The Christian religion, being a reformation of the Jewish, rather increased than diminished the austerity of its original. On particular occasions however it equally abated its rigour, and gave way to festivity and mirth, though always with an air of sanctity and solemnity. Such were originally the feasts of the Eucharist, which, as the word expresses, were meetings of joy and gratulation; though, as divines tell us, all of the spiritual kind: but the particular manner in which St. Augustine commands the ladies who attended them to wear clean linen, 2 seems to infer, that personal as well as spiritual matters were thought worthy of attention. To those who administer the sacrament in the modern way, it may appear of little consequence whether the women received it in clean linen or not; but to the good bishop, who was to administer the holy kiss, it certainly was of some importance. The holy kiss was not only applied as a part of the ceremonial of the Eucharist, but also of prayer, at the conclusion of which they welcomed each other with this natural sign of love and benevolence. 3 It was upon these occasions that
they worked themselves up to those fits of rapture and enthusiasm, which made them eagerly rush upon destruction in the fury of their zeal to obtain the crown of martyrdom. 1 Enthusiasm on one subject naturally produces enthusiasm on another; for the human passions, like the strings of an instrument, vibrate to the motions of each other: hence paroxysms of love and devotion have oftentimes so exactly accorded, as not to have been distinguished by the very persons whom they agitated. 2 This was too often the case in these meetings of the primitive Christians. The feasts of gratulation and love, the αγαπαι and nocturnal vigils, gave too flattering opportunities to the passions and appetites of men, to continue long, what we are told they were at first, pure exercises of devotion. The spiritual raptures and divine ecstasies encouraged on these occasions, were often ecstasies of a very different kind, concealed under the garb of devotion; whence the greatest irregularities ensued; and it became necessary for the reputation of the church, that they should be suppressed, as they afterwards were by the decrees of several councils. Their suppression may be considered as the final subversion of that part of the ancient religion
which I have here undertaken to examine; for so long as those nocturnal meetings were preserved, it certainly existed, though under other names, and in a more solemn dress. The small remain of it preserved at Isernia, of which an account has here been given, can scarcely be deemed an exception; for its meaning was unknown to those who celebrated it; and the obscurity of the place, added to the venerable names of S. Cosimo and Damiano, was all that presented it from being suppressed long ago, as it has been lately, to the great dismay of the chaste matrons and pious monks of Isernia. Traces and memorials of it seem however to have been preserved, in many parts of Christendom, long after the actual celebration of its rites ceased. Hence the obscene figures observable upon many of our Gothic Cathedrals, and particularly upon the ancient brass doors of St. Peter's at Rome, where there are some groups which rival the devices on the Lesbian medals.
205:1 Reg. c. xv. ver. 13 Ed. Cleric.
205:2 Aug. Serm. cliii.
205:3 Justin Martyr. Apolog.
206:1 Martini Kempii de Osculis Dissert. viii.
206:2 See Procèc de la Cadiere.