It was a scene of tumult. The great body of the people seem to have stood silently at gaze; but some few of them as they passed by the cross—perhaps some of the many false witnesses and other conspirators of the previous night—mocked at Jesus with insulting noises and furious taunts, especially bidding him come down from the cross and save himself, since he could destroy the Temple and build it in three days. And the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, less awe-struck, less compassionate than the mass of the people, were not ashamed to disgrace their gray-haired dignity and lofty reputation by adding their heartless reproaches to those of the evil few. Unrestrained by the noble patience of the sufferer, unsated by the accomplishment of their wicked vengeance, unmoved by the sight of helpless anguish and the look of eyes that began to glaze in death, they congratulated one another under his cross with scornful insolence: "He saved others, himself he cannot save;" "Let this Christ, this King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." No wonder then that the ignorant soldiers took their share of mockery with these shameless and unvenerable hierarchs: no wonder that, at their midday meal, they pledged in mock hilarity the Dying Man, cruelly holding up toward his burning lips their cups of sour wine, and echoing the Jewish taunts against the weakness of the King whose throne was a cross, whose crown was thorns. Nay, even the poor wretches who were crucified with him caught the hideous infection; comrades, perhaps, of the respited Barabbas, heirs of the rebellious fury of a Judas the Gaulonite, trained to recognize no Messiah but a Messiah of the sword, they reproachfully bade him, if his claims were true, to save himself and them. So all the voices about him rang with blasphemy and spite, and in that long slow agony his dying ear caught no accent of gratitude, of pity, or of love. Baseness, falsehood, savagery, stupidity—such were the characteristics of the world which thrust itself into hideous prominence before the Saviour's last consciousness, such the muddy and miserable stream that rolled under the cross before his dying eyes.
But amid this chorus of infamy Jesus spoke not. He could have spoken. The pains of crucifixion did not confuse the intellect or paralyze the powers of speech. We read of crucified men who, for hours together upon the cross, vented their sorrow, their rage, or their despair in the manner that best accorded with their character; of some who raved and cursed, and spat at their enemies; of others who protested to the last against the iniquity of their sentence; of others who implored compassion with abject entreaties; of one even who, from the cross, as from a tribunal, harangued the multitude of his countrymen, and upbraided them with their wickedness and vice. But, except to bless and to encourage, and to add to the happiness and hope of others, Jesus spoke not. So far as the malice of the passers-by, and of priests and sanhedrists and soldiers, and of these poor robbers who suffered with him, was concerned—as before during the trial so now upon the cross—he maintained unbroken his kingly silence.
But that silence, joined to his patient majesty and the divine holiness and innocence which radiated from him like a halo, was more eloquent than any words. It told earliest on one of the crucified robbers. At first this bonus latro of the Apocryphal Gospels seems to have faintly joined in the reproaches uttered by his fellow-sinner; but when those reproaches merged into deeper blasphemy, he spoke out his inmost thought. It is probable that he had met Jesus before, and heard him, and perhaps been one of those thousands who had seen his miracles. There is indeed no authority for the legend which assigns to him the name of Dysmas, or for the beautiful story of his having saved the life of the Virgin and her Child during their flight into Egypt. But on the plains of Gennesareth, perhaps from some robber's cave in the wild ravines of the Valley of the Doves, he may well have approached his presence—he may well have been one of those publicans and sinners who drew near to him for to hear him. And the words of Jesus had found some room in the good ground of his heart; they had not all fallen upon stony places. Even at this hour of shame and death, when he was suffering the just consequence of his past evil deeds, faith triumphed. As a flame sometimes leaps up among dying embers, so amid the white ashes of a sinful life which lay so thick upon his heart, the flame of love toward his God and his Saviour was not quite quenched. Under the hellish outcries which had broken loose around the cross of Jesus there had lain a deep misgiving. Half of them seem to have been instigated by doubt and fear. Even in the self-congratulations of the priests we catch an undertone of dread. Suppose that even now some imposing miracle should be wrought! Suppose that even now that martyr-form should burst indeed into messianic splendor, and the King, who seemed to be in the slow misery of death, should suddenly with a great voice summon his legions of angels, and, springing from his cross upon the rolling clouds of heaven, come in flaming fire to take vengeance upon his enemies! And the air seemed to be full of signs. There was a gloom of gathering darkness in the sky, a thrill and tremor in the solid earth, a haunting presence as of ghostly visitants who chilled the heart and hovered in awful witness above that scene. The dying robber had joined at first in the half-taunting, half-despairing appeal to a defeat and weakness which contradicted all that he had hoped; but now this defeat seemed to be greater than victory, and this weakness more irresistible than strength. As he looked, the faith in his heart dawned more and more into the perfect day. He had long ceased to utter any reproachful words; he now rebuked his comrade's blasphemies. Ought not the suffering innocence of him who hung between them to shame into silence their just punishment and flagrant guilt? And so, turning his head to Jesus, he uttered the intense appeal, "O Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." Then he, who had been mute amid invectives, spake at once in surpassing answer to that humble prayer, "Verily, I say to thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
Though none spoke to comfort Jesus—though deep grief, and terror, and amazement kept them dumb—yet there were hearts amid the crowd that beat in sympathy with the awful sufferer. At a distance stood a number of women looking on, and perhaps, even at that dread hour, expecting his immediate deliverance. Many of these were women who had ministered to him in Galilee, and had come from thence in the great band of Galilean pilgrims. Conspicuous among this heart-stricken group were his mother Mary, Mary of Magdala, Mary the wife of Clopas, mother of James and Joses, and Salome the wife of Zebedee. Some of them, as the hours advanced, stole nearer and nearer to the cross, and at length the filming eye of the Saviour fell on his own mother Mary, as, with the sword piercing through and through her heart, she stood with the disciple whom he loved. His mother does not seem to have been much with him during his ministry. It may be that the duties and cares of a humble home rendered it impossible. At any rate, the only occasions on which we hear of her are occasions when she is with his brethren, and is joined with them in endeavoring to influence, apart from his own purposes and authority, his messianic course. But although at the very beginning of his ministry he had gently shown her that the earthly and filial relation was now to be transcended by one far more lofty and divine, and though this end of all her high hopes must have tried her faith with an overwhelming and unspeakable sorrow, yet she was true to him in this supreme hour of his humiliation, and would have done for him all that a mother's sympathy and love can do. Nor had he for a moment forgotten her who had bent over his infant slumbers, and with whom he had shared those thirty years in the cottage at Nazareth. Tenderly and sadly he thought of the future that awaited her during the remaining years of her life on earth, troubled as they must be by the tumults and persecutions of a struggling and nascent faith. After his resurrection her lot was wholly cast among his apostles, and the apostle whom he loved the most, the apostle who was nearest to him in heart and life, seemed the fittest to take care of her. To him, therefore—to John whom he had loved more than his brethren—to John whose head had leaned upon his breast at the Last Supper, he consigned her as a sacred charge. "Woman," he said to her, in fewest words, but in words which breathed the uttermost spirit of tenderness, "behold thy son;" and then to St. John, "Behold thy mother." He could make no gesture with those pierced hands, but he could bend his head. They listened in speechless emotion, but from that hour—perhaps from that very moment—leading her away from a spectacle which did but torture her soul with unavailing agony, that disciple took her to his own home.
It was now noon, and at the Holy City the sunshine should have been burning over that scene of horror with a power such as it has in the full depth of an English summer-time. But instead of this, the face of the heavens was black, and the noonday sun was "turned into darkness," on "this great and terrible day of the Lord." It could have been no darkness of any natural eclipse, for the Paschal moon was at the full; but it was one of those "signs from heaven" for which, during the ministry of Jesus, the Pharisees had so often clamored in vain. The early Fathers appealed to pagan authorities—the historian Phallus, the chronicler Phlegon—for such a darkness; but we have no means of testing the accuracy of these references, and it is quite possible that the darkness was a local gloom which hung densely over the guilty city and its immediate neighborhood. But whatever it was, it clearly filled the minds of all who beheld it with yet deeper misgiving. The taunts and jeers of the Jewish priests and the heathen soldiers were evidently confined to the earlier hours of the Crucifixion. Its later stages seem to have thrilled alike the guilty and the innocent with emotions of dread and horror. Of the incidents of those last three hours we are told nothing, and that awful obscuration of the noonday sun may well have overawed every heart into an inaction respecting which there was nothing to relate. What Jesus suffered then for us men and our salvation we cannot know, for during those three hours he hung upon his cross in silence and darkness; or, if he spoke, there was none there to record his words. But toward the close of that time his anguish culminated, and, emptied to the very uttermost of that glory which he had since the world began, drinking to the very deepest dregs the cup of humiliation and bitterness, enduring not only to have taken upon him the form of a servant, but also to suffer the last infamy which human hatred could impose on servile helplessness, he uttered that mysterious cry, of which the full significance will never be fathomed by man: Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani? ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?")
In those words, quoting the psalm in which the early Fathers rightly saw a far-off prophecy of the whole passion of Christ, he borrowed from David's utter agony the expression of his own. In that hour he was alone. Sinking from depth to depth of unfathomable suffering, until, at the close approach of a death which—because he was God, and yet had been made man—was more awful to him than it could ever be to any of the sons of men, it seemed as if even his divine humanity could endure no more.
Doubtless the voice of the sufferer—though uttered loudly in that paroxysm of an emotion which, in another, would almost have touched the verge of despair—was yet rendered more uncertain and indistinct from the condition of exhaustion in which he hung; and so, amid the darkness, and confused noise, and dull footsteps of the moving multitude, there were some who did not hear what he had said. They had caught only the first syllable, and said to one another that he had called on the name of Elijah. The readiness with which they seized this false impression is another proof of the wild state of excitement and terror—the involuntary dread of something great and unforeseen and terrible—to which they had been reduced from their former savage insolence. For Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Covenant, was inextricably mingled with all the Jewish expectations of a Messiah, and these expectations were full of wrath. The coming of Elijah would be the coming of a day of fire, in which the sun should be turned into blackness and the moon into blood, and the powers of heaven should be shaken. Already the noonday sun was shrouded in unnatural eclipse; might not some awful form at any moment rend the heavens and come down, touch the mountains and they should smoke? The vague anticipation of conscious guilt was unfulfilled. Not such as yet was to be the method of God's workings. His messages to man for many ages more were not to be in the thunder and earthquake, not in rushing wind or roaring flame, but in the "still small voice" speaking always amid the apparent silences of Time in whispers intelligible to man's heart, but in which there is neither speech nor language, though the voice is heard.
But now the end was very rapidly approaching, and Jesus, who had been hanging for nearly six hours upon the cross, was suffering from that torment of thirst which is most difficult of all for the human frame to bear—perhaps the most unmitigated of the many separate sources of anguish which were combined in this worst form of death. No doubt this burning thirst was aggravated by seeing the Roman soldiers drinking so near the cross; and happily for mankind, Jesus had never sanctioned the unnatural affectation of stoic impassibility. And so he uttered the one sole word of physical suffering which had been wrung from him by all the hours in which he had endured the extreme of all that man can inflict. He cried aloud, "I thirst." Probably a few hours before, the cry would have only provoked a roar of frantic mockery; but now the lookers-on were reduced by awe to a readier humanity. Near the cross there lay on the ground the large earthen vessel containing the posca, which was the ordinary drink of the Roman soldiers. The mouth of it was filled with a piece of sponge, which served as a cork. Instantly some one—we know not whether he was friend or enemy, or merely one who was there out of idle curiosity—took out the sponge and dipped it in the posca to give it to Jesus. But low as was the elevation of the cross, the head of the sufferer, as it rested on the horizontal beam of the accursed tree, was just beyond the man's reach; and therefore he put the sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop—about a foot long—and held it up to the parched and dying lips. Even this simple act of pity, which Jesus did not refuse, seemed to jar upon the condition of nervous excitement with which some of the multitude were looking on. "Let be," they said to the man, "let us see whether Elias is coming to save him." The man did not desist from his act of mercy, but when it was done he, too, seems to have echoed those uneasy words. But Elias came not, nor human comforter, nor angel deliverer. It was the will of God, it was the will of the Son of God, that he should be "perfected through sufferings"; that—for the eternal example of all his children as long as the world should last—he should "endure unto the end."
And now the end was come. Once more, in the words of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, but adding to them that title of trustful love which, through him, is permitted to the use of all mankind, "Father," he said, "into thy hands I commend my spirit." Then with one more great effort he uttered the last cry—"It is finished." It may be that that great cry ruptured some of the vessels of his heart, for no sooner had it been uttered than he bowed his head upon his breast and yielded his life, "a ransom for many"—a willing sacrifice to his Heavenly Father. "Finished was his holy life; with his life his struggle, with his struggle his work, with his work the redemption, with the redemption the foundation of the new world." At that moment the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. An earthquake shook the earth and split the rocks, and as it rolled away from their places the great stones which closed and covered the cavern sepulchres of the Jews, so it seemed to the imaginations of many to have disimprisoned the spirits of the dead, and to have filled the air with ghostly visitants, who after Christ had risen appeared to linger in the Holy City. These circumstances of amazement, joined to all they had observed in the bearing of the Crucified, cowed even the cruel and gay indifference of the Roman soldiers. On the centurion who was in command of them the whole scene had exercised a yet deeper influence. As he stood opposite to the cross and saw the Saviour die, he glorified God and exclaimed, "This Man was in truth righteous"—nay, more, "This Man was a Son of God." Even the multitude, utterly sobered from their furious excitement and frantic rage, began to be weighed down with a guilty consciousness that the scene which they had witnessed had in it something more awful than they could have conceived, and as they returned to Jerusalem they wailed and beat upon their breasts. Well might they do so! This was the last drop in a full cup of wickedness: this was the beginning of the end of their city and name and race.
And in truth that scene was more awful than they, or even we, can know. The secular historian, be he ever so sceptical, cannot fail to see in it the central point of the world's history. Whether he be a believer in Christ or not, he cannot refuse to admit that this new religion grew from the smallest of all seeds to be a mighty tree, so that the birds of the air took refuge in its branches; that it was the little stone cut without hands which dashed into pieces the colossal image of heathen greatness, and grew till it became a great mountain and filled the earth. Alike to the infidel and to the believer the Crucifixion is the boundary instant between ancient and modern days. Morally and physically, no less than spiritually, the faith of Christ was the palingenesia of the world. It came like the dawn of a new spring to nations "effete with the drunkenness of crime." The struggle was long and hard, but from the hour when Christ died began the death-knell to every satanic tyranny and every tolerated abomination. From that hour holiness became the universal ideal of all who name the name of Christ as their Lord, and the attainment of that ideal the common heritage of souls in which his spirit dwells.
The effects, then, of the work of Christ are even to the unbeliever indisputable and historical. It expelled cruelty; it curbed passion; it branded suicide; it punished and repressed an execrable infanticide; it drove the shameless impurities of heathendom into a congenial darkness. There was hardly a class whose wrongs it did not remedy. It rescued the gladiator; it freed the slave; it protected the captive; it nursed the sick; it sheltered the orphan; it elevated the woman; it shrouded as with a halo of sacred innocence the tender years of the child. In every region of life its ameliorating influence was felt. It changed pity from a vice into a virtue. It elevated poverty from a curse into a beatitude. It ennobled labor from a vulgarity into a dignity and a duty. It sanctified marriage from little more than a burdensome convention into little less than a blessed sacrament. It revealed for the first time the angelic beauty of a purity of which men had despaired and of a meekness at which they had utterly scoffed. It created the very conception of charity, and broadened the limits of its obligation from the narrow circle of a neighborhood to the widest horizons of the race. And while it thus evolved the idea of humanity as a common brotherhood, even where its tidings were not believed—all over the world, wherever its tidings were believed, it cleansed the life and elevated the soul of each individual man. And in all lands where it has moulded the characters of its true believers it has created hearts so pure and lives so peaceful and homes so sweet that it might seem as though those angels who had heralded its advent had also whispered to every depressed and despairing sufferer among the sons of men: "Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, that is covered with silver wings, and her feathers like gold."
Others, if they can and will, may see in such a work as this no divine Providence, they may think it philosophical enlightenment to hold that Christianity and Christendom are adequately accounted for by the idle dreams of a noble self-deceiver and the passionate hallucinations of a recovered demoniac. We persecute them not, we denounce them not, we judge them not; but we say that, unless all life be a hollow, there could have been no such miserable origin to the sole religion of the world which holds the perfect balance between philosophy and popularity, between religion and morals, between meek submissiveness and the pride of freedom, between the ideal and the real, between the inward and the outward, between modest stillness and heroic energy—nay, between the tenderest conservatism and the boldest plans of world-wide reformation. The witness of history to Christ is a witness which has been given with irresistible cogency; and it has been so given to none but him.
But while even the unbeliever must see what the life and death of Jesus have effected in the world, to the believer that life and death are something deeper still; to him they are nothing less than a resurrection from the dead. He sees in the cross of Christ something which far transcends its historical significance. He sees in it the fulfilment of all prophecy as well as the consummation of all history; he sees in it the explanation of the mystery of birth, and the conquest over the mystery of the grave. In that life he finds a perfect example; in that death an infinite redemption. As he contemplates the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, he no longer feels that God is far away, and that this earth is but a disregarded speck in the infinite azure, and he himself but an insignificant atom chance-thrown amid the thousand million living souls of an innumerable race, but he exclaims in faith and hope and love: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men; yea, he will be their God, and they shall be his people." "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them."
The sun was westering as the darkness rolled away from the completed sacrifice. They who had not thought it a pollution to inaugurate their feast by the murder of their Messiah, were seriously alarmed lest the sanctity of the following day—which began at sunset—should be compromised by the hanging of the corpses on the cross. And horrible to relate, the crucified often lived for many hours—nay, even for two days—in their torture. The Jews therefore begged Pilate that their legs might be broken, and their bodies taken down. This crurifragium, as it was called, consisted in striking the legs of the sufferers with a heavy mallet, a violence which seemed always to have hastened, if it did not instantly cause, their death. Nor would the Jews be the only persons who would be anxious to hasten the end by giving the deadly blow. Until life was extinct the soldiers appointed to guard the execution dared not leave the ground. The wish, therefore, was readily granted. The soldiers broke the legs of the two malefactors first, and then, coming to Jesus, found that the great cry had been indeed his last, and that he was dead already. They did not therefore break his legs, and thus unwittingly preserved the symbolism of that Paschal lamb, of which he was the antetype, and of which it had been commanded that "a bone of it shall not be broken." And yet, as he might be only in a syncope—as instances had been known in which men apparently dead had been taken down from the cross and resuscitated—and as the lives of the soldiers would have had to answer for any irregularity, one of them, in order to make death certain, drove the broad head of his hasta into his side. The wound, as it was meant to do, pierced the region of the heart, and "forthwith," says St. John, with an emphatic appeal to the truthfulness of his eye-witness—an appeal which would be singularly and impossibly blasphemous if the narrative were the forgery which so much elaborate modern criticism has wholly failed to prove that it is—"forthwith came there out blood and water." Whether the water was due to some abnormal pathological conditions caused by the dreadful complication of the Saviour's sufferings, or whether it rather means that the pericardium had been rent by the spear point, and that those who took down the body observed some drops of its serum mingled with the blood, in either case that lance thrust was sufficient to hush all the heretical assertions that Jesus had only seemed to die; and as it assured the soldiers, so should it assure all who have doubted, that he, who on the third day rose again, had in truth been crucified, dead, and buried, and that his soul had passed into the unseen world.
 The disputed date of the Crucifixion of Jesus—long variously placed between A.D. 29 and 33—is definitely fixed by many later authorities at the year 30.
THE RISE AND SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY
RENAN WISE NEWMAN
It is a favorite view of historians and critical students that Jesus was born at a time when the world seemed especially prepared for his birth. The correspondence between world conditions then and the actual process of Christianity in its rise and early spread appears to conform to evolutionary laws as regarded in the light of modern interpretation.
In its origin Christianity is most intimately connected with Judaism, the parent religion. The known world, however, in the time of Jesus was largely under Roman dominion. This was true of the land where Jesus was born. The Roman Empire was then comparatively at peace, and it was the admonition of St. Paul that the first Christians should maintain that peace. The wide sovereignty of Rome gave the apostles of Christ access to different nations, many of whom had become civilized under Roman influence. But pure monotheism existed only among the Jews. All other nations had a variety of gods and peculiar forms of worship. In most of the pagan religions there were elements of truth and beauty, but they lacked in ethical principles and in moral application to life. Most of their priestcraft was a vulgar imposition upon the ignorance and credulity of the common people. The prevailing philosophies—which, among the more enlightened, took the place of religion—were the Grecian, adopted also by the Romans, and the oriental, with numerous followers in Persia, Syria, Chaldaea, Egypt, and likewise among the Jews. But the philosophers were divided into antagonistic sects. Out of such conditions no practical religion could develop. In the doctrines of Buddhism were to be found the spirit and purpose of a devout and humanely religious people, but the intricate mythology and racial and other limitations of Buddhism forbade that, although it conquered the half of Asia, it should ever become a universal faith.
The condition of the Jews at this period was little better than that of other peoples. Among the Jews there was a lack of intellectual unity, and their moral ideals had been lowered. Oppressed by Herod, the tributary Roman King—who, although professedly a Jew, copied the open despisers of all religion—they yielded to the influences of Roman luxury and licentiousness which spread over Palestine. Although still conducted by the priests and Levites and under the eye of the Sanhedrim or senate, the Jewish religion had lost much of its earlier character. Like philosophy, it was vexed with contending sects. Strict observance of the Mosaic law and the performance of prescriptive rites and duties were in the main regarded as the sum of religion.
The race of prophets appeared extinct until prophecy was revived in John the Baptist. The successors of the Maccabaean patriots were not animated by their spirit. There was widespread and passionate expectation of a national messiah, but not such a messiah as John proclaimed and Jesus proved to be; rather a powerful warrior and vindicator of Jewish liberty. Galilee, the early home of Jesus, was especially stirred with messianic fervor. In such a condition of the national mind, and at such a stage of the world's empire, it seems natural in the course of spiritual evolution that such a teacher as Jesus—a spiritual messiah—should arise to be the deliverer not of one people only, but of the world itself. Among the Jewish doctors when Jesus was a child was at least one wise and liberal rabbi, Hillel, a Pharisee, the great reformer of his time, and "the most eminent Jew of the generation before the birth of Jesus." At his feet the boy Jesus may have sat and learned lessons of wisdom and liberality. It gives us a reassurance of spiritual continuity to think that the teachings of Hillel may have "helped to inspire the humane and tender counsels of the founder of Christianity."
In grouping the glowing words of Renan, with their fine spiritual interpretations and descriptive eloquence, the judgments of an eminent contemporary Jewish scholar, and Newman's learned yet simple portrayal of the Church as it took form in its early environment, and as it was seen through the media of contemporary governments, customs, and criticisms, it is believed that readers will derive satisfaction, and will be aided in their own inquiries, through this threefold presentation. On so vast a subject, with its momentous implications, no single author, however profound his genius, can do more than contribute a partial essay toward the many-sided truth.
JOSEPH ERNEST RENAN
From the moment of the arrest of Jesus, and immediately after his death, it is probable that many of the disciples had already found their way to the northern provinces. At the time of the Resurrection a rumor was spread abroad, according to which it was in Galilee that he would be seen again. Some of the women who had been to the sepulchre came back with the report that the angel had said to them that Jesus had already preceded them into Galilee. Others said that it was Jesus himself who had ordered them to go there. Now and then some people said that they themselves remembered that he had said so during his lifetime.
What is certain is that at the end of a few days, probably after the Paschal Feast of the Passover had been quite over, the disciples believed they had a command to return into their own country, and to it accordingly they returned. Perhaps the visions began to abate at Jerusalem. A species of melancholy seized them. The brief appearances of Jesus were not sufficient to compensate for the enormous void left by his absence. In a melancholy mood they thought of the lake and of the beautiful mountains where they had received a foretaste of the kingdom of God. The women especially wished, at any cost, to return to the country where they had enjoyed so much happiness. It must be observed that the order to depart came especially from them. That odious city weighed them down. They longed to see once more the ground where they had possessed Him whom they loved, well assured in advance of meeting him again there.
The majority of the disciples then departed, full of joy and hope, perhaps in the company of the caravan which took back the pilgrims from the Feast of the Passover. What they hoped to find in Galilee were not only transient visions, but Jesus himself to continue with them, as he had done before his death. An intense expectation filled their souls. Was he going to restore the kingdom of Israel, to found definitely the kingdom of God, and, as was said, "reveal his justice"? Everything was possible. They already called to mind the smiling landscapes where they had enjoyed his presence. Many believed that he had given to them a rendezvous upon a mountain, probably the same to which with them there clung so many sweet recollections. Never, it is certain, had there been a more pleasant journey. All their dreams of happiness were on the point of being realized. They were going to see him once more! And, in fact, they did see him again. Hardly restored to their harmless chimeras, they believed themselves to be in the midst of the gospel-dispensation period. It was now drawing near to the end of April. The ground is then strewn with red anemones, which were probably those "lilies of the fields" from which Jesus delighted to draw his similes. At each step his words were brought to mind, adhering, as it were, to the thousand accidental objects they met by the way. Here was the tree, the flower, the seed, from which he had taken his parables; there was the hill on which he delivered his most touching discourses; here was the little ship from which he taught. It was like the recommencement of a beautiful dream—like a vanished illusion which had reappeared. The enchantment seemed to revive. The sweet Galilean "Kingdom of God" had recovered its sway. The clear atmosphere, the mornings upon the shore or upon the mountain, the nights passed on the lakes watching the nets, all these returned again to them in distinct visions. They saw him everywhere where they had lived with him. Of course it was not the joy of the first enjoyment. Sometimes the lake had to them the appearance of being very solitary. But a great love is satisfied with little. If all of us, while we are alive, could surreptitiously, once a year, and during a moment long enough to exchange but a few words, behold again those loved ones whom we have lost—death would not be death!
Such was the state of mind of this faithful band, in this short period when Christianity seemed to return for a moment to his cradle and bid to him an eternal adieu. The principal disciples, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, met again on the shores of the lake, and henceforth lived together; they had taken up again their former calling of fishermen, at Bethsaida or at Capernaum. The Galilean women were no doubt with them. They had insisted more than the others on that return, which was to them a heartfelt love. This was their last act in the establishment of Christianity. From that moment they disappear. Faithful to their love, their wish was to quit no more the country in which they had tasted their greatest delight. More than five hundred persons were already devoted to the memory of Jesus. In default of the lost master they obeyed the disciples, the most authoritative—Peter—in particular.
The activity of these ardent souls had already turned in another direction. What they believed to have heard from the lips of the dear risen One was the order to go forth and preach, and to convert the world. But where should they commence? Naturally, at Jerusalem. The return to Jerusalem was then resolved upon by those who at that time had the direction of the sect. As these journeys were ordinarily made by caravan at the time of the feasts, we now suppose, with all manner of likelihood, that the return in question took place at the Feast of Tabernacles at the close of the year 33, or the Paschal Feast of the year 34. Galilee was thus abandoned by Christianity, and abandoned forever. The little Church which remained there continued, no doubt, to exist; but we hear it no more spoken of. It was probably broken up, like all the rest, by the frightful disaster which then overtook the country during the war of Vespasian; the wreck of the dispersed community sought refuge beyond Jordan. After the war it was not Christianity which was brought back into Galilee; it was Judaism.
Galilee thus counted but an hour in the history of Christianity; but it was the sacred hour, par excellence; it gave to the new religion that which has made it endure—its poetry, its penetrating charms. "The Gospel," after the manner of the synoptics, was a Galilean work. But "the Gospel" thus extended has been the principal cause of the success of Christianity, and continues to be the surest guarantee of its future. It is probable that a fraction of the little school which surrounded Jesus in his last days remained at Jerusalem.
It is about this period that we can place the vision of James, mentioned by St. Paul. James was the brother, or at least a relation, of Jesus. We do not find that he had accompanied Jesus on his last sojourn to Jerusalem. He probably went there with the apostles, when the latter quitted Galilee.
It is very remarkable that the family of Jesus, some of whose members during his life had been incredulous and hostile to his mission, constituted now a part of the Church, and held in it a very exalted position. One is led to suppose that the reconciliation took place during the sojourn of the apostles in Galilee. The celebrity which had attached itself to the name of their relative, those who believed in him, and were assured of having seen him after he had arisen, served to make an impression on their minds. From the time of the definite establishment of the apostles at Jerusalem, we find with them Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the brothers of Jesus. In what concerns Mary, it appears that John, thinking in this to obey a recommendation of the Master, had adopted and taken her to his own home. He perhaps took her back to Jerusalem. This woman, whose personal history and character have remained veiled in obscurity, assumed hence great importance. The words that the evangelist put into the mouth of some unknown woman, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked," began to be verified. It is probable that Mary survived her son a few years. As for the brothers of Jesus, their history is wrapped in obscurity. Jesus had several brothers and sisters. It seemed probable, however, that in the class of persons which were called "Brothers of the Lord" there were included relations in the second degree. The question is only of moment so far as it concerns James, whom we see playing a great part in the first thirty years of Christianity.
The apostles henceforth separated no more, except to make temporary journeys. Jerusalem became their head-quarters; they seemed to be afraid to disperse, while certain acts served to reveal in them the prepossession of being opposed to return again into Galilee, which latter had dissolved its little society. An express order of Jesus is supposed to have interdicted their quitting Jerusalem, before, at least, the great manifestations which were to take place. People's thoughts were turned with great force toward a promise which it was supposed Jesus had made. During his lifetime Jesus, it was said, had often spoken of the Holy Spirit, which was understood to mean a personification of divine wisdom. He had promised his disciples that the Spirit would nerve them in the combats that they would have to engage in, would be their inspirer in difficulties, and their advocate if they had to speak in public. Sometimes it was supposed that Jesus suddenly presented himself in the midst of his disciples assembled, and breathed on them out of his own mouth a current of vivifying air. At other times the disappearance of Jesus was regarded as a premonition of the coming of the Spirit. Many people established an intimate connection between this descent and the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.
The affection that the disciples had the one for the other, while Jesus was alive, was thus enhanced tenfold after his death. They formed a very small and very retired society, and lived exclusively by themselves. At Jerusalem they numbered about one hundred and twenty. Their piety was active, and, as yet, completely restrained by the forms of Jewish piety. The Temple was then the chief place of devotion. They worked, no doubt, for a living; but at that time manual labor in Jewish society engaged very few. Everyone had a trade, but that trade by no means hindered a man from being educated and well-bred.
The dominant idea in the Christian community, at the moment at which we are now arrived, was the coming of the Holy Spirit. People were believed to receive it in the form of a mysterious breath, which passed over the assembly. Every inward consolation, every bold movement, every flush of enthusiasm, every feeling of lively and pleasant gayety, which was experienced without knowing whence it came, was the work of the Spirit. These simple consciences referred, as usual, to some exterior cause the exquisite sentiments which were being created in them. When all were assembled, and when they awaited in silence inspiration from on high, a murmur, any noise whatever, was believed to be the coming of the Spirit. In the early times, it was the apparitions of Jesus which were produced in this manner. Now the turn of ideas had changed. It was the divine breath which passed over the little Church, and filled it with a celestial effluvium. These beliefs were strengthened by notions drawn from the Old Testament. The prophetic spirit is represented in the Hebrew books as a breathing which penetrates man and inspires him. In the beautiful vision of Elijah, God passes by in the form of a gentle wind, which produces a slight rustling noise.
Among all these "descents of the Spirit," which appear to have been frequent enough, there was one which left a profound impression on the nascent Church. One day, when the brethren were assembled, a thunder-storm burst forth. A violent wind threw open the windows: the heavens were on fire. Thunder-storms, in these countries, are accompanied by prodigious sheets of lightning; the atmosphere is, as it were, everywhere furrowed with ridges of flame. Whether the electric fluid had penetrated the room itself or whether a dazzling flash of lightning had suddenly illuminated the faces of all, everyone was convinced that the Spirit had entered, and that it had alighted on the head of each in the form of tongues of fire. The idea that the Spirit had alighted on them in the form of jets of flame, resembling tongues of fire, gave rise to a series of singular ideas, which took a foremost place in the thought of the period.
The tongues of fire appeared a striking symbol. People were convinced that God desired to signify in this manner that he poured out upon the apostles his most precious gifts of eloquence and of inspiration. But they did not stop there. Jerusalem was, like the majority of the large cities of the East, a city in which many languages were spoken. The diversity of tongues was one of the difficulties which one found there in the way of propagating a universal form of faith. One of the things, moreover, which alarmed the apostles, at the commencement of a ministry destined to embrace the world, was the number of languages which were spoken there: they were asking themselves incessantly how they could learn so many tongues. "The gift of tongues" became thus a marvellous privilege. It was believed that the preaching of the Gospel would clear away the obstacle which was created by the diversity of idioms. There was in this a liberal idea; they meant to imply that the Gospel should have no language of its own; that it should be translatable into every tongue; and that the translation should be of the same value as the original.
The custom of living together, holding the same faith, and indulging the same expectation, necessarily produced many common habits. All lived in common, having but one heart and one mind. No one possessed anything which was his own. On becoming a disciple of Jesus, one sold one's goods and made a gift of the proceeds to the society. The chiefs of the society then distributed the common possessions to each, according to his needs. They lived in the same quarter. They took their meals together, and continued to attach to them the mystic sense that Jesus had prescribed. They passed long hours in prayers. Their prayers were sometimes improvised aloud, but more often meditated in silence. The concord was perfect; no dogmatic quarrels, no disputes in regard to precedence. The tender recollection of Jesus effaced all dissensions. Joy, lively and deep-seated, was in every heart. Their morals were austere, but pervaded by a soft and tender sentiment. They assembled in houses to pray and to devote themselves to ecstatic exercises. The recollection of these two or three first years remained and seemed to them like a terrestrial paradise, which Christianity will pursue henceforth in all its dreams and to which it will vainly endeavor to return. Such an organization could only be applicable to a very small church.
The apostles chosen by Jesus, and who were supposed to have received from him a special mandate to announce to the world the kingdom of God, had, in the little community, an incontestable superiority. One of the first cares, as soon as they saw the sect settle quietly down at Jerusalem, was to fill the vacancy that Judas of Kerioth had left in its ranks. The opinion that the latter had betrayed his master, and had been the cause of his death, became more and more general. The legend was mixed up with him, and every day one heard of some new circumstance which enhanced the black-heartedness of his deed. In order to replace him, it was resolved to have recourse to a vote of some sort. The sole condition was that the candidate should be chosen from the groups of the oldest disciples, who had been witnesses of the whole series of events, from the time of the baptism of John. This reduced considerably the number of those eligible. Two only were found in the ranks, Joseph Bar-Saba, who bore the name of Justus, and Matthias. The lot fell upon Matthias, who was accounted as one of the Twelve. But this was the sole instance of such a replacing.
The body of Twelve lived, generally, permanently at Jerusalem. Till about the year 60 the apostles did not leave the holy city except upon temporary missions. This explains the obscurity in which the majority of the members of the central council remained. Very few of them had a role. This council was a kind of sacred college or senate, destined only to represent tradition and a spirit of conservatism. It finished by being relieved of every active function, so that its members had nothing to do but to preach and pray; but as yet the brilliant feats of preaching had not fallen to their lot. Their names were hardly known outside Jerusalem, and about the year 70 or 80 the lists which were given of these chosen Twelve agreed only in the principal names.
The "Brothers of the Lord" appear often by the side of the "apostles," although they were distinct from them. Their authority, however, was equal to that of the apostles. Here two groups constituted, in the nascent Church, a sort of aristocracy founded solely on the more or less intimate relations that their members had had with the Master. These were the men whom Paul denominated "the pillars" of the Church at Jerusalem. For the rest, we see that no distinctions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy yet existed. The title was nothing; the personal authority was everything. The principle of ecclesiastical celibacy was already established, but it required time to bring all these germs to their complete development. Peter and Philip were married and had sons and daughters.
The term used to designate the assembly of the faithful was the Hebrew Kahal, which was rendered by the essentially democratic word Ecclesia, which is the convocation of the people in the ancient Grecian cities, the summons to the Pnyx or the Agora. Commencing with the second or the third century before Jesus Christ, the words of the Athenian democracy became a sort of common law in Hellenic language; many of these terms, on account of their having been used in the Greek confraternities, entered into the Christian vocabulary. It was, in reality, the popular life, which, restrained for centuries, resumed its power under forms altogether different. The primitive Church was, in its way, a little democracy.
The power which was ascribed to the Church assembled and to its chiefs was enormous. The Church conferred every mission, and was guided solely in its choice by the signs given by the Spirit. Its authority went as far as decreeing death. It is recorded that at the voice of Peter several delinquents had fallen back and expired immediately. St. Paul, a little later, was not afraid, in excommunicating a fornicator, "to deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Excommunication was held to be equivalent to a sentence of death. The apostles were believed to be invested with supernatural powers. In pronouncing such condemnations, they thought that their anathemas could not fail but be effectual. The terrible impression which their excommunications produced, and the hatred manifested by the brethren against all the members thus cut off, were sufficient, in fact, in many cases, to bring about death, or at least to compel the culprit to expatriate himself. Accounts like those of the death of Ananias and Sapphira did not excite any scruple. The idea of the civil power was so foreign to all that world placed without the pale of the Roman law, people were so persuaded that the Church was a complete society, sufficient in itself, that no person saw, in a miracle leading to death or the mutilation of an individual, an outrage punishable by the civil law. Enthusiasm and faith covered all, excused everything. But the frightful danger which these theocratic maxims laid up in store for the future is readily perceived. The Church is armed with a sword; excommunication is a sentence of death. There was henceforth in the world a power outside that of the State, which disposed of the life of citizens.
Peter had among the apostles a certain precedence, derived directly from his zeal and his activity. In these first years he was hardly ever separate from John, son of Zebedee. They went almost always together, and their amity was doubtless the corner-stone of the new faith. James, the brother of the Lord, almost equalled them in authority, at least among a fraction of the Church.
It is needless to remark that this little group of simple people had no speculative theology. Jesus wisely kept himself far removed from all metaphysics. He had only one dogma, his own divine Sonship and the divinity of his mission. The whole symbol of the primitive Church might be embraced in one line: "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God." This belief rested upon a peremptory argument—the fact of the resurrection, of which the disciples claimed to be witnesses. To attest the resurrection of Jesus was the task which all considered as being specially imposed upon them. It was, however, very soon put forth that the Master had predicted this event. Different sayings of his were recalled, which were represented as having not been well understood, and in which was seen, on second thoughts, an announcement of the Resurrection. The belief in the near glorious manifestation of Jesus was universal. The secret word which the brethren used among themselves, in order to be recognized and confirmed, was maran-atha, "the Lord is at hand."
Jesus, with his exquisite tact in religious matters, had instituted no new ritual. The new sect had not yet any special ceremonies. The practices of piety were Jewish. The assemblies had, in a strict sense, nothing liturgic. They were the meetings of confraternities, at which prayers were offered up, devoted themselves to glossolaly or prophecy, and the reading of correspondence. There was nothing yet of sacerdotalism. There was no priest (cohen); the presbyter was the "elder," nothing more. The only priest was Jesus: in another sense, all the faithful were priests. Fasting was considered a very meritorious practice. Baptism was the token of admission to the sect. The rite was the same as administered by John, but it was administered in the name of Jesus. Baptism was, however, considered an insufficient initiation. It had to be followed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were effected by means of a prayer, offered up by the apostles, upon the head of the new convert, accompanied by the imposition of hands.
This imposition of hands, already so familiar to Jesus, was the sacramental act par excellence. It conferred inspiration, universal illumination, the power to produce prodigies, prophesying, and the speaking of languages. It was what was called the Baptism of the Spirit. It was supposed to recall a saying of Jesus: "John baptized you with water; but as for you, you shall be baptized by the Spirit." Gradually all these ideas became amalgamated, and baptism was conferred "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." But it is not probable that this formula, in the early days in which we now are, was yet employed. We see the simplicity of this primitive Christian worship. Neither Jesus nor the apostles had invented it. Certain Jewish sects had adopted, before them, these grave and solemn ceremonies, which appeared to have come in part from Chaldaea, where they are still practised with special liturgies by the Sabeans or Mendaites. The religion of Persia embraced also many rites of the same description.
The beliefs in popular medicine, which constituted a part of the force of Jesus, were continued in his disciples. The power of healing was one of the marvellous gifts conferred by the Spirit. The first Christians, like almost all the Jews of the time, looked upon diseases as the punishment of a transgression, or the work of a malignant demon. The apostles passed, just as Jesus did, for powerful exorcists. People imagined that the anointings of oil administered by the apostles, with imposition of hands and invocation of the name of Jesus, were all-powerful to wash away the sins which were the cause of disease, and to heal the afflicted one. Oil has always been in the East the medicine par excellence. For the rest, the simple imposition of the hands of the apostles was reputed to have the same effect. This imposition was made by immediate contact. Nor is it impossible that, in certain cases, the heat of the hands, being communicated suddenly to the head, insured to the sick person a little relief.
The sect being young and not numerous, the question of deaths was not taken into account until later on. The effect caused by the first demises which took place in the ranks of the brethren was strange. People were troubled by the manner of the deaths. It was asked whether they were less favored than those who were reserved to see with their eyes the advent of the Son of Man? They came generally to consider the interval between death and the resurrection as a kind of blank in the consciousness of the defunct. At the time of which we speak, belief in the resurrection almost alone prevailed. The funeral rite was undoubtedly the Jewish rite. No importance was attached to it; no inscription indicated the name of the dead. The great resurrection was near; the bodies of the faithful had only to make in the rock a very short sojourn. It did not require much persuasion to put people in accord on the question as to whether the resurrection was to be universal, that is to say, whether it would embrace the good and the bad, or whether it would apply to the elect only. One of the most remarkable phenomena of the new religion was the reappearance of prophecy. For a long time people had spoken but little of prophets in Israel. That particular species of inspiration seemed to revive in the little sect. The primitive Church had several prophets and prophetesses analogous to those of the Old Testament. The psalmists also reappeared. The model of our Christian psalms is without doubt given in the canticles which Luke loved to disseminate in his gospel, and which were copied from the canticles of the Old Testament. These psalms and prophecies are, as regards form, destitute of originality, but an admirable spirit of gentleness and of piety animates and pervades them. It is like a faint echo of the last productions of the sacred lyre of Israel. The Book of Psalms was in a measure the calyx from which the Christian bee sucked its first juice. The Pentateuch, on the contrary, was, as it would seem, little read and little studied; there was substituted for it allegories after the manner of the Jewish midraschim in which all the historic sense of the books was suppressed.
The music which was sung to the new hymns was probably that species of sobbing, without distinct notes, which is still the music of the Greek Church, of the Maronites, and in general of the Christians of the East. It is less a musical modulation than a manner of forcing the voice and of emitting by the nose a sort of moaning in which all the inflections follow each other with rapidity. That odd melopoeia was executed standing, with the eyes fixed, the eyebrows crumpled, the brow knit, and with an appearance of effort. The word amen, in particular, was given out in a quivering, trembling voice. That word played a great part in the liturgy. In imitation of the Jews, the new adherents employed it to mark the assent of the multitude to the words of the prophet or the precentor. People, perhaps, already attributed to it some secret virtues and pronounced it with a certain emphasis. We do not know whether that primitive ecclesiastical song was accompanied by instruments. As to the inward chant, by which the faithful "made melody in their hearts," and which was but the overflowing of those tender, ardent, pensive souls, it was doubtless executed like the catilenes of the Lollards of the Middle Ages, in medium voice. In general, it was joyousness which was poured out in these hymns.
Till now the Church of Jerusalem presents itself to the outside world as a little Galilean colony. The friends whom Jesus had made at Jerusalem and in its environs, such as Lazarus, Martha, Mary of Bethany, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, had disappeared from the scene. The Galilean group, who pressed around the Twelve, alone remained compact and active. The proselytism of the faithful was chiefly carried on by means of struggling conversions, in which the fervor of their souls was communicated to their neighbors. Their preachings under the porticoes of Solomon were addressed to circles not at all numerous. But the effect of this was only the more profound. Their discourses consisted principally of quotations from the Old Testament, by which it was sought to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.
The real preaching was the private conversations of these good and sincere men; it was the reflection, always noticeable in their discourses, of the words of Jesus; it was, above all, their piety, their gentleness. The attraction of communistic life carried with it also a great deal of force. Their houses were a sort of hospitals, in which all the poor and the forsaken found asylum and succor.
One of the first to affiliate himself with the rising society was a Cypriote, named Joseph Hallevi, or the Levite. Like the others, he sold his land and carried the price of it to the feet of the Twelve. He was an intelligent man, with a devotion proof against everything, and a fluent speaker. The apostles attached him closely to themselves and called him Barnaba, that is to say, "the son of prophecy" or of "preaching." He was accounted, in fact, of the number of the prophets, that is to say, of the inspired preachers. Later on we shall see him play a capital part. Next to St. Paul, he was the most active missionary of the first century. A certain Mnason, his countryman, was converted about the same time. Cyprus possessed many Jews. Barnabas and Mnason were undoubtedly Jewish by race. The intimate and prolonged relations of Barnabas with the Church at Jerusalem induces the belief that Syro-Chaldaic was familiar to him.
A conquest, almost as important as that of Barnabas, was that of one John, who bore the Roman surname of Marcus. He was a cousin of Barnabas, and was circumcised. His mother, Mary, enjoyed an easy competency; she was likewise converted, and her dwelling was more than once made the rendezvous of the apostles. These two conversions appear to have been the work of Peter.
The first flame was thus spread with great rapidity. The men, the most celebrated of the apostolic century, were almost all gained over to the cause in two or three years, by a sort of simultaneous attraction. It was a second Christian generation, similar to that which had been formed five or six years previously, upon the shores of Lake Tiberias. This second generation had not seen Jesus, and could not equal the first in authority. But it was destined to surpass it in activity and in its love for distant missions. One of the best known among the new converts was Stephen, who, before his conversion, appears to have been only a simple proselyte. He was a man full of ardor and of passion. His faith was of the most fervent, and he was considered to be favored with all the gifts of the Spirit. Philip, who, like Stephen, was a zealous deacon and evangelist, attached himself to the community about the same time. He was often confounded with his namesake, the apostle. Finally, there were converted at this epoch, Andronicus and Junia, probably husband and wife, who, like Aquila and Priscilla, later on, were the model of an apostolic couple, devoted to all the duties of missionary work. They were of the blood of Israel, and were in the closest relations with the apostles.
The new converts, when touched by grace, were all Jews by religion, but they belonged to two very different classes of Jews. The one class was the Hebrews; that is to say, the Jews of Palestine, speaking Hebrew or rather Armenian, reading the Bible in the Hebrew text; the other class was "Hellenists," that is to say, Jews speaking Greek, and reading the Bible in Greek. These last were further subdivided into two classes, the one being of Jewish blood, the other being proselytes, that is to say, people of non-Israelitish origin, allied in divers degrees to Judaism. These Hellenists, who almost all came from Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, or Cyrene, lived at Jerusalem in distinct quarters. They had their separate synagogues, and formed thus little communities apart. Jerusalem contained a great number of these special synagogues. It was in these that the words of Jesus found the soil prepared to receive it and to make it fructify.
The primitive nucleus of the Church at Jerusalem had been composed wholly and exclusively of Hebrews; the Aramaic dialect, which was the language of Jesus, was alone known and employed there. But we see that from the second or third year after the death of Jesus, Greek was introduced into the little community, where it soon became dominant. In consequence of their daily relations with the new brethren, Peter, John, James, Jude, and in general the Galilean disciples acquired the Greek with much more facility than if they had already known something of it. The Palestinian dialect came to be abandoned from the day in which people dreamed of a widespread propaganda. A provincial patois, which was rarely written, and which was not spoken beyond Syria, was as little adapted as could be to such an object. Greek, on the contrary, was necessarily imposed on Christianity. It was at the time the universal language, at least for the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. It was, in particular, the language of the Jews who were dispersed over the Roman Empire.
The conversions to Christianity became soon much more numerous among the "Hellenists" than among the "Hebrews." The old Jews at Jerusalem were but little drawn toward a sect of provincials, moderately advanced in the single science that a Pharisee appreciated—the science of the law. The position of the little Church in regard to Judaism was, as with Jesus himself, rather equivocal. But every religious or political party carries in itself a force that dominates it, and obliges it, despite itself, to revolve in its own orbit. The first Christians, whatever their apparent respect for Judaism was, were in reality only Jews by birth or by exterior customs. The true spirit of the sect came from another source. That which grew out of official Judaism was the Talmud; but Christianity has no affinity with the Talmudic school. This is why Christianity found special favor among the parties the least Jewish belonging to Judaism. The rigid orthodoxists took to it but little; it was the newcomers, people scarcely catechized, who had not been to any of the great schools, free from routine, and not initiated into the holy tongue, which lent an ear to the apostles and the disciples.
This family of simple and united brethren drew associates from every quarter. In return for that which these brought, they obtained an assured future, the society of a congenial brotherhood, and precious hopes. The general custom, before entering the sect, was for each one to convert his fortune into specie. These fortunes ordinarily consisted of small rural, semi-barren properties, and difficult of cultivation. It had one advantage, especially for unmarried people: it enabled them to exchange these plots of land against funds sunk in an assurance society, with a view to the Kingdom of God. Even some married people came to the fore in that arrangement; and precautions were taken to insure that the associates brought all that they really possessed, and did not retain anything outside the common fund. Indeed, seeing that each one received out of the latter a share, not in proportion to what one put in, but in proportion to one's needs, every reservation of property was actually a theft made upon the community. The Christian communism had religion for a basis, while modern socialism has nothing of the kind.
Under such a social constitution, the administrative difficulties were necessarily very numerous, whatever might be the degree of fraternal feeling which prevailed. Between two factions of a community, whose language was not the same, misapprehensions were inevitable. It was difficult for well-descended Jews not to entertain some contempt for their coreligionists who were less noble. In fact, it was not long before murmurs began to be heard. The "Hellenists," who each day became more numerous, complained because their widows were not so well treated at the distributions as those of the "Hebrews." Till now, the apostles had presided over the affairs of the treasury. But in face of these protestations they felt the necessity of delegating to others this part of their powers. They proposed to the community to confide these administrative cares to seven experienced and considerate men. The proposition was accepted. The seven chosen were Stephanas, or Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas. Stephen was the most important of the seven, and, in a sense, their chief.
To the administrators thus designated were given the Syriac name of Schammaschin. They were also sometimes called "the Seven," to distinguish them from "the Twelve." Such, then, was the origin of the diaconate, which is found to be the most ancient ecclesiastical function, the most ancient of sacred orders. Later, all the organized churches, in imitation of that of Jerusalem, had deacons. The growth of such an institution was marvellous. It placed the claims of the poor on an equality with religious services. It was a proclamation of the truth that social problems are the first which should occupy the attention of mankind. It was the foundation of political economy in the religious sense. The deacons were the first preachers of Christianity. As organizers, financiers, and administrators, they filled a yet more important part. These practical men, in constant contact with the poor, the sick, the women, went everywhere, observed everything, exhorted, and were most efficacious in converting people. They accomplished more than the apostles, who remained on their seats of honor at Jerusalem. They were the founders of Christianity, in respect of that which it possessed which was most solid and enduring.
At an early period women were admitted to this office. They were designated, as in our day, by the name of "sisters." At first widows were selected; later, virgins were preferred. The tact which guided the primitive Church in all this was admirable. The grand idea of consecrating by a sort of religious character and of subjecting to a regular discipline the women who were not in the bonds of marriage, is wholly Christian. The term "widow" became synonymous with religious person, consecrated to God, and, by consequence, a "deaconess." In those countries where the wife, at the age of twenty-four, is already faded, where there is no middle state between the infant and the old woman, it was a kind of new life, which was created for that portion of the human species the most capable of devotion. These women, constantly going to and fro, were admirable missionaries of the new religion.
The bishop and the priest, as we now know them, did not yet exist. Still, the pastoral ministry, that intimate familiarity of souls, not bound by ties of blood, had already been established. This latter has ever been the special gift of Jesus, and a kind of heritage from him. Jesus had often said that to everyone he was more than a father and a mother, and that in order to follow him it was necessary to forsake those the most dear to us. Christianity placed some things above family; it instituted brotherhood and spiritual marriage. The ancient form of marriage, which placed the wife unreservedly in the power of the husband, was pure slavery. The moral liberty of the woman began when the Church gave to her in Jesus a guide and a confidant, who should advise and console her, listen always to her, and on occasion counsel resistance on her part. Woman needs to be governed, and is happy in so being; but it is necessary that she should love him who governs her. This is what neither ancient societies nor Judaism nor Islamism have been able to do. Woman has never had, up to the present time, a religious conscience, a moral individuality, an opinion of her own, except in Christianity.
It was now about the year 36. Tiberius, at Capreae, has little idea of the enemy to the empire which is growing up. In two or three years the sect had made surprising progress. It numbered several thousand of the faithful. It was already easy to foresee that its conquests would be effected chiefly among the Hellenists and proselytes. The Galilean group which had listened to the Master, though preserving always its precedence, seemed as if swamped by the floods of newcomers speaking Greek. One could already perceive that the principal parts were to be played by the latter. At the time at which we are arrived no pagan, that is to say, no man without some anterior connection with Judaism, had entered into the Church. Proselytes, however, performed very important functions in it. The circle de provenance of the disciples had likewise largely extended; it is no longer a simple little college of Palestineans; we can count in it people from Cyprus, Antioch, and Cyrene, and from almost all the points of the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, where Jewish colonies had been established. Egypt alone was wanting in the primitive Church, and for a long time continued to be so.
It was inevitable that the preachings of the new sect, although delivered with so much reserve, should revive the animosities which had accumulated against its Founder, and eventually brought about his death. The Sadducee family of Hanan, who had caused the death of Jesus, was still reigning. Joseph Caiaphas occupied, up to 36, the sovereign pontificate, the effective power of which he gave over to his father-in-law Hanan, and to his relatives, John and Alexander. These arrogant and pitiless men viewed with impatience a troop of good and holy people, without official title, winning the favor of the multitude. Once or twice Peter, John, and the principal members of the apostolic college were put in prison and condemned to flagellation. This was the chastisement inflicted on heretics. The authorization of the Romans was not necessary in order to apply it. As we might indeed suppose, these brutalities only served to inflame the ardor of the apostles. They came forth from the Sanhedrim, where they had just undergone flagellation, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Him whom they loved. Eternal puerility of penal repressions applied to things of the soul! They were regarded, no doubt, as men of order, as models of prudence and wisdom; these blunderers, who seriously believed in the year 36 to gain the upper hand of Christianity by means of a few strokes of a whip!
These outrages proceeded chiefly from the Sadducees, that is to say, from the upper clergy, who crowded the Temple and derived from it immense profits. We do not find that the Pharisees exhibited toward the sect the animosity they displayed to Jesus. The new believers were strict and pious people, somewhat resembling in their manner of life the Pharisees themselves. The rage which the latter manifested against the Founder arose from the superiority of Jesus—a superiority which he was at no pains to dissimulate. His delicate railleries, his wit, his charm, his contempt for hypocrites, had kindled a ferocious hatred. The apostles, on the contrary, were devoid of wit; they never employed irony. The Pharisees were at times favorable to them; many Pharisees had even become Christians. The terrible anathemas of Jesus against Pharisaism had not yet been written, and the accounts of the words of the Master were neither general nor uniform. These first Christians were, besides, people so inoffensive that many persons of the Jewish aristocracy, who did not exactly form part of the sect, were well disposed toward them. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who had known Jesus, remained no doubt with the Church in the bonds of brotherhood.
The most celebrated Jewish doctor of the age, Rabbi Gamaliel the elder, grandson of Hillel, a man of broad and very tolerant ideas, spoke, it is said, in the Sanhedrim in favor of permitting gospel preaching. The author of the Acts credits him with some excellent reasoning, which ought to be the rule of conduct of governments on all occasions when they find themselves confronted with novelties of an intellectual or moral order. "If this work is frivolous," said he, "leave it alone—it will fall of itself; if it is serious, how dare you resist the work of God? In any case, you will not succeed in stopping it." Gamaliel's words were hardly listened to. Liberal minds in the midst of opposing fanaticisms have no chance of succeeding.
A terrible commotion was produced by the deacon Stephen. His preaching had, as it would appear, great success. Multitudes flocked around him, and these gatherings resulted in acrimonious quarrels. It was chiefly Hellenists, or proselytes, habitues of the synagogue, called Libertini, people of Cyrene, of Alexandria, of Cilicia, of Ephesus, who took an active part in these disputes. Stephen passionately maintained that Jesus was the Messiah, that the priests had committed a crime in putting him to death, that the Jews were rebels, sons of rebels, people who rejected evidence. The authorities resolved to despatch this audacious preacher. Several witnesses were suborned to seize upon some words in his discourses against Moses. Naturally they found that for which they sought. Stephen was arrested and led into the presence of the Sanhedrim. The sentence with which they reproached him was almost identical with the one which led to the condemnation of Jesus. They accused him of saying that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the Temple and change the traditions attributed to Moses. It is quite possible, indeed, that Stephen had used such language. A Christian of that epoch could not have had the idea of speaking directly against the Law, inasmuch as all still observed it; as for traditions, however, Stephen might combat them as Jesus had himself done; nevertheless, these traditions were foolishly ascribed by the orthodox to Moses, and people attributed to them a value equal to that of the written Law.
Stephen defended himself by expounding the Christian thesis, with a wealth of citations from the written Law, from the Psalms, from the Prophets, and wound up by reproaching the members of the Sanhedrim with the murder of Jesus. "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart," said he to them, "you will then ever resist the Holy Ghost as your fathers also have done. Which of the prophets have not your fathers prosecuted? They have slain those who announced the coming of the Just One, whom you have betrayed, and of whom you have been the murderers. This law that you have received from the mouth of angels you have not kept." At these words a scream of rage interrupted him. Stephen, his excitement increasing more and more, fell into one of those transports of enthusiasm which were called the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His eyes were fixed on high; he witnessed the glory of God, and Jesus by the side of his Father, and cried out, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of God." The whole assembly stopped their ears and threw themselves upon him, gnashing their teeth. He was dragged outside the city and stoned. The witnesses, who, according to the law, had to cast the first stones, divested themselves of their garments and laid them at the feet of a young fanatic named Saul, or Paul, who was thinking with secret joy of the renown he was acquiring in participating in the death of a blasphemer.
In that epoch the persecutors of Christianity were not Romans; they were orthodox Jews. The Romans preserved in the midst of this fanaticism a principle of tolerance and of reason. If we can reproach the imperial authority with anything it is with being too lenient, and with not having cut short with a stroke the civil consequences of a sanguinary law which visited with death religious derelictions. But as yet the Roman domination was not so complete as it became later.
As Stephen's death may have taken place at any time during the years 36, 37, 38, we cannot, therefore, affirm whether Caiaphas ought to be held responsible for it. Caiaphas was deposed by Lucius Vitellius, in the year 36, shortly after the time of Pilate; but the change was inconsiderable. He had for a successor his brother-in-law, Jonathan, son of Hanan. The latter, in turn, was succeeded by his brother Theophilus, son of Hanan, who continued the pontificate in the house of Hanan till the year 42. Hanan was still alive, and, possessed of the real power, maintained in his family the principles of pride, severity, hatred against innovators, which were, so to speak, hereditary.
The death of Stephen produced a great impression. The proselytes solemnized his funeral with tears and groanings. The separation of the new sectaries from Judaism was not yet absolute. The proselytes and the Hellenists, less strict in regard to orthodoxy than the pure Jews, considered that they ought to render public homage to a man who respected their constitution, and whose peculiar beliefs did not put him without the pale of the law. Thus began the era of Christian martyrs.
The murder of Stephen was not an isolated event. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Roman functionaries, the Jews brought to bear upon the Church a real persecution. It seems that the vexations pressed chiefly on the Hellenists and the proselytes, whose free behavior exasperated the orthodox. The Church of Jerusalem, though already strongly organized, was compelled to disperse. The apostles, according to a principle which seems to have seized strong hold of their minds, did not quit the city. It was probably so, too, with the whole purely Jewish group, those who were denominated the "Hebrews." But the great community with its common table, its diaconal services, its varied exercises, ceased from that time, and was never reformed upon its first model. It had endured for three or four years. It was for nascent Christianity an unequalled good fortune that its first attempts at association, essentially communistic, were so soon broken up. Essays of this kind engender such shocking abuses that communistic establishments are condemned to crumble away in a very short time or to ignore very soon the principle upon which they are founded.
Thanks to the persecution of the year 37, the cenobitic Church of Jerusalem was saved from the test of time. It was nipped in the bud before interior difficulties had undermined it. It remained like a splendid dream, the memory of which animated in their life of trial all those who had formed part of it, like an ideal to which Christianity incessantly aspires without ever succeeding in reaching its goal.
The leading part in the persecution we have just related belonged to that young Saul, whom we have above found abetting, as far as in him lay, the murder of Stephen. This hot-headed youth, furnished with a permission from the priests, entered houses suspected of harboring Christians, laid violent hold on men and women, and dragged them to prison or before the tribunals. Saul boasted that there was no one of his generation so zealous as himself for the traditions. True it is that often the gentleness and the resignation of his victims astonished him; he experienced a kind of remorse; he fancied he heard these pious women, whom, hoping for the Kingdom of God, he had cast into prison, saying during the night, in a sweet voice, "Why persecutest thou us?" The blood of Stephen, which had almost smothered him, sometimes troubled his vision. Many things that he had heard said of Jesus went to his heart. This superhuman being, in his ethereal life, whence he sometimes emerged, revealing himself in brief apparitions, haunted him like a spectre. But Saul shrunk with horror from such thoughts; he confirmed himself with a sort of frenzy in the faith of his traditions, and meditated new cruelties against those who attacked him. His name had become a terror to the faithful; they dreaded at his hands the most atrocious outrages and the most sanguinary treacheries.
The persecution of the year 37 had for its result, as is always the case, the spread of the doctrine which it was wished to arrest. Till now the Christian preaching had not extended far beyond Jerusalem; no mission had been undertaken; enclosed within its exalted but narrow communion, the mother Church had spread no halos around herself nor formed any branches. The dispersion of the little circle scattered the good seed to the four winds of heaven. The members of the Church of Jerusalem, driven violently from their quarters, spread themselves over every part of Judea and Samaria, and preached everywhere the Kingdom of God. The deacons, in particular, freed from their administrative functions by the destruction of the community, became excellent evangelists.
The scene of the first missions, which was soon to embrace the whole basin of the Mediterranean, was the region about Jerusalem, within a radius of two or three days' journey. Philip the Deacon was the hero of this first holy expedition. He evangelized Samaria most successfully. Peter and John, after confirming the Church of Sebaste, departed again for Jerusalem, evangelizing on their way the villages of the country of Samaria. Philip the Deacon continued his evangelizing journeys, directing his steps toward the south, into the ancient country of the Philistines.
Azote and the Gaza route were the limits of the first evangelical preachings toward the south. Beyond were the desert and the nomadic life upon which Christianity has never taken much hold. From Azote Philip the Deacon turned toward the north and evangelized all the coast as far as Caesarea, where he settled and founded an important church. Caesarea was a new city and the most considerable of Judea. It was in a kind of way the port of Christianity, the point by which the Church of Jerusalem communicated with all the Mediterranean.
Many other missions, the history of which is unknown to us, were conducted simultaneously with that of Philip. The very rapidity with which this first preaching was done was the reason of its success. In the year 38, five years after the death of Jesus, and probably one year after the death of Stephen, all this side of Jordan had heard the glad tidings from the mouths of missionaries hailing from Jerusalem. Galilee, on its part, guarded the holy seed and probably scattered it around her, although we know of no missions issuing from that quarter. Perhaps the city of Damascus, from the period at which we now are, had also some Christians, who received the faith from Galilean preachers.
The year 38 is marked in the history of the nascent Church by a much more important conquest. During that year we may safely place the conversion of that Saul whom we witnessed participating in the stoning of Stephen, and as a principal agent in the persecution of 37, but who now, by a mysterious act of grace, becomes the most ardent of the disciples of Jesus.
From the year 38 to the year 44 no persecution seems to have been directed against the Church. The faithful were, no doubt, far more prudent than before the death of Stephen, and avoided speaking in public. Perhaps, too, the troubles of the Jews who, during all the second part of the reign of Caligula, were at variance with that prince, contributed to favor the nascent sect.
This period of peace was fruitful in interior developments. The nascent Church was divided into three provinces, Judea, Samaria, Galilee, to which Damascus was no doubt attached. The primacy of Jerusalem was uncontested. The Church of this city, which had been dispersed after the death of Stephen, was quickly reconstituted. The apostles had never quitted the city. The brothers of the Lord continued to reside there and to wield a great authority.
Peter undertook frequent apostolical journeys in the environs of Jerusalem. He had always a great reputation as a thaumaturgist. At Lydda in particular he was reputed to have cured a paralytic named AEneas, a miracle which is said to have led to numerous conversions in the plain of Saron. From Lydda he repaired to Joppa, a city which appears to have been a centre for Christianity. Peter made a long sojourn at Joppa, at the house of a tanner named Simon, who dwelt near the sea. The organization of works of charity was soon actively entered upon.
The germ of those associations of women, which are one of the glories of Christianity, existed in the first churches of Judea. At Jaffa commenced those societies of veiled women, clothed in linen, who were destined to continue through centuries the tradition of charitable secrets. Tabitha was the mother of a family which will have no end as long as there are miseries to be relieved and feminine instincts to be gratified.
The Church of Jerusalem was still exclusively composed of Jews and of proselytes. The Holy Ghost being shed upon the uncircumcised before baptism, appeared an extraordinary fact. It is probable that there existed thenceforward a party opposed in principle to the admission of Gentiles, and that all did not accept the explanations of Peter. The author of the Acts would have us believe that the approbation was unanimous. But in a few years we shall see the question revived with much greater intensity. This matter of the good centurion was, perhaps, like that of the Ethiopian eunuch, accepted as an exceptional case, justified by a revelation and an express order from God. Still the matter was far from being settled. This was the first controversy which had taken place in the bosom of the Church; the paradise of interior peace had lasted for six or seven years.
About the year 40 the great question upon which depended all the future of Christianity appears thus to have been propounded. Peter and Philip took a very just view of what was the true solution, and baptized pagans.
The new faith was spread from place to place with marvellous rapidity. The members of the Church of Jerusalem, who had been dispersed immediately after the death of Stephen, pushing their conquests along the coast of Phoenicia, reached Cyprus and Antioch. They were at first guided by the sole principle of preaching the Gospel to the Jews only.
Antioch, "the metropolis of the East," the third city of the world, was the centre of this Christian movement in Northern Syria. It was a city with a population of more than five hundred thousand souls, and the residence of the imperial legate of Syria. Suddenly advanced to a high degree of splendor by the Seleucidae, it reaped great benefit from the Roman occupation. Antioch, from its foundation, had been wholly a Grecian city. The Macedonians of Antigone and Seleucus had brought with them into that country of the Lower Orontes their most lively recollections, their worship, and the names of their country. The Grecian mythology was there adopted as it were in a second home; they pretended to show in the country a crowd of "holy places" forming part of this mythology. The city was full of the worship of Apollo and of the nymphs. The degradation of the people was awful. The peculiarity of these centres of moral putrefaction is to reduce all the race of mankind to the same level. The depravity of certain Levantine cities, which are dominated by the spirit of intrigue and delivered up entirely to low cunning, can scarcely give us an idea of the degree of corruption reached by the human race at Antioch. It was an inconceivable medley of mountebanks, quacks, buffoons, magicians, miracle-mongers, sorcerers, false priests; a city of races, games, dances, processions, fetes, revels, of unbridled luxury, of all the follies of the East, of the most unhealthy superstitions, and of the fanaticism of the orgy. The city was very literary, but literary only in the literature of rhetoricians. The beauty of works of art and the infinite charm of nature prevented this moral degradation from sinking entirely into hideousness and vulgarity.
The Church of Antioch owed its foundation to some believers originally from Cyprus and Cyrene, who had already been much engaged in preaching. Up to this time they had only addressed themselves to the Jews. But in a city where pure Jews—Jews who were proselytes, "people fearing God"—or half-Jewish pagans and pure pagans, lived together, exclusive preaching restricted to a group of houses became impossible. That feeling of religious aristocracy on which the Jews of Jerusalem so much prided themselves did not exist in those large cities, where civilization was altogether of the profane sort, where the scope was greater, and where prejudices were less firmly rooted. The Cypriot and Cyrenian missionaries were then constrained to depart from their rule. They preached to the Jews and to the Greeks indifferently.
The success of the Christian preaching was great. A young, innovating, and ardent Church, full of the future, because it was composed of the most diverse elements, was quickly founded. All the gifts of the Holy Spirit were there poured out, and it was easy to perceive that this new Church, emancipated from the strict Mosaism which erected an insuperable barrier around Jerusalem, would become the second cradle of Christianity. Assuredly, Jerusalem must remain forever the capital of the Christian world; nevertheless, the point of departure of the Church of the Gentiles, the primordial focus of Christian missions, was, in truth, Antioch. It was there that for the first time a Christian church was established, freed from the bonds of Judaism; it was there that the great propaganda of the apostolic age was established; it was there that St. Paul assumed a definite character. Antioch marks the second halting-place of the progress of Christianity, and, in respect of Christian nobility, neither Rome nor Alexandria nor Constantinople can be at all compared with it.
The foundation of Christianity, from this point of view, is the greatest work that the men of the people have ever achieved. Very quickly, without doubt, men and women of the high Roman nobility joined themselves to the Church. At the end of the first century, Flavius Clemens and Flavia Domitilla show us Christianity penetrating almost into the palace of the Caesars.
ISAAC M. WISE
In the rabbinical literature several successes of the apostles are noticed, especially at Capernaum and Capersamia. One of them is most remarkable, viz., the conversion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcan by the apostle James. This rabbi, the Talmud narrates, was actually arrested by Roman officers, and, in obedience to the edict against Christianity, was accused of the crime of being a Christian, which he did not deny, although he repented it.
The most important success, however, which the apostles could boast was the conversion of Paul. The man whose colossal genius and gigantic energies grasped the pillars upon which the superstructure of Graeco-Roman paganism rested, bent and broke them like rotten staves, till with a thundering noise down came the ancient fabric, with its gods, altars, temples, priests, and priestesses, depositing debris that took centuries to remove and remodel; the man whose hands were against all, and against whom were all hands; who defied the philosophy of the philosophers, the power of the priests, and the religions of the world; who was all alone all in all—this man was Paul of Tarsus, the great apostle to the Gentiles, with an original gospel of his own. He kindled a fire in the very heart of the Roman Empire, under the eyes of the authorities of Rome and of Jerusalem, which in a few centuries consumed ancient heathenism from the Tigris to the Tiber, and from the Tiber to the Thames. With a skilful hand he threw the sparks upon the accumulated combustibles of error, corruption, and slavery, and ancient society exploded, to make room and furnish the material for a new civilization. The conversion of this man was the apostles' great success. If it had not been for him the nascent Church, like other Jewish sects, would have perished in the catastrophe of Jerusalem, because the apostles did not possess that vigor and energy to resist the violent shock. In Paul, however, the spirit of John and of Jesus resurrected with double vigor, and he became the actual founder of the Christianity of history.