10. Their Hospitality and mode of Salutation
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVIII. Domestic and Social Character of the Primitive Christians
10. Their Hospitality and mode of Salutation
It is impossible to speak in terms of less admiration of the hospitality exercised in that age towards christian strangers. The followers of Christ, how widely soever they were scattered throughout the world, were then united as one great family, and agreeing, as they did, in the happiest spirit of concord, to regard any local varieties of custom as matters of indifference, kept up a constant and friendly correspondence with all the branches of the church universal, so that whenever any of them went abroad, either on their own private affairs, or on missions connected with the state and progress of religion, they were received with open arms by the Christians of the place as brethren. Go under whatever name they might, and travel to the remotest places, among people of foreign manners and an unknown tongue, the pilgrims of the faith were sure, whenever they met with a Christian, to find a friend, whose house would be thrown open for their reception, whose table would be spread for their entertainment, and who would welcome them with a warmer heart and a kindlier smile, than they were often met with by their kinsmen and acquaintance at home. In the eyes of the unconverted, it seemed an inexplicable mystery, that men, who, as Jews, had felt a contempt for all other people, and, as Gentiles, would not enjoy the hearth in common with strangers, should be on terms of the closest friendship with Christians, indiscriminately of every color and of every name; and they looked upon it as accomplished by some secret token, – the watchword of a deep and wide-spread conspiracy, – when they saw the hand of fellowship given, and the rites of hospitality performed by such people to foreigners, whose person and character had been previously unknown to them. The heathen knew nothing of those inward feelings, that brotherly love, that fellowship of the Spirit, which created between the Christians spiritual ties, independent alike of the natural and political boundaries of the earth, and one manifestation of which was their pleasure and their readiness to open their doors, and render every hospitable attention to those of the same faith from all quarters of the world. The way was for a traveller, on arriving at any town, to seek out the church, in or about which liberal accommodation was always provided, both for the temporal and spiritual comforts of the wayfaring man. But it was seldom that the burden of lodging him was allowed to be borne by the common funds of the church, – for no sooner was the news of his arrival spread abroad, than the members vied with each other, which should have the privilege of entertaining the christian stranger at their homes; and whatever was his rank or calling, he soon found himself domiciled with brethren, whose circumstances were similar to his own. A minister was entertained by one of his own order; a mechanic by one of the same craft or station; and even the poorest would have been readier, and have counted it a greater honor, to share his hut and his crust with a disciple like himself, than to have sat at table with the emperor of Rome. In course of time, however, this generous and open-hearted hospitality was abused.
Persons unworthy to enjoy it – spies and impostors, under the assumed name of Christians, – introduced themselves to the brethren in distant places, and by misrepresenting afterwards what had been told them in the unsuspecting confidence of brotherhood, and circulating calumnies prejudicial both to individuals and to the body of Christians at large, threatened to bring on the church a variety of evils, – not the least of which would have been, that of putting an end to the ancient kindly intercourse with christian strangers, had not a plan been happily devised, and introduced into universal practice, by which travellers were known at once to be good men and true. The plan was this: every one on setting oui on a journey, was furnished by the minister of the church to which he belonged with a letter of credence to the spiritual rulers of the place wh
ere he meant to sojourn, the presentation of which having satisfied them as to his christian character, was instantly followed by a welcome invitation to partake of the hospitality of the church or the brethren. To prevent forgeries, these letters were folded in a particular form, which procured them the name of lilerae formalae, besides containing some secret marks within, by which the Christians of foreign parts knew them to be genuine. By these testimonials, slightly varied in external appearance according to their several purposes, – such, for instance, as their certifying the bearer's claim merely to the common entertainment of Christians, or his right to participate in all the privileges of the church, or his being sent on some embassy pertaining to the common faith, Christians were admitted to the fellowship of their brethren in all parts of the world, – were treated by the family that received them as one of themselves, had their feet washed by the wife on their first arrival, and at their departure were anxiously and tenderly committed to the divine care, in a prayer by the master of the house. This last was a never-failing part of the hospitality of the times; and to have betrayed any symptoms of preferring the temporal good cheer of the friendly host to his parting benediction, would have been a death-blow to the further credit of the stranger.
In the general intercourse of society, the primitive Christians, acting according to the rules of Scripture, were careful to render to all their dues; honor to whom honor is due, tribute to whom tribute, and to practise everything that is just, honest, and of good report. Their salutations to one another were made by imprinting on each other's cheek a kiss, – the token of love – the emblem of brotherhood; and this, except in times of trouble and persecution, when they hastily recognised each other by the secret sign of the cross, was the constant, and the only form observed by Christians when they met together. It was practised in their private houses, at their public meetings, and, indeed, on all suitable occasions, though it was considered better and more prudent to dispense with it on the public streets, to avoid giving unnecessary offence to their heathen fellow citizens. Whenever they met their pastor, they were accustomed, from the earliest times, to bow their heads to receive his blessing, – a ceremony which, in later times, when increased respect was paid to the clerical order, was accompanied with kissing his hands and embracing his feet.