must come of something beyond nature. She had something in her hand, and said, "It's useless to give a mad woman like her the packet, which my man has brought me."

Callista took the packet, which was directed to her, and broke the seal. It was from her brother. The little roll of worn parchment opened; a dagger fell out. Some lines were written on the parchment; they were dated Carthage, and ran as follows:—

"Aristo to his dearest Callista. I write through Cornelius. You have not had it in your power to kill me, but you have taken away half my life. For me, I will cherish the other half, for I love life better than death. But you love annihilation; yet, if so, die not like a slave. Die nobly, mindful of your country; I send you the means."

Callista was beyond reflecting on anything around her, except as in a sort of dream. As common men think and speak of heaven, so she now thought and spoke of earth. "I wish Him to kill me, not myself," she said. "I am His victim. My brother! I have no brother, except One, who is calling me."

She was carried to court, and the examination followed. We have already given a specimen of such a process; here it will be sufficient to make use of two documents, different in kind, as far as they go, which have come down to us. The first is an alto-relief, {359} which once was coloured, not first-rate in art or execution, and of the date of the Emperor Constantius, about a century later. It was lately discovered in the course of excavations made at El Kaf, the modern Sicca, on the ruins of a church or Roman basilica, for the building in question seems to have served each purpose successively. In this sculpture the prętorium is represented, and the tribunal of the president in it. The tribunal is a high throne, with wings curving round on each side, making the whole construction extend to almost a semicircle, and it is ascended by steps between the wings. The curule chair is at the top of the steps; and in the middle and above it are purple curtains, reaching down to the platform, drawn back on each side, and when drawn close together running behind the chair, and constituting what was called the secretarium. On one side of the tribunal is a table covered with carpeting, and looking something like a modern ottoman, only higher, and not level at top; and it has upon it the Book of Mandates, the sign of jurisdiction. The sword too is represented in the sculpture, to show a criminal case is proceeding. The procurator is seated on the chair; he is in purple, and has a gold chain of triple thread. We can also distinguish his lawyers, whether assessors or consiliarii; also his lictors and soldiers. There, too, are the notaries in a line below him; they are writing down the judge's questions and the prisoner's answers: and one of them is turning round to her, as if to make her speak more loudly. She herself is mounted {360} upon a sort of platform, called catasta, like that on which slaves were put up for sale. Two soldiers are by her, who appear to have been dragging her forwards. The executioners are also delineated, naked to the waist, with instruments of torture in their hands.

The second document is a fragment of the Acta Proconsularia of her Passion. If, indeed, it could be trusted to the letter, as containing Callista's answers word for word, it would have a distinctly sacred character, in consequence of our Lord's words, "It shall be given you in that hour what to speak." However, we attach no such special value to this document, since it comes to us through heathen notaries, who may not have been accurate reporters; not to say that before we did so we ought to look very carefully into its genuineness. As it is, we believe it to be as true as any part of our narrative, and not truer. It runs as follows:—

"Cneius Messius Decius Augustus II., and Gratus, Consuls, on the seventh before the Calends of August, in Sicca Veneria, a colony, in the Secretary at the Tribunal, Martianus, procurator, sitting; Callista, a maker of images, was brought up by the Commentariensis on a charge of Christianity, and when she was placed,

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: This folly has been too long; you have made images, and now you will not worship them. {361}

"CALLISTA answered: For I have found my true Love, whom before I knew not.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Your true love is, I ween, your last love; for all were true in their time.

"CALLISTA said: I worship my true Love, who is the Only True; and He is the Son of God, and I know none but Him.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You will not worship the gods, but you are willing to love their sons.

"CALLISTA said: He is the true Son of the True God; and I am His, and He is mine.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Let alone your loves, and swear by the genius of the emperor.

"CALLISTA said: I have but one Lord, the King of kings, the Ruler of all.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, turned to the lictor and said: This folly is madness; take her hand, put incense in it, and hold it over the flame.

"CALLISTA said: You may compel me by your great strength, but my own true Lord and Love is stronger.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You are bewitched; but we must undo the spell. Take her to the Lignum (the prison for criminals).

"CALLISTA said: He has been there before me, and He will come to me there.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: The jailer will see to that. Let her be brought up tomorrow. {362}

"On the day following, Martianus, the procurator, sitting at the tribunal, called up Callista. He said: Honour our lord, and sacrifice to the gods.

"CALLISTA said: Let me alone; I am content with my One and only Lord.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: What? did he come to you in prison, as you hoped?

"CALLISTA said: He came to me amid much pain; and the pain was pleasant, for He came in it.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: You have got worn and yellow, and he will leave you.

"CALLISTA said: He loves me the more, for I am beautiful when I am black.

"MARTIANUS, the procurator, said: Throw her into the Tullianum; perhaps she will find her god there also.

"Then the procurator entered into the Secretary, and drew the veil; and dictated the sentence for the tabella. Then he came out, and the pręco read it:—Callista, a senseless and reprobate woman, is hereby sentenced to be thrown into the Tullianum; then to be stretched on the equuleus; then to be placed on a slow fire; lastly, to be beheaded, and left to the dogs and birds.

"CALLISTA said: Thanks to my Lord and King."

Here the Acta end: and though they seem to want their conclusion, yet they supply nearly every thing which is necessary for our purpose. The one subject on which a comment is needed, is the state prison, {363} which, though so little is said of it in the above Report, is in fact the real medium, as we may call it, for appreciating its information; a few words will suffice for our purpose.

The state prison, then, was arranged on pretty much one and the same plan through the Roman empire, nay, we may say, throughout the ancient world. It was commonly attached to the government buildings, and consisted of two parts. The first was the vestibule, or outward prison, which was a hall, approached from the prętorium, and surrounded by cells, opening into it. The prisoners, who were confined in these cells, had the benefit of the air and light, which the hall admitted. Such was the place of confinement allotted to St. Paul at Cęsarea, which is said to be the "prętorium of Herod." And hence, perhaps, it is that, in the touching Passion of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas, St. Perpetua tells us that, when permitted to have her child, though she was in the inner portion, which will next be described, "suddenly the prison seemed to her like the prętorium."

From this vestibule there was a passage into the interior prison, called Robur or Lignum, from the beams of wood, which were the instruments of confinement, or from the character of its floor. It had no window or outlet, except this door, which, when closed, absolutely shut out light and air. Air, indeed, and coolness might be obtained for it by the barathrum, presently to be spoken of, but of what nature we shall then see. The apartment, called Lignum, was the {364} place into which St. Paul and St. Silas were cast at Philippi, before it was known that they were Romans. After scourging them severely, the magistrates, who nevertheless were but the local authorities, and had no proper jurisdiction in criminal cases, "put them in prison, bidding the jailer to keep them carefully; who, on receiving such a command, put them in the inner prison, and fastened them in the lignum." And in the Acts of the Scillitane Martyrs we read of the Proconsul giving sentence, "Let them be thrown into prison, let them be put into the Lignum, till tomorrow."

The utter darkness, the heat, and the stench of this miserable place, in which the inmates were confined day and night, is often dwelt upon by the martyrs and their biographers. "After a few days," says St. Perpetua, "we were taken to the prison, and I was frightened, for I never had known such darkness. O bitter day! the heat was excessive by reason of the crowd there." In the Acts of St. Pionius, and others of Smyrna, we read that the jailers "shut them up in the inner part of the prison, so that, bereaved of all comfort and light, they were forced to sustain extreme torment, from the darkness and stench of the prison." And, in like manner, other martyrs of Africa, about the time of St. Cyprian's martyrdom, that is, eight or ten years later than the date of this story, say, "We were not frightened at the foul darkness of that place; for soon that murky prison was radiant with the brightness of the Spirit. What days, what nights we passed there {365} no words can describe. The torments of that prison no statement can equal."

Yet there was a place of confinement even worse than this. In the floor of this inner prison was a sort of trap-door, or hole, opening into the barathrum, or pit, and called, from the original prison at Rome, the Tullianum. Sometimes prisoners were confined here, sometimes despatched by being cast headlong into it through the opening. It was into this pit at Rome that St. Chrysanthus was cast; and there, and probably in other cities, it was nothing short of the public cesspool.

It may be noticed that the Prophet Jeremiah seems to have had personal acquaintance with Vestibule, Robur, and Barathrum. We read in one place of his being shut up in the "atrium," that is, the vestibule, "of the prison, which was in the house of the king." At another time he is in the "ergastulum," which would seem to be the inner prison. Lastly his enemies let him down by ropes into the lacus or pit, in which "there was no water, but mud."

As to Callista, then, after the first day's examination, she was thrown for nearly twenty-four hours into the stifling Robur, or inner prison. After the sentence, on the second day, she was let down, as the commencement of her punishment, that is, of her martyrdom, into the loathsome Barathrum, lacus, or pit, called Tullianum, there to lie for another twenty hours before she was brought out to the equulous or rack.

Chapter 34

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