A History Christianity

Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi

Apostles

Anti-Papal Movement

Arianism

Augustine

Bible

Catholic Church

Christian Church in the Middle Ages

Christian Church, Separation of

Christianity

Conversion of Constantine

Development of World Religions

Jesus Christ

Origins of Christianity

Paul/Saul

Persecutions of the Christians in Gaul

Reformed Churches

Rise and Triumph of Christianity

Rise of Christianity

Roman Church

Title:       Rise And Spread Of Christianity

Book:        By Joseph Ernest Renan

Author:      Renan, Joseph

 

Part II.

 

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 Caprea, 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 new-comers 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.

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