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occurrence of political events, the invasion of barbarians, and other causes, agitated the whole Christian world and shook the very foundations of the social systems in which Christianity had made most progress. When Christianity sank into the darkness of the middle ages, the progress of emancipation ceased, because the influence which produced it ceased during that period to operate. The annals of emancipation in these primitive ages, if materials were extant for a full narrative, would be of extraordinary interest, and would fully reveal the effects of our Saviour's precepts when brought to bear upon the hearts of men in their true spirit, even where the letter did not apply. Under paganism, slavery could never come to an end : under the continual light of Christianity, it hastens to an inevitable end, but by that progress and in that mode which is best both for master and slave; both being bound to love each other until the door of emancipation is fully open without injury to either.
The ranks of the slaves, in the early period in review, were constantly replenished by captives taken in the continual wars of that time. One of the marked characteristics of Christian kindness is seen in the liberality exercised in ransoming from slavery its constant recruits. In many cases, whole communities were impoverished by their efforts in this way, and instances are not wanting in which men sold themselves into slavery to procure the means of redeeming others.* When Genseric took and pillaged Rome, he carried off a host of its best citizens as captives, and landed them at Carthage, in Africa, where, husbands being separated from wives, and parents from children, they were sold into bondage. Christians at Rome sent after their unhappy brethren all the means they could command towards their redemption and relief; but the prisoners found Christians in Africa. Deogratias, bishop of Carthage,
* Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.
gave himself at once to the work of succouring these slaves of Vandals and Moors. To prevent separation of families, he purchased a large number of them. The churches of Carthage were fitted up with beds and furniture, and became the habitations and hospitals of those who were the descendants of the former enemies of that city. To meet this great expense, the gold and silver ornaments and vessels of the churches were sold. Medical attendance and nursing were liberally bestowed
upon the numerous sick. The good bishop day and night gave his personal superintendence and aid to this great and good work, and this under the weight of a feeble
The origin of the monastic system was charity. Many of those who felt impelled by the Saviour's injunction, “Go sell that thou hast and give to the poor," united themselves for facility of support, and formed
* A. D. 455.
houses of charity for each other, and for all whom they could help. Their doors were open to all strangers, to the sick, and to all who asked their aid. Many carried their worldly possessions to these establishments, and there they were dispensed for the general object of the association.
The more these institutions were managed in the spirit of true Christian charity, the more popular they became; and large gifts and bequests were poured upon them to assist in their charitable enterprises. The value of such gifts for charitable uses made in these early times cannot now be told; and if they could, the amount would be deemed incredible. The administrators of these houses of charity, who in their origin laboured with their own hands in their communities for their support and for the means of succouring others, were in the end overwhelmed by the amount of those benefactions which the zeal of Christians for charity showered upon them. It is but little from the mark to
say, that all the property held by the Roman church and her ecclesiastics, if we except her temples, was given purely for charitable
purposes. It was given to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to redeem the captive, to aid in the cure and care of the sick, the infirm, the halt and the blind, and for the support of a generous hospitality. Where these houses were found, and they were once densely strewed through Christendom, the poor were never without a resource for every want, and the stranger never at a loss for a home. The history of these houses, in the days of their purity, is greatly needed as a practical exposition of charity by the first Christians.
When the plague raged in Alexandria, in the time of the Emperor Gallianus, Christians distinguished themselves, in contrast with the pagan population, by their undaunted courage and persevering care for the sick, dying, and dead. They omitted no duty and fled from no contact in the care of those labouring under the frightful malady, in closing the