At this point Briso and Philip parted, for the Chamberlain was eager to return to the ease of the capital, and Philip no less eager to make his way to Nazareth. Theodulus, who was about his own age, kindly undertook to be his guide as far as Gaza, and on the way he caught a glimpse of not a few monasteries, and saw something of the lives of hermits. If Nilus and Theodulus had won his admiration, he was entirely disenchanted by the narrowness, dirt, ignorance, and ferocious bigotry which were rampant among some of those who, in virtue of a self-denial which cost them far less than holiness would have done, passed for exalted saints.
At Gaza he was welcomed by the dear old Bishop Porphyrius, with whose simple and unsophisticated piety he was greatly charmed. Porphyrius sped him on his way rejoicing to Jerusalem, where he received the genial hospitality of the excellent Bishop John. His visit was rendered more delightful by the admiration which John both felt and expressed for his beloved father and master, Chrysostom. The Bishop, entering into the youth's enthusiasm, went with him to many of the sacred places round the city. The Holy Land became to Philip a fifth Gospel. He had seen for many years an utter perversion of the true Christian ideal, a staining of the crystal river of the Water of Life by turbid influxes of Pagan superstition and half-Pagan, half-Jewish ritual. He had been alienated by a combination of excited babble about incomprehensible formulæ, with a savage intolerance which looked with more fury on a barely intelligible divergence of opinion than on the most flagrant violation of the moral law. He had seen the whiteness of leprosy hypocritically parading itself as the whiteness of innocence. He had seen priests and bishops combining the attitude of professional sanctity with the abjectness of intriguing hatred, and posing as saints while they acted like ruffians. He had seen the most ostentatious Pharisaism devoid of the elementary Christian graces, and had heard men prate of an ideal which, in their practice, was indistinguishable from the most reprobate worldliness. Nothing could have repressed the disgust which often crept over him had it not been for the influence of Chrysostom, the happy innocence of his friends David and Eutyches, the gentle self-sacrifice of Olympias and Nicarete, and the large-hearted simplicity of Michael, the Desposynos. If this be Christianity,' he had often said to himself amid the seething ecclesiastical vileness of Constantinople -- 'if this be Christianity, it is a failure; and if this be the Church, then the gates of hell have largely prevailed against it.'
While his mind was thus troubled the storm of ruin had burst upon him, and, if his faith had been but a house built upon the sand, it would have been swept into indistinguishable collapse. But God had spoken to him in his anguish, and a star had shone down upon him out of the midnight. He had learnt to see that the true Church was neither one particular organisation nor one sacerdotal caste, but that it was the congregation of all true Christian men throughout the world, the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.
In Palestine, it seemed to him as if he could better apprehend the eternal teachings of the very Christ, and that he could see what the Gospel was without having to catch mere glimpses of it through the lurid mists of priestly usurpation, worldly corruption, and clanging controversies. The few days he spent at Jerusalem were to him days of memorable happiness, as he gazed on the city from the spot where Christ had wept over it on the Mount of Olives; as he wandered to the ruins of the house of the two sisters, and saw the grave of Lazarus at Bethany; as he stood awestruck on the traditional site of Golgotha; as he knelt to worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and trod on the platform-site of that ruined temple where Jesus had so often taught. He would wander for hours by himself down the valleys of Hinnom and of Jehoshaphat, and round the hills which stand about Jerusalem. He mused for many solemn moments under the ragged and wind-swept tree on Aceldama, the scene of the suicide of Judas; and one night, never to be forgotten -- it was the eve of Holy Thursday -- he went through the Golden Gate, wandered under the huge gnarled olives in the Wady of the Kedron, and stood under the flood of moonlight, alone, beneath the olive-tree of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, amid
Solitary thinking such as dodge
Conception to the very bourne of heaven,
Then leave the naked brain.
To move alone with his thoughts amid such scenes was to leave the stained river, and to bathe himself afresh in the fountains of the dawn. He was, naturally, anxious to visit the cavern of the Nativity, and the Bishop gave him a letter to St. Jerome, whose name was famous throughout the world. Philip shrank from meeting him, for he knew that Jerome had translated into Latin the shameful letter of Theophilus, and had thus given it vogue throughout the Western Empire. But he overcame this repugnance, and compelled himself to forgive an outrage which could, he felt, have been due to ignorance alone.
The old scholar, who always had a kindly feeling for the young, received him graciously -- and he could be very gracious when he chose. Philip would have liked to ask him some questions about the saintly Origen, and his larger hopes for the future of ruined man; but he was aware how easily the jealous suspicion of Jerome took the alarm, and how he was terrified out of himself by the faintest supposition that he could entertain any sympathy for a man whom the current religious ignorance denounced as heretical. But when he talked of the birth of Christ, and asked Jerome to lead him into the Chapel of the Nativity, the old man's eye grew bright. Ah!' he said, 'let me go with you. Never can I be weary of that most sacred spot. This cavern was the magnet which drew me hither from Rome. It makes Bethlehem the most august spot in the world, because there, as the Psalmist sings, Veritas orta est. Here I become little with the Little One. Here I offer to Him my sins for His forgiveness.'
He took Philip by the hand, and led him from the cavern in which he lived, and in which he had made the great Latin version of the Bible, into the adjoining cavern, once the stable of the village inn at Bethlehem where was born
Whose tender, winning arts,
Have to His little arms beguiled
So many wounded hearts.
With indescribable emotion the youth and the old man knelt down by the little silver star round which ran the inscription, Hic de Virgine Maria Christus natus est.
Philip left Bethlehem with a courteous and respectful farewell to the world-famous eremite. Jerome had prepared for him a little collation, at which he had the honour of seeing the saintly Roman-ladies, Paula and Eustochium. They had left their gilded palaces on the Aventine to accompany the great man, who, when he was secretary to Pope Damasus, had initiated them, and so many of the noblest ladies of Rome, into the mysteries of Hebrew and the principles of Scriptural interpretation, and whom in those days everyone had expected to be elected to the Bishopric of Rome whenever it should fall vacant. But Jerome had incurred the fate of all those who are intolerant of vice and imposture, and, exactly as Chrysostom had done, he had made a deadly enemy of every dandy monk and vicious priest -- and there were not a few of both classes -- in the great city. In spite of the moral blamelessness of his life, he found himself enwrapped in such a sulphurous storm of slander that he had left the capital of Christendom denouncing her as Babylon, and a purple-clad harlot,' and, almost with a curse, shaking her dust from off his feet.
You must be very happy here, Father?' said Philip, 'away from the storm and stress of Rome.'
Happy!' answered Jerome. Who is happy? Yes, I am happy in the sense that, with many imperfections, I still strive to serve God, and devote myself to the service of His Son. I am happy in the sense that my sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, and I have that peace, deep within, which the surface hurricanes cannot shake. And I am happy in this holy cave, and in the shady walks of Bethlehem, and when I see the flowers bloom and hear the song of birds in spring. But as for what the world calls happiness, it is not here. If there be any sunshine within myself, there is little or none in my surroundings. God has not seen fit to preserve me from the strife of tongues, and doubtless the fault lies largely in myself. Ah! young man, if you seek for what this world calls happiness, crawl along the hedge-bottoms; lie low; never unmask an imposture, never rebuke a vice, never embrace an unpopular cause, never propound a distasteful truth; join the multitude, swim with the stream, answer the Church according to her idols. Then you will be popular, and all men will praise your moderation, and, if you take orders, you may even become Patriarch of your native Antioch.'
And then -- -- ?' said Philip.
I see,' said Jerome, I need say no more. God has taught you to estimate things aright. Farewell! and take with you an old man's blessing.'