Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff
This book includes the stories of over 32 saints, and includes sections on the Early Fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus), the Saints of Ireland (Patrick, Columba, Columbanus), as well many saints of the Calendar, ranging from martyrs of the third century, to saints of Mediaeval England.
In writing these simple stories from the lives of some of the Saints and Martyrs of the Church, I have tried to choose such as would be of most interest to children. I have tried also to word them so simply as to make the little book one to be put into a child's own hands.
In looking back upon my own childhood I remember the intense pleasure with which I learnt to "read to myself;" and in thinking over the influences of my early life, I can recall none so powerful as that exercised upon me from a very tender age by the persons and characters with which my imagination was thus peopled.
At first it was the same few books read over and over again, so that even now, at a distance of more than a quarter of a century, every character therein described is distinct and clear in its own individuality in my mind. Then came the taste for ever new children's stories and the delight of the weekly or monthly magazine. The world of reading in which I lived was as real and important a one as the actual world of my friends and childish companions, and its influence of even greater weight. If I heard rude or intemper language, saw a wrong action, or came in conta with any kind of bad example, at once my childish reasoning would say, So-and-so (the hero or heroine of the tales I read) would not have acted or spoken thus. In the difficulties of my own little sphere, in the temptations and trials of childhood—very real indeed as such trials always are to children—I asked myself, What would So-and-so have done in my case? And in the real life of the child the ideal would be all-powerful to impel towards the right.
These are the days of agnosticism and unbelief, but among the earnest and serious "questioners" of our time none dare for a moment to impugn the high standard of the ethics of the Gospel,—deny the striking beauty of the teaching of JESUS and His Apostles. Neither will they deny the need of a high ideal to put before youth.
"Unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man."
But the ideal of the agnostic is purely theoretic—philosophical—a creation of the brain of man, a thing that has no existence in practice: of what use then is it? We want the actual life of real men and women; we as human beings must see what other human beings have done—have been capable of; such ideals alone will have force and influence.
We believe that JESUS CHRIST came to live upon earth not only to be "a Sacrifice for sin," but "also an Example of godly life." To give us an ideal the SON of GOD became also Perfect Man.
In trying to picture for the minds of children the beautiful and noble lives of some of the saints, I have striven to show what can be done through the love of Him our great Example; and I offer these simple records to the rich world of children's literature, not merely as a source of knowledge in regard to the history of the Church, but in the hope that each child that reads may be helped onwards in his own sphere to victory over sin, and to the leading of a noble Christian life.
The apology for this little book is, that it attempts to give only glances over a wide and ancient field of knowledge.
The selections and method must rest on the credit of the taste of the author, because of her acquaintance with the minds of highly educated young people. There are histories that go further into the careers of saints of the earlier Christian ages. Archdeacon Evans' Biography of the Early Church is an example; but he takes the known Fathers of the period with a view to a continuous history of the Church, and that well within the first three centuries. A book of this kind, he beautifully observes, "is a Westminster Abbey in the region of sacred literature, crowded with the memories of the worthies of former times."
The lives of Christian people differ from the lives of ordinary philosophers. All Christians, as Christians, have the same creed from age to age, founded on the original accounts in the New Testament of the crucified, risen, and reigning CHRIST. They have the same system to present to all minds, which are naturally the same in their spiritual needs. Their earnest and incessant teaching of this one Gospel brings them into converse with various ranks of society—kings and peasants, soldiers and ploughmen. Intercourse with pagans and unbelievers urges them on to bear witness to the truth of the fundamental articles of the faith, often so far as to entail tortures and death. Death, with the love of their Master, is chosen, rather than riches and freedom with the denial of the Divine LORD. Death under these circumstances, is now popularly called martyrdom. In brighter cases their teaching and their beautiful characters, taken together, lead to others accepting the Gospel and to the consequent enlargement of the Church of CHRIST.
Some of those holy men, women, and children, whose memorials are here briefly written, are named in black letters in the Calendar of the Church of England; their names were kept there because their days were used as dates in old legal documents. Many, as St. George, the patron of England; St. Patrick, of Ireland; St. Crispin, of shoemakers; St. Swithun, of the weather; St. Valentine, of letter-writing; reviving, by associations, interesting memories to us of the United Kingdom. In some stories included in these pages, though details may be incredible, the fact that they have been handed down, expresses the general opinion at the time of the character of the persons to whom they refer; further, the anecdotes describe some particular virtue, or grace of the HOLY SPIRIT, showing what a Christian can be, and how GOD protects His own. Frequent mention, it will be noted, is made of monasteriesand monks. Let it be borne in mind that in pagan and unfriendly districts the only safety of the disciples of JESUS from persecutions and robbery was found in their living together within a kind of college or home, a small chapel being often attached to it. These sacred houses were also places to which new believers might resort for protection and instruction; and in them alone, for the most part, the children of a country neighbourhood could obtain book learning.
May these brief sketches lead many a youthful reader onwards to the deeper study, not only of characters in Holy Scripture, but of other histories of the sons of GOD, as enshrined in the records, ancient and modern, of the Church of JESUS CHRIST, herself "the pillar and ground of the truth."
CHAPTER HOUSE, MANCHESTER, All Saints' Day, 1889.