« السابقةمتابعة »
Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," they proceeded to carry the injunction into effect; " and when they had fasted, and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." (Acts xiii. 3.) This was the practice of the church, also, in ordaining elders; for as Paul and Barnabas, in their visits to the various cities, ordained elders in every church, they connected with this service prayer and fasting. (Acts xiv. 23.) According to the testimony of St. Paul himself, he was "in fastings often." (2 Cor. xi. 27.) In an enumeration of those exercises which distinguish the faithful minister of Christ, fasting is not overlooked. "In all things," says he, "approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings." (2 Cor. vi. 4, 5.) And it is particularly worthy of note, that the only case in which St. Paul will allow married persons an occasional separation, is, "that they may give themselves to fasting and prayer." (1 Cor. vii. 5.) To us, therefore, it is plain, that the immediate followers of our Lord, like the Psalmist in ancient times, humbled their souls by fasting. (Ps. xxxv. 13.)
That the early Christians, in this particular, followed the practice of the Apostles, may be collected from the writings of the Fathers, and other ancient authors. Bishops were wont earnestly to enjoin it on the people, not for any worldly purpose, but for spiritual profit; and if any of the people were so forgetful of their duty as to neglect the observance of fast days, the evil of such neglect was faithfully displayed, and the danger to the soul firmly denounced. The authority by which it is recommended appears to have been considered, and the great example of Jesus Christ contrasted
with the sensuality of those who omitted to fast.* These omissions, however, do not appear to have been very common; on the contrary, the people seem to have been in danger of excessive fasting. The frequent and rigorous fasts of some of the early Christians were unquestionably injurious to both body and mind. St. Bernard complains of the wrong he had done himself in this way, in disabling himself from better services; lamenting that he had by this means turned a virtue into a vice; and killed a subject while he intended to subdue an enemy. (Bern. Med. Devot.) And St. Francis, at his death, could confess too late, that he had used his brother body too hardly. (Conform. 1. ii.) Instead of "keeping under their bodies," many have destroyed them; and bewildered their minds, instead of rendering them more spiritual.+
It appears that the fasts of the primitive church were both occasional and stated. The former of these were regulated by the circumstances of the church, and in those times of violent and bloody persecution were not unfrequent. Thus Cyprian, at a period when a sharp persecution raged, recommended his people to seek to appease and pacify the Lord, not only by prayers, but by fastings, and by tears, and by all kinds of intreaties." (Epist. 8.) And when the same father saw an approaching persecution, he wrote to Cornelius, bishop of Rome, "That since God was pleased in his providence to warn them of an approaching fight and trial, they ought with their whole flocks diligently to fast, and watch, and pray; to give themselves to continual groans, and frequent prayers; for those are our spiritual arms, that make us firmly to stand and persevere.' Epist. 57.
Another Father, Tertullian, jeers the heathen, "That in time of danger, or great necessity, after they had voluptuously and sensually glutted themselves, they then run to the capitol, and with all outward signs of humility, deprecated God's judgments and implored his mercy, whilst in the meantime they were enemies unto him. But (says he) we on such emergencies and occasions, abstain from all things, give ourselves wholly to fasting, roll ourselves in sackcloth and ashes, and thus incline God, as it were, to repent, to have mercy and compassion upon us; for by this way God is honoured." Apol. cap. 40.
The stated fasts of the primitive church were both weekly and annual. The annual fast was that of Lent, and was considered obligatory; whereas, according to the opinion of Sir Peter King, afterwards Lord Chancellor, the weekly fasts were ex arbitrio, of their own free-will and choice, not ex imperio, of command or necessity. From a quotation in Eusebius, from Irenæus, relative to the difference of time prevailing in the observance of the annual fast, Valesius makes two important remarks: 1. That the fast before Easter was usually observed in the church from the very times of the Apostles. And 2. That this fast was celebrated in honour and memory of Christ's fast.
Though the weekly fasts may not have been considered obligatory, they were punctually kept, by the faithful, every Wednesday and Friday, throughout the year. These fasts were called Stations, or Stationary Days, (stationum dies) in allusion to the military stations, or the soldiers standing when on guard. The reason of Wednesday being chosen as a fast day, probably was, because on that day the Passion of our blessed Lord commenced, as on that day he was sold to the Jews
by the traitorous Judas. Friday was chosen, doubtless, because Christ on that day was crucified.
That the occasional fasts of the early Christians were frequent, we may infer from the numerous recommendations of the duty found in the writings of those days. St. Jerome urged it, as the basis and foundation of other religious acts: cæterarum virtutum fundamentum. Leo represents Religion as feeding upon fasting: Semper virtutis Cibus Jejunium fuit: and observes that, as to regard an uncommanded fast is a pious act, so to disregard a commanded fast, is an impious one: Quod pium est agere non indictum, impium est negligere prædicatum. Such language was frequently employed on this subject, and we have sufficient evidence that it made due impressions on the minds of the people.
It is not to be wondered at, that the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church should contain numerous fast-days,* inasmuch as that church, corrupt as it may now be, was, in its origin, intimately connected with the pure church of Jesus Christ. Whatever may have become of the spirit of the institution, the form seems to have been regularly transmitted from generation to generation, among those who have borne the Christian name. Nor did the Reformers in their protestations against the errors and absurdities of Catholicism, venture to attack this subject; they rather regarded it as sterling gold among heaps of dross, and therefore incorporated rules for the observance of fast-days in the canons and regulations fo all the reformed churches. Among others, the Established Church of this kingdom observes the fasts of Lent, the Ember days, the Rogation days, and the Vigils. The Eastern or Greek Church, too,
*See Note VII.
+ See Note VIII.
whose hostility to the Latin Church is much more ancient than ours, agrees with it on the subject of fasting, but practises it with more rigid austerity.* Indeed, we look in vain for any considerable part of the Christian Church, in any age, that has not acknowledged fasting to be a duty.
It is very remarkable, that the practice of fasting has not been confined to those nations of the earth which have been favoured with the written word of revelation; but, that in both ancient and modern times, it has prevailed in countries wholly given to idolatry. The instance of the Ninevites is known to every reader of the Bible; and one remarkable feature in that case is, that the fast which was proclaimed by the king of Nineveh, extended to brute creatures: "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water," (Jonah iii. 7.) which was probably their common custom in rigorous fasts. Perhaps some practice of this sort prevailed among the Romans, which led Virgil, in his fifth Eclogue, to introduce a shepherd, whom he represents as saying, that the very cattle fasted at the death of Cæsar.
"Nulla neque amnem
Libavit quadrupes, nec graminis attigit herbam."
"The thirsty cattle of themselves abstain'd From water, and their grassy fare disdain'd."
At all events, it is certain that fasting was practised in heathen Rome. Among other distinguished persons mentioned in history, are Numa Pompilius, Julius Cæsar, Augustus, and Vespasian, who had their stated fast-days; and Julian the Apostate is said to have been so exact in this observance as to outdo the priests themselves, and even the most rigid philosophers.
* See Note IX.