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THE GATE OF PARADISE.
'Death to the faithful is the gate of everlasting life.'
JOHN HOOPER, Martyr and Bishop.
Tuere me, et libera.
St. BERNARD, ii., p. 903.
How far the supernatural life has receded from contact with the seen and temporal, since the sweet days when the occasional visitation by angelic presences lightened this dull, material world, has not only been the passionate complaint of Christian poets, but the more sober and sad reflection of all natures with anything that is spiritual in them. The great mystery of the Incarnation, as though It would by Its One glory of merciful visitation, the coming forth of God through the gate of the Nativity to unite His invisible Majesty to the visibility of creaturehood, be itself sufficient to quench all the inferior lights of angelical apparitions, and infinitely more than recompense for their want, has, it would seem, closed, since the Ascension, that particular gate from which spirits once went forth from the unseen world, clothed in such raiment and form as could be known and recognised by mortal eyes. Now the only contact between the supernatural life and this sphere of material existence remains in our transition into their life through the gate of death, and no longer in their visible entrance into ours. Does not this clothe the mystery and gate of death with a unique and awful grandeur? Death is now, always excepting the hidden and supernatural contact between the life of God and the soul of man in the grace of regeneration, the one only phenomenon by which the seen and the unseen may still have real and sensible union.
There has always been a fascination to minds endowed with the higher spiritual sensitiveness in the problem of death, a problem that remains to be individually solved only in the moment of our own dissolution, for the invisible world cannot, like the laboratories of nature, be compelled to disclose its secrets to any quest of science. We are baffled and bewildered at every turn of our speculative inquiry into the complex mystery of death, and can only hear, reverently kneeling, the words of Him, who is both the Lord of death and of the unseen world, and who, long ages ago, challenged its inviolable secrets as all His own, saying to the patriarch : "Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death ?'*
This Divine Voice may carry on our contemplation, and may guide our thoughts as together we come to the threshold of the blessed life, and to the shining gateway of the celestial garden, although these gates are no less everjealously guarded by mystery than were those, where once the children of the Fall, creeping back to the gates of that * Job xxxviii. 17.
ost garden, pressed their sad faces against the bars, though within, through the green thickets, the path to the Tree of Life, suddenly winding, forbade further sight, and only the red glow of the angelic brands, burning like the distant watch-fires of a camp, told of the sleepless guard and ward kept by the armed sentinels of heaven.
There have been many similitudes of the passing soul, and of Death itself as a transition, and all of them various according to the manner of its apparition. Some have imaged the soul under the figure of a ship, with its white sails filled with the breath of a new life, and, as if it were a living thing, straining at its cables, that, at last parting them, it may flee onwards to another shore, another haven; and this would seem the metaphor in the words of the Apostle : Having a desire to depart,'* (or to be loosed,)
and to be with Christ, which is far better.' Very lovely are the words, sung of St. Malachy's death at Clairvaux :
'So, near the twilight, was the veil withdrawn :
Into a morn-red sea did his sail sweep,-
If gray mists melt, if God's beloved sleep,
The grace of Christ, the Pitiful, is to be praised if death, when we have passed the bar, where the white waves leap and cry and shout, with their line of foam indistinctly gleaming through the midnight, is to us the happy passing from the rough watery wastes of life into the quiet embrace of the harbour of peace, won and entered, without shipwreck, in that last tremendous crisis which we call dying.
Others have imaged this act of death under the form
* Cf. Wordsworth on Phil. i. 24.
+ Bishop Alexander, ‘St. Augustine's Holiday, and Other Poems,' p. 42.
of one going down to the wet and heavy sands of the hollow, moaning sea, or to the steep banks of some broad misty river in the hour of the sunset, when the waters reflect the leaden hues of the shroud-like clouds, under which the sun is slowly dying, and the grey twilight is passing more or less suddenly into night. The flood-stream may be running high, and the mists that cover the river may be thick and clammy to the soul, when the pilgrim passes through. The waters are always cold to the feet, as they rise, higher and higher, to touch the heart with their icy clasp; but he goes down singing, in his faith and hope, the Divine anthem of peace: 'He has said, who can neither deceive nor forsake : “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee;" ' and so the pilgrim is comforted at last upon the further side, where there is the perpetual sunrise of the Face of Jesus, which will in an instant dry the dripping raiment of the poor chilled soul in the light of its love, and in its brightness he will forget the shadows and sorrows of death for ever.
Others have conceived of the passing of the soul as a going forth with the angel of death, as with a veiled and closely-hooded messenger. When that presence draws near in the departure of one of the faithful, an unearthly and half-lighted beauty is often faintly seen upon the face. Then, as our spiritualised intensity of feeling, when we keep watch by the dying, would almost go forth with them across the threshold of mortality, the hood of the angelguide falls, and there is revealed to our illuminated consciousness of the supernatural One Presence only, and we can almost see, as the dying do, the gentle eyes of the Shepherd of Love. For though He sends His servants to attend the redeemed into the land of life, He is none the less truly Himself with them, and His human eyes look forth through the gate of pain and death, to comfort them in the dark way, like the sweet star that blesses with the hope of the dawn.
Death, in the gentlest of the holy Psalms, is sung of as a valley where the shadows blacken all the landscape, and into which, after our travel over the bleak stony wolds and uplands of life, we must all painfully and wearily descend. Gloom haunts this valley, which is not a wide green vale, enclosed by gradually descending hills, where the light is only shortened and softened by the embrace—not too near nor too rude-of the surrounding slopes. Rather the image presents the dark defile or mountain-gorge, where the torrents brawl hoarsely, and the high crags, even at noon, shut out the day; where the winds rave with wild and uncertain gusts, and voices, never heard in life, of supernatural things awake and mutter in the soul. Through this valley of fear and gloom every soul in its last wayfaring must pass, and the way may be long and weary, for strong vitality lengthens painfully the act of dying, and piteously adds to the labour and difficulty of the last agonies; but One Presence will not fail or leave the sad pilgrim in the hour of fear and sorrow. For this Valley of Humiliation, in which all human strength and glory is so utterly and finally abased and weakened, leads to the high land of a perpetual dawn. Per tenebras ad Lucem is the true device on the pilgrim's staff, who goes bravely forth to meet and encounter the worst alarms of Death, the king of terrors, in the faith of the merits of Christ, the King of Love.
And yet, of all the similitudes of death, one of the truest pathos is that of a gate, which silently opens to receive, and then closes again as silently upon the pilgrim's soul, so that the long avenues of life are there ended, and all its weary, aching ways are finished under that gateway of