« Prev Chapter II. Departure of the Disciples from… Next »



THE most eager desire of those who have lost a dear friend, is to revisit the places where they have lived with them. It was, doubtless, this sentiment which, a few days after the events of the Passover, induced the disciples to return into Galilee. 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 rumour 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 life time. What is certain is, that at the end of a few days, probably after the Paschal Feast of the Pass-over 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 16his 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 cane 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 17the 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. They were quickly forgotten, and, as the Galilean Christianity possessed but little of futurity, the remembrance of them was completely lost in certain ramifications of the tradition. These touching demoniacs, these converted fisherwomen, these actual founders of Christianity, Mary Magdalene, Mary 18Cleophas, Joanna, Susanna, all passed into the condition of forgotten saints. St. Paul knew them not. The faith which they had created almost consigned them to oblivion. We must come down to the middle ages before we find justice done them; then, one of them, Mary Magdalene, takes her proper place in the Christian hierarchy.

The visions, at first, on the lake appear to have been pretty frequent On board these crafts where they had come in contact with God, how many times had the disciples not seen again their Divine Friend? The simplest circumstances brought him back to them. Once they had toiled all night without taking a single fish; suddenly the nets were filled; this was a miracle. It appeared that some one from the land had said to them: “Cast your nets to the right.” Peter and John regarded one another. “It is the Lord,” said John. Peter, who was naked, covered himself hastily with his fisher’s coat, and cast himself into the sea, in order to go to the invisible councillor. At other times Jesus came and partook of their simple repasts. One day, when they had done fishing, they were surprised to find lighted coals, with fish placed upon them, and bread near by. A lively sense of their feasts of past times crossed their minds, since bread and fish had been always an essential part of their diet. Jesus was in the habit of offering these to them. After the meal they were persuaded that Jesus himself had sat by their side, and had presented to them those victuals which hail already become to them eucharistic and sacred, John and Peter were the ones who were specially favoured with those private conversations with the well-beloved phantom. One day, Peter, dreaming, perhaps (but what am I saying! their life on the shore was it not a perpetual dream?) believed that he heard Jesus ask him: “Lovest thou Me?” The question was repeated three times. Peter, wholly possessed by a tender and sad sentiment, imagined that he responded, “Yea, 19Lord, Thou knowest that I love thee,” and each time the apparition said: “Feed my sheep.” On another occasion Peter told John, in confidence, a strange dream. He had dreamt he had been walking with the Master, John was following a few steps behind. Jesus said to him, in terms most obscure, which seemed to announce to him a prison or a violent death, and repeated to him at different times: “Follow me.” Peter, thereupon, pointing his finger to John, who was following them, asked: “Lord, and this man?” “If I will,” said Jesus, “that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” After the execution of Peter, John remembered that dream, and saw in it a prediction of the manner of death his friend had died. He recounted it to his disciples; the latter believed to discover in it the assurance that their master would not die before the final advent of Jesus.

These grand and melancholy dreams, these never ceasing conversations, broken off and recommenced with the death of the cherished one, occupied the days and months. The sympathy of Galilee for the prophet that the Hierosolymites of Jerusalem had put to death was re-awakened. 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. One day, when following in the suite of their spiritual chiefs, the faithful Galileans had ascended one of those mountains whither Jesus had often conducted them, and they imagined that they saw him again. The atmosphere of these heights is full of strange mirages. The same vision which formerly had occurred to the most intimate disciples was once more produced. The whole assembly believed that they saw the divine spectre displayed in the clouds; all fell on their faces and worshipped. The sentiment which the clear horizon of those mountains inspires is the idea of the extent of the world, and the desire of conquering it. 20On one of the neighbouring peaks Satan, pointing out to Jesus with his finger the kingdoms of the world and all their glory, offered to give them to him, it is stated, if he would only fall down and worship him On this occasion, it was Jesus who, from the tops of these sacred summits, showed to his disciples the whole world, and assured them of the future. They descended from the mountain, persuaded that the son of God had given to them the command to convert the whole human race, and promised to be with them till the end of time. A strange ardour, a divine fire, pervaded them at the close of these conversations. They regarded themselves as the missionaries of the world, capable of performing supernatural deeds. St. Paul saw several of those who had assisted at that extraordinary scene. At the end of twenty-five years the impression they left was still as strong and as lively as on the first day.

Nearly a year rolled on, during which they led this life, suspended between heaven and earth. The charm, far from diminishing, increased. It is a property of great and holy things, always to become grander and more pure of themselves. The sentiment in regard to a loved one who has been lost, is certainly keener at a distance of time, than on the morrow after the death. The greater the distance, the more the sentiment gains strength. The sorrow, which at first is a part of it and, in a sense, lessens it, is changed into a serene piety. The image of the defunct one is transfigured, idealized, becomes the soul of life, the principle of all action, the source of all joy, the oracle which is consulted, the consolation which is sought in moments of despondency. Death is a necessary, condition of every apotheosis. Jesus, so beloved during his life, was in this way more so after his last breath, or rather his last breath was the commencement of his actual life in the bosom of the church. He became the intimate friend, the confidant, the travelling companion, the one who, at the turning point of the route, joins you, 21follows you, sits down at table with you, and reveals himself at the moment of disappearance. The absolute lack of scientific exactitude in the minds of these new believers, made it that one could not weigh any question in regard to the nature of one’s existence. They represented him as impassible, endowed with a subtle body, passing through opaque walks, now visible, now invisible, but always living. Sometimes they imagined that his body was not composed of matter; that it was pure shadow or apparition. At other times there was attributed to him a material body, with flesh and bones; through a naïve scrupulousness, as though the hallucination had inclined to take precautions against himself, he was made to drink and eat; nay, it was maintained that some of them had touched his body gently with their hands. Their ideas on this point were extremely vague and uncertain. We have not until now dreamt of putting a frivolous question; at the same time the present is one not easily of solution. Whilst Jesus had risen in this real manner, that is to say, in the hearts of those who loved him; whilst the immovable conviction of the apostles was being formed, and the faith of the world prepared, in what place did the worms consume the inanimate body which on the Saturday evening had been deposited in the tomb? People ignore always this point, for, naturally, the Christian traditions can do nothing to clear up the subject. It is the spirit which quickeneth; the flesh is nothing. The resurrection was the triumph of the idea over the reality. Now that the idea had entered upon its immortality, what mattered the body?

About the years 80 or 83, when the actual text of the first Gospel received its final additions, the Jews already had on this matter a settled opinion. If they are to be believed, the disciples might have come by night and stolen away his body. The Christian conscience was alarmed at this rumour, and in order to 22cut short such an objection, they invented the circumstance of the military guard, and of the seal put on the sepulchre. That circumstance, to be found only in the first gospel, mixed up with legends of doubtful authority, is wholly inadmissible. But the explanation of the Jews, although irrefutable, is far from being altogether satisfactory. It can hardly be admitted that those who had so firmly believed Jesus had risen from the dead, were the same persons who had taken away his body. Little accustomed as these men were to reflection, one can hardly imagine so singular an illusion. It must be remembered that the little church at that moment was completely dispersed. It had no expectation, no centralisation, no regular method of procedure. Beliefs sprang up on every hand, and were then amalgamated as best they might. The contradictions between the narratives, upon which we base the incidents of the Sabbath morning, prove that the rumours were spread through the most diverse channels, and that they did not care much about bringing them into accord. It is possible that the body may have been taken away by some of the disciples, and transported by them into Galilee. The others, who remained at Jerusalem, may not have been cognizant of the fact. On the other hand, the disciples, who may have carried the body into Galilee, could not at first have any knowledge of the stories which were current at Jerusalem, so that the belief in the resurrection may have been invented after they went away, and must, therefore, have surprised them. They did not reclaim, and, even had they done so, it would have unsettled nothing. When it is a question of miracles a tardy correction is not feared. No material difficulty ever impedes a sentiment from being developed and of creating the fictions it has need of. In the recent history of the miracle of Salette, the error was demonstrated by the clearest of evidence, but that did not hinder the belief from springing up, and the faith from 23spreading. It is allowable also to suppose that the disappearance of the body was the work of the Jews. Probably they thought by that to prevent the tumultuous scenes which might be enacted over the body of a man so popular as Jesus. Probably they wished to prevent people from making a noisy funeral display, or from raising a tomb to that just man. Finally, who knows that the disappearance of the corpse was not the work of the proprietor of the garden, or of the gardener. The proprietor, according to all accounts, was a stranger to the sect. His sepulchre was chosen because it was the nearest to Golgotha, and because they were pressed for time. Probably he was dissatisfied with the mode of taking possession of his property, and had the body removed. In good truth, the details reported in the fourth gospel, of the linen left in the sepulchre, and the napkin folded carefully away in the corner, does not accord with such an hypothesis.

This last circumstance would lead one to suppose that a woman’s hand had crept in there. The five narratives of the visit of the women to the tomb are so confused and embarrassing, that it is certainly quite allowable for us to suppose that they contained some misapprehension. The female conscience, when dominated by passion, is capable of the most extravagant illusions. Often it becomes the abettor of its own dreams. To these sort of incidents, for the purpose of having them considered as marvellous, nobody deliberately deceives; but everybody, without thinking of it, is led to connive at them. Mary Magdalene, according to the language of the times, had been “possessed of seven devils.” In all this it is necessary to take account of the lack of the precision of mind of the women of the East, of their absolute want of education, and of the peculiar shade of their sincerity. Exalted conviction renders any return upon herself impossible. When the sky is seen everywhere, one is led to put oneself at times in the place of the sky.


Let us draw a veil over these mysteries. In states nt religious crises, everything being regarded as divine, the greatest effects may be the results of the most trifling causes. If we were witnesses of the strange facts which are at the origin of all the works of faith, we should discover circumstances which to us would not appear proportioned to the importance of the results, and others which would make us smile. Our old cathedrals are reckoned among the most beautiful objects in the world; one cannot enter them without being in some sort inebriated with the infinite. Yet these splendid marvels are almost always the fruit of some little conceit. And what does it matter definitively. The result alone counts in such matters. Faith purifies all. The material incident which has induced belief in the resurrection was not the true cause of the resurrection. That which raised Jesus from the dead was love. That love was so powerful that a petty accident sufficed to erect the edifice of a universal faith. If Jesus had been less loved, if faith in the resurrection had had less reason for its establishment, these kind of accidents would have occurred in vain, nothing would have come out of them. A grain of sand causes the fall of a mountain, when the moment for the fall of the mountain has come. The greatest things proceed at once from the greatest and smallest causes. Great causes alone are real; little ones only serve to determine the production of an effect which has for a long time been in preparation.

« Prev Chapter II. Departure of the Disciples from… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection