Adalbert was born of a noble family in Prague, in the year 956. He was educated in Magdeburg, and thence returned to his native land. In the year 983 he was elected bishop of his native city. Much heathen barbarism then prevailed amongst his countrymen; and Adalbert, who could not tolerate a heathen life, as united to an outward confession of Christ, had on this account to endure many a hard conflict. He did not lack glowing zeal and steadfastness; but perhaps he did sometimes fail in discretion and that unwearying patience, which must indeed have been exposed to hard trials amongst these wild tribes, who would submit to no yoke.
He, therefore, more than once excommunicated this flock, who would not follow him as their shepherd, nor give up their lawless ways. He wished to take refuge in a monastic life, and visited the venerable Nilus in Italy -- a man who shone as a light in the darkness, whose life and labours we will look at more closely by-and-by. But he was again constrained to return to his wild flock, to be driven from it a second time.
When he took leave of his people for the third time, -- impelled by a fervent zeal to labour for the propagation of Christianity, -- he repaired to Hungary, where the seed of faith had recently begun to germinate.
He was very gladly received by the king Geisa, who, influenced by his wife, suffered himself to be baptized; but Adalbert could get little attention to his exhortations from either of them. Meantime, it may have been the impression of his words and conduct which produced so great an effect on the heart of their son, the boy Stephen, who afterwards accomplished so much towards the foundation of the Christian Church in Hungary.
His impatience, however, soon drove him away from Hungary. He resolved to go where no missionary had yet penetrated -- to the heathens in Prussia. Duke Boleslad I., of Poland, to whom he applied, gave him a ship, and thirty soldiers for an escort.
So he proceeded to Dantzig, then the frontier town of Prussia, towards Poland. Here he commenced his labours, and succeeded in baptizing many. Then he left that neighbourhood in order to proceed to the opposite shore. Having landed there, he sent back the ship and the men. He wished to commit himself wholly to the protection of his God, -- as a messenger of peace, not to come under the guardianship of human might, -- and also to avoid anything which might excite suspicion amongst the heathen.
He only retained with him the priest Benedict, and his pupil Gaudentius. They landed at the Frische Haff, and proceeded in a small skiff to an island formed by the Pregel at its mouth. But the inhabitants came with cudgels to drive them away, and one of them gave Adalbert such a violent blow with the rudder, as to knock the Psalter from which he was singing out of his hand, and to throw him on the ground. When he recovered himself, his first words were, |Lord, I thank thee, that thou hast counted me worthy to suffer at least one blow for my crucified Saviour.| On Saturday, they crossed to the opposite bank of the Pregel, to the coast of Samland. The owner of the land, whom they found there, led them to his village, and a great crowd of people collected around them. When. Adalbert was asked who he was, and with what object he came, after telling them who he was, and whence he came, he declared to them in a gentle tone: |For the sake of your salvation I am come hither, that ye may abandon your deaf and dumb idols, and acknowledge your Creator, beside whom there is no God, that, believing in his name, ye may receive everlasting life, and be made partakers, in an imperishable existence, of heavenly joy.| The heathens gnashed their teeth with fury as they heard these words. and striking their staves on the ground, threatened him with their clubs. He might esteem it a great thing, they told him, that he had reached so far unhurt, and that only by a speedy departure he could save his life. They saw that all in that kingdom had one law and one way of life , and that as subject to another and an unknown law, if they did not depart that night, they would be beheaded the next day. They were placed in a ship, were compelled immediately to push off from the coast, and remained five days in a village to which they came. When they awoke on the last day, Gaudentius related to his spiritual father a dream which he had had in the night. |I saw,| he said, |in the midst of the altar, a golden chalice half full of wine. No one watched beside it. As I was about to drink of the wine, the minister of the altar forbade me, saying, that he could not permit me nor any other man to do so, for the wine was to be kept for the spiritual refreshment of the bishop on the morrow.|
|My son,| observed Adalbert, who believed he saw in this a token of the martyr's crown destined for him, |God bless this vision; yet we may not trust to a dream which may delude us.| At daybreak they set forth on their journey, and they went joyfully through thick forests singing and calling on the Lord Christ. Song shortened the way. Towards midday they came to a place cleared for fields. Here Gaudentius celebrated the mass, Adalbert partook of the holy supper; then they sat down on the turf, and refreshed themselves with some of the provisions which they had brought with them. After Adalbert had concluded the meal by repeating a verse from the Bible, and chanting a psalm, he arose, and when he had gone a little way he sat down again. Weary with walking, he and his companions fell into a deep sleep; but they were awakened in a terrible way. It was the raging of a wild band of heathen that aroused them. They were all thrown into chains. Adalbert continued in unruffled peace of soul, and said to his companions: |My brethren, be not troubled; ye know that we suffer this for the name of the Lord, whose might is above all might, whose beauty surpasses all beauty, whose grace is unspeakable. What is there more beautiful than to yield up sweet life for our sweetest Jesus?| Thereupon a priest stepped forth from the furious crowd, and with all his force cast his spear into the breast of the man of God, and then all the rest let loose their fury on him. Dying, he lifted up his hands to heaven, and prayed to the Lord for his own and his persecutors' salvation: this happened on the 23d of April, in the year 997.
The century of Adalbert was not rich in messengers of the faith. Only when the Church is rich within in the gifts of the Spirit, can the Divine fulness stream forth around; and the water of life, which fertilizes the heathen world, will flow back in blessing to the places from which it sprang. But where spiritual life is lacking, no beneficial influence can issue thence to those without. If the salt have lost its savour, nothing can be salted with it. This holds good as to the tenth century, in which the seeds of Christianity, already sown, were menaced with destruction by the thorns and thistles of sensual barbarism. Men were needed then who would once more arise as missionaries amongst the degenerate natives, who named themselves by the name of Christ, but amongst whom little of his spirit and life were to be found, -- men whose mission should be from within. Such a man there was in the country where barbarism and superstition and ignorance had gained the firmest hold, -- Nilus, the man of God, whom we will therefore introduce here after the men whose mission was from without.